Uneasy Lay the Heads that Wore the Crowns

Crown_2

William Shakespeare was undoubtedly a genius.  His plays are a linguistic treasure trove that enriched the English language with at least 491 new words and a wealth of idiomatic phrases in common use today.  In Hamlet alone, one finds these examples, among many others.

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” – Polonius, Act 2 Scene II

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” – Polonius, Act 2 Scene II

“To thine own self be true” – Polonius, Act 1 Scene III

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  – Queen Gertrude, Act 3 Scene 1

“I must be cruel only to be kind;” – Hamlet, Act 4 Scene IV

“…what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause…” – Hamlet, Act 3 Scene I

Beyond their exquisite verse, Shakespeare’s plays offer trenchant insights into human nature, especially into human weaknesses and the natural consequences thereof.  Particularly rich in lessons about human nature are Shakespeare’s histories, which, unlike the comedies and some of the tragedies (e.g., Othello and Romeo and Juliet), do not rely upon such plot devices as disguise, missed communication, and mistaken identity.

Although Shakespeare distorts some timelines for narrative effect, his history plays are with two exceptions (Richard III and Henry VIII) faithful to historical events.  Henry VIII glosses over or avoids the title character’s most egregious behavior.  Richard III may actually be a falsehood from beginning to end.  The misrepresentations in Richard III and Henry VIII can be understood as pro-Tudor propaganda contrived to enable Shakespeare, writing in the time of Elizabeth I, to keep both his job and his head.

The BBC’s An Age of Kings (1960), which presents abridged versions of Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Henry V, Henry VI Parts 1 – 3, and Richard III in 15 hour-long black-and-white segments is excellent, early-TV production values notwithstanding.

But the BBC Television Shakespeare productions of the history plays from the 1980s are outstanding, and I recommend them highly.  The series stars Derek Jacobi as Richard II, Jon Finch as Henry IV, David Gwillim as Henry V, Peter Benson as Henry VI, and Ron Cook (a.k.a. Mr. Crabb in ITV’s Mr. Selfridge) as Richard III.

RC_1      RC_2

(Ron Cook is the best Richard III I have ever seen, bar none!)

Especially fascinating to me in the history plays are the poignant lamentations on the burdens of kingship delivered by four Plantagenet kings in remarkably similar speeches.

Richard II speaks thus upon learning after his return to Britain that his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, has usurped his crown in his absence.

RII Derek Jacobi as Richard II.

Richard II, Act 3, Scene II:

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!
Cover your heads and mock not flesh and blood
With solemn reverence: throw away respect,
Tradition, form and ceremonious duty,
For you have but mistook me all this while:
I live with bread like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus,
How can you say to me, I am a king?

Henry IV, formerly Henry Bolingbroke, paces his bed chamber, tormented by his own treachery and by burdens of state:

HIV Jon Finch as Henry IV.

Henry IV Part 2, Act 3, Scene I:

How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee
And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull’d with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leavest the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common ‘larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafening clamour in the slippery clouds,
That, with the hurly, death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Henry V, eldest son of Henry IV, walks the plains of Agincourt among the tents and campfires of his soldiers late on the eve of battle against an overwhelming force and muses thus:

HV David Gwillim as Henry V.

Henry V, Act 4, Scene I:

Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children and our sins lay on the king!
We must bear all. O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing! What infinite heart’s-ease
Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!
And what have kings, that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?
And what art thou, thou idle ceremony?
What kind of god art thou, that suffer’st more
Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
What are thy rents? what are thy comings in?
O ceremony, show me but thy worth!
What is thy soul of adoration?
Art thou aught else but place, degree and form,
Creating awe and fear in other men?
Wherein thou art less happy being fear’d
Than they in fearing.
What drink’st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,
But poison’d flattery? O, be sick, great greatness,
And bid thy ceremony give thee cure!
Think’st thou the fiery fever will go out
With titles blown from adulation?
Will it give place to flexure and low bending?
Canst thou, when thou command’st the beggar’s knee,
Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream,
That play’st so subtly with a king’s repose;
I am a king that find thee, and I know
‘Tis not the balm, the sceptre and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced title running ‘fore the king,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave,
Who with a body fill’d and vacant mind
Gets him to rest, cramm’d with distressful bread;
Never sees horrid night, the child of hell,
But, like a lackey, from the rise to set
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus and all night
Sleeps in Elysium; next day after dawn,
Doth rise and help Hyperion to his horse,
And follows so the ever-running year,
With profitable labour, to his grave:
And, but for ceremony, such a wretch,
Winding up days with toil and nights with sleep,
Had the fore-hand and vantage of a king.
The slave, a member of the country’s peace,
Enjoys it; but in gross brain little wots
What watch the king keeps to maintain the peace,
Whose hours the peasant best advantages.

In one of the most beautiful scenes Shakespeare ever wrote, Henry VI – effete intellectual, inept ruler, and son of the hero of Agincourt – voices his yearnings for a simpler life.

HVI_2 Peter Benson as Henry VI.

Henry VI, Part 3, Act 2, Scene V:

O God! methinks it were a happy life,
To be no better than a homely swain;
To sit upon a hill, as I do now,
To carve out dials quaintly, point by point,
Thereby to see the minutes how they run,
How many make the hour full complete;
How many hours bring about the day;
How many days will finish up the year;
How many years a mortal man may live.
When this is known, then to divide the times:
So many hours must I tend my flock;
So many hours must I take my rest;
So many hours must I contemplate;
So many hours must I sport myself;
So many days my ewes have been with young;
So many weeks ere the poor fools will ean:
So many years ere I shall shear the fleece:
So minutes, hours, days, months, and years,
Pass’d over to the end they were created,
Would bring white hairs unto a quiet grave.
Ah, what a life were this! how sweet! how lovely!
Gives not the hawthorn-bush a sweeter shade
To shepherds looking on their silly sheep,
Than doth a rich embroider’d canopy
To kings that fear their subjects’ treachery?
O, yes, it doth; a thousand-fold it doth.
And to conclude, the shepherd’s homely curds,
His cold thin drink out of his leather bottle.
His wonted sleep under a fresh tree’s shade,
All which secure and sweetly he enjoys,
Is far beyond a prince’s delicates,
His viands sparkling in a golden cup,
His body couched in a curious bed,
When care, mistrust, and treason waits on him.

