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.

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