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Small Miracles

Paris Masters, Quarterfinals

It is rare at any level of professional tennis for the top eight seeds to populate the quarterfinal stage of a tournament, a result that was guaranteed the moment Rafael Nadal defeated Jerzy Janowicz in the last of the Paris Indoors fourth round matches. At Masters level this hadn’t occurred in over four years. Julian Finney/Getty Images EuropeMore gratifying still was the fact that the last eight men remaining at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy were the same eight who’ll descend upon London’s O2 Arena next week for the World Tour Finals.

Apparently such a miracle has never happened before, although if it was going to, this was probably the year for it. Coming in to this week, three qualification spots remained open, meaning that a number of men had every reason not only to turn up but to give their best effort, which is precisely the kind of effort that can be lacking at this tournament. Added interest came in the form of Roger Federer, who was prominent among those yet to qualify. By winning his first round match against Kevin Anderson he took care of that, and yet another comfortable victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber saw him attain the quarterfinals. By joining him at that stage both Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet ensured their spots in London as well, although whether they’ll do much more than make up the numbers is a nice question. The very best players seem unusually committed this year.

Novak Djokovic lost to Sam Querrey in strange circumstances last year, withdrew the year before after proving he cannot lose to Viktor Troicki under any circumstances, and fared badly against Michael Llodra the year before that. Yet this week he has hardly looked like losing or withdrawing. Indeed, through the first set of his quarterfinal against Wawrinka he seemed reluctant to give up points. The Swiss had an early chance to recover an even earlier break, didn’t take it, and was reduced to spectating for the next twenty minutes. The second set was tighter, especially at the start, but Djokovic always had it well in hand.

Nadal often doesn’t turn up in Paris at all, as a culmination of his disinclination to contest any of the other European indoor events that precede it. One can understand his disinterest, given that conditions don’t suit his game, and he hardly needs the points. He has won precisely one indoor hardcourt title in his career (Madrid 2005). But in a season in which he cleaned up the American summer and went undefeated on hardcourts until September, who is to say he cannot win the Paris Indoors? Gasquet certainly had little say in the matter, thrashed four and one in just over an hour. There was a belief that the last three rounds in Bercy would provide a preview of what to expect in London. It seems that this is the case.

Many are convinced Nadal will not only win Paris, but the Tour Finals as well, thereby tripling his collection of indoor titles. One viewer took the trouble to email Sky Sports to that effect, adding, however, that she would be equally happy if Federer never won another match. Marcus Buckland and Barry Cowan professed themselves shocked by this, suggesting neither man spends much time on the internet, which is largely powered by schadenfreude and self-importance, and is thus self-sustaining. Wishing catastrophe on total strangers based on perceived minor transgressions is an even more popular online hobby than charmless grandiosity, though the two are easily combined.

Cowan confessed he did not understand how anyone could actively dislike watching Federer play, even if for whatever reason you do not care for him off the court. Buckland invited the viewer to email in their reasons, which they naturally did. It turned out to be the usual tedious guff about arrogance and poor losing. Ho-hum. Cowan still didn’t get it. To his credit I’ll hazard that the reason for his confusion is that he fundamentally doesn’t grasp how many ostensible tennis fans are a fan of a particular player more than they’re a fan of the sport. For all Cowan’s manifold shortcomings as a commentator and a player, the fact that he was a professional sportsman means that only a tiny portion of his engagement with tennis concerns any particular player. For the fan who emailed in, and many others just like her, the opposite is true. Their approach to professional tennis is primarily concerned with the deification of their favourite player, and the revilement of whichever players they’ve been taught are diametrically opposed. You’ll observe that fanatics always reserve their unkindest hopes for rivals. No one wastes time wishing Ivo Karlovic never wins another match.

