Monday, 31 January 2011

Oz: Parting Shots.

 

 

 

 

1) The best two players in both draws won. And it’s kinda difficult to complain about that.

 

2) Li Na and Hubby, Jiang Shan,  just became my favourite tennis couple ever.

 

They just seem hopelessly attached to one another. He stares down at her from the players box with a glint in his eye, like she’s his pride and joy – often whilst serving as a backboard for her outbursts. Not that you should doubt her affection – she left her country’s national team in 2002 (re-joined later) because sports officials “barred” her from courting him, and it was Li herself that popped the question on Valentine’s day in 2005 with a box of chocolates.

 

lina1

 

"It doesn't matter if you are fat or skinny, handsome or ugly, I will always follow you, always love you."

 

Like I said, best tennis couple ever.

 

3) Can we retire the phrase “knocking on the door” please? It wasn’t a particularly attractive description in the first place and it’s certainly not true of Djokovic now.

 

4) Big 3?

 

The bigwig discussion? Again?

 

My criteria remains unchanged: dominating the rest of the field and regular  (though not necessarily frequent) wins over existing (higher-ranked) bigwigs including, but not limited to, Fedal, makes you a bigwig.

 

According to that criteria, both Djoko and Murray have  already been bigwigs for some time (If we further restrict it to Slam winners, we must exclude Murray which seems unnecessarily harsh given his wins over Fedal and the rest of the field).

 

5) As is to be expected, Muzz will likely be mauled for weeks to come by the Brit tennis press. I hope he goes nowhere near a newspaper.

 

 

judy

 

No words necessary.

 

He’s spoken of a spell away from tennis, which actually sounds like a sensible idea if he uses it to throw himself into something completely different (hint: not playstationing).

 

Some of the criticism will be deserved; most of the censure, however, will be a mixture of callous tradition and (worse) casual drive by journos finding it necessary to feign an interest in tennis for all of two or three weeks a year.

 

6) Speaking of casual, drive-by journalism, some of it (perhaps understandably) started during the match.

 

Let’s be clear. Snark is a healthy and necessary part of a functioning,free-thinking tennis fanbase. I have no time for snooty puritans dressed in pringle jumpers that find it distasteful.

 

The British press have, in turn, turned heaping abuse on our sporting failures from a quaint village tradition that dates back centuries into its current incarnation as an advanced discipline that David Cameron will ensure you have no hope of being funded to study for.

 

All, except the part about student fees, sort of acceptable, on some level.

 

It’s getting a bit much though when the snark is coming from people with no interest in the game. What I saw on twitter yesteday, from British (non-tennis) journos almost had the air of a medieval paegant, at which you might stop by to hurl rotting fruit at the unfortunate soul trussed up for our amusement – in this case Andy Murray.

 

Maybe they’d like to be disembowelled for our amusement too? Just like “the good old days”. Quid pro quo.

 

7) The women outplayed the men.

 

From beginning to end. Right up to and including the final.

 

Fed v Gilles was something special, TooMuch earnt the right to be talked of for the right reasons and Dolgo is just plain good news.

 

But up until the semis (when all hell broke loose), for the most part, the men’s event was a remarkably demure, upset-free event, played in the best of spirits. BORING.

 

All the while, the WTA gave us a soul enriching symphony comprised of breakthroughs (Petko), comebacks (Aga), heartbreak (Venus), talent-fests (Sveta/Henin), re-retirements and of course:

 

8) The best WTA match ever played.

 

Is that an exaggeration? I don’t think it is.

 

What else do you call the longest match in GS history, which, in stark contrast to Isnut, was a sustained exhibition of quality from beginning to end. Ok, perhaps that’s not quite right – but are you really going to pretend that that one middle set (that Fran won 6-1) takes anything away from the totality of the match?

 

In any case, I’d like to hear what you think is the best match ever played, if not this.

 

9) Marián Vajda and Novak Djokovic is one of the best partnerships in tennis.

 

I don’t know Vajda personally and no one can claim to be privy to the internal dynamics of a relationship that goes back over 4 years.

 

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What I do admire (from afar) is Vajda’s mixture of calm, low-key, responsive, respectful, disciplined focus towards his charge and, given the way Novak’s developed technically, his tennis input too.

 

Djokovic, for his part, is always very keen to recognise his involvement, over and above the usual nod to coach and team we usually see.

 

It seems, in other words, to be an enduring, robust, mutually respectful, mutually beneficial, highly successful partnership that neither party seems to want to end. Why would they?

 

10) Let there be no illusions about this: Novak’s straight sets dismissal of Fed was the single most emphatic, most significant, most telling defeat Fed has suffered in years.

 

This was no (mostly muscle based) drive-by rout the way Sod and Berd did for Fed last year – Nole emerged the better player playing the same bold, brash brand of tennis full of the explosive movement he exhibited when he burst on the scene four years ago.

 

I’d have to see some improvements at the net before I buy into the “players’ player” label I’ve seen being bandied about. But it almost doesn’t matter.

 

All that said and done, I’m not quite ready to change any guards just yet – not unless you’re prepared to change them right back again when Rafa wins RG and Fed wins one of Wimby and the USO again.

 

11) Halfway through the set-that-must-not-be-named, Sarah Churchwell began tweeting the men's final.

 

Confession: I always tend to get a euphoric pang of glee whenever my sport gets wider recognition or, better still, is mentioned (in an informed, non-condescending way) by well-respected figures outside of tennis.

 

"The pleasure I take in watching perfect stretches of tennis ... is both a mimetic pleasure in bodily accuracy, a dramatic pleasure in controlled success ... and an aesthetic pleasure of my own in the patterns made by dancing feet, floating or whipped, or stunned balls in air or on a hard surface, and a sense of the mapping and remapping of the cube of air and the rectangle of earth."

AS Byatt in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine, October 26, 2003

 

Churchwell seems well-versed in the game, and was, like the rest of us, criticising Muzz for his vacuous performance in that period, whilst complimenting Djoko’s movement and defence.

 

Part of me (the previously mentioned euphoric part) was busy affirming how tennis-loving literature academics are #GoodForTennis.

 

murray

 

The other part, however, was desperately wringing its hands in embarrassment at the spectacle being played out.

 

It was like having that very “proper” girl two years above you at Uni, you always wanted to impress, inadvertently stray into the JCR and discover you all dishevelled, telling loud, uncouth jokes and in various states of undress.

