Monday, 31 May 2010

Roland Garros: Pulling a Soderling.


Did she “pull a Soderling”? Only in the loosest, colloquial sense of the phrase.

For that analogy to ring completely true, Henin’s run of RG titles would have had to continue unbroken over the last two years, playing roughly the same way.

Or else Nadal would have had to have taken two years off tour to reinvent himself as, I dunno, Novak Djokovic(?) before returning to RG to fall in the fourth round to Fernando Verdasco.

In which case she’d have “pulled a Nando”. Or something.

None of this matters of course. What matters is that Stosur served out that last game, when every soul on earth, every seeker of truth in my twitter feed, was expecting her, counting on her even, to choke.

Which by the way she almost did in handing back a break and double faulting on the first of her two match points.

Don’t lets also forget how she out-varied “the varied one”. Which should surprise precisely no one considering how unvarying Juju’s play supposedly is nowadays.

(Photo: Reuters)


Roland Garros: R16 Round Up.


Everything it had promised to be.

Both women are clearly different forces of nature to those we saw in that infamous meeting between the two at the SEC back in 2007. And yet some things never change.

Early on yesterday Henin looked to be running away with with it, before Shaza slid, sliced, serve-volleyed -- artefacts not traditionally associated with the Masha repertoire -- to level the match at a set all. All before a small matter of the fading light ended up interfering with play.


I tend to go with the underdog in situations like these and thought it a little sad that Masha was unable to hold on to her 2-0, 40-0 lead today. For me her best chance was to keep Henin on the defence thus preventing her from moving her around – throttling her most pernicious route back into the match.

Early on this seemed plausible, but a succession of errors and impeccable defence from JuJu quickly saw momentum not so much shift, as remain suspended between the two as they fought out what appeared to be almost a microcosm of that match from 2007. It lasted three games. Henin came out on top.

Apparently the first time in five years Juju has dropped a set at RG – a thrilling stat that I’m not keen to over-emphasise. It is worth reminding ourselves that Henin’s not played here since 2008 and that she’s re-emerged with a more uncompromising and aggressive brand of tennis very different to what we used to know of her back then – the way she served out that last game should be proof enough of that.

Something else worrying me is the way in which many are now seizing upon what they perceive as a more one-dimensional facsimile of the Henin they know and love.

There is some truth in this – Henin does now, at times, seem as much a basher as many less gifted players in the top fifty – no artisan backhand’s going to hide that.

And I do have an ear for those that are tired of hearing dull maxims about her “variety” whilst at once dismissing others as “having no plan B” – I don’t have any time for neanderthals like that either – we’re past all that surely.

I would contend however, that Henin’s “variety” is still her modus operandi. That she’s chosen in her 2nd career, to try something different, if a little less prepossessing – given what we know of her ambitions at SW19 – is hardly surprising. Not a lack of variety, but it's deliberate neglect.


I only included this pic because I liked that Stan looks to be doing the triple jump.

In the wake of his loss to his compatriot in Madrid, Bodo did a piece in which he posited that Wawa might be persuaded to give Fed a free ride at the Masters events in order to maintain the status quo of tennis Switzerland - a nation that, as he put it, was “punching well above its weight”. Why rock the boat?

No mention, funnily enough, was made of Stan’s upset of Fed at MC last year. Presumably, he had yet to incubate into one of tens of thousands of Swiss Minions, or worse, was a lone minion making his bid for freedom.

Not going to bother to debate the rights and wrongs of this – but today’s loss, at a Slam no less, will presumably only intensify Bodo’s assessment of Stan’s assumed minionship.


Federling. Soderer.

Call it what you want - it’s on people. Your grimace ain’t got nothing on me.

Only a Marin shaped chalk outline remained on court after Soder-Pop was done with him today. It wasn’t pleasant.

Last year wasn’t pleasant either – at least not from Rafa’s end.

I remain fundamentally unconvinced that it will be any different from the final last year.

I wouldn’t wish a 12-0 H2H on anyone. Not even Andy Roddick…oh wait….

Sod thrives on rhythm. Fed will likely give him none.

Though if Sod does find some perverse way of executing, and my own inner Swedish Minion has anything do with it, we may have a match.


Dunno quite what happened here.

But somewhere in between Andy Roddick going down in straights (“Today I got outplayed from the first ball”) and Nadal’s straight sets win over Hewitt, both Ferru and Ferrero got their racquet butts handed to them.

