The Laver Cup Act II

And so it was the brainchild of a wonderful mind, one fluent in several languages. But again fluidity is Roger Federer’s middle name. Even in slow motion you won’t find a hitch in Roger Federer’s strokes. They still give life to his tennis, enhancing his precision and reducing his injury rate.

Of course he also has reduced his playing schedule. Nonetheless his love for the game has been expressed in his additional time with this, his baby. There is a mutual admiration society of two, Laver and Federer that gave birth to this wonderful event as well, first in Prague last year. The glamour, the keen competitiveness and the newly acquired roles of the players make this a fascinating event for tennis devotees. That is particularly true in the lull we used to feel after the end of the U.S. Open.

You ask about the competition yesterday in the Windy City? Three out of the four events went the distance to a third set, super tie breaker in the third. The day ended with two pairs of players who had never played doubles together. It was Anderson/Sock v Djokovic/Federer. The match came down to a third set where arguably the world’s greatest doubles player, Jack Sock, was a key to the winning team.

The most fascinating match-up today is the second match in the day session, following the Zverev v Isner match, that, starts at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. It will pit the Fed against a player who has beaten every member of the elite top four in tennis, Nick Kyrgios. It could be the match of the tournament with two exceedingly talented and creative players having at it. Join the fun in Chicago or over the airwaves!

H. Robert Rubin, M. D., memoirist and author of two books available on Amazon, Look Backward Angel and How Did I Get Through This?

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How I Got Through It

It was perhaps Fall of 1968. I can say with assurance it was in my first two years of medical school from September of 1967 through
June of 1969. I was about to take an oral exam in microbiology one morning.

I knew I would follow the top student in our class as I followed him alphabetically. I suppose it was the combination of an oral and trying to follow “his act” that led me on a beeline to my shrink’s office.

He suggested given my level of anxiety medicated that I should cancel the test. I agreed and did so.

Later that afternoon I was beginning to feel more at ease. It occurred to me I wouldn’t be following a genius in the oral exam if I took the test that afternoon.

I rescheduled and took another straight line to my therapist’s office. He hypnotized me to the point I may well have been someone else. Perhaps a cousin of the genius I had been scheduled to follow.

I took the test before several examiners and passed. During the exam I was so tight a female professor told me no one would bite me. I actually wasn’t sure.

I am left without  permanent bite marks to tell this tale.

H. Robert Rubin, M.D., memoirist and author of Look Backward Angel and How Did I Get Through This?, available on Amazon.

 

Novak Djokovic, the Player for the Present Era

Gymnasts with a lot of flexibility are practically contortionists. Novak Djokovic (Nole) has amazing flexibility. He has been working on it at least since his days at the Pilic Academy in Germany at 12 years of age. He worked/studied alongside Ernests Gulbis at “Pilic.” The story is told of how he tried to convince Gulbis to become more flexible apparently to no avail. That flexibility seems a centerpiece of Novak’s game today in which his major championships now equal Pete Sampras for third on the list behind Federer and Nadal.

Yet Djokovic is not a dominant server but returner, maybe the best ever. It has been argued that the serve followed by the return are the two most important shots in tennis. I would argue the return is more important because it is a short stroke with less margin for error than the serve. In other words it is the ability under stressful conditions to execute well that can separate the good player from the great player. The nerves are less a factor with a simpler stroke, noting the complexity of the service ball toss and overhead motion. Certainly in this era what one can do with the modern strings in bringing the ball down more forcefully with ground strokes has been important to Novak’s return as well. Incidentally, I would also argue that Rafa’s return of serve falls short of Nole’s, but, his top spin, unequaled in tennis, supplants the shortcomings in Nadal’s serve.

Notice that Sampras and Federer are/were excellent servers, one a spot server and one a spot/speed server. However Roger never beat Nadal at the French Open and Djokovic did. Sampras never won the French Open. I would argue the preponderance of Wimbledon championships by Sampras and Federer account for their position on the list, absent great returning. On every non-grass surface the serve seems less important than the return of serve. Recall the amazing match point Federer had at the 2011 U.S. Open. Novak’s winning return of serve began the process of depriving Roger of that U.S. Open Championship.

Nole has apparently begun again to dominate men’s tennis including grass. I would argue it’s his flexibility, his surgeon-like creativity, his youth relative to Fed or Rafa and significantly his return of serve.