I find it interesting that Shakespeare did not write a burden-of-kingship speech for either Richard III or Henry VIII.

Quote for Today

“Oh God, but I do love being king!” — Peter O’Toole as Henry II, first Plantagenet king (1133 – 1189, r. 1154 – 1189) in James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter

H_II

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It’s Anybody’s Game: The Unpredictable Men’s Draw (U.S. Open Preview Part III of III)

Trophies Photo by @USOpenTrophies.

The 2014 U.S. Open men’s singles tournament is wide open.  The five men who own the last ten U.S. Open singles titles are (1) out of this year’s tournament with a wrist injury (Del Potro, 2009); (2) out of this year’s tournament with a wrist injury (Nadal, 2010 and 2013); (3) not yet back to top form after recovering from back surgery (Murray, 2012); (4) coming off terrible performances at two U.S. Open lead-up tournaments (Djokovic, 2011); and (5) 33 years old (Federer, 2004 – 2008).

Underdogs and rising stars alike are girding themselves at this moment to contend for unprecedented opportunities.

Out of the Lineup

In New York, both the men’s and the women’s singles draws are missing current Grand Slam title holders.  On the men’s side, it is 2010 and 2013 U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal who is unable to play.

Nadal, a 14-year tour veteran who is currently ranked #2 in the world, has a congenitally deformed bone in his left foot, the terrible pain from which forced him to miss the 2006 Australian Open.  Custom arch supports that Nadal acquired to protect the foot in 2006 shifted the strains to his hips and knees.  Consequent knee problems caused him to miss both Wimbledon 2009 and seven months of competition in late 2012 and early 2013.

It is his right wrist (which, as a lefty, Nadal uses only for two-handed backhands) that keeps Nadal out of the 2014 U.S. Open.  According to Nadal’s doctor, the injury in early August was a freak occurrence which could have happened to any player. Unlike Nadal’s knee injuries, which have resulted from wear, his recent wrist injury is a simple case of bad luck.

Nadal has missed 7 of the 47 Grand Slam tournaments for which he has been eligible in his career.  Of the remaining 40 Slams, he has won 14.  (Roger Federer has won 17 of the 59 he has contested.)

Nadal has the highest overall match winning percentage of any player in tennis history.  Of the active players whom he has faced more than once, Nadal has a winning record against all except one (Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko), including against all of the players currently ranked in the Top 50.

With a broad smile, humble nature, and sunny personality, Nadal is wildly popular with fans. His absence is a heavy blow to the tournament.

Here is one fan’s collection of the 20 best points played by Nadal at the 2013 U.S. Open.

The 2014 Favorites

The tournament’s top two seeds, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, are heavily favored to meet in the final on September 8.  Each has won the tournament before — Djokovic in 2011 and Federer from 2004 through 2008 — and a case can be made for either of them to be the tournament favorite.

Novak Djokovic
ND_Wimby

Nationality:
Serbia
Age:
27
Ranking:
1
Height:
6’2″
Noise factor:
  Emits a distinctive two-stage grunt beginning three or four games into a match.  Fusses aloud and gesticulates on court when matches are not going well for him.  Roars in a manner some consider barbaric when he wins important points.

At its best, Djokovic’s tennis can be nearly perfect.  From absurd, Gumby-like stretch positions, he possesses the strength and accuracy to not only get every ball back into play but also send his shots to locations on the opposite baseline and put his opponents on the run.  When he takes control of a rally, he is capable of hitting a blistering kill shot from anywhere in the court, to anywhere in the court.  In that mode, he has no weaknesses and no peer.   His opponents are left with few to no good options.

Djokovic’s Achilles Heel throughout his career has been the inability to sustain his best level.  He maintained it spectacularly well for most of 2011 and early 2012, during which period he won four of five Grand Slams, but since mid-2012 his execution has failed him at crucial moments, most notably in the three Slam matches he lost to Nadal in 2013 and 2014.

At Wimbledon last month, Djokovic defeated Roger Federer in a tense five-set final, during which he recovered psychologically after failing to serve out the match in the fourth set.

‘Djokovic is back,’ declared all of the tennis experts, nearly in unison. ‘Since he has finally won another Slam final, he will begin to hit freely, and he will dominate for the rest of the year.’

Nope.

In each of his two summer hard court tournaments, Djokovic played two bad matches, barely scraping through one and then losing the second.

Now some of tennis’ conventional wisdom claims Djokovic’s puzzling weakness of late deprives him of the mantle of Favorite to win the U.S. Open. With that conclusion I disagree.

Djokovic’s underperformances usually occur when he is favored to win.  When he has something to prove, as he has in New York this year, he thrives.  Especially since Djokovic has been handed a very challenging draw, I expect that his steely competitive ferocity and technical near-perfection will be on display from the very first round.  The Djokovic who plays in New York this year should sweep through his section of the draw.

Update: Djokovic lost his semifinal match in four sets to current world #11 Kei Nishikori of Japan.

Roger Federer
RF_0626_BH
Nationality:
Switzerland
Age:
33
Ranking:
3
Height: 6’1″
Noise factor:
Grunts very rarely and then only on the serve.  After winning a point in a tight match, will yell, “Come on,” in a warning tone, as if to signal his opponent that momentum has shifted in Federer’s direction.

It is for good reason that Roger Federer is the best-known active male tennis player and commands by far the largest endorsement contracts.  He leads players across all eras with 17 Grand Slam titles, boasts 80 titles overall, and owns the record for the number of weeks as world #1.  He is also the most naturally graceful player ever to pick up a tennis racquet.

After a rough 2013, during which he dealt with chronic back pain, Federer is putting together an outstanding 2014 season.  He leads the tour in match wins, has reached seven tournament finals (including four in a row this summer), and has won three titles.

Federer comes into the U.S. Open having made the final in each of the two large warm-up tournaments and having won the title at the second.  Easy conventional wisdom picked him as the tournament favorite based on current form.

