Wednesday, 29 September 2010

“Great Tennis…..But is it ‘Art’, Darling?”


As I’m getting things off my chest I’d like also to, as of now, call for an immediate and unconditional cessation in the use of the words “art” and “beauty” in relation to Fed’s game.


Repeat offenders will have their noses sawn off, be sewn in leather with a wild animal and thrown off Waterloo Bridge.



Words like “poetry” and “grace” are off limits too – as is “brute force” in relation to Nadal.


The reason is simple: It’s boring. It’s not 2005 anymore. Aaaand…I think we get it.


Not only are such “Beauty & the Beast” caricatures hackneyed and hopelessly outdated – they’re also, now, one thinks,  deliberately neglectful of the facts on the ground.


For one thing, the terms of reference have moved on: Fed no longer coasts through matches as freely and artfully as he once used to.


He’s been forced to refashion his tennis offering into something altogether more pragmatic and (dare I say it) more workmanlike (would an 06/07 Fed have required 55 aces to put away Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon 2009 final?)



We can have a debate about whether that’s down to him losing a little edge or others catching up – what we can’t do is to put our heads in the sand and pretend he’s still playing tennis with the faeries.


And Rafa will never strike a ball as silkily as Fed does, but has also evolved into something more complete, certainly, but also more compelling.


I’ve never liked the art references – especially as attention to aesthetics so often gets in the way of winning. But if it must be art, then it occurs to me that we should, at least, recognise that tennis offers us more than just one (classically-skewed) vision of it.


Just as it would be wrong to discuss all art in terms of Renaissance Classicism, or indeed all Modern Art in terms of Cubism, it’s a little naive (not to mention Fascist) to suggest that Federer’s tennis  (pretty as it is) presents us with the only acceptable vision of aestheticism within the sport.




Ideas about art have always been hotly debated, shaped as they are by the prevailing societal mood and specific cultural mores, as well as ever-evolving notions of “good taste”. 


1) Why should it be any different in tennis?


Serve-volley – or more specifically, a sepia-tinted print capturing the likes of Fred Perry serve-volleying in cricket flannels weaving a wooden racquet in full flight at the net --  is now firmly established as the tennis equivalent of the ceiling of the Sistine-Chapel.


God help any hapless soul that dares to challenge this orthodoxy.


I don’t claim to know which unelected council of elders agreed upon that, but for better or worse, here we are.


Nothing wrong with that, of course….provided we’re prepared to accept that just as much if not more captivating stuff is possible from the baseline – Fed himself only regularly serve-volleyed in his first Slam victory back in Wimby 2003 – the stuff people like to regularly cite as “art” and “magic” came mostly from the back of the court during 2006-2007.


 top20fredperry_display_image top20budgetennis08_display_image


It fell out of favour altogether at the end of the 90s when people (rightly) questioned just how much of a spectacle watching two guys with booming serves further shortening already constricted points by finishing up at the net can really be.


And I might be wrong about this, but I don’t remember people raving about women’s net-play during this period very much either (though perhaps given the way women’s tennis has subsequently gone, they are right to lament it’s loss).


2) There’s also individual differences in taste.


I happen to think Guillermo Coria’s brand of clay court tennis was pure sex. That if you can bring yourself to conceive of an aesthetic dimension to all that “ill-mannered” sliding and “blue-collar” grind that goes on on a clay court, that Coria somehow represented the discipline at it’s zenith.


As far as I’m concerned, you don’t have to try very hard to detect a type of poetry in the way he would slide into balls, in his speed around the court, in his delicately caressed drop shots, and even in the way he wasn’t in a rush to end the point in all those physically taxing loopy exchanges.


Poetry that was only possible because it wasn’t, at that time, in vogue to aggressively finish off clay court points with flat winners ripped through the court the way Robin and others do today –  a poetry that only came into being because it was consciously defined against, and allowed to evolve independently of, that later (more aggressive)trend in a way which wouldn’t be possible today….but an art form all the same.


ten_a_coria1_200 _41175027_coria270


It’s not a fashionable opinion of course. Clay court tennis and words like “art” or “beauty” aren’t supposed to belong in the same sentence.


