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The New York Times Magazine August 27 2017

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AU G U S T 2 7, 2 0 1 7
THE U.S. OPEN ISSUE
Roger Federer
hadn’t won
a Grand Slam
in almost half a
decade. Then
he made a
crucial change
to his game.
By Peter de Jonge
YEAR
FROM THE DIRECTORS OF
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32
Wonder Year
Roger Federer
hadn’t won a Grand
Slam in almost
half a decade. Then
he made a crucial
change to his game.
By Peter de
Jonge
44
Miracle Man
Gaël Monfils
hits impossibly
acrobatic shots
with astonishing
strength and
speed. Why hasn’t
that been enough
to win?
38
50
Courtside
Chronicles
The peculiar
pleasures — and
occasional pitfalls
— of attending an
entire Grand Slam
tournament.
By Geoff Dyer
Altitude
Adjustment
Tall players are now
poised to dominate
both men’s and
women’s tennis — a
shift with radical
implications for the
future of the game.
By Michael
Steinberger
Behind the
Cover
Kathy Ryan, director
of photography:
‘‘Like all great athletes,
Roger Federer makes
the impossible look easy.
So we decided to go
with an action shot that
captures his grace
and dynamism. It has
the extra twist of
letting us see him from
an unexpected angle.’’
Photograph by Erik
Madigan Heck for The
New York Times.
By Ben Austen
THE U.S. OPEN ISSUE
August 20, 2017
4
Continued on Page 6
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15
First Words
Hidden
Agenda
When the inner
workings of
government are
all ‘‘classified,’’
the news depends
on leaks — and
officials learn when
to hide things
and when to let
them slip.
By Beverly
Gage
26
Letter of
Recommendation
18
By Jacqui Shine
24
Well
Jogging
With Junior
When you push
your children,
you need to push
yourself too.
On Technology
Social
Authority
By Gretchen
Reynolds
Online platforms
annexed much of
our public sphere,
playacting as little
democracies —
until extremists
made them reveal
their true nature.
The Ethicist
No Return
Should you report
your tax-cheating
relative?
By Kwame
Anthony
Appiah
66
By John
Herrman
8
28
The Rothko
Chapel
A quiet, lonely
place to share the
grief of solitude.
22
Contributors
Talk
Charlie Sykes
The radio host is
unsure about the
future of the G.O.P.
Interview by
Ana Marie Cox
Eat
Ugly but Good
Cooking your
vegetables long
past ‘‘done’’
yields a deliriously
sweet and
rich version.
By Samin
Nosrat
12
The Thread
17
New Sentences
21
Poem
24
Judge John
Hodgman
27
Tip
62, 64
Puzzles
(Puzzle answers
on Page 60)
THE U.S. OPEN ISSUE
August 20, 2017
6
Copyright © 2017 The New York Times
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Contributors
Peter de Jonge
‘‘Wonder Year,’’
Page 32
Editor in Chief
Deputy Editors
JAKE SILVERSTEIN
JESSICA LUSTIG,
BILL WASIK
Peter de Jonge, who wrote this week’s cover story
on Roger Federer, is a writer based in New York.
He is the author of the crime novels ‘‘Shadows Still
Remain’’ and ‘‘Buried on Avenue B.’’ His work has
appeared in ‘‘Best American Sportswriting’’ and
numerous other anthologies. Previously, he has
written for the magazine about Tiger Woods, Hal
Hartley and the arrival of television in Bhutan.
‘‘Tennis is the perfect spectator sport,’’ de Jonge
says. ‘‘The athletes are arguably the most talented
in the world. There is something at stake on every
point. And no one gets carted off with a concussion.’’
Managing Editor
Design Director
Director of Photography
Art Director
Features Editor
Politics Editor
ERIKA SOMMER
GAIL BICHLER
KATHY RYAN
MATT WILLEY
ILENA SILVERMAN
CHARLES HOMANS
Special Projects Editor
CAITLIN ROPER
Story Editors
NITSUH ABEBE,
MICHAEL BENOIST,
SHEILA GLASER,
CLAIRE GUTIERREZ,
LUKE MITCHELL,
DEAN ROBINSON,
WILLY STALEY,
SASHA WEISS
Associate Editors
Photographed by Kathy Ryan at The New York Times
on Aug. 13, 2017, at 6 p.m.
‘‘Miracle Man,’’
Page 44
Ben Austen
JEANNIE CHOI,
JAZMINE HUGHES
Chief National Correspondent
MARK LEIBOVICH
Staff Writers
SAM ANDERSON,
Ben Austen is the author of ‘‘High-Risers: Cabrini
Green and the Fate of American Public Housing,’’
to be published in February. He last wrote for the
magazine about new American jobs.
EMILY BAZELON,
SUSAN DOMINUS,
MAUREEN DOWD,
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES,
JONATHAN MAHLER,
‘‘Courtside Chronicles,’’
Page 50
Geoff Dyer
Geoff Dyer is the author of many books, including
‘‘But Beautiful,’’ ‘‘The Ongoing Moment’’ and
‘‘White Sands.’’ He last wrote for the magazine
about Roy DeCarava’s photography.
WESLEY MORRIS,
JENNA WORTHAM
Writers at Large
C. J. CHIVERS,
PAMELA COLLOFF,
NICHOLAS CONFESSORE,
JIM RUTENBERG
First Words,
Page 15
Beverly Gage
Beverly Gage is a professor of American political
history at Yale. She is the author of ‘‘The Day
Wall Street Exploded’’ and is currently working on
a biography of J. Edgar Hoover.
David Carr Fellow
Deputy Art Director
Digital Art Director
Deputy Photo Editor
Associate Photo Editors
Michael Steinberger
‘‘Altitude Adjustment,’’
Page 38
Michael Steinberger is a journalist who writes
frequently about tennis. His last article for
the magazine was about the Australian tennis
player Nick Kyrgios.
JOHN HERRMAN
BEN GRANDGENETT
RODRIGO DE BENITO SANZ
JESSICA DIMSON
STACEY BAKER,
AMY KELLNER,
CHRISTINE WALSH
Virtual Reality Editor
JENNA PIROG
Copy Chief
ROB HOERBURGER
Copy Editors
HARVEY DICKSON,
DANIEL FROMSON,
Dear Reader: Can You Do Better
Than Your Parents?
Every week the magazine publishes the results
of a study conducted online in June 2017 by
The New York Times’s research-and-analytics
department, reflecting the opinions of 2,903
subscribers who chose to participate. This week’s
question: Do you think you are — or will be — a
better parent than your parents?
MARGARET PREBULA,
23% No
ANDREW WILLETT
4% Prefer not
to answer
29% I don’t
know
Head of Research
Research Editors
NANDI RODRIGO
ROBERT LIGUORI,
RENÉE MICHAEL,
44% Yes
LIA MILLER,
STEVEN STERN,
MARK VAN DE WALLE
Production Chief
Production Editors
ANICK PLEVEN
PATTY RUSH,
HILARY SHANAHAN
Editorial Assistant
LIZ GERECITANO BRINN
Publisher: ANDY WRIGHT Advertising Directors: MARIA ELIASON (Luxury and Retail) ⬤ MICHAEL GILBRIDE (Fashion, Luxury, Beauty and Home) ⬤ SHARI KAPLAN (Live Entertainment and Books) ⬤ NANCY
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⬤ ROBERT SCUDDER
(Boston/Northeast/Washington) ⬤ KAREN FARINA (Magazine Director) ⬤ MARILYN M C CAULEY (Managing Director, Specialty Printing) ⬤ THOMAS GILLESPIE (Manager, Magazine Layout).
To advertise, email karen.farina@nytimes.com.
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The Thread
RE: MICHAEL DENG
Jay Caspian Kang wrote about a college
freshman who died during a violent fraternity-hazing ritual, and the search for
Asian-American identity.
I am a brother of Pi Delta Psi and have
been on both ends of the Gauntlet ritual,
as a pledge and a brother. In learning to
accept my culture, I was able to lose the
self-loathing that comes from believing
that ‘‘white is right’’ and begin to love
myself. I was an Asian kid growing up
in small-town Ohio, with no role models that I could identify with (think of an
Asian role model in the ’90s not named
Bruce) and felt invisible to the world.
Pi Delta Psi gave me a growing seed of
belonging that is still being cultivated
now, over a decade later.
The death of this young man was a
tragic and unintentional accident, made
worse by the lives being ruined in the
aftermath. Those involved were not malicious men. Yes, some very poor decisions
were made that day, but this ritual or
hazing practice has been done hundreds
of times without a disastrous outcome.
Every brother of this fraternity has gone
through this process, likely contributing
to a false sense of safety and a sense of
duty to continue it. I’m not justifying the
practice, just giving some context.
I am an Asian-American. I love things
Asian and non-Asian. I love this country
and serve as an officer in the United States
Air Force. I have committed some of the
same violent, unjustifiable acts discussed.
I am also a healer as an M.D. I am guilty
of being Michael Deng. I am also guilty
of killing Michael Deng.
A. Chang, Davis, Calif., on nytimes.com
Jay Caspian Kang’s contemptuous dismissal of the world so many Americans
live in, and the identity that makes their
lives meaningful, makes him sound
exactly like the ignorant pre-‘‘woke’’
high-schoolers the Pi Delta Psi brothers depicted themselves as, before their
education. If Kang still feels ‘‘that you
can be born in this country, excel in its
schools and find a comfortable place in
its economy and still feel no stake in the
national conversation,’’ as a writer for
The New York Times, I wonder how he
believes it’s appropriate for him to speak
for the rest of us.
Claire Light, San Francisco
I’m an Asian-American who was adopted into a white family and grew up in
the Midwest. My journey to my identity
has been largely self-taught, cemented
through learning my history and finding others like myself. I can so relate to
Michael Deng and his frat brothers, wanting to fit in and feel that power of being
in a community. Kang’s insights about the
fraught nature of Asian-American identity resonated. The very label has always
seemed an odd umbrella under which to
group such a disparate mix of people,
separated by language, culture and history. But alas, it’s what we have.
Katie Hae Leo, Phoenix
RE: FIRST WORDS
Jane Coaston explored the charge of ‘‘virtue
signaling,’’ or taking a stand mostly to look
noble doing so.
In an ostensibly deliberative democracy,
relentless and reflexive accusations of bad
faith are profoundly destructive. If any
expression of solidarity is virtue signaling,
then we’re no longer arguing about the
12
8.27.17
Illustrations by Peter Gamlen
substance of any of the issues. Instead, at
contest is basic humanity of anyone who
doesn’t agree with your side. The only
side that benefits from such dehumanizing of its opposition is the side in power.
Seth Kahn, West Chester, Pa.
THE STORY,
ON TWITTER
Quietly brilliant
illustration for
a well-written cover
story on the
haziness of AsianAmerican identity
by @NYTmag.
@huafi
‘In learning to
accept my
culture, I was
able to lose
the self-loathing
that comes from
believing that
‘‘white is right’’
and begin to
love myself.’
People may really ‘‘care’’ about issues that
they purport to, but only in the cheapest
and most passive sense of the word. If all
it takes to ‘‘care’’ is to feel some sentiment
about an issue, and then to pronounce
that sentiment in a public forum, then
how much value does ‘‘caring’’ really
have? It requires such little effort — and
the social gratifications are so instant —
that those quick, easy, cynical dismissals
seem fair, penny for penny.
Remember that pundit-driven TV
news, Twitter and online comment
boards are designed precisely for shallow
banter — pronouncements and reactions,
not discourse — so if you expect anything
other than tribalism, trolls and ostentation, your expectations are out of whack
and need to be calibrated. Let’s start using
the right tool for the job: If you truly want
a deep, nuanced conversation about the
reality of climate change, then invite your
Trump-supporting friend to the pub and
grab a booth. If you really want to fix
climate change, then start investing in,
inventing or laboring on solutions.
Jon Grue, New York, on nytimes.com
CORRECTIONS:
An article on Aug. 13 about a fraternity-hazing
death misstated part of the name of a university. It is the University at Buffalo, which is part
of the State University of New York system; it
is not the University of Buffalo.
Send your thoughts to magazine@nytimes.com.
Painting by Miaz Brothers
Readers respond to the 8.13.2017 issue.
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First Words
When the inner workings of government are all ‘classified,’ the news depends on leaks —
and officials learn when to hide things and when to let them slip. By Beverly Gage
Hidden Agenda
Is it easier to keep secrets when you have fewer of them? Senator
Daniel Patrick Moynihan seemed to think so. Twenty years ago, he was
chairman of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government
Secrecy, insisting that the ‘‘protecting’’ and the ‘‘reducing’’ parts went
hand in hand — that in order to safeguard the secrets that really
mattered, those secrets would have to be few and far between. The
commission combed through a long history of protected information,
concerning everything from bomb tests to Communist infiltration,
before calling for a vast reduction in the amount of federal information
deemed ‘‘classified.’’ Moynihan hoped that the end of the Cold War
had made Washington’s pernicious ‘‘culture of secrecy’’ obsolete.
But history did not go his way. Congress continues to hold hearings
on the same stubborn problem, and every year, the state continues
to generate tens of millions of new classified documents. ¶ During
the campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly accused Hillary Clinton of
endangering national security by keeping classified email on a private
8.27.17
15
First Words
server. Already, though, his administration has helped show how confusing and how politicized classification
can be. As president, he seems to have
only the foggiest idea of how to handle
such information himself: He reportedly divulged ‘‘highly classified’’ material from an undercover ISIS operative
to the Russian foreign minister right
in the Oval Office. And in August, he
retweeted a Fox News report featuring
leaked intelligence about North Korea
— even as Nikki Haley, his own United
Nations Ambassador, refused to discuss
it, explaining that she ‘‘can’t talk about
anything that’s classified.’’
Trump has been merciless toward anyone else in government who reveals his
administration’s secrets, tweeting that
‘‘the real story that Congress, the F.B.I.
and all others should be looking into is
the leaking of Classified information.’’
This summer, after the former F.B.I.
director James Comey produced what he
said were unclassified personal notes on
their meetings, Trump complained that
‘‘Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!’’
This marks a shift from the Obama
years, when the debate over classified
information focused on military and
intelligence revelations, from the likes of
Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.
Under Trump, things are more personal.
‘‘What’s new,’’ says the Columbia University historian Matthew Connelly, author
of a forthcoming history of government
classification, ‘‘is the volume and sensitivity of what’s being leaked and the fact
that at least some of these leaks seem
intended to show Trump is unfit to be
president.’’ ‘‘Classified’’ still conjures
images of top-secret government plots,
but in Trump’s Washington, it’s more
often used to describe information that
the president would prefer to keep quiet,
from allegations of collusion to reports of
White House infighting. What started out
as a way to safeguard national security has
also become a means of protecting — or
destroying — the president himself.
For much of American history, politicians
viewed secrecy and spying with disdain;
these practices seemed suited for Old
World autocrats and royal-court conspirators, not for citizens of a democracy.
As late as 1908, when Attorney General
Charles Bonaparte appealed for funds
to create a small bureau of investigation
within the Justice Department, Congress
met his proposal with cries of dismay.
‘‘If Anglo-Saxon civilization stands for
anything,’’ the Kentucky representative
Swagar Sherley declared, ‘‘it is for a government where the humblest citizen is
safeguarded against the secret activities
of the executive of the government.’’
Bonaparte went ahead and created his
bureau anyway: the forerunner of today’s
F.B.I. World War I gave that bureau a new
raison d’être, transforming a small band
of detectives into a modern intelligence
operation, charged with investigating
wartime loyalty under new laws like the
1917 Espionage Act. After World War II,
a permanent classification system took
hold. The Oxford English Dictionary
identifies 1940 as the moment when
‘‘classified’’ began to mean ‘‘designated as
officially secret; accessible or known only
to authorized people.’’ Before that, to be
16
Illustration by Derek Brahney
8.27.17
This secrecy
was a useful
tool, but it
became a
crutch — a
way for federal
employees
to cover up
mistakes
or to inflate
their own
importance.
a ‘‘classified’’ employee was simply to be
a member of the Civil Service whose job
could be sorted into some grade or rank.
Some of what was ‘‘classified’’ under
the new system involved vital intelligence matters: military plans, weapons
technology, the names of informants
overseas. But government officials also
claimed the right to conduct sensitive
negotiations in confidence, and the system rapidly expanded to include routine
bureaucratic business. This secrecy was
a useful tool, but it became a crutch
too — a way for federal employees to
cover up mistakes or to inflate their own
importance. ‘‘In a culture of secrecy,’’
the Moynihan Commission noted, ‘‘that
which is not secret is easily disregarded
or dismissed,’’ producing powerful incentives for government officials to classify pretty much everything. (And little
incentive not to; why risk scrutiny?) Thus
began the problem of overclassification,
Illustration by Kyle Hilton
in which even humdrum exchanges end
up labeled ‘‘Top Secret,’’ ‘‘Secret,’’ ‘‘Confidential’’ or at least ‘‘Restricted,’’ the four
categories laid out by Harry Truman in
his 1951 executive order establishing the
modern classification system.
This could produce absurd results. In
the 1950s, according to the historian Sam
Lebovic, the Labor Department refused
to say how much peanut butter the Army
had purchased, for fear that enemy number-crunchers might figure out the size
of the armed forces, a statistic that was
already public. Vast amounts of information — some of it no doubt revelatory,
some of it innocuous — remain similarly hidden. In the 1990s, the Moynihan
commission estimated that 1.5 billion
records dating from more than 25 years
back remained inaccessible. In fiscal year
2014 alone, the decision to classify a document was made 77.5 million times. Year
after year, the result is an astonishing
backlog of classified material.
Even as the Freedom of Information Act
allows some of that material to drip into
view, many documents emerge heavily
redacted, with entire paragraphs or pages
blacked out according to one or another
legal exemption. The nonprofit National
Security Archive has fun matching up
different versions of such documents,
exposing the ‘‘inane and contradictory’’
outcomes that can result when different
agencies review what’s acceptable for
release. On one 1974 document, the C.I.A.
redacted news that terrorists in the ‘‘Group
of the Martyr Ebenezer Scrooge’’ planned
to sabotage the Dec. 24 flight of ‘‘Prime
Minister and Chief Courier S. Claus’’; the
Ford Library found no national-security
threat in revealing a Christmas joke.
Government officials recognized a
problem early on. In 1956, the Defense
Department estimated that about 90 percent of its classified documents could easily be made available to the public without damaging national security. Around
the same time, Washington observers
noticed another disturbing phenomenon: the government-employee ‘‘leak.’’
As Lebovic notes in his 2016 book ‘‘Free
Speech and Unfree News,’’ the introduction of a permanent classification system
had ‘‘transformed the practice and culture of journalism,’’ creating a Washington press corps dependent on tips and
information from government employees. The new system also weighted the
political scales in favor of officials adept
at hiding unflattering facts and publicizing useful ones. At the F.B.I., the former
director J. Edgar Hoover insisted that
investigative files be kept secret, waging
repeated battles to keep them away from
the courts and Congress. But he also
became a master of the leak, parceling
out choice tidbits to reporters at strategic moments. The competing factions in
today’s White House appear to understand this technique, even as Attorney
General Jeff Sessions promises to step up
the administration’s war on leaks.
Justice Potter
Stewart of the
Supreme Court
noted that ‘when
everything
is classified,
then nothing is
classified.’
During the 1970s, under the Nixon administration, this wobbly system of secrecy
and leaks came near to collapse. In his 1971
Pentagon Papers opinion, Justice Potter
Stewart of the Supreme Court noted how
longstanding tensions over the public’s
right to know had produced a vicious politics of deception and subterfuge. ‘‘When
everything is classified, then nothing
is classified,’’ he wrote, ‘‘and the system
becomes one to be disregarded by the
cynical or the careless, and to be manipulated by those intent on self-protection
or self-promotion.’’ Stewart meant this as
a call for reform. In Trump’s Washington,
where the struggle over classified information plays out in day-to-day politics, it
sounds more like a description of business
as usual. The year after Stewart’s opinion
was issued, a break-in at the Watergate
set off a cycle of leaks — and a scramble
to protect secret information — that ultimately brought down the president.
New Sentences By Nitsuh Abebe
‘Now, where I come
from, we call a bloke
like this a jobsworth
— that is, a person
who delights in acting
in an obstructive or
otherwise unhelpful
manner.’
From ‘‘We Are
Like the Dreamer’’
(Aug. 13, 2017), the
14th episode of
Showtime’s ‘‘Twin
Peaks,’’ written
by Mark Frost and
David Lynch.
This aside comes in the middle of a
long, strange story, told by a young
English security guard, in David
Lynch’s continuation of ‘‘Twin Peaks.’’
The words themselves, though, were
not exactly written by the makers
of ‘‘Twin Peaks’’; a chunk of them
comes from an actual, formal
definition of ‘‘jobsworth’’ that has
been bouncing around the internet for
years. If you looked up the word on
Wikipedia at any point lately, the first
sentence to greet you would have
included the wonderful phrase
‘‘delights in acting in an obstructive or
unhelpful manner.’’
The prose in dictionaries, sardined
into thin columns on thinner pages,
tends to feel ponderously precise,
carefully prising meaning from words
we use in ambient and convoluted
ways. It is, in other words, the precise
opposite of actual human speech,
which floats impressionistically
along in a fog of guesses and
approximations and know-whatI-means.
