Friday, 30 September 2011

Pope’s Catholic, Dawkins Atheist, Caro passive…


Caroline Wozniacki went out in three hairy sets to Kaia Kanepi in Tokyo yesterday.

Cue the expected, derisory chorus calling into question not just her #1 ranking and style of play, but also her taste in men, not to mention the very essence of her being.

Things don’t improve very much once you get past all that blather either, as the narrative surrounding Caro’s now been hijacked by two equally blinkered points of view.

Depending on whom you speak with, losses like this are either simply symptomatic of the passive nature of her game we’ve come to know so much of over the past two years, or inexplicable, inexcusable shockers.

The truth, as always, is sandwiched somewhere inconspicuously in between the two extremes.

Passive doesn’t win Slams. We know this. Passive may bag you shedloads of ranking points but it isn’t nearly enough to beat the tour’s elite. We hold these truths to be self-evident because they are (and, consequently, need not be drilled into us anymore).


But passive sometimes also gets beaten at the lower tier events by lower ranked talents in their element. And when that happens you always seem to get a raft of analysts feigning shock, horror – disgust even.

Yet then, as now, the loss is down to passive being trumped by daring, unflinching, aggressive play. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t let’s go pretending Kaia’s incapable of that.

The other unhelpful extreme is to pretend that absolutely nothing has been remiss with Miss Wozniacki this year. There was that loss to Petko in Miami in which she posted a staggering 52 UFEs. Followed by two consecutive losses to Goerges in April. Perhaps understandably thereafter, even in matches she’s won, her confidence has seemed dented in a way which simply wasn’t a problem even 8 months back.

Bleat all you want about the merits (and demerits) of passive play, but it’s kind of a big deal when a player that struggles to hit double digit winners begins hitting double digit UFEs – sometimes on a scale that would be considered triple digits for anyone else.


The Asterisk and its discontents.

Having said that, I also sense that fans are really contorting themselves to come up with reasons to undercut Djokovic's season. He could fail to win another match the rest of the year, rendering it a moot point. But as of today, his record is a joke, especially given the quality of his contemporaries. We're talking about losing three matches at a time when two of the best, what, five (?) players ever are ranked No. 2 and No. 3. Give the man his due.

-- Wertheim’s mailbag,

What say you? Are people really jumping through hoops in order to “undercut”, qualify or otherwise asterisk Novak’s year?

I’d say they almost certainly are – without a doubt. Should we be surprised? It almost always happens in the face of domination of any sort.

If, for example, you were to believe  just half of what passed for “reasoned opinion” over the past decade, Fed simply made the most of a “weak-era” and Rafa was never anything more than a “glorified clay-courter” who made the most of his physical gifts. Talent, it seems, had little to do with it.

Whilst at least some of that may be based on a distorted truth of sorts, it’s mostly the work of asterisk-toting Neanderthals that don’t care to give credit where its due. Novak’s treatment’s certainly no different in that respect.

That said, perhaps I can forgive a little eye-rolling (though no more than eye-rolling) on the part of Fed fans, who are continually told to accept Novak’s run as the “best on record” – a feat their guy accomplished three times over (inc. the WTFs).

I’ve no time and and ZERO tolerance for those that undercut any player’s once-in-a-lifetime achievements with lazy, ideological asterisks.

But if you’re going to qualify all of Fed’s years by citing a weak era (a lazy theory at the best of times), is it not just a tad hypocritical not to factor in his age and ailing form/physique now?


Wednesday, 14 September 2011


I know how some are serenading this as one of the matches of the year. I didn’t quite see it that way.


Sure, there was some eye-wateringly, magnificent tennis, but if we’re honest, most of that came in set three. Yes, there were some 12-15 minute games (most of which were down to Rafa struggling to hold serve), but outside of that I only saw Novak bossing Rafa around from the back of the court – the only shock was in how easy he made it look.

That doesn’t maketh for a greateth match – however impossibly high Novak’s level was.