I think Federer has a good chance of reaching the final, in part because his draw puts few dangerous challengers in his way.  If Federer reaches the final and faces an opponent other than Djokovic, he will probably win.

However, in the case of a Federer/Djokovic final, I would pick Djokovic to win.  He has prevailed in the pair’s last two meetings in New York, and I believe that if Djokovic manages to navigate his challenging draw and reach the final, he will be playing well enough to defeat Federer.

Update: Federer lost his semifinal match in straight sets to current world #15 Marin Cilic of Croatia.

The Contenders

Several of the 126 other players in the singles draw have good chances to spoil a possible Djokovic/Federer final.

Stan Wawrinka
SWW_0624
Nationality:
Switzerland
Age:
29
Ranking:
4
Height:
6′
Noise factor:
Grunts, though not too loudly.  Has gotten into lively debates with chair umpires at least twice in 2014.

In 2013 and early 2014, Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka made an impressive splash on the Tour, after having languished for many years in Federer’s shadow.  Wawrinka started 2013 with a close loss to Djokovic in five sets at the Australian Open.  Although painful, the experience showed Wawrinka that he was nearly on a par with the top players and served to inspire him for the rest of the year.  Wawrinka reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open and finished the season in the Top 8.

January offered Wawrinka an Australian Open rematch with Djokovic in the quarterfinals, which Wawrinka won in brilliant fashion.  Riding a wave of confidence, Wawrinka reached his first Grand Slam final, against Nadal, four days later.  Wawrinka played inspired, flawless tennis to take the first set of the final.  Early in the second set, Nadal suffered a back injury that left him without a serve and nearly unable to move.  Wawrinka went on to win the final in four sets, earning his first and to-date only Grand Slam title.

Wawrinka followed up his Grand Slam title by winning his first title at the Masters 1000 level (one tier below the Grand Slams) in Monte Carlo in April.  He appeared in the spring destined to compete for the year’s top rankings.

By late May, though, Wawrinka’s season had turned south, beginning with a first-round loss at the French Open.  Whereas through April Wawrinka had notched a tour-leading six wins over players in the Top 10, since May he has lost four times to players ranked outside the Top 30.

Wawrinka plays an aggressive style of tennis with a great deal of power.  His one-handed backhanded is both beautiful to watch and dangerously accurate.  His forehand is a formidable weapon.  What brings him down when he loses is not his shots but poor decision-making.

If Wawrinka can recover in New York the mental toughness and clear thinking that carried him through the first half of 2014, he could beat anyone in the draw and hoist the trophy on September 8.

Update: Wawrinka lost his quarterfinal match in five sets to current world #11 Kei Nishikori of Japan.

David Ferrer
DF_0816_Smile
Nationality:
Spain
Age:
32
Ranking:
5
Height: 5’9″
Noise factor:
Emits a low, guttural grunt with every shot that he hits.  Has been known to berate himself in colorful Spanish when making too many mistakes on court.

David Ferrer is 5’9″ on his very tallest days and compact, short-waisted, and narrow-shouldered.  Unable to generate great power, he has perfected a style of tennis that succeeds without it.

His serves are accurate rather than big, catching opponents off-guard with service location.  His forehand is sharp and precise enough to drop on a dime anywhere in the court.  His speed and footwork are spectacular, enabling him to counterpunch against even the hardest hitters.  He excels at reading and returning his opponents’ serves, leading the Tour in return statistics every year.  He has an uncanny ability to break an opponent’s serve when he is serving for a set.

DF_0813_in_Motion

Ferrer may be the best on the Tour at understanding his own capabilities and wringing the maximum performance from his native talents.  He brings a great competitive intensity to every point in every match.  He wins by getting balls back into play, placing his shots in awkward locations, and wearing his opponents down.  Commentators have noted that anyone who steps onto a court to play Ferrer knows it’s going to hurt.

Some tennis fans find Ferrer’s relentless style boring, since it relies on consistency rather than variety.  It is effective, though.  Ferrer’s win/loss record in the more arduous Best of Five Set matches (which are played at the Grand Slams) is better than his record in Best of Three.  He reached the quarterfinals or better at 10 consecutive Grand Slams before falling early at Wimbledon last month.  He has finished in the Top 5 for the last three years and finished 2013 ranked #3, behind only Nadal and Djokovic.

Ferrer comes into New York after the best performances of his career in the summer hard court tournaments, having reached a quarterfinal and a final.  In both tournaments, he lost to Federer, taking a set in each of those losses.

By virtue of his #5 ranking, Ferrer earned the #4 seed when Nadal withdrew.  Ferrer is the highest seed in his quarter and faces a draw which, although challenging, does not offer obvious stumbling blocks to his reaching the semifinals.

Federer is the other top seed in Ferrer’s half.  Ferrer has never beaten Federer in 16 tries, but they have never faced each other in a Best of Five Sets match.  Because of his sheer brilliance as a shot maker, Federer would have the edge if they met in New York, but Ferrer can be counted on to give it his all.

Update: Ferrer lost his third round match in four sets to current world #31 Gilles Simon of France.

Grigor Dimitrov
GD_at_IW
Nationality:
Bulgaria
Age: 23
Ranking:
8
Height:
 6’3″
Noise factor:
Very quiet on the court.  Remains calm, with few displays of hot temper.

Grigor Dimitrov is a young star in the rise.  Blessed with grace, strength, and height, Dimitrov plays with a style frequently compared to Federer’s.  His matches offer a highly entertaining blend of spectacular shot making, intense competitive fire, and stylistic variety.

In years past, Dimitrov lacked the fitness to sustain tough rallies with the top players and often attempted to end points prematurely through high-risk kill shots that missed.  A year of hard work with one of tennis’ best coaches, Roger Rasheed, has given him new confidence in his fitness, which has translated into terrific results in 2014.

Possessing a beautiful game, good looks, an appealing personality, and a well-modulated on-court temperament, Dimitrov is one of the ATP’s most bankable rising stars.  If he stays healthy, he will win multiple Grand Slams.  Whether he will take his first in New York this year is hard to predict,  since his record at the Slams to date is uneven.

