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Christopher Clarey | Longtime NY Times Tennis Correspondent; Author

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence
The Truth Network Radio
June 9, 2023 6:08 am

Christopher Clarey | Longtime NY Times Tennis Correspondent; Author

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence

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June 9, 2023 6:08 am

Longtime NY Times Tennis Correspondent and author Christopher Clarey joins the show from Roland Garros in Paris to talk the latest from the French Open.


We are pleased to welcome our longtime friend and tennis insider Christopher Clary, who spent 30 plus years at the New York Times and is now branching out on his own.

Because why not? And we'll hear a little bit about his latest adventures. But Christopher, it's always good to talk to you. Thanks so much for a couple of minutes in Paris.

Amy, it's always a pleasure. I know that the buzz is real. We can feel it even here in the United States. So set the stage for us, please. What's it like as we're building toward the semifinal between Novak and Carlos?

Yeah, it's crazy, Amy, thinking about it. Because for so many years, you know, in men's tennis, it's all been about sort of the big three. And when's Federer going to play Nadal? Or when's Nadal going to play Djokovic? Or when's Djokovic going to play Federer?

Well, obviously, this is a different situation now. We've got a young guy, 20 years old, Carlos Alvarez won the US Open last year. Age 19, he's from Spain. He plays kind of like a hybrid of all the big three. He's got all different skill sets that those guys possessed. He's a real kind of a smiling assassin.

He's a beat kind of positive energy guy, but there's a lot of vents. Yeah, but there's a lot of venom in his shots, loves to drop shot, loves to take risks, come to net, can kill you from the baseline, can also kind of beat you out of different ways. And so this is the match, I think, that because of Djokovic's enduring success, and having just won the Australian Open in January and, you know, winning Wimbledon last year and still being a huge factor in the game.

He is probably the most, you know, successful big three guy left at the moment with Nadal out and Federer retired. This is the next generation, old generation match. Everybody's been wanting to see for over a year now. They haven't played. So this is finally the chance.

And it's going to come, you know, not in a final, but pretty close to one in the semis later today. When Novak says he has extra motivation, he told us that in January. What's he referring to?

What's he talking about? Well, I mean, I think, you know, Federer and Nadal kept the whole grand slam record at arm's length a little bit, maybe because they knew how good Novak is and how much he wanted it. But Novak has not hidden his ambition on this at all. He wants the record to himself.

It's one of the main reasons that he's playing. He and Nadal are tied at 22. Nadal is missing the French Open for the first time in 20 years, probably isn't going to come back at the same level. So Novak knows the new generation is rising, led by Alcaraz, and he wants that record before they do. And so this is one of his probably last really, really good chances to do it. And catching Carlos in one of his first major matches and having a chance to use all his best of five set experience.

He is 36, but he's I think a relatively young 36 in terms of how his body operates. So I think Novak wants that record and he wants all the numbers in his favor when the career is over. And so this is one of the ways to do that by winning today's match. As I was thinking about a French Open without Rafael Nadal and also The Void, I feel it as a fan without Roger Federer. So two now of the big three in the era that you just spoke of. It reminded me of golf in the wake of Tiger Woods when it really became evident that he, I know he won the Masters a couple years ago, but isn't going to be the same force and the same presence on the PGA Tour at the majors that he was for so long. How does it feel without Rafa and without Roger these last few months?

You know, it is definitely a different world because everything was geared around those guys and their matchups. I think it surprised to me, especially with Nadal at the French Open, I mean, they got a statue of the guy as you walk in the entrance. I mean, he's Spanish, not French. That just tells you how irresistible he's been and how you just couldn't fight the legacy that he was creating with 14 victories in one tournament like this at a major. And yet, we talked a lot about it before the tournament, but I think the charisma and the novelty of Alcaraz and the excitement about his game has really filled some of that void to be honest.

Carlos is also from Spain. He's a guy who's very appealing to watch. People that are casual tennis fans or just general sports fans ought to watch this guy and just sort of see what he can bring to the equation because it's quite spectacular. But I think there's been a lot of focus on him and he sort of filled those major match, major court roles that Rafa was filling before so that the void has not been as big as I would have expected for that reason, I think.

