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)

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