Dimitrov will meet Federer if both reach the quarterfinals in what would surely be one of the most highly rated and aesthetically pleasing matches of the tournament.

Update: Dimitrov lost his Round of 16 match in straight sets to current world #24 Gael Monfils.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
JWT_0809_Yay
Nationality:
France
Age:
29
Ranking:
10
Height: 6’2″
Noise factor:
Was louder early in his career. Still grunts, but not known today as a noisy player.

The affable and powerful Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is built like a linebacker in American football, is one of a very few players to have beaten Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, and two-time Slam winner Andy Murray at least two times each.  A big server who is also a fast mover and very skillful at the net, Tsonga at his best can hit anyone off the court.  He has upset Federer at Grand Slam tournaments twice.

Inconsistency, both mentally and as a consequence of injuries, has been Tsonga’s bane.  At times he appears to be more interested in feeling sorry for himself than in grinding out points when he faces a tough defender.  For the second half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, his results were so unimpressive that tennis observers ceased to consider him a threat.

Then suddenly, in early August in Toronto he rediscovered spectacular and disciplined form.  He beat Djokovic, Murray, Dimitrov, and Federer over a period of five days in one of the greatest tournament performances in recent memory.  Although he lost early in the following week, citing understandable fatigue, his recent excellence in Canada makes him a serious contender in New York.

If Tsonga can reproduce his Toronto form and sustain it through seven Best of Five Set matches over two weeks, it might be he who hoists the trophy on September 8.

Update: Tsonga lost his Round of 16 match in straight sets to current world #9 Andy Murray.

The Dark Horses

Andy Murray
AM_0623
Nationality:
U.K.
Age:
27
Ranking:
9
Height: 6’3″
Noise factor:
Emits grunts whose pitches rise in direct proportion to his stress level.  Has been known to complain loudly in the direction of his player’s box when a match is not going his way.

Andy Murray won the U.S. Open in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2013.  He is considered by tennis fans to be a member of the Big Four (with Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic), who held the top rankings spots and dominated the Grand Slams and the Masters 1000 tournaments for several years.

For the 2014 U.S. Open I consider Murray to be only a Dark Horse, because he has not yet recovered his top form after having undergone back surgery last October.

Murray at his best is a difficult and frustrating opponent.  Like Djokovic, he excels at retrieving balls and returning them to play.  Whereas Djokovic’s strengths lie in power, flexibility, and precision, one of Murray’s greatest weapons is shot variety.  He drives his opponents batty by changing speeds and changing spins, all the while retrieving so many balls that an opponent is sometimes forced to hit five winning shots to take just one point.

In 2014 Murray has shown flashes of his pre-surgery brilliance, but he has not been able to sustain his best against the top players at the Slams.  If he were to find his form in the coming fortnight at the site of his first Grand Slam title, he could prevail over anyone.

Tomas Berdych
TB_0620

Nationality:
Czech Republic
Age:
28
Ranking:
7
Height: 6’5″
Noise factor:
Not especially loud when he plays.  Will occasionally argue sharply with a chair umpire during a tight match.

Berdych, like Tsonga, has recorded wins over each member of the Big Four and has reached one Grand Slam final.  Possessing the big serve and hard, flat ground strokes typical of tall players, Berdych is also an excellent mover for his size.

For several years, Berdych has consistently ranked just below the Big Four.  He usually beats the players ranked below him but can run into trouble against the top players when his game plan fails and he does not have a Plan B.

Berdych faces some challenging opposition in the early rounds, including a first round match with renowned battler and former world #1 Lleyton Hewitt.  If Berdych reaches the quarterfinals, he could face Ferrer, against whom he has a losing record but whom he defeated at this year’s Australian Open.  Were he to get past Ferrer, Berdych could face Federer.

Berdych’s draw works against him this year in New York.  He has a strong enough game, though, to get himself into the later rounds if some of his opposition melts away.

Update: Berdych lost his quarterfinal match in straight sets to current world #16 Marin Cilic of Croatia.

Milos Raonic
MR_0628
Nationality:
Canada
Age:
23
Ranking:
6
Height: 6’5″
Noise factor:
Fairly quiet.

Milos Raonic has a classic tall-man style of play to which many fans refer disparagingly as “serve-bot.”  He has an huge and high-bouncing serve, with which he either aces his opponents or puts opponents at such mechanical disadvantage that he can easily hit a winner on a second shot.

The resulting style — ace; ace; service winner; three-shot rally — can be boring but effective.  In 2014 Raonic has been one of the Tour’s most consistent performers, reaching quarterfinals or better at most of the large tournaments and thereby elevating his ranking into the Top 8.

Raonic has not yet been able to prevail over the top players, though, because they all excel at the return of serve.  Although Raonic has worked hard on his rallying skills and shot selection, every match he plays against a higher-ranked player reveals the weaknesses he still needs to shore up.

Raonic is much hyped as a rising star on the Tour.  His coach, former player Ivan Ljubicic, predicts that he will win Grand Slam titles.  That Raonic might do so in New York this year seems to me unlikely.

Update: Raonic lost his Round of 16 match in five sets to current world #11 Kei Nishikori of Japan.

Ernests Gulbis
EG_0603_BH
Nationality:
Latvia
Age:
25
Ranking:
12
Noise factor:
Known more for occasional bursts of temper (and racquet smashes) than for grunting.

Ernests Gulbis has talent, skills, and self-belief that enable him to beat any player (except, to date, Nadal) on any day.  He defeated Federer at this year’s French Open and has beaten Djokovic and Murray twice each.

Gulbis might have to beat Berdych, Ferrer, and Federer to reach the final.  In my opinion, Gulbis is one of the few players ranked outside of the Top 10 who has the ability to do that.  (Or he might lose in the first round.)

Update: Gulbis lost his second round match in five sets to current world #45 Dominic Thiem of Austria.

My Picks

Most likely to win the title?
Djokovic

It is hard to bet against him when he is so highly motivated.

My sentimental favorite?
Ferrer

It would be fantastic if the 32-year-old workhorse could get his hands on a Grand Slam trophy.

