Confessions of a Tennis Junkie

The Peter Nez category

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Arthur Ashe: A Remembrance of Things Past

The largest tennis stadium in the world is named after him. The last major of the year is decided on his surface. Nothing could be more appropriate than to commend the efforts of a man, who not only changed the game, but changed the way we see things. One book does it better than the rest.

Mr. Ashe was low key, mild mannered, a shy man you could say, but his game and presence stood tall, brash, and personified individualism like none other. In Mike Towle’s book, I Remember Arthur Ashe: Memories of a True Tennis Pioneer and Champion of Social Causes by the People Who Knew Him by Cumberland House, we get a candid glance into the life of someone who hardly showed any emotions on the court, carried himself with the utmost class and dignity, and seemed impervious to the spotlight. Unlike most biographies, which typically consist of a laborious bulk of exposition and pastoral beginnings, Towle’s book is a narrative not of his own, but of the people that knew Arthur Ashe well, and some not so well, but relay an experience they had encountering the great tennis legend revealing a more human side of Ashe, one that has never been unveiled before.

The structure of the book is linear following Ashe’s career from its auspicious beginnings to the tragic end of losing a bout with AIDS, all told through personal friends and colleagues alike, and even at times the very subject himself. My favorite passage from the book, one that I think reveals his human side the most, is when Ashe recalls a match he had against tennis great John Newcombe in Sydney where he lost due to some good old fashioned day dreaming. ‘I remember I won the first set,’ Ashe recalls, ‘Then all of a sudden I started thinking about this stewardess, Bella, I had met. She was Miss Trinidad of 1962. I just kept seeing her – this gorgeous face, this beautiful creature – and the next thing I know the match is over and Newcombe won.’

This book is more than a book about a tennis player. It’s a book about being human, and few stories mirror Arthur Ashe’s journey. Here’s to you Arthur, and to you too Mr. Towle for a great idea.

Top Tennis Commentators

Its that time again, when most of the known world sits behind the tube, on their favorite couch, sporting their favorite beverage, chip crumbs strewn across their lap, ready to watch their favorite players battle it out in the final slam of the year, yes, you guessed it, its US OPEN time!  New York, the Big Apple, bright lights, city streets, and electricity abuzz, there really is nothing like the final major of the year, hosting the biggest stadium in the world, named after possibly the sport’s greatest ambassador ever, Arthur Ashe.

In these decadent times of economic slumber, people still need their fix of quality tennis but live action viewing seems reserved for the few unscathed pocket books, while the many depend on that blue screen in the living room to emit their pleasures and quench their US Open thirst.

All the talk and buzz circling the favorites to make the finals and revel in tennis glory hound the media in all forms, and monopolize most of the conversations surrounding this year’s final slam, but does anybody talk about who is presenting this information? I would like to. Who do you think are the top broadcasters in the business?

Tennis fans are pretty savvy and range in the above average intelligentsia range, and perhaps can be a bit snooty by nature. My girlfriend flings that term at me often, and I can’t necessarily deny it too much. We are a pretty demanding bunch, and the hardcore are very astute to the game and conditions that constitute quality play and format. The middle men, and women, are the difference between a fine Cabernet and a flat diet soda to accompany the main dish. Whether it’s the ultra chatty John McEnroe who seems to me an elitist impresario rather than an objective commentator, or the South African Sultan of Snoot, Clifford Drysdale, who characterizes the term “comedy of errors,” I think it more than appropriate to list of the top contenders for best commentator.

First thing first, before we get going on the best of the best, I have to say that Chris Fowler should be tarred, feathered, and thrown in the Hudson immediately. I don’t know who thought this guy should be the anchor of tennis for ESPN but his termination is long overdue. The steely chinned, slickly dressed, creepy eyed Fowler, who has never played the game professionally and maybe even recreationally, teeters back and forth between irrelevant commentating on player acumen, to really bad bantering between himself and Brad Gilbert. He continually undermines and questions the real authorities of tennis and rarely has any substantial evidence to back his claims.

