The Clay Court Season – Your Opinion Counts

I saw you all commenting on my last post and I felt like I had to make a post for my faithful readers. This is the clay court season and it is obviously not a very exciting period for Fedfans and many other tennis fans alike. We are almost half way through the clay season and we have got exactly what we expected. Nadal has won both Monte Carlo and Barcelona, dropping just one set in the process. And what is more is that he has not really hit his stride yet. His main opposition so far has been David Ferrer, a work horse with limited talent. I can only speak for myself, but I have found both finals between the two utterly boring to watch. And the only reason I watched it was because I had nothing else to do. It is all too painfully predictable. There is just no way Ferrer is going to cause Nadal any trouble whatsoever on clay.

In the Barcelona final Nadal was below par, yet he still trounced Ferrer 6-2, 6-4. Djokovic is beginning his clay court campaign this week in Serbia. He is the only one who looks to be even close to challenging Nadal on dirt. And yet, if Nadal plays just at 80% it is almost certain that he would beat Djokovic. Nadal is simply an animal on clay, but aside from that this is not exactly a strong clay court era. If Ferrer is his main challenger on clay so far then that must be the case. Ferrer is not even a true clay court specialist. Hard court may be his best surface, where he has beaten Nadal twice in grand slams, while only beating Nadal once out of 11 meetings on clay. There simply isn’t any clay court specialists around in this clay court era, aside from Nadal himself. Roger wasn’t a clay court specialist either, but he could challenge Nadal in his peak.

The only other guys that could probably challenge Nadal on clay in a recent era was the clay court specialists Coria and Gaudio. These two together with Roger at least made things a little more interesting. They didn’t beat Nadal much, but they had tough matches against him. What Ferrer did against Nadal in Monte Carlo and Barcelona doesn’t qualify as tough matches. Djokovic is not a clay court specialist either, but at least he gave Nadal a tough match in Madrid in 2009 where he almost beat him. Djokovic 2.0 is however better, and you would expect him to carry his amazing form into the clay season. This will at least give him a chance to beat Nadal. In a way the clay season only really starts in Madrid next week. There Djokovic will be able to challenge Nadal, and Roger will also be more adjusted to clay and looking to take advantage of the altitude.

This is pretty much what the clay season comes down to. Nadal has one challenger in Djokovic who has an outside chance of beating him, and then an aging Roger. Other than that there really isn’t much. The clay court season has become a one man show, to the point where many tennis fans are just waiting for it to be over. It has become so utterly predictable that we may as well give Nadal all the silverware and move onto the grass court season. The Nadal fans will be happy that Nadal got all the silverware, and the rest of the fans will just be happy that is all over. That way everyone wins. Very few people wants to watch Nadal grind down opponent after opponent on the slow, red dirt, aside from Nadal fans themselves. Personally I get no satisfaction from watching ‘The Wall’ making the opposition bite the dirt time after time.

I respect Nadal and I think he deserves these titles. That’s why I’d be more than happy if they gave Nadal all the silverware and started the grass court season early. I’m sorry if this sounds cynical, but to me this is truly how boring and predictable the clay court season has become. Hopefully the second half of the clay season will at least be a bit more exciting than the first half. But enough of what I think. The real reason I am making this post is to hear what you think of the current clay court season, but also to start a general discussion until things get under way in Madrid. This is a boring time for tennis, but we have to make the best of it. Do you think along the same lines as I do, or do you find the clay season exciting? Nadal once called for fewer hard court events so that things would be easier on his poor knees.

Should we call for fewer clay court events, to make things lets painful on our poor eyes? Also, how to you see the rest of the clay season transpiring? Is there anyone who can cause and upset and bring the clay court season alive like in 2009?

The floor is yours.

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92 Comments

  1. Aside from the usual suspects (i.e. Djokovic), I think Del Potro has great potential to develop as a top clay-court player. He is one of a new breed of heavy hitters (with Soderling) who can play on clay almost as if it were a hard court, using his great power to hit through even the fastest and most tenacious defenders. Although clay enhances the defensive skills of grinders like Nadal, it also allows time for Del Potro to prepare for his groundstrokes.

    Since Del Potro has proven to have good enough footwork to win the US Open (a fast hard court which gave him much less time to set up his groundstrokes) he may well end up having even greater success on clay than on hard courts.

    As much as I like Del Potro, one must admit his game is based primarily on his physical advantages of great height and strength. However, he plays an aggressive, high-risk game based on making winners, which I find much more enjoyable to watch than the more classical clay-court grinding.

    I’m not writing Roger off, either. It is not likely that he will be able to beat either the grinders or the power hitters by matching them from the baseline. However, he has other options: coming to net and using his superlative volleying skills, and bringing his opponent into no man’s land with drop shots, chippy balls, and short-angled groundstrokes.

    Against the grinders and big hitters, his goal on clay is to consistently force his opponent to alternately come forward and retreat, rather than allow the opponent to move purely laterally on the baseline. In a match like that he should have the advantage.

    I think the second half of this clay season will be more interesting than the first half. Here’s to some good clay-court battles!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I totally left of Del Potro. Big mistake. He is the one guy that can challenge Nadal possibly. He would have to find from though. Hasnt played on clay for two years. I will watch his progress with great interest.

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    Aravind Reply:

    I wonder if you have been following Delpo’s matches in Estoril. He has superlative power at his disposal, but for such a big game, he has pretty decent touch. I was amazed by his clever use of drop shots in his last few matches. This guy can move on clay(watch him slide, looks so natural).
    I think he is going to make an impression in clay in the years to come. He is much better mover than Soderling and has way more dimensions to his game. I keep thinking that if he was not injured in 2010, he would have been Nadal’s toughest competitor yet on clay.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Agree fully Aravind. Del Potro is the one to watch. If he catches form, like it seems he is, he is gonna be a very real threat at RG and elsewhere.

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  2. I posted this on your last writ:

    ‘Please, stop and think about how things were when Roger was SO dominant – were you upset and complaining about being ‘bored’? This was so boring, to see Federer winning again and again and again? Did you really honestly think it was boring when your man was so far above everyone else, it was almost a given that he would win? That the ‘world caved in’ the few times he lost something? An honest answer, please? marron’

    I didn’t get an answer from anybody yet. Maybe y’all haven’t been watching Federer for as long as I have. I really noticed him in 2002, and kept my eye on him, just knowing he’d break out soon and be at the top. All our opinions about Rafa/Fed’s dominance on clay/hard are colored by our fandom, people. Those who argue that Rafa’s game is boring, backboard, Wall, no style, blunt force, yada yada – this is your OPINION only. Same as those who saw Fed in 04-07 as boring, robotic, cold, ungracious with winning – again, this is opinion. Not fact.

    I enjoy watching Rafa play his kind of tennis, I always have. I always will. To say it’s boring, or that he simply bludgeons the ball, and waits for opponents to miss – well, I disagree with you. But you are entitled to believe what you want. I can certainly understand why non-fans would feel bored this time of year, because Rafa is that dominant on clay. Same as I can remember non-Fed-fans whining and moaning about how boring it was to see Fed winning everything (and I mean almost EVERYTHING!) in those dominant years of his. For a Fedfan, however, those years of almost complete domination, winning what, 87-4 one year? – please tell me you enjoyed seeing that dominance, I doubt i’ll believe anything otherwise.

    And to the poster who said it didn’t matter whether Rafa was winning or not, his game was boring, well, fine, you simply take your eyes away when he’s playing. I don’t enjoy watching Ivo… so I do something else. Simple, no? :-)

    Or Rafa can’t hit any amazing shots? Well, there’s a bunch on youtube, but again, ‘can’t hit amazing shots’ is an OPINION. What I believe isn’t going to sway those who say these things.

    Ta.

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    Dave Reply:

    Get your stats. right Marron.
    2004- 76-6.
    2005- 81-4.
    2006- 92-5.
    I respect Rafa for his hard work and effort to be where he is at but his style of tennis is,in fact, boring. He doesn’t play with style and variety. He is a grinder and his serve is one of the ugliest in tennis. I am personally tired of hearing Rafa and Nolie grunting like a bunch of pigs. Baseline ralleyes and a drop shot every now and then isn’t exactly what we all grew up on. Tennis should be an all around game. A game of diversity and variety. If you want to praise Rafa, you can comment on his style of clothing(Armani jeans or underwear),check his website. I’m sure you already have in your favorites.

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    marron Reply:

    Thank you Dave, I knew it was some ridiculous number, but didn’t look it up. Look at that dominance! Crazy!

    Where in this blog have I ‘praised’ Rafa? All I did was express my opinion, and only as a counterpoint to arguing about what fans might consider as boring. By the way, I haven’t heard from anyone here, yet, about whether they enjoyed Fed’s extreme domination of the tour in 04-06. Did no Fedfan here get bored? Wasn’t it amazing that he could keep winning and winning? I cannot believe there’s any Fedfan that would tell me s/he found that kind of top level domination boring. Am I right?

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    IROCK Reply:

    Again we’re repeating.RAfA’s style of play makes his dominance BORING!!!

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    marron Reply:

    Yep, that’s certainly your opinion to have.

