As we head into the home stretch of the 2017 season, we head indoors in Asia and Europe. Many top players are sidelined for the remainder of the year due to injuries (Djokovic, Wawrinka, Nishikori, and most likely Andy Murray). It’s a big opportunity for new blood to make their debut at the Nitto ATP Finals (re-named this year from the ATP World Tour Finals), where the top eight players compete in a round robin tournament format in London. Let’s take a look top contenders in the race to London, as well as the ranking points they’ve accumulated thus far in 2017.
Rafael Nadal – 9,365 points
Following his 10th French Open title, Rafa struggled at Wimbledon as well as in Montreal and Cincinnati. With the benefit of a generous draw, Nadal got his mojo back in New York and eased his way to his 16th major. This was Nadal’s first hard court title in four years, and the indoor hard court stretch of the calendar has historically been Rafa’s weakest part of the season. The ATP Finals is the biggest title Nadal has never won. In the absence of many of his top rivals, and with the momentum he’s built throughout the year, this may be his best chance to finally take the title. Rafa can also find extra motivation over the next two months as he tries to end the year as world number one for the fourth time in his career. Nadal currently has an almost 2,000 point lead in the year-to-date rankings over the only man within striking distance: Roger Federer.
Roger Federer – 7,505 points
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After skipping the entire clay court season, a well-rested Federer continued his resurgent year by winning his eighth Wimbledon title. A back injury hampered Roger on the summer hard courts, but he appeared to be recovered and rejuvenated while leading Team Europe to victory at the inaugural Laver Cup. Federer excels on indoor hard courts, and is a six-time champion at the ATP Finals. Roger has stated chasing the year-end number one ranking is not his top priority, but achieving such a milestone at the age of 36 must appeal to him. He is currently scheduled to play the Shanghai Masters, his hometown tournament in Basel, the Paris Masters, and the ATP Finals in London. If Federer can begin to close the almost 2,000-point gap between him and Nadal in October’s Shanghai and Basel events, it could make for an interesting November. A Nadal-Federer race for number one would be an appropriate way to close out a year where these two all-time greats have dominated the sport.
Alexander Zverev – 4,220 points
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Zverev added the fourth and fifth titles of 2017 to his mantle in Washington, D.C. and Montreal, respectively. However, he continues to struggle at the majors. He lost a five-setter to Milos Raonic at Wimbledon, and was upset in the second round of the US Open by fellow 20-year-old Borna Coric. Zverev has a massive lead in the ATP Next-Gen rankings, but I assume he will skip the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan to focus on the ATP Finals the following week in London. The best-of-three indoor hard court tournament could potentially be a good setting for Zverev to shine. I expect Zverev to raise at least one more winner’s trophy in what has been a breakout 2017.
Dominic Thiem – 3,715 points
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Q2 of 2017 was the best quarter of Thiem’s career, as he was the second-best clay court player behind Rafael Nadal. Thiem has struggled to maintain those results in Q3, and Q4 has never been too kind to the Austrian. In the past two years following the US Open, Thiem is only a combined 11-13. His heartbreaking loss to Juan Martin Del Potro at the US Open is the kind of painful loss that can effect a player for some time. That being said, Dominic from all accounts is a strong-willed young man who will likely not allow that moment to set him back for long. So far the evidence is mixed: he beat John Isner at the Laver Cup, but was upset in his opening round match in Chengdu to Guido Pella. Thiem is a shoe-in to qualify for the ATP Finals for the second straight year, but can he be a factor there? He went just 1-2 last year in round robin play. It will be key for Thiem to get some momentum going between now and London.
Grigor Dimitrov – 3,105 points
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Dimitrov won the biggest title of his career when he prevailed at the Cincinnati Masters, but disappointed by losing meekly to Andrey Rublev in the second round of the US Open. Grigor is in a prime position to qualify for his first ATP Finals, and has previously won multiple indoor hard court titles. I’d be curious to see how Dimitrov performs in London under the round-robin format where he’ll be facing the best players of the year on the big stage, as Grigor has struggled on such occasions in the past.
