A few months ago, I was speculating about the possible onset of “postmodernity” – a term I’m mostly using to describe an age of which Fedal remains a feature, but, nevertheless, no longer enjoys the stranglehold on the Slams it once did.
Since then Fed’s taken a couple more body blows and knocks to the chin, while Rafa’s completed his career Slam and got a lock on the number one ranking through to, almost certainly, the middle of next year.
If he goes on to win Aus, he’ll hold all four Slams – the only guy since Laver to have done so – the transition to a “bull market” will be all but complete and no regulatory body (financial or agricultural) will even contemplate attempting to cap his soaring livestock capital.
Despite all this, I’m having difficulty embracing the sense of near fatalism being espoused over Fed’s remaining prospects by many commentators and (more surprisingly) fans alike.
Not everyone feels this way (I hardly need add), so let me first make clear that I don’t include in this assessment those supposedly mainstream commentators for whom every nervous nose twitch spells immediate and inexorable “decline”. Nor those “far-right” fans for whom every match Fed plays is “on his racquet”.
Needless to say (and for very different reasons) neither of those two extreme ends of the spectrum are giving off any desperately despondent vibes.
Still, for a surprisingly large number of sane followers it seems that Fed’s USO loss has resulted in an en-masse (apparently voluntary) orchestrated shift toward a peculiarly benign form of resigned acceptance.
I’ve no idea whether this enigmatic stoicism forms part of an elaborate defence mechanism – the way a passive-aggressive tortoise might give you the “finger” before grudgingly shrinking it’s head back in it’s shell.
Or whether we are being politely ushered to, now, “brace ourselves” for what a few overzealous commentators like to call “the beginning of the end” – the way a few remaining high-ranked field lieutenants might decide to call it quits as the last vestiges of the Fed empire begin to crumble around them.
Either way the message is the same – Fed’s less lacquered finish this year is to be treated with a mature sobriety by silently occupying the middle ground that sits somewhere in between good old-fashioned honesty and dignified defeat.
I’ve not found anyone capable of maintaining a dry eye during those closing moments of a well-loved (if slightly dated) cult classic.
(And yes Hugh Laurie did have a career before ‘House’.)
On the one hand, fair enough: there’s a healthy disdain towards the doomsday crowd and their ominous chatter, and there’s what can only be described as clinical denial.
The desire not to want to come across as a rabid prick seems entirely rational and fair. It’s the attendant morbid overcompensation that I object to.
1) “Fed will win no more than two more Slams (if that).”
I’m not foolish.
I see the logic behind the number two.
A sort of happy compromise between frothy, rainbow coloured optimism and dead-head despondency.
But consider this: there’s eight Slams between now and the 2012 Olympic Games – which, it’s fair to assume, is the earliest Fed will countenance hanging up his racquets.
Is it really that far fetched to think he’ll win more than just two Slams given he’s won three over the past sixteen months?
A period in which, I hardly need add, had he not been outdone by Delpo at Flushing last year, he would have held all four Slams. Still believe we’d be debating tennis livestock then?
2) “Fed’s physical decline precludes any further great success.”
A slight decline in speed, reflexes and concentration has been evident for a while now - and was again on show against Novak in NY. Only a blinkered few doubt it’s existence.
Having said that, I figure the worst of the decline is already behind him. Or, put another way, that the disparity between him now and the 2012 games will be considerably less than the disparity between him now and at the height of his powers back in, say, 2007.
3) “There’s far too much younger, fresher talent coming through…”
Oh please. Heard it all before.
Our window is limited to two years up to and including the Olympic Games, is it not? How much new talent do you really expect to spring forth in that time? Of the “current” crop only Delpo, Robin and Berdman have come good (barely and fleetingly in the case of the last two).
Muzz and Novak, for all their talent, remain a little thin on Slam results against either Fed or Nadal.
You don’t have to take on all these players to win a Slam – just a minor subset of some permutation. Not to mention that all those players (perhaps with the exception of Novak) have regular, unplanned and somewhat irritating outages in their attempts at taming the rest of the field.
Not so with either Fed or Rafa, who tend only to come unstuck once in a while against the very best, or a very close cousin undergoing a “one-day-only” trauma-inducing tennis epiphany.
All of which is to say that in the absence of Rafa, Fed, for me, remains uniquely placed to win any Slam - he’s had years to work at it, it’s what he does best.
And you know what else?
4) I still believe Fed can beat Rafa in a five set situation too.
I hear you. And what I hear loosely translates to “Now you just talkin’ crazy…”
I don’t mean on clay silly– not even I’m that far gone. And Rafa, for now at least, appears almost as invincible on grass.
Still, however much it may seem right now, it’s not completely inconceivable for Fed to overcome Rafa on a fast hard court….or even (dare I say it) on grass. Is it?
In their last Slam meeting at Melbourne it took Rafa five sets to suppress him. Wimbledon 08 went to five too, was (at almost five hours) half an hour longer and could, I still unfashionably maintain, have gone either way.
I concede that it’s a tough ask. I concede that his best chance will be at Wimbledon or Flushing. I even concede that it’s a bull market.
I don’t concede that it’s impossible. Or that Rafa’s chances in such an encounter are quite as inflated as the bull marketeers would have us believe.