 

One assumes she knows enough tennis not to be discouraged. All the same, I can’t help wishing she’d dropped by another day. We’re better than this. Honest.

 

12) Wozniacki can win a Slam. Yeah, I said it.

 

Within hours of the conclusion of the final, tired old questions were once again raging around the legitimacy of Woz’s #1 ranking (boring) and her style of play (still boring).

 

Wertheim weighed in thus: "There's a lot to like about her game. But it's hard to see a player so lacking in weaponry winning a Slam."

 

I would say the exact opposite: Not a lot to like about her game, but with so many retirements pending in 2012, hard NOT to see her winning a Slam.

 

I would also say Woz’s defence is her “thing” the way Serena’s serve or Juju’s backhand or Ferru’s fitness and intensity is theirs. She’ll never be “about the winners”, but amongst other things, this makes her the best defender in the game.

 

Not only is this commendable in its own right, it will, in all likelihood, make her best placed to take advantage of the Slam vacuum left by the Williamses and Kim when they do finally call it quits (generally agreed to be around the time of the 2012 Olympics).

 

Ditto Bepa, Vika, and even JJ (I still believe), who all have it within them to go 7 out of 7 matches in that post-Williamses, post-Clijsters, post-2012 environment. It’s not even a stretch to bet on a new face, a relative unknown having the breakthrough of her life.

 

Even so,  I’m more interested in how well Sveta will fare – no reason she shouldn’t, in principle, flourish as one of the most experienced, most talented women of this new era.

 

13) Djokos winner’s speech

 

He mentioned his coach, his team, the multicultural feel of the event, the victims of the Queensland floods, and of course his homeland. All without ceremony, when that, in fact, was precisely what this was.

 

10 out of 10.

 

A post-tennis Serbian presidency beckons…

 

14) Anyone calling for Venus’s retirement should be exiled to a Siberian gulag

 

It’s one thing to gently suggest that her best days are behind her or not to want to see her embarrass herself – need I remind you that we’re hardly there yet.

 

Venus may never win another Slam (though this too is far from certain), but deserves to go out with dignity and on her own terms.

 

15) I miss Serena. That is all.

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Oz: Triumph & Disaster

 

 

Venn2

 

 

Depending on whether you think of Murray as a brilliant tactician, too passive for his own good, too grumpy for his own good (or indeed, all three), and on your tennis philosophy in general, you’ll regard his membership of all the above groups as being “in good company” or the worst of all possible worlds.

 

 

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My own view:

 

Set 1) So close you could smell the BO. Just like your fellow bystander on London Underground.

 

And just like London Underground, people responded to it with either Monday-Morning grouchiness, snoozing in the hope of waking up to better things, forbearance in the face of a necessary evil, or a mixture of amusement and incredulity at not knowing where it was headed and at it not AT ALL feeling like  a GS final.

 

I started off agreeing: lengthy, no-pace rallies that were less about craft and rather more to do with no one wanting (or being able) to pull the trigger were hardly the stuff GS finals.

 

At a certain point though, it simply became snark for the sake of snark. And not particularly inventive snark.

 

murray2

 

How many times have we seen a raucous high-intensity semi followed up by a Fedal castration of a finalist crippled by “the aura” and the sense of occasion? Is that meant to be preferable?

 

Listening to some of the comments, you’d think two juniors had turned up.

 

This was simply a different look of tennis, it was closely fought and when the break came at 4-4 it was to prove decisive. Nole was playing too well not to take his chances.

 

 

Set 2) A complete disaster. Scorched earth and the end of life as we and Andy knew it.

 

I’m talking apocalyptic carnage. Twisted, knotted metal and the musty smell of singed hair hanging heavily in the air. Perhaps even the odd flesh-craving zombie wandering about.

 

djokomuzz

 

Almost redundant having a discussion about how “passive play” might have ruined his chances (it did and we should be having that discussion even though it’s all been said many times over).

 

Far more relevant, I feel, is how badly Murray reacted to going 2-0 down. Playing two or even three dud games in the middle of a match is dangerous but strikingly common even from the likes of Fed. What distinguishes “the better man(or woman)” is in their acceptance of poor form and how confidently they weather out the storm.

 

My guy didn’t react so well: 2 swiftly became 3, which in turn rapidly haemorrhaged into 4 and, before we know it, he  was  5-0 down and we were having all those sorry-ass discussions about “poor body language” again.

 

As with their initial breakthroughs, Djoko appears to have been the first to mature in this respect too. Their results tell no other story.

 

Set 3) The fight back (or something like it) begins. And ends very quickly.

 

It wasn’t quite “too little too late” – some of the best tennis of the match was played in this set – but Nole was, by now, comfortably in his element and playing the type of tennis that saw off Fed and made him the best player in the draw.

 

djoko

 

The forehand with all the depth and bite that has been AWOL for over two years; the serve, so often recently blighted by either a change of equipment or an irritatingly hysterical javelin-throwers action, now a goto weapon of choice to dig him out of trouble.

 

Then there’s the movement. And in this, he’s in a class by himself. It’s certainly not as effortless as Fed, and I really don’t know whether it makes him the best defender in the game – no want of contenders there in any case.

 

Though where I think Djoko distinguishes himself is in his agility and flexibility. No one, but no one, twists and contorts his hips and back the way he does. Combined with his speed, it means he’s able to dig himself out of all sorts of impossible jams, (usually when he’s being run ragged on the baseline), work his way back into points after being stretched out impossibly wide, switch defence into offence in the blink of an eye and end up winning a rally he had no right to even be part of.

 

I remember it back in 2007 when he first broke through – what’s different now is a slightly heavier more developed body and a markedly more mature tennis brain which manifests itself as nuance in the most unlikely, underrated, low-profile of places.

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Oz: History vs. Destiny

 

 

For my part, I thought the way Li Na played the final was a mirror of the way she played her semi final versus Caro….but just like the mirror everything appeared inverted.

 

kim1

 

She started off rip-roaring well and seemed to be up a set before my eyes had adjusted to the morning light (8am on a Sat morning…a little understanding, please) – not that different to the way she closed out Caro.

 

Kim, all the while, seemed thrown off, jittery, confused.

