The Tennis Oracle


Yoda and Aughra (the one-eyed creature from the movie The Dark Crystal) might not automatically pop up in your head when watching tennis.
They pop up in mine.
I thought about Yoda and Aughra after watching Andrea Petkovic lose to Li Na in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
Petkovic came into the press conference and boldly exclaimed, “I think she’s (Li) going to win the tournament.”
The statement caused shockwaves in the media room; or, maybe it created an audible murmur. Either way, professional tennis players like to make predictions. And they follow a few simple rules when making them: Don’t go out on a limb, make the statement about someone who just beat you and always add a condition. Petkovic followed this perfectly: Li was already in the semis, she had just beaten her and Petkovic said she thought Li would win; she didn’t say it was definite.

But back to little sages. What would Yoda and Aughra think about all the predictions tennis players made over the past week?

Case 1: Losing to an upstart.

Fernando Verdasco lost the San Jose final to Milos Raonic. He had this to say about Raonic’s future after the match:

“Nobody knows the future, but I think he can be top 20 very soon. But there are a lot of guys who can return serve well and they are not going to give him the Top 20 for free”

I defer to Aughra about this topic:

Aughra: Ya look like Gelfling…
(sniffs)
Aughra: SMELL like Gelfling…
(sniffs)
Aughra: maybe y’ARE Gelfling!

In other words, Raonic has jumped almost 100 places in the rankings so far this year, hits serves over 140 mph on a regular basis, made the fourth round of the Australian Open and is the best news for Canada since Greg Rusedski left for Great Britain (and I mean Canada must have been happy to see him leave). He’s got top 20 written all over him. He’s a Gelfling!

Case 2: Words of wisdom from past champions.

It’s hard to lose records. Just ask Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi who have had to watch Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal slowly eclipse everything they did in their careers – and now they have Novak Djokovic to worry about!

This past week, Sampras was his usual “out on a limb” self and spoke about Djokovic’s chances of reaching the top spot.

“He (Djokovic) believes in himself more and he’s beaten Federer in the last two majors and he could (reach number one). Nadal has a lot of points to defend and I wouldn’t count out Roger, but Novak has arrived…”

Again, I defer to Aughra:
“What was sundered and undone shall be whole – the two made one.”

We’ve seen these “bold” predictions from Sampras and Agassi before:

When Nadal won Australia in 2009, Agassi had this to say about Nadal’s chances of winning the grand slam:

“If Nadal returns his usual result at the French Open and then comes here (Wimbledon) with confidence and puts together a great two weeks, I think we could be looking at him in New York with a chance of pulling off the unthinkable. I didn’t think I would ever see it.”

And at the end of 2007, Sampras said of Federer:
“I think he’s going to go on and pass 14 and win 16, 17, 18 majors. I think he’s going to break all records.”

I think Sampras and Agassi could learn from Yoda’ infinite wisdom:

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”

Or maybe:

“Lost a planet, Master Obi-Wan has. How embarrassing… how embarrassing.”

To be blunt: While you’re watching the inevitable, best just point it out.

Case 3: Keep silent and make no predictions.

Kim Clijsters didn’t make any bold predictions for Petra Kvitova, the Czech player who crushed her in the final of Paris. Clijsters acknowledged Kvitova played very well and deserved to win. Tennis Channel commentators mentioned Kvitova was playing “top ten ball” but the lack of a prediction from Clijsters is noteworthy.

Aughra said it best: “Are you afraid of me? Hm? Think I’m going to eat you?”

Finally, although it’s not a prediction, I couldn’t help but think of Yoda when reading of Justine Henin’s quotes about why she retired – again.

“I regard ending my career more like a sentence that’s been handed down than a decision I’ve made,” said Henin. “I’ve had to deal with a lot of injuries throughout my career but this time, at 29, I just can’t go on. You have to be reasonable about things. When I came back from Australia, I had consultations with three different doctors. The will is there, but physically I can’t do it. It got to the point that I needed 10 minutes in the morning just to get my elbow functional. The ligament wasn’t solid enough to handle the intensity of the game. For me, it’s like a sentence. Now I have to mourn the end of my career.”

Yoda said it best: “If so powerful you are, why leave?”

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