Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Magic and Misadventure in Melbourne pt 3...

Just time for one more of these round ups before the one remaining semi final gets under way...

Serena - The Spanner in an All-Russian Works

Serena v Elena (Semi). She was in as good a shape as she's ever been in. She was perhaps playing the best tennis of her career, coming into this on a 15 match winning streak; and in the absence of a performance that befits those Sisters, was many people's pick to take the title. She did also spend a Murray-like off-season in Miami to get used to playing in hot conditions. But none of that was ever likely to reduce Dementieva's double fault count.

Not that the loss was all to do with her service either: Serena did after all serve a mediocre 53% first serves in, but rather tellingly went on to win 78% of those points in contrast to Elena's 52%. I also perhaps rather simplistically believe that despite Elena's more than decent recent record against her, it's just near impossible to stop the Serena Juggernaut once it gets going.

Can Elena win a Slam? I think so - she's better placed than most anyone in what has to be considered a very uniform (some would say dubious) field of talent; and even that serve is not the horror it once was. She'll just have to hope she doesn't run into either one of Serena or Venus. Venus in particular, it would appear, owns her on any surface.


Serena v Kuz (Quarter). A lot of people seem to think that the roof was as big a story as anything that transpired on court, and they're probably right. It's just that as a Kuznetsova fan, I can't help but notice that this Open has probably seen some of the most level-headed and measured tennis she's produced for a long time. Yes she wasn't able to serve out the match at 5-4 up in the 2
nd set, and she did get derailed quite horribly in that last set, but since when was losing your way against a resurgent Serena anything to be ashamed of?

Her cause was probably aided by the withdrawal of Jie Zheng, but unless my predilection for natural looking backhands has got the better of me, there's changes afoot in the mindsets of both Kuzzie and Reeshard this year. Maybe those courtside sessions with Olga are beginning paying off.

And as for Serena, well, she's done what she always does - shoot down our predictions (all except for 2Hander's that is) and make a mockery of the parameters we traditionally use to make them. Steve Tignor says making predictions is fast becoming an exercise in futility. It's long been that way with Serena.

Safina finally plays a semi worthy of her

I haven't actually seen all of this one yet, but from the bits I did catch and by most other accounts, it looks as though Safina finally got her act together. As you know, she (along with Dementieva) was one of my picks after Jelena and Venus went out. But the tennis she'd played up to this point was more Marat than Dinara (post-Berlin that is).

I actually picked Vera for this one. She seemed to be making her way through the draw quietly in an almost business like way; and after a slow start against Bartoli she showed us more of the much matured Vera that got to the final of last year's SEC. In fact other than Dementieva, she was the only other competitor out there who really demonstrated belief.

But Dinara's not having any of it this year. One of the few positives in her game at this Open has been that she's always been able to find a way through when it matters.

However, much as I'd like her to lift the trophy, I'm not about to bet against Serena in this form (now that she appears to have found it).

A-Rod reaches his natural limit

This has been a good Open for the A-Rod. It's also been a good year (so far). My point is he shouldn't feel dejected. There's plenty of positives to take out of a campaign that saw him unravel only to a Federer displaying form that bore more of a resemblance to Flushing Meadows 2007 than anything we saw last year.

I've got a theory about A-Rod. Federer paid him a great tribute in advance of this match saying what a great achievement it is to have been in the top ten for so long; (singing the praises of Djoko's conqueror also sounds rather too close to yet another not so veiled swipe at the Djoko) anyway, here's the theory - both Djoko and Murray have shown that they are for whatever reason still susceptible to the occasional loss; Davydenko had a foot injury that kept him out of this Open and will lose shed-loads of ranking points if he doesn't follow up at Miami this year. In other words, conditions are ripe for A-Rod to make a raid on the #5 spot. Yes I know there's two very talented Frenchman and a surly Argentine that might have something to say about that, but it's only Tsonga I feel, who Roddick may struggle to get through. I know Giles possesses better hands and is no doubt a better defender than Andy; I just think that some of that experience of being in the top ten for so long and the great many matches he's played at the Slam level may end up being the slight edge he has over those other three.

Anyway, he shouldn't be dejected as I say. It was far from the "Fedora's-Punchbag" episode he went through at the semis here two years ago. Besides, that rather dubious title is now passed to the guy in the next section.

Del Potro v Federer

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. This was Fedora at his most clinical and cruel. Yes CRUEL I said. Del Potro had already last year, received what I then termed 'a rude awakening to the reality of the top ten' at the hands of the mild-mannered Davydenko. But this was almost Tarantino-like in its brutality (think Federer got 'mediaeval' on Juan?). It was almost as if Federer was venting out all of his frustrations at his poor showing last season, now that he'd so clearly found his way again. Poor Del Potro just happened to be in the way.

Something else was at work too. I've previously seen Federer play an almost derisory, dismissive brand of tennis against opponents whose maybe more limited style of game he doesn't particularly warm to. I think it was wandering-monster Karlovic last time, although his serve meant he was able to claim more than just three games. This time we got that header.

I'm no fan of Juan's game either (who by the way, can inflict great damage given half a chance), but the youngest member of the top ten surely didn't deserve this. Bad, BAD Roger!

The Guns of Navarro extinguished

Extinguished indeed; and how meekly. It wasn't all Dementieva's doing, the sun did play a large role I'm sure. But it's not just the sun that shone through that day, inexperience did too. And lots of it.

From the way in which Navarro surrendered the first four games to Elena before deciding to actually play tennis, to the way she was unable to convert a single one of a staggering 10 break points.

When I didn't see much of her last year after Roland Garros, I often wondered why she wasn't winning more matches. Now I know why.

Still, I'm not about to stop believing in the girl that caused me to start believing in the Women's Game again. She needs a couple of years I think; she also needs to keep well away from a French guy named Reeshard - that other great single handed backhand that hasn't yet delivered.

Novak throws in the towel (again)

He can surely be in no doubt as to how his latest withdrawal has been received by other players and the media. I warmed up to Novak after he made several very welcome and much needed changes to the way he conducted himself both on and off the court. "He brings something unique to the top of the game" I said. "I've begun missing his intensity..." I said.

All still true I suppose, except that after yet another withdrawal (which freakyfrites at GOTOTENNIS terms 'one short of a Career Retirement Slam'), I'm maybe less keen to acknowledge it. Just stop it Novak.

To Roof or not to Roof

Ok here's the thing. Michael Stich (who is a M - U - C - H better commentator/analyst than Mats Wilander BTW), raised a very good point in the roofing debacle during the Serena-Kuzzie match.

He's of the opinion that you shouldn't have a roof either here or at Wimbledon. Now I know there's very good reasons why you should tell him to shove it (ranging from TV coverage to players wilting on court) - I was about to myself.

But it is a little less easy to dismiss the notion that by having a roof you are in effect turning it into an indoor tournament (with all the changes to pace, bounce and atmosphere that entails) - which the Aussie Open or Wimbledon simply ain't.

What I don't agree with however, is the idea that by having a roof you are letting the less fit and less conditioned players off the hook. The reality is that how you react to the heat sometimes has nothing whatsover to do with conditioning and off court preparation at all. It's simply down to genetics. Some players will always be at a disadvantage in intense heat irrespective of whether or not they follow a Murray-like regime in Miami.


Honourary mention to Victoria Azarenka. As you know all too well, I dislike her style of play. Intensely. But it made pretty grim viewing watching her meander and shuffle around the back of the court (virtually on the point of collapse), as she made a spirited (Nole take note!) and as it turned out futile attempt, to carry on in her match against Serena Williams. Get well soon Victoria (if you aren't already)...

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