Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Artist currently known as 'The Monogram'...

Know that I only drag this one out of exile, because for once we get to hear Federer's own side of the monogrammatic furore.

Something I felt was notably absent over the summer, in the Armageddon like rush to defend or crucify him.

Discretion is advised and some readers may find the quotes "emblematically" disturbing.

Some fans speculated that the idea for the monogram had been his all along. Others insisted that Nike made him do it.

“Well, I’m surprised to hear that,” Federer said during a recent interview in Switzerland, “because I don’t have to wear anything or do anything anybody tells me. I do everything myself. It’s really up to me.

The idea for a monogram emerged from the logo that Mirka Vavrinec, now Federer’s wife, and her father developed for his fragrance, RF-Roger Federer, introduced in 2003. The result was a freehand squiggle. If you knew what you were looking at, you saw the R and the F; if you didn’t, you didn’t. (A three-letter monogram was apparently never an option because Federer has no middle name.)

Federer liked the approach and suggested that Nike come up with a strategy along the same lines.

For me, it’s important that a fan can buy something that is related to me,” he said. “Like in soccer, you buy a shirt and it’s got somebody’s name on the back. That’s kind of a cool thing.”

His intent was that a monogram would offer a connection as direct but not as literal as a team jersey.

...

No player on the men’s tour seems as intrigued by fashion as Federer, nor has any other player been so roundly criticized for his clothes. Case in point: his entrance for this year’s Wimbledon final, in a white suit that looked like the sort of uniform a British Army officer might have worn in India.



“I thought the military jacket would be something completely different, something cool,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a bit more aggressive, either a love or hate thing. But that’s not bad. You can’t always be the nice guy, going through the middle, like, All right, I’m just wearing a cardigan again this year.


Maybe we’ve overdone it with gold at Wimbledon,Federer said. “Maybe for some people, gold is a bit like, ‘He’s trying to show off.’ They think it’s too much bling bling, which is not the goal. It’s to have that connection with the trophy.

(nytimes.com)


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Saturday, 29 August 2009

Flushing Meadows: 10 Nuggets to Chew Over

Barring a seismic upset, of Roland Garros proportions, I probably won't be posting anything until the middle of next week.

Until then here's ten storylines to chew over, each of which I think could do with a more thorough examination.

Will the Slamless be 'enSlammed'?


Enough.

This debate has got to stop. The insults, the trash talk, while entertaining, do nothing to inspire love for, and enamour others
to, our sport.

Me too. I've got to stop.

And something that'll help us stop is if one of the WTA's three most 'deserving' causes, Dinara, Elena or Jelena, get in on the act and put things 'right'.

It won't change my opinion and the perception of most sound and able minded people that this is a weak era. The tennis from which has an almost inbred, sterile, factory farmed feel to it.

But it'll be one less charge to level against the WTA.

The question's not if, but how much of the show will Kimmie or Pova steal?

Most or all of those sound and able minded people I mentioned in the last paragraph are appreciating, at least on some level, the comeback show these two have managed to put on.

It goes without saying that their presence will, rightly or wrongly, draw some or all of the limelight away from the top players.

Good luck to them.

I just hope it's for all the right reasons, and that Pova in particular is able to better upon that 2nd round outing at Wimbledon. Her performances outside of that have been as good as might reasonably be expected. I still sometimes grit my teeth as she steps up to serve though. Which is maybe an overreaction considering the problems
Dinara, Ana and Elena continue to have with their own.

Will Federer cruise to #16 with consummate ease?


If his last two matches, and the
absolute peach of a draw he's been given are anything to go by, you'd have to think that his run to the semis is all but certain.

The only credible threats in his section of the draw happen not to be threats at all. But rather the other founding members of his 'eight-and-oh' club. In fact Nikolay now has a newly convened 'twelve-and-oh' society under his control.

Things should liven up in the semis when, if all goes to plan rather than to pot, he'll run in to one of Djoko or A-Rod. Based on recent form I'd say it's Andy that presents the greater threat.

Will Murray survive the first week?

Just which high-ranking ATP/USTA official did Muzz snub?

Was it 'FootballGate' all over again? Did he go on record as saying he'd support anyone playing the New York Giants?

Did he suggest that he'd be cheering for anyone playing A-Rod?

Then why has he been shafted in the way he has?

After his opener against Gulbis, he has a likely third round meeting with Karlovic to look forward to.

After which he'll most likely play one of Stan Wawrinka or Marin Cilic, followed by a QF showdown with
del Potro.

Assuming he gets that far, which at this point I'm not at all certain about.

Nice.

Is Jelena really back?

I'd like to think so. Except I'd be more convinced if she puts in a good showing at the venue where she normally does so well. I've learnt to treat Flushing as a kind of Testing Ground for her, a barometer into her form.

I've missed the flowing (and supposedly less muscle-clad) movement, and those fluid double handers down the line.

Yes I'm afraid Serbian Dramedy alone will not suffice. It hasn't lost it's appeal, but you need the tennis to back it up. Although she clearly hasn't gone the way Nole has, who lost his Dramedy and most or all of his intensity along with it. Maybe that
dramedy is a hidden talent I've yet to learn to fully appreciate, and should really be giving it it's dues.

Maybe that, or her win in Cincy, will help spur her on.


Nole
-Ana Well-Wishers Unite..


I dunno whether it's the traditional underdog supporter in me or the way in which both their worlds suddenly seem so unspectacular and devoid of any worthy attention.

