Tuesday in Munich, Thiago Monteiro blitzed Jan-Lennard Struff, 6-1, 6-1, in under 55 minutes. One can easily imagine the thoughts which will flood a tennis fan’s mind after a result such as this one:
“Well, playing Rafa takes a lot out of a man, as usual.”
“He was tired.”
“That’s a bad loss.”
“But wait — HOW?”
These and other related thoughts contain a certain degree of accuracy and legitimacy, but which points of emphasis contain more weight, and which contain less substance?
I will briefly try to get at that fundamental tension point.
Yes, Struff was crushing the ball and pounding hard serves in Barcelona. He put a lot of energy — physical and mental — into that tournament. Starting all over in a new venue represented the process all athletes have to go through: You play really, really hard in a given period of time, and then you go to a new city or face a new competitive experience a few days later, and you start from zero. It can be very hard to generate and replicate the same energy, passion and verve. The supremely successful athletes won’t always replicate that passion, but they will do it more often than their less-credentialed competitors, and when they DON’T replicate that passion, they STILL find their way to the finish line first.
I would not call this a bad loss for Struff, even though the lopsided nature of the scoreline is eye-popping. He spilled the tank in Barcelona and it was empty in Munich. I can totally accept that.
You might be asking me, “But why, Matt? WHY accept this from Struff, who beat Alexander Zverev earlier this season and is having a decent year by his standards?”
I would emphasize that last phrase: “by his standards.”
This is not a knock on Struff, merely a reflection of where he actually stands in the tennis cosmos (and not where some people THINK he is, or where some people think he OUGHT to be): Struff hasn’t set a very high standard.
He has his moments, sure, but you need to remember this gem from Trenton Jocz, my tennis blogging buddy and former colleague at the now-extinct media company, FanRag Sports:
Jan Lennard Struff has gotten to a 5-all set in all 7 matches against the Big Four (4 vs Federer, 1 vs the others), but is 0-8 in those sets and 0-16 in sets overall.
I believe @mzemek has a hashtag for this.
— Trenton Jocz (@TrentonJocz) April 26, 2019
The reality of Jan-Lennard Struff is that he has to cross a few more first-time thresholds — such as beating the Big 3 or stacking together several weeks of high-level play — before we change our fundamental impressions of him.
He rode the wave in Barcelona, but the idea that this level of tennis was LIKELY to be sustained had no real historical precedent. We have to see a sustained elevation of play before we, as observers, can responsibly change our deeper view of a player.
In many ways, the story of Monteiro d. Struff in Munich is that Struff isn’t very experienced at following huge weeks on tour… because he hasn’t had many huge weeks on tour. If Struff had gone through this basic pattern of playing a great tournament one week and then needing to follow up the next week on many previous occasions, I would regard this as a bad loss.
Struff doesn’t have a career full of these kinds of experiences, however. In a very real way, his modest history as a tennis player makes present-moment verdicts on his loss to Monteiro more gentle and accepting, not more ruthless or unforgiving.
People can be victims of their own success. They can also be comforted because of their failures.
Such is the endless complexity of sports.