Querido Rafa

News, notes, commentary, the occasional treatise, a few rants, perhaps an open letter or two, generally pithy and incisive observations, and substantial doses of whimsy, all about tennis and/or Rafa.

Cider Mulling

Since I’ve already spilled pretty much all the words there are to be spilled over the myriad of reasons why Rafa’s appendix decision (mulling the absurdity of that being an actual thing. Also, cider. #multiplemeaningwords) makes no sense (update: it still makes no sense; I mean, I get it–the antibiotics made the appendicitis go away so Rafa’s not at risk of like, collapsing on court (at this point, at least). But, even given that, is he really in a condition suited to playing a professional sport? And why does he even want to? Just in general, matches played in October and November don’t have a whole lot of bearing on matches played in late January, so I don’t get his obsession with getting matches in. He just needs to accept that the second half of the season is/was a wash and move on. Moreover, these matches are basically junk matches for him given that he’s conceded he’s not in top physical form nor does he have any expectations to actually win anything,  so they have even less bearing, except for possibly a negative bearing, i.e. if Rafa loses five matches in a row between now and November, or even wins like one or two but continues to eventually lose wanly to the likes of Klizan and Feli, that’s not exactly going to set him up well for next year. And, the fact remains the appendicitis could come back, at any time, and then he might have to get emergency surgery in Basel, Paris, or London, which is basically what this entire situation was based around avoiding, and if he ends up getting it anyway, it’s just going to become more and more apparent he should have just had it in China to begin with, or at least immediately upon return to Spain, and he would have just wasted weeks and weeks of time for nothing, and possibly made the whole situation, medically and tennis-wise, much worse as a result. He also could develop a whole new injury in the next few weeks, in part because he’s insisting on playing when his body isn’t really up to it and he’s recently been on heavy-duty antibiotics, which he admits makes him more vulnerable to injury than usual, which isn’t exactly invulnerable to begin with. And, even if he makes it to November, he’s counting on recovering and being able to train within basically 4 weeks, which maybe technically is possible, but given Rafa’s history of often taking more than the expected time to recover from stuff, not to mention the fact that there is also always a risk of surgery not going as planned and then he might have to get the more complicated/longer-recovery-requiring procedure to begin with instead of the keyhole surgery, so I don’t get why he’s basing his decisions around the best possible scenario or even the “normal” scenario when he must know that it’s quite possible that’s not how it’s going to happen and if that’s the case, he’s not going to be able to play by January. And, he hasn’t even confirmed a date for the surgery yet. He’s just going to keep playing and see how things go. I mean, it’s weird. This is kind of an important thing and he’s dragging it out and making it way more complicated than it needs to be and it’s a little frustrating to see. Obviously I hope he gets away with it and I hope what I consider some pretty shaky decision making and bizarre procrastination does not come back to haunt him and that come February 1 I’m chuckling sheepishly to myself and thinking, “Rafa was right, I was wrong! He had it figured out all along, didn’t he??” And I do think there is a chance(ish) of that. But I’m definitely not confident.), I’m not going to spill any more words. Except those 630. After that, no more words! Well, if we count those, it’s actually 642. But starting now, seriously no more words. 649. Seriously! Pare con las palabras! 654. must st 655.5.

Now that the spillage is over, I can return to the regularly-scheduled programming of cider mulling. Fall is here! And what better way to put some flourish in your Fall and make it Falltastic! than to Fmull some Fcider! How? Well, it’s easy as 1, 2, 3. First, acquire some cider. Then, mull it! Finally, drink it! You’ll be the envy of everyone you know.

I may need to stick with tennis.

Also never nevermind about the spillage Rafa is perfect everything he does is perfect he is perfect.

Appendix R

Of all the things I thought I would ever blog about in relation to Rafa in this space–Rafa’s appendix was not one of them. And yet…

The saga of Rafa’s appendix continues, as he has what appears to be the first ever case of appendicitis (which apparently his current doctor isn’t even calling appendicitis but instead a “cuadro apendicular,” i.e. “appendix condition/problem/event,” or something like that?) in which the doctor prescribes a “wait and see” approach, despite the fact that said doctor acknowledges that surgery is inevitable. As I mentioned previously, I am not technically a doctor myself, but, I basically am, as I was an avid viewer of ER back in the day, not to mention my middle school General Hospital phase (still mad about them giving Jason amnesia). So given my credentials, I am uniquely qualified to say that this whole situation is super-weird at this point and I don’t get why the surgery is being debated and delayed–potentially by as much as another five weeks, if Rafa does indeed play the rest of the season as he stated he (tentatively) planned to do in China–when everyone agrees it has to be done and everyone agrees that Rafa being prepared for and able to play next season when it starts in January is the priority, and, just in general, when people go to the hospital with appendicitis, the doctors don’t generally send them home and say, “take a bunch of antibiotics for a while and I don’t know, maybe we’ll do the surgery in a month, if we feel like it.” When the appendix is inflamed, they take it out; they don’t wait for the inflammation to go down, then take it out. That’s just not how it works. Remember when Dr. Benton got appendicitis and he was in denial and he used the ultrasound machine to look at it and finally he admitted he had to get it taken out and Dr. Carter did the surgery? #proof It’s somewhat understandable that Rafa took the option that allowed him to avoid emergency surgery while in China (granted had he had it then, he’d be sipping protein shakes by the pool right now, on the road to recovery, rather than remaining in an uncomfortable limbo), but less understandable that he’s being advised to continue the antibiotics (which aren’t without potentially harmful side effects) instead of having immediate surgery now.