He is just plain FOUL, and needs to go. He’s the type of guy that would shake your hand with added pressure to compensate for a fragile ego and a lackluster libido. He probably skins kittens for pleasure, and cheats his mom in poker. Bye Bye Birdie, see ya Fowler!

What about Pam Shriver? Is there anybody else out there who sees this woman as a beady eyed executioner rather than a competent commentator? She conducts herself with zero composure and takes it as a sign of bravado and class to speak your mind, no matter how smelly the stuff coming out is. James Blake, who is known for his sportsmanship and mannerly demeanor, scoffed at Shriver, as was his right, at Wimbledon this year, when the snarling Shriver decided to have an outloud conversation with herself courtside distracting Blake in a big match, which he eventually lost, albeit not entirely Shriver’s fault, she certainly played an integral role.

I think Gilbert is funny, and usually knows what he’s talking about, although he can be overboard. He does add a much needed spunk to the booth. Cahill, the Australian Mummy, always looks confused and nervous, although he is very knowledgeable; he possesses this overwrought persona of a nerd with no personality. He looks like he needs sleep. Or perhaps a polo mallet to the head.

The only people in my mind who know what they’re doing, and supply an ample balance of silence and talking are the European commentators for Tennis Channel. Jason Goodall, Robbie Koenig, and Doug Addler, are the best of the best. They’re commentating is fresh, insightful, spot on, and more than often compliments the match severity perfectly with little side comments and just the right amount of humor and wit. They are my top three, with Addler taking the top spot.

Navratilova is great as well. She brings a candidness and professionalism to the booth that is sorely missing from other pros, McEnroe especially. Carillo needs to go home and decide what gender she is and call me in the morning.

What is absolutely needed in the booth for ESPN is Jim Courier and Andre Agassi. Agassi commentated just one time in the history of broadcasting and it was a US Open match between Federer and Roddick a few years back and he was a pied prophet of articulation and spoke with so much wisdom and honesty about the players and the game, especially Federer. It was amazing to listen to and enhanced the match that much. I personally feel he may be a better broadcaster than a player. Courier is extremely intelligent, a former world number one, and knows the players and the game inside out. He can tactically break down a match like no other and uses a very dynamic vernacular to communicate that.

How sweet would it be if Agassi and Federer became broadcast partners one day? Rafa and Fed? Give me your picks folks. And please, don’t say Dick Enberg.

American Tennis Triumphs At The Farmers Classic

Bob and Mike Bryan

A Super Sunday for Southern California natives as the Bryan Brothers become the all time best doubles team in tennis history, and Sam Querrey repeats as champion trumping mopey Murray in three sets that thrilled the Los Angeles crowd as American tennis sets the US Open Series ablaze going two for two.
The first match was the historic one. Bob and Mike Bryan, twins, who personify synergetic, aggressive doubles tennis like no one else, take on the other guys on yet another perfect afternoon on the UCLA campus at the Farmers Classic Open. The first set was tight, and Bob later admitted that his arms felt like “spaghetti” throughout, as the other guys stood their ground, taking the initiative, looking as though they weren’t going to simply lay down and let the Brady Bunch script unfold without difficulty. Father Bryan, who instituted tennis to his twin sons at a very early age, was the MC of the event, and sat in the stands without objective restraint as he could be seen cheering his boys on with his signature enthusiasm. Fist pumps issued forth from father Wayne Bryan, and the crowd rallied as the Bryan brothers dropped the first set in a very tentative display by the twins, who were seeking their 62nd title, one ahead of the legendary team of Woodford/Woodbridge. Mark Woodford was on hand to see if his record would hold, and the other guys (Butorac/Rojer) looked to keep the Bryans at bay for at least another week. The first set wrapped in a weakly played tiebreak by the brothers Bryan, but what seems to be the going trend with the So Cal native sons, is the ability to bounce back and that they did. The Bryans easily took the second set 6-2, as the nerves subdued and the confidence returned. The custom for doubles, once it reaches a split, is to play a ten point super tiebreak. Did you expect anything less? Taking the quick lead 4-0, it looked like no. 62 was inevitable. The other guys fought back, and even broke the big serve of lefty Bob and the match was tied at 7-7. A few crucial mistakes, including an untimely double fault by Butorac gave the boys a match point and after putting away the volley the Bryans leapt into each other arms thrusting their names into the history books. Bob Bryan told reporters what he felt: “Sixty two brings a smile to our face. It’s been an emotional ride, talking about it every day for the past couple of months. To finally do it is incredible. There were definitely nerves out there and those guys were playing great. It was a very hard fought match. Our legs felt like jelly, arms spaghetti… It was a flood of emotion. I never thought we’d be this consistent, this healthy our whole career. Sixty one looked like it was on the other side of the moon. If you stay consistent, and never give up on each other – even in dry spells – anything can happen. We’ve never given up on each other.”

