Has Rafa Peaked?

A short observation on the psychoanalytic development of babies combined with a look at Rafael Nadal’s amazing year of tennis.

Latest Sign that the Apocalypse Is Upon Us

And it has nothing to do with the US financial crisis. Last night I went to Chavez Ravine to watch baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers take one step closer to a division title and I saw something that laid me out. At most sporting events these days, spectators compete to see who can get their face on the Jumbotron. US football fans dress up as if they were auditioning for Mad Max 3, basketball fans throw down Cranky Soulja Boy moves, and baseball fans get their kids into the act.

The music in the stadium was blasting as a man held up his young son who was shaking and twisting. This kid was not a day older than two years old and I swear, in the middle of his act, he turned to the Jumbotron and pointed at himself. This kid had totally skipped what a psychoanalyst would call the mirror stage – the point in a baby’s development where they see themselves in a mirror and realize that they are a separate being from their mother and also the point where they become captivated by their own image – and gone straight to American Idol.

I wonder whether we should now create a new psychoanalytic phenomenon called the Jumbotron stage, the point where a baby moves past the mirror stage and right onto the performance stage.

Rafa’s Golden Year

The men and women are playing in Beijing this week. The men are also playing in Bangkok and the women in Seoul. So far there’s been only one upset though it’s a pretty big one. David Ferrer lost his first match to Dudi Sela in Beijing. David is having a miserable year on hard court. I’d fly to Asia to see what’s wrong with him but our Tennis Diary travel budget won’t allow it and I’m not feeling like getting up in the middle of the night to check out the live streaming from Beijing.

Meanwhile, the ATP has finally caught up with youtube. They’ve launched the ATP World Tour channel. It’s about time. Tennis fans have been posting illegal TV clips of matches for forever and the ATP has been wisely encouraging it by not asking youtube to remove them. Their first effort is a celebration of Rafael Nadal’s golden year: eight tournament wins, two grand slams, an Olympic gold medal, and, possibly, a Davis Cup title.

So, is this the peak of Rafa’s career?

It could depend largely on the other three members of the top four: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. After all, Federer would still be sailing along with Wimbledon dominance if Rafa hadn’t come along. I’ll give Rafa the French Open/Wimbledon double for the next few years but, of course, no gold medal and, likely, no Davis Cup. He doesn’t play Davis Cup that often and that’s really Spain’s only chance.

Djokovic has been overlooked a bit in this year of Rafa dominance. Nole actually improved over last year. He beat Federer in the semifinals at the Australian Open and won his first slam even if Federer later announced that he was suffering from mononucleosis at the time. Nole got to the semifinals at the French Open and Wimbledon, same as last year, and slipped just the slightest bit by going out in the semifinals at the US Open. Last year he reached the final. Okay, so maybe he only held steady as the year wore on but he’s still good for at least a few more slams which means a few less for Rafa and Roger.
[Correction: Djokovic lost in the second round at Wimbledon so he slipped a bit further.]

Roger looks good for a few more US Opens. He’s the only player who doesn’t seem to wear himself out by the end of the summer. The Australian Open is less predictable because it starts so early in the calendar.

Murray started off the year miserably in grand slams with a first round loss at the Australian Open and his US Open final was the first time he’d been past a quarterfinal in a slam. He seems to have trouble with startup. He lost his first round match at the Olympics after failing to adjust to the time change properly. So I’m not expecting much from him in Australia and he’s never done much on clay, so that leaves Wimbledon and the US Open. I’m thinking he’ll get one of the next few US Opens. Roger’s Opens might not come consecutively.

There’s one more person I’d watch beyond the top four: Juan Martin Del Potro. I’m not a stat person but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a guy who’d won four straight tournaments on two different surfaces that didn’t reach the number one ranking. Del Potro may not get there because there’s a logjam at the top but he could get pretty close. He followed up his four straight wins with a US Open quarterfinal and two singles victories in Davis Cup. This kid’s gonna fly.

Is this Rafa’s peak? My guess is that he’s not going win a US Open after a French/Wimbledon double. The only way he surpasses this year is to win three slams and that won’t happen at the same time he wins a gold medal and a Davis Cup. So it’s a peak that will only be surpassed if he picks up an Australian or a US Open to go along with his French/Wimbledon double.

I think those other top players will just keep getting better and take away enough slams to keep Rafa from getting his three in one year.