Redemption at Roland Garros

As a young child (elementary school age), I loved tennis, especially Chris Evert. I was so young that tennis matches did not hold my attention for very long. I preferred hitting tennis balls against walls to watching! But still I idolized Chris, and would become sad anytime my parents told me she had lost a match.

Fast forward 6 or 7 years. I was 14 years old. The year was 1988, and I happened to turn on the TV and see that tennis was being played. Not just tennis, but Wimbledon. Not just Wimbledon, but a men’s semifinal match between Miroslav Mecir and the man who would become my first tennis love, Stefan Edberg.

I think the match was in its final set. I began watching and couldn’t stop. I was entranced by the blond Swedish serve-and-volleyer with better defense than any serve-and-volleyer had the right to possess. I was more excited by all the balls he could retrieve than anything else. When he won the match, I was thrilled, and for the first time ever I actually took the time to find out when the next match would be shown so I could watch.

As you may remember, 1988 happened to be the first of three straight Wimbledon finals contested by Stefan and Boris Becker. I think it also might have been Wimbledon’s first Monday final (I remember being so very bummed out that the match wasn’t on Sunday, when I had been all ready to watch — good ol’ London rain!) If Stefan had lost that match, who knows if my renewed interest in tennis would have stuck. As it was, he won, and a diehard tennis fan was minted.

(I became more of a men’s tennis fan than a women’s tennis fan then. I still liked women’s tennis, but I think my teenaged hormones drew me more to the men. It wasn’t the women’s fault at all – I wanted to be them, but I wanted to marry the men. I was a silly teenager, what can I say…)

That also happened to be the year that Steffi Graf won her incredible Golden Slam. I remembered watching the U.S. Open final between her and Gabriela Sabatini. Though I rather liked Gabi — with her long dark hair and gorgeous Argentine looks — I was also really excited to witness the history of the Grand Slam. (I also remember my parents were less than thrilled. But they were diehard Chris and Martina fans…)

Because I became a tennis fan at Wimbledon, the first French Open (also called Roland Garros) I ever watched was the following year, in 1989. It was incredibly exciting to watch an adorable Spaniard named Arantxa Sanchez defeat Steffi Graf in the final. But I was also excited because my main man Stefan was in the final against, of all people, Michael Chang.

Michael Chang, for heaven’s sake! He who had absolutely miraculously defeated Ivan Lendl. I had watched parts of that match, and it was an amazing upset, but I was quite certain there was no way he could beat Stefan.

If you’re a tennis fan, you know what happened next…

… I experienced my first big French Open Fave Upset.

I was sad when Stefan lost, but I also sort of figured it was no big deal. Stefan would have other chances, right? He was still quite young (22 or 23, I think). Surely he had many, many years left in his career to pick up that title.

I watched him year after year, listened to the pundits admire how well he was playing and say that surely, this man is the favorite for the French Open. (I know this makes no sense in retrospect, but when Stefan’s beautiful game was really flowing, it was hard not to think he could win everything, even on clay.)

As it turned out, Stefan never returned to the French Open final. I don’t recall him even getting close. I think the furthest he got was the quarterfinals.

Stefan retired in 1996, 8 years after I started watching and admiring him. As it turns out, just 2 years after I began watching, another young male tennis player caught my eye. His name was Pete Sampras. He won the U.S. Open as a 19-year-old in 1990 and became my second-favorite player.

I actually remember in 1991 at the French Open when he played Thomas Muster. Muster was an Austrian and an absolute beast on clay (he would win the title a few years later). And he was Pete’s first-round opponent. I spent the first two sets rooting for Muster because I was convinced he would make it further at the French Open than Pete would. And Muster won those two sets. But when Pete mounted a comeback over the next two sets, I couldn’t resist. I cheered him on heartily and was overjoyed when he wound up winning the match in the fifth set.

In retrospect, I probably should’ve stuck with my original guns. Pete won that match, but he promptly lost in the next round. I was very bummed out about it!