It was another reminder, as if more were needed, that many sports fans are dullards who cannot function without a depressing little assortment of heroes and villains, and that these roles are by necessity cast within very tight parameters. Thus, say, the soft-spoken and sardonic Robin Soderling is a villain, held by some to be morally on par with Timothy McVeigh. The reality is that most of us encounter considerably worse people than any professional tennis player every time we leave the house, or even when we don’t. You can hear the squalid thoughts of the ethically bankrupt merely by switching on commercial radio, and after listening to many politicians speak you’ll want to take a dip in the septic tank just to feel comparatively clean. Remember the supposed falling out between Federer and Nadal at the beginning of last year over the ATP Player Council? I must have attended half a dozen more acrimonious meetings than that in the last month, and am daily obliged to shake hands with far bigger wankers than any man in the top ten. As far as I can make out, and for all that it matters, all the top players seem like pretty nice people.

The fan who’d emailed Sky Sports can’t have been happy with Cowan’s mystified response, and was surely brought to a high simmer by the subsequent coverage, which was unabashedly Federer-centric. ‘I’m not even looking at del Potro right now,’ declared Andrew Castle in commentary as the second quarterfinal commenced, ‘All my focus is on Federer!’ He went on to add that for him Federer was the story of the next twelve to eighteen months in men’s tennis, which seemed rather disrespectful to Philipp Kohlschreiber, who is poised to commence his audacious run to the number one ranking. (Mark my words.) It was also somewhat disrespectful to del Potro, who has been in tremendous form of late, and will be a legitimate title-contender in London next week. He at least deserved a look-in.

It was clear as the first set proceeded that Federer wasn’t about to give him one. Federer was quite magnificent, hitting seventeen winners to just four errors and comprehensively shutting down the forecourt. It was almost justified the presumption that Federer was eager for another shot at del Potro so soon after the Basel final. His success against tall powerful players traditionally entailed exploiting their lack of agility with constant variations of spin, width and depth. Del Potro moves superbly for a man his height, but compelling him to lunge, dip and pivot is still a wiser strategy than trying to trade lusty blows from the baseline. Federer’s first set was a testament to this; 47% of his backhands were slices, the kind of figure he used to post when dispatching the arch-villain Soderling. Unaccountably he went back to hitting over his backhand more in the second, although until 4/5 he remained untroubled on serve. Del Potro so far had had an awful day on return, but at this moment unleashed his biggest forehand, and subsequently broke to take the set. The third set was patchier, with a string of breaks each way. Federer steadied quicker, and eventually served it, to his evident relief and the visceral contempt of at least one fan. Del Potro didn’t appear particularly fazed. If anything he’d looked a trifle fatigued as the match wore on, and I imagine the longer rest will do him a power of good.

Federer has now posted just his second win over a top-ten player for the season, offset by five loses. Andrew Castle reminded viewers that by the end of next week he might conclude his season with a more respectable win-loss tally of 9:5, assuming he defeats Djokovic in the semifinals, Nadal (probably) in the final, then everyone in London. This seems rather a generous assumption to make, even by Castle’s standards. We were also reminded that Federer has now beaten at least one top five opponent at least once in each of the last fifteen years. It seemed a strange point to belabour, since he is after all Roger Federer. He is not Philipp Kohlschreiber, although soon Philipp Kohlschreiber won’t be, either. Mark my words.

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  1. cecilica
    November 2nd, 2013 at 09:10 | #1

