It can hurt to see someone in pain. It’s real, not metaphorical, and it’s strange. The flash of pain across a face can signal across the space between bodies and the other mind will flash like lightning in response. A faint rumble of pain follows like thunder. I can’t explain the mechanics. It has to do with mirror neurons or the somatosensory cortex or something. Your brain is fooled. Your heart tightens and your stomach jumps. If you’re like me, you might feel tears threaten your eyes. There is something ridiculous and egomaniacal about this. I was not injured watching Serena Williams play last night. But it hurt all the same.
Wednesday was Halloween in Paris, too. And one reason to love Paris is that it's the sort of city where it's often hard to know whether it's October 31 or the start of Fashion Week. This is worth mentioning because something happened on Wednesday, in Paris, and it was so delightful, gratuitous, weird, and apt that to witness it really was to kind of WTF-ly spit out your Gummy Eyeball Martini.
This week, you see, is also the BNP Paribas Masters tennis tournament — the Paris Masters. Typically, the action unfolds at the Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy, a sports and music fortress in the 12th arrondissement right next to the Seine. But for a few magical minutes Wednesday evening, the Paris Masters was taking place on the Death Star. What transpired during those minutes wasn't part of some kind of public-relations rollout on behalf of Disney, which owns Grantland and had just bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion. It wasn't even any kind of art prank. It was merely the current no. 2 player in the world heading to the packed court in a Darth Vader mask.
Chris: Rem, when it comes to watching tennis, Brooklyn Decker is the greatest. She's Alexander. She's Sonny Liston. She's Jack Dempsey. There's no one like her. Her style is impetuous, her defense is impregnable, she's ferocious. She has our heart. I think she wants to eat our children.
In one of my very favorite Real World seasons, London in 1995, there was a cast member named Jay who was totally boring — his routine consisted of staying up late to watch TV every night and then napping on the couch for most of the day. In other words, he was the realest reality character that I've ever seen. When I idly daydreamed about being on Real World, I figured I'd be just like Jay: lazy, content to lounge around in a ridiculous house, and sure to feign sleep anytime drama unfolded.
If I said I’d picked Tomas Berdych to beat Roger Federer last night, I’d be lying. But the Andy Murray freak-out against Marin Cilic was actually more surprising, even if Murray handled Cilic easily in the end. Federer was having a terrible night — he can really shank his forehand — and Berdych has tremendous talent. He hits ground strokes with the speed of serves. Last night, a few of his returns embarrassed the great Federer.
Andy Roddick announced last night that he will be hanging up his spurs whenever he completes his run at the U.S. Open. The 30-year-old, once America's great tennis hope, leaves the game with a U.S. Open trophy (2003), four other Grand Slam final appearances (including a legendary clash with his fremesis, Roger Federer, at Wimbledon in 2009), $20 million in prize money, and Brooklyn Decker on his arm. He also leaves behind an incredible collection of press conference appearances. Because even when Andy Roddick lost on the court, he won in the media room. For those about to quip, we salute you:
Before we get going, forgive me as I become the 6,087,345th person to rant about NBC's decision not to air the swimming finals live on television. Put simply, it's a disgrace. I don't think I need to enumerate the reasons why it's a repugnant move from a spectator's standpoint, so let me instead tackle the business angle. First, I'm fine with the existence of NBC prime time. I'm glad they replay the best events. Sure, maybe they show actual sports at about the same rate that MTV shows actual music videos, but whatever. If prepackaged stories and scant coverage and Ryan Seacrest talking about social media is what "America" wants, and by "America" I mean the faceless mythical majority that apparently exists to dumb down everything cool, I can live with it.
But we are living in the age of the spoiler. People are going to find out the results if they're around the Internet, television, or other humans. They just are. And if they don't want to know? They're going to avoid everything, including NBC stations. So, my question: How does it change anything if you broadcast the events live in the afternoon?? The people who watch prime time are still going to watch prime time. They're ALREADY avoiding TV, presumably while at work, and it wouldn't change anything to throw the rest of us a bone and put the swimming on CNBC. I mean, they even announce the results on the NBC news show that leads into the prime-time coverage! Even the rest of NBC isn't avoiding spoilers! AHHHH THIS RAGE IS GOING TO KILL ME! I should probably just give up and light my TV on fire, right?