In any case, though, Rafa & co. are supposed to make a decision within the next week about what to do, and obviously one assumes the decision will be in Rafa’s best interest, most importantly, health-wise, and secondarily, tennis/career-wise, granted one has assumed a few things re: Rafa these past few weeks, and one’s assumption accuracy rate has plummeted as a result (btw, in case it’s not clear, one = me). If surgery is delayed until after the WTFs, I feel like the chances of Rafa playing Australia are pretty low, because the recovery will take a while/most likely longer than expected and even if he’s technically medically-cleared come January, Rafa will not have had much time to train and he doesn’t seem comfortable playing Majors lacking optimal health/conditioning/training and/or when he feels like he doesn’t have reasonable chances to win the tournament. (why he’s potentially comfortable playing Shanghai and potentially Basel, Paris, and the WTFs in this state remains a sizeable mystery.) If that’s what happens, that’s what happens. Hopefully he would at least be ready for South American clay and/or Indian Wells. Given the unrelenting rockiness of this season and some past seasons, I think I’ve finally grown accustomed to Rafa being injured/ill/out and it’s no longer the earth-shattering development it used to be. It’s unfortunate, it’s worrying in relation to Rafa’s career continuation/longevity/future success (the strain of constantly coming back from injury and Rafa’s awareness of the fleetingness of time left for him on the tour was soberingly apparent in his Beijing presser), but, it’s not unique–many players deal with similar if not even more serious injuries and illnesses–and as Rafa might say, nothing to do but accept, and as I might say, let’s just hope Rafa regains full health as soon as possible and think about how extra-special the French Open could be next year for Rafa if he manages to win it after all this.

When It Rains

Rafa gets appendicitis and decides to play anyway. (Pretty sure that’s how the saying goes.)

So I’m admittedly the one who advocated for Rafa to play the U.S. Open with his wrist injury, because the fact is, he could hit six of his seven main shots (serve, overhead, forehand, slice backhand, forehand and backhand volley), and he could run, and being able to do 7 of the 8 main things required for tennis ain’t bad, especially when it’s Rafa we’re talking about, who does at least 6/8 things better than pretty much anyone. He also could, most notably, control how much, if any, he used the right wrist, meaning–he could play without necessarily making the injury worse. Could he play his best? Could he play in perfect conditions? Could he win the tournament? No, no, and probably no. But he could play, safely; he could go out and run around on the court and not use the hurt body part, which with a lot of other injuries or illnesses, is not possible, therefore I felt it only made sense for Rafa to play when he could at least go out on the court and hold a racquet and hit forehands and run even if it wasn’t the perfect situation because imperfect is relative and who knows what would befall him next.

Well now we know what befalls him next, and it’s appendicitis, and bizarrely, yes, bizarrely, he’s going to play anyway, using the logic I was using for him to p lay the U.S. Open, except the logic doesn’t apply in this case because it’s freaking appendicitis. Obviously yes, appendicitis can be treated with antibiotics and obviously yes, he does not, at this point, have a severe case. But–it just doesn’t make sense. No one can really predict or control what’s going to happen, even with the antibiotics. The body does what the body does and this isn’t about will or grit or dedication or pain tolerance, it’s about an inflamed internal organ that has given Rafa a warning and I don’t care if I’m not a doctor, he should heed that warning instead of at best delaying the inevitable and potentially interfering with next season’s preparations and/or play and at worst really putting himself at a serious risk of a serious problem, for a tournament that doesn’t even matter that much, and even if it was a tournament that mattered a lot, it still wouldn’t make sense, but at least it might make a little more sense, but in general, no, no sense, because this is like, his overall health/life, not an isolated injury to an isolated body part that if something went wrong with it after playing at worst would make him unable to play more tennis, not unable to like, you know–live. So he was conservative and didn’t play when he technically probably could have this past summer, and now because of that/feeling pressure to be back on the tour after 3 months away, he’s being the opposite of conservative and playing when he definitely should not be playing, during a less important stretch of the season for him, no less. If he wants to be conservative, fine, then he should be conservative, consistently–but to be conservative and then later be downright reckless because of the previous conservativeness is just…just…#nowords There’s no benefit to him playing with appendicitis. It’s not going to give him rhythm, it’s not going to make up for lost time, and it’s not going to set him up well for next year. It’s just going to be Rafa, playing in pain, struggling, with appendicitis, and taking, even if small, a ridiculous risk that is so not worth it. I said the other day that “now matters” (although Rafa continues to maintain (more understandably now, obviously) that he doesn’t expect to play well or win, but that just makes his determination to play even weirder, particularly given that he cited not feeling that he couldn’t win as a reason he skipped the USO…) and I’ve said before that I think there’s some intrinsic value in showing up…but not with appendicitis.

I really hope he comes to his senses and changes his mind and withdraws (and/or loses in like 49 minutes to Feli or something) and goes home and gets the surgery and focuses on next year. This is crazy and completely unnecessary.

‘Memba Him.


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And him…


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And him…


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After two welcome appearances by Win Rafa in Beijing, Lose Rafa made his slightly less welcome return as well, and not just Standard Lose Rafa, but like, How In The World Did He Lose That From A Set And A Break And A Point From A Double Break And Yet Another Break In The Third Before Losing Like A Dozen Points In A Row To Martin Klizan Or Something Rafa. Yeah. That Rafa.

I’m gonna lie, this loss means nothing. #seewhatIdidthere I know it’s fashionable and/or required to deem all of Rafa’s losses meaningless, but to me that doesn’t make sense; the wins can’t have value unless the losses also have value. Sometimes it seems like increasingly tinier and tinier slivers of the season “count” for Rafa. If he’s not coming back from and/or still harboring an injury and correspondingly rusty/non-confident/non-ready for competition at the top level and therefore the results don’t really matter, then he’s coming off playing too many matches and correspondingly exhausted/mentally fried/non-ready for competition at the top level and therefore the results don’t really matter. As a fan, it’s a little frustrating. When do the results matter? When is it appropriate to expect Rafa to play good tennis? To close out a match from 7-6, 4-2 up? To think not closing out a match from 7-6, 4-2 up against Klizan is kind of a big (bad) deal? Ever? Never? I know a lot of people subscribe to the latter, but I can’t do that, in part because never having any expectations just kind of seems unnatural to me as a sports fan, and in part because it’s so diametrically opposed to how most other sports operate, where coaches and players are held more accountable by others for their performances–i.e. coaches get fired, players get benched and/or released for poor team and individual performances, respectively–and talk to the press/public with that in mind–e.g. LeBron James is never going say he considers games just practice, that he doesn’t expect to play well, that he doesn’t think his team can win; a football coach is never going to concede that his team is too injured or tired to be successful. Everyone is always saying they expect to win and they’re going to play amazingly well, even if it’s not that likely. Tennis is obviously very different, because the players don’t answer to anyone but themselves, which allows them, if they so choose, to be more honest about exactly what they’re thinking and feeling. In general, I appreciate and admire Rafa’s honesty. But, it can be jarring in comparison with the braggadocio that characterizes other sports figures, and, as mentioned above, it’s a little concerning that he’s developed a pattern of not playing significant chunks of the season and reducing many of the ones he does play to “practice” or “not really counting” due to injury or exhaustion or rustiness (and which can at times seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy of negativity and low expectations–Rafa mentioned yesterday “knowing” matches like yesterday would happen, but did that really need to happen? Against a better player, maybe, but against Klizan?) If this continues…eventually, what’s going to be left? (And if it’s just clay, it’s just clay–I have no problem with that (and already find myself thinking along the lines of “Rafa lost? Was it at the French Open? No? Then everything’s fine.”) but he was compromised for most of even the clay season this year with the back and whatever else…). Rafa mentioned in his presser that he’s already thinking about off-season training and preparing for Australia (very smart/encouraging move by him to nix the IPTL), which is good, but…now matters too. De-importantizing the present and assuming that the future is when/where things will come together is risky.