    I found Fed’s dominance very boring, myself, back in 04-06. I couldn’t watch him play, and win, over and over again. It was like ‘is there no one who’ll step up and beat this guy?’ Yawn. This just to make my point, that depending on which player(s) you root for, your POV differs. Notice, I’m NOT making the statement, ‘Fed’s dominance was boring’, only that *I* found it boring.

    Anyway, let’s not belabour this point any further, no?

    I agree with Ru-an’s thoughts above, of course I can see and ‘get’ that this part of the year is dull and predictable, with only Nadal fans rubbing their hands together with glee. What I can tell you, is what I told myself – it will end sometime. I can hopefully live longer and watch tennis longer than these guys can play it.
    Cheers.

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    TGIF Reply:

    OK, I’ll bite.
    I think you’re right Marron, whether or not you’re bored depends on who you are a fan of.
    As a Fed fan I of course enjoyed his dominant years alot. Also, I rarely thought his domination “boring” especially at the slams as there were usually some exciting matches or events each time; ’04 was him just establishing his dominance for the first time, the ’04 wimby final was a squeaker, the ’04 USO final just a shocker because of the bagels, ’05 wimby probably most drama-free win tho’ it was also a pleasure to watch and Fed’s best match that year; ’05 fed-agassi uso final close and dramatic again; ’06 fed-baggy fed was downa set and i think a break before making a comeback; ’06 wimby there was the whole Fedal narrative, etc…

    But even with that said, even some Fed fans got a little bored at times, I remember once reading on fed’s website “I can’t wait for clay season” just because that was where Fed would be most challenged and would have opportunities to accomplish something he’d never done before.

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  3. Juan Martin del Potro. I think he’s capable of causing some serious trouble to Nadal. This guy is somehow underrated by everyone in tennis community. He has the game to beat Nadal. Also, Berdych has the potential to challenge him on clay. We’ll see.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Berdych? Not even a remote chance.

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    George Reply:

    Hm, you’re probably right but if he finds the form he had last year in FO where he lost 3-2 to Soderling, then I guess he has a chance to do something unexpectedly good. Hell, Roger could be the totally pleasant surprise!

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  4. I just wanted to say that Monte-Carlo and Barcelona were just absolutely dreadful and predictable. Clayface won again and I have the feeling Rafa is due up for real ass whipping, perhaps from Del Potro and maybe even Soderling. I hope tennis can change a little bit and more with a much more varied-type of playing, more one-handed backhand players. I like Gasquets’ backhand. One more thing I would like to say, Rafa is a great tennis player via clay wins but the fact is is that he wins ugly and his serve is so unappealing and his constant grunting and fist pumping, knee jerks, pouty face, don’t touch my water bottles and hurry up with my damn towel, His on court persona is one worst on the pro ciruit even Marat Safin was saying how he can’t stand watching Nadal. Roger or Del Potro or even Carlos, take this guy to school.

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    marron Reply:

    Clayface – LOL!

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    Jiten Reply:

    That’s what Peter Bodo used in his recent blog in tennis.com.

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    IROCK Reply:

    add butt scratching to thaat

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    marron Reply:

    Dave said: ‘even Marat Safin was saying …’

    Oh, wow! That settles it for me, then. If Marat Safin was saying how he can’t stand watching Nadal, then I’d better not watch either, no? After all, it’s Marat Safin telling me this. The ultimate authority…

    ROFLMAO!!!!!

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  5. Actually, I used to enjoy the claycourt season once. The sight of the ball arcing with topspin or heavy slice into the red dirt, as players strove to outmanouevre their opponent on a surface that required patience and tactical sense, made it a fascinating contrast both visually and tactically to the quickfire points played on Wimbledon’s green lawns. I had my favorites, too. Initially it was the great Borg but I later came to enjoy Wilander, Lendl, Courier, Bruguera, Kuerten – he became a special favorite and not just for his game but his personality – and then in more recent times, Gaudio (for his backhand and that he was an underdog) and Coria – whoops, he failed a drugs test. Oh dear.
    Of course I enjoyed watching Federer play on clay, as I would enjoy his extraordinary giftedness on any surface. I may even have enjoyed Nadal, as a counterpoint to that style, until I reluctantly concluded that no player can naturally be twice as strong, fast or fit as any previous player of the game. Oh, there were so-called “Iron Men” in the game before him – and now I think I was naive about them, too – but their excesses of physical strength and stamina don’t come close to those of the Spanish “conquistador”.
    So the clay game now is pretty much a foregone conclusion: Nadal wins everything till he breaks a leg – and contrary to what some fans here think – it ain’t pretty to watch. Yet it is possible that a spectacularly regenerated Djokovic could take Nadal this season on the clay. Of course, to me, that would definitely confirm that they are made of the same stuff. Since Nadal I suspect the game has changed forever but I wouldn’t call it progress.

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    Ed Reply:

    No reply to my last on the previous thread, Neil? It connects to what I’d suggest is a mis-seeing of Nadal’s game: not that he’s not a “grinder,” though that kind of player is as basic to tennis as the net, but, more specifically, to the actual, on-court game Rafa plays. And why, given how Novak is playing, does he have to be “spectacularly” regenerated to beat Rafa? (And, alas, you’ve already determined that IF Novak beats Rafa, that only “proves” that he MUST be on drugs.) Tennis on clay is a very special form of the game–its slow-mo effect lets us see deeply into the moment-by-moment tactics of each player, and into the “mind” of the game itself. It’s that slowing-down of the game that’s the crucial component in giving Rafa, already a superb athlete, the time he needs to make amazing saves–it also gives Ferrer, Federer, Djovick–and everyone else that advantage. No drugs needed: just a life dedicated to winning at the game.

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    manu Reply:

    fine, ed. Fine. Let’s say Nadal is NOT AT ALL doping. Let not talk about it. Let’s see the facets of his beautiful :-) game. First, a loopy forehand completely technically wrong from the coaches point of view. You cn have a lot of tweeners, jumping backhands, swivelling shots and such which are completely technically wrong, but your STOCK SHOT??? I would be glad if you explained that to me. Then comes his backhand-which is actually a two handed forehand. google him and watch his backhand. He actually uses his right hand to hit it. Till this suspect came along, i had never heard of a SINGLE sportsman having both of his stock shot COMPLETELY WRONG, yet trouncing other opponents.

    If that doesn’t change your opinion, let’s look at another dimensions of his “enthralling game”. Butt picking, pig grunting, false medical issues, “I only lost because i was injured”, snarls of vamos coming from a Wimbledon champion, cheating at the most important tennis tournament, and false modesty only off court. Beatiful. These Rafa fans are gems.

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    Ed Reply:

    Manu–It’s hard to speak to (and through) such upset and name-calling.

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  6. Del Potro needs to actually prove himself on clay before being called a threat, one semi final performance in the french open doesnt make him a clay god as some people think it does

    And neil, do you really think that guys like Muster didnt have great stamina like nadal? Do you really believe that he doesnt have a good amount of skill, such as creating angles, hitting down the line winners, volleying quite well etc?

    “Twice as fast and fit as any player”. Sorry but this is an absurd statement, Borg was every bit as quick and fit as Nadal. Guys like Muster and others had fantastic stamina to be able to play on clay like they did.

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  7. Mike, I think you may misunderstand me. Sure, there were previous players who were very fit and fast. Now I am not so sure how many of them were ‘clean’, but I can’t agree with you that any one of the great players of the past had Nadal’s physical attributes: as far as I can see Nadal trumps them all when it comes to the combination of strength, speed and stamina. Until Nadal came along Borg was the fastest but he was a whippet not a bull and he only had to chase down balls hit at 60mph, not 80mph; Muster had great stamina but lacked Nadal’s speed and power; there were a few other guys but none of them made me think I had to adjust my tv screen because I was seeing something that looked physically impossible. Regrettably in that respect Nadal now reminds me of the astonishing spectacle of Ben Johnson destroying the 100m field at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 – or Flojo in the women’s race, if you want me to name another conspicuously doped athlete, but one who (unlike Johnson) never failed a drugs test. (By the way, before Johnson was busted I thought he was amazing. It never occurred to me that he was a cheat.)

    I agree with you that Nadal does have considerable talent as a player. He is accurate, very consistent, and selects his options well – even though his formula is relatively simple and the variety in his shot-making is nowhere near that of a Federer in his prime. In fact, if Nadal were not a doper, which I think he is (admittedly without “proof”), I would have expected him to be one of the dominant claycourters of his generation – much like 3 times FO champ Bruguera (but not quite at Gustavo’s level) and better competitively than the very talented Gaudio. But when I watch him now I am reminded of the comments of the American baseball player Jose Canseco, who said “steroids will turn an average athlete into a very good athlete, a good athlete into an outstanding athlete, and a top athlete into invincible”. (He also said 85% of pro baseball players are on the juice.) I clearly see Nadal in those observations. I think it’s kind of sad, because if he was clean I would have supported the guy as a gritty but not incredibly talented competitor; but I believe he has made a Faustian bargain – sold his soul to become the best – and one day there will be a terrible reckoning. I also fear that he sends a message to young players that there is only one way to succeed, and that is to become “stronger”. Well, we know where that leads.

