Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Shanghai: “Remains of the Clay”


Just a moment to reflect on those I’ve jinxed, written off or otherwise cut-down in their (sub)prime.


And those whom I missed out should not feel themselves hard done by – your time cannot come too soon.


Everyone has hidden talents.


And last week I really went to town with my own.


So we’ve seen the one where you rankle Fed into a McFlurry of Long-Shanks with your mere presence on court. Show us another trick.




For what it’s worth (quite a lot as it happens), you’re now the proud owner of 6 Masters titles – the most any player’s ever won without bagging a Slam itself: if you were a WTA player, now would be the moment we’d take you out to be flayed and dismembered – or, if you’d prefer it, the other way round.


The tennis media does both – to the soundtrack of your choice, and at no extra charge.



Nevertheless, Muzz turned out to be the only top five player to play consistently to his ranking all week. I know that word’s virtually taboo these days. All the same, no one else was up to this most devalued of key performance indicators. And he did it without a coach. Again.


I’m not even going to attempt to defend the debauched way in which I went about throwing water on the idea that he could create any sort of a stir last week.


Not just in the finals, not even against Jo-Will-He-Wont-He.


No, I charted the precise geography and thermodynamics of Muzz’s expected downward spiral with nothing less than Hawkeye exactitude – all before he’d struck a single ball – all before I’d seen him strike a single ball, which, as it turned out, wasn’t before the final.



If I’m subject to a self-imposed gagging order in that respect, then I figure there’s not all that much left to say.


Except, if that’s “all” it takes to get you play to your ranking Muzz, I know what I must do.


Say all you want about the pissy, schoolboy-errors with which Fed flounced his way out of the final - the fact remains that it was he (not Djoko or Robin) that made the final and that it’s him (rather than Muzz or Djoko) back at world #2 (again).




A gross-out spectacle it may have been (and it was), but that’s now four out of four Masters finals since Madrid (and a win in Cincinnati) - so much for it “only being about the Slams”.


It probably is the twilight of his career, but it’s worth remembering how you still get burnt if you venture too close to a dying star.


Up until the semis I had thought Djoko was the best player of the week (mostly through idle hearsay it must be said) .


He had, after all, only just gone and won in Beijing (in a delayed Monday final - a win here would have meant, amongst other things, being the only man to ever win two titles in  one week).


As it stood then, either one of Fed or Djoko might have lifted the trophy:  it wasn’t just me that thought that 1st set of the Novak/Fed semi was the performance of the week from both men.




But nooo, I had to go the whole spit-roasted hog and pronounce that match a virtual final – it’s winner being, in my eyes, the most deserving of the title itself, certainly more so than those two miscreants contesting the other semi.


Poor sods – they never had a chance.


Well now. Here we all delightfully are in the blessed heart of darkness itself.



This one was such a splenetic mess, I’m almost inclined to exonerate myself of any and all blame. Sauron himself could not have said or done anything to make this any worse.


Describing this as a tennis match would be like speaking of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ as a Merchant/Ivory production.




In my defence, it’s the season ending, indoor swing – which should, by rights, be Big Rob’s best chance at winning just about anything – it also happens to be when my virile rooting interests are at their most prurient.


Alack Rafa. When you were overwrought by Gilly-Glopez in Bangkok, we turned a blind eye to your malfeasance, blaming it on the capricious whim of destiny, the spiritually sanctioned “law of averages”.


Coming into this, I dared suggest you might actually be beginning to find yourself on a surface, and at a time of the season, we normally reserve for big-swinging reprobates.


Yet, for every step Jurgen took in, you haplessly gave way - for every ball he took on the rise, you shunted one back hopelessly short. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, and it’s really not all that surprising with the year Jurgen had been having.


All the same, it shows you can still be beaten on this surface (by a relative lightweight on aggression alone) – despite being uninjured, despite being relatively fresh and exuding so much confidence there’s a very real danger of it being re-classified as a banned substance.


Not content with desecrating the legacy of individual players, I turned my hand, now, to clay court tennis itself.


Did I pay attention to the fact that Daveed Ferrer had only just cracked the top ten?


I did not (although in my defence, neither, it seems, did anyone else).


Only to see a poor-man’s-Daveed snuff out Rafa’s conqueror before coming unstuck against Muzz in the semis. Still, it’s worth nothing that it was Pico, rather than Dasco, Wawa or indeed Rafa, that made it out of that section of the draw alive.



For what it’s worth, I still think that clay-court tennis best functions as a cultural remnant of it’s heyday back in the late 80s and 90s- just like Merchant/Ivory productions of the same period.


But that shouldn’t mean clay-courters don’t hold their own alongside big-budget, all court tennis – however little might “remain of their day”.


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