Sunday, 28 June 2009

And Then There Were 16...

I know we very seldom have intermissions in cinemas these days, but now'd be the time to venture out, stretch those legs, replenish your supply of glazed, sickly-sweet popcorn and refill that oversized coke cup.

Once again, middle Sunday seems to have crept up on us too soon. Going through the Wimbledon draws today, I couldn't help being a little struck by there being only
four boxes of matches remaining on either side. Sure, it's four boxes of two singles matches each. That's why it's called the round of sixteen, silly.

But that's 27 - 24 = 112 players back home already. Or else playing the challenger event in Turin this week. To say nothing of all the players sent packing in qualies, before the event even began.

There's something very clinical and chilling about that culling - a death by binary placeholders that's not out of place at any Slam, but sits particularly well against the pomp and exclusivity of Wimbledon.

And now I want to take a moment to do this.

(Photo: CHRIS RATCLIFFE/AFP/Getty Images)


That's Juan-Carlos after his five set win over Gonzo, sort of of how I looked when Tommy came through against Marin yesterday, but it may as well represent my reaction to seeing Juan-Carlos, Lleyton and of course Tommy in particular, come through the first week.

I won't deny that many trays were overturned when he almost
didn't hold serve after breaking Marins.

To think it almost turned out like this.

I reserve the right to wheel her out when Tommy
does eventually go out. And on any subsequent upset that hurts a lot.

I may as well have put up a picture of Jelena Jankovic.

She's not in a happy place. Hasn't been for sometime now.

Muscle troubles, woman troubles, blurry vision.

A lot has been made of her comments on her 17 year old American opponent Melanie Oudin.
"...she can play if you let her play. But she cannot hurt you with anything. She doesn't have any weapons, you know, from what I've seen.

You know, I played with half pace. I served, you know, like almost my first serve was like a second serve and all those kind of things. But if I had a little bit more ‑‑ if I felt a little bit more fresh at the end of that second set, I could have won in two sets.


"She's a consistent and quite solid player. She doesn't make so many mistakes. But she doesn't do anything either, so it's like she's depending kind of on you. And, as well, it's another story when she's young and she has nothing to lose, no pressure. You know, even when it's an important moment, she can just go for it.

And nobody's expecting her to win, so it's just a bonus if she does well. But if she loses, you know, nobody will tell her anything.

So it's a different, you know, situation for those kind of players. And then for players like me, which you're expected to win, you have pressure on yourself, you have expectations, as well. She just goes out there to enjoy it and give her best.


All very unsporting of course, but also a little reminiscent of Federers 'observations' on Murray's game at Dubai last year. Comments I wholeheartedly agreed with, incidentally.

As much as I might have to say on her problematic attitude, problems that largely predate this incident anyway, it's very rare to find a top tier player giving anything more than superficial credit, when they come unstuck against what they perceive as a young pretender.

And as well-executed as Oudin's game plan was, it's really isn't
that distinct from anything else you might find in the top 100. Where I think Jelena might have been a little more selective in her choice of words, is in her contention that Melanie "doesn't have any weapons". This is after all the very same accusation that has been levelled against Jelena for a number of years now.

I've heard her described as "the best defender in the game", "one of the best movers in the game" - I've even gone on record as saying I rate her mentally ahead of her nearest rivals (outside of the Williamses of course).

But she's far
too reluctant to pull the trigger, and the closest thing to a big weapon Jelena has, is that double handed backhand down the line. Which really is a marquee shot, but like the rest of her game lacks the firepower she so desperately needs. And as far as I can see, she's been having trouble pulling that one out of the hat too recently.

So 'bad show' Jelena; Melanie may not have a stockpile of A-Bombs. But then again, neither do you. Consider yourselves both exempt from the non-proliferation treaty.

Also not a presser that befits a player "that's expected to win". For that you might go back to 2001 and hear what Sampras had to say on Federer.

"There are a lot of young guys coming up but Roger is a bit extra-special. He has a great all-round game, like me doesn't get too emotional and you have to give him a great deal of credit.

"Against Roger I had my chances but did not convert them whereas he played really well at the right time which is the key on grass."

(Source: BBC)

And as far as Melanie goes, I really rather like her. It's refreshing to see, what initially seems a nonthreatening and rather giggly high-schooler, put on a game face like this.

(Photo: Getty)

Great too, to have an American besides the Williamses in the second week.

Someone who is rather more willing to pull the trigger is Sabine Lisicki. She won in Charleston earlier this year, beating Wozniacki and Venus Williams in the process.

You've already heard me scream about her ability to fire 120mph+ first serves down the T. But coming into this I had her down as a kind of Ernests Gulbis of the WTA. In the messed up trigger happy bad way.

But though she still has a very underdeveloped game, she displayed a remarkable degree of maturity in her shot selection during her straight sets win over Kuznetsova. I really liked the drop shots but also the way she preferred the reduced-pace short angled cross court over simply blasting it into any empty part of the court.

