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.

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