U.S. OPEN: Reflections on Shadows

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Ferrer Downs Tipsarevic in Brutal Marathon

Many a baseball fan claimed that the great Lou Gehrig played in the shadow of his teammate Babe Ruth.

Others noted that Wil

lie McCovey’s career was somehow diminished by Willie Mays. Certainly the Chicago Bulls’ Scottie Pippen was a bit of a Tonto as he ran the court with the Lone Ranger – Micheal Jordan.
In tennis, Tony Roche battled in the shadow of John Newcombe. Greg Rusedski was swept aside by (Tim) Henmania. Michael Chang, Jim Courier and Todd Martin all looked up to Sampras and Agassi.
Now we live in the era of the Big Three – Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

But guess what? There has never been an era of greater shadows then today. Then again, in tennis, what exactly a shadow? It is a player from the same country as a marquee player who labors in the shadow of the that star.
In particular, there is nothing like the Swiss duo of Federer and Stan Wawrinka. Friends and practice partners, they are not only the two best players to emerge out of their mountain land, they are doubles partners who won the Olympic gold. Amazingly, Federer declined the opportunity to carry his nation’s flag in the Olympic opening ceremony in London so his buddy Stan could carry the banner.

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The best match of this year’s U.S. Open, featured the two other great “shadows” of this period. Yanko Tipsarevic has long played in the shadow of Novak Djokovic While Nole is the most beloved man in Serbia, his friend and Davis Cup teammate Tipsarivic was known more for his tatoos, his penchant for deep think philosophers and belief in the Dostoevskian contention that “Beauty Will Save the World.”
But this year the brooding man with olive skin, a black beard and red sunglasses broke into the top ten. In New York he survived a brutal five set match in his opener before cruising to the quarters where he faced a kindred spirit – another noteable shadow.

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Rafa Nadal is a legend in Spain – beloved in town and village. A favorite of the Royal Family, a supporter of Spanish soccer teams in South African stadiums or Spanish NBA stars in L.A., his muscular good looks have an obvious appeal. His humility inspires, his boyish charm is infectious. Could he be more popular?
Ferrer, the fifth best tennis player in the world, doesn’t even try to outshine his countryman. When you ask about Nadal, he looks to the side and averts your glance, as if to say “let’s not go there.” The shadow knows, this is a no contest. He says he learns from Nadal and during the Open they exchanged many a text.
Ferrer also knows that, outside of the top three or four, there is no match he is truly out of. He fights, he scratches, he runs, he shrugs off his flubs, he uses gamesmanship a bit (like a timely medical time-out) and he adores the battle whether it be on an outer court last year at the Open vs. Andy Roddick or as a Davis Cup star.
In his fourth quarterfinal of the year he showed all his grit and physicality as he prevailed in a grueling 6-3, 6-7 (5), 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) battle of relative unknowns.

Now the man who has been called a terrier or a pit-bull faces another dog fight in Saturday’s semi. Again he will face a Serbian. But Djokovic – a hero by the Danube – is no shadow. And the defending champion is no stranger to U.S. Open semifinals.