Just past midnight, it happened. As Roger Federer's forehand sailed long and Tomas Berdych snapped an eight-match losing streak v. the world No 1, the ATP officially morphed into something familiar. In fact, something we know all too well. The WTA.
You're fighting me on this. I get it. It's a scary thought. The WTA is in hideous disarray, how can you possibly compare? A few losses by the top dog doesn't exactly signal the implosion of a tour. A few losses, really? For the second consecutive tournament, Roger Federer couldn't crack the quarters, giving up match points to a player he'd more or less owned in a baffling third set tiebreak implosion. Said Rog afterward, "It's no secret that I struggled the last 5 matches I played in the States. My game is lacking something right now." Is it motivation after conquering the world? Is it competition in the form of a feisty little Spanish gypsy with a bum knee and dubious taste in shorts? Is it sleep from staying up all night reading "Everybody Poops" to the kids? (A great book btw, it speaks such truth.) Whatever it is, Roger is once again talking about looking forward to the clay. Never a good sign.
"My game is lacking something right now."
Federer is allowed to lose James! Ah yes, here comes the anger. Absolutely Federer's allowed to lose. But it's when that losing becomes contagious that we enter into (blood-curdling scream) WTA territory. When Justine Henin retired back in '08, we famously saw all the wannabes not rise up but fall apart as panic set in: there were so many free points in the water, so much to feast on, that everyone freaked out and accidentally ate their own faces. On the men's tour, while Roger and Rafa were getting sidelined, so were Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, torpedoed by the likes of giant killers Mardy Fish and Olivier Rochus. Djokovic was booed off the court in Miami. Murray has psychologists lining up in the UK to help him find his mojo again.
Oh yeah, WTA fans know all about the psychologists. French Open champs who are suddenly, inexplicably terrified of winning? Check. Phenoms driven so mad by the game they retire at age 20? Check. Did I mention the double faults? Welcome to our world.
Oh God. Please let me at least see Rafa win the French. Or Roger Wimbledon. Just one more time before I die. Or the other way around, I don't care anymore. What do I have to do Lord?! This is where the bargaining kicks in. Sadly, there's nothing you or your God can do. Those random losses to players like Julien Benneteau, Robin Soderling and Ivan Ljubicic, they're not as outrageous as they once were. The locker room is abuzz with possibilities. The piranhas are on the hunt. Still, you cry, there are talented talented players circling the top 5 like a wagon who can hold them off! Yeah, we have that too. Ours is named Dinara Safina, and she's been out for months. You might know her by her other name: Juan Martin del Potro. Or Nikolay Davydenko. Oh hey look, the ATP has two. Party!
This isn't funny, James. It's just sad. You don't know what you've got till it's gone, and all I want to do is crawl under my comforter and eat cake frosting. You are now experiencing depression. And why wouldn't you? Women's tennis has always been for people who groove to the emotional meltdown, but men's tennis was supposed to be safe from all that. It was a happy place where people hit big, rallies were long, players could hold. Those days are over.
And now, the final stage, acceptance. Things are different and you're not fighting it anymore. I know this new reality is strange. Alarming. But now that you're in the trenches with the rest of us saps, you can now reap the rewards! Look on the bright side, because from here on:
1. You'll broaden your vocabulary. Before, you just knew a few swears. Now you'll find creative new ways to curse out anyone and everything, particularly players who should clearly know better. I swore in five languages during the Bartoli/Wickmayer QF alone!
2. You'll achieve a master's degree in psychology. Before, you could count on one break being all a player needed to win a set. But now they'll cough it up almost immediately, for all sorts of reasons you'll learn to decipher from facial expressions, body language or looks to a coach. You may even become psychic and predict total collapses!
3. Sleepless nights thinking about the draw coming out? Sweating over who your fave is going to get in the quarters? It doesn't matter anymore! Since anyone can beat anyone, just do your bracket with a sleep mask on and fade…blissfully…away… Hello good night sleep!
4. You'll learn helpful relaxation techniques to relieve pain and stress. Lamaze, it's not just for pregnant women anymore!
5. Sure, it used to be players would earn the top spot and feel overwhelming accomplishment few have experienced, and in this new world it's the No 1 spot that does the walk of shame from so many players' hotel rooms the next morning, but just think – Everyone wins! It's like little league when everyone gets a trophy. So clear off that trophy case, Tommy Robredo, your crystal No 1 award is on the way!
In these tough times, a sunny disposition goes a long way. So do prescription drugs. And with the new health care bill, pills are falling from the sky. So load up. And remember, this too shall pass. In the meantime, fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy season.
Follow James at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.