 

And then midway through the second set – just two or three games away from the biggest win of her life and actually making history – Li started to give way. Not all at once, but with subtlety, piece by piece, layer by layer, it all unravelled leaving a completely different flavour of match.

 

Most of the dysfunction began with her volleying – or to be clear her drive-volleying.

 

To be fair, I actually think Li volleys, not completely adeptly, but well enough. And she’s at her best when she doesn’t think. She said so herself. That probably flies in the face of convention  – but it seems to work for her.

 

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Which makes it all the more surprising, that she seemed almost to be overthinking some of those drive-volleys: it got to the point where you’d find yourself pleading for her to put away a conventional volley badly, rather than her preferred drive-volley right back in the path of Kim who didn’t need a second invite.

 

No secret it’s not the result I was looking for (certainly not the bigger story), but is on some level at least, the right result.

 

Kim came into the event being touted the favourite (rightly). And once it all began, was, like Djokovic, the best player in the draw.

 

Within minutes of her win, there was talk of her already being halfway to a Rafa-Slam (far be it for them to be dissuaded by inconvenient facts like that not actually having happened yet) – talk which I’m finding all rather difficult.

 

Leaving aside the fact that neither of the Williamses are done just yet, for all her gifts, Kim is still prone to inexplicable episodes of jitteriness – it was there in a lesser form this fortnight with seemingly spontaneous mini-streaks of double faults and UFEs. Not all that sure that translates to winning 7 out of 7 matches on either grass or clay – not her most effective surfaces as the best of times.

 

Earlier in the week, she signalled this might be her last full year on tour: that doesn’t give her many more chances.

 

For now however, she’s rightfully (Serena’s injury not withstanding) considered the best player on the planet and will, in all likelihood, capture the #1 ranking at some point this year.

 

Something tells me that might be enough for her.

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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Oz: Noticeboard (Day fourteen)

 

us_propaganda-21

 

With Henin, Pova,Venus, Vika and Sveta out, and Franny maimed and limping into the quarters, it's fair to say things haven’t quite gone to plan.

 

I’ve disbanded my dysfunctional prayer circle of heretics, deviants and delinquents in favour of a War Room and realigned myself around Fran, Bepa, Li and Petra.

 

Muzz for the men.

 

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

 

We can still do it.

 

Q1

Q2

Q3

Q4

Ferru

Muzz

Djoko

 

Fed

Q1

Q2

Q3

Q4

Woz LiNa Kim Bepa

 

LEGEND

Top Guns

Hot Stuff

Young & Restless

Sympathy Vote

 

PICK OF THE DAY

 

 

Rod Laver Hisense MCA

11am

 

 

     
 

 

7:30pm

Andy Murray(GBR)[5]
vs.
Novak Djokovic(SRB)[3]

 

 

 
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Friday, 28 January 2011

Oz: Destiny

 

1 day…..20 hrs…….32 mins…….43 seconds.

 

THAT……is when this Slam……..will end.

 

500full-donnie-darko-poster

 

126 matches of professional tennis, most of which you won’t ever see, can’t ever prove were even played out, and for all you know probably only existed in a transient tangential Donnie-Darko type corrective universe.

 

One that will cease to exist the second after Li Na and Andy Murray fulfil their destiny.

 

I never did get round to blogging that Li/Caro match. It made for difficult viewing. It also made for incredibly inspiring viewing once Li came alive in the closing moments of that 2nd set.

 

lina1

 

Li’s groundies are dynamite. Technically perfect dynamite.  Caro still struggles to keep the ball in court on the rare occasion she tries to crack a winner. Tell me something new.

 

My own little theory for why she was in Murray’s box during his semi final today:

 

Muzz: “So, I saw you in my players’ box today [grins dorkishly] - it felt cool.”

 

*steamy music*

 

Caro: “Well….[breaths deeply]….I’m not normally the kind of girl that does this sort of thing…”

 

Muzz: “Go on….”

 

Caro: "[sighs]…even now I’m not comfortable asking you this [flutters eyelashes]…”

 

Muzz: “GO ON…”

 

*record scratching noise*

 

Caro[deadpan]:  “For a guy that isn’t [airquotes with fingers] ‘about the winners’, you win, like, a lot of matches – I need to know how that works…”

 

Muzz: …

 

 

Caro’ll never be “all about the winners” the way Li and other WTA big guns are – that’ll never be “her thing”.

 

610x

 

But with a retirement bloodbath less than 20 months away (Venus, Serena, Roger, ARod, Kolya, Kim, amongst others – I’m doing ‘denial’ right now so I’m at ‘acceptance/hope’ in time for the 2012 Olympics) and with the players left to fill the void, you’ve got to think “her thing” will probably be enough to win a Slam….at some point.

 

I can see I’d better define what precisely“her thing” is: quite simply, being the best defender in the game (JJ used to be that once remember? That didn’t stop us from predicting a Slam for her).

 

And even though that’s (clearly) not quite what we expect or even desire from a world #1, it’s not half bad an asset. Besides, I’m kinda tired of the grinder storyline. She is what she is.

 

But back to Li.

 

08-fans

 

Let there be no illusions about just how big this would be if she does manage to pull this off. Your expression tells me you already know that. Ok then.

 

And yeeaaahhh, alright – she’s probably not playing for “king and country” in much the same way as Muzz is claiming it to be more of a “personal glory” thing too. (Good luck selling that to the papers)

 

I have to say, I don’t completely believe either of them. Not that they haven’t likely successfully convinced themselves of what they’re saying.

 

I just don’t think you can, in Li’s case at least, completely blot out the hopes, desires and fears of 1.3 billion people that have never had a player even contest the finals of one of these gigs before.

 

We already know something of her love for them with the charity work she does – that has to leave some kinda carbon footprint on your psyche.

 

You can try and play it down, you can try and shake it off. You can’t pretend it’s not there.

 

lina2

 

Glass half empty:

 

If she plays as dissolute a match as she played against Caro in the semis, Kim mows her, or rather she mows herself down. In straights.

 

Glass half full:

 

Li’s been astonishingly accurate since the season began which, as we all know, is astonishingly out of character for her. Maybe this really does have a sense of “destiny” to it the way Fran did at RG last year – I have to say I didn’t really see it when people were suggesting it earlier on this week.

