Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Miami: Freud, Pestilence and a Universal Theory of Everything


Fed’s season of pestilence is upon us once more.

Berdych d. Federer 6-4 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (8-6)

Whatever spores have given rise to Fed’s inexplicable and at times unnerving results at IW/Miami over the past four years are in full bloom again.

It can be both spiritually satisfying and comforting to our analytical fibre to have it all explained to us – a theory both simple and elegant that in a single sweep, ties up all those loose ends and affords us a rational basis for what is ultimately conjecture.

Not that different perhaps to Scientists’ uncompromising quest for a Universal Theory of Everything.

Reading through some of the post-match commentary however, I was reminded of a quote from an article I’d read earlier this week on Freud’s attempts at capturing something of Da Vinci’s mystique:

His [Freud] famous book on Leonardo da Vinci is anything but conservative. Making bold claims about Leonardo's sexuality, personality and the way works of art relate to real life, his book on this Renaissance genius is hugely suggestive and stimulating. It's one of the classics on Leonardo and always will be.

But what is wrong with it is the belief that art can ultimately be theorised and explained. It's not that Freud gets the artist wrong – his essential claims are convincing, his characterisation of the genius's indecisive and gentle personality acute – but that the quest for ultimate origins and final explanations seems futile.

-- Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

There is of course little wrong with seeking to understand the nature of Fed’s losses in terms of an all-encompassing and poetic theory that would appear to follow on from the natural fabric of tennis reality – I should say such an impulse is as innate to the human psyche as anything else Freud might have attributed to it.

Needless to say it’s also both proper and befitting to seek out an altogether more rudimentary explanation to the apparent rot that’s set in to his results at IW/Miami – events he’s won thrice and twice in succession respectively.

But can we really hope to capture the totality of what drives the man and the tennis within him - and frame it in one (admittedly pithy) sentiment?

Not all theories on the workings of the universe are nearly as elegant and concise as popular science would have you believe.

Some are several pages long, born of excessive shoe-horning and still only an approximation of our partial understanding of the forces and matter that surround us – the provenance of Epistemology rather than any exacting science.

Not that dissimilar I think, to what we’ve seen with Federer over the past four years.

1. The Guillermo Double Whammy (2007)

Not a South American Tag Team Wrestling move, but the first signs perhaps that all was not well in Camp TMF – at least not when he’s nursing doubts.

It’s worthy of our consideration I think, that this defeat followed a period widely acknowledged as an all time high in respect of his form– a period that began at the back end of 2006 and carried through to Oz in early 2007.

Was there perhaps the faintest awareness of the apparent implausibility of being able to maintain those unprecedented highs?

If there were any insecurities, then the backboard that is Canas was just the man to tease them out.

2. The All-American Beatdown (2008)

Clearly in a funk for the best part of the year – and then some. I’m almost indifferent now to the question of how much mono had to do with this - attempting to rationalise those losses to Fish and Roddick strikes me as about as meaningful as a treatise on the efficacy of Gordon Brown’s hair products.

An absolute horror of a year that would see further losses to Simon, Karlovic and Blake.

3. Racquet-Gate (2009)

More complex this one.

There was certainly something of a hangover from the absolute lows of 2008 and that loss he suffered to Nadal in Oz was, as we all now know, “killing him”.

Fertile grounds for the seed of self doubt.

4. 2010???

Inclined to agree with the Picket Fence thesis that he’s having a problem with motivation and conserving momentum in particular – to what end indeed, is momentum to be conserved if it’s not leading up to anything other than the start of the clay court season?

A thesis that assumes even more weight when viewed under the lens of Fed’s post-sixteen agenda.

The common denominator in all these cases is the absence of a common denominator – certainly not enough raw ingredients to begin conceiving a Universal Theory of Everything.

He’s not won Canada in three years either, with the losses incurred to Simon (2008) and Tsonga (2009) not substantially different to anything we’ve seen here - are we to assume the air is stale there too?

The match itself, aside from the second set, was another tawdry affair, with Fed just two points from going out in straight sets and unable to make good on a match point of his own in the third.

Nobody’s gladder than I am that Berdych put right whatever’s been holding him back these past five(?) years (even if it is only for a couple of matches) – but only those with a vested interest in seeing Federer lose would try and pretend he was at the races – or anywhere near the ticket booth in fact.

Perhaps the most revealing viewpoint came from the man himself:

“Look, it's no secret I've struggled the last, what is it, five matches I've played here in the States.

“But I fought as much as I could under the circumstances with my game having issues at the moment. Definitely lack timing. I don't know where that comes from, because I played so nicely in Australia.

