Tuesday, 29 June 2010

WombleTown: The Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything is….82. Apparently.

 

 

Yesterday the 82nd ranked Lu downed the ARod in five. Today the 82nd ranked Pironkova downed five time champ and world #2 Venus Williams for a place in the semis.

 

If the numbers really have it, then I’d say the number is 82.

 

I’m sure I’m the eighty-second-best-in-the-world at something. And I intend spending the rest of the week finding out exactly what. Procrastination probably. Which means I’ll likely never know.

 

venus_ap AP

 

I know I’m meant to say horrible things about V and the remainder of her career and yeah, for someone of her calibre, it was a truly shocking display.

 

But here’s my difficulty. During the match, constant references were being made to the “fine display of tennis” Pironkova was putting on, without truly emphasising how far off base Venus was.

 

Pironkova deserves every possible accolade coming to her and likely many others that aren’t. Like Lu yesterday, never once did Tsveta flinch from taking her opportunities, never once did she appear overawed by the enormity of the occasion and never once did she let the aura of either her opponent or Centre Court get in the way.

 

Now the ugly side of things: 29 UFEs from V (a number only kept that low because of how quickly it was all over) and being taken to break point in every one of her service games in set two.

 

“I just didn’t get enough balls in today,” said Williams. “I let it spiral and didn’t get any balls in. I had a lot of opportunities, a lot of short balls and I seemed to hit each one out.

“If there was a shot to miss, I think I missed it. … I didn’t bring my best tennis today.”

 

And now back to the problematic side of things.

 

After the match was over there was the usual sustained bout of hand wringing over how poorly V played, with some suggesting she might never win another Major again and some even calling for her retirement.

 

Somewhere amongst the chaotic deluge of Schadenfreude and opinionated misinformation lies a rational sentiment trying to fight it’s way out. So far I haven’t been able to find it.

 

pironkova_getty Getty

 

Venus either played a shockingly poor match which then, like it or not, simply has to have a bearing on your assessment of Pironkova’s very deserved victory.

 

Or, she simply had a bad day (like many other top seeds at this event) against an unflinching, unwavering up-and-comer who knew the value of taking her chances - in which case we shouldn’t be calling for either her retirement or for her head.

 

So which is it? You sure as sh*t can’t have it both ways.

 

***

 

Yet again, the Belgian performance leaves me with many questions, a certain amount of confusion and some concern.

 

vera_kim PA

 

When Kimmie’s on (and to be fair she usually is) she can sweep through the opposition and beat the Williamses back-to-back en route to winning a Slam.

 

When she’s not (and there’s been a fair few of those moments too), she can fall in a flat 6-0, 6-1 defeat to Petrova and look desperately ineffective against Bepa - both of whom being players she should beat.

 

I was backing Bepa. I have my reasons (too much talent, not always in control - fan for life).

 

But if I’m being honest, Bepa simply kept her nerve and went through the motions after dropping the first set. Much in the way Kimmie went through hers against Henin yesterday.

 

All this leaves us with Serena/Kvitova and Bepa/Pironkova as our Wimbledon semi-finalists for 2010

 

If you were the 82nd best bookie in the world you’d have had a pretty decent shot at calling that.

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Monday, 28 June 2010

WombleTown: South West London Guide to Road Travel

 

 

Nole, Berdych and Sod all took the “non-scenic” route through (four, four and five sets resp.).

 

Fed, Rafa and Muzz, the “no-nonsense” route.

 

ARod got bogged down somewhere along the M4/M25 interchange, and didn’t get through at all.

 

roddick_getty 

Sod hadn’t dropped a set in reaching this point. Today against Ferrer, he dropped TWO.

 

I’ve long maintained his theoretical prowess on grass – the guys a Kraken on fast, indoor  courts: you would expect some of that, at least, to translate to grass. Yet, until today, along with Kolya, he’d not ever been beyond the fourth round here.

 

All that might be about to change, but if he plays like he did today, I suspect he won’t be around for very long.

 

Masha’s stay here is at an end after going down to Serena in straights in a match where Williams, funnily enough, didn’t play her best tennis. This, after looking like the #1 player she is since the start of the event.

 

And with that ends a short-lived experimental shift in allegiance. It’s not often I root against the Williamses – but Masha looked to me to be playing her best tennis since her return from injury, and I thought the underdog could do with the support.

 

Kimmie/Juju, by contrast, was a horrible let down. I’ve no idea what led to the loss in confidence that was very evident from Juju midway through set two. But it allowed Kimmie back into the match and she eventually sealed the win doing little more than simply going through her very decisive motions. God only knows what would have happened with Serena at the other end.

 

And what of Bartoli (6-4, 6-4 to Pironkova), CazWoz (6-0 6-2 to Kaia Kanepi) and ARod (five sets to Lu)?

 

That first round win Kanepi had over Stosur is, now, looking slightly less of an upset, though I find ARod, and indeed Bartoli, the more troubling.

 

Both, remember, are Wimbledon finalists here, Roddick three times over.

 

"But through three sets I was playing horrendously, I mean really, really badly. I mean, to the point where I was trying to think of how to put balls in the court," added the American, whose face was partly shaded by a red baseball cap.

"I didn't get broken for five sets. It wasn't my serve. It wasn't my service games," he snapped.

"It was my returning. That was crap. It was really bad. I haven't been broken since the first set against (Michael) Llodra (in the second round)."