 

Maybe a more contained, less error-prone version of Li will only continue to exist for the span of time it takes to win this thing before collapsing in on itself the way Donnie’s tangential universe did – but only after allowing him to set things right for everyone (assuming at least some of you have seen the film?), in this case over 1.3 BILLION PEOPLE.

 

If the Caro semi-final was her one dud – then I’d say she’s got it out of her system.

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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Oz: Triumph and Disaster…

 

Rudyard-Kipling

 

The last male Brit to win a Slam was Fred Perry in 1936.

 

Rudyard Kipling died that same year.

 

Murray was, somewhat portentously, quoting Kipling in the aftermath of the Rafa loss.

 

Draw your conclusions.

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Oz: Stealing Thunder

 

 

I said ‘calm before the STORM’, not the Great Red Spot of Jupiter.

 

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Djokovic d. Federer 76 75 64

 

You know what I think? I think the ATP Universe got wind of the fact that people were beginning to suggest that the women were outplaying the men and stealing much, if not all, of the show. With Henin already, rather astonishingly, being accused of stealing Australian thunder(?) they figured if they didn’t get in on the action fast, there’d be nothing left to steal.

 

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» Top two seeds (best players to have ever played the game) out before the finals IN STRAIGHT SETS. Thunder being stolen.

 

» Djokovic playing his best tennis since 2008 (the last time he won here also beating Fed at this stage), outplaying a fighting-fit Federer in straight sets. Thunder being stolen.

 

» Federer not in possession of an active Slam for the first time since 2003. Thunder being stolen.

 

» A non Fedal Slam winner for only the third time in the last 23 Slams. Thunder being stolen.

 

» Andy Murray with a very real shot at winning his first Slam title (not, incidentally, going through Fedal*) – would make him the first Brit to win a major since 1936. Thunder being stolen.

 

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Changing of the guards?

 

Nadal unfit/viral and Fed with no events to defend until the summer.

 

Like the man said, ask again in six months.

 

 

* – What are you doing down here? Don’t you know what an asterisk means in the context of a Grand Slam?

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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Oz: No Rafa Slam

 

 

Haven’t much time to chalk up the Rafa loss, suffice to say that I didn’t think a Rafa Slam was going to happen.

 

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I can’t entirely explain this; it just felt like it represented a level of perfection that ought to remain beyond us, at least for a while. And it seems the universe agrees with me.

 

Even Fed’s awesome 23 Slam SF streak came to an end.

 

If it hadn’t been a hamstring it would have been something else – like maybe losing to a better player on the day.

 

We certainly ought to be thankful it wasn’t a knee complaint. I wish him well.

 

Ferru of course enters the semis by rights. I’m very happy for him – he has a better chance against Muzz than most appear prepared to give him.

 

And if Djoko somehow gets past Fed (I certainly don’t expect a repeat of Flushing), we’ll have a Ferru v Djoko final.

 

I don’t care to speculate beyond that other than to reiterate my support for Muzz.

 

One other thing. The point scoring that occurs every time something like this happens is beginning to grate.

 

Injuries are part and parcel of the game now more than ever. It’s good to recognise instances of class and sportsmanship whenever they occur as they did in this case with Rafa refusing to throw in the towel and the very reflective presser he gave.

 

I respect both Nadal and Fed for their achievements and their comportment over the years – we’ll miss it when its gone.

 

I can do without the Rafaelite street parades celebrating how classy Rafa is every time this happens – it is after all something we already know. Just as I can do without the touchy, pre-emptive shoring-up of their man by an overly defensive Federnation

 

Sometimes an injury is just an injury.

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More on Henin

 

 

justine_henin_laureus

 

More on Nadal later.

 

Still reeling.

 

Immediate (mixed, uncut, rather disorganised) thoughts :

 

1) This is not #GoodForTennis, which benefits from varied styles of play. The WTA is poorer for it, whatever you might have thought of her and whatever difficulties you might have thought she would face in a very different environment from her first career outing.

 

2) Needless to say, women’s tennis is not in need of saving from anything or anyone. Anyone that saw the WTA tennis on offer this fortnight knows that’s just a loada hooey.

 

3) Corollary: If a mini-era of Clijsters domination were to happen (not at all certain btw), Justine wouldn’t have been the one to stop it. Sad, but true.

 

4) There’s been a lot of talk about how she was finding it difficult to re-establish herself in her second career – that’s probably true.

 

I also think, however, that she was incredibly unlucky.

 

Since coming back in 2010 she made the finals of Brisbane (losing to Kim), final of Oz (losing to Serena), semis of Miami (losing to Kim), won Stuttgart, made the R16 in RG and won s’Hertogenbosch before suffering that ill-fated fall in the R16 at Wimbledon (again against Kim).

 

For a player returning after a 20 month outage, those are impressive results.

 

None of this is to say what coulda-shoulda-woulda been, just that a fair assessment demands recognising what an unfortunately decisive role that torn elbow ligament played in what was, after all, only a smallish 15 month window.

 

5) Henin’s competitive instinct was legendary – sometimes to her own detriment. This sometimes made her difficult to warm up to (witness vast number of twi-butes beginning with “Never a great fan BUT,…”). 

 

Easy sometimes, though, to lose sight of the fact that tennis players are people first and foremost; and people tend, for the most part, to be built differently. Each to their own of course (she wasn’t my favourite player either), though it’s worth remembering we account for this in life too, do we not?

 

6) Less easy to understand is a prevalent tendency to base an entire character assessment on two of her least finest moments. Both those incidents (no need to reiterate them) were problematic on all sorts of levels.


They were also (both) a very long time ago. Most people I know believe in 2nd chances. They also believe in letting go.

 

7) All that said and done the decision to retire sounds permanent. Given the medical consultations she has undergone, the fact that she was playing with pain right through Oz and that she would very likely have called it quits at the London Olympics 2012 anyway, that would appear to be the right one.

 

She was never one to hang around if she felt she couldn’t meet (in this case through a physical ailment) her own very high standards.

 

8) Just in the last day or so, Dementieva asked to have her name removed from the rankings. Guess that makes it official too.

 

I was always far more invested in Elena, though any perma-feature of the noughties – and Henin was always far more than that – was always bound to induce at least some wistful reminiscing. It’ll be the same when ARod quits. Oh yes, 2012 will be a bloodbath of retirements.

