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.

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.

July

July persists. It’s not the worst month to persist, of all the months that could be persisting, but still, it seems more…persistent than usual this year. Perhaps the Earth is, as I’ve long suspected, secretly slowing down and NASA isn’t telling us and it’s a big conspiracy. Or, maybe Rafa and most of the other best players in the world have been out of commission for a few weeks and so the month is dragging, tennis-wise (of course, considering I’m always complaining about the impossible to keep up with deluginess of tennis news around the Majors, I should actually enjoy the dragginess. And yet.). Then again, the same scenario unfolded last July, and I don’t remember it feeling quite so draggy. So the Earth thing it is.

The Rise of the Planet of Players 23 and Under
Over the past few weeks, teenagers including Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev, and Borna Coric have achieved success on the tour, defeating accomplished veterans such as Roger-Vasselin, Zeballos, Haase, Youzhny, Giraldo, Kamke, Robert, and Gasquet. Yup. That’s all the veterans who have fallen to teenagers. Didn’t forget and/or strategically omit any of them. Nope.

Moreover, 21-year-old Bernard Tomic won a title in Bogota, and 23-year-olds Dimitrov and Raonic advanced to the semifinals at Wimbledon. 20-year-old Dominic Thiem and 21-year-old Jiri Vesely also have proven themselves to be promising young talents. Both Dimitrov and his fellow 23-year-old Raonic are in the top 10. Youngsters like Garin and Kozlov and Tiafoe and Kokkinakis are waiting in the wings.

Even my admittedly cursory paying attention to this youthcentric trend has led me to one undeniable conclusion: I am not ready. I am not ready to develop irrational loves and antiloves and simmering resentments and soaring exaltations for these 5+-year-younger-than-Rafa & co strangers who hit balls over nets with impressive speed and accuracy. I am not ready to debate if Coric is more talented than Kyrgios, or if Thiem’s one-handed backhand is a blessing or a curse, or if Zverev should move up on second serve returns, or if Raonic is more or less boring than Vesely, or if Vesely is actually more boring but less annoying, because Raonic is more annoying. I know the guys on the tour, and these aren’t those guys, and I don’t have time to learn new guys.

Of course, as I type this, I notice that Tommy R. defeated 23-year-old Pablo Carreno Busta 1 and 4. And Ferrer demolished Zverev last week, 0 and 1. So maybe it’s not so dire. Maybe it’s just a bit of a dull spot in the calendar and the teenagers are taking advantage. Maybe the Earth is still slow.

Rafa Practices
Speaking of young players, Rafa has been practicing with Christian Garin.

Rafa’s also practiced with Tiafoe, Kozlov, Coric, and Kokkinakis over the past year or so. He’s said that he enjoys practicing with young players because it gives them an opportunity to gain some top-level experience, and it gives him the opportunity to tailor practices exactly how he wants them. That’s all well and good, but given “the rise” described above, maybe it’s safer for Rafa to go back to practicing with 38-year-old doubles specialists...

Looking Ahead
Toni recently said that he would sign for Rafa losing in the first (actually second, given the bye) rounds of Toronto and Cincy but winning the U.S. Open. Now, technically, I would sign as well, because a Grand Slam is worth more than two Masters, even though technically it’s worth the same. But, I really don’t see the need to be talkin’ about Rafa losing in the first rounds, Tones. I’m not saying Rafa has to win both Masters leading up to the U.S Open in order to have any chance at the U.S. Open, but, particularly given what happened at Wimbledon, I do think these two Masters are important, more important than they were in say, 2010, when Rafa had won Wimbledon and had his eye on the USO and was clearly using Toronto and Cincy to work on some things in preparation for that (not that I’m saying he intentionally lost by any means, because that’s just not how Rafa operates, but more that losing in those tournaments was simply an inevitable result of playing seven best-of-five matches at Wimbledon/having less July rest to begin with, and trying to tweak his game for optimal success on the hard courts leading up to the USO. Also not challenging that second serve that was actually a double fault and which would have given him the break vs. Murray in Toronto hurt him. NOT THAT I’M STILL HUNG UP ON THAT EVEN THOUGH THIS IS AT LEAST THE SECOND TIME I’VE MENTIONED IT HERE. Don’t even get me started on the Marcos match…). Just as it was last year, it’s crucial this year for Rafa to re-establish the positive momentum he built in Roland Garros as soon as possible in order to ensure the Wimbledon loss remains a minor blip and not the beginning of a pattern.

