Sunday, June 27, 2010

Passing Shot



I’m not a deep thinker, just an obsessive one. Sometimes I’ll stall somewhere, rev the engine and spin my wheels. It can take days before I admit I’m stuck and wave the white hanky for roadside assistance.

I can’t get Mahut out of my mind. How, in the twilight of a less than stellar career, he won the greatest loss in tennis history.

Mahut’s old. He’s 28, and in tennis, those are dog years; tendonitis, dislocated shoulder, down-and-goner plays up-and-comer years.

He qualified for Wimbledon, which means he worked his way through a series of matches to play in the opening round. Those who play the qualies pay their own way -- equipment, racquets, shoes, strings, plane tickets, taxis, hotel rooms. Throughout most of the year, they scrape out a living, or not, on the challenger circuit; doing it for love, or doing it because that’s all they know.

Potential tennis stars are plucked from early childhood by giant sponsors. They spend the next six or seven years at a tennis academy, often mentored by an immediate family member. Too young to love the game, someone has to love it for them. A fraction get their GDA; a fraction of a fraction go to college.

They’re not unlike racehorses; groomed to do one thing only, pampered when they do that one thing well, dropped unceremoniously should they disappoint. Nothing personal, it’s only business.

Mahut didn’t always suffer early losses. He won the Wimbledon juniors title in 1998. He turned pro at 18, and could never quite get a foothold in the big time; another victim of early promise.

On the night before Day 3 of the longest match in Wimbledon history, the American contingent threw all their best resources at Isner – medical therapists, nutritionists, masseuse, etc. So far as I know, Mahut just went back to his hotel room and took a hot shower and ordered room service.

Well, no playing field is level. And now, no doubt, all the big sponsors are throwing blank checks Isner’s way because he’s a tall, good looking kid, and young. And Mahut is probably on his way to the next job -- another city, another tournament, where it seems someone else is always serving for the match.

30 comments:

  1. You know, if you keep this up, the whole of blogland will remember Mahut. I'm all for it.
    Eric Basica is the son from a friend at work. He played tournaments, he hits with Sharapova, he makes no $ on tournaments. It's brutal out there.

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  2. That just made me sad. But it was educational.

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  3. I guess we all pick jobs of one sort or another and we usually don't get a lot of adoration, much less, recognition. A friend of mine said it best, "I used to think a person's value was what they produced." I like to think I'm now in her league, maybe that's why I never for a minute thought of Mahut as a loser. I think he might get some great endorsements out of this and he'll have something to remember all his life. I still remember a few physical challenges I accomplished when no one in particular was watching, they're still some of my happiest memories.

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  4. Since you’re not a deep thinker, what would you recommend him, just quit or continue?

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  5. Wonder if the tennis factory tells the 12 year old, "Only 1 percent of 1 percent will actually make it, so you better have a back-up plan." Yeah, right.

    Saw a documentary covering similar territory, but with basketball players called Hoop Dreams.

    JJ

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  6. I'm on Paula's side of the net on this one. Sometimes racehorses end up in the hands of teenage girls who will adore them and douse them with bute. Greyhounds end up in packs with women rescuers. An endorsement offered by Mr Pibs as opposed to Gatorade isn't all bad. Really hiker, quit spinning your wills/wheels

    you disappoint me

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  7. This just in:

    Trans-blog-disssssing/hissssing is alive and well inna Denas.

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  8. I hope Mahut gets some kind of endorsement too. Better yet: some clever advertising agency should think of a way to use both of the gents in an ad. Isn't it time to replace the Everready bunny?

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  9. PA: Foot fault!

    Susan & Paula, I was thinking a Rolex ad.

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  10. It will be interesting to what ads come out.

    Has the paperback book come out yet?

    Then, 10 years from now there can be follow-up books about how the match changed their lives.

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  11. At least poor Mahut got some fluted champagne glasses and a crystal bowl. But it should have been called a tie (draw to you). How's Isner got on in the next round, by the way?

    Hope I don't sound like your mother.

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  12. Bellis: Isner had to play his second-round match the next day. He was exhausted. He lost 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 to an unseeded player in the shortest Wimbledon match this year up to that point.

