Friday, 10 July 2009

Wimby Appraisal...

In between feeling sorry for Andy Roddick and suffering the usual post-Wimby malaise , I sort of forgot that we had an event here. An event that didn't just belong to RF and the A-Rod.

Please collect your event appraisals from the front of the class...


I was initially very appreciative of what I thought was a welcome curbing of the Murray Mania I'd all but resigned myself to. The levels of support were about right throughout the Wawrinka match if a little subdued at the more pivotal moments.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Just how subdued however, only became clear in the semi final when not only did he receive the same muted levels of support, but the match itself was less well attended than the Murray-less semi final of last year.

I have to say I'm really confused about this. On the one hand we lament at GB's inability to produce a contender capable of butting heads with the world's best, and when we find one we find ourselves unwilling or unable to rise to the occasion.

Is it the 'dour Scot' effect, or does he still have an image problem?

Andy Murray

Image problems aside, his performance was as good as I'd expected it to be. And even though I'd picked him to make the semis and for Roddick to make the finals, doubts began to creep into my mind just before the semis as to whether Roddick would be able to continue his run of good form and put a stop to the rot that had set into his H2H with Murray.

It wasn't the best match we've seen but Roddick in particular played with the focus and purposeful quality that has become the defining feature of these Championships.

I don't agree that with those that think Murray was offered up a cakewalk of a draw. Bobby Kendrick in the first round? Anyone who saw the Nadal-Kendrick match in 2006 knows what he's capable of on grass.
And then there was Stan the Man in round four, with his devastating single handed backhand, that should be subject to some sort of disarmament treaty.

I suppose they wanted him to have played Andy Roddick in the
3rd round instead of the semis and maybe even have him beat Stan Wawrinka twice.

Yes that is a strawman. An unashamedly klunky one. But it's the only response I'll dignify that charge with.

Murray played well, for the most part. But that 2nd serve and the stubborn insistence on playing what Larry Stefanki calls 'negative tennis' let him down once again.

"I think he has plenty of weapons. He hits the ball as cleanly as anybody but you have to learn when to use them and unload on certain balls and I don't see him doing that."


"Murray has the potential to play a lot more aggressively because he has the foot speed, because he can move the ball very quickly, but he has just chosen not to do that," he said.

"I like Andy Murray a lot and I respect his game. He plays it very smart but I still believe the game is played in the forecourt and at the net in order to win some big titles. He will win some big titles.

"You can get through the juniors just being a pusher, a retriever getting balls back.

"I call it negative tennis and that's not going to win you Slams. You have to have some offensive threat. He has developed a big serve and can move the ball from A to B as well as anybody, he just does not know when to do it."

(Source: BBC)

Where have I heard that before I wonder? Not going there. But I think Murray played his part rather well this event. If only he had the support. (B)

The Roof

(Photo: Getty)

Ok there were some problems with humidity, the overall delay incurred in shutting the roof and getting the subsequent temperature adjustments just right seemed closer to around half an hour, and it does mean matches are effectively being played on an indoor court.

But after that Murray-Wawrinka match, does anyone
not think that night matches at SW19 are a good idea? (A)

Nostalgia and Neverland

Lleyton, Tommy, A-Rod, JC-Ferrero, Dementieva, the Williamses and even RF. It's been the season of fairytales and comebacks from injuryland. And this event all but belonged to the veterans.

To make that list complete however, you'd have to include Taylor Dent. A one time owner of the fastest serve in the world. Watch his match against Federer in Miami this year for a clinic on serve-volleying.

But promoting him to dark horse standing, proved to be too much of a long shot. No fairytale comeback just yet. He went out in the very first round to Gimeno-Traver of Spain (who?). Not entirely unexpected, but still a little disappointing.

Serena Williams

There really is nothing to add to what I'd been saying since the beginning of the event.
The best competitor in womens tennis came and played the house down. And that, as they say, was that.

Her dismantling of Azarenka remains for me the most underrated performance of The Championships, followed as it was by that high quality thriller against Dementieva.

A little disappointed with her pop at Safina. Her talons should be bared and directed towards the WTA not a
t any individual player, whatever the rights and wrongs of the ranking system.

The one blemish on an otherwise unimpeachable performance. A performance where she didn't even have to play her way into form the way we've gotten use to seeing.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Rafael Nadal with his tendinitis and personal problems. Always is a reason, no?

Maria Sharapova

2nd round loss not entirely unexpected - you've gotta think she rather overperformed at Roland Garros anyway. It would be madness to expect her to continue that run unhindered. Except I'd rather she had gone out early in Paris and made at least the quarters here.

