Monday, 11 October 2010

Shanghai: So What Have We Learnt, Gentlemen?


1) Just what is Rafa so pumped about?


Being Rafa of course. Silly question.





If the Asian Swing really is a “swing”, then Rafa’s the kid that always takes things too far by pushing your 7 year-old self so high up, you end up crying.


I don’t suppose I’ll ever completely understand why playing these piddly events means so much to a guy that’s just written history. But then isn’t that exactly what Rafa’s all about? Barely stopping short of non-metaphorical cartwheels after beating a qualifier in round two of an ATP 500 event? Don’t ever change.


I might be wrong about this, but it’s almost as though he’s relishing the feeling of being able to play with the total abandon that must arise from being, a) injury free and b) able, therefore, to deliver his level best on a surface not traditionally considered “his bag”.


What all this means is that he’s got “nothing to lose” in the truest sense of the phrase: not in the way, say, Oscar Hernandez might have “nothing to lose” when he takes to court against Fed; not even in terms of ranking points (virtually none to defend until next year).


Perhaps this might be the best chance his career ever offers him of winning the WTF - the one title that eludes him. God knows what will happen if he wins in Aus.


Needless to say, this is both hugely problematic and profoundly dispiriting news for the rest of the tour.


I’d be be doing cartwheels too.


2) How good is Djoko’s Calculus?


If tennis was A-Level Maths, then  Djoko just went through a point of inflexion at Flushing.





I don’t think for a minute that he’ll repeat those highs right away, but I really don’t want to believe that was just a one off .


Personally I think it’s perfectly natural to have a slight dip in trajectory after such a defining performance before readjusting to a renewed sense of your self worth.


But he does SO need a good showing here: he’s got all those points to defend in Paris.


3) How much can ‘The Cone’ help Fed to “get it together”? “Get what together”, exactly?


In some ways, Fed’s in the same kind of “what now” transition Djoko is. The difference being that whilst Djoko’s Flushing performance was a step up from the way he’d been playing of late, Fed’s is more business as usual - which means that he’s mostly kept it together and (perhaps more importantly) hasn’t had any real WTF results (Baggy/IW perhaps the oddest loss, and yet take a look at what he had to say).





That gusto totalling of Sod in the gustiest conditions we’ve seen this year was as good as anything we’ve seen since the final of Melbourne (if not better given the wind).


I realise this will go down as one of his two worst Slam years since 2003, but it’s worth noting that it required three career-defining performances from top ranked players to bring that about – not something he’ll want to see repeated, but not nearly the catastrophe suggested by the column space devoted to doom-mongery.


Worth also mentioning that whilst I think input from the Cone will be invaluable over the coming months, I stand by my original assertion that his role will be (and should be) more about quietly nudging Fed back into reoccupying that mental space that wins Slams - renewing that sense of confidence that he can, indeed, beat everyone, dominate even the way he says he can (telling, that he chose  “dominate anyone” over “everyone” – not even he would claim to be able to dominate the way he did in 06-07).


Less important will be the need to “come to the net”, “to mix things up”, or any one of the manifold tired technical enhancements being touted as this years “silver bullet” solution to his “problems” (if you can call them that).


The tour moves on, players develop new weapons, so it is, of course, critical to keep your finger on the pulse and to understand how best to refashion a gameplan to respond to that.


It’s one thing to say that “Rafa has a beefier serve now, so I need to be ready for that”.


Or that “Djoko is clearly returning more fearlessly from the back of the court - I definitely ought to be prepared for that”.


Or that “Muzz is undergoing something of a career-tailspin, in a bit of a funk right now, so maybe I can bully him a little and profit from that”.

And yet, I can’t help feeling that a player like Fed, or indeed Rafa is less about mere technicalities, than they are about their formidable presence and belief: the belief that they really are, naturally, a superior order of being on the tennis court – in, of course, the most inoffensive way imaginable.


4) Where’d it all go wrong for Muzz?


*Grits teeth*


I want to say good things - hopeful things. It’s just that they don’t seem to accord with the narrative right now.





It wasn’t so much that he went out to Wawa at Flushing – it was the miserable, vacuous way in which he did. And there weren’t even any answers forthcoming from the post-mortem.


I didn’t follow Beijing very much but from what I gather, things weren’t considerably different against Ljuby.


Can you do us all a favour and appoint a coach already? A Coach-shaped cut out will suffice until you find a real one – something, anything to direct all all those death stares and verbal refuse at.


For one thing, I really don’t think he’s the “going it alone” type.


What was perhaps most concerning about the Flushing loss was the lack of any real diagnostics in it’s aftermath – Muzz was at a loss to explain his lack of energy and even went on to say he “might never win a Slam”.


Nothing hugely irresponsible about that – even the top players are more likely not to win a Slam than they are whenever they enter one. But being in the top four since 2008 and one of the esteemed few that has a winning record against Fed and Djoko and a not too blemished one against Rafa either, you’d think he’d have a less instinctive measure of his own self worth – though perhaps not, given that that presser was given less than an hour after the match.


In any case, get on to it Muzz, and soon. I have this horrible vision of you being drawn to play Phillip Kohlschreiber in the not too distant future with no one in your box and Miles Maclagan in his.


I agree: let’s not go there.


5) And the Others?


» I’m trying not to read too much into Sod’s loss to Fed at Flushing.


The wind was wreaking havoc, Fed was playing his best tennis of the year – looking back at it now, it was never really going to happen.


But I have to raise an eyebrow when Sod goes down in straights to Daveed Ferrer.


There’s also the uncomfortable fact that despite his recent success over Rafa and Fed – he’s now lost to both of them in their most recent respective Slam encounters.





» Davydenko: Remember him? Actually defending points here and, of course, at the WTF next month.


» Too early to diss Berd very much. A first round exit at Flushing is certainly a shocker – though it’s worth remembering how very new it all is to him. If he flames out early here or in Paris, or at the London WTF (assuming he qualifies), we’ll talk.


» Don’t expect too much from Delpo until the middle of next year. And then maybe only after that. But you already knew that.


» ARod is infected with the passive, top-ten, grinderman bug -- that had hitherto plagued only Novak – until further notice. I almost think less of myself for not expecting very much from him in what’s left of this year.


» Daveed Ferrer is  a top ten player – I keep having to remind myself of that. Don’t expect him to give anything less than his insolent, blue-collar, overachieving best to make the most of it.


» Mikhail Youzhny has a shot at end of season glory of some kind – and should by rights be made president, of something.

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