Thanks for all your assistance! I assume it was your MINDS which helped Nalbandian win today, after falling behind and losing the first set as well as looking somewhat less than sharp. But then he got better! So, hurrah, and what a great day. Again.
But a couple of thoughts on the nature of fandom. This may well be the last match I ever see Nalbandian play live and in person, because I don’t think I will be able to make it to his next one later this week, and since he will be playing a decent talent, there’s every chance his run will stop there. And even if not, I have a job which begins after Labor Day. It’s not as though he’s announced his retirement or anything, it’s just that things are inevitably winding down and even if he gives it another 2-3 years, one never knows if he’ll be healthy next August.
People invariably ask me why I root for Nalbandian and I usually say something glib (as in the About section on this site) about the first match I ever saw him play, against Jarkko Nieminen. For whatever reason, everybody went for Jarkko, mostly because his name is fun to say, I kid you not. One end of the Armstrong crowd would yell “Jark!” and the other would respond “O!” I don’t think anyone there knew anything about either of these guys.
But Nalbandian was unflappable and seemed completely unperturbed. I liked him. I liked him for not falling apart and just playing on as though 8,000 people weren’t pulling for the other guy. In the end he won the match and me as a fan. The next year I made sure to watch him again and he was still utterly self-possessed. I was his for life. The only time I have ever seen Nalbandian break down was actually in that same US Open, 2003, when he won the first two sets against Andy Roddick in the semi-final before proceeding to lose his shit completely. Keep in mind that he had just beaten Federer a few days earlier to get there. Roddick went on to win the entire thing, his only Grand Slam trophy. I’m still not sure what happened.
Obviously, I’ve known it had to end sometime (and as I said, it may not be this year) but I’m not really sure I’ll ever love another player as much. You know why? Because I discovered Nalby’s secret. He is unflappable because he doesn’t really care. Big points, small points, it’s all the same, really. It’s why he almost never wins easily or in straight sets. Why try too hard? (As Brother2 said this evening, “I see Nalbandian won in 4 sets, not 5. What did you do with all the extra time?”) It’s hard to care more than the guy actually doing the hitting, but I often feel like that’s the truth. And I care a lot.
To wit, today, I sat at Court 17 (Court 17: did they just invent it?) all day, partially because my family also wanted to see Shahar Peer play there (she won, too!) but also so I could stake out the best seat imaginable: close enough to see well, far enough to get the span of the court, unobstructed by the umpire’s chair. One set in, after sitting in this seat all freaking day, a guy came up to me and Brother1 and said, “excuse me, my friends are sitting right next to you and my wife and I would like to sit with them, would you switch with us? We’re just two rows back.” A million thoughts crashed into my head at once, but they all sort of tied into: are you fucking kidding me? These are my perfect seats, I sat here all day, this is my once a year date with the sports figure I worship the most, why didn’t you come earlier, can’t you guys chit-chat later, why can’t the people next to you switch, etc.
I said, “I’m sorry, I waited all day in these seats for this match.” The guy said, “but it’s just two rows back!” I said, “maybe in the changeover someone else will move.” Brother1 said, “this is her favorite player in the world.” I said again, “I’m sorry.” The guy looked at me as if I were the biggest bitch on wheels and for the next five minutes or so, we were treated to him saying loudly to his spouse, “it’s six fucking feet! Six feet!” Because Brother1 and I were raised by the same people, in the changeover, he said to the two guys sitting next to us, “look, there are four seats together two rows up.” The guys laughed and said, “we don’t really need to sit next to them, hahahahaha.” Great. Then, in the changeover after that, they all decided to go to a doubles match anyway. It was all the polar opposite of how seriously I took the whole thing. But sometimes that gets exhausting. I’m not sure I’ll look for someone else to feel that way about so fast. There are days you just want a tennis match.
On the other hand, it seems to just happen, so who knows? I’ll keep my mind open. In the meantime, best of luck to El Rey David whose fans do care very much. And if the last glimpse I get of Nalby is him walking by me amidst a throng of cheering Argentines after a fabulous match, I’d be entirely satisfied.
Trivia question! Who was my favorite player before 2003? Why, Martina Hingis. She retired from tennis (the first time) that same year.
I’m glad I wrote this now because when he does really retire in, hopefully, a few years, I’ll already have done it. The title comes from the last song on one of my, oh, top five albums of all time, Neil Finn’s One All/Nil. I always listen to it on the way to the Open on the 7 train because by the time we reach it, I can step off onto the boardwalk during Rest Of the Day Off, a song which has always perfectly encapsulated my feelings about leaving work behind to come. It’s the second to last song on the record and if I am a bit ahead of schedule, I skip ahead to Into the Sunset, a pretty, pensive, and moody number, and listen to that first. It’s always a bit disconcerting to then skip back to joy.
Neil Finn – Into the Sunset