The reason of course, and here’s where I do happen to agree there are parallels in art and tennis, is that tennis has it’s very own pretentious “chattering classes” - and their pernicious elitism is sometimes almost as pervasive as it is in the world of art, literature and the theatre too – they like to pretend it doesn’t exist, it does.


“We don’t consort with those sorts of people” – (clay court people) - “not when we’re engaged in highbrow discourse on fashion and beauty at any rate”.


For this pompous “set”, clay court tennis, will forever be defined by the roguish and uncultured cornerstones of physicality, grind and brute force.


And thus, like some embarrassing secret, it is to be, if not entirely banished, hemmed in far and away from our sensibilities into some forgotten corner of the tennis calendar – let them have their two months of fun, but don’t ever let them presume to aspire above their station - what can they possibly have to offer art?

Rafael_Nadal_9929 roger-federer-413x413


I doubt that opinion was ever true even when we had such a clear distinction between clay court and glass court tennis as we did in the 80s and 90s. With the advent of the all-court tennis we see from Novak, Federer, Muzz and yes, even Nadal, it’s become completely indefensible, though not, sadly, obsolete.


3)  And all that is before you’ve even gotten to the age old question of what actually constitutes good art, or whether something is art at all.


I’m not going to deny that I, myself, prefer Fed’s game over Rafa’s – but that is a matter of taste and taste alone. When did individual taste ever preclude something from being considered art, or even good art?


Most would agree that the purpose of art, is to challenge, inspire and excite our sensibilities – to fill them with an overwhelming sense of wonder, awe and (some would say) spiritual exhilaration.


You can’t, in all honesty, objectively argue that Rafa’s play doesn’t do any, or all of those things – although you’ll probably have to discard some of those preconceived (neoclassical-Federist) notions of beauty you might have, in order to appreciate that.


But that should be ok, no?


No one in their right mind disputes that the roof of the Sistine Chapel or the Mona Lisa are both one of the greatest works of art we have, but would anyone presume to suggest that Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” is not art? Or is somehow less worthy of the label?




Just as pretending Fed’s stroke production isn’t both visually astounding and unprecedented, it would be utter folly to play down the role and significance of the Italian Renaissance in the history and evolution of art.


But it would be absurder still to posit that that represents the only admissible vision of art – or worse, that ‘Abstract Expressionism’ (or indeed any modern art movement) is not a valid art form and can have nothing to offer in any serious discourse.


Just remember that, that is exactly what you do when you dismiss Rafa as a “brute”, a “monstrosity” or a “freak”.


Or better still, let’s shaddap about “art” altogether.


“The Beginning of the End of the Beginning of the…….”


A few months ago, I was speculating about the possible onset of “postmodernity” – a term I’m mostly using to describe an age of which Fedal remains a feature, but, nevertheless, no longer enjoys the stranglehold on the Slams it once did.


Since then Fed’s taken a couple more body blows and knocks to the chin, while Rafa’s completed his career Slam and got a lock on the number one ranking through to, almost certainly, the middle of next year.



If he goes on to win Aus, he’ll hold all four Slams – the only guy since Laver to have done so – the transition to a “bull market” will be all but complete and no regulatory body (financial or agricultural) will even contemplate attempting to cap his soaring livestock capital.


Despite all this, I’m having difficulty embracing the sense of near fatalism being espoused over Fed’s remaining prospects by many commentators and (more surprisingly) fans alike.


Not everyone feels this way (I hardly need add), so let me first make clear that I don’t include in this assessment those supposedly mainstream commentators for whom every nervous nose twitch spells immediate and inexorable “decline”. Nor those “far-right” fans for whom every match Fed plays is “on his racquet”.


Needless to say (and for very different reasons) neither of those two extreme ends of the spectrum are giving off any desperately despondent vibes.



Still, for a surprisingly large number of sane followers it seems that Fed’s USO loss has resulted in an en-masse (apparently voluntary) orchestrated shift toward a peculiarly benign form of resigned acceptance.


I’ve no idea whether this enigmatic stoicism forms part of an elaborate defence mechanism – the way a passive-aggressive tortoise might give you the “finger” before grudgingly shrinking it’s head back in it’s shell.


Or whether we are being politely ushered to, now, “brace ourselves” for what a few overzealous commentators like to call “the beginning of the end” – the way a few remaining high-ranked field lieutenants might decide to call it quits as the last vestiges of the Fed empire begin to crumble around them.


