Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Toilet Bowls and Facial Scrubs

I'm not going to defend the indefensible.

The WTA Sh*thouse has been in full session this week parading it's mankiness for all to see.

But every cloud has a silver lining and I'm determined to give this particular toilet bowl a gold trim.

For one thing, we're still on for a Sharapova Jankovic final.

Both these two players have been on something of a juddery road.

Shaza's outdone herself since her return to tour back at Warsaw (funny how that now seems many moons back), but her Slam performances have been less exemplary. Worse still, she continues to be hindered by that shoulder, the unpredictability of which has got to be of some concern to her fanbase.

There's been some good news this week though, with the return of her former service action.

That she appears confident enough to try it out again has to considered a good sign.

Like many others I'm not wholly convinced abbreviated service motions are the silver bullet they're sometimes made out to be. There's certainly a debate to be had on whether the compensatory muscle required at the latter end of the motion might actually do greater long term damage than a more conventional motion, that at least benefits from the momentum created by the greater initial shoulder exertion.

My own feeling is she's made her peace with the remaining shoulder complaints that may continue to plague her
whatever motion she uses in what still has to be considered the developmental stage of her comeback, and is therefore willing to try a little of everything and anything.

I'm also a little more confident with the sounds emerging from Camp Jelena. Though I approach this one with bated breath given how many false starts I've had from her this season.

Her form hasn't even been particularly poor this year - just un-Jelena-like. Too many round of sixteen exits both at the Slams and elsewhere. A little too distant and uninvested; a little, dare I say it, like Novak Djokovic.

But her form this week suggests that might finally be about to end. And no I'm not afraid of getting egg on my face once again; I'm told it serves as an excellent facial mask, and does wonders for your pores.


The Indie Scene...

Oh there was gripping tennis played in Tokyo yesterday alright.

Just not from any of the women you'd expect it from.

In fact with so many of the big names tumbling out, the delights Tokyo proffered up were closer in charm and quirkiness to a lovingly crafted indie production.

Dinarovic? Not even shocking anymore. But what of Venus? I know she usually paces herself more stringently towards the end of the season (don't forget Beijing is just round the corner), but a first round in straights? Surely not.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kimiko, unable to sustain the blissful high notes of last week, went down 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 to Aleksandra Wozniak.

But not before giving us these gems.

I defy anyone to contest my organic certification of her talent.

And this one's for anyone nursing the delusion that we need to await the return of Henin next year to experience single-handed backhand bliss once again.

I love the way she (perhaps inadvertently) draws Shaza into the net before firing that sling-shot past her. It's actually an excellent play against Shaza who's not the best mover into the forecourt and can look a little flat footed once she gets there.

Also gotta love the way she opens up the court with this play.

Francesca hasn't always made the best use of her enviable abilities over the years. But every so often she lands one of these moments of felicity on us. And I believe in her once again.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Such Finery...

“For a long time people spoke about my lost finals,” Monfils said. “But now the curse is over. I’m happy with this victory. I managed to win, and on top of that it was in France.” The 13th-ranked Monfils added that he wouldn’t be satisfied “until I win the French Open, which is my ultimate goal.

(Source: Yahoo! Sports)

Not quite
RG. But a win's a win. And a win in France against such a seasoned opponent quite rightly means so much more.

(Photo: AP)

Kohlschreiber is no slouch. In fact I'm fairly certain he's completely unfamiliar with what that is. (Is it me or has he dyed his hair?)

And as to
RG, let's take a moment to consider how ridiculous the prospect of Soderling making the final there would have seemed not six months ago, before dismissing Le Sliderman's chances at the drop of a hat.

"I have been blessed with all the wonderful friends and opportunities to be able to compete at the highest level," said Sugiyama, who won three Grand Slam women's doubles titles and was a singles quarter-finalist in the 2000 Australian Open and at Wimbledon in 2004. "Tennis has given me so much. It has allowed me to meet so many people. I would like to give back what I received maybe through tennis, maybe through other sporting activities," said Sugiyama, who will play Nadia Petrova of Russia in the first round.

(Source: Times of India)

My rant flag has been drawn to half mast.
There'll be no WTA lampoonery here today. Not when there are such fineries to be had.

(Photo: Getty via sonyericssonwtatour.com)

Today belongs to
Ai and Kimiko.

I have a very special affection for
Ai, whom I used to follow with some interest as a teenager, and who's probably the only player I can think of as still active, from back then. Except for Kimiko of course.

Sugiyama's career spanned 17 years, over which she made 62 consecutive Slam appearances (read "not missed a Slam since the age of 17"), reaching a career high of #8 in the rankings.

But I'll always remember her for her work ethic. Thinking back I can only seem to recall two images of her: the focused expression of a competitor at work, or the smile of that same competitor
enjoying her work.

"I have learned so much from you not only as a tennis player, but also as a person, how to treat people, how to behave with fans, with the media," Hantuchova said.

(Source: Times of India)
Seems to me many younger players besides Dani could learn from her example.

Kimiko I knew less of. I learnt today she retired back in 96 and made a seemingly unsuccessful return to tour last year going out in the first rounds of all eight tournaments she entered.

But to raise the
trophy in Seoul she had to battle past Kleybanova, Hantuchova and Medina-Garrigues.

Talk about stopping the rot.