For large parts of the match Rafa simply looked utterly defenceless (and “offenceless”) out there;  Novak was raining down blows on him from every angle. At will.

I’ve not seen him brutalised that way since Sod worked him over at RG back in 2009.


To be honest, I’m not putting much stock in the “Nadal has a Djokovic problem” theory right now because, quite frankly, everyone has that same problem – only the most obtuse Rafanatic will pretend he’s not struggling but it’s worth remembering Rafa’s only losing finals to Novak because he’s making those finals in the first place. Let’s wait a little and see how this story unfurls.

"In the previous years, I hadn't changed my game in any big way and my strokes were still the same and was hitting the shots I wanted to hit.

"But I had difficulties approaching semi-finals and finals. I would wait for players to make mistakes. I didn't have the positive attitude. That has changed now - the 2010 US Open [four-set defeat by Nadal] was the turning point.

"I guess it just clicked in my head. It's just that I'm hitting the shots that I maybe wasn't hitting in the last two, three years now. I'm going for it."
-- Novak Djokovic, BBC Tennis.

Quite apart from all the racquet changes, coaching changes, oxygen pod mystique and gluten free paraphernalia, Novak’s simply back to playing aggressive tennis again and with his ability, that tends to win you shedloads of tennis matches – in this case at the highest of levels.  It’s the same unabashed, relentless (if matured) tennis that won him his first Slam.

And when you do that against Nadal on a hard court, he can be made to look very ordinary – and not just by the very best either.

(Pics: Getty)


Monday, 12 September 2011

USO: Talk about under the radar.


Just over two years ago a two-time doubles Slam winner declared her intent to focus more on singles. Beyond giving a nod to her very evident talent, I can’t, in all honesty, say how seriously I took that.

I’m taking my time over this one. Because, frankly, it’s as good as Fran’s RG win last year (a match in which Sam played bridesmaid) – perhaps even better considering the class of her legendary opponent.

Though the final was overshadowed by the incident with the umpire and Serena’s subsequent outburst, I choose to remember it for Sam’s composure – quite simply a flawless performance from beginning to end.

Even after the 2nd set debacle when fan, foe and frenemy alike all expected her (rather than Serena) to horribly derail, she mystifyingly kept her cool and served it out using the diverse all court game that has already bagged her a couple of doubles Slam titles.

Whilst it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that Serena delivered a shocker (only 3/14 first serves in after first few games), it would be even greater folly to let that detract from the sheer quality of Sam’s execution which, quite simply, caught EVERYONE by surprise.

With a blend of serves out wide, crunching winners from the back of the court, Sam moved Serena around more in the opening couple of games than Caro was able to in the entire first set– that’s not a knock on Caro, its a manifest reality.

Besides, not even legends are immune from throwing in the odd stinker of a match now and again (just ask Federer) – its part and parcel of the sport. Serena acknowledged as much afterwards – asterisks are for pussies.

As for the incident, a hindrance rule clearly exists and it’s difficult to argue against its application – even where “application” equals little more than the application of discretion. Henin’s been docked a point for ALLEZ’ing mid point in the past, Bartoli got precisely the same treatment at this very event.

Same umpire, different ruling.

All the above video shows, is that even withstanding the differing rules that may exist across the ITF and WTA – and as with foot faulting – discretion remains part and parcel of the process with which that hindrance rule is applied.

But there the similarity with foot-faulting ends: the 2009 foot-fault didn’t confer a competitive advantage on Serena – specific stipulations even guide officials not to get involved, particularly in the latter stages of a match. No one wants a Slam final decided by an academic dispute.

Making noise mid rally, however, is an actionable violation of the rules – however innocuous the yelp may have been. Even if it didn’t hinder Stosur (and it’s not clear it didn’t), Asderaki was within her rights to either require the point to be replayed or to award the point to the opponent – both are an instance of discretion and that’s precisely what Asderaki showed. She certainly didn’t deserve being called a “hater” or “unattractive on the inside”. All things considered, I’d say she acted with remarkable restraint.

