Never to Be Seen Again

Roger Federer won his 7th Wimbledon title in typical Federer fashion.

Effortlessly.

The debate of whether Roger Federer is indeed the best tennis player to ever pick up a racquet will inevitably resume, most likely in Roger’s favour, in the coming days. Comparing players across generations often leads to great discussion but it’s a fruitless debate. No one can truly be right. Federer may be the greatest tennis player in the history of the game but we will never know.

What we do know though, or rather, should know, is that Roger Federer is the most unique tennis player anyone has ever witnessed and will ever witness.

His dominance is unique in itself but it’s more the way in which he achieves that very dominance.

Federer makes it look so simple. Too easy. He appears as effortless as you or I do on our couch, with a bag of potato chips watching TV. Sometimes it’s as if he isn’t trying. Roger Federer plays 4 sets in a championship final and doesn’t break a sweat. Heck, sometimes I even break into a sweat on my couch in the summer.

And here we are, 17 major victories later.

Federer dominates but he does it with such ease and fluidity. His movement has the grace of a gazelle yet his power parallels that of a pitcher throwing an effortless 95mph. He is the antithesis of his arch frenemy Rafael Nadal. While Nadal tramples the court to shreds over the course of a match, Federer leaves the ground virtually untouched. Nadal will wheeze like a dying animal at times while Federer stays quiet as a mouse.

Dominance and tennis go together like ice cream and apple pie. Roger Federer is by no means the first to rule the tennis world. However, he is the first and only to do it in such an undemanding manner. Pete Sampras dominated but he did it through the serve and volley. Roger Federer has grinded out points from the baseline for 14 years. Although, I guess his opponents do most of the grinding.

In his prime, pressure wasn’t a part of Federer’s vocabulary. Big serves and big shots during big moments were ho-hum. He responded to clutch situations in a way that might have made Michael Jordan jealous. It’s not just the robotic gracefulness that he brings to every point but it’s his ability to elevate his game when he needs it most and appearing to do it with that same robotic gracefulness. No additional external effort required. At least, it always seemed that way.

He doesn’t really have bad days. 33 straight quarter-finals will tell you that.

Injuries? Forget about it. If he hadn’t gotten mononucleosis that one time, you would probably think the guy is invincible.

It is possible that his effortless dominance is unprecedented across all sports. I mean, has anyone in the history of professional sports made winning look as easy Roger Federer has over his career?

Joe DiMaggio’s elegance earned him the nickname the ‘Yankee Clipper,’ in reference to the new Pan-American airliner in 1939. Canadians will never forget Bobby Orr and the way he seemingly floated across the ice.

Roger Federer, he more than deserves to mentioned in the same air as those effortless greats.

He reminded us all yesterday how good he was during his best days. You couldn’t beat him because he wouldn’t beat himself. 1 month away from his 31st birthday, Federer was in his “not make any unforced errors mode” against Andy Murray. In his prime, that was his default mode.

On the wrong side of 30, it would be, well, wrong of us to expect another major from Fed.

Even in his old(ish) age though, there is one thing that you can always expect from Roger Federer when he steps onto a tennis court. Something we may never see again in the history of the sport.

His unprecedented and unflappable effortlessness.

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Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

Welcome to the new weekly segment on Painting the Black. It is my goal to start your work week off right with random thoughts, ideas, rants and ramblings from the week that was in the world of sports. It’s already Monday so let’s get at it. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

Granger Danger

The Pacers do stand a chance against the Heat. They clearly showed that in game 1. A lot of things are going to have to go their way but it isn’t farfetched to say that they can win the series. Granger was terrible yesterday afternoon and the Pacers kept it close until the final couple of minutes.

What Indiana needs is for Danny Granger to play less like the role player that he has been this year and more like the emerging star he was only 2 years ago. He is just a couple of years removed from averaging 24.2ppg and three years removed from averaging 25.8ppg the previous season. Despite being the leading scorer of the Pacers, Granger dropped all the way down to 18.7 per game this season and shot a career low 41.6% from the field. Granted, he has taken a reduced role because of the emergence of guys like Paul George and Roy Hibbert.

Nevertheless, the Pacers can’t just play a good team game with good team guys and expect to beat an exceptional Heat squad. They have to play a good team game with Danny Granger finding the form of the top scorer that he is still capable of being even with Lebron James guarding him.

NBA Reffing

I complain about reffing a lot. I know. But bear with me.

The refereeing so far throughout the playoffs has been outstanding. They have been letting the players play like they should in the playoffs. This isn’t hockey. Scoring is not a problem.

