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.




"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.





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.




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.




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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