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  8. Marron, you are right. Uncritical adulatory “fan-dom” can be pretty boring too.

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    marron Reply:

    Oh, my, yes. Very true.

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  9. This will be my demands to ATP/ITF in coming year, god please change the season a little. It needs overhaul
    1. 1 Masters in grass
    2. Drop 1 of the Masters on Clay
    3. Remove Masters in Shanghai, pointless really
    4. Gap between RG/SW19 needs to be wider to 6 wks
    5. Davis Cup, once every 2 years ie odd years
    6. Clock display for those time wasting players
    7. 10 secs hawkeye challenge, why wait?
    8. Consistent and strict doping exercise

    Just my humble opinion really, not that this is going to happen. Btw liked ‘Aging Roger’, tennis is a cruel sport for those past their prime.

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    IROCK Reply:

    Possibly 1 500 ,iMasters and wimbeldon on grass
    Clay also having 2 masters and 1 500
    And 5 masters on hardcourt

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  10. i’d want:

    – 1 less hardcourt masters
    – Add one grass masters
    – If any player repeatedly wastes time, take away half of his/her tournament money. Thats the only way to stop it now
    – More strict doping tests
    – If any player misses a test, that information should be made public

    And Neil fair enough. I still like to give a player the benefit of the doubt but i agree its possible that someone is getting away with doping.

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  11. Labelling play by any dominant player is unfair especially to the fans of the dominant player. Of course if someone is playing unfair that should be taken into consideration.Trying to change the momentum, taking unacceptably long time for serving and arguing with the umpires while everything is not going his way are some of traits of Nadal which are abominable but I would not say that his game is boring. Should he play as fairly as many fair players and win as he does I would not mind him calling a great player but his gamesmanship are not helping his cause. I donot mind calling myself openly as a Fedfan, and even then,I can admit to Nadal being a better player if he achieves that being a fair player.Another thing that I want to comment here is that Del Potro is being overrated not to talk of Berdych. Djokovic has been performing well of late but it has to be seen how long will it continue. Federer had been in 41 match win streak before he was subdued by unimagined Canas so Djokovic may get same kind of beating by some underrated player. That may apply equally to Nadal and I think that since he has been running so much Nadal will be defeated in one of the coming matches due to injury of some or other kind since he seems to be like a child who does not know how to take care of his body. After all, taking care of the body is also part of the game,no?

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  12. Ruan, Murray while being injured took a set off Rafa at MC and is the only player to do so thus far in this clay season. No mention of him among the guys who can trouble Rafa? Such a shame he had to be injured on that day because he nearly won the match in the duration that the effect of the painkiller injection lasted. Rafa hasn’t faced anyone of consequence so far in the clay season except for Ferrer and Murray. He has looked vulnerable and error prone and has lost his serve very often. The two finals of MC and Barcelona were too boring with Ferrer’s inability to hold his own serve no matter how many times he broke Rafa.
    It is true that Rafa gets better with more matches under his belt but he definitely appears to have some issues. There is no way he sweeps this clay season unless he gets draws like last year where he ended up facing only 2 top 10 players throughout the clay season. I think he will lose against a top 10 player this year, not necessarily to Delpotro or Soderling.
    Don’t be so quick to pass a judgement on this clay season. Not just yet. The three biggies are still to be played (Madrid,Rome,RG).
    As for Roger, let us wait and watch. Anything is possible including a second RG !

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  13. it’s a pity nadal is so dominant on clay. otherwise, the clay season is the most interesting and intriguing part of the whole year because on clay players cannot hide any of their weakness and their true colors are shown. you also have to rely on a combination of technique, tactics, stamina and power to win, which is pretty much the complete package, whereas on hard or grass all we see is pretty much serve and baseline ballbashing.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Arthur–What you say is a variation of what a number of other folks have said about Rafa, clay court tennis, and the current season; I understand your point, but it’s curious. I raised this point in another thread–and Marron has also been concerned about it: was it “a shame” that Roger had mastered all but the FO? Did his mastery somehow short-circuit the achievements of the rest of the field? Did we not see marvelous tennis from all those below Roger? Did we, because of his very genius, say it’s a “pity,” that the game is somehow made less interesting? But with Nadal, there’s this reluctance, if not refusal to grant and respect the brilliance of his complete domination on clay–as if he’s somehow “destroyed” the game, as if he’s to blame for…what?…having mastery? I think that with Nadal we see the perfect coincidence of talent/skills/surface, for the slower field allows Rafa (and everyone else) to get to balls they couldn’t on grass or hard courts, to work their tactics as well as they’re able, to control the game, if they have the means, point by point. That’s what Rafa does. One can always argue that it’s “just not fair” that he’s so good–or, as Neil prefers to do, summon up the specter of drugs to discount his achievement–or, one can say (I’m saying it) that with Rafa (as with Roger in his period of greatness on all other surfaces) we see the perfect synchronicity of player and surface. I think that, increasingly, Rafa shows diversity in his clay game–and while others bemoan his dominant style as “boring,” etc, etc, he has realized in his play one of the ways the game can be played on clay. People may not like it, but that’s mere taste; more importantly, he has set the challenge to others to beat him, to extend the possible in their own game the way he has in his. This is what the greatest champions do: within the boundaries of the game they reinvent what the game can be. With Roger, the pitch of his fans’ excitement was their eager expectation that he’d win again in a style that we found suave, lethal, and balletic. We wanted another victory, then another victory. With the advent of Rafa, I’d argue, the excitement of those who prize tennis more than Rafa or don’t especially like him (but in fairness must respect what he does) has switched to waiting for someone who can take him down, match and surpass him, give him the fight of his life, which, in the process, I believe, will result in battles that will push even further what can be achieved within the beautiful geometry of the tennis court.

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    Arthur Reply:

    I don’t know if it’s because of my bias as a fed fan, but to me there’s something different about the dominance of federer to that of nadal. i’ve never thought of nadal as a normal player. the simple answer is that with his unmatched physical build, he essentially competes on an uneven playing playing field, in his favor. with federer you get the feeling that while federer was supremely talented, he was still beating others on a daily basis at the same game, and was simply outclassing his opponents on the court in ways never before seen. thus, his playing style is seen as refreshing and never dull even though he had dominated the game for so long. with nadal however, it’s like he’s playing others with his own set of rules and winning, which comes at no surprise. with his singular physical build in tennis, you rarely feel that he is vulnerable on the court because you know, and he himself knows that he is capable of outlasting his opponents. i think someone mentioned this on MTF before, claiming that nadal is mentally the strongest player on tour because he knows he has the stamina to outlast any player so even near the end of matches he knows he still has the advantage, which is true. in all of nadal’s matches, even if he runs a lot, all i ever see as a viewer is nadal pulling opponent off the court and running them around with his well angled moonballs, so you never get the impression that nadal is getting tired while his opponent, even if hitting spectacular shots, will be unable to continue doing so for the entirety of the match, and so nadal will almost certainly end up winning.

    so overall, i guess if he ever does end up being regarded as the goat, i guess the “dull” aspect of nadal’s dominance is a testament to the fact that even tennis fans see nadal as truly invincible.

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    Ed Reply:

    Fair enough. On the issue of the “GOAT,” I wish that people would drop it, though it’s so dear to fans (lest we forget that that’s a shortening of “fanatic”) who need something to cling to, some certain center in a most uncertain world. I think that Roger inspired (to many still inspires) a very special kind of–it’s not too radical a word–love…and wonder, so any threat to Roger is met with a fierce criticism. In Rafa’s case, because his game is so different from Roger’s–deliberately so–the rage against him is vitriolic. But–and here’s my point–that rage misses Nadal’s genius and the way the game, itself, has been challenged to respond to what he brings onto the court. So, Rafa is simplified and vilified and mistrusted, his–and a key point–evolving game dismissed as “boring” or “bullish” or whatever the latest insult is that folks come up with. Rafa, like Roger, like Pete, like all the rest of the champions is “invincible” only briefly–it’s his turn, just as it was Roger’s. One doesn’t have to like Rafa in any way, but if its tennis, itself, that one finds fascinating, fulfilling and paradigmatic, then one sees that the jibes and insults and accusations without proof are seen for what they are: anger that things are no longer what they are, rage at time, itself, whose agent happens to be Rafa Nadal.