Of course, last year, vis-à-vis regaining his momentum, I boldly recommended/predicted that Rafa would sweep the summer hard court season by winning Montreal, Cincy, and the U.S. Open. Everyone thought I was crazy. “She’s crazy!” they said. (They being the army of detractors, most of whom are stuffed animals, who live in my head.) “I am not crazy!” I replied pointedly to the stuffed animals. “Yes, yes you are,” said the pink rabbit with scented jellybeans on his stomach. “Yes, she is,” said Pepper the spotted pound puppy with stuffing come out of his eye where the cat got to him. “Definitely is,” piped Huggles the gray bear with attached green Christmas hat and scarf adorned with snowflakes. “We’ll see who’s crazy after the summer hard court season!” I retorted, tossing my hair defiantly before riding off on my motorcycle. And I think we all know how that turned out–Rafa won it all, the animals got their long-due comeuppance, and I was confirmed as being completely and totally 100% sane, and really, more than sane. Supersane. Hypersane. Amazasane. May I be equally amazasane this year.

BBQ

Rafa hosted a poker BBQ (totally a thing) last week, about which this article and this article were written, and during which this video was filmed:

In the interviews, Rafa talks a little bit about his original (negative) perceptions of the world of poker, his hesitancy to sign with PokerStars as a result (he turned them down the first time they asked), his eventual change of heart (against his father/manager’s wishes), and how he enjoys the game for its strategic/analytical/social aspects. He also talks  about his competitive philosophy in general, saying that for him, it’s not so much the winning that’s fun, but rather the competition itself (granted, that end goal of winning is what drives the competition, so clearly loving to compete and loving to win are closely connected; and Rafa says himself in the interview, I live to win, and he points out that winning/giving maximum effort is the only thing that gives sport meaning in the first place. But, he also says that easy victories, while he’s happy to get them out of the way, don’t fulfill him; he’s fulfilled when he’s suffered and endured and in the end, been better than his rival (granted, he names the AO ’12 final as a match he was proud of even though he didn’t win it.)). Obviously, this isn’t new information–Rafa has talked at length over the years about “enjoying the suffering” and his slightly unconventional approach to sport–but the little added tidbits here and there are always interesting. Increasingly, and despite the prevalent counternarrative that Rafa’s self-admitted self-doubts and permareverence for his opponents mean he’s perpetually insecure and constantly afraid on court, it seems to me that much of Rafa’s brilliance owes to the fact that he is, the vast majority of the time, because of his focus on the intellectual and physical challenge of competition in the moment rather than the end result–not afraid to lose, which frees him to take (or not take) the risks he needs to take or not take to win, with his nine Roland Garros titles, most of which were won after the exuberance of youth had worn off and Rafa knew exactly what there was to lose, as the most convincing proof. Clearly there are exceptions and clearly there are still nerves and clearly being unafraid of losing does not mean one never loses and clearly there’s a balance to be maintained between not being afraid to lose and not caring about losing; but, in the battle between fearing losing and not fearing losing, the former ironically all but guaranteeing the fate it’s designed to avoid, Rafa usually wins, and he also enjoys any suffering that must be had while not being afraid to lose, which is part of what makes him a unique, fascinating, incredible sportsman.

But even unique, fascinating, incredible sportsmen need some downtime. And so Rafa went to da club on Friday night where he ran into, of all people, Martina Navratilova.

I clapped with delight at this, because it is delightful. Also vaguely reminiscent of the time I ran into my fifth grade teacher in da club, granted that was more horrifying at the time, hilarious in retrospect, than delightful. I also turned it into a game with a friend who was lucky enough to be sitting next to me when I discovered it. (Omg, you’re not going to believe who Rafa ran into in da club! I don’t really care. Guess! I don’t c…*sigh* Who? Guess! Who? Guess! Shakira. No, but good guess! Guess again. John McEnroe. Also no, but again, good guess! Is it a tennis player? Yes! A woman? Yes! Serena? No. Again though, I am impressed by your guessing. Older or younger? Older. Martina? Which one? Navratilova. YES.)

Finally, because I’m going to have to at some point address this, or maybe not, if it doesn’t actually come to fruition, which will make all of this pointless, but anyway: Sleevegate. Rafa’s projected/expected U.S. Open kit has incited a new iteration of Sleevegate. This is, I believe, the biggest Sleevegate since Sleevegate ’09 (Michelle Obama edition), bigger even than Sleevegate ’13 (Mathieu Flamini edition), and perhaps as equally big as Sleevegate ’04 and/or Sleevegate ’09 (Rafa editions I and II), but maybe not quite as big as Sleevegate ’02 (He’s Tommy Haas edition), which was the original (tennis) Sleevegate. Needless to say, sleeves and/or lack thereof and/or associated exposed arms and/or lack thereof, historically and currently, get people riled. Ril’d. Rild.