Roddick also had a terse response when asked by a journalist if he was going to be disappointed when he woke up in the morning.

"I'm going to be thrilled. I mean, c'mon. Of course I'm going to be pissed off when I wake up tomorrow. I mean, if you got fired from your job, you probably wouldn't wake up the next day in a great mood," he said.

-- Reuters

 

If week one’s taught us anything, it’s that no one, not even the top seeds, can always be relied on to pull out a straight sets win. Some would go so far as to say that it’s actually good to detox through these types of matches early on.

 

But all that relies on the caveat that your form, however wavering, is built upon some semblance of working parts – “crap returning”, unlike, say, a poor first serve percentage, is more like a spanner in the works.

 

A real shame, it’s not often you can call Roddick for passive shot selection.

 

Had he had been half as inspired as his opponent was out there today, he might even have put him away in four– he certainly ought to have done so in five.

 

As should Bartoli – a ragged three set win might not perhaps have been the scenic route through – it would, however, have been  infinitely preferable to the pile-up that comes of going down 6-4, 6-4 to a relative journeywoman (do we have those?).

 

I don’t need to have seen the match to tell you how “crap” that is too.

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Thursday, 24 June 2010

WombleTown: ‘In Search of Lost Break Points’ and other Proustian Endeavours (Epilogue)

 

 

» Longest match ever played (11 hrs 5 mins)

» Longest set ever played (8 hrs and 11 mins, itself longer than the previous longest match)

» Most games in a set (138)

» Most games in a match (183)

» Most aces served in a match by one player (Isner 112)

» Total aces served in a match (215 - Isner 112 + Mahut 103)

 

It will never be repeated again. Should it?

 

Andy Roddick bought and hand delivered a bucket of Italian food to John Isner last night.

 

I’m hoping a bunch of French players buckled down and did something similar for Mahut.

 

With their World Cup dream in tatters and their squad, by the sounds of it, in shambles, I’d say France could do with a hero right now. And they could do a lot worse than Nicolas Mahut,

 

I was backing Mahut if that’s not already obvious. Nothing against Izzy but I felt the height advantage and that of serving first meant the numbers were stacked against Nico from the get-go. Whenever that was.

 

I suspect only tennis nerds knew this match was even happening when it started out on court 18 a couple of days ago.

 

By the close of play yesterday, even Izzy’s fumes were running on fumes.

 

2 days, 11 hours and 16,000 calories later we have a result.

 

 

To those that say “it’s just not cricket”, or even tennis, for that matter, I say you’re absolutely right.

 

You may or may not believe in mandatory tie-breaks at 30 or even 50 all, but what we saw over the last couple of days transcends not just tennis, but sport itself.

Was there some bravado, just a little bit of machismo at play out there during the match do you think? Taking some pride in it’s length and perhaps wanting it continue? Probably.

 

Not that I care very much.

 

There really are no words to describe the mental resolve that sees you come out and hold serve 70 times.

 

And even less to describe the unadulterated guts that sees you play catch up 68 times.

 

 

At the conclusion of every game a deliciously poker-faced Mohammed Lahyani would read out the farcical scoreline. Never once did he lose control. Never once did it ever seem any less surreal. Like some Summer School workshop in Absurdist Humour.

 

What was perhaps more astonishing was that by the end of it, it was known as much for it’s shotmaking and net play as it was for those big serves.

 

You know your sport has broken new ground when it makes the main headlines, second only to England winning their crucial World Cup match.

 

Right in the thick of it yesterday, the soothing voice of Sue Barker could be heard assuring us that our “regular TV schedule would be restored at the conclusion of this match” (Good luck with that).

 

I couldn’t snap out of it. I didn’t snap out of it, choosing, or perhaps being chosen to, remain transfixed by this bizarre vision of tennis purgatory.

 

But normal service is indeed, now, being restored.

 

 

Whilst ‘Mahisner’ were thrashing it out on court 18, AbFab came through a five setter of his own next door on court 17.

 

The eyebrows still have it.

 

Now who or what will frame their fearful symmetry?

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010

WombleTown: ‘In Search of Lost Break Points’ and other Proustian Endeavours

 

 

 

The match that broke Wimbledon’s online scoreboard. No really (it still thinks it’s 8 all in the fourth)

 

The match that gave me a new found respect for Mohammed Lahyani’s sore bottom. No. Er. That came out wrong.

 

When they said “30 all” it wasn’t  points they were referring to, and when they said “40 all” it wasn’t deuce.

 

When Federer went down a set on Centre Court it didn’t seem to register.

 

When Dent served at 148mph - the fastest serve in Wimbledon history against Djokovic on Court 1, no one seemed to care.

 

I’ll stop talking in italics now, because I know how annoying I find it when others do. And because it looks like I’m whispering. Which I’m not.

 

I took a break from proceedings at 51-51 (sue me), and went out to watch the cricket at my local club. A civilised sport with designated start and end times.

 

 

On my way back I talked tennis with a complete stranger in the street. I told him it was 51 all in the fifth. He punched me in the face. Before calling the police.

 

Mahut had completed a 24-22 win over Alex Bogdanovic in qualifying and another five setter in the main draw just to reach this point. Yet still somehow managed to look the fresher of the two.

 

Both superhuman and inhumane in it’s endurance, or one HELL of a poker face.

 

He was also serving second and thus playing catch up for the entire set, yet still managed to ratchet up only four less aces than his taller opponent despite not possessing half his serve.

