Tuesday, 22 November 2011

ATP WTF: Tomas Berdych and the reformatory power of melancholic angst

Nope. Uh-uh. Not impressed. Not yet anyway.

I’ve no doubt we’ll eventually reproduce something of the electricity I normally associate with one of my favourite events of the year (we almost did with Big Berd yesterday), but we ain’t there yet. Not nearly.

And something’s been off since before the event began.

Not even the ATP photoshoot, normally the single most prolific moment for unintentional awesome all year, lived up to expectation.

Admittedly the Abbey Road crossing and the innards of Downing St set a high watermark.

But this year we got…..8 suits in front of Battersea Power Station. That awkward moment when everyone realises there’s not very much happening, and that not even a close-up would help alleviate the ennui.

The iconic Pink Floyd album cover is one of those things that sounds like a good idea in principle – in practice, a moody, un-peopled near-apocalyptic work of modern art doesn’t lend itself to the kind moments that have made previous shoots such a hit – and I’m not sure it garners quite the necessary universal appeal either.

Sorely disappointed. And I still think a Downton themed photoshoot with Mr Carson (that voice) umpiring a mixed dubs encounter between Lady Edith, Muzz and two other choice members of the cast/players would have been AMAZING.

Neither were things redeemed by what should have been an explosive opener between Jo and Fed. With Federer reminding us of the unearthly errors we’d almost, but never quite, forgotten after the sustained brilliance of his last two events. One can only hope he’s got it out of his system.

But at least, even at three sets, it was over quickly: Rafa/Fish, on the other hand, was a super extended directors cut of a very average daytime movie full of the deleted scenes and bonus features no one wants to see. And all of that was before Rafa’s infamous potty break brought on by an apparent tummy bug. One can only hope he’s got it out of his system.

With Fedal out of the way, I was sure that either Muzz or Djokovic would provide the bonfire that finally lit up the event.


It didn’t happen with Muzz/Ferrer – worse, Muzz was revealed to have an agitated hip that puts into question his continued participation here.

Sometimes an injury’s just an injury – neither evidence of questionable moral fibre nor an opportunity to big-up your fave with that excruciating form of player-juxtaposition so many seem to find so necessary. Try harder.

And with that, Daveed tops group A being the only player to have won his opener in straights. Every cloud, it seems, has an underrated, sporting and very Spanish lining.

Only with Nole/Berd last night did things finally come alive – though not always for the right reasons. The rallies and shotmaking were light years ahead of any match that had preceded it. Some of Berd’s misses were also akin to near death experiences.

It all had a uniquely, grungy form of fatalism about it from which Berd has seemingly emerged uniquely scarred:

"I just need to get through this feeling…I'm even more sad for the Czech people who came to see me"

I cherish Czech angst and melancholy the way I do some forms of modern poetry, but I’m also kinda hoping he puts all that behind him. Or at least re-organises it all into a focused intensity that takes no prisoners – I’ve seen it before.

Nole admitted that Tomas had been the better player for most of the match. He’s right. And, as we saw last night, he’s, in some ways, the player uniquely placed to cause all manner of upsets.


People tend to react to Fedal encounters in the way they might to James Bond films from the late 60s and 70s. For some, they were always overhyped and don’t appear to have dated terribly well. For others, they remain the benchmark of excellence with a continuing pull of nostalgia and loyalty if nothing else.

Either way, everyone feels compelled to take a position either for or against it. Try as I may, I can’t not admire that.

My own feeling is that whilst the more recent encounters haven’t exactly been memorable, and whilst Fedal may be over as an ‘era’ – we shouldn’t be surprised to find them embroiled in skirmishes that rival anything we saw in between 2006-2008. We may even be pleasantly surprised tonight.

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