 

Quote for Today

“I know that there is one thing for sure: everybody is starting from scratch. Everybody starts from Monday.” – Novak Djokovic

“I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.” – A Brief Tribute to John Cazale

DDA Photo from xSlayer Movies.

On this hot and muggy late August day, I am reminded of a quintessential August film, Dog Day Afternoon (1975), set in the stifling and claustrophobic desperation of 1970s working-class Brooklyn.  A young Al Pacino earned his fourth Oscar nomination for his riveting performance as Sonny, the half-mad instigator of a bank robbery gone wrong.

Portraying Sal, Sonny’s partner in crime, was John Cazale, a 39-year-old stage actor and frequent collaborator of Pacino.

Today, Cazale is unfortunately not widely known.  He was only 42 when he died of lung cancer in 1978.

JC

Cazale garnered high praise for the sensitivity of his screen performances.  Most remarkable about him, though, is his nearly perfect record in script selection.

In his all-too-brief career, Cazale made only five films, each of which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture:

The Godfather (1972)

GF

The Conversation (1974)

TC

The Godfather Part II (1974)

GFII

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

DDA_2

The Deer Hunter (1978).

DH

Three of the five films — The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and The Deer Hunter — won Best Picture.  Each of the five ranks among the best movies of the 1970s and of all time.

Here is Cazale in one of his most famous scenes from The Godfather Part II.

 

Fredo may not have been very smart, but John Cazale was clearly a genius at choosing movie scripts!

Tennis on the Distaff Side: U.S. Open Preview, Part II of III.

AI_by_John_Russo Ana Ivanovic. Photo by John Russo.

Much has changed in women’s tennis since the era of wooden racquets and Billie Jean King, for whom the U.S. Open’s home in Flushing Meadows, New York, is named.

Today, at most tournaments the men and women earn equal prize money.  (More on that controversial topic in a future post.)  Women can command lucrative endorsement contracts.  Perhaps not surprisingly, therefore, both fashion and sex appeal currently play sizable roles in the marketing of women’s tennis.

The women’s game today rewards athleticism and power at the expense of grace and finesse.  In consequence, the highly entertaining serve-and-volley style of yesteryear is increasingly rare.

One sees quite a few double faults and breaks of serve today.  Whether that stems from individual players’ emotional fragility or from their failing to practice the serve, I cannot say, but service vulnerability often renders women’s tennis unpredictable and stressful to watch.

Screaming, shrieking, and grunting have become all too commonplace in the women’s game, as have ugly gamesmanship, catty sniping in the press, and diva-like behavior.

I have not enjoyed women’s tennis for most of the last decade because of the prevalence of screamers and divas.  I have hope, though, as a cadre of likable players moves up the rankings.

There are only a few favorites to win this year’s U.S. Open women’s title, but the cast of supporting characters is large and colorful.  Here is an introduction to the principal players. [Photos courtesy of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).]

Out of the Lineup

In New York, both the men’s and the women’s singles draws are missing current Grand Slam title holders.  For the women, two-time Slam winner Li Na of China (winner of the 2012 French Open and the 2014 Australian Open), is out with a knee injury.  In Li’s honor, and as a tribute to her irrepressible spirit, here is her victory speech at this year’s Australian Open, which is surely one of the most entertaining champions’ speeches in tennis history.

The Favorites

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are the most likely contenders for the women’s singles final on September 7.  Between them, they have won 22 Slams (17 for Williams, 5 for Sharapova) and three of the last six Slams.

Serena Williams
SW

Nationality: U.S.
Age: 32
Ranking: 1
Height: 5’9″
Upside: Hard-hitting veteran and defending U.S. Open champion.  Fierce competitor.  When she is at her best, no one can rally with her.
Downside: Williams has failed to reach the quarterfinals at this year’s first three Slams and has a record of uneven results throughout the year.
Noise factor:  Grunts at varying volumes and pitches.  Uses her voice as an offensive weapon.

Maria Sharapova
MS
Nationality: Russia
Age: 27
Ranking: 6
Height: 6’2″
Upside: Very powerful shots.  Great movement.  One of the toughest fighters on the women’s tour.  May lead the tour this year in “wins after dropping the first set.”
Downside: Does not always manage to intimidate her opponent into losing after she takes the first set. Has a terrible head-to-head record against Serena Williams.
Noise factor: Emits a horrific shriek whose volume she raises when matches are tight, as though she means to deafen her opponents into submission.  This usually works.
Update: Sharapova lost her Round of 16 match to current world #11 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

The Second Tier

Each of these women has made at least the final at one of this year’s three previous Slams, and each is great fun to watch.

Simona Halep
SH
Natonality: Romania
Age: 22
Ranking: 2
Height: 5’6″
2014 Slam Highlight: Lost the French Open final to Sharapova in three highly competitive sets.
Noise factor: Very quiet player.
Update: Halep lost her third round match in straight sets to current world #119 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia.

Petra Kvitova
PK
Nationality: Czech Republic
Age: 24
Ranking: 4
Height: 6′
2014 Slam Highlight: Won the Wimbledon final over Eugenie Bouchard in a rout.  Played brilliantly.
Noise factor: In years past, shrieked loudly whenever she won a point.  Has broken that habit, to her great credit.
Update: Kvitova lost her third round match in straight sets to the current world #143 Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia.

Eugenie Bouchard
EB
Nationality: Canada
Age: 20
Ranking: 8
Height: 5’10”
2014 Slam Highlights: Reached the semifinals or better in Australia, Paris, and Wimbledon.  Lost the Wimbledon final to Kvitova.
Noise factor: Not noticeable.
Update: Bouchard lost her Round of 16 match in straight sets to current world #18 Ekaterina Makarova of Russia.

Dominika Cibulkova
DC
Nationality: Slovakia
Age: 25
Ranking: 13
Height: 5’3″
2014 Slam Highlights: Defeated Sharapova in the Round of 16 at the Australian Open.  Reached the final at that event, where she lost to Li Na.
Noise factor: Grunts occasionally.  Has an irritating habit of yelling to pump herself up after every point.
Update: Cibulkova lost her first round match in three sets to 15-year-old American wildcard Catherine Bellis.

Tough Outs

Each of these women is highly entertaining to watch, and each is capable of upsetting one of the favorites.