That said, this was Rafa’s first tournament back from a 3-month layoff; even when his first tournament back is on clay, of which he is the King, he’s not his best playing self, so obviously he’s going to be below par when he returns on hard/indoor courts. And, there’s no getting around the fact that the Fall has always been pretty desolate for him in terms of titles and good tennis, even in his best seasons, in part because of the too much tennis/injury issues (although this raises the question of what, exactly, is “just right” for him in terms of match play–it always seems like it’s either too much or too little, and weirdly he said he felt more tired now having not played much lately than players who have been “in rhythm” already on the tour, yet when he’s been in that position himself, he’s often seemed haggard and out of it by the time October rolls around…it’s getting into “no win” territory, literally), and in part because indoor hard courts are just not his best surface, as they favor bigger/flatter hitters. To expect Rafa to have a great Fall season in his 12th year on tour or something when he hasn’t ever had a great Fall season in the 11 years prior and/or for, as happened last year in Acapulco, for the Tennis God that lives inside Rafa to stomp his self-doubt and self-defeating thinking and Head ball angst and generalized angst and ultra-low expectations into submission and be like, “Yeah, we’re going to stop with all that and play Champion’s tennis, with or without your advance permission, Rafa,” would be vaguely lunatical (*waves*).

‘Memba Him?

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Raar!

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Ra-ra Raar!

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RARARAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWRafa.

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Don’t be jealous of my way with words.

So Rafa played his first match since he stood me up at the U.S. Open July today, and he won! Raar! Ra-ra Raar! RARARAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWRafa.

When you got a way with the words, you gotta way with the words.

In truth, I was about 70 65 70 60 65 67 63 22 52 1 500 70% sure Rafa would win today because obviously he has a good record against Gasquet as it is and Gasquet has been injured on and off for a while himself as it is and Gasquet in general just doesn’t play a game that troubles Rafa and in fact seems to play a game that plays into Rafa’s strengths. Did I mention Gasquet has the most beautiful game in tennis and everyone should play it? Because he does, and they should. (Except Rafa. He can keep playing his game.)

Next up for Rafa is Peter Gojowczyk, otherwise known as the guy who took Rafa to 3 in Doha, otherwise known as one of the participants in the greatest video of all time.

 

QR’s UnHibernated Beijing Draw Analysis

So. I have emerged from my hibernation of late (fun fact: I am actually an anthropomorphic bear) and bear oh bear, a lot has changed in the tennis world. For example, Marin Cilic is a Grand Slam champion. Also, Li Na has retired. Also, Spain is out of the World Group in Davis Cup. Also, Rafa has acquired Dave Coulier’s haircut from 1985. Also he has a new ATP profile pic and upon first glance it kind of looks like he has one of those tiny hippie braids across the front (I approve). Also Rafa wearing skinny jeans is maybe my favorite thing in life. Next to honey, of course. (I’m of the Winnie-the-Pooh variety.)

And now, Rafa’s in Beijing. Obviously, this being a 500 event and all, Rafa should be able to waltz in and, despite the fact he’s coming off of a 3-month layoff and he is generally more susceptible to rust than a bike ridden through a monsoon, win it. I mean, that’s what 500 events are for–quick, easy, confidence-building wins for top players like Rafa. Look at Barcelona–every year Rafa wins because that’s what Barcelona is for–for Rafa to win. I mean can you imagine Rafa not winning Barcelona? Jajajaj

So occasionally 500 events are actually harder than they look. But, this being the Fall season and all, when a lot of guys are running on fumes and/or already have one foot in the Maldives, the Beijing draw will obviously be weak and Rafa will simply need to show up, put forth a semi-decent effort, and beat, like, Ebden, Rola, Sijsling, Fer, and then like, Sam Querrey in the final or something. Right?? Right.

Kat on the Loose

First, thanks to everyone for the Blogiversary well wishes, as well as for sharing thoughts about the current Rafa situation. I realize some will agree with me, some will not agree with me, some will partially agree with me, some will think I’m crazy –and I think that’s totally fine, particularly as I myself fall into all four categories, depending on the hour and/or minute (and/or second…). I also realize the limits of my knowledge and by no means think that I’m “right” or even that there is a “right.” My feelings are meandering and rambling and conflicting, but I’ll be honest–it doesn’t all quite add up for me at this point. I do wonder if there is something else going on–if there is another injury Rafa’s not disclosing, if the wrist is way more severe than initially thought or reported, if there’s a mental/burnout aspect to the absence, or if there’s an additional reason Rafa wants/needs to be home right now. Or, maybe it really is just what Rafa says–a slightly wonky right wrist that he is not comfortable playing with. If the former, maybe it will become clear in the coming weeks or months. If the latter, I do still have my “showing up” issues, but obviously it’s Rafa’s career and he’s in charge and he’s the one who knows himself best and who is obviously most directly affected by his decisions. And obviously I’ll never not be a fan of Rafa, even if I don’t agree with or understand everything he does. Even his biggest rivals admit that tournaments are not the same without him and the excitement he brings to them. He is a revelation on the tennis court, and as an athlete. He also has, to quote the great Jesse McCartney, a beautiful soul. None of that is ever up for debate.

