31 August, 2012

Watching Them Go

Which is more heartbreaking, watching someone waste away to a shadow of their former selves before finally succumbing; or to have them gone suddenly, unexpectedly, in a flash?  Sudden loss serves up grief with a shock chaser; forcing you to stop abruptly, feel intensely, process immediately.  Extended farewells on the other hand, can be draining, threatening to blot out the memory of everything that came prior.  When the farewell drags on there's a desire to celebrate what once was, but simultaneously, an impetus to avert your eyes from the slow motion car crash that progresses in increasingly gruesome detail.

Ladies and gentlemen, the farewells of Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters in black and white.

Let's dispense with pretense for a second.  By the time it finally, officially happened, we were glad to see Kim Clijsters hang it up.  We're not "haters," disgruntled Justine Henin fans or heartless bastards.  To tell the truth, we were just sick to death of watching Clijsters' torturous death march to the end of her career.  The Belgian is a great champion, a World No. 1, a four-time major winner and from everything we hear (we've never graced her presence) a class act if ever there were one.  Not to mention, her game has always been fun to watch.  At her best, her nimble mobility rivaled that of Jelena Jankovic, while her unbridled power allowed her to stand shoulder to shoulder with the WTA glamazons and be much more than cannon fodder.  Clijsters' resume makes her a slam dunk Hall-of-Famer in her own right.

Disclaimers aside, Clijsters has been retiring since she unretired.  She was quick to point to the London Olympics as her goal and probably the signpost whereupon reaching, she would hang it up.  It was initially inspiring to see her return to the tour as a mother; winning the 2009 US Open as if she'd never really left, then adding more majors to her tally,but let's be honest, it's been a slog of late.  When she won the Australian Open just 20 months ago, it looked as if Clijsters would be recast forever as a tennis Artemis, holding her daughter in one arm and her weapon of choice, a Babolat, in the other; strong and beautiful all the way to the end.  Unfortunately, we all know how the story played out; injuries and inconsistency took hold.  After that brilliant run in Australia 20 months ago, reaching the final in Sydney and taking the Australian Open title, Clijsters went just 12-6 the rest of 2011.  Injuries to her ankle, foot, abdominals plus a plan to play a limited schedule to begin with meant Clijsters' victory lap played out in dispiriting fits and starts.  She briefly returned to No. 1 in early 2011, but 2012 was, for lack of a better word, sad.  At one point, her ranking fell clear out of the Top 50.  She reached just three semifinals this year, twice at that stage she withdrew, while the third time she was a beaten by current World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in three uneven sets.  The Olympics which she had dreamed of, ended with a straight-sets loss to Sharapova.  The US Open, her final event, would end with a 7-6, 7-6 loss to Laura Robson, a heralded young Brit, but one who on paper, Clijsters should have dispatched.

Let's keep it simple: not playing a regular schedule breeds inconsistent results.  The Serena Williams-types who can take extended layoffs and come back worldbeaters are few and far between.  Clijsters isn't one of them.  Sometimes she chose not to play, sometimes her aching body chose for her, but as the march toward the end progressed, more and more we found ourselves saying "Are we there yet?"  It's unfortunate, but it's been a while since Clijsters' presence in a draw seemed...of consequence.  Kim Clijsters is officially out the door, but the contender fans knew and loved, she's already been gone for a while.

Andy Roddick, on the other hand, had different expectations.  He hadn't won a major since 2003, though in fairness to him, what men have?  That aside, Roddick's been quite consistent at his level. He won what will likely be his last tournament a bit over a month ago, once and for all reclaiming his mojo from Gilles Muller in the BB&T Atlanta Open final.  That title run was his second this summer.  After crashing out of Queens Club in the first round, Roddick righted himself with a title on the grass of Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon.  While his Wimbledon wasn't exactly the stuff of legends this year (he fell in the third round), losing to David Ferrer at a major isn't something to hang your head over.  Neither was his career.