The singles championship was going to be decided after the Bryans match, between returning champion Sam Querrey, the local favorite and first time Los Angeleser Andy Murray. The battle ensued right from the get go, as the two men held nothing back. Querrey told reporters after his semi-final win that he needed to go for more against Andy, and take some chances. He certainly did just that. The American was going for his shots without delay and the first set slid Andy’s way mostly because Querrey wasn’t quite hitting his marks. Whether or not the nerves were a factor Andy held steady and was able to break Sam late in the set and hold for a 7-5 lead. This wasn’t new territory for the American number 20. Sam’s last three matches all went the distance and he trailed in all of them. But could he do it against a top player like Andy Murray? You wouldn’t have guessed so, but Andy was caught in familiar territory as well, as in all of his matches leading up to the final he started with a bang only to take a catnap in the second. He didn’t exactly sleep this set away but had some strong opportunities to dunk the trophy home in straights. But Sam showed what he has been showing for the past week: pure So Cal heart. I feel with this comeback, especially against a player of Murray’s caliber, can only send Sam across the ravine of steady, workhorse, blue collar man to white collar, trophy collecting, net jets flying, elite player. After a gritty tiebreak triumph in the second set, utilizing that big serve, big forehand one two to perfection, Querrey rolled on to wrap up the third and deciding set 6-3, and becoming one of the few to repeat in LA. With Mardy’s win in Atlanta, and now Querrey’s repeat, and Blake looking like his injuries have subsided, and Isner climbing the ranks steadily, and Roddick consistently re-proving his dominance on hard courts, this year’s US Open looks mouthwatering for American tennis. Could the flag of Spain, Switzerland, Serbia, and UK flap dead across the Hudson this August? Could the Unites States Open crown one of its own native sons? The tide of tennis is fickle, and if one were to venture a guess with the current shift, I would start singing the pledge of allegiance folks.

The LA Open Day 6: Semi Final Saturday

Sam Querrey

The Beach Boy does it again! Top seed defending champion Sam Querrey fights back yet again, showing some seasoned craftiness, testing his guts to the limit to ward off a match point and set sail for another final at the Farmers Classic LA Open.

It was hotter than yesterday, only by a few degrees, but in tennis everything is margins, inches, nanometers, and things sway by the slightest hitch in the universe, and today was no different. Sam’s opponent was the philosophical, wise beyond his years, Serbian, Janko Tipsarevic, who is seeded sixth in the tournament. Janko has a tattoo of the nineteenth century Russian literary giant Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ on his person and when listening to him in the press conference, one gets the impression that tennis isn’t what Janko only thinks about, but when directing his lofty thoughts on the subject can offer an uncanny insight that is concise, just, well articulated (even in English, which isn’t is native tongue), and is devoid of any pretense. Most athletes when interviewed sound like terminator cyborgs, spewing off rehearsed answers to questions without the slightest note of feeling. If you’ve ever seen a Shaquille O’Neal interview, you know what I’m talking about. I walked into the press room and saw Janko seated in his chair at the head of the room with a look of calm discontent. He wasn’t sad, but he wasn’t thrilled either. I was surprised most of all that a player had actually arrived on time for their meeting of the press, a first for the tournament, and when Janko described the match, whereby he lost in a bitterly fought three setter, I was even more surprised to hear the free flowing candor and wisdom come from this young man. “I should not have lost this match,” Janko said, in response to the first question about his feelings, and he didn’t sound bitter or resentful at all, just right to the point and he supported his statement with a play by play account of what he “should” have done. “I was forcing the ball in big points, instead of returning the ball into play. I was going for too much when there really was no need.” The Serbian was steadfast in his assessment of his serve. “My serve was not there at all today. I don’t know what happened. My ground game was good, and I felt I could hit any ball back but my serve completely left me.”