 

9) We’ve all mused over and over about her aesthetically-pleasing, feature-rich, multi-dimensional game. Well that’s history now.

 

I expect Suarez-Navarro will over the coming weeks find her practice sessions frequented by an unusually large number of disillusioned, nostalgic Juju fans, but the truth is, there doesn’t appear (at least for the moment) to be anyone

with a remotely similar style of play.

 

That’s not always the tragedy it’s drummed up to be – talent has always evolved in different ways and there’s plenty of exciting developments to look forward to – but is still a little sad.

 

I’ll always remember her for her being one half of her (sometimes contentious) rivalry with Serena Williams – a rivalry that spanned the better part of a  decade, a rivalry that was what it was because of both of them.

 

Best of luck Juju in whatever you do.

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Justine Henin retires from tennis. Again.

 

 

 

Dear all,

I address my letter to you because this is currently the best way to express meself, I now experience very difficult times. I have unfortunately not good news. I spent the last days undergoing  various  medical tests and they have confirmed that my elbow has been damaged by my adventure in Australia.

After my crash at Wimbledon in June, I knew it would be difficult to come back. But I had decided to keep playing and to give everything to overcome the injury. In these recent months I have rarely been spared from the pain, those last months were very hard. Time has passed, and the doubts have grown, and only return to the courts would give me answers. Not the answer I was hoping for... unfortunately. I suffered a lot the last week and every day gave me more and more pain, but I believed that my will would take the upper hand. Today, the examinations are clearly and and the doctors formally, my elbow is too fragile and hurt so that my passion and my profession at high level cannot continue to exist.

I'm in shock, of course, even with the work of these past seven months I had to understand that there might be a reason for all this. After having well considered and following the advice of doctors, it is now clear and I accept that my career here ... ... finally ends. Even though it's hard, very hard, while I came back with a tremendous fighting spirit.

I'm sorry ... I had hoped for a different return and dreamed of a different ending. I will need time to process all this, but I remain convinced that even with little progress, my level with my return did not meet my expectations, despite everything I've learned a lot over the past 15 months.

I turn, and this time, an incredible page of my life ... What a wonderful trip, I have experience during all these years. Today I'm calmer and I can create a positive and rewarding look back on this experience in my life.

I would never have reached this level all alone, and I insist to thank all persons who sticked with me during adventures. My coach and my friend Carlos, my family, my friends, my whole team, all those who helped me when it was hard and have shared in my joy. Thank you to my partners for the confidence they have given me, for their support in all circumstances. Thanks to my medical staff who, these last months, were always available and always with great professionalism  there for me.

Finally and most importantly, thanks everyone. Thanks for standing by my side during all these years. I will never forget your support and your loyalty. And if I only regret one thing, this would be that I've protected myself too hard and that I couldn’t stand closer to you.

I hope you will forgive me my clumsiness and a wonderful reminder of shared emotions will keep them together.

On the way to new adventures ...

See you soon, anywhere ...

Justine

 

 

JUST. WOW.

 

And after all the overnight Rafa shenanigans.

 

Watch this space.

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Oz: Calm Before the Storm.

 

 

 

 

1) Whoah, like, the top four are playing all awesome tennis and stuff, and inflicting beatdowns on everyone in a 20m radius and whatnot.

 

In contrast to all the emerging storylines in women’s draw, the men have (Dolgo not withstanding) thrown up remarkably few surprises.

 

Well, ok, maybe I didn’t expect to see Dasco get as far as he did. And it was nice to see Marin bounce back. And Fed v Gillou was dope.

 

But, if we’re being honest, neither Rafa nor Fed had particularly painful draws. They’re both going to enter the semis having played their local lackeys.

 

All the top four (inc. Muzz) will enter them near the top of their game.

 

Calm before the storm?

 

2) Re those storylines in the womens draw.

 

 

kvitova-getty

This

 

li-celebrate-ap

And this.

 

Don’t all pretend you’re not thinking what I’m thinking.

 

Don’t all pretend it can’t happen.

 

(Sorry Bepa – we’re still cool. But these are ‘big picture’ issues).

 

3) You won’t, thankfully, find many people pretending Fran had anything left in the tank in her three sets against Woz yesterday.

 

That said, there comes a time where you simply have to stop grumbling and accept the chips the way they’ve landed.

 

Woz is here on her merits, whatever they are. Much as I rail against her, a small part of me almost wants her to win a Slam…..at some point (not here and preferably in a dogfight against Kim), so we can all move on.

 

I’m not going to sit here and pretend Franny didn’t make at least parts of it competitive.

 

Nor am I going to pretend Woz didn’t earn the win.

 

And now I’m done being fair and analytical.

 

Australian Open Tennis

 

Ciao Fran. You lost. Why does it feel like ours?

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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Oz: On ‘Minions’ and ‘Gossips’

 

 

Australian Open Tennis

 

 

So Stan got a whole lotta bad press overnight.

 

"Stan has been an absolute embarrassment today," Eurosport commentator and tennis sage Simon Reed noted after the man in question had hurled his racquet to the ground in anger…

'But Federer played really well,' many will inevitably retort on Stan's behalf, but the world number two barely had a bead of sweat to show for walking all over a man who crushed Andy Roddick like a clove of garlic in the previous round.

-- Tramlines (Eurosport)

 

When has Fed ever broken a bead of sweat playing a match on his terms?

 

Why did people ever think this match would ever be played on anything other than his terms?

 

Why should crushing Roddick “like a clove of garlic” leave people thinking he had even a scrap of a chance against Fed in this form?

 

Stan was doomed from the very start. And I don’t even mean in the match.

 

Ever since his family affairs became tabloid-fodder, he’s been considered fair game for a wider baying audience as commenter after commenter wheel out overly-worn domestic innuendos over what is and should remain essentially private.

 

Leaving one’s wife and 11 month old child “to focus more on tennis” does sound like he didn’t think the whole marriage thing through very well and, whatever else the case, I really can’t see Stan emerging from all this smelling of roses.

 

I must have missed the part where this makes it any of our business.

 

Australian Open Tennis

 

It’s one thing for once-avid fans to cool off a little (this will blow over as it should) and entirely another to bandy about irresponsible character judgements which speak rather more to the petty characters of those that relish peddling such gossip.

 

There were always going to be the “Swiss minion” jokes. In the same way as there will be Spanish ones when Daveed Ferrer goes down in straights to Rafa tomorrow (and he will go down in straights).

