The overall feel I get from the world of tennis at the moment is upheaval or, to put it another way, changes we thought would come have arrived.
Federer has had an awful spring, Andy Murray even worse (not a change we expected but I’m getting there), Rafael Nadal is back to winning on clay only, Novak Djokovic is still getting sick, and Ernests Gulbis is finally moving up the ranks.
Gulbis could have gone either way. He could have ended up as a joke after being busted for soliciting a prostitute in Sweden late last year or he could have realized that he’d better change his ways instead of fooling around. And I don’t mean that as a sexual innuendo. Gulbis admits that he wasn’t a hard worker. Think about how much ego that takes. Here was a young player who thought he could stay on tour without working as hard as everyone else. Especially when you watch these interminable battles on clay. Granted it’s not the same as going down a mine and digging out the side of a mountain day after day but it does require supreme conditioning.
Gulbis started off by losing his first service game to Albert Montanes in Madrid today then won the first set 7-5 and finished Montanes off 6-1 in the second after Montanes hurt his groin. I love Montanes’ Roscoe Tanner serve by the way. I wish more players had the nerve to toss the ball short and smash it. Imagine if one of the brawnier players took up that serve – Marcos Baghdatis? He could kill with it. (For obvious reasons I should have said stocky in Baggy’s case instead of brawny.) Robin Soderling’s toss is so high I have a hard time not flipping channels during his service motion.
And then there’s Quisner – U.S. tennis’ two headed tallness of Sam Querrey and John Isner. Someone please tell me how this duo got to the final at last week’s event in Belgrade? That’s a change no one saw coming.
Belgrade was a small event but Querrey beat Igor Andreev, a fair clay player, and Isner beat both Richard Gasquet and Stanislas Wawrinka who are much more than fair on clay. Querrey won the title in Belgrade and both guys are into the second round in Madrid.
I would argue that the U.S. has produced tennis twins before. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were two sides of the same coin. While their styles were very different, both were incredibly ill mannered and notorious for using those ill manners in any way necessary to win a match. McEnroe may have acted out of a sense of privilege while Connors acted as if his opponent was stealing food off his plate, but this was as much a matter of parental training as it was childhood circumstances.
McEnroe and Connors were fraternal twins while Querrey and Isner are identical. Not only identical to each other but veritable clones of Andy Roddick. And that’s a bit disappointing. The rest of the world is turning out athletic all court players and the U.S. is still producing big servers. Unless some ground up cement was tossed in with the red clay at that event in Belgrade I protest too much, but I would have loved it if Donald Young had amounted to something with his touch and creativity and I’m still looking for a U.S. player like that today.
Back to one of those expected changes. Federer appears to be turning into late career Pete Sampras before our eyes. In the three seasons from 2000-2002, Sampras won three events: Miami, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. That gave him 14 slams and that ain’t bad. If Federer won two more slams in the next three years he’d have 18 and that would be unbelievable.
I’m wondering what text message Pete and Rog might be sending back and forth as Sampras’ late career tutoring takes hold:
Dammit Pete, first I lose to Baghdatis for the first time ever and now I lose to Berdych who hasn’t beaten me since 2004. This is killing me!
Rog, Uh, hello? Isn’t the next slam on clay??? Who cares about Indian Wells and Miami. Just keep your muscles warmed up till the big stuff on clay happens ok? Besides, you don’t want to wear yourself out do you?
Hello yourself Pete, losing to Ernests Gulbis! Didn’t he start the year at like number 90?
Rog, Rog, it’s Rome. Clay warmup. Don’t worry buddy.
Pete, It’s tiny Estoril and Montanes is older that I am. This is embarrassing!
Rog, you got to the semis didn’t you? Everything’s right on schedule for Paris, defending champ.
Or something like that anyway. While I think Rog can wake up in time for Paris, Soderling is unlikely to take out Rafael Nadal this year so it probably won’t matter. As for the U.S. Open let’s check back in July.