Who Wants To Gore El Matador?

We’ve had the season-ending ATP Finals and the Davis Cup playing in the shop the last few weeks. It’s an exciting time to be working in a tennis shop, on the cusp of the Australian Open, constantly attuned to the squeaking of sneakers. 

12 months ago, Alexander Zverev’s victory in the ATP Finals–defeating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in consecutive matches–had many predicting that the next generation was on the brink of dethroning the ‘big three’. In terms of Slams, that certainly didn’t eventuate in 2019 (Joker = 2, El Matador = 2).


Nadal (somewhat pictured above) audaciously substituted Madame Tussaud's wax figure of himself into the Roland-Garros trophy ceremony


Once more the past fortnight, we’ve seen young guns Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas show blistering form. We’ve also seen Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic fail to make it through to the group stage of the ATP Finals, as well as Roger Federer bow out in the semi-finals.

In the moment, these results feel significant. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the changing of the guard is occurring before our eyes. But the true test is in the Slams, not in Masters 1,000 events, ATP Finals or even in the revised Davis Cup format. 

Victories in best-of-three set tournaments do undeniably count for something. However there is also a comfort blanket for the likes of Zverev, Shapovalov and Tsitsipas in these tournaments, because they know that they can’t be lured into a four or five-hour baseline slugfest where every fibre of their game will be tested; where sodium levels will drop, legs will get heavy and muscles will start to twitch.

Being able to sustain focus and rhythm over seven best-of-five set matches is the challenge that now awaits Stefanos Tsitsipas after his victory in London. 

Tsitsipas had an amazing run at this year’s Australian Open, displaying beautiful net craft as he upset Roger Federer in the Round of 16, but by the time he reached the semi-finals, he looked physically (and mentally) cooked, winning only six games across three sets as Rafael Nadal devoured him like ‘gluten-free dumplings’.


Disclaimer: the above may, or may not, be the dumplings that Nadal ordered in his (in)famous Uber Eats campaign during the 2019 Australian Open


While part of the challenge is the unforgiving draws that Tsitsipas and his mop-haired next gen hombres have to deal with as they earn their Grand Slam stripes–daytime show court slots on scorched Plexicushion–part of it is also their lack of physical and psychological conditioning for two-week tournaments.

This year’s US Open men’s final went down to the wire on the cauldron of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Rafa was on the brink against pantomime Russian villain, Daniil Medvedev. It was ball machine against ball machine. Deep in the deciding set, having blown a two-set advantage, Rafa looked as gaunt in the cheeks as an ultra-triathlete, releasing guttural groans with every topspin exertion. By all discernible measures, he was done for.  But he found a way to win. 

That match, in particular the final three games in the deciding set, was as close as we’ve come to seeing the next gen penetrate the fortress of Rafa, Roger and the Joker in best-of-five set tennis.

While such a siege is inevitable, watching Rafael Nadal almost single-handedly win the Davis Cup for Spain and watching a 38-year-old Roger Federer put young gun Matteo Berrettini to the sword on the 02 Arena, sublime half volleys licking lines as muscles swelled from his trim, balletic legs, it was easy to believe that the siege will never occur, and that beauty is timeless.

As always, if you need any tennis equipment, or just fancy a chat about the game, please drop by KK Tennis. 475 Malvern Road, South Yarra. Looking forward to a great summer of tennis!

December 05, 2019 — Murray

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