Thursday, 29 October 2009

Understanding VikaWorld…

wozniacki_vig (Photo:AP)


When they came back from the heart heat break, Azarenka did what I thought we’d see more of yesterday.


Within the space of two points she’d smacked the ball into the stands and all but totalled her racquet.


Kader Nouni was having none of it, and defaulted her a point (and with it the game). A point from which she never recovered.


I have to say, I’m finding this new desensitised and somewhat disillusioned version of Vika difficult to deal with.


Go-with-your-strengths – isn’t that how the saying goes?


Well, maybe not always; I daresay it’s proven beneficial for Vika to tone both herself and her game down in this way, but you risk offsetting all the hard-earnt gains you make, if you burst forth at the seams as violently as she did today.


It’s also no secret that Vika owns Caz-Woz when it comes to creating angles with pace. Caz-Woz can match her pace ball-for-ball down the middle, but it’s no fluke that Vika came out on top on almost all the occasions she stretched her wide.


Instead she chose to hit less freely and think too much, neither of which are hallmarks of VikaWorld.


I loved her measured dismantling of Jelena yesterday (even though a lot of that was down to Jelena herself), but it just goes to show you can have too much of a good thing.


safina_vig (Photo: AP)


And so it comes to this.


I’ve loved the technical advances sports coverage has seen, but I sometimes find myself feeling that personal moments like that above were precisely that. Personal and private.


It made ghastly viewing watching Dinara break down today, made all the more grim by the poignancy of her struggles with the number one ranking this season.


Dinara revealed afterwards she’d been using anti-inflammatories to deal with her back pain for about three months.


I don’t think we'll be seeing her again this year.


A sorrowful end to an unsatisfactory season.


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Tuesday, 27 October 2009

May the best girl win.


Though who the ‘best’ really is, seems more a function of how well each of the top eight players of 2009 have paced themselves, rather than any kind of tennis proficiency.


Case in Point, Victoria Azarenka.


azarenka_vig (Photo:AP)


Everyone knows the lopsided year she’s had; since that fateful Wimbledon QF against Serena Willliams, she’s struggled with both form and fitness.


But to me she looked the fresher of the two out there today. A likely effect of going out early in all the events she’s entered over the last few months.


She didn’t even have to work herself into one of those hissy-fits – a double edged sword at the best of times -- and somewhat surprisingly got away with playing a more conservative style of game. A style that was more Jelena-like than even Jelena herself, who, in her own words during the changeover, was having trouble “stringing two points together”.


jelena_vig (KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images)


Jelena may have pushed herself that extra mile to make the cut, but I wonder how worthwhile it all was.


The match that followed filled me with even less confidence. Venus is up against Elena a set and a break as we speak, though it was so slow to take off I gave up on it.


You have to make certain allowances of course. This is the only event on the calendar where you have to play a top ten player in your very first match. Followed by another top-tenner, and another, and then another. If the injuries you’ve picked up over the year even allow you to get that far.


After being cushioned year long, with the byes and easy openers afforded to them by their ranking, they must feel like they’re standing up in a rush hour commuter train with the likes of Vika staring over their shoulder. Oh, and you know you have to give it your best right? Coz you’re supposed to be the best.


The Williamses don’t have what you’d call pedigree at this event. Aside from last year, when Venus Williams took advantage of another weary field, you have to go all the way back to 2001 to revisit the last time one of the Sisters lifted the trophy here.


I don’t expect much to change in that regard.


That doesn’t mean I’m gonna do anything as foolish as putting forth analyses-driven predictions.


This is a market for idle speculation. Not the conscientious investor.



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Saturday, 24 October 2009

Why on court coaching is a BAD idea, exhibit B

wozniacki_vig (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)


Caz-Woz retiring hurt at 7-5, 5-0 up against Anne Kremer in Luxembourg. Old news, right?


"I went onto the court and said to her: 'Caro, it does not matter whether it's going to be 5-0, 4-1 or 3-2. You can not play the next round, so you shouldn't take the risk," Piotr Wozniacki said Thursday on Danish radio. "I'm very proud of Caroline, because she stopped the fight and gave her opponent a chance."

The father's comments during the match led to a surge in online bets for Kremer to win.