Cram the stilted clarity of a
dictionary into the human mouth, and
things turn giddy and unreal. (Comedy
writers do this often: One classic
Mitch Hedberg joke, about being
handed a receipt for the purchase of
a single doughnut, peaks with the
perfectly apt word ‘‘documentation.’’)
It focuses the attention and makes the
world feel uncannily well-ordered,
as though everything around you is
part of some grand mechanism worth
observing closely. Which is precisely
what this show — with its languid
pace, baffling dialogue and strange
visual choreography — seems to
want from you, too.
17
On Technology By John Herrman
Online platforms annexed much of our
public sphere, playacting as little
democracies — until extremists made
them reveal their true nature.
18
8.27.17
Illustration by Jon Han
White supremacist marchers had not
yet lit their torches when the deletions
began. The ‘‘Unite the Right’’ Facebook
page, which had been used to organize
the rally in Charlottesville, was removed
the day before the event was scheduled,
forcing planners to disperse to other platforms to organize. And then, in the hours
and days after a participant drove his car
into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing
32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring at
least 19 others, internet companies undertook a collective purge.
Facebook banned a range of pages with
names like ‘‘Right Wing Death Squad’’
and ‘‘White Nationalists United.’’ Reddit banned, among others, a hard-right
community called ‘‘Physical Removal,’’ an
organizer of which had called the weekend’s killing ‘‘a morally justified action.’’
Twitter suspended an unknown number
of users, including popular accounts
associated with 4chan’s openly fascistic
Politically Incorrect message board, or
/pol/. Discord, a chat app for gamers
that doubled as an organizing tool for
the event, and where a prominent white
supremacist had called for disrupting
Heyer’s funeral, rushed to do cleanup.
The clampdown extended beyond the
walled gardens of social platforms to a
wide array of online services. The Daily
Stormer, a neo-Nazi site that promoted the
march and celebrated its fatal outcome,
was banned by the domain registrar and
hosting service GoDaddy, then hours later
by Google’s hosting service, then lost
access to SendGrid, which it had used to
deliver its newsletter; PayPal cut off the
white nationalist Richard Spencer’s organization, which later lost access to its web
host, Squarespace; Airbnb removed the
accounts of a number of Charlottesville
attendees before the event, and released
a statement saying that ‘‘violence, racism
and hatred demonstrated by neo-Nazis,
the alt-right and white supremacists
should have no place in this world’’; by
Wednesday, Spotify was even expunging
‘‘white supremacist’’ music from its library.
The platforms’ sudden action in
response to an outpouring of public grief
and rage resembles, at first glance, a moral
awakening and suggests a mounting sense
of responsibility to the body politic. You
could be forgiven for seeing this as a
turning point for these sites, away from
a hands-off approach to the communities
they host and toward something with more
Next Week: On Sports, by Jay Caspian Kang
On Technology
oversight and regulation. An inside-out
version of this analysis has been embraced
by right-wing users, who have wasted no
time declaring these bans a violation of
their free speech. But this is an incomplete
accounting of what happened and one that
serves two parties and two parties alone:
the companies themselves and the people
they’ve just banned.
The recent rise of all-encompassing
internet platforms promised something
unprecedented and invigorating: venues
that unite all manner of actors — politicians, media, lobbyists, citizens, experts,
corporations — under one roof. These
companies promised something that no
previous vision of the public sphere could
offer: real, billion-strong mass participation; a means for affinity groups to find
one another and mobilize, gain visibility
and influence. This felt and functioned like
freedom, but it was always a commercial
simulation. This contradiction is foundational to what these internet companies
are. Nowhere was this tension more
evident than in the case of Cloudflare, a
web-infrastructure company. Under sustained pressure to drop The Daily Stormer
as a client, the company’s chief executive,
Matthew Prince, eventually assented. It
was an arbitrary decision, and one that
was out of step with the company’s stated policies. This troubled Prince. ‘‘I woke
up in a bad mood and decided someone
shouldn’t be allowed on the internet,’’ he
wrote in an email to his staff. ‘‘No one
should have that power.’’
20
Illustration by Jon Han
8.27.17
Social platforms tend to refer to their
customers in euphemistic, almost democratic terms: as ‘‘users’’ or ‘‘members of
a community.’’ Their leaders are prone to
Online platforms
offered
unprecedented
freedoms for their
users — but these
freedoms could
be taken away
at any moment,
for any reason.
John Herrman
is a David Carr Fellow
at The New York Times.
statesmanlike posturing, and some, like
Mark Zuckerberg, even seem to have statesmanlike ambitions. Content moderation
and behavioral guidelines are likewise rendered in the terms of legal governance, as
are their systems for dispute and recourse
(as in the ubiquitous post-ban ‘‘appeal’’).
Questions about how platforms like Twitter and Reddit deal with disruptive users
and offensive content tend to be met with
defensive language invoking free speech.
In the process of building private
communities, these companies had put
on the costumes of liberal democracies.
They borrowed the language of rights to
legitimize arbitrary rules, creating what
the technology lawyer Kendra Albert calls
‘‘legal talismans.’’ This was first and foremost operationally convenient or even
necessary: What better way to avoid liability and responsibility for how customers
use your product? It was also good marketing. It’s easier to entrust increasingly
large portions of your private and public
life to an advertising and data-mining
firm if you’re led to believe it’s something
more. But as major internet platforms have
grown to compose a greater share of the
public sphere, playing host to consequential political organization — not to mention
media — their internal contradictions have
become harder to ignore. Far before Charlottesville, they had already become acute.
In a bracing Vice documentary about
the rally, a man identified as a writer for
The Daily Stormer told the reporter Elle
Reeve, ‘‘As you can see, we’re stepping off
the internet in a big way.’’ He saw the turnout as confirmation that what he’d been
a part of online was real. ‘‘We have been
spreading our memes, we’ve been organizing on the internet, and so now they’re
coming out,’’ he said, before digressing
into a rant about ‘‘anti-white, anti-American filth.’’ This sentiment was echoed in
active and longstanding far-right communities on Reddit and 4chan and adjacent
communities on Facebook and Twitter.
It is worth noting that the platforms
most flamboyantly dedicated to a borrowed idea of free speech and assembly
are the same ones that have struggled most
intensely with groups of users who seek
to organize and disrupt their platforms.
A community of trolls on an internet
platform is, in political terms, not totally
unlike a fascist movement in a weak liberal democracy: It engages with and uses
the rules and protections of the system it
inhabits with the intent of subverting it
and eventually remaking it in their image
or, if that fails, merely destroying it.
But what gave these trolls power on
platforms wasn’t just their willingness to
act in bad faith and to break the rules and
norms of their environment. It was their
understanding that the rules and norms
of platforms were self-serving and cynical
in the first place. After all, these platforms
draw arbitrary boundaries constantly and
with much less controversy — against
spammers, concerning profanity or in
response to government demands. These
fringe groups saw an opportunity in the
gap between the platforms’ strained public dedication to discourse stewardship
and their actual existence as profit-driven
entities, free to do as they please. Despite
their participatory rhetoric, social platforms are closer to authoritarian spaces
than democratic ones. It makes some
sense that people with authoritarian tendencies would have an intuitive understanding of how they work and how to
take advantage of them.
This was also a moment these hate
groups were anticipating; getting banned
in an opaque, unilateral fashion was always
the way out and, to some degree, it suits
them. In the last year, hard-right communities on social platforms have cultivated a
pre-emptive identity as platform refugees
and victims of censorship. They’ve also
been preparing for this moment or one
like it: There are hard-right alternatives
These
social-media
companies
had put on
the costumes
of liberal
democracies.
to Twitter, to Reddit and even to the
still-mostly-lawless 4chan. There are alternative fund-raising sites in the mold of
GoFundMe or Kickstarter; there’s an alternative to Patreon called Hatreon. Like most
of these new alternatives, it has cynically
borrowed a cause — it calls itself a site that
‘‘stands for free speech absolutism’’ — that
the more mainstream platforms borrowed
first. Their persecution narrative, which
is the most useful narrative they have,
and one that will help spread their cause
beyond the fringes, was written for them
years ago by the same companies that
helped give them a voice.
Poem Selected by Terrance Hayes
A poem can disguise itself as just about any variety of language. Here, as in much of the poetry of Danez Smith,
the melancholy bone of the poem is wrapped in sly, limber humor. ‘‘Why is everyone, even other black guys,
so afraid of black guys,’’ the poem asks with a Richard Pryor inflection. By a certain light, the beautiful lovable
ending rings as earnest exaltation; other times the ending emits a lonely, blue sarcasm. That ‘‘even’’ in the title
casts vibrant shades of longing.
& even the black guy’s profile reads sorry, no black guys
By Danez Smith
imagine a tulip, upon seeing a garden full of tulips, sheds its petals in disgust, prays
some bee will bring its pollen to a rose bush. imagine shadows longing for a room
with light in every direction. you look in the mirror & see a man you refuse to love.
small child sleeping near Clorox, dreaming of soap suds & milk, if no one has told
you, you are beautiful & lovable & black & enough & so — you pretty you — am i.
Terrance Hayes is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently ‘‘How to Be Drawn,’’ which was a finalist for the National Book
Award in 2015. His fourth collection, ‘‘Lighthead,’’ won the 2010 National Book Award. Danez Smith is the author of two poetry collections,
including ‘‘Don’t Call Us Dead,’’ to be published next month by Graywolf Press.
Illustration by R. O. Blechman
21
Well By Gretchen Reynolds
Jogging With Junior
When you push your children, you need to push yourself too.
Parenting tends to bring with it an
increase in joy and a decline in fitness.
Epidemiological studies indicate that
parents exercise less when they have
young children, thanks to the scheduling demands of child care. Jogging
strollers are a popular way for new parents to integrate their children directly
into their exercise time and capitalize
on the additional exertion of pushing
that extra weight. But according to one
of the first in-depth scientific examinations of the biomechanics and caloric
expenditure involved in jogging with
strollers, how you run behind a stroller
may determine how much physical benefit you actually experience.
For the new study, published in
PLOS One, researchers at Seattle Pacific University began by watching stroller-runners and cataloging the ways in
which they controlled the carriage. The
scientists determined that most runners
used one of three techniques: They held
the stroller’s handlebar with one hand,
or two hands, or pushed and chased the
carriage in repeated spurts.
The researchers then gathered at a
local track 16 fit male and female runners with no experience using a jogging stroller. After outfitting them with
special breath and cardiac monitors,
the scientists asked each participant
to run for 800 meters at a pace that felt
comfortable. Next, they handed each a
stroller containing a 35-pound dummy
and had them complete three more runs,
deploying alternately the one-handed,
two-handed and push-and-chase techniques, while urging the runners to
maintain the same pace and form as in
their unencumbered run.
None of the runners were able to maintain their initial pace. Instead, their strides
became shorter and choppier, particularly when they used one hand to hold the
stroller or when they pushed and chased
it. And, because they had slowed so much,
their heart rates and energy costs did not
rise compared with a normal jog, even
though they were now pushing additional
weight. Their form and pace were closest
to normal when they used two hands.
The lesson? If parents wish to obtain
‘‘the most possible bang’’ from their exercise time, they should push themselves
while they push the stroller, says Ryan
Alcantara, who led the study as an undergraduate at Seattle Pacific.
Runners will burn significantly more
calories in the same time frame if they
maintain the same pace with a stroller that they once achieved without:
22
Illustration by Igor Bastidas
8.27.17
How you
run behind a
stroller may
determine how
much physical
benefit you
actually gain.
According to Alcantara’s model, pushing
a stroller at a constant speed increases
the energy costs of running by 5 to 8
percent. The same 30-minute jog that
would have burned about 360 calories
for a 150-pound man or woman without
a stroller should incinerate closer to 380
now, an amount that is small in terms
of each run but cumulatively could contribute to weight control and improved
fitness, Alcantara says.
Running at or near your prestroller
pace ‘‘will feel much harder than before,’’
he adds. But as with parenthood, you get
more out of it when you put more in.
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The Ethicist By Kwame Anthony Appiah
My relative works in the marijuana industry,
which has been legal in my state for almost
two years. Nevertheless, he has worked under
the table during that time, earning tens
of thousands of dollars and not paying taxes
on it. I confronted him and told him that
I didn’t think the tax evasion was ethical.
He disagreed, saying that plenty of people
do not report their tips. Our relationship has
been a little strained since the confrontation,
but we still mostly get along. Is it unethical
of me to report him to the I.R.S.?
Name Withheld
To submit a query:
Send an email to
ethicist@nytimes
.com; or send mail
to The Ethicist, The
New York Times
Magazine, 620
Eighth Avenue, New
York, N.Y. 10018.
(Include a daytime
phone number.)
24
8.27.17
What your kinsman is doing is, of course,
wrong. The costs of government are
largely paid through taxes, and those who
don’t pay their fair share are taking advantage of the rest of us who do. That plenty
of people don’t report their tips is neither
here nor there: A misdeed isn’t redeemed
by its prevalence. Now that his business is
legal, he doesn’t have the excuse that he
can’t report his income because his business is underground. Whether that was
ever a very good excuse depends in part
on whether it was wrong to ban the marijuana trade. But only in part. In general,
we ought to obey even ill-conceived laws
until we can get them changed. Either
way, that issue is now moot.
Here’s one that isn’t: He revealed his
scofflaw behavior in the context of a
familial relationship. Our lives go better
Illustration by Tomi Um
I am a tutor at an inner-city charter
elementary school with predominantly
Latino enrollment. One of my first-grade
students was not able to learn even one new
letter of the alphabet in the entire year,
despite the efforts of four tutors working with
her five days a week. This little girl, very
pleasant and hard working, seems to have
a learning disability, and nothing is being
done about it. I asked her teacher if she
has been assessed for learning disabilities,
and she punted. I asked the principal if
any assessments are being done, and she
said yes, but this girl should have been at
the top of the list, and I am certain she
has not been assessed.
To compound the school’s possible
misconduct, they may be taking advantage
of the parents’ ignorance of students’ rights
or fear of being found out by immigration
authorities. If I report this to the state, it
may get the school in trouble. Since I am
convinced they fill a great need in the
community and accomplish much good,
I am reluctant to take any steps to
report this. Meanwhile, this student has lost
another year in which she should have
made great strides in learning to read.
What is my ethical responsibility?
Name Withheld, Minnesota
Teaching is a profession. Among its ethical
norms is that your primary responsibility
is to your students. If a school’s management betrays the needs of its students, a
teacher can’t just sit back and watch — and
the same goes for a tutor. You raised the
right issues, and you were told they’d be
dealt with. Now you know that promise
was broken. On the other hand, this is not
your only tutee, and the school is, you say,
good for many students, all things considered. (Indeed, given that four tutors have
worked with this girl throughout the week,
the school hasn’t entirely neglected her
needs.) I’d say you have identified exactly
the two conflicting ethical demands here.
Have you considered contacting the
girl’s parents to discuss her situation? They
are better placed to push for more action
than you are, unless, as you suspect, they
have a well-founded fear that in drawing
attention to themselves, they risk deportation. But the school should have little interest in reporting them to the immigration
authorities. So you can probably reassure
them on that point. They could also contact an organization like Family Voices of
Bonus Advice From Judge John Hodgman
Nira writes: A while ago I adopted a cat named Max. My
husband wanted to keep the name to avoid confusing the
cat. But we also have a nephew named Max. His parents didn’t
mind, but my mother thought it showed that we cared more
for the feelings of a pet than those of her grandchild.
————
The reason your mother suspects you care more for your cat
than for your nephew is that it’s probably true. Her bond to
her grandchild is always going to be closer than yours to Max
the Boy, while the cat is deep in your daily life. Think of who
has handled whose feces more often in each case, and you
have a good measure of family closeness. That said, you
can name your cat whatever you want, even if your own son
is named Max, even if you name your cat ‘‘Our Own Son.’’
Go ahead and be that family. That’s how freedom works.
Illustration by Kyle Hilton
Should I
Turn In My
Tax-Cheating
Relative?
if we’re able to assume that frankness in
family conversations won’t end up being
used against us in a court of law. (That’s
one reason the old doctrine of spousal
privilege — the general principle that
you can’t be compelled to testify against
your spouse in criminal proceedings —
was a good idea.) Reporting your relative
exposes him to penalties for extensive
tax evasion, which can include imprisonment. Is this something you can live
with? When loyalty to family and loyalty
to the law come into conflict, the illegality in question has to be very serious to
win out. You don’t want to be the kind
of person who finds everyone falling
silent at family gatherings when he or
she enters the room.
Minnesota, which offers resources for children with special needs, or a similar group.
It would get people involved whose aim
will be not to threaten the school’s survival
but to press it to do the right thing.
Every year my place of employment holds
a survey on employee engagement. This year,
we have a new manager. In the past,
previous managers have done some ‘‘survey
prep’’ by holding discussions in staff
meetings. We were asked to think back on
activities over the last year that would
support positive scores to each survey
question. It was clear to me that this type
of meeting was intended to raise scores
from our unit. But the discussions were
robust, everyone participated and I
found myself thinking, Oh, yeah, I forgot
about that positive initiative from 10
months ago.
This year the new manager had public,
one-on-one discussions out in the open, where
it was easy to overhear. They went
something like this: ‘‘Employee X, you’ve
worked here for five years, correct? So
I assume that you are completely satisfied
and ready to submit straight 5s (out of 5).
If not, we need to have a discussion about
why you aren’t ranking 5s, don’t we?’’
The tone was patronizing and imperious.
It made me very uncomfortable, even
though the new manager did not have this
conversation with me directly. I am very
happy in my position, but there is always
room for improvement, and I did not give
very many 5s. I answered the survey honestly.
Was it ethical for her to have a
discussion that was really a directive?
Should I have said something to her?
Scores (and year-over-year improvement
in scores) are often wielded as a sign
of the company leadership’s success.
Name Withheld
Survey prep, huh? Ours is a world where
SAT cramming has become an industry
and even little kids train for kindergarten-entrance exams. So it was bound
to come to this. If you can test it, you
can game it. I assume that the survey is
anonymous, so that managers don’t know
who gave which scores. Otherwise you
would have been more cautious in your
own scoring (and your company would
be wasting its time with these surveys).
But the new boss, you make plain, isn’t
as subtle as the old ones. Provided that
her suggestions didn’t come with threats,
what they mainly were was stupid. Bullying people who are about to assess
you confidentially is not a good idea. If
the questionnaire allows for free-form
comments, that would have been a good
place to complain about her campaigning.
Given her tone, I doubt this is the kind of
boss it would be wise to address directly.
I work as a graduate research assistant to
a professor while I earn my master’s
degree. I am required to work 20 hours a
week. The actual time slots I work are up
to me to determine. Additionally, graduate
assistants are allowed to work on their
own research or homework when they are
not asked to do work for a professor.
Unlike other people on my research team, I
have taken to coming in very late to the
office, and I receive few work projects. I have
not been asked to come into work at
different times. I complete all projects I have
been assigned well and quickly. Am I
Provided that
your boss’s
suggestions
didn’t come
with threats,
what they
mainly were
was stupid.
treating my employer ethically by setting
my own schedule such that I am unavailable
to receive project assignments in person
much of the day? I know other members on
my research team are assigned more
work than I am.
Name Withheld
Given the sparsity of your assignments,
I wonder if you’re working the 20 hours
for which you’re being paid. Even supposing that everything you’re doing is
permitted under your terms of employment, though, you’re not fairly sharing
the burdens with your co-workers. If your
employer hasn’t noticed the discrepancy between the demands on you and the
demands on others, it would be an honorable move to point this out.
Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy
at N.Y.U. He is the author of ‘‘Cosmopolitanism’’ and
‘‘The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen.’’
Letter of Recommendation
The Rothko Chapel
By Jacqui Shine
Last March marked the 10th anniversary of my mother’s death. Her short life
was difficult, and she was, too; still, I was
devoted to her. Inconsolable losses eventually take the form of ordinary pains, like
joints that ache when a storm is coming,
but sometimes I’m caught by surprise.
This year, feeling stranded in my grief
and sadness made for a long winter and
a hard spring.
Even as the days lengthened, I felt
unreachable. It was as if I’d waited for a
tide that, commanded by some physics
of loneliness, pulled away before it could
even reach the shore. It occurred to me
one morning in April that I might want
to visit the Rothko Chapel — you know,
someday. Then it occurred to me, a little wildly, to just go. Right then. Twelve
hours later, I was in Houston.
The chapel is both a nondenominational place of worship and a site-specific
artwork, an installation of 14 canvases by
the Abstract Expressionist painter Mark
Rothko. In 1964, the Houston art collectors and patrons John and Dominique
26
Photograph by Thomas Struth
8.27.17
A quiet, lonely
place to share the
grief of solitude.
de Menil commissioned Rothko’s work
for the interior of a space to be designed
by the architect Philip Johnson. (When
Johnson clashed with Rothko, the project
was turned over to the Houston architects
Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry.)
The de Menils, observant Catholics,
were influenced by their friend the Rev.
Marie-Alain Couturier, who believed
that modern artists could reinvigorate
sacred art. The chapel, which opened in
1971, sits next to the campus of the Menil
Collection, the museum that now houses
the couple’s art. It has been open to the
public nearly every day since.
