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.


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.


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’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.


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.


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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