"So, people bet on my matches. Some win, others lose. I just know that I am clean. It is most important to me," Wozniacki said. "And if anyone is in doubt about my injury, I can both produce scan from the hospital and a report from the tournament physiotherapist."

Although it appears unlikely that Wozniacki conspired to fix the match, she could still be fined for "lack of effort" according to International Tennis Federation statutes.

(ESPN)


I think I understand the fine, but you have to love the image of Caz Woz “conspiring” to fix matches amidst a team of heavies in a disused warehouse.


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Russian Love…


It hasn’t been the most ‘happening’ of tennis weeks for a while, despite there being events underway in Moscow, Luxembourg and the wonderfully named ‘If…Stockholm’.


Most of the action appears centred around Moscow. And Marat.


I don’t know if it’s me, but the WTA Kremlin Cup seemed a whole lot more entertaining last year, when Jelena bagged a hat trick of post-Flushing hard court titles, and with it, a much maligned position atop the rankings.


This year, with most of the top ten evidently saving themselves for Doha, it seems to have been reduced to a two-woman shootout between Vera and Jelena both of whom had an opportunity of qualifying for Doha, and both of whom turned in less than inspiring performances.


Jelena eventually made the cut by … wait for it … all of 5 race points, before promptly going out to Kleybanova earlier today.


jankovic_vig (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images)


Mission complete, though just by the skin of her teeth.


Vera fizzled and spittled her way out of the event with a 6-0, 6-2 loss to Tsevtana Pironkova.


"She is a good player and I knew that," Zvonareva said. "It's very difficult to play against her. She moves perfectly on the court, can hit the ball hard and can vary her tempo.

"I'm not in my best shape now and to beat her today I should have played more attentively.

"Maybe I'm even happy. Finally I will have time to restore my health and start the new season in full strength."

(Sky Sports)


I sincerely hope for her sake, that that’s true. Winning only two games against a player that rarely breaks the three-digit barrier on her first serve suggests more than just a want of ‘attention’. For our sakes, it’s probably best she didn’t qualify in this form.


safin_davydenko2_vig (AP)


This time last year, Marat reached the final of the men’s event in Moscow before promptly going down in flames to Igor Kunitsyn, This year I don’t think he even expected to get half as far – and as it turned out, didn’t.


He did manage to score an interesting, if not entirely unexpected three set win over Davydenko, which of course, resulted in a hazy blaze of Russian brotherly love.


I thought it would be a little bit slightly different, all these feelings toward the tournaments. It's a little bit different, different from what I thought—it's difficult to explain. The feeling that I thought I would get from coming back for the last time to the tournaments, I don't get this particular feeling that I was hoping to get. But of course it's nice, it's nice to know that it's over—last time [at the U.S. Open], last time in L.A., last time in Cincinnati—just enjoy it. I don't want to have any more stress.

(tennis.com)

It doesn’t get any more candid than that.


In fact, with his thoughts on the calendar, A-Rod’s short term memory, and Tomas’s manhood, it rather seems, these remaining few weeks are turning out to be more about candid reflections than anything else.


I’m not sure what I expected, and maybe Marat’s not that well suited to teary farewells, but I think Tennis Magazine did themselves a disservice with this month’s feature on his so called ‘misery tour’. The content is exclusive to the magazine and to my knowledge appears nowhere on their site, but if you’ve read the latest edition, you’ll know the one I mean.


An odd assortment of some of the more cruder Maratisms, with a front page shot of him sporting those two black eyes he turned up to Hopman Cup this year with.


It’s not that I don’t think Marat is any, or all of those things, the essence of which the article is so keen to capture. It just seems an unnecessarily skewed assessment of a player that managed to be charming, blunt, tortured and twinkly-eyed all at the same time.


This article from September, and recent interview do a much better job.


Only one more event before all the pain goes away.


And only three more weeks before I get to say “We’ll always have Paris…”


***


Meanwhile Big Rob has made the last four in If…Stockholm.


The other three sharing the table are Olivier Rochus, Thomas Belluci, and Marcos Baghdatis. Marcos I have some sympathy with. His recent troubles with form resulted in a dip that saw him drop outside of the top 100. Seeing him at #66 comes therefore, as light relief.


But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one keen to see Big Rob qualify for London.


Davydenko’s presence is as essential to the event as furniture and subtitles are to a cosy art house flick.