I know many will say that a 38 year old winning an event (the oldest since Billie Jean King in 1983) is an unsurprising sign of the times, and yet another indictment of the tour. Signs I normally leap on any opportunity to highlight. But funnily enough, this says more to me about organic talent remaining unaffected by the passage of time. And rising above the sea of more
synthetic talent. The type manufactured so unlovingly nowadays.

I'm guessing
Kimiko's in lesser shape than she was at her peak back in the 90s. But she can hardly be described as out of shape either.

(Photo: AP)

She could pass for 25.

Besides, physical fitness is not always the prerequisite it's sometimes made out be.
Match fitness almost always is.

Friday, 25 September 2009

In Pursuit of Wholesomeness...

And all at once a year's gone by.

A great big thank you to everyone that's stopped by.

Here's to another year of disagreeing with you, and getting most of my tennis predictions spectacularly...wrong.

And to
wholesome, uninhibited jollies; which no one does better than a couple of 20s flappers.

(Take it away girls...)

(Photo: 1000markets.com)

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Justine's new service motion and other factoids...

(Correctional) Factoid #1: Contrary to what I said yesterday, Justine's ambitions at Wimbledon are, according to Carlos Rodriguez, "one of the main reasons she's come back".

Yeah, my 'Grand' Wimby insight was neither that grand, nor that insightful after all.

Factoid #2: Justine will be unveiling a new fangled service motion in Melbourne - one from which she expects to yield a first serve percentage of at least 70%.

I'm not sure about putting all this stock into her first serve. Such an over emphasis on one part of an otherwise complete game seems overkill if you ask me.

Her first serve was problematic at times, but nothing nearing Safinaean or Ivanovician proportions; and besides haven't we been down this road four times already? I'm pretty sure I've seen her run the complete gamut of abbreviated
pronations in her first career. So what's so different this time round?

Factoid #3: Justine intends to play until the Olympics in 2012.

I like how London 2012 is fast acquiring the feel of an inaugural event to honour and generally festoon some of the best players we've ever had.

Already we've had indications from Federer and Venus Williams that they intend to stick around till then, and now Justine's signed up too.

But just what kind of a nihilistic tennis vaccum will we exist in, in the immediate aftermath of the event? Be afraid.

(Non-Justine) Factoid #4: Spain have drawn Switzerland in their opening Davis Cup tie next year.

Yes that means we may see Rafa battle Roger in a more patriotically coloured setting. I hope I'm wrong, but I still don't see Federer committing to such emotional consumption a week before Indian Wells.

(Photo: Reuters)


"I truly enjoy playing for my country but I'll also have to see where I have my priorities for next season," Federer said after victory over Italy.

But who knows? Davis Cup is certainly more of a gaping hole on his CV than any mere Masters event. Fifth Slam or otherwise.

(Non-Justine) Factoid #5: Here's something you can bet the house on though: Andy Murray will not be travelling to Lithuania that weekend.

After last weekends shoddiness, the gist of the deal, buried away beneath all the layers of controversy, appears to be that it's time the lower ranked Brits stepped up.

In a strange way the environment of the lower tier might prove a more fruitful testing ground, and may even turn them into something of a more seasoned group capable of holding their own in any future ties.

Which in a not so strange way I kinda agree with.


Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Justine: Kimmie "not the most important reason"

(Photo: AP)

''Subconsciously, it might have had an impact,'' Henin said of Clijster's successful comeback. ''But it certainly was not the most important reason.''

-- Henin on whether she was influenced by Clijsters' success


Kimmie's return was a tipping point, that only confirmed what she must have been feeling within herself for months.

The comeback begins in anger at Melbourne next year. Until then we'll only have a couple of exhos in Charleoi and Dubai to salivate over.

"I know it's surprising because on 14 May 2008 I put a definitive end to my tennis career but then there was a long personal path throughout these past 15 months, which was enriching.

"I discovered a lot of things about myself and that allowed me to feel things again and then there was a flame that was re-lit which I had thought had been put out forever."

Yeah whatever.

"It's hard when you used to be able to do things so well, as I did in the past, to have to start again from the basics, with patience which isn't my greatest quality.


"I think that the most difficult thing will be creating the foundations as I know I have slowed down and I used to be a really really quick player and that was my main quality but that will happen soon

And THAT is what I believe will be the million dollar question over the coming months.

The tour's in tatters, but even in it's state of decrepitude, will have managed to move on somewhat.

Just yesterday Tom Perrotta made what I think are some very valid points as to how difficult she might find things.

Though I don't buy his theory on her lack of confidence very much, in what, if anything, will be a less competitive environment.

On Wimbledon:

"It is a dream of mine. I want to work to get it. I make it a priority."

And so we get to what may have really relit that flame. I'm not saying it's her sole motivation but you have to think it matters even more, the second time around.


Monday, 21 September 2009

Justine set to announce her return Tuesday...

(Photo: Le Soir)

Or so claims Le Soir and La Derniere Heure.

According to "good sources", she's set to make the announcement on Belgian TV Channel
RTL-TVI and RTBF News, tomorrow evening.

Clijsters' victory at Flushing, Justine had the following words for her compatriot on her website.

"What you have come to achieve there is incredible," wrote Henin. "I very warmly congratulate you on your magnificent victory."

And yet I remain unconvinced that Kimmie's victorious comeback had even the slightest influence on Justine's decision to return, if that is indeed what it is.

My feeling is this has been brewing for months, and always found her insistence that there'd be no comeback a little difficult to believe, coming as it was from one of the most competitive personalities on tour.

