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Tony Grist

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The Greatest [Jul. 6th, 2009|10:08 am]
Tony Grist
Is Federer the best? The record book says so. Fifteen majors- one more than Pete Sampras.   He wasn't at his most inspired yesterday- and he was facing an opponent who was playing out of his skin-  but he still won. He makes victory look not easy exactly, but fated.

It was, as one of the papers said, an "ugly" win. There wasn't much artistry about it. Muhammed Ali, the prettiest fighter of them all, also won ugly towards the end of his career. Great champions are like that. When beauty deserts them they keep going on whatever's left in the locker- craft, character, will-power. There's something awesome, almost supernatural about the way a champion past his prime keeps on racking up the victories.

But Rafa wasn't there. Rafa was someplace else.  Maybe he was on his fishing boat, puposefully not thinking about what might have been.  And if Rafa had been there....?

You can only be the best on the day- against the opposition that presents itself.  Federer was the best yesterday- on a lot of yesterdays- but there are many opponents he'll never meet.  He will never meet Laver in his prime or Borg in his prime or any of those other great champions of the past- and we can only theorize about the outcome of such impossible encounters. We shouldn't let his greatness overshadow theirs. They too were the best on the day. The best on many days.

We like to make lists, grading things in order of merit.  We find it comforting . We crave certainties.  It's almost a religious thing.

But the certainties wobble when you look at them closely. Federer's pre-eminence is all about counting beans, about the number of days on which he turned up and was the best.  He gets a prize for consistency. That's something, but does it add up to absolute greatness? The questions pile in. What if Laver hadn't lost 5 prime years to the the amateur-pro controversy?  What if Rafa had been at Wimbledon this year?   Thank goodness they do; otherwise we'd have nothing to talk about. 

[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2009-07-06 01:01 pm (UTC)
Pete Sampras was deceptively boring as a tennis player. Some of the best matches he ever played were against Andre Agassi, at the U.S. Open. There was one marathon that went on and on. But you know, Pete was boring because of his GREAT BIG SERVE. Watching Ivan Lendl play was like watching one of those serving machines - and he was a whiner.

I saw Bjorn Borg play in person, against John MacEnroe. Granted, it was an exhibition match, but still. Borg was BEAUTIFUL. He was well sculpted, well muscled (and I had and still have a thing about men with long hair.) He had class - I remember some of his matches with Ilie Nastase, where Ilie was pulling his usual intimidating didoes, and Bjorn stood at the other end of the court with his arms folded, waiting. And when play began again, Borg would usually ace him.

Rafa plays a different kind of tennis, he's way more athletic. (and, yes, this old lady doesn't mind looking at his absolute physical beauty one single bit.)

I'd like to suggest a book for you - Tony, if it's okay. Read Arthur Ashe's autobiography, Days of Grace. It is, indeed, graceful and classy - Arthur Ashe had class. But there's something intangible there...

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-07-06 01:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Yes, I'd like to read that book. I remember Ashe's Wimbledon victory. It was unforgettable.

Borg was in his pomp when I first got really hooked by tennis- so I have a special regard for him. He was very exciting to watch.

These days the players have to be athletic. But if Borg and McEnroe were playing today they'd be putting in the gymn-work- and I reckon they'd measure up to Roger and Rafa.
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[User Picture]From: ingenious76
2009-07-06 06:22 pm (UTC)
Borg was phenomenal - a man of ice among a collection of firebrands, he brought a grace and refinement to men's tennis. He made the likes of MacEnroe and Connors look ill-tempered and ill-bred in comparison.

Sampras was boring...so was Courier. Agassi was good fun - he knew how to laugh at himself on court, which precious few do.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2009-07-06 07:34 pm (UTC)
oh, and Jim Courier WHINED when he lost. That was something I disliked about Ivan Lendl AND Martina Navratilova.

Andre was in a class by himself. He started to take himself seriously a little too late, though.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-07-06 09:15 pm (UTC)
McEnroe and Connors were brats.

Sampras turned me right off tennis. I didn't start taking an interest again until he was gone.

Agassi seems to be a sweet man.
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2009-07-06 01:24 pm (UTC)
!omebody once said that the primary way the human mind works is by classifying things - What is it like? What is it related to? Where does it sit on my list? What box can I put it in?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-07-06 01:39 pm (UTC)
I think they were probably right. First we organise the world, then we get to work on it.
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[User Picture]From: zeeshanmn
2009-07-07 06:16 am (UTC)
As a kid, I was a huge fan of Boris Becker's volatility and Stefan Edberg, that was a time when I was actively playing tennis in school. Later, I liked Sampras for his serve and Agassi was an all-time favourite.

I still play tennis occasionally at the club, but somehow, in men's tennis, I couldn't bring myself to like Federer. I like Nadal as an athlete.

As you said, I believe greatness is very relative to the period one is great. Laver, Borg, Sampras were great then, Federer is now. I don't think it would be right to compare players across time or pitch them against each other. Our history is very great-event-oriented, if someone does something great, he becomes great. There is no superlative.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-07-07 08:54 am (UTC)
My then girlfriend had a teenage daughter who worshipped Boris Becker. She had his poster on the wall. I liked him too. He was a very exciting player.

I took tennis lessons as a kid, but I was never any good at it. My sport- insofar as I had a sport- was badminton.
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[User Picture]From: zeeshanmn
2009-07-07 11:23 am (UTC)
Badminton's my first love too. I played badminton at high school and district (county) levels. I haven't played badminton after 1999. Tennis now has become more of a social networking affair for me, if you ask me honestly.

Also here in India, playing badminton is not as expensive as playing tennis. Plus we have this wonder-girl Saina Nehwal, who is giving a lot of encouragement in a game that supposedly originated in India :-).
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