It took Ginepri a full five sets to close out JCF, a match in which he lead at one point by a set and 5-0; Melzer only required three, one of which was baked entirely in cornflour.

Robby hadn’t won a single clay court match coming into the event, and is, for now at least, the last American male standing. Only at Roland Garros.

But there’s no escaping, nor should we wish to escape, the reality that two of the hottest clay courters out there were bundled out of RG by two other players, not renowned for their prowess on clay or anywhere else.

That’s probably too harsh. Jurgen’s ranked #26 in the world after all.

Though I’ve yet to find anyone that can meaningfully convey the appeal of Jurgen with out using cliched terms like “dangerous” or “sleeper” - or indeed anyone who can convince me not to persist in referring to him as Jurgen-Schmergen.

Until such time I intend to carry on doing just that.



Disappointed. Much. Though kinda glad it was Nadia that took her down.

And if someone must “oust” Venus from the event (a word I abhor), then I’d rather it were Nadia too.

Whatever else you might think about her, Rezai’s clearly got that warrior queen thing going on – even when she’s being burnt at the stake. Not that that’s quite the way Nadia disposed of her.

I understand Boudica’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Mostly on account of the bling.

Let us leave it at this then. When you arrive at a Slam aspiring to overturn everyone's favourite poker table – you dress the part and arrive wielding more than just pleasant conversation and a copy of Henry James.

(Photos: Getty)


Saturday, 29 May 2010

Roland Garros: “Ladies & Gentlemen - Light is Suspended due to Awesome Play”

Don’t ask me about the match.


I only saw the first half of it on a live stream, which switched over inexplicably, at the beginning of the third set, …to Football.

Not premier league football mind you, not even Bundesliga football – but by the looks of it, a Sunday league event that might follow a village fete held somewhere in the provincial outskirts of Hungary.

I’m told it was good tennis. Best of the week even.

Which, to be honest, the tournament needed it to be.


It’s a sorry, and somewhat sodden, state of affairs when the rains wash out nearly two days of play, and the closest you get to having your fire lit involves Muzzard outlasting Reeshie in a match ‘The Talanted One’ should have won, and a more literal take on Lights Out Tennis.

How is it possible for a match on Chatrier involving two top twenty players – one of whom is not simply a home favourite, but the hottest player on tour right now with recent wins over Henin and Venus – to not receive even a minutes worth of coverage?

Oh I’m miffed alright. And by the looks of it, I’m not the only one.

Nice to know that whatever differences may exist with those folks over the pond, our respective broadcasters remain equally clueless and out of touch with their fanbases on what exactly constitutes ‘Box Office’ Tennis.

I’ve no qualms with having to sit through Marin procrastinating over closing out another one of those five setters he’s so fond of.

I’ve long since made my peace with the tennis universe ceasing to exist for the four or five sets it seems to take Murray to close out his matches nowadays.

And you can’t fault them for electing to broadcast the defending champion’s last gasp (didn’t see it, didn’t regret not seeing it), a result that will land Kuzzie around #18 in the rankings in two weeks time. 2005, before you ask, was when she last “did time” there.

But it’s a little much, is it not, when you’re forced to sit through Dementcha taking the path of least conformance through to a blundering three set victory over Aleksandra Wozniak – knowing as you do, how you’re being actively denied the sumptuous treats on offer in Chatrier.


And let’s reserve that pose for when you’re able to elevate your play to the level it was at during Wimby last year, shall we?

I didn’t sit around, as it happened, electing to use the “down time” to stock up on bog roll and beverages.

I returned to discover that I’d missed out on the event’s greatest shindig of the week. Both women had seen three match points come and go before, at 7-7, light was suspended due to awesome play.


-- “Viewer, I bagelled him”

And if you can’t place that reference I’ll find you unwell-read (or well-unread).

Nice to know that whatever else might be happening, the Naderer age of blemish-free straight-sets wins in the early rounds of Slams is upon us once more.

Leister tried to make things happen, but seemed as much a part of the furniture as Roddick was in Oz 2007, and before he knew it had been bagelled and was watching Federer double fault at match point. Not quite blemish free then.

-- Wawa bundled out AbFab in straights in a match I’m guessing no one knew was happening and no one cared about enough to see even if they did.