The initial announcement was probably genuine and an accurate reflection of the strain she was feeling at the time. But I sense that dissatisfaction must have set in rather quickly.

Either way, I love it that she's changed her mind. There's only one place for such a competitor to express herself, and that's on a tennis court.

Now I just need to come up with an appropriate comeback acronym to capture all the awesomeness. So far all I've got is '

But I'm working on it.


Hingis out in round one...

Round one of 'Strictly' that is.

So.....how exactly did I miss this?

The bloke dancing with her is a professional Latin American Dancer, who also happens to have won Series 5.

After the first public votes had been cast, the phone votes were added to the judges' scores and the two pairs with the lowest score – Hingis and her partner Matthew Cutler, and Crimewatch presenter Rav Wilding and his partner Aliona Vilani - had to dance their rumba again to try to save themselves.

The judge’s casting vote eventually went against the 'Swiss Miss' of tennis, who admitted afterwards that she may need more dancing lessons.

Hingis had been criticised for "flat-footed transitions between steps", but reading through some of the follow up comments, it seems many feel hers wasn't the worst performance and that what we're seeing is more of a popularity vote.

"It was a great experience, I learned so much,” Hingis said after leaving the BBC1 show. “I wish it would continue but here we are. Maybe I will come back for a few more lessons to London."

Hingis, 29, was banned for two years by the International Tennis Federation in 2008 after testing positive for cocaine during the 2007 Wimbledon tournament.

Hingis, who declared she was innocent of the drug allegations, last month said she hoped to put the controversy behind her and saw competing on Strictly as a “new challenge”.

“I want people to see a different side to me than the person running round the tennis court,” she said after being announced as one of the celebrity contestants and vowing to win the series.

(The Times)

Monica Seles's stay in the US version of the show was just as short lived.

Maybe that fleet-footedness just doesn't transition so well from the court to the dance floor.

Or maybe it is simply a popularity show after all.

I like that she gave it a shot though. Whatever else you might accuse her of, she has a presence that should have held her in good stead - at least for the opening few rounds.

And after those openers, she might even have won more public support.

Which appears essential.


Saturday, 19 September 2009

"Everything Hurts."

(Photo: AFP)

I try hard with Davis Cup, I really do.

And I had what likely constitutes more than my fair share of coverage this weekend with both the Spain/Israel tie and the GB/Poland zonal play off on offer.

Still it seems some things are simply not meant to be.

Spain are through to the finals 3-0. But it's the other finalists that had the more interesting route through, one which unfortunately wasn't on my schedule.

The Czech Republic also came through in straights against Croatia, but the big story was of course that now infamous match involving Radek Stepanek putting in almost 'I am Legend' like levels of resistance opposite a record breaking barrage of 78 aces from Ivo Karlovic, in a match that lasted 5 hours and 59 minutes. One of the longest ever in Davis Cup history.

I'd have liked to have seen this one. Obviously.

But what I'm more keen to understand is, how that even happened.

Just how does one claim the equivalent of nearly 20 games worth of free points, yet still go on to lose the match?

I know, I know, Radek wormed his way through the key points.

But doesn't being made to withstand such a frenzied assault place a unique set of demands on your psyche?

Imagine if you will, the thoughts circling through the head of a man, standing there to receive serve, chastened by the knowledge that any efforts he might dare to expend at reading his opponents serve, are more or less in vain.

Chastened by the knowledge, that Ivo's serve, surely one of the most bankable tennis resources ever, will almost certainly secure him the first break.

Chastened by the knowledge that such a break will in all likelihood cede the entire set.

You can normally only weather that type of an assault for a couple of sets.

Ivo was clearly having a good serving day, even by his 'lofty' standards; and that normally signals tie breaks. Tie breaks that should in theory, also break the spirit of all but the most resolute, or the most brash of players.

I'm thinking Radek's indefatigable brand of brashness must now be approaching immeasurable levels on the Richter Scale of insolence.

It's an imprecise art getting into your opponents head, but one in which he seems uniquely blessed.

Ivo's verdict? "Everything hurts".

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Flushing Meadows: "Shotmakers get sh*t done"

Shares in TomTom have hit the roof.

Unfortunately, having had such little faith in Juan-Marteen going into the final, I'm in no position to capitalise.

And it serves me right.

As people rush out to jump on the great Aston-Marteen bandwagon, and cash in their TomTom shares, I sit here all alone in Rick's Cafe in an eerie mist of stoicism.

Need he have announced himself so noisily at my expense?

Of all the Gin-Joints in all the Slams in all the world...he walks into mine.

I don't normally stick my neck out so decidedly. In fact to use Rick's own words "I stick my neck out for nobody".

But, I'm not ashamed to admit I was wrong.

He'll not put up "half as much resistance", were the words I think I used.

If this lot can stand it, I can...Play it!

How did I not see this one coming?

(Photo: AP)

Maybe it's because of Federer's double bagelling of him in Melbourne. Ok he stretched him to five in Paris, but that could quite reasonably have been thought of as an aberration, suggestive of future promise, but not likely to be something Federer would let happen again for a very long time.

Maybe it's because of the way I always thought of it as a question of matchups. Fed may have trouble with heavy topspin cutting viciously high into his backhand, but he copes with right handed flat shotmakers rather
too well.

Maybe it's the fact that while I've applauded the great strides Juan's made mentally this year, I didn't expect him to be able to sustain it over the course of five sets. Yeah that
must be it.

