Thursday, 27 November 2008

2008: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Pt III

wins a game at Queen's

I still find it hard to believe he won only one game.

In what must have been the worst performance given by
any player (both male and female) this year, Nalbandian went out 6-1,6-0 against Djokovic in the semi-finals at Queen's. Djokovic was in fine form coming into this, but he's not that good. I can only hope for Nalbandian's sake, that there was something very wrong health wise - in which case it would have been better to not take to the court at all.

It came across particularly badly, as prior to the tournament there were rumours of huge buckets of cash being thrown at players in appearance fees. It must have done the job, because that really was the best field we've had in many years.
It wouldn't have looked half as bad if he wasn't the talent we know he is, or if he didn't look so damned disinterested. In fa
ct I would have preferred to have seen some of that frustration we saw in Argentina this weekend - he's obviously a very passionate man.

John Lloyd said afterwards that Dj
okovic ought to take to the court again ahead of the final, because that semi didn't even constitute a practice session.

Wimbledon - Safin's run

Not many people would have taken you seriously if you'd predicted Safin getting to the semis earlier on this year - there's plenty of fans who want that sort of a result for him and few doubt he's capable of it, but there's been for some time now a rather gloomy sense of inevitability about his tennis.

Since Melbourne 2005, we've had such a depressingly lengthy and consistent stream of first and second round exits, that its become difficult to back him out of anything other than loyalty and hope; and this year saw his ranking drop so low he was reduced to playing qualies in Hamburg.

It remains to be seen whether this was his last big showing at a Grand Slam (I continue to hope) but he took many by surprise in producing his best streak of tennis since 05, on a surface which accordin
g to him is best left to cows (can we please come up with a new metaphor in 09?).

I'm not going to go into too much detail, but two matches in particul
ar stood out: Djokovic looked a little shell-shocked as he went down in straight sets; he didn't realise it at the time but this was to prove to be the turning point in a season which from this point on (and up until the Masters Cup), went mostly down. The commentators made the point that Safin actually plays the same brand of tennis as Djokovic; its just he does it so much better.

The other match was against Andreas Seppi. I was at Wimbledon in 06 (the one time I've been there) and saw Seppi play Agassi in a very one sided encounter. I remember mentioning to 2Hander at the time just how unimpressed I was and that he struck me as nothing more than 'a very competent
Club Player' - well I guess someone must have told him.

In what was perhaps (along with Murray v Gasquet) the 2nd best match of Wimbledon, and probably the best exhibition of flat ball striking this year, Seppi went down to Safin in 4 sets. The match completed in even poorer light than we saw at the end of the
final - and though Safin said later he'd wanted to stop I've a feeling he would have fought to stay out on court that night.

He didn't unfortunately follow up on this performance in the hard court season and may I feel, have missed the boat in failing to capitalise on what may have been his last big surge of momentum.
(Safin image by Swiv)

Wimbledon - Roddick out in 2

There's precious few certainties in tennis: Rafa on clay, Davydenko not making the second week at Wimbledon and a glimpse at Lars Graf's thumb in any match he's officiating.

Also on that list until this year, was Roddick making the 2nd week of Wimbledon - he'd made at least the quarters here in every year of the past five with only the single hiccup in 2006 when a Scottish upstart named Andy Murray beat him in the third round.

Anyway that 'blip' has now morphed into what I feel will become an increasingly familiar pattern: Roddick occasionally falling early to a rising talent. This time it was to the frighteningly intonated Janko Tipsarevic (who up until he fell here was my 'man of the moment', the most capable 'dasher of hopes' outside of the top ten) in round two, whose grunts seem to be as integral a part as anything else in a carefully orchestrated campaign designed to wear you down.

Leading Ladies out

I have to think this to be a corollary of the poor showing at this year's women's grass court warm up events; only Kuznetsova and Jankovic made it to rou
nd four. Yikes.

The most glaring upsets were Ivanovic (the recently anointed world number one) in round three and Sharapova in round two.
I've never been a fan of an all-Williams final - however you frame it, it just doesn't titillate in the way a Slam final ought to, and unfortunately gives rise to the tired, oft-repeated and unwarranted speculation into just how competitive the Sisters can really be against one another.

We were also treated to the post match verbal fisticuffs between
Sharapova's conqueror Kudryavtseva ('I don't like her outfit') and Sharapova ('she beat me, and it probably made her tournament') in an otherwise forgettable year of Women's tennis at SW19.
(Sharapova image by Steve9091)

Wimbledon - 'Our Tim' commentates

It's not that it was bad, you understand - in fact it was actually fairly competent for someone whose only experience behind the mike come
s in the form of post match pressers and the odd TV appearance. It was just very evident that he wasn't enjoying himself.

