They say you can learn a lot about a player by the style of game they play. The way they construct a point. Their choice of shot. That's crap. You want to really know about a player, check their handshake.
I live for it. The match is over, maybe it was a five-set scorcher, maybe it was a humiliating straight sets beatdown. Either way, after the players are done with the obligatory business of throwing up their arms in victory or throwing down their racquet in disgust, I focus in on those precious moments when they meet at the net. Tennis is both insanely personal – you're feeling out every emotional nuance in your opponent – and ridiculously impersonal – you're on opposite sides of a court, never once touching. So this moment at the net is, by default, everything.
There are a million different handshakes, but they break down into six basic categories:
THE BEIGE CARPETING: A perfunctory clasp of the hands, a polite nod, a quick walk to the chair, this most common net approach says hey, we just finished a match. Infinitely boring, you see this handshake most in early rounds or smaller tournaments, or if the tennis was just, you know, nothing special. David Nalbandian and Andreas Beck toss the yawns after their clash this week in Monte Carlo (4:08): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxN_wC-G2bI
THE EUROPEAN (WTA): This is my favorite. The double cheek kiss. So sophisticated. So intimate. It says, hey, we may have just been beating the stuffing out of each other, but I'm still a lady, you're still a lady. Let's be ladies together. It's also, sadly, terribly old school, with so few players keeping up the tradition that it's soon to be relegated to simply "The Kim Clijsters" (1:40): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0zrck_LOJE
The Hug it Out
THE HUG IT OUT (ATP): Two buddies slug it out for five sets. They meet at the net, and it's nothing but two-armed love baby. It says, hey, we may have just been beating the stuffing out of each other, but I'm still your rolldawg, you're still my rolldawg. Let's be rolldawgs together. Exhibit A) Rafael Nadal d. Fernando Verdasco, 09 Aussie Open (2:20): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4bumlhQGuE
THE NYAH: Oh you've seen this one. The pursed lips as they come to net. The dead fish hand. There's little to no eye contact. And before their opponent knows what's happening, they're already walking off to their chair. It's also known as the Sore Loser. Michelle Larcher de Brito demonstrates in her loss to Aravane Rezai at the '09 French Open (4:35). Smile Michelle! What? No? Okay: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdeY9XE78nk
THE AW HELL NAW: The next generation of the Nyah, but this one is much more aggressive. It says, I was wronged in this match, I hate you, don't even ask me for that twenty bucks back. Frequently involves little to no handshake at all, and is often followed by crowd boos. A classic example is Daniela Hantuchova d. Patty Schnyder in Luxembourg, '07 (bonus feature: Patty's husband and coach Rainer Hofmann giving the boot to Dani's water bottle on the way out): http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3306g_dani-schnyder-after-the-match_sport
Lastly, we have THE DIE: It's basically the Aw Hell Naw with a fake-out kicker. Often leads to a locker room throwdown. As evidenced by Conchita Martinez d. Patty Schnyder, Charleston '04: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k71ezy5CC4k
No matter what kind of handshake you get, you can tell a lot about players in those few moments. And nothing honks me off more than when they cut away from it. This is not the time for a wide shot of the crowd! Who cares what a 3/4 full stadium looks like? I want close-ups. I want four or five cameras on that thing. I want the emotional cherry on top of the sundae I just sat through two hours for. Mess with it and you're playing with fire. I might just send Patty Schnyder after you. And homey don't play.
On court, I'm a great winner. And a terrible loser. That's because losing is hard. Here's a tip of the cap to the top five champs who win graciously, and when managing to squeak out a loss, don't get nearly enough credit for being great sports at the net.
5. Juan Martin del Potro
4. Marat Safin
3. Maria Sharapova
2. Novak Djokovic
1. Elena Dementieva
Have a nominee for worst sport at the net? Hit me up at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.