“It (losing) fuels my desire to go to the practice courts, because I don’t like to lose these type of matches”


Push come to shove I’d say the lengthy gap he’s been taking in between Oz and IW over the past two years has something to do with it, but really, “I dunno where it comes from” either.

(Photos: Al Bello/Getty Images and THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Wilfredo Lee)


Miami: “Lose” Cannon.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Soderling d. Gonzalez 6-0 6-7 6-2

Bit disappointed with this one. For a match that threatened to bring the house down in no uncertain terms, it was all strangely subdued and anything but certain – from Gonzo at least.

You could argue Big Rob didn’t allow him to settle into any kind of rhythm - to which I say he shouldn’t have to.

Whatever else you might say about The Gonz, he’s not generally known as a shrinking violet. It’s unqualified folly to speculate on what might have been, but had he displayed even half the intent shown in set two throughout the match, we might at least have had one.

I never thought I’d hear myself saying this, but for one night only, Gonzo’s cannons weren’t loose enough.

Nadal d. Ferrer 7-6(5) 6-4

A hugely visceral and entertaining match made much more so by how scrappy both players allowed things to get.

Ferrer didn’t convert the chances he got in the first set, and Rafa didn’t appear anywhere near as penetrating or assured as he was in IW.

I don’t like it – it doesn’t bode well for Rafa to have this much trouble against someone he has an 8-2 H2H against.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Tsonga d. Ferrero 6-2 6-2

Quite possibly the best performance from anyone this week. I know he was “only” playing Ferrero, but it’s not often you see him bring it together so confidently – heads tend to roll when he does.

There were points during this match where it appeared he could do no wrong. We’re all acutely aware however, of just how much wrong he’s capable of.

Still spells trouble for Rafa.


Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Miami: Hand-Me-Downs and French Effervescence

V. Williams d. Hantuchova 1-6 7-5 6-4

A match in which we saw the worst (set one) and (in the second half of the final set) the best of Venus Williams.

The match reports I’ve read suggest V turned it around in set two – well of course she did, else she wouldn’t have won it silly.

Don’t let’s pretend however that she applied (or was even capable of applying) the stranglehold until well into the business end of that final set. Before that it was spotty and at times potty, to say the least.

Dani seems to have effected something of a turnaround since the last time I saw her – and that was quite a long time ago. I didn’t enjoy watching her when she was a top tenner: neither a herd of wild horses nor a string of more demure Shetland Ponies will likely induce me now.

Still, she did manage to impress me a little with what she achieved out there – trouble is, you get the feeling what was achieved was likely on the back of some horrendous hand-me-downs from Venus and a Krajan-like spell Mr Cahill tried to cast on Dani during the changeover.

In vain, as it turned out.

Venus up one set against Aggy as we speak – give me one good reason why this should not be over in straights. I can give you three.

Federer d. Serra 76 76

Not a great day at the office for TMF either.

It wasn’t quite Long-Shanks, though not all of those forehands were what you’d call clean strikes, and the serving was really quite sketchy.

His focus however was also compromised by a Frenchman with a disposition so effervescent it made you want to crack open the bubbly.

Serra was quite simply the antithesis of everything I find objectionable about French tennis on a bad day (of which there are many) with his uncompromising intent to remain rooted on the baseline and let rip even in the face of an all-encompassing adversity- not that different actually from Simon Greul.

Que Serra Serra?


Clijsters d. Azarenka 6-4 6-0

A letdown.

That said, it surprises me not that Kimmie won. She seems to me to be uniquely placed to expose Vika’s poor movement and inability to play big budget tennis without the one commodity Kimmie seemed adamant to deprive her of – time.

Henin d. Zvonareva 6-1 6-4

The match that would appear to suggest that IW really was a blip.

Photos: Getty


Monday, 29 March 2010

Miami: “Lazy Brilliance”

Nadal d. Nalbandian 6-7 (8), 6-2, 6-2

For a set and a half, it seemed like it was 2007 all over again, as Daveed caressed us with what Leif Shiras lovingly termed “lazy brilliance”.

That dreamy mix of flat ball striking and fairy-tale movement that leaves the court shimmering in his wake.

I suppose you can call it lazy: there’s certainly something casual and unassuming about the way in which he appears to expect brilliance. But the sight of Daveed making those silky smooth transitions into court seemingly drunk in a haze of his own brilliance usually spells trouble.

This time last year Nadal all but admitted to being in awe of his backhand – in fact he spent the best part of their encounter at IW last year avoiding it (let’s just say that play backfired even though he won the match).

He didn’t make the same mistake today, though appeared both shaken and vulnerable after losing that first set – that losing H2H surely playing on his mind in part.

