Saturday, 31 January 2009

2Hander's Take: Final Analyses

WOW! So it's end of another Open and WHAT A FINAL!! It had everything; drama, ups and downs, breaks of serve, tie-breaks etc. Both players played fantastically and although I am not a fan of his game, I
must congratulate Rafa on his 6th Slam and playing a very good tournament. He plays with heart and gives every single point 300%! Rafa, you are well on your way to being a true legend of the game! I cannot help but wonder if it's all happening a bit too quickly for our tenacious Spanish friend. He's only 22, he's well and truly got Roger Federer's number! I guess it's up to the likes of Djokovic, Murray, Tsonga, Monfils, Verdasco et al to want a piece of the action enough to get involved!

I mean, there's not a whole lot to say about the match, really. The most telling stat would have to be Fed's 52% of 1st serves! WTF (and I don't mean World Trade Foundation!!) He cut out on the forehand UFEs and had he been playing anyone else, he probably would have won! Perhaps he should receive psychiatric help to overcome this mental block! There must be so much pressure on him to equal/break Sampras' record as well as the level of public expectation on his shoulders. I know he has started enjoying his tennis a lot more, but it's not enough. Someone needs to do the Heimlich maneouvre on him, for he chokes everytime he faces Nadal in a Slam final!! Oh hold on, wait a minute...I feel like this is deja vu of Lendl repeatedly failing to win WImby...!!

A friend of mine observed that the Fed's service action has changed! He doesn't arch his back as much anymore - could that be because of the backpain suffered in Paris late last year? My friend also noticed that the ball toss is not as high. He seems to be 'snapping' at the ball a lot more, rather like Agassi - not hitting the ball at full reach...


Friday, 30 January 2009

2Hander's Take: The Grand Final & Tribute to Nando

Well, the public have finally got what they wanted - a Federer-Nadal Slam final on hard court! Firstly, I would like to say a few words about the Nadal-Verdasco semifinal:


This is the first time I have seen Verdasco play and tell you what, I'm impressed! He has a cracking forehand and a very solid backhand. A part of me would have liked Verdasco to beat Nadal as he has a far purer game. Since he is natural righty turned lefty, I think that Nadal has a very unnatural looking game, especially his serve. However, I think Federer would have come out on top against Nando, he has the experience plus he seems to have found his form once again.

Now, I am shocked at the stat of 95 winners!! OK, he also hit around 60 UFEs but if that was to be worked on, he'd easily be in the Top 5! Did he raise his game given the occasion and his opponent?! Nah, he dispatched Murray and Tsonga on the way, right guys? There is a danger that he'll follow in the footsteps of Baghdatis, Gonzalez and Haas - where they play a blinder of an Open, then fall by the wayside rather soon afterwards...please don't do that to us, Nando!!

So, Sunday really could be anybody's game.

As for the gals, well, Serena looks to be on form and she has no problem playing 3-set matches. Mentally, not much can phase her. This is relatively new territory for Dinara, so let's hope she's not too much of a 'deer in the headlights'!!

So...GAMES ON!!!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Magic and Misadventure in Melbourne pt 3...

Just time for one more of these round ups before the one remaining semi final gets under way...

Serena - The Spanner in an All-Russian Works

Serena v Elena (Semi). She was in as good a shape as she's ever been in. She was perhaps playing the best tennis of her career, coming into this on a 15 match winning streak; and in the absence of a performance that befits those Sisters, was many people's pick to take the title. She did also spend a Murray-like off-season in Miami to get used to playing in hot conditions. But none of that was ever likely to reduce Dementieva's double fault count.

Not that the loss was all to do with her service either: Serena did after all serve a mediocre 53% first serves in, but rather tellingly went on to win 78% of those points in contrast to Elena's 52%. I also perhaps rather simplistically believe that despite Elena's more than decent recent record against her, it's just near impossible to stop the Serena Juggernaut once it gets going.

Can Elena win a Slam? I think so - she's better placed than most anyone in what has to be considered a very uniform (some would say dubious) field of talent; and even that serve is not the horror it once was. She'll just have to hope she doesn't run into either one of Serena or Venus. Venus in particular, it would appear, owns her on any surface.


Serena v Kuz (Quarter). A lot of people seem to think that the roof was as big a story as anything that transpired on court, and they're probably right. It's just that as a Kuznetsova fan, I can't help but notice that this Open has probably seen some of the most level-headed and measured tennis she's produced for a long time. Yes she wasn't able to serve out the match at 5-4 up in the 2
nd set, and she did get derailed quite horribly in that last set, but since when was losing your way against a resurgent Serena anything to be ashamed of?

Her cause was probably aided by the withdrawal of Jie Zheng, but unless my predilection for natural looking backhands has got the better of me, there's changes afoot in the mindsets of both Kuzzie and Reeshard this year. Maybe those courtside sessions with Olga are beginning paying off.

And as for Serena, well, she's done what she always does - shoot down our predictions (all except for 2Hander's that is) and make a mockery of the parameters we traditionally use to make them. Steve Tignor says making predictions is fast becoming an exercise in futility. It's long been that way with Serena.

Safina finally plays a semi worthy of her

I haven't actually seen all of this one yet, but from the bits I did catch and by most other accounts, it looks as though Safina finally got her act together. As you know, she (along with Dementieva) was one of my picks after Jelena and Venus went out. But the tennis she'd played up to this point was more Marat than Dinara (post-Berlin that is).

I actually picked Vera for this one. She seemed to be making her way through the draw quietly in an almost business like way; and after a slow start against Bartoli she showed us more of the much matured Vera that got to the final of last year's SEC. In fact other than Dementieva, she was the only other competitor out there who really demonstrated belief.

But Dinara's not having any of it this year. One of the few positives in her game at this Open has been that she's always been able to find a way through when it matters.

However, much as I'd like her to lift the trophy, I'm not about to bet against Serena in this form (now that she appears to have found it).

