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The Marathon Journeyman

Has there ever been a journeyman tennis player as popular as Nicolas Mahut? The closest I could get to was Fabrice Santoro, and even he was ranked as high as no. 17 in the world, and was a winner of multiple major titles in doubles. Mahut is a proud owner of a tennis record, even though he ended on the wrong side of the result. It was no shame losing that match, especially when he had to serve to save the match for … I don’t know how many times. I was browsing through the live scores section on the official U.S. Open website and found his opening round match against Phillip Petzschner locked in the fifth set at five games all. I turned on the stream — this is one thing I like about U.S. Open. I just had to click the “live stream” button next to their score and I was enjoying the live action in high definition.

On surface, it just looked like another match between two journeyman — although Petzschner is more than that, having won two doubles’ majors — but it was much more. Here was a match between two aggressive single handed backhand players, who serve well, use the sliced approach shot and like to hit punch volleys even if they dump them into the net. Of course, we rarely come to know how good they are because usually they are battling against the top pros who don’t give them a chance to show us their full repertoire. They are very good players, have very good movement and are good to watch. They also compete fiercely, although for them it is more about the additional $16000 for moving into the second round. On watching these players, I feel that they show more desire to win a winnable match than the top pros. The extra $16000 is a huge deal for them compared to the top ones who win it more for the glory of holding a trophy.

Mahut portrays you that look which immediately develops an affection to him. Call it past history, or the fact that he was again serving to save the match after relinquishing a two sets to love lead, or just his expressions, you want to win. In addition, you have Petzschner on the other side of the set who has not earned himself a good name recently. Either due to his complaints during his Wimbledon match against Rafael Nadal, or more importantly, his act of unsportsmanship in a doubles match, or even his body language, he gives you that image of a villain, trying to destroy the dream of the helpless protagonist in Mahut. His long socks that go up to the knees doesn’t help, either.

After a routine Petzschner hold, the players changed ends. There was the familiar scene of the ball boys running behind the players with sweaty towels in their hands. Normally I watch this scenario only when watching the top pros, and it feels normal. But in a match of two journeyman on an outer court with sparse crowd and no commentary in the background, it felt weird. The umpire called “Time” and Mahut served it out for a routine hold. The match would have continued to eternity, but the is the U.S. Open where you won’t go 70 games to 68. The fifth set tie-break started. Petzscher started with an ace, but Mahut found himself in a rally. He punched a gorgeous looking single handed backhand straight to Petzscher and headed straight to the net. Bad idea. Petzscher hit his own single handed passing out down the line. Mahut’s stick cracked to the ground and he headed to the chair to take a new one. Just like the pros, he had each of his Wilson sticks packed neatly in plastic, and he picked one. Unlike the top pros, he unwrapped the stick completely and threw the plastic into the bin himself, and slowly marched back to the baseline. The top ones leave this job to the ball boys. They have the prestige and the aura. Mahut doesn’t.

His new stick helped him briefly as he got the mini break back, but another botched volley and he was down again. Petzscher threw an ace and a service winner as Mahut’s desperation grew amids chants of “Come on, Nico!” He tried his best, but Petzscher won another point on Nico’s serve. He then served it out with another service winner as Mahut’s head went down again for the last time in the match. Not unfamiliar with such events, he went to the net and hugged his jubiliant opponent, picked up his bags, and quietly went out of the stadium allowing his opponent to bask in the glory, which itself will probably end after two or four days.

Yet another journeyman completed his journey at New York. Unlike others of his type, though, he is a popular and evokes affection. One that many want to see win a match. Especially after yet another marathon.

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  1. Aug 28, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    Great read…Mahut may be the most famous journeymen, but journeymen, by nature, are somewhat forgettable, so it’s hard to call anyone the most popular. Another brutal loss for Mahut. I remember he had match points against Roddick in the Queens final, 06 or 07. I actually just wrote a recap of Roddick’s match today.

    Again, good read, I’ll be looking in as the tournament continues

  2. Marianne Bevis
    Aug 28, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    Ah, dear Mahut. I was utterly convinced he would win this one today, watched the end of the third set, was roasting too much and retired to a cooler spot, still sure he would win it…I have to admit to a soft spot. He’s a gentleman and play the kind of net rushing game I like to watch (as does Llodra). I happened to mention Mahut to the my French neighbour this morning and he agreed: Mahut is a nice guy and, apparently, wants to be a journo when he finishes with tennis!

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