Saturday, 30 January 2010

Melbourne: Palookaville.

Federer d. Tsonga 6-2 6-3 6-2

“I have a feeling that JW will be awestruck and Fed may end up blowing him off court.”

-- 2Hander, Tennis is Served… 28 January 2010 12:06

Sage like. I stand in awe.

It's not the first time either.

Mark all fan mail c/o ‘Tennis is Served…’.

I actually gave Jo-Wills more of a fighting chance – to radiate awesome for one competitive set, he may or may not have won.

federer (Photo: MARTIN PHILBEY/AFP/Getty Images)

Clearly one of the most dreamy beatdowns inflicted at this level since Fed went to the mattresses on A-Rod on this very same arena three years ago. A-Rod had the courtesy to arrive armed to the hiltJo-Wills brought a knife to a gunfight.

You know it’s been a bad day when you can only remember ‘Mr Slamdunk’ himself having made around three successful volleys.

Playing dink-a-boo tennis positioned metres behind the baseline is now as uniquely French as the Eiffel Tower.

Well he’ll not fart on my cart again – I’m done with him.

tsonga (Photo: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

I have nothing left to give.

Fear, hope, pain, anger, denial and despair - eventually, all things merge into one, and a shiver runs through it.


It’s difficult however not to be impressed by the form Fed brought to bear, despite his opponent seemingly so intent on going Palooka on us.

I’m not sure I’ve seen this much confidence exuded from him in over two years.

With Murray waiting in the final, and British Tennis having had to wait for 150,000 years, this couldn’t have come a moment too soon.

A few words of caution however:

1) I wouldn’t read too much into that 6-4 H2H Murray has over Fed – you only need take a look at the way he was taken to the cleaners in London and Toronto last year to know that the tide has turned.

2) I liked what I saw of Murray against Nadal. Against Marin – not so much. All a little too dink-a-boo.

That may have been a conscious play against a tired opponent.

It may also have been a lapsing into Muzz 0.7 now that there was no demonstrable need to venture out of his comfort zone.

I’m reserving judgement - for the next 32 hours.


Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Melbourne: Failed Deliveries & Grand ‘Slums’

Federer d. Davydenko 2-6 6-3 6-0 7-5

Alas, a match that promised us so very much, one that should actually have been given top billing in a night session (someone mind telling me how that happened?), but nevertheless failed to live up to our justifiably bloated expectations.

federer1 (Photo: Press Association)

This should have been billed as ‘Vintage Fed’ v ‘Post-Modern Davy’.

Except there was nothing vintage about it. Not unless vintage refers to Fed shanking his sets away, or a predilection for his opponents to wilt away in the assumed glare of his awesomeness.

Instead we were graced with four mind-numbingly routine sets of tennis, that wouldn’t have looked out of place in 2007.

Don’t let that first set fool you.

Davy only got off to ‘good’ start because Fed pulled off one of his infamous disappearing acts that sees him arrive somewhere in the middle of act two.

It didn’t take very long for Davy’s ‘form’ to be exposed for what it was: a facade masquerading as competence.

Don’t let’s pretend Davy’s form even partially resembled anything from London or Doha, just because it was one barely detectable notch above that horrendous outing him and Nando paved the way with 48 hours ago.

Nor for that matter was Fed’s form anything to write home about.

What, another four setter where he edges past Davy without playing his best tennis? So 2007.

You know Davy’s on when he’s able to string points together and take aim for (and hit) the lines. None of which took place until, at 2-3 down in that fourth set Davy broke back and we finally saw something of the type of play from both men, that should have featured in all four sets.

It lasted all of three games.

Li Na d. V. Williams 2-6 7-6 7-5

I’m still reeling from how bad this one was.

Or whether I hate V’s play more than her dress which, let’s be honest, leaves so very little to the imagination.

A match that left such an unbearable taste in my mouth, it led me to coin an award in it’s honour.

Congratulations Li Na and Venus Williams – joint winners of the ‘Grand Slum’ – awarded at each Slam to the poorest match played by the highest seeds left standing in the second week.

S. Williams d. Azarenka 4-6 7-6 6-2

Serena saves the day - and herself, in a monumental turnaround (from a set and 4-0 down) that’s being rightfully hailed as one of the best of her career.

Little sorry for Vika who was reduced to wondering (in vain) what she could do, having already produced her best tennis and seen it being made to look like an ineffectual mess.

Tsonga d. Djokovic 7-6 6-7 1-6 6-3 6-1

I’ve often thought that the grunt Djoko gives off when serving sounds a little too similar to him puking his guts out.

Last night, leading 2 sets to 1, he actually puked his guts out.

When he returned, he was devoid of almost all the intensity that had enabled him to reach this point.

