Monday, April 29, 2013

Is Old is the New Young? by Gabe Gonzalez

          When I started playing tennis 30 years ago, the pro circuit was jam-packed with teen wunderkinds.  Tracy Austin, Jimmy Arias, Andrea Jaeger, and Carling Bassett were all media darlings, each one hailed as the next big thing.  The message was, "If you don't make it big by 16, you have no chance."  But, injuries cut short many of those happy endings. 

          Today, Old is the new Young.  As I hit the courts in my early 40's, I feel like I have company on the ATP and the WTA.  Roger Federer, while not at his peak, is still the Number 2 player in the world and the reigning Wimbledon champion at the age of 31.  David Ferrer is at a peak position of Number 4 at the age of 31.  Tommy Haas, up to Number 14 in the world, is having a renaissance at the age of 35.  In the doubles arena, only two of the top 15 players are under 30.  They are surrounded by the likes of the Bryan brothers (34),  Leander Paes (39), Nenad Zimonjic (36), and Daniel Nestor (40, and a three-time defending champion in doubles at Roland Garros).  These seasoned veterans are usually the first on a captain's list when Davis Cup squads are being formed.

The WTA is no different.  Five players in the top 20 are at least 30 years old, including the Number 1 player in the world (Serena Williams, Li Na, Nadia Petrova, Roberta Vinci, Klara Zakopalova).  And, these players are not coasting.  While Williams and Petrova had success in earlier years, Na, Vinci, and Zakopalova only hit their stride as they got older.  Much like the men, the women's doubles scene is dominated by the older generation, with nine of the Top 15 at least 30 years old (including Vinci, Number 1 in doubles).  And, then there's 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm, who, after a Top 5 career, returned from a 12-year retirement to ensconce herself in the Top 100 again (currently, Number 74). 

          So, when you think about your game, no matter your age, don't automatically think that your best days are behind you.  In fact, your best days may be right now, or a year or two into the future.  Tennis is a physical game, but it is also very much a mental game.  And, your experience is an advantage that you bring to every match.

-Gabe Gonzalez
Avid Tennis Fan

Friday, April 12, 2013

Boise, Idaho was nearly Novak Djokovic's Waterloo

           As the prize money in professional tennis has reached new highs, the distance between the tennis world of us regular folks and the tennis world of the global tennis stars has sometimes seemed very great.  What do they know about having to play on a questionable court or with the aches and pains of age?  And, do they even remember the pure joy of playing, separate and apart from the money, the celebrity, the titles?  Leave it to the Davis Cup to remind us that a pure love of the game of tennis is alive and well even among the greats.

Credited to EPA
           Boise, Idaho, is not known as a tennis mecca, but it was almost Novak Djokovic's Waterloo.  The United States and Serbia were playing their World Group quarterfinal there.  The U.S. had to have been feeling good about its chances, with Serbia lacking Janko Tipsarevic.  If John Isner and Sam Querrey each beat Victor Troicki, then the Bryan brothers would seal the deal in doubles.  On Day 1, Querrey needed five sets to beat Troicki, to get the U.S. to 1-1 after Djokovic's win over Isner.  The Bryan brothers were overwhelming favorites against the doubles line-up of Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac, ranked 334th in singles.  But, Davis Cup makes regular players become great players, at times.  That was the case with Bozoljac, who propelled the Serbs to an improbable 7-6(5), 7-6(1), 5-7, 4-6, 15-13, win over the No. 1 doubles team in the world. 

Credited to USA Today
           After that shock, with the U.S. down 2-1, they needed a near miracle to capture both reverse singles matches.  It would be up to Querrey to topple Djokovic.  But, in the third game of their match, Djokovic toppled himself, falling to the ground in pain with an ankle injury.  After court side treatment, the mega-fit Djokovic played on, in noticeable pain, and beat Querrey in four sets.  Afterwards, he was reduced to tears when talking about the injury, unsure of how bad it really was.  [An MRI revealed no long-term injury, but Djokovic is doubtful for the Monte Carlo Masters.]

           It's not easy when we are in a league match, playing with a sore shoulder or a painful toe, to think that we have much in common with the No. 1 player in the world.  But, in Boise, Idaho, Novak Djokovic showed the same spirit that all of us have shown at some point, getting on the court and playing your best because you love tennis and would rather be on a tennis court playing this game (no matter your physical state) than just about anywhere else in the world.

-Gabe Gonzalez
Avid Tennis Fan