Admittedly, one of the reasons my devastatedness vis-à-vis Rafa’s absence most likely climbed from mild to medium on the salsa/devastated meter was because I had plans to attend the U.S. Open this year and as part of those plans, I had obviously hoped to see Rafa play a competitive match. But, obviously I also know as a tennis fan that anything can happen and nothing is guaranteed–your guy can withdraw just before a tournament, your guy can withdraw during a tournament, your guy can retire one game into his first match, your guy can lose his first match. And yet, as I’ve detailed previously, this withdrawal was particularly shocking/punch in the gut-ish, since there was absolutely no indication Rafa was having any physical issues going into the summer. And yet, as a Rafa fan, one kind of always knows/fears that if Rafa has gone a few months without withdrawing from something, a withdrawal is likely imminent, because that’s his pattern, and life is largely (granted, with some exceptions) pattern-driven–i.e. the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. (this obviously also works in Rafa’s favor in many cases. See: clay; comebacks). (this is, also, one of the reasons situations like this are increasingly striking such fear in me–Rafa has a tendency to make pretty dramatic announcements somewhat out of nowhere…). So, not gonna lie–I was disappointed in general, for Rafa, and, also for myself. But, I knew I could/would still have a good time, and I was still very excited to experience my first ever Major, and my first live tournament in many years. Here’s a very long, not particularly well-ordered or organized list of what I learned/observed/enjoyed:

1. Angelique Kerber’s style of play and attitude are immediately discernible, even to a person completely uninitiated to tennis; my companion on Day 1 fell into said category, and after approximately 72 seconds of watching Kerber play: “She gets all her power from her legs!” After 97 seconds: “Geez, she’s kind of a brat.”
2. Pico tries really hard but does not have weapons, meaning even when he was even at a set a piece and had 3 points to go up 2 sets to 1 on Tsonga, it did not seem like he was going to win.
3. Tucked-in Jo is inexplicably way more likable than non-tucked-in Jo. I’ve never been a particular fan of Jo–I’ve always found him vaguely arrogant, whiny, and wasteful of his talent–but ever since he debuted the tucked-in shirt in Toronto, I’ve been seeing him anew. (Granted, the wastefulness was on full display as he largely slept-walked through the first three sets vs. Pico before dramatically eschewing his hat in the third set TB and getting down to business.)
4. The heat is hot: Speaking of business, I have absolutely no business complaining about the weather during my time at the Open, because bottom line, it was gorgeous. Sunny, warm, blue skies, and deliciously cool at night, to boot. Also, it’s obviously somewhat comical for a spectator who does nothing but sit to take issue with the heat when the players are running around for hours in it. And, one of my big concerns coming in was dealing with rain delays and disappointment/discomfort therein and potentially figuring out if I could stay an extra day if there were significant delays or cancellations, and in a (rare and deeply appreciated) stroke of good luck, those worries turned out to be unfounded. Howevers. I typically enjoy the outdoors in 1-4 hour spurts, and often in partial shade; I rarely position myself in direct sunlight for 8+ hours (there are shaded seats on some courts, but they were rarely untaken by the time I showed up.) Moreover, the courts conduct heat, so even if it’s 88 degrees outside–warm but not stifling–it’s a blazing 500 degrees or so on the court (give or take a degree or so). So, it was a bit of an adjustment, particularly on Tuesday, which was a touch and/or slap hotter than Monday (although I know Wednesday, the day I left, was worse.) Having spent the morning running around Central Park and presumably having gotten all of my sweat out already (key word there being presumably; speaking of presumably, I was passed while there by what I presume to have been a junior tennis player and his coach; they were speaking a language I did not immediately recognize and the player was wearing a “Good to Great Academy” t-shirt), I didn’t arrive at the tournament until around 12:30. I had thoughts of trying to see Nishikori, but was slightly turned off by the fact he was playing Odesnik and instead ended up wandering aimlessly toward court 7, where I took a seat on the bleachers behind Lepchenko-Van Uytvanck and watched Lepechenko close it out. It was during this time that I noticed I had begun to melt slightly, i.e. my face had started to drip (white, sunblock-laden) sweat. Hmmm, this is…different, I thought. I watched Rogers-Zanevska take the court, noticing that Zanevska’s dress looked like a regular dress and not a tennis dress. That match wasn’t particularly appealing to me so I continued to wander, noticing a slightly sizeable crowd outside court 8. Who’s playing here, I wondered as I squeezed into a crevice attempting to see the scoreboard. Just then Marcel Granollers’ head appeared in front of me–he was toweling off in the corner, just by the opening of the court. Marcy! I thought (but restrained myself from saying aloud). His heavily-lashed deep-set eyes, which don’t photograph particularly well, are quite stunning in person. Then I remembered he was playing Melzer and I understood why this was a popular match–two relatively well-known players on an outer court. I got a seat one row behind Marcel’s chair and settled in for the end of the match (Marcel was up 2 sets to love, and a break in the third, although Melzer had at least a couple of BPs in the subsequent games). And…I kept dripping. Like, uncontrollably dripping sweat. I had my obnoxiously giant sun hat on; I had my giant sunglasses on; I was wearing light, cool, breathable clothing; I had eaten before I came; I had been drinking water like it was my job (which it basically was at this point, given the rapid fluid loss that was occurring). And yet…the sweat. Rafa in South America-like. Yeah. I rifled around in my purse and found a partially shredded brown paper napkin from the taco joint I had eaten at on Sunday night and began attempting to daintily dab away the perspiration. Obviously this was not sufficient, so I reluctantly sacrificed the sleeve of my white shirt. Marcel walked toward me (also possibly his chair.) He did not seem to notice my sweat attack. He may have had other things on his mind. I considered leaving, but, I felt somewhat paralyzed by the sweat, and I also wanted to see the end of the match. So I kept watching, and sweating. To distract myself from the non-stop rivulets, I looked for Marc in Marcel’s coaching box; sadly, I did not see him. Finally the match was over and after watching Marcel sign a few autographs (I kept my distance due to the sweating problem), I exited the court. I decided I needed to eat something. I found a melted Kind bar in my purse and a partially shaded bench and attempted to eat it without making a mess, which was a big ask. I then found a bag of tissues I had thrown in my purse that morning and forgotten about and realized I had not in fact had to use the brown taco napkin. And at last, the sweat subsided.
5. Jack Sock’s forehand is very cool: Following the subsiding of the sweat, I made my way to the Grandstand to watch Sock-Andujar. It was still hot, but, my magical Kind bar had somehow stopped the waterfall. I remember Jim Courier once comparing Sock’s forehand to Rafa’s, saying it had as much or more or only slightly less RPMs on it, and thinking he was crazy. Well, he’s not crazy. Sock’s forehand is struck much differently–he generates all the pace and spin with a wrist/forearm snap/rollover rather than a bolo finish–but it is, like Rafa’s, and as stated above, very, very cool. (Not as cool as Rafa’s, clearly. But cool.)
6. Tommy Robredo has abandoned his sunnies: On Day 1, I decided to stop in at Robredo-Roger-Vasselin, Robredo being a player I’ve been aware of/followed to some degree for 10+ years at this point, and told my companion repeatedly that Robredo would be wearing sunglasses. “He always wears sunglasses!” I said excitedly (why I found this exciting, I do not know #blameitontheheat). He was not wearing sunglasses. #awkward
7. A $12 kale salad (yes, I am that person who buys $12 kale salads…) and a $5 cold Snapple are basically heaven after 9 hours in the sun with little food and lukewarm fountain water.
8. Contrarian observation #1: Practices are boring. Everyone always raves about watching practices, how cool it is, how interesting it is, etc. etc. Personally, I was bored, and not impressed, and left quickly, because it’s definitely not what I paid money to see. (granted, obviously I would have been more interested had it been Rafa practicing; as it was, I glimpsed only Mahut and Llodra (Mahut, and more specifically, his distinctive combination of hair and abs, is, by the way, recognizable from approximately a half-mile away), and Giraldo.
9. Contrarian observation #2: Arthur Ashe stadium is nice: Everything I’ve ever read about Ashe is negative–it’s too big, too impersonal, the upper deck views are terrible, you might as well watch on TV, etc. So I was prepared, and expecting, to dislike it, and in fact, given that I wasn’t going to be able to see Rafa, I was half-hoping the view would be so bad it wouldn’t matter anyway. Well, that’s not what happened. I liked it! The seats were comfortable, there was plenty of leg-room (as opposed to Armstrong, in which it is literally impossible to sit completely frontward if you are over 5’9 or so) and I found the view completely acceptable–I would have been quite content watching Rafa from that distance. The atmosphere is very casual and baseball-stadium-like, which I also enjoy, granted people did tend to take it to extremes a bit on Tuesday night, with constant flows of traffic in and out during points.
10. Contrarian observation #3: Fans know their stuff: Tournament attendees, and in particular American tournament attendees, get a lot of flack from hardcore tennis fans/fellow attendees for being uninformed and naive and hopelessly mixed up, etc. My experience was the exact opposite. Everyone I overheard knew their tennis. The guys walking down the stairs talking about John Peers the doubles specialist. The guy next to me shouting “Vamos Pico!” after every other point. The woman a few seats down informing her friend in detail about Genie Bouchard’s background. The muppet-voiced kid sitting behind me in Ashe meticulously recounting the events of the past few months to his father (“Nadal lost to a 19-year-old at Wimbledon! 19!”) The sweet woman desperate to see Nishkori on Court 7 and who thanked me like I had just given her a million dollars when I informed her that I believed he was on court 17.
11. Gilles Simon amuses himself by bouncing balls between his chest and the back wall when his opponent argues with the umpire.
12. Madison Keys casually walks through the food court, alone, carrying two racquets; no one stops her.
13. I am slightly taller than Ekaterina Makarova. A lot taller than Estrella Burgos. Not as tall as the tall blonde guy carrying the red Prince bag who I unabashedly stared at trying to place him and who unabashedly stared back challenging me to place him, all to no avail–I thought for a moment Pospisil, but in the end, definitely not. Also not as tall as the guy with full sleeves on both arms who looked like PHM from the side but couldn’t have been PHM because I don’t think PHM has that many, if any, tattoos.
14. I didn’t tell Mirjana Lucic-Baroni that when I was 16, I was slightly entranced by/obsessed with her hair and her first name, but I thought it as she walked past me.
15. David Ferrer is as advertised: an absolute workhorse. You can feel the effort. Except after he went down a second break in the third set vs. Damir Dzumhur. On set point, Dzumhur hit a drop shot, and David Ferrer did not run for it. Let me repeat: David Ferrer did not run for it. It was weird. Luckily we’re all still here. And David got his act together (read: stopped missing every single backhand). (His opponent fought well, though, and had a nice “rouse the crowd” moment after a great point.)
16. Speaking of work–tennis is work! There’s a lot of talk from players about “having fun out there” and “enjoying myself on court” etc., which I’ve always felt was a questionable approach to begin with, and watching these opening round matches confirmed it. It’s work. Work can be fun–but it’s often not. Players who accept this seem to have higher chances of success than those chasing “the fun.”
17. Sometimes people tap you on the shoulder and say, “excuse me” and you think they’re just being polite as they brush past you and instead they casually cut in front of you in the line for court 17 and you’re like, what the actual fk?
18. Sometimes you feel a hand running down your back while sitting in the Grandstand and are basically ready to whip out any and all latent karate moves before realizing it is just a kindly, if slightly overly familiar, lady behind you warning you that you’re burning in the gap between your dress and bra strap, which is a bit embarrassing on multiple levels…
19. Sometimes yet another kindly if overly familiar lady grabs your hip for support and keeps it there for quite some time as she exits your row of seats. You may also get bashed in the head by a couple of purses from the row above at the same time and start to wonder if you accidentally wore a sign encouraging strangers to touch you.
20. I can’t make seats!: Speaking of court 17, it’s not ideal when a long line forms outside court 17 to see Gasquet-Istomin and the gatekeeper stares ahead blankly as they gather and there’s a long Deuce game meaning everyone is waiting for 15-20 minutes and then when a changeover finally comes she opens the gate and lets about 10 people through before closing it and saying, “There’s no more seats.” and then people are like, “There’s no more seats??” and she’s like, “Well, there are plenty of seats, but there on the other side. You have to walk over there.” and people are like, “We’ve been waiting here for 20 minutes!” and then a French photographer comes up and she’s like, “Oh, YOU can go in.” and then people are like, “What??!!” and she’s like, “I don’t know what you want me to say. I can’t MAKE seats.” (Fortunately, the gentleman manning the gate on the other side was kind enough to let everyone climb the stairs even after the changeover was over and watch from the top of the stadium before letting us in on the next changeover.)
21. Sitting at the top of court 17 watching Istomin-Gasquet on a Tuesday afternoon with a nice breeze wafting by is a decidedly pleasant experience . (granted, the sound of trucks driving around and offloading and loading stuff just behind the court hurts the ambiance just a bit).
22. Sitting in shade in Armstrong in the late afternoon watching Ferrer battle back after randomly dropping a set to the world #119–also very pleasant.
23. Denis Istomin seems to have dropped some weight. He also seems to have dropped some common sense–he lost the match on a point penalty on his second code violation for obscenity and/or racquet throwing.
24. Gasquet’s forehand was comfortingly Rafa-like (e.g. follow-through over his dominant shoulder).
25. Roger is not going to win the tournament unless he improves a lot in the next couple of weeks. In the first round, any time Matosevic got himself together enough to hit four or five decent shots in a row, Roger lost the point, usually with a shank. (Sidenote: Belated apologies to the Roger fans sitting around me for my gleeful shouts of “Shankerer!” during these times.)
26. Fer was still pounding his chest five minutes after finally beating Rola in five sets. (He also leaned over the railing and gave a guy in the crowd a bear hug just after the match. I think he knew him, but I’m not sure.) I was a little worried he might end up withdrawing before his next match with chest bruising. (he didn’t. He did lose, though.)
27. Just as he did a few years ago against Berlocq in the second round, Djokovic started getting a bit casual/jokey while playing, and dominating, Schwartzman in the first round. And then, soon enough–he got broken. And then he got angry. Similarly, Federer gave up a break lead in the third against Matosevic and came dangerously close to dropping the set after letting down his guard (granted, Matosevic’s behavior was very distracting).  Both made me appreciate, once again, Rafa’s supreme, laser-like focus at all times, against all opponents, in all rounds.
28. Roger’s very funny and charming in post-match interviews. (Of course, this only made me consider how Rafa would have been MORE funny and charming…)
29. One of the pluses of going to the Open on the first few days is that there are plenty of matches, and great seats, available. One of the negatives is that all the choices can be overwhelming, and by seeing one player/match, you inevitably miss another. For example, I didn’t see Murray, Nishikori, or Azarenka, even though I kind of had planned to. Overall, though, I was happy with the number of matches I managed to see, granted, I was disappointed that Berdych-Hewitt, Dimitrov-Harrison, and Thiem-Lacko were all scheduled for Wednesday, when I wasn’t there.
30. The atmosphere is very congenial and friendly on the grounds (if very crowded) and full of people who love tennis. Everything is relatively close to everything else, so it feels quite intimate even though it’s obviously a big tournament. It’s fun to be there.
31. The herding of massive groups of people like cattle in front of the fountain before the night session on Ashe is not great, although I know it’s a tough problem to solve given the constraints of space/time. They have at least solved whatever issues existed in the past with entry (as I was reminded by a chatty gentleman on the ride over, last year there were 2+ hour lines to get in on the first day; this year, I waited either not at all or less than 5 minutes.)
32.  There were lots and lots of Rafa-gear-clad fans on hand at all matches (there also was a somewhat fascinating female-Rafa-fan/male-Roger-fan couple). He was missed. I really hope he’s back next year.

