Tuesday, 1 December 2009

WTF: Wrap Up, Vol. 3

This Wrap-Up has gone on for longer than I had expected – mental note to self on the benefits of thought distillation – but the funny thing is I was largely uninspired by post-USO tennis, and didn’t expect the WTF to lift my spirits.

They did.

For all the reasons I’ve already mentioned but also because they showed us that there’s life beyond Fedal, indeed beyond the top four.

So forgive a tendency to prattle. It probably won’t last very long.

Roger Federer

All the focus this week has been on Roger’s new found love of Japanese Paper Folding.

I prefer to look at the positives.

federer (Photo: Reuters)

Whilst I concede that Fed’s tendency to fold his openers with such care and attention might, let’s say, need…..looking at, what’s been overlooked this week is how tight and clinical he’s been once he has found his way.

Something apparently beyond the rest of the top four. No surprise then that he was the only member of that group to make the semis.

Against Murray he was imperious.

Against Dasco he displayed that dependable ability he has for coolly containing an an over-performing player.

And in the two he lost, he was only pipped to the finish line by the slimmest of margins, by the tournament’s eventual runner up and winner.

You simply cannot win them all. Not in today’s market.

This event, and to a lesser extent this year, has also resulted in the overturning of what, to all intents and purposes, has been conventional wisdom over the last four or five years: that Federer deals with flat hitters better than anyone else on the planet.

It was of some comfort to know that whatever ups and downs he might encounter with his game, his record against flatties would remain largely blemish free. Can we kindly ignore the loss incurred James Blake last year, and bear with me on this?

Nor should it surprise us that, with Rafa seemingly custom-built to expose Federer’s vulnerabilities, that he himself should appear so uniquely vulnerable to the flatty.

There’s more to this though – cross a certain boundary and another universal law comes into play: flat-hitters that manage to combine the highest levels of pace and accuracy render the skill of their opponent irrelevant.

This should not be that difficult to accept – if someone repeatedly bludgeons the baseline with a level of accuracy that is as unwavering as it is unnerving, it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net, the flatty will win.

The trouble with such determinism is, those properties of pace and accuracy don’t usually coexist. Or put another way, they operate under Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (HUP): the more you have of one, the less defined or fuzzier the state of the other becomes.

HUP occurs in another field of tennis too: the more potential or talent a player possesses, the less easier they will find it to realise it. You only need take a look at Marat, Svetlana or French Tennis in it’s entirety. But that’s another story.

There have however, been a few magical moments in the past, when pace and accuracy have been miraculously reconciled; and it usually results in fireworks.

One such occasion was the 2005 Aussie Open Semi Final contested between Marat Safin and Roger Federer. Federer was at the top of his game, yet Safin brought him to his knees. Literally, as it turned out on match point.


Looked at another way, though continuing with the Physics analogies, if Fed’s abilities to contain flatties are viewed within the context of a black hole, players like Kolya and Blake hover on the periphery of the event horizon, whilst Safin, and to a lesser extent del Potro, push Fed beyond the point of no return, circulating inwards at the speed of light towards a singularity where unimaginable levels of pace and accuracy converge towards an infinity.

Andy Murray

Not a great week for the homeboy.

Not one to completely write off either.

I liked it that towards the end of his stay here, he looked to be experimenting with more aggression, but it was too little too late.

And the less said about his match against Federer the better.

Oh and that second serve, like Federer’s predilection for Origami, might need….looking at.

Fernando Verdasco

Overperformed; and should in all fairness have won at least one match.

Invested himself fully in every encounter, and then punked out at the moments it mattered most.

The less dependable Yin to del Potro’s more impregnable Yang

And despite a career-defining start to the year, I still believe his days in the top ten are numbered.

Novak Djokovic

Not an entirely unsuccessful week.

In fact his opening encounter with Davydenko was probably the match of the week; but having barely recovered, he had the misfortune to run into his would-be Saviour in the form of Big Rob, who just happened to be firing on five out of four cylinders.

It’s not generally a pretty sight when that happens: Djoko coped by more or less throwing in the towel and ceding that last set.

No matter. He lifted his form and won his first and only Masters event, when the year looked to be about done and dusted; then he gave us 'Sir' Robin.

Can't ask for more than that.

Rafael Nadal

I don’t want to do a “me too” post about how I believe Rafa will bounce back strongly next year. Most reasonable minded people appear to recognise that.

Can we at least wait until the clay court season next year before we begin the obituaries?

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