What I realized during this Australian Open is that Nadal sets the tone for this state of affairs more than anyone else, certainly more than Federer. Roger is so cool and frictionless that, most of the time, he seems less like a prism of epic intensity than a dispassionate analyst of it.6 Djokovic, since his ascent, has been so much better than everyone else that he’s largely been able to act like a careful clinician, the administrator of his own talent. And Murray has lost to the other guys so often that his anger and frustration seem basically inconsequential. In other words, the game may be epic for the fans, but you won’t always catch that ground note of holy-shit intensity if you only watch the other three players. Left to themselves, they don’t exactly project deep contact with the secret fires of time.
Nadal, though? He plays like he’s fighting giants. It’s not just the sneer, or the muscles, or the hair, or that forehand — you know, the one where he swoops the racket all the way around his head like he’s whipping the team pulling his chariot. It’s also that frantic tenacity that used to drive me so nuts. Federer seems devastated when he loses but he also seems to sense losses coming and accept them before they arrive. When Nadal falls behind, he turns the match into life and death. He gets mad. He hesitates less. He hits the ball harder. He doesn’t look sad or scared. He looks defiant, and he plays like he’s possessed.
☛ Grantland: “Nadal vs. Djokovic: Here We Are Again, My Friend” by Brian Phillips, January 30, 2012.
Great sport journalism for what must have been, by all accounts, an epic 5 hours 53 minutes Grand Slam match (I haven’t watched it). This colorful analysis offered by Brian Phillips ―which could have been titled “Battle of the Titans” or more simply ”Titanomachy”― is just as interesting as those produced by David Foster Wallace (see “Federer as Religious Experience” by David Foster Wallace, August 20, 2006).
The match was played at Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, Australia. It started on Sunday January 29, 2012 and finished around 1:40 the next Monday morning (Australian Eastern Standard Time).
About Brian Phillips:
He is a staff writer at Grantland, and his work has appeared in Slate, Deadspin, The New York Times Magazine, The Awl, The New Republic, The Hudson Review, and Poetry, among other publications. (The Run of Play: About)
In 2007, he founded The Run of Play: “a blog about the wonder and terror of soccer”.