Monday, July 27, 2009

A Caribbean girl/French woman retires

Did you know that Nathalie Dechy was born in the Caribbean? Most people don’t. Most people assume that she was born somewhere in France, or Belgium where she now lives. But in truth she was born a Caribbean girl and only later became a French woman.

She was born in Guadeloupe, a tiny island shaped like a butterfly, or a Rorschach inkblot, take your pick. It has a population of less than half a million. And it is an overseas department of France, in pretty much the same way that Puerto Rico and Guam are territories of the United States, and all that that implies.

When Christopher Columbus visited Guadeloupe in 1493, he did not ask any of the Indians living there what the place was called. Instead, in the manner of arrogant pillagers everywhere, he changed the name of the island to Santa María de Guadalupe de Extremadura, after the image of the Virgin Mary from the Spanish monastery of Villuercas, in Guadalupe, Extremadura. But Guadeloupe was not then a hospitable place so Columbus collected his fresh water and sailed off.

It wasn’t until 1635 that French farmers from the Normandie region began to settle in Guadeloupe. There is some debate over whether they did so willingly. There is no debate over the fact that they brought with them diseases, alcohol, and guns, which swiftly killed off the Caribs then living on the island, and who had previously killed and eaten the more peaceful Arawaks.

So there is a fierceness that runs in Dechy's veins, and an easygoing tranquility too. This is the dialectic into which most people of the Caribbean become immersed -- the ability to fight fiercely, even ferociously on the one hand, and then suck your teeth and dismiss things with a sweet smile on the other. Is there a more apt description of Dechy?

I wonder what Dechy’s career would have been like had she never left Guadeloupe? It’s hard to tell. Certainly she came from a family that is mad for tennis. Her mother, Françoise, was a French-Canadian sports teacher, and her father, Michel, taught math and tennis. Both her younger sister, Isabelle, and her older brother, Nicolas, also play the sport. One assumes that Natalie‘s talent would have been nurtured early.

But there are few opportunities on an island not much larger than New York City. And this is true even when one has the privilege of being born white, in addition to being talented. The impact of the French Federation cannot be truly felt on those territories of the Caribbean archipelago with allegiance to France. In order to benefit from federation support, one has to be on site, in France, under its tutelage.

I always got the impression that Dechy enjoyed a balanced life. Tennis never seemed more important than her friendships. Her husband never seemed less important than her sport. And now they are having a baby. She is leaving tennis in order to honor this new priority. I can only respect her for this.

Dechy was not the most tremendous achiever in tennis. I say this against the backdrop of comparisons to such high achievers as the Williams sisters and Steffi Graf. Some players, like Graf, seem to wait until their tennis life is over before than can go on to other pursuits. Players like Dechy combined tennis with other pleasures. If I had to choose, I could not imagine having Graf’s single-mindedness, even though I truly admire it. I am more like Dechy. I like to enjoy a nice glass of wine on my days off.

Dechy’s best year was 2005. I remember when she emerged looking fitter than ever with a clearly improved game that took her to the 12th spot in singles ranking. She came so close to beating Lindsay Davenport at the Australian Open that year. She was also a tremendous doubles player. Her more recent wins include the 2007 French Open mixed doubles with Andy Ram, and the US Open doubles with Dinara Safina that same year. Dechy was elected to the Players Council (2004), proof positive of her ability to get along with most and intelligently argue for the needs of fellow players.

From her website, Dechy gives us a glimpse into her balanced future. She has on one page a list of likes and dislikes. Her likes include, “Sharing good wines with friends“, “The ease of Federer“, “Spring coming“, “Christmas with my family”. Among her dislikes are “Too much make-up”, “Playstation addicts”, “Drugs in sport”, “Speeches that never end”. I dislike seeing her leave. But I wish her all the best in her future.

TENNIS: MAR 11 BNP Paribas Open

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Contemplating the nature of Roddick’s injury

I have no inside information. The point of this article is not to cast doubt on the realness of Andy Roddick’s hip flexor injury. In fact, I am quite certain that Roddick is really hurt, not because I have any special faith in anything put out by his camp but because I have the highest regard for Larry Stefanki. And if Stefanki says that Roddick is hurt, well then he is hurt.