Something other than TomTom's share price has also gone through the roof:
My respect for Juan's mental strength. At the age of only 20, it's on another planet, and something I was only beginning to appreciate since Paris.

Not only did he manage to claw back set two after an opener in which, he was frankly lucky to only go down a single break.

But when he blew that early lead in the third (and with it the set), I thought we were back in that familiar territory of a promising young gun announcing himself on one of tennis's biggest stages -- having expunged himself of his last reserves of resistance -- now finding himself overwhelmed by experience and the enormity of the occasion.

We'd seen it too many times before. And with the way Juan appeared slumped in his seat having blown that third set, it appeared he recognised it too.

And then it happened.

He opened that fourth set looking spent. But instead of fading away he took what I think was a very conscious, and a very classy decision to go for broke, swing more freely and perhaps most critically
to keep those rallies short.

(Photo: Getty)

Whether it was a pacing mechanism or not, it worked it's wonders, and for a period of about 25 mins we were graced with some of the most stellar shotmaking of the past two weeks.

We perhaps shouldn't be that surprised. Shotmaker's have a reputation of pulling off the odd upset. Occasionally.

However they
also have the more dubious reputation of running out of gas, racking up the UFEs and going comprehensively braindead on us.

But when it's accompanied with the steel, and frankly very
wily, opportunistic play we saw from Juan yesterday, I've got no qualms in loudly proclaiming what in respectable circles ought to be looked upon, as a universal truth.

Shotmaker's get sh*t done.

That's so good it's almost worthy of a Jerry Maguire moment.

Shotmaker's get sh*t done.

Andy Murray's mantra for 2010, and a truth, that up until this week, appears to have been lost on me.


-- During the match I laughed off 2Hander's suggestion that this was Marat v Pete 2000 all over again. He's not the first person to make that observation. I'm still not completely sure about the parallel. But the flamboyance of last night makes it less easy to dismiss.

-- Federer's last set was a
mess, in what was otherwise a fairly competent match. I didn't like the double faults, the first serve percentage, or the scandalous breakpoint conversion rate either, but a lot of that was arguably down to the pressure being applied by Juan. Was it his best match? No, but neither is it significantly different to any of the letdowns suffered by many of the greats in the face of fresher and somewhat unabashed competition. Fear not. He's going nowhere.

-- Big four?
Hell yeah. In defeating Federer (his greatest higher ranking Nemesis) over five sets in the final of a Grand Slam -- the only guy outside Rafael Nadal to do that -- delpo has comfortably put paid to the few remaining objections I had to his big four entry. I place him within the bracket slightly above Djoko, but alongside Roddick and Murray. Murray has only the most tenuous grip of the entire group, with the arguably less polished Slam record.

And on a more controversial note, what of Dick Enbergs reaction to Juan's very low key request to say a few words in Spanish.

Were we really that pressed for time?

Could we not have extended a little courtesy to our 2009 US Open
Slam Champion?

His broken English ensured he took barely as much time as Federer's (very dignified) runner's up speech. Especially after the protracted Jada Parade we had after the ladies final the day before. It smacks of elitism (and another word I won't use) even if that wasn't the
look you were pitching for.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Flushing Meadows: The Kimmaculate Butterfly Effect.

This has been a trying two weeks of
womens tennis for me.

My relationship this year with which has tended to alternate between despairing and daring. Daring to hope that is.

Daring to hope that
Safina might actually convert on one of those Slam finals, I think she might not reach again for a very long time. If ever.

Daring to believe that
Azarenka might just manage to channel all her hostility into playing seven consecutive matches of explosive tennis.

How did it ever get to this?

And after week one's
freakshow, I was quite honestly finding it difficult to continue.

Thank goodness for Vera and
Flavia. Who, amidst all the desolation, kept me going in my hour of need.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

But this comeback story has been an incredible one whatever angle you care to look at it.

Motherhood, bereavement, and now a Slam title as an
unranked, wildcard in only her third tournament back. Next week she'll find herself in the top twenty. A strangely ant-climactic distinction that perhaps underlies the tenuous nature of the competition and her rightful place amidst it's elite.

This might just be the catalyst my languishing levels of inspiration and the
WTA's languishing levels of competence are screaming out for. I captioned reports of her return earlier this year as "putting the cat amongst the pigeons".

How very hollow that seems now.

If anything
Kimmaculate has grown mentally during her self-imposed layoff.

"I think you get to know how to deal with different emotions when they come up," she said.

The Belgian won her second career Grand Slam after beating Caroline Wozniacki 7-5 6-3 in Sunday's final.

"I'm more capable of adjusting on the court," added Clijsters.

"I think that's something that's very important out there, especially in big matches like today and like yesterday."


“She’s playing because she thinks it’s fun and because she likes it,” said Wozniacki, who is too young to have played Clijsters during her first career. “I really think she might be a better player now than she was before.”


One hopes that really is the case. It sometimes only takes the introduction of the smallest degree of variation to instigate wide ranging change. Could it be that we are at the beginnings of such a proverbial butterfly effect, with Kimmie's return encouraging more competitive conditions, in turn reshaping the ecology into something more closely resembling a tennis landscape?

Woz has been unfairly forgotten in the fairytale. Who "kept her head, when all around her, were losing theirs" and blaming it on linespersons, their brain, fatigue, the draw, or the climatic conditions.

The final itself actually played out better than I expected.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Woz displayed the same brand of emotional maturity that got her to this point, and even seemed willing to step it up at some of the key moments.

