Tuesday, 30 June 2009

"The Unbeatable Serena..."

There really isn't a lot to be said on today's ladies quarter finals.

Venus versus A-Rad was as one sided as I expected it to be.

However I expected Schiavone to put up more resistance against Dementieva, but Francesca by her own admission got a little overwhelmed by the whole Centre Court experience, not to mention the magnitude of the occasion.

Safina v Lisicki was a letdown. Dinara played poorly, much like she's been doing all event. And Lisicki, despite the good start was undone by a calf injury. Three pretty boring sets of tennis.

What I will say though is it's good to see Dinara getting through these matches on the back of little more than willpower. By her own admission, she's no grassie, and though I don't think she stands a chance opposite Venus, it's worth noting she's managed to remain competitive on her least effective surface, a feat Marat only achieved in two out of ten attempts:

Q. It took Marat maybe a career to sort of become comfortable and like grass. Can you maybe say you've condensed that learning curve into one tournament?

DINARA SAFINA: Well, he did it by the age of 28, and I do it by the age of 23. So I do it earlier.

Actually, I think, yeah, I can play on grass. Because before it was fighting on grass, but now actually I don't even fight anymore against the grass. I'm enjoying it.

(Source: wimbledon.org)

Except "fighting on grass" - with grass, is what I think Dinara's been doing all tournament. But hey, I'm ok with it if it wins her matches.

And then there was Serena versus Azarenka.

(Photo: GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

I've said it before and I'll say it again:
Serena is looking better than Venus this year.

All her previous matches were impressive. But she was in especially imperious form today, from the get-go. I've a feeling she knew that Azarenka's not the player to play with your "feel your way through and see how it goes" game face on.

The scoreline suggests a one-sided match. And it was. But not because Azarenka's a poor player, or because she played a poor match. She rarely does. She was just outplayed. And she knew it.

She didn't even spend quite the time she usually does doing this.

(Photo: GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Image)

OK, there was some of this.

(Photo: GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

But she also showed real civility by walking off court with Serena (a tradition so widely observed this year, I believe the authorities must have specially requested the players to revive it) chatting and smiling, and her very respectful, "tell it like it is" presser. This quote in particular sums things up very nicely:

"She really showed the unbeatable Serena today, I guess."

A volatile firebrand with an unexpectedly humble side?

A volatile firebrand that's smart enough to not let personalities get in the way of telling it like it is. I like her more already.

It's not that there's anything especially deferential there. But she could have so easily done the cursory-credit thing.

Virgina Wade is a big Azarenka fan.

I'm going to try and quote her the best I can, from what I remember today.

"...it [Azarenka's determined attitude] can lose it's charm when she loses control like she did yesterday [when she all but threatened a lines person], but you have to have that level of belief and determination if you think you're good enough to beat the top players and go on to win Slams...".

Or something. You get the idea.

Oh and think again if you think Serena is any closer to burying the Indian Wells hatchet.

Q. Okay. But when the time comes to sit down and look at your marvels, what do you think the first marvel will be?

SERENA WILLIAMS: Uhm, I don't know. I have no idea. I'll just ‑‑ I don't know. I think I'll be a little amazed because, uhm, you know, I never even take the time out to even think about the tournament.

I mean, I use some of my trophies for makeup brushes, so, you know, maybe I'll just take a step back and be like, Hmm. Take all the makeup brushes out and really appreciate every title and every trophy.

Q. What trophy makes the best makeup brush holder?

SERENA WILLIAMS: My Indian Wells '03 (smiling). Or was it '01? Whatever year that was.

(Source: wimbledon.org)


Monday, 29 June 2009

Round of 16, Round Up...

Fed v Sod

Straight sets as I expected, but from what little I caught this was a lot more competitive than any of their previous sets. Next up Dr

A-Rod v

Didn't catch any of this. But I was glad to see him get through in straights. Will give him some confidence ahead of his next match against

Hewitt v

This one went the distance with injury timeouts all over the place.
Lleyton will be spent. Irrespective of when he's scheduled to play, you have to go with Roddick now.

Simon v

It just gets better and better. The Juan-Carlos
Ferr-airy tale is not at an end just yet. He'll be playing the winner of the latest match ever to finish on Centre Court. Andy and Stan are slugging it out as we 'speak'.

Haas v

Straight sets. Unreal. This fairy tale lives on too. Haas versus
Djoko next. Yes Haas beat him on grass two weeks back. No I'm not about to read anything into it.

Djoko v Sela


Nando v Karlovic

I was backing
Nando but I'm actually kind of pleased to see Ivo come through to his first ever Wimbledon quarter. His game is rather boring, but anyone with a freak of a serve like that deserves more success on grass.

Safina v Mauresmo

Safina went down 0-3 in the final set, I thought it was all over. Somehow Dinara clawed her way through in a way I still don't completely understand. Really, Amelie should have closed it out.

