The events that unfold Down Under, while we’re sleeping Up Top, can have the sketchy, half-remembered quality of dreams. Rafa’s out? Justine’s retired? I went to work in the nude? It’s been a confusing, unsettling 24 hours for tennis.
Rafa’s situation is unlucky. His Big Chance, possibly his Only Chance slipped through his taped fingertips, without even the cold comfort of being able to blame himself, or his opponent. (Oh to be Roger Federer in the 2009 US Open final!) But you know what, that’s life. Heck, it’s better than life – it’s losing in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. Torn muscles mend and champions make their own luck. Better luck next time, says Rafa:
“I think I am very, very lucky sportsman about what happened in my career. And I have to accept the fantastic moments that I had during a lot of years with the same calm that when I have problems. And if I am ready to accept both things with I think let’s say everything the same, I going to be able to come back and play my best tennis another time. “
Like Rafa, Justine Henin’s body betrayed her. But she doesn’t have happier tennis days ahead. Her open letter is a mini-masterpiece of regret and longing:
I’m in shock, of course, even with the work of these past seven months I had to understand that there might be a reason for all this. After having well considered and following the advice of doctors, it is now clear and I accept that my career here … … finally ends. Even though it’s hard, very hard, while I came back with a tremendous fighting spirit.
I’m sorry … I had hoped for a different return and dreamed of a different ending. I will need time to process all this, but I remain convinced that even with little progress, my level with my return did not meet my expectations, despite everything I’ve learned a lot over the past 15 months.
It doesn’t feel right to read this on Facebook – Justine’s emotions belong on yellowed parchment stained with India ink and tears.
I’m sad about it. Though I didn’t warm up to her comeback quite as much as I thought I would – I really never got over one of her other sudden departures: that inexplicable retirement during the 2006 Australian Open final vs. Amelie Mauresmo – women’s tennis was so much richer for having her enigmatic game and personality around. Just twelve months ago she started her comeback by playing two of the best women’s matches of the year in the finals of Brisbane (lost to Clijsters) and Melbourne (lost to Serena Williams.) You’ve stolen a piece of my tennis happiness Justine! (I’m in the anger stage, I guess.)
Serena, get well soon. And Kim, don’t get bored. Clijsters routined Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-3 in Thursday’s semifinal.
Let’s wrap this up with Li Na, who was at her comic best after beating Caroline Wozniacki on Thursday for a place opposite Kimmie in the Australian Open final. She becomes the first Chinese man or woman into a Major singles final. And she’s the last person to beat Kim in a final, too:
Q. Last year you were in semifinals. Now you are in final. What are you going to do next year?
NA LI: If I win this year, maybe next year I will retire. (Smiling.) It’s all I can do in next year.
Now I have to go to bed, and try not to dream about Federer vs. Djokovic!