Both I imagine. Rooting for the underdog is just about the only thing that trumps my love of Roger's game or Rafa's personality. And ok, Nole's the #4 player right now, but he's the undisputed underdog within that big-four clique.

So let this be the event in which Ana makes a convincing showing well into the second week, and Nole makes at least the final.

At this point both those propositions seem a little far-fetched. But what's a Slam without a frenzied bout of sentimental underdog support?

Does Zeljko need some new material?

I deem it both proper and befitting to call time on whatever approach Zeljko has been taking with Dinara. That 'go with your strengths' strategy may have worked it's wonders in her rise to the top. But this is now a turning point. And she should respond in kind
by turning with it.

Things are only going to get tougher with the obscene amount of points she has to defend.

Let's start with that serve. Just don't go getting all abbreviated on me.

Is Vika really the best of the rest?

She makes a strong case. Her Slam results are impressive. And in Miami she's won a mandatory Premier event.

Not the description you might reasonably apply to her closest competitor, her-right-honourable-Wozness, who seems to prefer making finals she doesn't win.

I don't believe she did that much wrong in that loss she suffered to Serena at Wimby this year.

It seems her rage fuels her intensity, much in the way Jelena and Nole's Dramedian-Stand-Up Shows fuel theirs: It can be the making or the discombobulation of them.

So I'm gonna lobby for it's stay. Tasteless though it is.

Like I said in my last post, Womens tennis is all about executing plan A better than everyone else. And like Clijsters, Vika happens to be quite good at doing that.

RIP James Blake? RIP Marat Safin?

It's becoming very difficult to predict anything hopeful for either of these two, and almost painful to watch most of their matches lately. So I plan to do very little of either this time round. Ok maybe I will watch every Marat match after all.


Marat seems intent on retiring, and -- dare I say it -- it now almost seems right for him to do so, given that by his own admittance, he has so little love left for the game. It also makes sense to look for a worthy last swansong during the indoor season rather than here at the Open.

I wish them both well. I just want the pain to stop.

Someone make it go away.

RIP French Tennis?

All change. This is where I'm getting off. The end of the line. The last straw. My camel's heaved it's last, his back's officially broke.

Both my French bandwagons now stand wrecked in my drive, tyres slashed and paintwork scratched. I did that last bit myself.

French tennis is all about style over substance. And French Style no longer trumps anything for me.

I reserve my last dregs of support for Gasquet, still battling the doping authorities, the once proud owner of my favourite single handed backhand in the game; itself now trumped by more substantial and significantly less stylish strokes like Robin Soderling's discuss-throwing forehand.

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Thursday, 27 August 2009

Kimmaculate on Women's Tennis...

(Photo: AP)
"I think a lot of the girls these days that are up there, they play a very similar game," she said.

"They play tennis like this is a perfect game, playing that aggressive tennis, stepping in and just really hitting the ball over the net and not giving your opponent a lot of chances.

"But on the other hand, if that doesn't go the way that they want it to go, I feel like the plan B is not always there.

"And that's something that a lot of girls - Venus, Serena, even Justine, even myself - even if we're not playing our best game, we can still work on - we still have a plan B."


(Sky Sports)


Plan B? No.

Or maybe I just have difficulty picturing Kimmie as a 'plan B' kind of a player.

Women's tennis nowadays is all about executing plan A better than everyone else.

And not even Kim's smileiciousness is about to change any of that.

Though she does execute her plan A better than just about anyone else, as her first few weeks back on tour have shown.

Great comment about playing it like it's a 'perfect game' though.

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Tuesday, 25 August 2009

"Why on court coaching is a BAD idea" - exhibit A

Still amazed by the fuss, images of Shaza being coached by Joyce (and her response), have caused.

You'd almost think the (hopefully ill-fated) on court coaching experiment just began last week.

Anyway, here's the
Sharapova/Joyce coaching clip I was speaking of in my last post.

Pay special attention to the way in which
Shaza gestures to Joyce to quieten down about her "tired arm" at around 35 secs.

I've tried to capture them as accurately as I can manage.




Joyce: Coupla things, coupla things.

Joyce: When you hit..when she pushes you back deep, you're behind the baseline, you're trying to do this 'swing your arm', and your arm is tired, you gotta sometimes go back high.

Shaza: What..'push' it!?

Joyce: Not push it, but go back high, then wait till you get the short one, and then step in; and the balls that are sitting in the middle of the court, you gotta move in,
if your arm is tired, and you can't swing your arm.....(Shaza interjects)..huh?

Joyce:
...your arm is tired, and you can't swing your arm...(Shaza incomprehensible)...well you just said it louder than I just said it.. you gotta at least get your weight in the court.

Joyce: your serve, you're serving like 80% of your serves to her backhand - just hit your slice serve! If she hits the winners its fine....Aright...s'fine I'm wrong...you do what you wanna do...everybody knows you're tired...you can just either give into yourself, or get outta here, or fight hard, I don't know what you want...do what you wanna do!
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Cincy, Toronto Roundup...

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Well that was altogether too efficient dontcha think?

Sure,
Djoko seemed sapped of the intensity that carried him to the final and Murray seemed sapped of that and just about everything else.

But the way in which
Federer seems to have upped his game in those last two matches in particular means he may have come out on top whatever the standard and form of the competition. Top four or top seventy four.

Equally revealing has been the way in which
Federer executed two related but otherwise different gameplans against the second and fourth best players in the world.

