Saturday, 30 April 2011

Define “React”




STUTTGART, GERMANY - APRIL 20: Vera Zvonareva of Russia reacts during her second round match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix at Porsche Arena on April 20, 2011 in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Getty’s caption, not mine.


If it ain’t broke (or unpretty) don’t fix it…

Bepa ditched Sergei for some guy named “Karen”. Google translate here. No words necessary.

Unlike certain others, and for what I hope are obvious reasons, I haven’t followed Vera’s association with Sergei very closely (not, in any case, with such fascination) – its results, as they pertained to Vera, were wholly satisfactory, and that was good enough for me.

It follows, then, that I know almost nothing about just how technical his input was. It must have been, at least in part – but the bottom line for me is, he seemed to make Vera happy (absolutely no innuendo intended) and from thence, the results seemed to flow.

I know even less about “Karen” – in fact, nothing at all. He may be far more technically astute than Sergei can ever hope to be. But if he doesn’t make Vera happy (again, no innuendo ) it will have all been for nothing.

You don’t need me to enumerate just how far Vera came with Sergei. And I’m still willing to concede the partnership simply ran its course the way Dinara’s did with Zeljko.

Coaching relationships, however, are as much, if not more, about how well its participants respond to one another – operational details play, at best, a modest, subsidiary role.

I’m almost sorry I never got on this train, because unlike so much of what passes for eye-candy nowadays, I totally understand. And now its over.

(Pics: Getty)


Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Monte Carlo: Quantum Fluctuations

7 consecutive MC titles. Takeout: Rafa wins on clay even when he sucks. But you already knew that.


Except it shouldn’t have been that way – not this year.

Whilst its always good to see Rafa “come home” and begin winning again on a surface as organic to him as sunlight is to photosynthesis, I started off the week guessing that he’ll be upset at least once this clay court season. Nothing I saw in MC changed my mind.

Without wishing to get too specific he hasn’t “looked right” since the year began – those who’ve observed him closely (or who’ve heard/read me bleating endlessly about it) know exactly what I mean.

The only reason I keep bringing it up is because it doesn’t seem like its down to any specific technical failing and/or injury. Which, in my mind, makes it worse.

Some of his shot (mis)selection has been straight out of a comic book. The UFEs, meanwhile, have had all of the uncertainty and spontaneity of quantum fluctuations.

We saw it in both the IW/Miami finals, we saw it in the Miami QF vs Berd, we saw it against Murray in the SFs, and we saw it again in the final.

Does it surprise me that Rafa, being Rafa, found a way through on clay – something not possible, just last month, on a hard court vs. Nole? Not in the slightest. But let us please not pretend Daveed didn’t entirely blow his chances (of which there were many).

To put it bluntly, this is about as ineffectual as Rafa gets on a clay court.  A better player (like say Nole or Fed) would almost certainly have called him on it.  A “lesser”but nevertheless solid player like Daveed might be expected to too, but should, in any case, have forced a third set.

And yet, the vast body of reflection and analysis following the final will inevitably be of the “night follows day”, “sun rises in the east”, “Rafa wins on clay” variety.

I’m afraid I simply don’t see it that way. Not quite.

Foolish to argue against a 230-16 [93%] win/loss record on clay forged mostly without resistance over 7 years – as we saw, even playing as badly as he was, Rafa can be relied on to find options on clay which simply don’t  appear to exist anywhere else.

All the same, things don’t appear to me to be as certain this year as they plainly have been in years gone by. And I don’t think I’m alone.



One last word on Murray. Well two actually:

1) The SF wasn’t simply the best performance I’ve seen from Murray since before his slump began (things could hardly have gotten any worse). It might even have been the best I’ve seen him play on clay.

Why is this SUCH a big deal?

A Masters-1000 semi final on his “worst” surface (more on that later) and his first ever set off Rafa on clay, all after his poorest spell of tennis since he entered the top ten.

