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It was inevitable that Roger Federer's career would mirror that of Pete Sampras. Both are legendary players who rewrote the history books at Wimbledon. Both looked at that tournament as the hallowed ground of tennis. Both have similar playing styles. Both have similar gentlemanly personalities. And both have had end-of-career injury problems. For Sampras, his exit from the game came a year after he won his last major - the 2002 U.S. Open. For Federer, his exit from the game has not arrived despite the fact that his last major win was four years ago at Wimbledon 2012.
Their careers have been 10 years apart. Sampras arrived at the 1990 U.S. Open and managed to hang in for 12 years until he won his final major in 2002. Federer arrived in 2000 and his win at Wimbledon in 2012 could have been a final statement and period on his career. I don't think anyone would have been at all disappointed if he had retired after that win. But he has continued. This is where his career and Sampras' career have dovetailed. Their epic match at Wimbledon in 2001 was at the time and is still considered the changing of the guard. For Federer, there has been no such touchstone moment. His losses to Novak Djokovic came much earlier than Federer's 2012 Wimbledon win and Djokovic had already overtaken Federer as #1, so I don't see Djokovic as the heir to Federer.
In fact, there is no heir to Roger Federer. A few years ago and even earlier this year, one might have said that Milos Raonic was Federer's heir. If that was to be true, then you would have to believe that this year's Wimbledon semifinal between them was to be the touchstone moment of the changing of the guard. It certainly had all the dramatics and the right script. But Raonic is no Roger Federer, so that plot point doesn't work. Also, Raonic has turned out to be incredibly mentally vulnerable. The pressure he puts on himself is intense because he has to work so much harder than most to try and achieve anything close to what Sampras or Federer has achieved.
I think Roger Federer has needed that touchstone moment to clearly make up his mind that yes, there is an heir to his throne and can exit the game with grace. But he hasn't had that moment, so he continues to plod along because there is no clear challenger to his throne in the way that he was to Sampras. As the years go by without winning another major, you have to wonder what will be Roger Federer's exit strategy. I can't see him wobbling along, losing early and watching his ranking tumble out of the top 10. I don't want to see that happen to him. I would have been quite happy to have Wimbledon 2012 be his last major victory and have him finish out the year in style, as a champion.
But that is not the way it has worked out. I know he loves the game, but at some point, he's going to have to say enough. The inevitable has happened - injury, something that he has escaped throughout the entirety of his career. I really don't know why he hasn't said that he's going to retire. It would seem the perfect moment. He won a major, he climbed back to #1 in the world, he tried to stay on top, he tried to change his game. He was a success at doing all of that. I really thought that this latest injury would be the writing on the wall. Gone from the game for over six months, and he really thinks that he's going to regain the form to win another major? It's only going to get tougher and his body is not going to like it.
As with Pete Sampras' year-long hiatus from the game after he won the U.S. Open in 2002, I thought that Roger Federer's six month hiatus was going to be the sign that he was finally ready to call it a career. He has nothing left to prove. As a reasonable Federer fan, I don't want to see him stumble and fall, injure himself or injury his humility. It is the unreasonable Federer fans who want to see him play with a walker. Ultimately, it is up to him, but being the champion that he is, he's not going to be satisfied with just going through the motions with no meaningful results. That is why I think he should complete the Sampras-Federer circle by taking the final chapter from Pete Sampras' career and retire with dignity.
Despite the 150 year existence of tennis, there have only been a handful of movies that have exclusively featured tennis. Other films that feature tennis haven't even been about tennis. There are a lot of lists on the web that list 'the best tennis films in history' or 'the top 10 tennis films of all-time'. Both of those headlines are absurdly false. First, most the films that feature tennis are quite awful. Second, there are hardly 10 films that completely feature tennis that could fill a top 10 list. To fill it, you would have to add films that have only tennis matches in them, and documentaries and docudramas. To help you better understand the history of tennis in film, I have separated this topic into two separate lists: scripted films and documentaries - both alphabetically, to avoid any subjectivity as to what films appear should from the top down based on my opinion. This is also not an exhaustive list, as it does not include short films, short documentaries or animated programs.
16-Love (2012) - Feature independent drama.
