Monday, July 18, 2011

Mark My Words

Mark Jack says farewell to New York City and prepares to reluctantly welcome the West Coast straight into his heart.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

Game, Set, Match

It's Monday, my Puddlers. I know what you're saying, "What happened, Domino? Take your little hiatus early? We came back from the Fourth of July scared, shaking and terrified to go back to work. We needed you to make us strong and remember that life is good." And you would be right in saying that. My life was busy last week. "Work" got in the way of this, my work. However, life will be good again. Well, at least for this week until I take a hiatus to improve the site and make myself famous with fiction so you can say you were there when. But what a week this will be. You will be getting three posts from me, a heartbreaking and poingant post from Alex Theoharides and a very special post from Mark Jack.

So, hang tight my Puddlers as we ride out this week of Puddles as you know it and when you return it will be something more. Something closer to what I always envisioned.

Now, here's some me.

All of a sudden I have become a tennis writer. When I sat down to contribute a post this week (Editor’s note: “this week” was “last week”), I thought about a lot of vague profound ideas. Ideas that came from small moments pieced together by images and music and sounds. I wanted to rush those ideas out as fast as possible so that the world could read them and react. I wanted to make “music” like a newspaper; music like headlines as John Lennon said in his “Instant Karma” phase. However, I knew those ideas needed time. Perhaps I am getting smarter and perhaps I am becoming a better writer. Or, maybe I am just learning that ideas need time. In any case, I decided to focus instead on something more tangible to ease my words out, a topic that I could easily grip, and thus begin to write about. So, I thought of tennis, which I now love.

Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in this year’s Wimbledon Final. Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal and I was crushed. It was a rainy grey morning and I listened to the match on Wimbledon Radio. I listened to the match with some friends at the beach house that my parents are selling. I was slightly drowsy from the bacon and under-ripe avocado sandwich I had eaten and because of the rain. We listened to the English commentators and picked up beer cans and washed plates. I sat on an Ottoman drinking beer while the commentators gave play-by-play on Nadal’s loss.

“Its quite amazing really. Djokovic’s playing has been superb.”

“Yes, Nadal is making the kind of errors that he avoided all tournament long.”

“Nadal serves. Djokovic with the return. Nadal forehand. Djokovic with a backhand. Backhand Nadal. Forehand volley Djokovic. Backhand NADAL! Backhand Djokovic. Nadal what A SHOT! And THE RETURN! Novak Djokovic. This is thrilling tennis.”

“Nadal played almost perfectly there and it wasn’t enough.”

“To be blunt: the former world’s number one is being thoroughly outplayed here today.”

And so it went until Nadal bowed out in the fourth set. It might as well have been the third. I felt dejected after Nadal’s loss, as I usually do when one of my favorite sports entities loses. I felt like I had lost something as well, or that nothing would ever be good again. However, I drank another beer and went on with my day. I stepped out to a humid summer air and decided I had to take a train East to go swimming with some friends.

When I returned to work after the Fourth, I read this piece on Grantland, which got me thinking about tennis overall. Right now, men’s tennis, at the Grand Slam events especially, can give any major sport a run for its money. What I mean is that there is drama in almost any matchup. “The Big 4” (or “Big 3 and A Half” as they are called) are compelling enough. You have Federer, who is widely considered the best of all time but who is in decline and may not be the best of all time because he was always outplayed by Nadal. Yet, Federer is the magician. He can pull another victory out of the air. Every player still fears Federer in some elemental way. Everyone except Nadal, Nadal who appeals to our passionate, hard working side. The side of us that just wants to explode at every second—put our force and determination out into the world and win over those souls that were too timid or too polished to succeed.

But now, Djokovic has emerged as maybe the player to beat in men’s tennis. He is not the villain I always wanted him to be—the preening heel, as if he were some kind of wrestler. Instead, he is a somewhat unlikable Eastern European man who plays extraordinary tennis. The Wimbledon Final exhibited a will that I hadn’t been convinced of in his recent string of fantastic playing. He simply out willed Nadal who uses his omnipotence on the court to force his opponent into errors. This time it was Djokovic who made Nadal look like he wasn’t trying enough. He baffled Nadal with will. Djokovic is slowly building a great resume and he already has proven to be too much for Nadal on many instances. As Brian Phillips pointed out, we have a conundrum at the top that features the equation Djokovic>Nadal>Federer>Djokovic. However, to me it still seems that the rivalry between Nadal and Djokovic is just beginning to unfold at the Grand Slam level. If Nadal is truly the greatest of all time, he will find a way to hone is will into a new method of figuring out how to beat Djokovic.

That only covers the top three. We also have to consider the fact that despite his sort of limp-towel performance at times, Murray is a fantastic player. Tsonga proved at Wimbledon that he too is a joy to watch.  We have the likeable (formerly fat!) American, Mardy Fish; the darkhorses Monfils, Del Potro and Ferrer as well as the enigmatic and goofy Soderling. Finally, there is Andy “I feel bad for him” Roddick as he winds down his career and we try to remember him for what he was and not what he wasn’t or promised to be, which is always hard for Americans.

It is a sport I thought I’d never like, but now tennis is my saviour. My uncle used to torture me at his beach house at Love Ladies at the Jersey Shore by making me watch the U.S. Open night matches when all I wanted to watch was preseason football while the waves crashed out in the darkness and relatives talked and did adult things around me. Now, I love tennis. And while I can’t analyze the different shots or even break down the importance of first serve points or the value of the passing shot, I can write about how great it is.  It is a psychological sport of one man against another. It is physical, demanding and exciting. I am riveted while listening on the radio. It’s clean, clear and decisive, despite its country club connotations. In this, my hour of sports darkness (NBA lockout, dog days of baseball) tennis will be my savior—no matter who is better than whom.