Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Three Becomes Four...

Quite a bit happened this weekend - Venus finally won her second title of the year at Zurich - OK, the other one was Wimbledon but hey! Ivanovic finally managed to put in the convincing, worthy performance that's been eluding her since winning Roland Garros and Murray took his second Masters title of the year at Madrid, beating Federer in the process.

Ivanovic first: I've been highly critical of Ivanovic, but unless I'm mistaken, I actually saw the beginnings of a Plan-B at Zurich. Over the course of the last year, she's often looked troubled when balls she just hit very hard began coming back at her. Unless she was able to dominate opponents with her famous inside-out forehand, she appeared confused, unsure what to do next - unforced errors would soon follow, particularly from that overused forehand.

She was more content to trade at medium pace in Zurich, not trying to finish the point off too soon and not always trying to set herself up with an inside out forehand. Although she lost to Venus (no disgrace there), she now has more raw materials to work with - no one expects her to turn into Justine Henin, but its nice to see she's trying something different.

For me, Venus Williams' performance was unremarkable. That's not meant to be a derogatory comment. To me, a Williams firing on 3 out of 4 cylinders should be able to beat around 90% of the world's top players. She was playing better than that, so while I was glad to see her win, I couldn't help feeling it was long overdue.

Murray was for me the biggest story this weekend. Just how big this is for British Tennis should not be underestimated. Both Henman
and Rusedski also got to #4 in the world, and they both also won a Masters title in Paris, but their rise was less meteoric and results generally very mixed.

Since Wimbledon, Murray has raised his game to the point that it is
now realistic to speak of a top 4. There was a lot of talk of Murray's talent and promise prior to Wimbledon, but there were also concerns regarding fitness and temperament. His form at the time suggested that he should be in the top ten, but could quite easily be derailed. On the basis of the last few months however, it would not be premature to speak of him winning a Slam in the near future.

There are still a couple of things to consider though:

  • He remains unproven on clay and has admitted to it being his worst surface on several occasions - if he is to be grouped with the top 3 he needs to be able to perform at least as well as Djokovic who regularly makes the semis at clay court majors, tending to go out to either Federer or Nadal.
  • The last three months have been just dandy. If he suffers some slippage in his form, how will he handle it? Will a Murray at 75% still be effective? Djokovic is going through something like that right now; his form is quite unlike it was in January but is still able to deliver a convincing performance in any tournament he enters.
Here's a very unscientific breakdown of where I think the top four stand (or in Murray's case should stand) in relation to one another on the different surfaces. A hyphen separating players represents roughly equivalent ability. Commas indicate a descending order of precedence. You get the idea.

Hard: Djokovic-Federer-Murray, Nadal
Clay: Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray
Grass: Federer, Nadal, Djokovic-Murray

Ivanovic image by Franz88 under licence
Murray image by chascow

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