Great win for Tsonga, though props due to Djoko
too for not taking the easy option of pulling out of a match he had no chance of winning.


Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Melbourne: ‘Murra’culous

Murray d. Nadal 6-3 7-6 3-0 (ret)

Shame it had to end the way it did.

But only the most rabid of Rafaelites will find it necessary to insist upon Nadal’s knees unduly influencing the result.

murray (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Truth be told, Murray earnt this win as cleanly and honestly as the day is long – north-of-Norway long.

What’s more is he did it, not with the wholesale aggression demanded by his severest critics -- the same dirtbags that expect Rafa to shorten points by reinventing himself as James Blake overnight -- but with a carefully conceived blend comprised of his most effective existing set-plays, further appended with BIG serving, forehand winners (when was the last time you saw him hit one of those) and selective serve-volleying that's not treated like some cheap substitute for a Holy Grail.

A combination that clearly threw Rafa, despite his resolute and focused start.

How about that.

nadal (PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)

Nadal may have pulled up painfully early on in that final set, but he played the two sets prior to it, almost at full throttle.

I saw nothing that would suggest he was playing through any pain early on– you simply cannot manufacture that sort of pulsating, vibrant physicality on court lugged with an injury, however well disguised.

We’ll leave the question of how Rafa’s knees will affect his remaining career (the demise of which could come as soon as the end of this year, depending on whom you speak with); let me note for now that coming unstuck against one of the tournaments most skilled competitors playing the match of his life doesn’t sully his record in the least.

That first set in particular was unmitigated class – likely the best set of tennis Muzz has played since late 2008.

Any regression into that grindy-murky past will however be quickly be seized upon by young Marin, who may have played three five setters to get to this point, but is perhaps at his most ravenous.

Don’t forget how much crazy pain you’re capable of playing through when you’re 21. Especially when there are such rich pickings to be had.


Monday, 25 January 2010

Melbourne: “Mr PlodStation”

Davydenko d. Verdasco 6-2 7-5 4-6 6-7 6-3

A pretty crummy performance from Davy if you ask me.

davydenko (Photo: Reuters)

“Mr Playstation” is no more, or has regressed temporarily into a ZX Spectrum.

There was nothing ‘high’ or ‘radiant’ about the highlights reel I saw, with both players struggling to keep the ball in court and Dasco gaffing his way to 81 UFEs.

He raised his game by one barely detectable notch in that final set, but one wonders if Davy would have made the finish line had Dasco displayed just a little more belief.

Loyalties aside, would we really want him to win his first Slam playing like this?

I can only hope this is something of a blip - he’ll be lucky to get a set off Federer playing this way.


Sunday, 24 January 2010

Melbourne: Purple Rain.

Roddick d. Gonzalez 6-3 3-6 4-6 7-5 6-2

It’s difficult not to crow too loudly about the way A-Rod weathered the torrential storm Gonzo brewed up on court yesterday.

roddick (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Anyone other than about two or three players I can think of would have been reduced to a sickly, gibbering wreck in the aftermath of that third set – a period in which Gonzo went through a patch so purple, it was difficult to breath.

A-Rod wore almost the same WTF’ed expression he had when Sue Barker held a mic to his face on Centre Court at Wimby all those many months ago.

Was it 2007 all over again?

Evidently not.

Call him a ‘grinder’, a ‘blue-collar player’, a ‘G.I. Jo’, call him nothing more than ‘a serve and a forehand’ if you must – but let no one accuse him of rolling over.

Marin next for A-Rod, who downed Delpo in five – not quite the call I made, though not the greatest of shocks.


Saturday, 23 January 2010

Melbourne: Round of Sixteen Preview.

Oh goody! I love the round of sixteen.

Not only is it the business end of a Slam, it’s the heart of a Slam.

I almost think of rounds one to three as a second phase of qualies within the main draw – a testing ground for new talent to make their presence known and for the top seeds to rid themselves of any remaining foibles and vestiges of rust.

I’ve learnt not to place too much stock in predictions – this year it’s proving nigh impossible.

There’s almost too much parity.

Federer v Hewitt

Guessing how many sets Fed will gift Hewitt before once again (very nicely) putting paid to the fairytale, is beginning to seem unnecessarily cruel and too much like betting on the results of an underground pit fight.

Still, Fed does seem more eager than he ever has, to gift at least the opener.

Fed in four.

Verdasco v Davydenko

Dasco’s not faced ‘credible’ opposition since the beginning of the event – and went to four very hard fought sets with Carsten Ball in his opener.

To put it bluntly, I didn’t expect to see him here.

To go from such lack of credibility to the incredibility Davy seems steeped in, might prove too much of a jump up. There’s also that 6-1 H2H to consider.