Agnieszka Radwanska
AR
Nationality: Poland
Age: 25
Ranking: 5
Height: 5’8″
Notes: Relatively short for the Tour and therefore lacking in power, Radwanska wins through guile, variety, and speed.  Through sheer force of will and deft shot selection, she beat the defending champion Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals at this year’s Australian Open.  Nicknamed “Ninja” by commentators, Radwanska is one of the most enjoyable players to watch.  Here she hits a reflex volley, one of the most breathtaking shots in all of 2013.
Noise factor: Quiet.
Update: Radwanska lost her second round match in straight sets to current world #40 Peng Shuai of China.

Caroline Wozniacki
CW
Nationality: Denmark
Age: 24
Ranking: 11
Height: 5’10”
Notes: A few years ago, Wozniacki was ranked #1 in the world by virtue of consistency and defensive skills.  Her ranking dropped in 2012 and 2013, but in the summer of 2014 she has exhibited terrific form.  She will offer stiff competition to anyone in New York.
Noise factor: Grunts, but not loudly.

Ana Ivanovic
AI
Nationality: Serbia
Age: 26
Ranking: 9
Height: 6′
Notes: The 2008 French Open champion, Ivanovic has struggled in recent years with self-confidence.  This year she has found wonderful form, beating Serena Williams in the Round of 16 at the Australian Open and returning to the Top 10 for the first time in five years.
Noise factor: With every shot, emits a distinctive nasal, “Heh – ENH!” which, while not loud, is nonetheless tiresome.
Update: Ivanovic lost her second round match in straight sets to current world #41 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.

Venus Williams
VW
Nationality: U.S.
Age: 34
Ranking: 20
Height: 6’1″
Notes: A seven-time Slam champion who has struggled with injuries and health concerns, Venus Williams has recovered her best form in the summer of 2014.  At Wimbledon and at an event in Canada two weeks ago, she played some of the best and most exciting women’s matches of the entire year.  She will pose a formidable challenge to anyone at the U.S. Open.
Noise factor: Loud and variable.
Update: Williams lost her third round match in three sets to current world #14 Sara Errani of Italy.

Known Unknowns

These women are former Slam champions who for various reasons come into this year’s U.S. Open in questionable form.  Given a clear draw and playing at her best, any of them could find herself in the final.

Victoria Azarenka
VA
Nationality: Belarus
Age: 25
Ranking: 17
Height: 6′
Slam Highlights: Australian Open Champion in 2012 and 2013.
Notes: Has not recovered her best form after an absence from the Tour due to a foot injury.
Noise factor: With every shot, Azarenka emits a unique whistle-like shriek that brings to mind incoming artillery fire.  The shriek stops if her ball hits the net.  It is because of Azarenka (and Sharapova) that many tennis fans wish for selective muting capabilities on their televisions.
Update: Azarenka lost her quarterfinal match in straight sets to current world #18 Ekaterina Makarova.

Svetlana Kuznetsova
SK
Nationality: Russia
Age: 29
Ranking: 21
Height: 5’81/2″
Slam Highlights: 2004 U.S. Open Champion, 2009 French Open Champion.
Notes: Form is uneven, but competitive fire will probably carry her through at least a few rounds.
Noise factor: Loud, but no louder or more irritating than many of the male players are.
Update. Kuznetsova lost her first round  match in three sets to current world #82 Marina Erakovic of New Zealand.

Samantha Stosur
SS
Nationality: Australia
Age: 30
Ranking: 25
Height: 5’9″
Slam Highlights: 2010 French Open finalist. 2011 U.S. Open Champion.
Notes: Stosur’s powerful play and strong skills at the net enabled her to defeat Serena Williams in the 2011 U.S. Open final.  Since then she has struggled with confidence.  If she can maintain belief in her skills, she is capable of upsetting almost anyone.
Noise factor: Not noticeably loud.
Update: Stosur lost her second round match in three sets to current world #49 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.

Quote for Today

“We’re not friends.” – Eugenie Bouchard, in response to a question about Maria Sharapova.

YES or NO: How Would Robert the Bruce Vote?

 

 

RtB Robert the Bruce

Today the United Nations comprises 193 countries.

Might that number rise to 194?  A national vote on September 18th will answer that question.  The 194th country, if its voters say YES, will be Scotland.

A proud, autonomous kingdom for at least 800 years despite numerous English attempts at military conquest, Scotland was de facto subsumed into a personal union with England when its king, James VI, moved in 1603 from Edinburgh to London to become King James I of England.  In 1707, through the Treaty of Union, Scotland was formally incorporated into the Kingdom of Great Britain.

(For an in-depth review of Scotland’s long and fascinating history, I strongly recommend Neil Oliver’s outstanding BBC series “A History of Scotland.”)

Throughout its history, Scotland has maintained a separate legal system.  Since 1999, it has had its own Parliament, whose mandate is limited.

This September 18th, a Referendum for Independence will determine whether Scotland separates itself from the United Kingdom to become a sovereign nation.

This historic plebiscite has received scant coverage in the United States.  Most of what I hear about the referendum comes from social media, where discussions are lively.

On Twitter, the YES side comes across as passionate at the grassroots level.  I hear that YES uses volunteers instead of paid staff and canvasses undecided voters face to face every day.  The NO side, which seems to be driven by money and staff from England, uses paid canvassers in lieu of volunteers and employs telephone rather than in-person contacts.

The YES campaign presents voters with a positive and idealistic vision of a once-more independent Scotland.  The NO side uses scare tactics, emphasizing potential costs of separation, and (I gather) fails to offer a positive message about the benefits to Scotland of continued union.

The YESes I hear from on social media say that YES has energy and enthusiasm but not yet the poll numbers on its side.  I hear that many NOs do not use rational arguments to defend their positions but seem rather to adhere to their beliefs out of fear or inertia.

The official YES website is hereThe official NO site is here.  In-depth discussions of YES arguments are available here.

As an outsider, I am neither qualified to vote nor sufficiently well informed to judge the YES and NO positions on their merits.

But as a native of the U.S. – one former British colony that successfully overthrew the yoke of Westminster rule – I find the prospect of Scottish independence inspiring.

