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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The Grunt Stops Here

Maria Sharapova (left) and Victoria Azarenka (right) are two of the loudest women on tour

Grunting is ruining tennis.

Grunting, or shrieking as it is known on the WTA, has grown in volume in recent years. It is not only the decibel level that is rising but the amount of players choosing to make the repulsive noises.

It has gotten so bad that BBC has launched a tool that allows viewers to fade out the sound of grunting. If that’s not a signal for change I’m not sure what is.

People are sick of it. I’m sick and tired of it. I think I even heard Prince William mumbling something along those lines to Kate Middleton.

If only the networks had a say in this. The BBC has been receiving complaints regarding this at a higher rate than angry mother’s writing letters to the FCC. This year’s Wimbledon has finally made grunting an issue worth delving into. It is a problem that has gone unnoticed for too long.

Wimbledon is a beautiful tradition. The pointless noise has made Wimbledon filthy. Tennis, like all professional sports, is not about the players. It is about the fans and bringing them a product they feel is worthy of their 3 hours in front of the television. This is entertainment and grunting is slowly but surely taking away from the potentially high entertainment value that each match brings.

Grunting may sometimes be an uncontrolled reaction. We’ve all experienced it. The grunting displayed in tennis is completely under their control.

Whether it’s Marcos Baghdatis whimpering like a dying bull or, as much as we might enjoy the visual, Maria Sharapova screaming to audition for the next Ron Jeremy flick, the constant noise is largely uncalled for.

As much as the Williams sisters try to prove it, the backhand slice and forehand volley do not necessitate ear-splitting shrieks on any and every occasion.

I don’t need a professional tennis player telling me that grunting helps them hit the ball harder. Or that, hypothesized by one study, it creates a psychological advantage that would seem to compromise the integrity of the game if true.

Roger Federer is as quiet as a mouse out on the court. If one of the best players of all-time can stay quiet, why can’t you?

Women’s tennis is already being compromised enough by the lack of notoriety among the dominating presence of European players with an excessive number of k’s, v’s and z’s in their names as well as the instability of the revolving door of top seeds. They don’t need the casual fan changing the channel to Maury because they at least want some form of entertainment with their screaming.

A person can mute their TV for only so long. If muting the TV means I don’t have to hear another spiel from Pam Shriver about the emotions of the match then I might be okay with it but in the end I want to hear the genuinely intelligent comments coming from John McEnroe. I want to hear the ball hitting the racquet and the crowd roaring.

Each match we see Wimbledon spectators jumping on the bandwagon of the player who shrieks the least. They don’t have the luxury of muting their TV’s.

The men’s game doesn’t face the same problems that the women’s game does simply because their product on the court is so much greater with the abundance of elite talent they have been blessed with in the last decade. It helps that the men don’t grunt as much either. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the men’s side could still use the change.

Thursday’s semi-finals featured two of the loudest females in Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. Two women who can make a rock concert look like a library and screams that give tween boys across the country a reason to watch tennis.

Tennis has been getting evidence that even the jury of the O.J. trial couldn’t overlook.

It would be fitting to see the grunting’s swan song sung by Maria Sharapova in Saturday’s final.

Tennis has gotten on the slipperiest of slopes by allowing grunting to escalate to a point where it might eventually be out of their control. Grunting is an epidemic in the sport, become more contagious with each week.

Tennis can put a stop to this now though. Penalize players for grunting. They may complain but let them deal with it. They don’t need to do it and the sport doesn’t need it. Unless viewers tuning out from the game of tennis altogether is what the ITF is aiming for.

Letting the issue slide like the slope that tennis is already on can only do harm.

The Hawkeye system that has been introduced could be the greatest thing since sliced bread. It showed that the International Tennis Federation isn’t afraid to implement drastic changes amid mixed feedback.

It’s time to cut out grunting before it becomes an issue too difficult to fix.

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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.

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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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