Only, you wouldn’t know just how well Murray played if you read the match reports, all of which were at pains to point out (correctly) that Rafa played like horsesh*t,  particularly in the 2nd set. He did, no point in disputing that – its what I’ve been saying all season.  But not crediting Murray would be like claiming Rafa only won the last set because Murrays elbow began to play up as the cortizone injection wore off.

Strange how some are only willing to recognise Rafa’s poor play when it’s consistent with their attempts to undercut Murray. Else its all “Night follows Day”, “The Sun rises in the East”, “Rafa wins on clay”…

2) I’ve never really understood why clay should be Murrays “worst” surface.

I get why he might prefer hard or even grass, but “worst” seems to carry an additional level of stigma that I don’t feel is warranted for a player as skilled as Murray.

Fed and Nole have the results they do on clay not because of any particular adeptness on the surface – but because of their adeptness at TENNIS.

The same can almost be said to apply to Murray. By the same token, if he loses on clay, it will be for all the same reasons he sometimes loses on hard courts. Namely passivity and a questionable temperament. Yep, those two cretins again. Feel free to rip on him for that (I know I do), but lets stop pretending clay is his “worst” surface.


Monday, 18 April 2011

On Hyperbole, Hysteria and Fanboy-Freakonomics

I don’t follow Fed Cup. Never have, never will.

Even if it were possible to get past all the scheduling complaints (all of which exist for DC btw), the fact that only the final (if that) ever seems to get broadcast, renders even the most tenuous connection (the type I currently have with DC) almost impossible.

The only reason I bring it up now is because of the fireworks that erupted in the immediate aftermath of Domis “win” over Ana in the Slovak-Serbian Fed-Cup tie this weekend, where Ana was forced to retire (in tears) with what seems to be a torn ab, all after being 6-3, 3-0 up; following which Domi pranced around and celebrated, as most are putting it, “like she’d just won a Slam”.


Domi, thereafter, suffered an undiluted-haterade, twitter backlash, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I’m calling bullsh*t. And not at all because I like Domi (you already know I do, and I’d be well within my rights to do precisely that given how “popularity” seems to allow you to get away with pretty much anything nowadays).

I’m calling bullsh*t because I think the reaction is not simply disproportionate – it’s grotesque.

I’m calling bullsh*t because far too many, otherwise sensible people, are willing to look the other way when other, more popular players engage  in conduct that is far worse .

I’m calling bullsh*t because far too many people are willing to overlook similar utterly distasteful episodes from Serbia, who continue to enjoy an overwhelmingly positive tennis image amongst both fans and media alike – nothing wrong with that, I just don’t believe in giving anyone a free pass (I only quote them at all because they’re directly involved in this incident).

First things first. I didn’t see the incident, and if Domi has behaved even half as badly as is being implied, then it deserves to be called out in the same way as it would if JJ or Ana or Woz or Kim or Novak or Rafa or Fed or anyone else did.

What I will say is, irrespective of how much censure Domi actually deserves, I guarantee that the utterly demented HYPERBOLE (and it is demented – perform a twitter search on @cibulkova to get an idea of the abuse) will go on for far longer than it has any right to. Ana’s worldwide (and ultra-nationalist local) fanbase will settle for nothing less. It’s the law of Fanboy Freakonomics. And of the jungle.

Never mind, for the moment, that I’ve personally seen Ana fist-pumping UFEs off the racquet of an injured opponent.

Never mind that we be wouldn’t be seeing even a fraction of this HYSTERIA if it were, say, Kvitova, rather than Ana, the object of Domi’s miscue.

Why even go to hypotheticals? Where was this HYSTERIA when Petko boogie-woogied right after demolishing a hobbling Jelena Dokic earlier this year in Brisbane for the loss of only one game? Was that not equally tasteless, however innocuous the dance’s motives? Uh-uh – not in the Fanboy (and Fangirl)-Freakonomy.

The truth, is neither Petra nor Dokic (for all the sympathy she’s earnt for her troubles over the years) can hope to compete with the overwhelming enormity of Ana and Petko’s worldwide following.