The Murray match was almost a distilled version of the US Open final last year, with
Federer's net rushes and unwillingness to get involved in those frustrate-the-hell-out-of-ya rallies Murray's used to such good effect over the years.

With
Djoko, I'd say he knew he could outplay him at his own game, and elected to play clinical, aggressive tennis from the baseline.

Both those performances also had an almost
unrelenting uber-aggressive snarkiness about them as he assumed what he presumably thinks of as his rightful position atop the ATP food chain.

You might go as far as to say that he's surpassed anything he produced both at
RG and at Wimbledon.

But that as they say, is the nature of the beast.

Slams are won with a quieter and more measured intensity nurtured and then sustained over the course of two weeks.

It's been the
shorter, sharp bouts of unremitting intensity that have been missing over the last year or so. Which unsurprisingly coincides rather well with his two year drought at the Masters level.

***

You might say that this last week has promised much and delivered little.

With a top four semi final line up at
Cincy, and Elena, Shaza and a seizure-inducing cameo from Serena at the same stage over in Toronto, I think it's fair to say that this hasn't been the US Open Preview it could have been.

Novak Djokovic

Fascinating. I thought he was almost back in there in the early parts of the second set. Too many half court balls and too many at the bottom of the net. After a very worthy semi final performance that promised us so much.

Shame. But also, unfortunately, fast becoming an all too
familiar story.

Andy Murray


Too much tennis. That's what I put his semi final blowout down to. That win in Montreal, though impressive, meant that Murray had played more tennis in the last two weeks than anyone else.

del Potro, now wisely it seems, elected to pass.

Bloodied in Battle

It wasn't just the fact that he put about as many first serves in as
I might have done. Or that he looked like he'd gone without sleep for a week. Or that he played with about as much flair as a heatproof mat.

His shots lacked bite and purpose, and let's just say I've seen actual slugs slithering down my garden path less sluggishly.

Don't think punching your strings will help though. Time for a good lie down.

Rafael Nadal

Can we really fault a semi final showing? After a quarter final showing the week before? I think not. There were unmistakable signs of rust, and I'm not at all surprised by the way in which
Novak overpowered him. But the signs are that he'll be in fine fettle in New York.

Just don't go expecting him to win it.

Elena Dementieva d. Sharapova 6-4, 6-3

OK so let's just forget that final. For half of it no one seemed to want to serve. In the other half Shaza's arm appeared to give way. Elena should have put her away sooner, instead managing to somehow prolong that second set.

(Photo: AP)

There's been a largish debate about whether this win increases her chances at the Open. I'm thinking not. The serve's not in the same place it was at Wimby. I'd say it's regressed.

And not even the fact that she's probably my second favourite player will sway me from that opinion.

But equally I'd say her situation is more hopeful than the Vikas, Wozs and Dinaras of this world. In fact I rather fancy her chances against Serena after Wimbledon.

Sharapova continues to impress. In every respect except that serve, which unfortunately still has some way to go. It made pretty painful viewing watching her flounder away that first set.

Will the serve ever be restored to it's former glory? Probably a safer bet to say no. But that shouldn't prevent her from turning it into something more functional. Those groundstrokes are still as scary as ever.

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

One other thing. Did anyone else pick up on her insisting that Joyce (her coach) shush up about her 'arm hurting' during the on court coaching session? They're presumably both aware that the entire conversation is broadcast. Except that Joyce didn't seem to think much wrong with it, making reference to the fact that the arm had been talked about before.

It just concerned me a little. The last thing she wants after what by anyone's standards is an electric comeback, is a flare up. And it was very evident in the second set, with the way in which she played almost every stroke like she was wielding a 200 lb racquet, that something was up.

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2Hander's Take: The shape of things to come...?

Federer def Djokovic 6-1 7-5

The result as I had predicted. However, I missed the first set, which I guess Federer dominated with at least a couple of breaks.

The second set Novak came to life, rather like Murray had done the previous day. I think Fed's got some crazy 'shock and awe' tactics deployed as opposed to these two kids not firing properly, as Top suggested. Federer got broken early for Djokovic to take a 0-3 lead. Then Fed broke back to make it 2-3. Fed almost broke once more with about 3 or 4 break points at 5-4, but the Serb held on. Then Federer broke once more to make it 6-5 before holding serve after the changeover to clinch the title.

Now, once again there were moments where one felt it could go to a tiebreak that the Serb would clinch and the same Fed that shanked his racquet in Miami would re-emerge. However, his nerves of steel held out particularly at breakpoints against his serve. Djokovic jokingly (NOT yokingly!) remarked during the presentation ceremony that he was "born in the wrong era" - which I disagree with. He has the potential to win any tournament he plays in. If he's on his game (the stick is NOT an issue now!) and if the top 3 are slightly off their guard, he can beat anyone deservingly. He has been one of the players to keep Federer on his toes.

I know I have been quite a harsh critic of Nole in the past. I think he has done some growing up off the court more than on, tho I think his volleying needs to be excellent to win Slams these days - which is definitely achievable. His groundstrokes have a lot of venom off both wings. He has a very good serve. Don't lose heart, we are expecting great things from you, Nole, and soon at that.

I think we are back to Slams and Masters 1000 events being 4-horse races once again. This is not a bad thing as we have a few not too distant outsiders like A-Rod, Del Potro and Tsonga (Fernando V, where have you gone?!?) to cause a few upsets along the way.

