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An Unlikely Comeback

An Unlikely Comeback

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by Federico Coppini

Good morning everyone. I am Joseph Malden and none of you know me.
It is natural: I do not exist. I've been deleted, as all those who have found themselves on the wrong side of history.
But it is not arguing about my insignificant life with which I intend to bore you.

Instead, I'll talk about a man and the lengths to which Big Brother has undergone to devour his soul and transform his heart.
1984 was the end, and Winston Smith was my best friend. We were colleagues at the Ministry of Truth, though we had different jobs and our meetings occurred mostly out of sight.

But more about that later.
To Smith and those like him, the Party had entrusted with the task of rectifying reported news…to manipulate it so that the Party came out looking good.
The truth is a lie. And vice versa.
That time, however, Winston tried to rebel, because it seemed too much for his soul.

But in the end, after visiting the infamous Room 101, he recanted.
The incident dates back to June 10 of that year, and the Times had reported it the next day.
The following is the text that you will find in the archives of the Party, duly corrected by Winston.


Paris, June 10
At the end it was genius, imagination and class – qualities that have always characterized our athletes – that prevailed over brute force.
The final of the prestigious French Open was contested in Paris yesterday, pitting the American John McEnroe against Ivan Lendl.
Mr.

Lendl, who was born in the former Czechoslovakia, knew what lay in stored for him. He and Lendl had played five times already this season, with McEnroe winning each encounter.
But apart from his trouble against the American, Lendl has been enjoying a fantastic year.

In fact, he has only lost to McEnroe, prevailing against everyone else who dared cross his path. At one point, he even enjoyed a 44-match winning streak.
For the few people unfamiliar with John McEnroe, a short summary is in order.

He first exploded onto the scene with an incredible run to the Wimbledon semi-finals at the age of 18, after having started from qualifying. Known for his outbursts of anger and frustration on court, McEnroe has become a delight to fans and a nightmare for organizers around the tennis world.
SuperMac, as he has become known to his fans, is the complete opposite of Lendl.

The latter is cool on the court, and never betrays any of his emotions, even though they must be bubbling away in there somewhere.
This was particularly true on the red clay center court at Roland Garros yesterday.
When the final was two hours old, Lendl had been suffering at the American’s expense with almost no respite at all.

There was, seemingly, a huge gap in class between the two. McEnroe was showing off his entire repertoire, with each shot hitting its spot exactly.
The first two sets had been barely contested. McEnroe raced through them with a score of 6-3 and 6-2, and it seemed as if the trophy would soon be his.

Lendl, however, could not suffer such an injury to his pride, and fought back with all he had in the third set.
To the surprise of many, he managed to gain some traction, and even managed to win the set 6-4. Was there some life in this contest yet? It did not seem so, when Lendl went down an early break in the fourth and the path seemed finally clear for McEnroe to seal his victory.
The final was not being played just between McEnroe and Lendl, of course.

It was a clash of two powerful states, two ways of life. The democratic West versus the communist East, or at least so it had been portrayed in the media. It helped that the two players did not seem to like each other at all.
But McEnroe was the overwhelming favorite.

He was riding a 42-match winning streak, breaking records all along the way. Never had a player seemed more confident and unstoppable.
Lendl was but a poor challenger, a good player who crumbled under pressure, especially during big moments.

He had been in Grand Slam finals before – four times, in fact – but every time he melted under the glare of the spotlight.
Nobody in their right mind believed that the class and unpredictability of McEnroe would come second to the power and consistency of Lendl.

It simply seemed unthinkable.
The weather was perfect – 82° Fahrenheit and humidity of just over 50%. The buzz of the 17 000 spectators that crowded the stands added a little something to the atmosphere as well, though there is no numerical measure for that.
The final started at 15:26, and immediately the contrasting style and tactics of the two players were evident.

McEnroe was moving his opponent around, waiting for any opportunity to come to the net – and he found many. Lendl, on the other hand, preferred to grind matters out on the baseline, never wanting to surrender an inch of his territory.
McEnroe was like a dancer, taking care with every single movement, gracefully moving towards the net to end the point with a classy volley.

He did so at 30-0 in the third game, and again thirty seconds later, when he followed his serve in to the net and brushed a volley to a part of the court where Lendl could only reach it with his sad eyes.
But Lendl did not always lose these exchanges.

At 40-15 in the fourth game, he managed to hit an incredible running forehand pass that McEnroe could only stare at as it zipped by. For the most part though, it was McEnroe coming out on top in these battles early on.
The serve that McEnroe so liked to follow in was an anomaly – one of the strangest strokes on the Tour.