Serbian Tennis

I should perhaps make it clear that I'm excluding Ana Ivanovic from this dressing down, who if anything deserves my support after playing what looked to be her best tennis in many months, before falling prey rather cruelly to that thigh injury.

But I'm tired of making excuses for Jelena and Novak. Whatever mystique the 'best defender in womens tennis' once had is no longer with her. And silly complaints about her opponents 'lack of weapons', is all rather evocative of a shady discussion between pots and kettles.

(Photo: Getty Images)

I think I might also have had my fill of Novak's stop-start season too. Let's be fair - he enjoyed a clay court season most players
would kill for - almost as good as Rafa and Roger. A season that gave us what I'm pretty sure is the best three setter ever played.

But despite that he came up short against Kohlschreiber in Paris and within the space of two weeks suffered those two consecutive losses to Tommy Haas on grass. I admire both those players, but really, the Novak that won in Oz, heck even the Novak of 2007, would have found a way through. It's what Champions are meant to do.

There's too much talent in Serbia's top three players to begin suggesting that the Serbian Star that rose to such prominence in 2006 is now on its way to becoming a White Dwarf.

But the Star's lost it's fizz. The Star
shoots off a little now and again, particularly in Jelena's case, but no longer just shoots. And when that happens with heavenly bodies they sometimes end up eking out a nonthreatening existence in some quiet corner of the universe. I'd hate to see that happen to either of them. (D)

Roger Federer ("You can get further with a pretty forehand and 50 aces than you can with just a pretty forehand.")

No he didn't say that of course. Capone did.

But he may as well have done.

I've heard this final being characterised in many ways, but to me it's all Capone.

It's like he'd recognised how well Roddick had been playing throughout the event and sensed the need to take him on at his own game, taking him down 'The Chicago Way'.

But who'd have thought the A-Rod would hang with him toe to toe, deflecting every blow sent his way, and countering with a heavier and more strategic one of his own.

Scene: Five months earlier. Larry Stefanki walks with his hand on Andy Roddick's shoulder down a dimly lit Chicago alley.

"You wanna know how to get Roger? He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! *That's* the *Chicago* way! And that's how you get Roger."

(Source: My Fanciful Imagination)

As many other commentators have noted, Federer won this match not the way in which he's accustomed to overcoming Roddick, by sending those single handed backhand sling shots down the line, whenever Roddick went on one of those unfortunate bull rushes to the net. As we all now know, Roddick 2.0 is no longer in the business of bull rushes. Or any other unfortunate remnant of the pre-Stefanki Caveman years.

The boring fact-of-the-matterness of it is,
Federer won this match by outlasting his opponent, who at times simply outplayed Roger. One can only wonder what could have been, had Roddick not lost that 5-1 lead he had in the second set tie break. Or had he not sent that high backhand volley out of court.

But tennis, like life, is cruel, and deals in numbers, not hypothetical nuances.

"You have an all out prize fight, you wait until the fight is over, one guy is left standing. And that's how you know who won."

all Capone I tell you.

Win Roger did.
And for that I give him an A.

But it's now been three days since that momentous victory. And as 2Hander noted in his last post, there was plenty to criticise too.

Actually Federer's always had his critics. And once the initial jubilation of reaching number 15 had subsided, those murmurs of discontent were only going to get louder.

This week no less a tennis bigwig than John Wertheim of has waded in.

Heck, I think I just need to post the entire response.

Fed's great. We get it. But come on -- sporting a new jacket with "15" on it minutes after surviving a match he probably should not have won? Why won't the media call him on this?
-- Stephen Thomas, Greensboro, N.C.

• I'll call him on that. Anyone who breaks the all-time record for majors, winning the Wimbledon final 16-14 in the fifth set, deserves a day of unconditional love. But now that it's Wednesday -- and 72 hours have elapsed -- I'll join the many of you who wrote in critiquing Federer's ridiculous attire.

As we said a few weeks back, the guy's tennis might be incomparable but his accessorizing leaves a lot to be desired. First, there was the gold man purse, the kind of accoutrement that begs for ridicule. Next, there was the Sergeant Pepper jacket. A friend asked me if it were "an inside joke kind of thing," and sadly I had to report that it wasn't. The jacket was, of course, covering a gold-striped shirt and shorts. Plus, there were the gold shoes, embroidered with Federer's initials. For a sport that still needs to shed its country club perception, it doesn't help when the top player looks like he was dressed by Bruno.

The piece de resistance, however, was that "15" jacket Federer donned immediately after winning Sunday's final, an article of clothing that simultaneously managed to be presumptuous, self-aggrandizing and sensationally tacky. A penny for Andy Roddick's thoughts, knowing that someone considered him such an unworthy opponent that the celebratory outfit had already been embroidered and carried onto the court. That it was followed, at least on American television, by a Federer NetJets ad was somehow fitting. (Good thing we're not in a recession and concerned about, you know, environmental impact.)