Wozniacki v Lisicki

I was really quite surprised and disappointed with what I saw from Caroline. I don't think she's the type of player that plays very well with her back up against the wall.
Lisicki's confidence and positivity was only surpassed by her pace. But we know all about that and I expected nothing less. Caroline on the other hand was showing what can only be described borderline petulance.

Venus v

Didn't think Ana would have got a set from Venus anyway, but I can't help feeling for her after the way she went out. Having a freak injury like that end her
Wimby campaign, one in which she appeared to be finally gaining some momentum, is cruel and I don't understand why things like it happen. But they do.

Radwanska v Oudin

A-Rad through in straights.
Likey, likey, likey.

Dementieva v Vesnina

Dementieva through in straights. Likey, likey, likey.

Azarenka v Petrova

Well I had my first great test of trying to defend Victoria's indefensible behaviour today. "WHY YOU GUYS HAVE SO MUCH POWER TO RUIN MATCHES!?", she screamed at the umpire after an overrule that went against her.
Erm, because it's their job maybe?

Less easy to laugh off though, is her mock attack of a
linesperson, in whose direction she pretended to launch a ball after losing a game that involved a disputed call, thankfully deciding against it at the last second. Borderline assault, and I'm surprised she didn't get a code violation.

Nadia got some treatment early on after having some problems coping with the heat. And to her credit she won the next set. But I can see why more and more people are picking Victoria as the best of the rest, outside of the

Serena v

An absurd, one-sided, butchery of a contest. Which is what I thought it'd be.

Murray v

And so we come to our match of the day. And probably of the tournament.

(Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Within minutes of the opening game, it became clear we were going to see something special.

-- New found respect for Stan, who came out and played such a
blinder of an opening set it left Murray and the entire crowd stone cold. Especially sobering, after the pageantry we had with the closing of the roof, that began during the previous match between Safina and Mauresmo. Probably the best set of tennis he's ever played.

-- Any doubts I might have had about Murray's fitness are well and truly vanquished. Well, maybe I'll continue to entertain little doubts about his ability in searing heat. But this has to be his his best five set victory yet.

-- Stan
Wawrinka has the best single handed backhand in the world. There, I said it. Gasquet may have the more stylish action but Stan's does a lot more damage.

-- Latest ever finish at Wimbledon. The match lasted three hours 56 minutes, with the end coming at 2238 BST.

(Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images)

-- Loved the fact that for once Murray brewed up just the right blend of rope a dope tennis and more aggressive play. I'd say in a 30-70 percent ratio.

-- Murray could barely walk in the last set and
performed an elaborate balancing act of trying to conserve his energy and going all out attack.

-- Murray said at the end he'd derive confidence from this five set win. Yeah. But don't you think the on court interview right after the match was a bit much? The guy could barely walk - I'm surprised he strung a sentence together.

-- That 9 shot rally Murray played with a broken string. A series of forehand slices, willing Stan to crack first. Best point I've seen at this event and the
weirdest I've seen in recent years.

-- British crowd weren't as loud as I expected them to be. In fact it was all very well behaved and in surprisingly good taste. A+. Five gold stars. But at one point I was willing them to show more vociferous support for Andy. In fact I believe Andy tried to rouse them up at one point in
the third set.

-- Stan belongs back in the top ten. Get back in there fast. I miss your backhand already.

-- Murray will get a day's rest followed by a (hopefully) less challenging match against Juan Carlos. Or so I think.

Thoughts too muddled to compose anything more coherent right now.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

And Then There Were 16...

I know we very seldom have intermissions in cinemas these days, but now'd be the time to venture out, stretch those legs, replenish your supply of glazed, sickly-sweet popcorn and refill that oversized coke cup.

Once again, middle Sunday seems to have crept up on us too soon. Going through the Wimbledon draws today, I couldn't help being a little struck by there being only
four boxes of matches remaining on either side. Sure, it's four boxes of two singles matches each. That's why it's called the round of sixteen, silly.

But that's 27 - 24 = 112 players back home already. Or else playing the challenger event in Turin this week. To say nothing of all the players sent packing in qualies, before the event even began.

There's something very clinical and chilling about that culling - a death by binary placeholders that's not out of place at any Slam, but sits particularly well against the pomp and exclusivity of Wimbledon.

And now I want to take a moment to do this.

(Photo: CHRIS RATCLIFFE/AFP/Getty Images)


That's Juan-Carlos after his five set win over Gonzo, sort of of how I looked when Tommy came through against Marin yesterday, but it may as well represent my reaction to seeing Juan-Carlos, Lleyton and of course Tommy in particular, come through the first week.

I won't deny that many trays were overturned when he almost
didn't hold serve after breaking Marins.

To think it almost turned out like this.

I reserve the right to wheel her out when Tommy
does eventually go out. And on any subsequent upset that hurts a lot.

I may as well have put up a picture of Jelena Jankovic.

She's not in a happy place. Hasn't been for sometime now.

Muscle troubles, woman troubles, blurry vision.