H. Robert Rubin, M.D. , memoirist and author of Look Backward Angel and How Did I Get Through This? available on Amazon

Osaka v. Williams in Retrospect

All things being equal yesterday, who would have won? One t.v. announcer said Serena is at her best when her winners equal her errors. They did. What about her response to the pressure moments. She had 6 double faults and failed to convert on 83 per cent of her break points while Naomi had about the reverse on break points.

Did the free game for Naomi impact the match? After that penalty, Serena won her service game. Then, serving for the match Naomi Osaka took the racquet out of her hands with two aces and a service winner.

Does anyone believe in the clear texture of this match the chances Serena would have broken Naomi’s gifted service game were greater than 5 %? Serena had that chance in the closing game of the match and was soundly beaten.

Naomi Osaka outplayed Williams in 90 per cent of the match. That 10 % was the game in which she broke Naomi in the second set. Osaka immediately asserted herself physically and psychologically. She broke back on Serena’s attempt to consolidate the break.

Essentially this was no contest and the better player yesterday won. As to the controversy over the calls, there are valid arguments on either side. It is sad that the controversies obscured the moment in the sun for this amazing 20 year player. Hope all is equitable for all concerned the next time these two fine players meet.

H. Robert Rubin, M.D. , memoirist and author of Look Backward Angel and How Did I Get Through This? available on Amazon

The Final, Naomi Osaka v Serena Williams

Today at 4 P.M., Eastern Time, Naomi Osaka faces Serena Williams in the Final of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, NY. They have met once, earlier in the year at a Masters event in Miami, FL. It was in the round of 128 on a hard court and Osaka was streaking having just won the “5th Grand Slam” at Indian Wells, another American hard court event. Osaka, though born in Japan, is largely American, speaking English without an accent and living in the U.S. since the age of three. She has a dual citizenship. In essence she is on home ground when she plays in Indian Wells, Miami or NY.
Serena is on a magnificent trail of recovering from the delivery of her beautiful daughter but with pulmonary complications following delivery. She had had medical problems prior related to pulmonary embolism and is an individual prone to throwing blood clots to her lungs generally from her legs. The emboli are potentially lethal.
Naomi appeared to have ice water running through her vascular system in her beautifully played semifinal against last year’s finalist, Madison Keys. It was a straight set victory. One thing about youth, there isn’t much water under the bridge. In other words the traumatic losses that can cause the “yips” in older players can be non-existent in the younger player, i.e. Serena’s only loss to Maria Sharapova when Maria was a teenager at Wimbledon.
Serena is 36, but, she has little water on the bridge as she has won 23 majors. She has shown the greatest ability in the history of tennis to weather the storms of pressure. In my eighth decade I have never seen a female athlete in her universe.
But Serena is 36. Her opponent is 20. Naomi beat her badly, i.e. in straight sets, when they played in a significant event, a Masters, in Miami as noted. Osaka can equal her in power and speed anywhere on the court, has great presence of mind and is cool under pressure. She looks down on Serena when they shake hands at 5 ft. 11 inches in height.All that said, I think the match is a toss-up. That’s why they play and that’s why many of us will watch. Enjoy the fireworks. This one should be a barn burner.

 

H. Robert Rubin, M.D., memoirist and author of two books available on Amazon, Look Backward Angel and How Did I Get Through This?

The “A” Thiem

Last night until the clock moved just past 2 a.m. Eastern Time, I watched, arguably, the finest tennis match I have ever seen. It has been 50 years in which I have followed this sport. What a tribute to the 50th U.S. Open and the fine players who have competed in the event. John  McEnroe said that seeing a match like that made him  proud that he had once been a professional tennis player. The outcome was in doubt until the very last shot, an overhead at the net that Dominic Thiem ever so barely missed.

What distinguished this match from others? It was quite unpredictable, i.e. Rafa only made seven points in the first set that seemed to last for about ten minutes. The pace of shot from either wing of the competitors was unequaled in my experience. Finally there were a host of amazing shots.

This is why we watch the game, for those in the East, even through the wee hours of the morning on a Tuesday night. The term that Hemingway used, “grace under pressure” was characteristic of the entire match. Dominic Thiem didn’t lose this match. Rafa beat him. The sportsman that Rafa is, he apologized to his friend Dominic in his on court post- match comments. This is also why we watch the game.

H. Robert Rubin, M. D., memoirist and author of two books available on Amazon, Look Backward Angel and How Did I Get Through This?