Now is probably a good time to point out that I don’t begrudge either of them that following. On a good day I might even be persuaded it’s #GoodForTennis.

Now is probably also a good time to point out that I find some of the hormonal, bellicose (and in Ana’s case nationalistic) hyperbole that accompanies it to be utterly repellent. And, needless to say, pretty #ToxicForTennis.

Again, I didn’t see the match, and I very much doubt this will go down as Domi’s finest moment. What is also perfectly plausible is that a young, enthusiastic (and not particularly celebrated or decorated) woman simply got caught up in the utter frenzy of playing (and winning) for her country – but, of course, for reasons which I’d like to pretend I don’t understand, she doesn’t get a free pass.

Uh-uh. Too late for all that deary. Don’t think they’re interested in any case. Right about now, I’d say you’re five places above Marion Bartoli and only a couple of places below Justine Henin who heads up the Freakonomy’s “Most-Wanted” list.

(Pic: Tennis Grandstand)


Friday, 15 April 2011

Quote of the Day



"I will try my best. The last two matches I have won against him," he said. "In Paris last year I killed him on clay and hopefully that result is still in the back of his mind.

"After beating Roger Federer there is nothing I can't do."

-- Jurgen Melzer on David Ferrer, whom he plays in the semis


Saturday, 9 April 2011

Monte Carlo: Noticeboard


It somehow chimes with the decadence of a place, where real estate costs an average of $47650 per sq metre, for it to be one of the most profitable events in terms of ranking points (and hard cash), yet not require it to be mandatory.

October2010 Monte Carlo 048

Kind of like saying, “To hell with you and your ATP stewardship – mandatory or not, we’ll still get all the best players – hell, they’ll come to us!”









Top Guns
Hot Stuff
Sympathy Vote

Mock me all you want, but I STILL say Rafa’s ripe for an upset this clay court season.


Friday, 8 April 2011

Miami: Ladies Wrap Up



Novak,Rafa and Fed stole most of my bandwidth this week, but there’s still enough time for a ladies wrap up almost a full week after Miami ended.

We already knew Vika could win a title as big as this (she already did, two years ago), we already knew she’s capable of winning a Slam. We’ve always known.


So are Caro and Vera. So were Dinara, JJ and, dare I say it, Sam Stosur.

When Vika peaked the last time back in 2009, she was, in my opinion, the most credible maiden-Slam contender, second only to Dinara Safina. All of that was put paid to by Serena Williams, time…..after time….after time. And all of those Slam QFs were only possible when she wasn’t injured, passing out in the sun or, you know, dodging falling pianos.

All of which is to say….long time coming girl, but perhaps, now, even more welcome.

And as for those only now discovering that ‘neath that stroppy exterior lurks someone almost as likeable and (dare I say it) “nice” *shudder* as Caro or Kim, well…lets just say a bunch of us were on this bandwagon first; that’s right we’all took the finest seats already – and I’m not even remotely sorry that there’s standing room only.

Why should it be any different from 2009 this time? For one thing, Serena’s (sadly)not around, and it’s not at all clear what shape she’ll be in when she does return. That leaves Kim, with her uber-curtailed Super-Mom schedule. Venus has signalled a return in May, Henin, as we know, is no more. All in all, just as depleted of heavyweight talent as the field was back in 2009. Vika has as good a chance as any to capitalise on this (as does Bepa), but something tells me Woz will be first. 



Maria Sharapova’s tennis may be in the gutter – but she is clearly looking at the stars.

A SF followed by a final at the two most prestigious events outside of the Slams – whatever else might be going on with her game, her champions spirit is wholly intact, and just waiting, willing you, daring you to bait it into action. Mock at your peril.

That said, the dysfunction once thought limited to her serve has gone viral.

Even as recently as the middle of last year I was fond of saying that whilst her serve may never again be what it once was, her groundies are (for the most part) looking like a loose approximation of the player I once knew. Not so anymore.