A-Rod reaches his natural limit

This has been a good Open for the A-Rod. It's also been a good year (so far). My point is he shouldn't feel dejected. There's plenty of positives to take out of a campaign that saw him unravel only to a Federer displaying form that bore more of a resemblance to Flushing Meadows 2007 than anything we saw last year.

I've got a theory about A-Rod. Federer paid him a great tribute in advance of this match saying what a great achievement it is to have been in the top ten for so long; (singing the praises of Djoko's conqueror also sounds rather too close to yet another not so veiled swipe at the Djoko) anyway, here's the theory - both Djoko and Murray have shown that they are for whatever reason still susceptible to the occasional loss; Davydenko had a foot injury that kept him out of this Open and will lose shed-loads of ranking points if he doesn't follow up at Miami this year. In other words, conditions are ripe for A-Rod to make a raid on the #5 spot. Yes I know there's two very talented Frenchman and a surly Argentine that might have something to say about that, but it's only Tsonga I feel, who Roddick may struggle to get through. I know Giles possesses better hands and is no doubt a better defender than Andy; I just think that some of that experience of being in the top ten for so long and the great many matches he's played at the Slam level may end up being the slight edge he has over those other three.

Anyway, he shouldn't be dejected as I say. It was far from the "Fedora's-Punchbag" episode he went through at the semis here two years ago. Besides, that rather dubious title is now passed to the guy in the next section.

Del Potro v Federer

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. This was Fedora at his most clinical and cruel. Yes CRUEL I said. Del Potro had already last year, received what I then termed 'a rude awakening to the reality of the top ten' at the hands of the mild-mannered Davydenko. But this was almost Tarantino-like in its brutality (think Federer got 'mediaeval' on Juan?). It was almost as if Federer was venting out all of his frustrations at his poor showing last season, now that he'd so clearly found his way again. Poor Del Potro just happened to be in the way.

Something else was at work too. I've previously seen Federer play an almost derisory, dismissive brand of tennis against opponents whose maybe more limited style of game he doesn't particularly warm to. I think it was wandering-monster Karlovic last time, although his serve meant he was able to claim more than just three games. This time we got that header.

I'm no fan of Juan's game either (who by the way, can inflict great damage given half a chance), but the youngest member of the top ten surely didn't deserve this. Bad, BAD Roger!

The Guns of Navarro extinguished

Extinguished indeed; and how meekly. It wasn't all Dementieva's doing, the sun did play a large role I'm sure. But it's not just the sun that shone through that day, inexperience did too. And lots of it.

From the way in which Navarro surrendered the first four games to Elena before deciding to actually play tennis, to the way she was unable to convert a single one of a staggering 10 break points.

When I didn't see much of her last year after Roland Garros, I often wondered why she wasn't winning more matches. Now I know why.

Still, I'm not about to stop believing in the girl that caused me to start believing in the Women's Game again. She needs a couple of years I think; she also needs to keep well away from a French guy named Reeshard - that other great single handed backhand that hasn't yet delivered.

Novak throws in the towel (again)

He can surely be in no doubt as to how his latest withdrawal has been received by other players and the media. I warmed up to Novak after he made several very welcome and much needed changes to the way he conducted himself both on and off the court. "He brings something unique to the top of the game" I said. "I've begun missing his intensity..." I said.

All still true I suppose, except that after yet another withdrawal (which freakyfrites at GOTOTENNIS terms 'one short of a Career Retirement Slam'), I'm maybe less keen to acknowledge it. Just stop it Novak.

To Roof or not to Roof

Ok here's the thing. Michael Stich (who is a M - U - C - H better commentator/analyst than Mats Wilander BTW), raised a very good point in the roofing debacle during the Serena-Kuzzie match.

He's of the opinion that you shouldn't have a roof either here or at Wimbledon. Now I know there's very good reasons why you should tell him to shove it (ranging from TV coverage to players wilting on court) - I was about to myself.

But it is a little less easy to dismiss the notion that by having a roof you are in effect turning it into an indoor tournament (with all the changes to pace, bounce and atmosphere that entails) - which the Aussie Open or Wimbledon simply ain't.

What I don't agree with however, is the idea that by having a roof you are letting the less fit and less conditioned players off the hook. The reality is that how you react to the heat sometimes has nothing whatsover to do with conditioning and off court preparation at all. It's simply down to genetics. Some players will always be at a disadvantage in intense heat irrespective of whether or not they follow a Murray-like regime in Miami.


Honourary mention to Victoria Azarenka. As you know all too well, I dislike her style of play. Intensely. But it made pretty grim viewing watching her meander and shuffle around the back of the court (virtually on the point of collapse), as she made a spirited (Nole take note!) and as it turned out futile attempt, to carry on in her match against Serena Williams. Get well soon Victoria (if you aren't already)...


2Hander's Take: Quietly Getting on with Business

Many people have talked about how the Aussie Open throws up a surprise or 'rogue' element to the Mens' draw. This year is no exception, as we have Fernando Verdasco in the semis, awaiting either Nadal or Simon. Also, on the other side of the draw, the A-Rod has also been working his way through. I know I dismissed him a couple of weeks back, but it is almost as though he has come out of nowhere. Given his recent Grand Slam record, it's been a while since he last reached a semifinal...

Could this be an indication of the fitness level of Roddick and Verdasco? These are extreme heat conditions they are playing in. Now, I don't mean to deride our (slightly) lower-ranked American and Spanish friends, but it would sure be a shame to deprive us spectators of a Federer-Nadal final. Particularly if we have Roddick-Verdasco!! I think a Federer-Nadal final is a more than good enough reason for you people to bunk/skive off work!!!

Now, Federer, although rejuvenated, may be playing a different animal to the A-Rod he once knew and more or less dominated. Roddick is not only said to be more streamlined/aerodynamic, but he seems to be winning more points at the net. A tactic which they attribute to new coach Stefanki, who coached Henman for a while - and volleying was definitely his weapon. However, I feel that Connors planted this seed. True, he's up against easily the best volleyer on the Tour, but it has been a while since he's depended on that tool to win matches.