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and not because I am one of those that hope that Nadal will win both Bercy and WTF without breaking a sweat even. But it even occur to you how tiring and ultimately weird and annoying must have been listening to the tennis commentaries in the last 10 years for anyone who was not a Fed Church worshiper? Phrases going from “you have to like Federer game if you like tennis” to the blunt “Federer is an artist, Nadal is just a body-builder winning machine” from the commentators or “only clueless, mindless underage fangirls or postmenopausal single women like Nadal” from the tennis WWW world could make even the most sane minds wander a little. And not only we had been submitted to the continuous lyrically waxing about his game, we also had to endure athe over-deification of his off-court persona: countless sportsmanship awards when the truth is not quite there, second trustful person in the world after Mandela( Seriously? Because he hits a nice FH?) and soon Nobel Peace Prize and the cure for cancer probably.
    No, you don’t HAVE to like what everybody likes. If the respectable Mister Cowan had wondered how could anyone like, lets say, black people or same sex relations, or a certain religion, people would have outraged. but it’s perfectly justifiable to teach clueless, underage fangirls and postmenopausal old women about what is good in tennis, right?
    And wishing someone to lose tennis matches is not wishing him a catastrophe, reasons going from ranking implication for your favorite player to “I just don’t like his guts” Which is just a perfect understandable human sentiment as Mr Cowan overwhelming love for Federer’s game is.
    That being said, I enjoy watching Roger play a lot, especially when he plays against someone who could give him a match and he doesn’t check out early as sadly happened a lot lately and i wish him a healthy back and a long career.
    And as a Rafa Nadal Church worshiper i could not be more thankful for everything him and his BH have done for my favorite’s carera :p

    • November 2nd, 2013 at 21:35 | #2

      None of these seem like particularly compelling reasons to dislike Federer or his game. After all, it’s not as though he nominates himself for those awards, and nor is he responsible for the comments that commentators or fans utter on his behalf. And again, my broader points wasn’t solely about Nadal fans, since fans of Federer, Murray and – to a lesser extent, I’d say – Djokovic are guilty of the same behaviour. Personally I don’t care who the commentators like the most. Whether they like the same players as me is immaterial.

      It isn’t really an issue of not caring for a particular player’s game. Everyone’s tastes are different, and it’s fair enough that someone might not care for how a particular person plays. But there’s a qualitative difference between that and taking an active dislike such that one derives inordinate pleasure from that player losing. And as I say, the fact that this is almost exclusively directed at one’s favourite player’s direct rival(s) makes it clear that this attitude isn’t formed in a vacuum.

  2. Eva
    November 2nd, 2013 at 13:14 | #3

    I had hoped my delight in watching Roger Federer’s mastery yesterday would be further enhanced by an article on The Next Point… and I wasn’t disappointed… Thank You! Let me anoint you the GOAT of tennis writing…

    The at times irrational world of tennis fans would really puzzle me if it weren’t a microcosm of our struggling Humanity… … Be it tennis, religion, politics, culture, race, language, sexual orientation, climate affinities, dietary choices and so much more… we find it so challenging to accept and learn from our differences and to focus on what we unites us… How long, how long, how long (picture Jerzy Janowicz smashing a few racquets to punctuate the sentence), how long will it take us to realize that we can wish our heroes and favourites to prevail rather than wishing their opponents to suffer humiliating defeats, … that we can have personal preferences and even adorations that take nothing away from other inclinations… Well, what if it takes us a few eons longer,… I won’t cease to believe that, yes, we can co-create mutual respect among tennis fans and, by another stretch, peace on earth… Won’t that be a Small Miracle worth living for?

    Philipp Kohlschreiber… hmmm… I mark your words! I’d surely vote for seeing him and Tommy Haas parade their art in London next year… yet I wouldn’t bet a fortune on it!

    • November 3rd, 2013 at 00:38 | #4

      I love your optimism, Eva. I confess I find dealing with rampant fanaticism to be exhausting, and easily the worst part of the sport.

      Kohli and Haas at the WTFs would be more than a small miracle, but all the more special for it. The problem lately is that they keep running into each other early on.

  3. tootsie
    November 2nd, 2013 at 13:45 | #5

    It is exactly the likes of Andrew Castle and Barry Cowan and their ilk who fan the flames of the internet fan battles. Their deification of Federer is truly nauseating to many who don’t share in their canonization of the man. And the Federer fans shouldn’t be all high and mighty in this particular debate because a very large proportion of them have been very very ugly to Nadal and his fans through the years. Fedal wars are not pretty and both sides deserve blame.