Either way the message is the same – Fed’s less lacquered finish this year is to be treated with a mature sobriety by silently occupying the middle ground that sits somewhere in between good old-fashioned honesty and dignified defeat.




I’ve not found anyone capable of maintaining a dry eye during those closing moments of a well-loved (if slightly dated) cult classic.


(And yes Hugh Laurie did have a career before ‘House’.)


On the one hand, fair enough: there’s a healthy disdain towards the doomsday crowd and their ominous chatter, and there’s what can only be described as clinical denial.

The desire not to want to come across as a rabid prick seems entirely rational and fair. It’s the attendant morbid overcompensation that I object to.


1) “Fed will win no more than two more Slams (if that).”


I’m not foolish.


I see the logic behind the number two.


A sort of happy compromise between frothy, rainbow coloured optimism and dead-head despondency.


But consider this: there’s eight Slams between now and the 2012 Olympic Games – which, it’s fair to assume, is the earliest Fed will countenance hanging up his racquets.


Is it really that far fetched to think he’ll win more than just two Slams given he’s won three over the past sixteen months?


A period in which, I hardly need add, had he not been outdone by Delpo at Flushing last year, he would have held all four Slams. Still believe we’d be debating tennis livestock then?




2) “Fed’s physical decline precludes any further great success.”


A slight decline in speed, reflexes and concentration has been evident for a while now - and was again on show against Novak in NY. Only a blinkered few doubt it’s existence.


Having said that, I figure the worst of the decline is already behind him. Or, put another way, that the disparity between him now and the 2012 games will be considerably less than the disparity between him now and at the height of his powers back in, say, 2007.


3) “There’s far too much younger, fresher talent coming through…”


Oh please. Heard it all before.


Our window is limited to two years up to and including the Olympic Games, is it not? How much new talent do you really expect to spring forth in that time? Of the “current” crop only Delpo, Robin and Berdman have come good (barely and fleetingly in the case of the last two).




Muzz and Novak, for all their talent, remain a little thin on Slam results against either Fed or Nadal.


You don’t have to take on all these players to win a Slam – just a minor subset of some permutation. Not to mention that all those players (perhaps with the exception of Novak) have regular, unplanned and somewhat irritating outages in their attempts at taming the rest of the field.


Not so with either Fed or Rafa, who tend only to come unstuck once in a while against the very best, or a very close cousin undergoing a “one-day-only” trauma-inducing tennis epiphany.


All of which is to say that in the absence of Rafa, Fed, for me, remains uniquely placed to win any Slam - he’s had years to work at it, it’s what he does best.


And you know what else?


4) I still believe Fed can beat Rafa in a five set situation too.


I hear you. And what I hear loosely translates to “Now you just talkin’ crazy…”


I don’t mean on clay silly– not even I’m that far gone. And Rafa, for now at least, appears almost as invincible on grass.


Still, however much it may seem right now, it’s not completely inconceivable for Fed to overcome Rafa on a fast hard court….or even (dare I say it) on grass. Is it?


spain_s_rafael_nadal_reacts_after_losing_an_exhibi_8307880774 themag_federer


In their last Slam meeting at Melbourne it took Rafa five sets to suppress him. Wimbledon 08 went to five too, was (at almost five hours) half an hour longer and could, I still unfashionably maintain, have gone either way.


I concede that it’s a tough ask. I concede that his best chance will be at Wimbledon or Flushing. I even concede that it’s a bull market.


I don’t concede that it’s impossible. Or that Rafa’s chances in such an encounter are quite as inflated as the bull marketeers would have us believe.



Thursday, 23 September 2010

All at once, and in a puff of smoke.


For better or for worse, for richer for poorer, after eight months out of the game and at much cost to his ATP ranking, Juan Marteen (currently ranked #35) is to hit the courts again – starting at Bangkok.




It could not have come too soon. For us.


For the sake of his wrist, I’m actually glad he took all the time he needed.


Assuming he has applied for a protected ranking (why wouldn’t he?), he’ll be treated as world number 5 for the purposes of entry (though not seeding) to the first 8 events he plays or for the first 9 months of his return (whichever comes first).


Not that any of that matters very much.