    [Reply]

  14. Ed, I didn’t respond to your last post on the other thread because I thought I would only end up repeating myself if I did, and I also thought on that occasion you should have the last word.
    However, since you now ask, I will respond. Firstly, Arthur in the thread above makes the very valid point that it is Nadal’s PHYSICAL dominance that makes his game so very different from any other player before him, including Federer. No player that I have ever seen in the history of the game has so consistently overwhelmed his opponents as Nadal does with his strength, speed and stamina – and this in an era when technology allows players to hit even harder and closer to the lines. Whatever you think of Nadal’s ball-striking abilities or tactical sense he is ultimately a running “ball-machine”, unprecedented in his ability to deny his opponents opportunities to finish the point – and that is on any surface. This is quite unlike a Federer or a Kuerten, for example, where their victories on clay came not from physically dominating their opponents but the ability to execute the better point. It isn’t just a different way of playing – it even LOOKS different.
    Nadal hasn’t added to the dimensions of modern tennis; he has reduced the contest to the extent that a particular feature, his ability to frustrate opponents because of the barrier he presents through his incredible retrieving skills, has become decisive. His game is in fact a mirror of the one-dimensionality of a Karlovic, except that it is not the serve that is decisive but his legs and lungs. So that is why many find Nadal’s game boring. Put another way – he is as anomalous as a rock singer who is able to belt his way over a Pavarroti in “Figaro”. One looks for the concealed microphone.
    You say that I raise the “spectre” of drugs: not true, it is there already. The ITF conducts over 200 tests a year; it wouldn’t do this if this wasn’t necessary to either catch or deter drug cheats. However, as we also know, testing (and particularly testing-in-competition, which is over 90% of the ITF’s tests) offers only a slim chance of catching the cheats, because of the “masking” of drugs. This was confirmed at the recent trial for perjury of baseballer Barry Bonds, who took steroids and told one of his staff – correctly – it “couldn’t be detected”. If Nadal or anyone else for that matter in tennis wants to gain an advantage in this way there is currently very little to stop them. I look at how the man plays and I cannot for the life of me see how he can be not just a better athlete than any other player before him in the sport but VASTLY better. Now it appears he is being joined by others in this regard, like Djokovic. I don’t buy your explanation that these guys are simply more motivated to work harder than previous generations of champions – or that they have more natural athletic ability. That simply ain’t true and in my view is even disrespectful of the former greats.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Neil–I didn’t need the “last word,” though I appreciate the thought; I still believe that we’re having a conversation. “If Nadal or anyone else…wants to gain an advantage…” and on the basis of your hypothetical, and on the basis of Rafa’s physical endurance–more on that in a moment–you are as sure as you can be, notwithstanding the lack of evidence. For you, IF Rafa could do it, then Rafa MUST DO IT because, well, look at what he’s able to do. Change is life, but not too much change for that’s, well, that’s too suspicious. I watch him Rafa, as do you, and, as I said in my last, it’s clear that we’re watching two different players. I see his “speed” as a function of his shot-placement. You’re apparently satisfied with calling him a “ball machine,” where I see absolute, in fact, unprecedented will. (Someone mentioned Muster in this context who, however, didn’t have the stamina to have the game that was always just out of his grasp.) You see drugs; I see human will.
    But in the actual moment-by-moment playing, Neil, I don’t think that Rafa is challenged to run all that much. He initiates the running to gain position, and he can do that because his opponent is flailing after the ball and is usually only able to return weakly. Most of Rafa’s running is about finishing off that weak return. And I’m really at a loss to understand how you can say that Rafa does not “execute a better point” as well as Roger or Kuerten: tell that to any player who has been flummoxed by Rafa’s serve, then left flat-footed by a nearly impossible tight-angled cross-court winner. A tennis player is “supposed” to conform to a certain body type and play a certain way? But isn’t it exactly the difference that makes the champion?
    I just replied to Arthur whose post I also found reasonable for different reasons, that Rafa is, by those who don’t like his game, vilified. And here I find that you compare him to Ivo Karlovic?? Now, THERE’S one dimensionality in spades. And he’s a “mirror” for Rafa??
    I know you don’t “buy” my “explanation” about motivation, drive, will, talent, and a life devoted to perfecting one’s physical and mental strengths so that one can play at one’s best: maybe I’m too naive; maybe you’re too cynical–and cynics, as I’m sure you know, always think they’re “realists.” But my growing admiration for a player whose game has taken down my hero cannot be based on your “ifs.” I’m learning to see through the noise and the “muscle” to the real and evolving game that Nadal is now creating.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    A quick addition: I wanted to thank you for the “Figaro”/rock/singer/”concealed microphone” image.

    [Reply]

  15. Ed, you seem unwilling to acknowledge something about Nadal that almost everybody sees and commentators continue to highlight: his court speed and ability to run balls down from seemingly impossible positions, time and time again. Because of this ability he is widely regarded as the greatest defensive player ever (but not – note – the greatest attacking player – others earn that accolade). To do that he has to have physical and athletic skills of a higher order than anyone has ever shown before on a tennis court. The consensus is that he does. It is not a question of will or determination (although he does have that), otherwise we might “will” ourselves to run as fast as Usain Bolt. But we can’t. Nor can Nadal will himself to be faster than other players if he isn’t so to begin with.
    Now, it is not that he possesses these qualities that make me suspect him. There are other reasons. Let me ennumerate a few:
    1. A major drugs bust a few years ago in Spain, called “Operacion Puerto”, uncovered widespread blood-doping amongst Spanish sportsmen. A number of cyclists were identified. However, the doctor who was at the centre of the doping ring, a Dr Fuentes, is on record as saying he had many different sportsmen as his clients, and they included tennis players. A Spanish judge has since refused to allow publication of Dr Fuente’s list – against the protests of the IOC. In 2006 a French newspaper (“Dimanche”) made the claim that sources close to the investigation said Nadal’s name was on the list. Nadal threatened to sue – but did not. Why did Nadal choose not to defend his reputation against a very damaging accusation? And while rumours continue to circulate that he is a doper (there are internet websites that repeatedly make this claim) why has he not urged that the list be released so that he can prove his name is not on the list?
    2. Sapnish authorites are being seen as complicit in aiding drug cheats, with the “clearing ” of Tour de France champion Contador, following pressure from the Spanish governement, when Contador has failed a drugs test (this is not disputed). In the last few weeks the Spanish authorities have dropped charges against one of their top steeplechasers who had been picked up in another big drugs sweep. Spain is appearing more and more like the East Germans of old: dopers are protected if not outright encouraged.
    3. Nadal has apparent injuries that are said to be serious and yet don’t require him to spend any significant time off court or even requiring surgery. He has worn knee bandages since 2005 for patellar tendonitis (a painful malady which, incidentally, I required surgery for) but he has often continued to play through an injury which should have reduced his tendons to shredded rubber, taking only two weeks off court in July 2009 to rest his “knees”, and indeed last year he was pronounced “cured” by two injections (one in each knee) from his doctor (a Spanish doctor of course, Dr Mikel Sanchez) when all that the treatment consisted of was injections of Nadal’s own blood plasma. A miracle cure indeed, when medical journals suggest the treatment is no more effective than injections of saline solution. So why does he get injured so often, and yet return to the court stronger than ever? Here is one possible reason: In addition to receiving injections of blood plasma he can receive injections of growth hormone (now that sounds interesting) for which he might obtain a green card – a “Therapuetic Use Exemption”, that would give him a pass should he test positive for what would otherwise be a banned substance.
    4. Nadal’s physique – as well as his famed strength and stamina – can change dramatically, and, as some point out, “cyclically”. The most dramtic change was in 2009. Shortly after Nadal’s triumph at the AO in ’09 when he played those astonishing back to back matches, against Verdasco in the semi-final and Federer in the final (when all the commentators predicted he would be exhausted for the final), the ITF introduced tougher drugs testing rules, including out-of-competition testing. Nadal protested vigorously about this. (Federer, incidentally, said players should accept whatever was necessary to keep the sport “clean” – and even suggested keeping blood samples for 8 years.) In the meantime, Nadal’s form steadily declined, until his shock loss at the FO to Soderling. He was nothing like the invincible player he had been twelve months earlier – or at the Jan AO, for that matter. We kind of know the rest. He withdrew from Wimbledon because of his “knees” (taking only two weeks off court and was back for the beginning of the N American hard-court season in August). He lost 15 lbs of muscle over the year and his groundstrokes were measured as being 10% slower at the WTF in December than they were when he won the AO at the beginning of the year. From May in ’09, Nadal couldn’t win a title for 11 months, despite being unencumbered by injury. He slipped to No.4 in the rankings and his career looked like it was in an irreversible slide. Mats Wilander sought to explain it thus: “He plays the same way he always has, only with less speed and power”. Mmmm.
    5. At the beginning of 20210 it was revealed that the ITF drugs testing programme was farcial: 1 in 4 OOC tests did not result in any sample being obtained. Only 1 in 10 tests is OOC. Players could miss tests without penalty. (This included Nadal, who had earlier predicted he would probably not be “available” for a test when the testers called.) The message to players was that the ITF is not serious in its efforts to catch or deter cheaters. Nadal quickly regained his strength and bulk and like Lazarus back from the dead went on an unprecedented tear through 3 majors last year (incidentally, adding up to 10mph on his serve the Sunday before the USO with a simple “grip change”.)
    I could go on, but there wouldn’t be the room to itemise the details that could lead one to suspect that Nadal may be less than kosher. However, if you are waiting for a positive drugs test for proof then I would think that Nadal and many other sportsmen would simply laugh behind their hands at your naivety. They know they can take stuff that can be masked or for which there is no current test, and that if for some reason they do slip up neither the ITF nor their own national authorities will see them thrown to the wolves.

    [Reply]

  16. I should have said:

    *Now it is not that he possesses these qualities that alone of themselves make me suspect him. There are other reasons.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    This is a long and detailed list of “ifs” and could-bes and what other Spanish players were or could be doing, Neil. You clearly know a whole lot about this issue: but it’s all circumstantial. Mike’s point is that it might be true; it might not. The rest is what one makes of his game itself. That, at least, is something one can see: there, the “evidence” is real. Until proof–without quotation marks–is produced, I’ll stick to the game that’s being played.

