Monday, 23 March 2009

Desert Heat Pt 3

[1] R Nadal (ESP) d [4] A Murray (GBR) 61 62

I don't know what to say about this match other than the fact that Murray appeared to be more affected by the conditions than Rafa who ran a very, very tight ship. I thought Rafa would get past Murray this time anyway but it would have been nice to see this much-anticipated match take place in less breezy conditions. Great scene at the end during the presentation, where the announcer tries to address Murray who's busy nattering away with Rafa like he's in a high-school dinner queue.

[4] V Zvonareva (RUS) d [5] A Ivanovic (SRB) 76(5) 62

Worse conditions I've ever seen; rendered the match into a battle to see who's better equipped to contend with the wind. Vera's more of an all-court player than Ana (whose swingy, heavier strokes not to mention suspect ball toss, leave her particularly vulnerable to the conditions), and aside from a racquet smashing tantrum early on, adapted quickly enough to the conditions to see things through. But there was nothing tennis-like about this match or the victory.

[1] R Nadal (ESP) d [7] A Roddick (USA) 64 76(4)

I was seriously impressed by what Roddick brought to the court. He served really well and somewhat surprisingly, conducted himself for large parts of the match like a dirt-baller, hitting an unusually high number of loopy forehands the depth of which kept Rafa pinned behind his baseline, but punctuating this with his more conventional flat double handers to keep Rafa honest. There were however, far too many ill-fated 'A-Rod Bull-Rushes' into the net (you actually wince the minute he begins his run); I can remember at least two occasions where he spent a while patiently constructing a rally where he looked to have the upper hand, only to wreck things by coming in on little more than a wing and a prayer. Disappointing, and a bit like hitting the panic button too early.

But he wasn't going to win this match from the back of the court and it was great to see Andy attempting to mix things up and actually thinking well on court - something he's been criticised for in the past.

[4] A Murray (GBR) d [2] R Federer (SUI) 63 46 61

This one's already been analysed to bits so I'll skip the obligatory lament on Federer's last set collapse, which I think only he can explain. The big story of course has to be the sub par backhand, and Murray's rather pig-headed targetting of it. Obviously a leaf out of Rafa's book. But Rafa creates problems with a combination of height, pace, depth and spin. Andy got away with shorter and more medium-pace pummelling. Much like what Canas did here two years ago.

But here's something else - take a look at the first set in particular when Roger is attempting to slice his way out of trouble. I know it was a bad-backhand day, and I know that this is tantamount to heresy, but watching those slices I can't help but feeling that if there is a less complete part to Roger's game, it's in that backhand slice. He spent the best part of three years goading his opponents into the net with short chipped returns which he does very well. But if he's forced to increase his length the ball never seems deep enough or low enough to be that effective - not against Rafa and Andy anyway. Again, it wasn't his best day but contrast this to Murray's slices -- which I'm beginning to believe are the best in the game -- they're more sweeping, they stay lower and they practically hug your baseline. Plus there's some side spin thrown in for good measure.

[1] R Nadal (ESP) d [6] J Del Potro (ARG) 62 64

Del Potro demonstrating once again why there's a sizeable chunk of daylight between himself and the top four. Juan may hit the ball very hard, but he likes to take the time to construct rallies on his terms. Trouble is not very many of the more aggressive players are likely to allow him to do that.

[7] A Roddick (USA) d [3] N Djokovic (SRB) 63 62

My pick for the worst performance given by a top ten player this year. Djoko himself termed this "one of the worst matches he's ever played". I'd go a step further -- it's difficult to imagine things getting any worse than this. A guarded, concerned introvert - a description that perhaps applies equally well to his game right now as it does to his demeanour. I think there's only about 500 points between him and Murray now, but it'd probably be best for Djoko to put that to one side for now. It's often necessary to take a step back before getting back on track and he might even need to lose some ranking points to find his hunger again.

[4] V Zvonareva (RUS) d [8] V Azarenka (BLR) 63 63

The scoreline would indicate this was a one-sided affair. In fact it was anything but. Victoria did unravel towards the end quite quickly but put in a spirited performance quite consistent with her new top ten ranking.


This week's Crouching Tigers (tournament winners not included):

Ljubicic (The 'Gentle Giant' returns), Murray (for conducting a particularly low-key 'no pressure' PR campaign - and then getting to the final), Isner (great Davis Cup material) and Roddick (see above).

And on the Women's side, Vera (I know she's a tournament winner, but I backed her and that entitles me to break my own rule) , Victoria (remind me again why she's not in the top ten? Oh she is.) and Ursula Radwanska (Playing better than her sister)

This week's Humbled Dragons:

Men's:Djoko, Tsonga, Simon

Women's: Svetlana, Jelena, Alize and Agnieszka

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