Steve Tignor wrote an interesting viewpoint piece at tennis.com with the title “Excessive civility muting the men’s game?”
Have you read it already? If not, click here. If you have, can you please explain it to me? Here’s what I’ve figured so far. . .
Tignor begins by comparing two US Open semifinal handshakes – this year’s touchy-feely one between Novak (Hug Slut) Djokovic and Roger Federer and the reluctant, chilly exchange between John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors in 1980. Tignor says that both reflect the “code of camraderie” of their respective eras, and that he misses the competitive venom of the bad old/good old days.
I agree that psychological tension on the court makes things exciting. It’s fun when it gets personal out there. I’m not ashamed to admit that watching Nole vs. Roddick, Rafa vs. Soderling, or Serena vs. Safina is my version of tuning into NASCAR and hoping for a wreck. I think everyone should take a cue from Venus and stop apologizing for net cords. Hugs should be saved for five set epics and not routine 3rd round victories. And when a reporter asks a player to evaluate his next opponent, how about some brutal honesty every now and then? From a blogging perspective, it would make my life much easier!
But Tignor loses me when he leaves the Jerry Springer studios and veers East to Roland Garros.:
“(W)hy did I enjoy watching two guys who were never mistaken for gentlemen, Connors and McEnroe, so much, even while Federer’s victory at the French Open this spring, a triumphantly sentimental march through Roland Garros, leave me with a faint taste of sap?”
By Federer’s “triumphantly sentimental march” I’m assuming Tignor means “Federer’s Two Weeks of Hell with a Few Good Hours at the End”? As I remember, Roger Federer scraped his way out of two five setters that he should have lost, and was taken to four sets by both Paul-Henri Mathieu, a Frenchman playing in front of his home crowd, and Argentine dirtballer Jose Acasuso. He also endured the added pressure of becoming the heavy favorite as soon as Rafa lost early, with fans, media and even Parisian cabdrivers reminding him that the French Open was his to lose.
I don’t see how you can favorably compare a single handshake from 1980 to Roger Federer’s entire 2009 Roland Garros tournament, but Tignor tries:
Seeing player after player — Gael Monfils, Juan Martin del Potro, Robin Soderling — lose to Federer at Roland Garros and then embrace him with a smile, I found myself wishing for a little of the old, crude Jimbo ’tude, for a little of the gut-wrenching disappointment and even resentment that typically comes from losing a tennis match. But these young guys didn’t show any of it. They had taken camaraderie too far; it was as if they didn’t want to challenge their benign monarch or interfere with his long-awaited first French title.
Okay, I’m willing to be convinced. Is Tignor just wishing that someone had given Fed the cold fish at the net like Soderling gave Rafa after beating him in the fourth round? Or is he saying that the young guys, by being overly respectful towards Roger, didn’t compete to their utmost abilities against him? If it’s the latter, I cry foul! (Or bullsh*t! if that makes things more exciting for you.)
And here’s the final head-scratcher for me:
At a moment when professional athletes across the board are presumed to be frauds, the current generation of ATP tour players, taking their lead from Federer, has elevated tennis with stylish play and gentlemanly behavior. They apologize to each other after net cords, mishits, and even, now and then, when their opponent slips on the court; they congratulate each other with smiles and hugs; they sing each other’s praises in press conferences. At the same time, taking their lead from Rafael Nadal, the men have updated the game’s manners for a more expressive era. Theatrical chest thumps and fist pumps are no longer seen as gauche or unduly aggressive. They’re accepted as part of what it takes to play your best.
I think Tignor’s saying that the game is so dang “muted” nowadays that even excessive fist pumping can’t rile up any animosity between opponents. And you can blame Roger Federer for that because he’s brainwashed the entire ATP tour into being pleasant, chest thumping, hug sluts who can’t stand to beat him!
This is my main problem with the article – it seems less about the differences between eras and more about how Roger Federer single-handedly invented niceness and in the process made tennis boring by winning too much.
Put up your dukes, Tignor!