Saturday, 29 October 2011

WTA Championships: Pre-Finals Catchup

12 RR matches and 2 SFs later we have our finalists.

And, truth be told, it’s exactly who we thought it would and should be. 

Vika’s start went swimmingly. Hardly surprising, what with Pova being injured and Li and Stosur playing at being Li and Stosur [not to be unkind, but both their top ten rankings come with air-quotes until further notice]

But whatever you might say about those last two (and believe me I’m holding back), Vika came through those matches playing as well as we know she can – the remaining “dead” RR match merely a formality, yes? No. 

Nothing’s ever quite that simple with Marion (1st alternate) is it? Win or lose, you just know some volatile sh*t will ensue – and there won’t be anything “merely” about it.

My feeling was, not only that she would make a point of sullying Vika’s unbeaten record, but also that she would do so in straights. Mostly because this would be a most Marion-like thing to do. But, really, with it being a dead RR match, and with no less than $115K at stake, what else was gonna happen?

We all saw what happened. And it didn’t end well for Vika.

You can generally glean all you want to know about someone by their attitude to a) fistpumping and b) tanking.

I know how much controversy this “tanking” thing generated on Twitter – heck, Vika got booed off court by a crowd that (up to that point) had been appreciative, respectful, fair, and not at all given over to applauding UFEs from anyone.

But really, what else would you have her do? She might perhaps have looked a little less irritable (and committed earlier to either winning or losing more economically), but expecting her to thrash it out late into the night in a dead match before a potentially career-defining SF is  hopelessly naive.


Petra’s story, like her matches, is far less complicated.

Her A-Game beats everyone – without it, she loses to most anyone.  If you’re bored of hearing that, it’s because it’s true. There’s practically Cliff Notes to that effect.

Petra mostly brought that A-game – her one and only blip in the group stages coming against Agnieszka, a match she still went on to win in straights. And today’s semi against Sam saw her drop her first set of the week.

Yet it wasn’t with recourse to the A-game without which her critics insist she is hopelessly vulnerable that she got through either of those two matches. Not for the most part. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Blitzing opponents in straights is fun but its no substitute for exactly the kind of matchplay Petra needs – winning without your A-game, winning ugly, winning ugly-on-the-inside, whatever you want to call it.


Monday, 24 October 2011

ATP Slapstick: Janko Tipsarevic and Gael Monfils on the verge of qualifying for London


So here’s an experiment. Try standing in front of a mirror with your hands behind your back, staring eye-to-eye at your reflection, and saying ‘Gael Monfils, number one seed’ out loud 10 times without pause (keep looking at the mirror).

If you make it past ‘four’ without the trace of a snicker (and without the aid of some sort of biochemical suppressant), I put it to you that your synapses are wired the wrong way and that you should probably be kept away from young children.

That’s where I was (or rather wasn’t) with Stockholm all week. Any tournament with Gael, or for that matter Janko, as its top seed needs to go away and do some thinking. Unless you’re in the business of slapstick.

But credit where it’s due.

Both Janko and Gael and, incidentally, Dolgopolov were *and are* in contention for London. They knew it – tennis mathletes certainly knew it.

Normally, that kind of demand is Gael’s cue to slide into a bunch of line judges or to go jump through a window – anything but win the requisite number of matches.

But he didn’t implode, not by that or any other means – and neither did Janko. Both men, instead, somewhat untrue to form, went on to win events in which they were (however laughably) deemed by the numbers to be the top seeds. In other words, they lived up to their billing. And that deserves recognition.

That, incidentally, is Janko’s second title in three weeks – also his second overall. With an appetite like that he might actually wind up qualifying for London (straight face and keep staring at the mirror). This must be why those hoity-toitys at the top of the rankings want to shorten the season.

Dolgo, on the other hand, has just gone out to Dudi Sela in St Petersburg this morning for the loss of only four games. Just last week he lost his opener to Jeremy Chardy, also in straight sets. That deserves recognition too – if only because it’s recognisably stupid.

With all due respect to those other two, only a nincompoop loses that meekly when there’s so much at stake.

Either he doesn’t get it, or he just can’t help himself. Or both. He’s “not wired properly up there” either.

(pics: Getty)

Pipsqueaks win titles too

It’s kind of an open secret how underrated, and hated, Domi is on so very many incomprehensible levels. Heaping abuse on her as your particular fave “comes of age” or “returns to form”, is practically a rite of passage – had Kanepi had more of a following, and had she come through in Moscow, it would have been no different. 