Though she still lacks a weapon, that double handed backhand, that did her so proud in her junior years, seems to me to be the best place to start developing one.

Flushing Meadows: Hotdoggin' Along

This wasn't match point, but it may as well have been.

When your opponent starts hitting shots like this, it's time to be thinking about making your way back to the locker room.

Poor ol' Djoko was put out of his misery a point later.

I don't think del Potro will put up
half as much resistance.

Hope I've got him all wrong.


Sunday, 13 September 2009

Flushing Meadows: "How to Lose Matches and Alienate People"


You'll have seen the video by now.

1. That second foot fault call was simply gross incompetence. I don't buy the "letter of the law" argument one bit. If anything, that official went
against the rules of applying discretion by interrupting play with her over-exuberant interpretation of a very shady area within the law, and maybe even depriving us of a final set.

It's an unwritten rule that Officials are meant to turn a blind eye towards minor infractions like foot faults during the latter stages of matches.
Calling it at a critical juncture like that is inexcusable. There's almost certain to be a set of USTA Lines Person's Best Practices out there somewhere, to that effect. Why doesn't somebody get on to it?

2. Gotta disagree with the suggestion that Serena was essentially on her way out, having been
outplayed by Kimmie.

She was probably on her way out, but Kimmie was only just beginning to break Serena's defences down before incompetence intervened.

Kimmie was only playing
marginally better than Serena at the key moments. Both were making UFEs, both were exchanging breaks of serve, and both were hitting outrageous winners too.

3. That said line judges are there for a reason: to enforce a rule
we can't unfortunately do away with altogether (And I'm not convinced it's as dated as Marat suggested anyway). Doing so would mean guys on any self-officiating amateur circuit, are free to gain an unfair advantage by stepping over the baseline during their serves. When the pros do it, the infraction is barely detectable and confers no competitive advantage whatsover.

4. Serena's contention that "Players have gotten away with a lot worse", is unfortunately wholly untrue.

Actually people have been penalised
for a lot less than threatening to 'shove a ball down an official's throat'.

I can remember at least two similar incidents. One featured Lleyton Hewitt at the 2005 Aussie Open Final. The other, probably fresher in our minds, involved Marat Safin at Cincinnati last year. Both abused an official. Both resulted in code violations, despite
neither having made any threats.

5. What makes the issue so contentious in this case was that Serena had already incurred a code violation for breaking her racquet at the end of set one (something I hardly need add is her own fault).

Serena's behaviour was of course, wholly indefensible. A little surprising perhaps that her outburst bore a stark contrast to her very dignified response to the outrage perpetrated at the hands of Mariana Alves here five years ago. A situation that may have actually warranted the response we saw last night.

The rules are very clear. And Serena will have been well aware that two code violations equals a point penalty. Any further infraction can result in immediate disqualification. Or have I been watching the wrong sport?

6. The only thing that remains unclear to me is whether Serena received that second code violation for threatening to "kill" the official. Something she could be heard to be vehemently denying, and on which I'm inclined to agree with her.

If the referee's decision to in effect, default Serena, was based on taking the lines person's word over what almost everyone else seemed to have heard (balls down throats), then this is indeed an injustice.

As it stands, I think she only has herself to blame.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Flushing Meadows: 'TomTom' navigates past 'The Wrist'

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

del Potro d. Cilic 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1

A lot of commentators had the Cilic del-Potro match chalked up as an evenly matched affair. I sort of agree.

But their style of play is poles apart.

Juan plays what I call 'TomTom' or 'NavMan' tennis: "first this way then that" style big-swinging from the baseline he uses to quickly subdue opponents before they get a foothold into rallies - not that dissimilar to Shaza or Vika.

But however uninspiring del Potro's game might be, not only is it effective, it's also a work in progress, that on the evidence of this year is evolving incrementally in nicely defined chunks.

The most recent addition has been that big serve that caused such an uproar earlier this year when he stretched Federer to five sets at RG.

Cilic, is something quite different. I believe he's the more talented of the two, tending to play flashier and altogether more daring tennis. He's certainly far more adept at slicing and creating angles than Juan, and from what I could see, was experimenting with changes in pace. When on song, like he was in that first set, he's both difficult to stop, and a pleasure to watch.

When he's not, I usually find myself averting my eyes.

But I don't believe it was his gung-ho, risky, wristy self responsible for the outage that began somewhere in the middle of the second set.

del-Potro must have sensed, that should he hang in there, he might be back in the locker room a lot sooner than he might otherwise have been, against an opponent who hadn't any experience at this level.

It seemed to be a mixture of the enormity of the occasion, and being totally out of gas.

Whatever it was, it ensured the last set was barely a contest.

No matter.

It's too early to determine whether Cilic has really announced himself here, he could after all go back to being a Tsonga-like 'nearly-man'.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

But if Cilic takes anything other than positives out of this, he'll have been too hard on himself.

There's plenty to work on (five set match-fitness for one thing), but plenty to get excited about too.

A lot often gets made (sometimes by me) about the amounts of wrist he puts into that forehand. It's certainly not a pure action, but I'm inclined to think of it as an essential quirk without which such explosivity might prove difficult to reproduce.

Though I would prefer him to lash out less often, perhaps cultivating more of a "medium caliber" stroke he can still use to intimidate opponents much in the same way del Potro does, rather than interfering with the action and doing away with the wrist altogether.