Tipsarevic’s claim to fame was his long five set war with Roger Federer in the Australian Open of 2008 where the holy one barely got by in a grueling fifth set. One of the reporters asked Janko what he thought of Querrey’s game, and the Serbian spoke without hesitation. “I think he has top ten potential. He is a steady top twenty player, but to be top ten you have to have great results at grand slams and masters series events.” I agree with the soft spoken Serb. He should have won the match. But, I also think that Sam Querrey looked about as good as I’ve ever seen him. Aside from a mental snap toward the end of the first set, where a convincing ace registered for Sam was snuffed by the umpire who called it a let, Sam looked like he definitely could be a potential top ten player. His first serve consistently fired in the lower 130’s and even registered in at 139 once, his fastest for the match. His decision making, to my humble eyes, appeared to finally transcend that barrier between novice green to that of touring professional honing his craft and making choices, which have to be made in a matter of seconds, that provide evidence of a steady evolution. Steadiness, movement, well-timed aggression, and the ability to hold back when he needed to, were on display and Querrey even managed to shoot a few smiles toward his SAMURAI posse of shirtless hooligan supporters after a forehand winner or ace up the T. The fact that he has won two matches in a row that he was losing for the majority of the time, shows me that he is ready to make a deep run at a slam.

Murray and Lopez faced off for the second semi-final of the day under the lights, which makes me wonder how Murray will do playing in the hot afternoon sun against a Beach Boy born and bred under these conditions. All of Murray’s matches have been at night, and he managed to wiz past Mr. Beautiful with relative ease, even though he dropped a level yet again after a first set steamroll handing over the second like a platter of potato salad. Lopez was outmatched, outwitted, and out played. I think if he ever wants to be considered a serious threat he needs to acquire a backhand. The slice and dice game just won’t cut it against top players. Neither will the profile of Adonis. You relinquish too much control with the slice, and if it’s not picture perfect Roger Federeresque, you’re offering up a tee shot for your opponent. Murray was quick to pounce on the mismanagement of the Lopez slice, and turned a second set let down to a third set triumph.

Dare I make a prediction? But of course… Sam in three. The defending champion repeats. I will be there for finals Sunday, please join me at tennisgrandstand.com for all the latest.

The LA Open Day Five

Sam Querrey

Quarterfinal day at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles and the big names were all tested. Querrey, the defending champion, not known for his ability to muster comebacks, and has yet to prove that he has the heart of a potential champion, looked to be on the brink of defeat against German senior citizen Rainer Scheuttler. Rainer’s biggest run at a tournament came in 2008 when he climbed the ladder of impossibility and made it to the semi-finals of Wimbledon losing to a red hot Rafa in straights. Since then, the icy German has been culminating some matches in the win column demanding respect from all the players on tour; a bona fide danger opponent swimming through the draws.

Querrey, who looks as though he would have fit perfectly as a member of the Beach Boys, slumbered around the court with a Kermit the Frog mouth that is perpetually shaped in a half smile, won the first set decisively, utilizing his big serve and capitalizing on break opportunities. He looked to be too much for the German. I expected the second set to be a repeat. But I was wrong again, as I have been for most of this tournament. Scheuttler gained some rhythm and began to feel out Querrey’s serve, and broke the top seeded American, leveling the match at a set a piece. Scheuttler continued to pound pressure on the American’s serve and had a perfect opportunity late in the third to close out the match. Then the ever elusive mistress of momentum shifted once again, as Querrey fought back. “I was pretty frustrated the whole time, but I did a great job of playing the 5-4 and 6-5 games,” said Querrey. “I played great points on those games and really battled back well.” The world no. 20 Querrey gained a mini-break lead in the third and took the match. He will next face Tipsarevic in the semis.

