The Shanghai draw looks absolutely festive. Looking forward to following along as the men wrap-up the outdoor play and ready themselves for the indoor hard courts.
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Djokovic looks unstoppable. I have yet to watch the Nadal/Djokovic Beijing final, but we know what happened and know how well Nole has been playing since resurfacing after his post-U.S. Open hiatus. He is the unquestionable world #1. I suppose the only concern is if he can maintain this pace through to London and those fiercely competitive matches. But, again, despite the fact that Stan completed a nice, victorious tune-up, and that Roger will probably be well-rested and ready to resume his phenomenal farewell tour, along with Murray back in action, and Nadal, perhaps fresh off a new oil change and confidence building from his Beijing play, Djokovic is the man who will dictate the outcomes of these tournaments. His level is just too high for the best of the rest to find enough opportunities to win two sets. His game can handle a lapse, a broken serve or two, a fit of unforced errors. Because he’s breaking you and finding, eventually, your throat to crush. Fair to say he’s being quite dismissive of his fellow competitors’ play. Keep it up, Nole. This is your time.
The only other real point I should address is my bold and unsuccessful claim that Kyrgios would win Japan. Ha. Tennis is a very finicky game. Here’s the thing though: the guy who beat him, moved-on and through one of the big tournament and crowd favorites before finally succumbing to injury and the Stanimal.
I really enjoyed watching some Benoit Paire tennis. He has a smart game with sneaky power. His first serve is no joke and his ground strokes can flatten-out and find lines, which essentially make things very tough on his opponents (that two-handed BH is fantastic). Beating Kyrgios (who is a total wild card at this point) and Nishikori (who beat Cilic) is no small feat. Paire has continued to play tough since “arriving” this summer. The tall, almost stoic Frenchman is the real deal; let’s just hope he can maintain this form through 2016. The foot/ankle injury looks like it started to bother him as the final progressed though he probably wasn’t beating Stan either way. Stan’s power game looks to be shaping-up nicely for some fireworks here through the end of October and into November. Very cool to learn that Paire and Stan are “best” friends. The award ceremony was profuse with friendly banter between the two. Both seemed quite pleased with the tournament results.
Lastly, I know I have been quite harsh on Nadal (but do give that video a look – the funniest parts are A) that a camera happens to be on Nadal “taking” his medicine and B) Lindsay and Paul are basically saying “what the fuck is he doing?!” Lol.).
I have never enjoyed his tennis. At some point, you have to acknowledge his game because of the success that has followed his little clay dust-cloud of a career. He’s won a lot of tennis matches, no doubt. But the tennis is not beautiful; it’s not marked by the elegance or the balletic artistry and skill of so many great players who have defined this great sport. His has been a power and defensive style that has overcome many opponents. But the lack of grace and artistry doesn’t work, I’m afraid, for many tennis fans. This lack of grace and artistry of his game has become associated with a style of preparation that we find lacking elegance and character, as well.
One of the things I have enjoyed about the Fognini/Nadal rivalry this year concerns the Fog’s willingness to call Nadal out on certain aspects of his game (talking to his box, delaying play, etc.). NADAL HAS HAD HIS WAY, bullying the sport, if you will. Our culture’s decision to value championships above everything else finds a perfectly finished product in Nadal. He has most likely done very questionable things to his body (aside from his grinder style of play) in order to win those titles. Sure he’s won them, but at what cost?
What I’m saying here is that the game has paid. We have become consumers of this marketing genius that has been Rafa.
But it’s complicated. He is a very talented tennis player with a ruthless fight. No question about that. The best commentary on Nadal was from Brad Gilbert, I believe. To paraphrase, Nadal plays every point like it’s his last. He’s down 0-40, 1-5, but he’s not giving his opponent an inch. This incredible will has subsided as his game has begun to recede. But in that Nadal hey-day, his fight was pretty authentic. That’s what Sampras and Agassi, I’m almost certain, liked so much about him.
But the tennis, the fundamental game, has not been there. And that’s what we’ve lost in this discussion of Nadal’s greatness.
I have been recording my thoughts on the Federer/Djokovic relationship. This is a great rivalry mainly because it’s that achievement of tennis and competitive excellence that will really start to link their two legacies, beyond the respect that they have for each other. These are two of the greatest players of all time, who have clearly pursued a definition of tennis excellence.
That’s the final point here. The culture began to value majors more than it did the pursuit of excellence. Sure, you might say the pursuits of majors and excellence are one in the same. But I would point to Nadal as a perfect example to undermine this rebuke. If winning is all that matters, than cheating is less of a sin (if he did – and I know this is tough to prove and sure there are other players who certainly did similar things to gain an advantage – in other words, tennis is not exempt from the pressures and temptations other athletes have felt in nearly every other sport).
On the other hand, if the excellence of the game is the most important pursuit, that we value most the beauty and balance of tennis artistry and competitive heart, than we have a certain value system with which to analyze the sport and its players. I don’t think we should ignore that.
And the best thing about hard court tennis is the players have an ideal surface with which to showcase this game’s beauty and excellence. Onward to Shanghai!