1991 wasn’t a total washout. I discovered my third-favorite player, Jim Courier, when he defeated Andre Agassi in five sets in the final. (I did not like Agassi at all in those days, and I was delighted that Courier kept Agassi from winning his first Slam. I know, I am an awful person.)

The next few years gave me more of the same. Stefan kept losing early. Pete couldn’t get over the quarterfinals hump. But 1994 was really painful. Pete had finally regained his 1990 U.S. Open-winning form in 1993 when he won Wimbledon, then the U.S. Open again. And he topped all that off with a win at the 1994 Australian Open.

Sound familiar? Yes… it was exactly the scenario Novak Djokovic faced in both 2012 and this year (more on this later.) Pete was 3/4 of the way to a Sampras Slam (not that it was called anything like that at the time, but dang, that would’ve sounded good, wouldn’t it?) — holding all 4 Grand Slam titles at the same time.

But clay was still Pete’s weakest surface. As much as he owned Jim Courier off the clay, Courier owned him on it, and he owned Pete again in 1994. Another quarterfinals loss, and another French Open disappointment for yours truly.

1995 may have been the lowest of the low for me, French Open-wise, and favorite-player-wise. Pete lost in the first round. Stefan lost in the second round. The final was an interesting matchup — Michael Chang versus Thomas Muster — and it was heartwarming to see Muster finally win the French Open he’d been dreaming of since he rehabbed his leg after a freak car accident.

But here’s what was happening. I was basically watching two different tournaments at the French Open. I was watching for my favorites — Pete and Stefan — but resigning myself to the fact that they wouldn’t last till the second week — or if they somehow did, they wouldn’t last long. So I started learning about the clay-court specialists that I knew would take over the tournament once Pete and Stefan lost. I found my favorites and cheered them on.

But then came 1996. Pete made the semifinals of the tournament for the first time, after years of losing early or getting no further than the quarters. In fact, he finally beat Jim Courier in the quarterfinals. In a fifth set, no less! Pete’s coach and friend Tim Gullikson had succumbed to brain cancer earlier that year, and after that quarterfinal victory I thought, “maybe this is the year. Maybe Pete is fated to win this tournament for Tim.”

And then came Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who beat Pete and won the tournament.

For well over a decade (a decade and a half, really) after that, I knew I was just a hopeless curse on my favorite players. Stefan retired that year, and though I got my hopes up every now and then, deep down I think I knew Pete wasn’t ever winning the French Open, either.

Pete retired in 2003. For whatever reason, no player really caught my fancy for years after that. I kind of liked James Blake. I kind of liked Andy Roddick. I did not like Roger Federer AT ALL. I’m not sure if it was because it all seemed to come too easily to him, if I found him arrogant, or what, but he just never excited me. (If I’m honest, I also didn’t like how quickly he started winning Slam titles and threatening all of Pete’s records.)

When Rafael Nadal came along, I kind of liked him, but honestly it was mostly because he seemed to be keeping Federer from winning the French Open. (Hey, if Pete could never win it, I sure as heck didn’t want this upstart Federer winning it either!)

It was 4 years of drifting aimlessly through tennis, watching it but not really getting excited by any one player, until that fateful day in 2007 when I decided to turn on the TV and watch the U.S Open. I had my curiosity piqued when I heard the announcer say that Novak Djokovic would be playing next. I had heard about the Serbian kid who had beaten Federer and Nadal in the same tournament earlier that year. I remember thinking, “let’s see what he’s like.”

As it turns out, I fell in love the moment I saw him play. The rest is history.

He reached the final and lost to Federer, but he won my heart for good.

My lousy relationship with the French Open remained iffy at best. My new fave won the Australian Open the following year, which was exciting. And he did then reach the French Open semifinal, which was something considering how often Pete and Stefan had faltered in quarterfinals or earlier. That might have even got me wondering if perhaps Novak might succeed where Pete and Stefan had failed so frequently (and often spectacularly).

The following year, though, my worst fear was realized: Federer won the French Open, reaching the milestone that neither Stefan nor Pete had ever been able to reach. I probably threw a tantrum when that happened. (Okay, maybe not. But I’m sure I pouted a lot that day.) The 2010 French Open might have been even worse: Novak lost in the quarterfinals to Jurgen Melzer, after being up 2 sets to love no less!