Davy in four.

Djokovic v Kubot

Kubot’s ranking’s gonna soar after this events over – though it’s largely Youzhny’s withdrawal in round three that’s responsible for that.

I’m not thrilled with what little I’ve seen from Djoko – too many overly-engineered forays to the net (you can thank Todd Martin for that), and not enough depth from the back of the court.

Still, early days and all that.

Djoko in straights.

Roddick v Gonzalez

Having seen neither play here, nor for that matter towards the back end of 09 – this one’s tough to call.

All I’m certain about at this point is that it could quite easily go five sets.

Roddick in five.

Tsonga v Almagro

Jo-Willy really ought to win this one easily. Almagro has already played two tough five setters he shouldn’t have, and Jo-Willy should have had his last very thorough tune up against Haas in the last round.

Tsonga in straights.

Cilic v Del Potro

This is where any self respecting tennis addict ought to find themselves.

A win for Cilic here makes his claim for entry to the big boys club that much more credible.

Though Delpo ought to be able to weather the best Marin sends his way and make the most of the inevitable let downs whenever they appear.

Delpo in five.

Murray v Isner

Murrays been deathly silent, clinically efficient in his journey through the draw so far.

Isner is very credible opposition, though also exactly the kind of lumbering target Murray enjoys taking aim at should he manage to return that serve.

Muzz in four.

Karlovic v Nadal

Bit sticky this one.

On the one hand it’s difficult not to be convinced by Nadal’s performance to date; however facing off with Ivo usually means getting embroiled in multiple tie breaks.

I still think he’ll find a way through mainly on the strength of his last round, where not all of Kohlschreiber’s best homoerotic hip-swivels were enough to derail him from a cause he’s obviously taken to heart.

At times it almost seems he’s less concerned with winning than finding his form and further flattening that forehand.

Nadal in four.

S. Williams v Stosur

I may as well say it - that injury Serena’s nursing is either not as bad as it looks, or she’s not played a tough enough match to expose it’s severity.

Either way it’s not impeded her so far.

With her serve and athleticism, Stosur can push her to three, but will have a hard time once Serena ups her game – which, injured or not, she does with infuriating regularity from the round of sixteen onwards.

Williams in two.

Zvonareva v Azarenka

Oh this ought to be good.

Both these girls have developed something of a taste for inflicting beatdowns at this event, and I have Azarenka only slightly ahead.

My head says Vika, my heart says Vera.

The longer it goes on the less likely Vika is to pull through

Vera in three/Vika in two depending on which side of bed I got out of.

Wozniacki v Li

Criticising Caz-Woz about her lack of initiative, and nicely-carefully-does-it approach to tennis is my favourite pastime.

But it’s in matches like these where that ability comes into its own.

Li’s one of the most natural strkers of the ball but it doesn’t take too much for her to unravel.

Caz-Woz in two.

Henin v Wickmaye

Surprising as it might seem, I know nothing about Wickmayer as a player other than that encounter she had with WADA last year.

Henin in two.

Petrova v Kuznetsova.

Yes Clijsters “sucked”, but Nadia’s one of the least appreciated players in the game.

And you know what? Kuznetsova sucked in her last round too.

Nadia in three.

Bondarenko v Zheng Jie

Big fan of both players.

Could go either way, though I currently have Alona as a slight favourite.

Alona in three(?)

Safina v Kirilenko

Safina’s been devastating in Oz. If she tames that unruly serve of hers, she’ll be as complete as she was during her best periods of 08-09.

Kiri’s had a great run but just hasn’t that sort of firepower.

Safina in two.

Schiavone v Venus Williams

There’s nothing to suggest that Venus won’t win this one – except a nagging suspicion I have that she’s not at her best.

I’ve seen her lose matches playing better than this.

Schiavone, on the other hand is having a fine run, and will be quick to make good on any sign of vulnerability.

Francesca in three.


Friday, 22 January 2010

Melbourne: Days 4 & 5 – “Shock Infested” Swamps

So it all happened out there yesterday.

It was hot, it was muggy and some of the play looked to have been extricated from a swamp.

Petrova d. Clijsters 6-0, 6-1

A shocker, but perhaps also something of required reality check. Cupcake Kim she’s most certainly no more, but even the most ardent of her fans would concede she’s not immune to the odd bad day at the office.

Perhaps more interesting was the the way she dealt with it in the presser:

"It sucks," she said. "I was completely off. She was good but I made all the mistakes and she didn't really have to do much. She served really well and was aggressive in the rallies, but that's because I let her play. It sucks that it has to happen at this stage of this tournament. If it happens in another tournament, then you can say: 'OK, it's not a big deal, just keep working hard.' Matches like this happen maybe once a year.

