It is painful to see someone self-destruct, knowingly or unknowingly, specially when the writing is on the wall, and the remedy is a ‘no brainer’.
No matter what the media, fans or anyone else says, you know in your heart of hearts, that some parts of your game you had taken for granted for the last three some years, have either lost the sting, or are not consistently there for you, match after match.
As we age, the weaknesses, we were able to mask with our youth, when we were younger, that seemed like dots on the screen, now grow into ever expanding holes. Sampras is a perfect example.
His backhand was always suspect throughout his career. That’s what Agassi referred to, when he talked about the best player, he has ever played against, and said “With Pete, there was a place you can go to and have hope, but with Federer there is no such place”.
But it got worse as he got older, as is usually the case with most weaknesses. What did Sampras do, to make up for it, as he aged? He started positioning himself so much to his left, that it almost left the whole court on his right, wide open. So the opponents had no way to get to his backhand. And when they tried the open court, they got his running forehand bullet, considered one of the best in history.
What did Michael Jordan do, when he aged, and was not able to take the ball to the hole consistently? He developed the ‘fade away’ that was impossible to guard.
What did Mohammad Ali do, when he was on his way down, and had to fight George Foreman in his prime? He developed the ‘rope-a-dope’, and freaking knocked Foreman out in the eight round and startled the world.
Agassi neutralised the youth by taking the legs away, by moving the opponents side to side. The list is endless.
The first step these greats took, was to recognize the writing on the wall, and openly admitted to it, by employing these above tactics. There is no shame in it. Each and everyone of us go through the process. Some call it, co-operating with the inevitable.
Look at these stats:
In 2006, you lost to two players, Nadal and Murray. Loss to Murray was accidental, since you were clearly tired. Total losses: 5.
In 2005, you lost to four players – Nadal, Nalbandian, Safin and Gasquet. Total losses: 4.
In 2004, you lost to five players – Henman, Nadal, Costa, Kuerten and Hrbaty. Total losses: 5.
In 2003, you lost to 15 players -Gambill, Squillari, Nalbandian(2), Mirnyi, Kuerten, Costa, Mantilla, Phillippossis, Horna, Novak, Roddick, Moya, Ferrero, Ljubicic, Henman. Total losses 16.
Notice how the calibre of players you lost to, went up as you got better. The players of 2003 did not even see the light of day in 2005 and 2006. You see, where I am going with this?
This year you have lost to four players – Canas (2), Volandri, Nadal (2) and Djokovic – not counting the two exhibition losses. Total losses: 6. There are still seven more events you are scheduled to play this year. Even if you win all seven of them, you will still be behind your ‘prime years’.
Those 2003 and 2004 players are starting to show up again.
We can all identify with that feeling, to hold on to our best years, but except me, everyone else is going down.
Time has come to make changes. What you had, is not going to work from now on. It is the reality. What can you do, to still maintain the edge against younger opponents, like the former greats of sport?
First, you need to provide a more spacious and airy basement to me, with separate enclosures for my ‘friends’. How do you expect me to come up with brilliant ideas in this cramped crap.
Secondly, I need a fresh supply of ‘friends’. Hey, I am not the only one for variety. You have had your share, I know.
Thirdly, you need to freaking get a ‘tennis mind’ with you, pronto, ASAP, right NOW, Today – are you getting the picture, or you want me to come down there and ‘explain’ it? With the emotions you are feeling right now, it is impossible to make rationale decisions. You are angry, feel humiliated in public, disappointed – not the ideal scenario to take level headed decisions for the future. You need a clean, fresh and devoid of emotions, look from the outside.
It could be in whatever form – advisor, coach, hitting partner or any other partner – wink, wink. Someone who can bluntly tell you what you need to do without having any other ulterior motive. Your friends and the sychofants surrounding you cannot do that.
It’s a no brainer. If I can think of it, everyone must be knowing it then. All I have is a pulse, that’s it. Brain? What’s that? Oh, you mean that? Yeah, I got THAT. Is that what they call that, these days? Oh, cut the crap out? OK.
Fourthly, don’t freaking kill yourself, by going way out of your way, to counter Nadal’s tactics. There is a fine line beyond which it will start hurting you. Read this nonsense, I wrote on it. You will know what I mean. You have so many more options than anyone on the tour. USE THEM, instead of going into a tunnel for a small nugget of gold, thereby shutting out everything else.
Next, I know you winged many matches in the last three years, and still won. You did not have enough match play, were not in the best shape, mentally and physically etc. etc. but you still came out on top. Then you started saying to yourself, this is too easy. Why do I have to work that hard, when this week, I did nothing of it, and still beat the crap out of everyone.
We have all been there. You are in the zone. Everything is going for you, and you just cannot fail no matter what you do. It takes a kick in the pants to realize we were living in fantasy land, and we need to get back to the basics. We have all received the proverbial ‘wake up call’ somewhere in our lives, that proved to be a blessing in disguise. This one is for you.
The freaking point is this: That honeymoon period is over, where you could get by, even when you were not at your best, or not in the best of preparation. Superior talent will allow that, but for a while, before you are rudely reminded of the reality.
I have always believed that this one-handed backhand BS is for the ages. In today’s world, it is an antique crap. I know there are some players in the past, who have pulled it off, but they are all, well, in the past.
Clearly and as they say ‘without any freaking shadow of doubt’, your backhand is becoming more and more of a liability. Nadal exposed it blatantly years ago, and in fact has won most of his matches against you, exploiting that weakness. But the world thought it was not the backhand, it was the vicious spin of Nadal.
Now, Djokovic has proved it, unequivocally. One-handed backhand is good for two purposes – slice and a drop shot. Beyond that it has no use today. Besides, slice is mainly a defensive shot, unless you are dealing with a Karlovic, and a drop shot can still be executed, as accurately, if you are two-handed backhand player like Djokovic or Stepanek.
It is least reliable when you are trying to hit a flat shot off the backhand, since it is difficult to get the sweet spot every time. That explains why your backhands baloon up or sail out to the sides, so many times. With a two-handed backhand you have more control and can generate more pace and better placement, while at the same time reducing the possiblilty of not hitting the sweet spot so many times.
Add to all that, the crazy spin Nadal is able to generate and you are looking at a very low percentage shot. It robs you of the possibility to taking the ball early, thereby putting you in a defensive position.
I don’t know how easy it will be to incorporate a two-handed backhand this late in your career, but I know one thing for sure, it will bring rich dividends. Either that or just copy Sampras.
I know it becomes an ego thing now with you. It would be with me too, if I was in your shoes, but you got to look at the end. After the smoke clears, all the world will remember will be the titles you won. Nobody is going to taunt you for having admitted your shortcoming this late in the day.
I know when you get that big, ego becomes a deciding factor in practically all major decisions. After all, you don’t want to look stupid in your position. You don’t want to look weak in front of Mirka and other family members, not to mention the media and the fans. Check your ego at the door – as they say.
I think it is just the opposite. You have to keep the big picture in your full view before making any decision. Being looked at as a macho man, and doing it all without a coach, feels good, but is detrimental to the bigger goal. You need lot more strength to make these tough decisions, than to stick with the wrong ones for the wrong reasons.
As Abrahim Lincoln said “You can fool some of the people all the time, or all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. Let me see if this fits in here. Oh yeah, you had your share of play with the celebrity activities, and was able to fool your talent, but it is asking for those back wages now. It all evens out in the end.
I think the analogy sucks, but that’s the best I have. Hey, I never said I have a brain, remember?