Andy Murray faced a trial on Friday night when he faced a streaky player, possibly a future top twenty player, Alejandro Falla who bounced back Thursday after being down a set to upset Ernests Gulbis. The top seeded Murray entered the Farmers Classic with his very first visit to the City of Angels, and has played both his matches under the lights. The first set was tight, with both players feeling each other out. Falla told reporters yesterday, when asked what he thought his chances were against the world number four, that he felt good about his chance to beat the top Brit. “I know I can play against these type of players. I played great against Federer at Wimbledon.” It appeared that Falla was intimidated by the spotlight and almost edged out Murray, who saved three set points to finally take the first set in a tiebreaker. The second seat was a steam roll, as Falla showed signs of fatigue, being run around the court by the craft and variety of Murray, who slammed the second set 6-1. “I feel much better than I did yesterday,” said Murray. “I had the same sort of thing earlier in this year after the Australian Open when I didn’t play for a few weeks. Then I played in Dubai, I was really sore after the first match, and then each match after that I started to feel a lot better. Hopefully that’ll be the case here.” Murray will next play Feliciano Lopez in the semi-finals, someone he has beaten twice in a row. The odds are in favor of a Querrey vs. Murray final, but don’t ask me. The way this tournament is going I need to take my crystal ball to the mechanic.

LA Open Day Four

James Blake

It was a cool 77 degrees this summer afternoon at the LA Tennis Center at UCLA campus on Thursday, July 29th with a slew of 2nd round matchups on the schedule promising some good fighting and formidable challenges for top seeds. I reached the Grandstand for the first singles match between Mr. Beautiful, Feliciano Lopez taking on the Israeli Dudi Sela. Sela contested the first set with vigor taking it to a tiebreak, succumbing to Lopez 6-7 amidst a rancorous contingent of Israeli supporters in the crowd. Lopez, with his Spanish swagger of someone who has just created the Earth, looked out at spectators with that look of you-should-feel-privileged-to-be-in-the-same-hemisphere-as-me, was unfazed by the loud chants of Sela supporters going on to take the match in straight sets.

The next match pitted Latvian train wreck Ernest Gulbis against up and comer, Mr. I almost beat Federer at Wimbledon 1st round: Alejandro Falla. Gulbis is as much as an enigma as anyone on tour. He has a boat load of talent, a ripping, aggressive game; one of the best first serve and forehand one two punches around, and the captain doing all the steering is running around deck stumbling drunk, making choices that would make a Tennis mom wince. I just don’t understand it. Gulbis wins the first set comfortably, having never had his serve broken, and the first point of the second set he misses a forehand into the net, and the “other” Gulbis arises, turmoil legible in his stride, head sunken low, and constant looks to his coach’s box of dismay and dejection. I was seated next to a Latvian girl who was cheering Gulbis on in his language I assumed, and I couldn’t resist asking her, after Gulbis threw his racquet, (3 times total in the match) why he was so mad? She sheepishly replied, in a strong accent, “We all have temper from that part of the world.” Well, that temper led to a downward spiral that allowed Falla to relax and go for his shots, resulting in a plethora of mismanaged drop shots by Ernest who eventually fell to Falla in three sets. In the press conference afterward Gulbis began to look more like a young Cassius Clay than a Latvian up and comer. He was still fuming from the loss obviously, and maybe that had a lot to do with it, but hold back he did not. Questions parroted at him about his decision making and he snorted back with gusto. “It was a not a good match. I played terrible. I was really tired. I haven’t played for two months so I was not ready to win. If you don’t fish for two months, you going to catch fish?” The crowd seemed to bother Gulbis, especially in the third set tiebreaker, and he was quick to comment on the effect. “It bothers me. I can hear everything. When they boo me for throwing my racquet it is ridiculous. I am a professional. This is my job. I don’t go to your job and scream at you do I?” A very telling comment resonated with my observation of Gulbis and my overall assessment of his attitude. I always thought to myself, “This guy just hates to be out there. He does not look like he enjoys any bit of it, even when he wins.” My thoughts were confirmed when a reporter asked him if he had been enjoying his stay in Los Angeles. “There is no fun in tournament time, “ Gulbis said. “You play, you practice, you go hotel, eat, and then sleep. That is it.” I almost wanted to ask him where the invisible gun was that was pointed at your head?