Good. Christopher Clary is with us from Paris getting set for that semifinal between Novak and the smiling assassin, 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz. Quite a nickname for a guy who's 20 years old.

It's After Hours with Amy Lawrence on CBS Sports Radio. What's the latest on Rafael Nadal's health, Christopher, because it's hard, kind of like Roger. Didn't really get a chance to say goodbye when he was still healthy. Is that going to be the case with Rafa too? You know, much as I don't like to say it, I think the odds are pointing in that direction probably because of just the persistence that Nadal has and sort of the love of competition. I don't know if he's clinging by his fingernails just to win another title. I just think he genuinely has it in his DNA just to enjoy the fight, enjoy the competition. You can see it in the way he's played the game over 20 years. He really is one of those Jordan-esque, point-by-point, moment-by-moment kind of competitors. I think a lot of his joy and what he does, Andy, comes from the process.

He's not so much about holding up the trophy as he is getting to play the points on the way to the trophy. I think that's almost a cliché, but I think in his case it's true. So I think it's really hard for someone like that to let go of that because I think he really misses that competitive thing.

And when he's hurting, it's just another obstacle, but he doesn't mind the obstacles, doesn't mind the suffering. So it's not surprising that he wants to keep playing. I don't think he's going to have the same kind of success. It looked to me like pre the latest round of injuries, he'd lost a step at least in terms of his lateral movement. Oh, he's been an explosive mover, an amazing mover, but he definitely had lost some speed. And he was struggling to beat guys in the last few months before this latest injury break. And he's had a series of things happen to his body over his whole career, but the pace is accelerating and kind of the breadth of the injuries and where they're hitting him has been accelerating too. And this latest injury was suffered in Australia back in January. He lost in the second round to Mackie McDonald, an American player, and he basically tore a psoas muscle in his hip area. And just letting it rest didn't work, so he's gone in for, I think it's his first real surgery he's had in his career, believe it or not, despite all the injuries. So he just did that about a week or two ago when he announced his withdrawal from the French Open. So we just don't know.

It's a five month recovery process. He's 37 years old now. It's hard to see a whole lot of upside, but you know, people have lost a lot of money counting out Rafael Nadal over the years, so let me not be the next one. You already have the master written about Roger Federer, who was a New York Times bestseller. Love the book, by the way.

And now, according to your Twitter, I haven't had a chance to ask you about this. You're writing The Warrior on Rafael Nadal. How much does it change when you don't actually know what happens next with him? You know, it is funny, because it is sort of the same situation I was in when I started writing the book on Federer. I'm in no way trying to usher anybody out the door in literary fashion here, but I feel like the main body of work for Roger was done when I started doing the book, and it's hard not to feel that the main body of work is done for Nadal at this point, so I think it's a good moment to get to work and try to sum up a lot of things that have made him great over the years and try to explore some other things as well. And it's the reason I left the time after 30-plus years was that this book opportunity came along, and I'm at a stage where I kind of had to choose, and I feel like I'm getting a lot out of these, you know, the books. I'm getting a lot out of that process.

I really wanted to do it again, and this was the way to do it. But it's hard to leave after 32 years. Sure. Are you having fun so far, though, being on your own and being a full-time author? The best part about writing a book, Amy, is the research. It's the writing part.

It's the nasty part. Christopher Clary is with us from Paris. Well, we appreciate you joining us for a couple of minutes. Let me ask you about the American presence in Paris.

Where are the Americans? You know, the American players have had a bit of an uptick in some ways, especially on the men's side. They've been some good successes. Taylor Fritz is in the top 10 on the men's side, has done well. Francis Tifo, people might remember, got to the semifinals of the U.S. Open last year, created a lot of buzz, lost to Alcaraz in a great five-set match and has won some titles this year as well, too.

He's a very dynamic player. But these young guys led by Alcaraz are just a little bit cut above the Americans at the moment, so it's hard for them to go too deep. Didn't see much of them in the second week of the French Open. On the women's side, Coco Gauff has done very well, but has hit a bit of a glass ceiling at the top, hasn't been able to really win the biggest matches against the very top-ranked players. And she lost in the quarters here to Ignis Viantek, who she's never beaten, the number one player from Poland.