 

Mahut: He's [Isner] just a champ....crowd are amazing...."

 

Isner: “Nothing like this will happen again. Ever”

 

Djokovic: Maybe they should have agreed to play a tie-break at 50-all!"

 

Federer: "I love this! I don't know if I was crying or laughing. It was too much."

-- BBC

 

As heroic as it all was, should it really have gone on so long?

 

There were those suggesting it wouldn’t have gone on for half, quarter, or even an eighth of the time it did had a Naderer or even a Muzzard or Djoko been on the other side of the net.

 

Heroic Endurance or simply a haemorrhaging break point conversion rate?

 

Next time can we flip a coin or something?

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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

WombleTown: Late Night Revellers and Disorderly Grannies

 

Surprisingly little of note happened on day two, what with the top seeds actually behaving like top seeds.

 

Djokovic d. Rochus 4-6 6-2 3-6 6-4 6-2

 

-- This one finished too late for it to get a mention from me yesterday.

 

When the last ball was struck a few minutes shy of the official 11pm cut-off last night in a match that was officially the latest finish ever in Wimbledon history, Djoko simply went over to the net and shook hands.

 

That’s right. Not sinking to his knees, not kissing the floor. Not even hugging his opponent in that way he’s so fond of.

 

Britain Wimbledon Tennis

 

Ok so there was some of that.

 

But I like the heart Djoko showed to see this one through. The tennis wasn’t always to write home about, but he squeezed out every last drop of adrenaline and sweat to get the win – not that different actually to what Fed had had to endure several hours earlier.

 

rochus 

Big props to the little man by the way – who’s surely, now,  earnt the right to stop being called “the little man”.

 

The reason for the 11pm watershed? Local authority planning permission.

 

How very British.

 

Someone somewhere must have decided that we didn’t want to be disturbing the neighbours of sleepy SW19 with our late night finishes and Vuvuzela-less revelling.

 

Except sleepy suburbia this ain’t. And if anything, it’s the tennis fangirly grannies that are doing most of the after hours revelling.

 

Kanepi d. Stosur 6-4 6-4

 

-- Certainly the WTF result of the day. Perhaps even the biggest upset of the tournament so far, though surprisingly underreported in terms of it’s significance.

 

I didn’t see the match and Kanepi’s no slouch ; still, with the form she’d been in and everything we’ve been hearing of her all-court prowess, you’d expect her to get through.

 

-- Was the fact that he’s contemplating retirement or James Blake’s bust up with Pam Shriver the bigger story?

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Monday, 21 June 2010

Wimbledon: Fighting Falla with Fire

 

On the  day Portugal trounced poor old North Korea 7-0, it finally seemed some semblance of normality was being restored to Sport.

 

Since Germany missed that penalty and the seed massacre in the grass court tune ups, my rallying cry for Wimbledon had been ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.

 

The sh*t that went down in the Opening Match of Wimbledon on Centre Court wasn’t just “anything”. And it almost turned out to be everything.

 

falla_getty

 

For around two and a half sets Falla (pronounced ‘Fire’) was indeed on Fire.

 

I switched on just before the halfway mark and have a vague recollection of Fed running down balls he was never destined to reach and Falla, a man by all accounts possessed, stepping up early to nearly every ball, before winding up and ripping a winner any which way but loose.

 

We’ve seen a lot of that over this past year.

 

But from a journeyman in the first round of Wimbledon?

 

fed3_getty fed1_getty

 

Fed would spend most of the first two sets on the back foot and some of it on the floor.

 

When Falla went up two sets and a break, the mother of all upsets seemed all but inevitable – one that would eclipse even SoderPop’s RG win over Rafa last year.

fed8_getty

 

There was a feeling that Fed came out playing “too defensively”, or as others would put it “playing clay court tennis”.

 

There might be some truth in that. I only know that when someone flattens out and drives through the ball fearlessly and deeply, rarely missing the lines, they drive the course of the match. Not the other way round.

 

It couldn’t last. Well actually it could. And if Falla had served it out at 5-4 up in the fourth it would have been a very different story. Instead he choked. I’m assuming it’s ok to use that word now.

 

falla3_getty

 

When Federer did make an impression on the match, it was to be decisive. There was no looking back. No need, even, to “fight Falla with fire”, handing him, instead, a slightly anti-climactic final set bagel.

 

fed6_getty

 

“I got very lucky today out there. I’ve lost many matches this year I should have won, this is one I should have lost but I came through. Sometimes that’s how grass court tennis works. Its a tough loss for him. It’s amazing for me because he played incredible.”

-- BBC

 

Indeed.

 

I’m still not completely sure what to make of this.

 

It could be taken to suggest that Fed is indeed vulnerable nowadays, as his recent results suggest – results that now encroach even upon the Slams.

 

It could also be exactly the kind of tune up he needed. The rudest of awakenings, only surpassed by him having gone out. That would, quite simply, have been ruder still.

 

I only know that I’m not counting Bozoljac out quite yet.

 

Anything can happen. And sometimes everything does.

 

(Photos: Getty)

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Sunday, 20 June 2010

Wimbledon: Buzz-About-Muzz

 

PA

 

The Andy Murray column. No really.

 

The first year I played in the juniors [of Wimbledon] I was 14 or 15 and I lost in the first round for the first two years, I never did well here as a junior, but the record as a senior has been a bit better.