And I don’t buy the theory that Serena’s hostile reaction is a a residual effect of any of the various outlandish controversies she’s had to endure over the years either (and there’ve been a few) – she simply is what she is, flawed, serene and utterly magnificent.

To be perfectly honest, she’s reacted quite admirably to some of those controversies, but this time she was bang out of order. And calling that out ain’t hate – quite the reverse, in fact.

In 2006 a certain French former #1 declared that talk about her nerves (“iconic” for all the wrong reasons) was off limits now that she’d served it out at Wimbledon over one of the best players of the past decade. She reverted back to her delightfully panic-stricken self not soon after.

As with Amelie then, quite frankly, I’d be astonished if this serves as some kind of watershed moment that sees Stosur no longer held hostage by her nerves – those wide-eyed nervous looks and blowing on her hand in between every point are an utterly glorious defence mechanism that form part of her appeal.


But as with Amelie then, for one day (and maybe only for one day) she didn’t flinch, not even when controversy, her own predisposition to mid match anxiety attacks, and a now fired up living-legend on the other side of the net demanded she should.

Not gonna let loose ambiguous talk of “class” and “umpire discretion” get in the way of that.


Saturday, 10 September 2011

USO: Sooper Dooper Saturday.


For all the analysis that you’ll see in the build up to this one, I’m not much convinced anything matters more than their respective form coming into this…which has been sublime.

Both men know how to play on all surfaces. Both rely on a multitude of weapons rather than any single WMD to bring their opponents down. Both have an appetite for victory which is, perhaps, second to none – preferably over each other. 

Sure, Novak might have the slight edge in terms of age and what he’s achieved this year – but how much does that really matter with the day’s rest and both having only dropped a set to get here?

I want five sets. We’ll almost certainly get four.  Broken glass and blood all over the place.


Oh I know he got “medieval” on Roddick’s a*s last night, and I also know how one match like that is sometimes all Rafa needs to light the touch paper. I’m still not much convinced his level of play is quite up there with the rest of the top four – and certainly not comparable with what we’ve seen from Novak and Roger over the past week.

Murray’s made all four Slam semis this year: almost an  academic point now that he’s a regular feature of  the business end of most majors. Even so, that has to count for something, as does the fact that all his wins over Rafa have been on hard courts.


In some ways, an even more loaded match than any of the mens semis.

If Serena plays the way she did in the first set against Vika, Caro will be lucky to get more than a handful of games.

Except that hasn’t quite been the story of the fortnight.

If she plays as loosely as she opened against Ana or Pavlyuchenkova, Caro is well-equipped (perhaps more than anyone) to make her work for it.

What happens from that point on depends largely on Serena’s ability to shorten rallies and keep the UFEs in check. Caro’s only chance lies in doing the precise opposite – if she can move Serena around and lengthen the rallies, she certainly won’t be the first to tire, Serena will.

What will probably take place is something in between those two extremes.

It’s certainly not impossible for Caro to pull through in a tight third set. I think I might even prefer that if only to see her haters squirm. We also need to see an end to the “real number one” debate. I’ve never been one of those that thought the rankings system was at fault – but if she pulls this off, bitchers will continue to bitch and the hatred will be exposed for the vindictive, ideological hoax that it is.


What or who is Angelique Kerber? And since when does Sam Stosur make Slam semis again? On surfaces other than clay?

If you’ve been following the scheduling kerfuffle over the past few days you’ll know that we’re not supposed to be treating either of these two women as serious Slam semi-finalists.

Even now (“Super Saturday”), there’s not a single photo of Stosur in Yahoo’s tennis photostream. Not one. (Hint: The shabby treatment extends further than mere tournament administrators).

I get that the schedulers have had to deal with an insane number of nightmarish factors this time round, including rain delays, a visit by FLOTUS, 911 commemorations and water bubbles appearing on Louis Armstrong. I get that this has sometimes meant those schedulers coming in for an unwarranted shellacking by hot-heads that don’t know or care to understand the competing concerns they face.