Such a change might result in an unfortunate dousing of his natural flair, which we definitely don't want to be doing.


I have a correction to make.

During a copy/paste seizure the day before last, I omitted the following paragraph from my post:

"Woz displayed an emotional maturity beyond her years, remained unperturbed by the All-American crowd, and kept her own UFE count to a minimum."

That was meant to have appeared before the line:

"Absurdly unspectacular, and exactly what was needed. Thank you very much."

I hope you'll now appreciate that it was Woz's unambitious, underwhelming play that I was referring to as being "exactly what was needed" (as in carefully measured) to get the better of Oudin (who rather hit herself out), rather than indicating any need I might have entertained for Oudin to get bundled out of the event. Not guilty.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Flushing Meadows: Woz out-grinds Oudin, Djoko grinds out Nando

Wozniacki d. Oudin 6-2, 6-2

No I'm not going to gloat.

I may have found the Henin comparisons tough to swallow, but Melanie deserves unalloyed praise and support for what she's managed to achieve here this year.

Last year she was outside of the top 200. Her resolve here has ensured that next week, she'll be a top 50 player. A quality, in perhaps unsurprisingly scant supply this year. And for that, I applaud her.

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Now on to those unflattering match stats.
5 winners from Woz and 43 UFEs from Oudin. That there's the match wrapped and tied up. In all it's grinding glory.

Oudin is
definitely a more aggressive player than the Woz, though I hope you'll understand why I think that that's not actually saying very much.

The problem yesterday was that Melanie wasn't half as consistent as she's been in any of her previous matches, where she's worked her way into a point before letting rip a winner the Press have gone so gaga over this last week. Though I wonder, how much of that was to do with how difficult she was finding it to break down the Woz defences.

unspectacular, and exactly what was needed. Thank you very much.

Difficult to get inspired by Woz's play, and I do get the feeling she'll need to play a little more outside of her comfort zone against Wickmayer, who looked to me to be swinging
very freely.

Federer d. Soderling 6-0, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6

I was looking forward to this one, despite the 11-0 H2H.

The funny thing was that Robin came out of the blocks playing spectacular tennis; the trouble was that so did Federer, who quickly smothered any momentum Robin might have otherwise managed to derive.

Perhaps understandably winded , Robin looked a little lost in set two and let things slip.

It must have been the racquet he broke at the end of that set, but something clicked and for the next two sets we had a match on our hands. And it was more of that 'Lights Out' stuff, providing yet more revision material for Murray's unexpectedly early Autumn break.

(Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

A match that might gone to five had Robin managed to secure more of a foothold earlier on.

Despite some of the reports I've read, I think this was probably Federer's best performance yet, and I still don't see anyone beating him in this form.

Djokovic d. Verdasco 7-6, 1-6, 7-5, 6-2

What a horror of a first set. The even scoreline only reflects the fact that no one was prepared to commit to anything, preferring instead to tentatively poke at each other in hope of a mistake.

Yeah Djoko's a grinder now. And I in turn, intend to continue grinding that point further home.

Grind. Grind. Grind.

Unless he's forced out of his remission, which is what happened in the latter two sets.

Though it wouldn't have made much difference had he continued playing the same way, since Nando's stomach tears, and foot injury ensured a one sided fourth set. Respect for playing through the pain though.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Flushing Meadows: Murray's Law on Passive-Aggressive Differentials

(Photo: AP)

Same story, Different Slam.

In all four Slams this year (five if you include the smackdown Federer inflicted on him here last time round), Murray has been swept off court by a guy willing to step it up and use the bigger and not always much better weapons at his disposal.

The way Cilic used his serve and forehand in those last two sets in particular left my eyes watering. Both because of how sensationalist it all was and how strangely ill-equipped he made Murray seem out there.

"A lot of times when I lose I get asked 'why did you look flat?' but it is not always the case - today I couldn't get myself into games and he was dominating points so there wasn't much I could do about it."

-- Andy Murray on his loss to Marin Cilic

"I played very well and he was missing a lot," Cilic added. "I don't think he was playing his best."


I think both these two quotes tell a story, the first more so than the second.

Sure, Murray produced an error-strewn display (his worse at this Slam by far), but a lot of that was simply about the way in which he was reacting to Marin's onslaught.

And the greater story surely has to be where this leaves his passive-aggressive style of play, which like Safina's set up, I think could do with some revision.

Murray claims the way he plays is tailored to fit the the levels of aggression present in the opposition. Put him up against a Gonzalez or a Nikolay, and he'll rope-a-dope them into leaking errors. Against more passive players like Ferrero, he's willing and able to step it up in the way he did against Nadal last year at the semis.

And in between those two extremes lies a continuous spectrum of player-aggression, he presumably uses one long slider bar to adjust up or down to, injecting appropriate amounts of intensity into his game.

I liked that theory. For a time.

It sounded so scientific, so ordered, so very organised. Very much like his coaching set up, with it's carefully balanced team of health, fitness and nutritional experts.

Trouble is, such theoretical adjustments might sound persuasive, but are actually very difficult to realise in a match situation, with it's additional parameters of nervous energy, fatigue, and your opponent very likely raining down blows on you with the venom and intensity of a thousand dark clouds. An imprecise tool for an imperfect art.

In some ways it actually makes you more vulnerable to the guys playing 'lights out' tennis: the last thing you want to do against one of them is to go in unsure of how hard to push down on the gas pedal.

