Ponchi Gonzalez has been hacking a ball on a tennis court since he was 8. His style of play is what his psychiatrist would describe as Paranoid-Schizophrenic: he does get to a lot of balls but then knows very little of what to do with them. When he is not roaming the halls and chat-rooms of TalkAboutTennis.com he works as a consultant to the Oil Industry, trying to tell them how to avoid Deepwater Horizon scenarios.
This year, it is a tad more interesting.
It is properly called Olympus Mons. In Greek mythology, Mount Olympus was the residence of gods. And, unlike religions that came after, Olympus was forbidden to non-gods. After you died, you went somewhere, most likely Hades, but not Olympus. Zeus and his court were the only inhabitants there, and they were not in the habit of renting space.
Something about driving on the wrong side of the road, you know.
Don’t believe me? How about that brand new roof over the main stadium, err, Centre Court? If it were for aesthetics, they would have never put up that roof. Admit it: when closed, Centre Court looks from above as if it had been manufactured by Tupperware. And then, Google the photographs for the 2008 Rafael Nadal/Roger Federer final and the Pete Sampras/Patrick Rafter final, and try to find anything more beautiful than the last photos, when the shadows were deep and the contrasts gorgeous. No, that had to go. When your ratings go down because Goran Ivanisevic and Rafter played the final on Monday, it is time to invest a few hundred million quid to get some more.
The 2012 French Open is such a tournament. Almost all players who've entered it have high stakes running at Roland Garros Stadium, which makes the tournament preposterously appealing.
No player entered the event with more to win than Novak Djokovic. If he can hold the trophy aloft on the Third Sunday, he will achieve several milestones.
Golf is a game, and a wonderful one. Maddeningly difficult, it is addictive. It brings a lot of mixed feelings. Any golfer that has found himself deep in the rough has had the little devil on the left shoulder saying, “C’mon, just throw it out there on the fairway. No one will notice”.
Officially, I dislike golf. But on Sunday, April 8, I found myself glued to the TV during the final three holes of the Masters, watching Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen slowly play out their drama. It was compelling, and I thought that what I experienced was maybe the same sensation that those people who do not follow tennis regularly got when they stumbled into the fifth set of the Djokovic-Nadal final at the Aussie Open (or, even better, the fifth set of Nadal-Federer at the 2008 Wimbledon final).
I was introduced to the greatness of live Grand Slam tennis way back in 1995, at the Wimbledon Championships. In awe of all things related to tennis and its history, I was witness to several great days of the best tennis in the world. In those halcyon days, the era of serve and volley was slowly coming to an end (in the men's field; the women had buried it already) but the sleek grass courts at Church Road were the last stronghold of that art. Coupled with the presence of Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanisevic, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, the pace of play was fast and relentless. And amid the many things I recall I got from those two weeks was the appreciation that tennis is a sport of commitment.
Not only the type of commitment that I will dub "MACRO commitment," the commitment that every young player that dreams of tennis glory has to make early in his or her life, that particular dedication of several hours a day needed to properly hone a forehand, learn a backhand to the point of automation, and understand the geometry of a court. I refer also to "MICRO commitments," the instantaneous decisions that a player must make when he or she decides on what stroke to hit, where and how. The fast courts of Wimbledon, in 1995 not yet slowed down to increase the length of rallies, were the epitome of the fast decisionmaking process that a tennis player must go through when the ball is in play.
No doubt was left, either, that Nadal had lost the match.
And we are glad.
Excuse me for the familiar tone, which may be misconstrued as disrespectful. But it is just that you are really not that awe-inspiring. Yes, you are a Grand Slam, and yes, you have a wonderful history, but you really have that aura that you are not stuffy or, heaven forbid, a snob.
Seriously. You are officially known as the KIA Australian Open, and, no offense - KIA makes some very good cars, but can you picture Wimbledon being named The KIA Championships? Heck, they would probably balk at being known as The Rolls Royce Championships.
Novak Djokovic - You had your dream year. The only thing that could beat you was your shoulder and the chronic case of the sniffu’s that you are famous for. So the question for you in 2012 is: Was your 2011 Mats Wilander’s 1988, or will it be Roger’s 2004?
Rafael Nadal - You had your dream year in 2010, and 2011 was to be just the consolidation. Really, you had a great year for anybody else’s standards (except Roger’s) but when we began the year all we could talk about was whether you would win your fourth straight Slam at the Aussie. 12 months later, you are faced with a question you never faced before. Before, it was always about you: Could you improve your serve? Your Volleys? How about your knees, would they hold up? You finished on a high note, winning the Davis Cup. But now it is not about you. The question now is: Can you figure out Novak?
Before somebody tells me she is not the only one, let me be the first: she is not the only one. See, for example, how Marion Bartoli shadow boxes her return of serve before getting into position. Bartoli is a fine athlete and she approaches forehands and backhands with the same ferocity she probably displays towards a stack of Crepes Suzettes, but when she turns her back to her opponent and practices hallucinatory returns of serve, you really have to wonder what message she is sending to her opponent. Confidence brimming it is not.