Monday, July 16, 2007

Fed Cup, Hall of Fame, and The Rivalry

Here's the thing: Venus Williams and Lisa Raymond had no business losing to Nadia Petrova and Elena Vesnina in the deciding rubber of the Fed Cup semifinal tie on home turf yesterday. I know Nadia Petrova is an excellent doubles player, but Lisa Raymond is ranked No. 2 in the world in doubles and Venus has 6 Grand Slam doubles titles with her sister.

Katrina Adams, one of the most knowledgable and fair commentators I've heard, especially when it comes to doubles, her specialty, remarked throughout the match at how flat-footed Venus was around the net. The Russians attacked her in the forecourt and usually won the point. Toward the end of the match, Lisa was yelling, "You, you!!" so that Venus would take shots she had surprisingly left for Lisa to cover early on. I know, I know. This was the first time these two paired up for doubles, but with Zina Garrison captaining from the sidelines, I had no idea why it took the pair so long to come together as a team. When they did, they played great tennis. But it was too much, too little, too late.

And why did Zina rest Vania King and play Meilen Tu, a player with exactly no Fed Cup experience, in the fourth rubber? If you're trying to bring the Cup back to the USA, you don't put an untested player in a match that can close out the semifinal tie for you. Vania would likely have also lost to Nadia, but at least she might have put up more of a fight and tired Nadia out more before the doubles rubber.

I'll continue to scratch my head over Zina's decisions.

For their part, the Russian team played outstanding tennis and came up with great serves and returns on the big points. Vesnina was the biggest surprise, because she had the least experience of the four players and played the best tennis. And once again, Tarpishev captains his team brilliantly and pulls out another victory against the Americans in the semifinals of the ITF's biggest team competitions.

In the finals, Russia will face defending champion Italy, who defeated France in the decisive doubles rubber on the back of Francesca Schiavone, who rallied from 5-2 down in the final set of her singles rubber against Tatiana Golovin (big choke) to level the tie at 2-2.

For more Fed Cup coverage and drah-ma, see Savannah's take.

France invaded the United States this week. Two Frenchman contested the final of the Campbell's Hall of Fame Championships in Newport where Pete Sampras and Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario were inducted. Fabrice Santoro, makeing his Newport debut at the ripe old age of 34, won his first grasscourt title with a straight set victory over Queen's runner-up Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 6-4. It was Fabrice's first title since 2002. Vince Spadea, the last American in the draw, bowed out in the quartefinals to South Africa's Wesley Moodie.

Wimbledon 2007 is history. But it's all about the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal rivalry. My in box remains inundated with emails about these two and often it seems as though the fans of each or more intense rivals than the players. The following is the most eloquent of these fan musings and is sure to stir up some more discussion.

Why I admire Raja, but Love Rafa
from helen w

I watched the Wimbledon final with my heart in my mouth from the moment the players walked on to the court. I didn't miss a shot. I found myself fist-pumping (with only my abyssinian cat "Little" Rafa for company) and screaming in the privacy of my living room. I was with them until the last shot, and the handshake & hug at the net. But as tears ran down, I turned off the TV as I couldn't bear to watch the ceremony. (OK, I am a confessed RafaTard, a Rafa KAD. Is there a 12-step program for such as me?)

So -- why is my emotional response to Rafa so much stronger than it is to Roger?

Both of these men are fabulous players and great gentlemen. But I sense a core difference in them. Rafa, from his very soul, seems like a generous-spirited, essentially kind man. I believe this is a direct result of being born into the family that he was so fortunate as to be born into. I can't speak highly enough about how much I esteem his extended family. Would that every child could be born to such a family.

One consequence of this gift is his being so able to allow his emotions to shine through in everything he does. This is what makes him such an engaging player to watch, to cheer for.

Roger, on the other hand, plays with tightly-controlled emotions. We are told that when he was a young player, he often had temper tantrums on court. Contrast this to Rafa, whose uncle and coach Toni told him that should Rafa ever threw his racquet, it was the end of their coaching relationship. And he never has.