And to put it more bluntly, that approach failed miserably today against Marin who was doing that 'lights out' thing.

But what's more important is that it's also failed against Verdasco (Aussie Open), Gonzalez (RG) and Roddick (Wimby), who were all more than willing and able to step into court and put their possibly more klunky tools, to more devastating effect against a guy that's probably more talented than them, but is still struggling with the numbers.

It's not that I don't believe in Murray's theory or think that it can't be proven true. I just think it's been conclusively shown that it would be indefensible to continue to try.

He could spend the next few years continuing to carefully tune his game, trying to outwit and second guess his opponents. Or he could try out that 'lights out' thing. Which I happen to think he does rather well, and incidentally is equipped well enough to try.

Flushing Meadows: Doubt and Suspicion

Davydenko pulled up lame after three sets of his fourth-round match. “What happened?” he was asked in the aftermath of his handshake as he trailed by two sets to one to Robin Söderling, of Sweden. “Where?” Davydenko replied, knowing exactly what the question meant while maintaining his desire not to play ball. He could not even explain where he was feeling the muscle ache that caused him to stop playing.

It could not help but bring to mind a match of limited international interest in Sopot, Poland, in August 2007 against Martin Vassallo Arguello, of Argentina, that inspired a huge betting swell on the Argentinian after he had lost the first set. Davydenko retired from that match after three games of the third and Betfair — the gambling exchange with which the ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis, works closely — rendered all bets void. The Russian was cleared of any wrongdoing but he cannot escape suspicion’s shadow.

“I do it my way and if I have an injury and if I feel like I can’t finish, I don’t finish,” he said. “I stop it, like today. It doesn’t matter what happen in Sopot. I don’t know what’s happening now. I really don’t care anymore.”

(The Times)

Not quite sure what to make of this as I didn't see the match.

But I'm having difficulty understanding why the Russian "cannot escape suspicion's shadow".

I despise dud withdrawals as much as anyone, but Nikolay is far from being one of the "Career withdrawal Slam's" top seeds . In fact with the amount he invests of himself physically into each and every match, I'd say he's barely a qualifier.

Flushing Meadows: Gutless and Armless...

"I don't think she did anything too well. I just did unforced errors all the time. You don't have to do much. You just have to put the ball back. I was creating the point or I was losing it. This was it."

--Sveta reflects on being Sveta

(Source: BBC)

Sveta rolls over, and the match is called more or less as it happened: Major props to the Woz for hanging in there, and congrats for reaching her first Slam QF, but Sveta really should have put her away in two.

What happened with the Woz happens to Oudin three times over, and we're hearing comparisons being made with Justine Henin, whom she resembles only in height.

Oudin deserves all kinds of crazy props, for being one of the few women players at this year's event to show some steel - more so, considering her age.

And I never thought I'd hear myself saying this, but Svetas comments sound a little like Jankovic's 'no weapons' grumpdown after losing to Melanie at Wimbledon this year. You've only yourself to blame love.

"Worst Comb-Over Ever"
(Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

But none of this changes the fact that this has been the worst ladies Slam showing this year, where Melanie's been lucky enough to run into a string of gutless, or in Shaza's case, armless Russian players.

I realise that may not be a popular opinion right now, but there it is.


Monday, 7 September 2009

Flushing Meadows: "Microbial" Tennis

"There's life beyond the Williamses."

Conclusive lab testing conducted under the most exacting of conditions late into the night leaves little doubt.

The only question remaining is just how microbial and enduring it may or may not be.

Clijsters d. V.Williams 6-0, 0-6, 6-4

The flip-flop scoreline of the first two sets really does tell the whole story. For what seemed like an absolute eternity, but was actually only around 23 minutes, Venus flailed around like she was lost in a dust storm, unable to buy a first serve, and not many more groundstrokes either. They switched roles in the second, with Clijsters this time going AWOL and Venus assuming the role of the aggressor.

Things were eventually decided in an evenly contested last set with Kimmie managing to serve it out after going a break up:
something many of her critics probably thought they'd never live to see.

Fairly uninspiring stuff until that last set, though an absolute boon in comparison with the womens matches on offer this week.

Pennetta d. Zvonareva 3-6, 7-6, 6-0

Quite unlike this one though. This was in a class of it's own.

That was the first of six match points Flavia wrenched painfully from Vera's grip who went on to lose that set and with it her grip on reality.

I didn't stay up to see the final set, and am now glad to see that I didn't miss very much, other than the sight of Vera unravelling even more rapidly than her heavily strapped legs.

She even involved Lynn Welch in a skirmish over whether she ought to be allowed to get the trainer on to attend to the damages to the strapping she herself had inflicted. Welch politely declined.

But I forgive Vera her histrionics this time.

For the hitting from these two women in the first two sets, was nothing short of astounding.

It made up, very satisfyingly for the smut masquerading as womens tennis this last week.

We all know of Vera's talent. If anything, she was playing a better quality of tennis than she did at Indian Wells.
But it's Flavia that's the really transformed player. Despite her win over Venus Williams last year, there still seemed to me to be a lot she could improve.

On the back of this performance however, you can't in all seriousness doubt her top ten credentials.

Suddenly the double bagelling of Mirza, which at the time I put down as a believable, if somewhat curious result, makes perfect sense. So does the fact that it took a match the like of which I don't expect to see again for a very long time, for her to drop her first set of the Championships.