Because none of us, at this stage, are expecting very much. Are we?


Well, not unless you mean the complete subversion of  someone’s career (preferably in the top five) and, if you can manage it, the attendant dissolution of any associated delusions of grandeur they might have – that’d be great.


It is what you were born to do.


One more thing - what on earth is Rafa doing there?




[hands on hips]


I thought we’d been over this.


Sunday, 19 September 2010

Paywalls are fun – you can, like, deny you ever said stuff.


Most of you will be aware that The Times and The Sunday Times has, since around June of this year, been behind what’s been delicately termed a ‘paywall’. Which means you can no longer get their version of the news for free either at the newstand or over the web.


The Times doesn’t believe it will affect readership…or at least the readers they are most interested in retaining. Others beg to differ.


Amongst other things, this means most of you will have missed out on this.






I know. I’m a BAD, BAD person.


Surprising as it may seem, this is not actually meant to be a post bashing, ridiculing, baiting or otherwise showing up Pat Cash.


As it happens, I’m completely useless at making picks (which is why I’ve mostly stopped doing it). And just so you know, Rafa wasn’t my pick for the title either, for much the same reasons as Cash mentions.


Even so, you simply have to marvel at how uncanny this ability to make the most spectacular of bloopers at the highest of levels has now become….. it’s as if God himself is out to make an example of him and his punditry. I can’t imagine why.


Wait, maybe I can.


mmm..nope…nope…pretty sure he recanted and made penance for that (good on him for taking it on the chin).


To give Cashy his dues, this is the incredible run he had at Wimby 1987:


R128: Pat Cash[11] def. Marcel Freeman (6-0, 6-3, 6-2)
R64: Pat Cash[11] def. Paul McNamee (7-5, 6-4, 6-2)
R32: Pat Cash[11] def. Michiel Schapers (7-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4)
R16: Pat Cash[11] def. Guy Forget (6-2, 6-3, 6-4)
QF: Pat Cash[11] def. Mats Wilander[3] (6-3, 7-5, 6-4)
SF: Pat Cash[11] def. Jimmy Connors[7] (6-4, 6-4, 6-1)
F: Pat Cash[11] def. Ivan Lendl[2] (7-6, 6-2, 7-5)


Only Paris and Wimby now stand in the way of his “Career Blooper Slam”.


Friday, 17 September 2010

USO: “The Sound of Inevitability”




My loyalties were split 51/49 in Djoko’s favour.


Rafa, playing as he was for a place in history, seemed to me to have more to lose – and a heck of a lot more to gain.

Djoko, playing in his first Slam final since Aus 2008, seemed too talented to have won only one Slam – the consummate underachiever.


Only after it was all over did I realise how glaringly obvious it was.


 Inevitable, even.




“Hear that Mr Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.”

-- Agent Smith, see ‘Matrix, The’


It was inevitable, really, that Rafa would one day complete his box set.


It was inevitable that he’d be driven enough to make the necessary adjustments that would tend toward making this the most natural of conclusions.


It was inevitable that he’d learn to play closer to the baseline and improve his volleying sufficiently to win on grass.


It was inevitable that he’d flatten out his forehand, adding both the pace and depth needed to shorten points on fast hard courts.


It was inevitable that he’d curtail his schedule to give his knees the rest they are now literally crying out for, enabling him to remain effective through to the seasons last Slam – the one they said he couldn’t win.


It was inevitable that his inherently open disposition would lend itself to this degree of reinvention.


So when he unveiled his new-fangled 135mph serve souped up to the point of delirium early on this event, a serve which remained unbroken until the semis, there was an inevitability about that too.




And yet, it is  inevitable that this victory will be lauded as one of of “heart”, “spirit”, “determination”,”energy”,“fitness”…..but not sadly of talent, that is surely the precursor to that reinvention.


Inevitable, that essential vitality that drove such improvements would be held against him simply because it doesn’t conform to an exotic strain of tennis neoclassicism that probably doesn’t even exist.


Perhaps knowing all this, it was inevitable that Djoko would sell his own soul to ensure he didn’t go down early in the first set.


Inevitable too, how panic-stricken, desperate and “conflustered” he looked when things didn’t go to plan: someone walking in might have thought he was down a couple of breaks deep in the fourth set.