So the premise of this article is not to question whether Roddick is physically hurting but to ponder on the implications of this hurt. Stefanki recently took the onus in announcing that Roddick’s entry into the summer hardcourt season was going to be delayed while he recuperated from his hip injury.

This is potentially a serious injury. Similar injuries derailed the careers of such talents as Gustavo Kuerten and Magnus Norman. Both of these men were at the top of their game when their hips gave way. Both men underwent surgery and neither ever again regained their top form. A hip injury is no laughing matter.

When Roddick initially announced that he would not be taking part in Davis Cup, I must admit that I was a bit skeptical. My thought at the time was that he needed some time to lick his wounds. I remember thinking that if that was all it was, I did not agree with his choice to not play Davis Cup. I thought then that it was not a good idea for him to wallow in self-pity. I felt that he should jump back on the horse and demonstrate that he was psychologically stronger than any single loss, no matter how painful.

In hindsight, I am glad that I never got around to writing that piece. I would have ended up looking as ridiculous as a well-known but widely-despised blogger who initially questioned whether Michael Jackson had really died and suggested that it was all just a ploy to get out of his tour. Talk about egg all over his big fat face.

With the announcement that Roddick has also withdrawn from Indianapolis, I find myself contemplating the impact of his injury from a broader scope. Clearly the US would not have lost to Croatia had Roddick played Davis Cup. Clearly Dmitry Tursunov and Dudi Sela would not be the top seeds in Indianapolis had Roddick not called in sick. An injured Roddick is not good for American tennis.

That this coincides with an injured Nadal and an absent Federer places men’s tennis in a curious situation in which fans don’t quite know what events to purchase tickets for during the American summer season. Because let’s face it, as exciting as Djokovic and Murray may like to believe that they are, American fans are uniquely interested in the trio of Nadal, Federer, and Roddick. An injured Roddick is not good for ESPN coverage.

I would have preferred Roddick’s injury to be purely psychological. I would have preferred him to be struggling with bitterness and disappointment over his Wimbledon loss to Federer. I would have preferred him to be having nightmares in which he woke up screaming the numbers 14 -16. I would have preferred him to be depressed and despondent. Why? Because these are emotions from which any good sports psychologist could have helped him recover. These are experiences from which he could, with the right expertise, be redirected and re-focused. If I were his shrink, I would have attempted to persuade him to jump back on the horse, knowing that nothing eases recovery from a painful loss like the exciting experience of success. Nothing reminds one of one’s potential greatness than the courage to risk again.

But I have no guidance for his hip flexor. I don’t know what to make of an injury that has sidelined him for three weeks and for which a recovery date has not been announced. All I know is that I want him to get better. He came too close at Wimbledon to be derailed now. Any serious physical setback now risks being accompanied by a level of mental duress from which there may be no turning back.

The Championships - Wimbledon 2009 Day Thirteen

Sunday, July 19, 2009

What exactly is the relevance of the ESPYs?

It’s not entirely Jamie Foxx’ fault but his presence a few years ago didn’t help. It wasn’t that he serenaded Serena. It was that he didn’t seem to know how to stop serenading her. His song seemed to go on and on, and then he draped his body over hers and expressed his lust in a manner that I personally would have found disrespectful.

To be fair, it did not seem to bother Serena who laughed along gamely and spanked his butt when asked to do so. But I did note that she did not use the side of the fan with her face on it, as expected. So maybe, deep within, she had her own reservations as well. Who knows. I did not then (nor do I now) think that the celebration of her tremendous accomplishments in tennis needed the obscene Jamie Foxx touch.

But I can’t entirely blame Mr. Foxx for my lack of regard for the ESPYs. Even the appearance of Samuel L. Jackson as host this year does little to redeem the insipidity of this show.

I get that the goal of this pointless award show is to create in the world of sports what the Grammy has done for music and the Oscar for the world of blockbuster movies. But in the same way that my music choices have never been guided by who won a Grammy (Adele???), nor do I base my movie choices on who won an Oscar (Hilary Swank anyone?), the ESPYs have come to have nothing to do with my appreciation of sporting talent.

