Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Highs and Lows of Dubai...

If you could manage to extricate yourself from the politics for a while, there was some pretty good tennis to be had at Dubai this week.

The whole event was of course overcast by the diplomatic row (which appears to have been resolved, for the time being...sort of) but there were some high notes during this not so operatic week of Tennis:
  • First off, big pat on the back to Virginie Razzano, whose accomplished performance saw her take out Safina, Zvonareva and Hantuchova. I didn't catch them all, but understood a little about how she was able to pull that off in watching the first set of the Final against Venus Williams today. What stuck in my mind most was how early she was taking the ball (Virginie that is), and how unintimidated she appeared against the taller (lower ranked) half of the sibling-duo that should by rights be dominating the game. I get a little tired of hearing the argument that the lack of a dominant force in Womens Tennis is somehow indicative of it's present levels of depth, but Virginie (along with Navarro) is just the type of player that, had we more of, might just change my mind. She's no top tenner but is comfortable in all parts of the court and more importantly, seems like a player that doesn't believe in going quietly - exactly what we need if we are to see less of those two set, 45 minute dismissals so often a feature of the early (and sometimes sadly the latter) stages of Womens events. She made, what on paper looked like a one-sided affair, hugely entertaining (for a set and a half anyway). Womens Tennis may not have depth but French tennis certainly does.
  • Way to go Ana you-must-believe Ivanovic! Yeah I know she lost, and I know Serena's knee (and back by the looks of it) was playing up. But let there be no mistake - Serena is hot right now. And anyone capable of staying in rallies with (and at times out hitting) her the way Ana you-can-do-it did deserves ample praise. It's probably to early to suggest that anything Kardon has said or done has brought about this improvement (I saw no difference in technique or style); maybe the new setup has simply refocused her on her own strengths.
  • Those Sisters. What to say? Serena lost to perhaps the only player in the draw capable of beating her convincingly. It wasn't the best match they'd played, but that last set certainly demonstrated why there should be no doubt of their WTA supremacy, even if they aren't always able to dominate in the way their fans might like them to. Serena looked a little downcast after the loss and went off court pretty quickly. I'm sure it had something to do with that troublesome knee; I hope they don't still feel that they have to prove to anyone just how competitive they can be against one another. Venus looks in fine nick -- and though she's ranked below her baby sister, still seems the more stable of the two right now. I liked the way she handled the whole Peer thing in her victory speech. I feel the calls for her to pull out (like those that expect Federer to speak out) over the affair were a little misplaced..
  • I wasn't altogether happy about the introduction of Coaches on court during WTA matches. And if you are going to go through with it, then why not the men? Tennis is very much a one on one, dog-eat-dog type of affair: it's why thousands of fans worldwide love it. No room for mid match cushy-coaching sessions then. Well I haven't been won over but I do enjoy hearing the player coach exchanges (who are now mic-ed up for our enjoyment) even when I don't understand the language they are speaking; it conveys something of the cut and thrust of the match in a completely innovative and pleasantly surprising way. I believe it's still in the experimental stages, and won't be sorry to see it go, but it just goes to show you can be wrong about things.
There were also those intent on turning the week into one big Greek Tragedy:
  • I'm not sure what happened here as there didn't look to be any signs of injury. Though I've sung Virginie's praises above, this loss looked to me to be all about Dinara. Or to be more precise, what's in between her ears. She didn't look completely convincing in Melbourne but steadied the ship in time to secure a place in the Final. But this time she was all at sea. She's going to need to cut out these still-too-wayward performances if she is to remain entrenched at the top of the game.
  • Jelena. The worst match of her career. Her words. You should be ashamed of yourself Jelena. Oh sorry, you said that too.
  • Agnieszka. I'm worried. It seems to me you've been getting biffed-bopped-n'bashed around a little too often by the big girls since last year, and in case you missed it, there's something deeply uncool about getting the beat down from your little sister (who is a good player, but ranked 111 places below you - and a mere qualifier at the event). Commentators are a little too quick IMO, to cast Agnieszka (as they are any player that doesn't strike the ball as hard as the stronger women on tour) as a strategist - someone who doesn't try to hit their way out of a problem. Maybe there's some truth in that. But not very much. She's no Hingis - she's just having a Hingis moment.
As for the whole visa thing, what to say that hasn't already been said. Shahar earnt her right to play and was denied. If you are going to position yourself as a World class, premier level event, you can't in all seriousness pick and choose whom you allow to play, diplomatic rows aside. Besides, Dubai strikes me more as a playground for the rich and famous, than as a podium for political statements. But I've also found some of the media commentary around the whole affair a little naive. We are after all speaking of a highly charged situation that many people around the world find deeply disturbing. Much as we'd like to believe it, it seems that sport can't always transcend politics.
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