Michael Emmett: “The Drive for Five”

Written by: Michael Emmett

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***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs.  He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet.  Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada.  Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s.  Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***

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As we get closer to the finish line for one of the greatest events on the sporting calendar, one question remains unanswered: can the game’s Big Two (forget about the Big 4 or even Big 3) make it 5 in-a-row in early July at Wimbledon?

For those who are unsure of what that means, let me spell it out for you.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the only players in Grand Slam history to have played in 4 straight major finals. And there is a real chance they will do it again on July 8th in London. Five consecutive Grand Slam finals at one point in time – for the same two players – may have seemed impossible, but the Vegas Odds makers believe it’s better than 50/50 that the streak will continue.

Federer, with 6 Wimbledons on his resume, is the one guy who can ruin the remarkable streak. However, it’s been more than a year since he defeated one of the giants in a major event.

Think of the great rivalries in the sport of tennis – Agassi/Sampras, Borg/McEnroe, Laver/Rosewall, Evert/Navratilova, Graf/Seles, etc… and no twosome has dominated the sport like Nadal/Djokovic. What these two have done is unimaginable. They have brought the sport to ridiculous heights never seen before. And four in a row is just the beginning – we could be at six in a row in September after the US open if all goes according to script.

Golf has seen 15 different winners in the past 4 years, tennis is the complete opposite.  Nobody on the men’s side has won a major other than Nadal, Djokovic or Federer since Del Potro won in New York in 2009.

Some would say that tennis is too predictable. Not me! Tennis is spectacular – 6 hour matches that resemble a heavyweight fight. Slugging it out to until the very last point – that’s what makes this game the best spectator sport in the world today. Neither man believes he’s going to lose. This familiarity makes the sport so entertaining. Don’t get me wrong – golf has its nuances and unpredictability, and that makes it intriguing to say the least, but it’s nowhere close to the mental battles we see on the tennis court. Nadal and Djokovic are fighting at unprecedented levels never seen before from the tennis community. They are like gladiators, and we are lucky to witness such athleticism and determination when the chips are down. The heart and desire from these two champions make these matches so compelling. The tighter the match, the better the quality. Sometimes we are left wondering if these guys are human!

The pair’s reputation for lengthy encounters is so well-established that tournament officials in Paris a few weeks back were berated in a news conference for not moving up the 3 p.m. local start time for the final, given the weather forecast and the participants in the final. The officials protested that the prospect of playing up to 9:30 p.m. made the start time perfectly reasonable, but some skepticism remained. The start time may have been reasonable, but Djokovic versus Nadal rarely is. The fact that some media pundits thought 6 hours and 30 minutes would be cutting it close tells me how far the game has come. Remember when media scribes would bash tennis for being all about the serve and how short the points were?  Now we are talking about 6 hour matches like it’s the norm when these two legends face each other.

The last time Roger Federer played in a Grand Slam final was in Paris in 2011. Since that time, it has been the semi-finals or worse for the 16-time Grand Slam champion.  For a guy who has not played in a major final over 13 months, it’s difficult to put him in the same group as the two guys who are totally dominating the sport. Yes, Federer did bump up his ranking a few weeks back to a stellar #2 – but this was short lived, as Nadal swiped it back after a dominating performance in Rome. Nadal, with 11 major titles on his resume, looks like he’s on a mission to catch Federer. However, in order for this to happen, Nadal will have to continue his recent hot streak over the talented Serb.

Nadal, after losing 7 straight times in 2011, has beaten the current world #1 three consecutive times in the first half of the 2012 season.  This match-up has gone back-and-forth. Nadal made some major tactical decisions to right the ship and steer the encounter back in his favor. Now it’s time to see if Djokovic can get off the canvas and turn the momentum back in his direction. A fifth straight Grand Slam final at Wimbledon would be top-notch entertainment and a landmark match in determining who’s got the upper hand in this new found, riveting duel. One more final, and there’s a good chance we could call this the greatest rivalry in sports history – not just tennis history.

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