Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Should Tipsarevic be fined for lack of effort?

Isn't it interesting how within a few hours of each other, several matches will line up to demonstrate the incredible mental and emotional strength of a particular group of players, among them Venus Williams and Gilles Simon. And then right smack in the middle of all this unbelievable greatness you will see evidence of the other extreme of human dysfunction, as represented by Janko Tipsarevic and his churlish, childish, and spectacularly embarrassing performance against Fernando Verdasco.

But first let me comment on the players who for me demonstrated what I consider to be incredible psychological fortitude. First, there was Venus Williams, who was clearly injured in the first set. As she reached upward for an overhead, she let out a cry of pain that made everyone expect her to hobble to the Chair and announce that she was retiring. Except that we’re talking about Venus Williams. This is a woman who has never ever retired against another player.

So with one groin massively bandaged, and a look of fierce determination on her face, Venus proceeded to dig deep and withdraw from within her psyche the kind of mental will that made her poor opponent become first flustered and then aghast. Venus won the second set 6-0. It was an incredible performance. But she did not stop there. She seemed astutely to decide not to go for another 6-0 third set. Instead she seemed to calculate that all she needed to do was break Zahlavova once and keep holding her own serve. And she did. And she won.

And then there was Gilles Simon. I am always intrigued by this player. I’ve compared him to a rat in the past. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way but simply as an acknowledgement that he is the sneakiest player on the tour. To tell you the truth, I don’t have a clue how this man wins the matches that he does. His winning shots always come out of the blue, unexpectedly, a triumph of sneakiness and deception.

But what I wanted to comment on was his mental strength. He was down two sets to love against Federer. All Federer had to do was win that third set and he was home free. But Simon clearly decided that that was not going to happen. He stormed back in the next two sets, breaking Federer to even the score. And then in the third set, he denied Federer five break/match points on his (Simon’s) own serve. I don’t think Simon got in a first serve at 2-5 in the third. And yet he never stopped fighting, forcing Federer to serve it out, and coming painfully close to denying him even that. Simon’s mental will and focus were palpable. And while losses are never desired, this is one loss of which he should be proud.

And then there was Janko Tipsarevic. I don’t know how to begin to express my anger at the shameful performance he put down in Melbourne. Really, Tipsarevic should be ashamed to ever show his face in any part of Australia ever again. His behavior was embarrassing. And if the ATP does not fine him, I will lose respect for the folks who claim to govern men’s tennis.

For those who did not see the match – and really if you didn’t, don’t watch it because you’ll end up just as angry as I – Tipsarevic was playing lively tennis for the first two sets. He just threw everything including the kitchen sink at Verdasco who remained flat-footed, as if he had eaten too many lobsters or something. And then the tide started turning a bit in the third, but Tipsarevic handled the third set loss with grace. He seemed confident that the win was still within reach. And in truth, it truly seemed to be.

But in the fourth set, Tipsarevic squandered a number of chances. Indeed, at one point Verdasco seemed to stumble over his feet and started grimacing. It looked as if he might have re-injured his ankle. I honestly thought the match was over. But like Venus, Verdasco too decided to dig deep.

My disgust with Tipsarevic started when Verdasco managed to equalize that fourth set at 6-6 to force a tie-break. It seemed to me as if Tipsarevic got so angry that he simply stopped playing from that point on. It was as if his ego became wounded, his arrogance deflated. His body language seemed to scream “how dare you” at the persistence of Verdasco, almost as if Verdasco was betraying some kind of agreement that he supposed to lose. For Tipsarevic, the injury to his narcissism seemed deep, as if Verdasco had no business, no right, to come back and even the match.

So from 6-all in the fourth set, Tipsarevic simply stopped playing. To my eyes, he did not even pretend to try to win another game. He lost the tie-break 0-7. The crowd screamed its support of Verdasco – further puncturing the fragile narcissism of the tattooed one. His petulant performance persisted throughout the fifth set which he lost 0-6.

To my eyes, he seemed to be throwing a passive-aggressive temper tantrum, in the manner of a child who may start acting out, and at some point may become aware that he’s gone too far but by then is so far gone that it’s too late to turn back. And for being a childish, churlish embarrassment to men’s tennis, this man-child deserves to be punished. I hope the ATP has the guts to do this.

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