Marin Cilic – 2,995 points
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Cilic advanced to his second major final at Wimbledon, but struggled to put up a fight against Federer in the final due to a blister on his foot. He then withdrew from Montreal and Cincinnati with an adductor injury. The lack of play did not help his US Open chances, and he was upset in the third round by Diego Schwartzman. Marin is currently in sixth place among the contenders for London, and likely does not need many more points to qualify. Cilic though is only 1-5 in his two previous appearances at the ATP Finals. The more open field at this year’s event would be a good chance for Cilic to step up and make an impression.
Pablo Carreno Busta – 2,595 points
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It’s been a career-best year for Carreno Busta. He recently debuted in the top 10 after making his first major semifinal at the US Open, and has a real shot at qualifying for the World Tour Finals. Pablo has had success in the past on indoor hard courts: last fall he won the event in Moscow. However, that title was claimed without having to face a top 40 opponent. How will Carreno Busta respond to the expectations that come with being a top 10 player? He’s become dependable in beating players ranked below him, but struggles against players ranked above him. Pablo only has one victory over top 10 players this year. This would not fare too well for his chances should he qualify for London. His efforts this year should be applauded, but it’s hard to see Pablo breaking through to become a top 5 player.
Sam Querrey – 2,435 points
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2017 has also been a career-year for Sam Querrey, and Q3 brought him to a new level. He won his second title of the year in Los Cabos, made the quarterfinals in New York, and advanced to his first major semifinal at Wimbledon. Querrey though still fails to maintain a high level throughout the year. Outside of his four best tournaments in 2017, he’s just 16-15 on the year. It may only take one more good tournament to qualify Sam for London. The streaky, big-hitting American has victories over Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray over the past two seasons. If he gets to London and gets hot, he’s capable of beating anyone.
Kevin Anderson – 2,335 points
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In a wide open half of the draw, Anderson was the player to step up and advance to his first major final at the US Open. Hopefully he takes a lot of positives away from that, rather than focusing on his poor performance in the final against Nadal. He’s currently just 100 points behind Querrey in the chase for the eighth and final qualifying spot for London. Like Querrey, he could be a dangerous opponent on the indoor hard courts. However, like Carreno Busta, he only has one win over top 10 opponents in 2017. The round robin format against nothing but top 10 players may be unfavorable for Anderson’s chances were he to qualify for London.
David Goffin (2,285 points) just won the title in Shenzhen and appears fully recovered from the injury he suffered at Roland Garros. I expect Goffin to have a strong autumn and to qualify for London. Tomas Berdych (2,005 points) lost all three of his Laver Cup matches in front of his home crowd in the Czech Republic. That must lower his confidence even more during what was already his poorest season in nearly a decade. Roberto Bautista Agut (1,915 points) won a Q3 title in Winston-Salem and has played well before in Q4: he made the final at last year’s Shanghai Masters. Don’t count Roberto out in the race to London.
Bigger Is Not Always Better When It Comes To The Davis Cup
The new Davis Cup format was unveiled at a week-long Madrid showcase. Read about how “first impressions are almost always the most lasting.”
Now that the “bigger must surely be better” version of the Davis Cup has concluded, it’s time to take a look at how the event itself has evolved over time. Initially, it was a clubby/chummy affair between the US and the British Isles, as Great Britain was known long before there was even a thought of Brexit. True, there had been international, country versus country tennis gatherings, such as England versus Ireland or England versus France, but that was in the 1890s. The “official” team competition wasn’t birthed until 1900 when the US and BI faced-off at Longwood Cricket Club in Boston, Massachusetts.
The visitors, who were supposed to be the creme de la crème of tennis because they came from Great Britain, were throttled by their upstart hosts, 3-0. One of the competitors on the winning side was a Harvard student whose name was Dwight Davis. Five years after the launch, Australasia (with players from both Australia and New Zealand), Austria, Belgium and France took part in what was called the International Lawn Tennis Challenge. Perhaps to downplay the seeming pompousness of the title, the competition quickly became known as the Davis Cup, a salute to the perpetual trophy donor.
In the beginning, the event was played as a Challenge Cup. The set-up allowed the winner from the previous year to sit on the sideline while the other countries battled for a spot in the final. The “wait and watch” was great for the title holder but the format proved to be an ultra-marathon for all the other participants. In 1972 a change was finally made, and play became a somewhat more sensible win and advance tournament.