    [Reply]

  17. Neil, Nadal did not add 10 miles on his serve. He added 3-5 miles which is still a significant difference but not to the degree that you are claiming it out to be. Who knows how he did it, i dont think anyone can say for sure. Maybe its doping, and maybe it isnt.

    [Reply]

  18. Mike, you and I will disagree about how much he exactly he added to his serve – the figures I have seen reliably reported show significantly more than you suggest. But that doesn’t really matter; the point is just about everyone at the USO noticed his serve had become a significant weapon overnight, and even he and Uncle Toni felt the need to explain what others couldn’t understand.
    I don’t know how he did it – a “grip change” doesn’t really convince me – but I will agree with you that “maybe it’s doping, and maybe it isn’t.” By itself, the sudden increase in serving power doesn’t prove anything, even if it is hard to explain. But taken with a lot of other things (as I indicate above) it can certainly add to the questions about Nadal – and the total picture is what counts, rather than any one detail. A doped athlete can be a stronger athlete, and without a significant change in technique (and I discount a grip change) it is possible to generate more power through an increase in strength – hence the difference in power between men’s and women’s serves generally. (Of course there are exceptions to that, mainly explained by better technique.)

    [Reply]

  19. Ed, sure it’s all “circumstantial”, as you say, but as someone who was trained in law I can tell you that many guilty verdicts are delivered as the result of circumstantial evidence. Why? Because in its totality circumstantial evidence adds up; each piece while not permitting a conclusion one way or the other by itself when put together with the other pieces creating a convincing mosaic of the likely truth. Indeed, many arguments are resolved the same way.
    So you have a choice: to note that significant questions are raised about Nadal or simply sweep them aside as being merely “circumstantial”. If you choose the latter your perceptions of his achievements can remain undisturbed until the day he fails a drugs test – since that is the apparent test for you – but to do so is also to be wilfully blind to an issue that won’t leave professional sports – and that unwillingness to see is one of the reasons it’s still with us. We thought Ben Johnson was genuine, also Flojo, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Floyd Landis, Marion Jones, Alberto Contador – the list goes on. Now the saint of cycling, Lance Armstrong, is the subject of a federal anti-doping investigation. There are undoubtedly tennis players who are dopers. Can you be so sure Nadal isn’t one of them? Or is it that you don’t want to even think he might be?

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    I’m willing, Neil, to think just about anything about anyone–as someone trained in the study of literature, that comes with the territory: fiction is, after all, the realm of the possible seen in the piercing light of the imagination. So, no, I don’t think I’m being willfully blind. And, who can deny the names that you bring up–and the shock that resulted from those exposures? But, as someone trained in law, you also know that a good number of innocents put into jail because of circumstantial evidence have been freed because of DNA evidence: that’s proof without quote marks. I’ll endure my “perceptions” being disturbed: that’s what learning means, and I work to stay open to all things, even if (especially if) I find them disturbing. I don’t like to do that, but I must. I “do note” that “significant questions are being raised about Nadal,” but I don’t think I “simply sweep them aside.” It’s not unreasonable to ask for evidence–which you cannot provide, Neil–especially when we have legitimate grounds of disagreement. You, for example, tell Mike that you don’t “believe” that a change in grip can account for the improvement in Rafa’s serve, when time after time that is exactly the reason that players’ serves improve. You argue his amazing speed, while I see the discipline of his game as giving him the jump on almost every player–his speed, I wrote in my last, is a function of his shot-placement. But you don’t respond to that, since you’ve got your position, and you’re sticking to it. You use Rafa’s endurance against him, which is like saying that the intensity of his life-long desire to be the king of the hill is “proof” that he’s doping. I saw Rafa droop against Novak in Miami–everyone saw him bending over, trying to catch his breath, and he lost. Why are you “so sure” that Nadal is doping? Circumstance and the way you view his game. But circumstance remains what it is and I view his game differently. From another angle, what I see you arguing is that anything extraordinary MUST be caused by drugs. I, to use your word, don’t “buy” that. If I’m wrong, I’ll say you were right, that I was not sufficiently impressed by the circumstantial evidence, that, for all I’ve said, I didn’t want to face the truth. I hope that won’t happen. It’s impossible to argue down doubt, for it’s based on a feeling, a particular reading of events: we don’t share that feeling, but I’m not blind to it.

    [Reply]

    Jiten Reply:

    I think it is time for WIKILEAKS to step in to reveal the names of the dopers in tennis! LOL.

    [Reply]

  20. “You argue his amazing speed, while I see the discipline of his game as giving him the jump on almost every player–his speed, I wrote in my last, is a function of his shot-placement. But you don’t respond to that, since you’ve got your position, and you’re sticking to it.”
    .
    Ed, since you see that as a significant part of your argument, I will respond to it. His speed is not a function of his shot placement; it enables his shot placement. Big difference. When Nadal is defending he often flings a high moonball back into court – often the mid-court – sometimes the ball is clearly shanked and his placement is relatively poor (for any other player); but no matter, he can still run down the next shot from his opponent, staying in the point long enough to do what you then correctly observe: he hits the ball deep or uses angles to take his opponent out of position. He then either hits the winner or his opponent makes the error – statistics bear out it is usually the latter.
    But none of this would be possible without his initial ability to retrieve balls that few if any other players could ever get to. Put simply, it is his speed that enables him to move from defense to attack; which is why he often breaks his opponents’ serve and why he is particularly good at beating them on their slower second serve. On his own serve, and the first serve in particular, he is more aggressive from the get-go – which I think is what you are seeing – but even if he is attacked off his own serve his defense is often impregnable.
    So why do I doubt him? Because no one has ever been that fast on a tennis court, no one has ever been as tireless or as strong – he is fresher at the end of a 2-week Grand Slam than at the beginning of the fortnight – but then he regularly goes through periods when his stamina is suspect over 3 sets – but never in the Slams, where he is unbeatable over 5.
    Ed, it’s not just that in this respect he is better than any player who has ever lived; he is like an alien from outer space (to borrow a phrase from Henri Leconte), the difference between him and other players is so vast. (Except, curiously, the second half of 2009 – which you don’t explain.) I happen not to believe in aliens. There is a more prosaic explanation that fits better.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Neil: I can’t explain the second half of 2009; for that matter, neither can you, except based on your suspicions.

    As for our difference about speed/placement. This may be a matter of perception, but I don’t “often” seeing him hitting a “moon ball to mid court.” I see that sometimes, but hardly “often.” So it’s odd that you’d make an argument out of an exception. But, still: yes, he often runs down the opponent’s ball. For one thing, he’s fast–but then again, I’ve seen Murray and Monfils make “impossible” returns, so Rafa is not alone. But the example you cite is not the usual case. The usual case is that he compels his opponent to lunge after the ball, backing him into a corner, where he keeps him. Most of his movement is lateral (though recently he’s started to move forward as part of his typical pattern of shots). Typically, Nadal hits his forehand from the baseline towards the far ad-corner, driving his opponent off the court, thus giving him the rest of the court to control. It’s not his usual habit to return to the middle; his game attempts to always be aggressive. Because this is so, he buys time to return: that means that he has a head-start on the return. And, yes, he’s fast, but he also knows, given the situation he puts his opponents in, where they’re most likely going to return (though, of course, not always). This means that he has another head-start in terms of anticipation. Because he’s so consistently accurate, and because the point of his accuracy is to confound his opponent, throw him off-balance, and because the running he normally does–which, I’d say accounts for 90% of his game–is supported by the time he gains by his shot placement, his speed is “increased” by the degree of difficulty he puts the other player under. His game is of a piece, so, frankly, it’s hard to always separate out speed from placement, though, clearly, the two are interdependent. But there’s a third component: power. So, a reprise: the typical Nadal point: Lateral movement around the ball (yes, he does it quickly, but it’s really only a few steps)–a highly torqued ball into the far corner to throw his opponent off-balance so that his return is (typically) weak; the killing final shot, which he doesn’t have to run around most of the time, since he’s already on the forehand side of the court–for him. All set up by short, quick steps, followed by a punishing return that buys him time. As I said at the start, I can’t explain 2009, but I assume you saw him bent over in Miami–and losing. He works harder than just about everybody else–and it shows.

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    Nice analysis, Ed.

    I would really love the ppl here who admit to disliking Nadal’s game, calling it boring, ugly, whatever… I would LOVE it if you could honestly tell me you actually watch him play tennis. Honestly… do you only see Rafa play when he plays your man Federer? Do you hide behind the couch, not watching, taping the match in case of a Fed win, and then deleting the recording if your man suffers a defeat? Do you never watch him play any other opponent? I suspect there are some (not all) who will NOT watch that. However, they continue to call his game ugly, boring, blunt force, yada yada yada… tell me how you can know this if you don’t see it?