Rothko’s canvases are studies in color
relationships, assemblages of two or
three rectangular blocks set against a
contrasting field. But he chafed at the
label ‘‘abstractionist.’’ The subjects of his
paintings, he said, were ‘‘basic human
emotions,’’ expressed in the color values
he wrested from layered pigment. The
results are visceral, charged, provocative. It’s rare to be unmoved by them,
whether to rage or joy. Despite, or
because of, their simplicity, Rothko’s
paintings have been known to bring
viewers to tears. Rothko was proud of
that; it was a sign of his success. I wanted
very badly to be moved.
Whims beget surprises. When I
arrived, I found out that I had envisioned
the wrong thing, the wrong kind of place,
entirely. These canvases are nothing like
his more luminous color studies, paintings so full of depth and light that it
almost feels as if you can enter. The Houston canvases are dark purples, maroons,
black: the colors of old sorrows or ageless
ones. I had wanted something I could disappear inside, but these colors seemed to
come from inside me. According to James
Breslin’s biography of Rothko, he set out
to paint something difficult to look at.
The chapel is lit only by a skylight,
designed to match the one in Rothko’s
New York studio, where he built a partial mock-up of the chapel interior to
work from. No matter where you stand,
the room’s irregular geometry seems to
thrust you into its center. Comforts are
few. There are usually two tidy rows of
backless benches in the center of the
room, a handful of meditation cushions
on the brick floor. It is quiet but rarely
silent. It is not an easy place. Nothing tells
you how to see.
In this place, purposeful looking
becomes an exercise in failure. My initial
diligence seemed to yield only backaches,
but I gamely sat for a couple of hours
each morning and afternoon. For a long
time the paintings refused me, but slowly, resonances materialized. A swirl that
looked like the graceful curve of a spine
rose from a purple field. I thought about
bruises and hematomas. My eyes moved
over the sharp geometry of black giving
way to maroon, and it was the color of
my mother’s exhaustion when she died,
of everything life had wrung out of her.
We go to the
chapel to see,
and to know
that we can’t.
I wanted to tell someone, point to it and
show them where I’d found her, but then
I realized that no one else would be able
to see. No one could see anyone’s ghosts
but his or her own.
Time passed, but I couldn’t tell you
how much. Eventually my knees were
achy and I was hungry. As I stirred and
stretched, it occurred to me that this
might be the thing we share, this grief for
our many solitudes. We go to the chapel to
see, and to know that we can’t. Perhaps it
can only be this way: Rothko committed
suicide in 1970, a year before the project
was completed. He made the paintings
in New York, under light we will never
know; he never saw what they would look
like under Texas’ expansive sky. There is
no right way to gaze upon the paintings,
no ideal set of conditions.
Sitting there alone, I suddenly felt
happy for everyone around me, moved
by the tenderness I knew was inside
them. I was glad for what they could see,
even if it was hidden from me. I think
this gentle affection for not knowing
might be what we really mean by empathy. Perhaps this is what Rothko meant
when he told a group of art students that
he included in his paintings a measure
of hope: ‘‘10 percent to make the tragic
concept more endurable.’’
The Rothko Chapel is a lonely place.
We need lonely places, but it helps to
know that they’re lonely for everyone. We
all have mothers, and we all lose them,
though never in the same way. I watched
shadows move across the paintings and
the floor and our bodies. This felt, for a
minute, like relief.
Tip By Malia Wollan
‘‘Pain is not a reason to move,’’ says John
Eicke, a performance artist who works
as a so-called living statue. The longest
Eicke has ever held one pose was two and
a half hours, while wearing a suit on the
red carpet for the German premiere of
the movie ‘‘Men in Black 2.’’ The moment
you try to be stationary, you’ll experience
all manner of discomforts that make you
want to shift, scratch and fidget. ‘‘Recognize what’s happening, but don’t give
in,’’ Eicke says. Instead, narrate the experience inside your head. ‘‘Think: Oh, my
feet are in pain,’’ Eicke says. ‘‘My eyes itch.
O.K., interesting.’’
Start in a balanced stance that distributes your weight evenly between both
feet, without leaving your limbs unsustainably outstretched. Your muscles
should be engaged but not clenched,
which leads to cramping. Try not to
blink. ‘‘The eyes are the point on your
body where people can see first if you are
human,’’ says Eicke, who wears colored
contact lenses as a disguise and claims to
have never lost a staring contest.
Growing up in East Germany, Eicke
never heard of living statues until after
the Berlin Wall came down. In costume
and makeup, they looked like stone until
suddenly, to his delight, they moved.
Together with a group of friends, Eicke,
now 51, began experimenting. For six
months they rehearsed in private, in front
of mirrors, which helps you see whether
you’re achieving that artificial, mannequinlike semblance. ‘‘You must practice,
practice, practice,’’ he says.
Since then, he has performed on television and traveled the world to participate
in festivals. Twice he has won the World
Championship of Living Statues, held
biennially in the Netherlands. Ancient
Taoist exercises, called internal martial
arts, promise a host of therapeutic benefits from standing still. But Eicke does it
because solitude suits him. ‘‘It’s a kind of
privacy,’’ he says.
Accept that you can never achieve true
stillness: blood pulses, nerves fire electrochemical impulses, muscles twitch. And
audiences want more interactive shows
anyway, compared with when Eicke started in the early 1990s. ‘‘To just stand still,’’
he says, ‘‘is boring for people now.’’
Illustration by Radio
27
How to Stand Still
Jacqui Shine
is a writer
and historian.
Eat By Samin Nosrat
Ugly but Good
Cooking your vegetables long past ‘done’ yields a deliriously
sweet and rich version.
Growing up, I was aware of the kidsdon’t-like-vegetables trope, but it didn’t
make much sense to me. I never had any
choice; all the traditional Iranian dishes
my mom cooked teemed with herbs and
vegetables. There was no eating around
the fava beans, celery and eggplant that
made up the fragrant rice and stew
dishes she served each night, though my
younger brothers certainly tried. I ate the
food but didn’t think much of the vegetables one way or the other. Then I moved
to Berkeley for college, and for the first
time, I understood how someone could
hate her vegetables: The pallid, overcooked steam-table brussels sprouts and
zucchini served in the dining hall were
depressing at best. So when I started
28
Photograph by Gentl and Hyers
8.27.17
Long-cooked
Romano beans.
busing tables at Chez Panisse a couple of
years later, I wasn’t prepared for the daily
sight of grown men and women cooing
over fruits and vegetables.
Soon after, I began working in the
kitchen and quickly learned why each
produce delivery was met with such
excitement: flawless, just-picked vegetables are sweeter and more flavorful
Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Glen Proebstel.
than anything you can get at the store.
I learned to cook vegetables with the aim
of preserving that perfection. That usually meant doing as little to them as possible. Much of the time, we’d simply boil
the haricots verts, marble-size turnips
or thick spears of asparagus in ample,
salted water until they were barely
cooked through, then pull them out and
let them cool on a baking sheet in the
fridge. We’d later quickly reheat them in
boiling water or a sauté pan, then drizzle
them with immoderate amounts of fruity
olive oil before serving. No matter the
vegetable, the only rule in the kitchen
was ‘‘do not overcook.’’ The memory of
that dining-hall mush was enough to
scare me straight; my green beans were
always perfectly crisp.
Then I went to Italy. I apprenticed
myself to Benedetta Vitali, a Florentine
chef who ran a tiny trattoria on the outskirts of town. Eager to please my new
boss, I tried to work ahead on the prep list
one morning while she was upstairs in the
office. I found the filet beans among the
vegetable delivery, set a huge pot of water
on the stove and trimmed away the stems
while the water came to a boil. I cooked
them just as I’d learned to in California,
careful not to let all of the crunch boil
away. I pulled them, vibrant and sweet,
from the water and let them cool.
Benedetta came downstairs. She
cocked her head and picked up a green
bean. ‘‘Who cooked these beans raw?’’ she
asked, her voice incredulous, while the
inch-long ash from her dangling cigarette
threatened to fall onto the tray.
Mortified, I took responsibility. She
chuckled and poked fun at my American
way with vegetables. ‘‘The only thing that
should be cooked al dente here,’’ she said,
‘‘is pasta.’’ Then she heated a big, shallow
pot, added a generous splash of olive oil
and garlic, tossed in the green beans and
lightly browned them. She turned down
the heat, handed me the wooden spoon
and told me to keep an eye on the pot
for two hours. I was simultaneously horrified about how overcooked they’d be
in that time and deeply ashamed about
how far off I’d been.
But I did what Benedetta asked and
tended to the beans. As they cooked,
they changed from firm and bright to
limp and gray, just as I’d feared. For over
an hour, the beans tasted forgettable.
I worried I’d ruined them a second time.
Comment: nytimes.com/magazine
Every time
I employ this
method, I spend
at least an hour
convinced
I’ve completely
forgotten
how to cook.
But right around the two-hour mark, they
transformed again, into a dark, tangled
mess, soft but defined. They were extraordinarily rich, deliriously sweet and dense
with flavor. I’d never tasted anything like
them. I wondered why.
The classic French blanch-and-cool
technique I learned at Chez Panisse
yields the kind of brilliant, picturesque
vegetables we all want to see on restaurant plates. Long-cooked foods, on the
other hand, fall firmly into the ‘‘ugly but
good’’ camp of the Tuscan cucina povera,
where flavor far outshines looks. Peasant cooks developed methods like long
cooking to turn the overlooked into the
irresistible. They knew that the best cooking is guided by all the senses, but if one
must trump the rest, it should be taste.
Whenever you do get your hands on
immaculate baby carrots or fennel, preserve their flavor. Boil them until they’re
just barely cooked, then serve them with
flaky salt and melted butter or good olive
oil. The delicate sweetness of just-picked
vegetables is always worth savoring. But
on all the many other days of the year,
when you’re cooking with whatever
you’ve got, perfect or not, know you
can manufacture your own sweetness
by long cooking.
While you can use the technique with
almost any vegetable, it works particularly well with the shunned, the fibrous and
the forgotten-in-the-fridge. All it takes is
time and courage. Since browning begets
browning, wait until the end to gently
caramelize the vegetables; that way you
won’t have to constantly stir the pot. Heat
a little oil with some garlic and a sliced
shallot, throw in whichever vegetables
you have on hand and add a tiny splash
of water. Set the pot over low heat. Cover
it, and do your best to step away.
When your curiosity inevitably gets
the best of you, don’t panic. Without
any initial browning, the pale, bland,
half-crunchy, half-tender broccoli or
green beans will shock you. Replace the
lid, and give yourself a pep talk, knowing that even experienced cooks usually
become alarmed at this point, too. Every
time I employ this method, I spend at
least an hour convinced I’ve completely
forgotten how to cook.
But reliably, that incredible transformation will eventually occur. Overgrown
fennel will grow buttery and soft enough
to eat with a spoon. Broccoli rabe, stems
and all, will become mildly bittersweet.
Time and gentle heat will weave even
celery — hardly ever considered worthy
of its own platter — into velvet. Standing
at the stove, you’ll eat forkful after forkful of these vegetables, marveling as you
think, ‘‘If only vegetables had tasted like
this when I was a kid.’’
Long-Cooked Vegetables
Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
⅓
8
½
cup extra-virgin olive oil
cloves garlic, peeled
teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1
large shallot, thinly sliced
3
anchovy fillets, optional
2
pounds Romano beans, green beans,
wax beans or filet beans
2
tablespoons water
20
large basil leaves, divided
Kosher or fine sea salt
½
of 1 lemon
Ricotta salata, pecorino Romano or
Parmesan cheese, for serving, optional
1. Set a large Dutch oven or similar pot over
low heat. Add oil, garlic, pepper flakes, shallot
and anchovies (if using), and stir to combine.
Gently cook mixture, stirring occasionally,
until the garlic and shallot are just very lightly
sizzling, 5 to 7 minutes. Do not brown.
2. Add beans and water. Roughly tear 10 of
the basil leaves into the pot. Add 1 teaspoon
kosher salt or ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, and
stir to combine. Cover the pot, and reduce
heat to as low as possible.
3. Cook beans until the steam has caused
them to wilt, about 45 minutes. Stir, and
continue to cook 1 hour and 15 minutes
more, stirring every 20 minutes or so. Treat
the shallot as a bellwether — if you hear it
starting to sizzle or see it beginning to brown,
scrape the bottom of the pan and add a
teaspoon of water to deglaze, if necessary.
The garlic cloves will completely break down
and coat the beans as they cook.
4. After 2 hours, remove the lid, and increase
the heat to medium-high. Let any remaining
water evaporate, and lightly brown the beans,
stirring regularly, about 10 minutes. Roughly
tear in the remaining basil. Taste, and adjust
salt, as needed.
5. Transfer the beans to a serving dish,
and finish with a squeeze of lemon and a
grating of ricotta salata, pecorino Romano
or Parmesan, if desired. Serve warm or at
room temperature.
Serves 4-6. Additional variations can be found online
at nytimes.com/magazine.
29
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The New York Times Magazine
31
Photograph by
Erik Madigan Heck
YEAR
Roger Federer hadn’t won
a Grand Slam in almost half a
decade. Then he made a
crucial change to his game.
32
By Peter de Jonge
THE END OF A conversation with Roger Federer
earlier this month, in a small dining room that
had been set aside for us off the lobby of the
Mount Stephen Hotel in Montreal, I asked if he
happened to catch the final poignant seconds of
Usain Bolt’s remarkable career as a solo runner
in the 100 meters two days earlier at the World
Track and Field Championships. Bolt finished a
disappointing third, behind his longtime rival
Justin Gatlin and another American sprinter,
Christian Coleman. ‘‘I meant to, but I missed it,’’
Federer said. ‘‘So I caught it on the highlights.’’
What did you think, I asked him.
‘‘Well, you know, it was maybe a pity that he
didn’t win,’’ Federer said of his fellow GOAT
(Greatest of All Time). ‘‘But at the same time,
it doesn’t change anything in my opinion if he
won the last race or not. I’m long past the thing
that you have to end your career in a fairy tale.
Everybody kind of wants this — mostly the press
— and if you don’t win, it’s: ‘Ohhh, my God! The
fairy tale didn’t happen!’ So for me, yes, it would
have been nice, but this way is O.K., too.’’
The next day, Federer would turn 36. For his
fans — pretty much anyone who has ever seen
him hit a ball — 2017 has felt exactly like a fairy
tale. Even though he is nearly half a decade older
than the age at which Bolt finally lost a step,
Federer is in the midst of a late-career resurgence that is rare for any sport. And unlike Bolt’s
labored last strides, it has changed everything.
After a six-month layoff in 2016 to rehab a
balky knee, he arrived in Melbourne this past
January for the Australian Open having played
34
8.27.17
in only a single tuneup tournament and, wielding a remade stroke, won his first Grand Slam
title since 2012, beating his archrival, Rafael
Nadal, in the final. And then, after proving that
that win was anything but a fluke by beating
Nadal even more convincingly at Indian Wells,
in California, and Miami, he repeated the previous year’s pattern, this time his layoff was the
entire clay-court season before he came back to
win his record eighth Wimbledon — and 19th
major — without dropping a set.
Not only is Federer not acting his tennis age;
observers as astute as Rod Laver, the all-time
great from Australia, Mats Wilander, the eighttime Grand Slam winner from Sweden, and Brad
Gilbert, the coach, commentator and former
pro, believe Federer is playing the best tennis of
his life. When the U.S. Open begins next week,
he will be favored, despite tweaking his back
and losing in the final of a warm-up tournament
in Montreal, to win his third major of the year,
something he last accomplished at 26. Consider:
Andre Agassi won his final major at 32, Laver
and Pete Sampras won their final majors at 31
and John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg won theirs
at 25. When Federer triumphed at Wimbledon
in July, he became the event’s oldest champion
in the Open Era (which began in 1968), and the
oldest to win any Slam since Ken Rosewall’s victory in the Australian Open in 1972.
Federer’s 20-year career has now traced the
unlikely path of an inverted parabola: from
unbeatable to unbeatable, with a seven-year
stretch of eminently beatable in between. In his
first bloom, from 2003 to 2010, he won Wimbledon six times (including five in a row), five U.S.
Opens (all in a row), four Australian Opens and
one French Open. (During that same span, he
played in 10 consecutive finals and 23 consecutive semifinals in Grand Slam tournaments,
DiMaggio-like records for consistency that
are unlikely to be broken.) But after his victory
over Andy Murray in the Australian Open final
in 2010, his dominance in the slams skidded to a
halt. Between the ages of 29 and 35, he won only
a single major, beating Murray again at Wimbledon in 2012, in what were ideal conditions for his
game after the roof was closed in the third set.
Although he continued to reach the occasional
final and semifinal, all signs indicated that he
was gradually and inevitably succumbing to the
forces that fell all athletic superstars: age, injuries and, in one-on-one sports, the cumulative
trauma of agonizing losses. But while the world
had little doubt Federer was done, Federer himself thought otherwise and plotted his return.
COUPLE OF HOURS after talking to Federer in his
hotel, I watched him practice with David Goffin,
a Belgian ranked No. 13, on a back court at Uniprix Stadium, the site of the Rogers Cup tournament. Two bodyguards were present, along with
perhaps 500 fans, many of whom were peering
through the only somewhat transparent green
vinyl that covered the fence on three sides. In
many ways, watching Federer practice exceeds
the entertainment value of watching him compete. It’s pure play and even more of an improv
showcase. Every ball is lathered with gratuitous
action, spin for spin’s sake, spin as slapstick, and
unlike Nadal, who rips violently upward on his
shots to impart an ungodly number of rotations
per second to the ball, Federer luxuriantly massages every shot as if to prolong the moment
of impact and better feel the racket head moving over the ball, string by string. That day,
every fifth shot, give or take, was a trick shot,
and although Federer’s attempts at post-match
awards-presentation humor have tended to fall
flat — on one occasion, he told the spectators to
let’s not forget the ball boys, because without the
ball boys, there wouldn’t be any balls, and without the ball, we could not play — his on-court
sleight of hand expresses a sly wit.
When Goffin fed him lobs, he practiced his
overheads by hitting up and around the ball to
produce something akin to the game’s most languorous and spin-laden second serve. He hit
egregiously undercut and useless drop shots
with the trajectory of lobs. He hit little lookaway passing shots worthy of an N.B.A. point
guard. When Goffin knocked the ball long, ending a rally, Federer casually reached out with
his racket and imparted the exact amount of
slice, pace and angle to float the ball 18 inches
into his left palm, or hit it sideways at one of
the many courtside coaches like a rude wakeup call — to be repeated 30 seconds later if the
first one hadn’t quite roused his target. At one
point, he even tried a two-handed backhand,
comically exaggerating its inherent cramped
unloveliness and producing the kind of stroke
someone might try in a crowded elevator. When
the shot found the middle of the net, he flung his
racket to the court in mock McEnrovian disgust.
Seeing Federer hit a two-hander makes you
feel like a witness to a double felony, a crime
against both art and nature. Federer, Nadal,
Murray and Novak Djokovic have dominated
the second week of majors for a decade, but only
Federer seems to take consistent and obvious
pleasure in what he is doing on the court. In
part that may come from Federer’s not having
grown up subjected to the same preadolescent
all-or-nothing pressure of his major peers. While
Djokovic’s parents gambled what little they had
on their oldest son’s tennis future, and while
Murray’s mother, Judy, and the Nadals turned
tennis into wildly ambitious family quests that
made it far more than just a game, Federer’s
parents were worried less about their son’s
groundstrokes than about his need for a viable
route to the middle class. Nevertheless, it’s no
coincidence that Federer is the only one of them
with a one-hander. Two-handers are easier to
hit, especially for youngsters, and dependable as
diesel engines. But anecdotal evidence strongly
suggests that one-handers bring more joy to a
player, if only because they are beautiful, and to
hit them well, you have to let them go.
Pete Sampras, whose record seven Wimbledon titles was broken by Federer in July, once
told me that when he went from a two-handed
to a one-handed backhand, he was transformed
from a grinder to a shot maker, and the game
became immensely more enjoyable for him. The
only top male player who ever hit a two-hander
with abandon is Jimmy Connors (and those
were hit in anger). But even if the correlation
between happiness and a one-handed backhand
is impossible to prove, watching Federer practice and make up shots on the fly clearly shows
what sort of hand-eye skills and personality are
required if, at age 35, you’re going to teach yourself a devastating new backhand.
HE PRACTICE COURT in Montreal was my sec-
ond chance to see Federer play in person in
his post-Australia, post-Nadal glow. The first
was at Wimbledon on the middle
Saturday in a third-round match
against Mischa Zverev. As striking
as Federer’s athletic talent was the
calmness with which he navigated
the entire contest in his meticulously curated bubble. In the midst of a
frenetic one-on-one conflict — the
tennis court is often compared to
a boxing ring — Federer was conspicuously (even ostentatiously)
relaxed and seemed to have the
time and bandwidth to savor every
secondary and tertiary aspect of the
experience.
When he went from the baseline
to his chair during the changeover,
he actually seemed to enjoy the
walk, like someone who had been
cooped up all day. When he reached
into his pocket before a second
serve, he seemed to appreciate, at
least in some small way, that there
was a ball there waiting for him.
When he sliced a squash shot to the
ball boy in the far corner, he gave
no indication there was anything
more pressing at that moment than
sending it off with exactly the proper pace and spin. And he didn’t just
toss his towel back at the moving
ball boy; he led him.