What I have a problem with is the inconsistency between crews. Game 1 of the Heat-Pacers series was called more similarly to a regular season game than a round 2 postseason matchup. What’s worse is that it seemed as though every time Dwyane Wade or Lebron James put their head down to go to the basket it was an automatic 2 shots. The game lacked flow, which is something that hasn’t been a problem up until this point in the playoffs for the most part.

There’s a fine line between keeping the game in check and letting the players play but I’d like to see them allow the more aggressive style of basketball to continue.

Blue Clay, No Way

Players on the ATP tour have recently been complaining about the blue clay they have been forced to play on at the most recent stop in Madrid instead of the traditional red clay. Apparently, the ball bounces differently and it is much more slippery. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have both gone public with their staunch disapproval of the new surface.

Never mind the way it plays, the blue surface is atrocious for viewers. Like the bright blue field of the Boise State Broncos, the idea of playing over a surface dyed so colourfully may be fine in theory but, in practice, it’s a distracting sight for the most important people, the audience. Whether it is just a matter of getting used to it or just having such a bright, in your face colour, the blue doesn’t work for me.

I understand that these ATP destinations want to differentiate themselves from other tournaments but the blue surface doesn’t do that in a positive way. I find it hard to believe that I am the only person who is more than a little annoyed by the blue surface. Take away the blue clay courts. The players don’t like it, I don’t like it and I bet there are a few others who feel the same way.

I’d Rather Be Golfing

As 26 NHL teams are probably out taking advantage of sunny weather to hit the links, 4 teams remain to battle it out for hockey supremacy. I think I’d like to be on the golf course with them instead of watching the hockey the NHL is presenting to the world this May. The matchups left in the Western and Eastern conferences are not worth my 3 hours to watch. Life is too short 3 period neutral zone free for all.

With the Capitals out of the playoffs the intriguing storylines have dissipated. It’s nice to see an old school goalie like Brodeur still thrive at 40 years old but his team is as boring as ever. Meaningful hockey in the big apple is a pleasant change of pace. Neither of those narratives are enough to entice this Canadian though. I didn’t even realize the Conference Finals began last night until around the 15 minute mark of the 3rd period between the Kings and Coyotes when I caught the game in one of my many surfing’s of the channel variety.

George Karl is Pretty Good

The Los Angeles Lakers might wish they had George Karl as their coach instead of Mike Brown. While Mike Brown’s security as a head coach was being questioned going into game 7 by the likes of Magic Johnson, George Karl went about his business to give his overmatched team a fighting chance. The job that Karl did with the Nuggets against the Lakers and throughout the entire season should be applauded. He can give himself a big pat on the back as well.

There was no way in hell that the Nuggets should have been able to take the Lakers to a tightly contested game 7. Absent of a big man who can score outside of the paint and a wing player able to create his own shot, George Karl was still able to come up with a successful game plan to counter the Lakers.

Linternational Appeal

I read on NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk that the Toronto Raptors are aiming for Jeremy Lin. As the article says, it is a bit unrealistic to think that the Knicks would let the “marketing dream” that is Jeremy Lin walk away. They would almost undoubtedly match any offer the Raptors would give Lin but the idea of Lin in the city of Toronto is no doubt appealing to a Raptors fan.

Jose Calderon has one year left on his contract and Toronto runs their offence almost exclusively through the point. Bottom line is that with Jerryd Bayless looking more and more like his ceiling in the NBA is that of a streaky combo guard, the Dino’s are soon to be in need of a point guard. Lin fits the bill and if he could come close to the level he played at this year, he could make the Raptors into one of the more intriguing dark horses in the next couple of years. Additionally, Lin would have no concerns about moving to a country outside of the United States, which is always an issue with the team in Toronto.

Linsanity in Toronto? I’m on board.

Sha-Na-Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye

I was absolutely shocked to see that Kevin Na blew a 3rd round lead at the Players Championship on Sunday. Bogeying 4 of the first 5 holes and finished with a 4-over 76 was so uncharacteristic of Na. Sorry, what, Kevin Na was the guy who shot that brutal 16 on the 9th hole at the Texas Open last April? Oh, that changes things a bit.

Seriously though, how often do we have these virtual no names leading after 3 rounds only to fade into the abyss. The sport of golf will always amaze me with its ability to separate the men from the boys. It always astonishes me that these unbelievably talented golfers turn into shy, little, hormonal teenagers when it comes to the final round of tournaments.

Na’s situation was no doubt worse with the crowd jeering him for his slow play and with the time clock being imposed on him by the PGA. He did not take any of that very well and deservedly lost. If he can’t mentally handle picking up his Kendry Morales running down the 1st base line pace then that’s too bad. Taking out the extra stuff Na had to deal with yesterday, I’m not so sure he doesn’t crash and burn like so many others have in the past anyways. When a professional loses his head enough to shoot a 16 on a hole, there are always going to be question marks.