It didn’t go wrong all at once, of course. In the beginning there was light, and only the mere suggestion of the error (unforced or otherwise). UFE soon begat UFE, and it wasn’t long before we began to hear of matches composed, in their entirety, of (50, 60+) UFEs.


The common denominator in all this was an organically-conceived defiance that simply refused to flinch in the face of malfunction: the resulting UFEs were, therefore, long (sometimes horribly so), insupportably wide, but rarely in the net.

The latest and most irksome “anti-feature” is to be found in forehands that flop, comatose, at the bottom of the net. This is not the stuff of netcords.

What really irks, is that she often seems to set up well, and even when she’s been off-footed, you kinda just expect her to shunt it wildly away somewhere in the stands: soulless, complacent, ineffectual grunge is simply not her style.

To put it very bluntly, its difficult to see her, in the immediate future, stringing together the requisite 7/7 matches to win a Slam with this degree of entropy in her system – she’s just as likely to oust Kim as she is to be ousted by a Virginie Razzano (I pledged to pick whoever I found ranked at #100, honest).

Which kinda makes you marvel all the more at what she achieved in these last two events. 


Thursday, 7 April 2011

Miami: Mens Final

The world can sometimes seem irritatingly divided into two groups: the overwhelmingly hormonal, and the irritatingly pedantic. Most of us sit somewhere in the middle. In so far as I fit into any of the two, it would be the latter.

I’m a stickler for form, procedure and detail. I don’t say that with any type of pride – but then I’m not ashamed of it either.

So when most were busy (rightfully) basking in the dizzying, rarefied heights of the last set of the Miami mens final, I was having, what most would think of as, an utterly inconsequential soliloquy on why the preceding two sets couldn’t have been even half as good.

Leaving aside the question of my own idiosyncrasies (some of which are best kept to myself), let us just remind ourselves of what was at stake – because, quite honestly, some of us have simply forgotten.

The world’s top two players (indeed, two of the best ever) contesting the final of what some call the “fifth Slam”. One  of them in GOAT contention, who only missed out on the calendar Slam last year by a mere two matches and a physical complaint. The other, the best player on the planet right now, winner of the last Slam, winner of the last 26 matches he’s played.

Call me a stickler, call me a pedant, call me a feckless nutter if you must – but I don’t think I was out of line in demanding something a little more, nor in calling out the first two sets, both of which I felt fell far short of what these two were capable of.



Question: Have these two not played (well) in wind before? You’d think not given some of the early reactions to the ‘quality’ of the first set.

Isn’t that precisely the kind of impediment they’re supposedly uniquely equipped to overcome? Who, if not the worlds top two players? Who, indeed?

I’m not sure I accept some of the more generous estimates of the role of the wind, but even if we concede the wind rendered conditions largely unplayable, are we to believe all of that suddenly disappeared in the last set? It didn’t.

The somewhat inconvenient answer is that neither Nole nor Rafa were up to scratch. Not initially. Sorry, but there it is. Nole, having not been broken the entire week, was duly broken in his opening game and (third set aside) was as erratic thereafter as he’s been since before his run began. Rafa, listless, lifeless and uncharacteristically restrained (the odd winner aside) had nothing on any of his balls.

Nole picked things up marginally in set two. Rafa, remained largely comatose. All of which is to say, Nole won that 2nd set by simply not letting Rafa get away with the criminal depravity of set one. Nothing more, nothing less. Glad that he did so, but hardly the stuff of epics. Or, for that matter, “the most compelling rivalry in mens tennis”.

Set three was what it was – and what it was, was simply spellbinding. But before we all get too carried away consider this: when these two played in Madrid 2009, they produced this quality over the entire three sets. Worth remembering too that neither were the player they are today.

I realise I’m being a pain, I just don’t believe in letting two of the best players ever get away with junk.

Leaving all that aside, Nole’s run is, of course, something quite special. Its not just the IW/Miami double (Fed’s achieved that twice), it’s not even Oz followed by the Miami double (Fed achieved that too) – its actually DC, followed by Oz, followed by the IW/Miami double – and more importantly, going through some of history’s best players to do this.