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Oh i watch him all right, but only to see him lose. I get a major kick every time he loses. But of course most of the time he wins, which leaves me frustrated. So no, i dont enjoy his game when watching him. I only enjoy when someone has the balls to stand up to him, like Del Potro in the USO for instance. That remains one of my favorite matches ever. I bet several Nadal fans now hide behind the couch when Nadal plays Del Potro ;-)

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    I bet several do too. As I suspect several Fed fans snuggle up there as well, whenever he plays Rafa. :-)

    I look forward to Rafa meeting Del Potro, very much. It’s been enjoyable to me to watch how Rafa learns so well from his losses to players, and so far, has eventually gotten the upper hand. Well, not Davydenko, yet. :-) I do recall reading posts on some Fed site, that Tsonga was going to be the new ‘saviour’ of tennis, that he was going to be the man to rule Nadal. Then it was Berdych, wasn’t it? Then Nalbandian. Then it was Soderling. Now it’s Del Potro. I think Rafa welcomes the challenge of figuring out how to beat these guys.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Lol how did he figure out Del Potro? He played him in IW when Del Potro was still a shadow of his former self. Fact is Del Potro isnt scared of nobody and nothing and he has the game to beat Nadal at least on hard court. There is no figuring him out.

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    You misread me… I meant, first it was to be Tsonga who would be the man to rule Nadal, then Berdych, and so on… now it’s felt that Del Potro will be the one. Perhaps he will. It remains to be seen, no? I don’t think he’s quite proven that yet. Since they haven’t met in the last year, year and a half?

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Del Potro is Nadals nemesis. Hope this helps ;-)

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    That’s the word.

    Wasn’t it Tsonga there for a while? And then Nalby? And then Berdych? And then Soderling, esp after RG 09?

    If anybody is a nemesis, it’s Davydenko, imo.

    IAC, I AM looking forward to matches between JMDP and Rafa, just to see what will happen.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Well you should know that Potro is in another level mentally than any of those players you mentioned. Thats why he actually won a major. Nadal simply doesnt impress him. The h2h doesnt matter that much either, given that many of those wins from Nadal was before Potro became a factor. I dont care much about the clay results either. I just wana see Potro school Nadal again like he did in the USO semi on hard court :-)

    [Reply]

    manu Reply:

    same here for me. Nadal is a pampered infant whose cute antics win the goddamn heats of umpteen fans. But his halting english does not fool me,no??

    [Reply]

  21. Ed, you seem to be mounting an argument that Nadal is not really that fast; he’s just smarter and more accurate than other players – so he seems to be faster. Well, I don’t think many commentators and players would agree with you that his is really only an an illusion of speed.
    But anyway, that matters less to me than that a player has stamina that enables them to play at their top speed for hours at a time and then come out and do the same the next day. The match where Nadal played Verdasco at the AO in ’09 in a massive semi-final and then repeated the feat in the final against Federer, when the expert prediction was that he would be too exhausted, is frankly beyond my capacity to believe can be done naturally – and I have see that quite a few others have a similar view.
    You think Nadal can do it because he works harder than other players? Well, in a recent interview he said players are all “strong” now because they train for “2/3 hours each day”. Gimme a break. Club juniors train that hard. No, if Nadal works much harder than other players that can easily be the result of doping, so you don’t know if his work rate – assuming it is more than a piddly 2/3 hours a day – is not the result of being on the juice.
    You say I can’t explain his fall-off in 2009. Well, the problem is more that you can’t – and neither could he, because it doesn’t make sense for an otherwise healthy sportsman to lose so much muscle and strength in his game for such a long period and then regain it very quickly, as he did early the following year – and again without explanation. Whereas the pattern is quite explicable if one considers that his physical decline is the result of going off the juice – and then going back on it. Do you have a better explanation?
    You know, I can’t even buy that the guy is naturally a freak compared with other players because I have seen video footage of when he was a teenage player, from 13-16, and to me there was nothing there to indicate the monster that he was going to become. Hell, even I had more muscle than him when I was 16 but I never came to look anything like him – the muscle he put on within only a year was extraordinary – and I am nothing to look at now! He also doesn’t get that bicep from the gym – so how do you get it from hitting tennis balls? (Look at Borg and Jimmy Connors on Youtube some time and ask yourself why these incredibly hard-working players looked and played nothing like Nadal. And wood racquets is not the answer.)
    Ed, I know that you like to see Nadal as some kind of poetic genius out there on the tennis court, but to me and an increasing number of others who observe the game, there are too many uncomfortable questions about the guy and how he is able to play the way he does. Of course he’s not the only one but he stands out from the rest. Poetry? More like science fiction.

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    Interesting that you say this about Nadal’s ‘growth’ when I commented recently, somewhere else, about how small he is now, when I compared him to his size at 17-18, when he played Agassi in Canada. One can obviously see the lean-ness now, the low body fat percentage, as compared to when he was a teen, eating cookies and Nutella too much. Cheeks were quite chipmunk-y. :-)

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Neil–My argument is that he doesn’t have to be a whole lot faster than the fastest guys because of the way he plays: that’s my point. Of course he’s fast, and the game he plays is constructed to just about always give him the edge in terms of time to make the shot: that was my argument. His stamina is much the crux of your suspicions, and you cite the Verdasco match followed by the Federer match. That’s the one example you come back to, and, unless I’ve missed one of your posting in which you said otherwise, this is the only example you cite. The 09 victory was Rafa’s first hard court slam victory and it was against Federer. If that’s not enough for a man to die on the court to achieve, then nothing ever is. That was Rafa’s time, and he seized it. Some of what Roger said to Rafa after the match was this: “You deserved it. You played a fantastic final.” And, you often mention that “many” commentators doubt Nadal’s game. But all they have are the same doubts you have. Doubts aren’t proof; neither are they the truth. Finally, I really don’t see Rafa Nadal as a “poetic genius.” If you’ve read my descriptions of Roger and Rafa–my last of Roger was that he was “suave, lethal, and balletic”–the thrust of my sense of Rafa Nadal is that he’s extending the kind of tennis that Borg, Lendl, and Agassi embodied. And in that sense he’s extending the sport; you see him as a regressing or narrowing the sport, but you also see him as a cheat. We disagree about both points. There’s a rough magic in Rafa’s game; there’s no doubt about that. But there are all kinds of dancers. Rafa’s game hasn’t ended tennis; it’s not about to destroy it. To beat Rafa you have to, as I wrote earlier, become the player you only imagined you were capable of being; in that sense he’s a catalyst for better tennis to come.

    [Reply]

  22. Marron, I have observed and played tennis since the Laver era. Is that long enough to know something about the game? I watch most players and have seen a large proportion of Nadal’s matches since he first appeared on the tour, including seeing him in a tour final in Auckland in 2004. Of course I have seen much of Federer also, since he made his statement in beating Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001. That’s more than a little surface knowledge of either player, wouldn’t you say? But, no, I don’t collect their autographs or have their posters on my wall like I guess some fans do.

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  23. Please notice, dearest Neil, that I stated SOME posters her, NOT ALL. I made sure to clarify my statement in that manner, since obviously there are some posters here with much technical knowledge of tennis, much more than I. Heaps more than I possess.

    I have read, about the boards, of non-Nadal fans talking about the ugly game, and so on, yet also admitting they can’t watch him, always turn off the sets, etc, when he plays. Hard to make a statement about someone’s game then, don’t you think?

    [Reply]

  24. Marron, thank you for the qualification – I take it as a kind of compliment. You are right about bare expressions of like or dislike of a player; they don’t really say very much – well, not about the player anyway.
    Ed, I don’t expect to convince you to my view of Nadal. Planting a few seeds of another way of seeing things might be my best hope. Of course I have to be selective with my examples – but I don’t choose examples that are the exception to prove the rule. However a blog like this isn’t the place to run through every argument in its detail; as you said previously, we just hope that it’s a kind of conversation. It certainly isn’t a courtroom.
    I may have misrepresented your depiction of Nadal as somehow being “poetic” – perhaps that is because of your capacity for a naturally elegant turn of phrase: “rough magic” is probably a better description. But I guess the key difference between us comes down to that: where you see magic I see deception.
    (Perhaps, on that point, you might offer an explanation for what happened to his game – and his physique – for 11 months in 2009.)

    [Reply]

  25. Ed, I share Neil’s fear that the sport has been irrevocably changed by Nadal’s ascendancy.

    His successors will only be able to beat him by surpassing his physical attributes. We are seeing this process happen right now with Djokovic.

    They’ll expand the dimensions of the sport, to use your words, not via tactical acumen or strategic inventiveness, but purely by the brute fact of their being far quicker and stronger than their predecessors. The only “innovations” will be quantitative: hitting harder, running faster. There will be no need to invent new shots, or combinations of shots. More power, more speed will be the order of the day.

    Developing new shots and tactics takes time, nor is the outcome certain. It also takes imagination and creativity, qualities that not everyone has.

    Using drugs to get stronger and quicker, however, is swift and sure, and requires little imagination. Given the enormous amount of money and prestige at stake, and the competitiveness of professional athletes, the race to get ever stronger and quicker is sure to escalate rapidly.

    And as for “pushing further what can be achieved in the geometry of the court,” the effect of these ever-escalating physical attributes is likely to be quite the opposite. The game will become ever narrower as skill becomes less and less necessary.