    • November 3rd, 2013 at 00:44 | #6

      Why do you care what Castle and Cowan think, let alone be ‘nauseated’ by it? Would you be commensurately thrilled if they deified your favourite player?

      You’re right that both sides are guilty in this, and I don’t think I claimed otherwise. The example of the Nadal fan was merely the one before me, and pertinent to the Bercy quarterfinals. But I was making more general points about rampant fandom for any player.

  4. Lobber
    November 2nd, 2013 at 16:30 | #7

    I just finished watching the Djokovic-Federer semi on Sky, and save for one or two comments that could be viewed as disrespectful, I had no problem with the Federer deification. Bad tennis commentary has been a constant for so long that it has come to feel like background noise to me. Same with bad tennis journalism and over-the-top fanaticism on the internet. Having rooted mostly for Djokovic for the last 5 years (although he is only one among many players I support regularly), I’ve become entirely accustomed to hearing disrespectful, sometimes vicious remarks from commentators. For some reason, this is especially true on portuguese broadcasters, or at least it was until 2011. It can be annoying, of course, but surely it is to be expected at this point.
    The sport has never had as much projection and there are more people now than ever who will proclaim themselves fans of one particular player and only watch the matches that one guy plays. It’s not ideal, but it’s not so different from other kinds of fanaticism, both in sport and outside of it.
    As someone who appreciates the quality of both players, I submit that Federer and Nadal, having been largely responsible for a wonderful era of tennis, have also, through no fault of their own, polarized this sport to a horrible degree. The internet helps too, of course.

    • November 3rd, 2013 at 01:07 | #8

      Excellent comment, thanks.

      One thing that gets lost in this is the idea that people who know a lot about the sport, who’ve played it at a professional level, might have a preference for a given player, but their regard is not to be confused with the overwhelming hero-worship of many general fans. Examples abound for all the top guys, but to take one: I was at the launch of Rod Laver’s Memoirs last week, and listened as Laver spoke very glowingly and at length of Federer. He was highly complimentary of other players, especially Nadal, but he makes no effort to hide that Federer is the player he admires the most. Now, does anyone truly believe Rod Laver, possibly the greatest player who has ever played, steeped in the subtleties and history of the game, who knows everyone who matters in the sport personally, is just some deluded fan-boy? In truth Federer worships Laver more than the other way round.

      Of course, others will prefer Nadal, or Djokovic, or Murray and that’s fine – they’re all superb players, and tremendous ambassadors for the sport. There’s no wrong preference. But there’s a line where support of a player exceeds one’s love of the sport, and deriving keen pleasure from another player’s loss is to have crossed that line.

      It’s worth remembering that ex-pros – even those less exalted than Laver – have a very different experience of the sport than the general fan, and there is often a qualitative difference in how they feel even about their favourite players. People accuse, say, Robbie Koenig of ‘hating’ their favourite player. I suspect the truth is that he is far less emotionally invested in any particular player or result than fans of those players are, and feels nothing as strong as ‘hate’ or ‘love’ for any of them. The same goes for most of them.

  5. Shirley Hartt
    November 2nd, 2013 at 18:11 | #9

    Interesting post. The comments on some sites are just people praising their favourite player and dissing the rivals, so it can be hard to find any thoughtful discussion.

    In any case – big upset. Ferrer just beat Nadal in straight sets. Must admit am a bit shocked, not because I don’t like Ferrer – just a big surprise.

    • November 3rd, 2013 at 01:09 | #10

      I agree, that is a complete shock. I actually went to bed, figuring Nadal would romp home (it was on at about 3:30am here). It’s true that their H2H on hardcourts stood at 3-3, but two of Ferrer’s wins were ancient history (2007) and Nadal could barely move in their AO 2011 quarterfinal. Plus Nadal is in great form. I just couldn’t see Ferrer even making it close. How wrong I was. Adds some spice to London at least.

  6. cecilica
    November 3rd, 2013 at 07:18 | #11

    Ah, Laver, indeed, he doesn’t hide his Federer love! He also didn’t hide his sour disappointment at the AO2009 trophy, maybe THE stellar moment of Nadal career, in more ways than one.