I’ve never quite understood the potency of some of the rage she seems to give rise to – it seems to me to be disproportionate and it always seems to come from people willing to give a free pass to behaviour that is far worse. 

Haters to the left – it can’t be easy being “ugly on the inside”.

My guess is, she’ll continue to be little more than an annoying pipsqueak for some, and nothing less than the spawn of Satan for an astonishingly large number of other, otherwise sensible, people. Much as I might question the incredibly fuzzy logic and the quite laughable double standards, each to their own. 


What is undeniable, is that this one was long overdue – you don’t, I hope, need to be “a fan” in order to see that.

Having reached the fourth round or better at every Slam (RG SF in 2009), and with previous wins over the likes of Venus Williams and Kirilenko, Wozniacki, Zvonareva, Kuznetsova, Sharapova, Goerges and Schiavone just this season, I don’t think I’m reaching when I say that not having a single WTA title to your name signals the worst kind of underachievement.


Monday, 17 October 2011

Charting Petra Kvitova’s success and other ‘Voodoo Economics’

I suppose we can say Petra’s back. Her demolition of Dani was the best match I’ve seen her play since Wimbledon, and the rest of her week wasn’t half bad either. 


Trouble is, ideas about form and consistency never really resonate very much with players like her. I daresay they’re not meant to.

I’ve heard her being compared to a number of players – Mary Pearce, elements of both of the Williamses, and even Juan Martin del Potro.

All those analogies have some truth to them but she seems to me to have more in common with someone she neither looks like nor plays like. Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Neither has the the sense or it seems the desire to control their seemingly unending (surface-neutral) talent – they simply don’t come equipped with the requisite hardware. Neither seems very fussed when things go awry, as they often do. Both are hard-wired to keep on doing what they do, however gloriously stupid – corrective action, it seems, is for pussies….and for those silly people concerned about winning matches.

It’s this unrestrained yet frustratingly laid-back approach that can either lead to the most frightening (and in Sveta’s case the most symphonic) beatdowns you’ll likely ever see, or simply days where neither would last even a few games on the Challenger tour.


And it’s for this reason Sveta has two rather than five or six Slams. The truth is, at this point, I can’t see Petra’s career trajectory being all that different – she’s definitely no week-in-week-out type, but you just know she’ll pull off something utterly astonishing when all the working parts of her mental apparatus (of which there are many) synchronise.

Since I recounted her win at Wimbledon, precious little appears to have changed, except maybe, for one thing.

That look of mild annoyance she sometimes exhibits after an UFE  is still there. It’s her modus operandi – her way of dealing with errors. It doesn’t last very long and she’s generally ready to move on almost immediately. No need to linger in negativity the way some do. Exactly the way it should be. Except when things go wrong. Which is when ‘moving on immediately’ becomes precisely the wrong play. You rob yourself of time to reconsider. Valuable time in which she needs to reconsider.

But in Linz I saw more than mild annoyance. There was a lot of stopping and starting and staring, perhaps even some flouncing. She appeared almost to be have been coached to take stock, to take a moment to really see and to really feel the error of her ways. Or, to put it another way “to go to the naughty zone and think about what you’ve done”.

It worked. This time. Particularly in the way she was able to stop herself from going completely haywire against JJ – you got a sense, at times, she was headed for precisely that. You also got a sense that ploughing through recklessly the way she normally does would have hastened her demise.

But there’ll still be days when she’ll have more success ploughing through in exactly that way – for that too is her modus operandi, it’s written right into her DNA. And that will have been ok too.


There’s no universal recipe for success. It simply doesn’t exist. Don’t buy the dope being peddled by those pretending it does.

Individual success is dependent on an unruly and an unholy blend of factors including your own temperament, your opponent, the type of day they’re having, the type of day you’re having,  surface, conditions, the matchup,  sheer luck and the colour of your socks. It’s not a stretch to think of it all as a type of Voodoo. You hire coaches (perhaps we should think of them as tennis shamans)  to get a handle on all that volatile shit.

And some days there’ll simply be no rational explanation for why exactly you won a match. It just happens. Most players are simply happy to put it behind them. Yet scores of commentators will be professing confident sounding theories on exactly what you did right and why you should keep at it. Just like they do in the stock market. Voodoo Economics.

Trouble is, if you lose using those same tactics, they’ll suddenly all be construed as mistakes, miscalculations and mayhem. Also just like the stock market. And just like ARod said they always do.

The truth is, Petra, like many alongside her, is simply learning to navigate that treacherous balance of guile, pace, steel and hard work. Learning to apply just the right amount of each at just the right time. Knowing when to hold back is just as important, and a lot of times you’re simply winning ugly.