 

Idle banter like that is practically part and and parcel of being a tennis fan. (Though I do sometimes wonder why Swiss reserve comes in for more of a hammering. Hint: Being more of an “earthy” extrovert doesn’t always automatically equate with a more humble persona just as being unable to open up doesn’t always equate with a distant, more regal one)

 

But last nights debacle, having been conflated with all of Stans domestic troubles, turned into something altogether more hateful.

 

A bad day for tennis.

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Monday, 24 January 2011

Oz: Can we stop calling him “unheralded” now?

 

Sod’s out.

 

He didn’t play well.

 

dolgo2

 

Dolgo’s a HUGE talent explosion just waiting to happen.

 

After dropping the first set, he cruelly exposed Sods poor movement, who was already suffering a blistered toe.

 

His movement, on the other hand, is CGI-perfect.

 

He can slice, junk-ball, volley, take the ball early, serve BIG, camp out well-inside the baseline, and crack a winner, it seems, at will from pretty much anywhere he wants.

 

And he’s brash enough and feisty enough not to give a sh*t that he’s wearing an Alice band whilst doing so.

 

A breakthrough was never really ever in the IF category but WHEN.

 

These are the facts as I see them.

 

sod1

 

Normally this would prove hugely upsetting for me – especially considering how well Sod was playing coming into this.

 

This year, I’m supporting Muzz. I feel no conflict about this.

 

Sod will have plenty of other opportunities. He plays equally well on all surfaces and, in case you missed it, is here to stay.

 

Muzz, on the other hand, comes to life on hard courts. I actually think he’s better on grass than he thinks he is, but he’s clearly convinced himself of his hard court prowess sufficiently enough to likely make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

All of which means this will be one of his two best chances this year of doing something that can no longer go on being “only a matter of time”.

 

I still maintain Dolgo resembles the lovechild that Lleyton Hewitt and Martina Hingis never had (though no one seems to want to back me up on this).

 

And I guarantee I’ll be sounding a lot less complacent if he picks off both Sod and Muzz in succession.

 

(Pics: AFP, AP)

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Sunday, 23 January 2011

Oz: #GoodForTennis

 

 

First the good news: I’m no longer the frothy, fuming, sticky mess I was this morning.

 

If you want to know why, I suggest you take another look at Caro’s quarter of the draw.

 

610x5

 

You’ll never know my true fury at the way that section of the draw collapsed in on itself. All the while Domi and Sevastova falling over themselves to grant Caro business class passage to the QFs.

 

But my real frustration is this: we already knew Franny/Sveta were awesome – right down, I’d argue, to the cellular level.

 

Was it really necessary to sacrifice them both on the temple of Woz to (re)convince ourselves of that?

 

At 4 hrs and 44mins this is the longest match in women’s GS history.

 

Franny will be in no shape to face Woz – let there be no illusions about that. With all the best sports science in the world, she’d do well to recover to 65%. That may be enough if Woz has a horrendous day, but don’t count on it.

 

 

610x4

 

None of which is Caro’s fault of course, though it does take a very special class of fan to gracefully endure the walkovers her opponents have handed her.

 

Aside on Caro: The most common complaint I’ve heard since “the match of the year” ended was how lucky she’s been. A longer uncut version of that argument is used to poke fun at the credibility of her #1 ranking. I’ve no time for that.

 

That said, she has been lucky with this draw – impossibly so.

 

But I would also say the exact opposite: every time something like this happens it unfairly increases the toxic levels of glare on her Slamless credibility – it’s almost got to the point where she must be cursing her luck.

 

What Caro needs is not necessarily to win a Slam, not even to drastically change her passive style of play, but to be involved in a 4 hour cage fight like this.

 

Those snooty arguments about the #1 ranking and her passive game might never go away, but her credibility would sky rocket overnight.

 

***

 

schiavone-fall-ap

 

You don’t need me to dissect it all or tell you how great it all was. There’s plenty of news sites and other blogs that have been doing that all day and I haven’t been especially quick off the mark with this post.

 

You also don’t need me to tell you it was the best ad for women’s tennis ever.

 

A month or so ago, in support of a very valid point initially raised by Bobby Chintapali and in a fit of irritation, I started off a #goodfortennis hashtag on twitter, its intent being to act as a humorous but otherwise deliberate foil to all those oversold media-luvverlies that are constantly foisted upon us with the desperate not-that-implicit suggestion that they are “good for tennis”.

 

Aside from the fact that no one seems to know what this means, what irks most people I talk to is not that Ivanovic, Wozniacki or Kim Clijsters are the ones most regularly touted as being “good for tennis” (they are) but that well-loved, well-respected, humble talents are regularly overlooked, presumably because they don’t accord to whatever ‘look’ the authorities and media are most keen to project of our sport.

 

x6106

 

24 hours ago we got another alarming demonstration of this as a two-time Slam champion and the current RG titleholder were shafted on to Hisense while Woz, Vika, Fed and Pova were placed on RLA.

 

As it turned out, all of those matches were blowouts.

 

Which makes me very happy.

 

The Sveta/Fran match, as we all know, turned out to be not just historic, but history itself – and a well-timed, sweaty bitchslap in the faces of all those who would, sadly, knowingly schedule exactly the same way all over again.

 

 

610x8

 

For Sveta its the best sign yet that all the hard work over the off season has indeed paid off. Her impossibly abundant talent was never in doubt. If she can sustain anything like this form over the rest of the year we’re in for a treat.

 

For Franny there seems to be no limits to what her talent and heart will let her achieve – I know I’ve spent the best part of this post suggesting otherwise but only a fool would write her off.

 

Wimby aside, this is her 2nd consecutive Slam QF.

 

I’ve lost count of the amount of journos that suggested RG was a hopelessly-lovable, goose-pimply, but nevertheless, one-off sporting moment. You all know who you are.

 

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Oz: Pova PetKO’d

 

 

I’ve not mentioned Pova once this week for fear of jinxing her.

 

But there was never really that much to new to add, was there?

 

 

pova

 

Theme from match one: Rusty, serving appallingly…champions spirit carrying her through.

 

Theme from yesterday: Even more rusty, still serving appallingly…champions spirit, arguably her greatest strength, not quite carrying her through.