Inevitable also, how Djoko would bounce back in the second with the type of form he had brought only48 hours earlier, before the timeliest rain delay there ever was, against arguably his greatest ever adversary – he hadn’t come this far just to pull a Bepa now had he?




Inevitable then, that some of this spirit, at least, would carry over into this match and prevent Rafa from converting any more than a measly 6 out of a staggering 26 break points. (Perhaps this was Rafa’s “Roger moment” too – I’m thinking it was all Djoko)


And yet, it was inevitable too, that Rafa would choose  5-4 15-30 down in the third set to return the favour by unveiling three of the biggest serves of his career. Arguably the event’s biggest story.


For sure was a little bit nervous for me, because especially on the 5 4 I have 15 30. So that was a very important moment, and at that moment I did something that I never did: three serves, one ace and two service winners. So that's the big experience for me, and believe me, that's good.


It is, then, inevitable to me that he will, one day, win indoors at the Tennis Masters Cup – the only major title missing from his résumé.


Meanwhile, we will inevitably be drawn to talk of naturally homogenised milk-giving creatures, whilst simultaneously railing against the practice as “pointless”, “vulgar” and “populist”.


…and if he ever finishes up with more Slams than Fed, then…well, that will have been inevitable too.




-- “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” (But it’s even better not to burn out at all)


Back to that match against Fed.


Everyone remembers the gutsy way Djoko saved those two match points.


I’d argue the way he bounced back after losing the 3rd set was just as important, if not more so.


Fed had just broken Djoko’s serve in a way which should also have broken his spirit, with two of his best winners of the match:  exactly the kind of timely, intimidating death blows designed to vaporise your morale (and usually your soul) that Fed specialises in - sheer rock and roll.




Anyone not named Rafa, now 2 sets to 1 down and with Fed seemingly in the ascendancy, would have taken it as their cue to fade away .


Djoko picked up from exactly where he had left off – with the same unflinching, gutsy refusal to miss that’s probably the second biggest story of the event.


And that, perhaps more than anything else, captures where this match was won and lost. 


Rail against Fed’s passive play, the UFEs, the missed match points if you must…..but if you can’t bring yourself to credit that sort of play I’d argue you’re exactly the kind of “fan” Fed can do without.


-- Feeling bad for Fed, giving credit where it’s due…yes both are possible.


One of the best experiences of the Federer/Djoko match was hearing Fed fans give due recognition to Djoko having won this match rather than Fed having lost it.

I confess I went back and reviewed those match points that Djoko saved and the last couple of games again.


And yes, Fed was passive…..far too passive. And those last two games were a mess.


There were also an astonishingly large number of high quality rallies played under pressure from the back of the court. Almost a shame one guy had to emerge the loser in these rallies – and Djoko simply wasn’t missing.


Only a buffoon would pretend that any match in which Fed dishes up 66 UFEs and barely serves at 50% throughout is his best performance. But only a grumpy, wanton twat would choose to believe that every match Fed plays is “on his racquet” (ghastly expression by the way) or that Fed’s loss had little to do with the relentless nature of Djoko’s returns.


 r2036403656  US Open Tennis


US Open Tennis 

As for the stat of 66 UFEs, well that can be misleading too. There’s a shank that’s hit on the third ball of a rally and there’s one that follows a 36-ball exchange. Both are recorded as UFEs and yet the latter is a breakdown of performance born of the length of the exchange. Elicited if not forced.


The good news is that Fed is prepared to acknowledge all this, even if an irritating element of his fanbase isn’t.


Sure, now looking back I missed a few too many forehands at the very end, but the match won't be decided on winners only. You can also see mistakes, and he pushed me to make those. Credit to him.

…it was not like the guy can't play under pressure. He's proven his point, and time and time again. I knew he was gonna be a really tough opponent. The guys who overlooked him don't know anything about tennis, unfortunately.


He also (quite rightly) suggested that a tight match like this wasn’t simply about Djoko making winners or he himself playing his best tennis – not that different, if you remember, from Djoko intimating that a high quality encounter like his would be decided by only a few points.


Still my favourite quote of the event.


-- Liking, Likeability and the Like.


I get that some people will never like Nole. I myself suffer a similar ailment with Kim Clijsters.


