Thursday, 18 March 2010

Indian Wells: Playing Catch Up

So a busy couple of days and my neighbour deciding to scaffold over the cable that brings in my sat signal minutes before they’re due to broadcast highlights of Baggy’s win over Fed, mean I’m a little behind, and a little out of sorts.

It also means I’ve largely relied on 2nd hand accounts to piece together an understanding of what happened.

Still gotta say this though.

Fancy THAT?

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

From what I can tell, the main talking point appears to be Fed’s inability to make good on no less than three match points. Which I’ll be the first to admit is a little scary.

It also seems obligatory to recognise that this hasn’t taken place since Rome 2006 – so let me do the same, although it’s there I’d say the similarities end.

Let me add one more: Baggy has been away for too long, and he’s too good a player not to take advantage of Fed-Long-Shanks lapsing the night away.

[20] I Ljubicic (CRO) d [2] N Djokovic (SRB) 75 63

Only caught the last few games of this.

Djoko’s been complaining of “not feeling the ball” all week - when you consider the amount of three setters he’s played since Dubai, this should hardly be surprising. Throw in an emotionally charged Davis Cup Tie and you can see why he might rather be inclined to wilt in the desert.

That said, and even if you discount the way he fended off those three match points opposite Kohlschreiber, I still didn’t expect this result.

At first I put it down to big serving from the Gentle Giant (who did win over 70% of the points on his first serve), but then learnt he also hit twice the winners Djoko did.

I hadn’t followed him much at this event, but I will now.

A Radwanska (POL) d E Dementieva (RUS) 6-3 6-3

"I was so slow. I was reaching for the ball instead of going forward and attacking her second serve," she told AFP.

"She slowed down the game a lot and mixed it up a lot. You have to be very aggressive. You have to step forward. You have to create something. I was way too slow."

-- Elena Dementieva, CNN

Were it anyone else, and I’d be sorely disappointed for Elena. With Henin, Clijsters and anyone else considered a “contender” (what ever that means these days) out before the quarters, I was almost ready to declare this event was ‘hers for the taking’.

Then I remembered how I’d already jinxed out the other half of the top ten. It seems I possess a greater talent for picking upsets than winners.

Still, so glad to see this, even if it’s at the expense of one of my favourite players.

It was first apparent when she came through against Bartoli (a match I expected her to lose).

Still unsure of when or how it happened, but make no mistake - Aggy, since the last time I saw her, has transfigured herself into a badass mutant ball striker. As ‘mutant’ as her slight frame will allow.

She’s always had the guile, that intangible ability to get heftier opponents off balance and wondering why they’re losing points they were largely in control of – a quality that’s led her to being compared to Hingis.

I prefer to think of her as ‘Agnieszka’ - and her less-overtly aggressive brand of tennis as born of her own instincts.

[3] R Nadal (ESP) d [15] J Isner (USA) 75 36 63

Isner may have faded into insignificance in that last set, but with Rafa playing as well as he is, deserves all kinds of props for pushing him as hard as he did in sets one and two.

I don’t do so very often, but I find my hand forced in declaring John Isner a ‘top tenner-in-waiting’ on the tenuous grounds that he’s “So much more than a serve and a forehand”.

As for Rafa, yes he’s playing as well as he was in Oz, perhaps even better – yes,we all know how that ended – no, I don’t get the feeling the same will happen again.

On the other hand it’s all too premature to begin declaring the title as “his for the taking”, now that Fed and Djoko have left the building.

In any case, and taking form and history into account, it’s more natural right now to think of Soderling and Berdych as greater threats.

[6] R Soderling (SWE) d [9] J Tsonga (FRA) 63 64

I loved the look of of both La Monf and Tsonga as they marched into this event. They both seemed charged up with a euphoric intensity I put down to that recent Davis Cup win over Germany (Ok, so that’s kind of Monfils’ default “game face” anyway).

Tonight Jo-Willy learned the hard way that big serving and starry-eyes alone do not suffice, as all six of his lights were roundly punched out.

Big Rob has been working his way through the draw under everyone’s radar, seemingly happy to embrace his fate as the “player everyone loves to hate and who takes down the players they simply love”

Being a fan of Mr Jellybeans myself, I need not explain why this isn’t the way I feel, or if anything, why that’s rather an integral part of the charm.

It’s difficult to see what Jo could have done any differently, as he he was prevented by Big Rob’s penetrating flatties from his usual go-to of coming to the net.

The sight of a Frenchman stationed metres behind the baseline is one that fills me with revulsion and a pleasure I usually forego. As it stands, I have no reproof for young Jo today, just bags of actual compassion and heaps of jellybeans.


A week or so before news of Vaidisova’s retirement broke, I remember reading of her defeat to 17 year old Heather Watson of GB in the first round of the Tangipahoa Tennis Classic – an ITF event – and thinking to myself that she really ought to have a long hard think about her future in this game.

The media have all but given up making any mention of her – unless that is they want to wheel out the odd overly-worn contextualisation of Ivanovic’s ailing form.

With that it mind, it comes as little surprise to learn she is said to “have tired of losing and lacks the desire to grind her way back”.

I couldn’t help however, feeling a slight lump in my throat, when reminded that she made the quarters of Wimbledon as recently as 2008: 20 months does seem astonishingly fast for a demise of this magnitude.

20 years, on the other hand, seems a little young to settle down (she's to marry Stepanek in July) – did I mention it also leaves ample time to ‘unretire’?

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