 

For what it’s worth, she might never serve as well as she once did, but hasn’t always been that far off her best groundies.

 

I can still see her winning a Slam at some point. Just not this year.

 

 

petko

 

I really quite like Petko, not for all the usual off-court Petkorazzic reasons (not a great fan of all that).

 

But she comes across as as grounded, intelligent, confident and plays an attractive, crafty game. Being respectful towards Pova wins her additional brownie points.

 

I just always seem to find myself wanting to tell her that she’s better than all that irritating, off-court cloying to her fanbase (which will still be intact without it).

 

Nice to see her making her first Slam QF, though I really can’t see her getting past Li if she continues to play the way she has been to this point.

 

(Images: Getty)

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Oz: Another Slam. Another QF exit.

 

 

lina

 

 

The sight of Vika getting out hit in a Slam by an experienced, feisty firebrand is sadly becoming all too familiar.

 

I’ve, frankly, never had a problem with her being one-dimensional – Soderling’s shown us the utter folly of ever underestimating someone for that.

 

But while Vika is devastatingly effective against 85% of the competition, she does seem to occupy a precarious middle ground where she can’t always hang with the big-babes (or, as it now seems, any heavy, flat ball-striker not named Serena Williams).

 

vika

 

Nor, however, does she have Caro’s defensive endurance – yes we like to bitchslap her for it, here’s why it matters just as much as any big serve.

 

Li’s textbook, incendiary groundies should not come as a surprise to anyone – what is surprising is how well she’s held things together since…well since the season began actually – I confess I was rather banking on her to overcook things. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

 

Perhaps the most painful sights yesterday was how ineffective Vika’s medium-to-hard groundies looked opposite the crisper, more assured version of Li Na that’s surfaced recently.

 

*sigh* I still think Vika can win a Slam (she’s too good not to), but she’ll need a good draw. Is that a cop-out?

 

(Images: Getty)

 

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Oz: So Stan will square off against his old doubles partner. Dunno what the fuss is all about.

 

 

 

 

9b275d86cab8dd4d6cf986154fc3f1fb-getty-106792002st219_2011_austral

 

 

And you all thought ARod doesn’t do ‘balletic’. Shame on you: Andy’s big red shoes judge you.

 

Wawrinka d. Roddick 63 64 64.

 

For those of you living under a stone for the last month Stan’s been the epitome of steely focus since hooking up with Lundgren…we already knew he could play tennis.

 

And for those incapable of discussing the man in a sentence free of domestic innuendo, yes he left his wife and 11 month old baby about three weeks ago.

 

CLEARLY THAT’S WHY HE’S PLAYING GREAT TENNIS.

 

In the on court interview, Jim Courier remarked on his ability to return ARod’s

serve, “you returned his serve well...did u watch Roger, did he talk to you at all?"

 

.Coz clearly a world class tennis player’s not capable of doing that himself.

 

Roger’s, perhaps, returned ARods serve better than anyone else over the years.

 

What irks me is why not ONE reference was made to how far Stan himself has come.

 

64ddc761a483602c246e62e469abd518-getty-tennis-open-aus

 

Or, you know, this dude. I think, I just *think* that maybe, he might have had just a little something to do with it. I dunno.

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Saturday, 22 January 2011

Oz: Vindicated.

 

tomic1

 

 

BREAKING: TooMuch can play.

 

To be honest, those of us that have seen him play before should have had more time for him, but….well, we were too busy poking funnies. That’s my excuse anyway.

 

It was a straight sets win for Rafa of course, though what stands out for me in the way TooMuch acquitted himself tonight (boy did he) is how he gave Rafa no rhythm whatsoever.

 

Through a mixture of slice, changes in pace and big serving he ensured Rafa never once got the same look at the ball, never once got anywhere near being ‘comfortable’ – frustrating him into a number of uncharacteristic errors that saw Bernie go 4-0 up in the 2nd set.

 

rafa1

 

This is in stark contrast to everything you learnt in ‘How to play Rafa 101’, which confidently asserts that pace, rather than the lack of it, is the way to bring the bull down, and is especially impressive as it’s not something you normally see from little’uns.

 

Of course he went down to the #1 player in the world, how else did you think this was going to end?

 

But 62 75 63 is, frankly, an unimpeachable score line given his age, experience and ranking. Chances are he’ll crack the top 100 sometime soon.

 

I’ll probably still continue to poke fun at him, but tonight he stands vindicated.

 

He talked the talk – sometimes quite obnoxiously – now he’s walked it too.

 

We must, at least, give him that.

 

What’s more, is he may be the future of Aussie tennis. I defy you not to be at least mildly horrified.

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Friday, 21 January 2011

Oz: ‘PSOAS’ OFF.

 

 

ap-6b2d966e0243448ab4a15b3cb5f801224

 

 

There’ll be no R4 face-off between Venus and Pova. I know at least a few of us were looking forward to that.

 

Venus pulled out after only one game with “a complicated tear in the psoas muscle”. Petko advances to meet Pova in R4.

 

People booed.

 

“Tennis fans forking out for RL tickets deserve better!”

 

Wrong.

 

A 9-time Slam champion that hasn't retired since 1994 deserves better.

 

And of course I’m assuming you go to work sick or with a debilitating (career-ending) injury? Why ever would you be judging otherwise?

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Oz: OH NO YOU DON’T.

 

 

Confession: For those that don’t know,  Sveta is my favourite player BAR NONE.

 

Every so often she comes out and plays a match that leaves the hair of electricity itself, standing on end.

 

 

228393944

 

Kuznetsova d. Henin 64 76

 

When this happens against a player as decorated as Henin, there’s usually scores of grumpy puritans suggesting how their player “wasn’t quite there”, “compromised by injury,” “unable to bring her best”.

 

I rarely take any notice.

 

My player came through. You can go suck poo.

 

It’s not that it was a high quality encounter right the way through.

 

But I saw the match, and also spoke to enough people that actually attended it in flesh to know that I’m not about to let anyone get away with those fungal, raspy qualifiers.

 

And I root for Henin too. It sucks she’ll lose so many points and I hope she wins a Slam this year – preferably Wimbledon.  But tonight she was 2nd best. Deal with it.

 

If I sound a little raspy myself, its because performances like this from Sveta only come round about once every 6 months – sustained form over an entire event perhaps only once a year.