You should know that you have my full leave to exercise your right not to like him, or indeed anyone of your choosing.


But let it, at least, now be for personal reasons alone and not for the accusations once levelled against him which simply don’t hold true anymore (many never did).


 c5acc1c0a8a20a5033014ff6fc37b11d-getty-103882826jl245_u_s_open_day 8980b5590f23d2967696f8f6c402dd29-getty-ten-us_open-nadal-djokovic


Gone is the irritating bravado …and in it’s place an unaffected quiet dignity.


Gone are the try-hard ingratiatory theatrics…and in it’s place an easy charm that doesn’t give a fig about whether you like him or not.


The maturity and depth of character he showed in defeat ranks alongside the best I’ve ever seen – perhaps not surprising that Rafa chose to publicly point that out.


Oh, and his tennis is back too. Shame Marian Vajda wasn’t around to see it.


Are we really going to continue to sneer after ringing endorsements from the best two players of the last decade?


The kids grown up. I suggest we do to.


-- Ditto Camp Djoko.




However garish you might have found Srdjans shirt (I personally found it as sweet as it was tacky) they too displayed a quiet dignity in defeat that’s wholly at odds with the whole “Be Quiet” thing from two years back. Fantastic to see.


-- I clearly need no excuses to talk about Rafa’s serve.


The volleying, the slice, the flattening out were more about optimisation and incremental development – the serve seems more akin to a mutant gene.  Easily the most improved stroke of 2010.


-- “Ye old faithful”


For all the improvements, nice too, to see Rafa’s old stalwart pass: it’s hit under pressure, from deep behind the baseline, stretched out wide, and on the run.


And you know what else? He never misses it. In my book, that makes it a candidate for the best shot in tennis right now.





-- Idle observation: Rafa’s lost much (though not all) of his boyish charm.


Not that there’s anything wrong with the dignified Spaniard that now stands in his place. It’s time. That is all.


-- From the “Dept. of the Wacky, Wild and Wonderful”.


Wait….did Fed subconsciously lose this match in order to avoid playing Nadal, thereby preventing further damage to that H2H and to his legacy in general?





Leaving aside for the moment how driven a champion Federer is and the slim possibility that he might actually have beaten a Rafa in this form (still a fast hard court people), are we really going to suggest Roger prefers going down to Nole, who – and I’m pretty sure this isn’t from The Twilight Zone – he’s not the best of chums with?


-- The best player in the womens draw won. And it’s hard to hate on that. 


Although if you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that I’ve never actually hated on Kim at all. You’ll also know that I’ve broken new ground and that although she may never be a player I like, I won’t be virulently rooting against her either.


You’ve got Bopanna and Qureshi  and the good will they generated to thank for that.


She didn’t have it all her own way of course. And I daresay the wobbles we saw against Stosur and Venus will continue to plague her from time to time.


Even so, it’s worth remembering that she beat both Serena and Venus last year and a self-destructive Venus again this time round, so it’s really not  fair to suggest that she only won this because of Serena’s absence.


One last thing. And I realise this probably puts me in the tiniest minority imaginable.




I’m not a great fan of the second trophy presentation that takes place whenever she wins one of these things – and you’ve got to think she might win a few more.


The first trophy presentation is what you think it is. The second one is where Jada gets presented to the world.


She’s cute. Too cute for words even (kids often are). You’re a great mum with a healthy work/life balance. We get it.


It was great to see the first time round, perhaps even necessary given she’d packed up her first career to go and have a family.


All the same, I don’t think we need to see that every year. And I’m not sure it’s doing her any favours either. There, I said it.





Bepa….dunno what to say. Which is kinda appropriate coz there plainly wasn’t much of a final to speak of.


And after championing your cause I do feel you at least owe me a hanky to wipe some of that egg dripping down my face.


Still, two consecutive Slam finals ain’t half bad considering who you were up against. Neither is a #4 ranking.


To put it bluntly you were never going to go through a Kim performing at 95%. And performing at 45% yourself it’s surprising it took as long as 59 mins.


Now go and put that #4 ranking to good use.


-- Guilty Pleasures: The Hoofed issue everyone loves to pretend they hate talking about.


So long as Rafa continues to rack up titles there’ll be bleating noises from farmyards up and down the country.