If there is a deep, mystical truth in any of this, perhaps it’s this: no two players’ experience can every be the same because no two players are the same. Ergo, no two players’ journey should be the same. Everyone has their own bag of tricks they’ve been endowed with and you’ve just got to figure it for yourself.

You won’t always win. But someone will always be ready to explain why you didn’t.


What Andy Murray’s Win in Shanghai does (or doesn’t) mean.

There’s three camps with regards to Murray’s clean sweep of the Asian swing:

1) The overtly hostile: “Whatever. Fed and Djoko were absent, and besides, Grand Slams (preferably more than one of them), in case you missed it, trump the #3 ranking…”

2) The easy to please: “OMG…3 BACK-TO-BACK WINS!! AND DISPOSSESSING FED OF THE #3 RANKING!! I THINK I JUST WET MYSELF, BUT IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT…” (I really doubt Federer cares very much)

3) Neither (or some of both) of the above.


The third category is interesting. Not only because I’m a member (duh), but because of its diverse composition: we’re talking, not simply of blinkered Andy fans (though there are those too), not just of those preoccupied with undercutting everything he does because he hasn’t won a Slam (plenty of those too), but also the so-called ‘silent majority’ that simply don’t give a crap one way or the other, but know good tennis when they see it.

For my part – spoken as a fan – I just can’t see the point of him winning these titles anymore. They may even be hindering him.

Quite apart from the “Slamless” derision it’ll inevitably provoke, and quite apart from what the #3 ranking may or may not represent, we already know he’s capable of winning at this level with Fed, Rafa and Nole in the draw  should he not be expected to win when neither is around?

An eighth Masters title is less an indication of “where he’s at” than it is a confirmation of the status quo that's existed for a few years: a frustrating hinterland  situated in between beating those big three in the second week of a Slam on the one hand (not nearly enough of this), and dominating the rest of the tour on the other (more than enough of this).

Murray owns that zone like no other – he’s practically Mayor of it. It’s where he’s been since he went on that tear at the end of 2008 and it’s where he is now.

It’s not quite a “no-man’s land” (Daveed still has no Masters titles to his name and up until a few weeks ago Janko had no titles at all), though it may as well be if (perish the thought) he isn’t destined to move on to bigger and better things.

The Slamless derision will exist no matter what – when, and if, he actually wins one, he’ll be duly promoted to a “one Slam wonder”.


And whilst it’s ridiculous to pretend the #3 ranking means nothing at all (at the very least it indicates reaching 4 Slam SFs might, you know, be a good thing) – it’s equally ridiculous to carry on as if we’ve not been here before. Consider yourself a Murray fan? Well stop selling him (and yourself ) so short.

There’s those that will argue (as they always do) that its necessary to acquire “momentum” and that “winning begets winning”. No it isn’t, and no it doesn’t. Not always.

Juan Martin Del Potro went through both Rafa AND Fed to win the USO, yet still hasn’t a single Masters title to his name. I’d say 8 Masters titles and 3 very long Slamless years in the top 4 render ‘momentum theory’ defunct  – the terms of reference have simply moved on.

Words like “momentum” should, in any case, only ever feature in the discourse surrounding “upcoming” players and “nearly-men” like Marin Cilic and Daveed Ferrer. Murray is neither – he hasn’t been for many years.

By the same token (and whether we like it or not), beating Rafa in the final of a Slam trumps bagelling him (for the loss of only 4 points) in the final of Tokyo or anywhere else.

That’s not to say 3 back-to-back wins are to be taken lightly – at the very least it proves he hasn’t regressed. But it says little or nothing about the role “momentum” may play in his future – there’s almost a case, now, to say he could do with a little less.

Nor, as many are apt to,  should those wins be thought of as “stepping stones” to the Slams – some stepping stones merely lead to the bottom of a ditch.


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Empty Euphoria


I’ve been finding it difficult to get into anything like the hoopla some have been in over Muzz’s back-to-back titles in Bangkok and Tokyo, the latter of which saw him bagel Rafa in the final.

This is of course, completely at odds with the Long-Suffering Fan’s Code of Conduct, the lengthiest chapter of which is entitled “Taking the Win”. It’s about loyalty, about finding positives in any victory, finding reasons to cheer any title, however Mickey Mouse. That sort of thing.

In other words, IT’S WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO. Particularly when your guy/gal struggles with what we like to call  “the big moments”.  When they eventually do get through those moments, they’re that much sweeter. That’s the theory.

It’s not that I haven’t being trying. You couldn’t fail to be impressed by the bagel, for example – a set Rafa only managed to win an absurd 4 points in.