‘‘I always tell people,’’ Mats
Wilander says, ‘‘that when you watch Federer,
don’t just watch him play the point. Watch what
he does in between points. He’s always fiddling
with a tennis ball or with his racket, and he’s
hitting an extra shot, trying some crazy drop
shot when the point is over, or flicking the ball
to a ball kid after a missed serve. Nobody else
does that. Nobody has ever done that. And he
still does it. Wimbledon final — it doesn’t matter.
He just seems to enjoy the feeling of having the
ball on his strings.’’
Zverev, who upset Murray in Australia, is
one of the game’s few effective serve-and-volleyers, and the matchup gave Federer a chance
to display his full repertoire. The sets were
competitive, and Zverev acquitted himself
well, far better than his more-touted younger
brother, Alexander, did in losing to Federer in
Germany the week before. (The younger Zverev,
however, would beat Federer in the final of the
Rogers Cup in Montreal.) But Federer kept him
off balance throughout, at times deploying the
whimsical tactics of the practice court. On one
point, when Zverev approached the net behind
a deep, well-hit approach, Federer eschewed a
passing shot and instead hit an off-speed dink
shot directly at his opponent at the net. Zverev,
having braced for a drive down the line, was so
ederer ‘just seems to
enjoy the feeling of
having the ball on his
strings,’ says Mats
Wilander.
The New York Times Magazine
35
nonplused that it was all he could do to keep the
ball in play, and he was passed two shots later.
Federer has always played loose, but since
Australia he has attained spalike levels of relaxation. His long break rejuvenated him and, he
said, gave him the chance ‘‘to reset my ideas
about the game.’’ At the same time, finally winning another major and breaking his yearslong
inferiority to Nadal has unburdened him. ‘‘I’ve
never seen him play better,’’ Gilbert says. ‘‘Since
Australia, he’s playing with house money.’’
On the court, Federer is distant and detached,
safely tucked away in a Zen zone designed to
limit the highs and lows to which he is naturally
inclined — ‘‘I was an emotional kid,’’ he says —
and to keep him focused and out of his own
way. Off the court and in conversation, he is
expansive, voluble, prickly (particularly about
the press) and opinionated, a bon vivant and
seeker of new experiences and repeater of old
ones he likes. On his birthday, Federer, who was
in Montreal without his wife, Mirka, their two
pairs of identical twins or their multiple nannies,
went to see Coldplay. He liked the concert so
much that he saw the band again the next night.
HANGING RACKETS is a tricky thing,’’ Federer was
saying, ‘‘a mental thing, particularly when that old
racket gave me 17 Slams.’’ A new racket inevitably
represents some sort of trade-off. With a smaller
head, you can feel the slice more; with the bigger
one, you can feel the topspin more. But over all,
a more extensive surface area generates pop and
provides a larger, more forgiving sweet spot. It
just makes life easier — not to mention serving,
volleying and reacting to heavy topspin and the
irregular bounces on grass and clay. The slightly
expanded margin of error is particularly helpful for
a one-handed backhand drive, the most technically
demanding shot in the game, and one that requires
great racket speed and complete commitment.
Federer’s rivals had been taking advantage of the
latest racket technology for years, while he seemed
to eschew it with the disdain some kids show for
training wheels; he finally upgraded to the larger
racket for good in early 2014.
At the start of last year he made another
change, hiring Ivan Ljubicic to be his coach. Ljubicic, who reached No. 3 in the world and by all
accounts got the very most out of his own talent,
became Federer’s first coach who had competed
against him as a player. So he had hard-won ideas
about Federer’s strengths and weaknesses. Having
coached Milos Raonic, one of Federer’s would-be
rivals, Ljubicic also presumably knew what current players thought they could do against Federer. Another potential boon, although it has yet to
pay dividends, is that Ljubicic and Djokovic are
neighbors in Monte Carlo, which one day might
just allow the coach to share some competitive
insights into playing a rival who, like Nadal, has a
winning record against Federer, thanks especially
to Djokovic’s head-to-head dominance over the
last half-dozen years.
But before Ljubicic could prove his worth,
in January 2016 Federer slipped and fell in the
bathroom while drawing a bath for one of his
sets of twins. He went through meniscus surgery,
returned to competition too early and then, after
losing to Raonic in the Wimbledon semifinals
last year, decided to pull out of the professional
Federer’s
one-handed backhand remains
one of the rarest
and most beautiful
shots in tennis.
He used it here
in a victory
against Rafael
Nadal in April.
36
8.27.17
Photograph by Julian Finney/Getty Images
tour for the rest of the season. While rehabbing
his knee and getting more and more comfortable with his larger racket, Federer surely had
to notice that the two players at the very top
of the sport, Djokovic and Murray, were struggling. (Winning a major becomes much more
feasible when it requires beating only one of
the Top 4 instead of two or three.) The chief
antagonists of Federer’s career are essentially
grinders, defenders and counterpunchers, and
in the process of wearing down their competition, they have also worn down themselves.
Federer’s free flowing shot-making exacts much
less of a toll, and his fluid movement has enabled
him to sidestep serious injury to a remarkable
degree, at least on the court.
None of this might have mattered, however,
if not for Federer’s unquenchable optimism. The
international talent pool on the men’s tour is so
deep that everyone in the Top 100 qualifies as
an athletic freak. What separates the long-lasting stars from the rest is maintaining a good
attitude. Set by set, game by game, sometimes
even point by point, matches are strewn with
frustrations — break points and game points frittered away, set and match points squandered,
matches that seemed over all but ripped from
your grip — and somehow you have to see the
big picture, recognize how good your life is
compared with the average civilian’s and not go
dark. It’s harder than it looks. McEnroe couldn’t
do it. The immensely talented Nick Kyrgios can’t
do it for two weeks in a row. It’s always been
a challenge for Murray, and lately it seems too
much for even Djokovic.
Not only does Federer have the most multifaceted game; he also has one of the best dispositions
for the game. His effortless grace makes it easy
to forget that he has suffered his share of heartbreaking defeats. Like the five-setter to Nadal at
Wimbledon in 2008, when, down in the fourthset tiebreaker, he hit one of the most beautiful
and clutch running passing shots anyone has ever
seen yet still lost. Or the two Grand Slam matches
in consecutive years when he held match points
against Djokovic, including one in which Djokovic
appeared to give up and whaled on a forehand as
hard as he could and then, when it hit the line for
a winner, decided not to give up anymore. Most
punishing, though, have been the losses to Nadal,
against whom Federer’s record is 14-23 overall —
but much worse in the matches that matter most,
Grand Slam finals, where before this year in Australia, Nadal’s advantage was 6-2. Almost without
exception, Federer has managed to keep the pain
to himself, and to some extent from himself, but
after yet another five-set loss to Nadal in the 2009
Australian Final, the ‘‘emotional kid’’ re-emerged,
and he wept openly afterward at the trophy presentation and said, ‘‘God, it’s killing me.’’
Still, even when Nadal was beating him four
times a year, Federer never seemed to take it personally. In fact, he likes and admires Nadal, and
early this year traveled to Majorca to help Nadal
open his new tennis academy. ‘‘In the end it’s
just a tennis match, and you’re supposed to get
over it,’’ Federer told me. ‘‘I don’t want to be the
kind of father who comes home and his kids are
asking, ‘What’s wrong with dad?’ Or that kind of
husband.’’ That doesn’t mean those losses didn’t
hurt, and when one of my questions implied otherwise, he was quick to confirm that there was
‘‘scar tissue.’’ ‘‘Let’s be honest,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m sure
there was.’’
HE CHANGES THAT led to Federer’s triumph over
Nadal in January echoed, to an uncanny degree,
a spur-of-the-moment decision made 22 years
earlier. When Federer was 13, he and his parents drove from their home in Basel to the Swiss
national tennis center in Ecublens, a suburb of
Lausanne, so he could take part in a three-day
tryout for an elite, live-in program for promising
juniors called Tennis Etudes. The audition was
held on a speedy indoor court. ‘‘It’s called Indoor
Supreme,’’ Federer told me, ‘‘very fast and very
shiny. In the light, it almost looks like a handball
court, and there was no way you could slice off
it on the half volley.’’ At this point, Federer relied
exclusively on a slice backhand, but for his tryout he decided to hit a topspin backhand, to hit
over the ball, despite the fact that he had barely
worked on the shot, let alone mastered it. He
wanted to show the judges, he said, ‘‘that I can
come over the ball, even though I don’t like it,
in case you were not sure.’’ At this critical early
juncture, Federer put his faith in his hand-eye
coordination and was accepted into the program.
By his own estimation, Federer had a horrible backhand as a young junior. Darren Cahill,
the coach and former player from Australia, first
saw Federer play when the latter was in his early
teens. ‘‘You could drive a truck through his backhand side,’’ Cahill says in ‘‘Roger Federer: The
Greatest,’’ a biography by Chris Bowers. ‘‘He was
always really good about stepping to the left and
getting around his backhand and hitting the forehand, but if you got it to his backhand, you were
in pretty good shape.’’ According to Rod Laver,
the backhand was still an issue when Federer
became the best player in the world. ‘‘In ’07 and
’08,’’ Laver told me recently, ‘‘he wasn’t hitting
his backhand very well, not mishitting it, but not
really middling it clean, but he could get away
with it because he had so many other shots.’’
Long before Australia, his coaches and even
his father had been urging Federer to hit over
the ball more often on his backhand side — ‘‘but
it’s easier said than done,’’ he said, particularly
with a smaller racket head, and especially against
Nadal’s vicious topspin. ‘‘After the fifth shank in a
row, it’s very hard to keep telling yourself, yeah,
yeah, keep coming over the ball.’’
After seeing all those winners flying off his
matte black racket in the Australian final, I figured that the backhand drive had been the focus
of his six-month break from the tour last year.
Federer insisted that that wasn’t the case and
that the primary focus during his layoff was a
much humbler backhand, a subtle little block
return of serve, hit as early as possible and with
just a touch of topspin, that enabled him to start
return points more advantageously than his chip
or slice and that could be used against anyone
except the biggest of servers.
Federer also acknowledged, however, that in
the last half of 2016 he had the luxury of more
unbroken time on the practice courts than he
had had in a decade, and every part of his game
benefited. ‘‘Once we could see that all the rehab
and strength work was paying off and that the
knee was going to hold up, I was able to spend
six weeks straight on the court in Dubai and
then another two weeks in Switzerland. That
is just huge.’’
The first two weeks were spent doing twoon-one drills with a pair of young Americans,
Mackenzie McDonald and Ernesto Escobedo,
flown in to be the sparring partners. During the
next four weeks, he progressed to playing points
and eventually sets, many of them against Lucas
Pouille, the young French star who beat Nadal at
last year’s U.S. Open. Over the course of a week,
the sets morphed into an epic 20-set match like
the kind Federer recalls playing with his friends
as a junior, where the loser always called for the
match to be extended, from two out of three
to three out of five, to six out of 11, and so on.
During those sessions, Federer estimates, he hit
thousands of backhands with very little regard
for where they landed. After all those stress-free
reps, he grew more and more comfortable letting
them fly. Wilander suspects that in the process
he also made some technical improvement in the
stroke — but, he says, ‘‘Federer is so late in his
backswing, and so quick going through the ball,
that it’s hard to see.’’
Because he was facing right-handers and the
focus on him wasn’t as great, given the lower
expectations, casual observers didn’t notice
the new backhand until the Australian Open
final, but beat reporters and insiders sensed
something was up soon after Federer got off
the plane. ‘‘I saw him in a couple of early practices,’’ Gilbert says, ‘‘where he was really ripping
it.’’ After Federer eked out five-set wins against
Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka, Nadal, himself only recently recovered from a prolonged
crisis of confidence, was
(Continued on Page 60)
The New York Times Magazine
37
Illustration by
Renaud Vigourt
Tall players are now poised
to dominate both men’s and
women’s tennis —
a shift with radical implications
for the future of the game.
By Michael Steinberger
39
MONTH, 20 years after winning her only Wim-
bledon singles crown, Martina Hingis partnered
with Jamie Murray of Britain — the brother of
Andy Murray — to take the mixed-doubles title at
the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
It was the eighth Grand Slam doubles title that
Hingis, now 36, has won since coming out of
retirement in 2013 — yet another demonstration
of the racket skills and tactical brilliance that
make her one of the craftiest players tennis has
ever known. But this year’s Wimbledon also highlighted, with particular clarity, the change in the
sport that helped sink her singles career.
When Hingis won Wimbledon in 1997, she was
16 and in the midst of an incredible season in
which she would claim three of the four Grand
Slam singles titles. If not for her loss in the final
of the French Open, she would have become the
sixth player ever to complete a calendar-year
Grand Slam. Given her age, her court smarts
(like ‘‘a young Bobby Fischer playing chess,’’ one
coach said) and her ruthless drive — underscored
by the slightly diabolical grin that she wore as she
crushed one opponent after another — it stood to
reason that Hingis would dominate women’s tennis for years to come. As she told me over lunch
a few weeks ago in Florida: ‘‘I felt invincible.’’
But Hingis’s ascendancy coincided with the
emergence of a trio of players, all Californians,
who were, by the standards of the time, unusually tall and strong. Lindsay Davenport and the
sisters Venus and Serena Williams were at the
vanguard of what the sports commentator Mary
40
8.27.17
Carillo soon named ‘‘Big Babe Tennis’’: Davenport was 6-foot-2½, Venus Williams an inch and
a half shorter, Serena Williams 5-foot-9. All three
hit with concussive power. Hingis wasn’t small,
exactly, but she was certainly not big: At a waifish
5-foot-7, she had a game that was based on touch
and guile, and she struggled to handle the pace
of her larger foes. After that historic ’97 season,
she won only two more singles majors. In 2003,
at age 22, she retired. She had been troubled by
injuries, but it was also clear that the game was
outgrowing her — quite literally.
The success that she has had on the doubles
circuit over the last four years is a great story of
perseverance and reinvention. But before finding
a path back to the top of the sport, Hingis was a
casualty of an evolutionary lurch in tennis. There
have always been tall athletes among the pros,
and average heights had increased incrementally
for years. But over the last two decades, players
— women and men alike — have become significantly bigger, a point that was underscored last
month at Wimbledon. When Hingis won in 1997,
the tallest woman to reach the quarterfinals was
5-foot-9. This year, there were only two women in
the quarterfinals under that height.
On the men’s side, the numbers were even
more arresting. Five of the eight quarterfinalists
this year were 6-foot-4 or above, and not one was
under six feet. It was Big Dude Tennis, you might
say, and it continued in the lead-up to the U.S.
Open. The veteran American John Isner, who is
6-foot-10, won the BB&T Atlanta Open. In early
August, Alexander Zverev, a 6-foot-6 German
who goes by Sascha, captured the Citi Open in
Washington by beating Kevin Anderson of South
Africa, who is 6-foot-8. A week later, Zverev won
the Rogers Cup in Montreal, beating Roger Federer in the final. It was Zverev’s fifth title of the
year, and there’s an excellent chance that the U.S.
Open will be the sixth — and the first major title
of his career. At 20, Zverev is rapidly emerging as
the game’s next superstar, and if he lives up to his
vast potential, he could redefine what we think
of as the optimal height for a male tennis player.
Already, when you walk through the players’
lounge of a tournament these days, you can easily
think that you have stepped into a misplaced N.B.A.
locker room. The game’s newest goliath is Reilly
Opelka, a 6-foot-11 Floridian. He is only 19, which
presumably means he might still be growing, and
could yet become the first pro player to breach the
seven-foot mark. In the meantime, short players
are becoming harder to find. Japan’s Kei Nishikori
is the only player in the men’s Top 10 who is under
six feet, and no man under six feet tall has won a
major since 2004. In a 2015 interview, the Spaniard
David Ferrer, who is 5-foot-9 and was ranked as
high as No. 3 in the world, suggested there was
no hope for players his size. ‘‘I would guess that
you will have to be at least between 5-foot-11 or
6-foot-3 to play tennis,’’ he said. ‘‘I think players
like me, around my height, are going to be extinct.’’
In many professional sports, the athletes are
a lot bigger now than they were a generation or
two ago. Since the late 194os, the average height
of N.B.A. players has gone from 6-foot-2 to about
6-foot-7. But basketball was always a big person’s
sport. Tennis was not. Tennis used to be like soccer: a sport in which height was considered largely inconsequential. Many of the game’s greatest
champions were on the compact side. Rod Laver
was 5-foot-8, Jimmy Connors 5-foot-10. John
McEnroe and Bjorn Borg were under six feet.
Martina Navratilova was 5-foot-8 and Chris Evert
5-foot-6. Billie Jean King was only 5-foot-4½.
Now, however, height seems to matter a great
deal. The ramifications of this are being felt not just
at the professional level but at the junior level too.
Young players — and their parents and coaches —
have always had to wonder whether they had the
athletic ability and emotional resilience to make it
in tennis. Now there is a more fundamental question: Will they grow big enough to be competitive?
NE WEEKDAY MORNING in mid-July, with the
heat and humidity already brutal, Kevin Anderson was wrapping up a practice session at the
Delray Beach Tennis Center in Florida. I’d come
to see the boys’ 18-and-under National Clay Court
Championships; as one of the junior ‘‘majors,’’ it
always attracts talent-scouting college coaches,
and it seemed like a good place to gather impressions about the role of size in tennis. On the morning I arrived, I noticed Anderson, who lives in
the area, working out on the stadium court . (At
6-foot-8, he was kind of hard to miss.) A former
Top 10 player, Anderson reached the fourth round
at Wimbledon the week before, losing in five sets
to the 6-foot-6 American Sam Querrey. Up close,
his height was startling in that holy-crap-you’retall kind of way, but his speed and agility were
even more impressive. He was doing short, sharp
sprints along the baseline, simulating the bursts of
movement required in a typical rally. As he lunged
from the center of the court, stutter-stepping to
the doubles alley and then back to the middle,
the squeaking of his sneakers echoing across the
empty stadium, I couldn’t believe how quick and
light he was on his feet.
While he suffered in the sun, I struck up a
conversation with his sparring partner from that
morning, a starting player for Florida State University named Jose Gracia. When I told Gracia
what I was writing about, he nodded knowingly.
Even at the collegiate level, he said, the guys were
now huge; in fact, he could think of only one of
his F.S.U. teammates who was under six feet. Gracia was on the ground stretching, and I couldn’t
make out how tall he was, so I asked. ‘‘Six-foot-7,’’
he replied, matter-of-factly.
Players this size used to be outliers, and they
didn’t enjoy much success. They usually had
Illustration by Renaud Vigourt
thunderous serves, with their long limbs generating enormous force and their height letting
them pound the ball down toward the court at
severe angles. But booming serves were often all
they had. They tended to be lumbering giants who
couldn’t keep rallies going and struggled with balls
hit below their waists. Being of modest height,
or even a little on the short side, was considered
preferable to being supersize. Things are different
now. The sport’s so-called Big 4 — Federer, Rafael
Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — are
all between 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-3. For a while now,
this height has been considered the sweet spot for
male players, even as taller competitors enter the
scene. In 2009, Juan Martín del Potro, a 6-foot-6
Argentine, overpowered Federer to win the U.S.
Open, becoming the tallest man ever to win a
grand slam title. Three years ago, Marin Cilic of
Croatia, who is also 6-foot-6, won the Open. The
6-foot-5 Canadian Milos Raonic was a Wimbledon
finalist last year and a quarterfinalist this year. And
then there’s Sascha Zverev, 6-foot-6, who seems
likeliest to recalibrate the ‘‘sweet spot’’ entirely.
Zverev’s parents, who have both played professionally, immigrated to Germany from Russia
in 1991, the year the Soviet Union fell. His older
brother, Mischa, who is 6-foot-3, is also a pro.
Zverev broke into the Top 10 earlier this spring,
and he looks like a sure bet to eventually reach No.
1 and win a clutch of majors. Like other big men,
he has a huge serve, but there is much more to his
game than blistering serves and groundstrokes.
He’s also exceptionally nimble and supple — he
has what his fitness trainer, Jez Green,
reen, calls ‘‘elasticity.’’ It is a word that has been used to describe
the N.B.A. star Kevin Durant, whose
hose speed and
ball handling have redefined what’s
at’s possible for
an N.B.A. big man. Zverev, whosee lanky frame is
not unlike the seven-foot Durant’s,
t’s, could have a
similarly revolutionary impact on
n tennis.
When I spoke with Zverev earlier
ier this month in
Washington, he wasn’t thinking in
n quite such lofty
terms. He had just finished a practice
tice session with
the French player Gaël Monfils (who
who is 6-foot-4),
and with his shaggy blond hair flowing loosely, he
looked more like a surfer than a pro tennis players’ cafeteria, he
er. As he took a seat in the players’
scooped up his toy poodle, Lovik, and held him as
we talked. His mother, at an adjoining
oining table, was
texting while his father, who doubles
bles as his coach,
was playing a video game on a tablet.
ablet. Neither of
them, Zverev said, had ever expressed
pressed concern
about him being too tall for tennis.
nis.