It's a lot nicer for me now that I actually live nearby. When I played here the first couple of years I was in hotels, and the year when I'd just started working with Mark Petchey as my coach at Queen's I actually stayed at his house.

 

Heart goes out to you. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

 

Lloydy thinks his attitude needs looking at. He also thinks Querrey’s the only guy in his draw that can “hurt him” and that he should have beaten TBerd at RG. Erm, Ok then.

 

For the record I don’t feel the same buzz-about-Muzz I did last year.

 

I don’t even feel the same buzz about Wimbledon as I did last year.

 

Part of this is down to Fed’s very blah draw.

 

Part of it is down to Muzz and Djoko still being in a funk.

 

Part of it is down to Delpo likely being out until well after Flushing. I had a theory about him on grass.

 

A lot of it, however,  is about neither Big Rob nor Kolya having made it past the 4th round even though in principle they should be successful playing tennis in sand dunes if necessary.

 

All that might change, however:

 

» should England go out of the World Cup. As if the Queen showing up wasn’t pressure enough.

 

» should Muzz be seen using an Official Adidas World Cup Jabulani Match ball in his football-tennis warm ups. I wouldn’t recommend it. Robert Green wouldn’t either.

 

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Saturday, 19 June 2010

Eleventh Hour Wins.

 

With only one day to go, some folks are still hard at it.

 

 

AP

 

Great name for a tournie and a great cookie tray for winning it.

 

All well and good. Though I’ll be looking for a little more “boom-boom” from that serve we’ve been hearing so much of and a little less of forehand-horribilis. This result suggests match-fitness. And if she’s still stuttering she might just find herself getting smacked into shape by those other heavyweights in her quarter.

 

Smacked into shape rather than smacked straight out one hopes.

 

Now or Never.

 

 

AFP/Getty

 

This one needs a bulleted list.

  • Unseeded qualifier
  • Ranked #100 in the world
  • Beats Flavlova, Nadia, Kuzzie, Stosur and, of course, Vika to win her first WTA title in Eastbourne
  • Doesn’t drop a single set in doing it.

If that doesn’t put some colour in your cheeks I don’t know what will.

 

Round of applause please.

 

ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. Said that already, no?

 

 

 

 AP

A real shame.

 

Vika’s run at Eastbourne this week included wins over Bartoli, Clijsters and ARad before seizing up with a leg injury in the final.

 

Only two days before the start of “The Championships”. Never fails to amaze me how full-of-oneself that sounds.

 

AFP

Amelie’s protege won the men’s event.

 

 Canadian Press

 

This lot went to Ascot. She’ll also be doing the rounds at “The Championships” this year. Lord, how droll that sounds.

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Friday, 18 June 2010

Wimbledon: ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN

 

 

Federer goes down to Hewitt.

 

The rest of the top ten go down to Fish/Querrey

 

Spain go down to Switzerland.

 

Germany miss a penalty.

 

Still think I’m kidding?

 

 

LEGEND

Grass court pedigree. Sort of.

Red hot. Cilic Peppers need not apply.

 

ATP

 

Q1 Fed/Robredo
Yoyo/Feli
So. Yeah.
TBerd/Wawa
Davy
TBerd needs to make the quarters. Nothing else matters.
Q2 Djoko
Hewitt/Monfils

Not entirely convinced Djoko will make it past Hewitt should he face him in R4.

Cilic
Roddick/Kohls

A-Rod not match-fit enough to be surrounded by “those people”

Q3 Dasco
Almagro/Tsonga
Not entirely convinced Murray/Tsonga will make it out of this alive.
JCF/Querrey
Murray
Not entirely convinced Murray/Tsonga will make it out of this alive.
Q4 Sod
Baggy/Ferrer
Sod will probably find some way to balls this up. With it being grass and all.
Youznhy/Isner
Rafa/Blake

Oh Rafa – whose picnic blanket did you poop on?

 

WTA 

 

Q1 Serena
Dani/Masha
And yet one must leave us. That’s too bad.

Li/Kuzzie
Aggie

Li just won Birmingham. Which probably means Aggie will go through.
Q2

CazWoz
Zheng/Vika

Belarusian expletives back in the Eastbourne final this week. You leave me sore and yet you have been sorely missed.

Flavs/Rezai
Stosur

Rezai and Stosur. That power vs. variety thing again.

Q3

Kimmie/Kiri
Henin/Petrova

Biff! Pow! The beefiest section of the draw. That big serve you’ve been working on Juju? Now or never.

Wicky/Bepa
JJ/Bondarenko

I can’t pick this one. I only know JJ won’t get through.
Q4

Franny/Shvedova
MJMS/Bartoli

Bartoli made the semis at Eastbourne. Oh and nothing Franny does will ever vex me again.

Peer/Ivanovic/Oudin
Venus/Kleybanova

I see no problems for Venus. You’d better ‘believe’ it. Did I just say that?

 

 

**Update: MJMS out with knee injury, her #22 seeding now taken by K.Bondarenko. Safina out with lower back injury – her #20 spot taken by Oudin.

Ernie out too – his #33 spot taken by Philipp Petzschner

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Thursday, 17 June 2010

Why that’s an outrage!

 

 

-- Roger Federer seeded #1 at Wimbledon.

 

Scandalous I know. Why anyone in their right mind would want to confer a #1 seeding on a guy that’s won 6 of the last 7 titles here and had a complete stranglehold on the #1 ranking during that time is beyond me.

 

Never underestimate the audacious logic espoused by Neanderthals in sufficiently high numbers.