 

Following and rooting for her is two parts masochism three parts black art – you’ve got to have (or to acquire if necessary) the levels of discipline to dial down your expectations to a absolute minimum 90%  of the time.

 

And still maintain the type of enduring levels of quixotic hope and belief after watching her (as she might, even after a performance like this) go down to Woz, Franny or, quite likely, a tier-three nobody.

 

I don’t know of any other active player with  a greater talent/results differential.

 

All of which means I take NO PRISONERS in seeing she gets her due when she does come through.

 

Be gone disclaimers, qualifiers,  doubters and foresakers.

 

Tonight belongs to me and legions of Sveta fans that have patiently endured the gross negligence that goes hand in hand with following her.

 

You will not take this away from me.

 

(Image: Thanks @frameyourself)

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Oz: So…I’m worried. Are you?

 

 

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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Oz: Bring it.

 

 

tomic

 

 

I can bring down Nadal, says Tomic

Darren Walton
January 20, 2011

AAP

"I'm hitting the ball great, my confidence is up there, especially after two matches, I played a left-hander before I played him, that's always good," Tomic said.

"There's not much weaknesses (in his game but) I don't think he'll like my game.

"He'll like the players that give him a lot of time, a lot of rally shots. The way I mix it up, he's not going to like."

[on beating Rafa]

"Oh, I believe so," Tomic said.

"I mean, it's an opportunity that I get. He's the world No.1. I'll just have a go.

"When you step out against a player like that, you don't have nothing to lose.

"But I'm not going to go and win this match if I go out there and play not to lose. I've got to play to win."

-- Bernard Tomic

 

 

To be fair to  TooMuch he hardly said what the headline here suggests he did, or how he did.

 

To be spectacularly unfair to him, feel free to point and laugh at most everything else.

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Oz: Time.

 

delpo1

 

 

I have a good start season. I beat Feliciano López last week and today I won another match. That's what I need. I need time, I need matches, I need sets, I need hours into the court. Then in the future, I will be better.

-- Juan Martin del Potro

 

 

Baghdatis d. del Potro 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3

 

Other than getting (and surviving) some prolonged competitive matchplay, I had practically no expectations from Delpo which means he’s already exceeded mine.

 

Taking out a top 100 player in straights and then getting a set off one of the best shotmakers in the game counts as a win in my book.

 

And aside from a couple of hairy moments where he looked to be alleviating pressure from his wrist (one of which sent his racquet flying out of his hand), he looks to have survived the 2h 42min hour encounter intact.

 

The man says he needs time – which I take to mean months rather than weeks.

 

Welcome back big guy.

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Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Oz: ‘Alice in Blunderland’

 

venus18

 

Your gutsy perseverance  in the face of excruciating pain does you credit. Your dress sense does not.

 

At some point we’ll all get past the “Alice in Blunderland” outfit – what, I suspect, will remain unanswered is why the more private and reserved of the two Willliamses is intent on turning “Lady Gaga” on us.

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Oz: On the benefits of neutrality.

 

 

"I wasn't playing poorly in the third and fourth set, but Gilles took it to me," Federer said. "Clearly, he's a great player first of all. Matches against him don't come easily ... hopefully we don't play each other anymore!"

-- Federer

 

"Yes, I was tired. I had to run everywhere for three hours. But I was feeling good…."But the problem is that I left second round. Tomorrow you will forget it."

--Simon

 

 

Don’t count on it Gillou. Something tells me we won’t be forgetting this one in a hurry.

 

Aside: When was the last time you heard Fed admit to not wanting to face-off with another player (even in jest)?

 

My twitter timeline was awash with three parts adrenalin to every two parts of fully-flatulent frenzy, and fifty-fifty in favour of both men.

 

 

fed1

 

Federer d. Simon 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3

 

Not being especially invested in either player was fun. Sorry but it was :p

 

I get, and I respect, the unqualified ecstasy that goes with watching your player come through a trauma-inducing dogfight (I’ve been there), and that there’s perhaps nothing darker (this side of a Dinara double bagel) than coming out of the wrong end of a 5-set kitchen-sink face-off  (been there too).

 

It’s just that sometimes, on some level, the drama of the moment, the quality of the tennis and the exhaustively ritualistic farce being played out in front of you transcends all of that – as it arguably did between Hewitt and Nalby on day two.

 

Shoot me, but I think that’s kinda fun too. Not least because you get to point and laugh at your twitter timeline. Sorry, I did that too.

 

gilles1

 

 

Fed ran away with the first two sets before Simon began to get under his skin the way he’d twice done before.  *Cue Gillou fans going hoarse with expectation*

 

Fed would squander a two set lead and 4 MPs (*Fed fans writhing in what was by now almost erotically-charged agony*) before eventually breaking to go 4-2  up in the fifth set and serving it out, thereafter, almost as well as he did at the WTF last year.

 

At the end of it all, as both parties collectively smoked a fag over the remains of Rod Laver arena, the mood was almost idyllic – eerily so.

 

Everybody seemed to be above making pathetic excuses for either player and there was almost an implicit moratorium on trashtalk. The battle had been won, and lost. That is all.

 

soldier-smoking

 

Up until last night, Simon had a squeaky-clean, two-for-O record versus Fed. That record is no more.

 

But only today did I truly understand why it had ever existed in the first place.  Prior to tonight, I confess I had thought of it as something of an exceptionally impressive anomaly – not quite a flash in the pan, but due in part, at least, to Gilles’ late-2008 surge of form and Fed’s…lack thereof.

 

I was wrong.

 

Conventional wisdom says that Gilles is simply the latest incarnation of those that outlast Fed and frustrate him into making an error (see Canas, Murray and to a lesser extent, Rafa) . Conventional wisdom can go to hell.

 

It’s true that Gillou has one of the fastest (and skinniest) pair of legs out there that enable him to run down most anything and everything – it’s also true that he doesn’t rush to pull the trigger.

 

What’s not true is that this makes him a grinder, not least because when he does pull the trigger, you’re hit with the kind of deceptively flat pace that was (and still is) beyond Canas, Hewitt and Muzz.

 

Far more likely that Fed is not wired (not, at least, by default) to cope with the incomprehensible gibberish and lack of rhythm Gillou presents to him.

 

Far more likely too, that Gillou’s a better player than most people give him credit for. Funny that.

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