For people who have been watching tennis for a long time, Slam seasons can be a little annoying. Slam stans (a term I just made up) are usually not there for the tennis, but for their favorite players. The good thing is that once their player is gone, they are too, so they can't muddy any further the conversations around the great tennis usually being played around a major. Because there are plenty of good things happening during a major tournament on the court, so we don't have to harp on things happening off the court, like Interview-gate, in which two tennis news cycles were spent on whether Dominic Thiem owes Serena Williams an apology or vice versa.
Again, there's plenty of good things that happened on court in the last couple of weeks that deserve more air, so here they are:
1. Rafa Nadal: And no, it's not just him and his sexy ass, although that is a big part of it. Nadal won the French Open for the 12th time on Sunday. Sometime during Nadal's thorough shellacking of Thiem in the fourth set, I began to wonder if there were any other players whose dominance of a surface was more entertaining or ironclad than Nadal's. There was Pete Sampras at Wimbledon, but between us, that was boring. A big swing serve out wide, a volley, another grass title. Gustavo Kuerten on clay? Entertaining, absolutely, but he clearly didn't have that longevity. There's nothing in tennis that can compare to Nadal's performance on clay that I can think of, and I'm willing to take contenders.
It's not just that Nadal always wins on clay. It's that he shows off a new strength in his game each time, especially recently. This year, Nadal's net game was the added dimension. This is impressive when you consider that he starts most return games essentially standing in the first row of spectator seats, but when he got there, he ended points on these delicate volleys that flew in the face of the brutality of the rest of his game. Remember that year he beat Stan Wawrinka in the final? That year, it was his down-the-line forehand when he was stretched wide. That's why he's so entertaining -- it's something new each time. Here is someone who is still working on his game on the surface on which he performs the best. It's quite something to witness.
2. Ashleigh Barty: So Barty's game is just as devastating as Nadal's, and transferrable to different surfaces and the reason I never realized it was because she is not a showman about it. I've been watching her in clay warmups, and in Paris, and I wondered why players had so much trouble with her -- without denying that she has a nice game. But it isn't nice. It's overpowering and it can throw an opponent off-balance. I also did not know her backstory -- that she quit tennis for a while to deal with her personal health and to play cricket. This is a great profile by the way, h/t Courtney Nguyen. Her first Slam title happened in a rather lopsided fashion, but I think Marketa Vondrousova will be better prepared in her next major final.
3. The heavy mantle Serena Williams places upon herself: I wasn't going to say anything about this because there is no way to say anything that isn't high praise about Serena these days without sounding as if you just hate her. I'm going to take a crack at this now, though, because what she's presenting right now is something familiar to a lot of us women who are, er, multitasking. Serena wore a jacket at the French Open that read "Mother, Champion, Queen, Goddess" A reader on my Facebook page raised this and even though I responded, I thought there was more there, and it was hard to get to what that "more" was.
When I had my first child, I was in awe of the ability my body had to bear such a miracle. That kid changed me in ways I can't explain. Before I was a mother, I was a newspaper editor and writer and naturally I took time off after the birth. When it was time to go back to work, I stuffed myself into one of my favorite pre-pregnancy dresses and marched myself into the office. Why? No one told me to do that. I did it because I wanted to signal that I was back, that I was the same old professional and motherhood hadn't affected my ability to be a kick-ass editor. It was pressure placed on me by extension -- women are expected to be all things at all times. That meant never admitting I was tired because I was up feeding the baby at 3:30 in the morning. It meant wearing clothes that barely fit and sitting in abject discomfort because I was not only a mother, but I was here doing my job as I always did with the same dedication and commitment to work excellence and nothing -- nothing -- had changed. I could be all of it at all times. And without making it look hard. That's important.
People, and society, put pressure on you whenever they get a chance. Have you ever worked with someone who waited until the last minute to do something? And then, faced with failure, you get a call from said person asking you for help to fast-track their project because now they're in trouble. There's the attempt to foist their pressure on you. What do you do? Do you accept it and begin also running around like a chicken whose head has been cut off? Or do you tell them that you have a lot going on already, and that their project will be fit in between the things you were already under pressure to do?
Do you see what I mean?
Mercifully, after I had my second child, I realized that that was nonsense. I wore my maternity clothes for as long as I needed. I went to work and I did my job to the best of my ability. I came home and spent time and energy on my family. When I was able to play tennis, I did it as well as I could. The difference was that I was not trying to be everything at all times. Serena Williams is a tennis player and she should be the best tennis player on court that she can be. Everything else can take a back seat on court. It's really OK. Not that the outfit caused her to lose -- I'd say it was that suspect footwork. Still, I believe she wears this mantle all the time. I still think about her U.S. Open loss, how her first defense to the umpire was, "I'm a mother!" What? The pressure of being an active legendary tennis player is plenty for the tennis courts. Let Alexis treat you like the queen and goddess that you are at home, off court. I guess that what I'm hoping for is that Serena Williams is kinder to herself. Serena being Serena is enough. That's a lesson a lot of us can take home.
4. I thought Stan Wawrinka v. Grigor Dimitrov was one of the best matches of the tournament. For a long time, I thought it was a matter of time before Dimitrov stepped up to claim a major, but does it seem to anyone else that the window that might have been his has closed?
5. If Novak Djokovic and Thiem had finished their semifinal match in one day, which was completely possible, does the final have a different ending? Just a thought I've been thinking since Sunday.
6. Whatever happened to Garbine Muguruza?