  7. Lobber
    November 3rd, 2013 at 11:17 | #12

    @cecilica
    cecilica, I would like to ask you if you’ve ever heard Nadal speak about that award ceremony negatively, because I certainly haven’t. The truth is we really don’t know what players think, no matter how long and how closely we’ve followed their careers, and it’d be silly to think so. Even now, when so much of what we see is PR and media-induced political correctness, I have the impression that fans have a much more belligerent view of these “incidents” than players do.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to pick a fight, I just have a hard time understanding why people become so indignant at supposed incidents that even their favorite players clearly dismiss as non-events.

    Jesse, thank you for your insight. I think it is very useful to remind ourselves that most commentators have a completely different relationship to the sport than that of the average fan, because once you do that, it becomes much easier not to get worked up over their preferences.

  8. Ewa
    November 3rd, 2013 at 12:04 | #13

    Hi there,
    It’s my first time commenting on this blog. I’m in a terrible mood since my favourite player Rafa lost yesterday. I didn’t see the match and that is probably a good thing since I heard he played abysmally bad. Also, I always find it hard to watch Nadal-Ferrer matches because I really like David. I must confess that for a brief moment yesterday I didn’t like him. It happens quite often when Rafa loses however, the dislike for the opponent usually goes away very quickly even though the disappointment lingers. I’m not proud of this. I don’t like reacting like this, but I do. I think that quite a few of us fans have this immediate reaction. As immature and ridiculous it might seem it’s there. Sadly, with some fans it festers into hatred which they manifest over the net. Reading these comments, even about players I do not particularly care about, make me sick. It’s amazing how viscious people can be.
    I have another confession to make and that is I did go off Roger for a while after he said in a presser that he couldn’t stop laughing for 10 minutes when he heard that Rafa had been knocked out by Rosol at Wimby 2012. I thought that was such a inconsiderate, stupid remark. I’m sure he did laugh. I’m sure other players did too. I’m sure it happens all the time but to say it officially… Up until then, the one I always rooted for if Rafa was out was Rog. I never had that I-don’t-like-you moment when Rafa lost to him. I guess what made me so disappointed in him was that Rafa has always treated Roger with the utmost respect. He always says that Fed is “the best of the history” and he is also the one who’s been insisting on that Roger will get back to the top when basically everone else has been writing him off after this season. In fact, I think Rafa is Roger’s biggest fan.
    I’m going to continue to mope over Rafa’s loss. The Swedish autumn weather is dismal and enhancing the feeling. To top it off, I have to go to work tonight so I don’t get to watch the final where David hopefully can defend his title. I know, I know it probably wont happen but one can hope. And he ows me.
    By the way, me and Rog are ok now. ;-)

    • November 3rd, 2013 at 23:35 | #14

      I am glad to hear you’ve reconciled! I personally didn’t dwell too much about Federer’s comments after the Rosol loss, and I’d be surprised if he actually spent a solid ten minutes in hysterics, or maniacally cackling. I’d say it was merely the same disbelief that most of us felt. He knows better than anyone how fearsome Nadal is at Wimbledon (or anywhere), and probably found it hard to believe that the guy who defeated him in the 2008 final had lost to the No.100 in the second round. I think a lot of us were just laughing from disbelief at what was happening – at seeing a guy ranked that low just belt balls that hard for that long against one of the sport’s great defenders on the sport’s greatest stage. There’s a highlights clip of the match on Youtube with Wally Masur and Roger Rasheed commentating, and frequently they just burst out laughing at Rosol’s shots.

      My policy, personally, is not to pay any attention to comments extracted from pressers. They’re drained of their nuance and context, and isolated to form sensationalist headlines. Tignor pointed out earlier this year that in press Federer doesn’t come across anywhere near as partrician as on the page. Nor does Nadal launch unprompted into fireside chats about his knees. Murray isn’t rude or gruff, merely quiet and wry, or disinterested. I could go on. Comments that sound authoritative and ill-considered are mostly just delivered off the cuff by nice young men who’d rather be elsewhere.

