Tag Archives: tennis

Novak and his cross

10 Jan

For me there’s always been something “real man” about a guy who’s not too macho to show some form of piety* — we all know those Greek men who cross themselves like they’re flicking crumbs off their tie, right? — especially if that “real man” is Orthodox, Serbian and Novak Djoković. I have a long history of dating sons of clergymen: priests, rabbis, even pastors.

Let’s hope he gets out of this Australian mess as soon as possible, though it’s hard for me to not put part of the blame on him.

* By “piety” I do not mean the Fellowship, or the Family, or C Street, or American Evangelism in any, any, any form, which I don’t consider Christianity or even religion, but the most dangerous threat to faith of any kind since Calvin. I hope my readers knew that about me before reading this.

Djoković king of the court: “…a chilling and simple declaration of intent.”

20 Nov

From the Guardian:

1 Novak Djoković

2014 Won 61 Lost 8 Titles 7 Prize money $14,250,527

There is no sensible argument about who is the best player still standing at the end of 2014. Advocates of Rafael Nadal have to acknowledge the dominance of Novak Djoković, below, at least until the Spaniard returns to full fitness, while Roger Federer, sitting just behind the Serb in the rankings after a rousing surge at the end of the season, is now also struggling with a back problem. In the jungle of modern tennis Djoković is not only the best but the strongest. He declared on Sunday, “Right now I’m at my pinnacle in the career. I physically feel very fit. I’m very motivated to keep on playing on a very high level.” That is a chilling and simple declaration of intent. [my emphases]

Serbia's Novak Djokovic has shown that he is top dog when it comes to survival of the fittest.

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PS: Guys, where has Janko Tipsarević disappeared to?

4 Jul



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Why I can’t stand watching Rafael Nadal win

12 Jun


I’m just going to come out and say this stuff and I’m sure not a few readers will end up considering me a quack or some quasi-Nietzschean fascist aestheticizer of things and never log on again. But, hey, that’s the price…

I’ll start with the most petty and irrelevant reasons. I have a serious repellent reflex towards Catalans. This is largely because I love Spain so much, and their anti-Spanishness really gets my goat. I find their Gallic delusions that they’re so much more European and Mediterranean and civilized than the rest of Spain to be insufferable. (And some day I’ll get around to dismantling the cult of “Mediterranean-ness” itself that’s grown since the 1980s and that I find a completely false and fabricated pop-multi-culti identity that grew out of tourist literature, the public relations campaigns of olive oil companies and a popular sprinking of Braudel, and nothing else. When even Turks start acting and feeling like they’re “Mediterraneans,” you know that a discourse is b.s. and needs to be taken apart; the extremeness of the hype surrounding Barcelona is part of this, and is why I love the gravitas and even crudeness of Madrid and Castille so much more deeply.)  I find Catalans’ noli me tangere squeamishness about how they shouldn’t have to suffer by being a part of this barbaric country of monarcho-fascists and Catholics and gypsies and bull-torturers to be racist pure and simple. They’re Iberian Croatians, in short. There are plenty out there who will get the analogy, I believe.

But none of that has any real bearing here.  And poor Rafa shouldn’t have to be the object of my scorn just because he’s Catalan; Ferrer is too and I think he’s one of the most compelling and wonderful to watch tennis players out there.

I simply hate watching Rafael Nadal win because he’s ugly.

And by ugly I don’t mean short and mousey-looking or that his thinning hair is always already a greasy mess from before the match has even started. I mean ugly with a lack of that kind of inner force that manifests itself as a visible form of athletic charisma and magic.

Since the beginning of institutional athletics in human civilization, meaning the Greeks, of course, we’ve always expected our athletes to partake of “some part of beauty.” To have something that made us feel, even if just partly, that a god were being incarnated here in this man, in our presence. “En-thusiasm” in English comes from the Greek ενθούς, ‘possessed by a god, inspired.”  Whether it’s the gorgeous dance of a great basketball or tennis player, or the weightlessness and super-human strength of a gymnast, or the painful duet of two wrestlers or martial artists of any kind, or just the sublime bulk of a rugby player or Olympic weightlifter, or the highly choreographed beauty of a good American football game (yes, it’s a beautiful, highly choreographed, strategically intricate game, much more compelling than…wait…let me swallow first…soccer), we need to experience this glow, which is not a conventional handsomeness or prettiness that I’m talking about, but the need to sense this power and this powerful yearning for glory and victory emanating out of this being, who we want to feel is slightly more just-above-human than the rest of us are.