On one hand, that was a low point: Novak never lost before the semifinals again after 2010. On the other hand, it might have been the last truly stress-free French Open I had. Because after 2010 came 2011, and we all know what happened then: Novak 2.0, aka The Serbinator, aka Godjovic was born.

Nothing in my entire tennis-watching career had prepared me for 2011 Novak. Stefan, though a fine player and one who reached #1 and kept it for a decent amount of time during his career, was never a very dominant #1. Pete was a dominant #1, except when he wasn’t. The thing about Pete is that he really cared only about the Slams, and even then he considered Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to be the most important. Australia was a distant third, and the French Open was barely even on his radar.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that Pete may have set a lot of records, including 6 straight years ending the year with the #1 ranking, but he was really not an incredibly dominant #1. Not the way Novak became in 2011.

The French Open that year was absolutely petrifying for me. Novak had amassed an absolutely insane match winning streak at that point, and that streak was marked by Novak’s repeated defeats of Rafael Nadal. It was starting to look as though Novak could beat pretty much anyone, including Nadal at the French Open. If he did that, he would be halfway to a Grand Slam. No man had even been halfway to a Grand Slam since Courier in 1992!

It was all going so well… until it wasn’t.

First Fabio Fognini happened. (Pulling ridiculous antics to get normally-not-allowed medical treatments for cramps in his previous round match.)

And then Federer happened.

(You will never convince me that Fognini’s subsequent withdrawal from his quarterfinal with Novak did not at least contribute to his loss to Federer in the semifinals.)

You look at the rest of Novak’s year — his domination of Nadal in both the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals — and it’s hard not to make the case that, if Novak had only beaten Federer in that semifinal, he’d have then beaten Nadal in the final and won the Grand Slam. That’s a hypothetical in the extreme, of course. But still. Not hard to imagine it happening.

Instead, I got a second chance for a non-calendar year Grand Slam (aka Novak Slam) in 2012, after Novak won the 2011 Wimbledon and U.S. Open and then won an incredibly long, physical, hard-fought battle of an Australian Open final versus Nadal at the beginning of 2012.

Could Novak have managed to win that French Open title if rain hadn’t managed to interrupt their final at the worst possible moment? Novak had won a set and taken an advantage in the next set when the rains came. The momentum was on his side. It’s not hard to argue that had they continued, Novak might have pulled out the victory.

Then there came 2013. Rafa wound up in Novak’s half of the draw. (thaaaaaaaaanks) and their semifinal was a de facto final. Novak was up a break in the fifth set. UP. A. BREAK. Then he went for a smash, touched the net, lost the point and the game and the set and the match.

2014: I don’t even know what happened in that match because I was at church and couldn’t watch it. I’ve not been able to find it since. All I know is that Novak actually won the first set, but he couldn’t do anything else, even though Nadal was gassed by the end of the fourth set. (I heard Novak got sick, which certainly would explain what happened to him, at least partially.)

2015: NOVAK FINALLY BEAT RAFAEL NADAL AT THE FRENCH OPEN. Unfortunately, somehow that match wound up being a QUARTERFINAL rather than a final, and Novak still had two flipping matches to play. One of which, the semifinal against Andy Murray, not only went five sets but also ran into a precious rest day that Novak surely needed to prepare for the final. Even so, it didn’t seem possible that he might lose to Stan Wawrinka.

(Sigh.)

So you see that I’ve had a VERY long history of disappointment with this tournament. For 26 years I watched my favorites flounder and flop at the French Open. And I’ve also spent the last five years riding the emotional roller coaster that was “There’s no reason why Novak Djokovic shouldn’t win the French Open.”

Add the fact that Novak was, once again, going for the Novak Slam — after Pete had failed to pull it off in 1994 and Novak himself had failed to do it in 2012 — and I hope you’ll understand why the two weeks of Roland Garros this year were among the most stressful of my tennis-watching life.

… wait.

He won, didn’t he?

Well glory be and hallelujah! Novak Djokovic actually won Roland Garros this year!