Another player quietly getting on with things is Elena Dementieva. She made swift work of Suarez-Navarro. And I TOLD YOU Serena was going all the way...beyond Venus! However, maybe a tenacious Dementieva who has had extra Weetabix can stop her. Plus a possible final with Marat's lil sis...all sounds very exciting! Cannae wait...


Monday, 26 January 2009

Nando 'The Specimen' and other Mythical Creatures (or Murray-Bane)...

Well what do you say? Is a Slam a different animal? Evidently so. But I can't help feeling that Murray's issues out on court today were less Slam related and more to do with his long running fitness problems that were only accentuated by the heat.

As you may have noticed by the general tone of my inclusion of him in the recent list of anti-picks I came up with for the Open this year, I'm not fully convinced that Verdasco is the real deal. But I will say one thing about Nando: the guy is a specimen. Not that there aren't more physically gifted players out there, and I do sometimes find the size of his female fanbase a little puzzling (swarthy good looks? Really?), but if you were given the option of choosing your opponent in a 5 set slugfest under the Australian sun, Nando would surely be one of the players you'd sooner avoid (David Ferrer would top the list with Nadal).

If you look at Murray in sets two and five in particular, he looks a little more bedraggled than usual. Verdasco on the other hand looks like he's just warming up. In fact he has that confident air about him throughout the match, punctuated with only brief outbursts of disgust (mostly at wasted opportunities). It's almost as if he realises he's got a very vulnerable Murray exactly where he wants him, and is only surprised the job isn't over sooner.

There's no question in my mind Murray should have got through this. He's going to have to learn how to close these types of matches in 3 sets.

What went wrong:

1. He already had to come back from two sets down against Melzer just two days ago. IMO the top two or three players have at most 2-3 5 setters in them if they are to take the title (David Ferrer could probably play seven, but doesn't alas possess the skill to get that far).
Murray it seems may only have two in him, but factor in the heat of Melbourne and the illness he spoke of and that quickly becomes one.

2. He played a fairly sound first set, but with what seems like uncharacteristic over-confidence took things a little easy in the second; he actually went back to bad-Murray: the one that Federer criticised for playing too many loopy shots from way back behind the baseline. Nando rubbed his hands in glee. This IMO was the fatal mistake as it set the whole tone of the match.

3. Nando succumbed to some of that over-confidence in set 3; he probably sensed where Murray was physically by his floundering performance in the previous set, and got a little carried away. Murray conserved his energy and did little more than stay in most points leaving Nando to let rip the UFEs.

4. Set 4 - Fatigue really begins to creep in for Murray; Nando cranks things up. Yes Andy, he served a staggering 93% first serves in, but you know what? That's what confidence (and a sense you have a realistic shot at advancing into your first Slam Quarter final) does for you - and he was confident because he knew you were suffering.

5. Final Set - Murray's really struggling now, but actually plays a better set of tennis than set 4. At 3-2 up, perhaps with a sense that with one last push he can see this through, he pushes himself to the limit. But Nando's really flowing. His groundstrokes have a real edge to them now and is brimming with belief. It's not difficult to wear Andy down.

Bottom Line: There's a whole swathe of perfectly beatable players out there who suddenly turn into minotaurs if you let them get into tight 4th sets. If Murray is to win a Slam (anywhere), he'll need to learn to get through them in three sets. It's not as if he doesn't have the tools either; he just didn't seem to be thinking very clearly through the mist of fatigue and elected instead to revert back to the pre-Wimbledon Murray. There were also rather too many moments of madness (which for Murray means painfully inopportune dropshots).

As for Nando, although he's made the last eight, I remain unconvinced that he'll prove me wrong; he's certainly capable of the flamboyant shotmaking and at times unreturnable serving he wowed us with today (I can't think of anyone in the top 4 serving 93% 1st serves in), but it' s hardly the mainstay of his game and will I think be rather hard-pressed to reproduce it with any kind of regularity.

Think Roger or Novak are going to have a 'told you so' moment? Maybe in private.


Sunday, 25 January 2009

Magic and Misadventure in Melbourne pt 2...

Reeshard and his barbaric yawp....

I'd normally use a third round exit as an excuse to unleash yet another diatribe on the many misdemeanours of Gasquet, but even though he didn't come out on top in his five set clash with Gonzo, there was something a little different in the way he conducted himself. I don't actually think he choked quite as badly as he's done in the past, or to put it another way, I think his loss was as much a product of the gruelling nature of the lengthy match (he played a tough four setter against Junqueira too) as any mental failing. I particularly liked the way he saved match point with a low percentage, ripped forehand winner and the very un-Reeshard like primaeval scream he let out afterwards. You're not in Room 101 just yet Reeshard.

Gonzo is looking in extremely fine nick both physically and mentally. I don't think he'll get past Nadal but just may give him the kind of workout Berdych gave Federer or Djoko got at the hands of Baghdatis.

Extra brownie points for Reeshard finding his voice (and heart?) at last.
(Gasquet image by Chris Silva under

Melbourne 05 it was not...

I'd be lying if I said I really believed Safin would progress any further once I saw his name listed alongside a certain Roger Federer in the draw. But I was, as I said hoping for some 'showcase tennis'; and I think we got that - in that last set at least.

I can't really blame anyone for not coming through against Federer when he decides to raise his game that way (the backhand pass and the match point rally that led up to it summed things up very nicely); Safin did almost everything right in that last set: it was a classic case of his best not being good enough.

There's something very promising though about the way he sustained some of those longer rallies in that final set. His forehand normally breaks down in those situations, particularly on the run.

Extra brownie points for the Federer's 'larger than life' tribute to Safin after what may be their last match.

Fedora going five...