 

By the amount of hot air this issue has generated you’d almost think that Fed had received a bye to the final.

 

For better or worse, Wimby has for many years now, chosen to distinguish itself through use of a seeding formula that rewards grass court prowess.

 

You can, indeed,  argue that seedings for a surface that exposes the utter uniformity of the majority of hard court players and the unique adaptive ability of a select few, should, in some way, reflect that distinction - a distinction I’d be prepared to extend to clay.

 

You can argue that Venus Williams ought to be seeded #1.

 

You can even argue that Nikolay Davydenko should be seeded outside of the top 50.

 

Of course you can choose to bin all of that, and argue, instead, that it’d be perfectly valid for Wimbledon to simply mirror the rankings the way the other Slams do.

 

And that’d be fine too.

 

Once you choose to go with the formula, however, continuing to argue in favour of your favourite player on the basis of a H2H begins to make you look petty, paltry and confused.

 

Verdict: There’s clutching at straws and there’s clutching at toothpicks. Not an outrage.

 

-- #342 ranked Brit, James Ward went out of the QFs of Eastbourne today

 

To reach that point he put out both Feli and Scheuttler. Back to back.

 

You’d think such an audacious feat on home turf would be enough to earn him a wildcard at Wimbledon.

 

The LTA’s top 250 cut off point (for affording WCs) and an illness at the end of last year that saw him drop out of that range (a position he’d previously held for 18 months) means you’d be wrong.

 

All of which has put us in the slightly laughable position of not having a single English player in the Wimbledon draw - a historical first, though hardly the kind of history to aspire for.

 

I understand the LTA are focused on “creating an environment where more British players aren't just in the first round because of a wild card, but on merit…”.

 

I also understand their position is a little “damned if you do damned if you don’t”.

 

How often, after all, have we seen them burnt at the stake for a spate of first round losses from “undeserving” Brits that were afforded WCs?

 

I don’t, however, understand the sheer lack of imagination that sees The-Powers-That-Be doggedly stick to “policy” and artificial cut off points at the expense of a fine BRITISH run of form.

 

What precise “metric” do you need to tell you that a Brit getting to, say, the third round of Wimbledon would represent a fine thing for British Tennis?

 

Verdict: Not simply an outrage. A scandal.

 

-- Thomas Muster. Comeback. 42. No really.

 

Verdict: Not an outrage. Simply outrageous. And yet I’m keen to see how this plays out.

 

-- SUI(24) d. ESP(2) 1-0

 

 

The equivalent of say Stan Wawrinka knocking out Rafael Nadal.

 

Verdict: Outrageous. On every imaginable level. And some unimaginable ones too. And yet I believe it would have played out rather differently on clay.

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Monday, 14 June 2010

Folie de Grandeur. Men’s Tennis I’m looking at YOU.

mauresmo_afp_getty


No I mean it.

Amelie began coaching Michael Llodra at Queens last week (yes, I know), but she may as well have been cringing over the entire ATP top ten.


Congratulations to Rusty and Querrey for making good in a week when order, reason and good old common sense seemed to fail us.


Actually, I excuse both Rafa and Roger. Their loss last week is not quite the cause for the Requiem Mass some are now undertaking. It certainly doesn’t seem to me to warrant anything more than a half-raised eyebrow.


rafa_afp_getty


Nadal got to the quarters, seized up with a hamstring problem against a grass court specialist playing in his own words “the best match of his career”. Hardly surprising given the season he’s just had – perhaps even a blessing in disguise. Besides, it’s a hamstring problem – not the knees – read not a Code Red. Nothing a ten day fishing stint in Majorca can’t fix.


Half Raised Eyebrows.


Federer’s loss to Hewitt, breaking as it does a 15 match winning streak against him and a winning record at Halle that dates back to 2003, is….concerning. It’s also just another instance of his less polished record outside of the Slams. Whether you think that’s because “he doesn’t care” (laughable notion), or is more prone to the unforgiving three-set format, or is simply less attuned to winning these tune-up events, the results speak for themselves. For my part, I defer exercising my right to get more “up in arms” about it for when the same thing starts happening at Slams.


Four other reasons why my arms aren’t up:


1) Federer had his worst clay court season in 6 years, even though in my mind he was playing, during parts of it, better than he was in 2008.


2) For what its worth, I do believe he found his form in Madrid in a final where both he and Nadal moved around like two-bit drunkards, performing at about 70%.


fed_afp


3) The loss in RG? NO ONE beats Sod in that form (see Sod’s first law).


4) Yet, despite all this, he still made the finals of the first grass court event of the season in the same week that no other top ten player even managed a semi.


Eyebrows still only half raised .


***


Not quite as ready to absolve the rest of the “top ten” from tennis purgatory.


Since Muzz lost at Oz he appears to have joined Djoko in a rut of disillusionment whose only distinguishing feature is it’s ability to produce a string of “nearly-man” results. Just about enough to maintain a ranking but not nearly enough to keep you relevant.


Both of them right now, in fact, seem to occupy a no-man’s land of the top ten: neither threatening the top, nor standing in the way of those that do.


Marin and A-Rod are more perplexing. When Roddick took off the early part of the clay season for what sounds like a second honeymoon with his Misuss, he got, what I thought at the time, was a disproportionate amount of flak for it. Sela, unfortunately for A-Rod, gave what’ll likely be a once-in-a-lifetime performance at Queens that lead to him being termed “Baby Reeshie”.