‘‘We always knew I wasn’t going
g to be like Isner
or Karlovic,’’ Zverev said, the latterr referring to the
6-foot-11 Croatian player. ‘‘Anything
ng up to 6-foot-7,
6-foot-8 is a great height for tenniss these days. You
look at Cilic, at del Potro, at me — we all move really well, which is a big change from
m how it was 20
or 30 years ago.’’ He credited his agility to having
The New York Times Magazine
zine
41
played soccer and field hockey as a kid. ‘‘They are
low-gravity sports,’’ he explained. ‘‘They taught me
how to be low all the time, how to change direction quickly.’’ He thought smaller players could
still hold their own in today’s game, and figured
anything over 6-foot-11 was probably too tall to
reach the top of the rankings. Even this caveat
underscored just how much things have changed:
Not so long ago, the mere idea of a seven-footer
competing successfully would have seemed ridiculous. ‘‘I just want a 6-foot-6 German guy to be the
dominant player,’’ he said with a laugh.
Green is confident that this will be the case.
When I spoke with him by phone from Montreal a few weeks ago, he recalled the first time
he watched Zverev play, when the German was
16. ‘‘The thing I saw immediately was his ability to move,’’ he said. ‘‘I thought: My God, this
guy moves incredibly smoothly for someone his
height. This could change the idea of how tall guys
move.’’ Green, who previously trained Andy Murray, also brought up the soccer and field hockey. ‘‘I
don’t know if it was deliberate or not, but having
him play soccer and field hockey was a masterstroke,’’ he said. ‘‘For someone that tall to get used
to playing low — it helped his movement hugely.’’
He saw Zverev as part of a group of strapping
young players — including the 6-foot-6 Russian
Karen Khachanov and the 6-foot-5 Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis — who move with the speed and
fluidity of much shorter men and who could raise
the bar for what is considered the ideal height.
‘‘I think 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6 will become the new
norm,’’ Green told me.
This was the day after Zverev won the tournament in Washington. The same afternoon, the
final of the Stanford Classic, in Northern California, was a showcase for the new norm in women’s tennis. On the women’s side, players aren’t
necessarily getting taller; 6-foot-3 still seems to
be the ceiling. But they are becoming even more
powerful. You hear the word ‘‘convergence’’ in
tennis circles these days. It refers to the way the
women’s game is coming to resemble the men’s
game — specifically, the narrowing of the gender
gap on serves and groundstrokes. The finalists in
Stanford were two Americans at the forefront of
this trend, Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe.
Keys was hitting first serves at 114 to 118 miles
per hour, which would be very competitive on
the men’s tour; her fastest was 121 miles per hour.
Both women routinely hit forehands as fast or
faster than the hardest forehands on the men’s
side. They are not alone. En route to winning
the French Open this year, Jelena Ostapenko, a
20-year-old Latvian, averaged 76 miles per hour
on her forehand, three miles per hour faster than
Murray, then the No. 1 male player.
Ostapenko and Keys are 5-foot-10. Vandeweghe, whose grandfather and uncle played in
the N.B.A., is 6-foot-1. But Lindsay Davenport,
42
8.27.17
who now coaches Keys, doesn’t
believe that height is the sole or
even primary explanation for why
the women are hitting so much
harder these days. When we spoke
recently, she said much of it had to
do with lighter, more flexible rackets. ‘‘Everyone can crack the ball
now, even the shorter players,’’ she
says. She also points to a change in
attitude, on the women’s tour, about
the role of the serve. ‘‘For so long,
the serve was just seen as a means
of starting the rally,’’ she told me.
‘‘When I was playing, we’d practice
groundstrokes and volleys for 45
minutes, then do just a few minutes
of serves and returns.’’ Now, there’s
much more emphasis on developing and refining the serve. ‘‘Players
like Madison and Coco are looking to get free points on their first
would guess that you will
have to be at least between
serves,’’ Davenport says, which she
5-foot-11 or 6-foot-3 to
describes as ‘‘a men’s-tennis menplay tennis. I think players
tality that has now shifted to the
like me, around my height, are
women’s side.’’ Height is definitely
going to be extinct.’
an advantage on the serve, she says.
But more important is the increased
athleticism, across the board. Even
in her era, players didn’t pour their
time into the gym, and big ones
weren’t spending hours a day trying
to develop the footwork and balance
of players six inches shorter than them. ‘‘They are parry Donaldson’s power — he frequently sliced
such great athletes now,’’ she says. ‘‘You could take on the backhand, sending off-speed balls across
them and put them into another sport, and they’d the net to try to lure his opponent into errors
succeed. I was a great tennis player, but I wasn’t a — but Donaldson used his serve to bail himself
great athlete. If you’d stuck me in another sport, out repeatedly, and took merciless advantage
of Sela’s weaker delivery. On the last point,
I probably would have drowned or something.’’
Donaldson floated a gentle lob that landed just
inside the baseline. Had Sela been a few inches
taller, he probably could have reached the ball
and put it away. Instead, he helplessly watched
it sail over his head. Game, set, match.
ROUND 8:30 ON a warm night in Washington,
Sela was surprisingly chipper for a guy who
Dudi Sela, a 32-year-old Israeli player, came off had just lost a tough three-setter. But then, he
the court after losing his first-round match to had long ago resigned himself to being a Lilthe young American Jared Donaldson. Sela knew liputian in a sport increasingly dominated by
I wanted to discuss the role of size in pro ten- Brobdingnagians. A few years ago, after losing
nis, and as he plopped down on a couch in the a match in Colombia to Ivo Karlovic, the 6-footplayers’ lounge, he exclaimed, ‘‘That was exactly 11 Croatian, he grabbed a plastic chair, brought
what you are talking about!’’ Sela is one of the it to the net and stood on it to give Karlovic a
smaller players on the men’s tour; he’s listed hug. A few weeks before the Washington touras 5-foot-9 but told me that he’s actually a lit- nament, he struck a mighty blow for the small
tle under 5-foot-8. At 6-foot-2, Donaldson is not fry, beating John Isner in five sets at Wimbledon.
one of the game’s giants, but he’s big enough to But when I mentioned the Isner match and sughave a first serve in the 120-to-130 miles per hour gested that maybe the outlook wasn’t entirely
range. Against Donaldson, Sela’s first serve was bleak, he was dismissive. ‘‘It was on grass — the
barely above 100 miles per hour, and his second ball skids, it stays low,’’ he said. It would never
serves hovered around 80. Those numbers told have happened, he added, on the hard courts
the story of the match. Sela did what he could to in Washington.
The match with Donaldson struck him as more
illustrative of the direction in which tennis was
heading. ‘‘No disrespect for him — he’s a good
player, he hits the ball clean — but I feel I’m a
much better player,’’ Sela said. If they’d played
only baseline points, without serves, he didn’t
imagine Donaldson would have had much of a
chance. ‘‘But all these young guys serve bombs.
I’m smaller, so I don’t have the reach.’’ Sela agreed
with David Ferrer that there was no future in pro
tennis for players his size. A nearby television was
showing the match that had followed his, pitting
Opelka, the 6-foot-11 American teenager, against
a 6-foot-6 Russian named Daniil Medvedev. In a
decade, Sela said, even players the size of Federer and Nadal would be in trouble. His tone was
observational, dispassionate, until he brought up
his kid. ‘‘I have a 4-year-old son,’’ he said. ‘‘My wife
is not big. He’s maybe not going to be very tall.
If he’s going to play tennis. . . . ’’ His voice trailed
off, and he didn’t finish the thought.
Forty years ago, height was not a big part of
the conversation in junior tennis. Now it is central. I know this in part because my 12-year-old
daughter plays junior tennis. A few months ago,
as she and I came off the court at an indoor facility near our house, the pro who owned the place
complimented Ava on her game and said to me,
‘‘She looks like she’s going to be tall; that’s good.’’
(She’s been of average height most of her life, but
she had a nice growth spurt this summer, and
her long legs give us hope.) John Evert, who used
to coach Madison Keys, and who with his sister
Chris owns the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca
Raton, Fla., where Ava trained this summer,
told me that size is now widely seen as a critical
benchmark in evaluating a kid’s prospects: ‘‘In
the coaching community, it is talked about all
the time.’’ Parents talk about it, too, often with
a kind of crude Darwinism — ‘‘Yeah, she’s good,
but she’s such a tiny little thing.’’
At Delray Beach, a few days after my conversation with Jose Gracia, I bumped into Ryler
DeHeart, the associate head coach of the F.S.U.
men’s team. We were watching a quarterfinal match featuring the local kid who would
eventually win the tournament, a 6-foot-3 lefty
named Axel Nefve. I mentioned what Gracia
had told me — that there was just one player on
the F.S.U. team under six feet tall. DeHeart said
that wasn’t necessarily by design; while there
might be some college coaches who refuse to
recruit players under six feet, he wasn’t one of
them. ‘‘There are so many factors that go into
it, so many intangibles,’’ he said. But if forced to
choose between two players of comparable ability, one 5-foot-10, the other 6-foot-2, he’d have to
take the taller one. ‘‘A guy who is tall and strong
and has a big serve — that’s obviously an advantage,’’ DeHeart said. ‘‘It’s easier to hit an ace than
to grind out a 30-shot rally.’’ He also made an
interesting point: The discussion about height
inevitably revolves around the serve, but string
technology has now given taller players an edge
in rallies, too. Polyester strings can generate
enormous topspin, producing forehands and
backhands that come down deep in the court
and jump up after landing. ‘‘The strike zone was
a lot lower 20 years ago,’’ DeHeart said — and
higher balls can be a nightmare for undersize
players, forcing them to move back from the
baseline or play lots of shots above their shoulders, which can be exhausting. For a tall player
like Gracia, those topspin shots will end up just
above the hips, an ideal contact point.
Twenty-five years ago, John Evert told me, big
players had to try to figure out how to be competitive despite their size; now, it was the complete
reverse, and it was shorter players who faced that
challenge. In addition to running his academy,
Evert is a consultant for Nike’s tennis division,
helping identify juniors that the company might
want to sponsor. ‘‘When I talk to Nike,’’ he said, ‘‘I
let them know if I’m concerned about how tall a
kid is going to be.’’ Still, he would never discourage a small kid from pursuing a career in tennis,
and he said shorter players could be equipped
with skills and strategies that would allow them
to contend. Smaller kids at the academy sometimes express frustration when they are pushed
around on the court by larger, stronger players.
‘‘I tell them that they have to work around it,’’
Evert said. ‘‘I tell them what they need to do to
be successful. And we hope for a growth spurt.’’
FEW WEEKS after her mixed-doubles victory at
Wimbledon, Martina Hingis was training at the
Saddlebrook Resort and Spa, north of Tampa Bay,
Fla. Her practice partner was a 15-year-old local
kid named Daniel Labrador, a promising junior.
(John Isner, all 6-foot-10 of him, practiced on an
adjoining court.) After a leisurely warm-up, Hingis
and Labrador played a very competitive and entertaining set, with lots of long, lung-burning rallies.
But when they went to a deciding tiebreaker, Labrador fell apart: His serve abandoned him, and
he had trouble keeping the ball in play. Hingis
went up 5-1 and asked Labrador if he wanted
to change sides. When he equivocated, Hingis
showed that she had lost none of the sass that had
been a hallmark of her teenage years. ‘‘Well, you’re
down 5-1, so maybe you should try this side,’’ she
said, flashing that sadistic smile. ‘‘You know, no
excuses.’’ They switched sides, and Hingis quickly
closed out the tiebreaker. ‘‘Yay, experience wins,’’
she said, raising her arms in mock triumph as she
walked to the net to shake hands.
A short while later, we met for lunch at a sports
bar on the Saddlebrook grounds. Her tennis mind
was just as formidable in conversation as it is on
court, and she was full of trenchant observations
about players, trends and tactics. (She said she
had no interest in becoming a tennis commentator, which is television’s loss: She’d be a seriously
good one.) Over turkey-and-ham club wraps, we
talked about height, the advent of power tennis
and the impact they had on her career. Hingis
wanted to clarify a few things. She said that it was
really just five players — the Williamses, Lindsay
Davenport, Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati — whose power caused her trouble, and the
problem was not so much when she had to play
one or another individually. ‘‘I never felt like I
couldn’t hang in there with them,’’ she said, ‘‘but
it was hard to beat two or three of them in a row.’’
At the 1999 U.S. Open she beat Venus Williams in
a grueling three-set semifinal, then had to come
back the next day to face Serena Williams in the
final. She didn’t have enough energy left to handle the onslaught, and lost in straight sets. It was
the first of the 23 Grand Slam singles titles that
Serena would win.
If Hingis had any lingering frustration or bitterness over the way things turned out, it wasn’t
apparent. She had no temptation to give singles
another try: ‘‘I don’t want to practice for four
hours a day like I used to do,’’ she said. ‘‘I feel
like I could hang for a set or a set and a half with
the top players, but I know physically I wouldn’t
last.’’ But she disputed the idea that there was no
longer a place in the pro game for players her
size. ‘‘Yeah, it helps if you are taller and stronger,
but that’s not everything,’’ she said. One reason
we’re seeing fewer women on the short side, she
suggested, is that many of them are quitting the
game as juniors — they become frustrated at
losing to bigger opponents, their coaches give
up on them and they walk away from tennis. If
only they would stick it out, Hingis said, they
would get stronger and develop better defensive
skills, and some of them could definitely make
it as pros.
While she was lavish in her praise of the
Williams sisters and also spoke admiringly of a
couple of other current stars, Hingis said a lot
of women these days — even some who have
cracked the Top 20 — were very limited in their
abilities. ‘‘They are one-dimensional,’’ she said.
‘‘It’s boom, boom, boom, and when they don’t
hit a winner after three or four shots, they panic.
Once you get them on the run, they are in trouble. The big players are not as agile. Shorter
players just have to learn to defend the first and
second shot. Once the ball passes over the net
three times, we have the advantage.’’ Still, she
had to acknowledge the value in being a little
closer in height to today’s giants. ‘‘I wish I was
five centimeters taller,’’ she said. ‘‘I wouldn’t say
no to that.’’
The New York Times Magazine
43
Photograph by
Dina Litovsky
Gaël Monfils hits impossibly
acrobatic shots
with astonishing strength
44
and speed. Why hasn’t that
been enough to win?
By Ben Austen
Credit by Name Surname
Credit by Name Surname
GORAN IVANISEVIC Stadium, at an exhibition
two nights before the start of July’s Croatia
Open, Gaël Monfils made sure that fans received
the full entertainment value of their tickets. The
30-year-old tennis star pretended he couldn’t
see lobs arcing above him, only to leap into the
air and spin, a complete 360, smashing the ball
at the peak of his turn, as if this were the most
natural way to hit an overhead. He raced from
the baseline to the net, long galloping strides,
and slid low the last dozen feet on the red clay
to gently kiss a drop shot off his strings. He
returned balls behind his back, between his legs,
off his head, against the grip end of his racket.
He cranked back his muscular right arm and
uncorked a 110-miles-an-hour forehand winner.
Three thousand or so spectators were there in
the tennis village along the Adriatic Sea, in the
resort town of Umag, and for the shot’s seeming
impossibility they laughed.
Monfils (‘‘Moan-FEESE’’) was joined on center
court by two Croatian pros and David Goffin, an
undersize Belgian with laser groundstrokes who
was seeded No. 1 at the tournament to Monfils’s
No. 2. But all eyes were fixed on Monfils. He is
a player who crackles with the possibility that,
at any instant, he may do something beyond
the limits of physical laws or human capabilities
or merely the respectable conventions of tennis. Even given the hyperathleticism of today’s
game, he is very likely the fastest and strongest
man on the tour — perhaps also the most coordinated and balanced and precise, with an expert
marksman’s aim. On YouTube, a profusion of
46
Photograph by Scott Barbour/Getty Images
videos attest to his acrobatic and improvisational feats, a mix of the comic and the sublime:
‘‘Top 30 Only Gaël Monfils Moments,’’ ‘‘Top 20
Miraculous Points,’’ ‘‘Top 10 Jumping Winner
Shots.’’ The previous week, I was watching from
home as he played in the third round of Wimbledon. A serve pulled him far off the ad court to his
left. Monfils hit a two-handed backhand return
and scurried rightward toward the center line.
His opponent, a lower-ranked French player
named Adrian Mannarino, took the return in the
air, volleying it behind Monfils. Tennis players
reverse direction hundreds of times on court,
in every point, drill and side-shuffling exercise;
it’s as much a part of their muscle memory as
it is for any of us to sit or stand. But Monfils
whirled around clockwise, blindly away from
the court, emerging from this pirouette in one
fluid motion with his backhand drawn back and
swinging, the shot sent down the line past the
lunging Mannarino. It was not a real-life tennis
move. It was a move from a fast-cut Hollywood
fight scene.
Roger Federer has his own arsenal of tricky
shots — dunk-contest flying overheads, wristy
squash sidewinders and lob-chasing backwardbetween-the-legs swipes, punctuated now and
then with a flip of his bangs or a modest fist
pump, but usually executed with the placid
composure of a waiter in a high-end restaurant.
And yet Federer also sustains a general level of
otherworldly virtuosity that has won him 93
career tournaments, including a men’s record
19 in the four biggest annual contests, known
as the Grand Slams. For all his outsize talents,
Monfils’s career, so far, could be rated a disappointment. He was the sixth-best tennis player
in the world last year (recently, he has been in
the teens and 20s), and he has won more than
400 matches and earned some $13.6 million in
prize money and probably that much again in
endorsements and appearance fees. But he has
never reached a Grand Slam final and has won a
total of only six professional tournaments. After
he hit that Jason Bourne backhand at Wimbledon, he lost the next point to Mannarino on a
lusterless return of serve. In fact, for stretches of
the match Monfils’s magical elasticity and power
simply disappeared. He couldn’t turn his shoulders or move his feet properly. A man who hits
some of the sport’s hardest forehands managed
only awkward defensive chops. He lost in five
sets to Mannarino.
Of all the players struggling to win titles in this
unkind era of the so-called Big Four — Federer,
Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray,
who, along with the Swiss Stan Wawrinka, have
hoarded 51 of the last 55 Grand Slam trophies
— Monfils is the most captivating, maddening
and misunderstood. His critics see his dips in
play and deride him as unprofessional, saying
he doesn’t care. ‘‘That’s the time I care most,’’
Monfils told me. ‘‘I’m a warrior. I’m trying to
figure it out.’’ I heard from tennis officials and
coaches that he stays out all night with friends,
but he has never drunk alcohol or smoked a thing.
He does have hobbies — he likes to make music,
work on watches, play basketball and read history — but these pastimes, he says, have kept
him sane. ‘‘They’re not seeing the work and training,’’ his coach, Mikael Tillstrom, told me. Sure,
Tillstrom would like it if Monfils didn’t switch
to a left-handed overhead in a tiebreaker or hit
look-away half-volleys or feint that he’s given
up on a shot before tracking it down to dupe
his opponent. But just as often he pulls off these
miraculous shots. ‘‘There is a thin line between
genius and stupidity,’’ Tillstrom added. ‘‘Gaël is
trying to win the point. Those shots just come to
him; he reacts.’’ The player on tour who perhaps
knows Monfils best, his fellow Frenchman Gilles
Simon, said: ‘‘Gaël has to enjoy what he’s doing.
It’s who he is. It will never be effective if he is not
taking any pleasure in what he’s doing.’’
Monfils wants to be remembered as more
than the ‘‘human highlight reel.’’ He has a dream,
modulated to the unyielding epoch in which he
has happened to play: He wants the fortnight’s
run of perfection and luck needed to win at least
a single Grand Slam. ‘‘I think one time in my
life I can put myself in the position to be the
best for two weeks,’’ Monfils said. ‘‘The best all
time is Roger. My dream, my challenge, why I’m
training is to have within a year the chance to
be the best for two weeks.’’
In Ivanisevic Stadium for the exhibition, he
was, arguably, the ultimate professional, delighting the crowd as he did a running Gene Kelly
vault over the light-bulb mascot of the Croatian
national power company, HEP. A Balkan breakdancer windmilled on the clay (exactly what you
think that looks like), and Monfils took him on in a
dance-off. If Federer is the tennis Superman, with
powers so great they can make plot lines a little
too predictable, Monfils is something else entirely.
He is consumed by a quest many doubt he is even
on, and the phenomenal beauty and mastery of
his game may end up not being enough to overcome opponents or himself. I bumbled through
this theory the first time I sat down with Monfils
on the Istrian Peninsula. He chuckled and said:
‘‘Welcome to my mind, my head.’’
ONFILS IS FRENCH but has lived in Switzerland
since turning pro in 2004. He considers himself
also to be Caribbean; his mother is from Martinique, and his father is from Guadeloupe. ‘‘They
gave me an island education,’’ he said. (Tattooed
on his arms are the outlines of both islands and
the key to his grandmother’s front door in Martinique.) Monfils grew up in the 19th Arrondissement of Paris, a largely immigrant neighborhood in the northeast of the city. He says he
inherited his athleticism from his father, Rufin,
who came to France to play professional soccer and later worked for a telecommunications
company. But Monfils chose tennis for its individuality, despite the children outside their
high-rise taunting him for playing what they
called a rich, white sport. ‘‘I like to win and lose
on my own,’’ he explained. From his mother,
Sylvette, a retired nurse who is about to move
back to her native island, Monfils says he learned
that tennis is only a game. At the end of even the
most bitter losses, he embraces his opponents
as if genuinely happy for them. He is known to
crack up the stoic umpires during matches and
correct calls in favor of his opponent.
