Fed and Rafa Withdrawal

I’m in the early stages of Fed and Rafa withdrawal. Roger Federer waylaid his serve in the U.S. Open final and faded away in the fifth set last time I saw him. He begged off the entire Asian swing with a supposed bad back. This year was probably a temporary respite from Roger’s inevitable decline.

Rafael Nadal usually fades in the fall but this year he went down in his favorite season – red clay. He’s back now but he lost 3-6, 1-6, to Marin Cilic in the Beijing semifinals last week. He’s still in the Shanghai Masters draw this week but that score indicates one of two things: Nadal has lingering physical problems or he’s mentally/physically tired.

I haven’t yet put images of Fed and Rafa on the altar next to my cousin Vanna who died on September 6, but I am preparing myself for the end of yet another sustaining relationship and, at the moment, I’m reduced to watching Gael Monfils pound Paul-Henri Mathieu. Monfils made a few of his usual jaw-dropping saves – including a ridiculous lob winner off a running forehand that he shanked – but Mathieu was missing in action.

Fed and Rafa were seldom, if ever, missing in action. After they’re gone are we headed for a few years of the dreaded concept of parity and is that a good thing or not? Parity means that anyone can win on any day. It’s the direct opposite of the monopoly held by Fed and Rafa. Since 2006 they’ve won every slam except two. That’s a record of 14-2 against the rest of the field.

After the Monfils-Mathieu match I watched Andy Roddick go down with a knee injury as if to demonstrate his recent complaints about the absurdly long 11 month season. The point being that Rafa is the future rather than Fed as we are likely to see shorter tennis careers and fewer four-year monopolies.

In the U.S., football and basketball leagues have pretty good parity because each team has a salary cap – a limit on the total team salary. Having said that, football is a much healthier sport than basketball. That explains why the National Football League will probably succeed in preventing conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh and his investment group from buying the St. Louis franchise: there will be multiple offers for the team and the NFL can say that it chose the better financial offer rather than saying it chose to avoid the controversy that will come with Limbaugh.

The National Basketball Association, on the other hand, allowed Russian Mikhail Prokhorov to invest $200 million into one of its franchises because it had no better offer from anyone in North America. I bring this up because tennis has already been down this road. They expanded into Asia and they gave Dubai a men’s and women’s tournament despite the controversy that was sure to follow.

A lot of professional sports leagues have suffered from expansion. In most cases, unsuccessful expansion ends with contraction – leagues fold unprofitable franchises. And a number of tennis tournaments have folded but only to turn up elsewhere in the world.

Mainly it looks like expansion will result in quicker player turnover and fewer Fed and Rafa monopolies. Just give me a while, I’ll get used it. Honest, I will.

One last thought. The end of the service let seems to be quietly making its way through the tennis world. The NCAA eliminated the service let and the ITF is experimenting with it in lower level Davis Cup matches. Should the ATP and the WTA eliminate the service let?

The most compelling counter argument is the following scenario: the server has match point and is up 11-10 in the fifth set of the Wimbledon final. He hits a serve that dribbles over the net and into his opponent’s service box and the match is over. Essentially, luck has handed him the match.

The rebuttal: what’s the difference between a serve that just dribbles over the net and a groundstroke netcord in the same situation? There’s no difference that I know of and there are far fewer serves than groundstrokes in a match, but if people are really concerned about a service netcord ending a match, then eliminate the service let except on set point.

What do you think?