But Big Rob is capable of getting into the faces of most everyone not named Federer, and as such seems to have a pivotal role to play before the curtain goes down on this curious year.

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Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Never Say Never Again…

hingis_shadow (Photo: The Canadian Press)


"No, no, no, sure," the 29-year-old Swiss told French sports daily L'Equipe when asked whether she planned another comeback.

"You can't just snap your fingers and say 'let's go and play the Australian Open'".

"I've got a nice house, my four horses," Hingis said. "On the tour, I had no life."

Hingis added that even without being tested positive, she likely would have retired.

"If I had won the four Grand Slam tournaments, maybe I would have continued," she said. "But I was on a downslope. And I was suspended for two years, and that was it."

Hingis, who spent 209 weeks at No. 1 in the women's rankings and won five Grand Slam singles titles, said she went through hard times during her suspension.

"I didn't have the right to play any competition, even in another Olympic sport," she said. "I didn't have the right to feature in equestrian competition, even at an amateur level ... I'm not sure I have completely recovered."

-- Martina Hingis rules out a Pre-Safinite led Comeback


You should never say never, and with the summer of comebacks we’ve just experienced, I probably “never” will again.


But did anyone really expect one from Hingis?


After the way in which the ITF comprehensively put paid to the remainder of her career, and the ‘boys will be boys’ treatment afforded to Gasquet, you can understand her bitterness.


She paints a bleak picture of her form over 2007. A little overly-bleak if you ask me.


It’s worth remembering she finished 2006 ranked #7 in the world. She was beset with injuries the following year, and lost some matches you’d normally have expected her to have won, but also picked up a title in Tokyo taking out Ana Ivanovic in the final, who from what I remember was taking the WTA by storm, and just three months away from her first Slam final.


With the tour in 2008, let’s say, lacking the ‘soul’ of previous years, I just wonder what might have been had she only received a cursory ban (months rather than years); might she, for example, have found it easier to bounce back and re-establish herself in the top ten in the absence of Sharapova and Henin?


That said, there’s something distinctly unsettling in watching a former great being unwilling to retire gracefully. Deciding to play in Melbourne isn’t something you do at the drop of a hat, and Martina certainly doesn’t strike me as the type to risk being exposed to the sort of ridicule a poor showing there would entail.


Interestingly though, it is only the Aussie Open that she’s strictly ruled out. Or so it would appear.


I’d like to know the odds of a Henin-like ‘personal journey’ over the next year.


No, seriously.


Never Say Never Again.


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Monday, 19 October 2009

Nikolay ‘Flatlines’ Nadal

 

davydenko_shanghai_3 (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)


Davydenko d. Nadal 7-6(7-3), 6-3


I dunno what 80s Horror/Sci-Fi enthusiast has been put in charge of the trophies during this Asian Swing, but this item of ‘silverware’ looks a little like what’s left of an unsuccessful fusion between Freddy Krueger’s claw and the Predator’s Dreadlocks.


Are all Masters ‘Shields’ to be themed like this?

davydenko_shanghai_2_vig  (Photo: AP)


Davydork almost turned in an appearance.

  nadal_shanghai_vig2  (Photo: AP)


…and Nadal sported that exact same WTF’ed look Djoko had on not 24 hours ago.


It goes without saying how chuffed I am with this result.


Not only does he deserve it, but it’s almost certain to ensure his appearance at London. Nik’s made the cut for the TMC these past four years, and the landscape would seem quite bereft without him; though in a less obvious way – like a DVD without Flemish subtitles.


The tennis itself didn’t quite reach the heights of yesterday’s Nikolay-Djoko semi but was entertaining enough all round, and as always, an absolute groundstroke clinic from Nik.


Is he still the best returner in the game, when he reaches these heights? Difficult to say. The game’s evolved from three or four years ago when even the stats showed that this unassuming Russian triumph of substance-over-charisma out-gunned everyone (including Big Swiss Cheese) in every returning category imaginable.


But did Nadal look vulnerable out there, or what?


We all know of Nadal’s well documented, troubled past with so called “flat-liners” (so called by no one else but me): flat-ballers with timing and hand-eye coordination proficient enough to take aim and hit the lines with a strike rate of above 50%.


“I have my chance in the first set and I am especially happy with one thing — it’s the first match after my injury comeback against one top player,” Nadal said. “I really felt I really have chances to win.