Kuznetsova sucked. And I say that as a long serving member of her fan club that feels let down. Put simply, her win in Paris should have marked a new phase in her growth as a confident member of the upper echelons. With that in mind I was "willing to see her, wanting to see her, waiting to see her" make an impression here - an event where she's thrice made the quarters.
No excuses about the grass please. Not from someone as proficient as her.

I wouldn't have minded the odd wobble, but expected to see a more assured Svetlana, at one with both herself and her tennis. What I got was "Sorta-lana", struggling to keep the ball in court, executing one of those non-plans she has, and seemingly aloof and detached from her new found WTA standing.

I've been willing myself not to say this, but she's giving me those distinctive, underachieving, Safin-like vibes. And I don't like it.

The Best of the Rest...

Murray v Wawrinka: Murray was
scary good opposite Troicki. Be interesting to see how he fares opposite Stanislas now that he's so very clearly in his element.

A-Rod v Berdych: Andy's dropped a set in each and every match he's played. Still my pick to make the finals in an unapologetic "heart over head" kinda way. Little scared by the progress Berdych has made, which is a bit strange considering I initially picked him as a dark horse. Banking on his remarkable ability to punk out on matches now that he's facing the A-Rod.

Simon v Ferrero: Now this I'll admit has taken me by surprise. It's not that Gilles is a poor player, but he's definitely not the top ten player I'd bank on to avoid the culling of the first week that del Potro, Tsonga and Gonzo have all fallen prey to. Also not the player I thought would produce the shot of the tournament so far. Apologies in advance of the grainy images of someones telly.

Liking that Ferrero's made it this far, and though I think he has a chance against Simon, the round that follows this will probably be his last.

Haas v Andreev: I'm backing Haas. But you already knew that.

Dudi Sela: ????? I'm sure Dudi's a great player, but I'm guessing Schuettler and Tommy Robredo aren't the biggest scalps on grass and would be very surprised to see him get a single set off Novak.

Novak Djokovic: Looked as clinical as he was early on last year, against Fish in the last round. Clearly finding his game as the tournament progresses. I'm one of those who's not reading much more than "too much tennis" into the loss to Haas at Halle.

Nando v Karlovic: Be cheering on my dark horse Nando. He may have to contend 55 or more aces fired by the man that turned "six foot ten" into a brand name.

Fed v Sod: Fed in straights. Intriguing match up. As will be every match Soderling plays against top ten players in the coming months

Dinara v Mauresmo: Dinara hates grass. Rather like her brother may still do. Amelie's a former champ here and is probably one of the few true grass court players left in the womens game. Guess who I think's gonna come through?

Wozniacki v Lisicki: Match up of the draw. Be following this one intently. Here's the thing about Woz. Plays opposite pace superbly well. Not so great at generating her own. Lisicki's all about pace, though like I said above, she's mature enough to know when to stop.

Venus v Ivanovic: I love the fact that Ana has found the closest she might get to something resembling form in this event. Since her expulsion from the top ten, she's been off limits in any WTA tirade I might care to launch. You just don't do that to people. But she's not going to defeat Venus Williams at in the round of 16 at Wimbledon. No she's not.

Though it was interesting to learn she'd been viewing Roger Federer videos to improve her game on grass.

“She is a very dangerous opponent but I think I have a great chance,” said Ivanovic. “I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to play against her because in my first match I was half gone. But I have been playing better and better and that’s what you want to feel going into the second week of a Grand Slam.

Ivanovic revealed she had gone to look and learn from five-times Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. “I think I can learn a lot from him, just from the way he plays on grass,” she continued.

“I think grass is such a specific surface and you really have to understand it to play well on it.”

(Source: The Times)

Very heartening sounds emerging from Camp Ana. All of them.

Radwanska v Oudin: Oudin's had a great run here, but I'm really happy that Agnieszka has made it this far. She's not Hingis. She's Agnieszka. Not everyone that doesn't play Big-Babe tennis can or should be likened to Martina. And I happen to think Agnieszka can play rather well. I think I prefer the way she conducts herself on court too. Yeah I'm not a Martina fan. Does that come across?

Razzanno v Schiavone: I like Virginie, but I happen to like Francesca a lot more. In fact unpretentious Italian female tennis players feature rather highly on my list of favourite things in tennis. So there.

Vesnina v Dementieva: Dementieva has been scorching her way through the draw: I wouldn't know anything about it, seeing as I've yet to catch a single match. She should make the semis.

Azarenka v Petrova: I happen to really like Nadia too. I love that she's recovered her top ten position. Heck let me just say this once and for all so it's clear. Show me an unpretentious athlete male or female and chances are I'll like them. But Azarenka wins in straights. Azarenka
always wins in straights, unless she's forced to fume her way through three.

Hantuchova v Serena: Same story again. I love that Daniella has managed to recover her form of three or so years ago. But dare I say it - yes I do - Serena's looking better than Venus this year. Yeah I'm not about to bet against Serena again.

I leave you with my pic of the week. Well it was lying around on my drive and I didn't know what to do with it. I'm still not sure what to make of it, except to say that roundhousing a linesperson's probably the way Eric Cantona might resolve a sporting dispute.

(Photo: AP)
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