A lot has been made of her comments on her 17 year old American opponent Melanie Oudin.
"...she can play if you let her play. But she cannot hurt you with anything. She doesn't have any weapons, you know, from what I've seen.

You know, I played with half pace. I served, you know, like almost my first serve was like a second serve and all those kind of things. But if I had a little bit more ‑‑ if I felt a little bit more fresh at the end of that second set, I could have won in two sets.


"She's a consistent and quite solid player. She doesn't make so many mistakes. But she doesn't do anything either, so it's like she's depending kind of on you. And, as well, it's another story when she's young and she has nothing to lose, no pressure. You know, even when it's an important moment, she can just go for it.

And nobody's expecting her to win, so it's just a bonus if she does well. But if she loses, you know, nobody will tell her anything.

So it's a different, you know, situation for those kind of players. And then for players like me, which you're expected to win, you have pressure on yourself, you have expectations, as well. She just goes out there to enjoy it and give her best.

(Source: wimbledon.org)

All very unsporting of course, but also a little reminiscent of Federers 'observations' on Murray's game at Dubai last year. Comments I wholeheartedly agreed with, incidentally.

As much as I might have to say on her problematic attitude, problems that largely predate this incident anyway, it's very rare to find a top tier player giving anything more than superficial credit, when they come unstuck against what they perceive as a young pretender.

And as well-executed as Oudin's game plan was, it's really isn't
that distinct from anything else you might find in the top 100. Where I think Jelena might have been a little more selective in her choice of words, is in her contention that Melanie "doesn't have any weapons". This is after all the very same accusation that has been levelled against Jelena for a number of years now.

I've heard her described as "the best defender in the game", "one of the best movers in the game" - I've even gone on record as saying I rate her mentally ahead of her nearest rivals (outside of the Williamses of course).

But she's far
too reluctant to pull the trigger, and the closest thing to a big weapon Jelena has, is that double handed backhand down the line. Which really is a marquee shot, but like the rest of her game lacks the firepower she so desperately needs. And as far as I can see, she's been having trouble pulling that one out of the hat too recently.

So 'bad show' Jelena; Melanie may not have a stockpile of A-Bombs. But then again, neither do you. Consider yourselves both exempt from the non-proliferation treaty.

Also not a presser that befits a player "that's expected to win". For that you might go back to 2001 and hear what Sampras had to say on Federer.

"There are a lot of young guys coming up but Roger is a bit extra-special. He has a great all-round game, like me doesn't get too emotional and you have to give him a great deal of credit.

"Against Roger I had my chances but did not convert them whereas he played really well at the right time which is the key on grass."

(Source: BBC)

And as far as Melanie goes, I really rather like her. It's refreshing to see, what initially seems a nonthreatening and rather giggly high-schooler, put on a game face like this.

(Photo: Getty)

Great too, to have an American besides the Williamses in the second week.

Someone who is rather more willing to pull the trigger is Sabine Lisicki. She won in Charleston earlier this year, beating Wozniacki and Venus Williams in the process.

You've already heard me scream about her ability to fire 120mph+ first serves down the T. But coming into this I had her down as a kind of Ernests Gulbis of the WTA. In the messed up trigger happy bad way.

But though she still has a very underdeveloped game, she displayed a remarkable degree of maturity in her shot selection during her straight sets win over Kuznetsova. I really liked the drop shots but also the way she preferred the reduced-pace short angled cross court over simply blasting it into any empty part of the court.

Kuznetsova sucked. And I say that as a long serving member of her fan club that feels let down. Put simply, her win in Paris should have marked a new phase in her growth as a confident member of the upper echelons. With that in mind I was "willing to see her, wanting to see her, waiting to see her" make an impression here - an event where she's thrice made the quarters.
No excuses about the grass please. Not from someone as proficient as her.

I wouldn't have minded the odd wobble, but expected to see a more assured Svetlana, at one with both herself and her tennis. What I got was "Sorta-lana", struggling to keep the ball in court, executing one of those non-plans she has, and seemingly aloof and detached from her new found WTA standing.

I've been willing myself not to say this, but she's giving me those distinctive, underachieving, Safin-like vibes. And I don't like it.

The Best of the Rest...

Murray v Wawrinka: Murray was
scary good opposite Troicki. Be interesting to see how he fares opposite Stanislas now that he's so very clearly in his element.

A-Rod v Berdych: Andy's dropped a set in each and every match he's played. Still my pick to make the finals in an unapologetic "heart over head" kinda way. Little scared by the progress Berdych has made, which is a bit strange considering I initially picked him as a dark horse. Banking on his remarkable ability to punk out on matches now that he's facing the A-Rod.

Simon v Ferrero: Now this I'll admit has taken me by surprise. It's not that Gilles is a poor player, but he's definitely not the top ten player I'd bank on to avoid the culling of the first week that del Potro, Tsonga and Gonzo have all fallen prey to. Also not the player I thought would produce the shot of the tournament so far. Apologies in advance of the grainy images of someones telly.