That’s the most positive thing for me, and I fight all the time with a positive attitude, no physical problems. So that’s very good news for me.”

(tennis.com)


Fair enough, and he is on an injury comeback. But let’s not forget that Nadal opened his account this year by winning two of the most prestigious hard court titles out there. Far be it from me to accuse Rafa of complacency, but I don’t think I could stomach making it it ‘ok’ again, for him to reach hard court finals he doesn’t win.


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Sunday, 18 October 2009

What’s a man to do?

djoko

(FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)


Davydenko d. Djokovic 4-6 6-4 7-6


Nothing much you can do.


I have to admit I’d only been keeping a half open eye on Nikolay’s fortunes this week, expecting another valiant but ultimately, ill fated effort. On the evidence of this performance however, this is beginning to shape up like Miami last year, when after a similar spell out in the cold, Niki peaked, laying waste to A-Rod and Rafa en route to his second career Masters title. In the final of which Nadal looked as equally devoid of any answers, as Novak did in that final set tie break today.



The truth is, Niki only knows one (very effective) mode of play, and there’s very little anyone can do (except, you know, that Swiss bloke) when he reaches these heights; you might, however, have expected Novak to fare just a little better given their very similar style of play.


davydenko_shadow

(Photo: AP)

But Novak, has been in something of a transition this year. That’s me being generous. I’ve described his play as exhibiting more grind than should come naturally to him, and recently he’s even been given over to some unbecoming episodes of ‘lurking’. Behind the baseline that is.


You all know who the traditional ‘lurkers' are: Gael, Reeshard, Nadal even. But last time I checked, Novak wasn’t one of them.


Seeing him behind the baseline is a bit like watching Dementieva serving aces on her 2nd serve. Oh wait, it's been that sort of year.


I guess he’s been trying to forge together a more well-rounded tennis product, which is a lofty aim, and deserving of some success. But it’s success which can’t come too soon IMO.


All this uncertainty about his game makes him uniquely vulnerable to someone like Nik, who doesn’t need to think twice about how exactly to best use the sharpest (and only) tool in his box.


That’s not to say Novak didn’t try however; the quality of this match (and that final set tie break in particular) makes up very nicely for my being denied a Rafa-Soderling match up for the second time in two weeks. Yeah, I’m not about to forget that in a hurry – especially now that Nik has just usurped Big Rob’s place in the Race to London, leaving Nando of all people in the eighth position.


“I’m in a final and that’s very important,” Nadal said. “It’s my first final since I’ve been back and that’s a good result for me.”

(tennis.com)


I’m thinking that with it being Nadal’s first final since his return, and with Nik playing as well as he so evidently is, this might be as good as it gets for Rafa.


Having only played two complete matches this week can’t have been of much help either (Ljubicic and Lopez today brought the men’s infirmary-count to nine).


Maybe we should pass on yelling out ‘Break a leg boys’, this week?


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Thursday, 15 October 2009

On Scheduling, “Manhood” and other Marat Pet Hates

"I always thought it's best to give the players a schedule that enables the players to be at their best," eight-time Grand Slam champion Agassi said in a teleconference ahead of next week's Venetian Macau Showdown with Pete Sampras.

"The off-season is healthy for players and the fans—it builds up anticipation for the fans.

"I think the tour should tighten up the schedule, so the top players can play more often in a shorter time. I would like to see everyone come to the table and work out a schedule that suits everyone."

-- Andre Agassi on everyone’s favourite punch bag right now, the schedule


Ok, but isn’t that exactly what the mandatory designation of the Masters-1000s was meant to be about?


Show up at these nine events (and the Slams) -- a total of 17 tennis weeks -- and spend the other, very generous 30 odd weeks, basking in the Seychelles; or, you know, playing some tennis. Selectively.


There is an argument to be made, I suppose, in favour of spacing out that very intensive stint of tennis that begins with Indian Wells and ends at Madrid.


If I had anything to do with it, they’d be forced to supplant that post-Wimby no-man’s-land of the tennis calendar in July, with a half-decent grass court Masters event. Though I’m not aware that anyone, as of yet, has sought my involvement, so you’ll be forced to continue to make do with that quasi-clay-court season they currently have. Nikolay’s most prolific section of the year.