He overcame so much. He overcame the immense and impossible-to-overstate pressure that came from his annual quest to win the French. He overcame the whispers that some of his “aura” had dissipated thanks to losses during the clay warm-up season. He overcame the “asterisk talk” that came when Rafa withdrew from the tournament after the second round. He overcame the “he’ll never have a better chance to win the French than this year!!” talk. He overcame 4 straight days of tennis without a rest day in between after torrential rains delayed matches, including a complete washout on the day of his fourth round match. He overcame nasty murmurs of “he could’ve been defaulted!” after throwing a racquet in anger that bizarrely bounced and nearly hit a line judge. He overcame the ridiculous assertion that his post-match celebration was “manufactured” and “manipulative” in an attempt to “win over the crowd.”

And, in the end, he overcame his own obvious nerves as he tried to close out the match to win the one Slam tournament he had never won.

He even overcame what was likely the most difficult obstacle of all: the fact that he was my favorite tennis player playing at the French Open.

Thank you, Novak Djokovic, for making my Roland Garros Redemption happen at long last.

Novak’s Quest

I tend to be very wordy on this blog, especially when talking about my favorite athlete, Novak Djokovic. But today I have a thought that won’t leave my mind, and I feel like shouting it from the rooftops. Hopefully it won’t be quite as wordy as usual! Here goes:

Novak Djokovic does not need to win Roland Garros this year. He WILL win it before he retires.

This, of course, is opinion, not fact. I could be wrong. But deep down, I don’t think I am.

Just look at his career. Need I remind you that he came of tennis age in the era of arguably the two greatest tennis players of all time? And he wasn’t alone, either. He had with him the Jo-Wilfried Tsongas and the Tomas Berdychs and the Richard Gasquets and even the Andy Murrays and Stan Wawrinkas. All of these players are just as talented as Novak. But only two of these have won Slam titles, and even they have won not nearly as many as has Novak.

All of these men, aside from Novak, Stan, and Andy, would probably say, “Well, I was unfortunate to play during the era of the greatest of all time.” (And it could be argued that Stan felt this way at first and was able to successfully overcome it as well.) But only one mounted his own challenge and achieved what many probably thought was impossible: achieving the #1 ranking in the Fedal era.

Novak’s career is all the more impressive when you see that he has actually needed to mount new challenges three times already. The first challenge was to win his first Slam title, which he did as a 20-year-old in 2008. The second challenge was to achieve the number one ranking (and win another Slam, and win Slams other than the Australian Open), which he did in 2011. The third challenge was to regain his mental edge and start winning Slam finals again, after a painful series of finals losses, which he was able to do in a very big way in 2015.

Is it possible that Roland Garros is just the kind of challenge that Novak must feel excited to overcome? I think that’s very possible. Because one characteristic that has typified Novak’s career is his determination. When he faces an obstacle, he is willing to do whatever he can to overcome it.

I don’t really know what took Novak from US Open finalist in 2007 to Australian Open champion in 2008. It could have been as easy as “my time has come,” but I doubt that, especially considering that Novak had to take out Roger Federer (his conqueror in New York, don’t forget) in order to win that championship. I think it’s more likely that Novak just needed to climb over that barrier of belief, to become fully confident that he really could defeat the mighty Fed.

We all know, of course, what led to Novak’s glorious 2011; the one-two punch of a whole new diet (expunged of troublesome gluten, among other things) and a new confidence borne of his assistance in winning Davis Cup for Serbia at the end of 2010. It sounds easy enough in retrospect — change your diet, regain a winning edge — but if you’ve ever tried to lose weight, or had to cut an allergen from your diet, or had to change your diet for some other reason, you know that it isn’t the easiest thing to do. I imagine that for someone who has to travel the way Novak does, it would be even more challenging.

Then there was the next couple of years, when Novak won a Slam a year but missed out on a whole lot of other Slams in which he reached finals (or, at the least, semifinals) but couldn’t seem to claim the big prize. He lost his #1 ranking a few times (once to Federer, once to Nadal), but overall he was #1 more than he wasn’t. When he hired Boris Becker at the end of 2013, a lot of fans and experts couldn’t understand why. There seemed to be nothing wrong with his game, he was still winning Slams and reaching finals… why would he make a change?