Monfils says the French Tennis Federation at
first refused to provide him with coaching and
other financial help — he never figured out why
— but at 13 he was ‘‘the best, so they had to help
me.’’ He left home and never returned, going first
to one federation center outside Paris and then
another. He grew up at these tennis schools with
Simon, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga,
all of them turning pro (and eventually becoming Swiss residents) and remaining close friends.
In 2004, at 17, Monfils won the junior singles
Gaël Monfils
in his fourthround match
against
Rafael Nadal at
the 2017
Australian
Open.
Monfils taking
a break at the
Rock Creek Park
Tennis Center
in Washington,
where he
participated in
this summer’s
Citi Open
tournament.
events at the Australian Open, the French Open
and Wimbledon. When I asked him what he
considered his greatest professional match,
he answered before I finished the question. It
was later in 2004, at the Paris Masters, against
Lleyton Hewitt, then the world’s No. 3. Monfils
lost 6-3, 7-6 and hit 46 unforced errors. But the
energy of the huge home crowd, the closeness
of the second set — ‘‘it was unreal,’’ he said.
‘‘That was why I have to play against those guys
every time.’’ He beat his first Top 10 player soon
after that, and by the next year he was ranked
in the Top 30 himself.
The commentators during his matches almost
always joke that Monfils must have driven his
former coaches crazy. But like his peers on the
tour, his coaches adore him. If Monfils is quirky,
he is also kind, loyal and eager for the guidance
and strenuous work. ‘‘He wasn’t contacting me
because I was available,’’ said Roger Rasheed,
an Australian who coached Hewitt, referring to
the cold call he received in 2008, when Monfils’s
ranking had stalled around 30. ‘‘He was looking
for something that would make him improve.
He knew I was a hard-ass.’’ The work they did
together over the next three years was as much
48
8.27.17
mental as it was physical and strategic. ‘‘I get
people to understand what elite behavior looks
like,’’ Rasheed explained. ‘‘ ‘Am I behaving in an
elite way that helps me use my skill set in the
best way and use it as often as I can?’ I teach
them to live in that space.’’ He guided Monfils
into the Top 10, working him as if he were in the
finals of a Grand Slam and making him understand how intimidated opponents would be if
he was completely committed to every point.
I played junior tennis and lower-division
college, and many times I wished for someone
like Roger Rasheed, someone who would train
me like an elite player. But at other, clearer
moments, I knew I was lying to myself. ‘‘Not a
lot of people want to go in that space,’’ Rasheed
said. It is a dark place. The single-minded devotion required to master the technique and timing is not only life-sapping; it makes the stakes
of failure so much higher. Trying to concentrate
shot after shot is a kind of mania in itself. In tennis, you’re alone on the court, exposed, battling
your own body and mind even as you’re battling
your opponent across the court, someone else
who has been taught to live in that elite space
since the age of 9. After an especially long point,
your legs wobbly and your lungs pleading for
air, you tell yourself you’ll play as many points
like that as it takes to win, but more frequently
a tiny part of you concedes. Tennis is like boxing
in that you have to be willing to take a punch to
deliver a blow yourself. The natural reaction is
to recoil from the pain.
‘‘I think some players have put the cue in the
racks and decided to be comfortable around the
Big Four,’’ Rasheed said. Unconsciously and not,
they have been stripped of conviction, questioning
whether it is worth the herculean effort to commit
like those guys. On every single shot, Nadal looks
as if he’s hurling a life preserver a thousand feet
to rescue his drowning mother. To challenge for
slams, Djokovic adopted an asceticism that had
him forgo gluten, dairy and sugar. And Murray
in his pursuit stalks the court between points in
a muttering and barking rage. Monfils told me
that he has always believed in himself, but you
can hear how that belief has been tempered for
this era. ‘‘I played the French Open 12 times,’’ he
told me. ‘‘Nine times it’s Rafa who wins. Roger
just caught his 19th slam.’’ He went on: ‘‘They’re
legends. Sometimes people don’t like the truth.
The truth is these guys were just better than me.’’
Photograph by Dina Litovsky/Redux, for The New York Times
HE DAY after the exhibition was the Wimbledon
final, but Monfils took to the courts beyond the
walls of the stadium to practice. Other players filled the courts around him. Croatians on
holiday sat in their swimwear on the concrete
slabs along the sidelines watching as Monfils
alternated side to side, hitting two forehands,
two backhands. He directed each ball back to
a 20-year-old named Marc Polmans, No. 207 in
the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings, an Australian by way of South Africa.
Monfils’s forehand is a big, menacing wallop,
with his right leg planted far behind him and
his right arm yanked back above his shoulder
like the exaggerated windup of a Vaudeville slap.
With lashing uppercuts, he can topspin the ball
into lovely parabolic flights or flatten out the
arc, hitting harder with less margin for error,
sometimes jumping with a balletic scissor kick
to generate even more force. His two-handed
backhand is simpler, his swiveled torso remarkably still as his arms swiftly barrel-toss forward.
Monfils was getting his feel and wind back after
a few days of rest following his loss to Mannarino; jogging along the Adriatic that morning,
I passed him running intervals. He was acclimating to the clay as well. (The Croatian Open
is a lower-level A.T.P. tournament, and it’s also
part of a blip in the regimented tennis year — a
three-week mini clay season in Europe between
the grass of Wimbledon and the hard courts in
North America that culminate at the U.S. Open.)
In one drill, Monfils sprinted the 78 feet from
baseline to baseline, sliding as he made his turn,
sprinted back and then jumped into the point
against Polmans.
Monfils has doleful saucer eyes, a high forehead and a riot of short dreadlocks that seem to
be pointing him in every direction. At 6-foot-4,
he is big even for, say, an N.F.L. wide receiver.
As large and powerful as he is, though, he plays
a defensive style of tennis. He is comfortable
seven feet behind the baseline, chasing down
balls, waiting for his opponent to miss or leave
himself open to attack. And because he’s so fast
and agile, Monfils gets to balls no one else can,
turning desperation into aggression. Many players in today’s power baseline game take short
balls and back up, in the same way the N.B.A.’s
Stephen Curry flashes to the three-point line
rather than head to the rim for a layup. Why
go where you’re not at your best when you can
crush an inside-out forehand harder than you hit
an overhead? ‘‘All my career they say, ‘You have
to be more aggressive, come to the net. You’re
so athletic,’ ’’ Monfils said. Very few players serve
and volley with regularity. The opponents are too
strong, the rackets and strings too advanced, the
returns too fast. Federer epitomizes the modern
offensive style; he plants himself on the baseline
and moves inexorably forward with each shot,
looking to strike a winner. That’s what coaches
have wanted Monfils to do. ‘‘ ‘Buddy, calm down,
I cannot volley,’ ’’ Monfils said, recalling his years
of exasperated responses. ‘‘ ‘I’m not like that. I
won’t change for you.’ ’’
Tillstrom, whom Monfils hired at the end of
2015, told me by phone that he has been trying
to get Monfils to put more pressure on his opponents, to not settle for trading shots from deep
in the court. He should use his powerful serve
and groundstrokes, Tillstrom said, to set up his
improved net game and to put away short forehands. Tillstrom wants Monfils to focus more
intently during the early rounds of tournaments,
which could shorten his matches against lesser
players and help him retain strength for when
he finally faces the guys at the top. It is also a
way to avoid injury for a player who has been
sidelined by bad knees, ankles and wrists, some
of the damage due to sliding on hard courts
and launching himself fully horizontal on dives.
Gilles Simon, who first met Monfils when
he was 14 and Monfils was 12, has an amazing
mind for tennis and will almost certainly be a
coach one day. He can remember the final score
of nearly every pro match Monfils has played,
and in each case he can offer an analysis of how
his friend might have better utilized his huge
strengths and protected his weaknesses. (He has
beaten Monfils seven of the nine times they’ve
played as professionals.) ‘‘The emotional part
with Gaël is much more important than with
any other player: It’s almost all of it,’’ he told
me in the players’ locker room in Umag, as
Monfils was passing by. ‘‘He doesn’t like to win
6-1, 6-1. He needs some drama at some point.
The showman who likes to play tricky shots will
show up, and he forgets to win the match.’’ His
advice was similar to Tillstrom’s. ‘‘ ‘Bro, kill the
guy when you have to kill them, and don’t play
your [expletive] on court. Because you are so
super strong, everyone is afraid to play you. But
everyone knows they are going to come back
against you because you are going to make them
come back in the match.’ ’’
After two hours of practicing with Polmans,
Monfils called it quits. But first he rallied with
a 12-year-old top junior who was taking in the
tournament. The boy’s father had asked the
night before, and of course Monfils agreed.
After 15 minutes, Monfils even shouted, ‘‘First
to 11,’’ and they played groundstroke games.
‘‘Am I going to win?’’ Monfils clowned. ‘‘I don’t
know.’’ I asked him later if there was a pro who
hit with him when he was that age. He hit one
shot against Venus Williams, he said. He was
11, and she 17 and already a U.S. Open finalist, and Monfils’s father took him to a clinic
she was conducting. ‘‘I drop-shot her,’’ Monfils
announced proudly. ‘‘I was so happy. Obviously,
she didn’t run after it. I remind her of it, I say:
‘Yeah, I won a point off Venus Williams.’ ’’
ONFILS WILL TURN 31 during this year’s U.S. Open.
No longer is that old for professional tennis. The
top five men are all 30 or older; Federer is 36.
Monfils has added injury-prevention exercises
with resistance bands and balance balls to his daily
routine, and Asics just extended its endorsement
deal with him for another five years. ‘‘What goes
down over time is the traveling part and the separation from private life,’’ he said. ‘‘This is getting
tougher.’’ To remedy this in Croatia, he was staying
in a villa with one his best friends from Geneva;
next door was his brother, Daryl, who was the top
singles player at Virginia Commonwealth University last year (they have a sister, too, who is a promising junior in France), and his cousin Jeremy Filet.
When we talked at the villa, Monfils beckoned
over his cousin, an aspiring hip-hop artist whose
nom de rap is Yung Fille. Monfils played a beat
he created, and Filet rapped over it, with Monfils
adding exclamations at the end of each line.
A conversation with Monfils is a physical activity. He speaks with his entire body, bobbing in
and out as if dodging jabs. After making a point,
he exhaled loudly, a Gallic fuhgeddaboudit, and
placed his cupped hands on the table in front of us
and slid them around for emphasis, as if he were
a sharpie doing the shell game. He took out his
phone and showed me the stream of racist posts
on social media he received after every loss. ‘‘It’s
the way people think and the way life is,’’ he said,
shrugging. His tennis idol is Arthur Ashe. He didn’t
mean Ashe’s style of play, which he’d never seen.
‘‘The legacy he left behind,’’ Monfils said. ‘‘What
he did for Yannick Noah,’’ whose father was from
Cameroon and who is the last Frenchman to win
a slam, back in 1983. (Ashe was on a good-will tour
in Africa when he hit with Noah, then 11, and soon
helped enroll him in a French tennis academy.)
Tillstrom phoned, and Monfils excused himself. It turned out they were talking about a personal matter, not a tennis one — Monfils needed
some advice about a gift for his girlfriend. That
redirected our conversation to watchmaking. His
Swiss girlfriend works for an auction house dealing in fine watches, and Monfils has been training
as a watchmaker, thinking he might work in the
luxury-watch industry after he retires from tennis.
He searched for the English names for the pieces
of the watch assembly. Le rouage? L’échappement?
He is fascinated by the role
(Continued on Page 58)
The New York Times Magazine
49
Illustrations by
Nathan Fox
The peculiar pleasures —
and occasional pitfalls — of
attending an entire Grand
Slam tournament.
By Geoff Dyer
51
SPORTING tournament is also a festival. As much
an English festival as Glastonbury, Wimbledon is
also a pilgrimage site. Radiohead or Rafa play the
main stage, but some duo you’ve never heard of
called Isner-Mahut will do something so incredible on Court 18 that everyone will be trying to get
in to see them. Their heroic exertions have since
been memorialized with a plaque, and Court 18
is now a historic site for the tennis faithful even
when nothing much is happening there.
As with pilgrimages and festivals, people are
on their best behavior. Arriving at Southfields
Tube station — confusingly, a more convenient
station than the various Wimbledons — the
mood is more buoyant, the level of civility
higher than it was wherever your journey started. The spirit of the festival emanates from the
grounds and into the surrounding neighborhood. Inside, it’s a temporary utopia. It might
be difficult to get in, but once you are in, the
atmosphere is inclusive. (Even the presence of
that advertisement for the Jacobean tendencies
of the French Open, the hated royal box, these
days offers only symbolic resistance to the feeling of togetherness.)
Dressing up in costumes tends to be limited
to campy re-creations of the Borg-McEnroe era
(hair, headbands and skimpy shorts), but as with
any self-respecting festival, there is a considerable degree of intoxication. Flushing Meadows
has the reputation of being more raucous than
SW19, but Wimbledon is in England, and we
English pride ourselves on being able to chuck
it down our necks with the best of them. Beer,
52
8.27.17
Champagne, Pimm’s — you sell it, we’ll swill
it. It’s really striking how much boozing goes
on. And yet the standard of behavior remains
consistently high. Lest this sound sentimental,
I should also point out that Wimbledon is the
most heavily militarized of all the Slams. In the
wake of terror attacks in the capital, visitors
this year were treated to the not-necessarilyreassuring sight of officers patrolling with body
armor and assault riffles, but a large number
of stewards have always been soldiers and sailors. Unfailingly polite, courteous and helpful
they may be — but they’re still the military. So
although there is no trouble and everyone happily buys into the social codes and etiquette of
Wimbledon, it’s a useful reminder that Gramsci’s notion of hegemony assumes that consent
is underwritten by the possibility of coercion
and force. Mainly the soldiers and stewards help
people find their seats and make sure no one
is moving around or standing except during
the end-changes. At an Andy Murray match,
a woman seated near me unfurled a Scottish
flag — and was told that was not permitted.
This came as a surprise but is, on reflection, an
excellent prohibition. A shared love of national
flag waving might form the basis for some kind
of accord between North Korea and the United States; Centre Court is better off without it.
Any deviations or transgressions are dealt with
courteously and quickly. The nearest we came to
a ruckus was when a highly regarded journalist
stood up and tried to leave at the end of a game,
but not during an end-change. A soldier told him
to sit down. The journalist started running his
mouth, swearing, whereupon the soldier shifted
into a different register, making it clear that the
request to sit down had become an order and
that this order would be vigorously enforced.
Having thoroughly enjoyed this altercation, I
later asked the soldier how close the journalist
had been to getting his ass kicked. ‘‘Well,’’ he
said in a heavy, friendly Jamaican accent, ‘‘if
we’d met outside, in civvy street. . . . ’’
Although Wimbledon is a festival, there is no
music; players enter the court unannounced,
without fanfare. It’s the opposite of the yearending A.T.P. Finals at the O2 arena in London,
where the unfortunate paradigm is that of a
nightclub — flashing lights, blaring music. Players come from all over the world, obviously, but
Wimbledon retains the feel of a local tournament
where the standard of play happens to be exceptionally high — and this is especially evident on
the smaller courts.
I’d had a great desire to experience the Wimbledon fortnight, in the flesh and in its entirety,
ever since I was turned away at the gates in 1980.
I had actually caught some of the same acts —
excuse me, the same players — earlier in the year
when the caravan passed through Indian Wells,
Calif. So I knew whom to look out for, who was
up and coming, even though I knew, also from
Indian Wells, that it’s difficult to recall exactly
whom you saw play the day after watching them.
A tennis tournament is a narrative that is all the
time consuming itself. Defined by elimination as
well as survival — by the end of the first round
half the players are toast — it’s as much a demonstration of instant amnesia as it is of memory.
The most-sought-after tickets are always for
the semifinals or finals of a tournament, but the
first rule of tennis narrative is that a great match
can break out at any time, between any players,
on any court. And that’s not all. A match that
looks certain to be over in the next 15 minutes
can turn, in that quarter of an hour, into an epic
whose end is nowhere in sight. Nothing is better,
for a spectator, than to sense this happening, to
feel a match gradually — which in tennis can be an
exact synonym of suddenly — tightening its grip,
becoming, for the uncertain extent of its duration,
the center of the tournament. The question then
becomes how to maximize the chances of your
being there, of happening upon this happening.
Y TURNING UP, in my case, at Court 3 to watch
Nick Kyrgios, whom I saw play at Indian Wells,
whom I also missed at Indian Wells when he
withdrew from his match against Roger Federer because of food poisoning. Their encounter
a few weeks later in Miami was reportedly the
best men’s match of the year. So Kyrgios was one
of the batch of young male players — along with
Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem — with the
potential to make it to the end of the tournament.
As it turned out, Kyrgios didn’t even make it to
the end of the match. When they are not chasing
something — a ball, other runners — all athletes
move in such a way as to preserve as much energy
as possible. Many of them move as though they
are underwater; Kyrgios was moving as though
on the ocean floor — and not only between but
during points. A big man in even bigger shorts,
he looked severely hobbled, but because this
hobbling seemed an extension of his normal
lugubriousness, it seemed that he was hobbled
not just by his wounded hip but by the hunched
ontology of himself.
The trainer was called, and Kyrgios quit, establishing the keynote for this year’s tournament:
players taking to the stage injured, unable to compete properly but fit enough to pick up their fee.
There was talk of Murray’s dodgy hip, of Novak
Djokovic’s gammy elbow, his wonky shoulder, his
interesting personal life, which, as John McEnroe
later put it, was maybe going the way of Tiger
Woods’s. In addition to the tennis narrative, there
are always these personal or extrasporting stories
whose kinks and twists become entwined in the
sporting narrative because of the effect they have
on that mysterious spot, the athlete’s head.
But it wasn’t Djokovic who retired the next
day, it was his opponent, Martin Klizan, followed immediately by Federer’s ailing adversary,
Alexandr Dolgopolov. Obliged to wear all white,
a surprising number of male players were waving the white flag before they had even broken
sweat. Routinely frustrated by our national railways and airline, the packed and good-natured
Centre Court crowd let up a groan of epic disappointment as two players in a day called it a
day in rapid succession. The umpire was quick
to announce that there would be further play in
the shape of Caroline Wozniacki against Timea
Babos, and calm was restored before the attendant troops were called into action.
This flurry of towel-throwing-in introduces
the corollary to a point made earlier: Just as you
never know when a great match will break out,
so too you never know when you’re going to
be sold a pup. Unless you’re watching Bernard
Tomic, in which case, he made clear after his
first-round defeat by Mischa Zverev on Court 14,
there’s a good chance he’ll be going through the
motions. Post-match news conferences are generally a bore. Tomic’s was sensational because he
revealed what must be the unpalatable truth: that
the tour can become a bit of a grind. ‘‘I couldn’t
care less if I make a fourth-round U.S. Open or I
lose first round,’’ he yawned. ‘‘To me, everything
is the same.’’ His existential indifference was
— as my pal, the veteran tennis writer Michael
Mewshaw, said later — like Meursault’s at the
opening of Camus’s ‘‘The Stranger’’: ‘‘Maman
died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.
. . . That doesn’t mean anything.’’
Here we were at a temple of tennis, and one
of the gods we came to worship — a minor
and thoroughly unattractive deity, admittedly,
but still a very tall one — told us that he didn’t
believe. Or more accurately, that he didn’t care
about our faith, that he was getting paid whether
we believed or not. I say we came to worship,
and as with Christianity, that worship is predicated on suffering. Stan Wawrinka — who also
went out early, to Daniil Medvedev in the first
round — had previously talked about making his
opponents suffer, and we need to believe that the
riches and glory that go to the players are built
on a willingness to be nailed to the cross of their
highly remunerative vocation. That’s the contract
or covenant.
Even Federer, who floats around the court as if
he could run on water without making a splash,
put in hard work during those long months in the
Swiss wilderness of physical rehabilitation last
year. Most of us are not particularly dedicated to
living our lives. We don’t even pursue affairs with
any special single-mindedness; we’re just happy
to have one if it comes along. So we like to see
the single-minded dedication of elite athletes, the
willingness to engage, if necessary, in a match
lasting 11 hours (Isner-Mahut), even if the result
of that victory is defeat by exhaustion in the next
round. Never give up. Chase down every ball.
HE SCORING SYSTEM of tennis actively promotes
this dogged determination, and Rafael Nadal
exemplified it as he tried to come back from two
sets down against Gilles Müller on No. 1 Court
on the second Monday. That’s a busy day in any
tournament, so if you have a ticket, you’re confident of value for money, wherever you’re seated.
The situation is more complicated if, like me, you
have a rover press pass, which enables you to get
in everywhere but doesn’t guarantee that you
can get in anywhere. There is always the chance
that in trying to maximize your experience of
all potential matches, you can end up stranded
between them. I saw Venus Williams beat Ana
Konjuh and most of Murray against Benoît Paire
on Centre Court, watched Müller take the first
two sets against Nadal on No. 1 Court and then
went back to Centre to make sure I got a seat for
Grigor Dimitrov and Federer. I had already seen
a lot of tennis — both that day and the previous
week — but aesthetically this was likely to be the
highlight of the entire tournament.
