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Tennis players have different ways of dealing with a tough loss in the post-match media session that is required attendance. Andy Roddick has had a meltdown now and then. Roger Federer is as cool as a cucumber. Always. And Nikolay Davydenko might call your question stupid.
Serena Williams is known for being ungracious to her opponent. She seldom gives her opponent credit for winning the match. Rather, she’ll say that she played poorly and, more so, the outcome was totally under her control.
Take this exchange after Serena lost to Justine Henin, 7-6, 6-1, in the quarterfinals at the US Open:
Q. Are you saying that you lost the match rather than Justine won it?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I think that’s usually the case with me, that it’s for me to win or lose.
Q. You fought pretty hard to get back into the first set. She played a good tiebreak. Second set, your level seemed to drop.
SERENA WILLIAMS: No, I just think she played better. I just think she made a lot of lucky shots, and I made a lot of errors. I don’t think my level dropped.
Serena’s demeanor belied her comments. When someone asked her if she was devastated by the loss, she denied it, but she was snarky from beginning to end. She said she wouldn’t have done the media session but she didn’t want to pay the fine and twice she asked, “Any more questions?” clearly hoping the answer was no.
The match also belied her comments. Henin was crushing the ball and beating Serena at her own game. By the end of the media session, Serena conceded as much. When someone asked her if she’d go back and look at a tape of the match to figure out what happened she said:
Yeah, I got to go back and study and figure out how to beat her. That’s it. Bottom line.
Federer and Serena go about it in different ways but both are loathe to betray the slightest chink in their armor. Federer will dismiss a tough loss as insignificant and Serena will dismiss her opposition much as she does in her Compaq commercial where she picks up an opponent and tosses her aside with an air of dismissal.
In the case of Serena, this kind of behavior comes with the territory. She will not be denied and that’s why she can turn up at the Australian Open after missing six months of tennis and blow the field away. We want her to feel indomitable because that’s what champions are made of.
But Henin knocked her out of the three remaining slams this year. True, Serena was playing with an injured thumb in the Wimbledon loss, but the veneer of domination could be undone by denial if she doesn’t take Henin as a serious opponent.
And that means admitting that Henin outplayed her.
Here’s all you need to know about the quarterfinal match between Roddick and Federer. The score was 2-2 in the second set and Federer had game point on his serve.
Roddick hit a return so hard that Federer barely got his racket on it. Roddick hit another rocket to the baseline and Federer had to short-hop that ball too. By this time Roddick was at the net and hit a crisp volley to the other side of the court that also landed near the baseline. One more Roddick volley to the opposite corner and Federer had to put up a desperation lob that landed so deep that Roddick had to hit the ball between his legs. It didn’t work.
Roddick had hit four balls that should have won the point and yet he here he was, trying to save the point with a trick shot.
Okay, let’s throw in a few more things.
In the first set tiebreaker, Roddick was serving at 4-5 when he hit a forehand approach that kicked up high off the baseline. Federer calmly flicked a passing shot cross court and out of Roddick’s reach. In the second set tiebreaker, Roddick was serving at 4-4 when he hit a 140 mph(225 km/h) serve. Federer blocked it back with a half swing and the ball landed on the back of baseline. Roddick was so surprised that all he could do was flail at it.
Roddick was bringing it, I mean he was slamming balls and playing the game of his life. But he had no chance. Power met finesse and was eaten up by it.
All that running around and slamming caught up with Roddick in the third set. He faced his first break points serving at 2-3 and lost his serve. He didn’t win another game as Federer won the match, 7-6(5), 7-6(4), 6-2.
After the match Roddick said:
I’m not walking off with any questions in my head this time. I’m not walking with my head down. I played my ass off out there tonight. I played the right way.
He did play his ass off and on another night, it might have worked. At the very least, I won’t automatically assume Federer wins next time they meet up. With Roddick’s record against Federer currently sitting at 1-14, that’s progress.
Boris Becker’s Tongue
Andre Agassi sat in the commentary booth with John McEnroe and Ted Robinson during the match between Roddick and Federer. USA should hire Andre immediately. His commentary was as intelligent as I’ve heard at a tennis match.
He covered details about positioning and strategy you expect from a former top player – but don’t always hear – and it told you why you saw so many fantastic matches from him. He misses absolutely nothing.
Check this out for instance. He figured out that Boris Becker tipped off his serve with his tongue. That’s right, his tongue. If his tongue was in the middle of his mouth, his serve was going down the middle. If his tongue was over to the side, he was going wide.
We know McEnroe didn’t pick up on the tongue because he thought Agassi was joking. Maybe that’s why McEnroe was 2-8 against Becker and Agassi was 10-4.