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)

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