Just One More Ball
There is a well known saying in tennis, ‘make your opponent play one more ball’. In other words, don’t give up, because you never know what your opponent will do.
This saying has been well heeded to by the WTA for quite some time. Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters have always had a ‘never say die’ attitude, and we have seen apparent no-namers like Melanie Oudin display similar traits time and time again. Girls that never give up and often cause the upset. Whether we hear of them again does not matter, they gave it their all no matter what the scoreline. Playing every point no matter what.
The ATP seemed to lack that for quite some time. With the utter dominance of Roger Federer until 2008, it is hard to blame them for considering themselves out of the game at two sets to love down. There were two men during this time who never gave up hope. The first was Lleyton Hewitt. The second, Rafael Nadal. Lleytos plays every single point as if it is 0-0, he gives it his absolute all. He has lost fourteen straight matches to Roger Federer and still plays as if he is world number one. Rafael Nadal has obviously been more successful when it comes to battling Federer. This is not about beating Roger Federer, however, this is about never giving up.
Lleyton Hewitt has had a trying career. A previous number one and grand slam champion, by 2008 he was married with children and a very sore hip. Nobody would have blamed Rusty for calling it quits. He had dropped out of the top 100, relying on wildcard entries in tournaments he had once won, and he was playing with pain. Instead of hanging up his raquet and retiring with his beautiful wife to the Aussie outback, Lleytos opted for hip surgery. Fast forward a year and ranked 32, he has captured his first ATP title since 2007 (Las Vegas), and reached the quater finals of Wimbledon, after beating the number five seed and recovering from two sets down in the forth round. He lost the quater final to Andy Roddick over five sets. You can bet he didn’t choke it away. Lleyton just exited the US Open in the third round at the hands of his old nemesis, Federer, but not without taking a set first. If you want inspiration, look no further than Lleyton Hewitt.
Juan Carlos Ferrero has a slightly similar story. Rafael Nadal employs the same mentality to constantly come back to win matches. It is the mentality that made him untouchable for a year as number one in the world. Will he fight to get it back? You betcha. This time, however, it may be a little different.
Just take a look at this years US Open.
The likes of Hewitt, Ferrero, and Nadal have inspired something within the rest of the ATP. We have been seeing more fight than ever before from the men, and it all started at Roland Garros. Remember when Juan Martin del Potro handed his hero, Roger Federer, the match at the Australian Open 09 without even trying? Fast forward two months and del Potro was pushing Federer all the way to five at Roland Garros. He may of lost, but he never once gave up. Federer had to fight all the way. By this time, he was used to it, as he had fought through five against Tommy Haas in the forth round, a veteran player who could be forgiven for thinking he wouldn’t stand a chance. Over on the other side of the draw, the man who had gotten absolutely demolished by Nadal only a few weeks earlier put up huge resistance against the then world number one in the forth round. Robin Soderling took out Rafael Nadal in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Soderling could also of been forgiven for being beaten in the locker room, but he wasn’t. When Nadal began his inevitable come back in the second set tiebreak, everyone thought Soderling would go away. He didn’t, instead, he won it in four. Soderling didn’t crash and burn after his big win either, he ran all the way to the final to lose to Federer, who by then had shown the world that he too could dog fight with the best.
If people didn’t sense the change in the atmosphere by the time Wimbledon came around, they did when it came to the final match. Andy Roddick stood at the ugly end of an 18-2 head to head against his opponent, Roger Federer. Everybody expected Andy to cave. By the time the fifth set rolled around, even Federer fans were starting to applaud Roddick’s efforts. When Federer finally ground it out to win 16-14 in the fifth, Roddick got just as much applause as the record-breaking man himself. The crowd chanted Roddick over and over, picking the man up from his obvious heartbreak. Despite the loss, Roddick earned the respect of tennis fans everywhere as he showed he too had a killer fighting spirit.
It hasn’t stopped at the US Open. Determination remains strong, anyone can beat anyone, giving up is no longer the norm. Who would of thought Nicholas Kiefer could take a set off Nadal? More importantly than just taking a set, Kiefer didn’t stop playing when Nadal won the third and was serving for the match. Kiefer played every single point his absolute hardest until the bitter end. Jesse Witten, world number 276, upset Igor Andreev on a run to the third round, where he eventually fell to Novak Djokovic… but not before taking a set and playing his heart out. Andy Murray came up against the unheralded Paul Capdeville, and was outplayed in the second set when Capdeville showed the crowd just what the world number 87 can do. Even when down in the forth, Capdeville kept on hitting. Even the man known for giving up and chucking away match after match, Ernests Gulbis, displayed a lot of fight in his tight three set loss to Andy Murray, and how refreshing it was to see. Devin Britton, ranked in the 1000s, gave Roger Federer a decent three set match in his first round loss. The inspiration young men like Britton can give to thousands of tennis players is endless.
It may have been to the detriment of Nadal, Federer, and Roddick, that they have inspired such attitude within the rest of the ATP. Today, the never give up mentality of John Isner cost Andy Roddick a place in the forth round, the countryman of Roddick winning in a thrilling fifth set tiebreak. It appears the aura of invincibility once held by the top ten may have faded. But you know what, even as a spectator who cheers Federer on with everything she has, I can’t help but enjoy the new fighting spirit everyone seems to have acquired. People are finally believing in their abilities to take it to the top players, and whether they win or not, there is a new glint in their eye as they step onto the court. It just took one thing.
As written on the shoes of Melanie Oudin,