  9. Shirley Hartt
    November 3rd, 2013 at 16:21 | #15

    @Jesse Pentecost

    In various accounts of the Ferrer/Nadal match, the most common word was “shock.” I nearly did not follow that match either, because a Nadal victory seemed a certainty (although it was on at a perfectly reasonable time here).

    For today’s match, although I expected Djokovic to win, was rooting strongly for Ferrer, simply because it’s more interesting to have a variety of winners at the top level. When Nadal or Djokovic play anyone except each other, you can usually, but not always, predict they will win. (And of course even against each other, one of the two will win; you just don’t know which one!) For this reason, I look forward more to matches between other top 30 players, where the outcome is less certain.

    At least the Ferrer/Djokovic match was reasonably close, especially with Ferrer’s early breaks in each set.

  10. Bebe
    November 3rd, 2013 at 17:11 | #16

    Very interesting article. I root for a lot of players and the bashing that goes on online is really annoying. Although, I’m not so sure it’s any different in any other sport? Huge brands – like Federer or Nadal or Tiger Woods or New York Yankees – inspire that love/hate polarity, and appeal to emotion before reason. And, as a huge fan of tennis, I want it to be a big sport. I want the 500s and 250s televised. To do that, it does require big name players like Federer and Nadal, which are essentially massive international “personal” brands. So, I’ll put up with annoying comments from uber-fans (and commentators) any day of the week if it means I get to watch a Master’s 1000 title on TV…or the Basel tourney last week which I thoroughly enjoyed watching last Sunday! I still remember the years between Sampras’ decline and Federer’s rise (I guess….the Roddick/Hewitt years in early 2000s?) and I was hard pressed in my country to watch 1000s or even the French Open!

    I think Andrew Castle’s comments about Fed/Del Po were just as disrespectful as the Nadal fan wanting Fed to lose. Worse really, given as a commentator you would think their love for the sport would override a player (which, is what I think you are saying?). Then again, commentators aren’t immune and in some ways it’s better when it’s so overt, then when it’s obvious they root for a certain player but are masking it. I would argue that it’s commentators like Castle over the years that did push people into the Nadal camp…I love watching Fed play and even I will maintain the “waxing poetic” has been over-the-top at times. And, because I’m contrarian it did often push me into the Nadal camp, perhaps mostly because I was excited to have a player finally take it to Federer in the 2007/2008 era. I will be very sad to see them both leave the game and my fingers are crossed there will be other players to come along to inspire like they both do (and Djok / Murray to a lesser extent) so I can watch the Bercy final on TV on a Sunday morning in snowy Canada….just like I did today!!

    • November 3rd, 2013 at 22:46 | #17

      Thanks, Bebe, great comment. Really good points about the positive impact that the Federer Nadal rivalry has had on television coverage. I admit I didn’t go there. (Here in Australia their popularity has had no discernible impact on coverage. Indeed, there is far less tennis shown on television here than there was in 2001, when most of the Masters finals would be shown, along with all the Majors. Now we get the AO (plus the Australian events preceding it), Wimbledon and Australia’s DC matches. That’s it. With such a proud tennis history, Australia’s interest has very much waned with the fortunes of its (male) players. There was outrage when the channel that has the rights to the US Open – but doesn’t use them – cut away from their tedious breakfast program in order to show Stosur’s US Open final a couple of years ago.)

      I really didn’t find Castle’s comment that bad, to be honest, but then everyone has doubtless worked out by now that I never get offended by any commentator’s opinions. I do get irritated – nauseated, even – by their misuse and abuse of language, but that’s a different story that I’ll delve into elsewhere. Nor I am typically quick to defend Sky commentators, but Castle did pay plenty of attention to del Potro during the match. He was really just saying that he finds Federer’s current situation fascinating – and it is – and is keen to see how Federer copes with it.