Personally, I’m for it, if it does indeed happen, because it’s something a little fun and different, and Rafa obviously has the arms to pull it off, and, I also see the practical advantage (i.e. more freedom of movement/less clingy sweaty fabric, granted most tennis players, including Rafa, seemingly don’t find sleeves all that bothersome given how frequently they elect to wear them). At the same time, I’ve kind of given up on focusing too much on Rafa’s kits because I generally don’t like them, although sometimes I think I don’t like them only to later discover that I do like them (French Open ’10 being an example of that–at first I found the shirt juvenile and dated, owing mostly to the fact that, as I think I’ve shared before, it was eerily similar to the winter coat I wore in kindergarten, and I thought everyone would laugh at Rafa for wearing it, much like everyone laughed at me for wearing that coat (kidding…maybe); in retrospect, though, I think that was probably Rafa’s best/most signature kit ever, and the shirt actually became a best seller, spotted on a fairly constant basis on random fans around the world (and, Marcos Baghdatis’ coach at the time, if I recall correctly), although sometimes I also aggressively hate them for the duration of the tournaments (the U.S. Open night kit last year being an example of that–I tried to convince myself I liked it–He looks like he’s made of iron! He’s strong as steel!–but it never looked anything other than heavy and gloomy and drab to me; don’t even get me started on the members only-esque glow-in-the-dark jacket…), although sometimes I do like them from the beginning–the prism purple he wore in February of ’13, and the kelly green that followed at IW, for example, or the saturated blue at RG ’11, or Wimbledon ’10, with the V-neck and the pink detailing, although it seems less so lately given Nike’s obsession with gray and off-white, and so in the end it doesn’t really matter, and so, as I mentioned at the beginning of this sentence, and as this sentence/paragraph clearly demonstrates with its brevity and straightforward non-focusingness, I don’t focus on it, and instead strive to focus on Rafa’s wise words from ’09: the important thing in the end is not the clothes, but the ball and the racquet and the playing well.

 

Moonball Mauler

It’s Rafa!

Back in action! Back on the court! The blue court, under the blue sky, wearing a blue shirt! Which he’s practiced on/under/in before so unfortunately I’ve already used all my blue puns/allusions/rhymes/references! (Rhapsody in blue true blue blue suede shoes blue like the ocean blue like the sea into the blue out of the blue blue moon blue bayou blue Christmas (Nadal)!) Practicing his serves! With ilusión! And enthusiasm! Don’t even tell me someone has told Rafa ilusión is not a word in English and now he’s going to start using enthusiasm because that would be sad! Also he is possibly foot faulting! But that’s okay! That’s what practice is for! Plus maybe he’s just hitting a baseline overhead! Which he really could have used at 4-2 15-30 in the fourth set of the French Open final! But he missed it! But that’s okay, because he won anyway! But just in general, probably better to have made it! Generally! For the future! And maybe that’s why he’s practicing it! It is legitimately a tough shot so it is understandable to miss a few here and there! Do you go big or do you go conservative?! I usually go conservative! And hit a moonball! They call me the moonball mauler! Because I maul you with the moonballs! And I have no shame about it! No shame at all!

Okay maybe a little bit of shame.

Holiday

Celebrate!

.

Holiday!

.

Celebrate!

.

Call me crazy, but I think I just might have a hit song on my hands here.

So Rafa’s been on holiday, or, as we call it here in the U.S., vacation. All I ever wanted. Vacation. Had to get away. Vacation. Meant to be spent alone. (And/or, in Rafa’s case, with six close friends.)

I am basically a songwriting machine right now.

Of course, often times people go on vacations during holidays, making it a holiday vacation. Vacation holiday? Holiday holiday.

This is going well I think.

So Rafa’s been on holiday, and looking somewhat, really completely, outrageously good, not that I’ve been monitoring the Daily Mail‘s daily updates of paparazzi shots of Rafa on the boat or anything, jajajajajaja. No, no, definitely no monitoring going on over here. Lightly skimming, maybe. Absent-mindedly browsing, perhaps. Accidentally scanning, conceivably.

