Sunday, 1 February 2009

Good Things on the Hard Stuff...

Men's Final

Not much to add to 2
Hander's commentary except maybe to say that I thought Nadal looked strangely vulnerable during key points of the second and third sets.

Federer was able to capitalise in set two but lost his way a little at the end of the third - a set that if he had won, may have resulted in quite a different story. Instead we got atrocious un-slam-like serving (32% 1st serves in the 2nd set) and a rather tragic last set.

But there's no doubt that
Nadal troubles Federer psychologically like no other player out there (including pre-tournie favourite Murray who remains a bugbear-in-waiting at the Slam level) - have you ever seen Federer hit that many drop shots? Much as I love the addition of it to Federer's game, don't you feel we're seeing a (digitally remastered) rerun of the 'kitchen sink and bathtub' episode all over again?

It's not all bad news though - his overall form at this Open suggests he's over whatever was bothering him in 08, and remains IMO the better hard court player, if you forget about their H2H for a moment and go instead by their overall record against the rest of the competition (which is a closer relation to what the ATP rankings represent anyway).

Nadal remains vulnerable to aggressive flat hitters on hard courts, and a small part of me can't help but observe that he didn't have to face Murray, Djokovic, Tsonga or even James Blake for that matter.

Not to take anything away from Nadal's victory though - what he accomplished against Nando (in the match of the tournament) was something quite special; and to follow it up with this confident performance in the final (he actually looked sure he was going to win this thing) was very Rafa-like.

But there's no change in that forehand I'm afraid; or if he
has changed it he certainly showed none of that here. No, it was more of the same from Rafa - and what he brings ain't half bad...

Women's Final

Boo...the only possible consolation in that
atrocious performance from Dinara was that she was facing Serena Williams, and her losing therefore was not altogether unexpected. But I object to the manner of her defeat (and I expect Zeljko does too) - she may not have expected to win, but was one of the more better placed players to give Serena a run for her money.

Still, there's not much to feel sorry for when you make two Slam finals (and one semi) in the space of twelve months; it's a darned sight better than actually winning one of these things only to (irretrievably?) lose the form that got you into the top ten in the first place (Can you believe
Rusedski's doubtful Ana may ever return to the top of the game?).

Revisiting the anti-picks...

1. "Nadal is ripe for some hard court ecstasy this year...". YES! (clenched fist minus the Ana style twirl-around) Though I predicted good things for Nadal on hard courts this year, it has come a little sooner than I expected; my anti-pick of him was meant more as a motivational tool, setting the scene for a good run here, maybe a couple of hard court titles at the '1000' - *splutter* - Masters level, and then a Slam at this year's US Open. Except now that I think about it, it was perhaps always more likely to occur here rather than at Flushing Meadows, where he quite understandably (after the efforts of of the Clay Court Season and Wimbledon) appears a little worse for wear.

2. "I doubt I'll see you in many second-weeks-of-a-Slam (SWOSs) this year (Nando)...". (Utters audible obscenity, incurring a Code Violation from Mohammad Lahyani). Well look, I wasn't completely wrong. I did after all also say, he's a tad underrated and that he's capable of making a 'Wawrinka-like foray into the top ten' (Nando's currently at number 9). But yes I did underestimate you Nando - but mostly because you gave me precious little to go on. Anyway, I'm not quite ready to reach for that bottle of Tabasco sauce just yet. I did say 'many SWOSs' didn't I, and he's only just reached his first.

3. "He'll (Djoko) be lucky to make the quarters." (Muted Celebrations one might see when winning the match on a double fault). A little lucky with the quarter final call, and there's still confusion in my mind about where his game is at. But I really thought the Slam-withdrawals were behind him. *Groan*

4. "He (A-Rod) can still trouble the very best..." CAAHMAN! (Vicht-salute towards the players box). He did take out Djoko, though not quite in the way I imagined; and coming unstuck against Federer in the semis, though unpleasantly familiar territory is hardly the end of the world. Please, please find some way to build on this Andy - Nole and Nikolay are looking a little vulnerable right now...

4. Ana("Not looking like a top tenner...") and Nicole ("The only way is up..."). Not about to celebrate anyone continuing a run of poor form. Especially Nicole's first round exit. Yuck.

5. Reeshard ("I serve you notice...") and Svetlana ("I fear I do know..."). I'm hoping I detected what looked like positive changes in mentality and temperament in both of these headcases. Reeshard didn't meet the new 'minimum terms of competency' (a Slam quarter or a Masters final by the end of RG) I've set for him, but had some rough early round matches which I thought he handled pretty well despite the loss; and Sveta made the quarters, only folding in that all too familiar way to the wonder that is Serena Williams. Not great, but plenty to be hopeful of I think.

6. Juan ("Fourth round at best...") Del Potro (Embarrassed pursing of lips accompanied by clapping above head in a show of support and encouragement). I don't know what to say except I'm really, really sorry for declaring my dislike for your style of play. That Fedora bloke really is quite merciless. Look on the bright side: you went one round better than my prediction.

Parting Reflections...

Men's match of the tournament - Could it be anything other than that Rafa-Nando Semi?

Women's match of the tournament - Venus v Navarro closely followed by Serena v Dementieva; over in straight sets but featured IMO some of the best ball striking of the tournament (loved that rally that left Serena downed..literally)

Best Analyst - Michael Stich: Quite a revelation. Calm, measured tennis-wise observations on the state of play. Doesn't ride the wave of euphoria and doesn't use the word 'unbelievable'. Unbelievable. 10/10

Player of the Tournament: Nando, without any doubt - Outgunned Murray, Tsonga and almost Rafa, which by anyone's standards is pretty special.

MIA: Maria Sharapova - Her absence here has cost her her place in the top ten. Can't wait to have her back - the WTA needs it; and the Williams Sisters need the competition.

Verdasco image by Sacha Fernandez

Nadal image by Steve Collis

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