I have a simple rule of support in tennis:
Always root for the player with a single-handed
backhand. That’s why I somewhat lost interest
in the women’s game after the abdication of the
great Justine Henin. Dimitrov and Federer are
two of the most elegant single-handers. Except,
of course, tennis is not a beauty contest. In this
case, it wasn’t even a contest, as Dimitrov, celebrated since winning Junior Wimbledon in 2008
as a king in waiting, was obliged to wait some
more as he was swept aside. Nadal, meanwhile,
had leveled things up, but Müller, instead of collapsing in the fifth set under the mental burden of
a squandered two-set lead, was hanging on. They
were both hanging on, on the brink of collapse
and refusing to collapse — and there were, as I
discovered after scrambling back to No. 1 Court,
no empty seats. I couldn’t get back in.
Missing one of the pivotal matches of the tournament, I was reduced to watching the drama
unfold silently on a muted TV in the press office.
The one advantage of this was the way close-ups
revealed the expression of almost catatonic concentration on Müller’s face, but I was otherwise
in an awful predicament. I wanted the match to
be over so that I wouldn’t miss any more of it;
I wanted it to continue so that I might have a
chance of getting in and seeing it. The compromise was to dash over to Henman Hill and watch
it on the big screen. On the way, I looked in at
the journalists’ entrance at No. 1 Court. Plenty of
times in the course of the tournament I had hurried to a given court and arrived just after an endchange and waited as two of the longest games
The New York Times Magazine
53
54
Illustration by Nathan Fox
55
of the match got underway. On this occasion,
though, they were midchange and, incredibly,
one seat had suddenly become available. I was
in, not just watching this epic struggle but part
of it. Or was I? Having missed so much, was
I still, in a sense, missing it even while I was
seeing it? By missing the previous three hours,
had I effectively missed almost the whole thing,
like skipping 200 pages of a book — even if this
was a book of indeterminate length? I was still
pondering this five chapters later when Nadal
finally succumbed.
Which is not to say that he was quite finished.
For we require still more of players, even after
they’ve given their all: They must lose graciously. Perhaps this isn’t such an issue for audiences in America, but I have an English fondness
for the stress placed upon being a good loser,
the way that this assumes that defeat will be
the ultimate outcome of all worldly endeavor.
After shaking hands with Müller and the umpire,
Nadal proceeded to do two things that went
beyond gracious. In the other Slams, players
walk off separately. At Wimbledon, it is not a
rule — it would count for nothing if it were —
but it is a convention, not always observed, that
the players walk off together. And Nadal literally
abided by this. He waited for Müller.
It’s stirring to see the virile Italian Fabio Fognini, fist raised and clenched, after winning a
decisive point. Only a minimal amount of photoshopping would be necessary to transform pictures of him so that he’s standing triumphantly
over a stricken foe at the Colosseum rather than
Centre Court. The handshake at the end of the
match breaks the spell induced by gladiatorial competition. Part of us wants athletes to be
carried out on their shields, rather than with
aching hips, but their leaving the court together
expresses the return to communality, courtesy
and civility rather than competition. Even more
amazingly, Rafa stopped to sign autographs on
the way out. And then he was gone.
We love the prospect of an upset. We love it
in the making, as it’s happening and for a brief
moment afterward. But then the hangover sets
in. The people you wanted to see are nowhere
to be seen. For the sake of a mad fling, you’ve
thrown away the relationship that made life
meaningful. You feel bereft. After Stan Wawrinka went out to Medvedev, you said to yourself,
‘‘O.K., now I’ll follow Medvedev instead of Stan.’’
But then Medvedev went out in the next round
and, far from being a gracious loser, turned
out to be a complete jerk, throwing coins at
the umpire’s chair. That only made him a bit
of a jerk. What made him a complete jerk was
claiming afterward that he just happened to
deposit the coins there, as though guilty not
of impugning the umpire’s integrity but of the
lesser offense of fiduciary littering. So, as our
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favorites are vanquished, followed by their
vanquishers, we hiccup our way through the
tournament.
This year’s Wimbledon was like that in terms
of the consequences, but without the passion
that should accompany such mad and fatal
crushes. Players weren’t knocked out; they just
disappeared, fell by the wayside. Jo-Wilfried
Tsonga lost cruelly to Sam Querrey after their
long match was suspended because of bad light
at 5-6 in the fifth. Play resumed the next day and
lasted for precisely one game. I barely saw Tsonga, caught only a glimpse of Tsvetana Pironkova,
did not see Jack Sock sock it to anyone before
Sebastian Ofner offed him. The other side of the
coin was that I completely avoided the robotic
lumberers like John Isner, Milos Raonic and
Marin Cilic. The test of a good tennis tournament, to render it in Hemingway-ese, is whom
you can leave out.
O ONE WOULD ever want to leave out Gaël
Monfils! A peculiarity of the draw meant that
Murray met a succession of players who delight
the crowd with an exhilarating, often suicidal
addiction to trick shots. Murray was having to
chase after so many drop shots — always emitting that groan of surprised despair before he
set off yet again to retrieve the unretrievable
— that it seemed there might be something selfsacrificing about his opponents’ way of proceeding. Each was destined to lose, but the cumulative strain put on Murray’s iffy hip would soften
him up for someone later in the tournament — in
this case Querrey, another big-serving bore. The
dreadlocked Dustin Brown is the most extreme
of the tricksters, the most fun — and the most
infuriating — to watch, making opponents feel,
as was said of the footballer George Best, as if
they have twisted blood.
A few years ago Brown bamboozled Nadal
right back to Mallorca, but in the long run turning tricks is a losing strategy because it’s no
strategy at all. A Brown will eventually be beaten by a Raonic, whose ambition is to become
a tennis algorithm in human form (with the
attendant risk of making the sport unwatchably
tedious). Monfils represents the middle ground:
extravagant and efficient, with the ratio of showmanship to pragmatism in a state of constant
and unstable flux. As the No. 15 seed, he was
expected to go into the second week, even if
only briefly.
Ah, the second week. During the opening
week of a tournament, the schedule is as crowded as a rush-hour subway. After the actionpacked second Monday and Tuesday, things
thin out drastically. The atmosphere, as a result,
becomes slightly less festive, as attention gradually and inexorably shrinks to what’s happening
on the big stages. There’s a lot of doubles and
mixed doubles, but the numerical shakedown
in the singles is shocking.
The quality of matches is assumed to go up,
while the quantity goes down precipitously. This
year the quality went down in tandem. Both the
men’s and women’s tournaments stumbled into
a dying fall. Johanna Konta won an epic quarterfinal against Simona Halep, then wilted against
Venus Williams, who in turn wilted against Garbiñe Muguruza. Djokovic retired hurt, nursing a
bad elbow and feeling badly served by the way
his quarterfinal match against Tomas Berdych
had been held over after the Müller-Nadal marathon. Murray’s hip looked to be on its last legs
as he was ground into submission by Querrey.
Federer, of course, was beautiful. It was wonderful to be there, to see him, but among the
seasoned journalists, it was deemed to have
been one of the worst Wimbledons in recent
years, redeemed by gorgeous Roger winning
more gorgeously than ever.
His opponent in the final, the ferociously
lycanthropic Cilic, seemed troubled from head
(sobbing like a baby midmatch) to toe (blister),
and I suppose we must not hold it against him
that in his post-match speech, he failed even
to mention Federer, whom I have barely mentioned here on the grounds of all-consuming
‘‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’’
adoration. As matches, the men’s and women’s
finals were almost nonevents, so this little narrative will conclude instead with Monfils and a
match from the middle Saturday.
Court 12: Monfils versus Adrian Mannarino. I
had taken against Mannarino even more vehemently than the coin-chucking Medvedev for
the way he shoulder-barged a ball boy during a
changeover in an earlier match. He complained
that the authorities prioritized ball boys over
players — thereby negating the alternative
defense that it had been an accident, not an
incident. I had a really good seat that turned
out to be a really bad seat: courtside, sun-side,
getting a face full of Indian Wells-style heat, like
Meursault on the beach in Algiers. After the second set I had to leave, fearing I was on the way
to sunstroke. Or maybe it was just stroke-stroke:
overexposure to tennis strokes, the cumulative
effect of watching more live tennis in the course
of six days than I had in the rest of my life.
Today’s tennis players don’t just crush the
ball; they pulverize it, and I was feeling pulverized by watching them do it. But unlike Tomic
the tank engine, I dug deep and came back, to a
seat on the other side of the court, where the sun
fried the back of my head. I was two rows from
the front, right behind the court attendants.
There were about eight of them, young men and
women, students I guessed, whose job was to
hold umbrellas over the players during changeovers and not a lot else. Other than that and
apart from watching the match, it was hard to
tell whether some of them were ‘‘working’’ or
taking a break from working another court as
they helped themselves to nice-looking sandwiches, strawberries and mints from the wellstocked coolers behind the players’ chairs.
I envied them so much. It reminded me of
the summer of 1980, when, after leaving Oxford,
I first lived in London. A friend from college
had the same kind of job as these kids, went to
Wimbledon every day and then came back to
my flat — just one stop away on the Tube — and
told me about the games she saw. Her job had
been secured in advance, but like a day laborer in the Great Depression, I turned up at the
Wimbledon gates on the first day, hoping that
I might be hired on the optimistic basis that I
was an Oxford graduate. I was turned away and,
until this year, had been back to Wimbledon
only once, for one day.
The court attendants were dressed in green
polo shirts and shorts and made sure to apply
sunscreen to their arms and legs, sharing everything and generally hanging out in the sun
love the prospect of an
upset. We love it in the
making, as it’s happening
and for a brief moment
afterward. But then the
hangover sets in.
watching tennis. I wished I were one of them.
It was a funny day. In the third set, I received a
text saying that a bunch of friends, all in their
50s, were heading to a party — a ravey-type thing
— in Braziers Park in Oxfordshire, where they
would all be spending the weekend. Did I want
to come? I couldn’t because I was at Wimbledon, where I’d wanted to be for nearly 40 years,
and that night, if the tennis finished in time, I
was going to a friend’s 50th-birthday party in
East London. It turned out to be a terrific party,
mainly because I was able to spend the night
boasting about how I’d been at Wimbledon all
day, all week — but all day and all evening, part
of me was half-full of regret that I was missing
the other party at Braziers Park. I was also missing my wife, who was on an Air New Zealand
plane to Los Angeles (she booked that rather
than British Airways because of the threat of
strike action), and it’s possible that she was on
one of the planes I could see lumbering through
the crowded skies over SW19. This was all going
through my head while Monfils and the ball-boy
barger ran and belted the ball, but I felt a great
sense of well-being. I had reached a point of
equilibrium or weightlessness whereby all the
contradictory impulses that make up my life
were in a strange sort of harmony, so although
I was wishing that I was going to Braziers
Park and although I was missing my wife, I
was entirely content, completely present in
the moment, as present in the moment as the
players have to be, always playing the ball
not the point, concentrating on the point not
the game, the game not the set, and the set
not the match and so on. The balls were sunyellow, and the grass was a jaded green where
it had not been baked and rubbed to rutted
dust. One moment Monfils and Mannarino
were teasing the ball, the next they were belting it. Unsure whether it was coming or going,
the ball settled for both. Outside the grounds
were leafy trees and a lovely church steeple,
or spire, if they are not one and the same. A
Union Jack hung limply in a sky of melted
blue. Brexit was a horrible reality. Every now
and again came the roar from No. 2 Court,
where I had missed Tsonga. A court attendant took a nice-looking green apple, green
as the remaining grass, from the cooler. I was
tempted to ask if I could have one but thought
better of it. Another member of the team leapt
up to shut the drink-fridge door after Monfils
failed to close it properly. I love being in a
group, would love to have been part of this
group, sitting in the sun, applying sun cream
and having the time of my life, even though I
was almost certainly at least as old as — probably older than — their parents.
Two sets all. The court attendants were
a separate crew from the ball boys, but I
wanted to suggest, partly as a joke, that out of
solidarity they get Mannarino on his own and
rough him up for deliberately shoulder-barging
the ball boy, even if this might have seemed a bit
Brexity, him being French. Certain rallies were
punctuated by the automatic fire of cameras
with heavy telephoto lenses. I was at Wimbledon. It was the summer of Brexit means Brexit
and the Grenfell Tower fire. I was looking forward to seeing Christopher Nolan’s ‘‘Dunkirk’’
the moment it came out, on the biggest screen
possible, but I was also fully engaged in the
match without really following it, conscious of
everything: the green trees, the courts, class,
politeness, the way that Monfils, with his furrowed brow, looked older between points than
he did while playing. I was 59 and felt almost
delirious for a multitude of conflicting reasons,
some heat-related, some derived from the fact
that ‘‘we are merely the stars’ tennis-balls, struck
and banded whichever way please them,’’ a line
that sounds like Shakespeare’s but isn’t, though
it does make you wonder how long ago tennis
was invented and whether ‘‘branded’’ might now
be better than ‘‘banded.’’ There were amazing
points and rallies. The ball was being hit with
such power that it seemed impossible that it
would land in the court or that anyone could
get it back when it did, but both kept happening
— both both and neither. Wimbledon, clearly,
was the single best thing about England apart
from the beer I was looking forward to swilling, in quantity, at my friend’s 50th, unless there
was Champagne, in which case I’d be swilling
a load of that. Sitting here on Court 12 was like
watching a match at the vicarage, in the middle
of a Texas heat wave. I felt like T. S. Eliot at Little Gidding or something. My seat was so good
it’s possible I was too close to the court, to the
action, to follow it properly. I was completely
absorbed in the match but I kept thinking ahead
to ‘‘Dunkirk’’ and back to that summer of 1980,
when I came here and didn’t get a job as steward or court attendant or whatever it was I was
hoping for. Monfils was running and playing,
hitting such magical shots that when he reached
into his pocket for a ball you half expected him
to pull out a white rabbit. He was also losing. He
leaned on his racket, hand on one knee, looking
sort of vanquished, as he had at Indian Wells,
when he won against whoever it was in spite
of having a terrible cold. This time around he
was circling the drain, being forced toward it
by his fellow Frenchman, the ball-boy barger,
and eventually the inevitable occurred, and he
lost. The Frenchmen shook hands and it was
over, but the Union Jack still hung limply against
the jet-blue sky and I slowly emerged from my
trance, a tennis trance that was also some kind
of England-my-England trance. Roger would be
back on Centre Court again soon.
The New York Times Magazine
57
Monfils
(Continued from Page 49)
of each part in the mechanism, the wheels, levers,
springs, every component interlocking and moving in sync. ‘‘Everybody thinks I’m not focused,
and I’m very focused when I do my watch,’’ he said.
The next day I spoke on the phone with Eric
Winogradsky of the French Tennis Federation,
who coached Monfils for a couple of months in
2013. It was a low point for Monfils, who was
coming back from a knee injury and had fallen
out of the Top 100. The two of them went for long
walks, discussing life as well as the game. ‘‘Gaël’s
feelings are not common,’’ Winogradsky told me.
‘‘He is a nice and really sensitive person. He has
to try all these things. That’s what makes Gaël so
interesting and complex.’’ To win a Grand Slam,
Winogradsky believes a player must commit to
it religiously for a year to a year and a half, building a rhythm and intensity, going deep in every
tournament to get used to competing against
the top guys time and again. For that stretch, the
off-court pastimes needed to be ignored.
‘‘Are you saying he would be a better tennis
player if he was less interesting?’’ I asked Winogradsky. The question seemed to pain him, and
he thought in silence on the other end of the line.
‘‘That we won’t be able to answer until the
very end of his career. If next month he wins a
Grand Slam. . . .’’
One afternoon in Umag, Monfils and Goffin
played a practice set on center court. The stands
were empty save for the men power-washing
the seats before the night’s matches, and for me.
Watching these two up close, I could see the utter
freakishness of their foot and racket speed. They
glided around the court, sliding ‘‘Matrix’’-like to
catch up with balls that were already past them.
They scooted around backhands to unload on
forehands and took full home-run cuts on their
returns of speeding, skidding serves. It was hot
and dry, and clouds of red clay swirled around
them. Near the end of the set, Monfils couldn’t
miss. He hit winners from both wings. He ran
around one backhand and, crouching, waited to hit
a forehand with his back foot in the doubles alley,
leaving the rest of his side of the court exposed.
But he yanked the ball across his body, jumping as
he hit a down-the-line screecher so obscenely hard
that the scrambling, sliding Goffin wasn’t within
five feet when the winner caromed off the back
wall. This was kill-the-guy, no-nonsense Gaël. This
was competing-in-Grand-Slams Monfils.
Two days later, after a first-round bye, Monfils
played his first match of the Croatia Open. His
opponent was Rogerio Dutra Silva, a 33-year-old
Brazilian ranked No. 64 in the world who lost only
three games in his first-round win. Clay is Dutra’s
best surface, and by the second game he and
Monfils were already locked in 25-shot rallies, the
pendulum patterns of their groundstrokes making
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8.27.17
them look as if they were running suicides sideline
to sideline. Ten minutes in, they each struggled for
breath, with runnels of sweat rolling off them. On
the pro tour, it’s not just the Big Four or the Top 20
who are a threat. Monfils drifted farther behind the
baseline, relying on his side-to-side speed, sliding
almost into the splits as he wound up for his huge
forehand, sending the lines judges fleeing. The fans
cheered him, chanting: ‘‘Guy-el! Guy-el!’’ The first
set went into a tiebreaker. Monfils netted an insideout forehand and lost the breaker 5-7.
Monfils has many on-court oddities. On his
serve, he hurries to start each point, as if late for
an appointment. On his return of serve, he bends
so far at the waist that he has to look up, hunched
lower than the line judges behind him, like someone nearsighted trying to read the prices of the
meats in the deli counter. After long points, he
doubles over, leaning on his racket like a cane.
He ties and reties his shoelaces with single knots.
On changeovers, he sits on his side of the net,
his eyes scanning the stands, watching people
as they moved about — the opposite of tunnel
vision. At a couple of moments during the match,
after endurance-test rallies, he spotted me in my
seat along the far sideline. Feeling awkward, worried about jinxing him, I was the one to break eye
contact. Or maybe I imagined this, and it’s just
that he makes everyone feel as if they’re struggling through the drama with him.
Between the sets, the clay was dragged, the lines
were swept, the court was made pristine like an
unblemished beach of cinnamon. When Monfils
stepped onto it for the second set, the player who
appeared was the one from the practice set with
Goffin. He jumped inside the baseline on Dutra’s
serve, pounding the balls down the line, gaining
the advantage. He used his shots not to extend the
rallies but as one-two combinations, setting up the
knockout blows. He went ahead 4-0 and held on
to win the set 6-4.
The second point of the deciding set lasted
34 shots, Monfils ending it by winding up for a
high backhand from the corner and stopping
his swing to slink the ball delicately over the net.
‘‘Allez, Monfils!’’ people shouted. I have to imagine
that what draws people to Monfils is not only his
superhuman ability but also the fickleness of his
powers. On a ho-hum rally ball, he hit a forehand
long. Then he charged to the net to put away a volley. Then he double-faulted. Then he froze Dutra
on a drop shot that seemed to break Newton’s
laws of motion. Then he tossed in an 84-milesan-hour first serve that Dutra destroyed. Then he
aced Dutra at 123 m.p.h. That was just one game.
It was the human condition.
After more than two hours of play, with the
score tied 3-3 in the last set, Monfils had a break
point to win the decisive game. He batted his
return of serve crosscourt at an extreme angle. It
was a perfect shot that Dutra had to stretch and
reach low for on his one-handed backhand 10 feet
off the court. Monfils moved forward to guard
against a desperation crosscourt chop. Instead,
Dutra dug up the ball and sent it up over the highest part of the net, hitting the sideline deep on the
other side. It was video-game tennis, and Monfils,
unable to reach the ball, screeched and jerked back
as if he’d been electrocuted. He clapped a hand on
his racket face, and Dutra acknowledged it with
a quick thumbs-up reply. Dutra hit lines on two
more points, and Monfils, flummoxed, planted
himself on the edge of the stands, staring imploring at his family and friends.
Monfils double-faulted three consecutive times
to fall behind 3-5, then failed to convert on three
more break points the following game. He lost
7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-3. He draped an arm around Dutra
and congratulated him. He smiled as he shook the
umpire’s hand. ‘‘Today wasn’t a good day,’’ Monfils
would say in a news conference later. ‘‘I gave my
best.’’ But before that, he asked the tournament
director to turn on the lights on one of the side
courts, the one closest to the Dance Arena, the
Istria Gourmet Zone and the gleaming white stalls
selling cigarettes. He practiced serves, cracking
one after the other. His cousin popped open a case
of balls, filling the box with them, and stood at half
court, feeding forehands. Monfils blasted each one
harder than the last. A hundred people gathered in
the darkness surrounding the court, watching in
silence at what looked like punishment. With each
of his shots, the wheezing exhaust from Monfils’s
lungs was audible. He rested momentarily, his
head slung low, then hit some more. I felt embarrassed, but also moved, to see him so exposed.
After 30 minutes more, Monfils limped off the
court. He had nowhere to go but through the
crowd, which now demanded the exhibition man.
Children held up giant novelty tennis balls for autographs. Monfils, red-eyed, signed them all. People pressed against him for selfies, smiling at the
phones lofted in their outstretched arms, twisting
their faces into goofy expressions. ‘‘Straight away
after the match, I wanted to address everything
and work on it,’’ Monfils explained at the news
conference. The summer would be long, and he
headed next to Washington and Montreal and on
to the U.S. Open. It was there, in 2014, that he was
perhaps closest to fulfilling his dream. He won his
early rounds without dropping a set. Nadal was out
with an injury, and Murray, Djokovic and Wawrinka would all be beaten on the opposite side of the
draw. In the quarterfinals against Federer, Monfils
held two match points. He was unable to convert.