Big Ball Parks

The Minnesota Twins spent a whole bunch of money on a brand new stadium and couldn’t have screwed it up more. Announcers and writers constantly mention the beauty of Target Field and that it’s one of the best parks in all of baseball. In the end, a ball park is just a ball park and no matter how you slice it, what you will still be watching is baseball on a diamond. The look of a stadium means nothing to the product on the field. For me, Target field is one of the worst parks in all of baseball.

I will never be able to comprehend the choice of teams to design a brand spanking new stadium that their players can’t hit the ball out of. Forget about the terrible and abnormally high centre field camera view that Target Field provides, the park is simply one of the worst to play in for hitters. The Twins have Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer locked up for the long haul yet both have had their fair share of difficulties hitting home runs at Target Field. Injuries have played a part in that but, ultimately, Target Field hurts the Minnesota Twins’ two most prized commodities. It’s not much fun for fans to watch warning track power either.

Pitcher friendly stadiums are not only bad for fans but they hurt a team’s ability to sign free agents. For some reason, if the team is good enough, marquee free agent pitchers don’t mind pitching roughly half of their games at a hitter friendly park (see Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium). Conversely, teams such as the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics are unable to attract the best power hitters. A hitter friendly park can give your franchise the best of both worlds, on the condition that you have a team that has the possibility to contend. And even if your team sucks, at least you can see a few more long balls. I hear the chicks dig it.

Bonus (Shameless?) Contemplation!

Sometimes I should wonder if I should sneak my shameless promotion in the middle of the post just so you guys are caught off guard. Anywho, you should, no MUST, check me out on twitter and then maybe give me a follow @paintstheblack. If you like what you see around the blog, subscribe either through the email subscription in the right hand corner or with the RSS feed so you can have immediate access to the latest articles on Painting the Black. Happy Monday!

Federer Express Delivering No More

Roger Federer is possibly the classiest champions in the history of sports

I’m just going to go ahead and say it. Roger Federer is done. Turn out the lights because the party is over.

16 grand slams, a previous streak of 237 consecutive weeks as ATP number one ranked player, and arguably the best tennis player of all-time. Quite an impressive resume for a 28-year-old but right now all of that doesn’t matter.

Currently, Federer is attempting to win his 17th grand slam at this year’s Australian Open. His train was almost derailed just shortly after leaving the track as he grinded out a 5 set match versus Gilles Simon in the second round yesterday.

In the prime of his career Federer rarely played 5 setters in a tournament, much less even drop a set. He was that dominant.

Roger Federer is facing the inevitable downfall that all elite athletes are confronted with. He is not the same player on the court and that is something that has been evident for the last couple of years.

There was a point in time when it seemed like he might not even get that elusive 15th major, but Federer was able to battle through some of his less fine moments to capture two more majors.

Can he do it again? Don’t think so.

Roger Federer’s game is not devoid of anything, in fact, his repertoire has expanded with age. However, he does not make the higher degree of difficulty shots that he used to make at such an unbelievably consistent rate. He still glides like a graceful gazelle around the court but no longer is there the reliability in him where you felt that he could never miss.

The tougher times that have come upon him have led to the fist-pumping and animal-like instinctual cries of joy that were not a part of his personality in his younger years.

The amount of emotion he shows during matches is the barometer by which we can measure how well he is playing and how comfortable he feels about his game. There was no fist-pumping in the olden days simply because there was no discomfort.

He let out a massive “sigh” of relief following his gruelling match versus Simon to put it as lightly as possible.

Although, it should be pointed out that Federer had lost his 2 previous matches to Simon, it is still too frequent in recent major tournaments that Federer has been forced to go deep into matches against supposedly lesser opponents.

Never a good sign.

It isn’t the same anymore with him and there is no indication of things improving anytime soon. Not even the magic to pull the rabbit out of a hat for one major tournament. I’m not seeing it.

Robin Soderling is seeded 4th in this year's Australian Open

However, his game is not the only issue that stands in way of an even greater legacy. The competition on the tour at this point in time is arguably as good as it has ever been in the history of tennis.

I guess I was wrong to speculate that Rafael’s Nadal win at Wimbledon in July was possibly his last chance at another major. Nadal has continued to dominate the tour since then and is looking to complete the “Tiger Slam” by winning all four majors consecutively but not in the same calendar year. He is healthy, in his prime years, and has overcome the US Open. Is there anyone that is going to be able to take down Nadal?

Then you add to the mix Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Robin Soderling, suddenly you are looking at a very formidable top 5 group of players. All 3 of those guys do have the ability to win in any given tournament and take down a top player on any given day.