Liking that Ferrero's made it this far, and though I think he has a chance against Simon, the round that follows this will probably be his last.

Haas v Andreev: I'm backing Haas. But you already knew that.

Dudi Sela: ????? I'm sure Dudi's a great player, but I'm guessing Schuettler and Tommy Robredo aren't the biggest scalps on grass and would be very surprised to see him get a single set off Novak.

Novak Djokovic: Looked as clinical as he was early on last year, against Fish in the last round. Clearly finding his game as the tournament progresses. I'm one of those who's not reading much more than "too much tennis" into the loss to Haas at Halle.

Nando v Karlovic: Be cheering on my dark horse Nando. He may have to contend 55 or more aces fired by the man that turned "six foot ten" into a brand name.

Fed v Sod: Fed in straights. Intriguing match up. As will be every match Soderling plays against top ten players in the coming months

Dinara v Mauresmo: Dinara hates grass. Rather like her brother may still do. Amelie's a former champ here and is probably one of the few true grass court players left in the womens game. Guess who I think's gonna come through?

Wozniacki v Lisicki: Match up of the draw. Be following this one intently. Here's the thing about Woz. Plays opposite pace superbly well. Not so great at generating her own. Lisicki's all about pace, though like I said above, she's mature enough to know when to stop.

Venus v Ivanovic: I love the fact that Ana has found the closest she might get to something resembling form in this event. Since her expulsion from the top ten, she's been off limits in any WTA tirade I might care to launch. You just don't do that to people. But she's not going to defeat Venus Williams at in the round of 16 at Wimbledon. No she's not.

Though it was interesting to learn she'd been viewing Roger Federer videos to improve her game on grass.

“She is a very dangerous opponent but I think I have a great chance,” said Ivanovic. “I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to play against her because in my first match I was half gone. But I have been playing better and better and that’s what you want to feel going into the second week of a Grand Slam.

Ivanovic revealed she had gone to look and learn from five-times Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. “I think I can learn a lot from him, just from the way he plays on grass,” she continued.

“I think grass is such a specific surface and you really have to understand it to play well on it.”

(Source: The Times)

Very heartening sounds emerging from Camp Ana. All of them.

Radwanska v Oudin: Oudin's had a great run here, but I'm really happy that Agnieszka has made it this far. She's not Hingis. She's Agnieszka. Not everyone that doesn't play Big-Babe tennis can or should be likened to Martina. And I happen to think Agnieszka can play rather well. I think I prefer the way she conducts herself on court too. Yeah I'm not a Martina fan. Does that come across?

Razzanno v Schiavone: I like Virginie, but I happen to like Francesca a lot more. In fact unpretentious Italian female tennis players feature rather highly on my list of favourite things in tennis. So there.

Vesnina v Dementieva: Dementieva has been scorching her way through the draw: I wouldn't know anything about it, seeing as I've yet to catch a single match. She should make the semis.

Azarenka v Petrova: I happen to really like Nadia too. I love that she's recovered her top ten position. Heck let me just say this once and for all so it's clear. Show me an unpretentious athlete male or female and chances are I'll like them. But Azarenka wins in straights. Azarenka
always wins in straights, unless she's forced to fume her way through three.

Hantuchova v Serena: Same story again. I love that Daniella has managed to recover her form of three or so years ago. But dare I say it - yes I do - Serena's looking better than Venus this year. Yeah I'm not about to bet against Serena again.

I leave you with my pic of the week. Well it was lying around on my drive and I didn't know what to do with it. I'm still not sure what to make of it, except to say that roundhousing a linesperson's probably the way Eric Cantona might resolve a sporting dispute.

(Photo: AP)

2Hander's Take: The story so far...

I, too, am having mixed feelings about this year's Wimby - compared to last year, that is. Firstly, I can't relate to a first week without rain!! Secondly, none of the matches have really done it for me! Seldom am I falling out of my chair whooping or putting my hands on my head after a sick winner c.f. the Aussie Open earlier this year. (The reader is kindly referred to the response from any David Blaine street trick if they are unfamiliar with such a reaction)

Rafa pulling out has somewhat put things into a strange time warp. For a start, Federer's swagger on court, like the Centre Court is HIS house and Wimby is HIS party, is somewhat back. What is it? Is it the fact that Rafa's not around? Has he finally 'eased up' (after tensing up) after RG? Maybe a bit of both...

Another couple of factors suggesting to me that we are in some kind of time warp is that Lleyton Hewitt actually looks as though he can comfortably make the quarters if not the semis - especially seeing how he dispatched Del Potro in straights! I know we all laughed (well, I did!) when he suggested after RG that he believed that he can win Wimby again, but now it don't seem as funny. Kudos to him though!

Now onto one of Top's faves (and mine too, I guess)...Herr Tommy! He's also rewound the years back. After the AO semis of 2007, Haas was playing a blinding spell of Top 5 tennis for a fair few Masters events, where he won my support. Plus he does have ants in his pants about coming to the net...even serving and volleying! Since winning Halle, it looks like some considerable amount of rejuvenation has gone on. Fed's rejuvenated after RG, Lleyton's rejuvenated after beating (an albeit injured) Nadal - I'm not quite sure what's going on, but I think I like it!!

