Sunday, 12 August 2012

Sometimes "stuff" just happens.

I don't think you can deny that there's something up with Novak. He's not been himself since the start of the clay court season.

What began as a "one off" in MC (put down rightly to the passing of a beloved grandfather) continued largely unquestioned into Madrid (where he was at war with the surface) before morphing into something altogether more gruesome in the final of Rome (where one of his smashes was so poor it almost landed on his foot) - what I think of as his single worst performance this year.

And to be honest, he's been off ever since.

Nothing so obviously hellish as Rome - more a certain listlessness and inability to summon his best during moments of crisis, all of which stands in stark contrast to his stretch of 'form' (not even sure that's the right word for it any more) last year.

If we are to believe the words of his former coach Jelena Gencic, "personal problems" lie at the root of it.

That may well be. But as Novak indicated, "everyone" battles with those from time to time. And I will never not flinch and cringe (fringe?) at the instinctual drive of some to explain away a spell of poor play or even a single upset whenever a top player is involved. Upsets happen, "stuff" happens, giving birth to aliens happens - even to the best of the best - can we not let that just be?

It's entirely reasonable and healthy to want to put forward reasons of course. Provided we accept that what we're proposing as a root cause is an approximation of an approximation based on little or no knowledge of something that may not even be slightly true - wholesale conjecture in other words.

I'm a big fan of conjecture - until, that is, we dress it up and start pretending it's something more than that.

This isn't Novak's doing (although you could argue his former coach has invited much of the speculation). And whilst his fans obviously contribute to it, it's bigger and very different in nature to fandom - in fact, no single party is to blame.

It's a conglomerate comprised of media, fans, bloggers, the bloke at the bus stand, and other talking heads - and its relentless drive to rationalise and categorise everything from the sublime to the trivial into neatly labelled unthreatening manilla folders is almost pathological (I know this, because I'm part of it too).

I think the idea of stuff "just happening" unfettered, uncontrolled and untamed by narrative (or even basic laws of cause+effect) simply terrifies them.

But that's exactly the reason why most of us (including myself) love sport.

Sport knows nothing of fandom or ideology. It simply plays out on a level playing field unencumbered by agenda. Sometimes it's even chaotic. And therein lies its power to enthrall. Imposing a narrative on that actually feels like an insult. Sport's simply too big for that, and Novak's too good for it.

I daresay something personal *is* troubling him. I've got no reason to doubt it - Gencic isn't his mouthpiece but does seem
to know the family well enough (and Novak certainly hasn't denied it).

But it could equally be the natural decompression that follows 18 months of near-perpetual ecstasy (and an acute awareness of just how difficult that might be to replicate).

Or even a combination of both - they're not mutually exclusive you know.

I could, of course, be completely wrong. But, as of now, we simply don't know. And unless Novak himself says any different, I prefer to leave it that way.

Isn't that, after all, why they call such things "personal"?

(Photos: Getty)


Monday, 6 August 2012



But I still think there's an entirely healthy middle ground between (1) the idea that Murray's Olympic win means he's now certain to beat Fedalovic in a 5 set Slam final, and (2) that it has no bearing on anything at all because it's "not the same thing" (equally childish).

Too early to be thinking that way, right? I should still be partaying in the Stella-McCartnicated afterglow of the biggest win of his career, I know.

Fine. But if he goes down in a tight (or not so tight) 5 set final (or even semi final) to, say, Rafael Nadal at the USO, the same tabloid contingent retweeting pictures of his head on a stamp now, will begin (again) to raise the most horrible doubts about his ability to bring his best against the best.

It wouldn't be the first time.

What this "means" (a LOT - some would say its uniqueness precludes it from even Slam comparisons) should not be confused with the *expectation* it sets - they're two entirely different (albeit hopelessly tangled) issues.

(Photo: AP)



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