The underlying commonality to these award shows seems really to be the celebration of stardom. The venue allows for a co-mingling of celebrities and other wannabes. And that in itself would be all well and good if this silly celebration did not seem to take itself so damn seriously.

I can’t criticize the ESPY nominees in other categories but I certainly have over the years had a lot of reactions to the tennis selections. But I must admit that this year, they played it safely and well. Only two men were nominated for Best Tennis Player -- you guessed it, Federer and Nadal. Federer won. No surprise there. The 2008 men’s Wimbledon finals was also nominated in the category of Best Game. It did not win.

Among the women, there were three nominees for tennis: Serena Williams, Dinara Safina and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Serena won. Very justifiable choice as she has both the Australian Open and Wimbledon trophies. But Serena was also nominated in the category of Best Female Athlete. She did not win. She lost to a gymnast.

I am always surprised by the category of Best International Athlete. Does this mean that all other categories are reserved for Americans? And what do we make of the fact that the Swiss Federer is voted best in tennis, yet was not nominated along with Rafa in the category of Best Male International Athlete? Isn’t Switzerland foreign enough? And how to explain the omission of sports men like the Spanish cyclist Valverde or the Indian cricketer Gautam Gambhir? Mind you, I am thrilled to pieces that Jamaica’s Usain Bolt won in this category, but the award is meaningless when the criteria for inclusion remain so amorphous.

But the category that upset me the most was Best Female Athlete With A Disability. The nominees were Erin Popovich (Swimming), Jessica Long (also Swimming), Maureen McKinnon-Tucker (Sailing) and Asya Miller (Goalball). No offence to any of these most awarding nominees, but where is tennis’ Esther Vergeer? Why was she not included?

I get that it is impossible to please everyone when it comes to handing out awards. There are always going to disgruntled folks like me who will argue that you should have included so-and-so. (Although few will argue with Nelson Mandela receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award). But in the same way that Hilary Swank has no business having more Oscars than Meryl Streep (yet she does, believe it), there has to be ways to improve the validity of some of these decisions. Failing that, we can just accept that the ESPYs are completely irrelevant but harmless enough so that we can just sit back and enjoy the show. Assuming of course that Jamie Foxx was not invited.

Fashion at the 2009 ESPY awards in Los Angeles

Thursday, July 16, 2009

So Hingis should have used the Katy Perry defense?

I have in the space of this blog, previously bitch-slapped Martina Hingis for having tested positive for cocaine. I have also been less harsh on Gasquet for the same offense, not because I have double standards -- although I will fully accept if some readers believe that I do -- but because I honestly felt that there were differences between their situations that made the one less excusable than the other.

A friend called me after I posted that last column to say that he thought that I was talking crap. He doesn't mince words, my friend. He felt that I was making the old psychological argument that crime should not be judged independently of the perpetrators but that the nature of the person committing the crime should be taken into account. “In other words”, he reasoned somewhat bitterly, “drug use isn’t drug use. It matters who is using the drug”.

Did I mention that my friend happens to be a prosecuting attorney? Did I say that we sometimes have different views on justice? It makes for a sometimes volatile friendship, full of stimulating arguments and endless debates.

At the time I was so persuaded of my position that I refused to concede. I pointed out to my friend that for both players, I had gone on the assumption that they were guilty as sin. I pointed out that I had assumed that they would be equally punished. My point, I reasoned, had less to do with crime or punishment [which I assumed would be identical], but much more so with the issue of recovery and rehabilitation. Where Hingis had retired, I had felt that Gasquet should consider a different path.

But I also did comment on the differences in their circumstances at the time they entered into self-destructive mode. I had essentially argued that Hingis being the older and wiser should have been held to a higher standard of behavior than the novice Gasquet who had reportedly been raised under more crippling psychological circumstances.

I cringe in shame when I re-read that article. It is a clear admission of double standards. It is the age-old problem of holding women to a higher standard of behavior than men. I am as indoctrinated into the sexism inherent in this culture as any man. I was wrong.

