Winners post coming up, but I’ve had a multitude of thoughts swirling through my mind since watching Fed go down – oh *so* horribly – to Rafa, which I’m going to try and bring together.
Let me first state what this is not: a rant against the premature write-offs.
I don’t feel the slightest need to rant against that, nor the spectacularly pathological levels of denial some of Fed’s defenders continue to embody: both, I hope you’ll agree, have been done to death – both will continue to perpetuate their self-evident lunacy irrespective of what I or anyone else might have to say
Yet there remains something incredibly galling in hearing the “beginning of the end” eulogies every time Fed suffers a loss like this. What precisely is being insinuated?
Not only is it incredibly boring, it’s also a chronological absurdity: if every loss is the BOTE, then there can’t, by definition, be either a beginning or an end?
But what’s really interesting is this: no one in their right mind seriously disputes that Fed is now in his twilight and/or decline. In so far as we agree on anything, it’s that the BOTE occurred as far back as two (or even three) years ago (when Fed, by the way, was still winning Slams).
I think there’s something more questionable at work (not nearly as sinister as it is morally dubious): stating the obvious in order to confer legitimacy on the entirely spurious.
It’s a well known device, of course, familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in the rhetoric that surrounds religion and politics – both of which seem to conflate impossibly well in the realm of tennis dogma.
1) You start by stating something entirely reasonable, largely indisputable – something known either by necessity, or well within the prevailing consensus.
"We are in an economic crisis”.
“We are facing an unprecedented terrorist threat”.
“Fed is in decline”.
“The beginning of the end”.
2) And then go on to make, either implicitly or explicitly, an inference or extrapolation that, whilst seeming sound and/or innocent enough, simply doesn’t bear any scrutiny whatsoever.
"Deficit reduction, wide-ranging cuts and mass-redundancies is the only way out of the crisis”.
“Saddam has WMDs and is in league with Al-Qaida”.
“Fed will never win a Slam again”.
“Fed will never beat Rafa or Nole again”.
The key to selling the deceit (coz that's what it is) lies in pure stealth: in the implicit, entirely insidious suggestion that this secondary inference is either wholly subsumed within, or a necessary consequence of, the original uncontroversial assumption (preferably the former).
Taking stock of of Fed’s opponents as they relate to his current ‘twilight’:
1) There’s the other big-wigs, most notably Rafa and Nole, both of whom he can continue to score wins against, but both who will, it seems, be beating him more often than he does them.
I’m going to leave the question of surfaces out for now, partly because we all know who excels on what, and partly because there’s a dreadful tendency to read way too much into it. [I don’t have a problem admitting that it must necessarily factor into any analysis, but its getting a bit much when people start pretending that match results are almost exclusively determined by an exotic mathematical function of surface, conditions, altitude, frame size and string tension]
Put simply, Rafa will beat Fed 7 times out of 10 because the match up suits him to a tee. This has nothing in the slightest to do with Fed being “over the hill”. It’s simply a matter of fact that by pummelling Fed’s backhand mercilessly with his monster (lefty) forehand, Rafa can win most of their encounters; rather crucially, he doesn’t even need to be at his best to do execute this “strategy” successfully.
People looking for a headline like to paint this as a sign that the SHB is out of date – the rather inconvenient fact that Fed’s “dated” SHB suppresses 90% of the opposition is routinely ignored. The reason it’s a problem against Rafa is that no one hits a forehand like Rafa. No one has ever hit a forehand like Rafa. EVER.
Nole benefits from no such inherent advantage. Its certainly clear that he can beat Fed soundly having not yet been beamed down from whatever planet he’s playing on right now. Need I remind you that since 2011 began he beat Rafa (twice) and everyone else in such a state too?
But leaving aside the question of when the streak will end and when his level will tail off, it does seem reasonable to think that in the long term, his intensity will give him the upper hand.
2) The rest of the competition: aside from irregular, sporadic, Godzilla-like appearances from Berd and Sod (Delpo deliberately left out for now for the sake of simplicity as much as anything else), Fed is winning 80-90% of his matches here –dominating, you might say.
Indeed, since the beginning of the year, Fed has only lost to Nole and Rafa and is actually 2nd in the ATP Race (the now discarded measure of performance based strictly on the current year).
Against this backdrop its crucial to ask, what precisely the purpose is of all these constant allusions to the BOTE; else it simply allows loose tongues to define the landscape by filling in the gap with their own spurious inferences.
Do we see him never winning a Slam again? Possibly, though this is by no means certain.
Do we not see him ever beating Rafa or Nole again? Less often perhaps, but never say never. Nole is on an unprecedented high right now, but it won’t last forever – nothing ever does. And I hardly need add, I hope, that he beat Rafa in straights just over four months ago at the WTF.
What then? Do we see him losing to Olivier Rochus? I should think not.
Yet any, or all, of the above might be reasonably inferred on the basis of the BOTE – depending on how (maliciously) open-ended you leave things, you can argue pretty much anything you want.
My own view is he will continue to suffer losses against those top two (most though not all of the time) whilst still dominating 80-90% of the competition.
Whether or not he’s still winning them, he’ll remain in contention of winning every event he enters until the day he quits.
That would allow him to retire (whenever he chooses) comfortably ensconced in the top ten or top five at some point in the future.
All of this may seem obvious, but say “beginning of the end” (or hear it being invoked) enough times and it begins to insidiously redefine your perspective like some mind-warping spell spun by Lord Voldemort.
I’m not nearly convinced that something so very different is at work here.