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.