Sunday, January 29, 2012

Running, Rafa, Nole, and More Running

I was sick last week. I had a head cold that mercifully remained in my head. While migration was mitigated, it still sucked. It was one of those colds that you can feel coming on for several days. I started taking massive amounts of vitamin C and echinacea in the ridiculous attempt to make the onset light and the duration brief. Honestly, who the heck knows if that even works, but like moths to a flame, we all do it.

As the cold was settling in, I had knocked out a 10 miler on Sunday, took Monday off, and then (with a terrific headache and stuffed nose) did 5 more on Tuesday. Wednesday I swam. Thursday I ran 4 in the a.m. and then swam in the evening. I found that swimming with a stuffed nose is really no big deal. Since I'm gulping air with my mouth during the pool crossings, a blocked sinus isn't even really noticeable. I did another swim on Friday, and then a run and swim on Sat. My weekly total was in the 23 mile range for running. Not bad with the cold thrown in. I had never really done that before. I never pushed it on a run or swim. But I did refuse to let it hold me down.

So, I awoke this a.m. at 3:30. I knew that Rafa was playing Nole in the finals of the Aussie Open at that very moment. I knew there would be a replay, but thought, why not catch a bit of the action as it happens. And that turned out to be a good choice. I spent the next 4.5 hours dozing and watching an amazing match. Djokovic has owned Nadal for the past year or so. But today, Nadal fought back with everything he had. The match became a war of attrition, punctuated by some fantastic tennis shot-making. Nole always looked in control, but he would have momentary lapses where Rafa would take advantage. What should have been a relatively easy 4 set victory for Djokovic turned into a 5 set slog and slug-fest. By the end, both players looked weary. At the awards ceremony (and this was the first time I've ever seen this), Djokovic had to keep stretching and Nadal sort of slumped on the net until some Aussie official noticed this and brought them chairs to sit on while the awards were being presented.

It was a monumental match; the longest final in a Grand Slam event ever. And both players left everything they had on the court. I do want to add a couple of editorial comments here as well.

First, it was the longest finals match ever. But let's be honest. It wouldn't have been if the umpire had made the two players follow the rules of the game and actually serve in a timely manner. Djokovic and Nadal respectively went about 50% and 75% over the allowable time between each point according to the announcers. So what that means is that we, as viewers, got to watch each of the two players stand on the baseline and bounce the ball countless times between each serve. I'm not really complaining, but why have a rule, or why even reference a rule, if it is going to be so routinely and brazenly flaunted? All mentioning the rule does, is make the viewer aware of how quickly the match should be progressing in comparison to how it actually is progressing. Not a good thing to do.

Second, there is a constant comparison of Rafa to Federer in both print and electronic media. Federer is considered to be 'one of the greats, if not the greatest.' While Rafa is considered Federer's nemesis who is better when the two meet head to head. Pundits ponder how one can be the GOAT (greatest of all time), yet have a losing record against one's contemporary. I have a couple of thoughts on that question.

Roger Federer became one of the greatest (I'm still a bit of a Rod Laver guy) players ever by winning more grand slams than any man in history, and by being better than his contemporaries while doing it. Then Rafa came along. And what happened then was that Rafa made Federer better, who in turn, made Rafa better. So the Federer who was around (and still won some grand slams) after the onset of Rafael Nadal was actually a much better player than the Federer who stomped everyone before the Spaniard entered the picture. To my mind, Roger Federer is one of the GOATs, without being the best player. He certainly was the best earlier in his career. But I would argue that he became an even better player after he had achieved GOAT status, and ceased to win everything in his path. Nadal is almost certainly a better player than Roger is now if one is to look at their head to head meetings (particularly Grand Slam events). And Djokovic may be better than both Federer and Nadal.

History will give Roger his due among the legends (Laver) of the game. His fluid, artful, beautiful play is almost indescribable. Rafa, who had Roger's number, so to speak, will also be a whole lot more than a footnote. And it looks as if Djokovic will as well. Roger might have been greater, winning more Slams, if Rafa hadn't come down the pike. But the Swiss maestro would not have become as good a player if Nadal had not been there to challenge, and yes, overtake him. And now Djokovic, the man from Serbia, may prove to be to Nadal what Nadal was to Federer.


Whew, OK. Enough on tennis (the cause of all my knee issues - trust me, it was not running). Speaking of running and tennis.... After watching the marathon match, I was inspired to head out for a river trail run. I normally go at a chillaxed (holy crap, did I actually just use that word?) pace, and take a shortcut at around the halfway point in order to make the run closer to 8 miles. But today, with the memory of the herculean efforts of Rafa and Djokovic, I pushed the pace and blew off the shortcut. The weather was about as perfect as it ever gets for running. There were a lot of cyclists on the trails, but I saw no other runners. I had This American Life buzzing in my ears, and sun-dappled beauty all around me. I love tennis... But I love running more. Until next week....

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