I also know straight up disrespect when I see it.

Leaving aside that Sam is a two-time Slam finalist, this might be the one and only time Kerber ever gets to breath the air on Ashe.  These, in short, are the moments players (however lowly) play for and live for – a far cry from a R1 loss to Laura Robson at Wimbledon this year. Heavens knows, she’s earnt the right.

Sam should pull through (you’d think) but heaven hath no fury like a journeywoman scorned.

And boy has she (and Sam) been scorned.
Let there be no illusions about that.



Thursday, 8 September 2011

USO: On moral superiority, double-standards and ideological dislike

So when Caro gives a presser with a giant inflatable kangaroo or gate-crashes Novak’s presser, she’s a snivelling attention seeker. But when Petko boogie-woogies after her wins (in some cases over an injured opponent) or hosts those utterly try-hard spoof reporter skits, that’s her “being herself”, “entertaining”,  a refreshing instance of “personality”. Got it.

Leaving aside the question of Caro’s latest little ill-judged PR disaster (and it was a disaster) or which of the two works the media better (I think we’re all agreed Petko’s more comfortable in her skin), there’s a wider question of double standards here that’s, frankly, beginning to grate.

Let’s stop pretending for a moment: both are engaged in attention seeking. I know Petko's supporters expend a lot of effort in dressing it up as something else but that’s precisely what it is, irrespective of which of the two does it better. Nothing wrong with that, though not everyone in the media spotlight chooses to go down that road.

More importantly, however, I think it’s a mistake to assume everyone finds Petko’s routines as adorable or entertaining as her supporters would have us believe. With precious few exceptions, I mostly find them just as try-hard as Caro’s ill-conceived efforts over the past year. Clearly that’s no reason to hate on her, but the moral superiority with which her supporters use them to laud her whilst simultaneously taking a sh*t on Caro is really too much.


Feel free to dislike Caro or anyone else, but drop the pretence that it’s down to this or that incident.

And this isn’t about Petko either whom I really quite like, or at least have come round to a little since managing to disentangle myself from the cloying narrative on her being “good for tennis” – which, if anything, has gotten in the way of getting to know her properly. Even so,  I can’t say I’m especially sold on either. And even where I may have found things to appreciate in both women, none of that will have been because of their respective PR stunts.

My point is, whether you choose to loathe Caro as a simpering media whore, or serenade Petko as the second coming of Mary Poppins, both are based on little more than a subjective assessment – that slippery thing more commonly referred to as “taste”. And there’s an intrinsic hypocrisy at the heart of the idea that your preference for Petko’s stunts is based on anything more substantive than personal taste.

My own view is she’s a savvy enough individual to work her charms without resorting to gimmickry. I know how adorable so many seem to find such gimmickry – it’s not my cup of tea. But that too is a question of taste, and only taste – nothing more, nothing less. Its certainly not a reason to heap abuse on her the way some do on Caro, or to pretend we know anything about either woman.

Those who celebrate Petko will find reasons to do so even if it were her, and not Caro, impersonating Rafa in agony.

Those that hate on Caro, will find reasons to do so even where her attempts at humour are a little less ill-judged….they’re ideologically bound to.

Yet no quarter is spared by many of Petko’s fans or Caro’s haters in dressing up their feelings as something more elevated. It really isn’t – and pretending it is, is far more irritating than any number of  inflatable kangaroos.

USO: Ready,Set, Draw…

The last few weeks have been puzzling to put it mildly.

I haven’t been especially involved, but it seems we’ve stumbled into a strangely post-Fedal world, one in which Caro gets McHaled (twice), Mardy Fish wins the USO Series with relative ease and JJ….wins tennis matches. Yes that last one seems to get everyone to sit up and gape.
Even Novak Djokovic finally came unstuck in Cincy last week.

