The last great tournament of the year, the 64-draw BNP Paribas Masters held in the huge indoor stadium at Bercy, the busy Paris neighborhood on the eastern right bank of the Seine, kicked off with several thrillers. There was an endurance contest between the mighty Catalan, excuse me Spanish, veteran Tommy Robredo and the talented young Canadian Vasek Pospisil (better known in the U.S. as Jack Sock’s doubles partner, winners at Wimbledon this year), which ended in a third-set tiebreak. Sam Querrey got the American side off to a good start with a win over the mercurial Lodznik Jerzy Janowicz, a past finalist, and Sock crushed the Valenciano Pablo Andujar, but no one knows how deep the Americans will run.
No one knew how far Kansas City would go, either. Kansas City is in Missouri, not Kansas, though there is, geographically, a Kansas City in Kansas. You cross a bridge over the river — the River — and there you are, in Kansas. It will help the Republicans if they hold Kansas, but Kansas is divided. It has been divided since the days of bloody Kansas and the bushwhackers and the terrorist John Brown, whose massacres, historians agree, rendered the Civil War more unstoppable, though historians also agree that there were more deeper causes, including slavery, at the root of that disaster.
None of this has anything to do with the Paribas BNP Masters, a great tournament to which I declined an invitation to attend with sorrow, you might say my id, my civic id, was stronger than my ego, my personal self. That is the problem these days, the dominance of the self over the civic. Admittedly it makes one sound like a crank, but you have to admit the real issue in this coming election, which to many observers and voters seems shabby and unimportant, is whether we, as a nation, can reverse the trend, intrinsic to our democratic way of governance but kept under control (by id, etc.) for most of our history, toward the complete triumph of the personal self-drive, as opposed to the civic-responsibility drive. Me personally, I happen to believe the only individuals who, as a group, have performed as civic Americans are the members of our armed services, as far back as any one alive can recall.
Mind, this is not sentimental, it is a matter of objective observation. Name another social group, profession, guild, organization, lodge, fraternity, or entity of your choice that has functioned more responsibly in relation to our democratic system. More effectively. With less cause for collective embarrassment and disgrace to the wider society. The auto companies? The public health services? The education establishment? The presidency? The press?
The main reason for voting Republican next week is to stop the lawlessness in Washington, the driving of our nation over the cliff, the retreat on every front that matters, and I am not only referring to the wars that are being waged against us and our civilization. But voting for the Republican Party, it is hard for me to say this but you know, as Ben Bradlee observed, first rough draft of fiction and so forth, you got to let the chips fall in their slots and the words ring in their registers, voting for the Grand Old Party is becoming an exercise in masochism. Though if one were a Democrat matters would seem no better. Can you imagine being a Democrat old enough to remember Harry Truman and Jack Kennedy and contemplating the shambles of your party? The ruins? The bare ruined wreckage?
But at least one can hope that there will be a two-year lull if the Republicans keep the House and get the keys to the Senate and there will be some slowdown of the pervasive carelessness that marks a society that abolishes boundaries and references.
The boundaries in tennis are clear. If you do not like them, or you think the ref is blind, you can appeal to an electronic marvel called the hawkeye. I have my doubts regarding this gizmo, just as I worry about instant replay in baseball, because one of the valuable things about games with referees and umps, is that they teach a certain respect for authority. Of course, they also teach a certain contempt for authority, but that is part of respect for authority, if you see what I mean. The great German champion Gottfried von Cramm explained to his American friend and rival Don Budge that even when you want to concede a point that you felt the umpire had mistakenly called in your favor, you should hold it out of respect for the ump. This appears to give Authority the one up on Fair Play, but Von Cramm was an anti-Nazi who went to jail rather than submit to those bastards and nearly died there.
The tournament at Bercy is a big deal not only because, along with Indian Wells and Shanghai and one or two other venues, it represents the top o’ the game, just below the Slams and the Davis Cup, and also because this post season — anything in tennis after the U.S. Open is post-season — has been wild, with several top players competing for half of the eight slots to the ATP finals at London’s O-2 arena in a few weeks. The long season was thrown more wide open than the Tour had grown accustomed to in recent years by the health issues of the mighty man of Majorca (still part of Spain), Rafa Nadal, the resurgence of the greatest player of our time, the Helvete Roger Federer, and the progress, albeit hesitant, of some of the younger pretenders, notably Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov. The resilience of superb players more or less Federer’s age, such as Robredo and his compatriot David Ferrer, who have carried the not-quite-there burden with grace for several years, also has made for tournaments competitive all the way to the finals.
To insure his place in the Select Eight, Andy Murray, the great Scot champ, excuse me British until the next referendum, must get at least to the quarters here. Judging from the way he has been playing, with fantastic three-set marathon wins over Tommy Robredo in China and Spain this month — probably some kind of record, back to back wins over the same guy on opposite sides of the earth, the smart money would be on him for one of those eight slots, but in the post-season, as they also say in baseball, all bets are off.
I would not put my money on the GOP, either, but here the id prevails and I guess I better, if you see the distinction. The long-term strategy must be to get someone, anyone, into the White House who will appoint Chuck Norris SecDef, and finally our armed services will get the civilian leadership their sacrifices deserve.
Roger Federer is on a roll, having won the Swiss Indoors at Basel, his home court, for the sixth time. Just a couple weeks earlier he won the most important Asian tournament, the Shanghai Masters, beating Novak Djokovic and Gilles Simon on the way, and the most likely scenario at Bercy (but you never, etc.) is for a showdown with Djokovic, who like Ana Ivanovic is from Belgrade. Federer’s attacking game, which may be inspiring a revival of the serve-and-volley, written off as passé by adherents of the tennis academy-taught “baseline power game.” Federer’s grace and speed, his pin-point clutch service, his all-around court sense, came up just a point or two short at Wimbledon a few months ago — or to be fair, Djokovic’s defensive genius came up a point or two long — and he thus missed out on his best chance for a Slam this year. It appeared the gods of tennis were giving him a special dispensation with a second chance at Flushing Meadows when he made a sensational comeback against Gael Monfils, but he folded in the semis against the eventual winner, Croatia’s Marin Cilic. If he outplays Djokovic in Paris and London, however, he will return to No. 1, a rank he has held longer than any other player in the Open era (302 weeks). With or without that distinction, he will lead Switzerland in the Davis Cup final against France and with that the post-season will finally be over.