Marat’s brought the issue up before - 5 years ago, to be precise.


"In 2004, we had this discussion at the Olympic Games with [Andy] Roddick," said the 29-year-old Russian who plans to retire next month after a decade and a half in the sport.

"I was saying that the season is too long - we should make it shorter, and the guys, they jumped on me, like I was the one who was wrong," he said.

"So look at all of them - everybody is falling apart," Safin said. "Everybody is getting injured left and right, and everybody is complaining the season is long. It takes six years to realise that something is wrong?

"It's a beautiful sport, so why kill the players and make the calendar basically playing 12 months of the year?"

(Times Live)


This is the first I’ve ever heard of any kind of ‘fallout’, if it can be described as such, between Marat and A-Rod, though am I the only one mildly amused (and somewhat relieved) by his reference to the game as a “beautiful sport”?


This from a self-professed hater of all things sport. Not with a racquet, not on TV, not even a ten-minute kick around in your neighbourhood. Heartened and relieved to discover that that wounded anti-hero act is nothing more than a front, where tennis is concerned. Marat doesn’t hate tennis any more than I do. It’s the competition and the grind, he finds so problematic.


“Everybody is falling apart” this week however, with Juan-Marteen, Gael, Stanislas and of course A-Rod, all retiring hurt in their opening two matches.


Berdych looked set to do the same opposite Marat, pulling up after dropping the first set, for some extended treatment to his thighs and knees.


His subsequent quick recovery (on the back of which he reeled off the remaining two sets), left Marat deeply mystified and understandably unimpressed; and questioning of Tomas’s manhood:


"The fact [is] that I've known the guy for so many years. I've been nice conditions with the guy, and then look at this ? to hold [a] show? Just come on. Just grow up a little bit. 26 years old - Just deal with that."

And there was more from an indignant Safin.

"If you're losing, be a man and lose as a man. Don't pretend that you are injured and then you start running around and start to hit winners, and then pull [your] hands up in the air after winning the match?

"I mean, what kind of sportsman are you? What kind of man are you?

"Of course [Berdych] will say, No, I [have] been injured but then I felt a little bit better. He will find 10,000 excuses [but] it is not enough."

"[Either] you're playing or you're not playing. If you're not going to play, so don't play. If you're playing, then just shut the f**k up and play, basically."

"And you're a man, so just lose like a man."

(TVNZ)


And so ends Marat’s penultimate stop of his farewell tour; perhaps a little ironic, that this last few weeks saw a lift in his form.


My mind's still in a quandary as to whether it’s Murray, Daveed or Marat that hits that shot the best. I don’t think Murray’s action’s half as pretty as those other two. And I think Marat might just have the edge over Daveed in pace.


So many memories…


***


So here’s how it is.


Big Rob edged out a truly lacklustre Jo-Willy in straights today, leaving both him and Rafa set up with immensely winnable matches.


Rafa’s looked mighty fine throughout this week, but particularly in that three set blast-off he and Blake gave us yesterday (Is it me, or has the James Blake-Kelly Jones match up seen the greatest turnaround in form in recent coaching history?)


I may get my wish of a Rafa-Soderling semi final after all.

soderling

(PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)


And it concerns me not, that Rafa thinks of Big Rob with little warmth, and about as much affection as he might reserve for the Antichrist. If anything, it will add some very welcome edge; and if not, might we be seeing a Murray-Delpo-like burying of the hatchet, culminating in a worthy man-hug at the net?


Not to mention that the stakes have just been upped again, with Big Rob supplanting himself ahead of Tsonga and claiming position number eight in the Race to London?


This match needs to be played. I will not be denied.


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Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Something’s gotta give

roddick (Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images)


“It was enough to make me stop a tennis match … beyond that I don’t know, that’s not my profession,” the 27-year-old Roddick said of his left knee injury.

“Trust me, as frustrated as (the Chinese fans) are that we’re not here, I promise you we’re more frustrated,” added Roddick.

(Yahoo! Sports)


And with that, A-Rod’s penultimate stab at banking some invaluable ranking points, and strengthening his bid for London, comes to an end.


This a mere two days after his and Rafa’s (double handed) swipe at the lengthy season.


Every year this argument is doled out with unfailing regularity, and every year it always seems to outlast the season that is it’s subject.