    Imagine if you had a tennis player who could sprint as fast as Usain Bolt. It would literally be impossible to get the ball past him; he would ALWAYS be there in more than enough time to retrieve it. It would make a complete mockery of what the sport is about. The only way to deal with it would be to increase the dimensions of the court.

    Nadal is already close enough to that already; his successors are sure to be even faster.

    Now that other players are starting to obtain the same physical attributes, Nadal’s game will suddenly become a lot less unique. You’ll see more and more players described as having “Nadal-like” court coverage, or “Nadalesque” topspin, or “endurance reminiscent of Nadal’s.” The only thing that surprises me is that this didn’t happen sooner.

    The whole situation reminds me of the One Ring in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels. One character has the clever idea of using the immense power of the Ring to overthrow the Dark Lord Sauron, and he is warned that that notion is folly, worse than useless: whoever wields the Ring to overthrow Sauron will be fatally corrupted by its power, and then use the Ring to set himself up as the new Dark Lord, even crueler than Sauron.

    That is what Nadal has done to tennis. No one will be able to beat him without drinking from the same poisoned chalice that he did: using the same means to become even stronger and faster than he.

    That player will use his newfound physical prowess to dethrone Nadal and become the new #1 and multi Grand Slam champ, until someone comes along who can get still stronger and faster using “special help.”

    That person will in turn overthrow Nadal’s successor and rule tennis until someone else comes along who can…well, you get the idea.

    This pattern will repeat until one of two things happens: either the doping becomes too egregious to hide any longer from the public, or people lose interest in the sport.

    I don’t know how many iterations of this vicious cycle you’ll be able to handle, but for myself, once is enough. I can already see where this train is headed, and if this is the way it’s going to be, I want off. But if you can find enjoyment in it, more power to you.

    I retain a sliver of hope that Federer could raise his game again–for he is the only player with the raw talent to do it the old-fashioned way, without having to acquire super speed or stamina by illicit means and becoming fatally corrupt in the process.

    But as I said, the road to doing it honestly is slow, arduous, and uncertain. Neil, in particular, has expressed his doubts that it is possible. I hold the view that it is. However, only time will tell.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Steve–Finally, the apocalyptic version, complete with the “one ring.” I’ll remind you, however, that Tolkien’s version is more optimistic than yours, for the one ring is destroyed by the smallest, the least likely, the most fallible of creatures. I said in my last that I don’t think tennis will be destroyed, but it is being challenged–as it always is by the latest champion who is simply better, for his brief time, than anyone else. Pure serve and volley (a la Becker) was chased off by the merciless full court play of Federer (I realize I’m eliding history here, but still..), and now Nadal. Every great player, bar none, has bequeathed to the sport a style (to use one word to sum up all his gifts) to imitate, modify, and transcend. Roger was just about impossible to beat during his period of greatness–yet I don’t recall “end of the world” terrors. But Nadal is different because–and you’re sure and Neil is sure and others are sure–based on supposition, innuendo, and “proof”–that Nadal is doping. But there are others, many others, I’d estimate, that disagree. Until proof, with no quote marks, comes in, I’ll stay unconvinced, for I don’t see a superman; I see a superb athlete whose style has brought unparalleled challenges (a la Roger) to the tennis world. Many people find Nadal’s style distasteful; that’s the only word I can come up with, Steve: it’s ungraceful, it’s all muscle, it’s unimaginative; and, somehow, it’s just not tennis. It’s this…other thing, some kind of neanderthal slugging that has degraded and set tennis on a self destructive course to some terrible abysm. But just as Roger, precisely because of his uniqueness has not engendered a legion of Federites on the court, so too, I’d argue, Nadal’s special combination of talent, athleticism, and skill-sets are impossible to imitate–and most won’t even try–and of those who try, most will be parodies, here and there one might have some talent. Tennis both moves on and stays steady: there’s so much you can do on the court, with here and there an addition to the sport’s stockpile. Nadal as Sauron or Nadal as Satan leading young players (I’m thinking of Ryan Harrison, as just one example, who doesn’t seem either a physical or a mental pushover) to destroy the sport and self-destruct in the process? You’ve made your fears very clear, Steve, but let me suggest that tennis is a big world, that it can absorb (and has absorbed) all kinds of innovations. As Rafa gets beaten–and that will happen (as it must happen, as it happened to Roger)–and returns to human-size, for this is his “inhuman” phase (the same phase that spawned the unfortunate, pitiable, and empty GOAT argument about Roger)–as Novak (for one) punches holes in Rafa’s game, exposing its weaknesses, those who detest his game and distrust him will begin to get their satisfaction, and those who are his adoring fans will get the shock of recognition that we Federer fans are still learning the bitter taste of. This is now Nadal’s time; this is his run for all the gold: it’s the run every truly exceptional champion makes as the clock ticks. I take what you say seriously, Steve; I’d ask you to see it from my angle.

    [Reply]

  26. Steve, it couldn’t have been said better and was nicely written. I was beginning to feel a little bit like the lonely eccentric out there.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    This is odd, Neil, for I’ve been feeling exactly the same way “out there.”

    [Reply]

  27. Ed, I hate to say it but your extolling the new era in tennis as demonstrated by Nadal bears a striking resemblance to the scripts that hailed the so-called glorious achievements of the Eastern bloc in the 1970’s, of track and field in the 80’s and 90’s, and then baseball and cycling in the 90’s till recent – all, we came to realise, castles built on deceptions. At the time we wanted to believe that the increasingly stupendous physical feats we saw were real. But they weren’t. We should have known better. The signs were there, if we looked close enough.
    I am sorry to say this Ed but it seems pretty clear to me that you’ve joined those who choose to be oblivious to what the past has to teach us about this: you want to be part of the cheering crowd that crowns the new king; nothing anyone says will persuade you that he is anything but the rightful heir.
    I have played and followed sports for 5 decades; I have realised that sometimes you have to be able to see things, even if others don’t point it out to you. But you won’t see anything if you don’t want to, regardless of what anyone says. I used to think the way you do about some of our top sportsmen. But I was proven wrong too many times. I’ll offer this comment from Abigail Lorge, managing editor of Tennis.com, in her article of April 29 2010, “Covering Tennis in the Doping Age”:

    “I’m concerned that performance-enhancing drug use is more prevalent in tennis’ upper ranks than anyone would like to admit at this point…I’m always bracing myself for the possibility that a player I admire will be exposed as a drug cheat. That kind of attitude—bracing oneself for the worst—is a necessity for a tennis journalist in this day and age.”

    http://www.tennis.com/articles/templates/features.aspx?articleid=5167&zoneid=9

    [Reply]

  28. Ed, I should add that as much as I disagree with you about this I respect your passionate commitment to the sport, your obvious enjoyment and skill in writing about it, and your preparedness to enter into vigorous discussion. I am also grateful to Ruan, by the way, for allowing us this opportunity to participate in a stimulating and interesting tennis blog – far better than most out there.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    It’s always possible, Neil, that anyone is unknowingly doing something: that’s the nature of human life, isn’t it? Please let me return your compliment–much appreciated–about your “passionate commitment to the sport,” for I’ve always taken what and how you write as a sign of the respect and love you have for tennis. I hope that I never find it proven that Nadal dopes–what a blow to the integrity of the sport, to our sense that, like boxing, like chess, what we have is the purity we always hope to find in a one-on-one sport, where everything shows, right down to the what we take to be the depths of each person. I hope you’re wrong about Nadal, but I can’t deny that many people–and, yes, those in a professional relationship to the sport–have serious concerns. And why should tennis be exempt from human nature, when it’s devoted to its exposure through the lens of its discipline and graces? But Nadal? Well, that’s for time to discover. You’ve made me look at an aspect of the sport that, frankly, I hadn’t thought much about. So, yes, you’ve planted some “seeds.” As I said previously, I try to live with my eyes open, but trying also means failing: so, it’s a process. I stand by all I’ve said in our posts, which have made me do a lot of thinking: for which, thanks. I, too, appreciate Ru-an giving us this opportunity. The web, which was touted as the democratization of knowledge is, I’ve found, mostly nonsense, crochets, craziness, people thinking that if they have something to say, well then it must be valuable! But there are areas of sanity–during the past few days, I’ve felt that I’ve been part of one of those areas.

    [Reply]

  29. Madrid draw’s out.

    [Reply]

    Jiten Reply:

    Federer’s very first match could be against Milos Raonic, the rising Canadian tennis star. Looking forward to Ru-an’s analysis of the draw soon!

    [Reply]

  30. Federer will face Raonic, Nadal to face Del Potro, Djokvic and Ferrero? I think Murray is goin to lose to Simon. Del Potro to beat Nadal. I believe Federer is going to face either Roddick or Del Potro in the Semi’s. Djokovic is due up for a a beating, perhaps Ferrero? I know, wishful thinking but I don’t think Roger is going to take this tournament lightly. Novak can’t keep winning, someone else will have to step it up. Everybody make yor picks on the ATP main draws for Madrid.

    http://challenge.atpworldtour.com/

    [Reply]

  31. Federer’s opponents: 1st round – BYE, 2nd round – Raonic or F.Lopez, 3rd round – Verdasco, quarters – Soderling or Almagro, Semifinal – Nadal or Juan Martin del Potro, FINAL – Djokovic or Murray or Berdych. Nadal will face Delpo in 3rd round! \\m/

    [Reply]

  32. Ed: to echo what Neil has said so well, I respect your love of the sport and the eloquence with which you express your views. Your posts are thoughtful and I always enjoy reading them, even though we disagree.

