Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Paris: About time too.


So it’s like this. Paree and me? We go waaaayyyyy back. But it’s also what they call “complicated”.


The top players (those that have qualified for WTF in particular) haven’t always shown up. Those that have are almost always too banged up to care.


The venue is a study in criminally bland interiors - the outside courts look like something they’ve annexed from the local primary school – the main court is certainly big, yet still lacks the spunk expected of (what to most is) a season ending event, occupying instead a no-man’s-land of confused obsolescence: too cluttered to be minimalist yet too vacant to have anything like an atmosphere.


Is it any wonder the stands are barely filled until well into round three (and even then it’s only for marquee matches)?


The trouble is, it’s also the place Marat won three of his five Masters titles and the site of Daveed Nalbandian’s little late season surge of 07 – ideologically speaking, I have a hard time even feigning indifference to any of that.


Then there’s the crowd…its one thing seeing an outside court full of empty people, but that’s not half as jarring as those that eventually do turn up:  French fans that don’t boo and hiss and poke and leer and….flap(?) Or is that just for RG?

Like I said. Complicated.









Yeah, yeah, yeah. What took you so long?


You might expect me to be jumping clean out of my boxer shorts over this one, and I am, except….it should have happened one whole year ago.


With it being Paree, and with the show both Llodra and Monfils had put on for the better part of the week, there was a certain tricoloured electricity in the air – and, consequently, much of the pre-final commentary had centred along the lines of…. “Has Gael come of age?” …. “Will Sod be affected by the Parisian crowd?” … “Has Rasheed finally pushed the right buttons?”.


I see no problem with any of that. Trouble is, it diverted attention from that bloated, frisky, Scandinavian elephant on the other side of the room: that it’s more than just a little anomalous for a guy with GS wins over the best two players of the past decade (one of which arguably ranks as the greatest sporting upset of recent years) not to have won a single Masters event – not even on a fast indoor court.





So when Sod finally put paid to Gael’s last (and obviously doomed) attempts at treating the rising damp of French melancholy, it was all a little ‘are you not done yet?’ (and not just because the final was such a blowout).


The greater and more obvious moral victory was against Mika in the semis who despite having spawned a blister and very evidently tiring in the final set, remained, for me, the better player out there for most of the match week.


So when Amelie, Fabrice, Guy, Julien and, quite possibly, the spirit of de Gaulle all showed up courtside at the same time – for the briefest of moments, it really did seem the week was destined to end on that flavoursome, tricoloured note.


A lesser player (or a pre 2009 Sod for that matter), effectively being prevented from playing their best tennis, would have crumpled in a self-effacing heap of hopeless obsolescence .




And yet, the truth is no one, not even Napoleon himself, could have enabled Gael to beat Sod on a court as fast as this.


Swedes win on fast indoor courts. That’s just the natural order of things dear boy. Why should it matter in 2010 that he’s (clearly) not cut from the same cloth as Edberg or Wilander?


Robin’s groundies on the fastest court we’ve seen this season? Well that’s just a marriage made in heaven.


We hold these truths to be self evident because…well, mainly because Robin’s oppressive groundies say they are – truths that should, in any case, by now have been drummed into us by the violence of his, otherwise well-meaning, forehand – a forehand only a mother (and a certain doting tennis blogger) could love.




Expecting him to S+V or otherwise cavort with the net the way Edberg did is like attending a Burlesque show and complaining about the overdressed, hammy actors.


And with that, Sod – sorry Söd – usurps Muzz as the #4 ranked player in the world. With less than 300 points between him and Djoko and virtually no points to defend in Melbourne (both have 400 points to defend at WTF) , the future’s looking very bright indeed.


It’s a career milestone….and yet it’s also just another box to be ticked along the way to bigger and better things. He’d completed all the the other rites of passage and, if you ask me, reaching two Slam finals in the manner he did has got to be worth a Masters title alone.


Do I think he needed to win a Masters title before a Slam, something of a diktat amongst tennis’s chattering classes? ‘fraid not if anything, he seems more akin to Delpo in the way he simply ‘arrives’, should he decide to play well enough to win a Slam or any other event.


This one was long overdue….and it’s only the beginning.


In yer MonFACE


So sad Gaël. Here, have a Germanic umlaut for your pain.


Decriers will, of course (correctly) point to that poor excuse for a final – and yet, did any one of us believe they’d live to see the day Gael pulled the plug on that tired, poorly-choreographed stuntman act that riles me, and countless others, so very much?




No amateur dramatics, no Car-Crash TV – in fact, no broken glass of any kind.


It meant he was able to go through three top ten players (and score his first win over Fed) in the same week – don’t be surprised not to see that again for a very long time.


There was always a very real danger that, having delivered such an extraordinary performance piece, Gael would ‘revert to type’ in the final  – no surprises there then. Only, playing brain-dead passive tennis (which there was plenty of), is, this time, only in part responsible.


“Since the beginning of the tournament I’ve been really using up my reserves physically and mentally,” said Monfils, who also beat Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco in earlier rounds. “It’s the whole week that made me tired.

“Today I wasn’t able to find the extra stamina that I would have needed to be more competitive. … It’s the first time I’ve been beating three top-10 players in the same tournament.”


Dya know, I actually believe the man?


Gael’s not accustomed to the kind of mental/physical demands that such a restrained, patient and focussed passage of successful play at the highest of levels inevitably brings – his character’s usually killed off early on the second act and so has never been part of such a structured narrative, certainly not in such a prominent role.


Should it surprise us he wasn’t able to cope? He wouldn’t be the first player to default to more comfy territory under pressure.


Except the trouble with reverting to type ‘A’ Gael is that it’s the exact ideological opposite of what you’d normally do in such circumstances: when you’re running so low on fuel, the sensible, considered goto-play is to serve big and to shorten points – arguably what got him there in the first place.


But then nothing Gael ever did was either ‘sensible’ or ‘considered’.




If it were up to me, this entire post would be dedicated to Michael Llodra – my player of the week.


Having him win this event would have been exactly the kind of madcap, kooky yet-strangely-appropriate result this tournament’s become known for.


For what I hope are very obvious reasons I wasn’t rooting for him…..and yet as I sat there watching him arabesque from one end of the court to the other, it was impossible not to be utterly entranced.


A curious, throbbing, elemental mix of idiosyncratic French flair and Moulin Rouge.




There’ve been all the usual pitiful, nostalgic comparisons to the idealised age that never-was – and yet what’s made this little window into 1996 possible has been the choice of surface – the fastest we’ve seen anywhere all season.


Of course it has its drawbacks – there was a reason they slowed down both the grass and the balls at Wimbledon. All the same, I’m thinking it’s pretty obvious the pendulum’s swung too far the other way when one, admittedly superfast, event upends some of the best players of this generation.


I’m also thinking it’s a small price to pay for a slightly different look to the type of tennis we get on one awful, anodyne medium-pace, blue hard court after another.

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