All of which is to say, I don’t claim to understand any of it. And I don’t believe anyone that claims to either.

Even so, there’s that small matter of the last Grand Slam of the year.

I’m in the midst of what I’d call one of life’s little crises right now – as such it’s very unlikely that I’ll be posting until the end of the first week, if that.

Until then. Enjoy.





Nole Fed Isner ARod
Janko Tsonga Murray Rafa





Caro Serena Kerber Sam
Petko Pavs Flav Bepa





Sympathy Vote

Ideas above their station



-- Death and Taxes: Serena appears in Vika’s quarter. Not only that, but as an extra little treat from the draw faeries this year, the two will probably meet in R3. Huh.

-- Death and Taxes: Fed gets Nole in the SFs.

-- Feel free to disagree, but I also say Fed drew the shortest straw: Bella in R2, one of Bernie,Ryan or Marin in R3 and an almost certain QF date with one of Tsonga/Fish – that would be two of the hottest players on tour right now.

-- Obvious really, but having been “McHaled” twice recently and having only just signed on Coach ‘X’ (the identity of whom remains classified), Caro being upset before the semis would be of surprise to precisely no one.

-- Admit it: Rafa’s draw says less about his prospects as does his own lack of form right now. The way things are looking, its not a stretch to think Ferru could come through in this section.

-- A lot of people seem to think Pova’s gonna struggle. That’s almost certainly true. But it’s not because of who/what is in her draw. To be honest, her biggest pre-QF threat is probably Peng, and I can see her toughing that one out, seeing as toughing-out is pretty much what constitutes her A-game these days. Also, its pre-eminently possible Petra won’t survive into the QFs, so….

-- Wasn’t filled with confidence by Nole’s retirement in Cincy. I’m almost conceiving of an upset or, you know, that old-fashioned thing they call “getting beaten by a better player on the day”. Even so, with Tomas as his biggest threat, it’d be shocking to see him not make the SFs.


-- Remember him? Good. He’s the guy that put an end to Rogers 23 GS SF streak and Rafa’s unbeaten run at RG – two of the biggest streaks the sport’s seen. Bo Carl makes his first appearance on a tennis court since winning Bastad in early July. *RAWR*. He beat a certain Daveed Ferrer in the final there that day – the same guy that’s just usurped his #5 spot. He comes in with practically zero match play. As always with Bo, expect anything, everything and nothing at all.

-- Expect very little from Li and Petra.

-- Bepa’s section confuses the hell out of me. On the one hand, Domi, Venus and Sabine could all flake-out making Bepas route through to the QFs that much cleaner. Or they might do that thing where they all come to play tennis at the same time in which case your guess is as good as mine. In any case, consider this the most “happening” section of the draw.


Monday, 5 September 2011

USO: Week one Round Up

1) “The match that must not be named”

This one was so bad I still have hangover as I write this.

Quite baffling to realise that up until this match I hadn’t seen very much of Robin Haase. I knew he was an edgy, flamboyant talent who’d been sidelined rather a lot by injury. Beyond that I had heard murmurings of his being a head case.

I now want to “unsee” him.

Not that Murray has anything to be proud of. Nothing these two can do will ever live this down.

We don’t need to analyse  sh*t like this unless we’re interested in what happens when the laws of nature and the moral fabric of the universe break down.

What happened in Ashe stays in Ashe.

2) “Donald not-so-Young”

I suspect my perspective on Donald Young’s journey (there’s a euphemism)  is somewhat different to most Americans. I’ve heard of the brattiness, the run-ins with the USTA, the complexities arising from his parental coaching relationship, of course, but it seems the impression left by this simply hasn’t been as affecting as it has for many on the other side of the pond. Only natural.

Most of the time I simply couldn’t care less, figuring he’s either not worth bothering with or will come of age in his own time.

Amongst other things, this meant I was prepared to vouch for his game without having to disentangle myself from the politics and the snark that I guess is part and parcel of following (and being let down by)  a home grown talent – especially one that makes life so difficult for himself. What I don’t understand is snark for the sake of snark, particularly when it comes from those without any such domestic ties.