So there hasn’t been much going on on the Rafa front, with Rafa on holiday and the associated conceivables and such, although there has been a rare July ‘fuffle, owing to the ATP’s breathless announcement last week that Djokovic was the first to qualify for the World Tour Finals, except apparently Rafa already had qualified in June, except the ATP apparently wasn’t aware of this, and/or forgot about this, and it was a ‘fuffle. Now apparently they are aware of this (although why it took them a week to become aware when they were notified of the discrepancy by dozens of people immediately and acknowledged they did indeed receive the notifications but then claimed the notifiers were incorrect but then never provided any reasoning/proof of this and now a week later, with no tennis having been played by Rafa therefore it must have been a mistake because it’s not like he gained points, are reversing themselves) and are ready to admit their mistake although once again it’s not totally clear why this took a week because even if they are slow math-doers, which I can certainly relate to, as I was always that student who took the full class period to complete all the math tests, even the short ones, and who looked around anxiously as everyone else breezily and triumphantly walked to the front of the class to turn in their tests and there I was still toiling away at my desk and I wondered if I was somehow overcomplicating things, which I most definitely was, although my slowness also was in large part because I insisted on double-checking all my work, which is something it seems that the ATP generally does not do, they should have been able to correct the error within, like, a couple of hours, assuming they understand their own formula/system, which I personally don’t, which is why I generally don’t get overly involved/caught up in this business, but then again I don’t work for the ATP, so I have an excuse. So apparently they’re going to make the announcement tomorrow, presumably as a footnote to a footnote in a story about the doubles final in Portoroz.

Also Toni said that he’s not worried about Rafa losing the #1 ranking (something I kind of forgot about until about midway through the Wimbledon final when I realized I really should be rooting for Roger since him winning protected that ranking, at least for a while; of course one could also argue Djokovic winning protected Rafa’s chance of catching Federer’s GS total; Rufus winning would have protected both), the problem is losing to Kyrgios. Agreed. Also he’s not worried about the fact that Rafa has 4000 points to defend in North America over the next two months because he thinks Rafa is in the same conditions as his top rivals (e.g. Djokovic, Federer). Mostly agreed. I can’t say I’m totally not worried about all the points Rafa has to defend, because it is a lot of points and it is in my nature to worry, but, Rafa played great tennis at the French Open and he’s looking great in pink shorts on holiday, so when you add it all up, he’s well-poised for a great great run on the hard courts.

Off to write more songs…

Wimbledon Final Thoughts

1. Delayed postmortem (I’ve been away…luckily, I’ve dutifully preserved all my post-loss melancholy and discontent and will unload it now!): Rafa’s loss to Kyrgios in the fourth round is one that seems both infinitely worse and largely irrelevant in retrospect. Worse, because: Kyrgios is 19; he’s not that good; he should have/almost lost to Gasquet; he lost to/was broken easily by Raonic in the next round (yes, in part because Rafa tired him out, but still–Raonic broke him. Multiple times. And, he even won a higher percentage of Kyrgios’ second serve points than did Rafa, which is where Rafa lost the match. As Isner, Karlovic, et al. have shown over the years with their lack of big tournament wins and in fact frequent early exits at said big tournaments, aces/unreturnable first serves alone are not enough. Second serve points are where it’s at (I got two turn tables and a microphone), and Rafa allowed Kyrgios to win over 50% of those, which can’t happen against a player who is also winning 80%+ of first service points, unless Rafa is winning like 70% of his own second serve points, which he wasn’t.), who is not that good; there is a .1-.9% chance that Murray, Djokovic, or Federer would have even remotely struggled with him and as much as I try to not compare because Rafa is his own special snowflake and he can do lots of things they can’t do and vice versa, etc. as it typically is with snowflakes, it’s impossible to not, occasionally, compare snowflakes, and in this instance, I don’t think the other snowflakes would have melted, even under the Australian heat that is Nick Kyrigos. Irrelevant, because: he lost, just as he’s lost early the last two years, and that’s just how it is/might always be from here on out at Wimbledon and that’s fine and he’s done fine elsewhere despite it and (still somewhat to my chagrin and yet realistically), Rafa can’t win them all, and if he’s going to have a bad surface, it might as well be the one that the tour only spends about a month on. He’s getting older and his success on the grass, as Rafa himself often brings up, was always tenuous, and with age, those tenuous wins often transition into tenuous, or even not-so-tenuous, losses.

2. Hunger Games: Rafa didn’t sound particularly hungry in his post-match presser. This is what I maybe picked up on and what bothered me a little bit about the loss to Brown in Halle a few weeks back–Rafa’s attitude was not, this is what I did wrong, this is what I need to do better, it was, I tried, shrug, I lost, shrug (and by the way, this was a waste of time). It was easy to justify/rationalize then, because Rafa was coming off of an incredibly intense and successful couple of weeks in Roland Garros, and it was small warm-up tournament, and a tough draw. But, it still just seemed uncharacteristic for him to attach such little worth to a tournament result, even if it was negative and didn’t go the way he wanted it to, and I didn’t like it.