So this is an article about contrition, an admission that I was indeed guilty of double standards. That in making excuses for Gasquet’s youthfulness and assumed stupidity at the time of his drug use, I may have been unfair to Martina Hingis. And for that, I apologize.

But understand one thing. At no point did I expect Gasquet to get away with his crime. At no point did I ever argue that he should. I had assumed that, like Hingis, he would have been banned from tennis for two years. I had assumed that Gasquet would have faced the identical punishment as Hingis. The point of my article was never to say that his punishment should be any different or that it should be less, but that this did not have to signal the end of his career. My point was that he ought not to feel that he needed to retire as Hingis had done, but that he could still make it back following his expected two years of purgatory.

Allow me to repeat: I did, with every ounce of my being, expect Gasquet to face the exact same punishment that Hingis did. So you can imagine my shock that he was able to get away using the argument that he kissed a girl with cocaine on her lips. Is that all that Hingis needed to do? Instead of saying that she did not use cocaine, should she have said that she was in slut mode and had kissed some random man in a party with cocaine on his mouth or wherever he had chosen to put it?

I have been as blind-sided as the next person by the sexism inherent in the difference between their punishments. But I will understand if you believe that I have lost all credibility on this issue. After all, I am as much a part of the problem as the tribunal that has concluded that the Katy Perry defense was a reasonable option for Gasquet while Hingis was allowed no such leeway.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Selesians must be having a field day

I have never worshiped at the Church of Seles. I have not been allowed to. In the world of Selesianity, anyone who loved Steffi Graf was branded a non-Selesian and therefore not permitted to worship. (Although, to be fair, I have never been able to see any tennis player living or dead as anything other than an imperfect human being and therefore unworthy of my worship. But I digress).

I also do not believe that Monica Seles is the “greatest tennis player of all time” as argued in the Selesian Doctrine. I’ve mentioned before that for many reasons I have a difficult time pinning this label on any tennis player. I think that this whole notion of the ‘greatest ever’ is a typically American obsession, evidence of our unique cultural narcissism. Other peoples of the world settle for perceiving themselves as the greatest. It is our unique penchant that we must add the word “ever” after it.

But Monica Seles being by citizenship an American, is automatically qualified for consideration as the ‘greatest ever’. And for those who endorse the Doctrine of Selesianty, her greatness was proven by her comeback from the stabbing. Like Jesus Christ himself, Monica was born, she died (well, she could have), and she rose again. Her first autobiography ["Monica -- From fear to victory"] was considered the Selesian Bible. I suppose her latest autobiography would be considered their new testament.

And right about now, Selesians must be celebrating like it’s Christmas. You see, yesterday, Monica Seles got inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. This honor is very much deserved. Seles has won 53 singles titles and six doubles titles. She held the # 1 ranking for a total of 178 weeks and in both 1991 and 1992, she was the # 1 player in the world. She has won nine Grand Slams (only Wimbledon eluded her). And she was the original screamer. You could hear her playing a mile away. Some tennis players used to complain about the ruckus Seles made when hitting the ball. Steffi Graf was never among the complainers. She once reportedly told Seles, “You play your game and I’ll play mine”. I’ve never understood why I have to choose between these two great women.

Monica Seles was a commanding lefty who struck the ball powerfully from both sides, using both hands. She was a contemporary of Jan-Michael Gambill (remember him?) who also hit the ball from both sides with both hands. But Seles accomplished what he only dreamed of, and then some.

I am among those who believe that Monica Seles would have accomplished a whole lot more had she not been stabbed in the back (literally) by a crazed German fan named Günter Parche. Although Monica recovered within weeks from her physical injuries, the psychological trauma haunted her for years and led to a derailment of her career. Seles was openly critical of the German legal system that recognized Parche’s impaired mental health and subjected him to more treatment than punishment.

The legacy of this ugly incident was supposed to be better security for tennis players. We saw how well that was working at Roland Garros this year when a fan in a red cape tried to show Federer some love. For a moment, time stood still as we all experienced collective flashbacks of a painful lesson of history.