You can choose to partake in it or you can sit back like some stuffy codger railing against popular science.




My own view is that it’s a completely flawed, wholly objectionable undertaking that can, nevertheless, yield a few useful insights.


I’ll try and keep it short.


So that 5-2 H2H? Completely misleading - Rafa has never reached as many hard court Slam finals as Fed reached RG finals – if he did the score might have been very different. That’s just fact.


But you know what the flipside of that argument is?


That had Rafa made more of those hard court finals….he might actually won them. It is possible. Then where would that H2H be?


Perhaps that is a little fanciful, though I suspect that Brad Gilbert and others who now give the nod to Rafa are going on a hunch that, considering what we know about how fast Rafa learns and how well Fed’s game matches up with his, that had they played more hard court Slam matches, Rafa would have won a handful of those too.


Consider the non Slam hard court matches they played during 2005-2007. There was that win he had over Fed in Dubai(2006), that five set war they had in Miami when Fed came back from two sets down (2005) and two other straight sets wins for Fed at the Tennis Masters Cup (2006, 2007).


If we use that to extrapolate a set of fictitious hard court Slam results we might rule 3-1 in Fed’s favour. Still only bringing the total to 6-5 in Rafa’s favour. Only if we skew it 4-1 or 3-0 in Fed’s favour do we finish up even. Which would seem to give Rafa the upper hand.


Complete codswallop of course. Fanciful codswallop. But food for thought nevertheless.


Speaking of fanciful, isn’t it a stretch to suggest he might have beaten Fed at a time when he was losing on hard courts to Youznhy, Blake and Ferrer?


Yes it is. What those losses demonstrate is that Rafa’s game hadn’t at that stage matured sufficiently to translate effectively to hard courts. All at a time, remember, when Fed was in his prime and playing arguably the best tennis of his career (his game now is arguably more complete but he can’t perhaps compete as well with Rafa over five sets now as he might have then). 


Also worth noting that Misha and Blake have, wait for it……single handed backhands…….which, contrary to the conventional wisdom that purports single-handed backhands go up in smoke against Rafa, actually suggests Fed might have had the upper hand after all.


Personally, 16 Slams and 23 straight semis (arguably the most impressive stat ever) settles it for me.


Though, and this is important, the opinion that Rafa might already belong in GOAT contention is no longer as ridiculous as it once was…and Brad Gilbert or anyone else ought not to be stomped on for simply expressing it.


(Images: Getty)


Monday, 13 September 2010

USO: Noticeboard






Grand Slam Tennis – now available as a four episode box set.





















Top Guns

Hot Stuff (Not in that way).



Arthur Ashe


Vania King(USA)[6] /
Yaroslava Shvedova
Liezel Huber
(USA)[2] /
Nadia Petrova(RUS)[2]

2-6 6-4 7-6


not before 4pm

Rafael Nadal(ESP)[1]
Novak Djokovic(SRB)[3]

6-4 5-7 6-4 6-2



USO: Done Deal





So this morning I went to the ATP website to check out the 14-7 Rafa/Nole head to head for myself.




As far as “done deals” go, this totally tops a Fedal final.


USO: In their words.









The day after the day “it” happened.


Djokovic d. Federer 5-7 6-1 5-7 6-2 7-5


There’ll be no post today. I’m afraid I’m going to need to marinate in “it” for a while.


In their own words then. Though at this point, either could tell me that the moon’s made of blue cheese and I’d take their word for it.


Because clearly the moon is made of blue cheese.


Fed, on missed opportunities:


Unfortunately the second and fourth just kind of snuck away from me, I guess. The 1‑All 40‑15 game for me was a tough one to take in the second set, because I thought momentum was completely on my side.

I tried to play aggressive, not to give him too much rhythm, and it all came back at me. I let him back in the match like that.

Sure, now looking back I missed a few too many forehands at the very end, but the match won't be decided on winners only. You can also see mistakes, and he pushed me to make those. Credit to him.


I wish I could say he only hit winners to get back and whatever and I played my very best tennis, but it wasn't the case.

It was just a case of a tough situation to be in for both of us, and someone has to win. It's just the way it is. There's no draws in our sport. Obviously I like to see a match like this being two winners, but one guy had to win. It won't be written that way, unfortunately.