AbFab seems to me to resemble the the type of provincial Italian Charlotte Bartlett might have been keen to protect Lucy Honeychurch from in ‘A Room with a View’ , or for that matter, the strawberry sucking Adonis type that did seduce Winona Ryder in ‘How to Make an American Quilt’.

In other words, exactly the kind of shallow journeyman you don’t expect to make many waves on tour.

I wanted to sock him one when he made such a song and dance of wanting to stop play that night (and it was night) against La Monf – but I seem to have come away with a new found respect for the way in which he then held serve.

Poetic justice served then on La Monf and the-powers-that-be? I think so.

Wawa to play Federer next – ideally it’ll take a little longer than it did in Madrid.

-- Albert Montanes played 9 clay court events coming into the FO.

I’ve got this image in my head of Ed Rooney (of Ferris Bueller Fame) complaining to Albert Montanes’ management team about “how he’s been seen skipping the tour in favour of lower-tier clay court events no less than nine times this season......nine times."

Someone mind doing the research and telling me which ones?

(Photos: Getty)


Thursday, 27 May 2010

Roland Garros: If only you could see me now…If only you could see me at all.


Fognini: “You can't tell, but I'm trying to break the tension

by mooning you guys”

Pat Mac called it One of the most amazing sights that I could barely see.”

Play was suspended at 5-5 in the fifth due to what was charitably termed “bad light”.

Gael had been insistent about wanting to play on at 4-4. Fabio was docked a point for holding up play after he spent nearly 10 mins insisting otherwise.


I love Gael, but say Fabio had held one of those two match points.

That is all.

(Photos: Getty)


Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Roland Garros: Breezy Round Up.

-- Rafa through in straights against 18 year-old ingénue Gianni Mina - or “Baby La-Monf” as he’s come to be known.


The 2-2-2 scoreline doesn’t do justice to the athleticism and shotmaking that made up this match. Ultimately, however, Baby La-Monf’s inability to make good on a single one of a staggering seven break points, as well as to hold on to his own serve, decided it's course.

Never say no to French Flair, though I’d be more accepting of the parallels with Monfils if I end up liking him for the parts he leaves out.

-- Roddick pulled off a five set turnaround of his own against Finland’s Jarko Nieminen.

A fascinatingly low-brow match that demonstrated why I’m rapidly losing patience with A-Rod’s alleged aversion to clay. Seems to me he plays as well as he might on any slow hard court, when he puts his mind to it.

-- Henin, Shaza both through in straights.

Didn’t see either match – Shaza appears to have served well and both mustered up a healthy positive winners/UFE ratio. More important than all of that, however, is that they survived the first round. Don’t pretend any of that was assured.


Don’t look now, but Ana won her opener too.

-- Dinara, on the other hand, ousted in three at the hands of veteran Kimiko Date Krumm.

It’s probably not instructive to comment on what exactly brought her downfall – we all know that serving’s a big part of it.

She’s also, much to the relief of many, parted ways with Zeljko Krajan.

Q. You separated with your coach, I hear. You want to talk a little bit about that? I know he was important to you.

DINARA SAFINA: Yeah. After Madrid I took a decision to stop. I mean, definitely he did the best job than everybody could make with me. He brought me to No. 1 in the world. I mean, not him. Together we came together to No. 1.

But I decided that I wanted to stop, and that's it. I won't say anything.

Q. Was it getting too intense or...

DINARA SAFINA: I don't want to comment anything else.

Q. Maybe another voice...

DINARA SAFINA: I don't want to comment more than this.

Q. So it's difficult for you today, but are you optimistic long‑term for your future?

DINARA SAFINA: Yeah. You know, I am for sure I will not give up. You know, I will have to swallow this loss and keep on moving. I mean, there is nothing more than this, you know.

I was in the worst situations, and I mean, that's life. After rain, always sun comes. I will do my best.

Whatever it is that makes Coach-Player partnerships work, seems for the most part, an intangible business, whatever the populist self-help manuals may have to say about it.

If a match up works well, as it did in this case for the best part of a year, then it seems to me that it ought to be left well alone, however unpalatable it may be to those on the outside.

That she’s recognised the partnership has run it’s course is encouraging too.

Highly disappointing result of course, something which only time will heal. One can only hope she'll remain as optimistic in her weather forecasting when, two weeks from now, she finds herself in the lower dregs of the top twenty.

-- Federer’s three set dismissal of Aussie Peter Luczak was everything the Madrid final wasn’t.

