Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Shifting Narratives

Delpo on the brink of making his first final since his injury comeback….Dolgo on the verge of winning his first ATP title….with Sod/Tsonga and Petra/Kim still to look forward to. That’s how I left it on Saturday night.

It’s not often I ask for EVERYTHING. I’m usually open to a watering down of at least some of my dreams – such flexibility is an essential coping mechanism for life itself.


But then the stakes aren’t usually this high, are they? 


Dolgo has “arrived”, now, I would imagine, by anyone’s reckoning  – a first ATP title would have accorded perfectly with his gung-ho, indie, all-court narrative. (Aside: Truly astonishing anyone thought he’d find the nickname ‘Dog’ either cute, funny or a term of endearment – he doesn’t)


And I’m guessing friends, fans, frenemies and foe alike are all united in wishing Delpo the best as he makes his precarious comeback – if only (in the case of the latter) so they may feel free to root against him again.


Those particular narratives will have to wait.




1) Soderling over Tsonga 6-3 3-6 6-3

Perhaps the wrong narrative altogether, because I’m afraid the stakes, in this instance, are no longer very high at all.


The most visceral, charged narratives often involve those who stand to lose or gain everything - a remote, anachronistic existence in which ‘anything can happen’ and ‘impossible is nothing’. It seems to me we’ve already had the first act of this with Sod upsetting two of the best players ever.

Always great seeing him come through of course – even a piddly 500 event reminds us why he’s here to stay, and defending a title definitely lends itself to a certain truculence which is, by the way, completely in keeping with his narrative and station.


The very last thing I want to see, however, is this coming at the expense of bigger and better things – or worse, seeing him get comfortable as the “Andy Murray” of the 500 or even the Masters-1000 level. As good as it is, a title like this should, now, mean less to him than it does to someone like Jo-Wills (his first final in 16 months).


There be bigger fish to fry out there Robin. Classical form would now demand that you go fry them.





2) Petra over Kim 64 63.

Voluntary disclosure of rooting interests for 2011: As many as half of my WTA eggs are in Petra’s basket.

Was Kim not at her best? Perhaps. This certainly wasn’t the officially endorsed narrative for the newly crowned world #1 (Update: Neither is Petra’s 76 76 loss to Morita in Dubai earlier today)

What I do know is that Petra’s serve out wide might just be the best shot in women's tennis right now. Unreadable pace. The worst kind.

Oh sure, ‘one win does not a champ make’ and all that, but it’s not just been about the one win has it? This is her second title in 6 weeks which, taken together with her QF run at Oz and SF at Wimbledon last year, simply demands that we take note. (Two Slam fourth rounds in her late teens isn’t too shoddy either)


Perhaps most convincingly of all, it’s the way in which she outplayed rather than outlasted Kim. Ask yourself whether the narrative of the timid counterpuncher is nearly as compelling as that of the audacious upstart.

Timely too – with a whole raft of retirements imminent in 2012, I have an opening in my tennis pool. Maybe even a number of them.


Yes I’m on board, but don’t think for a minute that the decision has been taken lightly:


-- She’s a lefty. Not the philosophical solution to life it’s sometimes made out to be, but the different look does, nevertheless, throw many players (more than you’d think) out of their rigidly defined comfort zones.


-- She’s daring and/or unhinged enough to imagine winners where none exist. True that this can sometimes prove counterproductive (if you saw her match against Woz in Beijing last year you’ll know just how counterproductive) – it’s also a necessary mind-set for anyone with an eye on the big stuff.

Put simply, you have to have it within you to be just a little suicidal against the best players. Both classical form and the big occasion demand it. The timid counterpuncher would never even conceive of blitzing the world #1 and winner of the last two Slams in straights.

-- She has all of the big weapons necessary to pull off an upset at the highest of levels unlike say a MJMS, yet remains far more nuanced than a Rezai – both of whom won Premier events last year. Why should we expect any less of Petra?


-- Best of all, the braces are a feint echo of Sveta’s 2004 USO run. Detail like this is at least as important as any of the above if you’re in the business of narrative.

Nothing is certain of course (whole matches can turn, have turned, round very fast when she loses focus the way she did after Wimbledon last year), but consider all of the above points my “due diligence”.





3) Confession: I still haven’t seen Milos play


I’m hearing the dubious Pete Sampras comparisons. I’m hearing utterly terrifying ice hockey jokes. I’m even hearing some doubts being expressed over the prevailing (overwhelmingly stark) opinion about the future of non-European tennis.


Listen carefully and you might even hear the wind carrying the sound of Dancevic cursing into his glass.

I’m yet to see him hit a ball. Laughable I know. But that’s just the way it panned out with timezones being what they are. All of which means I’m not in a position to weigh up any of the above.

I aim to rectify this before he, you know, wins a Slam or something.


From what little I have gathered, he seems (in common with Dolgo) to have the makings of an all-courter and is not afraid to have a crack at the ball – both of which bode well for the future. Being 6’5 can’t hurt very much either.


If I had it my way, Delpo would have made the final and Dolgo would have won in Brazil. And yet all this talk of “narrative” and “destiny” is of course all utterly preposterous. Smug, self-satisfied spiritualist nonsense – a little too full of its elemental self.


What makes one narrative more compelling than any other lies not always in its strict conformance with classical form. But rather in its audacity.


And more often than not, the more audacious narratives are forged through what seem like mere random inflections at the time.


Like Hantuchova winning her first title since 2007 for instance.

Ask yourself whether Delpos comeback would be nearly as gripping if he won his 2nd event back.


Ask yourself whether Sod winning a Slam (should it happen) would be nearly as compelling if he hadn’t pulled off what he pulled off in 2009.

Nestled deeply somewhere in the swinging, conflicted narratives of Dolgo’s floating hair, Petra’s shining braces and Milos’s scrawny 6’5 frame lies a future threatening to be as uplifting as anything we’ve seen.

Don’t let’s forestall it by being that twat sitting directly in front of you that always gets up and starts clapping before the credits have even started rolling.

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