I don't know what to make of this. You could say it was a good thing that Federer had a stern test ahead of the quarter finals against an adversary that has troubled him in the past, and not at all out of place in what is likely to be a comparatively less polished phase of his career. A great confidence booster too.

It could also unfortunately be construed as a display of the kind of errant play we saw much of last year and that against a more grounded opponent would cost him more dearly. It's also less than desirable physically. I only caught highlights of this one and by the end Federer was in complete control: Tomas in contrast, was unravelling by the minute.

Extra brownie points for Federer's come back from 2 sets down (when was the last time he had occasion to do that?)

Rafa v Haas...

Another case of your best not being good enough. Haas (one of my fave players, who's never quite recaptured the form of early 07) didn't play a bad match and displayed some of his impeccable timing and touch, particularly at the net. But any match featuring a ratio of 53 winners to 8 UFEs in favour of the eventual victor, suggests some pretty nasty bruises were inflicted.

What to read into this then? I've yet to see evidence of any change in that forehand, and I don't subscribe to the 'sending-out-a-message' theory put forth by his impassioned fanbase.
I suspect Rafa's just being Rafa and enjoying himself out on court.

Extra brownie points for that gargantuan and quite outrageous ratio of winners to UFEs; against what should have been a tricky opponent

Baggy bows out...

Fedora found his test in Berdych and Novak did in Baghdatis. It only went to four sets but Djoko couldn't have been pleased at having to play till 2:30 in the morning.

A little disappointed for Baggy - I thought he had something going there. But also glad I now have conclusive proof that Djoko really has learnt to weave his new stick.

The other Russian Sibling...

I don't know what to say here, except that she's treading a little too close too disaster for my liking. As wonderfully inspiring as that comeback against Cornet was, the fact remains that she should never have put herself in that situation in the first place.

As good a player as Cornet is, she's particularly vulnerable to the imposing nature of Safina's game. Unless I'm mistaken, Cornet has (perhaps in an attempt to counter this) bulked up a little but there still remains a little of the 'startled deer' in her tennis-face, particularly when she gets bossed around by the big girls.

No brownie points Dinara, despite the fascinating comeback...

Jelena bows out...

Too good by half. That's my opinion of Bartoli's form and seems to have been the main reason for Jankovic's demise. As many others have observed, Bartoli was playing the kind of tennis that saw her reach the 2007 Wimbledon final.

Jankovic wasn't at her best but I can excuse her for looking a little befuddled at times in the face of the most ruthless and determined display of tennis I've seen from Bartoli in a long time.

The two-handed strokes on both wings and the ultra-efficient service motion can appear a little perplexing. She generates real flatness in her comparatively shortened back swing and it's not so much the pace that beats you: it just seems a very difficult game to read.

Extra brownie points for Bartoli's groundstrokes that allowed her to outhit probably the best scrambler in Women's Tennis.

Oh Yeah - The Fairytale...

I don't know what to mention about this story that hasn't already been said. But Comeback Girl Dokic (and the tales of all the demons she's had to conquer) has really brought the Women's event alive this year. I really started to take note when she knocked out Wozniacki, whom I thought would be the revelation of the tournament.

I heard today that Damir's announced his intentions to attend the final, should she make it. As Chris Bradnam mentioned today, I don't believe he's quite understood the point she's trying to make.

Brownie Points all over the place...

Honourary mention to Blake and the A-Rod who've crept through the draw quite unseen. Makes you almost not want to watch them...

Similar feelings on Kuznetsova's run - I've yet to see a match of hers too, and should probably keep it that way.

Honourary mention to the French contingent too: I've only caught one of Tsonga's matches and none of Simon's or Monfils. Doesn't it make you feel just a little sorry for Gasquet though?

Not so honourary mention for Ivanovic who despite some spirited play bowed out to 29th seed Kleybanova. As 2Hander says, she's not looking like a top tenner - not one bit.


Saturday, 24 January 2009

2Hander: The Fed of Old

I'm sorry Top, but I hope you don't think I am abusing my privileges but I really felt this needed a post in and of its own.

And Top, that shot you said you hadn't seen of Fed's, that whipped forehand half volley, it's at around 4:38...

There was a certain rawness to his game back then, but how he has changed!! There are SO many aspects to his game then that are just not there anymore. I think Tony Roche's 'interference' (The Fed's words, not mine) and the effort to try and make him into a clay courter and a more aggressive hard courter have taken over and after years of it working so well (come on, 13 Slams!) - THAT has now become the definition of Federer's game. A part of me would like to see that serve-and-volleying grass court specialist with exquisite touch and volleying re-integrated back into his game.

This match was a turning point for me and my love for tennis. I loved tennis in the days of McEnroe and Lendl. Then came the Becker-Lendl-Edberg era. I then lost quite a bit of love for The Beautiful Game from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s when Sampras, Courier, Kafelnikov, Agassi etc were running the show. I felt the game lost its flair because players were pigeon-holed as either baseliners or serve-and-volleyers. My attentions then went towards basketball.

So this match restored my faith in graceful, exquisite tennis and that it can overcome brute force, caveman style tennis. I am glad the A-Rod has added more depth to game since, I mean, he's had to, really!

There is so much more depth and dimension to his game c.f. the rest of the field, it has to be said...


2Hander's Take: First Week (OK minus 1 day but I couldn't wait!)

Although there has been a lot of exciting tennis in this much-awaited Aussie Open, there have not been many surprises - which in many ways is a good for me because things are going the way people have been predicting...thusfar!

The biggest upset so far has to be the departure of Venus Williams after being outplayed by an inspired Carla Suarez-Navarro. I wasn't really expecting much from David 'Nally The Elephant' Nalbandian and nor from Ivanovic! Btw, WHAT is she doing in the Top 10?!?! You may think I'm being harsh but apart from a sometimes decent forehand, what is there to her game?! She clenches her first, throws her leg up and swings around at going 15-0 up (meaning at trivial points) as though she has just won the final round of hopscotch before the lunchtime break bell goes at a school playground!!