No coach would ever teach it to a student he wished to succeed, but somehow McEnroe managed to hit clinically accurate serves more often than not.
Placing his right foot parallel to the service line and the left foot at an angle of 65°, before throwing the ball in the air, twisting his torso while smoothly swinging both arms upwards.

From there, his motion was quick and harmonious, arching his back and shifting his weight on his bent knees. It was a powerful serve, and an accurate one, designed to get him the kind of return he could put away with a volley.
Lendl seemed to struggle with the serve from the start, and McEnroe never struggled to keep it.

Lendl, on the other hand, had difficulty imposing his own serve on his opponent, and at 3-2 in the first set, he lost his serve. McEnroe refused to let Lendl get any kind of rhythm, keeping pace with him at 15-15 and 30-30 until, after two points that ended with a volley and a smash respectively, McEnroe had the first break of the match.
Lendl fought back hard the next game, and some incredible rallies resulted.

He even had a few chances to get the break back, but the advantage for the left-hander against a righty is that he can serve his favorite serves on break point – to his opponent’s backhand. Fighting off the challenge from Lendl, McEnroe managed to hold serve, emphasizing his dismissal of opponent’s attack with an ace down the line on game point.
Another interesting difference in the philosophy of play between McEnroe and Lendl is how they make contact with the ball.

The former likes to take the ball early, so that he can rush his opponent into action while he attacks the net. Lendl, on the other hand, is more patient and waits for the ball to drop, so that he can more carefully place it and hit it with maximum power.
On the second point of the eighth game, the umpire made a call that Lendl wasn’t happy with.

Normally unflappable on the court, he asked the umpire if he is scared of McEnroe. It was an incredible outburst for the usually calm Lendl, and an indication of how nervous he was himself. Despite the incident, he recovered from 0-30 down to move to 3-6.
McEnroe wasted no time closing out the set, showing off some magnificent ground strokes from back court as well as his prowess at the net.

On set point, he stretched to intercept a pass attempt from Lendl, putting the ball away for a winner.
At the beginning of the second set, at 40-0 in his favor, Lendl committed a cardinal sin of luring McEnroe to the net with a drop shot.

The American, sensing the tactic before the ball even left Lendl’s racket, is on it in a flash, and easily put it away. It was the start of a landslide, and four consecutive points later McEnroe had yet another break of serve.
McEnroe looked unstoppable, with the ball obeying his every command.

In the third game, he even turned Lendl’s tactics against him, luring him to the net with a drop shot before hitting a blinding passing shot. In every phase of the game, McEnroe was dominating, and after yet another break of serve to go up 3-0, Lendl looked lost and bewildered.
Another easy service game from McEnroe followed, with Lendl not even winning a point.

A short while later, after Lendl finally managed to hold serve twice, the second set was suddenly over. The score was 6-3, 6-2, and the French crowds were getting restless. They were hoping for a more exciting match than this, but it seemed as if Lendl’s nerves were once again getting the best of him.
Lendl looked up to the sky, but there was not a single cloud to be seen.

He would not be given respite by the weather today. All he could do was try and play the best tennis he was capable of, and at least make the scoreline respectable. Somehow, he knew, he had to get under McEnroe’s skin and upset his rhythm.
Luckily for Lendl, he didn’t have to do anything himself, a least not at first.

The third set started off evenly, with McEnroe again showing off some awesome shots. But for some reason it seemed as if he was slightly less comfortable than he had been in the second set. Though Lendl’s reputation for choking was much more prominent, McEnroe himself had a tendency to surrender to his nerves and his anger.
So it was that, early in the third set at 15-30, McEnroe netted an easy shot.

He walked up to a cameraman, who he claimed had distracted him with noise from his headset. The American, it seemed, had finally lost his cool. Lendl took advantage of this drop in concentration, finally getting the better of his opponent and holding onto his own serve, which elicited wild applause from the crowd, happy to see some real signs of competitive life for a change.
Changing sides at 2-1, Lendl’s fans sense that there might be some hope after all.

Suddenly, Lendl’s movement was a little crisper and more assertive, and McEnroe’s volleys missed their mark more often. McEnroe saw off a break point with his usual class a little while later, but it was not with the swagger that he had displayed in the first two sets.
But Lendl’s comeback faced a massive challenge at 2-2, and McEnroe suddenly had three break points at 0-40.

Virtual match points, the American played tentatively, making silly mistakes on each one. Lendl held on, finally prevailing to go up 3-2.
With every minute that passed, it seemed as if Lendl was getting fresher while McEnroe was getting wearier.

The next game, the dam finally broke. McEnroe lost his serve, and Lendl suddenly found himself in a position that he hadn’t been in at all in the match: leading with a break in a set.
It was 4-2, and McEnroe was talking to himself, visibly upset at letting his opponent back in the match.