    You are clearly sincere, and I sympathize with your distress at the suspicions of steroid use in tennis, for they are indeed distressing.

    But it is not the mere fact that Nadal is dominant that raises my suspicions: it is how he dominates. Nor do I dispute that he is a great player: he is, in the sense that what he does wins tennis matches. The question is again: how?

    The argument most cited by Nadal fans is that Federer did it, so why can’t Nadal? But that overlooks many profound differences between the playing styles of both men, and the sharply contrasting qualities on which their games are founded.

    To my mind, the fact that Nadal happens to be wearing the tennis crown at the moment does nothing to answer the questions I have raised.

    As for the future of tennis, if you find enjoyment in it, as I said, more power to you, and I don’t want to take that away from you.

    But knowing what I know about the “steroid eras” of other sports, notably baseball and cycling, I can’t enjoy the way things are going. There is no reason to think that tennis is immune to what has befallen those sports.

    Baseball’s reputation has been substantially tarnished by steroid scandals, and cycling no one takes seriously anymore–it’s frankly acknowledged that the times top cyclists achieve are impossible to attain without doping. This is the future of tennis, should it go down the doping path. And it appears to be doing just that.

    This has been a wonderful discussion, and I’d like to thank Ru-an for providing us with this forum, and yourself and Neil for writing here. For no matter how well-designed the forum, it is useless without intelligent and passionate participants.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Appreciated Steve. Dont think i dont know whats going on on my blog. I appreciate that you guys can firmly make your points while at the same time keeping it civil. Believe it or not, that is a rare thing on the internet. That makes me proud to be the host of this blog, knowing that i at least attracted people who can use restraint, but at the same time clearly make their point. This is of course something i have always advocated. Never be afraid to speak your truth. If at the same time you can keep it civil, then all the better.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    I believe in civility, Steve; it’s the one practical and deeply moral (not to say spiritual) virtue that is universal: listening with respect might sum it up. I appreciate in you what I appreciate in Neil.
    I’ve been thinking all day about this correspondence I’ve been involved in, and I have a thought for you and for Neil and for anyone else. It hasn’t been shown that Rafa Nadal is doping, but there is much suspicion by intelligent folks–starting with the two of you, and extending to those I’ve read in links Neil has supplied. I’m not happy living in doubt about a sport I love; neither is any lover of tennis. One of the real complaints I’m discovering about the testing is its inconsistencies of various kinds. So, I was wondering, as I was working in the garden, whether people like us who love tennis could, somehow, create enough noise, enough publicity, enough critical mass to embarrass the two (is it two?) agencies that govern the testing. The revolt in Egypt was, in good part, propelled by Facebook; it’s the Facebook Revolution. Can something like that, I wonder, be created by people who take this on as a task? Everyone would benefit, for doubt, which destroys belief in what we want to believe in–the purity of a beautiful sport–has tainted the sport and spoiled our ability to sit back and be amazed and rationally critical. Could such a campaign be created and sustained by amateurs like us? I wonder what it would take? I can’t imagine that anyone would say no to it. It seems like voting for apple pie. Thoughts? (So, Neil, this is also meant for you–and everyone else, including, of course, our host, Ru-an.)

    [Reply]

  33. Ed, I am interested in your suggestions. I am not sure how you see the Facebook thing working – this is part of the Net that I don’t use. Maybe I should. Perhaps you could explain a bit more what you think we might do. By the way, I tried to do my bit recently by writing to David Howman, the director-general of WADA, expressing some of my concerns. I received a very courteous reply in which he indicated that his office hears a lot of complaints about Spanish sportsmen, although he wasn’t able to comment about any one in particular. (Cough, cough.)

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Neil–I used “Facebook” as an example; I, too, don’t use it. In fact, I don’t like it. But. Here’s what I’m thinking. How many blogs are devoted to tennis? I don’t know, but that’s not hard to find out. There are fans all over the world that, through these blogs can be reached. How many folks are on this blog? Based on how many people regularly post, I’d say there are about nine or so. So how does one start a campaign, a fans’ revolt, for that’s what it would amount to. We, the fans, are very unhappy and are making demands. This is the kind of thing that, once it grows (how to make it grow is what we need to talk about) is something the sports media would love. Fans Demand Serious, Mandatory Drug Testing in the ATP and WTA. Think about that as a headline. And then there are the sponsors: if they didn’t get behind this, they’re open to an attack that says something like, So you favor drugs, then? I’m just thinking out loud, Neil. But why not? You already sent a letter, but you’re only one person. Imagine mobilizing the indignation of the hundreds of thousands of fans around the world. Again, why not? We can post on this one blog till the stars turn green, talking to no one but ourselves. But. Why not reach out to the world, make this a world-wide conversation and then protest, the goal of which is to get to a tipping point in outraged public opinion so that the governing organizations would have to take notice. And I wonder whether Roger would lend his name to this to? Why not think big? Why not try to do something? So this is the stage of thinking out loud, getting the folks here on board, then taking the next step. I’m serious about this. We love the sport; let’s actually try to do something to protect it. And, by the way, I can certainly find out about how Facebook works and might work to our advantage. We all know people who know people, yes? Why not take the next step and see how, in a concerted, focused, real-world way, we can change a bad situation to one that we know is right?

    [Reply]

  34. Ed: That is a interesting idea. I think, however, that the only way the ATP would truly be moved to do anything about doping is if fans boycotted the tour in sufficient numbers to have an impact on their bottom line.

    Perhaps social media would be useful to achieve this anti-doping boycott.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Steve–we live in a media-ridden world, so if enough fans–I mean thousands–protested in a focused, organized way, the media would gobble this up. The ATP, like any important sports organization, doesn’t want want bad publicity, doesn’t want a lot of noise that’s very, very loud. Would folks boycott enough tournaments? Maybe they would. But they’d have to be motivated to do that; so a boycott would be the result of a campaign. It’s that campaign that I’m interested in creating, with you and Neil and anyone else on this blog–and on every other blog on the Net (I think that there are about 70 tennis blogs, maybe more, maybe less)–a focused and thoughtful and effective protest. I want to do this with others who are similarly frustrated with doubt. This is–I’ve been thinking about this–a campaign against doubt. We, as fans, no longer want to have ANY doubt about the sport we love: that’s the main thrust.

    [Reply]

  35. Ed, there are a few sites that focus on the issue of doping in sports/tennis. You might check out:
    .
    Tennishasasteroidproblem .. obviously not popular with the tennis establishment and has its share of ranters but also contains posts with some useful information and expressions of views
    .
    Le Dopage .. French site, more measured, and allows for English translation but tends to be less current
    .
    Steroid Nation – American site that covers a lot of pro sports

    Of course some of the material on these sites is speculative but some of it is also very sobering.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Neil–I can’t say that I’m looking forward to looking into these blogs, but…I will. But you know this information, have studied it because of your upset, for quite a while. To me, the bigger question than the particulars of steroid use and suspected steroid use is how to organize a protest. Note, in this regard, that the prime source of information about the death of Bin Laden was Twitter, from a young Pakistani who was visiting the nearby town to “relax,” heard the helicopters, heard a tremendous explosion, then reported it, several times, to the world, via Twitter: And here I am, sitting in New Jersey, knowing this. So, there’s this huge vehicle for communication: how to use it is the question, how to bring people on board–for me, it seems like voting on whether you like apple pie, but how to take the next step?

    [Reply]

  36. Tennis players like that? Bodybuilders, maybe. It would takes hours in the gym – more than a pro tennis player would have available, given the need for on-court training – to have legs that size, and an aerobic sport like tennis should reduce that kind of bulk. But I hear from those who know something about it that that kind of definition, plus size, is only possible with steroids.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Hmmm i guess there is a lot of bulk for a tennis player. But if you looked at Chang, he was very bulky himself, and hes not the kind of guy who would dope.

    [Reply]

  37. Chang? I remember him well; solid, short – and fast. But Ruan, I never saw leg muscles like those in the Tipsarevic pic on Chang, or his generation of tennis player; the combination of size and extreme definition in the quads is freakish. Check out some pics of Chang and compare. I would be surprised if you think they are really similar; I just don’t see it, myself.
    Of course, these days players wear baggy shorts, so you don’t really see how much bigger their quads are getting, whereas players twenty and thirty years ago may have looked big because they wore much smaller shorts. The same thing goes for shirts now, too. But when the muscle shows through, as it does every now and then, it’s pretty scary.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Yeah Neil having looked at it again, i gotta say those quads look pretty suspect. On that twitter page you you could see a small pic of his upper body as well, and it looks suspect too.

    [Reply]

  38. Yes, I noticed Tipso’s upper body shot on his Twitter page, too. For a tennis player it is astonishing. To show it off like that, I think these guys are pretty confident nobody is going to call them out. But definition like that is becoming more and more typical out there.

    [Reply]

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