I would go as far as to say that if it wasn't for her looks, there would be nowhere near the media hype that currently surrounds her. OK, she's done a bit more than Kournikova in that she has actually won a tournament (and a Slam at that!)!! It must be said that Sharapova has actually delivered at the highest level, but even she has started to fade into the background - although mainly due to injury.

It has also been nice seeing Dokic re-emerge back onto the scene. I still remember the (then) feisty 16 year-old qualifier thrashing Hingis in the first round of Wimby '99. I am sure that the home support is also going a long way in helping her.

So far, the match I have most enjoyed was Safin-Federer. Although the big Russian was a shadow of himself four years ago, there was still some of the old Marat Magic that warmed the hearts of the Wimby crowd last year. I didn't expect Safin to test Fed that much, like take sets off him. In fact, the match reminded me a lot of their Wimby 2007 encounter where Marat only decided to play properly in the third set! Once again, the first two sets had a lot of Marat losing the will to live by throwing his arms up in the air after almost every other point.

In 2005, it was the sheer consistency and intensity of every single point that led him to beat an 'at his peak' Federer. Yesterday, there were only flashes of brilliance here and there in the first two sets. That said, the scoreline looks worse than it actually was. I also took the time out to watch some of Safin destroying Sampras (OK, not at his peak, but certainly not down and out!) at the 2000 US Open final. I would like to see Safin beat an in-form Nadal and perhaps Murray (cos he actually can), like he has done so with Fed and Nole. He hasn't even fulfilled half his potential I feel. Ah well...Alas! Quite scary when you think he's only a year older than Ye Olde Fed!

On a positive, I think the Fed could be back to his near-best! Forehand was almost flawless (OK, a few went into the net, but hey), backhand was looking good as well, very good serving. However, he still NEEDS to get his volleying back up to scratch if he's to win a few Slams this year!! In addition, our resident Muhammad Ali lookalike, Jo-Wifried Tsonga, has also not been as lethal at the net compared to last year. In fact, he's hardly coming in...what gives, Jo?! Still, his forehand is fantastic, his backhand slightly less so and his serving has been lightning quick. However, Sela was not such a pushover - he has some nice strokes and great touch at the net. Top, take note of his single backhand!

I haven't seen any of the Gonzo-Gasket match (damned work!!!)! However, it seems as though it was a classic - one of those Aussie Open epics that go into the wee hours of the morning. There's always at least one every year without fail. It seems as though Monsieur Reesharr may well be turning out to be quite the resident choker (what's the French for that?!?!). Sorry Rich, not much sympathy for you here...

And I wonder if Gonzo can beat Nadal once more, that should be a cracker - in fact, the 4th round should have SO many crackers, people might think it's Bonfire Night!!! See for yourselves:

Anyway, hopefully more ramblings in the days to come...ENJOY!!! ;)


Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Guns of Navarro...

I wasn't going to post until tomorrow but exceptional circumstances warrant that exceptions be made. I've just witnessed what I've no doubt in proclaiming as the highest quality match of the post-Henin era. To think of the mere fleeting reference I made to it in my last post as a match that was 'not to be missed'. Indeed.

I didn't think of Navarro as a particularly convincing player when I saw her get to the Roland Garros quarters last year - true, her single handed backhand was a
captivating feature of her then less rounded game, borne of natural talent I'm sure, and with a quite uncoached feel to it - but there were then simply too many things missing for me to consider her anything more than a good prospect of the 'one to watch' variety.

And I wasn't far wrong - after that performance last year she won
only eight further matches on tour. Room to improve then.

It was in this vein that I thought the Williams-Navarro match up would provide us with some engaging tennis - a good warm up for Venus against an up-coming opponent who plays a slightly differently type of tennis. And yes because of that single handed backhand :P

Things I got right:

"Oh and be sure not to miss Venus' 2nd round encounter with 20 year old Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro."
, did you?

"This girl has a single handed backhand to die for..."
Ok, you shouldn't perhaps take your own life, but that is one sweet stroke. Check out this half volley backhand flick up the line (the rally begins at 8:44 in the video). Federer-like almost.

"...this is a truly Henin-like picturesque stroke that the commentators said is better than Henin's backhand was at 20"

Things I got wrong:

"...the rest of her game has a very under-developed quality that leaves much to be desired..."
(Clears throat and looks the other way.)

Things I didn't know about:

1. She now has a forehand too.
2. She moves well enough, hitting like a clay courter for the most part but staying close to the baseline and taking the ball early when required.
3.She seems to be very aware of how big the court is and what great use she can put it to.
4. The incredible levels of poise and composure she shows on court: just how amazingly acclimatised she seems with pulling off the biggest win of her career (to quote the commentators: "Someone should tap her on the shoulder and tell her who she's playing, where she's playing and what her ranking is..."

Things that could go wrong:

Hope she doesn't, but could follow the timeless rookie tradition of following up an upset with a crashing-out in the very next round as many have done before her (none more distinguished than Federer who after beating Sampras in the 4th round of Wimbledon in 2001, went out to 'Our Tim' in the quarters).

Things she could improve:

Needs to approach the net more - she might be as natural there as she is everywhere else, and I think it would fit well with her natural tendency to use every possible opportunity to creep into the court. Can also throw in the odd short ball, which when you're not playing at the high levels she was yesterday, can cost you very dearly...

Venus' performance and chance to win the title:

She said she was confident of going all the way and I understand why. Aside from a couple of games at the very end, Venus played on the whole a very well rounded game. She was perhaps as she said in her post match presser, a little too defensive at times. But I found this statement from her more telling:
"Yeah, I wasn't in control of the points. I definitely noticed that she kept getting the first shot."
Venus hitting as many short balls as she did and playing for large portions of the match, an uncharacteristically defensive game, was as much a product of Navarro's aggressive and irreverent groundstrokes as any uncertainties Venus might have had.