The reason is because Novak is a perfectionist. His career results had shown him that he could overcome any obstacle. And he wasn’t satisfied with being #1 a lot of the time and winning a Slam a year. He thought he could do more and win more. He believed he had ceded mental ground in losing so many Slam finals, and he was willing to do whatever he could to change that. So hiring Boris, as we all now know, had to do with regaining his mental edge.

What does all this have to do with Roland Garros? A couple of things. Number one, in my opinion it goes against a rapidly spreading assumption that Novak will “never have a better chance” to win it than this year, what with Nadal out of the tournament. I actually think Novak might have had a better chance of winning, had Nadal been in it still, because he would have been ready to mount the challenge of beating the King of Clay.

(I’m not saying Novak has no chance of winning this year, of course. Just that Novak seems to be at his toughest when he feels the challenge is greatest.)

Number two is related. Novak’s path may seem easier with Rafa out of the tournament, but the idea that Novak will never win it if he doesn’t win it this year is ludicrous. Is Novak suddenly going to become terrible on clay? Is Novak going to give up trying to win RG if he doesn’t win it this year? No, and no. Yes, Novak is getting older, and yes, traditionally he is approaching that magical age in which male tennis players find it very difficult to win Slams. But Novak has proven he is not the typical male tennis player, in many ways. He is determined, focused, a perfectionist. He takes scrupulous care of his body and has done a decent (to say the least) job of staying fit and healthy.

All this is to say that there is no Novak quite so dangerous than a Novak on a quest. And I cannot imagine Novak Djokovic retiring without having achieved a quest that he set his mind and soul and body into achieving. And that is why I believe that Novak Djokovic will win Roland Garros… someday.

Raymond Moore, Novak Djokovic, Equal Prize Money and the Beauty of Sports

So this morning, I have thoughts. I’ve tweeted those thoughts here and there sporadically, but I feel like I need to have one place to coherently pull together those thoughts. I also feel like I need to take some time and hash out those thoughts, as well, or else it’s going to become a disjointed mess.

I’m going to start off by saying that frankly I’m incredibly annoyed that I have to have these thoughts at all. I want to kick Raymond Moore (CEO of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells) in a very sensitive spot for opening this can of worms in the ugliest and nastiest way possible in the first place.

Continue reading

A Follow-up…

I wanted to share the response I have received to The Beloved Novak Djokovic. Most of it has been via Twitter, although the post itself has received a few comments.

I took the time to screencap all the responses I have received. Bear in mind, I am just a little hobby blogger, I do not have a huge platform, I am not famous. My post has gone what I would consider viral, for me anyway!

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I actually received a few more responses than these, from those who are not necessarily Novak fans (although they appreciate him), complimenting the post.

Also, here’s a screencap of the number of RTs and Favorites my tweet linking to my post has received (as not everyone who retweeted or favorited the tweet responded to me):

Favorites & RTs

That’s as of this writing. 27 RTs, 42 favorites, which is coming pretty close to my record. (Okay, I don’t actually know my record. So sue me.) This also doesn’t include the number of people who have tweeted the link to my post separately (or favorited the same), nor the number of people who RT’d or favorited the very first tweet that went out when I first published the post.

I have not had to tweet the link to my post again since I wrote it two days ago, because it is continually being retweeted.

I’m not saying any of this to brag, nor are my screencaps meant to say “look at how popular my post is!” I mean, that’s nice, I won’t lie! The point of this follow-up is simply to say, again: Novak Djokovic is beloved. And his fans have been absolutely desperate to have this fact recognized.

Will I begin posting links to this and the original post to any article I see from now on wondering why Novak isn’t as beloved as Roger/Rafa, or why he should be more beloved, etc.?

… I won’t rule it out. 😉

The Beloved Novak Djokovic

There has been an awful lot written over the past 6 months (since he won his 8th Slam title at the Australian Open, I think) about why Novak Djokovic isn’t “as beloved as Federer and Nadal.” Or even, “Why Novak Djokovic should be more beloved.”

