Me, Watching Tennis

Me, Watching Tennis
Me, Watching Tennis

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Beast of Barcelona

(Rick Rock guest-blogging....)

That's what they called Rafa's uncle - not Toni, the one who played professional futbol. And everyone rolls freely with the "beast" talk about Rafa. Especially in contrast to the Appollonian splendor of Roger. The light, slim, Swiss Federer, with the regal one-hand backhand (it just says, "get thee hence!"), the upright bearing, etc., vs. the dark, swarthy, muscle-bound, hunched over Moorish pirate, with a two-hander like he's swinging a scimitar as he curls over the bullwark.. Arr!!! Even yesterday, Mary Carillo was talking about Rafa's beastliness.

Seriously, enough, people. It's almost racist, and at any rate, wrong. If anything, Rafa is MORE human than the sometimes icy Roger, and his game is to my mind MORE artistic. Art is about creation and originality. You could call Roger's game a perfection of classical tennis, but I would not call it creative or original. Rafa on the other hand has invented an entirely different game - no one plays like he does. No one hits the way he does, no one commits to the level of defense, no one wins from the positions he does - he turns the game of slowly gaining advantage in a point on it's head. In particular, his game is entirely different from the other physical giants in the game. His enormous strength is all diverted into action on the ball - he struggles to even keep depth beyond the service line, as ooposed to other big hitters who try to hit past their opponents. He's huge but no one is quicker, in contrast to most big players who try to get advantage early and dictate. His game is completely inside out, completely original. If Roger is a classicist, an excellent imitator of the Old Masters, Rafa is Picasso, always inventing, inverting the game, discovering new dimensions. His game looks physical but it is actualy the product of totally original thinking.

Further,Rafa is pure soul - seemingly a simple guy, emotional and intense (though always under control and well mannered) - very human. The emphasis on effort, struggle, in his game feels very human. Somehow he manages to look like the underdog on the court, even while he is crushing people. Roger on the other hand - I wouldn't call him a beast by any means, but inhuman? A little... don't get me wrong, he is a great person, an "ambassador" for the game as they say. But his persona slides into the icy, the fake celebrity realm of unreality, where Roger and Tiger rub elbows with Anna Wintour and whoever. The world where Shaquille O'neal refers to Britney as his "goood friend" (this was before she flipped out, when she was still on top....) You find yourself wondering what's realy going on with the guy. A little inhuman, dare I say, a little plastic, unreal?

All right I got a little carried away - but enough with the Rafa the Beast talk. He is a great player,with an unbelievably original game, truly one of the greats already at 22.

Signing off - Rick Rock


Ian B said...

well, I have to disagree. Roger has no choice but to rub elbows with virtual royalty. He makes his living on endorsements and it is merely a byproduct of the career path. Do you think his loyalty to his unattractive girlfriend Mirka is a signal of his humanity? Is he maybe gay? He is more talent than athlete and Nadal is more athlete than talent. I prefer the former.

Ampersand said...

I have to admit, I was trying to have a littlel fun, be a little provocative, and I probably took it too far. In truth I have nothing but respect for Roger, as a player and as a pesonality.

But I do think the routine disrespect expressed for Rafa is wrong. Of course he's a great athlete, but that doesn't come close to explaining his success.

Honestly, Davydenko is probably the best pure athlete in the top 10 - in terms of squeezing the maximum out of his body through timing and balance. But looking at other big, physical players, like Safin or Tsonga - they have completely different games, based on power,hitting flat, big serve etc. Nadal has a small man's game - he retrieves, he uses spin, he has great touch, and enormous will. He also learns and develops his game.

For example, early on Nadal's serve was a serious liability, and it is still not the serve you'd expect from a 6'2",200 pound dude. But he has worked hard to maximize it, and now leads the stats for 2nd serve points won and nearly for 1st serve percentage.

Or, after establishing his dominance on clay, he set his heart on winning at Wimbledon,studied the grass and adapted his game. He may never win it, but he's come awfully close the last 2 years.

To make an extreme analogy, people disparaged Michael JOrdan early on in his career,calling him a great "athlete" but saying he could only dunk, etc. So he perfected the best midrange jumpshot in the game. Then they said he was a great player but would never win because he didn't help the team. so he learned to do that and won a whole bunch of titles. Why? because in addition to being a superb athlete, he was really,really smart. And indicentally, also played a bit of a smaller man's game.

So no disrespect to Federer at all - but give Rafa his due. There are lots of great athletes, and lots of big strong dudes,playing tennis. He'sdone what he's done because he is smart, inventive, unothodox, and extremely talented.

R.C. French said...

Federer is my favourite favourite, but I like Nadal and agree with Rick Rock's points. Rafa's game is as smart and artistic as anyone's. But he is a bit piratey.

I wouldn't say Mirka is unattractive. I like seeing photos of her back when she played tennis. So different from the images we see of her these days.

paula said...

I find Mirka atrractive, too. OK, she's not a supermodel, but she's a lovely lady. And Federer- who I love as much as I love Nadal, but if I had choice to -uh- be with one or the other I would choose Nadal, but I'd prefer not to have to choose, and just, like, have every person I like- has a lot of soul. Like I said in some other post, the fact that Roddick saw a pic of his fiancee in sports illustrated and then had his agent call her agent- that is so shallow. In fact, it's sorta creepy. Federer is not like that. He's a real man and has a real relatinship.

Ampersand said...

yeah the mirka haters are wrong - she's cute! not a supermodel, but hey.

So where is Nadal's girlfriend? Once I saw him in the stands like holding a girls's hand... but that is it!

Craig Hickman said...

Rafa doesn't have a girlfriend.


There is nothing beyond the pale about this post.

It's brilliant.

Took most of the words right out of my mouth. I wish I had written it.

I'm certain to repeat some of it in the very near future. As I said, some of the words were already in my mouth.

Thanks for the insight.

Ampersand said...

thanks Craig! appreciate the kind words... RR

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why Craig Hickman is so keen to perpetuate the idea that Rafa doesn't have a girlfriend! This is not the first time he's made a comment to that effect [only on his blog] and I just ignored it. So the girl he was sleeping with last year at Wimbledon, the girl he goes out with at home [she doesn't accompany him as she is a student] must be a figment of our imagination. The beauty the whole world it seems has seen kissing him on a lounger etc on sole fishing trips etc,is not real. I know a lot of gay men want to believe that Rafa is in fact gay, but please accept the reality. He's straight, and hooked.

paula said...

There's a great pic of Rafa and his girl in US magazine this week(now last week?). Uncle Tony was quoted about the relationship, too. Rafa is very hush hush about it- he's a pretty modest guy, that is my understanding. But she is the same girl Rick Rock saw him holding hands with...

Anonymous said...

Excellent post.. Totally agree with this that Nadal's game is much more enjoyable than Federer's & more so because of the kinda person that he is.. Even after Federer won the French Open today, I believe, tennis world has seen better & greater players than Fedex