The U.S. was founded on the idea that citizens should be governed by elected representatives and that most government should be local rather than centralized in a national capital.  In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence:

“[T]he States can best govern our home concerns and the general government our foreign ones. I wish, therefore…never to see all offices transferred to Washington, where, further withdrawn from the eyes of the people, they may more secretly be bought and sold at market.” (letter to Judge William Johnson — 1823)

James Madison, a primary author of the U.S. Constitution, added:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” (Federalist No. 45)

In the U.S. Founders’ vision, the federal government is responsible for only the duties that individual states cannot carry out for themselves – treaties, wars and defense, tariffs, management of a national currency.  All other governmental functions are to be left to state and local jurisdiction.  The reason for this is simple: governments closer to the people – at the town, county, and state levels – are nearer to the citizens’ immediate concerns, more transparent, and more easily held to account by voters.

Unfortunately, in the last 100 years and especially in the last 50 years, the U.S. government has vastly overreached its original scope; but the principle of local governance remains sound and sensible.

As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland inevitably sacrifices autonomy (and control over its precious North Sea oil reserves) to a governing class in far-away Westminster.  Scotland receives in exchange military protection, intangibles associated with membership in the U.K., and certain economic benefits.

If the Union’s net benefits to Scotland do not outweigh the costs of its lost autonomy, then perhaps Scotland owes itself independence.

In the words of one Scottish expatriate: (forwarded by Michael Stewart)

Scotland_Ex-Pat_Letter

Quote for Today

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” – The Declaration of Independence

Disorder on the Court: Three Reasons to Tune in to the U.S. Open (U.S. Open Preview, Part I of III)

 

Ashe_0817  Photo by @tomasberdych.

The U.S. Open, the fourth and final tennis Grand Slam tournament of the year, begins on August 25.  Two hundred fifty-six men and women in the singles competitions – and hundreds more in the doubles, mixed doubles, juniors, wheelchair, and Champions Invitational divisions – will vie for the career-changing honors and generous prize money to be awarded inside the world’s largest tennis stadium, Arthur Ashe, in Queens, New York.

As of this writing, the competitor lists are not fixed.  Last year’s men’s champion, Rafael Nadal, has not yet announced whether a recent wrist injury will prevent him from defending his title.

Today I cannot offer you prognostications about the eventual winners, but I can recommend three players to watch for sheer entertainment value, whether you are a passionate tennis fan or new to the sport.

1. Gael Monfils
Age: 27
Nationality: French
Current rank: 23

GM_0529_Airborne

Gael Monfils is a human highlight reel.  Both the most athletically gifted player on the ATP World Tour (the men’s professional tennis circuit) and the tour’s greatest natural showman, Monfils blends unconventional (and unpredictable) shot-making with good-natured theatre to win over every stadium crowd.  He recently told an interviewer that although he prefers winning points to entertaining, “When the show is on, it’s on.”

GM_0527

Monfils’ career has been derailed several times by injury and inconsistency, but this summer he is in excellent form.  A Monfils match against any opponent is a sure bet for virtuosity and pure entertainment.

Monfils at his best gives everything to win a point (here at the 2014 French Open).

 

The ATP will require you to go to YouTube to view these next highlights of a recent Monfils match against Novak Djokovic, but Monfils’ racquet skills are well worth the extra clicks.

 

2. Fabio Fognini
Age: 27
Nationality: Italian
Rank: 21

FF_0623

If Gael Monfils is the ATP’s best showman, the highly talented Fabio Fognini may be its greatest conundrum.  Fognini excels at making brilliance look easy.  On his best days, he saunters around the court lackadaisically, firing spectacular shots so casually as to make them appear effortless.

 

At his worst and, to his fans, most maddening, he seems to exert no effort whatsoever.  Twice in 2014 crowds have booed him off the court for giving up when the score has gone against him.

Perhaps because of Fognini’s wild inconsistency – the outcome of one of his matches depends upon which Fognini shows up for work on a given day – he has an uncanny knack for bringing out his opponents’ worst tennis.  More than once he has taken sets from even top players not by playing well but by lulling his opponents into states of confused lethargy.

Fognini generates more than his share of controversy.  Recently he angered fans by retweeting a joke implying that Serena Williams is a man.  He has misbehaved on court so badly as to incur numerous fines, most notably a tournament-record $27,500. at this year’s Wimbledon.  YouTube searches for “Fabio Fognini chair umpire” and “Fabio Fognini meltdown” produce long lists of hits.

Here, after losing an argument with chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani this year in Madrid, Fognini actually threatens Lahyani with bodily harm.

 

In the next clip, Fognini loses a match on purpose.  While serving down one set and at 4-5, he (1) double faults; (2) double faults again; (3) whacks a ball in disgust, thereby incurring a point penalty (since he had already received a code violation warning); and (4) commits two deliberate foot faults in order to lose the game’s (and the match’s) final point.

 

Fognini has managed to avoid dismissal from the ATP tour for his antics, because he can be a top-notch player, and because his outrageous behavior is outweighed (usually, but not always) by his considerable charm.  Tennis fans flock to his matches.

One can understand why through this clip from last year’s Wimbledon.  As Fognini engages in Puccini-esque melodramatics to protest a line call, veteran chair umpire Pascal Maria cannot manage to keep a straight face.

 

3. Ernests Gulbis
Age: 25
Nationality: Latvian
Rank: 13

EG__0309_Prep

Born to great wealth and blessed with phenomenal athletic talent, Ernests Gulbis has spent most of his career failing to live up to his potential, showing flashes of brilliance separated by long periods of underachievement.  By his own admission, Gulbis lacked the motivation and work ethic required to perform consistently well during tennis’ long and grinding season.

Fortunately for Ernests – and for the sport – Gulbis kicked himself into gear for the 2014 season.  In his own words, he ‘caught the last train out of the station’ to salvage his career.

As with Fognini, Gulbis can be riveting to watch for reasons both good and bad.

  • Gulbis hits the ball hard, aggressively, and accurately.  When he is at his best, he is a brilliant shot maker.