Leather

I’ll keep this short and devastated.
(Mildly devastated. Maybe a little medium. But not hot. No, no, not hot. I have to keep this in perspective, after all. (Little known fact: devastateds are classified like salsas))

(Also this is obviously somewhat unpalatably untimely, which is in part owing to the somewhat amusing fact that I wrote this a couple of days ago and thought I had posted it, only to find it still socializing in the “Drafts” section today, because apparently navigating the difference between the not even alliterative as it is in email making it more understandable in that context (i.e. Save and Send) Save and Publish was a little beyond my faculties on Wednesday. Of course now I have some distance and am reading this back today and am cringing and laughing because despite my proclamation below that I’m not trying to be doomy and gloomy, it’s a little doomy and gloomy. But, I’m going to post it anyway because I already wrote it and this was indeed how I felt and do indeed still feel to some degree.)

So Rafa withdrew from the U.S. Open. It’s not shocking in the context of what’s unfolded over the past three weeks–withdrawals from Toronto and Cincinnati–but it remains shocking in the context of the situation in general–month-long vacation after winning the French and finishing Wimbledon not playing particularly well but at least in reasonably good health ends in a serious injury to one of the few body parts that Rafa’s never had trouble with before. It’s still all just kind of hard to fathom/comprehend/understand. It came out of nowhere. It came at a time when Rafa’s body was not under any particular stress. And now, completely unexpectedly, all of Rafa’s summer hard court titles are gone and the remainder of his season and who knows what else is in jeopardy. It’s like a nightmarish combination of knee injury ’12 and back injury ’14.

This is a hard one. I don’t want to be unnecessarily or dramatically doomy and gloomy. I also can’t ignore the facts. He can’t make it through a season without minimum one, and this year, two, serious injuries. He can’t make it through a full season, period. (And yes, the season is long and grueling (granted, not so much for Rafa in these injury-abbreviated ones, ironically). But…a lot of guys make it through. And Rafa is directly competing with those guys, so him not being able to make it through is a problem. A big problem.) Not being able to make it through seasons, being constantly hampered by injury after injury, getting better from one injury only to be felled by a new one a few weeks or months later…it’s not good. It’s not promising. As much as it almost literally pains me and at the very least causes me to close my eyes and scrunch up my face bracingly when even thinking about it–it’s the kind of thing that happens to guys at the tail-end of their careers. The body rebels; they just can’t stay healthy for any extended period of time. And then it’s over.