Balls Out: The Gary Houseman Story (2009) - Low brow, recycled, T and A feature comedy. From the thousands of scripts that were submitted to the Bluecat Screenwriting Competition in 2005, this was the winner. It was released direct-to-video. Enough said.
Break Point (2014) - Feature comedy with Oscar winner JK Simmons.
The Break (1995) - Cable TV film drama with Martin Sheen.
The Christian Licorice Store (1971) - Feature drama with Beau Bridges. Great title that is never explained in the film. Tennis player who is running on empty and burning the candle at both ends. Have never seen this. Would like to.
Hard, Fast And Beautiful (1951) - Feature drama with Claire Trevor. Despite the awkward, brow-raising title, one of the rare films that had tennis as the main focal point.
Jocks (1987) - Typical T and A teen feature comedy with (surprisingly) Mariska Hargitay. Probably worse than Balls Out (if that is possible). When the lead character has no name and is only referred to as 'the Kid', you're in for a film with no substance.
Little Mo (1978) - TV film drama with Glynnis O'Connor as Maureen Connolly.
Match Point (2005) - Feature drama with Scarlett Johansson. Directed by Woody Allen. Probably the most critically acclaimed of all tennis films, though tennis plays only a supporting role.
Nobody's Perfect (1990) - Feature comedy with Chad Lowe.
Pat and Mike (1952) - Feature romantic comedy with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Hepburn plays a star tennis player and played her own tennis in the film.
Players (1979) - Feature drama with Ali MacGraw and Dean Martin Jr. (who was a former junior player).
The Prince of Tennis (2006) - Feature drama from Japan.
Second Serve (1986) - TV film drama with Vanessa Redgrave as Renee Richards.
The Seven Percent Solution (1976) - Feature drama with Robert Duvall. Not a pure tennis film and included only for a tennis match played in the film.
Spring Fever (1982) - Another typical lowbrow feature teen comedy, almost as bad as Jocks and Balls Out. Notable because the lead role was played by a real tennis player, Canadian Carling Bassett, who would go on to be a top 10 player the following year.
Strangers on a Train (1951) - Feature psychological crime thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Hands down, the best tennis film ever made. Although tennis is only a supporting character, it plays a crucial role in the film. That it is directed by the legendary Hitchcock, is good to know.
Tennis Anyone? (2006) - Feature independent drama.
Wimbledon (2004) - Feature romantic comedy with Kirsten Dunst. Filmed between matches at Wimbledon 2003.
Documentaries & Docudramas
7 Days in Hell (2015) - Mockumentary with Andy Samberg based on the famous history-making Isner/Mahut match at Wimbledon.
Jelenin Svet (2008) - Documentary on tennis player Jelena Jankovic.
Unmatched (2010) - Documentary on Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
Venus and Serena (2012) - Documentary on Venus and Serena Williams.
When Billie Beat Bobby (2001) - Docudrama based on the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
The White Game (1968) - Documentary from Sweden on the protests at the 1968 Davis Cup match between Sweden and Rhodesia.
Much the same as other mild controversies in professional tennis (tiebreaks in majors, time violations, injury time outs, etc.) the Davis Cup has become another controversy - well, not necessarily a controversy but more of an issue. Now that modern day professional tennis has, it seems, a tournament every week and the top players take more and more time off to heal their bodies surrounding the most important tournaments on the calendar (the majors), the Davis Cup has been shunted off to the sidelines as an afterthought.
It never used to be this way. Before tennis entered the open era in 1968, the Davis Cup was a big attraction on the tennis calendar. It was (and still is) the preeminent men's international team competition. Through most of the 20th century, it was a fiercely contested battle of the best players on the planet, dominated by Australia, Great Britain, France and the United States. Then, something happened that changed tennis forever and ultimately saw the Davis Cup bumped to the sidelines - the arrival of open era tennis in 1968: professionals, huge money and prestige. It was also the end of an era of the big four nations. The following year, a number of new countries joined in the competition, making the Cup more competitive. A lot of people don't know that before 1971, the reigning nation went directly to the final. The change of having them compete throughout the year also made the Cup more competitive.
