Why is it I have such a hard time caring about watching Djokovic, Federer, or Berdych play? When I looked at schedules, there was Dubai, Delray and Acapulco. The plan had been to watch Dubai. The big boys were playing and it was the tournament to watch.
I turned it on and sat down, and after a few points of the Federer-Gasquet match, I’d just drift off to thoughts of what we were having for dinner. I started watching many of Djokovic’s matches but soon lost interest. Berdych? Yawn. What was wrong? Why aren’t these players keeping my interest?
I switched to Acapulco, and Dolgopolov is playing Wawrinka, eventually taking him out 6-4 7-6 in a great and entertaining match. I couldn’t stop analyzing the shots and discussing their attributes with my fellow watchers.
It’s not that I don’t like Federer or Djokovic—they’re great players and any chance to watch Federer play should be taken advantage of. He isn’t going to be at the top of his game forever, regardless of what anyone thinks.
But Djokovic always looks like he’s warming up to me. Maybe it’s just because he’s so smooth, and well, kind of boring, if you ask me. I know—great serve, superlative backhand, awesome forehand—he’s a complete package. I’m not questioning his ability, far from it. I just can’t seem to get motivated to be involved in his matches.
Federer, for all his greatness, seems, a bit whiny and defensive at times. It's as if he has to explain why he’s not perfect. Soderling? I just can’t seem to care and he still seems like an uninvited guest in a discussion of the big four.
For some reason, Nadal and Murray are the guys I really want to see play.
Murray is probably my favorite player to watch. There is also an off-court appeal to Murray that captures the imagination. That tortured artist soul thing perhaps? His game is a thing of beauty, artistry in motion, for all his athletic prowess.
Murray is a creative thinker, which can be a detriment for athletes once you hit the court. Thinking leads to self-examination, which can lead to questions and doubt, not something an athlete should take onto the court. He seems a slightly defensive, confused young man with a huge game and he's not really sure what to do with it. A proper heir to the throne but feels he’s a pretender and unsure if he’s entitled—thus always falling one step short.
Then, of course, there is Nadal. The humble warrior, supremely athletic, a Hercules of the tennis courts, with an impenetrable physicality to his game and only his own physical weaknesses to bring him down.
In Nadal, there is always this sense of an athlete supremely confident in his physical abilities and a man who loves nothing more than to push his body and chase down every shot. He revels in the strain and stress of the game, and like a child, it never occurs to him that there are physical limits until he pushes it just a bit too far.
No one has ever played with the unbridled pleasure for the athleticism of the game as Nadal, and as much as he denies it, his only real weakness is his body. A Greek tragedy—a game built on physical prowess and brought down by physical imperfections.
Then there is Andy Roddick, the fighter, Rocky in tennis whites. Knock him down, he gets up swinging. He never folds and never makes excuses. There is something humbling about a guy like Roddick. He’s got a knockout punch and subtleties that you don’t expect from a big server. It’s hard not to root for him. It’ll be a sad day when he leaves.
One of the most enjoyable matches this year was the Raonic-Roddick final. I won’t say the best match because it wasn’t, but sometimes the most fun matches aren’t the best played matches. They slugged it out for a set and a half—serve, ace, winner, game, before there were any real rallies.
But there is something extremely appealing about a slug fest by two of the biggest servers in the game, and when the rallies started, Raonic had an obviously-ill Roddick back on his heels. But that was where the fighting spirit of Roddick came out, and he never looked better in the role. He kept getting knocked down by a younger, more fit player, but he found a way to get inside of the young buck. Though it seemed an almost foregone conclusion that Raonic was going to take the match at the end of the third set, somehow Roddick, in a diving shot that left him bleeding, won the match. The old come from behind knockout punch. Raonic was clearly stunned.
What about the once and future great Del Potro marching up the ratings, gaining momentum with every match?
He had a tough loss to Roddick, but was clearly a better player for that match as he pretty much dismantled Fish in the semis at Delray. There is an appeal to Del Potro—hard hitting, humble, thankful for a second chance. Watch out world, because this is a guy who would have been challenging for number one in the world if not for his injury last year. I think Miami could be very interesting this year with more than a few upset at the hands of the big guy.
Along with youngsters Raonic and Dolgopolov, while certainly on the radar for a while, there have been other kids with better resumes and a lot more PR. But we always knew that the next big thing would be bit of surprise, didn’t we?
So even though Federer and Djokovic aren’t my cup of tea, it’s probably just me. We all have our likes and dislikes. Heroes and villains are simply a state of perspective.
As much as sports are about athletic competition, the heroes of sports are human, and it is their imperfections and weaknesses and how they overcome them that make the drama of sports so intriguing, and keeps us coming back for more.