Question is, will the imminent US Open be the same? I have a sneaky suspicion it will. I think Federer will take heart from beating Nadal on clay earlier this season in Madrid. Is Nadal up to the task? Put it this way, I wouldn't be too surprised if he doesn't get past the semis. However, I want to him to play Federer, which he may do if he's in Fed's half of the draw. I want Fed to be back at his best but I also want the rest to be on their game as well, otherwise it will be back to the old days of Fed winning Slams without having to play his best tennis.

However, I think we actually have a competition on our hands this time round...here's hoping!!
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Sunday, 23 August 2009

"Pay no attention?" "Pay no attention?"





"Pay no attention to the title of the YouTube clip. It was 53 shots, not 58."

(Yahoo! Sports)

Huh!

That just happens to be MY Murray youtube video that's doing the global-rounds, I'll have you know.

Yahoo! Sports pinched (sorry embedded) it, and then had the gall to question my 58-ball rally count.

I'm not the 'blow my own trumpet' type, which you clearly need to be if you're serious about promoting your blog and youtube channel, but you might want to take cover as I hire the services of Britain's best Brass Band.

#3 - Most Discussed (Today) - Sport
#60 - Most Discussed (Today) - Sport - Global
#92 - Most Discussed (This Week) - Sport
#97 - Most Viewed (Today) - France
#52 - Most Viewed (Today) - Sport - Australia
#17 - Most Viewed (Today) - Sport - Canada
#17 - Most Viewed (Today) - Sport
#19 - Most Viewed (Today) - Sport - India
#31 - Most Viewed (Today) - Sport - New Zealand
#27 - Most Viewed (Today) - Sport - Global
#28 - Most Viewed (Today) - Sport - France
#14 - Most Viewed (Today) - Sport - Hong Kong
#34 - Most Viewed (Today) - Sport - Taiwan
#99 - Most Viewed (This Week) - Sport - Hong Kong
#6 - Top Favourited (Today) - Sport
#71 - Top Favourited (Today) - Sport - Global
#6 - Top Rated (Today) - Sport
#70 - Top Rated (This Week) - Sport

Not to mention the multitude of embeddings and referrals.
Not bad for a relative youtube fledgling.

And ok, it was only 57 strokes rather than the 58 I titled the video with. It happens to be a lot closer than the 53 stroke miscount the peeps over at Yahoo! Sports would have you believe.

"Pay no attention", yourselves.
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Toronto Semis: Underwhelmed



Elena Dementieva d. Serena Williams 7-6(2), 6-1


Semis of Wimbledon this was not. First set contested evenly enough, with Serena fading into painful insignificance in the second.

I can’t say I was especially feeling the fire,” Williams said. “Obviously you want to do well, and I always really want to do well. Honestly, I think I could have and should have won, but I didn’t, so … it is what it is.”

I wasn't feeling the fire either. Come to think of it I wasn't feeling much of anything.

“I was really waiting for this match after Wimbledon,” said Dementieva, who has two tournament wins this year but none since January. “It’s always very interesting to play against Serena, and I was looking for revenge after Wimbledon.

“I was very positive on the court, and very satisfied with the way I was playing.”


It's actually great to hear Elena got her teeth into this and was motivated by the loss at Wimbledon. It's not the best tennis I've seen her play in recent months, but barring a mishap or a major serving flunkout, she should edge past Shaza to claim her third title this year.



Sharapova d. Kleybanova 6-2, 4-6, 6-4



This sounds like an equally untidy topsy-turvy affair. Sharapova fought through in the way you might expect her to, but the length of this match and the fact that it should have been Jankovic and not Kleybanova in the semis leave me a little underwhelmed.


Something tells me the final will be a little different though.
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2Hander's Take: Cincy Semis



I know, it's another of my rare cameo appearances but I thought I'd take some of the load off Top.

Federer def Murray 6-2 7-6(10)

Well, going into the match the Scot was 6-2 ahead in the head-to-head matchup and there was an element of 'exorcising the demon' as Murray had won the last three matchups between the two. The first set was a mixture of Federer being on form, particularly the forehand and Murray getting off the blocks late. Federer broke him twice and was hitting brilliantly off both wings, but the forehand was connecting like the good ole days.

The second set was more of a matchup, there were no breaks of serve. In fact, Murray didn't have a single breakpoint in the entire match. It went to a tiebreak which saw Federer surge ahead initially, then Murray caught up and then it was ding dong til the end. Without wishing to tempt fate, but one does wonder if this match would have gone down the same line as previous encounters Fed would win the first set, lose the second in a hotly contested battle, then fade away in the third. He is coming up to a Slam with best of 5-set matches...mind you, he has played and won more Slams than I've had hot dinners, so I'll leave it in his more than capable hands.

Another way of looking at it is that he is getting better at closing out matches...

Djokovic def Nadal 6-1 6-4

This match was no different to previous matchup between these two over the past 18 months. The scoreline no way refects what actually happened in the match. It was another hotly contested, intense encounter at the start of which I thought Nadal would prevail. However, I soon realised that either Nole was playing a blinder, Rafa was out of sorts or a bit of both. You see, usually what has tended to happen was that they would be playing neck-and-neck with Nole just lacing each and every ball. Rafa would be playing around 90% with a little extra in reserve if need be. Rafa would usually take the first set either from a breaker or a cheeky break towards the end. Nole would then lose the will to live in the second and hence lose the match.