The last major change to the Davis Cup format occurred in 1981 with the current World Group format. It has been 35 years. I think it is now time for another change to reflect the times. Although the Davis Cup is still an important event on the tennis calendar, the shine has come off the Cup. I think for a lot of players, although they would like to play Davis Cup, their first thought is always, 'how is this going to fit around my schedule?' If Davis Cup can't fit around their schedule, they simply don't play. To be frank, there are simply more important (and lucrative) events like the majors. The majors are the biggest events on the calendar. Players want to come into majors in top condition and come out of majors uninjured. If both don't happen and Davis Cup is the following week, you probably aren't going to see them there. Thus, in order to make the Davis Cup more attractive, not only does the schedule need to change, but the format as well.
There has been talk of combining the Davis Cup and the Federation Cup (the women's team competition). This could work but I think the logistics of it all is just a bit much. This idea probably formed from the success of linking the Masters and Premier events together on the tour. The problem is that both team competitions have gotten way too big. Remember that in the beginning, both had only a handful of countries involved. Now with close to 150, the logistics of having all these countries play at a certain week during the year is a nightmare for schedulers.
I like the idea of having the Davis Cup concentrated over a week in one location. Perhaps the semifinals and final can be played that way. Again, with so many countries involved, it would be close to impossible to do this in the early rounds. Having a neutral site be the host for this type of format would take some gusto out of the Davis Cup. It is well known that fans of host countries can get a bit raucous and at the same time, inject some verve and excitement into the game. Players rely on that spirit in team competitions to pull them through matches and it can make a difference in the outcome of the tie.
What about offering serious ATP points for players who not only play, but are successful in Davis Cup? This would attract a more serious and dedicated lot of players. It doesn't have to be 1000 points like the Masters, but anything substantial to reward the players for showing up. Right now, it's a bit of 'the Davis Cup has no ATP points, so why would I show up when I could earn points playing in a tournament the same week of the Davis Cup?' Matches could be shorter as well. I know there would be an uproar over having best of 3 instead of best of 5, but at least have all matches go to tiebreakers.
The Davis Cup has been the victim of tennis' success. What started out as a way to promote the sport internationally has become only an afterthought in the minds of occasional sports fans. With a myriad of other sports options these days, it certainly can become the job of Davis Cup to promote the sport once again. The problem is that the main ATP tour has become so big, so successful and so lucrative that the Davis Cup and other non-tour related competitions and exhibitions are left to lag on the sidelines. When I heard that there was going to be another team tennis competition (the Laver Cup), my initial reaction was "oh no, not another one". Fix the Davis Cup first, then move on to start another team competition.
For a lot of professional tennis watchers, the title of this heading could have easily been non-injuries, aches and pains. While there have been a lot of serious and real injuries that players have had over the past couple decades or so, there have been a lot of questionable injuries that have occurred during matches that have raised the eyebrows of more than a few TV tennis commentators and viewers alike.
Going back a few years to when I first started watching professional tennis, there was never the amount of stoppages in play due to injury. This was the early to mid 1980s. In fact, I never saw a player being treated on the sidelines for a muscle pull, a twisted ankle, a blister, heat stress or an injured little toe. If injuries did happen, the players just played through them or forfeited the match if they couldn't go on. Something happened to change all this as the game progressed into the 1990s.
The rules of tennis became much more lenient as to what an injury was and what could or could not be treated. I think a lot of this had to do with the player's union (the ATP for the men and the WTA for the women). Too many players were getting hurt, unable to get treatment for things that if treated, could allow them to continue to try and play and finish the match. If they couldn't, well, at least they tried. A lot of this is pride: "At least I tried to finish the match; at least I put up a good fight; I showed what a fighter I am; my team and fans would be proud of me for trying".
A lot of it is money. There is a lot at stake in professional tennis. The difference for a journeyman or journeywoman player getting to the next round with the promise of more prize money and losing early can be great. By getting treatment for a minor injury that would allow them to continue on, they could greatly enhance their ranking, their income and their life by playing on. By not getting treatment, the injury could become much worse or they would have to automatically forfeit the match.
Even for top players, the lure of fame and fortune is huge. As a result (and as hard as they try to get their bodies ready off the court) their bodies often fail them during a match because I don't think the human body was meant to go through what modern-day professional tennis players put it through. So, players will do everything they can to save themselves during high-profile matches - including taking the allotted maximum time between points, icing themselves, toweling themselves and using all of the rules now put in place for perceived injuries.