Lendl, on the other side of the net, was the picture of calm. His early nerves disappeared, he looked determined and focused.
McEnroe, however, who had always been able to draw energy from his anger, suddenly caught fire, winning the next two games to even the set at 4-4.

With a combination of blistering forehands, clever drop shots and crisp volleys, McEnroe had seemingly taken the wind out of Lendl’s sails. But the Czech held on to his serve, and at 5-4 dared to hope that McEnroe would get nervous again, having to serve to stay in the set.
His prayers were answered, as McEnroe was clearly not himself in that game.

With aggressive play forcing the American back, Lendl managed to get two set points at 15-40. The prospect of extending the contest was becoming reality. With McEnroe misjudging an approach, Lendl hit the ball straight at him, forcing the American to give up the point.

After more than two hours of tough tennis, Lendl was finally on the board with a set in his name – 6-4.
Now it was no longer simply a matter of hoping to salvage his pride. Lendl had genuine hope of winning at least one more set, and maybe the match.
Both men were nervous early in the fourth, testing each other to see how well they would hold up under the strain.

It was Lendl who cracked first, as the energized McEnroe broke. He knew he had to finish the match sooner rather than later, as the fitter Lendl would benefit from the match dragging out for longer.
Lendl knew this, and was desperately trying to hold on for as long as he possibly could.

But he was clearly in distress, knowing that unless he broke back soon the match was over.
The most important moment in the match was at hand in the seventh game, when McEnroe had an easy volley at 30-30. It hit the net cord and bounced back to SuperMac’s feet.

He couldn’t believe it.
Soon, the set was on serve again, and all bets were off. The crowd was in hysterics on almost every point now, as the match suddenly had “classic” written all over it.
The set seemed headed for a tie-break, with both players greedily holding on to their serve.

But just as everyone was starting to accept that as an inevitability, the 12th game took an ugly turn for McEnroe. Lendl honed in on some poor serving from McEnroe, who was left vulnerable at the net. On the second break point, the Czech converted, sending the 17 000 spectators into a frenzy.
After three hours of play, it was two sets each, but the momentum was now clearly on Lendl’s side.

Truly in control for the first time in the match, Lendl played with control and aggression. McEnroe was not giving up by any stretch of the imagination, but he was clearly rattle by what had happened over the past two sets.
Though many thought the contest perfectly balanced in the fifth set, a trained eye would have noticed what we have already discussed: Lendl was fitter.

He enjoyed that the match was going on so long, and was showing no signs of fatigue. McEnroe was doing a lot less running than his opponent, but he was also starting to tire. As a result, his serve started to show signs of fraying.
Having to rely on his second serve more and more, McEnroe was at a constant disadvantage.

He couldn’t keep his volleys deep enough on the back of those serves, and Lendl soon started racking up break points. But McEnroe held on at 2-1, when he faced two of those break points, with Lendl’s nerves forcing him into some bad mistakes.
More break points came and went, with both men desperately trying to seal the winning break of serve.

In the seventh, it was McEnroe who had two, but squandered both. Almost on his knees and looking upward, the American was looking for a final burst of inspiration to get him across the finish line. But it would never come.
Lendl, soothed by his many miraculous escapes, could smell blood.
The killing blow would finally come after fourth hours of breathtaking drama.

At 5-6 and down match point, McEnroe raced to the net as he had done so many times in the match. But this time, he was just half a step slower than he had been three hours before, and Lendl pounced. It was over.
We are confident that there will be opportunities for McEnroe to avenge this loss, but it will surely take a big mental toll on the popular American.
So that's what you would have read in the aftermath of that game.

I was there and I can confirm. Winston knew and did not want to hide the truth, however bitter it may be. He tried to rebel but the system has manipulated him and forced his surrender.
We talked often in those days, him and me.

He told me he had two passions: Julia and tennis. He would have given anything to meet me in Paris, that Sunday in June. That's why he did not want to rewrite that article.
He was right, Winston. Although McEnroe was his idol, he said that it was necessary to accept the verdict of the court, and the future would tell how they went down in history.
But, I wonder, what future?
Who controls the past controls the future.

And who controls the present controls the past.
Winston knew that Big Brother would not have forgiven him, but he tried to rebel anyway. And he lost.
If by chance you happen to meet him at the Bar del Castagno, do not avoid him, he does not deserve it.

But do not ask about that match in 1984 in Paris. He is now convinced that McEnroe must have won. But it is not true. Lendl won in five sets and it was a great match. Perhaps the most beautiful of all time. .

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