There was big serving, short-angled backhand passes taken on the rise, but surely nothing so spectacular as a sliding drop shot put-away that had the commentary team eating out of his hands.

So when Luczak’s thickly accented ‘sorry-maaite’ was carried by the wind through the stadium after a number of misdirected tosses -- reminiscent of Rafter as it was -- it seemed more an apology at holding up the exhibition of breezy brilliance before us.

-- Resisting the urge to get drawn into all the humourless chatter surrounding Venus’s outfit.

It’s not one I have to resist very hard.

-- Nicolas Mahut won his first ever match at RG in eleven attempts.

With so much talk of clay-court specialism it’s somewhat encouraging to know that 1) grass-court specialists exist as an independent and low-cost TMF alternative too, and 2) that they suffer much of the same adaptive problems as their clay court counterparts.

Think of him as the Nicolas Lapenti of grass.

(Photos: Getty)


Roland Garros: The ‘Talanted’ Mr Reeshie

maybe i m bad or very bad as i say that but i would like Richard and Andy to go to 5 sets so we can watch nice tennis!and enjoy!

-- Sveta’s Twitter Feed

You're not very bad Sveta - you're just like the tennis loving rest of us.

Following Sveta’s tweets was almost as good as following the match itself – I had hoped to dedicate an entire post to them, but have settled for a happier compromise.

Biceps, bathroom-breaks and five set comebacks that make your ears bleed. If it feels like we’ve been here before it’s because we have.

Except we needn’t have. For two and a half sets The ‘Talanted’ Mr Reeshie could do no wrong.

Backhand of Richard is just stuning pfffff

i think Richard has much more confidence as he won last week!you can see that!And Andy didnt play many matches,this guys are so talanted

Reeshie was up a break and two sets before his talant quite painfully hit the wall. Things were less stuning after that.

I have some sympathy with Reeshie’s request for a Tuesday start – I have little time for those crowing loudly about Murrays improved fitness.

Lets be honest: neither of these gents are famed for their prowess over five sets.

I generally take the view that Murray has at most two five setters in him over the course of a Slam before, he too, hits the wall.

Whilst he did well to keep his cool and outlast Reeshie this time, I suspect that has as much to do with Reeshie’s 10 match clay court streak coming into this – his shotmaking in sets one and two was so inspired it actually elicited a smile from Murray: Martian rock has been known to yield water sooner.

With Sveta on his tactics and exection however, which aside from that unsavoury first serve percentage (43%) was right on the money, in a completely unspectacular way.

i m not agree!i thin Andys game is smart,maybe on tv looks like he has no game plan,but he feels the court very well he all the time change

pace of the ball and makes other player very uncomfortable!he doesent overpower them but plays smart!

I dunno about you all, but I’m sick to death of hearing of players’ aversion to their chosen sport - something that's now been elevated, almost, to an artform.

ufff what a match...I think Andy sees that Richard is tired and moves him more....then longer match goes then less chances for Richard

guys i m not terrible just want to watch nice tennis! many players strugle now and we dont see many good matches! Amelie is doing the match

How refreshing to find a tennis player that actually enjoys watching "nice tennis".

I’m 'stuned'.

(Photos: Getty)


Sunday, 23 May 2010

Roland Garros: Not a Preview.

Here’s a thought: Don’t do a RG Preview.


Focus instead on this pic, mostly because Fed-i-ra seems to have a hint of mischief about him.

Like he’s about to do that very tired party gag where he feels around the cup for a while before pretending to have his hand chewed off by Jaws. That’s right, the one your Uncle Charlie would always think was so funny, and you’d feel obliged to laugh at.

I’m seated in my garden on one of those unbearably hot days that forces even the butterflies to scramble for cover and even that shrivelling turd the neighbour’s cat was nice enough to deposit on your lawn last night now seems to demand a better spot.

It’s a day for many things, but not, I’m afraid, for draw analysis.

………*drifts off to sleep*……….................



……… “*#fa c*n #e #*#te* o# *l#y”………

……… “R#fa can be #e#ten o# cl#y”……….

Me: …

WP: I said - Rafa can be beaten on clay.

Me (coming round): Mmm?

WP: I’m trying to tell you something important.

[Seeing Warped Pete hovering over me]

Me: …oh it’s you again…have I snoozed off?

WP: ‘fraid so….I was about to tell you why I’ve never believed Rafa to be unbeatable on clay.

