Thursday, 8 April 2010

Miami: Fashionably Late Roundup

I didn’t have time to chalk up much of what happened in the latter stages of the men’s event in Miami – hence the distinct lack of coverage of some quite jarring results. Belated apologies.

-- Andy Roddick is back in the big time after a lengthy four years out of the (Masters) winners circle. Did he overcome Berdych with what many are so keen to characterise as smart tennis? Almost certainly, though I would say that the intelligence that saw him frustrate Berdych into submission with a one hundred and three minute “you-say-I-say” pushathon, or down Rafa with a flurry of inside-out forehands and serve-volleying that turned the tide of the match, was born of the experience and wisdom one must surely accrue after spending the best part of a decade in the top ten.

Randy’s critics will tell you that this top ten status has been born both of hard graft and a big serve in equal measure. His more fruitful recent endeavours meanwhile result largely from his association with Larry Stefanki.

The former may sound both harsh and reductive but is certainly true of his earlier years – the latter, whilst true in part, fails to take account of the maturity and depth of experience one realises as a result of spending so long on the front line of tennis.

Stefanki’s been instrumental, having had at times, an almost mystically curative and ennobling effect on his game – though it would appear to me to be wantonly obtuse to insist that he had little or no raw ingredients to work with.

It’d be wrong to get drawn into speculating as to the degree this win will empower him at the Slams – though I will say I quite fancy his chances against any top five player not named Federer.

-- Tomas Berdych did what so many of us friends, family and fans of tennis alike were hoping and praying he might, by following up on that fine win over Federer in R4 – for that alone he deserves a pat on the back (thought it might be more appropriate if someone with bigger hands than my own were to give it to him – John Isner anyone?).

But it’s more than that isn’t it. For there were plenty of moments subsequent to that win where he might have faltered into the obsolescence that usually mars his most breathtaking performances at the most critical junctures.

He saved that pivotal match point against Federer that left him with a wry smile and his tongue hanging out, an expression he chose to wear for a further thirty seconds or so, as he took it all in: he was in his element and was enjoying every minute of it.

And that’s the quality that stood out for me most, one he’s been scandalously devoid of in the past. Fans have been unable to warm up to the sometimes spectacular but no less spectacularly po-faced Tomas precisely because of how little of himself he was able to share – when he did choose to, it was with all the schmuck-like timing and (mis)calculation that saw him shush a Spanish crowd after overcoming Rafa in a heated encounter some years back – earning the further ire of an already fuming crowd and a reprimand at the net from the big man himself (“Very bad Tomas”).

An assessment with which I can only concur. Bad, Bad, NAUGHTY Tomas.

But when he saved those two match points opposite Roddick in the final last weekend – it all came together for me and seemingly for Tomas (there were never very many doubts about the relative completeness of his game even if the movement sometimes continues to disappoint). For he was able to to do so with such a calm (almost friendly) matter-of-factness, that I don’t even think it mattered to him very much that he went on to lose the match. For all intents and purposes, the battle raging inside of him over the last four years already appeared to have been won.

I don’t believe that a top ten position is immediately warranted, or his by birthright of the immense talent he’s still not in complete control of, and which has taken so long to flower. But I do depend now (as I once never did) on viewing him as a more secure and worthy top twenty presence.

-- Rafa? Troubling though curiously hopeful times, no?

On the face of it, two consecutive Masters semis ain’t half bad, and he’d entered the one in Miami in particular having played his best tennis of the last 11 months.

Against Jo-Willy he seemed to be putting a conscious line under all the unwholesome discrepancies since Rome of last year – a match that was everything the Big Rob/Gonzo blowout had promised to be.

That he should fall from those highs to the errors and uncharacteristic testiness that marred the second half of his semi final against A-Rod has to be of some concern to his camp.

There’s even speculation from some quarters of the Spanish media that his knee is at it again. He was certainly very upbeat about it in his presser. (Uncle Toni has indeed confirmed problems in his left knee.)

If we were to base our assessment on the totality of the last few months, rather than that one fuming shot of him flinging down that towel, we would have to conclude that he is apparently within spitting distance of his best - yet still held back by the faintest of aftershocks that must accompany any extended downturn – not that different to where I’d say Federer was at 12 months ago.

Fortunately for him, the clay season is upon us – for fans and critics alike, I’d say it’s put up or shut up time.

Greg Rusedski has Rafa rebounding convincingly on his favourite surface and going on to win the French Open. You’d like to think, for the sake of world serenity, that it’ll be as easy as that.

It sure as hell won’t make pleasant reading if he goes out of Monte Carlo (or Barcelona, or indeed Rome) early.

-- Big Rob? Disappointing. MUCH.

Not ready to talk about it. Not just yet.

I was willing to forgive him that lapse he suffered against Roddick in IW (very much “the one that got away”), but the bombsite he turned his match against Berdych into here, reeks of impertinence of the highest order.

Go away. And take your laundry with you.

(Photos: Getty, AFP)

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