You can't imagine that one of the greatest players in tennis history has ever lacked confidence, but Roger Federer is bubbling with it again after bouncing back from some heartbreaking defeats in the past few months.
Say this about actors, musicians, writers and other artists: They can age gracefully. Often they perform just fine deep into middle age. And when they can no longer hit the high notes or remember their lines, they can retreat slowly and privately.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer remained on course for a semifinal showdown at the Australian Open with untroubled passage to the third round on Wednesday, but top American hope Mardy Fish became the first high-profile casualty of the men's draw.
1. Stepanek goes old school: There was plenty of networking in Washington, D.C., last week. At the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, 32-year-old Radek Stepanek -- who entered the week ranked No. 54 -- beat top-seeded Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-4 in the final on Sunday for his first title in 2½ years.
I hadn't seen much college tennis until the NCAA tournament came to my area (Stanford) last month, and it was a revelation. It struck me that a lot of talented young players have no idea what they're missing, and that current trends on the women's pro tour could affect significant change.
Shortly before the start of the men's final at Indian Wells, ABC's Chris Fowler dropped an annoying bit of information. A rumor, actually. There was a patch of blue tape on Novak Djokovic's left knee, and Fowler hinted at insiders' concern that he might be developing a case of tendinitis.
The beauty of tennis' new year, aside from the anticipation surrounding the Australian Open, is the chance to isolate certain truths out of nothing. The past week saw a flurry of insignificant events, but there was much to be learned about some of the sport's key players:
Why can't Fedofiles and Rafaelites stop fighting over who's the best? Sit back and enjoy the fact that, combined, they're the greatest phenomenon in tennis history (21 of the past 23 and 25 of the past 30 Grant Slams)! They could potentially end their careers as the equal GOATs -- and we as fans should love them both for it! Look at the video of the two promoting their Credit Suisse exhibition -- they're clearly great mates and so we should stop creating a "hated rivalry" when it doesn't even exist!! I'm all RF, always have been, but RN has my 100% respect. Let's just enjoy the history, don't you think? --Michael, Hamilton, New Zealand
How 'bout that Mirjana Lucic? Squeaks through the first round of qualifying, barely, winning the third-set tiebreak with no margin. Then wins Rounds 2 and 3 comfortably. And then she routines Alicia Molik. If you see her in a press conference, Jon, tell her she has supporters out there that are happy to see her in the mix again. --Dale Stafford, Atlanta
I'm wondering if anyone else feels that Nicolas Mahut, considering the historic nature and the quality of the match he played against John Isner at Wimbledon, deserved the courtesy of a U.S. Open wild card? (he lost in the last round of the qualies). Whether it is the USTA, the ATP, or any other governing body, something should have been done to acknowledge the appreciation many have developed for this courageous and talented player. John Isner, of course, is admitted directly into the main draw (if he does actually decide to play with torn ankle ligaments). I've written a blog post on this subject on my website, which you may feel free to promote, thank you very much! --Steven Zynszajn, New York
As last week's Legg Mason tournament in Washington D.C. staggered to a connoisseurs-only conclusion, we heard a familiar lament: Where are the Americans, with all that hard-court talent? To me, this was the more pressing question: If Andy Roddick is about to vacate his post as the No. 1 U.S. player, where will we find the panache?
A few years ago at Wimbledon, during the peak of his reign, Roger Federer admitted that he liked to read the newspapers. He'd get up nice and early in London and buy a stack, just to see what was being written about him.
We've had a match that ended 70-68 in the fifth set, a near upset of Roger Federer, a visit by the Queen, and a spitting incident. Otherwise it was a slow first week at the All England Club. Herewith, our midterm marks, graded on the USC Athletic Department curve.
WIMBLEDON, England-- SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim after the conclusion of John Isner's 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68 win over Nicolas Mahut. The first-round battle took 11 hours, 5 minutes over three days -- the longest match in tennis history.
The Wimbledon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut is so improbable, so thoroughly preposterous, one searches for comparisons. Suffice it to say that the fifth set of last year's classic Wimbledon final -- Roger Federer over Andy Roddick, 16-14 -- looks rather paltry just now.
SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim after the suspension of the John Isner-Nicolas Mahut match at Wimbledon on Wednesday. Play was suspended with the players tied at 59-59 in the fifth set. It is the longest match in tennis history at 10 hours, including 7 hours, 6 minutes in the fifth set alone.
When it comes to the appeal of American men's tennis, there is no set standard for the public. Over the course of the Open Era, we've embraced class (Arthur Ashe), petulance (Jimmy Connors), combustible genius (John McEnroe), rock stardom (Andre Agassi) and the monotonous (Pete Sampras). So I guess I should be excited that two young players -- any two -- are simultaneously on the rise after so much negative conversation.
1. If there's not outright parity in the men's game, we're a long way from the days when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were combining to win 17 of 18 majors titles. Federer's flame, understandably, has lost some intensity; and Nadal has suffered in both body and spirit. It was Juan Martin del Potro who won the 2009 U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic who was the MVP of the fall, and Nikolay Davydenko who won the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. Look for the democratization of the men's game to continue in 2010.
Preliminary programming note for our off-season 'Bag this week. We'll hold our annual Baggies Awards ceremony for 2009 next week. And 60 Minutes will be shown immediately following the game, except on the West Coast where it will air at its regularly scheduled time.
Maybe Andy Roddick hasn't recovered as well as we all think from his loss at Wimbledon. Look at the losses he has had since then. He lost two tight matches to Juan Martin del Potro, in Washington, D.C., and Montreal. I think the one in D.C. ended in a third-set tiebreak. He lost to Sam Querrey in Cincinnati in two tiebreak sets and now to John Isner in a fifth-set tiebreak. I get the feeling when things get close in the end, he just doesn't have the confidence to pull it out. What do you think of his losses? -- Beth D., Brooklyn, N.Y.
NEW YORK -- Whether it's Damir Dokic getting thrown off the grounds for creating a row over the price of salmon or Maria Sharapova telling a room full of writers that her life was not about a banana, each U.S. Open provides a handful of moments of strange and unexpected theatre. Yesterday was such a day, though it was the tennis that left you bewildered and drained.
Is John Isner good for tennis? I remember when Mark Philippoussis came around and he had the huge serve but he also had bombs on his forehand. Isner, in my opinion, only has a serve. If you look at his last 10 matches or so, there are a lot of sets that were won at 7-6 indicating that this guy can only hold serve and that is it. What are your thoughts on the rest of his game? -- Mark, Ottawa
As American tennis fans, we've been spoiled by the long line of men's champions our country has produced. But it's been awhile since one of our own has broken through -- the last American Grand Slam champ was Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open in 2003.
Open the Mailbag boasting about how clean tennis is, and look at what you get: "As the NBA grapples with a betting scandal, tennis must now confront a potential gambling scam of its own. Officials on Friday were investigating suspicious betting patterns on a match involving top-seeded Nikolay Davydenko of Russia, who retired with an injury against a low-ranked opponent at an ATP tournament in Poland." -- Jim Bartle, Huaraz, Peru