In the final set tie break (a set that most expected Rafa to win on fight alone, now that he’d raised his game), Nole did something that I’ve only ever seen one other player (guess who) do when Rafa’s been injury free: run Rafa ragged to a degree that left him winded and bent over double in between subsequent points. He would never recover.

Perhaps this wouldn’t have been possible had Rafa played a more tight first couple of sets. That really is neither here nor there. No one, not even Rafa, is capable of playing every set of every match at 99.99%. Its seems a very strange condition to place on him – and worse, to then blame ‘form’ or ‘injury’ when he’s fails to meet that impossibly high grade. Let us, also, please not forget how poorly Nole played set one – coz I sure as hell haven’t.

The streak will come to an end of course – they always do. I’d argue, in any case, that he seemed to have lost his utterly carnal edge in the last few matches he played in Miami. The bigger question, of course, is what’ll remain in place once he does re-enter earth’s atmosphere. If he’s grown as much as I think he has, we won’t be seeing very much of the self-perpetuating despondency that marred his previous lows during late 2008 and 2009.



One final point about Rafa: ever since the year began, he’s been susceptible to these  fleeting, utterly inexplicable, emotionally crippling lapses in concentration.

They’d be more understandable if they lasted for most of a match – but they tend to wreak their havoc in  just a single set or part of a set (see IW final, Miami final or Miami QF vs Berd), and as far as I can tell, don’t proceed from any injury.

What’s perhaps more troubling is his own reaction to it. He’s quickly reduced to a panic-stricken, un-Rafa-like shell, which is something we’ve only seen when he’s badly injured.

How this affects him going into the clay court season remains to be seen – personally, I think Nole’s playing well enough to score his first win over Rafa on clay this year anyway.


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Miami: The Beginning of the End (BOTE)

Winners post coming up, but I’ve had a multitude of thoughts swirling through my mind since watching Fed go down – oh *so* horribly – to Rafa, which I’m going to try and bring together.


Let me first state what this is not: a rant against the premature write-offs.

I don’t feel the slightest need to rant against that, nor the spectacularly pathological levels of denial some of Fed’s defenders continue to embody: both, I hope you’ll agree, have been done to death – both will continue to perpetuate their self-evident lunacy irrespective of what I or anyone else might have to say

Yet there remains something incredibly galling in hearing the “beginning of the end” eulogies every time Fed suffers a loss like this. What precisely is being insinuated?

Not only is it incredibly boring, it’s also a chronological absurdity: if every loss is the BOTE, then there can’t, by definition, be either a beginning or an end?

But what’s really interesting is this: no one in their right mind seriously disputes that Fed is now in his twilight and/or decline. In so far as we agree on anything, it’s that the BOTE  occurred as far back as two (or even three) years ago (when Fed, by the way, was still winning Slams).

I think there’s something more questionable at work (not nearly as sinister as it is morally dubious): stating the obvious in order to confer legitimacy on the entirely spurious.

It’s a well known device, of course, familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in the rhetoric that surrounds religion and politics – both of which seem to conflate impossibly well in the realm of tennis dogma.


1) You start by stating something entirely reasonable, largely indisputable – something known either by necessity, or well within the prevailing consensus.

"We are in an economic crisis”.
“We are facing an unprecedented terrorist threat”.
“Fed is in decline”.
“The beginning of the end”.


2) And then go on to make, either implicitly or explicitly, an inference or extrapolation that, whilst seeming sound and/or innocent enough, simply doesn’t bear any scrutiny whatsoever.

"Deficit reduction, wide-ranging cuts and mass-redundancies is the only way out of the crisis”.
“Saddam has WMDs and is in league with Al-Qaida”. 

“Fed will never win a Slam again”.
“Fed will never beat Rafa or Nole again”.