Navarro plays fellow Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez next, followed by a likely fourth round encounter with Penetta. If she gets past that she may face Dementieva in the quarters followed by a likely semi final with Serena Williams. I doubt she'll get that far, although the Penetta and Dementieva matches could make very interesting viewing.

Not least because, as Virginia Wade said, Navarro is a very
natural player. She spent her early years in the Canary Islands and has only undergone a more formal coaching regime in Barcelona in the last few years. This perhaps more than anything else may have fostered a more free spirited, unregimented style of play. I'd love to see that juxtaposed against some of the other (maybe slightly less celebrated) members of the top ten.

It would in my opinion, expose some of the 'sameiness' I've complained about on so many occasions.

Is she the saviour of women's tennis? Probably not. She's still it seems is best suited to the clay courts and it remains to be seen whether or not she's going to follow up on this big win (both at Melbourne and the rest of the season).

But though she's currently ranked at what seems a desultory #46 (from which I fully expect her to rise) her performance today gave me both hope and reasons to fall in love with Women's tennis all over again.

It is perhaps befitting she is only 5'4" - it would have a less poetic Carla-and-Goliath like quality and maybe only be half as entertaining if she were able to stare out Sharapova and Ivanovic eye to eye.


Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Magic and Misadventure in Melbourne...

Lleyton & The Gonz (Not to be confused with the Fonz)

Though I anti-picked him to drop out early, it was a little rough to be drawn against Gonzo in the first round, and Rusty
did manage to drag things out to 5 sets which at least shows that the fire isn't quite out. There was however, something very one sided about the sets that Gonzo won, where he seemed to be reeling off winner after winner exposing just how vulnerable Hewitt's game (that serve in particular is perhaps too inviting in an almost "I'll set 'em up, you knock 'em back" kind of way) is in post-Fedora era.

Hewitt did interestingly state his intent to get back into the top ten. It's not impossible (he's not after all that old), and I love the attitude. I just think that the days where you could crack the top ten on spirit alone are long gone.

Extra brownie points for
Gonzo's Clinic on forehand winners and returns of serve.

Just WHY is Blake wearing a Collar? (And why's he getting so hot under it?)

Cracking match against Canadian Frank
Dancevic - who by the way is my exhibit A for the alarming levels of depth in men's tennis. I first saw him play at the back end of 2007, where ranked around #70 he appeared to have it all and I expected him to rise. He didn't deliver, and has in fact regressed a little (to #123 I think).

There was a slight edge to this match, which wasn't played in entirely good spirits - (anyone know why?) Blake didn't seem to want to think twice about firing a ball directly at
Dancevic who just got out of the way in time, but they did shake hands well enough at the end.

But I'll tell you what: I
love the slightly more surly and aggressive Blake; he was certainly playing a lot better than he has for months. A new phase in his career maybe? Weird things tend to happen when you turn 30. Not loving the collar one bit though. Blake can get away with most any look: bandanaed, cap (worn both ways), headband, sleeveless or sleeved. But something about the collar or it's fitting is not quite right.

Extra brownie points for Blake's uncharacteristically edgy attitude.

Rafa and Not-Quite-Goliath

Loved the new outfit - but would people stop reading too much into his duffing up of
Yes he appeared to be hitting a lot more harder and flatter than he perhaps
ever has. (Has the forehand changed?) But would you expect anything less!?

Extra brownie points for
Rochus and his smile when he took his first game.

That Fedora Bloke

Not as solid as he could have been against
Seppi - though that passing shot was something special (If you don't know the one I mean, go way. Please). But it was no cakewalk either as has been suggested in some quarters. Seppi's no slouch - I've seen him seeded around 31-32 in the past and though Fedora pretty much owns him, he would have troubled most anybody else.

Extra brownie points for - you've guessed it -
that passing shot.

Ana "Help - I've forgotten how to serve" Ivanovic

Still stuck in the mire. Still very, very unconvincing. Just why'd it take her
so long to take that first set from Brianti (who by the way bears a striking resemblance to to Justine Henin complete with single handed backhand) And don't even get me started on the ball toss. I should say tosses as she's getting a little too close to Time Violation territory with those repeated practice throws. Has she been practising with Dementieva?

Brownie points carried over and may well be awarded to
Wozniacki whom she may face in the fourth round. My heady intuition tells me that the Dane will and should come out on top. I hope we get to see this one.

Gasquet v Junqueira

What a work out! A surprisingly tough draw for
Reeshard (Junqueira is one of the most successful players on the Challenger Circuit). Gasquet took it in four but the length of most of the rallies as well as the searing heat will have made it feel more like five which unless your name is David Ferrer, you really should try and avoid.

Extra brownie points for
Gasquet's well-struck sliced, swinging serve he used to keep at least some of the points short.

Baghdatis v Soderling

Well, well - who would have guessed? Baggy is looking a little like he was in 2006. Not going to get too excited as he was facing a quite limp
Soderling, and he had what sounded like half of Cyprus supporting him. But he was displaying exactly the kind of magic that's been strangely absent for, what, 3 years now? The surprising speed and agility and the quick changes of pace and direction that can catch the very best off guard.

Extra brownie points for Robin, who despite the problems with his foot, didn't throw in the towel (and took some unnecessary abuse from some of
Baggy's more ill-mannered supporters)

Those Russian Siblings

Well they've made the third round. Haven't been able to see much of
Safin but Safina is a little too up and down. She managed to come through in three sets yesterday (a bagel in the last set) but Makarova played a really high quality first set and things could have looked very different if she'd sustained that.
Not gonna say a word on
Safin (certainly not gonna get drawn into anything remotely optimistic) except that he's playing Fedora-man in round three and though I don't expect too much from Marat, I'm hoping for at least some showcase tennis. It may be the last time he faces Roger and this match has got brownie points written all over it.