Not quite sure how that works, but it also means Roddick enters Wimbledon with the least amount of matches he’s likely ever had.


As for Marin I’m pretty sure now that at some point , he’ll come through as “this year’s Delpo” – just don’t be surprised if he takes until next year to realise it. He’s certainly taking the more torrid, torturous route.


chalk-outline-man-thumb4308267


At RG, I suspect, he was simply unlucky to run into Sod. Who promptly murdered him. Which might explain his loss here this week – hard to string two wins together if you’re not a shadow but a mere chalk outline of yourself.


(Photos: AFP/Getty)

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Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Roland Garros: Reflections


-- Postmodernity told to go to hell:


You could of course treat what Sod threatened to pull off as a reaction to the truths, certainties and objectivities of the past.


modernity-release


The type of objectivity that held a Fedal Duopoly as both sacred and sacrosanct. A duopoly widely seen as a triumph over the big servers and power-ballers of the late nineties that were perhaps a natural, but no less unwelcome consequence of advances in technology and nutrition.


We had arrived. And it was perfect.


Well to hell with all that said Sod, as he burst on the scene with his petrol-bombing squad of heavies and heavy metal band in tow, wrenching the door of the ATP courtyard off its hinges, overturning every last table, only stopping once to spit in your eye.


badtothebonebyanarkymanvq6


Only once in the past six years have Rafa or Roger been beaten in a Slam final by someone other than Rafa and Roger.


Had Sod pulled it off, it would have changed EVERYTHING. He would have been crowned “king” in a short, ill-fated tyrannical reign blighted by infighting and brought down, ultimately, by it’s own recklessness in a bloody coup.


And yet it would have left behind it, an awareness that there is another way.


If a postmodernist viewpoint says anything, it’s that it’s OK to be naturally suspicious of any such duopoly.


Yet here we all still are, five years later - Rafa and Roger take the first two Slams of the year and are, funnily enough, still playing beach volley with the #1 ranking, while most everyone else simply spectates.


Seems Postmodernity’s gonna have to wait.


-- Sod’s Law Revisited


I’ve been banging on about *hard, deep and flat* for what seems like eons now, so I figure it’s time to give it a name, whilst also paying homage to the man that ended two of the greatest streaks our sport has ever known.


sod_afp_getty3


Sod’s First Law: Deep, flat & relentless pace - trumps anyone on any surface


An unthinkable truth, that most daren’t mention. Doesn’t make it any less true.


Whether it’s Safin over Fed in Aus 05, Delpo over Fed USO 09 or Sod over both Nadal and Fed here at RG, there’s a certain threshold of pace (The Delpo/Sod Barrier?) which if exceeded, makes weathering the storm the only viable option - only sometimes the storm never ends.


Sod’s Second Law: The Storm always abates at least once over seven five set matches.


An uninterrupted storm would entail breaking the laws of physics.


Just as matter is constrained by the speed of light, the natural order of the universe has somehow seen fit to shackle the big guns so they aren’t completely effective throughout a Slam.


Sod flatballed relentlessly and perfectly for 5 out of 7 matches. His dispatching of Marin (a top tenner) in particular, was like watching the ATPs edition of ‘Kill Bill’.


He started coming apart at the seams against Berdych, in what turned out to be a five set war of attrition that left him in tears. The wheels came off completely against Rafa.


Sod’s Third Law: Sod eats clay courters for breakfast


Their loopier short balling suits him to a tee. It’s why he’ll always have success even against Nadal, who reverts back to short balling under pressure. Only Rafa’s comparative depth and awesome defence and Sod’s subsequent mental collapse prevented it from happening this time round.


-- Clay Court Tennis is dead, Long Live Clay Court 2.0


Ferru and Ferrero going out in week one make official what many like me have been saying for a long time – that loopy short balling has no place in the modern game. Not on clay not on any surface.


The last great stylist of that mode of play was probably Guillermo Coria. What’s this I hear of a comeback?


I know people will say no pride’s lost in going out to Melzer, an eventual semi-finalist who you’ll remember is no Jurgen-Schmergen, but there’s also the more perplexing question of JCF’s loss to Robby Ginepri. Not Big Rob, but Robby Ginepri.


Add to that, that it happened at the only Slam played on clay and you have what seems to me an untenable style of play.


They’ve been replaced by an elite group of aggressive baseliners effective on every surface playing mostly the same way: Federer, Djoko, Marin, Jo-Willy, Wawa even (lets not forget that QF he contested against Murray at Wimby last year or that he reached the final of Rome two years back).


Viewed in this light Clay Court 2.0 is actually just Tennis 2.0.


The old-school clay courters will still be around of course -- relics from a bygone age usually are – but they’ll mostly be consigned to the ATP 250 clay events. Or at least that’s the way I see it being played out.


-- I’m not that big on history and record books.


Fed lost the #1 ranking last week. Should he win Wimby he’ll likely go on to reclaim it sometime after. Should he hold on to it then for a further two weeks – because that’s all he needs – he’ll be one up on Pete Sampras yet again.


fed_afp


It’s a record, but it’s no ‘23 Slam SFs’. Nor a ‘never been beaten at Roland Garros’.


Perhaps my ambivalence is an understandable consequence of living in an age where records are broken and created with the frequency of ATP-250s.


Both those streaks, incidentally, brought to a halt by you-know-who.


-- Rafa hit flatter in the final. Or so I’m told.