For the casual tennis fan, one of the most noteworthy sights of the last week of Wimbledon action was the near-constant sight of ‘80s tennis legend Ivan Lendl. He was seen in the stands, watching on, as his pupil Andy Murray made it all the way to the men's final, only to have his dreams lit on fire and thrown off a balcony by Roger Federer. But did you know Lendl was also something of cine-maniac? It's true! When he is not an eyewitness to Andy Murray coming up short, you can find Lendl in a multiplex, going hammer on popcorn and enjoying the latest blockbuster. So we thought we'd ask the hyper-expressive what he thought of this past week's big blockbuster, The Amazing Spider-Man. Let's all go to the movies!
Sunday's French Open final was an absolute mess. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, meeting in the championship round of a Grand Slam for the fourth straight time, fought delays, poor conditions, and their own sporadic play in a match that lacked their usual high quality. Rafa took the first set 6-4 despite losing a 3-0 lead, and won a sloppy second set, 6-3. After a long rain delay, he took a 2-0 lead in the third, and it looked like he might finish the tournament without losing a set.
But the rain had taken a toll, and a huge momentum swing was in the works. Djokovic began playing his usual attacking style, hitting deep returns and dictating play with powerful forehands. Nadal's topspin, so effective at Roland Garros because of the high bounce it takes on clay, was nullified by the heavy balls and wet court. Djokovic won the next eight games, an unprecedented losing streak for Nadal on his favorite surface. And in a rare departure from his fierce on-court demeanor, he began to get frustrated. When Djokovic broke him to start the fourth set, he took one of the soggy balls and angrily threw it at (or toward) tournament referee Stefan Fransen. He was in a bad place, and he knew it. The six-time champ, trying to top Björn Borg for the most French titles of all time, wanted nothing more than to get the hell off the court before all was lost.
Lucky for him, the rain increased and the match was postponed for the night.
Perhaps it's too early to say an era is coming to a close, but this is definitely a moment. Just a few days into the French Open, both of the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, have been eliminated.
Both losses were shocking in their own way. Serena's first-round exit Tuesday, one of the bigger upsets in recent Grand Slam memory, was shocking because she's Serena Williams and her opponent was the 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano. It was shocking because she was up a set and still lost in three. It was shocking because she lost a second-set tiebreaker that she had been leading 5-1. It was shocking because she got down in the third set, fought back, but then still lost.
Venus's second-round exit Wednesday was also shocking, not really because she lost (she was unseeded, facing the 3-seed Agnieszka Radwanska), but because her defeat only took one hour. She won five games and lost 12 in 60 minutes. Even though Venus is no longer the Grand Slam favorite like she once was, we're used to her serving and hitting people off the court in an hour's time, not the other way around. Never the other way around. Because she's Venus.
Like I said, an era ending? Maybe not. But this is most certainly a moment.
One of the most talented tennis players of all time, Serena Williams, loves not playing tennis. She also loves rappers. Because of these two facts, it should come as no surprise that she's using her non-tennis time to rap. (Spoiler alert: It's not as bad as you think it is going to be, but know that I'm never listening to it again.)
Rafael Nadal, Mallorcan tennis warrior, cemented his status as the king of clay over the past month with 21 straight victories on his favorite surface. On Sunday, he won his seventh Barcelona Open and attained one of those goofy arcane milestones that manages to tell a story of longevity and dominance; he's now the only player in the Open Era to win two different tournaments seven times.
A week ago, he won his eighth-straight Monte Carlo Masters title, and he did it in noteworthy fashion, by beating Novak Djokovic. Over the past two years, Djokovic has emerged as the best player in the world, and he's been the bane of Nadal's existence. In fact, Rafa's victory at Monte Carlo was his first over Djokovic in eight tries dating back to 2010. (Overall, Nadal owns a 17-14 advantage.)
As of now, there are three distinct phases to Nadal's career:
The Australian Open is one of my favorite sporting events, because for almost 15 years now, I've set my alarm for 3 a.m. to wake up, turn on the television, and watch the matches in real time. I don’t know why this happens — apparently something to do with daylight, time zones, and kangaroos — but that's the way it's always been, and I love it. Anyway, because most normal American humans aren't staying up to watch the first round of the Open in the middle of the night, I figured I would throw on a Le Coq Sportif warm-up suit, sit in front of my TV, and then report back.