      If only the Basel final was shown on tv here. I watched it on a very low quality stream, rendered even more stuttery by the fact that I was watching it while Skyped with Arienna. Often she was obliged to describe what was happening to me. Luckily her powers of evocation are unsurpassed.

  11. CL’sCat
    November 3rd, 2013 at 21:40 | #18

    “To his credit I’ll hazard that the reason for his confusion is that he fundamentally doesn’t grasp how many ostensible tennis fans are a fan of a particular player more than they’re a fan of the sport..”

    “NERF” from the early days at Pete Bodo’s Tennis World. NERF=Not Even a Real Fan. I think that one of the things that both Roger and Rafa have done, (for whatever reasons), is cast their popularity nets well beyond tennis boundaries. To a certain extent, even beyond the normal boundaries of athletics. (Novak may have already, or be in the verge of doing the same.) So that ‘some’ of their fans, can ONLY see their matches as a battle of…almost literally…good and evil. The tennis is just an excuse for them to be on the court. When some people post on tennis web sites, it is clear they have never watched a match pre-Fed/Rafa, let alone ever wielded a racket. And are frankly clueless about ANY aspect of the game beyond their favorite’s fate and are incapable of even the most grudging acknowledgement of the skill of the other. Since they don’t even recognize the skill set required.

    And because we now have ‘the internets,’ those people have a voice that is ‘equivalent’ to that of the most seasoned, rational fan. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you are quick with the scroll key and keep searching, it is actually pretty easy to ferret out interesting and thoughtful commentary, (take a bow Jesse), no matter who is playing and no matter who wins or loses.

    • November 3rd, 2013 at 23:17 | #19

      You’re absolutely correct on all points, CL, as always. You’re spot on that those who hold such polarised views are less likely to have played or watched tennis for long. And you’re right that the larger problem is that they often don’t grasp that to people who’ve followed the sport for a very long time, the current crop of top players are merely the latest in a long sequence. They’re very special, but so were the greats of the past. Lacking perspective, they can have no way of knowing what it is like to have it. And ex-pros have a level of perspective that leaves mine for dead, based on tens of thousands of hours of hard slog, and countless hours spent in the company of other pros.

      It’s also common to believe that the high-water marks coincide with our initial engagement. Nothing beats the initial flush of discovery, of learning so much so quickly, and of finding yourself in a community of like-minded fellow-travellers. Nothing afterwards really recaptures that early thrill, and humans have wasted their lives trying to. I first engaged with tennis in the 1980s, and found it hard to believe my parents when they recounted the majesty of Laver, Rosewall, Ashe etc. Sure they were good, I responded, but nothing like Lendl, Becker and Edberg! I had no perspective, but still argued the point. Like all solipsists, in my bones I knew that tennis only really started when I started watching it.

      But in and of itself, that’s no bad thing. I wrote elsewhere that although I have no time for fans whose engagement with the sport ends with a particular player, allowance should always be made for those whose interest begins there. We all have to start somewhere. My suspicion is that excessive schadenfreude is a dead end, though.

  12. Eva
    November 5th, 2013 at 14:04 | #20

    Such interesting exchanges here… Thanks everyone!

  13. CL’sCat
    November 6th, 2013 at 01:06 | #21

    Jesse – something else occurred to me…my brain spins slowly….tangentially related. Sometimes I think fans confuse players with their fans. And again, the internet is often the ‘enabler’ in this. A Rafa fan says something a little mean about Fed and a Fed fan reacts by saying something a little meaner about Rafa AND the Rafa fan, (or vice versa) and before you know it everyone is off to the races of, again from Pete Bodo’s Tennis World, “hateration.” At a certain point, the actual players become irrelevant to their fan’s passions.

    “It’s also common to believe that the high-water marks coincide with our initial engagement. Nothing beats the initial flush of discovery, of learning so much so quickly”

    Oh, this is SO true, imo. For me, there is Laver and thou shall have no other gods, (or goats – mythical beasts anyway), before him. Amen.