It’s as well he held things together, as more and more of Nalbie’s brilliance gradually began to unravel before us. The trouble with naturally gifted players like Nalbie and Sveta is they don’t know when to stop demanding brilliance, lazily or otherwise.

Perhaps it was also his lack of match fitness (so widely prefigured) that came to the fore – that at least would appear to suggest he wouldn’t have survived his next match even if he found his way past Rafa.

I don’t care. This ranks amongst the best comebacks from hip-surgery I’ve ever been privy to – a scarred wasteland from which only the most battle-hardened even dare attempt to emerge.

He’s still only 28 – and there’s still a certain easy brilliance about him. Long may he laze in it.

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images


Saturday, 27 March 2010

Miami: Upset-me-nots and What Not.

I wasn’t that intent on posting until after coverage began today – then this happened.

Rochus d. Djokovic 6-2 6-7 (7-9) 6-4

"He picks up the ball very early and he runs all over the court. He was playing really well today, so I want to congratulate him. Definitely he deserves it."

-- Djokovic on losing to Olivier Rochus

A “how’d that happen” result if ever I saw one.

Djoko’s form just like his disposition yesterday, has appeared slightly frayed since the season began. If it has sometimes seemed like he’s been trying rather too hard to shake off an awareness he must surely feel of the built in limitations of the way his game has evolved, it’s because he has.

As to Rochus, this wouldn’t be the first (and won’t be the last) time he’s “Zheng-Jied” a top ten player.

Perhaps not that “how’d that happen” after all.

Henin d. Demmie 6-3 6-2

I didn’t see any of these matches – though this result in particular was in some ways the least surprising.

The Belgian comeback has been slightly derailed since the beginning of the year, with Kimmie going out early twice in the most inauspicious of circumstances and Henin seemingly suffering a similar fate at IW.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that “cherry picking” your way through the calendar is not as easy as the Williamses make it seem.

To which I say, agreed, though they have been doing it for a lot longer than either of those other two.

Even so, it’s been Kimmie rather than Juju that’s born the brunt of the censure – whilst it’s not been that difficult to think of IW as something Henin can and will bounce back from, Kimmie’s results remain as inexplicable as ever.

Agreed on that point too.

Demmie’s poor showing in IW was perhaps her worst in around a year (sorry Aggy, your win over her was closer in nature to a default).

All of which meant I wasn’t expecting this to be their second consecutive Academy Award Nomination for match of the year. Seems I was right.

Roddick d. Andreev 6-4 6-4

Yeah he beat ‘The Forehand’, but that’s not the half of it.

The half of it is that his section of the draw just went to pot.

With Djoko, Querrey, Ljubicic and of course Andreev all out, I’d say a semi-final spot is now all but a certainty.

Photos by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images


Friday, 26 March 2010

Miami: Distilled Thoughts.

Can Federer snap the four year losing streak?


Said enough about this already, and we all have our theories on why the Fifth Slams continue to plague him so.

As an aside, more and more of tennis’ chattering classes seem to be leaning towards Rome as a more amiable fit for any such Fifth Slam designation, both historically speaking and with tennis currently garnering a more international appeal.

I question the notional value created by any such Fifth Slam, but if we are to have one, why not Rome?

Both Serena and Venus (*double take*) have won the title once and let’s just say Rome 2006 remains only slightly less etched into my cellular membrane than Wimbledon 2008.

There is one other thing of course: Fed’s never won Rome. Nor it seems is designating it a fifth Slam likely to do much for his chances there.

The takeaway: Have as many notional Slam denominations as you want – it’s the perfect Goat jinx-out.

Is Ana’s snapping of her four match losing streak a sign of things to come?

(Photo: Getty)

Too early to say.

But I’d like to attribute at least something to Heinz Gunthardt, not in terms of trying out anything fundamentally different perhaps, but by virtue of simply being possessed of a different face.

She plays Aggy next, a match you’d have to be a Philistine not to want Ana to win - and that’s coming from an A-Rad fan.

Will Murray be exposed by Soderling again?

He’s in his section of the draw again, and it’s not just me that thought Murray looked especially ineffectual against Big Rob in IW.

Oz certainly seemed to demonstrate how far he’s come – IW on the other hand, seemed to demonstrate how uniquely susceptible he remains to a Big Rob free-wheeling at his very best.

Let me be blunt: I don’t think he can beat him without some sort of letdown on the part of Soderling. Big Serving might aid his cause too.

Is Caz-Woz the ‘Real’ #2?

har-har-HARDY-har-har. Back here again are we?