While Nadal abides by the "jock code" and doesn't attribute defeat to injury, it's clear he is playing hurt. (The stats don't lie either: He had zero aces and lost the majority of points on his serve against Cilic. That's saying something.) When one of the sport's most magnetic figures -- a supreme athlete and consummate professional -- simply cannot make it through a season abiding by the entry rules as currently written, think it might be time to rethink the schedule?

-- John Wertheim, SI.com


Agreed.


The season is monstrous in terms of both length and intensity.


Only, talk of restructuring opens up that can of worms in which tournament organisers will be required to cede either their position in the calendar, or their standing from a rankings standpoint.


It’s easy to say the ATP should step in, but do they really want their offices teaming with Hamburg-styled litigation once again?


I don’t believe the ATP can ever fulfil the combined player-tournament charter once envisioned for it: a conflict of interest, if ever I saw one.


A-Rod abides by the “Jock Code” too; but there’s a reason neither Federer nor Murray are here this week.


Something’s gotta give; maybe it’s the ATP, and not the Calendar that needs restructuring.

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Sunday, 11 October 2009

Asian Order.

I forgot to mention Youzhny yesterday, who's had something of an upturn in his fortunes this week.


And despite my future willingness to treat French tennis seriously being heavily dependant on the outcome of that French Proposition I put forth a few days ago, a small part of me wanted to see Youzhny pull through today, hopefully bringing to an end a particularly dank spell of form.


A season that’s seen him plummet from his top ten highs of early 2008.


tsonga

(Photo: Getty)


But it wasn’t to be. Jo was nimble, Jo was keen, Jo-was-serving-like-a-dream.


And was rewarded, for his troubles with what looked like an item of 80s Phantasm Memorabilia.


Taken with Gael and Gilles' efforts this is now the most productive three weeks of French tennis I care to remember.


I’m tentatively back on board.


Similar story in Beijing.


A-Rad looked set to cap off a week of borderline top ten play.


But there’s few distinctions in tennis more worthy of my attention than the sight of one of it’s most skilled athletes intent on playing the house down, and even fewer than watching Sveta doing precisely that from her very first match.


The Pole did good, and has much to be proud of, though I think I still prefer the relative ‘order’ of the head girl beating up on the young fledgling.


Fortunately A-Rad seems to share my view of things.

kuzchina

(Photo: AP)


And in other news from the land of oversized cheques and trophies, Nole celebrated his recent ascension to world #3 with his best Rafa impression yet.


djoko (Photo: AP)


…and by throwing his shirt in security’s face.


nole (Photo: AP)


Generally unimpressed with this outcome.


For Marin it’s another nearly-man result. And not an entirely distinguished one for Novak either, despite getting past some tricky opponents.


They’ll have it all to play for next week.


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Saturday, 10 October 2009

Wood Chippers, ‘from what I understand’, are all the rage in the Far East…

So quite a lot of this happened yesterday.


chipper2


For those that still don’t know it, Marin knocked seven shades of minty-green out of Rafa, whose serve, from what I understand, has a lot to answer for.


I’ll be using the phrase “from what I understand” an awful lot over today and tomorrow.


And maybe even in the future; at least until that great British Broadcasting Machine stops pretending men's tennis doesn’t exist in between Flushing Meadows and Shanghai.


This Asian Swing, has taken shape in a way, I certainly didn’t see coming.


Beijing in particular.


The suits cannot be well pleased at having missed out on televising what might well turn out to have been the best ATP 500 event this year. And you all thought the tour couldn’t survive the absence of Roger Federer.


That’s the second top four player disposed of, head first through the Cilician wood-chipper, in little over a month.


“From the beginning of the match until the end I didn’t let my level of play drop and definitely I came into the match really good,” Cilic said. “I was aggressive when I had to be.

“The best thing I did today: I didn’t back off, I was just stubborn with my style of play.”

(ESPN)



cilic

(Photo: AFP)


Following up opposite Juan-Marteen proved more difficult after his ‘upset’ of Andy Murray at Flushing last month.


I’d like to see him use more of that stubbornness, to follow up good n’proper this time round, even though I’d normally back Novak to break his finals curse. This is turning out to be something of a breakthrough year for Marin – and I think he needs a title at this level to underscore that. More so than Novak, whose interests would be better served at the Masters level – where he’s already made a staggering 4 finals this year.