Not to be this time. He got broken twice in the first set and all through the match, most of Rafa's service games would give Nole a breakpoint at the very least. Which suggests his serve is quite a weakness. Mind you, if you have Nole trying to pound each and every ball, something is bound to give. Now, I am never one to give up on Nadal, he has shown in the past that he can come back from a set or two down - it is never over until it's over! That said, Nole was probably just as cautious as I was if not moreso - judging by the sheer relief on his face when he finally won the match.

Tell you one thing, if Nole could volley like Haas or Federer, he'd have probably won with the same scoreline but also with a lot more ease. I'll say it for the umpteenth time, the best way to beat Nadal is from the n-e-t...and I don't mean one's computer either!! However, he did the job quite well from a selection of sick groundstrokes from both wings.

As for the final, I think that Djokovic can actually cope better with high, loopy balls, even if they are deep. Federer's shots tend to be flatter, as do Murray's. Though Fed's shots can tend to kick away from his opponent quite early, especially on the forehand. In light of this, I would pick Federer in two quite close sets at the very least.


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Friday, 21 August 2009

Cincy Open: Are you counting?

58 shots.



That's what it took Murray to break back against Julian Benneteau in the second set of their quarter final match.


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Thursday, 20 August 2009

Bison Stampede on the Plains of the Serengeti


This is not the first time I've heard this.

With a proliferation of abbreviated service motions on tour recently, I sometimes question how much of it is a knee-jerk reaction prompted by the need to be seen to be doing something different, and how much is the result of diligent biomechanical research.

'M-ROD'
(Photo: AP)

I've heard mixed views on shortened takebacks. Conventional wisdom says it's driven by the need to reduce shoulder strain. But it's critics argue that the over compensation sometimes required to muscle the ball over the net in the latter half of the motion, actually attracts a greater risk of injury over the longer term.

I have to say though, that not every shortened takeback ought to be likened to Andy Roddick's service motion, nor was it the first thing that came to mind when I reexamined
Shaza's serve today, although there are some similarities.

My view on Roddick's service motion is that it should be viewed in the same way you might admire a herd of elephants in the Serengeti: safely from a distance and with some awe - not used as a template for advancing your own technique.

As for Shaza's 'atrocious' motion, it's true that without her old serve, she's a fraction of the player that won those three Slam Titles. But is it not just a teensy-bit unfair to set the tone for the remainder of her career on the basis of what's transpired in just three months, and what is after all a work in progress?


***

Federer battled past Ferrer yesterday ... eventually. With Ferrer being one of the founding members of the 'eight-and-oh' club, and with him still nursing those knee complaints, I was expecting this to be over in straights.

I saw parts of the match, and couldn't understand why it was taking so long, nor what Ferrer was doing differently, if anything.


Turns out I was right first time, for Ferrer never really does anything differently, and simply adjusted better to the windy conditions.

That probably means Federer's still a little limp going into the quarters. Which should be of some concern to his fanbase, as this might be the first week on tour, since prior to the French Open that he's had to take on both Muzz and one of Rafa/Djoko back to back.

That'll do away with my tennis apathy quite nicely thanks.

Things are hotting up on the womens tour too. I always thought that Clijsters' reintroduction would throw the cat amongst the pigeons; I did not however expect the bison stampede that's seen many failing causes falling over each other in an effort to shape up.

-- Serena has reached the quarters of a Premier for the first time since records in my memory-banks began. Ok that was a slight exaggeration. But seriously now, was it not Venus wearing the 'Premier' hat up until this week? I haven't seen a single match of Serena's, and intend to keep it that way, at least until she takes on Dementieva in the semis, assuming Elena makes it past Stosur. If they can both put on a repeat of the Wimbledon Semis, apathy will have all but been swept away. And if Serena can somehow win this event, almost all will have been forgiven.

-- You know what else has been good about Kims comeback? How she's had to suffer the odd loss to the players we really ought to consider the tour's top performers. Dinara
may be on the slide, but there was something almost righteous and ordered about her win over Kim last week. And if Jelena's managed to rediscover her form at Kim's expense, you'll not find me complaining much either. That said, if anyone was still nursing any doubts about the legitimacy of Kim's comeback, have another look at the way in which she dismantled Azarenka. The one early round ladies match I did manage to catch, and more than glad I did. A harmonious symmetry of an exhibition on both the absorption and injection of pace against perhaps the tour's most intense game face.

-- Meanwhile the Sharapova comeback continues, more or less unabated. I don't want to get into questions about 'where she is'. That discussion is as stale as it is meaningless. But it's very 2007 to have Jelena, Elena, Shaza and Serena contesting quarter finals once again.
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Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Cincy, Toronto: Mental Midgets

With my tennis apathy still not exactly on the wane, I vowed to limit match exposure till late on Wednesday. With very unpalatable flunkdowns like these, it seems I did my senses a favour.

Guccione d. Tsonga 7-6, 6-2

Normal near-atomic levels of instability resumptionalised; contemptuous bouts of grumpiness on my part set to ensue.

Garcia-Lopez d. Verdasco 7-6, 7-6

The more I see of the world the less inclined I am to think well of it'; and the more explosivity I witness on tour, the more I'm convinced that it will be followed by an unceremonious meltdown of Karlovician proportions. To be fair to Nando, he managed to sustain the heights he reached at Melbourne this year for longer than I expected.

And his slide is less pronounced than some of his colleagues I won't sully this post by mentioning; but his star is on the wane...