The physicality of tennis has changed greatly from the 1980s to this century. At any given point during a game, players are flinging their bodies around the court and contorting their bodies into pretzel-like shapes. It can be especially hard for players on the defensive - running back and forth on the baseline, flailing at balls, stopping, changing direction and trying to get into position to hit a quality shot at the other side of the baseline. For players who are not naturally built to be defensive players, all of this constant bashing and lumbering around the court that forces their bodies into positions that they are not normally used to being put into, injury is all too common. Even when players are trading quality shots back and forth, the sheer cannon-like shots are nothing compared to the grace-like quality of the early days of professional tennis. It is no wonder there are so many injuries - both on and off the court.
In today's game, the number of allowed medical time outs is bordering on the ridiculous. Leaving the court for an extended bathroom break or for medical treatment is being given out like candy. It definitely interrupts the flow of the game, despite of all the drama that comes out of one of them - especially if the medical time out is borderline preposterous. The incident in the 2016 men's U.S. Open final was one of these incidents. As with most TV commentators and fans of the game, the common thread around medical time outs these days in professional tennis is that they are being used as mental diversions and the ultimate non-no in professional sports - gamesmanship.
Times have changed in professional tennis. When I started watching, there were no towels that players used at the back of the court to towel off between points - they just used their sweat bands or just sweated. Players didn't get practically all of the balls from the ball kids, look at them and throw all of them back but two. Players rarely got treated for injury on the sidelines. Players never had ice towels to put around their necks. Players never took bathroom breaks. Yes, I know that the game has changed, but is all of this what we really want to watch? Wouldn't you rather watch some tennis instead?
The first ball of the 2016 Davis Cup final has yet to be hit and the draw for the 2017 Davis Cup has been announced. For the sixth straight year, Canada is in the World Group - the prestigious top 16 tennis nations in the world, thanks in part to luck and the strength of the team (when everyone is healthy). Indeed, those two elements are the key to victory for any Davis Cup nation. If a country has their A team in place, is healthy and is given an opponent with a B team on their least favourite surface, that country has it made.
Case in point: Belgium in 2015. Yes, I said Belgium, that powerhouse of tennis. It made its way to the final of the Davis Cup in 2015 winning against teams it had no business winning against. With a healthy A Team against depleted opponents, they sashayed their way to the final. But that's the thing with Davis Cup: so many variables are in play during the year that surprise finalists like Belgium are complete possibilities. When countries lose their Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Milos Raonic, they are left in a precarious situation against opponents who are licking their chops at the potential for victory - especially if it is on a surface that favours them instead of their opponents.
This uncertainty is one of the reasons why the Davis Cup needs to make changes to its format and schedule. I'll go into all of that in a separate blog post, but suffice to say that healthy top players who play for their country in Davis Cup make for a better Davis Cup, and the possibility of a country like Belgium winning the whole thing would be less likely and less controversial. I'm not knocking Belgium (it seems that way, but I'm not), but you can't be a serious Davis Cup contender with just a David Goffin, just like Canada can't be with just a Milos Raonic. I think if these countries had multiple singles players ranked much higher than they are, the optics of them winning the Davis Cup would be much more presentable.
Davis Cup World Group 2017 Picks
Argentina v Italy: Winner - Argentina (only if Del Potro plays. If he doesn't show, it's a toss up. It will be a heroic effort for Italy to win away).
Germany v Belgium: Winner - Belgium (Belgium gets another easy draw. I don't see them losing this with Goffin. If he doesn't show, it's a toss up).
Australia v Czech Republic: Winner - Australia (As irritating and unfocused as Nick K. and Bernard T. are, they should have no problem winning this at home - if they are named to the team).
USA v Switzerland: Winner - Switzerland (only if Wawrinka plays. If both he and Federer skip this, it'll be over 3-0 quickly).
Japan v France: Winner - France (France is so deep, they could send their C team and still win. Again, you can't front Nishikori as the whole team and win).
Canada v Great Britain: Winner - Great Britain (only if Andy Murray shows up. If he doesn't and Canada sends their A team, it will be very close. The key for victory for GB is his brother Jaime Murray. He's a top doubles player and that's a key point).
Serbia v. Russia: Winner - Serbia (only if Djokovic shows up. If he doesn't I think Russia will be motivated enough to get through).
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