In a period obsessed with superlatives of the type regularly associated with Roger Federer, Andy Roddick's career is often unfairly dismissed.  The man was a World No. 1 who was ranked among the ATP top ten for eight consecutive years, he won a major (and reached five major finals), won five Masters titles and led the US to a Davis Cup title.  He wasn't Federer, Nadal or Djokovic, but as the record stands today, Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Murray are all just about even for next best career of this era.

With his announcement yesterday that this US Open would be his final tournament, Roddick ripped off the bandage.  There would be no farewell tour beyond what we've already seen.  Another match, versus Bernard Tomic tonight; maybe another small handful afterward, but that's it, the end.  When he mentioned in the presser, "I don't know that I've ever been someone who's interested in existing on tour."  Two things came to mind, one his oft-reported retort to a sponsor seeking a performance guarantee that when he dropped out of the Top 15 he'd retire and also, Clijsters.

Roddick chose to go out playing something approximating his best tennis, still winning titles, but knowing that without the will or physical health to put the hard yards into tennis anymore, he couldn't compete at the highest level, so why compete at all.  Clijsters chose a farewell tour, each performance looking less and less like a true competitor and more like a retiree popping into the office to visit old colleagues, chatting away, while everyone else is on deadline, trying to build their own careers.

As we write this, we know that these feelings are fleeting though.  At some point, probably 2017, up the road in Newport, we'll look at Roddick and Clijsters through a different set of eyes, ones not cloud by their waning moments.  We'll remember Roddick in his prime on the lawns of Wimbledon, battling valiantly for the title against the greatest player of his era.  We'll remember Clijsters as a triple US Open champion, a hardcourt specialist perhaps, but one who helped take the physicality of the game to new levels.  With the passage of time, we won't remember how they left, just what they did when they were here.

Mortality is a condition of life.  We forget about it, stash it in the darkest corners of our minds, but it's always there, looming, oft silent, but always there.  It's as true in the big picture sense as it is in terms of tennis careers.  Two of our greats are moving on, may their tennis lives rest in peace.

29 August, 2012


One of the best things about the US Open is court-hopping.  Today there were sixteen courts with matches being played at the tournament, from the awe-inspiring "big house," star-studded Arthur Ashe Stadium to the field courts where you can feel as if you're watching the best public park match in the history of the game, the US Open is a veritable smorgasboard of choice...and we like to gorge.  When you're on site, you're not beholden to who a broadcast network thinks you'll want to see, or the TV courts streaming matches, you get to see as much or as little of the event as you want in as leisurely or manic a fashion as you want.  It's truly a "choose-your-own-adventure" event.  In case you can't make it out to Flushing Meadows, here's our take on some late afternoon court-hopping.

28 August, 2012

US Open Day 1 Pix Post

A few visuals from Day 1 at the US Open. for more, check us out on Facebook at: Facebook.com/BlacklabelTennis

27 August, 2012

2012 US Open Women's Bracket Breakdown

Out of chaos, the women's tour suddenly seems amazingly orderly...ish  Three of the top four women: Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are reigning major champions, while the fourth, Agnieszka Radwanska was the losing Wimbledon finalist.  Will the year's final major be a chance for Radwanska to get on the board; for Azarenka to burnish her bona fides as a hardcourt champion; for Serena or Sharapova to build their brands; for Kim Clijsters to ride off into the sunset in style or for some other woman to make her name?

Who will claim the year's final major prize?  Also, what are the matches worth watching in the first few days of the Open?  Well, check out our 2012 US Open women's draw preview to find out...

26 August, 2012

2012 US Open Men's Bracket Breakdown

The Grand Slam tennis season winds to a close with the US Open, but there's nothing to be wistful about; not yet anyway.  The two weeks when tennis' non-stop carnival decamps on our doorstep here in New York always yield some of the most dramatic, heart-pounding action of the season.  With one quarter of the men's game's Fab Four, Rafael Nadal, sidelined with a knee injury, this year's tournament is certainly down a few watts in terms of star power.  On the other hand, the Spaniard's absence is a crack in tennis' great wall that means opportunity for the rest of the field.  For the first time in a long time, the US Open has been rendered wide open.

So who will seize the day and emerge as the champion?  Almost just as importantly, what are the matches worth watching in the first few days of the Open?  Well, check out our 2012 US Open men's draw preview to find out...