Much has been made of his attempts to hit through and wrap round more of his forehands (rather than finishing up and over his head). The strings have changed too.


*wince* It’s not that I don’t believe in any or all of that. I just think his level of play in the final transcended , as it’s done so many times in the past, any such technical considerations.


And it’s no different with conditions.


-- Conditions, Conditions, Conditions.


The damp conditions gave Big Rob the upper hand against Federer after the rain delay – no one doubts that. But that doesn’t suddenly translate into Robin not being able to keep a ball in court only a couple of days later against Tomas in drier sunnier conditions.


Nor does Rafa become any less of a clay monster because the sun’s not out.


Q. But today is not very sunny day. It was rainy in the morning. So could you explain what kind of condition it was out there today?
RAFAEL NADAL: Maybe I had a mistake before to say I would love to have a sunny day. Maybe it was better to have a day like today, cloudy. I don't know. I don't know.
My feeling before the match was we have a sunny day with hot, the bounce gonna be bigger and gonna be easier for me to control his ball.
But in the same time, this year the court is more slippery than usual. With this weather, the court is more normal clay court, you know.
At the same time, I can run better. I feel more (through translation) stable on court than when the court is very dry. So that's the very important point for me today.


It’s not that I don’t think conditions play a part – they just seem to me to be over-emphasised, and at every opportunity.


You almost get a sense that somewhere, someone’s just itching to have a discussion on why it’s easier to open jam jars at a high altitude.


The take-away: With Rafa playing the way he is, conditions matter about as much as jam jars do.


-- What “most people” think


“Most people” seem to agree Rafa played a corker of a match.


Me too.


“Most people” also seem to agree Soder-Pop, for whatever reason, wasn’t able to bring it mentally.


Me too.


“Most people” seem also, to believe it wouldn’t have made a scrap of difference if he had brought it.


Disagree. See Sod’s First Law.


I’d be happy to take this up with “most people”. “Most people” are requested to get in touch.


rafa_getty2


Put simply, Rafa won this by recognising that his best chance of success was in engineering the conditions for Sod’s mental collapse. He did just that by maintaining impeccable depth and with an inspired defence that is quite possibly the last word in clay court tennis.


Poor serving (50%) and UFEs followed and, perhaps more importantly, Sod wasn’t able to convert on the opportunities he was presented with (more of those than you’ve been led to believe) - not that Rafa’s play, inspired as it was, meant that there were no opportunities to convert on.


Rafa opting to break Sod down mentally, is both a sound and solid basis for a win.


It should not however be confused with “taking him on and winning”.


-- Jurgen-Schmergen


I started the event not giving a flying forehand about Melzer or his style of play.


Then he lit up Chatrier by coming back from two sets down to get his first win over Djoko.


Around the same time Kamakshi Tandon gave me three further reasons to care.


Subsequent to that I discovered his nickname to be “YoYo”. And then of course Rafa called him “George-En” in his post-match interview.


I’m not quite sure where that leaves me. But I probably won’t be calling him Jurgen-Schmergen again.


***


Parting Shots:


Rafa’s defence - quite possibly the last word in clay court tennis (A+)


Best opening set played: Federer against Sod. Right before all hell broke loose. (A+)


Worst beatdown of the event: Sod over Marin in the quarters. Marin looked like he’d been put through a wood chipper. Twice. Tarantino or the Coen Bros. on court. You decide. (A+)


“Lights Out” Tennis: The crazy decision to continue play was only upstaged by La Monf and Fognini’s on court theatrics. One of the “highlights” of week one. Which is kinda funny given there was no light. (B)


Robin? You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off! 23 Slam SFs - It will never be bettered (A+)


Last Man Standing: American that is. Take a bow Robby Ginepri. (A)


SoderPop Cries: I was there. And it was just as weird as seeing your teacher outside of school. (A)


Sveta’s twitter commentary of men’s tennis. Both “Talanted” and “Stuning” in equal measure. Priceless too.(A+)


Worth mentioning but not dwelling on: Fed’s loss to Sod here makes this his worst clay court season since 2004. Doesn’t feel like it somehow. (C)


(Photos: AFP/Getty)

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Monday, 7 June 2010

Roland Garros: Conflict Resolution




Postmodernity's gonna have to wait then….



Nadal d. Soderling 6-4 6-2 6-4


And that’s fine by me.


I have a rather heftier post in the works that touches, amongst other things, on why I think Big Rob seized up so. Not dissimilar to Sammy the day before.


For now I intend to revel in Rafa’s “full circle” (© 2Hander 2010) return to form – a win I felt he needed just as much as Federer needed Wimbledon last year.


It’s no secret how conflicted I was about all this.


I’ve been backing Big Rob since he upset Nadal last year. His wins here over these two years are no fluke. He brings something a little different to the table – in a way only a walking scorched earth policy can.



Had he come through yesterday he would have beaten the best-ever-on-clay and the best-ever-period, at the same event...picking up, almost as an unintended side-effect, his first Slam title. As it is, he'll have to console himself with having taken out one, only to go out to the other in a straight sets final, for two years running - an odd sort of symmetry.


Results like that usually imply some sort of cult status.


Witnessing such a win may perhaps have proved more exhilarating - it would, however, also have proved more devastating seeing Nadal lose.


Unspeakably subjective I know. But it’s the only way I see to resolving this conflict.


I might have felt differently if Robin lost it having taken it to 16-15 in the fifth, or had Nadal not been able to perform.