For some reason, I keep reading these articles, as if they will ease the nagging frustration in the back of my head and in the bottom of my heart. And while many of these articles make good points, more often than not they still leave me feeling vaguely annoyed and frustrated.

I think it’s because these articles seem to miss a point that I keep hoping (subconsciously at least) they will make.

Novak Djokovic IS beloved.

Here is where certain people whom I won’t name immediately pipe up with “but he isn’t as beloved as Roger Federer!!!!/Rafael Nadal!!!!” To which I can only say, “So what?” I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to go through life feeling horrifically depressed because I’m not as beloved as someone who is adored by millions, if not hundreds of millions, all over the world.

If all of us felt that way, we would be living in a very depressed world.

But Novak has many very devoted fans. I am proud to count myself as one of them. I follow many others on Twitter. His Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter posts get tons of replies, likes, RTs/RGs, shares, and so on. If you’ve ever tried to take a look at his Twitter mentions, you’ll see that they move at approximately the rate of Justin Bieber’s. Ask any fan who’s attempted to get a reply from Novak. It’s not easy because so many tweet him.

What’s more, Novak is very aware that he has tons of devoted fans. Why? Because they congregate at every tournament he plays. I like to RT photos and video clips of Novak mobbed by fans and signing autographs and taking photos for hours because I am trying to fight this “Novak is not loved” narrative that is so very persistent in the media. I don’t have to work very hard at it, either.

Many will be quick to point out that if Novak were beloved, he would get more crowd support during tournaments. I would like to be quick to point out that he gets his fair share of crowd support. Is it as large as Federer’s? No. Is it is as large as Nadal’s? I’d say it is, and in fact, if you watch a Nadal/Djokovic match played anywhere but in Spain, you’ll find a pretty evenly divided crowd.

There are even parts of the world where Novak has universal crowd support, believe it or not, like China and Italy. I admit that I have no idea why these two very different countries adore Novak, but I have even less idea why they wouldn’t. Novak is, after all, incredibly personable. I find that the only people who disagree with this statement are those who have a vested interest in maintaining that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are the most popular tennis players in the world, and no one can possibly touch them.

But Novak is good-humored; is humble despite his achievements, yet confident in his abilities and his desire to continue to be the best and win; is deeply invested in fair play (witness how many times he has conceded points to opponents when he feels calls have wrongly been made in his favor); is utterly willing to be goofy; loves pretty much everyone and is incapable of holding a grudge; wears his heart on his sleeve; invites everyone to be a part of his life experiences, both on and off the court; and is also a devoted philanthropist.

Certain segments of the tennis fan community will now say “but…” and bring up some misdemeanor from his past. To which I’ll gladly say: yes, you are absolutely right. Novak Djokovic is not perfect. GASP.

Guess what? Neither is Roger Federer. GASP. Or Rafael Nadal. GASP. All three of them have, at times, not been on their best behavior. And I’ll tell you something else: at times, I haven’t been on my best behavior either. And neither have you.

But if you look into tennis’ recent past, you’ll find behavior that is truly appalling — nothing like the minor misdemeanors that Novak, Roger, and Rafa have committed. Like, truly horrific things. Look at some of the antics of John McEnroe, or Jimmy Connors, or Ilie Nastase, or Ion Tiriac, or any number of lesser-known tennis players from the 1970s and 1980s. They threw tantrums. They cursed out linespeople and umpires. They intimidated officials and opponents.

I don’t usually enjoy playing the comparison game, but I do so now to raise the point that taken alone, the behavior of Novak Djokovic, overall, looks quite good. But compared to the behavior of some of the dark princes of tennis’ past, his looks downright saintly.

Meanwhile, I think one thing is helping Novak become increasingly more beloved: he inspires. I have long felt it difficult to be inspired by a player to whom everything seemed to come too easily. I’m referring to Roger Federer here, although in his twilight years, his struggle to remain relevant (and his frequent success at doing so) have been a lot more inspiring. (Some Federer fan should write about what it means to them to have Federer continue to contend for major titles at age 33. I’d love to read that.)