So there's some little holes, not big holes, but little holes in Coco's game. And she's only 19, so not writing her off by any means, but she doesn't seem to be able to make that big leap to the very, very top of the game. Was a French Open finalist last year, but lost that final pretty easy. Jessica Pagula, a great tennis player, top five in the world, hasn't been able to go super deep at the majors either. So the American players are strong, but they're not as strong at the very top as they've been in the past right now.

I think that's the way to sum it up. How dominant is Iga? Because she's managed to stay on top.

Is this a player that you think could put together an extended run? She was very dominant last year, won a whole bunch of titles, and had number one rankings, almost by double the points of her closest pursuer. Not so much the case in recent months. It's been more of a three-way operation with Irina Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan and Iga. But Rybakina got sick here, couldn't finish the tournament. Sabalenka lost a crazy match yesterday, three hours plus in the semifinals to Karolina Muhova, who's a very talented Czech player, kind of coming into her own here.

And Iga is sort of money on clay. That's her happy place, her best surface. And I think she was the favorite coming in, and she's still very much the favorite going into the final.

But Muhova's very talented, could make it hard for her. I've been watching that match actually. They replay him on the tennis channel overnight, so we've been able to see him during the week while we're here hosting our show. So from this point, it's on to Wimbledon, right? When you think about tennis, it kind of feels wide open.

Other than Novak, and we'll see what happens, it feels kind of wide open. How healthy is the game of tennis right now, do you think, across the board, globally? Well, the woman said, I think there's a little concern just because there's been so much turnover at the top. I mean, you've had these superstars get created, people like Naomi Osaka, of course, and then Ash Barty from Australia was number one, won Wimbledon. And then they just haven't stayed at the top. In Naomi's case, she took a break from the game, needed a mental break from the sport, now is pregnant, going to give birth later this summer, and tends to return to the tour, but not until probably the new year. So that's a huge hole in the game. Serena retiring last year, Venus Williams is coming back in her early 40s to play Wimbledon again, it looks like.

She's on the grass getting ready. But there's been a real problem with kind of having staying power at the top. And much of the quality of tennis with Sabalenka and Svyantek and Rybakan has been excellent this year, some great matchups. I'm not sure it really breaks out personality-wise to a wider public yet.

They need years to create that. On the men's side, I've got to say, amazingly, you've lost a big three because of the rise of Alcaraz and the meteoric rise of Alcaraz and the way he plays. I think there's much more upside there at the moment, probably, than the women's game just in terms of the general audience. But we'll see how it all plays out.

Any idea how this match might go? Well, I had an interesting conversation with an old Aussie wise man named Paul McNamee. He was a great number one player in the world in doubles and knows a lot about Klay Cortensen. And he basically, his theory is, you know, the best shot on the court will win on Klay because of the fact you have to earn all the points. And he thinks, you know, Novak and Carlos, the best shot on the court is the Alcaraz forehand. So that's the thing to watch. Carlos can hit huge power with it.

It can also hit very hard to read drop shots. He is 20 years old, full of energy, enthusiasm, talent. Novak's 36, hasn't played his best tennis this year since Australia. So, you know, just on paper, you've got to give Carlos the edge just based on level of play and sort of the rise and fall of things.

And yet, something inside my head is I cannot pick against Novak and Carlos because the guy's the best of five. He's such a good adapter. He's such a good tactician now. He's still remarkably fit for his age. I'm going to go with Alcaraz because I feel like, you know, just what I said before, kind of the weight of the years and the momentum of the game. But if he doesn't play a great match, he's going to lose. I always enjoy seeing history. And if this is what we have left of the big three, then I got to be rooting for Novak to get that record that he so desires with the extra motivation. Alright, you can find Christopher on Twitter at Christoph Clary.

C-H-R-I-S-T-O-P-H and then Clary. And no longer with the New York Times, but leaving of his own accord to become a full-time author and still our favorite correspondent when it comes to the international events. It's always great to catch up with you. We look forward to it in a couple of months for Wimbledon. Amy, thanks. It's been so much fun talking to you over the years. Hope we can keep doing it.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-09 07:17:47 / 2023-06-09 07:24:31 / 7

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