The key to selling the deceit (coz that's what it is) lies in pure stealth: in the implicit, entirely insidious suggestion that this secondary inference is either wholly subsumed within, or a necessary consequence of, the original uncontroversial assumption (preferably the former).

Taking  stock of of Fed’s opponents as they relate to his current ‘twilight’:

1) There’s the other big-wigs, most notably Rafa and Nole, both of whom he can continue to score wins against, but both who will, it seems, be beating him more often than he does them.

I’m going to leave the question of surfaces out for now, partly because we all know who excels on what, and partly because there’s a dreadful tendency to read way too much into it. [I don’t have a problem admitting that it must necessarily factor into any analysis, but its getting a bit much when people start pretending that match results are almost exclusively determined by an exotic mathematical function of surface, conditions, altitude, frame size and string tension]


Put simply, Rafa will beat Fed 7 times out of 10 because the match up suits him to a tee. This has nothing in the slightest to do with Fed being “over the hill”. It’s simply a matter of fact that by pummelling Fed’s backhand mercilessly with his monster (lefty) forehand, Rafa can win most of their encounters; rather crucially, he doesn’t even need to be at his best to do execute this “strategy” successfully.

People looking for a headline like to paint this as a sign that the SHB is out of date – the rather inconvenient fact that Fed’s “dated” SHB suppresses 90% of the opposition is routinely ignored. The reason it’s a problem against Rafa is that no one hits a forehand like Rafa. No one has ever hit a forehand like Rafa. EVER.

Nole benefits from no such inherent advantage. Its certainly clear that he can beat Fed soundly having not yet been beamed down from whatever planet he’s playing on right now. Need I remind you that since 2011 began he beat Rafa (twice) and everyone else in such a state too?

But leaving aside the question of when the streak will end and when his level will tail off, it does seem reasonable to think that in the long term, his intensity will give him the upper hand.   

2) The rest of the competition: aside from irregular, sporadic, Godzilla-like appearances from Berd and Sod (Delpo deliberately left out for now for the sake of simplicity as much as anything else), Fed is winning 80-90% of his matches here –dominating, you might say.

Indeed, since the beginning of the year, Fed has only lost to Nole and Rafa and is actually 2nd in the ATP Race (the now discarded measure of performance based strictly on the current year).

Against this backdrop its crucial to ask, what precisely the purpose is of all these constant allusions to the BOTE; else it simply allows loose tongues to define the landscape by filling in the gap with their own spurious inferences.

Do we see him never winning a Slam again? Possibly, though this is by no means certain.

Do we not see him ever beating Rafa or Nole again? Less often perhaps, but never say never. Nole is on an unprecedented high right now, but it won’t last forever – nothing ever does. And I hardly need add, I hope, that he beat Rafa in straights just over four months ago at the WTF.

What then? Do we see him losing to Olivier Rochus? I should think not.

Yet any, or all, of the above might be reasonably inferred on the basis of the BOTE – depending on how (maliciously) open-ended you leave things, you can argue pretty much anything you want.

My own view is he will continue to suffer losses against those top two (most though not all of the time) whilst still dominating 80-90% of the competition.

Whether or not he’s still winning them, he’ll remain in contention of winning every event he enters until the day he quits.


That would allow him to retire (whenever he chooses) comfortably ensconced in the top ten or top five at some point in the future.

All of this may seem obvious, but say “beginning of the end” (or hear it being invoked) enough times and it begins to insidiously redefine your perspective like some mind-warping spell spun by Lord Voldemort.

I’m not nearly convinced that something so very different is at work here.


Friday, 1 April 2011

Miami: Noticeboard















Petko Pova Bepa Vika

Top Guns

Young'n Restless
Sympathy Vote

Q. She said that one of the things that makes you such a good champion is that you sense right away a weakness in the other player and basically you jump on that. She said that she felt that you sensed she was hesitating, whatever. Can you talk about that?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, to be honest, I felt like I was just making a lot errors in the first set and I wasn’t moving my feet at all. And especially with the wind I wasn’t moving towards the ball and letting the ball come to me and not really being aggressive. That’s what’s won me so many matches in my career is when I step in and I hit my strokes and they come deep. I just wasn’t doing that

So first and foremost I felt like I had to start doing that and making little steps and adjusting my game a little bit. More than anything, I sensed that she was tired probably a lot of the dancing that she’s been doing and I took advantage of it.
Q. She thought you would be tired in the third after the long match you had the previous night. Didn’t seem to be that way.
Because I didn’t do the dance after. I wasn’t tired.