Rezai d. Safina 3-6, 6-2, 6-4

Someone else whose star is on the wane, and perhaps more officially so, is Dinara Safina. The alarm bells should have been ringing, with the loss she suffered in the final of Cincy. It's not often a dressing down from Zeljko at a non Slam event goes unheeded.

But with her second round loss to Aravanne Rezai today, a match in which she served 17 double faults, I'd say it's time for a long hard think.

I'd also like her to take the moment to reexamine her relationship with Zeljko. I'm not suggesting it come to an end of course - just that things appear to have run their course with their current strategy.

Both Dinara and Zeljko appear to pride themselves with the way in which he hasn't gone about changing her game, preferring instead to nurture her natural baseline power-plays; but it seems what she needs now is a good old fashioned dose of what I call 'organic' growth - tennis development from the ground up, at least in areas as problematic as her serve.

Stosur d. Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-3

I've been cutting Sveta disproportionate amounts of slack, with that incredible win in Paris. But she's stunk out what was meant to be a very protracted victory parade with the way in which she's followed up.


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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Ana's New Wonktastic Service Action...

Here's a clip of Ana's reworked service motion.



The shorter takeback is very Nathalie Dechy, Henin went through a similar phase.

I don't think the change was at all necessary. The root of her problems were those very wonky serve tosses which may reappear even after this change.

And I'm not liking the loss of pace either. In fact Ana's pre-wonky serve was one of the most effective in the top ten. Rather easier on the eye too.
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Change is Everything, Impossible is Nothing...




It's no use fretting folks, things change, people change and rankings change.

Our four and a half year stay in the
Swisspanic pleasuredome of tennis niceties is over.

Ram raided by the
Muzzmobile, fangs at the ready.



But fret not, fear not, for I don't think this is the trauma-
gedy it's being painted as. There might even be a silver lining in there if you look hard enough. For all four concerned.

Roger
Federer

Do you know, I think he might actually prefer not having to face
Muzz until the final. The diametrically opposite positioning in the draw also offers up a more effective vantage point for their now customary pre-Slam heavyweight boxing trash talk.

He dislikes playing him at least as much as he does Rafa, and a semi final match up with a Rafa not quite yet on the mend might represent a more attractive prospect. At least until he's learnt to know his Nike's from his Nappies.

With trash talk in full flow, I'd say this needs changing too.

Andy Murray

It's easier to bare one's fangs from the bottom of the draw, the vantage point allowing for a more diffuse projection.

Not only that, but moving into bigwig slot #2, places him squarely in the eye of the storm. The increased pressure might actually bring about that first Slam sooner rather than later.

Rafael
Nadal

No pressure, and outside of Flushing Meadows, little or no
blimmin' points to defend until the Aussie Open. No one's expecting too much from El-Toro, at least not until the US Open, and I think that's exactly what he needs if he's to claw his way back from the nether-obscurity of world #3. Knowing Rafa he'll up for the fight - tooth, nail and bicep.

Novak Djokovic

Little over a year ago
Djoko trounced Muzz 6-1, 6-0 at Monte Carlo and was handing out advice as to how a more aggressive approach might benefit him.

Murray's critics remain, but almost everything has changed for young
Djoko. The tennis landscape is morphing around him quicker than you can say 'North-American-Hardcourt-Season' and if he's not careful he risks being smothered by the scenery.

If he was 'under the radar' for much of this year, we need a new aeronautical definition for where he might now be headed. That said, you can bet he's not liking this one bit, and that might be enough to snap him out of ATP nether
funkdom.
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Monday, 17 August 2009

Montreal and Cincy Sign Out...



You'd think the five week post-Wimby interlude would have left me fired up with the anticipation of being able to witness 'real' Fedalistic tennis again; instead I've been having what I call 'anti-withdrawal' symptoms: where the long spell out has almost fostered a type of lethargy and allowed indifference to set in.

Still unsure of whether it's the poorly defined and generally very fuzzy state of Federer's post '15' agenda, or the lack of any real sense of expectation from Nadal until well into the US Open, that's at the bottom of it.

Whatever it is, I'm a little concerned. For not even
a mini-breakthrough from my favourite whipping boy Tsonga, or an event winning return to form for everyone's favourite Dramedy-Queen Jelena Jankovic, or even an unprecedented top-eight quarter final showing in Montreal was sufficient to reignite my interest that's currently burning with about as much intensity as my rusty old secondary school bunsen burner.

Perhaps the spaced-out sensation I'm getting as Amelie Mauresmo and Francesca Schiavone take to court in their opener at Toronto is an appropriate indicator of where my tennis barometer is right now.


And just why is it, they have chosen to play 'tubular bells' as the ladies warm up? Seems strangely appropriate too. In a sensory-displaced apathetic kind of way.

Apologies for the distinctly ATP feel, it's just I haven't watched much womens tennis in the last week.


Andy Murray: The 'real' number two


With the way in which he won Montreal, Murray has almost accomplished what Serena did at Wimbledon, in terms of being the hands-down best performer of the event, and playing that way from beginning to end. The fact that Federer and Nadal only partially showed up is irrelevant. My feeling is he'd have closed it out against them too.

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Not that that's going to stop people from talking about how meaningful his breakup of their four and a half year duopoly of the top two spots is.

Or making endless allusions to the fact that he's a Slamless number two.

It's clearly on a different plane from whats going on in the WTA though. For one thing Murray's been beating up on the top four with an alarming regularity from Wimbledon last year. The one meaningful win that Safina scored against Serena came at the start of her rise to the top at Berlin last year. She's suffered several equally meaningful and altogether more traumatic losses to both Sisters since then.

