I enjoy tennis more when it is not in “grand slam” mode. Sometimes the best matches I have seen are those in between times – not Melbourne, Paris, London, or New York. Perhaps we expect too much from players in the slams; however, I think it is also a case of seeming to get (again and again) more of the expected. Such as the case with the finals that will take place at the U.S. Open 2013.
I understand that many are people are salivating at the prospect of seeing Serena Williams go up against Victoria Azarenka (2). It seems a given that we want to see number one play number two, but that is the ho-hum element for me. Both of these fine players went up against all these other competitors, and in the end we get number one and two. It just seems too easy (though I know it is not), but it is sort of like those action movies when the good guy kills off all the goons and ends up fighting the main bad guy. I know this is what audiences want and expect, but is it what we really need? Is this truly the best tennis we are going to see until the next slam in January?
Then let’s look at the men’s side. What do we have here? Why we have Novak Djokovic (1) playing Rafael Nadal (2). Do we see a pattern here? Yes, once again they played tough matches to get to this point, but the truth is that is what was expected – no more or less. The fact that the number ones and twos are facing off in the finals to me signifies that there is nothing to dazzle me in this slam, no unexpected wunderkind who will rattle professional tennis’s cage, and it’s kind of disappointing.
My father passed away early this year, but he was the one who sparked my interest in tennis. When I was younger, he and I would hit the court and play – hard. My father had a terrific serve, one that whizzed by me like a rocket. It got to the point that I didn’t even bother to return his serve, and he would get a laugh or two out of that. As I got older and stronger, I eventually returned that serve. He said I got him through “attrition,” and I guess he was right about that.
Above all my father was a tennis purist. He felt the rankings were not “pure” in any sense of the word. Ranking was based on something other than great tennis in his mind – and more about which players were in the most tournaments throughout the year, thus giving more opportunities for victories and a higher ranking. So he would see certain people ranked two or three and scoff at it.
Now from his ethereal place he no doubt has a front row ticket at the slams. I am sure that he is very disappointed that his favorite – Roger Federer – is not facing Nadal in the final (as am I). In my mind this would be the anti-expected but desired final. Everyone keeps talking about Federer losing his game, and at 32 there is no doubt that he has lost a few steps, but I bet there wouldn’t be one disappointed fan in Arthur Ashe Stadium if it was Federer facing off against Nadal. That is the match that should have been, the one that would have compelled me to watch every second even if it went five sets.
Now, I will watch the women and men’s finals because this is the U.S. Open, and one never knows when greatest moments will happen. But my father is probably grumbling on the other side, and I will be as I sit in front of the TV. The excitement that used to be found in early September in New York doesn’t feel the same anymore. Maybe watching the matches without Dad is part of it, and maybe I long for the days of Ashe, McEnroe, Connors, Sampras, Agassi, Graf, Seles, Goolagong, Navratilova, and Everet. It seemed back then it was less robotic, less of the expected, or perhaps I just saw the matches I wanted to see.
I’ll never forget watching the famous match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs with Dad. This wasn’t great tennis, and my father almost didn’t say a word through the whole thing. In the end – when King beat Riggs – my father got up from his chair and said, “The fix was in on that one.” We never discussed the match any further, but that was how Dad thought. All these years later, “the fix” seems to be that number one faces number two in the finals.
While I doubt anything nefarious is going on here, the bottom line is that we get what we expected in the finals – not perhaps what we wanted. By getting the expected we get less of what great tennis can and should be. So I will watch and hope to be dazzled, but I have a feeling that Williams and Djokovic will be taking pictures together at the end of play on Monday. Fee-fi-ho-hum indeed.
Photo credits- USTA; federer – getty images; nadal -AP