Saturday, 9 May 2009

Rome, or something like it...

Well there you have it. Didn't I tell you that Rome would be something special? Though I'll admit I didn't have the womens event in mind with that particular prediction.

mens event was as predictable as you'd expect with Murray still not quite finding his feet on clay, Federer continuing to struggle with his feet of clay and Djoko, despite playing well enough to warrant his new found standing (IMHO) as the 2nd best in the world on clay, being reminded that appointing all the fitness coaches in the world won't get you around the fact that Rafa still has another 5 gears he could switch up to (and 3 more he probably hasn't even tried).

(Photo: AP)

Though who'd have thought that the ladies would wait to get on the exhausting, UFE-inducing, flaw-enhancing red dirt before beginning to exhibit the kind of tennis that would make the $15M WTA 'Hero' campaign just a little more credible. (Still find myself cringing through the Ad though - Svetlana and Venus look particularly disinterested - and don't even get me started on the whole thing being spearheaded by Ana).

I've been talking quite a bit about heroes recently and despite
Sveta's graceful return to form, and Venus' confident-looking demonstration that she's still the closest thing we have at the top to an 'all-court' player that believes in herself (Sveta and Vera being the ones that don't), it's only what Dinara achieved this week that can truly be described as heroic. Even if she needed Zejlko to hold her hand through some of the more tense moments.

The final itself was an anti-climax.
Sveta simply didn't perform. If I hadn't been witness to her exploits this two weeks, or wasn't so deliciously enraptured as I currently am with all things WTA , I'd most likely give her one of my more perfunctory thumbs-down. Sveta being Sveta. Like Sveta. So Sveta. But I'm determined to keep positive, so as it stands, I'm giving her a B+. A technicoloured layer cake of a performance. With conspicuously missing icing.

I'm also not about to let
anyone rain on my Sveta-Parade.

But the day and the week (and quite possibly the rest of the month if
Zejlko has anything to do with it) belongs to Dinara. Great final from her, as you might expect. But the epicentre of the event was in the match she played against Venus. And I'm not buying into any of those gross mischaracterisations of the match as a 'slugfest'.

This one had it all - heightened levels of steel and determination from
Dinara (#1-like in fact), whose personal growth and maturity appeared to be taking place on court right there before our eyes, the tsunami like net rushes and drive-volleys from Venus - and seriously, when was the last time you saw Dinara hit that many drop shots? She has Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez to thank for that tip, who incidentally is a fantastic serve-volleyer.

Over reliance on
Zeljko(?), is the only criticism I might just about be willing to entertain. But not very much. Though it is getting to the point now where her opponents might feel they're fighting two adversaries and may consider drawing more on the services of their own counter-Zejlkos. Or start spreading super glue on his chair. Seriously though, and as entertaining as it is to watch, I'm glad the facility is not available at the Slams as I'm not at all I'm comfortable with Tennis becoming a team sport in this way. The sooner it's phased out elsewhere, the better.

Safina, it might prove worthwhile to try going it alone in Madrid as a kind of dry-run for RG, at least until the very end of the event. You don't want to be faced with a thought process you don't recognise, or doubts you can't even begin to rationalise yourself come the 2nd week of RG.

Speaking of
RG, my list of picks is now complete:

(1) Dinara Safina - She's certainly embodies most of what comes to my mind when I hear the word 'competitor'. The commentators chose to characterise the final as a being a little like Rafa V Roger. 'The Unflinching Competitor' versus 'a rather more subdued and slightly morose but undoubted talent that has temporarily lost its way'.

Also, it may have taken nearly 10 years to emerge, but
Dinara's semi against Venus might have actually given us our first glimpse of someone capable of hitting the ball as hard (and as accurately) as the Williamses. That pace provides a good counter to the natural drag of the surface, and after the physical work she put in following the disappointing results she had in Dubai, she seems to have acquired Dementieva-like levels of endurance that will serve her very well. Difficult to place anyone else as the #1 pick.

(2) Venus Williams - The closest thing (and the best) we have to an 'All Courter' out there. Pace, Service, Movement, Speed and Net Play. Tsunamis aren't the towering waves induced by an earthquake opening up a fissure in the ocean bed. They happen when you foolishly invite Venus into the net by dangling a short high ball in front of her. The drive volley that follows usually signals the end of the point. And life as you know it. Not that I think she's a natural disaster. Just disastrous for her opponents. She plays on a level, at a level far removed from most anyone else's tennis reality. And that uniqueness enables her to translate her game to any surface. There's also something strangely romantic about her picking up a Slam title on her least favourite surface this late in her career.

(3) Svetlana Kuznetsova - Not convinced we've seen her best. Or that Stuttgart was a flash in the pan. She actually looked 'p**sed' with herself not to have won. There was also a lot of uncharacteristic racquet bashing going on. A welcome change I think; and the closest to petulance you're likely to ever get from her. That at least, is a positive. She usually just checks out without a fight.

If she plays within herself - not going for the lines too early in a point, playing with the quiet, calm, confidence we saw in Stuttgart and for much of this week, well who knows...

(4) Elena Dementieva - We didn't get to see her this week so it's quite possible she'll swap places with Sveta by the end of Madrid, but she made the semis in Stuttgart (losing to Kuzzie), and was one of the most consistent top tenners last year and for much of this year.

Her fitness has been for many years now, the stuff of folklore. Amongst the best (if not the best) on tour. She slides like a dream and flat balls her opponents into submission. Just don't use that horrendous drop shot of yours Elena, or come into the net unless it's
absolutely necessary. Stick to what you do best.

(5) Jelena Jankovic - I opened up this whole predictions-for-RG exercise by picking Jelena to win her first Slam at RG. It was around the time she'd picked up the #1 ranking last year and was being mercilessly henpecked for not having won a Slam.

But to be honest she was playing a whole lot better then. In fact even this time last year, she'd have topped this list of picks. But the Girl's won Rome two years in a row and is routinely cited as being the best defender on tour. How much more clay
courty can you get?

There's still time to turn things around; Madrid's a great place to start.

That's it - I promise not to add or remove anyone from this list, though the order might slightly change in light of the way things pan out in Madrid.
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