"You just try to stay calm because there were points where I really wanted to break my racket into pieces, but that's not going to help either, so you really just try to stay positive. At some points I was just happy I was hitting a ball in. That's how bad it was."

The Guardian

Yowza, Yowza, Yowza!

Kimmie 2.0 has very much arrived – with not a cupcake in sight.

She’s picked up on court largely where she left off after her first Slam, but it’s off court that the real transformation has taken place.

Kimmie 2.0 is a darker, more edgy figure, with a more Hingis-like, caustic world view of her opponents. She's also more comfortable using words like ‘suck’.

The rest of the year suddenly got more interesting.

Bondarenko d. Jankovic 6-2 6-3

First things first.

What on earth is going on with Jelena’s serve?

There seems to be a viral marketing campaign currently doing the rounds in women’s locker rooms, that like any properly constructed sales pitch, is disturbingly effective in signing up consumers for stuff they don’t need.

Jelena’s first serve was a liability………back in 2007.

It was never going to assume B-52 proportions but since then I did think she successfully fashioned it into something more competent, something she might use to do more with than simply start the point.

I’d put up a clip except I had my first run-in with Tennis Australia who insisted I take down those two Henin clips from my last post (You know you’ve arrived on YouTube when that happens for the first time, though whether a 50 second tennis clip actually infringes copyright or should come under what most would consider ‘fair use’ remains open for debate).

For now I’ll attempt to describe it as best I can.

From the peacock-like head cocking, to the bending of the knees to an angle so acute, you’d think she needs the type of knee protection Moto Rally GP drivers are routinely issued with.

The pay off for such excessive re-architecting? Darned if I can see it.

She may even have regressed.

As for the rest of her game, it’s not entirely in tatters – but a visit to the drapers wouldn’t go amiss.

What little rhythm she did manage to create, was quickly quashed by Bondarenko who I’m sure has come on leaps and bounds since the last time I saw her.

Sign me up as a fan.

Kuznetsova d. Kerber 3-6 7-5 6-4

Sveta left it all out on court in round two. It was smooth, it was dreamy and as always when she’s on song, so cruel it was cute – Pavlyuchenkova didn’t know what had hit her, with no idea how to respond even once she did.

I was even deluded into believing she might have taken that next vital step up to becoming comfortable in her skin as a two time Slam Champion.

She must have left it all out on court – because last night, there was nothing left.

She made Kerber look as good as she did, by letting loose a total of 43 UFEs (peanuts compared to Shaza’s first round outage, I know) – shoot anyone that tries to convince you otherwise.

This one should have been over in 1:25, instead it lasted over two hours.

Maybe starting after the Nadal match at 12am had something to do with it.

Champions sometimes have a stinker in the first week – but are conditioned into putting it behind them and playing their subsequent matches with such panache, you sometimes think they were undergoing necessary detox.

I’d like to think it’s that way with Sveta – except I’ve been wrong so many times.

Safina d. Baltacha 6-1 6-2

Brits have been busy celebrating the first time two women have reached the second round of a Slam outside of Wimbledon since 1992.

But Dinara poured hot tar over all of that yesterday - just like she has been in all her matches so far.

The difference in class was all too evident.

I’m rather liking the look of Safina’s groundies since the beginning of the event.

That serve however...

Henin d. Kleybanova 3-6 6-4 6-2

Justine dropped a set and has picked up a leg inflammation – no doubt from all those hours spent 'comparing notes' with Elena on court – could she be the next big story with a flat ending?

Nadal d. Kohlschreiber 6-4 6-2 2-6 7-5

Oh the unqualified joy of seeing the ‘Declinist’ position on Rafa’s game, being sequestered in it’s proper place.

I have no idea whether or not Rafa will go all the way – at this point I’d say that’s not all that likely, nor for that matter as important as the question of whether his play resembles something like that of Pre Wimby 2009: It does.

If there’s one thing Kohlschreiber deals in, it’s BIG-UPSET tennis.

This might just have gone the same way as his match with A-Rod did two years back, if Phillip didn’t run out of gas somewhere near the beginning of the fourth set.

We were all waiting to see Rafa go up against credible opposition, and Phillip might just have been the tonic with which to put a seal on Rafa’s revival.

The confidence very evident in the way he shunted back a once-in-a-career wide angled backhand winner that was so far out of court he had to go round the net post.

Yeah that’s what comes of not being able to post up YouTube clips anymore. Boo.

Cilic d. Wawrinka 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-2

This one had five set bruiser written all over it.

I didn’t get to see it – but it’s kind of the result I expected.