The next match scheduled was a semi-injured James Blake, who has made it to the finals here before, taking on the stoic German Benjamin Becker. Blake has been a ghost on tour the last couple of years, the age wear showing more and more, and since 2008 watched his ranking drop out of the top 100. He had more to prove here than anyone. I actually picked Becker to take it in straight sets, but Blake didn’t read the script. As a matter of fact he burned it and wrote a whole new movie. With Celtic Superstar Kevin

Garnett watching (a friend of Blake’s), ‘All or Nothing’ James exhibited the hustle and fight of old, willing himself to victory, hitting his marks and paving his way to the Quarters with a straight set victory: 7-5, 7-6. In the press conference afterwards James said he felt better than ever. All of us press media awaited his arrival (he was twenty minutes late), and in he walked with a large bag of ice taped to his right knee. The first question was how the knee felt? James smiled and said, “On a pain scale of 1-10, it’s a one. It’s feeling better and better.” We shall see how it feels tomorrow, when he faces a confident Lopez aiming to make his deepest run.

The night match starred number four in the world, British hopeful, Andy Murray taking on American Tim Smyczek. The first set looked automatic for Murray. He looked like a potential grand slam winner, gliding across the court with ease, making all the right decisions, outwitting Smyczek, rotating between power shots and finesse, letting the tricks out of the bag at the perfect moment. Murray took the first set 6-1, and the energy of the crowd hushed and lulled. You could almost feel people planning their morning, drifting off from center court, texting and blackberrying, ready for an early departure. But Smyczek had other plans. He wasn’t going quietly into the night. He didn’t read the script either, and with brilliant movement and shot making took the second set 6-4, and the Los Angeles night crowd forgot about tomorrow and drifted back to center court with eagerness. This was a match again. Andy had never played this tournament before and maybe playing an American on foreign territory was getting to the Brit. I don’t think so. Murray, in his usual fashion, bounced back, employing all the maneuvering that got him to two grand slam finals, and put all the eagerness to bed with a comfortable 6-2 third set win, sending him to the Los Angeles night with a quarterfinal birth, where he will face Alejandro Falla.

The LA Open Preview

The Farmers Classic LA Open starts Monday July 26, one of the many US Open Series hard court tournaments lined up, touted as a ‘tune up’ event, one of many, preceding the Big Show at the end of the month in New York. Yours truly, the ubiquitous hooligan/tennis junkie/prominent writer for the ages (I’ll let you decide which one of those is not a cold hard fact) will be in attendance giving you the low down on every quirk, forehand, sigh, up the T ace, blistering hallway gossip, who’s who and who’s what, who’s doing this and who’s doing that, and a whole lot more…

The tournament boasts some hot talent attending with a couple of top ten players and a few rising to the occasion. British upstart Andy Murray, the no. 1 seed, and hungry as ever, will be playing the long standing event for the first time. Murray reached two slam finals losing both times to Roger Federer and seems ready to hoist a trophy on Super Sunday. Entering the LA Open confirms his will and desire to be at utmost preparedom for the pressure of getting there. But we all know getting there is only half the feat. Murray may face a tough first round opener if Russian Schizo Teymuraz Gabashvili wins his first match. The Russian may look like a typical plebian tennis player, making his way through some lower tier events into the second week, but lately has put together a potent all around game with gusto showing good runs at recent Grand Slams. Joining Murray in the top half of the draw is Ernest Gulbis, the eccentric Latvian, who looks like a grassy knoll hippie at times, but has put together an impressive resume of victims including Roger Federer this past clay court season in Rome.