I did not enjoy watching the ceremony yesterday. I have a really hard time listening to any kind of pontification. Only for Seles did I resist the impulse to switch the channel to Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Only for Seles did I endure watching these self-important people pontificating under the hot Newport sun.

But there was a low moment in all this for me yesterday. And it had to do with the fact that the only Black man being honored this year had already died. Dr. Robert Johnson was being honored posthumously as the “founder and director of the American Tennis Association (ATA) Junior Development Program, who worked tirelessly for decades assisting in the development of young African-American tennis players while helping to break the barriers of racial segregation.” This is important stuff. Was there no way to tell this man thanks before he died? Well at least we got the chance to honor Monica before she did.

Update: Monica: a retrospective

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The DampAsses make a trip

He knew he would have to go. There was just no getting around it. DampAss had been dreading this moment for months, ever since The Maestro had earned a 13th Slam. DampAss’ spirits had lifted temporarily after Nadal crushed him in Australia. But alas, along came Paris, and Nadal’s surprising announcement that he would not be defending. Suddenly DampAss found himself in a tie for the G.O.A.T. And now it looked like things were about to get worse.

The hardest part was figuring out a way to convince Mrs. DampAss that she would have to come with him. He put off talking about it for as long as he could. His wife walked around with a pinched face. At night she slept facing the wall, her silence a more effective barrier than any diaphragm. The help moved permanently back to the East Wing.

The tension was broken by a call from the All England Club. The members of the Royal Committee wished to know if Mr. DampAss would grace them with his presence. They had not seen him since 2002, and although his membership was lifetime, they would be honored if he would attend this particular year. He said that he wasn’t sure as he had a number of projects on the fire. They replied that Mr. GaGassi had done the honor of showing up in Paris. The All England would be similarly honored if Mr. DampAss would close the loop as it were.

He could avoid it no longer. He would have to travel to Wimbledon and watch Federer win # 15. Worse, he would have to ask his wife to come with him.

“I got an important call just now. Do you know who that was?”, he broached the topic gingerly.

“I’m not going. You can go if you want. Take the children with you. But I’m not going anywhere.”

“You have to come sweetheart. We have no choice. If GaGassi hadn't gone to Paris I might be able to get away with it again. But GaGassi went so now I have to go. And I need you to be there with me. If you don't come, what would the paparazzi say?”

DampAss hated having to play the paparazzi card, but the truth was that it always worked. This time was no different. She still refused to speak to him, but he heard her making appointments for waxing and dyeing. She ordered new dresses. She went on a diet. She even made an appointment for him to get some hair plugs. He suffered in silence, grateful to the core. He would kiss her feet if she allowed it. Oh how he missed the days of serving her. DampAss sighed heavily and trudged off to his own appointments.

She delayed leaving for England. With each round, she remained convinced that the Big-Nosed One would lose and they would not have to go. When he beat Haas in the semi-finals, she grudgingly started making travel arrangements.

“Why don’t you call up Ploddick and give him some suggestions on how to beat Noseman?”, she suggested offhandedly. DampAss was happy to comply. He stayed on the phone late into the night, plotting and planning with McInRaw and others over how Ploddick might have a fighting chance. His record was at stake.

He would have preferred to be seated well before the match started. It was the polite thing to do. She insisted on arriving fashionably late. If she was being forced to go, well then everyone would notice her. He couldn’t believe it when The Maestro waved to him from the court. The nerve of the man.

His spirits soared during the first set. Ploddick executed to the letter the plan they had concocted. And when the second set went to a tie-break, his stomach started unclenching. Surely Ploddick now had the advantage!

But after The Maestro won six straight points to win the second set, the feeling of cold heaviness in his stomach returned. If he could name it, he would say that it felt like a sense of the inevitable, a deep abiding dread. But he was never a man given to reflection. It was a quality that annoyed the crap out of him during the GaGassi era. That man would go on and on boring him to tears with his philosophizing.

