Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Miami: Freud, Pestilence and a Universal Theory of Everything


Fed’s season of pestilence is upon us once more.

Berdych d. Federer 6-4 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (8-6)

Whatever spores have given rise to Fed’s inexplicable and at times unnerving results at IW/Miami over the past four years are in full bloom again.

It can be both spiritually satisfying and comforting to our analytical fibre to have it all explained to us – a theory both simple and elegant that in a single sweep, ties up all those loose ends and affords us a rational basis for what is ultimately conjecture.

Not that different perhaps to Scientists’ uncompromising quest for a Universal Theory of Everything.

Reading through some of the post-match commentary however, I was reminded of a quote from an article I’d read earlier this week on Freud’s attempts at capturing something of Da Vinci’s mystique:

His [Freud] famous book on Leonardo da Vinci is anything but conservative. Making bold claims about Leonardo's sexuality, personality and the way works of art relate to real life, his book on this Renaissance genius is hugely suggestive and stimulating. It's one of the classics on Leonardo and always will be.

But what is wrong with it is the belief that art can ultimately be theorised and explained. It's not that Freud gets the artist wrong – his essential claims are convincing, his characterisation of the genius's indecisive and gentle personality acute – but that the quest for ultimate origins and final explanations seems futile.

-- Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

There is of course little wrong with seeking to understand the nature of Fed’s losses in terms of an all-encompassing and poetic theory that would appear to follow on from the natural fabric of tennis reality – I should say such an impulse is as innate to the human psyche as anything else Freud might have attributed to it.

Needless to say it’s also both proper and befitting to seek out an altogether more rudimentary explanation to the apparent rot that’s set in to his results at IW/Miami – events he’s won thrice and twice in succession respectively.

But can we really hope to capture the totality of what drives the man and the tennis within him - and frame it in one (admittedly pithy) sentiment?

Not all theories on the workings of the universe are nearly as elegant and concise as popular science would have you believe.

Some are several pages long, born of excessive shoe-horning and still only an approximation of our partial understanding of the forces and matter that surround us – the provenance of Epistemology rather than any exacting science.

Not that dissimilar I think, to what we’ve seen with Federer over the past four years.

1. The Guillermo Double Whammy (2007)

Not a South American Tag Team Wrestling move, but the first signs perhaps that all was not well in Camp TMF – at least not when he’s nursing doubts.

It’s worthy of our consideration I think, that this defeat followed a period widely acknowledged as an all time high in respect of his form– a period that began at the back end of 2006 and carried through to Oz in early 2007.

Was there perhaps the faintest awareness of the apparent implausibility of being able to maintain those unprecedented highs?

If there were any insecurities, then the backboard that is Canas was just the man to tease them out.

2. The All-American Beatdown (2008)

Clearly in a funk for the best part of the year – and then some. I’m almost indifferent now to the question of how much mono had to do with this - attempting to rationalise those losses to Fish and Roddick strikes me as about as meaningful as a treatise on the efficacy of Gordon Brown’s hair products.

An absolute horror of a year that would see further losses to Simon, Karlovic and Blake.

3. Racquet-Gate (2009)

More complex this one.

There was certainly something of a hangover from the absolute lows of 2008 and that loss he suffered to Nadal in Oz was, as we all now know, “killing him”.

Fertile grounds for the seed of self doubt.

4. 2010???

Inclined to agree with the Picket Fence thesis that he’s having a problem with motivation and conserving momentum in particular – to what end indeed, is momentum to be conserved if it’s not leading up to anything other than the start of the clay court season?

A thesis that assumes even more weight when viewed under the lens of Fed’s post-sixteen agenda.

The common denominator in all these cases is the absence of a common denominator – certainly not enough raw ingredients to begin conceiving a Universal Theory of Everything.

He’s not won Canada in three years either, with the losses incurred to Simon (2008) and Tsonga (2009) not substantially different to anything we’ve seen here - are we to assume the air is stale there too?

The match itself, aside from the second set, was another tawdry affair, with Fed just two points from going out in straight sets and unable to make good on a match point of his own in the third.

Nobody’s gladder than I am that Berdych put right whatever’s been holding him back these past five(?) years (even if it is only for a couple of matches) – but only those with a vested interest in seeing Federer lose would try and pretend he was at the races – or anywhere near the ticket booth in fact.

Perhaps the most revealing viewpoint came from the man himself:

“Look, it's no secret I've struggled the last, what is it, five matches I've played here in the States.

“But I fought as much as I could under the circumstances with my game having issues at the moment. Definitely lack timing. I don't know where that comes from, because I played so nicely in Australia.

“It (losing) fuels my desire to go to the practice courts, because I don’t like to lose these type of matches”


Push come to shove I’d say the lengthy gap he’s been taking in between Oz and IW over the past two years has something to do with it, but really, “I dunno where it comes from” either.

(Photos: Al Bello/Getty Images and THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Wilfredo Lee)

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