I made a call that whoever came out on top in this match had a more than respectable chance of going the whole distance. I remain convinced of that, though you still have to think that Serena would have to have a slow start to allow Flavs to impress herself on the match.

I'll be rooting for Flavs.

It's not just that we need a new face in womens tennis and it certainly feels strange to take a position against the best player on the planet.

But I need to believe that it's not all microbial life out there, with the correspondingly shortened lifespan, playing to the limits of their very limited tennis, before dying mysteriously having not managed to string more than a couple of convincing wins out there.

Who else am I gonna rely on? Kuzzie?


Am I the only one not on the Oudin bandwagon?

It's not that I don't think she deserved each of those wins, but you'd have to have oversized blinkers on not to recognise the way each of the Russians more or less rolled over. As did Petrova today. I tell a lie - Shaza was injured.
Or did the media miss that too? Rolling over isn't something she's accustomed with.


Flushing Meadows: At last, Tennis IS Served...

I'm just about to leave the Zvonareva Penetta match at one set all.

They're doing this weird thing where they actually play tennis.

With what's gone on in the womens draw, I didn't think I'd see any of that this week.

But seriously now.

Every point is being played at a relentless pace with little or no UFEs. Double faults are not in season.

Just long, scrumptious rallies where every other shot hits the line.

Would you think I was getting carried away if I said that whoever wins here is a contender for the title?

Flavia's getting what's probably the world's most deserved back massage; the sight of which for once doesn't repel me.


Sunday, 6 September 2009

Flushing Meadows: On Depth and Despair...

"It's tough. I don't know if I've come to a tournament, a Slam, with as much confidence as I did with this tournament and leaving earlier than I want to.

"The fact that I was able to make the quarter-finals last year and I was playing just terrible, and didn't make it past the third round this year, that's just the way it is sometimes.

"That's the thing with sports - there's not always a good reason for it."

Andy Roddick's summation of a day in which he was eventually downed in a 5th set breaker after coming back from two sets down against John Isner.

The funny thing was it seemed a strangely appropriate result in a day that saw both Federer and Djokovic drop sets en route to unconvincing wins, and a day of utter carnage over on the women's side.

But it's also ironic, is it not, that Roddick ended up a casualty having been one of the only seeds managing to play to form.

I've never been hugely thrilled with the tennis the Isners and Ivos bring to bear, having previously termed them the 'wandering monsters' of tennis; but I think that John, on this occasion, deserves his dues.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Visibly fatigued in set four, he could quite reasonably have thrown in the towel, and that's what I thought I was seeing as he squandered point after point off of what should have been meat and veg forehands.

But he quickly composed himself and stuck in there with his uncomplicated blend of big serving and aggressive net play, and in the end was fully deserving of his win. He even whipped off his cap at the end to reveal the look of that likeable lad you went to school with, that your mum insisted you spend more time with, after spending over four hours wandering around looking like an uninvested, and uninvestable cyborg.

"Looking at that match, I don't know who was number four in the world," said Djokovic said. "It was a tough win. For either one it would have been well deserved."

A month or so ago I dismissed the assertion made by a commentator that Djoko was adopting the look and feel of a 'grinder' in this second phase of his career. Now I'm not so sure.

As great a game as Witten played (and yes this is more evidence of the depth in men's tennis), Djoko no longer plays with the same care-free, free-swinging attitude, at the peak of which he was able to hit the lines without so much as an afterthought. It's all a little too measured, which is goes against the grain of his natural flair.

When he does manage to hit a winner these days, it's played with such a large margin for error, that you needn't be a top ten or even a
top one hundred player in order to bring about turmoil.

Shame, really. With his supposedly more aggressive style of play, I still find myself preferring to watch him over Murray or even Nadal when he's in his element. But he's not going to win a Masters event, let alone a Slam, playing like this.

And so we come to Safina.

After the totalling of top seeds we've witnessed over the past few days, there were those that thought this might be the event that finally saw Safina buck the trend.

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It seems cheap and kind of desperate to say I told you so. But I did tellyaso.

That she perhaps had the easiest section of the draw somehow appropriately adds to the tragedy of it all.

Whatever gameplan Zeljko and Safina have forged is in urgent need of reexamination. It may have been, and probably was completely appropriate for her route to world #1. But as we are all now painfully aware, staying there is another proposition altogther. And on the evidence of the last few weeks things have all but run their course.

That said, Safina's still a very talented player fully capable of flourishing in a pestelential field of ne'er-do-wells.

Yeah I said it.

She's also an extremely hard worker, and it would be unfair to suggest that she can't work her way out of this. If this week has taught us anything, it's that Williamses aside, there's not a whole lot of depth to contend with, over which it won't take much for her to resurface.

Though I'll make no attempts to conceal that after spending the best part of this year trying to prop up the remaining dregs of talent in the womens game, a small part of me now wants to return to the B & B of derision and hostility.

I may as well also say that I was almost wishing for a non-Williams victory at this last remaining Slam of the year. Such a result would demonstrate that there's some life, however microbial, beyond the Williamses and bring about a curbing, if not an end, to certain rankings-related discussions and all derivations thereof.

There seemed to be a certain something in the air with the KimPova comeback, and the electricity of some of Elena and Vika's performances this year, that convinced me I wasn't being unrealistic.

Now I'm thinking that that 'something in the air' is a stench emerging from that cesspit of despair they used to call womens tennis. The depth of which some folk strangely continue to believe is what lies behind all the carnage.



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