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  13. What you say is true of every actor who doesn't become a star and every writer who doesn't hit the best seller list. In other words, it's true of almost everyone. Very few people reach the heights Mahut himself has reached. He may not be #1, but he's world class. We all know his name. If I were him, I wouldn't complain.

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  14. My mind was stalling in a different direction. Of little kids who have a gift or a potential gift, and then are pointed in a single direction. And if it works out, but more usually, when it doesn't, there is no plan B.

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  15. Well, hopefully Mahut is thrilled with achieving what he did. It certainly gives him something quite momentous to fondly look back on after he retires, regardless of what happens from here. All the best to them both ~ they inspired me with their persistence!

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  16. I was thinking further about this match. At some point, the players must have realized that this was a no-win situation that they couldn't get out of. At some point (literally and figuratively) each one must have thought, "If this doesn't end soon, it won't matter if I win because it will destroy my chances of moving on in the tournament." At another point, each must have thought, "I can't win, even if I win, but I can't give up either because then I lose for sure." It was like one of those things in life that you'd have rather avoided, but once you're in it, you can't stop it until it ends on its own - like getting on a roller coaster that you wish you hadn't or climbing a mountain when an unexpected blizzard hits.

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  17. Good point, Mister Earl. As a no win situation, Isner ended up the 'non winner'. Mahut becomes the 'non loser'? Too bad either had to lose, and that even in losing, the playing field wasn't level.

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  18. Barbaro. For a while after Ivan he was on my desktop and seeing him every day kept my spirits up and kept me going.

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  19. Nothing really explains it, because it's so beyond the pale. In most early rounds at the slams, there's one who fully expects to win, and another who deparately wants to win.

    Oh, Barbaro. The whole country was rooting for Barbaro. When he died it was the LA Times headline..

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  20. That must be what it looks like to do what you love. In spite of all the set backs and roadblocks. I'll be he's grinning from ear to ear, pinching himself and saying "I made it to Wimbledon!" Well done.

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  21. Talking about kids whose parents point them in only one direction, I know two friends of my kids who were encouraged by their parents - one to become a concert pianist, the other an opera singer. But the music world is even more competitive than tennis and neither got to the top, despite years of very hard work. Plan B? Music teacher.

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  22. Now I see that point, Hiker. Better to open the kids to many opportunities and teach them self-determination.

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  23. So Isner broke records on both the longest and shortest matches in Wimbledon!!!

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  24. Eerie coincidence, given our discussion, just heard Jennifer Capriatti, the teenage tennis phenom of the 90's, is in the hospital for a drug overdose.
    She had to quit the tour a few years ago due to injuries.

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  25. I don't watch tennis, but I have a grass tennis court in my yard. Does that count?

    I have a friend whose kid tried to play pro tennis, but never got beyond the Asian circuit (fitting, since the parents are Chinese immigrants), but they had the foresight to make the kid go to college for something else as well. We all need contingency plans.

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  26. Interesting perspective in the shot ... high net and an interesting tennis costume.

    Should be possible to pass beneath.

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  27. No Chieftess, Isner's loss in Round 2 wasn't the shortest match in Wimbledon history, just the shortest match at Wimbledon so far this year.

    Interesting facts about Mahut: In one of his qualifying matches for this year's Wimbledon tournament, just two matches before his match with Isner, Mahut played a 24-22 final set. Mahut doesn't appear ready for Plan B yet. He's won $86,000 so far this year, although he probably has a lot of offsetting expenses. His total winnings since turning pro in 2000 are over $2.1 million. Again, he probably has a lot of offsetting expenses that he must pay himself, but he's probably making it work somehow. He was just invited to the Hall of Fame Tournament in Newport, Rhode Island, where he will donate some memorabilia from his match. He's been more successful in doubles than singles.

    In contrast, Isner has won over $682,000 in prize money this year.

    The official Wimbledon website has a profile of every player!

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  28. My god, this is good writing. I sort of know all the stuff already, but you make it new. And sad. And something bordering on heroic--when it's not blissful to follow your bliss, or what someone told you was bliss?

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  29. That's why I'm a fan of Vera Zvonareva. In addition to tennis, she's studying international economic relations.

    As for Mahut, with over $2 million in lifetime prize money, I'm sure he'll be okay. I'm also reasonably sure that some advertising agency in France is already working him in to a campaign.

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