My experience with people who maintain tight control over their emotions (and I speak from very personal experience) is that the main reason they are afraid to let their emotions show is that so much of their emotions comprise feelings of anger. This is almost always a legacy from early childhood, which I believe is impossible to completely eliminate in later life. The best one can do is "work" on it. I believe that Roger's gentlemanly behaviour is not something he was born with, in the way that Nadal's is, but something that he has worked on, and huge kudos for him for doing it. Nevertheless, sometimes the not-so-gentlemanly side still peaks out, for example when he requested the chair umpire to turn off Hawk-eye during the Wimbledon final. And when he expressed no sympathy for the plight of the players in the bottom half of the Wimbledon draw, while at the same time having complained about having to have a late-afternoon start at the French Open last month. He sometimes seems petulant on court when things don't go his way. Before the Wimby final, he remarked that he did not see any real improvement to Rafa's grass game, which is reminiscent of him calling Rafa's game "rather one-dimensional" during last year's clay season. That these attempts at gamesmanship seem so clumsy is actually a testament to Roger's real fairness and good character. Rafa, on the other hand, has never resorted to this kind of thing, and it is difficult to imagine him ever going there.

(For those of you what claim that Rafa's fist pumps and shouts of "Vamos!" are unsportsmanlike, I can only say that I believe them to be the result of emotional exuberance, and are not done to spite his opponents -- there is no malice in them.)

Get ready to jump all over me, but I believe that this personality difference is often observable in their fan bases as well. When I read some of the reader commentary on espn,, and msnbc, I feel that a lot (not all!) of the Federer KADs almost hate Rafa, and are so often banging on about how unfair it is that he is always taking too much time between points, how repulsive he is with pulling at the back of his pants, etc, etc.... Some of them have even diagnosed him with obsessive compulsive disorger. They too often accuse others who suggest mitigating circumstances (e.g., the effects of the rain delays at Wimbledon) as "making excuses for Rafa." Many (most?) Rafa KADs, on the other hand, are more than willing to give Roger his due. I often wish that Roger's fans worked on their emotional issues as much as Roger has worked on his.

During the first set of the Wimbledon final, a deep male voice boomed out from the stands, "I love you Rafa!"

He spoke for so many of us.


Anonymous said...

amateurish psycho-babble from a RafaKAD.

Craig Hickman said...

And do you have any amateurish psycho-babble to contribute as a RajaKAD so that we can talk about something tangible or are you only interested in attack?

oddman said...

What Helen W said.... amazing how there's at least two of us pyschobabbling about the very same thing, isn't it?

Love that kid! Vamos, Rafa!

Anonymous said...

i disagree with your take on Fed; his charitable works off the court speak for themselves. he was the one who sought out James Blake and Rafa when they were injured and gave them support. your take on him, i believe are extremely superficial and simply because you love Rafa you should not blind you to his gentlemanly characteristics whether he was born with them or whether he cultivated them. he remains the greatest of his generation.

Mad Professah said...

Oh, the draam! LOL I guess that's what makes it interesting...

Either you're a RafaKAD or a RajaKAD. After all, only one person can win a match.

I admire them both, but prefer Raja.

edma1022 said...

Craig, what is the point of submitting an amateurish psychobabble from a FedTard (in his defense) if it will never ever see the light of day and published in the same reverent spot in your blog?

Craig Hickman said...


I'll answer a question with a question:

Are you suggesting that I wouldn't post an eloquent musing from a FedTard if I received one in an email?

Craig Hickman said...


Quiet as it's kept, I'm neither a RafaKAD nor a RajaKAD.

We exist.

I admire them for some of the same and different reasons. I dislike them for entirely different reasons.

helen w said...

In response to anonymous (4:03):

Since I stated front and center that "Both of these men are fabulous players and great gentlemen" I am at a loss to understand why you think that I am blind to "his gentlemanly characteristics."

It appears that simple comparisons are often interpreted as attacks. If I make the observation that Federer's first serve is better than Nadal's, most tennis fans, including Rafa KADs, will agree. If I make the observation that Nadal's court coverage is better than Nadal's, I am too often accused of attacking Federer, and especially by some of his fans. Yet both are just observations.

helen w said...

Craig, when you say:

"I admire them for some of the same and different reasons. I dislike them for entirely different reasons."

are you talking about the players, their fans, or someone else?

Craig Hickman said...

helen w,

Oops, sorry. I was talking about the players.

sher said...

Well for one Tu is higher in the rankings, I think 40 to King's 80, so that speaks for itself. But even so, King's game is lackluster...Neither of them could really bother Petrova, naturally, but I sense Tu made it look less easy.

Helen W:

[Many (most?) Rafa KADs, on the other hand, are more than willing to give Roger his due]

Really? I'd love to see that in an example, because KADs by nature aren't able to see reason. Whatever their player does is always good, and whatever the other player does is always bad. That's the nature of KAD-ship.