But nothing has come easily for Novak Djokovic. At times he might make tennis seem too easy because he’s so good, but if you look at his career on the whole, you realize just how remarkable it has been. He came to prominence during a time when Federer and Nadal were gobbling up major titles like they were Pac-Man pellets. Andy Roddick actually put this quite succintly during Novak’s Wimbledon quarterfinal against Marin Cilic: he could have been content to be the number 3 player in the world, recognize that the top 2 men in the game were just too good, make a lot of money and reach the quarterfinals and semifinals of major tournaments and maybe even the occasional final.

No one would have faulted him for this. But that wasn’t enough for Novak. He had a goal when he was a young boy to be number 1 in the world and win Wimbledon, and by golly, that’s what he was going to do. He revamped everything – his diet, his fitness regimen. He made the bad parts of his game better. He made the good parts of his game great. And he made the great parts of his game sublime.

And then he did the hardest part. He learned to control his emotions. Some people in the world have natural emotional control; they do not ever become either very positive or very negative. Then there are those of us who have wildly swinging emotions. I am one of those people! Novak is another. I see my own wildly swinging emotions and know it is very difficult to rein them in, and I see Novak’s wildly swinging emotions and am in absolute awe at how well he can rein them in and redirect them.

I think this is why Novak Djokovic is very well loved indeed, and it’s why even to this day he continues to make more fans.

I know I’m fighting a losing battle here, but could we maybe stop with the “why isn’t Novak Djokovic more beloved?” or “why doesn’t Novak Djokovic get the adulation of Federer or Nadal?” In the long run, it really doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that Novak Djokovic is beloved.

His fans know this. And Novak knows it, too.

Postscript: This post touched a nerve with a LOT of my fellow Novak Djokovic fans! You can find a collection of the responses I received from them here.

Texts to my Husband: My Thoughts During Novak Djokovic’s QF win over Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros

I knew it was going to be tense. So I decided that, for the sanity of myself and everyone who follows me on Twitter, to stay mostly off of Twitter while I watched Novak play Rafa.

But at the same time, I knew I needed an outlet. So I sent a whole slew of texts to my poor but patient husband, Eric.

In retrospect, I find this kind of amusing. So I thought I’d screenshot our texts (which, let’s be real, are pretty well dominated by me) for the amusement of all.

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And there you have it. Apologies to Rafa fans. But at least now you know the torture he puts fans of Novak Djokovic through. 😉

Road to Redemption: The Peculiar Case of Neil Harman

A few days ago, my new tennis blogging friend Matt Zemek wrote what I’m sure wasn’t intended to be eerily prescient, but wound up being so anyway: a column about “sports forgiveness,” or how much we are/can be/should be willing to forgive an athlete’s misdeeds.

I found it an intriguing little piece, absorbing and thought-provoking. And when the news came out about the plagiarism of Neil Harman, writer for the London Times, I soon thought of Matt’s column.

The news first broke on the Changeover blog. The sporting website Deadspin expanded on the story. Then, finally, came Ben Rothenberg’s article on Slate, detailing just how far and deep and wide went the plagiarism (as well as the knowledge of it).

As I often do when tennis-related news breaks, I spent a lot of time perusing my tennis timeline on Twitter, reading the reactions of others. I saw, first, a lot of reactions just like mine, which can be represented thusly:

1. Complete and utter shock. “Neil Harman did WHAT?!” Most of the people on my timeline are not great fans of his, yet most never dreamed that he would commit the incredibly serious journalistic crime of plagiarism.

2. Dismay. “How could he be so stupid?? He’s been a journalist for a long, long time!” Without really knowing precisely what he had plagiarized (at first, anyway), it was hard to know how he could have done something so dumb, something that every journalist knows is a huge no-no.

3. Sadness. Most of us were dismayed at the end of what had been a rather respected career. For after so great a breach of trust, I personally couldn’t see how Harman would have a career in journalism anymore, and I think most agreed with me.