Djoko and his Stick

Nothing much to say here, except to echo 2
Hander's observation that Djoko may have begun to find some real form with his new racquet. It's still early days, and like the other members of the top four, he hasn't yet had a real test, but I'm hoping very strongly he continues in this vein - it would add well to the already very intriguing Tales of the Murray-Fedora prickliness (which Djoko wants a piece of by the sounds of it), and Nadal's Newi-sh Forehand.

Brownie points for
Novak learning how to play tennis again.

Oh and be sure not to miss Venus' 2
nd round encounter with 20 year old Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro. This girl has a single handed backhand to die for. I caught some of her matches at Roland Garros last year and though the rest of her game has a very under-developed quality that leaves much to be desired, this is a truly Henin-like picturesque stroke that the commentators said is better than Henin's backhand was at 20.


Monday, 19 January 2009

Going Against the Grain (or Prove me Wrong) Pt 2...

Andy 'Its My Time' Roddick

Written off by many as having failed to keep up with the latest crop of rising talents, Andy has had a decent enough start to the year in getting to the finals at Doha.

I got particularly excited by his run to the title in Dubai last year, where he beat both
Djoko and Rafa in straight sets. If it weren't for that Fedora bloke, Andy should by rights have had a couple of Wimbledon titles by now.

However despite all that, it's not a stretch to suggest that this could be as good as it gets. Aside from the A-Bomb of a serve and a much improved backhand, he
does quite often, look ordinary besides those four and a bestiary of ever increasing new talent.

But you know what? I don't care. And neither should
Stefanki. And neither should Andy.
As Dubai showed, he can still trouble the very best with his maybe less varied set of tools.

Like with Hewitt, I would love the doom
mongerers to be proven wrong about A-Rod.
Unlike Hewitt, I really believe he has a better chance to do so.

David 'It-was-Mr-Hyde-Wot-Did-It' Nalbandian

No David, you're not fooling anyone. I couldn't give a flying-forehand that you just took that title in Sydney. Besides, you'll have to do a lot more than defeat
Niemenen to convince me that you're done with the annoying and very wasteful habit of treating the year like one big warm up season, and only playing anything close to your potential in a couple of indoor tournaments right at the very end of it.

The last time I got excited about anything you did on court (Madrid,Paris '07) I spent half a year waiting for you to follow up and was rewarded with that semi final outrage at Queen's: my pick for the worst given by any player (male or female) in 2008.

Nor do I care that you had another good indoor season last year. Why? Because you're not in control: Mr Hyde is - and has been for many years now.

So go and drink an antidote, or get exorcised or something - better still show up in a Grand Slam semi - until you do I'll not be taken in again.

Marat 'Year-of-the-Swan' Safin

It's his swansong. You never know.
Ok you probably do.


It's not her swansong. And I fear I
do know.

Elena 'Too Many Break-Points' Dementieva

Prove us
all wrong by winning a Slam (which her form suggests she's well placed to do in Melbourne) with what has to rank as the worst serve the Open Era has seen.

Secret's Out Juan (Del Potro)

Not a fan. His lurching side to side movement and unimaginative 'first-this-way-then-that' style of constructing rallies has something distinctly '
WTA' about it, and has led me to consider him something of a male Sharapova. Except a little more surly. And with more facial hair.

He does, to his credit happen to be the best at that particular brand of tennis (he entered the US Open on an unbroken 23 match winning streak). But players like Del
Potro are only successful if they're given the luxury of playing the match on their terms by being allowed to dictate play; and it won't be long IMO before most of the up and comers find ways to prevent him from doing that. Fourth round at best.

Victoria 'Pennywise' Azarenka

She replaces Ana as my new 'It' Girl of the
WTA. Although in the more grim Stephen King sense of the word.

I'm sorry, but she represents
everything I feel is wrong with Women's tennis right now: the lack of creativity, the rote-like grind-it-out rallies, the avoidance of the net like it's an electrified fence, and do we really need another shrieker?

Don't misunderstand me, the poor girl's probably worked very hard to get where she is and it
does take talent to strike the ball the way she does. I probably wouldn't mind it if there were just a handful of those sorts of players around, they would add well to the mix.

I just don't like the way every player from 10 through to 30 (and beyond) feel they have to hit the same way.
all float down there.


Sunday, 18 January 2009

Going against the Grain (or Prove Me Wrong)...

Ok I'm a little late with this but there's still enough time to sneak this in. In a little shy of 20 minutes, the first Slam of the year gets under way, one where for the first time in 5 years Federer much to his annoyance, goes in not as 'The One', but joint favourite with a certain 'Flying Scotsman'.

As in the past questions will be answered (Djoko's rather 'Heady' decision to change his racquet for one - a poor pun yes, though not as poor as the decision itself), fortunes will be made (we're ripe for another breakthrough - I too like 2Hander can feeeeel the electricity in the air) and hopes are almost certain to be dashed. Tennis Blogs have for weeks now been awash with the usual swath of will-they-won't-they predictions charting the entire span of opinions on rivalries, breakthroughs, comebacks and decline.

I agree with some - Nadal is ripe for some hard court ecstasy this year, maybe not at this Open, although it wouldn't surprise me considering the performance he gave at the AbuDhabi Exo at the beginning of the year. Disagree with others - Verdasco as convincing as he's been in Brisbane, remains for me a kind of overachiever, who though a little underrated at times has probably already reached his career high ranking at #11; he may still make the occasional Wawrinka-like foray into the top ten, but will I suspect remain more famous for his off-court partnership with Miss Ivanovic.

It was in the midst of all this, quite refreshing to see this set of anti-predictions from Mr Bodo, and though I agree with his list, I do find the presence of certain names on it a little unsettling, not least the guy in whose honour it was compiled.

