Monday, 31 January 2011

Oz: Triumph & Disaster






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.





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.




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.




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.




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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