Also, looking generally across the board, the SHBH looks like it's back in the game in a big way! It's nearing 50-50 I'd say. Are people trying to revive da old skool? Are people trying to emulate The Fed? I mean, seeing Fed play a Spaniard with short hair, no headband, no DHBH and flatish strokes was a novel experience for me. Once again...oh, just read the last sentence of the paragraph above!

Finally, looking at the draw for the 4th round, I do have some hope for some sick tennis which throws me off my seat.

Lleyton Hewitt AUS
Radek Stepanek CZE (23)

Tomas Berdych CZE (20)
Andy Roddick USA (6)

Andy Murray GBR (3)
Stanislas Wawrinka SUI (19)

Juan Carlos Ferrero ESP
Gilles Simon FRA (8)

Igor Andreev RUS (29)
Tommy Haas GER (24)

Dudi Sela ISR
Novak Djokovic SRB (4)

Fernando Verdasco ESP (7)
Ivo Karlovic CRO (22)

Robin Soderling SWE (13)
Roger Federer SUI (2)

As for the gals, I think Dementieva and...wait for it...Ivanovic will go far this year, possibly the distance. Oh hold, Da Sistaz are still in aren't they? Hmmm...Venus made rather short work of Suarez-Navarro as revenge from Melbourne, bagel and all! Perhaps there is still a more than odds-on chance she'll blow Darling Ana off the court too...we'll see.

Any WHY (pronounced HWY!) is Dinara being put out on Court 2 when she's the No.1 seed?! That said, a choking Dinara (we've seen THAT before) could get beat by Amelie. I'm going out on a limb here and say that Serena-Elena D will be one semi, the other will be Venus with...erm...any one out of Dinara, Amelie or Caz Woz (OK, not so outlandish but it is quite unpredictable, come on!).

So to conclude, the outbreak of H1N1 and/or the Iranian Presidential Election has rejuvenated Men's tennis!!

(Oh come on! You cannot argue with the stats! The correlation is impossible to refute!)

(Aaaarrrggghh! I gotta select all the tags to this post! I really can't be bothered! Oh...here goes!!) Read More...

Friday, 26 June 2009

The Essence of Beauty...

Yeah I'll admit it.

I'm not really feeling it this year.

Forget what I said earlier about needing a clinical, tsunami-free first week. Didn't know what I was talking about.

I suppose what I meant is we needed a cap on the amount of matches that were going unnecessarily to 4 or 5 sets.

But even the most ordered universe needs it's share of space-time inflexions, much like what we saw in the opening day of The Championships two years ago when Tim
Henman came through in a five set epic against Carlos Moya.

Actually it was delayed by poor light and had to be played over two days. But factual nuances like that mess with the poetry of my space-time metaphor.

I'm just saying we haven't had anything like that this year, not from the first or second tier.

What we've had are blinding openers from
Federer and The Sisters (particularly liking what I'm seeing from Serena), more measured performances from Murray, Djoko, fairly unsubstantial stuff from Dinara and Jelena and....well, you get the idea.

Yeah I'll admit it. Watching
Federer dreamily carving up the opposition is no longer doing it for me.

[pauses a moment for 2Hander to find a car jack, so he can lift his bottom jaw up off the ground]

You read it right the first time.
TopSpin, connoisseur of single-handed backhands, decrier of the wave of 'standardisation' sweeping Womens Tennis, no longer stumbles off his stool at the sight of a Federer backhand down the line (well actually I do, but indulge me ok? - poetry, symmetry and all that).

Ok I think I better explain myself.

There was a time, back end of 2006, early 2007 being it's pinnacle, where I'd take pleasure in watching
Roddick getting carved up like he did at Melbourne 07 (to this day the closest I've witnessed, to perfection on a tennis court). I wouldn't even describe it as a particularly perverse pleasure, seeing as it was so beautiful.

I suppose I would only keep a half open casual eye on
Federer's early matches then, as I was so confident of him getting through.

But things have moved on and those aesthetic images and the
adages of watching a 'genius at work' now serve as little more than a zeitgeist of a bygone age. If anything this fourth act of Federer's career is all about grunt work. Elegant, unfazed grunt work. But grunt work all the same.

The ability to invent shots on the fly remains undiminished. Already this week we've had that extreme-angled shot round the net post and a scooped sliced volley against
Kohlschreiber today, that died so silently on the grass, you'd think the gravitational field in and around centre court had been temporarily altered.

But I'm no longer completely confident of him emerging entirely unscathed from the first week, which means I'm paying closer attention to his openers. And yes, in accordance with this being the year in which I learn to 'see it from the other side of the fence', I'm beginning to see what some people meant when they criticised his tennis as being less riveting by it seeming a little
too effortless at times.