Me: Wow - that’s almost as good an ice breaker as "How d'ye do? Come and have a bathe." You know in….

WP: I know, I know Freddy Honeychurch in ‘A Room with a View’ would you pay attention already – this is important.

Me: Well…[getting up from deck chair and rubbing face]…since the last time I was here some people I’d told about you made a list of questions they wanted me to put to you. [Splashes face with water] I was kinda hoping to ask you those….

WP: It’s RG tomorrow and I wanna talk about how beatable Rafa is - and not just by Soderling either….

Me: *staring sceptically* Look, I realise strange things happened last year….

WP: Stranger things have happened you might say?

Me: ….and I further realise, I should expect the unexpected in this other-worldly-dreamy-realm thingy you run here - contorted landscapes, melting clocks, that sort of thing…

WP: I’ve been here eons, and I’ve never seen a melting clock.

Me: The point is…we’re back to where we started - “full circle” as 2hander would say.

WP: two-hander?

Me: know, that bloke on my blog.

WP: I know, I know…just [lowers voice] we’re not allowed to use numbers in names around here.

Me: ???

WP: We’re not allowed to mention any incidences of under arm serving at the French Open either. One of the peculiarities that comes of living on the edge of darkness…

Me: And yet, you can’t understand why I might expect to see melting clocks!?

WP: …

Me: Never mind. So, Rafa?

WP: Yeah look – he’s always been beatable. It’s just that up until last year, no one – not even he himself – dared bet against that ridiculous aura he’d created.

Me: That’s it? That’s all you have for me? I’m meant to return home with “that ridiculous aura”?

WP: It’s a little more complicated than that….

Me: I should hope so…

WP: When he’s in control of his game, with all the confidence and mastery that implies, what do you notice about his play?

Me: He grunts louder than normal?

WP: He hits those loopier-than-loopy, curvy-curvaceous shots so thickly spread with topspin, coming in at such a high trajectory, you’d be right in thinking it’s headed out.

Me: And yet it lands on your shoelaces, or on the baseline – I know the ones.

WP: Right – and when he’s hitting those sorts of balls shot after shot, it doesn’t matter that he’s stationed three feet behind the baseline….

Me: ….because he can muscle in behind his penetrating loopies…

WP: …and it doesn’t matter whether he’s standing on a clay, grass or hard court. We are on the same page!

Me: Not quite – as I recall Rafa kinda struggles on hard courts.

WP: It’s all about confidence.

Me: Isn’t everything?

WP: When he loses confidence….the balls begin to land shorter. It’s not all in his hands of course - a faster hard court gives more of an opportunity for a flat hitter to out muscle him – which in turn causes him to pitch shorter still…

Me: …and round and round she goes. And that advantage doesn’t exist on clay presumably?

WP: Well….not quite. You see, what happened last year shows us you can hit Rafa off a clay court by deep balling him. And in theory a Soderling, a Djokovic – the style of play you say is taking over the game on all surfaces – might do the same.

Me: Then?

WP: Now here’s where it gets interesting because they’ve not made the splash they did last year – at least not yet.

Me: Wait a sec – just coz it happened last year, doesn’t mean it will happen this year – or ever again.

WP: There’s more…

Me: Let’s hear it then.

WP: Rafa’s won three Masters events, but he’s only once had to face the type of opponent you might call his worst fear.

Me: That match against Ernie in Rome?

WP: Right. Flat and hard – just the way he dislikes ‘em.

Me: There were drop shots too. But he also played Federer, no?

WP: Not his worst fear, and a match you characterised as an erratic grumpfest.

Me: Still doesn’t mean…..

WP: There’s more…

Me:Stop saying 'Theres more' and finish the sentence.

WP: We have an altered state of play - an altered dynamic: a combo of what happened last year (which proved Rafa can be beaten) and coming in as something other than defending champion – an altogether different prospect from defending an event you’ve never lost.

Me: And we are to believe that creates all sorts of Freudian unease within him?

WP: Maybe not, but it’s something he’s not had to face since 2005.

Me: Mmmm…..not convinced that a guy that’s just broken the record for most Masters Titles won is “vulnerable” in any sense – not on his favourite surface.

But go on.

WP: Ok here’s where it gets really interesting, because the guys that should be poised to take advantage of this -- the Djokos, the Big Robs, the Federers even -- have been all at sea. But you also have the traditional clay courters. The one’s you wrote off….