Flash forward to Wimbledon, and it seemed like, at least for the first two rounds, the desire, and intensity, was back, even if the tennis itself wasn’t stellar. But then there was the third round against Kukushkin, in which Rafa, inexplicably to my eyes, didn’t really show up for the first set–he was flat, he seemed annoyed and distracted and unhappy, and he didn’t do anything particularly special, or even all that well, on the court. He turned it up thereafter, clearly, but going to four against a player who doesn’t have an unbreakable serve, is not known for his comfort on grass, and who doesn’t typically perform well against top players, wasn’t a good sign. Then he lost to Kyrgios and his post-match presser–while very informative and lucid and balanced and insightful and oh so slightly, heartrendingly wistful (vis-à-vis his reflections on playing young and free)–once again displayed that resigned/satisfied attitude–I tried, I lost, shrug. On the one hand, it’s great, and healthy, that he doesn’t dwell on losses, and I certainly wouldn’t want or expect him to. And I know he tried his best in the moment. On the other hand, I think there is a fine line between accepting a loss and being a little too casual/indifferent about it. On some level, and as much as I hate to quote Chris Evert but I’m inadvertently going to do so now because she said the same thing after Bouchard lost and I don’t want to not acknowledge that I did in fact hear her say that because I did, but I’m not copying because I would have said this anyway and it’s not like it’s the most original thought to begin with anyway–it should hurt. It didn’t seem to hurt for Rafa. This worries me.

Back to my hands, on the one hand, he’s not Bouchard, i.e. he’s not 20, he’s already accomplished essentially all there is to accomplish in tennis and in fact invented new things to accomplish after he accomplished all the things to accomplish, and so he’s not going to have that same kind of raw desire a younger player is going to have to win tournaments. He’s just not. On the other hand, though, there does need to be some desire, some hunger, some special motivation, and really not even some, but a lot. He didn’t have it for Wimbledon this year. Again, as I mentioned in #1, that’s fine, it really is. Roland Garros #9 was a huge triumph for him, and him being exhausted from that effort and not doing that well at Wimbledon is normal; him doing so well all those other years was the crazy part, but as he’s apt to do, he made crazy stuff seem normal because he was doing it all the time. At the same time, look who won Wimbledon–someone who played just as many matches as Rafa did at Roland Garros, felt a great deal of pressure himself, and, who walked away the loser no less. One could argue that made him hungrier for Wimbledon, I suppose, and one might be right. (I don’t know, I’ve got my hands full monitoring Rafa’s hunger, so I can’t really be bothered to monitor Djokovic’s.) The point is: I hope Rafa regains the hunger after this July hiatus and comes back refreshed and renewed and rejuvenated and other facial cream commercial adjectives, as well as sharp and eager and focused and motivated, for the American hard court season, just like he did last year. Wanting it doesn’t equate winning it, but it does help.

3. Bad habits: Still on the hunger theme, another related concern is that the kinds of matches Rafa played and ultimately lost at Wimbledon, and the kind of shrug attitude that followed, can become habits. And in fact, the match thing–i.e. starting flat and losing the first set and being in an uncomfortable deficit from the beginning–kind of has become a habit this year, with Rafa dropping the first set in 19 of his 52 matches so far. Rafa also has seemingly struggled with motivation on and off throughout the season (the (in)famous “lack of spark”), at times in part due to injury, at times in part due to the loss in Australia and its aftermath, and at times in part due to cumulative exhaustion/general humanness and/or other unknown factors.

While I’m on the topic, another really bad habit lately is losing tiebreaks. Rafa is an underwhelming to put it generously 3-8 in tiebreaks since Indian Wells, and only 11-10 on the year. (he won five alone in Australia, which has buoyed the stat.) That’s really got to change.

4. Obviously what I’m talking about in #1-3 above but am kind of talking around because it hurts to talk about directly is, you know, time and age and mutability and youth and beauty and the fleetingness therein and all of those big life themes that somehow get compressed and concentrated and put on display in professional tennis players aged 18-35, where 18 is 18 and 35 is 90. Rafa’s not going to last forever and as he gets older and as the time he has left as a pro becomes smaller and smaller, particularly as compared to the time he’s already spent as a pro, it’s hard not to think about that fact and wonder how many more opportunities he has left and how long he’s going to want to keep going and how successful he can be during the latter stages of his career. When Rafa was 23, 24, 25, 26, I scoffed and rolled my eyes, and rightly so, clearly, at the questions and speculations about how long he would last, have we seen his best stuff, blah blah blah. Now that’s he 28, it’s a little bit different, and random losses are a little bit tougher to take, and the questions about his future a little bit harder to reasonably keep at bay. Then again, Rafa’s career has always been peppered with random losses; it’s part of his snowflakeness. Then again, the inexorable march of time. Then again.

