Tennis magazine’s Peter Bodo is one of the games premiere writers because he is one of the games best writers. In one of his year end postings on his blog he kind of puts the whole of professional tennis in perspective. The article was actually titled “My Favorite Things”. Whether you agree or not with all of his favorite things, it is well written and insightful.
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by Pete Bodo
Lest I be regarded as some sort of scrooge during the holiday season, I feel obliged to get away from my dissident “5 Worst Matches,” or that guaranteed-to-be-riveting “5 Most Forgettable Moments” that never actually gets written because. . . well, you know the rest.
So let’s go all Julie Andrews here to make up for all that snark and negativity, and channel the saccharine but undeniably catchy ditty she made so famous, My Favorite Things. While not exactly a Christmas song, the old chestnut gets a lot of airplay during the holidays, so let’s see we can come up with in the “raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens” department.
Here are 10 of my favorite things, 2011 edition:
Women Who Serve: When Venus and Serena Williams became big winners, it opened a new door on a discussion that was more or less verboten for a long time because it touched on real or imagined sexism: Why so few women served well, especially when compared even in relative terms with men.
The Williams sisters showed (actually, they reminded us) that the serve can indeed be a pre-emptive weapon, and they seemingly have ushered in an era during which so-so servers are being made to pay, and dearly, for their weaknesses—as Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic and others can attest. I like the Sam Stosur kicker, and that lefty Petra Kvitova slice has the potential to be as damaging as John McEnroe‘s was on the men’s tour. Hopefully, this emergence of women who serve is part of the WTA’s evolution, rather than an anecdotal moment in time.
Hawkeye: It bears repeating, Hawkeye has been an enormous boon to the game and with no down side that I can see (either live or in replay). I just wish someone kept track of how many critical points were reversed by this electronic line-calling system. The best thing about Hawkeye, though, is counter-intuitive.
Instead of taking the “human element” out of the game, Hawkeye has—if anything—enhanced it. Players are more likely than ever to engage the chair umpire, and in a positive way. And they’ve shown a striking degree of confidence in the opinion of the men in the high chair. Also, the dramatic moments created when the entire stadium, including the players, are riveted on the replay screen is priceless. Who knew technology could be so warm and fuzzy?
Li Na: Ever notice how the men are always pointing out that they mostly care about the Grand Slams, yet fight furiously at every tournament they enter and wind up doing as well—if not better—in conventional tour events?
Not Li. She’s the one who actually seems to live by the credo merely mouthed by the men. She was a two-time Grand Slam finalist (runner-up, Australian Open; winner, French Open) but failed to make the third round at other tournaments great and small 11 times in 2011.
U.S. Open Men’s Singles Final, Third Set: The way Rafael Nadal fought back to turn the tide, albeit briefly, against Novak Djokovic in that match was an enormous testament to the deposed No. 1’s competitive heart, but also a tribute to Djokovic’s degree of resistance. It was a brutal and majestic set, rather like watching a pair of Bighorn sheep fighting over a potential mate.
Roger Federer‘s Surge: Henceforth, when top players begin to recite their familiar October dirges about the ATP calendar, you can just point to the way 30-year-old Federer handled the last three months of 2011 and finished the year looking like a young buck.
It’s all about choosing when to play and when to rest. Federer has said that he no longer really cares about rankings (see Li, above) yet he managed to finish No. 3 in a year during which he won just one tournament between the start of 2011 and October, and had skipped the entire Asian circuit. So let me repeat. If you feel you’re playing too much, Mr. ATP pro, just take a rest. If the tour didn’t fall apart because Federer missed a few, it will survive your absence as well.
Rafael Nadal Press Conferences: With rare exceptions, great players usually make for poor press room fodder. They’re usually either too bent on avoiding controversy, too self-regarding, or too loath to give the competition a key to their thought processes to speak straight and from the heart. Nadal is an outstanding exception. His post-final press conference after losing to Djokovic at Wimbledon this year set a new standard for honesty, clarity and humility.
Sam Stosur’s Comments on Serena Williams: We’re all familiar with the controversy that attended the U.S. Open women’s final, and the extent to which the debate over the point taken from Serena by the umpire (citing the “hindrance” rule) both marred the match and ultimately dominated the narrative.
Stosur, who played the match of her life to beat Williams in straight sets, handled the brouhaha as well as she handled Williams on the court. When she was asked how it felt when, after causing such a big ruckus, Serena actually went and sat down alongside the winner right after the match, Stosur commented:
“All of a sudden, yeah, (I) turned around and she was right next to me, which is kind of unusual. No, she was great, actually. She just said, ‘How do you feel? Are you really excited?’
“It’s unbelievable. I played really well. Yeah, I was really surprised to see her sitting next to me at that moment in time. I guess it, you know, shows what a nice person she is and what a true champion she is of the sport. To be able to separate the result a few minutes later and be able to come over and congratulate your opponent I thought was pretty classy.”
Stosur said not a word about the distraction taking away from her moment of glory. Like the lady said, “pretty classy.”
The Russian Electorate: Showing that they know the difference between a leader and an egghead, or maybe just demonstrating that they have a truly dark sense of humor, Russian voters recently elected former ATP No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin to their parliament.
Declaring that he’s there to “propagandize for sport, because it’s the most important thing,” Safin added: “I don’t belong to anyone, and I have nothing to lose. I can say ‘thank you very much, good bye, I don’t need this’ at any time, although I wouldn’t like to fail those who elected me. If there is a good team, I’m more than willing to throw myself completely into the work.”
Juan Martin del Potro: While I don’t especially want to be counted among those who think it’s a sign of human progress when grown men cry, I was touched when del Potro turned on the floodgates during the Argentina’s doomed Davis Cup effort in the final v. Spain. It’s nice to have the gentle giant of Tandil amongst us again. Among other things, he shows that you can be an emotional guy without leaping around like a scalded cat, throwing your fist in the other guy’s face, and/or screaming at the player guest box.
The Match Tie-break: Granted, the very idea is kind of funky, as you can tell by the way there isn’t even a consensus on how you write and spell the thing (is it, “Match Tie-break” (the official ATP designation), “Super-tiebreak,” “Super Tie-breaker,” or “Super-tiebreaker?”), and it gives rise to the charmingly Dada concept of tennis as a the “best-of-two-sets” enterprise.
But this form of conflict resolution has made ATP doubles less troublesome for tournament directors, television producers, and marquee singles players—all of whom now know that no doubles match is going to last an hour or 90 minutes longer than anticipated.
Once you watch a few matches employing the MTB, you may even come to the same realization I did—all other things being equal, it’s as good a way as any to decide a match when two players or teams split sets. You have to win 10 points (with a margin of at least two), which makes the MTB less subject to lucky shots or bad breaks than a conventional, first-to-seven points tiebreaker. And let’s face it, that familiar third- or fifth-set tiebreaker is essentially tagged on like a little sign declaring: Okay, nobody can win this set the right way so let’s just cut to the chase and get it out of the way. . .besides, the TV guys really want us to do it this way.
By contrast, the MTB is a distinct unit, more a hockey shoot-out than an appendage to a stalled set. You know what would make a lot of sense? Play two deuce sets and then, if the players or teams split, play the MTB. And here’s another thought, given all the griping about the length of season: Consider using the MTB in most three-set tournaments.