Saturday, September 05, 2015

What's in an underdog?

Before we talk about Fabio Fognini, Petra Cetkovska and Bethanie Mattek-Sands -- NIGHT TENNIS AT THE OPEN, Y'ALL! It is, hands-down, the best part of any Slam. You've got general rowdiness, dancing fans, alcohol, two opponents slugging away under the lights and celebrities all happening at the same time in the same place and if the tennis is good, this is all happening usually waaaay after midnight. For the people who think that tennis is boring and has no personality, you can step off.
Segue: HolyhellRafaNadalandFabioFognini! That was just a ridiculous display of tennis. There are far too many highlights to rehash, but two quick things:
1. Everyone's going to say that this is the proof that Nadal is over. Yeah, maybe he took his foot off the pedal just a bit when he was up in the third -- maybe thinking he'd conserve his energies for the next match. But he really was playing great tennis throughout the night. He was fast, his groundstrokes were imposing and accurate, his defensive and offensive game was on fleek, and plus his ass looked great in those shorts. Maybe on another day, with another opponent, that match would have been one-sided. So he's still got game. But
2. This guy. Fognini has a bit of a reputation for sometimes not putting forth his best effort at all times. He also has a reputation for being a hothead, so maybe it was the night atmosphere that fueled him. Because there he was, playing against one of the best in the world, smacking winners all over the place, and he almost never looked off-balance in doing this. Maybe Nadal needs to flatten out his ball a bit, or maybe Fognini just knows him too well.  Either way, it takes a lot to keep yourself composed in a situation like this, and Fognini did it.
Fabio Fognini is 28 years old. In tennis years, that's like, 46. Petra Cetkovska, who took out Caroline Wozniacki in another night-tennis thriller, is 30. So, 48. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who had better never retire, is also 30. How old are you? How's your career going? Ever think that you're past the age to do what you always wanted to do, that you missed something? Have you ever said to yourself, "Gah, I coulda been a contender if it weren't for XXXXX?" Have you ever looked at your contemporaries and wondered why they are so much more advanced than you? You don't need to answer any of that, especially not to me, but this is why watching underdogs come out on top is so fulfilling. It's like lower-case everyman taking on Superman. Of course they don't have a shot. Right? Did anyone see that wide-eyed look in Cetkovska's eyes the other night when Wozniacki was staging her comeback? If you did, you know that feeling -- "You're going to let it slip away again, aren't you?" And that is not just a tennis feeling. That's a life thing, dawg. And watching the physical battle on any athletic stage, and actually seeing someone overcome it in public to seize victory is empowering and awe-inspiring. Not everyone can take that ball of nerves and just swallow it. There's something in that for all of us, something very big-picture that you can take away from the underdogs at the Open this year.
It's also just great entertainment and we could leave it right there. Whichever.

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