Me: When did I do that?

WP: You said – and I quote – “clay courters are still relevant though perhaps not in the clay court season – or anywhere else”.

Me: I said that?

WP: You won’t always remember everything you’ve said or done in the real world here – just like my not knowing everything you think I should know – like melted clocks?

Me: Melting clocks. You mean to tell me you’ve never heard of Dali?

WP: I’ve heard of Dali – I live the reality, or surreality he claims to know so much about – and let me tell you, melting clocks form no part of it.

Me: Can we get back to those clay courters I wrote off?

WP: Before you interrupted me with melted clocks?

Me: Before I interrupted you with melting clocks…

WP: Yes we can - it’s all to do with this idea that they’re dated and are being rapidly usurped by a newer breed of aggressive baseliners – guys like Fed-i-ra, Djoko, Sod, Delpo, Jo-Willy and the like – guys that are, incidentally, effective on every surface playing roughly the same way.

Me: Yeah I remember saying that…

WP: *stunned*...No I just said that.

Me: Yeah but you were quoting me….

WP: Was I? I must be losing track of time – lemmee just check my watch – oh sorry, it’s just melted…

Me: You know you don’t actually have to stage a trick like that to be snarky right? I am mighty impressed though. Impressed you went through all the trouble of melting a metaphysical watch.

WP: You were getting on my nerves…..

Me: Won’t do it again.

WP: Ok so these clay courters have actually had a pretty good season so far – especially Dasco and Ferru. So we have this paradox where the guys that weren’t expected to do well have a pretty good shot of making at least the quarters, though still no chance of bringing it against Rafa.

Me: ….and the guys that were expected to change the nature of clay court tennis – l’aggressives shall we call them – Sod, Djoko et al. – all falling by the wayside. The paradox being that they are at least more equipped to attempt to stage a coup against Rafa, should they get that far – which I rather suspect they won’t.

WP: All of which leaves us with an opening for a breakthrough. An opening which won’t be filled by a clay courter – no, and here’s where I begin to sound prophetic, he will rise from amongst L’Aggressives. And right now only Ernie seems to fit the bill.

Me: That is if you’re discounting the most probable outcome of Rafa winning without dropping a set?

WP: Or the second most likely outcome of Fed-i-ra coming through? Yes, thank you for reminding me – that’s exactly what I was doing – discounting the most likeliest of outcomes. This is the land of Never-Never after all – we get paid by the minute to think right out of the box. That is if the box hasn’t already been melted.

Me: Melting.

(Photo: Getty)


Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Kiri Te Kanawa on Fed-i-ra

We’ve heard it all before of course.

And I’m afraid I do now find it a little tiring when I hear tennis fans speaking of Aesthetics over Power….*splutter*…Brain over Brawn…*cough*….Beauty and the Beast…*wretches painfully*.

Especially as attention to aesthetics so often seems to get in the way of winning.

Only a fool would argue that Federer’s more economic style of play hasn’t been a factor in his career longevity and remarkable ability to remain injury free.

Or indeed that Rafa’s knees haven’t more or less reserved the right to veto any attempts at re-enacting his clay court schedules of 2005-2009.

It is still inspiring, however, to hear such endorsements from outside the world of tennis. Yes, I’m afraid such moments operate as epiphanies for a tennis-nerd.

And frankly, I’d be a little surprised if a full lyric soprano didn’t prefer Fe-di-ra over Nadal.


Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Madrid: Old Flames and ‘Churchillean’ Tennis.

The victory pose is, at least, novel. The result, anything but.

Nadal d. Federer 6-4 7-6

There is some tennis being played this week. Just don’t expect me to go acknowledging it’s existence.

For the next four or five days, I’m afraid, Tennis is not being served in these’ere parts. I might cobble together a RG preview. Then again I might elect not to step out of my hastily constructed tennis decompression unit until the first ball has been struck in Phillipe Chatrier.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t know what to expect going into the first “Naderer” final in twelve months, and even now, nearly two days after it’s completion, I’m still not sure what to make of it.

The only certainties were that:

a) Nadal ought to come through (though perhaps being stretched to three sets), and that,

b) I didn’t want to hear any pissant excuses about Madrid’s “high altitude” from Rafaelites, or “insufficient clay court matches” from the Federnation in the event of either man pulling up short.