Obviously at this point the true severity and ramifications of the wrist injury are unknown. A small detachment of an interior something or other has suddenly become three withdrawals including a lost Major. Is this season-ending? I won’t be surprised if so, and honestly it might be better that way. The fall is a vast wasteland in general in tennis, and even moreso for Rafa, who is partially solar-powered. He doesn’t like indoor tennis, and it shows, in his attitude and play (yes, he generally has a decent showing, but he also consistently eventually gets meekly blown out by often overall lesser players in the later rounds, which is not particularly fun to watch). Moreover, indoor is his worst surface; worst surfaces tend to get worser as a player ages. Rafa’s not going to suddenly become the indoor king at age 28 after struggling with it for 10 years prior. So I don’t see Rafa ever having tremendous success in that part of the season moving forward, and in a way, I almost think he would be better off skipping it (which is going to directly contradict what I’m going to say below, but oh well), because it burns him out and leads, in part, to him showing up in Australia unfit almost every year (One injury? Bad luck. Two injury? Maybe…bad luck? Three injury? There’s something wrong w/ his offseason/preseason training, or lack thereof. There’s no getting around that at his point, and his stubbornness in sticking to his patterns in that regard is yet another problem.)

The way Rafa is talking about the wrist now is startlingly similar, perhaps even identical, to how he talked about his knee in 2012–he’s in pain; he’ll come back when he’s no longer in pain. And so, once again, as I did in ’12, I have to wonder–what if he’s never not in some degree of pain? Is Rafa backing himself into a corner out of which there is no escape? Not wanting to be in pain is understandable. But, is it realistic, for him or any tennis player? Are his expectations too high? Is his pain tolerance too low, or, perhaps more accurately, has he reached his limit of having a high pain tolerance?, which is, once again, completely understandable, but–not necessarily conducive to being a professional tennis player.

Of course, another thing that pricks at the mind when reading these most recent quotes is that as it turned out, Rafa did still have knee pain when he returned in 2013. His goal of not returning until the pain was gone was not realistic, and it was later revealed that his team basically forced him back on the tour and he in fact was quite distraught over the state of his still painful knee during his early days in South America. But, he played. And he won. And eventually, while he was playing, and winning, his knee improved. So obviously one wonders now–is he being too conservative with the wrist? Might it improve while he’s playing? And even if not, what does he have to lose by giving it a try? This is an injury he can control to some degree–he doesn’t have to hit two-handed BHs. He can slice, he can run around, and when that’s not possible–he can let balls go by. Nobody would blame him. Everyone would respect the effort.

But he’s not playing because he doesn’t think he can win, which is probably true. (although–one never knows. He could have gotten a dream draw. He could have gotten walkovers. He could have found himself not playing a top 30 player ’til the second week, when the wrist all of a sudden felt pretty darn good. And it’s not as if injured players have never won big tournaments, after all.) I understand his reasoning; in this particular instance, I don’t agree with it. I think there is some intrinsic value in showing up. I think he’s hurting is reputation and legacy by missing so many important tournaments. I think “I won’t play if I can’t win” is a slightly juvenile attitude, and a dangerous one for Rafa to have as he gets older. I think pulling out of tournaments has become too routine, too casual, too much of a habit for him. I think if he can practice, he can play. (And he’s practicing. And I know in theory this should make me happy, but it’s not, because all I can think is: why in the hell is he hitting some of the best forehands in the world on a court in Mallorca and not in NYC?) I think he hasn’t played a match since July 1 and it’s August 22 and it’s time for him to get out of Mallorca and join his colleagues, many of whom also are nursing injuries, many of whom also are not perfect physically and not not in pain, on the tour. But, I respect his right to make his own decisions. But, I think it’s the wrong one. And, as mentioned above, I do wonder if Rafa is sometimes too conservative, too unwilling to make a go of it, and too willing to say, “I’m not perfect, so I’m not playing.” I just don’t know if he can afford to have that attitude, especially now, at age 28, with opportunities already dwindling as it is. Would Djokovic or Murray or Federer withdraw from the U.S. Open if they had a comparable injury? Would Berdych, Ferrer, or Gasquet? Would Rafa play if it were the French Open? Why was he willing to play Rio and IW with a bad back that affected him on every serve but not willing to play a Major with a bad wrist that he can at least limit the use of? I don’t completely understand the decision making process, although granted I’m not privy to the details of the injury. If he’s out until October, or next year, or ends up getting surgery, okay, then it was obviously unavoidable. If he shows up in three weeks time in Sao Paulo, though, it’s going to be little hard to swallow. I don’t want him to be severely injured, obviously, and I don’t want this to spiral into a ’12 situation, where every other week there’s speculation or even confirmation he might return–for Cincy or Winston Salem or the USO or Asia or the WTFs or Davis Cup or Abu Dhabi or Doha or the AO or maybe he’ll play doubles or maybe he’ll play the Manacor Tennis Club Intramural Championship–only for a barrage of Ws that are not Wins to come down the pike, along with ever-present and increasingly unattainable caveat that he’ll play when he’s not in pain–but I also don’t want this withdrawal to be unnecessary in retrospect, and if he plays Davis Cup on Sept 12, that’s how it’s going to seem.

So, so much for short. I think I nailed the devastated part though.

P.S. Yesterday was the blog’s third Blogiversary! (I know everyone is still recovering from the ragers of ’12 and ’13, so I decided to skip the party this year.) The Internet informs me that third anniversaries are leather anniversaries, or as I typically call it, leatha (“I like your skirt!” “Thanks! It’s leatha.”) Leatha is classic, strong, quality stuff; it can get a little beat up over time, a little scuffed, a little weathered and worn and decrepit, but, it still holds up, the fibers don’t break, and with a little cleaning and/or professional refurbishing, it’s good as new. Here’s hoping for another leatha-like revival by Rafa in the coming year.

Optimism

Rafa continues to practice as much as he can as he waits for his wrist to heal, expressing optimism that he’ll be ready for the U.S. Open.

If Rafa’s optimistic, then I’m optimistic!

(Also scared that he/I is/are getting his/my hopes up only to be crushed in a few weeks’ time.)

Very optimistic!
(Cautiously. Fearfully.)

Definitely optimistic!
(It reminds me of Chapter 32 of Judy Blume’s sometimes forgotten, often underappreciated in light of bigger hits such as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Tiger Eyes 1987 coming-of-age novel Just As Long As We’re Together, in which the protagonist, Stephanie Hirsch, nickname Hershey Bar, must write an essay for English class in which she completes the sentence: I used to be _____, but I’m not anymore, and she writes, I used to be an optimist, but I’m not anymore, because her parents are getting divorced and her best friend Rachel Robinson is being mean to her, which has effectively squelched her optimism in life. So clearly this situation with Rafa is extremely similar to this. Clearly.