You never feel any of that glow emanating from Rafael Nadal. It’s just the same cold, technically precise game and the same cold, pissy look on his mug: the most emotion we’re treated to is if things start going a little badly and the pissy mug just gets a little pissier. After the match, if you mute your set and if the score box isn’t showing on the bottom, you almost can’t tell if he’s won or lost. Just the same cold shaking of hands and greasy slinking off of the court.

TOPSHOTS Spain's David Ferrer returns aDavid Ferrer – Picture: AFP/Getty – (click)

Compare this to the elegant gentlemanliness of a Federer. Or the brute, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, clanking mediaeval long-swords game of a Valencian muscle-brick like Ferrer (above).  Or the young, beautifully British, sportsmanly hunger of Murray. And then there’s my dear, sweet Nole, of course, who in every endearing way is still a teenager of sorts, and may have the purest soul of any professional athlete out there. (Talk about “the tenderness of the warrior.”)  No matter what his rank or seed are, or how well his season has been going, he’s as desperately trying to keep his nervousness under control before a match as a young volunteer going into combat for his first engagement, because I think that that’s what he genuinely feels in his heart each time. And when things go badly, and he tragically can’t stop them from going even more badly, because, like an adolescent, he beats up on himself mercilessly because he feels like he’s failed to prove himself, failed to earn his “red badge,” he inspires the purest Aristotelian feelings of pity in me.* And yet, his dignity in defeat is always impeccable. And his howling glory in victory is all his own too. Lots of people don’t like that or feel it unsportsman-like. Trust me, Olympia was a scene of howling winners just like him – and probably then some.  Finally, the spectacular grace of Nole’s feel for his own body is unmatched by anyone in the sport.  Almost like a bullfighter, you sometimes feel he’s risking an easy point just for the gracia and and pure elegance of a braver, more dramatic play.

(And Michael Phelps…let’s not even go there.  See his tag box for posts on him if you want.)

novak-djokovic-volley (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

You feel no sense of any of that pathos or agon in Nadal’s game. None. So when Djoković loses to a man like Federer, or Ferrer – which I don’t think he ever has – or even Murray, I say helal olsun,** να’ν καλά ο άνθρωπος, he deserved it. And I don’t walk around with this churning feeling in my stomach for days afterwards.

But when Nole loses to a Rafael Nadal – I can feel the gods of our ancestors looking down and saying: “What the hell? This can’t be right…”

At least a big, Russian kouklara like Sharapova won the women’s…


Maria Sharapova, Women’s Campion at Roland Garros 2014. (click)

See also July 3rd post: “Why I love watching Rafael Nadal lose.”


* Aristotelian “Pity”In his Rhetoric, Aristotle defines “pity” thus: “Let pity, then, be a kind of pain in the case of an apparent destructive or painful harm of one not deserving to encounter it, which one might expect oneself, or one of one’s own, to suffer, and this when it seems near.”

Effing Greeks had said everything, hadn’t they?  Everything else is a footnote.

** “Helal olsun” means, roughly, “may it be blessed” in its mixed Arab-Turkish vocabulary.  This is where the Greek: “χαλάλι του” comes from, “it went to good cause, to deserving reason, good for him or her.”  The opposite is when somethings has gone “χαράμι” — haram — meaning gone to waste, not to blessed purpose, blown off into the wind, spent badly, made unusable by its having been defiled or tainted.  “Χαράμισα τα νιάτα μου” are lyrics you’ll hear in many Greek songs: “I made haram of my youth” — the implication usually being “with you.”

I was talking to a friend here about the term “Helal olsun” and she said that you could use it in Turkish the way you do in Greek, but also that at Muslim funerals the imam asks the gathered congregation if anyone has any outstanding grudges or feels he is owed something by the deceased, and the congregated reply — I don’t know if in unison or individually: “Helal olsun” — “No, may he be blessed,” (or maybe: “even if I do…helal olsun.”)  And I found that unbearably just and beautiful.  And something to remember when Christians feel we have a monopoly on mercy and forgiveness.  It’s the Quran that says that “Mercy is a greater virtue than justice.”

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The Djok’s in Greece

25 Apr

That said….meaning, I wasn’t gonna write for a while: news too cool to not report.  Djoković is in Greece, fiancée Jelena Ristić is pregnant, and though he lost his Monte Carlo Crown, he made it to semi-finals, and at least it was to Federer and not to the Catalan or anybody.  All in all, not a bad Easter week for Nole.