Trouble is, it all has an uncomfortably distinctive whiff of late 2008, when Muzz could do no wrong (except, ya know, win the final of the USO). Since then, he’s notched up a total of 8 Masters title, reached a further two Slam finals and continued his wins over three of the best players the sports produced.

This year he reached the semis of all four Slams.

It’s a little difficult to get euphoric over him winning an ATP 500 after that – is this really what it has come to?



I won’t lie: there were times when it felt downright awkward that it should be Aga and Petko – rather than, say, Caro, Vika or even Marion – fighting for 1000 ranking points and $775K in prize money in the finals of one of the ‘big four’ events outside of the Slams. There were also times when (in the absence of Serena, Pova and Kim) I couldn’t think of anyone better. 

Aga and Petko are two of the tours steadier players – trust me, there’s times when that word’s not a knock. They’re not giant-killers by any stretch; what they are is exactly the kind of player ready and willing (perhaps more than anyone) to fill the void wherever and whenever it occurs.

Aga’s been hovering at the periphery of the top 10 for a few years now. Petko’s rise in the last year has (not unlike Aga’s) been as steady (again, not a knock) as it has been enduring.  Petko’s tears, therefore, at not converting on the easiest shot she might ever have at winning a Premier Mandatory, are understandable.

Yet, it was Aga (rather than Petko) with two Premiers and a Premier-5 already under her belt. And it was Aga  (rather than Petko) on something of a ‘streak’ with back-to-back non-Slam titles coming into this.

In other words, it was Aga (rather than Petko) that could be said to have anything like ‘pedigree’. The right woman won.


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Andy Roddick and The ‘R’ Word: “A Cultural Thing”?

Ever since this story broke there’s been a gaggle of commenters siding with Roddick over the dumb journo that dared speaketh The ‘R’  Word.

(video via TheDailyForehand)

It’s not difficult to see why – I mostly agree with them. Still, things are rarely that clear cut. They’re even less clear when different cultures are involved.

Despite that, as uneasy as I was with both the questioning *and* Roddick’s reaction to it, what really irked was the lazy idea quickly doing the rounds that this was “a cultural thing”.

Even if you believe that (I don’t), there’s a basic contradiction inherent in only cursorily invoking something as complex and contentious as “culture”. The rule, normally, is to steer well clear of it; or else, be prepared to go the whole hog: anything less is likely to lead to misunderstandings.

Lazy invocations of “culture”, in the present case, could  be taken to imply:


-- the hosts don’t know enough about the sport to appreciate the inappropriate nature of the question. Pretty sure that’s not true.

-- that “dumb journo” questions don’t exist anywhere else. I KNOW that’s not true: even if the “dumb journo” thing were “cultural” it wouldn’t be exclusive to any one culture – idiocy was globalised well before globalisation.

There is a third possibility. But it demands a far more rigorous and nuanced treatment of the word “culture”. The kind of treatment a 140 character limit doesn’t lend itself to.

Culture mostly operates as a self contained ecosystem. It’s not always insular, but even in this globalised age stuff from the outside not deemed relevant is allowed to fly past. Other stuff (maybe not deemed relevant elsewhere) may hold a peculiar local interest and would, as such, be allowed to permeate that ecosystem; in particular, this may provoke a reaction from its inhabitants deemed peculiar by the outside world. Its a curious and complex interplay that isn’t very predictable and doesn’t always end well.

I’m not much convinced this is one of those instances: some countries (as many were at pains to point out yesterday) might be more up front in the way they tackle certain issues, but I’m not sure speculating about someone’s demise is particularly welcome anywhere.

And even if that were the case, should a journo not be expected to know that might be particularly unwelcome to Roddick (he seemed to have done his homework in respect of other Roddick quotage).

”Culture” may have taken a little edge off it (or not), but this was, otherwise, a straight up case of the (spectacularly) “dumb journo”. We’ve met him/her before. Don’t lets complicate matters by invoking culture – especially if you’re not prepared to get dirty defining what that actually is.

Flipside: should Roddick have been so insulting in a country he’ll likely only visit once a year (if that)? A country which (despite Li’s monumental efforts) still only has a developing tennis tradition – one where you might argue someone of his standing should be doing rather more promoting and rather less alienating. And yes, one where cultural differences might still yield the occasional awkward moment (if that’s really what this was) – moments that surely warrant a little more tolerance.



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.

You Said...

Powered by Disqus

Receive Updates by Email...

Enter your email address:

  © Free Blogger Templates Spain by 2008

Back to TOP