I hope he doesn't get put off too easily and gives it another shot in 2009 (I really like having a recent player in the booth), but I won't be very surprised if he finds something else to do.

Wimbledon - The 'Triumph & Disaster' Oration

Every year the BBC come up with a series of diverting and sometimes gimmicky time fillers, for the frequent and lengthy rain delays
and any other unexpected gaps in tennis transmission we are almost certain to have. This year we had a series of mini documentaries charting Federer's rise to the top, and this...

Some bright spark thought it would be a great idea to hear the top two players in the world recite (in full) Rudyard Kiplings poem 'If', one of the central stanzas of which appears inscribed above the player's entrance to Centre Court ('If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors the same...').

It was however less triumph and mostly disaster, as first Nadal and then Federer were forced to awkwardly chart their way through couplet after couplet in what is after all for them a second language. I seem to remember Nadal's oration more clearly than Federer's though not I imagine, for the correct reasons.

Perhaps it would be better if we were to keep most of the poetry
on court next year.

Wimbledon - Oh Yeah, The Final

I'm going to say it: this wasn't the best match I've ever seen Rafa and Roger play.
It certainly provided the best
drama of their recent matches, and there were without doubt, streaks of sheer brilliance from both men at times, but in terms of skill and sustained quality over five sets, give me the final at Rome in 06 any day of the week.

That's all I want to say about it at this point, as I intend to return to this slightly controversial point (especially here in the UK, where for the average Joe, the tennis season begins with Queen's and ends with Wimbledon) in an upcoming post on the best matches of recent years.

(Nadal image by aldinegirl12)

Wimbledon - Dementieva raises the all-Williams spectre again

This is getting really tiresome.

It's not their fault they're drawn against each other.
Its not their fault they are head and shoulders above most of the rest of the competition; and though their match at this year's US Open quarters suggested the exact opposite, if they
were to be slightly less competitive against each other much less fix the match, you would certainly never know.

It's one thing to say that such a match up holds less interest for you, and quite another to suggest as Dementieva did that the outcome would be 'a family decision'. She later claimed the real meaning of her comments (given in English - her second language) were kind of lost in (her own mental) translation.

Isn't it time most anyone associated with Tennis finally put this one to bed?

Wimbledon - Guy Forget serving at 130mph+

This one totally caught me off guard. I don't normally follow much of the doubles and certainly not
any of the Invitational Doubles (thats seniors to you and me), but late one evening on one of the outside courts, I got a glimpse of Guy Forget serving at what the speed gun registered to be a staggering 134mph.

That would place him quite comfortably in the same bracket as (and maybe slightly above) Marat Safin and Andy Murray, which for a retired 43 year old I find a little scary.

Olympics - All Russian affair

One of the few goods things about Women's Tennis this year.

First it was 'The Russians are coming...'. Then in 2004 we finally knew they'd arrived when three out of the four Slams went to a Russian woman with two of those finals being all Russian affairs.

This year at the Olympics, despite the recent Serbian surge, Dementieva, Safina and Zvonareva took the top three spots and provided us with a very timely reminder that the Russians are here to stay.

Olympics - Gonzales does a Maradona

Ok maybe it wasn't quite in the same league as Diego's infamous 'Hand of God' incident, but Gonzo my-man, you did clip that ball and you knew it.

In fact anyone who's played tennis will be able to tell you that when the ball clips your frame like that, or even more softly, then although the umpire won't always be able to tell, you certainly feel it.

I actually feel that the incident itself didn't play as much a part in Blake's downfall as subsequent reports made it out to have done or for that matter as he himself did, and to be honest if your concentration is so brittle that you allow something like that to dictate the course of a match, then you probably deserved to have lost anyway.

But there's no doubt that Gonzo was just a little bit naughty out there that day and with it being the Olympics (with its Athletes' Code of Conduct and Oaths to that effect), would I feel have won a lot of fans if he'd simply come clean - the match was all but in the bag anyway.

Olympics - Federer loses to Blake

Sorry, another one in which I appear to be dissing Blake - I'm actually a great fan of his tennis, though you wouldn't always know it (mental note to make more positive postings on Blake in the future).

As I said earlier, Federer had some worrying losses this year. But aside from the mauling he received in the Final of Roland Garros, this I felt was one of his more revealing losses this year, and official confirmation (as if it were needed at this late stage in the year) that something was horribly wrong.

I say this because there's players Federer beats and there's players Federer BEATS, and Blake along with Ferrer and Davydenko is very much in the latter category. This says next to nothing about the players themselves all of whom are great examples of very different brands of tennis. It's just an observation that Federer clearly excels against certain types of players and if he starts losing to them more frequently it really is a different era of tennis we are now entering.

One last posting on 2008 and it's time for something a little different.

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