 

  • Gulbis’ form is idiosyncratic – amusingly so at times.  His forehand wind-up (lampooned here by Tennis Channel’s engineers) earned him the nickname “Seagulbis.”

 

  • Gulbis is one of the ATP World Tour’s most experienced and dramatic racquet smashers.  When he loses an important point, he is not shy about blaming and punishing his equipment.

 

  • Unlike most men on the tour, Gulbis has no fear of facing the top players.  He comports himself on court with a belligerent confidence and an unshakeable belief that he should win.  As a result, he sometimes does: he has beaten Novak Djokovic (current world #1) and Andy Murray (#9) once each and Roger Federer (#3) twice.
  • Articulate to the point of glibness, light-hearted, and self-confident, Gulbis offers the most entertaining and unconventional press conferences on the tour.  Examples abound.  In this clip, he misunderstands a reporter’s question about umpires and gives a candid and thoughtful answer about the role of vampires in tennis.

 

Gulbis’ repertoire of press comments is so rich that one blogger has compiled “The 40 Best Quotes of Ernests Gulbis’ Career.”

 

Next week I’ll talk about the tournament’s favorites and dark horses. ‘Til then…

 

Quote for Today

“I would like interviews to be more like in boxing. OK, maybe those guys are not the most brilliant on earth but, when they face each other down at the weigh-in, they bring what the fans want: war, blood, emotion. All that is missing in tennis, where everything is clean and white with polite handshakes and some nice shots, while the people want to see broken rackets and hear outbursts on the court.” – Ernests Gulbis

Falling Hard for Captain Poldark

RE_1

How inspiring it is to see someone transform what might have been a discouraging setback into a rewarding career, especially if he has already enjoyed great success in a different field.

I first saw Robin Ellis in an episode of Granada Television’s wonderful Sherlock Holmes series starring the late Jeremy Brett. (If you haven’t seen Jeremy Brett’s intense and nuanced performances as Sherlock Holmes, I recommend that you do so.  I believe Jeremy Brett was put on this earth to play that part.)

The episode I saw on the fateful night, “Shoscombe Old Place,” dealt with a racing stable owner in financial straits, but the show’s plot was of secondary importance.

“That’s ROBIN ELLIS!” declared one of the viewing party, a lady of my parents’ generation.

“Who’s Robin Ellis?” said I, not at that moment terribly impressed, because the character was boorish and uninteresting to me.

“POLDARK!!!” was the response.

At the time I  knew of Poldark only as a Masterpiece Theater offering whose praises I had heard my parents sing, and whose name had sounded indecipherably odd to my childish ears.

After the BBC finally released Poldark on DVD in 2008, I had the pleasure of seeing the entire series for myself.

Now I get it.

Poldark comes from a richly textured series of novels by Winston Graham.  The title character, Captain Ross Poldark, returns from fighting on the losing side in the American Revolution to find life in his native Cornwall irretrievably altered.  The woman he loves is engaged to another man, his father is dead, and his family estate is in sad disarray.  Also, Ross himself has changed.  Inspired of the American Colonies’ meritocratic social mobility, Ross chafes at Britain’s rigid class structure.  He feels a deeper sympathy for Cornwall’s working poor, and, although he is a natural leader among his peers, he finds himself increasingly out of step with the local landed gentry.

RE_AR

At 6’3”, and blessed with a rich baritone voice, strong cheekbones, and a magnificent head of thick, wavy hair, Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark was everything a girl could want in a chivalrous late 18th-century television hero.  His characterization blended romantic masculinity with thoughtful intensity and a stubborn impulsiveness that often got Ross into trouble.

Gripping storylines, strong performances by Ellis and the rest of the cast, and Cornwall’s breathtaking scenery made the 1975 – 77 Poldark series wildly successful.  It was shown in more than 40 countries, and on video it has outsold every BBC costume drama except for the 1995 Pride and Prejudice.

Poldark continues to inspire such passion in its fans that they create tribute videos such as

and

.

If you have not seen Poldark, I strongly recommend it as an engaging drama full of complex, realistic characters.  The series is available on DVD as well as on YouTube.

Robin Ellis’ career has featured many wonderful performances, especially in Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, but it is as Ross Poldark that he is best known.  (His fame in the late 1970s was so great that he once had to duck out of a theatre via a back exit in order to avoid a crowd of love-struck Irish schoolgirls.)

Now 72, Ellis resides with his wife in the south of France.  He continues to act occasionally — most recently in a cameo role in an upcoming remake of Poldark — but he has built a new career for himself as a cookbook author and blogger.

Ellis professes a decades-long love of cooking, inspired by his mother’s resourcefulness in lean post-war Britain and nurtured by his experiences cooking for himself as a young adult.  After being diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 1999, Ellis decided to fight the disease head-on by changing what he prefers to call his “style of eating” rather than his “diet.”  Kitchen experimentation led to culinary successes, which in turn led his friends to suggest that he collect his recipes and compile them into a book.

Although initially resistant to that idea, in part because of the glut of cookbooks already on the market, Ellis began writing down his “very simple” recipes.  A fortuitous connection with the right publisher led to the creation of Ellis’ first cookbook, Delicious Dishes for Diabetics: Eating Well with Type 2 Diabetes, in 2011.  The first book was so well received that Ellis published a second, Healthy Eating for Life: Over 100 Simple and Tasty Recipes, in 2014.

RE_Contemporary

Today, one can keep up with Robin Ellis through his blog, http://robin-ellis.net, on which he offers recipes (illustrated with his wife Meredith’s photographs), reflections on recent World War anniversaries, and slice-of-life stories about rural southern France, featuring pottery fairs, farmers’ markets, village fêtes, and hedgehogs, among other topics.

He is on Twitter at @RobinPoldark.

Quote for Today

“Ross Poldark was a man outside his time. He was exceptional because he dealt in human beings rather than establishment creeds. He was willing to break barriers down. He cared about his miners and knew conditions were bad because he went down into the mines. That in itself was unusual. He was often ashamed of his fellow gentry, of their atrocious behavior. His marriage to Demelza proves that he was prepared to go against convention and marry out of his class.” — Robin Ellis (IMdB)