When he beat Murray earlier this year, he was mostly derided as ‘Donald Duck’. And Murray was ripped on for losing to ‘Donald Duck’. Few seemed to think it might have had anything to do with his game. 

He didn’t follow up. Very few expected him to. Heavens knows if he’ll do it this time  – I’m not completely sold on the “kid grew up” narrative, he may simply have had another good week. Besides, a 32-year old grinder isn’t the strongest competition.

But that defeat of Murray wasn’t a fluke. And neither is what we’ve seen this past week. And if (heaven forbid) he goes on to beat Murray again in R4, that won’t have been a fluke either.

3) “Dearth, not Death”

If you’ve been paying attention recently, you’ll have heard rather a lot on how tennis is supposed to be “dead” in all of the Grand Slam hosting nations, with the exception, I guess, of France. 


I’m not gonna argue with that. That GB, Aus and the US are going through something of a dry spell talent-wise is common knowledge. Most of what you hear about it, however, is little more than blather. The kind of lazy, cliched blather that more usually goes along with talk of grunting, fist-pumping, and the rankings system.

A dearth is not the quite the same as death: of the 4 American WTA teenyboppers making noise this week, only one, Madison Keys, is ranked outside of the top 400 – two  others are ranked in the top 100 (McHale at #55) with Sloane Stephens hovering just outside at #106.

Were they not to have made a splash this week, were you not nerdy enough to know their rankings and were you to have gone on headlines alone, you simply wouldn’t have known that.

4) Venus Williams

By now we will all have heard that Sjogrens Syndrome is a chronic auto-immune disorder in which the white cells attack the body’s own moisture producing glands. Symptoms include debilitating fatigue and joint pain.

We also know that there is no cure.


With a diagnosis as sobering as that, “Get Well Soon” well-wishes can seem woefully inadequate. A quick Wikipedia search will tell you that you don’t always “get well” from something like this – “symptom management” sometimes being the only option.

Venus has been an iconic feature of the tennis landscape for over a decade.

There’ll be hordes of melancholic fans whenever her career comes to end, whether that’s through ill health or it simply running its course.

Worth remembering, however, that we know next to nothing on how acutely she’s affected. Auto immune illnesses usually have a wide range of severity. Let us hope her case is moderate.

The other thing is that “symptom management” is not always as dreadful as it sounds.  True that this can entail coping with, rather than freeing oneself of, a chronic illness – but it’s also true that the effects of that illness may be mitigated by lifestyle adjustment in less severe cases.

The real question is whether that’s sufficient to compete as an elite athlete in the sport she loves. Doubtless many will desire precisely that. But like a certain 22-time Slam Champion says, her first priority must be to regain her health – with or without tennis. No true fan should wish for anything less.

5) Li No and Petra KvitOver

Never have I felt so wrong about being right :(

Anyone that had been following both players this past year knew there would be a certain amount of “decompression” following their respective Slam epiphanies. My own view was that they were unlikely to reach the quarters and would probably end up going out in an unspectacular tussle in some forgotten corner of week one.

Yes they're both hit and miss. Yes they're both still reeling from the after effects of winning a Slam. Still, a first round exit for two top 10 Grand Slam Champs is unacceptable.

6) Serena v Vika – Match of the tournament.

The first set of this was Serena at her uber-intimidating best. As always, she was out to make a statement – Vika was mere collateral damage and barely managed one game.

The second set was likely the best you’ll see over the entire fortnight.

Some of Vika’s returns of serve may well go on to be remembered as the best tennis of her career. As always her fans are left to rue the fact that where others get serendipity, Vika gets…Serena Williams.

Try and think of the first player that came to mind as drawing the short straw when Serena’s #28 seeding was announced…..YEAH.

No, it doesn’t even surprise me anymore.


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Credit has been given wherever possible.
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