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Not good…

25 Jan


Nole bombed out in Melbourne against…Wawrinka, so after being bumpd out of No. 1 by that mousey Catalan last year, this season starts off on a not-great footing.

Here’s part of the Times’ description of the match:

“MELBOURNE, Australia — Stanislas Wawrinka’s forehand sailed wide on break point in the fourth set, and Novak Djokovic screamed. Then he screamed again. Then he screamed once more. He screamed as if he won the tournament. He screamed as if he won the lottery. He screamed so loud for so long the chair umpire issued a warning.

The whole scene felt familiar: Djokovic against Wawrinka in a Grand Slam contest, the match more like a marathon, Wawrinka close but Djokovic beginning to pull ahead. It felt that way until the Australian Open quarterfinal ended with Wawrinka in front, the final score, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7. As the final point concluded, his face — eyes wide, mouth agape — registered the most shock of all.

Same movie, different ending. For Djokovic, a horror flick.

Wawrinka won their latest duel more than Djokovic, the defending champion here, lost it. Still, the final two points unfolded as if an understudy had subbed in,

That last line’s bold emphasis is mine, because this seems to be a summation of Djok’s style, and which, paradoxically, may be exactly what makes me so loyal to him.  First, however he’s doing on the court — well or badly — he’s never complacent.  Never a Federer or the New York Yankees, for example, sailing through everything so elegantly that even when they lose you feel like they’ve won.  Nole can be playing at the absolutely top peak of his game, his elastic frame all over the court, creaming his opponent — and it’s still a heart-and-soul struggle for him.  A true agon, a passion in the original sense of the word.  And that’s why I feel like I’m allowed the poetic license to call his sudden plunges into catastrophe those of the tragic hero.  He’s hammering away like a god at one moment, and then suddenly some tragic flaw, some Achilles’ heel — I dunno, Kryptonite maybe — crushes him in an instant.  You can never even tell what it is, like just now in Melbourne.  Some tiny something undermines his confidence, some sensitivity pricked unnerves his soldier’s zen, and he goes to pieces.  And it’s that vulnerability — aside from my Serb-crush, which readers have finally realized is kind of a running joke of the blog and not politically “incorrect” — that makes him so appealing and disturbingly loveable.  He’s certainly consistently enough of a winner to admire — No. 1 seed for how long? — but then he always manages to give us that little bitter-sweet taste of defeat, in which, Borges says, when discussing why throughout the centuries readers of the Iliad, including the Greeks themselves, have always liked the Trojans more than the Greeks: “there is a dignity which can hardly belong to victory.”

The basic premise of the New Yorker’s stupid piece on him by Lauren Collins last September was that Djokovic is just too much of a savage (read ‘Balkan’ or ‘Serb’) for the genteel culture of tennis; “can he make us like him?” Collins actually writes at one point and the whole article seems to be asking the same question all through.  And if I’ve half-jokingly made him represent something archetypically Balkan or Serbian on this blog, it’s been from the opposing position of a true fan and a joking that’s only a front for a deep seriousness.  Because I really do believe there’s something heroic and archaic — even irrational — about this kid’s game.  He’s fighting to the death every time.  Mostly, the gods favor him.  Then, at times, for some caprice known only to them, they abandon him and he falls.

And so his general brilliance is always tinged with the fear of some sudden, impending catastrophe of that kind, that’ll strike him down just as he’s reaching the summit.  And that’s why he’s fascinating.  And that’s why we watch him.

Biti dobro Nole.  And on to victory next.

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13 Nov

Woefully amiss in my coverage of Nole this year…  But he was spectacular in this match: “Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic: Score and Recap from 2013 ATP World Tour Final”

“With the win, Djokovic has left the blueprint for how to beat Nadal. The problem is, he’s pretty much the only player in the world who can follow that blueprint to a T.

“Almost nobody can move as well as Djokovic. In addition, his defense is unparalleled on the tour. That means he can track down Nadal’s best shots on hard courts and then answer back with a shot that puts him on the offensive. This prevents his opponent any chance to breathe.”



This is turning into one of history’s great sports rivalries.  Neither can manage the complete shunting aside of the other– a fierce, non-stop grudge-match — and the emotional roller-coaster of following their battle is heart-pounding almost every time.

I’ll have some comments on the profile The New Yorker did on Djokovic earlier this fall, The Third Man” as soon as I get a chance.

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