Speaking of which, Novak played some pretty fine tennis of his own yesterday.


“From what I understand”, Big Rob was far from his best, but that in no way detracts from Nole’s performance; one that included more of that ‘grind’ I’ve found so unpalatable these past few months.


I’ve no objection to it being used in moderation provided it’s mixed in with those more aggressive bouts of play that should, under normal circumstances, be considered the mainstay of his game.


But there’ll be no Rafa Soderling final tomorrow. Rafa’s chipped to bits. ‘The Rob’ stops here. My ‘double-blind’ predictions saw to that.


***


Not to be outdone, the Sveta wood-chipper made equally short work of Nadia, racing to a one set lead before Petrova had even found her feet. From there on in, and understandably feeling the after effects of her three setter against Vera the day before, Nadia made an admirable commitment to a match she must have known was never going to be her own.


Not with Sveta firing on five out of four cylinders.


Nadia did however reinforce my conviction that no Russian serves anywhere near as well as her. You know who to hit with Elena. Another day, another opponent, and it might have been so very different.


"If I play my best game I think I'm to be the favourite but you never know," said Kuznetsova.

(SkySports)


No you never do know, but it’s A-Rad, rather than the favourite (and my favourite) Sveta, that I’ll be rooting for tomorrow..


She triumphed in straights over Bartoli, a result I would normally have expected to have gone the other way round; but perhaps not that unexpected this week with A-Rad seemingly set to go A-Rad 2.0, and not nearly as unexpected as the sight of Bartoli turning up to the match in what looked like a Matron’s castoff.


bartoli (Photo: AP)

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A Grand Send Off

"I was surprised when he pulled out of Shanghai but obviously he has some problem with injury," said Djokovic.


"That's tennis. Rankings come and go, we are all quite close and it can turn around at any time. It's still not the end of the year."


(BBC)


No it’s not the end of the year. There’s still the small matter of those 1300 points he has to defend at the TMC.


But making the finals here will see Djoko reclaim the #3 spot.


And all that stands in his way to achieving that is Big Rob who, somewhat predictably, dispatched Ljubicic in straights today.


Like I said yesterday, I’m quite fancying Big Rob’s chances, but more to the point: Rafa v Sod - needs to happen.


Speaking of which.


safinnadal

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)


No that’s no victory parade. Well it is, sort of.


No Hollywood scripts tonight though.


He lost the match in straights; but they gave him a send off fit for a king.


Djoko let slip to reporters that Marat is to return to his on-again off-again love of mountain climbing, with a trip to Argentina set for January.


That’s set then. Marat’s 2nd career will in part at least, involve the production of personality laden Mountain Mockumentaries/Road Trips/Video Diaries/Travel Shows.



In any order. Or all at once.

But all that will have to wait. There’s still Shanghai and then Paris.


“We’ll always have Paris…”


arad

(FREDERIC BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)


I almost forgot. She came through. Two more matches to go girl.


Make that shithouse shine.

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Friday, 9 October 2009

Beijing Quarters (WTA Edition) and some Retirement Speak

Williams praised her 27-year-old opponent and said: "I ran into a girl today who has never played so good in her life.

"I don't feel like I ever got into high gear ... I felt like in the second set I got one break and then I just made sure I held serve so I could go to a third set."

(BBC)


I only saw the closing stages of this match, including that controversial call.


But I can vouch for Serena’s comments: I can’t remember Nadia ever playing as well as that even back in her world #4 heyday. What I do know is she’s long been touted as having the weapons and the muscle to do exactly that sort of damage.

petrova (Feng Li/Getty Images)


She also has one of the more powerful and surprisingly underrated serves out there – something of a rarity on tour. Peng Shuai seems to have this angle figured out on turning former world #1’s into her pigeon. Nadia’s no one’s pigeon, but is all too frequently her own.


Kuzzie’s match with Alona Bondarenka yesterday, was of a similar high quality.


I’m not quite ready to forgive the Russian top twenty female tennis-playing population for that gutless debacle we saw at Flushing Meadows this year.


But if one of these two pick up this title, which is btw now anyone’s for the taking, I might just be persuaded to stop grimacing at them.


In the other quarter, I’m backing A-Rad over Elena.