It's a tough loss for me, but it's only going to fuel me with more motivation to practice hard and get back to Grand Slam finals, which I haven't been in for the last three slams. I feel like I'm playing well, and I would have deserved to be in the finals tomorrow.

Novak has the shot, and I wish him the best.


On Djoko:


…it was not like the guy can't play under pressure. He's proven his point, and time and time again. I knew he was gonna be a really tough opponent. The guys who overlooked him don't know anything about tennis, unfortunately.


Djoko on “THE MATCH”:


…it's one of those matches that you will remember for the rest of your life, not just because you won against one of the best players that ever played this game at that occasion, but as well, you know, coming back from match points down and under the circumstances playing good tennis and winning in the end, the thriller, you know.




Today, I kind of closed my eyes on the forehands in the match points and just went for the shots. I was lucky. This is the edge that you always have when you're playing a top player. Two top guys are playing against each other, and there is not much difference, to be honest.

I knew that before the match very few points will decide the winner.


On Rafa and Goathood:


I give him a big chance. I think already he's one of the best ever because he has won Olympic gold medal, he has won Davis Cup, he has won every major except this one, and so many tournaments. He has the records of 1000 events as well, and he's still only 24 years old. So it's just incredible what he has done so far in his career. He's still a great champion and a great person off the court.


…stats and results tell you everything, you know. I can say in one hand, as I told you, Roger results‑wise is the best ever.

Then you have Rafa who has won Davis Cup and Olympic gold medal and all these things and still very young and still having a lot of time to come. He has a big chance to overcome any of the best‑ever players that play this game.



Novak Djokovic needs his second Slam title more than Rafa needs his Career Grand Slam. Discuss.


Sunday, 12 September 2010

USO: A Proliferation of good.


First there was this.





I’m known for pulling squinty, wincey faces whenever I hear of sport and world peace being mentioned in the same sentence.


It’s not clear what exactly two blokes hitting balls together can do to draw attention away from problems that in some cases go back over half a century, but I doubt there was a dry eye in the house when Bopanna and Qureshi made their runners up speeches.


Qureshi’s words, in particular, struck a note, in my opinion, precisely because he chose not to recite some dull platitude about world peace.


Choosing instead to articulate a far more grounded and I’d say far more relevant sentiment of the silent majority of his country.


Well played boys.


Then there was this.




Look, I’m really happy that people have finally discovered Bepa and I’d be a lot more charmed by their assessment of her as an “intelligent”, “articulate” and “underrated” player if they weren’t the same people hoping, praying for another “Crazy Bepa” meltdown during the match.


She broke the strings of all four racquets in her bag and had to continue with a spare handed to her from the stands….’cept the meltdown never came.


And it’s put her in second consecutive Slam final.



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Caz….I bear you no ill will. There’ll be no schadenfreude street festival here today.


Personally I had you reaching the final before going down to Clijsters or even an on-song Vee.


But in some ways Bepa serves as an even greater vindication of all my objections.


There’s a reason the Serena’s and the Kim’s (and I daresay the tours more potent shotmakers once they find their range) will always have their way with you.


There’s a reason you’ve had to play two seasons worth of tennis in one to maintain your top five ranking. As JJ found, you can only continue to do that until the age of about 22 before your immune system goes on an extended sabbatical with the faeries.


Put simply you need more than one string to your bow. You need to do more than just push – or else you’ll be shoved. Fortunately, you already know this.


And then, of course, there was this.


      199f71934d1dda684911a4390e562aa7-getty-ten-us_open-clijsters-williams 34119e93d6442e4d91ad5931663af467-getty-ten-us_open-clijsters-williams


By this point there was such a proliferation of good will in the air that I was actually finding it difficult to root against Kim.


You read right. I’ll still be rooting for Bepa – but a Kimmie victory will no longer leave me feeling cheated.


I was also sensing the need for some kind of wistful karmic payback: Enter Venus Williams.


It was a crumbly, disjointed, unconvincing performance from both women.


Kim’s veneer of focus and confidence is just that – a facade. I'll be very surprised if she storms through the final the  way everyone thinks she will.


Vee  stormed through the first set and then totally blew a 2nd set breaker – she would never recover.


What’s more is she may never again have such a great stab at an ungrassy Slam again. And it hurts.



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