Saturday, 13 February 2010

Oz Withdrawal Symptoms: Gently Does It…

The pull of Oz afterglow, Warped-Pete’s warm chatterings and a smattering of ho-hum events has left me less than inclined to keep even one (half open) eye on the happenings on tour.

Easing oneself in gently, as I understand it, is the usual protocol.

There is life after Oz, whatever Warped-Pete might have to say about it.

JMDP out for four weeks with a wrist injury.

image (Photo: AFP)

He cited this ahead of Oz, and then made it to the fourth round before falling prey to the man-mountain that is Marin.

My conclusion at the time was it was a minor niggle – now I’m not so sure.

Tentative return expected at Indian Wells. Shame - I had hoped for more matches under his belt ahead of ‘The Fifth Slam’.

Conventional wisdom says you normally need around 12-18 months after winning your first Slam to acclimatise to a reality in which you’ll hopefully continue to play a part.

Conventional wisdom also says it’s impossible for anyone not named Rafael Nadal to defeat Federer in the final of a Slam.

Corollary: Conventional wisdom can go to hell.

Not that I think he’ll win another Slam this year – just don’t go expecting him to go all Jo-Willy on us.

That other ‘Stringed-Quartet’

If you’re serious about tennis and haven’t already ventured an opinion on the possibility of Federer scoring the Grand Slam this year, I’m guessing you’re holed up somewhere on Mars with your head in the (red, baking) sand.

I have mixed views on this.

On the one hand, to even consider it feasible is of course totally preposterous, the provenance of obscure statisticians or the staunchest of RF.Commers.

The fact that Fed (as much a hay munching Goat as we’re ever likely to see) only came close to achieving it three times out of the four seasons from 2004-2007 , should give us an insight into the dangers of uttering those words lightly.

On the other hand:

-- “Fed came close three times of the four seasons from 2004-2007” – that argument works both ways.

-- Steffi Graf. 1988.

Nuff said? Not nearly.

She didn’t play with a wooden racquet and try, just try telling Seles, Navratilova, Capriati, Hingis, Davenport and Sanchez-Vicario that they were part of a ‘weak era’.

I pity the foo’ that does.

-- Lest we forget the Rafael Nadal effect – had the Clay Goat taken up fly-fishing or (probably more appropriately) clay pigeon shooting instead, Fed might very well stand before us the proud owner of not one, but two Grandest of Slams.

-- 2009 saw some uncanny happenings both on and off the court. But with Fed’s loss in the final of a Slam and Rafa’s loss at RG, two of sport’s most deeply held religious tenets - were unceremoniously thrown to the wall.

There’s also this.

…Sure, I have regrets inasmuch I was wrong [about predicting Federer’s demise]. But let's go back to the summer of 2008. Federer lost in Australia to Djokovic. He simply failed to show up for the French Open final. After a five-year reign at Wimbledon he lost an epic final to Nadal and was simply gutted afterward. He went the Olympics and lost to James Blake. He had fallen to No. 2 in the rankings and Nadal, the younger player, was riding a wave of confidence while other challengers -- Djokovic, Murray, Tsonga -- were hitting their stride. Or so it seemed. Against that backdrop, imagine if someone had written: "Don't worry Federer fans! This is just a blip. He'll win four of the next six majors and be on top within a year!" They would have reserved you a room at the sanitarium.

-- Jon Wertheim,

Corollary: Weird sh*t happens, and weirder sh*t has happened.

Rafael Nadal’s Knee: The Last Taboo

There was a barely detectable off court momentum shift in the immediate aftermath of Oz. It came right after Rafa was unable to finish up his semi against Andy Murray: fearing the worst about Rafa’s knee officially became mainstream.

Up until that point, obligatory laments about the effect the grinding nature of his game will have on his career, had mostly been tempered with reference to his awesome fitness and an undying faith in his will to succeed.

Now they tend to come alone.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this was that this time, no one saw it coming. There was no tell-tale taping beneath his knees, and he was playing as well as he had been prior to Wimbledon last year.

Corollary: Continuing to hold fort for now, but the need to temper his schedule cannot be emphasised enough.

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