But now here was that damn Ploddick losing chance after chance to save his record. The ordeal lasted over four hours. DampAss thought his jaws would break from having to keep smiling. His wife’s face remained closed and pinched. When at last The Maestro broke Ploddick to win the match, DampAss had to dig deep to remain calm. He wanted to choke Ploddick for apologizing to him. Their conversation was supposed to be secret! And then he had to endure posing with The Maestro dressed up like Elvis, and his false modesty about them sharing the G.O.A.T. title, when he knew damn well that it was his.

All of that was painful enough. But dealing with Mrs. DampAss from here on in was going to be so much more.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Wimbledon 2009: 15 Tweets

The new Wimbledon roof: If you don’t build it, it will rain. But if you build it, Murray will complain.

Andy Roddick seems to have matured. Is it the punani or the Stefanki? Discuss.

Flattest match of the tournament: Andy vs. Andy. Where was the crowd? Murray practically had to beg them to support him during a tiebreak.

Was Djokovic at Wimbledon? I didn’t see him. I think I saw his shadow playing on a nether court but that can’t be true cuz he’s not ugly.

Murray kept waiting for the old Roddick to show up. He never did. Murray had no game plan for the new and clearly improved Andy.

Sabine Lisicki is one to watch. There’s life in Dementieva yet. Safina will fix her head. The women’s tour is not dependent on the sisters.

It took more out of Venus to beat Dinara 6-0 6-1 than was immediately apparent. That would explain why she had nothing left against Serena.

There are fewer on-court arguments since the challenge system was introduced. I almost miss the good old days of “you CANNOT be serious”.

Nadal ruined his knees getting to # 1. Now he’s lost it. If I could meet him, I’d ask him one question: Was it worth it?

Sampras’ wife seemed uncomfortable throughout this match. I guess I wouldn’t be thrilled about my husband’s record being erased either.

Why did Roddick apologize to Sampras? Is it that important that the G.O.A.T. be American? Is this what really motivated Andy? I hope not.

Brooklyn Decker may be cuter, but she can’t hold a candle to Mirka when it comes to supporting her man. Mirka’s devotion seems absolute.

Federer had a jacket with the # 15 imprinted in gold on the back. What would he have done if he had lost? Was there a back-up clothing plan?

Federer put on his Rolex after winning the match. Next he donned clothing by Nike. No wonder he’s an advertiser’s dream.

Will Roger do a victory tour or stay home with his pregnant wife? I vote tour. Pregnancy is fine, but it’s not everyday you win 15 Slams.

Feel free to add your own tweets in "Comments" below!! :-)

The Championships - Wimbledon 2009 Day Thirteen
Wimbledon: Pictures from the last day

Federer is lucky he’s not a calypsonian

There is a curious practice in the Caribbean that could not possibly exist in the US. Or anywhere else for that matter. Whenever a calypsonian becomes the inevitable favorite to win a contest, people start calling for him to step down.

Dominance of any kind is considered unfair. The thinking is that all calypso singers should have an equal chance of winning a contest, and when someone becomes the inevitable winner, the playing field is no longer perceived as level. So when performers like the Mighty Sparrow or David Rudder came to ascendance, at some point folks started grumbling for them to step down. So powerful is this cultural expectation that they both did.

Officially, dominant performers have every right to enter any contest they chose. But unofficially it is understood that they had better not because audiences would be most unhappy. And so, usually at the point at which their dominance peaks, they start being pressured to give others a chance. Or to paraphrase John McEnroe during his post-match interview of Federer, they start feeling that it is time to throw the other guy a bone.

This tendency has persisted in the world of calypso. Dominant performers are encouraged to find other lucrative ways of earning an income. In fact, it is assumed that they should have no difficulty filling concert halls and putting out CDs. But competing for money is not a welcome option.

Of course from time to time one encounters a performer who refuses to play by these cultural rules. Iwer George and the Mighty Chalkdust (Chalkie) are two performers who have dared to continue to compete despite loud grumblings asking them to disappear. It takes guts to go against the cultural mores. You have to admire the thickness of their skin.

This is what I thought about at two different moments in the aftermath of Federer’s history-making performance today. The second time I had these thoughts was when McEnroe made the comment that I already referenced above. The first time was when Federer was being interviewed by the BBC and seemed to be trying his best to be empathetic towards his opponent.