With that being said, I don’t believe that any of those guys have the mental make up to win multiple majors but that still doesn’t mean that they are not a threat whenever they hit the court in a tournament.

Roger Federer is possibly the best player that ever played the game and if not for Rafael Nadal this would not even be a discussion.

The thing is, with professional sports it’s all about what have you done for me lately. At this moment, Roger Federer has not done much lately and that is not going to change.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I am now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favor.

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Nadal’s Last Chance?

Rafael Nadal took home his 2nd Wimbledon title on Sunday but will it be his last?

After defeating Tomas Berdych in straight sets (6-3, 7-5, 6-4) on Sunday to capture his second Wimbledon Title, Rafael Nadal dropped to the ground in joy. Following handshakes to Berdych and the referee, Nadal closed with a celebratory somersault at centre court.

Nadal’s acts of celebration truly exemplify the personality, flare, and energy that he has shown as a player and a person on the court. The passion and hustle that he plays the game of tennis with is unmatched by anyone. You just flat out aren’t going to find a more likable athlete than Rafael Nadal.

Each major tournament Rafael Nadal is getting closer, and may even be considered by some, to being thought of as one of the all-time tennis greats. We are left to wonder though if the injury issues that Nadal is constantly faced with week in and week out are finally going to catch up to him. Looking back on Rafael Nadal’s career are we going to see the 2010 Wimbledon as the climax of a very good career?

Although, this may not be Nadal’s last opportunity it is apparent that he is definitely nearing the peak of his career and his dominance across the tour.

However, tennis fans have been seeing Nadal face some injury troubles these last few years. The most notable of them and still an ongoing problem for Rafa is the knee tendinitis that forced him to sit out last year’s Wimbledon tournament.

Sean Corvin, the health and fitness educator from Premier Training speculated about a year ago that Nadal’s knees are akin to those of a 33 year olds. This may not be exactly true but it does signal that Nadal is not going to be able to have the amount of longevity that is needed to be considered best of all-time. Now I’m not saying that Nadal would be the best of all-time if he can stick around and be near the top of the rankings in the years to come, but I am saying that he would and may still be in the discussion.

Injuries are a problem for any athlete but for Nadal it poses an even bigger issue. More than any player on tour, Nadal’s game relies so much on defence, hustle, and wearing down his opponent. He loves to get into long rallies where he knows he can outlast his opponent for each point more often than not, and as the match goes on he will be the more physically fit player. However, if Nadal is not 100% healthy his game is greatly diminished, as a key aspect of his strategy is taken out of the picture.

It isn’t just the injuries that may hurt Nadal down the line, it will also be his love for the game. Another glaring problem is that Nadal can’t seem to save himself from himself. Nadal plays more matches and tournaments during the tennis season than anyone on tour and even though he stated that this year he is going to cut back on the amount of tournaments that he plays in, John Macenroe mentioned yesterday that so far he has played more matches than anyone this year. If Nadal wants to win more majors it is going to take some serious will power to overcome his need to be playing so often,

With all that being said, it must be noted that Nadal is always expanding and improving many facets of his game. Recently Nadal has added a one-handed backhand slice that was shown to be very effective against Tomas Berdych. As well, each year Nadal is putting more and more juice on his serve and yesterday he had it topping out at 127mph.

Roger Federer's time at the top of the tennis world may finally be coming to an end

I think that another big reason that will allow at least some longevity for Nadal is that right now there looks to be no one that is going to challenge him in the next couple of years. None of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, or Andy Roddick has proven that they can step into a major tournament and subsequently step up their game to take down Nadal or Roger Federer on a regular basis. Speaking of Roger Federer, at 28 it looks as though he is finally over the hill and probably won’t have a shot at winning more than a major or two down the road. Although I should mention that I felt the same way a couple of years ago and Federer just kept on going like the Energizer Bunny. Presently, Robin Soderling has emerged as the most likely candidate to consistently challenge at Majors but even he was beaten handily by Nadal in four sets this year at Wimbledon.

I can’t say for sure but I honestly don’t think that Nadal has been fully healthy at any point in time in the last couple of years. It is known around the tennis world that Nadal is one of the best clutch performers that the game has ever seen and that he can turn his game up a knotch or two when he has too. However, it is an inevitability that the injuries are going to get worse and as a consequence ramping up his game when he needs to is just not going to be enough to get him through major tournaments in the future. He needs to be healthy and it is just a matter of time before he will be unable to perform at the level that we are accustomed to seeing him at.

Currently Rafael Nadal is looking ahead to a gruelling hard court season and most importantly an attempt at his first US Open title. But what will be in the back of everyone’s mind is whether or not his best days are behind him.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I’m now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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