Okay, so it’s not, but the reason it comes to mind is because I used to be more optimistic about Rafa’s injuries. Just a tweak, just a pinch, just a twinge, totally precautionary, he’s okay, he’ll work through it, he’ll play through it, it’s not match-ending, it’s not tournament-ending, it’s not season-ending. Then the knee problem of ’12 occurred. Then the back of ’14 occurred. And so my optimism has started to wane in this regard, primarily for self-protective reasons. (Granted, technically the tournament-ending injuries started all the way back in ’10 at the AO and continued in ’11 at the AO, but I simply chose to ignore those.) I still had/have the optimism re: Rafa’s ability to return from injury; for example, I never doubted he would win the ’13 French Open. Even in July, August, September of ’12, October, November, December, I thought, it’s okay, he’s going to come back and win the French Open next year, because that’s just what he does and who he is. (Okay, so maybe during The Alund Match I doubted slightly.) (Also maybe when he got broken by Diego Sebastian that one time.) (Also I panicked a little when he pulled out of the AO.)

So I’m optimistic on a macrolevel, but hesitant to be too optimistic on the microlevel, although it is very, very tempting considering the the truly ferocious forehands Rafa has been hitting of late (although I don’t agree with the jump forehand at the end on principle, much like I don’t agree with the jump backhand that some players hit on principle (other than for Marcelo Rios who seemed to actually need that extra spring, but otherwise it’s generally an extraneous/showy movement for no real purpose) but for Rafa, I’LL ALLOW IT).

These postings suggest that Rafa wants people to know that he is not planning on a long-term absence, and that he is planning on playing an important tournament in the near future, which I appreciate. But it scares me. But I appreciate it. But it scares me. But I appreciate it. But it scar

I also liked how Toni mentioned the other day that Rafa’s not a novice; he doesn’t need a ton (or any…) matches before the U.S. Open to perform well there. The party line, granted in large part because Rafa has declared this or something similar himself many times over the years, is that Rafa needs practice, Rafa needs reps, Rafa needs matches. Rafa needs rhythm. And yes, ideally, he’ll have those things prior to a big tournament. But, ideally is ideally. Athletes can’t afford to only play or perform well under ideal circumstances, because ideal circumstances are rare. And, Rafa has shown that he can play quite well without a lot of prep, like he did in Montreal and Monte Carlo last year. And, as Toni points out, GS tournaments are long. There’s time for players to work their ways in, provided the draw is reasonable. So he won’t have match play. So he won’t have backhand practice. So what. He’s Rafa. He’s played 839 matches. And his backhand isn’t that reliable/good anyway, so it won’t even be that different if it’s rusty. See? Optimism.

Setback

Some colossally bad news came down the Rafa pike yesterday, with Rafa announcing his withdrawal from the Toronto and Cincinnati Masters with a right wrist injury. I’m stunned, sad, frustrated, and kind of at a loss for words. (granted I’ll probably still muster about 700 or so.) I really wasn’t prepared for Rafa’s four week break from competitive tennis to end in a cast, or for there to be another serious injury to contend with this season, or for him to be ruled out from even attempting to defend two of his three summer hard court season titles, or for there to be a very real possibility of him not playing the U.S. Open for the second time in three years.

The U.S. Open, depressingly, now seems like a no-win proposition for Rafa. If he misses it, it’s yet another missed Major, his third in three years, his eighth overall. So two years, potentially, of missed Majors, out of 10 or so on the tour. That’s pretty staggering (and, that’s not even counting the Majors that he defaulted or de facto defaulted due to injury: AO ’10, AO ’11, AO ’14 fully; USO ’09 and Wimbledon ’12 to some degree). I know Rafa has bristled in the past at being characterized as chronically injured, but unfortunately I don’t think there’s a great argument against that assessment at this point in time, and more unfortunately, the injury issues increasingly dominate “the conversation’ about him, to the point where they overshadow his tennis and his accomplishments, which is annoying and yet, not un-understandable. He’s been injured a lot, in a lot of different places, and missed or been affected at a lot of important tournaments, and it’s an omnipresent concern for him in a way it isn’t for his top rivals, who have stayed mostly remarkably healthy. I do wonder sometimes if Rafa isn’t maybe missing something, or not doing something, that some of his less-felled rivals have or are, not because I’m looking to assign blame, but more because I’m looking for some logic to it all and some reasons beyond “bad luck” or “fragile body” or “grinding playing style” and some hope for eventual solutions–i.e. new methods, new routines, new schedules, new somethings to break this pattern of breakage. This seems especially essential as Rafa gets older, since the tolerance for/ability to bounce back from injuries and all the associated pain and rehab and time out etc. generally diminishes as players age.

If Rafa heals enough to the point where he can play the U.S. Open, he’ll likely be under-practiced and out of match-playing shape and still injured and/or weak and/or tentative and/or compromised on his backhand and service toss, which inevitably will lead to compensation with/overuse of other muscle groups, which inevitably will lead to additional injury, in addition to the original injury getting worse because it wasn’t fully healed to begin with.

So I don’t want Rafa to miss the U.S. Open, even if he can’t win. He’s missed too many Majors and too many important tournaments already. They seem empty without him, and he doesn’t have that many chances left in his career to play them and so he needs to play them even if he’s not in perfect shape because he’s rarely in perfect shape. He can run around the backhands and hit forehands and hit BH slices when he has to and be more aggressive overall to shorten points and hit the service toss with his foot.

I also don’t want Rafa to play while injured. It’s ultimately a waste of time and he’s just going to make it worse and he’s going to be all lost and anxious on the court because he can’t do what he wants to do and he’s going to be thinking about the wrist and then if it hurts too much he might even have to retire during a match and then his season could be over and he’ll be out for seven months again.

Unfortunately these two relatively reasonable desires seem diametrically opposed at the moment. Maybe something will change; maybe the wrist will heal faster than expected; maybe he can play well even without a lot of practice; maybe it won’t turn out to be as big of a deal as it seems like it is right now. Rafa is, notably, continuing to hit forehands, and even ventured a small joke. A (albeit tiny) positive sign.

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