Since then, the international competition grew so large that it became unwieldy and modifications needed to be made. None of the alterations has even come close to matching the Madrid extravaganza that was created by Gerard Pique and his Kosmos team, supported by Hiroshi Mikitani’s Rakuten financing and sanctified by the International Tennis Federation.
Before going further, it must be stressed that the “old Davis Cup way” was no longer working. But, bulldozing history to put up a new event demands an overwhelming amount of thought and even more insight. Thus far, it appears that a “too much, too soon” approach has been built on a foundation that isn’t exactly sand, but something nearly as tenuous. The set-up has a number of fissures. It is as if, Pique and his collogues were trying to create a Tennis World Cup. Perhaps the group borrowed pages from the wandering methodology that has plagued the Fédération Internationale de Football Association Qatar World Cup preparation.
It must be mentioned that the novel undertaking was bold and there are hopes for it to get better. Still, with all the pre-tournament hype and sensational fanfare, there needs to be an assessment of what actually took place in Year One, in order for the event to improve. Particularly, in view of the fact that “first impressions are almost always the most lasting.”
A few of the issues that lead the “Could Have Done Better” list include:
- Match scheduling (the US versus Italy finished at 4:00 a.m., just in time for an early breakfast. (Nearly every match contested was almost nine hours in length.);
- Plodding ticket sales;
- Improvements in communication, so there is more clarity for the fans, players and media. Keeping the information flow accurate and continuous so that speculation doesn’t enter the tournament arena.
With the old Davis Cup there often were gripping, edge of your seat, emotional contests in the “five matches, five-set” play. Home and away ties truly added crowd fervor to a tasty recipe of competition.
It’s hardly surprising that whenever Spain played on the Manuel Santana Center Court, with a capacity of 12,422, the crowd was raucous. The Arantxa Sánchez Vicario No. 2 Court, with room for 2,923 spectators, rocked, but only on occasion. From time to time, Court No. 3 was loud too, but that was due more to having a mere 1,772 seats in an enclosed space than a collection of rabid fans.
Australian captain Lleyton Hewitt admitted that the atmosphere lacked feeling because of the neutral setting. French doubles standout Nicolas Mahut brought up how much his country’s fans ordinarily helped their team, but few were in attendance. Support groups of faithful French fans stayed away to show their unhappiness with the decision to scrap the old Davis Cup format.
In his New York Times, November 19th article, Christopher Clarey quoted Ion Tiriac. “The Brasov Bulldozer”, who owns the ATP Masters event held in Madrid, candidly said, “It is a joke and a disgrace. They have ruined the jewel of tennis.”
Reducing a tie to three matches (two singles and just one doubles) made the matches Tweet-like. Instead of slashing the number of characters that could be used, the new look limited the essence of the product being proffered – The players and their teams. The confusion became more profound on the rules front when it came to “play or don’t play” the doubles, the tie-break and translating the results system. It seemed only those with a mathematics degree could make sense of the situation. Additionally, with18 countries participating, many ended up feeling they were meandering members of a “lost tennis tribe”…or they came to the conclusion that they needed a serious calculation class.
Another issue, (and this may be the most bewildering particularly to journalists who have a stake in promoting the game worldwide), was the accrediting process. Anxious to have the tournament touted, the tennis media from here, there and everywhere was encouraged to apply for accreditation. Yet, a number of accomplished writers were denied credentials while, at least, two publications that no longer exist were granted event access.
A soccer pitch is sizeable (75 yards wide and 120 yards long but it can vary). In comparison, a tennis court is a tiny 26 yards long and 13 yards wide (including the doubles alleys). The point – There were many comments about the need for trekking skills to traverse the architecturally pleasing Caja Mágica three court complex. Perhaps hosting such a colossal spectacle at a new location, combined with “never been there or done that” brought about those first experience jitters.
Looking at the big picture, the most staggering aspect of the “new” Davis Cup was the 25-year agreement with $3 billion dollars at stake. How do tennis fans put these “Monopoly-money” like figurers into any meaningful perspective?