I suppose I should qualify that by saying that,
that effortlessness was the essence of his game's beauty (God that sounds like a Calvin Klein ad).

But that was in '07. Even staunch Federalists would now admit he's no longer the player he was in Melbourne'07, which means today's effortlessness manifests itself with less magic. A kind of
laboured effortlessness (can you have that?). And I've become accustomed to seeing it.

There seems to be -- and this is purely subjective, feel free to rain down your heaviest blows --
more of a reliance on those less enthralling, but very properly constructed, longer rallies that culminate in a winner that rates rather less impressively as a 'religious experience'.

None of which amounts to very much of course, provided the results are the same. He dropped a set today, but I sort of expected that with a player of
Kohlschreiber's abilities on the other side of the net.

So treat the above as the kind of
unsubstantive dross you might hear on a late night show discussing Installation Art. Except it's art that drew me to his game in the first place so I think I'm entitled to criticise it with all the pretentiousness of an art critic (and I don't believe I mentioned anything about 'paradigms' or 'concepts' so it should be bearable).

But I was still looking for that elusive sizzler to light up the first week.

I didn't get it in the 3rd round match between
Azarenka and Cirstea - two of the heaviest ball strikers in the women's game. And two of the most exciting. I thought this was going to provide us with something special and it did sort of live up to it's billing for the first set, which featured some of the best ball striking I think I've seen in any womens match this week.

Cirstea faded badly in the second. She's got one of the top five serves in the game. That first serve in particular is hit without any fear at all. Much like the rest of her game; except she doesn't seem to understand how to take a step back at those moments where more conservative play is required - which I actually quite admire, as it demonstrates the gutsiness of a future top tenner. But it ended up costing her the match today.

And yet, as I finish up here, we've rather ironically got what looks like the match of the week.

I don't care. I'm not about to rewrite anything.

But Haas v
Cilic is not your usual epic. This is about Old School Tennis versus The New Age. Seriously.

Tommy's having to make some very considered decisions on when to come to the net, though you know he's itching to do so on every other point.

Marin's had a really hard time keeping his focus and nerve at the key moments.

Both have had two match points come and gone.

Oh look - Cedric
Mourier's having a smile after getting booed for calling up the ref to decide whether play should continue at 5-5 in the final set.

// Update

Both players held serve and play was eventually suspended at 6-6.

I really like Marin. A precocious talent with an
uber-wristy and rather risque forehand action, and an impressive future ahead of him. Both men have given their all.

(Photo: GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

But if Tommy doesn't win this one, I'll feel there's no justice in the world. :(

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Love Thy Enemy...

I'm beginning to think I should dub this my "Feelgood Season" or "The Year of the Living Affectionately". It's certainly turning out to be one in which I begin to adopt a more tolerant approach in my treatment of trends and personalities I simply didn't have time for before.

First there was my hate-hate relationship with Azarenka - one that left me unsure of whether I was repelled more by her 'crash and burn' histrionics or her one-dimensional monotoned style of play. Both in equal measure. Or so I thought.

That quickly thawed when I realised that super efficient robotic style of play resulted in her hitting more lines on average than I think I remember from anyone else recently. Can't argue with that. Be stupid to try.

And the way in which she dealt with the French crowd put paid to any objections I might have had about her conduct.

Then there's Juan del Potro, who began the year as what I described as "a surly Argentine", with seemingly little imagination or thought going into any shot.

He then had those wins over Murray and Nadal earlier this year and took Federer to five sets in Paris.

(Photo: CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

He now tops my list of 'Tennis Nobility'. A rolling week on week measure of all round feel-good, loveliness. It runs alongside the conventional ATP rankings. Rafael Nadal recently vacated the top spot.

Concede a line call to your opponent without calling down the umpire in a clay court match, or play your way through injury and you shoot up. Taking conveniently timed injury timeouts/bathroom breaks, or making unnecessary comments about someone's mum on the other hand, will see you plummet fast.

It's not just the
vastly improved levels of maturity, astonishing for a guy that's just turned twenty.

It's how he's always prepared to go that little bit extra. Those warm, lengthy congratulatory words he has for his opponents at the net. That entertaining moment we had in his match against Hewitt today, when he ran into the net post, and enamoured the crowd with a smile. Keep in mind that the few here that know anything about him, only tend to do so because of that highly publicised acrimony between him and Murray last year.

Nadal better watch himself, because Juan's also outdoing him in that other key measure of feel-good proficiency - praising thy opponent.

The day however surely belonged to Lleyton who came out and played the best three sets of grass court tennis I think I've seen from him in many years. I'm actually tired of hearing him described as 'a dogged competitor' or 'that little terrier'.

Apart from the very unflattering canine images that spring to mind, it's selling him a little short. For me, with his ability at the net and the many different shades of spin he can put on the ball, there's still a lot he can bring to the game most notably on grass, but also against other less experienced opponents on other surfaces.

One thing is for certain: that hip looks to be in fine nick. I don't know how long this spell is set to last, but if he somehow manages to keep most of his matches short, it won't be burn-out that'llbe responsible for his exit.

