Monday, January 21, 2019

“We know how to win slams”

That’s what Federer said in a recent interview following his second-round win at this year’s Aussie Open. Roger was of course referring to Djoko, Rafa and himself.  And he is absolutely correct.  That formidable threesome can genuinely boast that they posses the kind of expertise that it takes to not just make it past week two and into the finals, trophy held aloft, but to do so again and again and again. 

Not everyone on the ATP or WTA tour has the ability to win slams.  Indeed, most of the folks playing professional tennis on both tours likely accept that the best that they are capable of is making a decent showing if all of the stars are aligned.  Most aspire to just being able to pay their bills.  The talented ones hope for a contract that will pay them what tennis cannot. The cheaters take drugs like meldonium.

This is not to say that winners always succeed in winning.  Let’s face it, anyone can win a one-off match.  Anyone can have a bad day and lose to a lesser player.  Anyone can have a lapse in form that interferes with performance at the wrong time.  But the ability to win slams over and over, that kind of consistent performance, requires a maturity of focus that the one-hit wonders never master.

That Lendl has elected to work with Zverev is probably the strongest evidence that Zverev has what it takes to win slams.  Or that Lendl – whose judgment I trust – seems to hold that opinion of his young charge. There is no doubting Zverev’s talent. There is no question that he could – and has – beaten all of the top players in past events.  But that is not the same as winning a Slam.  And then doing so again.

Lendl had that ability, which can mean that he has much to teach those who elect to work with him. But watching the way Raonic easily and completely dismantled Zverev’s game made me seriously doubt.  The sight of an out-of-control Zverev destroying his racket after losing the second set made me question if he has the maturity of focus required to take his game consistently to the next level.  

I believe that one of the reasons that the triumvirate of Novak, Rafa, and Federer has continued to dominate tennis well into ages normally associated with retirement is because they have one advantage over all of the newbies.  They know how to win slams.  They know how to withstand the two weeks of pressure.  They know how to endure and remain resilient as upstart after upstart challenge their crown.

More than anything, I wish for Tsitsipas that his win over Federer turned out to not be just a flash in the pan.  And I wish for Danielle Collins that her crushing defeat of Kerber truly signaled her readiness to take her game to the next level.  And these are just two recent breakthroughs.

I’ve never hidden my love of the fact that Federer and Serena continue to dominate tennis.  I love that they – along with Rafa and Novak – continue to fill stadia with excited fans calling for them to continue playing and winning.  And, when they lose, I want that the people beating them stay the course and give further witness to the value of endurance.

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