Here’s why:


1) I’m still not on what you’d call cordial terms with Elena, partly because of her post-Wimby slump, but mostly because of her outlandish insistence that her extended post-Flushing guttural excursion has something to do with not having had enough recovery time.


2) Like many, I haven’t seen A-Rad play as well as this since 2007. Could this finally be her time to shine in the shithouse? Why not? Everyone else is.


She should at the very least be able to fashion a fairly secure top ten position on the back of this showing, but I’d like to see her do so much more.


Finally, Vera takes on Bartoli, after avenging her US Open loss to Flavlova. Flavlova picked things up after a horrendous start (including a comic spell in the third set where Flavs moonballed her way into Vera’s head), but was otherwise, essentially, out of town.


Vera’s capable of some extremely fine things on a tennis court. We’ve seen that both at Flushing and back in Indian Wells. Unfortunately, she all too often gets in her own way of achieving them.


I’ve sort of learned to live with that. I could do without the annoying tick she’s developed of holding her hand up before every point on which she’s receiving serve.


bartoli

(AFP/Getty Images)


Vera, like Nadia is her own worst enemy, but is still very open to all forms of mental manipulation. A tendency Bartoli seems exquisitely well placed to take advantage of. Bartoli in three.


***


Some retirement speak I forgot to include in my last Marat post.


"I don't think today's match is going to be the key to my deciding to play another year, definitely not," Safin said.


"It's easy to play when you have nothing to lose, no points to defend, so you have no pressure at all so you can just play, just go for it.


"If I was playing and had to defend something, it would be a different matter. I would get nervous at some point."


(BBC)


I still do think he will call it quits at the end of the season, but this is a lot more ambiguous than any of his recent comments on the subject have been


Someone a little less ambiguous, on the same topic:


Mauresmo said on her Web site: “Since I came back from the U.S. Open, I’ve been trying to practice but I can’t find again the desire to come back to competition. I don’t want to rush or force things. (I will take) some time to think before making a decision regarding the remainder of my career.”


(Yahoo! Sports)


I shudder to think I may already have witnessed the last ball Amelie every struck.


Volleying is officially dead . But you already knew that.


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Nadal on Blake’s Return

“He’s a very good player, I think he has one of the best returns of any player I have played.


-- Nadal on James Blake after defeating him in Beijing


(Yahoo! Sports)


What you mean that thing he does, where he uses all your pace to flat ball a deep return back at your feet, before you’ve even completed your service motion?


Glad to hear he gave Rafa trouble and then some. Though I do fear that change in his coaching set up might be two years too late.


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Thursday, 8 October 2009

Jubilant Marat and A French Proposition

safin

(FREDERIC BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)




Getty captioned this image “Marat Safin jubilates after beating Fernando Gonzales of Chile…”.



It’s the kind of jubilance I normally express at the thought of paying off my utility bills at the end of the month.



Perhaps the right approach given the circumstances. I actually can’t remember the last time he won back to back matches; certainly not against someone as illustrious as Gonzo. Though it does still feel as if he’s itching to leave the ATP party.



That said, a win over Rafa wouldn’t be the most improbable result in the world right now. Particularly if he is in some sort of groove. Or am I now being too jubilant?



This could also prove to be a very interesting week for Robin Soderling, who has much to gain from winning an event like this.

I know Nando-Djoko is the other big marquee match, but I’m rather liking (and preferring) Big Rob’s chances in this half of the draw, particularly as neither of those other two have been that inspired over the last few months.



I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I haven’t changed my opinion on his flat groundies. It would be positively spiffing, to see him qualify for London, particularly after what happened in RG.



It wasn’t my intention to follow Tokyo this week, but I’ve just realised that with Delpo’s early exit, the remaining top three seeds are all French. Scratch that. Gilles was ‘upset’ by Mikhail Youzhny. (Nice to see him pocketing a win again)



So here’s the deal.



What we have here is a Fedal-less event, where the top seed -- the US Open Champion -- has gone out in the opening round. Of the remaining contenders, I can only see one Stan Wawrinka causing any vexation.



jowilly (Photo: AFP/Getty)



I’m not saying all is forgiven, but a win here for La Monf or Jo-Willy might just lead me to reconsider my troubled relationship with French tennis.



Consider all your French bridges burnt however, if you return with another loss.

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