Maybe the Moon and Other Findings From the BNP Paribas Open

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Photo by Brent Bishop.

By Bill Simons

CHEZ PANISSE, CHEZ LARRY’S: Yes, that was USTA Player Development Chief Pat McEnroe, Jose Higueras, and UC Berkeley coach Peter Wright at Berkeley’s cutting-edge Chez Panisse restaurant the other night. Wright and many other collegians later dined with Oracle founder and tennis benefactor Larry Ellison.

ISNER VS. DJOKOVIC EQUALS: The most feared serve in the game vs. the most adept return of serve in the game.

YOU DON’T SEE THAT EVERY DAY: Djokovic breaks Isner twice in a row, and then Isner breaks right back twice in a row … Djokovic serves for the match twice, and he doesn’t even get a match point.

HOW LOUD CAN YOU GET? Nick Bollettieri, one of the most adept self-promoters on this earth, will reportedly be introduced at the International Hall of Fame induction ceremony in July by Dick Vitale—the loudest voice in TV sports since Howard Cosell—and by tennis’ adept quipmeister Mary Carillo.

STUCK IN THE ’60s: The serve speed meter briefly jammed during the FedererDolgopolov semis and repeatedly showed the Ukraine’s serve being hit at a paltry 65 mph.

NOT SO STUCK IN THE ’60s: How cool is the new 360 degrees spotlight technology which tennis broadcasts are now featuring?

IT MAY NOT BE AN AMERICAN MAN WINNING A SLAM, BUT… Next week an American, John Isner, will be in the top ten for the first time since September 2012..

MAYBE THE MOON: There’s no factual basis to the rumor that NASA issued a report that you could spot Federer‘s neon orange shoes from Mars.

HAM SLAM: Historians still occasionally refer to Ham Richardson, the fine American player of the ’50s and ’60s. But, of course, Novak Djokovic is the prevailing ham on the ATP circuit. While Li Na‘s hilarious humor is based on verbal jibes and brutally witty honesty, Djokovic is known more for his famous imitations and set piece offerings. He’s long relished crashing press conferences. And he recently delighted reporters when he barged into a Grigor Dimitrov presser, threw his arm around his Bulgarian pal and said, “My friend Grigor here, best-looking guy on the tour. You don’t need to talk about tennis too much … let’s talk about your looks.”

BACK-TO-BACK CHAMPIONS: Despite a slew of fabulous teams which were in the draw (Federer, Murray, Djokovic and Nadal were all in), Bob and Mike Bryan defended their doubles championships.

NOT-S0-HIDDEN MESSAGE: When Grigor Dimitrov—who is Maria Sharapova‘s boyfriend—was asked to name his favorite flavor of Sugarpova candy, he answered, “Flirty Sour.”

MAN BITES DOG: In one of the better role-reversals in memory, when facing John McEnroe in Charlotte, Ivan Lendl freaked out for over ten minutes about a crucial line call, and was subsequently issued a point penalty (before, amidst much chaos, it was rescinded).

As Lendl stormed the back of the court arguing with the linesperson, McEnroe paraded around, posing for selfies with fans and riling up the crowd. After Mac won, he told the crowd, “I loved it. Now I know what it is like. …I got to have some fun, talk to people. Take some pictures. It was awesome. He melted down and I pulled it out.” Earlier in the event, which Mac won, the New Yorker was facing his ace rival Jimmy Connors for the first time since ’99, and almost nailed him in his private parts. The ever-reflective Mac snickered with laughter after the shot, and later quipped that he had “been trying for that for 35 years.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We feel [they are] two different sports,” says Mike Bryan, about ATP singles and doubles.

MAKES SENSE: Lauren Davis, 5’2”, says she has always looked up to 5’3″ Dominika Cibulkova.

T-SHIRT OF THE DAY: “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors” shirt from the Museum of the Rockies.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN FIRST: A traumatic fall-out from the often hilarious kiss-cam filler feature during changeovers, a suit from someone hurt by going for a ball blasted into the stands by the winner after a match, or a debilitating injury as a result of a soccer game among tennis players?

CHRIST, YOU KNOW IT AIN’T EASY: To hit an offensive lob winner over a gigantic 6’10” pro (like Novak Djokovic did over Isner.)

YOU MAY SAY I AM NOT A DREAMER: Novak Djokovic said, let’s face it no one grows up dreaming to be a doubles champion.

HE GOT THAT ONE RIGHT: Djokovic said four-time BNP Paribas Open champ Federer “doesn’t have a bad record here.”

THE STATE OF THE FEDERER—AN INTERVIEW:

QUESTION: You play with zest … You seem happier. Do you think you are?

ROGER FEDERER:  I’m just playing more freely overall and with more confidence, because I can get to more balls without thinking. I can wake up in the morning without feeling sore. I can go to bed not feeling like, “I hope I feel better tomorrow.”

I don’t have these thoughts going through my mind, and I’m not worried every single minute of the day. So, automatically you’re more inspired, and you’re more happy as a person.