I wanted to do something in the middle of these two extremes. So here's a list of players I'll be looking out to go out there in Melbourne and do the unthinkable: go against the grain of prevalent thought. There's a few in there (Nadal for instance) that I'm actually really hoping come through. Some of these are quite personal and consist of players whom I've not so much written off, but can never a-la Verdasco, reasonably expect to pull off the unexpected. There's also, perhaps predictably, the usual set of headcases: tortured (and not so) geniuses that have more talent than they know what to productively do with on court. I'd like members of this group to come through, but have been disappointed so many times, I feel it's time to begin baiting them and really rile them into some kind of form. And then there's those whom I unashamedly dislike: mostly for their style of play and occasionally their personality (sometimes a distasteful mix of both).

To that last group in particular, I defiantly invite you to make a liar out of me. I don't believe you can make good on the positive press you sometimes get, but like I say to everyone on this list: go ahead and prove me wrong...

Reeeshard Gasquet

I thought it better to use the more common variant of his first name than a different word suggesting 'a want of mental competence' that springs rhymingly to mind. That really would be unfair as it's not an accurate depiction of him or his problems. But I'm tired Reeshee; people are probably bored of hearing me say this, but it is something akin to high treason that you've only gone beyond the fourth round of a Slam once in your career. Once.

Well to blazes with your backhand and other stylish strokes which your on court record is making less picturesque day by day. I serve you notice: A Slam quarter or a Masters final by the end of the French Open. Anything less will see you in my very own version of Room 101, where you'll be subjected to such gruesome sights as Radek Stepanek's forehand and repeated replays of Azarenka banging away from the baseline. You have been warned.

A little Lleyton-the-day Hewitt

I'd love to be proved wrong about this. I wouldn't normally act as an agent of doom for Rusty as despite some of his more questionable episodes, I've been a long running fan and (aside from a few moments where he frankly should have known better) have grown to like his rather untamed 'Lord of the Flies' brand of brutishness he brings to tennis.

Whether its the primaeval 'CAHM-ONs', the crouching fist pumps to the ground (which feel a little too much like the delivering of a death blow to a defeated foe) or the controversial 'Vicht' salute there's plenty to like or dislike about the man depending on which side of the fence you are on.

But facts are facts and the particular fact that remains in my mind is that his tennis simply didn't keep up with the times, and he was already an ailing force on tour before the recent problems he's had with his hip.

So sorry Lleyton - and once again PLEASE prove me wrong - but unlike your Dorando-Pietri like, marathon performance against
Baghdatis last year, I don't expect to see you in the second week.

Rafael 'The-New-Me' Nadal

Nike are clearly taking their rebranding of Nadal very seriously. It hasn't gone down well with everyone, but it's not the only change we may see in 2009.

He's been undergoing some more fundamental changes to his game, the reasoning and underpinning philosophy of which it's difficult to disagree with, but which many have observed may turn him into more of a beatable force on tour.

I believe at least some of these changes are both welcome and necessary (shortening points, more forays to the net - not sure about the re-architected forehand motion) and may prove pivotal in his quest for that ever elusive hard court title. I predicted 'good things' for him on hard courts this year - but surprise me Rafael - let's see you do it right out of the blocks and go all the way in Melbourne.

Ana 'Its All Fernando's Fault' Ivanovic

I think you all know my opinions on the baseline bashing so prevalent in the WTA these days; and since I've done my fair share of Ana-bashing since the inception of this blog, I'm going to turn a new leaf.

We all know the levels of quality and variety in Womens Tennis are a little wanting right now, so as far as I'm concerned anyone that can take advantage of that (except Victoria Azarenka, see below) is entitled to do so; and in her defence she has done a lot of work on that suspect movement of hers and does has a very classic-looking forehand (there's rather too many lassoos on tour for my liking) that is a strong candidate for the best in Women's Tennis.

So while I still strongly believe you lack variety, while despite some much needed improvements, your movement is still not and may never be your strongest point, and while you (all too frequently) unravel mentally quicker than a yo-yo, I will on this occasion spare you my criticism and instead invite you to let your racquet do the talking. Do yourself and your fans a favour by digging yourself out of this mire you've been in since your first Slam last year. It is only a mire, not the Everglades. In this era you do belong in the top five.

What's that? No coach needed, you say? Glad to see you're getting into the spirit of things.

Novak 'Heady' Djokovic

It's not just me that doesn't understand his reasons for ditching a racquet he won a Slam with. Money? If that's the case, sack your financial adviser as that's so short term a view of things its positively claustrophobic. Let me put this into perspective for you:

- You won a Slam with it (forget I already said that - you need the mental reinforcement)
- You beat Roger Federer with it at the height of his powers (no I don't mean the mono-Fed, I mean your encounter with him in Montreal 2007)
- You beat Rafa with it
- Want more? - you were at the beginning of 2008, considered the best hard court player in the world, and that's before your first Slam.

Anyway there's a lot more confusion in my mind about where Djoko's game is at, than can be explained way in terms of simple equipment choices. Put simply I don't think he will follow up on last year. He'll be lucky to make the quarters.

The-Only-Way-Is-Up Vaidasova

Like many, I had her pegged as a more enduring top tenner. And in the absence of Henin and Sharapova, she seems in my mind capable of the type of success Safina had last year.

But Nicole, you've now sunk so low and for so long that your form by rights now, should only go up. Aside from Serena Williams and the sound of Azarenka's voice, your section of the draw doesn't appear particularly threatening.

I haven't written you off yet, but there's only so long a period out in the cold that you can theoretically tolerate (you're no Serena who can win a Slam ranked #81 in the world and totally out of shape) so silence the naysayers and set the records straight, it won't be long before I join their ranks.

Fernando 'Its All Ana's Fault' Verdasco

See above (third paragraph) for my view on Fernando. I doubt very much I'll see you in many SWOS's this year - that's second-week-of-a-slam for those of you still interested enough to read this far. But go ahead Fernando. Show us that you're really hotter than the potency suggested by the small print on your bottle of sauce. I'll eat my words - and some chilli sauce in your honour.

More anti-picks coming your way tomorrow (let's hope they aren't out before I post tomorrow!), but the Open is due to get under a way in less than an hour and my head hurts...



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