Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Paging Dr. Razor: I doubt you missed this piece from the NYT Sunday supplement -- David Foster Wallace on Roger Federer. Thoroughly endnoted, too. In fact, you'll be delighted to hear, the endnotes have footnotes. Typical DFW sentence:
There’s a medium-long exchange of groundstrokes, one with the distinctive butterfly shape of today’s power-baseline game, Federer and Agassi yanking each other from side to side, each trying to set up the baseline winner...until suddenly Agassi hits a hard heavy cross-court backhand that pulls Federer way out wide to his ad (=left) side, and Federer gets to it but slices the stretch backhand short, a couple feet past the service line, which of course is the sort of thing Agassi dines out on, and as Federer’s scrambling to reverse and get back to center, Agassi’s moving in to take the short ball on the rise, and he smacks it hard right back into the same ad corner, trying to wrong-foot Federer, which in fact he does — Federer’s still near the corner but running toward the centerline, and the ball’s heading to a point behind him now, where he just was, and there’s no time to turn his body around, and Agassi’s following the shot in to the net at an angle from the backhand side...and what Federer now does is somehow instantly reverse thrust and sort of skip backward three or four steps, impossibly fast, to hit a forehand out of his backhand corner, all his weight moving backward, and the forehand is a topspin screamer down the line past Agassi at net, who lunges for it but the ball’s past him, and it flies straight down the sideline and lands exactly in the deuce corner of Agassi’s side, a winner — Federer’s still dancing backward as it lands.

Ellipses in the original, mind you. If you hack your way through the post-modernist version of the whichy thickets, he makes some keen (if perhaps debatable) observations -- on a variety of subjects. For example:
Wimbledon is strange. Verily it is the game’s Mecca, the cathedral of tennis; but it would be easier to sustain the appropriate level of on-site veneration if the tournament weren’t so intent on reminding you over and over that it’s the cathedral of tennis.

It wasn’t that Ivan Lendl was an immortally great tennis player. He was simply the first top pro to demonstrate what heavy topspin and raw power could achieve from the baseline. And, most important, the achievement was replicable, just like the composite racket.

The generic power-baseline game is not boring — certainly not compared with the two-second points of old-time serve-and-volley or the moon-ball tedium of classic baseline attrition. But it is somewhat static and limited; it is not, as pundits have publicly feared for years, the evolutionary endpoint of tennis. The player who’s shown this to be true is Roger Federer. And he’s shown it from within the modern game.

I'd love to read a ten-page article by him on any of these pronouncements, though I can't see tolerating that level of self-indulgence through any of his longer works. Anyhow, if you didn't see it, do.


Razor said...

Well, as usual -- our differences are illuminated. I very much enjoyed the article. One reason why it's worth reading is that DFW was a very good teenage player who hit the wall sometime in his late teens when he realized that he was good state-wide, even regionally, but he wasn't going to be a national player, much less an international one. He has the understanding of the game that only comes from some serious playing and training. He has written about tennis before, notably an article in Esquire about an American qualifier who never quite could get good enough. Lots of geometry in that article.

Anyway, good stuff by DFW.

By the by -- I had a nice long piece written on my US Open predictions that Blogger ate (I didn't save as a Word doc first, shame on me). My bold prediction was Agassi out in the first round, which wasn't that far off really.

Anyway, I'm going with Federer. My dark horse (not that dark, he was seeded 3) was Lubjic, but alas....

On the womens' -- I like Sharapova or Kuznetsnova -- she's on a tear this year.

Roddick is playing more inspired for sure, but I can't see Jimbo just all of the sudden transforming Rod into himself....

enobarbus said...

Don't mistake me: I enjoyed the article greatly, and I find his writing on the subject very wise.

I just despair of reading many hundreds of pages in that style, which is why I never picked up Jest.