But I'm not at all convinced Murray's rise is the 'sea of change' some are making it out to be either. It's certainly not the dawn of a new age that Nadal's securing of the number two spot was four years ago.

It's closer in nature, I'd say, to a transitional adjustment (made possible by the setback Nadal
has suffered): the formation of a small tributary rather than a wholesale sea of change.

As groundbreaking an achievement as this is
for British Tennis, we'll get a rather more accurate impression of his top two standing with Rafa's return to form and condition, and with Federer's gradual return to a more domestically-attuned sense of normality.

'The rankings don't lie', but until then, I'll continue to think of Rafa as the 'real' #2, if I may

Juan Martin del Potro: Not yet a Bigwig

Going into the final I really thought del Potro was going to win his first Masters Shield. In fact,
I was rather hoping he'd win.

(Photo: AP)

He's been 'fabulous-five' for rather too long, except there's still a slight problem with that characterisation: Admittance to Tennis-Bigwig Society in my opinion, requires that the following conditions be fulfilled:

-- Regular wins over all other bigwigs. It's what Djoko started doing back in 07 with increasing regularity. So has Murray.

-- Claiming of a Masters Shield. Djoko began to interest me back in 06. But it wasn't until his first big showing at a Masters final at Indian Wells in 07, that I really began to take notice. A one sided dismantling by Rafa soon put paid to that. But it was to be a thrashing he put right straight away at Miami the next month, with his first win over Rafa and the claiming of his first Masters Title. Wins over Federer followed soon after.

-- Regular showings in the second week at Slam events. This has been a relatively disappointing season for Djoko. Last year he won one and made the semis of two others. Since the US Open last year, Juan has performed rather well in this category.

My problem with Juan's somewhat pseudo-bigwig status, is that his record over the top three, though rapidly improving, is still in need of some work - particularly against Federer, whose game Juan's matches up with rather too well.
He also needs to win himself one of those Masters Shieldy Things.

Until he does so, I'll not broach the subject again. That might seem a little harsh, especially after putting in a performance I thought was second only to the man who won the entire event.
His performance prior to the last set of the final that is; during which he could barely walk from one point to the next. He'd do well too it seems, to attend to those significantly less polished standards of fitness.

Suddenly Murray's trauma-inducing training regime seem a little less zany.

Jelena Jankovic: Return of the Dramedian, I think, I hope

I don't care if it was all a little rough around the edges. Her performance against Dementieva in particular, if you can bring yourself to forget the almost inebriated happenings of the second set, was impressive and sets her in good stead ahead of the Open. And a far cry from anything we've seen since the end of last year.

(Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

My only slight concern is I seem to remember a similar mini-peaking earlier this year, quickly obfuscated by a very predictable return to oblivion. The same oblivion she spends a lot of time in adding her two cents to the rankings debate. And bitching about Roger.

Dinara Safina: Not With or Without Zeljko.

(Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Well if she can't even win a final
with Zeljko's involvement, she's really in trouble.

Novak Djokovic: Existentially Complete. Almost.

I know he's only a mere semi finalist, but I need to get this off my chest.

Am I the only one that doesn't think Djoko is undergoing an existential crisis of some kind?

He's not the player he was last year, but the way in which the media have begun at times to speak of him, you'd almost think that retirement represents a plausible choice. Or a career in Serbian politics. Hey, there's an idea.


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Friday, 14 August 2009

Flying Corks...

Well things have sure came alive. To think I'd been complaining about potential corkers being undone by injury and sheer boredom.

Cincy and Montreal, yesterday: corks flying all over the place.

Tsonga d. Federer 7-6, 1-6, 7-6

Reading some of the match accounts, you'd think Tsonga played little or no part in his first very deserved win over Federer.

It's not that I don't think Federer blew the match. He was truly cruising, and in an unexpected throwback to earlier this year, almost seemed to forgot there's still another couple of miles of good road left.

But Tsonga played a very effective first set, culminating in this gob stopping dive-volley



The injury he sustained in that fall is what probably lay behind his poor showing in the second set.

As for Federer, I don't buy into the theory that his desire and intensity are going to be dimmed, now that domesticity has well and truly landed. But neither do I find anything remiss about the odd poor showing at a Masters Event. The focus has always been on the Slams from, I'd say around Slam Title #10 onwards. That focus has probably only intensified.

Safina d. Clijsters 6-2, 7-5

I'll admit to only keeping a very casual eye on the womens event over in Cincy. But I'm glad I did, because when I switched over I got my first glimpse of Kim Clijsters this week, hitting shots like this.



And finishing rallies like this.



In my most stuffy museum curator voice: Observe if you will, the fluidity, speed and consistency around the court.

I want to take two years off work, if it means I can wage a comeback like this.

That said, I'm actually kinda glad Kim didn't put out Dinara today. Can you imagine the torrent of abuse she'd (Safina) have to endure if that happened?

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Monty-real Tennis: Sliced, Carved and Served Up



There wasn't a lot of juice in this match. But this point needs to be made a rather big deal of as it demonstrates why I think Murray has the best backhand slice of any double hander.

He's had a somewhat easier route through to the quarters, but still seems the most in control of the top four.


I'm not going to apologise again for the 70s disco jingles, I'm getting to quite like them.
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Monty-real Tennis: QF Preview

This has been a strange little event.