5. Murray–I was extremely surprised with how many people were predicting Murray to make the final and/or win the title again this year at Wimbledon. I wondered if I was missing something and/or there was something I didn’t know–e.g. Murray was secretly practicing at a level of tennis previously unseen on planet Earth–or, if it was just the typical mostly irrational Murray Mania thing that occurs prior to Wimbledon. I was somewhat reassured to have the latter confirmed, not because I wish ill on Murray, but once again, because I found the hype and expectations for him confusing. (I also found them extremely confusing, even moreso really, at the French Open when people were saying he had a good chance to beat Rafa in the semis. Yes, he obviously played Rafa close in Rome, but still, that was a bit of a leap.) Murray has been struggling all year and it seemed vaguely crazy to expect him to come out of nowhere and be able to beat top players in high-pressure situations when he hasn’t even come close to doing that lately, and in fact has been losing to less than top-ranked players in low or at least lower pressure situations all year. There are not a lot of miracles in tennis, and the best predictor of future form is typically recent past form. (Rafa’s Wimbledon results notwithstanding, since that is such a specialty surface, and that’s what I’ve decided.)

6. My prediction for the final was Djokovic in four, which it really should have been, so I was basically right. This wasn’t exactly rocket science, and I’m guessing most people predicted the same, unless they got caught up in the sentimentalism of Federer’s back on top at age 32!, which is quite possible, and not wholly un-understandable, because it obviously would have been quite a story. But alas, much as with the women’s final, the media didn’t get the story they so wanted and instead had to settle for, you know, pesky reality and facts and truths and stuff. Of course, being the nimble narrative weavers they are, they’ve already weaved narratives out of the non-narratives (e.g. re-purposing The Return of the King into The Return of the King (for a Set or Two; Still Totally Counts, Right?); Djokovic’s rocky and ill-tempered road to the title is him putting his GS demons to bed/the beginning of his ascent back into the realm of the unbeatable instead of further evidence that he remains extremely vulnerable to players who play well) because nothing happens if it’s not a narrative (preferably narrated by Tom Rinaldi in his Hush, I’m narrating a narrative voice). Federer is still good enough to win one, maybe even two sets off of Djokovic and Rafa, but there’s no evidence to support the idea that he can, at this point in time, win three, because eventually the match is going to become about rallies, and eventually his forehand and/or backhand is going to break down, because eventually his first serve is going to stop going in, and even if it does go in, Djokovic is going to do a spider splay and get back in play at some seemingly impossible angle/depth, or Rafa is going to anticipate exactly where it’s going and be waiting and bunt it back, and then Federer is going to hit the next shot authoritatively, elegantly…into the net.

Obviously, Djokovic almost choked away the match, but, even given that, he really wasn’t ever losing the match after the second set (and really after the first set, even, considering that he lost it in TB–yes, he lost, but he knew that was basically just because of his own mistakes and he wasn’t being comprehensively outplayed, or anything close to it) despite the fact that he wasn’t playing all that well, and therein was Federer’s problem: Djokovic was often quite average, and despite that, Federer could only manage to, at best, stay just even with him. That can’t happen if one wants to beat Djokovic, as Rafa has demonstrated in his last four GS meetings with Djokovic. When Djokovic’s level drops, one must pounce, immediately, and when it comes back up, one must try to match him, win the important points, etc., and if he’s still too good, wait, and if he’s still too good, well, then too good. Djokovic can play suffocating tennis; he didn’t yesterday. Federer couldn’t take advantage, though, because he’s not as good as he used to be, and, somewhat relatedly, Djokovic is better. As the kids say, end of.