Therefore Rafa's KADs will go on and on till kingdom come about how Rafa deserved to win Wimbledon (um...), how he wasn't favored in the draw (Youzhny, Djokovic), how he is an angel in the human's body.

C'mon. He's human and just as prone to emotional outbursts in a tight spot -- witness his reaction to Soderling. And while I don't blame him for it at all, because under stress people do strange things, I would never go so far as to say that Rafa is somehow a "better person" than Roger, which you seem to be implying in your commentary. Rafa has his Berdychs and Soderlings, just like Roger has his Hawkeyes and suits.

It's a credit to them both, that it's so out of character we feel the need to remark on it.

helen w said...

Craig, do you really dislike them both? Or do you mean that there are things that you dislike about each of them?

helen w said...

In response to Sher:

I don't think all KADs are by definition completely blind. I am using the term to mean someone who has an acknowledged favourite. To me that does not necessarily imply that they see their favourite as perfect and every other player as undeserving.

I did not mean to say (nor have I any way of knowing) that Rafa is a "better person" than Roger. Indeed I could only make such a generalization if I had a lot of knowledge about the persons involved, which I have never claimed to have. I am saying that I observer certain differences between them, and I went on to theorize about where those differences may have come from, and how they affect the players, and how they may affect how people, and particularly fans, react to them.

As far as their fans go, of course there are blind & intolerant folk in both of the fan bases, but in my observation, there is decidely more Nadal haters in Roger's fan base than there are Federer haters in Rafa's. And just to be clear, I do not include either you or mad professah in the "haters".

Craig Hickman said...

helen w,

I am saying that there things I like and dislike about both players. The same can be said for my favorites. I'm an equal opportunity critic.

edma1022 said...

Craig: "Are you suggesting that I wouldn't post an eloquent musing from a FedTard if I received one in an email?"

Answer: "Are you out looking for one?"

(btw, I like 20 questions. It's so cool)

Craig Hickman said...


Haven't you figured me the kind of person who doesn't look for much of anything but will always embrace, in one way or another, all that is put before me?

Karen said...

Craig I love it when you get philosophical on this blog. Instead of being forthright with your answers you commence meandering through the murky waves of "toeing the line" in order not to offend. I believe that is what makes your blog so special and invites people of reasonable (LOL) intelligence to come and share their thoughts about their favourite sport. That being said, I am an acknowledged Fed KAD. I drink it with sugar and spice and everything nice. I just like him not only because of his playing abilities but guess what - his voice. Man when I hear that voice I just melt. I am all for a man with a nice voice. That being said I am also for men with a nice a** so you now know how I feel about Rafa. So, as you can see I too am an equal opportunity lover of tennis. LOL

Craig Hickman said...

Hey sher, I almost lost this comment in the other discussion:

"Well for one Tu is higher in the rankings, I think 40 to King's 80, so that speaks for itself. But even so, King's game is lackluster...Neither of them could really bother Petrova, naturally, but I sense Tu made it look less easy."

While that may be true, I still find it a poor choice to play Tu for the first time in Fed Cup in a semifinal tie in the rubber that can clench victory for the US. Nadia Petrova admitted after the doubles rubber that she felt no pressure. But that her nerves were a mess during the singles rubber because she was playing to keep Russia in the tie. At least Vania King has experience closing out a tie for the US. We'll never know what would have happened in that rubber since King didn't play it, but I'd bet she'd have given the US a better chance to advance than Tu.

It's water under the bridge now, but...

sher said...

Craig, *shrug* I really don't know. I suppose we'll see next time King plays Petrova how their games match up.

Craig Hickman said...

Sher, my take is that a person can lie without necessarily being a liar.

It's not that big a deal, really. His life.

sher said...

Craig, if not 'liar' then what do you call the person who lies? Delusional?

Helen W, I think we'll have to agree to disagree. Everywhere else online I've seen KAD used as "blindly obssessed fan" vs just "fan" of a certain player. As far as I'm concerned it's an insult which means that Kad-ee is incapable of seeing reason.

Craig Hickman said...


Sometimes people lie because they are afraid to tell the truth.

I reserve the label liar for the person who is so dishonest that s/he lies easier than s/he breathes. And there's almost always something cunning behind the lies.

sher said... defines it as:

–noun a person who tells lies."

It's sort of like when a person murders someone, they are a murderer even if they were really afraid.

Anyway. *shrug*

Craig Hickman said...

A liar can sometimes tell the truth.

An honest person can sometimes lie.

It's more about character than definition.

As I writer, I love the dictionary.

As an aware human being, I also know its definitions can be incomplete.