On the one hand it's been full of the kind of box office participation you'd want and expect from an event at this level. What's more is all the top seeds have followed up, playing the kind of tennis that doesn't always amaze, but is sufficient to have seen them all safely through to the quarters for the first time since 1973.

I shouldn't be complaining.

But I really do think we've been missing the kind of rip-roarer that sets the direction and tone for the event.

It usually comes on the 2nd or 3rd day and involves one of the top seeds squaring off against a tier two player playing out of his skin.

The funny thing is, we've had plenty of matches, that should have been corkers, either blighted by injury or uninspired play.

That's fine. But if either of these mouth watering quarter final match ups fail to live up to expectation, prepare for some rather moody episodes of fist shaking on my part.

Federer v Tsonga

I said I wanted this match to go ahead right at the beginning of the event. Preferably with Jo-Willy at his slam dunkin' smack-downin' best.

Federer's been as good as he need be up to this point, coming out on top against Stan Wawrinka in straights yesterday.


And though I was hopeful of a Gilles Simon renaissance given the surface and what time of year it is, Jo-Willy quickly put an end to all of that.

I've yet to see either of those two matches as they'll be shown later today in a delayed-broadcast, but I'm not expecting anything special.

(Photo: AP)

What I do know is if Tsonga continues to play the way he has been of late, it'll be an easy straights sets route through to the semis for Federer. This is a great opportunity to improve upon my less than favourable opinion of you Jo. Do not let me down.

del Potro v Nadal

Nadal played the match he should have done in the first round yesterday. That he got past Phillip Petzchner fairly easily is encouraging but nothing to write home about. I'd rather see it as a cause for concern if he dropped a set.

Having said that, Rafa's clearly rested if a little rusty. He could certainly win it if Juan is at anything other than his very best.

del Potro in three.

Murray v Davydenko

These two met up earlier this year at Monte Carlo, when Davydenko was returning from an injury with Andy still very much in the 'finding his feet' stage on clay. Murray won.

Nikolay has won two titles since then, with at least one of them assuming some kind of pseudo-importance, despite the incongruity of post-Wimby clay court events.

Unfortunately for Kolya, Andy seems to be back to something like his form of late last year, I daresay there might even be a more acute stone-cold efficiency about him, which means I expect him to win this one too.

Don't be surprised to see it go to three though.

A-Rod v Djoko

Hmmm. Perhaps the most evenly matched of the four. With all the prickliness of US Open subplots to boot. If I was pushed, I'd go in favour of A-Rod, just because of his specially stellar form and all-round awesomeness of late. But I also think Novak's been somewhat unfairly tarnished as the 'nothing-man' recently (I've even heard him characterised as a grinder), so focused has attention been on the top two, and Murray's potential world #2 status.

A-Rod in three.


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Thursday, 13 August 2009

Monty-real Tennis, Pt 2

Any one else hit by the amount of potential first/second round corkers we seem to be having? Or how many of them have been blighted by injury?

(Photo: AP)

Nadal d. Ferrer (Ret.) 4-3

A real shame this. There were actually a number of quality exchanges in the few games they did manage to contest. Rafa looked to be swinging freely. Or as freely as is realistically possible after two months out. Mind you, a 'David-unplugged' might have been exactly the kind of court time Rafa could do without. Not often you see Ferrer, retire hurt.

Gonzales d. Haas (Ret.) 7-6

I say 'defeated' Haas, except that Haas was for me, the better player out there, weathering Gonzo's out-of-the-block intensity with some carefully crafted net play
of his own. There's no knowing what might have happened had the match not been curtailed by Tommy's hand blisters. Second potential 'corker', bunged up.

Hanescu d. Kohlschreiber 6-3, 4-6, 7-5

Oh that's good. One of the few remaining credible threats in this section of the draw out. Apologies to all Romanian Tennis fans. No disrespect to Victor intended. It's just that Phillip happened to be my dark horse in this section of the draw; he also happens to be one of my faves.

With Ferrer out too, I'd say del Potro's route to the quarters is now all but clear. All but clear of Rafa that is.

del Potro d. Hanescu 3-6, 6-3, 6-4

'All but clear', you say? Almost.

Far too many scary moments from Juan for one set and a bit.

Hanescu belongs to that category of players that do just about everything well, just not any one of them spectacularly so. For a moment I thought Victor was about to pull off an even bigger upset than he did in the last round.

Fortunately, Juan pulled out some of that big-gun artillery just in time. Let's hope this is his last big wobble of the week.

Murray d. Ferrero 6-1, 6-3

No problems with big gun artillery here. Not at all surprised with the result. Serve and backhand as potent as ever. Perhaps a little surprised by how well Murray used his forehand, often a more defensive stroke, but fast developing a big-gun quality of it's own.

Djokovic d. Youznhy 6-4, 6-3

I'm not at all sure what all the fuss is about re Djoko's supposedly suspect form. He's not at the top of his game. Any Djoker could tell you that. Does he really have to be at this stage in the game? I'd be more concerned if he dropped a set, which he hasn't yet. Little sorry for Mikhail, who had some momentum going there, after many troublesome months.

Roddick d. Verdasco 7-6, 4-6, 7-6

An evenly contested match as expected. A bit too evenly contested for my liking. I switched over early on. When I switched back they were about to enter the final set tie break with Nando firing groundstrokes similar to 'that match' in Melbourne this year. This could've gone either way, but I'm kinda glad it went Andy's.
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