Juan however, is evidently not a grassie. Though I think he belongs to that category of players that quickly find their feet and very soon excel on
all surfaces. He wasn't after all what many would consider a clay court player either. Anyone care to now ask Federer his opinion on Juan's clay court proficiency?

There was further loveliness to be had in the way Murray dispatched poor young Ernie Gulbis today. Apart from that second set, that was pretty cold and pretty efficient. At least from Ernie's point of view.

Gulbis powered his way out of most what Murray threw his way, but you had to think he was in trouble when he tried to take on Murray in the battle of the backhand slices.

There's plenty to admire in Ernie's game, most notably that serve. But feathery touch is evidently not part of it. And he's still too impatient and erratic with those explosive groundies.

There's also plenty to admire in Murray's game. This performance made good on his dodgy opener against Kendrick a couple of days back. But the real reason I'm enraptured with him tonight is he also made good on that other miscue of his opening match by wearing that sleeveless woolly jumper on court. No jacket, just starchy white cable-knit in all it's comforting and highly decadent glory.

Breath deeply. All is well once again.


Wednesday, 24 June 2009


I was going to try to not get drawn into the knife throwing contest that took place on the back pages of this morning's papers. And I haven't much to add on what need or need not now take place at the
LTA. A dysfunctional organisation with a staff turnover problem almost as big as that of producing world class players.

I remain clear on one thing though: I don't think you can blame the players for Tuesday's carnage. Only saved from being the worst British Open Era performance at Wimbledon by Elena Baltacha's three set win over Alona Bondarenko. It's now joint worst with what took place here two years ago, when only 17% of Brits survived the first round. So that's ok then.

I don't blame Dan Evans, a guy who a few weeks back was, and may still be (current ranking #305), the world's highest ranked 19 year old. Yes he could have given a better account of himself, but let's be fair. Nikolay - four time Slam semi finalist (grass court discrepancies and all) - in the first round - really? Britain's best hope for a post-Murray future had this to say:

“While Andy is winning, I don't think any eyes are going on any of the others,” Evans said. “Let's be honest, we are all 200 to 300 in the world. They shouldn't know who we are.
"You've got to earn a living sooner or later. It's a matter of respect. I've got bigger things to do than than sit around in Futures tournaments.

"I might not even be a tennis player soon. I might be stacking shelves. I haven't had to think about that yet but Tesco are advertising.

"I'm not going to get to 24 or 25 and still be asking for wildcards, simple as that."

(Source: The Sun)

I don't even blame the
press's favourite whipping boy Alex Bogdanovic, whose eight consecutive first round losses here have resulted in the LTA finally calling time on his supply of wildcards. He receives way more than what I'd consider his fair share of flak, nevertheless you would have thought five consecutive losses would have been enough.

Amidst the chorus of derision this morning the most concise and factual assessment came from young cable-knit himself:

Murray said: "It's disappointing. The depth needs to get way better. It's not acceptable. That's not picking out any players in particular because I watched some of them play and some of them played well.

"But they aren't at the same level as a lot of the guys. They don't play at this level too often because they're not ranked that high so when the tight moments come they don't play as well. It's not good."

(Source: The Independent)

That it isn't.


I didn't post anything on Murray's match yesterday for the simple reason that I wasn't that impressed. He seems to be operating at the same level Djoko is right now. And though Kendrick pushed him hard yesterday, that match shouldn't have lasted nearly as long as it did. Not if you think he's a contender for the title.

But what really got up my nose, is he wasn't decked out in that cricket jumper. I don't care that it was over 24 degrees out there. You don't torment us with tantalisingly comedic photoshoots only to come on court days later with nothing more threatening than a comely white jacket.
It's like Superman coming to rescue you without his cape, with 'out of bed' hair and a five o'clock shadow.

Anyway, be scared of Ernie Gulbis Andy. Be very scared. His lacklustre form of late is apparently down to a new physical regime which his body's taking time to adjust to. A sort of step back so he can take two steps forward, if you like. I wouldn't be surprised to see that match go to five sets.

What else? Sharapova out today in three tough sets to Argentine Gisela Dulko. Dulko's not the biggest hitter and has what you would call a slight frame. It was always going to be tough against Maria, an opponent from whom she's only managed to win a handful of games in the past.

But Maria wasn't anywhere near her best. We already knew that, with the time she spent out of the game.

But she wasn't even that close to her unexpectedly good form of Paris or Warsaw either. And
that bothered me. I really thought we might see something special from her on what is after all her favourite surface.

"You want somma this..."
(Photo: AFP)

Azarenka continues to provoke animosity from the crowd. Though things weren't as hostile as Paris. Things are never as hostile as Paris. For today at least, they were content to imitate her grunting. In between points mind you. They're polite like that.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Tennis Hurts...

(Photo: Press Association via Yahoo! Sports)

Well, I don't know. I think he knows me better than anybody else. I would say he knows me better than my mom, and he sees me playing like this.