7. My preference for the winner was Rufus the Hawk. I really thought he could stage the upset, what with his wings and all, but the opposable thumb issue struck again. Other than that, in a way, I wanted Federer to win, since he already has a lot of Wimbledon titles and why not just throw another one in there, not like he’d have nine or anything (*smug smile*), but in a way I wanted Djokovic to win because I thought that would prevent the The King Returns narratives (that was a futile wish) plus it did seem like he was kind of “due” given all the finals he’s made and why not fulfill that “dueness” when Rafa is conveniently not across the net, plus Federer Chuckles burned whatever good will I was feeling toward him following his amusingly cut the BS/matter-of-fact declaration to the bumbling press that Rafa was the RG favorite, which was, even at the time, I realized, more motivated by ego than anything else (a guy beats me five times at a tournament, he’s the favorite) with his petty and passive-aggressive needling of Rafa over the time between points issue, delivered with the perpetually unchallenged subtext that whatever he thinks is right and how things should be. So in the end, I was back for Rufus.

And, in a way, Rufus did win, didn’t he? He did.

The Losing Part

is not as fun as the winning part. Not. as. fun.

Clearly Rafa’s round of 16 match really didn’t go as planned, which is to say he lost. It’s tough, hard, frustrating, gut-wrenching, disappointing, and many other adjectives. And while it’s unexpected and shocking to a degree given the opponent, it’s not wholly shocking due to Rafa’s struggles at Wimbledon the past few years against somewhat random opponents and his struggles in his first three rounds this year against similarly generally not particularly dangerous and yet quite suddenly dangerous to Rafa opponents. The good news is, Rafa did improve considerably on grass this year as compared to ’12 and ’13. The bad news is that it does not look like grass is ever going to be what it was for him in the past, and Wimbledon has taken on a kind of sad and gloomy tint (for me at least) as a result.

On to the hard courts…

Round of 16

Rafa made the round of 16! In honor of this occasion, I made a graphic.

ro16

I know, I know–it’s amazing. Rest assured it took me years to develop the skills necessary to construct masterpie such as this. Years.

As far as Rafa’s 3rd round match, the winning of which advanced him to the round of 16 (see above for amazing graphic)–clearly it didn’t go exactly as planned, which is to say Rafa didn’t win in three routine sets, instead winning in three routine sets after somewhat unexpectedly dropping the first set. Not too shabby all in all, although that first set obviously could have gone better. The main issue there was that Rafa had some chances throughout the set–30-30s and Deuces, etc.–to get a break point and wrest control of the match from the beginning, but he was a bit casual and/or tight and/or error-strewn (particularly with the backhand and the second serve returns) in those moments, and so the next thing one knows, the slight-framed Kukushkin has suddenly transformed into a firebreathing winnerhitting dragon. (This was one thing I overlooked about Kukushkin in my pre-match assessment–while I wouldn’t classify him as a “ball basher” necessarily, he can be a bit of a shot maker, à la a Youzhny or a Fognini for example, and so that can make life difficult for the opponent, as Rafa found in that first set.) In the tiebreak, Rafa, who had been serving so well in the lead-up games, all of a sudden couldn’t find a first serve, and it cost him, specifically the first set. On the one hand, this wasn’t quite a worrying as it was against Rosol or even Klizan, who have bigger games; I, as well as Rafa, I suspect, kind of knew he could turn it up at will and swat the dragon away as needed. (As much respect as Rafa has for every opponent he faces, I do remember him making a comment along these lines re: el gran Teymuraz in Monte Carlo, i.e. “I think I still have little bit of room to win that match, even with the 4‑1,” i.e. he knows there are still a few gears he can go up and a few tactics he can use to expose certain opponents’ weaknesses if he’s in trouble; against certain other opponents, a good start is more crucial. Granted, that comment also was made in relation to a clay match, which gives more options in general (and especially for Rafa) because the surface is conducive to more balls in play for longer.) On the other hand, it maybe isn’t the best habit to get into, losing the first set, as it puts a lot of pressure on the second set, no matter the opponent. Continued difficulty breaking and/or one poorly timed bad service game in the second, and all of a sudden things are pretty dire. Rafa also seemed to be slightly and inexplicably flat throughout the first set yesterday. I first suspected he might be off when the camera showed him about to take the court, lips sucked in, eyes narrowed, and face discernibly cloudy. It reminded me of how he looked before his match against Dolgopolov in IW–i.e. just not happy to be there. He’s always tense in these moments, but sometimes he looks eager, and determined. Not so much yesterday. It also brings to mind something he mentioned in his book–how he, like anyone, has good and bad days, for no particular reasons, and that this can affect how he plays in matches. I think most people can probably relate to this. Sometimes you wake up and feel like you can conquer the world and everything goes just how you want it to all day; sometimes you don’t make it past 8 am without spilling an entire bottle of water on yourself in the car and have to go into work with wet pants. So perhaps that’s the culprit behind the occasional cloudiness (not wet pants specifically, obviously, more the condition of general off-ness that causes the wet pants…the metaphorical wet pants…possibly actual wet pants in my case.). In any case, the clouds parted in the second set, with Rafa taking over the shot making duties for the afternoon and cruising to the victory with renewed panache and vigor.