‘‘Some people will say, ‘I don’t want to lose
time,’ ’’ Monfils told me when he described his
preoccupation with watches and their hold on
our sense of our lives. ‘‘They are chasing something. You have all the time to do it. Or you’re
wasting time.’’
I asked him if he was also talking about himself chasing a Grand Slam, that his own time to
do it was running out.
‘‘Yeah, that can be true,’’ he said. He held up his
open hands and smiled. ‘‘Or not.’’
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Answers to puzzles of 8.20.17
Federer
(Continued from Page 37)
FOUND IN YOUR INBOX
F
A
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S L O
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T F O R
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R E A T
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T Z
V E R S
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A I
O A P S
O N T I
M Y
A G E
G
M O
R I C E
A S T
F O R I
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A C H
T K O
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A K I
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P R O P
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I S N O
R T O N
K A L
E C O U
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V E N
M E
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N D A
T E C O
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N F O R
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M A T
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KENKEN
ACROSTIC
KATE RUSSO, TOTAL ADDICTION — The temperature
drops. The wind picks up speed. The sunlight slowly
dims, bathing the surroundings in an eerie twilight . . . .
Moments before totality a wall of darkness comes
rushing towards you . . . this is the shadow of the Moon.
A.
B.
C.
D.
E.
F.
G.
H.
I. Out of sight
J. Transit
K. Omen
L. Thumbs-down
M. Asphodel
N. Leeward
O. Air show
P. Dilemma
Kitty Hawk
August
Twenty-one
Eclipse
Refreshing
Underbrush
Spheroid
Steamship
FOR STARTERS
Q. Detailed
R. Issue forth
S. Control
T. Tethys
U. Imposing
V. Onset
W. Night owl
BAR CODE
B C Q R U
V A L U E S
S T E E L E
M O R B
I
D
I N G E S T
P S Y C H O
Answers to puzzle on Page 62
SPELLING BEE
Phenomena (3 points). Also: Anemone, apeman,
apemen, apnea, happen, henna, homophone,
paean, peahen, penman, penmen, penne, phenom,
phenomenon, phone, phoneme. If you found other
legitimate dictionary words in the beehive, feel free
to include them in your score.
60
8.27.17
waiting in the final. (Djokovic lost early to Denis
Istomin; Mischa Zverev defeated Murray.) To
Federer fans, who often seem more battered
by Nadal’s forehands than Federer himself, this
seemed like the cruelest twist of fate. The one
constant in Federer’s career in great times and
lesser times was that Nadal got the better of him.
Federer says that in the day and a half before
the final, he and Ljubicic and his other longtime
coach, Severin Luthi, talked so much about strategy and about Nadal’s tendencies that he was
afraid his brain would be overloaded. ‘‘Sometimes you can overtalk the match, go into too
much detail, and you make it like a chess match,’’
he says. ‘‘But I felt like everything we talked
about pretty much happened.’’ Before he took
the court, Federer made a fateful decision very
much like the one he made all those years before
in Ecublens: He was going to take the ball early,
before Nadal’s topspin forehands jumped over
his shoulder, and if that led to more errors, so be
it. He wasn’t going to let Nadal get in a groove.
For someone communicating in his third or
fourth language, Federer came up with an evocative expression of what he intended to avoid:
‘‘I didn’t want to go down just making shots,
seeing forehands rain down on me from Rafa.’’
Federer’s decision to play much more aggressively was informed and reinforced by Nadal’s
semifinal against Grigor Dimitrov, a player whose
strokes so closely resemble Federer’s that he has
been saddled with the moniker Baby Fed. Federer and his team stayed up late Friday night and
watched the entire five-set match. ‘‘It was like
watching myself play, to some extent,’’ Federer says. And when he saw how much success
Dimitrov was having, particularly with his backhand, and how close he came to beating Nadal,
he saw no reason he couldn’t do a little better.
After a decade-long topspin siege from Nadal,
he had had enough, and when fans saw him
pouncing on backhands and hitting winners off
that wing to an uncommon degree — Federer
had 14 backhand winners against Nadal in this
year’s final, compared with only four in a four-set
semifinal loss on the same court in 2012 — and
when they saw the surprise in Nadal’s eyes, it
was as satisfying as seeing someone finally stand
up to a bully. For Wilander, it was simply a pragmatic tactical decision. ‘‘Against the top players,
you can’t play the game you want to play,’’ he
says. ‘‘You have to play the game they don’t like.’’
Federer’s win against Nadal, however, was
about more than technique and tactics. It was also
a psychological breakthrough. Despite Federer’s
backhand drive, Nadal still won the fourth set
and went up a break and 3-1 in the fifth. Though
Federer had squandered break point after break
point, he never lost his resolve, and never lost
another game, which is why both Gilbert and
Paul Annacone, a former pro who once coached
Federer, consider them among the most important five games of Federer’s career.
‘‘I call that a legacy match,’’ Gilbert says. ‘‘If
Rafa wins that match, there was no way you could
say Federer’s career was better than Rafa’s. It
would have been 17-15 in majors, and he [Nadal]
has owned him in career finals, and Rafa would
have the career double slam. This made it 18-14
for Roger, stopped the double slam and now it’s
19-15. That match did a lot for Roger.’’
As satisfying as the win was for Federer, the
praise for his grit rubs up against a touchy subject. ‘‘For me,’’ he says, ‘‘it’s always a fine line
between winning and losing and trying and not
trying.’’ He says that that when he wins, people
think it was a cakewalk, and that when he loses,
people think he phoned it in. ‘‘Because I don’t
sweat as much as others, or grunt as much as
others, or make faces when I hit the ball, and it’s
easier on the eye, it’s harder for people to see that
I’m actually really trying,’’ Federer says. ‘‘Australia
gave me a chance to show my fighting spirit.’’
Perhaps the best proof of how much the
championship meant to Federer is the degree
to which it set him free, and how he has played
since. Federer was quick to point out that he has
now beaten Nadal four times in a row. ‘‘These are
good times,’’ he told me.
According to Gilbert, who sat courtside at
both of those last two matches, at Indian Wells
and Miami, they represent the best tennis Federer has ever played and demonstrated that
the benefits of his new backhand have rippled
throughout his game. The improved backhand
has strengthened his return of serve; because he
doesn’t have to protect the backhand, his footwork is now more efficient, and because he’s
more inclined to stay put, he’s in better position
to hit his forehand as well.
For all their exalted Grand Slam encounters,
Federer and Nadal have never faced off in the U.S.
Open, and with last year’s finalists, Wawrinka and
Djokovic, out with injuries, hopes are high that
this will be the year it finally happens. The last
time such a prospect was this enticing was in 2008,
when Nike hyped the possibility like a heavyweight
bout, complete with a faux weigh-in, flexed biceps
and an appearance by Don King. In Montreal, Federer laughed at the memory and bellowed in his
best P.A. voice: ‘‘The grapple in the Apple!’’
But Nadal lost in the semis to Murray that year.
And because Nadal is ranked No. 2 and Federer
No. 3, their possible matchup might happen in
the semis rather than the final, depending on the
draw. In any case, Wilander believes Federer will
be ready. Though he says that to be thoroughly
convinced he’d like to see Federer come through
one more time, on the slower courts at Flushing
Meadows in Queens, he is convinced that Federer
has finally discovered the right way to play Nadal.
‘‘Tactically,’’ he says, ‘‘he has broken the code.’’
Navigate the
uncertain waters of
the migrant crisis.
Witness firsthand the efforts of the Bourbon Argos as it
conducts the last of 59 African migrant rescue missions in
the Mediterranean in 2016.
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Puzzles
SPELLING BEE
PROJECTORS
BAR CODE
By Frank Longo
By Patrick Berry
By Thinh Van Duc Lai
How many common words of 5 or more letters can
you spell using the letters in the hive? Every answer
must use the center letter at least once. Letters may
be reused in a word. At least one word will use all 7
letters. Proper names and hyphenated words are not
allowed. Score 1 point for each answer, and 3 points
for a word that uses all 7 letters.
Rating: 6 = good; 11 = excellent; 16 = genius
Answer the clues for eight words — four across and
four down — to be entered in the grid. Each answer
is one letter too long to fit, though, so either the
first or last letter will “project” outside the grid. The
clues are in no particular order. One letter has been
placed for you as a starting help. When the puzzle is
done, start at the upper left and read the projecting
letters clockwise to get the name of a famous film
(like BEN-HUR in the example below).
B
R
A
U
Ex.
>
E
B
Add horizontal and vertical bars to the grid — each
one unit in length — in such a way that no two bars
touch. The numbers at the sides reveal how many bars
appear consecutively in their respective rows and
columns. Where two or more numbers are given, at
least one row or column must separate the two groups.
Y
S
E
E
N
H
A
S
H
U
P
H
E
Clues: Allude (to) • Clear, as a windshield • Tech-support
callers • They go in and out at the beach • Vernon
Castle’s dance partner • Dead on one’s feet • Seek
water with a divining rod • Extend, as a subscription
M
O
N
Our list of words, worth 19 points, appears with last week’s answers.
O
TWO BY THREE
By Richard L. Wainwright
Every answer below is a familiar word, phrase or name in which two different letters of the alphabet each appear exactly three times. The repetitions can appear in any order. Fill in
the blanks to complete the answers. The answer to the example is WALL CALENDAR, which uses three A’s and three L’s. The respective answer lengths are indicated in parentheses.
L C __
A __
L E N D __
A R (4,8)
A __
L __
Ex. W __
12. __ __ __ A L __ __ __ P E C T (5,7)
24. __ U P __ F __ __ __ __ A (3,2,5)
1. R O U L __ __ __ __ __ A B L __ (8,5)
13. H __ __ __ __ __ S H __ W (6,4)
25. V __ N I __ __ __ __ __ T T E (7,5)
2. G __ __ H __ M C __ __ C K E __ (6,7)
14. T H __ __ __ O V __ __ P A __ (5,4,3)
26. S O L __ __ __ __ __ __ Y (5,5)
3. __ U __ D __ N __ L __ __ H T (7,5)
15. __ __ D __ __ T __ __ P (5,4)
27. I __ __ __ R __ A M __ O N __ (3,5,4)
4. S C __ __ D I __ __ V I __ __ (12)
16. B __ __ __ __ __ E C L __ I M (7,5)
28. __ __ A __ __ Y __ __ I C K (7,4)
5. __ __ R K S L __ __ D __ __ N (4,8)
17. S __ L __ W __ __ E R __ __ F F Y (4,5,5)
29. __ __ __ Y N O __ I N __ __ (4,7)
6. __ L E E T __ __ __ __ __ T (5,2,4)
18. H __ __ P __ __ A __ __ (3,6)
30. __ U M __ L __ __ __ __ (9)
7. P __ __ __ A __ D T __ L L __ R (4,3,6)
19. __ __ S E __ __ L L __ __ T (8,3)
31. F __ __ E D __ __ __ __ G (4,6)
8. __ Y __ G L A __ __ __ __ (10)
20. W __ __ L L Y __ A __ __ __ T H (6,7)
32. F R __ N __ __ __ __ __ H (5,5)
9. __ I N __ __ E U M F __ __ __ R (8,5)
21. __ L __ __ T R I __ __ A B L __ (8,5)
33. C H __ __ __ Y T __ __ __ (6,4)
10. A L __ __ R __ D S __ A __ __ (7,5)
22. F U __ __ Y B U __ I __ E __ __ (5,8)
34. B __ G __ __ C K E __ __ __ E M (3-6,4)
11. __ H O R T __ L __ __ V __ __ (5,7)
23. __ __ G A __ __ A G __ __ (5,5)
35. __ __ E __ __ A __ __ I T (4,6)
62
Puzzles Edited by Will Shortz
By Jeff Chen
ACROSS
London, with “the”
5 E.R. V.I.P.s
8 Haunted house
sound
13 Backflow preventer
in a drain
18 Brief, as a visit
20 Sub
21 Oscar role for
Vivien Leigh
22 Astonishing March
Madness success,
e.g.
24 He denied Christ
three times
25 Device with a
Retina display
26 The opposition
27 “Madame X”
painter John
Singer ____
29 23-Across, literally?
33 Cozy
35 Actor ____
Buchholz of “The
Magnificent Seven”
36 Epitome of
simplicity
37 Sour
39 Spicy fare?
41 “Where America’s
Day Begins”
43 Made an
impression?
45 Iron: Fr.
2
3
4
18
5
7
30
31
12
13
41
42
50
38
44
57
63
68
73
74
78
79
83
97
102
70
93
104
88
89
90
120
121
60
71
72
76
81
77
82
86
94
99
103
49
66
85
98
48
55
59
80
92
46
54
75
91
47
35
65
84
17
28
45
58
69
16
40
53
64
67
34
39
52
56
62
27
43
51
15
21
33
37
14
24
32
87
95
96
100
105
112
101
106
107
110
111
115
116
122
123
124
125
126
127
117
6 When a baby is
10 Try to find
expected
7 1904 world’s fair
city: Abbr.
8 Utilities, insurance,
advertising, etc.
9 Loosely woven
fabric with a
rough texture
oneself ?
11 ____ quotes
12 What a designated
driver takes
13 Candy that fizzes
in the mouth
14 New Hampshire
15 Gives stars to
16 Have no existence
17 Line usually on the
left or right side
19 Tonto player of
2013
20 ____ characters
(Chinese writing)
23 Murderer of
Hamlet
28 Tuna, at a sushi bar
29 Doesn’t keep up
30 Go up against
31 Facial feature of
the Bond villain
Ernst Blofeld
32 Jargon
34 Runs for a long
pass, say
38 One component of
a data plan
40 What the prefix
“tera-” means
42 Contributed to the
world
43 56-Down, literally?
44 “Don’t you ____!”
Fill the grid with digits so as not to repeat a digit in any row or column, and so that the digits within each
heavily outlined box will produce the target number shown, by using addition, subtraction, multiplication
or division, as indicated in the box. A 5x5 grid will use the digits 1–5. A 7x7 grid will use 1–7.
KenKen® is a registered trademark of Nextoy, LLC. © 2017 www.KENKEN.com. All rights reserved.
11
26
36
61
10
20
25
dubbed
29
9
23
97 ____ Lenoir, inventor
50 Machine-gun
8
19
KENKEN
64
6
22
46 Get ready to be
of the internalcombustion engine
while flying low
100 Location of
Waimea Valley
52 Stereotypical oil
tycoon
101 What one will
never be, in golf
54 Remains unused
102 Tended, with “for”
56 Sweets
104 Comedian’s stock
58 Take both sides?
in trade
60 Word on a jar
61 Muskmelon variety 106 118-Across, literally?
65 Bombs developed 110 Africa’s oldest
republic
in the 1950s
112 Result of some
66 Some airport
plotting
figures, for short
114 Bingo square
67 Eminently
115 Old Russian
draft-worthy
ruler known as
68 Pitch
“Moneybag”
71 Wiped out
116 Detective in a lab
72 Middling
122 Frisbees and such
73 Plenty sore, with
123 Like spoiled kids
“off ”
124 Metallic element
74 Heat
that’s No. 21 on the
76 Antiparticle first
periodic table
observed in 1929
125 Like many
78 Noon, in Nantes
concept cars
79 Disaster film?
126
Gregor ____,
82 Singer Simone
protagonist in
83 Doomed
Kafka’s “The
85 N.B.A. Hall-ofMetamorphosis”
Famer Thomas
127 Snack food brand
87 Ladies’ shoe
128 Latin years
fastener
91 Staff openings?
DOWN
92 By way of
1 Sign of
94 Wine bar order
nervousness
96 Elusive
2 Sea urchin, at a
sushi bar
3 Declare verboten
Puzzles Online: Today’s puzzle and more
than 9,000 past puzzles, nytimes.com/crosswords
4 Break off a
($39.95 a year). For the daily puzzle commentary:
romance
nytimes.com/wordplay.
5 Takeaway, of a sort
1 Way around
1
113
108
109
114
118
119
128
47 Line judge?
48 Home to the
89 Mathematician
National Border
Patrol Museum
49 Teacher’s unit
51 Funny Tina
53 Bubkes
55 60-Down, literally?
57 Stay
59 Setting eschewed
by Hawaii: Abbr.
61 Capturer of some
embarrassing
gaffes
62 “The Iceman
Cometh”
playwright
63 Hospital sticker
64 Handling well
69 Winner of four
1990s-2000s golf
majors
70 1953 Leslie Caron
film
75 Other: Abbr.
77 Networking assets
80 “Ta-ta!”
81 Former world
capital called
“City of Lights”
84 Shift+8
86 “Everybody’s a
comedian”
88 Certain cheap car,
informally
90 Apt rhyme for
Turing
“fire”
93 Asked for a desk,
say
95 That the sum of
the numbers on
a roulette wheel
is 666, e.g.
98 Uganda’s Amin
99 Marsh birds
102 Showing politesse
103 Lower
105 International
package deliverer
107 Desi of Desilu
Productions
108 Show a bias
109 Nintendo game
princess
110 Lens caps?
111 Where fighter jets
are found: Abbr.
113 “Gangnam Style”
hitmaker
117 ____ pro nobis (pray
for us)
118 Sch. in Fort Collins
119 The dark side
120 Symbol on the flag
of Argentina or
Uruguay
121 “Eww, stop!”
8/27/17
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Charlie Sykes
Is Unsure About
The Future
Of the G.O.P.
Interview by Ana Marie Cox
You came to national attention during
the Wisconsin primaries as part of the
Never Trump movement, when you used
your conservative-talk-show perch to
help along one of Donald Trump’s few
primary losses. What were you trying
to do? I was hoping Wisconsin was going
to be a firewall of rationality. Turns out
that we were simply a speed bump.
Why do you think the success of Trump’s
platform surprised so many people?
Conservatives spent an awful long time
ignoring things: the birthers, the bigots,
the xenophobes, the alternative-reality
media. We had assumed that they were
postcards from the fringe. Had Trump
been defeated, I think we would be going
through this period of deep introspection,
and conservatives would be asking themselves really hard questions. But I’m less
upset with Trump himself than watching
all the other conservatives who decided to
roll over and support him. The real horror
for me is watching people who I thought
were principled conservatives become
sycophantic propagandists for this guy.
You are good friends with Paul Ryan.
I have long admired Paul Ryan and thought
of him as the future of the Republican
Party. But he’s made a Faustian bargain.
I keep thinking about that scene from ‘‘A
Man for All Seasons,’’ where Thomas More
says, ‘‘What profit a man to gain the whole
world if he loses his soul, but for Wales?’’
And I keep thinking, But for tax cuts, Paul?
Do you think Republican elected officials
will begin to distance themselves from
Trump after the events in Charlottesville? I imagine that most of the elected
officials are privately horrified in realizing
66
8.27.17
Age: 62
Occupation:
Political
commentator
Hometown:
Milwaukee
Sykes is the author
of the forthcoming
book ‘‘How the
Right Lost Its
Mind.’’ He hosted
a conservative talk
show from 1993
to 2016.
Photograph by Taylor Glascock
His Top 5
Trump-Era Reads:
1. ‘‘1984’’
2. ‘‘The March
of Folly’’
3. ‘‘The Captive
Mind’’
4. ‘‘The Origins
of Totalitarianism’’
5. ‘‘The Road to
Serfdom’’
that their bargain is increasingly untenable. But how that manifests itself, I don’t
know. Ryan is not going to give up on tax
reform because of this.
You tweeted about the culture of ‘‘whataboutism.’’ What’s that? Some people
ask how the conservative media can
continue to defend Trump. It’s very easy
for them: No matter how bad Trump is,
the mainstream media and the Left will
always be worse, you know? Don’t expect
Rush Limbaugh to turn on him. Laura
Ingraham just will talk about how Trump
was ‘‘off message’’ and how he should’ve
discussed his deeply inspired infrastructure package. There was a recent Nicolle Wallace segment where she asked if
Republicans are ever going to say, ‘‘We
want our agenda, but this is just not worth
it.’’ I don’t know.
How do you think the elevation of
hard-liners has affected the party?
I wake up every day in disbelief. It’s not
that just that Donald Trump is president.
It’s that he has empowered the worst people in the world: people who would’ve
been regarded as misfits and crackpots
just a few years ago. We’re being tested in
a fundamental way, and I think we operate in a system that simply assumes that
you have honorable people who will be
constrained within political norms. Now
they’re being violated on a daily basis.
I don’t think America comes out on the
other end of this unaffected. We’re not
immune to history.
Is the Republican Party done for? It’s a
moral, intellectual and political defining
moment for the party. I just don’t see any
long-term future if they don’t confront
this. All this reveals something deeply
troubling about the party itself but maybe
also reveals something very troubling
about what the electorate wants.
If Republican elected officials won’t
change the party, who do you think will?
This is the moment where the business
community could play a decisive role. If
American industry pushes back in tangible ways, that’s something Republicans
can’t resist.
I’m assuming you’re not surprised
by Trump’s inability to condemn the
white-supremacist march. I’m shocked
but not surprised. Denouncing Nazis
is the easiest thing in the world: All it
requires is a modicum of historical perspective and a working moral compass.
Instead, we got this Dumpster fire.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
Talk
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