The American contigent will be represented well with Sam Querry who has won the event prior, posing as the second seed, and Mardy Fish, who looks more like a top ten player lately than even Andy Roddick, who handed Roddick a straight sets defeat this past week in Alanta in the semis. James Blake enters as an all time low 14 seed who may be able to muster some momentum, but being placed on Murray’s side of the draw, less than likely. Some other notables include the most inconsistent tennis player in history, much to the chagrin of myself and others, Marcos Baghdatis, who has garnererd great results in the past on hard courts; Mr. Beautiful: Feliciano Lopez, and Argentinian high flyer Horacio Zeballos, who has been gaining some momentum as being the next big thing out of that land of tennis gold, which has produced the likes of the ever under achieving David Nalbandian, and 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro, who is still ailing from a wrist injury. Stay tuned everybody for it may be a rockstar gala event as only LA can conjure, and with yours truly carousing the aisles in the thick of it all, stands not to dissapoint.

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal: The Greatest Rematch Of All Time?

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

With the second week of Wimbledon producing a transfer of most of the expected field, the top four specifically, rumblings and chatter have all heightened to the point of jubilation as another bout between Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer looks likely. But, is the rest of the field ready to allow that prized match up? The next two matches for the world’s top two looks anything but easy.

Federer has to go through a red hot Tomas Berdych, who took out the mighty one in a close battle in Miami earlier in the year. Berdych also took Roger to the brink in the 2009 Australian Open taking a two-sets-to-love lead, before Roger suited up in his Federer cape and rescued the show. If he gets through that hurdle, there may be a much renewed Novak “Djoker” Djokovic awaiting him in the semis, who has put together a grass game that looks sharper and sharper, hitting his marks, and stifling his mental demons. Novak has struggled to get an edge in majors against the maestro but in the three set format has proven his mettle. Let’s not forget that when the DJoker gets his cylinders pumping he can beat anyone on any given day, as the 2008 Australian Open has illuminated.

On the other side of the draw stands Rafa, who much like his nemesis has struggled in the early rounds but seems to have gathered some momentum, somehow evading the clutches of early round defeat and packed some wins behind him. He will next face Robin “Smoldering” Soderling in the semis, a rematch of the French Open final in May, and devoid of the comfort of clay, and its forgiving bounce, Rafa may find himself swimming in Mallorca a lot sooner than he wants. There is nothing Roger fans would love to see more on Super Sunday than Rafa wearing a bathing suit. If Rafa gets through that battle, the war may still be looming as Andy Murray could be mounting his front in the semis, armed with a nation and a return to a game style that wields craftiness and cunning mixed with well timed aggression. Murray was able to blast Nadal off the court in the 2010 Australian Open, something he couldn’t duplicate against Federer in the final, which I believe gives him all the more reason to take more risks and may even give him that extra angst, a bit more of an edge; Murray can sometimes come across as a petulant child, moaning and moping, chalk full of lofty expectations, showing improvement daily, and he really believes he deserves to be in the same room as Rafa and Roger. This may be the stage to prove that undeniably. I can’t think of a better stage than Wimbledon.

At this stage of a Grand Slam, at the business end of the tournament, the great ones are separated from the legends. Roddick, picked by many pundits to win it all, couldn’t make the cut, as he went out to underdog Lu, which I think is very telling. If you look at the track record for Federer and Nadal, what speaks to their legacy is the consistency, the will, the heart, the ability to win matches when their opponents are playing stratosphere tennis and they themselves are somewhere in the basement on that day. And on multiple occasions we’ve seen their basement ascension progress as the tournament trudges on. The second week is their moment to shine. Roger’s last two matches have brought replenished faith from loyal fans, walking off center court with straight set victories. In the Melzer match, we saw some vintage Federer with the movement and shot making at a normal level for him, an unreal level for most. This Sunday could be tennis’s version of the ‘Thrilla in Manilla.’ Or maybe the “Greatest Rematch of All Time”?