Stanislas has been all at sea since Wimbledon last year, a period that’s coincided rather nicely with Marin’s upward march.

Marin is “the new Delpo” according to some – a view I would almost share were it not for the fact that their styles of play are a little like oil and water.

But there’s no doubting Marin is the best placed to have a Delpo like breakthrough year.

Somewhat befitting then, he should be playing “Mr Breakthroughs-are-so-2009” himself, in the next round.

A match that could go either way if you believe there’s anything behind that wrist injury Delpo came into the event with.


I didn’t catch very much of the action from day four.

I’ll try and be quick.

Davydenko d. Marchenko 6-3 6-3 6-0

Kolya’s the man of moment right now, and something tells me this is different from the surge Nalbie experienced at the end of 2007. One that was promptly extinguished in Oz the following year (nice to have you back Daveed, almost).

I’m still not confident of him going all the way, but Davy looks awfully close to embracing at least some of the attention that goes along with taking out the best two players on the planet at consecutive events; he definitely has a different look about him this year – one that was in full show yesterday against poor old Marchenko , who to his credit didn’t play a poor match.

The top ten is sometimes a dark, murky place; full of untold misery for any hapless intruder unfortunate enough to blunder into the wrong party (remember Fed performing live vivisection on Delpo last year?), and Davy is currently it’s arch-executioner.

I do so want him to go all the way, but will for now be content with the knowledge that seeing him face off against Fed in the quarters might turn out to be every bit as good as the Rafa/Sod encounter we won’t now get to see.

Federer d. Hanescu 6-2 6-3 6-2

Normal service ‘resumptionalised’. For the time being.

Djokovic d. Chiudinelli 3-6 6-1 6-1 6-3

Having not seen any of Djoko’s matches so far, I’m not entirely sure where he is (yeah, that old chestnut). I’d like to think he’s been bolstered by that win in Paris last year.

Until I see him face off against Tsonga, Haas or Youzhny, who all lurk menacingly in his quarter of the draw however, I can’t be completely certain of that.


Not crazy about the “Hell’s Angel meets Kung-Fu Fighting” edition Sergio Tacchini have kitted him out with either. Though it’s far more preferable to the incoherent slather of colour Murray’s been daubed with. Especially beneath those ‘pits’.

V. Williams d. Bammer 6-2 7-5

This time last year I was highly optimistic of Queen V’s chances of fixing that gaping hole on her CV, by winning her first Slam on a blue surface since the early Noughties.

This year I saw nothing leading into the event that would suggest that’s even a remote possibility.

Dulko d. Ivanovic 6-7 7-5 6-4

It’s becoming difficult to avoid at least considering the possibility that Ana’s set to go the same way as Vaidisova, and understanding the root of her problems sometimes feels like a niche Philosophy.

I’m not about to embark on either.

There were some good signs in her play, but not very many, and more disturbingly an action that almost suggests she’s made her peace with wonky service tosses – they seem to have fused themselves into her game so stealthily, she’s now more inclined to adapt to an errant ball toss than she is to continue to try and work it out of her game.


Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Melbourne: The Next Best 'Match of the Year'

Henin d. Dementieva 7-5 7-6 (6)

With every match Henin plays against a top player now a likely contender for the the ‘match of the year’, it’s only going to get more difficult to keep up.

When she plays as good as this I find myself wondering why she’s so set on fiddling with that serve of hers.

I’m still unsure of quite what she’s attempting with it, despite being assured by several reliable sources that that toss really is that little bit higher and that she’s going for a little more on that first serve.

There was some of that last night – there were also first serves being bunted over at little more than 80mph and second serve faults that nearly landed on Dementieva’s shoelaces.

I’d like to see Henin serve her way to a Wimbledon title, I really would – but I’m not in favour of anything that might dissuade her from pulling off wonders like this.

Despite the collective swooning over that Brisbane final – which really was a contrast to the last couple of years of mediocrity – I always thought the second half of it was a somewhat scrappy affair.

Henin’s serve was (and continues to be) a work in progress and both players were making shed loads of UFEs – something Clijsters herself would later admit to.

With last night’s match, Henin has surely put paid to any remaining doubts about her groundstrokes.

Playing the best returner and likely the best athlete in the women’s game, she was always going to be forced to play longer rallies than she might otherwise have got away with.

A call she answered by exhibiting a range not seen in the game since she played Sharapova in the finals of the SEC back in 2007.

Do we really need a souped-up serve to further complement the most complete game of the decade?

I can think of only three other players in tennis capable of pulling that shot off: two of them have won Slams, and the other is named Nikolay Davydenko.

It’s difficult to fault Elena very much.

Was it really the best match of the year-to-date?

It’s certainly her second best loss incurred in the last seven months.