The quarter-century commitment and pledged funding are difficult to comprehend . The years and financial “unreal” combination brings to mind 1999, when the staggering ISL (International Sport and Leisure) Worldwide-ATP marketing, broadcasting and licensing agreement for “elite” tournaments was made. It was a ten-year arrangement for $1.2 billion. Unfortunately, ISL, which also had close ties with FIFA, collapsed in May 2001. Oops.
Canada’s performance was stellar in reaching the final against Spain. Because of the “magic” that had been part of its success, “The Great White North” was looking to join Australasia, Croatia, Serbia, South Africa, Sweden and US each of whom won the Davis Cup in its debut.
Having won the tie five times since 2000, the home country was a prohibitive favorite to earn number six. That Spain closed out the inaugural Pique/Kosmos/Rakuten/ITF Davis Cup, 2-0, wasn’t surprising. As a result, the Canadian first-timers joined Japan in 1921, Mexico in 1962, Chile in 1976, Slovakia in 2005 and Belgium in 2017 as debut finalists and history’s runners-up.
With 24 more years to go, the new Davis Cup has real potential. Still, the tennis world is trusting that the future offers more than a quote from Bob Dylan, the 2016 Literature Nobel Prize winner who many have regarded as the world’s poet laurate. In 1964, he said, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”
From afar, the 2019 Davis Cup appeared to be a week-long exhibition. Through no fault of its own, Spain benefitted, but was that fair to the others? It actually seems like something was lost in the transition translation.
A Rude And Silly Reply From Nadal, I Am Waiting For His Apology
I asked Nadal an innocent question about his wedding; he took it so badly that he eventually burst into an offensive: “That’s bullshit”
LONDON – I was really surprised by Rafael Nadal’s reaction to a question that was quite innocent and totally legitimate. A reaction I consider unbecoming of him, rude and silly. I sincerely hope he will extend his apology for this behaviour. Respect remains paramount, no matter if you are the greatest champion or the new kid on the block. In front of everybody, Rafa disrespected me.
I hadn’t seen him since the Laver Cup in Geneva. And in the meantime,… he had gotten married. I had no intention whatsoever to ask a particularly original question or, as I have seen written in some tweets, to “show off”. And I certainly didn’t want to provoke him. Maybe the question did not come out the way I wanted: we always need to be concise during press conferences, and you cannot explain all the details, but what I wanted to ask was simply for him to explain whether the days around his wedding day had been emotional, different from the normal routine made of trainings, forehands and backhands. That’s all, no malicious innuendos, no desire to be irritating or original. I was just curious about what I considered a special moment in his life. Getting married is usually not like taking a walk in the park, even when it is possible to rely on a full team taking care of the arrangements – I assume that was the case for him – and there aren’t many details you have to worry about.
I am sorry I am forced to report such an ill-advised behaviour by Rafa Nadal of all people. He is a champion and, before that, a young man I have always appreciated, with whom I have had a good relationship ever since I saw him play for the first time in Montecarlo. He was just 17 years old, and one night he finished his match against Albert Costa very late, playing under the floodlights, in front of a scattered crowd, when most reporters had already left the Country Club to attend the traditional soirèe the tournament organizes every year at the Monte Carlo Sporting Club, next to the Jimmy’z.
This is the video footage of our exchange at the end of his English-language press conference, before the question time reserved for the Spanish press. Our dialogue starts at 10:50.
In essence, I asked Rafa if by any chance his wedding had been a disrupting element, albeit solemnly important, to his routine. This is the transcript of our interaction, with my notes in brackets.
Q. Tonight you were playing very short many times. I don’t know why, because you’re not used to that. I’d like to know, for many people to get married is a very important distracted thing (in the life of a man and a woman, it was implied) before the marriage, during the marriage, after the marriage. I’d like to know if somehow your concentration on tennis life has been a bit different even if you were going out with the same girl for many, many years (I was implying that it wasn’t love at first sight, I understand it didn’t turn his life upside down, but it still could have had some distracting effect, with the King of Spain being present and all… It wasn’t a small family wedding)
RAFAEL NADAL: Honestly, are you asking me this? Is a serious question or is a joke? Is it serious?
Q. It’s serious. (Off microphone.) Is not something that happens every day (at that point I had no microphone any longer so my retort was not captured by the official transcript), you can experience strong emotions, your parents, your wife, yourself…
RAFAEL NADAL: Okay. I surprise, is a big surprise for me you ask me this after I have been with the same girl for 15 years and having a very stable and normal life.