25 August, 2012

Blacklabel Tennis Fan Guide To The 2012 US Open

Last year when we launched BLT, one of our first posts was a Fan's Guide to the US Open.  We decided there were some updates in order to help you maximize your 2012 Open.  Without further ado, here's the Blacklabel Tennis Guide to the 2012 US Open.

USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

Who needs the big, overblown, traditional holidays?  You can keep your thanksgiving turkeys, your 4th of July fireworks, your Santa Claus.  For this guy, the most wonderful time of the year is the start of another US Open tennis tournament.  Oh, it's not absolutely perfect; the weather always seems to veer from sweltering when the first ball is struck to sweatshirt weather by the end; the food prices always make me wonder why the USTA can't hire Kanye West's jeweler to build a platinum and diamond encrusted roof over Arthur Ashe stadium and frankly, there's always a point where I get tennis fatigue and have to leave a bit early for the day, but there's no time of the year I look forward to more than the US Open.

So, why am I writing this unofficial guide to the US Open when there are so many official sources out there?  Well, to be frank, because I'm me.  Living in New York, the US Open is my hometown major, one of the biggest events of the year and the tournament I know the best.  Unlike the professional beat writers who generally spend the tourney shuttling off to the press conferences and have cordoned off seats at the show courts, I've only ever experienced the Open like you, as a fan.  I boil in the summer heat like every other fan, I get no closer to the players than anybody else with an oversized tennis ball, I pay $4.75 for my Evian just like the rest of the hoi polloi.  In other words, for most of the last decade, I've experienced the Open in the exact same way you will and have learned a few tips and tricks that I think will help you (whoever you are) maximize your trip to the US Open.

18 August, 2012

Down On Your Knees? - The Rafa Fan's US Open Backup Plan

With tennis fans processing the disappointing, if not shocking, news that Rafael Nadal's grand slam season is over, there are a number of questions.  The knee injury keeping the Spaniard out of the US Open, is surely disappointing to him, but just as much, if not more, to the legions of Rafael-ites.  We can't do much for Rafa's knees, but we can hopefully help some of the fans out.  We know fans love Rafa for any number of reasons and some might even have a little trouble getting fired up about the Open in the absence of their usual cheering interest.  Well, as always we're here to help.  Here's the Blacklabel Tennis guide on who to watch if you're missing Nadal at the 2012 US Open.

06 August, 2012

Stop And Smell The Redemption

The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Times, I didn't read them this morning, but I hope that Andy Murray read them all.  Worst case, I hope his mother/sometimes coach Judy has copies of all the British dailies stashed away so that he can read all the writers who spent years lambasting him suddenly singing a new tune (if only for a day).  I hope Andy Murray pulls out of the Rogers Cup with "fatigue" in the form of a lager drenched headache and a long, long night of partying with his mates and an afterparty with Kim Sears.  Professional tennis is a grind like none other in sport: solitary, crisscrossing five continents, playing tournaments from New Year's Eve to Thanksgiving, with every week's results dissected, overanalyzed and recounted by the press corps, fans and coaches alike, not to mention a ranking system that tells you every single week of the year where you stand in relation to your competition.  Murray was considered, for lack of a better phrase, the most accomplished "non-winner" the game has ever known.  Having forever rewritten his narrative with his win over Roger Federer for Olympic gold yesterday, I sincerely hope the Scot is indulging in the sweet taste of victory.

04 August, 2012

The Age of the Extraordinary?

Is it us, or are we witnessing tennis' version of the "Greatest Generation?"  Of course, every generation of athletes is faster, stronger, better equipped than the prior, that's what makes the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) discussion that's dominated the men's game of late so difficult.  If 1969 Rod Laver with his wooden racquet and archaic playing style touched down fresh out of a time machine on Centre Court today's Roger Federer, the Aussie would be thrashed.  The same goes for 1980 Bjorn Borg up against today's Rafael Nadal.  But it seems to be more than just the physicality and sport science in this case.  In a sport whose list of potential achievements has been largely unchanged since the Open era commenced, the records just keep falling for the current crop of tennis stars.