WIMBLEDON DAY 5: FAMILIAR FEDERER RETURNS

By Peter Nez

“This is the Federer we’ve been accustomed to seeing,” long time commentator Dick Enberg stated in the third set when Roger was serving for the match, which became his first straight sets victory at the Wimbledon Championships thus far, having “struggled” in his first two rounds. I’m not convinced it was necessarily a struggle, even though he rarely goes five sets in a major, particularly on grass, even more bizarrely at Wimbledon, but I am of the opinion that the men’s game is so vastly talented and Federer is engaged in a constant staving off of young upstarts day in and day out, being one of the oldest on tour currently, dominating multi generational huddles, and as Mahut and Isner have proved, anything can happen on any given day. And what does Alejandro Falla and Bozo the clown have to lose? Absolutely nothing. Their impetus must be to go for broke, full throttle, no hesitation, and little thought for marginal play, or else what could be the only outcome possible? ‘Fortune favors the brave,’; an aphorism that parades the sports psychologists halls and sessions frequently, and to face that mind set every time you step out on court is something only the greatest athletes can relate to. Falla was the perfect embodiment, Soderling: a vision of execution, and Bozo was an anomaly at best. Clement was the perfect opponent for Roger to get back to Swiss precision and rhythm.

Federer is renowned for stepping up his play as tournaments progress, especially majors, and today was no different. The serve and movement was intact, the energy on court apparent, and with an opponent who is devoid of any perplexing weapons, Roger showed us all why he has six Wimbledon titles and counting. Greatness comes easy to those with an abundance, but without the proof of its prowess renewed continually on the world’s grandest stages, even past accolades can seem shadowed and distant. Federer thrives on confidence maybe more now than he ever did before and a match like this, taking Clement out in three seasoned sets, could give him the boost he needs with a draw that looms with hungry contenders. If Australia 2010 has showed us anything, when Roger’s game is on, nobody has a chance.

59-59?!? THE LONGEST MATCH IN TENNIS HISTORY

By Peter Nez

“I have almost no words anymore watching this,” defending singles champion Roger Federer said about the Isner-Mahut match on court 18. “It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen and could imagine. I don’t know how their bodies must feel the next day, the next week, the next month. This is incredible tennis.”

I don’t think I have ever heard a broadcasting team, with the likes of zany Brad Gilbert, and Mr. Hello! Patrick McEnroe, scramble for words harder than they did today on day three of Wimbledon to describe the match etched in history between Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, wiry, goofy faced, and grass savvy, against the giant from the south, American Bulldog John Isner. A match that just wouldn’t end, and as I am writing this is going into the eighth hour, tied 30-30 in the fifth set at 41-42 in favor of the 6’9” Isner. This has ceased to be an epic, a battle, a clash of warriors, a feud between unwavering wills, it has now become, as it is tied now, with Mahut holding at 42-42 in the fifth set, a ridiculous labyrinth of surreal proportions bordering on an overdone farce; the groundhog day of tennis, where the clock moves forward, and scoreboards shift numerical value, but the players are locked in psychological time warfare with physical impediments all brushed aside. These guys aren’t playing for a spot in the third round anymore, but for immortality.

Their play was suspended due to darkness the day before, after the fourth set, but nobody could’ve anticipated this… play suspended yet again at 59-all in the fifth, with much trepidation on both players parts (maybe more so with Isner, who looked like he wanted to continue), after 7 hours and 6 minutes of play in the fifth set alone on day three. Mahut first addressed the fading light issue, but Isner, who looked ready to collapse a few times, sluggishly agreed and the longest match in tennis history has a possibility of going even longer. “This will never happen again,” Isner said in his post-postponement interview. I think it’s safe to say that truer words were never spoken.

Shattering every known record in Wimbledon and tennis history combined, the two immortals are due first on court 18 Thursday. What is going to be the final score? What will the engraved stats procure at the end of it all? Who will end up winning? Is there actually a winner and a loser in a match like this? A match unlike any match in sports history; a contest that defies categorization. Well, you know where I’ll be first thing in the morning. The question is will I have to call in sick for work?

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