Doesn’t matter if you put a ring on your finger or not. In my personal way, I am a very normal guy.
Maybe for you was (did he want to add ‘different’) — how many years you have been with your…
Q. Wife 30 years this year.
RAFAEL NADAL: And before?
Q. (off microphone) 5 years
RAFAEL NADAL: Ah, maybe before you were not sure. That’s why (he smiles to the rest of the press room and he adds). Okay. Okay. We move to Spanish, because that’s bullshit. Thank you very much.
Unfortunately, due to some background chatter in the interview room I didn’t hear the “bullshit” word, I just read it on the transcript after a few colleagues made me notice he disrespected me. In fact, as soon as I went back to the press room, all colleagues, French, Swiss, even Spanish expressed their support to me because my question was perfectly legitimate, it was not engaging, mean, embarrassing or indelicate. So much so that when Rafa asked me whether it was a joke or a serious question, I immediately replied “It’s serious”. I was surprised he even had to ask.
The fact that Rafa has been together with Cisca, Francisca, Maria Francisca or Mer for 15 years does not imply that the days around his wedding, with 300 guests, friends, the King of Spain Juan Carlos ans other sporting legends were just like a walk in the park. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know whether Rafa’s parents, or Meri’s parents or some of their close friends cried, were moved to tears, experienced all those emotions that are normally coupled with weddings.
If Rafa did not experience any emotions just because he has been with the same woman for 15 years, that’s his problem. As far as I am concerned, maybe I’m just more romantic, or softer, but I thought it would be normal to get emotional in tying the knot with the woman of your life in front of so many people; an important, unforgettable moment. People usually live that day as a very special day. Rafa does not hold back expressing his emotions when he wins an important point on court – over and above his “vamos”, his jumps and his fist pumps – if his wedding day was a routine experience for him, but just the formalization of his union by exchanging rings with his fiancée… well, I am sorry for him. I don’t know what Xisca thinks about it. Judging from Rafa’s response, there should be no enthusiasm or emotion capable to upset his routine, when getting married after having been with the same woman for 15 years. He was even surprised when someone, like myself, asked him about possible emotions on his wedding day. I am stunned. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, but I feel I should point this out because of the way he treated me.
To put it simply, I could not believe that even after dating the same woman for 15 years, the day before the wedding could be completely routine, without any emotional involvement. This is why I asked the question, without thinking it could be misinterpreted, or considered a joke, even less labeled as ‘bullshit’.
Perhaps Rafa was nervous because he had just lost a match (6-2, 6-4 without ever getting a break point) against an opponent he had always defeated before, Alexander Zverev. This could partially justify his behaviour, but he had not given any signs of nerves during the previous questions. I have always considered him an intelligent person. But sometimes even intelligent people make mistakes or say silly things. But they apologise afterwards. I hope Rafa is going to do it, sooner or later. If he won’t, never mind. But he will not make a very good impression to me or to all my colleagues, including the Spanish reporters from Puntodebreak and Eurosport who came to talk to me immediately after the incident.
I want to stress once again that my curiosity about how he may have reacted to an important moment in his life that I didn’t believe could be seen as a mere formality, was entirely innocent. He didn’t understand it, I hope someone will explain him, even if this for sure will not be an important moment in his life. Even if, in some way, we have been knowing and seeing each other for 15 years.
Article originally published in Italian on ubitennis.com
NOTE TO OUR READERS – In reference to the exchange occurred between myself and Rafael Nadal during the press conference following his first match, I have had a clarifying meeting after his win against Medvedev. We both have acknowledged the reasons that led to the misunderstanding and the subsequent exchange of unpleasant words, mainly due to our imperfect knowledge of the English language. This is it. We’ll turn the page, for everyone’s satisfaction, and Nadal and I maintain the mutual respect that has always been a cornerstone of our relationship. Our readers are naturally free to form their own opinion on this event, but at this stage any further comment would appear unnecessary. Thank you for your attention. (Ubaldo Scanagatta)
Eleventh Hour, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Month Significance
Annually, around the world, those who served in their country’s military are remembered for the commitment they made to insure freedom. Usually tennis players are feted for their success on court. Many of them have been heroes on other fronts. Eleventh Hour, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Month calls attention to those who have made a difference.