Next up for Rafa is Nick Kyrgios, a 19-year-old #144-ranked Australian wildcard who won 8 matches (including qualifying) to win the Nottingham Challenger on grass the week prior to Wimbledon. He’s 6’4 and has a big serve, with 76 aces through three matches. But, he’s also faced 29 BPs across those three matches and been broken 6 times, although he notably saved 9 MPs vs Gasquet in the third round, after being down two sets to love. In Australia this past year, he beat Benjamin Becker in four before falling to Paire in the second round, after being up two sets and a break in the third. I believe he’s also known as a bit of a showman, not lacking in confidence, who relishes the big stage.

Part of me says, “this kid is 19, he’s played 13 tour-level matches in his entire career so far, he’s 6-7 in those matches, he’s played 9 GS matches, he’s 5-4 in those matches, I don’t care how big his serve is, he’s going to be way out of his league against Rafa and Rafa will demolish him accordingly, just like he did with Thiem in Roland Garros.” But then the other part of me says, “A big serve can make up for a lot of leagues.” And it can; Isner and Raonic are both top-10ish players, but give them the serve of David Ferrer or even Tomas Berdych, and I doubt that they would be in the top-50 (and that may be generous). Their ground games and net games and movement and court sense are just not there on any consistent basis, and moreover, the success they do have in those aspects of their games suddenly becomes a lot less likely without the benefit of blasting their opponents off the court in every service game and thus creating a lot of stress and uncertainty and pressure for their opponents and a lot of freedom for themselves on return games. Rafa has a great record against big servers–he is in fact the only member of the “big 4″ who has not lost to Karlovic, Isner, or Raonic–although his matches against players like this tend to be angstful. But, Kyrgios is not Karlovic, Isner, or Raonic. I would think (I don’t know for sure, since I’ve never seen him play) that his serve is not quite as powerful or well-directed (he’s not as tall as the many of the big servers, for starters), and that it will be less effective against a strong returner like Rafa than it was against Robert, Gasquet, and Vesely. I would also guess that even if Kyrgios’ ground game is holding up relatively well against other opponents, it will struggle against Rafa’s, who plays at a different level and serves/hits the ball with more spin than any of those guys. So the goal/hope is that Rafa can figure out and dismantle Kyrgios’ game relatively quickly and win in straight sets with as little energy expended as possible on Tuesday, because, per the scheduling blow dealt yesterday, he’s going to have to play his quarterfinal match (against Nishikori, Bolelli, or Raonic) on Wednesday, should he advance.

Re: the scheduling blow–as a result of four and half hours of rain (a bit ridiculous that such a seemingly non-catastrophic rain delay–i.e., it’s not like it’s been raining for three straight days or something–can lead to what it is leading to), the Isner-Lopez and Istomin-Wawrinka matches in Rafa’s half were cancelled (even though they could have been started and potentially finished on outer courts, or played today, on middle Sunday), and Nishikori-Bolelli in Rafa’s quarter didn’t finish, and so even though Rafa finished his match and his next opponent finished his match, Wimbledon is holding back the bottom half of the draw until Tuesday for their round-of-16 matches, meaning that on Monday, the top half players will be playing for or potentially be in the quarterfinals, while some bottom half guys will still be playing their third round matches, and the winner of those matches will then have to play their round of 16 and quarterfinals on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. This is, obviously, completely unfair and unacceptable, as the top half (weather-permitting) will continue on their merry way of one day off between matches, whereas really unlucky bottom half guys will have to play three best of five matches in three days, and slightly less but still unlucky guys will have to play two best of five matches in two days. It’s truly infuriating, and disappointing. I generally have a heart of stone in relation to any of Rafa’s potential opponents in a given tournament, but even I am feeling affronted and defensive on behalf of the likes of Stan and Isner and Feli, who are getting completely screwed over and have absolutely no avenue for recourse. Rafa isn’t in the perfect position either, but it’s still a salvageable one, and he’s dealt with similar and actually far worse situations in the past (most notably in ’07 at Wimbledon, when his 3rd round match against Soderling started on Saturday and finished on Wednesday, meaning Rafa played part of his third round and all of his fourth round, quarter, semi, and final matches consecutively with no rest days.), so this is nothing new for him. And, obviously, the focus at this point is only on the Kyrgios match as it is…and maybe a little soccer, to boot. #punfullyandproudlyintended

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