Despite what I said earlier, it seems that it’s the field that’s set to be more adversely affected by Henin’s being unseeded – Elena can surely not remember a more demanding second round in her entire career.


Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Melbourne: It Just Wouldn’t be Oz…

It just wouldn’t be Oz without the customary five set bruiser, would it?

You know, the ones that threaten to venture ever closer to the six hour mark and usually take place early on in week one.

It just wouldn’t be Oz without the pain.

mikail (PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)

It hurts Ma, it hurts real bad…

M. Youhzny d. R. Gasquet 6-7(9), 6-4, 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 6-4

Bruising (self inflicted or otherwise) and Mikail are never too far apart, and by the last two sets of this bash, I was quite unsure who I was rooting for, despite beginning the match firmly ensconced in Camp Reeshard.

Reeshard had a lot of baggage to shed from last year and a win here might have allowed him to wash the very last vestiges of ‘Pamela’ right out of his hair, nose and throat; except I think he might already have attended to the first of those, if that new shortened (somewhat thinning) hairdo he’s sporting is anything to go by.

Except Camp Reeshard is a notoriously precarious place, and brand loyalty not an especially precise science.

gasquet (PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)

Pain pain go away,

Come again another day,

Little Reeshard wants to play.

Remember that Agassi match from Flushing 06, where he eventually downed Baghdatis in five - where they were both cramping so much it was difficult to breath?

Let no digitally enhanced sports bio ever allow us to forget that this sort of thing is actually quite prevalent on tour.

By the last set and a half of this encounter, Mikail looked hamstrung, and possessed little or no upwards thrust on his serve. You could almost hear the formation of millions of micro-shreds in his muscle fibre as he cramped his way through the pain. Gasquet fared little better and looked to be coughing up the lining of his lungs in between each and every point.

Gasquet didn’t choke this one down the chute (thank goodness for that), though I do wonder if it would have been the same result had he taken greater risks with two sets already in the bag.

He who dares wins. Not always maybe, but when you’re both as crippled by pain and fatigue as these two were, it’s the smallest of risks that suddenly assume the greatest significance and often offer the greatest pay back.

Youzhny maybe shouldn’t have won this one, but it was he that was the more daring in that last set.

Difficult not to root for someone that’s prepared to smile through seven shades of pain for our amusement.


Federer d. Andreev 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/2), 6-0

In other matches Federer downed 'Igor the Forehand' in four.

Fed lost the first set, not as you might imagine by flaking away the way he did all his openers in London last year, but by ‘going to the well’ of Igor’s forehand once too often.

If a baby Rafael Nadal hadn’t happened upon a tennis court, Igor would be the undisputed heavyweight (and most top-spun) forehand in the game. Most people appear to recognise that.

federer (Photo: Press Association)

In fact in Igor we have what might be the closest Federer might get to playing a right handed facsimile of Rafael Nadal.

His name should be synonymous with big forehands, for in that first set he very much ‘Igored’ Federer. To his credit, Federer defended immaculately well, but it was the wrong play altogether.

Igor’s level of play was replaced, to Fed’s relief, with something altogether more penetrable in set two and in set three he managed to choke away all of three set points despite forcing things to a breaker he eventually lost.

Fed may have steamrolled him in the fourth, but he seems to agree with my view that this one was rather too close for comfort, and not entirely through any great lapses in his own play:

"I knew it was going to be tough," said Federer. "We played five sets in New York two years ago. I thought I was playing well even in the first set and thought I would hang in there.

"It was a tough first round and I'm really, really relieved I'm through.

"It was a tough third set, I definitely got very lucky to get out of that one. That's the way it goes sometimes, all in all I'm very happy with my performance."


Elsewhere, Davy rather begrudgingly accepted the opinion of some that he might be considered a 'favourite' at this year’s open, when interviewed this morning. Yeah you know, that eponymous title which Murray was bestowed with last year.

And then this:

"Now I feel like I can beat everyone," said Davydenko, who is trying to win a first Grand Slam title. "Before no, mostly I was losing against these guys (top players), but now I can beat everyone. It's a good feeling."


Everyone Davy? Beware, you’re mighty close to convincing me you believe you can actually win this thing.

Belief in rather shorter supply for Big Rob however, losing his opener to Granollers after being 2 sets to love up.

"I don't know what happened, I just didn't play well," said the Swede. "I started terrible and finished terrible."


Sounds terrible.

I feel terrible.


Monday, 18 January 2010

Melbourne: Shaza MKO’d.

kiri (Photo: Reuters)

M. Kirilenko d. M. Sharapova 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 6-4

Having never had a great deal of time for Maria-Kiri in the past, this win over Shaza ought to surprise me, except it doesn’t.