In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day. It was a day to honor all the US military veterans who served their country. It should not be confused with Memorial Day, which recognizes all those who perished while safeguarding the nation.
Armistice Day had originally been called Remembrance Day. It was first observed in 1919 in the British Commonwealth, recognizing the armistice that ended World War I on Monday, November 11, 1918 at 11 a.m. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is especially significant because it ended what had been thought to be the war to end all wars. Sadly, it wasn’t, but the day has been set aside to honor those who helped keep the world safe from tyranny.
An all-star collection of tennis players served their country during World War II. The Gestapo arrested Jean Borotra one of the famed Four Musketeers in November of 1942. He was sent to a German concentration camp and then to Itter Castle in Austria. In a battle for the castle, he escaped and played a role in the subsequent victory that was earned.
Stade Roland Garros was stained by having served, from 1939-40, as an “centre de rassemblement”, an internment camp for political dissidents and foreign nationals. Those euphemistically “housed” at the facility lived and slept in “the caves” beneath the stairwells at what is now Court Philippe Chatrier. Present day players have said they can feel their ghosts while waiting in the corridor to walk onto Chatrier to compete in their matches.
Yvon Petra was the last Frenchman to win Wimbledon and the last men’s champion to wear long pants in The Championships final in 1946. Becoming a Grand Slam singles winner is especially commendable since he was held prisoner in a German camp for two years after he was captured in 1940, in Alsace, France during the invasion. He seriously injured his left knee attempting to avoid capture. Ironically, because he had competed in Germany before the war, he was recognized as someone notable which resulted in a doctor being sent from Berlin to treat his injury.
Tom Brown spent WWII in a tank… with a tennis racquet. He never really said if the racquet was a constant reminder of his pre-war on-court success and inspired him at Wimbledon in 1946. But, having just traded his Army khakis for white tennis shorts, he was a Wimbledon semifinalist, losing to Petra 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 8-6.
Art Larsen, who was nicknamed “Tappy” because of his habit of tapping things for good luck, played tennis as therapy. A talented lefthander, he was mentally scarred because he had participated in the landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day in WWII. After the war, he recalled the terror of watching US planes mistakenly bomb US troops thinking they were German forces. He admitted after surviving without a scratch, his behavior became even more eccentric because he had witnessed that terror. (Then they called it shellshock, but now it is referred to as PTSD.)
Of all the famous players who served with distinction, none could match Gardnar Mulloy. Mulloy was a naval officer who commanded a LST32 (Tank Land Ship) in the Mediterranean during WWII. In 2015, the year before he passed away, Mulloy received a French Legion of Honor an accolade for his involvement in the operations that took place in Italy and the Provence area in France. The recognition made him the oldest recipient of the order since it was created by Napoleon.
Robert (Bobby) Abdesselam, a great junior player prior to WWII, and later the President of the French International Tennis Club from 1993 until 2004, played a role in the landing of the Allied Forces in Algiers in 1942. As a member of the French Expeditionary Corps, he served as a liaison officer in the Italian campaign. His courage was rewarded when he received the Cross of War (1939-45) and a US Bronze Star.
It is impossible to adequately pay tribute to all of those who, over the years, have made their country better through military service. In early September, the US Open took a monumental step by recognizing those in the services by celebrating Lt. Joe Hunt Military Appreciation Day. (Hunt was the 1943 US National singles champion who lost his life when his Navy Hellcat, a WWII combat aircraft, went into a deadly spin on a training flight off the Florida coast in early 1945.)
But, there are so many others who have been overlooked. Individuals who put their lives on the line around the world in places like Korea, Vietnam, in the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan to name but a few of the conflicts since WWII. So many were killed but even more have slipped back into civilian life unsung and unrecognized, forced to ignore the scars that often don’t show. Anyone who served his or her country should be recognized every day, because they are the reason we can breathe free.
They deserve much more than one day a year gratitude. Eleventh Hour, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Month Honorees are among us twenty-four/seven. They should never be forgotten because they sacrificed so much so that we can remain free.
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