Federer recalled his own tears at past painful losses and offered encouraging words to Roddick. In response, Roddick let out his inner churl and shouted to Federer something to the extent that that was easy for Federer to say because he already had five previous wins.

As is said in the Caribbean, it was a low class moment. But I understood the level of pain behind it and the momentary resentment that inspired it. I also understood that this is part of the thinking behind the rejection of dominance in the world of calypso. Everyone likes a winner, but when that winner starts becoming predictable, inevitable, then there emerges a cultural consensus that it is time to step down and stop causing other competitors unnecessary pain.

So I was shocked when McEnroe made that comment to Federer today, asking him jokingly to throw Andy a bone next year. It was such a Trini moment. And I thought, wow, even though he's dressed like one, that Federer is damn lucky he’s not a calypsonian yes.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Is Dinara the new Federer?

I was looking at an interview of Roger Federer following the Ivo Karlovic match. It was a lovely, graceful interview. Federer admitted that since he had barely broken a sweat during the Karlovic match (ha, ha), he had decided to get some of his press junkets out of the way. Better for us!

He made the point that people misunderstand how difficult it is to achieve 20 straight Slam semi-final wins. He said that when he had passed Lendl’s record of ten semi-finals, he himself stopped paying attention to the statistic. However he has now doubled Lendl. In fact, he has achieved more semi-final wins than any other player in tennis history, including such stellar players as Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.

Roger didn’t say it but his meta-point seemed to be that we have become so accustomed to his success that we dismiss anything that falls short of a win in the finals. He didn’t say it but he seemed to be implying that we his fans, are somewhat prone to either-or thinking, such that anything that is not a win in the finals is defined as a failure. He didn’t say it, because he was doing his whole classy guy act, but he seemed to be hinting that in this, we are all quite full of it. And then some.

I thought of this today when I looked at the series of questions that Dinara Safina faced from the press, minutes after being wiped out by Venus Williams. Here are the first three questions, verbatim:

Q. Can you put into words how disappointed you feel.
Q. That must have been a nightmare result for you, though.
Q. Did you feel like the world No. 1 out there today?

Brutal huh? No holds barred. Just go straight for the jugular and tell a player who made it to the finals of the 2009 Australian Open, the finals of the 2009 French Open, and the semi-finals of Wimbledon 2009 that none of that matters, because she didn’t win.

This is what we did to Federer. 20 straight times. Dinara seems to be fast becoming the new Federer.

I do not at all mean to diminish Venus’ win today. It was brilliant, merciless, and cold. Let Serena struggle all she wanted against Dementieva, Venus was going to show this Russian who was boss.

But I believe that Venus was not competing today against Dinara. She was competing against the only player who matters to her, which is her sister. When Serena beat Dinara at the 2009 Australian Open, she did so in 59 minutes with a score line of 6-0, 6-3. Venus demolished Dinara today in 51 minutes, with a score line of 6-0, 6-1. In doing so, she had surpassed Serena. Venus and Serena inspire each other to greatness. At this moment they have won 10 titles apiece in their unique rivalry. One will be more inspired than the other to win an 11th. And this right after they join forces to inspire each other to win the doubles. What a complex dynamic!

When we speak of spectacular losses in the future, Safina’s today to Venus Williams will deservedly stand out. It was an incredible display of awkward bewilderment in the face of confident talent.

But someone must have gotten through to Dinara Safina. Someone must have reminded her that even if she loses a match, horribly, in her interviews she needs to sound like the # 1 player who has made it to the finals of three Slams and the semi-finals of two others. Someone must have told her that that is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it is quite an accomplishment.

I say this because a different Dinara faced the press today. Not the one we saw in Paris, looking like a beaten down junior so embarrassed and humiliated that she seemed like she just wanted to run and hide in a corner. Instead we saw an honest but determined Safina, accepting the brutal questions with grace but defending as well what she has achieved. Like Federer, Safina may go on to win many semi-finals throughout her career. Like Federer, I hope she wins finals as well. But in the meantime, let us not entirely ignore her tremendous accomplishments to date.