The few times I actually saw her play, I remember thinking that the pace on some of her groundstrokes could’ve and should’ve made her a contender, but that she lacked the consistency and belief to propel her to the top of the game – in other words, not that different from any of the other bright young things that fail to illuminate the WTA.

Yesterday was a slightly different story – though by the sounds of it, only for one set (which is all I saw).

During that set, MK played what is arguably the finest tennis of her career – Shaza’s groundies opened up well enough, but she quickly fell prey to those serving foibles of hers that have marred her way back since May of last year.

Soon afterwards, I switched off. Being 11 hours behind Oz means live coverage begins at the Witching Hour – and I wasn’t about to put off sleep for the ‘toil and trouble’ this match had now descended into.

MK had downsized back into her usual tentative self and Shaza, as I woke up to the news of this morning, had somehow found her way to 76 UFEs, making this her first opening round Slam exit since 2003.

And what did you all make of MK's shushing of the crowd (or Shaza?) upon winning match point - weren't these two meant to be the best of friends?

shaza (Photo: Press Association)

A large part of being Shaza however, is about planning the fight back and sticking it to the soothsayers. In that respect at least, she was true to form:

"It's a bad day and you have to get on with your life. There are many worse situations in life," said the former world number one.

"A bad day's not going to stop me from doing what I love. I'm still going to go back on the court and work hard and perform. I'll be back here on a Saturday of the second week, so you'll watch."


Yeah, you watch.

It’s a shocker, but I can’t help feeling this isn’t the last ‘shock upset’ we’re destined to see with Shaza.

MK isn’t the worst player in the world – and playing her best against anyone leaking 76 UFEs, should have as good a chance as any of coming out on top.

Shaza’s still capable of kicking-butt at the highest levels, but I suspect those butt-kicking episodes are likely now to be more disconnected, born of a more carefully managed regime of pacing her shoulder – one in which playing at such a high level week-in week out no longer plays a part.

Her ranking might take a hit as a result of that (does that really matter?) – but if she plans it carefully, gets past those serving foibles, I’d like to think it won’t affect her at the Slams.

Except in this instance, it maybe did.


In other matches, Murray, Rafa, Delpo, Kimmie, Kuzzie, Dinara and Justine all through safely.

Not to be missed: Justine to play Dementieva in round two – yes as soon as that - the downside of making your retirements ‘pseudo’.

The upside for all the rest of us.


Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Being Open about ‘Open’: Tennis Erotica, Dried Blood and Snorting Dragons

Brad greets the news of the Brandre split with “a toothy smile”.

The break up, according to him is the “best thing that could have happened to his tennis”.

Agassi’s licking his wounds holed up in “Bachelor pad #2”, into which he has a new fireplace installed (because I guess that’s the kind of thing you do after a break up).

Nothing soothes the grief-stricken soul like a well-stoked fireplace (and nothing offends it more than than a cheap imitation stoked with illusory coal fire).

Before long Brad’s seated comfortably in his favourite armchair and the two are watching late night highlights of a match featuring Serena Williams and Steffi Graf.

“That’s your play right there!”

The ‘play’ Brad has in mind is of course, Steffi Graf.

Andre had already tried one (unsuccessful) charm initiative with Steffi back in 1992, but Brad is adamant, and being Brad, won’t take no for an answer.


Andre’s pursuit of ‘Stefanie’ Graf (he’s adamant about using her full name) is, as you might have expected given that extra bit of loving attention and page space.

It’s a lengthy affair with Stefanie (who was in a relationship with a race car driver at the time) initially tentative, gradually opening up to the goof that is so obviously nuts about her.


It’s not all plain sailing: there are caveats to resolve, and the two still have very active careers to consider.

But this courtship and eventual marriage forms the undercurrent to most of the remainder of the book.

Agassi’s life is on the mend and everything that was once so intractable, misunderstood and downright irritating, is beginning to magically fall into place.

What follows is mostly a catalogue of how they grew ever closer whilst respectively navigating the demands of a very busy tennis calendar – a period that ended when Steffi famously declared in 1999 that she “was done” with tennis. She would begin to spend more and more time with Andre, attending his matches (his offer to book her a seat at Flushing is flatly refused, she “knew her way around that place”) and eventually moving in with him.

I myself, preferred the initial phases of the relationship, where Agassi so very resolute in his mission, has at the same time no compunction in embracing much of the the ridicule that goes along with being in love and having your underbelly exposed as a result of it. The later descriptions of them running together on a beach (The Blue Lagoon?) and discovering they too share a love of ‘Shadowlands’, seem to have been lifted straight from a candy-coated Brooke Shields movie.