Beyond the fashion police ridicule, I think there's a bigger issue here. Who exactly is tasked with Federer's image these days? Why does this person have a job? And why is Federer allowing Nike's agenda to undercut an image that, much like his old attire, needed no further ornamentation? Here was a guy once lauded -- very rightfully -- as a populist champ, an unparalleled player who still projected modesty and quintessentially Swiss stoicism. This Rick Reilly column (which compares Federer's plain folk appeal to the gaudy opulence and crass consumption of Tiger Woods) nails it. That column was from 2007, and reading it now, it seems mighty dated.

Whose bright idea was it to transform that thoroughly likable guy into King Bling? Did the Nike marketing data really indicate that kids would warm to all those elitist touches? Is the gold man purse making a surprise comeback? This is the personification of "gilding the lilly." It does not say "elegance" any more than a fleur-de-lis back tattoo says "French." Here's hoping it's a phase and Federer takes back some ownership of his portrayal. I've gotten a ton of mail on this and I know I'm not alone when I say this: Roger, we'd rather look at your titles.

This article in The Mirror, says much the same thing, though not nearly as nicely.

Oh dear.

The way I see it is there's three distinct issues here, all of which have become intermingled in an unruly maelstrom of opinionated heat.

1. The '15' Jacket. What it stands for. They way it was whipped out right after the win. Oh the insensitivity of it all. How tasteless and vain. Yadayada.

2. Federer's choice of consolatory words to Roddick. And the perceived lack of tact.

3. Federer's perceived unwillingness to credit his opponents over the years in a worthy fashion. Rafa's one dimensional. Murrays a pusher. And round and round she goes.

One by one.

1) Ever since Nike persuaded Federer to walk on to court in 2006 with that blazer, we've seen increasing levels of polarisation between his fans that rally to his defense and other purer followers of the sport that continued to admire him for his tennis, while raising an amused eyebrow at the dress sense.

I didn't mind the blazer, but was never on board with the concept Nike have been peddling since 2006. It felt symptomatic of the encroaching levels of corporatisation of our sport - uniquely at odds, it seemed to me, with tennis's code of humility and sportsmanship.

And now that it's come to a head this year, I dislike it further still.

But lets be clear. Nike are to blame for this.

And lets also be clear, as many others have pointed out over the last couple of days, that such narcissistic post-victory exhibitions are sadly not without precedent in sport. You only need take a look at what takes place in Formula 1 or the NBA.

Where I
do call Roger up however, is in him not exercising his right to veto such nonsense. With his standing in the game, in sport in general actually, you can just imagine some of the more ludricous sponsorships being thrown at him he has chosen to turn down.

The fact is he exudes the look and feel of a man comfortable in those clothes. More cynical commentators would say he's lapping up these trappings of his success rather too smugly.

And they very often

2) This one is a boo-boo. Plain and simple. I don't believe for a minute that he intended any type of slur or unbecoming condescension towards Andy when he mentioned how he knew how he felt having lost in Slam finals too.

But it came across as such, mostly because Andy's loss here -- given the length of the match, given Andy's one-Slam record, and as Andy rightly pointed out, given Roger's previous consecutive wins here -- didn't really equate to anything Roger has experienced this last year.

I did expect better given he's made so many of these acceptance speeches, but am still inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was a taxing days play for all involved, and he must have been physically hurting too, even though he didn't appear to show it.

3) This is one I'm a little indifferent to. There's no doubt he's not as generous as say Rafa is in his proffering of praise upon defeated adversaries.

He also gets a litle rankled when he doesn't get the respect he presumably thinks is due.

But very often his criticisms of other players turn out to be correct.

I routinely call up Djokovic for the same antics that I'm guessing offend Federer.

I routinely call up Murray for 'pushing' his way through Masters events.

And in his early years, Rafa's game might rightly be described as one dimensional.

It's no secret I preferred Roger's pre-2006 un-Wintourised persona, when it was all still so new to him. I also prefer Rafa's heart-on-his-sleeve and to me, more humbler persona.

But that's just me. Others will see it as they wish.

I will say though that he was rather short on words to Roddick. Rather too short. Whatever your thoughts may be on the few seemingly condescending words he did offer up, what was clear was that with the efforts they both expended out there, and with the Wimbledon history he shares with Andy, a worthy opponent whom he appears to respect, so much more could have, and should have been said.

And for that in particular, I call him up.

I think that maybe, just maybe, there'll be another one of these appraisal posts as and when I remember things well enough...
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