Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Melbourne: It Just Wouldn’t be Oz…

It just wouldn’t be Oz without the customary five set bruiser, would it?

You know, the ones that threaten to venture ever closer to the six hour mark and usually take place early on in week one.

It just wouldn’t be Oz without the pain.

mikail (PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)

It hurts Ma, it hurts real bad…

M. Youhzny d. R. Gasquet 6-7(9), 6-4, 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 6-4

Bruising (self inflicted or otherwise) and Mikail are never too far apart, and by the last two sets of this bash, I was quite unsure who I was rooting for, despite beginning the match firmly ensconced in Camp Reeshard.

Reeshard had a lot of baggage to shed from last year and a win here might have allowed him to wash the very last vestiges of ‘Pamela’ right out of his hair, nose and throat; except I think he might already have attended to the first of those, if that new shortened (somewhat thinning) hairdo he’s sporting is anything to go by.

Except Camp Reeshard is a notoriously precarious place, and brand loyalty not an especially precise science.

gasquet (PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)

Pain pain go away,

Come again another day,

Little Reeshard wants to play.

Remember that Agassi match from Flushing 06, where he eventually downed Baghdatis in five - where they were both cramping so much it was difficult to breath?

Let no digitally enhanced sports bio ever allow us to forget that this sort of thing is actually quite prevalent on tour.

By the last set and a half of this encounter, Mikail looked hamstrung, and possessed little or no upwards thrust on his serve. You could almost hear the formation of millions of micro-shreds in his muscle fibre as he cramped his way through the pain. Gasquet fared little better and looked to be coughing up the lining of his lungs in between each and every point.

Gasquet didn’t choke this one down the chute (thank goodness for that), though I do wonder if it would have been the same result had he taken greater risks with two sets already in the bag.

He who dares wins. Not always maybe, but when you’re both as crippled by pain and fatigue as these two were, it’s the smallest of risks that suddenly assume the greatest significance and often offer the greatest pay back.

Youzhny maybe shouldn’t have won this one, but it was he that was the more daring in that last set.

Difficult not to root for someone that’s prepared to smile through seven shades of pain for our amusement.


Federer d. Andreev 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/2), 6-0

In other matches Federer downed 'Igor the Forehand' in four.

Fed lost the first set, not as you might imagine by flaking away the way he did all his openers in London last year, but by ‘going to the well’ of Igor’s forehand once too often.

If a baby Rafael Nadal hadn’t happened upon a tennis court, Igor would be the undisputed heavyweight (and most top-spun) forehand in the game. Most people appear to recognise that.

federer (Photo: Press Association)

In fact in Igor we have what might be the closest Federer might get to playing a right handed facsimile of Rafael Nadal.

His name should be synonymous with big forehands, for in that first set he very much ‘Igored’ Federer. To his credit, Federer defended immaculately well, but it was the wrong play altogether.

Igor’s level of play was replaced, to Fed’s relief, with something altogether more penetrable in set two and in set three he managed to choke away all of three set points despite forcing things to a breaker he eventually lost.

Fed may have steamrolled him in the fourth, but he seems to agree with my view that this one was rather too close for comfort, and not entirely through any great lapses in his own play:

"I knew it was going to be tough," said Federer. "We played five sets in New York two years ago. I thought I was playing well even in the first set and thought I would hang in there.

"It was a tough first round and I'm really, really relieved I'm through.

"It was a tough third set, I definitely got very lucky to get out of that one. That's the way it goes sometimes, all in all I'm very happy with my performance."


Elsewhere, Davy rather begrudgingly accepted the opinion of some that he might be considered a 'favourite' at this year’s open, when interviewed this morning. Yeah you know, that eponymous title which Murray was bestowed with last year.

And then this:

"Now I feel like I can beat everyone," said Davydenko, who is trying to win a first Grand Slam title. "Before no, mostly I was losing against these guys (top players), but now I can beat everyone. It's a good feeling."


Everyone Davy? Beware, you’re mighty close to convincing me you believe you can actually win this thing.

Belief in rather shorter supply for Big Rob however, losing his opener to Granollers after being 2 sets to love up.

"I don't know what happened, I just didn't play well," said the Swede. "I started terrible and finished terrible."


Sounds terrible.

I feel terrible.

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