Before I get accused of sitting on the fence (as I have once already in the past 72 hrs), let me declare where my loyalties lie. Sitting on a fence, as you might imagine, is an uncomfortable business.

I don’t go in much for the argument that says order is somehow served by Rafa winning RG and Federer retaining Wimby ever year – to me the odd chaotic interlude is the healthiest sign yet of a vibrant and, more importantly, COMPETITIVE tennis economy.

No I’m afraid my reasons for backing Rafa to win RG this year have much more in common with fluffy white kittens and children’s television.

To put it bluntly, he needs this win the way Federer needed Wimby last year.

We’ve all been acutely aware of his return to form (even though we might differ on the exact minutiae of when it took place), but that return would fall palpably short of “coming full circle” if Rafa went out early to say, ‘Dasco Sizzlehands’.

Consider that my line in the dirt - “on this subject I have nothing more to say, no other apology to offer.”


It’s no secret that in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's final, I was feeling slightly short changed.

The entire match had the air of two old flames meeting up for drinks and salted snacks – a tete-a-tete neither had sought – before deciding they still couldn’t stand one other.

The first set was full of the unease and neurotic defensiveness that must necessarily surround the first few moments of any such meeting.

“You still take yours strong I see…”

“Still taking coffee with your sugar, I see…”

*awkward silence*

Rafa was a little late out of the blocks, but Federer’s grip on an early break proved as tenuous as everything else. When Rafa broke decisively at 4-3 he appeared to have defaulted into a groove that still fell painfully short of the form we’d come to associate with him over the past month.

“Still pitching those, curve balls to my backhand then?”

“Made our peace with the drop shot finally have we?”

*frenzied stirring of coffee*

Federer’s backhand was, of course, Rafa’s front line of attack (no surprises there) – the usual frenetic assault, which I thought it withstood well given the circumstances. Most of what I saw from Fed in this match, in fact, though perhaps not as convincing as his containment of Ernie, or disembowelling of Stan Wawrinka, does at least appear to suggest a certain contentment with the tenor of his game ahead of RG.

It was with some irony then, that I viewed Rafa seal the first set off one of Federer’s finest backhand returns of the match. A deep angled cross court that forced Rafa on his back foot, scrambling to regain his balance. Quite what possessed Fed to then bull rush the net – having already been passed there a number of times – remains mostly a mystery.

We were, by this point, past the initial awkward exchanges, and well beyond the demands of social decorum. Suddenly, all the usual grievances about un-emptied garbage and hair blockages in the the sink became that much easier to air – every tic, every foible, once so endearing, now very publicly subject to the most unforgiving scrutiny.

“Never liked those slurping sounds you make when you drink….”


“Wasn’t crazy about the way you’d always end up laughing at your own jokes which, by the way, weren’t even that funny.”

*unconverted break point*

What made it compelling, however, was that it wasn’t a wholly sordid business. More a kind of impasse between two former allies, each unwilling to yield even an inch of their hard earnt moral high ground, though neither that intent on turning the screw on their old buddy either.

When Federer finally shanked a ball sky high clean-missed on match point – off a bad bounce I hasten to add – it seemed as though the issue had been forced.

Yet the point-by-point intensity of the affair left me feeling I’d sat through four competitive sets rather than two erratic ones.

Fed served nine aces and no double faults. Both served a very healthy 67+ percent of first serves in.

Both also served up around 30 UFEs a piece and neither was able to convert on more than 4 out of the staggering 11 break point opportunities they were each presented with.

Unflattering perhaps, but hardly worthy of the scandal that comes of airing one’s dirty linen in public.



-- Nadal back to world #2

-- First male in history to win all three Clay Masters Titles in the same year (what took you so long?),

-- Holder of most overall Masters Titles (‘18’ emblazoned boxers Nike?), and the unquestioned favourite for RG.

“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,…”

-- Winston Churchill, WWII

Henin, MJMS, Rezai: three different styles of play,three unseeded champions for three Premier events. No words.

To say Aravane Rezai is one-dimensional is to rather miss the point of her appeal.

She belongs to the same tennis tradition as Sabine Lisicki – who you’ll remember, picked up Charleston last year playing a similarly Churchillean style of tennis.

Rezai herself has now been compared to Monica Seles more often than I care to remember.

The trouble with players like Rezai is that there always exists the possibility of them getting bipolar on you: don’t miss and the world’s your oyster, though if your groundies begin to go south, they almost always take the match with them.

