For a while now we have been saying that men’s tennis needs more rivalries. We need to see more people in finals besides Roger Federer all the time. Last Sunday we got our wish. If someone had told me that the Miami final would be contested between Djokovic and Canas, I would have said you need another drink. But Djokovic and Canas was what we got, and now that we’ve got it, was it all it cracked up to be? No, probably not. At least judging by some of the comments heard during the match. I sense a hankering going on.
ESPN commentator Mary Carillo was gushing over Novak Djokovic as being “a young Federer.” Now Mary, you are one of my favorite people in all the sport. But there is no way in hell that Novak, lovely lad that he is, can rate yet as a young Federer. His game at this point bears little resemblance to Roger’s. This kid is firmly planted on the baseline with his game. He ventures forward on occasion and can volley crisply but it is not his first choice. His shot selection isn’t on the same level as Roger‘s. Besides, I don’t see him being in line to capture a Grand Slam anytime soon. If you are making a serious comparison, Mary, you have to talk Grand Slams. My co-writer Nina Rota finds Djokovic rather “generic“. That sounds just about right to me. Not to say the kid won’t evolve his game, but right now it is not even close to being a roadshow version of Federer’s.
Novak caught a lucky draw this week and so did Canas. What Mary’s comments suggest to me is that she, like a lot of us, is reacting to the absence of Federer from the tennis equation. When he’s not here, we say we’re sort of glad but then we continue to talk as if he were here. As if we want him to be here, which of course we do. We project his qualities onto the guys who survived.
Novak dominated Canas pretty well in the match but that’s not to suggest his game is really similar to Federer‘s. What we are experiencing is how Roger’s presence has upped the ante for the other players. They still want to hug the baseline until hell freezes over, but the arrival of Federer requires all of them to mix it up a bit if they hope to have any success against him at all. So we may get more guys capable of playing all-court games. Unless you are like a Canas or a Nadal and you can retrieve everything. But that gets kind of boring, unless you have a player on the other side who is attacking you a lot. Then it becomes interesting. But when Canas gets up against another baseliner, it’s a bit of a snooze. So calm down, Mary. I know in your heart of hearts you feel like I do, and my co-writer Nina Rota also. We miss Roger, and the game needs him.
Sadly, the real finals took place the evening Federer lost to Canas, or Djokovic busted Nadal. If you think anyone will remember this match in about three weeks, well you’ve got a better memory than I do by far. What we saw on Sunday was a “B” match. A good match at times, but a B match overall. Not the Federer-Nadal battle we had hoped for going into Miami.