However, as more details came out as to the breadth of this thing, I saw the opinions on my timeline begin to fracture. I personally did not see anyone say how much they empathized with Harman, but I read others’ surprise at seeing empathy for him. I was very surprised to see a journalist tweet to Harman saying, in effect, “everyone makes mistakes… no biggie.”

I saw anger develop, both toward Harman and toward Wimbledon. Some of that was my own. I remain not so much angry with Harman as puzzled — primarily with how “shocked” he kept saying he was at hearing that he had committed plagiarism. I, along with many others, wondered how on earth you could plagiarize without meaning to. Harman steadfastly maintained that he “must have forgotten” to attribute material, time and again, because of the tremendous time pressure he was under to churn out the annual Wimbledon yearbook.

I personally felt a heck of a lot more anger towards Wimbledon, who found out that Harman had plagiarized material for one of their yearbooks (never mind, for the moment, that he had actually plagiarized for a lot more than simply one yearbook) and then did precisely nothing about it. Oh, sorry. They told him he wouldn’t be authoring the 2014 yearbook. But he still received a press credential, he was still asked to write something about Andy Murray for the Wimbledon program, and he was still invited to the Champions’ Dinner. What’s more, they didn’t even pull the yearbook from their online store or physical store until one of the journalists he had plagiarized confronted Wimbledon about it.

This was where I started thinking about the whole idea of “sports forgiveness” that Matt brought up in his piece. Obviously this was not a question of forgiving an athlete as much as forgiving a sports writer. But some of the same questions came into play.

Here is where I am coming from. I am a Christian, and as such I believe very strongly in the tenet of forgiveness. However, in Christianity we view forgiveness mostly in regards to people we have some sort of relationship with, good or bad. Forgiveness is not an option for a Christian, but a requirement, to anyone who has hurt them. There are a number of reasons for this that I won’t get into, but one of the strongest reasons is because refusing to forgive causes us to think more highly of ourselves than of someone else. And that is one of the very things that Christians are called upon to not do.

Christians are also, however, called upon to extend mercy to people who have been wronged and hurt. Plagiarism hurts so many people. It hurts the people whose words are plagiarized. It hurts the reputation of the publication in which the plagiarism appears. It hurts the readers who no longer know who to trust.

I feel bad for Neil Harman. And I don’t feel bad for him. I feel bad for him because his reputation is now shot and his career is in ruins. I feel bad for him because somehow, in some way, his journalistic ethos went out the window in choosing to plagiarize. I feel bad for him because he had a terrible series of lapses in judgment — which all of us has had at some point or other — and now he will pay dearly for it. I even feel bad for him because he seems so confused as to how it happened.

However, I don’t feel bad for him because he chose to do this. I would assume he believed he would never get caught. Perhaps he assumed that the All-England Club had better things to do than to make sure everything in the yearbooks he wrote were either his own unique work or properly attributed. Perhaps he assumed that readers who stumbled across previously-written words in his yearbook would write it off as déjà vu. Perhaps he simply assumed that no one would really care. (That certainly seems to be the case for Wimbledon, if Rothenberg’s article is any indication.)

I sincerely hope that Harman, as a fellow human being, can turn this around. I hope he learns from his mistakes and stays a million miles away from the dark road that led him to believe plagiarism was an option. I hope he can rebuild his career. I also hope he learns to show true, real remorse, rather than the current apology that makes it sound like all of this was just a terrible accident and a brief lapse in professionalism.

I’m not sure I can really discuss “forgiveness” as it relates to Harman. He didn’t hurt me personally. He hurt a lot of others, though — the writers he plagiarized, the readers who purchased his yearbooks, possibly even the newspaper he works for. He even hurt the profession of journalism, at least in the tennis world, as it will be tempting for tennis fans to lump all journalists in with Harman and declare “they’re all a bunch of hacks!”

For their sake, I hope Harman finds true remorse in himself and will take it upon himself to apologize to the people he wronged. I think they deserve that much. And I think the road to redemption will be much shorter if he can fully admit to his wrongdoings and sincerely seek their forgiveness. Theirs is the forgiveness he needs. Not mine.