Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Indian Wells: Don’t EVER “Colour me Surprised”

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

-- Please don’t tell me you saw this one coming. Please don’t reverse-engineer/retrofit your analyses of the last 5 days to make it sound like you “liked the look” of Ljubicic all week (I still find myself liking the look of Ernie, doesn’t mean that Delray Beach won’t remain his crowning achievement for a very long time). And please, please don’t “colour me surprised”. DON’T EVER “colour me surprised”.

-- If you really did see this coming (and aren’t currently under the tutelage of the Mad Hatter), I can only assume you have already made your fortune as the tipsters’ tipster, and are at this moment reading this comfortably ensconced in your newly acquired $190,000/square metre 2nd floor apartment in Avenue Princess Grace, Monaco - all forms of tennis speculation now mostly behind you.

-- Anyone that defeats Djoko, Nadal and A-Rod consecutively and as convincingly as Ljuby did, deserves the title more than either of those three and certainly more than anyone else. I’d like to see Ljuby replicate this form at the Slams, except they are indeed “different animals”. Just like the man said they were.

-- I made much of what Rafa and Soderling had to gain by winning here, but it occurs to me that the most patently radical measure of “worthiness” the least loaded definition of “deserving”, simply involves winning 7 matches in a row beating three top tenners enroute (two of which are top four) further underlines said worthiness.

-- Roddick played an exceptionally clean and, I would say, tactically mature first set – only to be unceremoniously upstaged in a tie break. Ljuby was the better server with Roddick seemingly the more confident from the baseline.

-- Both appeared more vulnerable in set two. Roddick could probably have taken more chances: there was clearly a sense that Ljuby would have fared less well without that monster of a serve of his. Except he wasn’t without it.

-- At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Ljuby ’s Serve was a rock: the significance of this cannot be emphasised enough. Without it, I suspect he would have been broken at least once in set two.

I might be wrong about this, and it’s certainly true that a third set may have gone either way, but I don’t think Ljuby looked particularly fit or able to go at it tooth and nail for another hour – it’s as well he served it out when he did. Which of course he almost didn’t.

-- It wasn’t all about the serve though – Ljuby had had real purpose behind those smooth, rolling groundies of his all week.

-- The backhand is of course, a thing of beauty. Ljuby takes special pride in dispatching high bouncing single handed backhands, which he does better than just about anyone else in the game – his height and uncomplicated, repeatable motion inevitably play their part in bringing that about. Should we be that surprised he coped with Rafa’s forehand to that wing rather betterer than Federer might have?

-- Some of his forehand winners were also right up there with anything we saw from Big Rob. No really. And yes I am still in mourning after that semi final loss.

-- If anything, I’d say he looked rather less confident at the net than he had all week. Somewhat easier now, to be able to relive that very Golden Ljuby-Mario Davis Cup partnership from 5 years ago, no?

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

-- First off, what’s with the kryptonite-like trophies that the winner can’t even lift, much less pose with (a hastily constructed plinth was eventually arranged)? Ljuby -- all 6’4” of him -- probably only managed it after a clean-and-jerk.

-- Why the lengthy, droning monologue plugging BNP Paribas (at least three times in every sentence) that would have seen Dr Seuss scrambling for cover?

And if we really must (economic climate being what it is, BNP Paribas does represent quite a conquest), how about we get that out of the way before summoning up the Champion for their trophy? Instead of making her hang around awkwardly like a ball girl, I mean.

-- I don’t intend to philosophise very much about whether JJ is ‘back’ or not. Well, maybe just a little then.

My antennae were fully attuned after her fourth round clash with Errani (a player not as obviously endearing as her compatriots Franny and Flavlova maybe, but just as compelling).

She seemed a little displaced in her subsequent matches electing to do as little as possible to get through.

The final saw a return to a level of play not that far removed from late 2007.

-- JJ’s movement and defensive skills are well known. What’s less frequently a feature of any commentary surrounding her, is the incredible knack she has of playing the right shot at the right time, the length she gets on her DHB in particular and how uniquely adept she is at moving her opponent around (and off balance).

-- Her well-publicised lack of a knockout blow (or one which packs any meaningful weight) is a matter of public record. But it also means she sometimes gets unfairly cast as a ‘pusher’.

-- Let there be no mistake about this: unless she’s playing truly awful (which she has been all too frequently over the last year), JJ does go for her winners – just not as early as some of her colleagues. The fact that they lack bite, does not turn her into a pusher. Or at least that’s the way I see it until I’m swept away by the next revisionists’ reawakening.

-- Wozniacki played poorly, perhaps not a patch on any of her performances this week. But not only did I expect JJ to out manoeuvre her – I loved that she out manoevred her.

-- This was a textbook case of the headgirl beating up on the young fledgling – and tossing her head whilst doing so. Not at her opponent, but almost in surprise at how effortless and painless it can all be when it comes so naturally. By which I mean there were smiles to be had. Plenty of smiles.

-- Woz did make a few half-hearted, desperate attempts at reeling off some winners (you can generally count her total winners over the course of a match on one hand) – but really, never was the need to break out of her comfort zone more amply demonstrated.

We actually got a sneak preview of the carnage that was to follow in the semis against Aggy – a match made completely unwatchable by the proclivity of both players to refrain from anything that might be construed as “stepping out a little”.

-- Whilst it’s true Caz-Woz has plenty of time to develop that elusive WMD, it’s also true that any player worth their salt (and with more sting on their groundies) wouldn’t have given her half as much time on court. Noteworthy too I think, that both here and at the US Open last year she didn’t face a single elite gunslinger.

If she is to be considered a contender against the likes of the Williamses, Clijsters and Henin, she’ll need to locate those WMDs sooner rather than later. I say she’s not looking hard enough. Or in the right place.

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