He just looks and he's like, How you can be like so tight? I mean, he understands everything. He played himself.

Or like he knows exactly what I have to do, and suddenly I'm not doing this or I'm playing completely the opposite game from what he's telling me. He says, I just don't know what to tell you when you're doing completely the wrong thing.

-- Dinara on 'The Zeljko Effect' (Wimbledon.org)

came through in straights in her opener against Spaniard Lourdes Dominguez Lino today.

I've had glowing things to say about Zeljko, and what he's achieved with Dinara. But I'm beginning to feel about this relationship the way I sometimes feel about Dementieva and her Mother.

See it's good to have someone you trust in your box. Where I think it turns ugly is when the coach's charge ceases to behave as a distinct organism. Incapable of independent thought or function.

She played well enough to get through but not in tune with her #1 ranking. Grass sits rather uneasily neath Dinara's feet, though I'm damned if I know why.

Conventional wisdom says that such a big take back is going to hurt you on grass. As is the inability to move well. Except both those charges may also be laid at Sharapova's door.

I'm also not liking the womens' edition of the Adidas red tee. Djoko looked about as decked out as I think I care to see him (God help us on the calamitous day that Djoko choses to do his 'cardigan'), but the whole outfit is evocative of laziness on the part of the Adidas team also in charge of Liverpool FC's new away kit.

Besides, I think it looks better in black with red sweatbands. Like so:

(Photo: GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Does anyone remember Sampras' second round loss to George Bastl in 2002? Only very vaguely. Safin's 4 set loss today to Jesse Levine, will likely be filed in the same dusty, untended corner. Except it wasn't even on the old court 2, the so called 'graveyard of champions'.

It was on court 18 (the one Jelena referred to as the car park). With not so much as a whimper in the closing stages.

This time last year I had this theory we'd witness a renaissance of sorts as Marat discovers he's not that bad on grass after all. Difficult to see him having a renaissance anywhere after this first round loss. This will most likely have been his last ever showing here. And it hurts.

This hurts too.

I feel for Anne, I really do. So much so that I'm going to post this entire article on her presser from the Wimbledon website.

No defeat is ever easy to swallow but Anne Keothavong was reduced to tears and momentarily forced to leave the press interview room following her first round loss to Patricia Mayr this afternoon.

The British number one, who is ranked 51 in the world, bowed out to her Austrian opponent 7-5, 6-2 and it did not take long for the media pack to start serving up the inevitable, harsh questions.

“You say [you have had] a disappointing grass court season. Obviously is it more disappointing because everyone has seen your results over the past 12 months, and thought great. You haven’t really been able to show them?”

To which Keothavong rallied: “There’s no way round it. It’s been disappointing. You know, I have higher expectations for myself. I feel like I’m a better tennis player, well, now compared to where I was this time last year.”

Of course, the Briton is still trying to get to grips with her swift exit from the French Open a few weeks ago where she was swept aside by the hands of Dinara Safina 6-0, 6-0.

Maybe that match in Paris actually dented my confidence more than I realised at the time,” Keothavong admitted. “You know, every week, Birmingham, Eastbourne, here, I’ve always been on the back foot. I haven’t really been imposing myself or putting my opponents under enough pressure.”

Then the press really began to turn the knife. “This is not an accusation, but do you feel as though you’ve let a few people down today,” one journalist demanded.

I feel like I’ve let myself down more than anything,” the 25-year-old volleyed back. “Wimbledon is such a special tournament to me. And, you know, this year especially, I just felt, I’ve overcome so much just to get where I am,” at which point her eyes began to well up with tears.

Did you put more pressure on yourself, do you think?” another reporter enquired, at which point emotion overcame Keothavong, she lost her voice and dropped her head.

“Can we stop for a few minutes” the moderator asked as Keothavong was led out in floods of tears mustering an apology on her way. It was a heartbreaking moment and served a purpose in reminding the press and public that players are only human. A few moments later she emerged composed and ready to continue the press conference.

The questions did not get any easier. “The way the Brits are going out today, it’s shaping to be a pretty dark day for British tennis at Wimbledon. Do you feel sort of a collective responsibility, or are you solely focused on your own results?"

But this time Keothavong was ready. “I can only focus on my own tennis. That’s hard enough as it is...You can’t guarantee the results as the end of the day, but I think you can definitely guarantee that all British girls have tried 100%.”

That told them.

(Source: Wimbledon.org)

Given her much improved form, the top fifty ranking from earlier this year, and the weight of the nation on her shoulders, the heartbreak and disappointment is at a level most casual observers can't even understand.

Especially revealing is the way in which she thinks the double bagel Safina served her way affected her subsequent performances.

I tend to dislike questions that begin with "This is not an accusation, but..", but the day's 'Foot in mouth' award must surely go to that clumsy excuse for a tennis journo, that sought an answer to the question on putting more pressure on herself.

Not really 'kicking' so much as 'tripping over' Anne while she's down.


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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.

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