Q: Is there anything you haven’t seen like weather‑wise and conditions‑wise?

RF: We don’t play in ice-cold conditions. It’s not like other sports.  Where they play NFL … I saw a game when I was practicing in Dubai, and there was snow just everywhere. I was like, “That’s crazy.” I don’t know how they do it. Thankfully, I’m a tennis player.

But then again, we play in unbelievable heat sometimes, like in Australia.

Q: Is there any added significance for you, having played this well here this year, since this is where things went sour for you? Does that make it any sweeter this year?

RF: Not necessarily. You know, I accepted the fact that I wasn’t feeling well last year. I knew I had planned to go back after this tournament and then rest and prepare.

So, instead of resting I was just sore. Instead of preparing, I was just trying to get back. So it was a bit of a wasted sort of stretch …

I did return okay. Once the clay came around, at least the pain was gone, but mentally, I took a hit, just knowing that I never felt in pain for [as] long [as] I did after this tournament last year.

So it feels good winning so many matches here again. It’s nice winning, anyway (smiling). It just solves a lot of problems and makes you feel better—you know, happier.

Q: Having won so much this week, does it make you rethink Miami at all? You’re going to have six matches here.

RF: Yeah, I mean, we’ll see how the match goes tomorrow. I mean, I’d like to see more best-of-five-set finals potentially, but it [isn’t best of five], so that’s definitely a plus.

But it looks more likely for me to go [to Miami] than not go, at this point.

Q: Could you be more specific about the year of injuries?

RF: It was a bad back.  Here [in the] second round. It did go away three weeks later, probably, when I was home.  [It] just kept on lingering, lingering, lingering, and then eventually it went away. But being sore every day leaves its scars … Then I started to train again, [as] lightly as I could, and then eventually I trained normally again … I wouldn’t have entered Madrid or Rome … I just had a bad batch against Tsonga … at the French, and then [at] Wimbledon I had a bit of a surprise loss, but I wasn’t in pain then.

{I was] just maybe feeling that training was lacking from the weeks I lost in April. I could feel for a while I was playing the wrong way.  Little things crept into my game that shouldn’t have, and probably wouldn’t have, had I felt better.

And then I got hurt again a few weeks after Wimbledon. That’s when things really became difficult … I had a back spasm in Hamburg. I should have pulled out … Then I really like questioned everything … From playing soccer I think I hurt my back, just from passing around. I think it came from something else, but I just realized my back was really fragile. That’s when I put everything in question and really had to rethink my routines.

That’s when we came up with another plan …. [And] we adjusted it again …[It’s] just core exercises … I realized just doing treatment is not going to do any good. You have to work on [the injury areas] to become stronger.

Even though I did a lot of exercises beforehand, I just had to adjust them … different speed, different exercises … It’s not a quick fix. It was, Let’s see how you feel in two weeks, two months, six months.  It was a long‑term plan .. It’s not like one day to the next having no pain. Tennis players are in pain quite often.

It’s tricky to let it all go and say, “It’s normal to be in pain.” So I had to accept that, that you’re going to be in pain, a little bit, like every other player, too. Don’t believe you’re not going to be in pain. It’s part of being a tennis player.

Q: After all these years of watching, even us in the media were taken aback at some shots you come up with. In the middle of a match, do you surprise yourself?

ROGER FEDERER: I do … In a match, you just stretch that little bit extra. In practice, there is no reason. You can’t quite get certain points going the way like you can in a match … Yeah, I do surprise myself as well. I think most of the players do that to themselves.  Certain shots you can’t learn, you can’t teach. It’s just instinct. You adjust and you just try. Sometimes you get lucky and it looks amazing. Because we are professional players, it feels like we controlled everything, but sometimes we get lucky … All you have to do is try get to the balls, and for that you have to be fast and anticipate. Then you try to come up with something. It depends how much risk you’re willing to take. The more risks you take, the more spectacular it can be.

Q: You have hit a lot of incredible shots. There was the ‘tweener against Gasquet, a lot of let cord shots that are really special, and that running overhead from far off the court you hit off of a Roddick overhead.  Can you think of two or three [shots] that were special to you during your career?

ROGER FEDERER:  Yeah, sure. Smashing to Roddick in Basel, especially because it was my home city. Then on [a] break point against Agassi in Dubai one time, I flicked [the shot] behind me. I don’t know how I did it. I couldn’t even believe it.  I looked back and it was over his head for a winner somehow. And I guess the one against Novak through the legs at the US Open. Those stand out.

Q: Have your results this year sort of aligned with what you expected so far?

ROGER FEDERER: The results are better than I thought …  I expected myself to play better starting [in] March and April, around this time. Maybe Miami, clay maybe, that kind of time … I feel I am really there where I want to be, or where I wanted to be six months ago.

So that’s very encouraging and super positive. Now it’s just a matter of keeping that up, making the right decisions not to overplay, not to underplay, and enjoy yourself … Having the fire and wanting to win every single match you go out there, and in the practice, trying to improve as much as you can. I think I’ve got [a] good balance right now, so it’s very encouraging.

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