Look out for his first practice hit with her, arranged quite deliberately (by Brad) so that he might hit on her. Steffi’s as ‘proper’ about things as you might expect, and apart from agreeing to share a court with him, is not giving an inch.

Be warned though, it’s not all tennis and romance – there’s also the steamiest survey of groundstrokes you’re ever likely to read without venturing into that curious halfway house of your bookstore that sits in between ‘Sports Bios’ and ‘Erotica’.

Everyone’s forehand is like a fingerprint, we are told: with ‘minute but concrete subtleties of force and spin’.

Andre makes it his mission to acquaint himself with “her subtleties”. Actually, go read it yourself.


Agassi entered the 1999 French Open with about as much confidence as is possible whilst recovering from an injured arm.

In fact were it not for Brad’s incessant badgering, he likely wouldn’t even have taken part.

Brad, in case you haven’t already noticed, is not your ordinary coach.

He plays Cupid, is Sage-like in his insistence that Andre play through his lowest ebbs, and was instrumental in fashioning Andre’s more emotionally attuned relationship with the game.

Everything about the occasion this time round, would seem to indicate it’s not meant to be: he’s even forgotten to pack underwear.

Any reader, whether they’re familiar with tennis or not, cannot fail to be struck by the digitally enhanced recounts of Agassi’s matches, which seem to have been captured with a photographic memory. Agassi claims to remember all the 1144 matches he played in this way, so it’s of little surprise that he reserves perhaps his most evocative visions of life on tour for his first Slam title back from the Dark Side.

Roland Garros clay resembles “dried blood”, and quite appropriately, his first round opponent’s Franco Scolari – the late 90s equivalent of David Ferrer, an encounter Agassi describes as “a street fight, a wrestling match and pistols at fifty paces”.

Agassi would get through, though he calls it “one of the most improbable wins of his career”.

During his match with Carlos Moya, Agassi discovers another more sinister side to himself, and we learn of his love of “maiming” the opposition, running his opponents ragged, and “cutting the legs out from them” - a match Agassi dubs “Run Moya Run”.

Not quite the point finisher we take him for then.

A subtle wrinkle in his game specifically for RG, or a result of learning to enjoy tennis for it’s own sake?

We never find out – it’s interesting though, that we never once (apart from ‘The Summer of Revenge’) got sight of this darker side of Andre during all those years of pronounced hatred.


His opponent in the final is Andriy Medvedev, a guy whom Andre met in a bar some time back (after his own divorce with Brooke), and who was at the time undergoing a tennis crisis of his own.

“I’m done with tennis!”, barks a 24 year old Andriy, a couple of glasses away from a drunken stupor.

For better or worse, Agassi (now 29) had by now come through drugs, injury and divorce, and you might understand why he at first appears a little indignant at the young (drunk) hot head, who doesn’t appear to know his a*s from his tennis elbow.

Agassi was by this point over the worst and was empowered and non-conflicted enough to give Andriy a “Bradesque” appraisal of his game, and how he might turn things around for himself.

Since that day Andriy has followed Agassi’s advice to the letter, and is seemingly on the mend.


Gil had previously remarked that Agassi was on “a collision course with destiny”, but Agassi now realises his collision course is not with destiny, but with “a fire breathing dragon which I helped to build”.

A dragon Andre? Again? But of course.

The final is as graphic as the Baghdatis encounter from the beginning of the book.

Andriy quickly races to a 2 set lead, and would hold match points before the weather and a lot of hot air from Brad in the locker room would intervene.

The sun dries the clay and the pace picks up. Andriy’s had “too long to think about winning” , and is now “living in the past”. Haunted by it.

The dragon begins to snort through his nostrils.

Agassi would win the next two sets, and then the match. Just before the final game, Brad would hold up four fingers. “Four more points – four points equals all four Slams”.

“…I’m terrified by how good this feels: winning isn’t supposed to feel this good – never supposed to matter this much – but it does, it does – I can’t help it.

“I walk off the court blowing kisses in all four directions, the most heartfelt gesture I can think of to express the gratitude pulsing through me.

“I vow that I will do this from now on, win or lose, whenever I walk off a tennis court. I will blow kisses to the four corners of the earth thanking everyone.”

-- ‘Open’, An Autobiography

Agassi would also later reflect how the win made him feel 'worthier' of Steffi.

Winning a Slam whilst going commando, and getting the girl - not a bad few months' work.


All images on this site have been found in the public domain.
Credit has been given wherever possible.
If you feel your copyright is being infringed upon by any particular image, please contact me and I'll have it taken it down.

You Said...

Powered by Disqus

Receive Updates by Email...

Enter your email address:

  © Free Blogger Templates Spain by 2008

Back to TOP