But that’s not the way it played out.


Nadal outperformed himself. I’ve not seen him defend that well since 2008. At one point in the third set he was serving at 95%.


All three Masters events and Roland Garros - a staggering clean sweep of the clay court season in which he dropped only two sets (take a bow Ernie Gulbis and Nico Almagro).


And already, within hours of the win, he was on the phone to the director of Queens requesting a practice court for today and entry to the doubles draw.


Try. Just try and refuse him.


(Photo: Getty)

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Sunday, 6 June 2010

Roland Garros: ‘Sodal’, ‘Naderling’ – it’s ON people.

soderling_getty2 nadal_afp_getty


….a match for which Armageddon itself has sent in a sick note.


A lot will depend on how well Soderling has recovered from those five gruelling sets.


They say it’s a good thing to play one match before the final where you get through without playing your best tennis.


Robin certainly had his work cut out for him in a match where it was Tomas, for the most part, that was the better player. Nothing but sympathy for Tomas by the way: anyone that manages to push Big Rob to five and reduce him to tears in doing so has much to be proud of.


What it boils down to is this.


Big Rob plays the way he has been up until that rite of passage with Tomas. Big Rob wins. Dawn of Post-Modernity and stuff…


Big Rob has the lapse in concentration he did against Tomas. Rafa runs away with it very quickly. Five RG titles. Post-Modernity told to go to hell.


(Photos: AFP/Getty)

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Roland Garros: Hearts and Minds.

franny_afp_getty2


Your sweaty, clay-covered, yet-still-gleaming Roland Garros Champion for 2010. I defy you not to scream.


Ideologically unsound to root against anyone with as big a heart as that. In my heart-over-head world she’d already won.


Besides, what is the heart but another muscle? One that often trumps it’s distant cousins in the upper arm. Even when those arms belong to Sam Stosur?


Every sane entity on the planet, it seemed, had picked a win for Stosur in three if not two sets of hard fought tennis.


It seemed the rational choice, given that:


a) She had been (until this match) the best performing player of the event. I may have had some reservations over those back to back wins over Henin, Serena and JJ, yet a lesser player would have crumbled.


b) The matchup with Franny suited her to a tee. Sammy’s heavy kicking serve seemed custom built to hurtle over the shorter player who’d likely be reduced to countering it with a single handed backhand out wide…..and high. Right after that she was supposed to be reduced to rubble.


I can understand Franny out-grinding and out-hustling Sammy now and again.


I can even understand her out-foxing her at the net – not quite sure why the sight of Franny volleying immaculately should be the source of such bewilderment anyway.


What flummoxes me is how she managed to out-serve and to out-ace her. 6 to 3 on aces and 76 vs. 71 winning percentage on first serves.


That sort of sh*t’s not meant to happen.


She didn’t have the draw Sammy did, but also a little astounding, is it not, how she only dropped one set in the entire event – in round one on an outside court to Regina Kulikova (who?).


sammy_afp_getty2


To those that say “choking” is a reductive explanation of what happened to Sammy out there I say this: It is. And I confess I don’t particularly like using that word as it seems to carry too many negative connotations and conjures up images of Dinara Safina double faulting on Championship Point.


Though it’s equally reductive to claim she was hit off court or “outplayed” (second time this week that words got up my nose) by “Fed Cup Franny”.


Besides, even if we agree to use another word, what precise conclusions are we meant to draw from the sight of a former world #1 doubles specialist, a four-time Slam Champion making an absolute hash of an easy putaway at the net?


Not every choke has Dinara Safina written all over it.


We can argue the semantics of choking till kingdom come, but the fact remains that Sammy “seized up”, let’s say, in the little ways on the biggest points: a double fault here, a sprayed forehand there, a drop shot that fades out before reaching the net. And here’s a more worrying one: over half of her first serves sat up comfortably in the middle of the service box.


A real shame - that’s not the Sam Stosur we saw in the last six matches. And none of this, at least, was forced by Franny.


If it sounds like I’m being too harsh on Sammy, it’s because I felt this match should have been “on her racquet” (another phrase I deplore, by the way). Her performances up until this match, indeed her leading win/loss record this season, suggested she should have won it - preferably in straights. In my head-over-heart world she already had.


RG_AFP_Getty


Parting Shots:


-- Best Roland Garros final in almost a decade. (A)


-- That moment when Dementieva shook hands with Franny signalling her withdrawal. Tragic stuff. That look on Franny’s face? Priceless. (A+)


-- Sam Stosur’s voice quivering during her runners up speech. *sniff* Good news is Sam’s best placed to out-fox those pushers and bashers we love to, well, bash. On all surfaces. (A)


-- Anyone else bowled over by how well Franny and Sammy seem to get on with one another? (A)


-- Biggest disappointment of the tournament: JJ flaming out “at 20%”. What better chance will she have than four semi finalists without an Henin or a Williams Sister in sight? None. (E)


-- Franny’s disembowelling of CazWoz in the quarters. Best match of the event from the standpoint of witnessing the unequivocal truth and triumph of variety over push. (A)


-- Juju/Shaza: Strangely compelling match that suggests the best is yet to come from both. (B)


-- This seasons clay court winners: Henin, MJMS, Rezai and Franny. Henin only features once amongst them. Kimmie, Shaza and the Williamses don’t feature at all. Still think the WTA’s in a bad way? (A)


(Photos: AFP/Getty)

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