  14. Shirley Hartt
    November 7th, 2013 at 13:38 | #22

    @CL’sCat

    Think you’re right that “At a certain point, the actual players become irrelevant to their fans’ passions.” On another site, a lot of the discussion is just an argument about who is better – Nadal or Federer, with Djokovic sometimes in the mix. It gets so vicious that one person asked for suggestions of other sites where the discussion was more sane. I suggested this one, so hope he followed through.

    Also agree that we favour the player we were excited about when we started to follow tennis in a serious way. For me, Edberg could do no wrong!

    • November 12th, 2013 at 22:26 | #23

      Apologies for slackness of responses lately. Crazy week.

      Adding to CL’s point, I’d say that fans not only conflate their rival’s fans with their rival, often they associate themselves with their favourite, (or team in the case of other sports). Thus a fanbase will feel that an attack on them is an attack on the player / team. While there is undoubtedly some connection, since a fanbase takes many cues from the player it supports, I still hold that it is possible to criticise fans without it being a comment on the player or team they support.

  15. Ewa
    November 14th, 2013 at 19:43 | #24

    Hi again. Late respons here too. Popped over to London for WTF. The only Nadal match I had tickets to was him vs Berdych. It was neither a pleasant nor exciting experience but luckily Rafa won in the end. It always amazes me how the top guys can pull off a win even if they play bad. About the chuckling incident: Even though I´m a Rafa fan ( you know, mindless, clueless and sad ) I understand quotes are taken out of context. Probably this is why most of the time the players often come across as boring (everyone except Gulbis, naturally) especially the top guys that are interviewed more often. I guess they´ve learnt, sometimes tha hard way, to modify their answers so there wont be anything said that can be taken out and turned into an offending comment. Usually they are quite good at this so this comment threw me. My reaction was purely emotional and not rational and I think that if you like someone and they do or say something that is an unpleasant surprise it hits you harder than if someone you don´t like (or Gulbis) says it. Then you can more easlily brush it aside. Once again, just an immediate, emotional reaction. I often do that. React, feel, rant and mope. Then I cool down, listen to reason, sometimes feel stupid and get over it. Sort of like Stan reacted in his match against Rafa.
    I haven´t been into tennis for that long. I started watching it 2009 when Robin beat Rafa at RG. It took me exactly 3 matches to be hooked on the sport and an addtional 6 months to be a Rafa fan. It is a fantastic sport and sometimes it´s more like pure art, in my opinion. I have never played tennis and I can´t get my head around how incredibly skilled these guys are and to watch it live is a treat and yes I watch matches even when Rafa isn´t playing. Sometimes I enjoy it even more then when I don´t have to be so nerovus. I might not be able to analyze a match, give expert comments on ground strokes and hear if a ball hits the raquet cleanly but I do love it and I like to talk about it. What I resent is, when you´re a woman and a fan you quite often get patronising comments. It always has to be about something else than the sport. Working two jobs to be able to go around the world and watch tennis is a little weird. Surely a woman can´t be that interested in a sport? I don´t think men who adore Federer or Messi or Ronaldo and go to Wimbledon or Camp Nou or Bernabéu get those comments. It annoys me. Ah well, what else is new.
    Enough about that. I read that Novak had put on his thinking cap after USO and figured out how to beat Rafa. Apparently it worked. Damn that cap!!! The Rafa-Novak rivalry is getting more and more fascinating. After the initial chock 2011 for us Rafa fans we could watch our guy figuring out how to beat Novak. For the moment Novak has the momentum and upper hand. I wonder how far these two will push each other. What do you think?Next season will be more than interesting but right now I´m quite happy for the break.
    Maybe I´ll get to catch up with some movie going or finally paint the kitchen shelves.
    Or I can always watch reruns of USO and RG…..

    @Jesse Pentecost

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