To be perfectly honest, I’m kinda glad Pova called this out. Not because the dance is meant to offend (it isn’t), not because Petko is anything other than an immensely likeable, intelligent soul – but because it showed, in very clear terms, that not everyone (least of all Petko’s opponents) is as hopelessly enamoured with it as is generally being suggested.

Nor should they be required to be.


Miami: The strange, intangible, utterly befuddling notion of ‘Loyalty’


Nadal d. Berdych 6-2, 3-6, 6-3

My favourite Rafa pic until further notice.

It’s been a long time since I’ve rooted for Rafa so strongly. If anything I’m more interested in what Berd can make of the talent he only now seems to realise he has. But when you’re watching a match with players you’re largely uninvested in, something strange often happens.

Ever so gently, almost without you knowing it, the forces of loyalty begin to take shape, coiling themselves surreptitiously around you, manipulating your emotions and senses on almost every level.

How this happens remains largely a mystery - don’t get taken in by anyone that claims to know how it works. What is indisputable, is that by the end of it you’re rooting for one of the two players like your life depended on it.

That’s where I was early on in the final set.

Rafa started off well. Very well. Berd wasn’t playing badly but simply wasn’t allowed to settle. Then in set two, almost as inexplicably as Petko vs Pova at the same position, it all started to go horribly awry.


A neck/shoulder problem turned out (apparently) to be at the bottom of it – with Rafa receiving treatment during several of the subsequent changeovers.

My own feeling (he says authoritatively) is that the injury (assuming we can call it that) was less of a problem than Rafa’s own reaction to it – an electrifying anxiety that seemed to be born as much of appreciating the very real threat posed by Berd, as in being unable (perhaps by the shoulder) to respond in the way he would have liked.

In so far as the neck/shoulder was a problem at all, it it seemed to be in the way it elicited that crazy crippling anxiety in him – it all but caused him to seize up, in a manner not dissimilar to the way Petko did vs Pova.

All very “chicken and egg”, all remarkably presumptuous of me I know, but there it is.

However wavering and indeterminate my loyalty was at this point, what happened at the beginning of the third set decided firmly in Rafa’s favour: down 0-40 on his serve, and lacking all confidence in a way I’ve not seen in over a year, he pulled out three of the biggest serves you might ever see – it was all rather reminiscent of the USO last year (when Rafas newly unveiled serve was arguably the story of the event), except that this time it was arguably his opponent that had the upper hand, and it was Rafa the one struggling with confidence (and, as it seems, injury).

And that, further underscoring everything we’ve seen from Pova this week, is what Champions do.


Berd looked befuddled and bruised. He continued, to his credit, to play as well as he had been to this point (arguably as well as during his best moments at Wimbledon last year), but the little burst of energy and belief that induced in Rafa proved to be all that was required to get the break and close it out 6-2, 3-6, 6-3  - all, interestingly, with that same jarring blend of big serving and dicey, sub-par groundies.

There’s not, frankly, more than about 3 (or at most 4) players – male or female – that could have turned the match around playing as atrociously as Rafa was yesterday or Pova the day before.

We’ve still a few matches to go, but if there’s a theme emerging in Miami, it’s one of ‘true grit’ – which, contrary to prevailing, overwhelmingly hormonal opinion, only really comes into its own when the truly great one is stripped of precisely those dazzling assets that actually only appear to make them great.



All images on this site have been found in the public domain.
Credit has been given wherever possible.
If you feel your copyright is being infringed upon by any particular image, please contact me and I'll have it taken it down.

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