For a brief spell, it seemed as though the same was about to happen to Rezai in the second set. It didn’t. I’d like to believe this wasn’t simply a result of being in the zone, though as with everything else, only time will tell.

What I’m not about to do is grumble that she’s got no plan B to fall back on. Aravane, Big Rob and to a lesser extent Sabine, belong to a different order of species: it’s about as appropriate to juxtapose their supposed “limitations” alongside the variety of Henin as it is to compare a Chimpanzee with a Blue Whale.

It’s not often you get to see Venus (and I’m guessing Henin) out hit.

(Photos: Getty)


Thursday, 13 May 2010

Madrid: “Anything Mills and Boon can do…”

To tell you the truth I’ve not yet ripened into that space I’m usually found in during the first few days of a Masters event.

Normally, the sight and sounds of Baggy/Ferrer and Serena/Nadia (in leggings I might add) thrashing it out at an event that continues to dare you to think of it as “just another” ATP-1000/Premier-Mandatory, would be enought to send me into a fevered frenzy of speculation.

Right now, I feel nothing.

You have these two to thank for that.

Within hours of their first joint presser as PM and Deputy PM the two were being likened to the principal characters in an intensely woolly Richard Curtis production, the lead roles going, of course, to Colin Firth and Hugh Grant (Presumably the analogy extends to any future clash the two may have over Voting Reform). For others, it was an upmarket gay wedding metaphor.

There was joshing, arm-touching, and much figurative smooching as the two bent over backwards to convince us in the most genial spirit that this ConLib (or “ConDem’ed” as others have put it) coalition – the UK’s first since World War II – was not doomed to failure. Before walking off together – literally up the Wisteria-clad garden path of Downing St’s back yard – to begin attending to the lofty matters of state…and to each other’s lapels.

Various Centre-Left post-mortems are underway debating the degree to which the LibDems either “sold out”, or whether, in fact, it was Labour infighting that scuppered what many saw as a crucial opportunity for Voting Reform and uniting the two leading Centre-Left strands of British politics.

How long this party-political bromance will last is, at this point, anyone’s guess.

It’s all left me feeling rather inebriated, and somewhat insulated from the happenings in Madrid.

So inebriated, in fact, that it didn’t completely knock me out when Henin lost to Rezai in her opening match. Or when Shaza flamed out to Safarova in hers. Or when I was told Kuznetsova, Azarenka & Safina were all out before I’d seen a single ball hit – or even seen the draw for that matter.

It didn’t help, of course, that many of these results wouldn’t have surprised me if they'd hit me squarely in the chops, even without the sense of vacancy imposed by a hung parliament.

I was only ever partially convinced by JuJu’s win in Stuttgart, Shaza’s not a good bet on clay at the best of times, Azarenka’s injured, Dinarik has only just re-entered the fray and, well, no one’s better at taking the Mickey and making it *not* happen than Kuzzie.

Serena’s three and a half hour opener in which she triumphed eventually against Vera Dushevina, seemed as much a battle with herself, and was by most accounts, an error-strewn match known more for Williams’s piercing screams than the nature and quality of the ball striking. The longest match of her career, I’m told.

When you see her like that, you’d be right in thinking that winning matters to her – yes, even outside the Slams. Unsurprising then that the strains left her unable to follow up, going out 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 earlier today to Nadia Petrova.

On the other hand, what to make of this quote from her (being reported in forums and through various twitter feeds):

"This isn’t a player favorite tournament to be honest. No players are really gung-ho about playing here."

If the statement does turn out to be hers (as I rather suspect it might) then I reeaallly wish she hadn’t made it. Not only is it tactless, but she really shouldn’t presume to speak for the locker room.

That said, and however tactless it may be, it isn’t that different in essence to what Murray said of Dubai.

Why should it surprise us that certain carefully distilled (and somewhat inopportune) personal victories, such as squashing Dushevina in a menial opener, seem to matter more to her than pandering to the perceived import of any single event?

If we’re honest with ourselves, the sense of foreboding that’s been with us since around IW/Miami, seems set to continue to manifest itself in a raft of “upsets”, most of which seem to be rapidly losing their ability to actually upset us.

Haven’t seen a single men’s match, though I did hear that both parties to a certain apolitical Bromance made it through their respective matches in straights.

They’re scheduled to meet in the final, if anyone’s interested enough to actually believe it will happen.



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