Nothing against her – aside perhaps from the overly-polished and slightly contrived way in which she conducts herself on the winners/runners-up podium – all a matter of taste after all and not really her fault considering she’s only 19 and clearly not one to wear her heart on her sleeve.

But let’s cut to the chase shall we?

She’s accumulated bucket loads of points by committing to the JJ-quantity-over-quality-schedule, playing so unadventurous a brand of tennis it threatens to make Aggy look positively fierce.

If Aggy is a pusher – I put it to you all that Caz-Woz is a prodder.

There may be a place in tennis for that, but I’d hope it’s not anywhere near the top five.

The good news is she’s got oodles of time to fix it.


Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Miami: Mens Preview

“Lest we forget”.

12 months and 3 Slam Titles later…

1st Quarter

Contenders: Federer, Berdych, Verdasco, Baggy, Cilic

Party Poopers: Federer out to Berdych (R4)

Needs to happen: Cilic v Baggy (R3)

Sympathy Vote: None.

IW/Miami has proved something of a double whammy for Fed over the last four years.

My guess is he’ll fare somewhat better this time round, though with Berdych and Baggy’s fettle looking finer than ever, a single lapse might be one too many.

I’ve had visions of greatness for Marin since late last year, visions that were digitally restored by the events in Oz: losing 7-6, 6-0 to Garcia Lopez at IW however, wasn’t amongst them.

Visions of greatness or Delusions of Grandeur? You decide.

Sock-pulley-up-time, or it won’t be long before “the next Delpo” is roundly castigated as “the next Baggy”.

2nd Quarter

Contenders: Muzz, Wawrinka, Youzhny, Gonzo, Soderling

Party Poopers: Muzz out to Lopez (R3)

Needs to happen: Soderling v Gonzo (R4)

Sympathy Vote: Youzhny. Dubai reminded me why I enjoy watching him so much. Then he got injured.

Muzz/Soderling QF rematch is very much on. Without the requisite amount of firepower around to ensure it’s not.

Sod v Gonzo should also (quite literally) be a bash.

3rd Quarter

Contenders: Tsonga, Kohlschreiber, Isner, Ferrero, Ferrer, Karlovic, Troicki, Nadal

Party Poopers: Tsonga out to Kohlschreiber (R3)

Needs to happen: Tsonga v Kohlschreiber (R3).

Sympathy Vote: Nalbie.

Plenty happening here. The top half seems more fraught with peril, meaning it’s difficult to rate Jo-Wills chances that highly. Isner likely represents the better bet.

Somewhat less perilous draw for Rafa whose only probable obstacle comes in the form of Ivo. That is unless Nalbie manages to turn back the clock. Which I rather hope he might.

4th Quarter

Contenders: Roddick, Robredo, Ljuby, La Monf, Querrey, Djoko

Party Poopers: A-Rod out to Igor ‘the Forehand’ (R2)

Needs to happen: Ditto

Sympathy Vote: Mario Ancic and James Blake

What say you of Ljuby’s chances this time round?

Rough draw for A-Rod with Andreev, Bennetau and Ljuby likely consecutive opponents.

Nothing I see in Djoko's section leads me to believe he won't find a way to grind his way through it.


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Miami: Ladies Preview

1st Quarter

(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Contenders Kuzzie, Bartoli, Wickmayer, Li Na
Upsets waiting to happen Kuzzie out to Szavay (R3)
Needs to happen Bartoli v Kuzzie (R4)
Sympathy Vote None at all. No one. Not the least bit emotionally invested in this quarter. Yes it really has come to that Kuzzie.

Bit of a sticky one this. In some senses, whoever comes through this quarter will be something of a surprise. That’s not a good thing.

2nd Quarter

(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Contenders Venus, Petrova, Penetta, A-Rad
Upsets waiting to happen Ana out to Bammer (R2)
Needs to happen Penetta v Lisicki (R3), Venus v Penetta (QF)
Sympathy Vote Ana.

Blow this one Ana and you’ll be playing qualies. It’s as simple and every bit as bad as that.

3rd Quarter

(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Contenders JJ, Zheng, Stosur, Clijsters,Peer, Vika
Upsets waiting to happen Stosur out to Navarro (R2), Clijsters out to Peer (R3), Vika out to MJMS (R3)
Needs to happen Clijsters v Vika (R4)
Sympathy Vote I’m still on the JJ train – at least until she consolidates on IW

What are the odds that JJ falls flat on her face at the Fifth Slam less than a week after winning that other Fifth Slam? I don’t wanna know.

Also not liking the pressure Vika must be feeling to defend all those points.

4th Quarter

(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Contenders Demmie, Henin, Kleybs, Bepa, Franny, Caz-Woz
Upsets waiting to happen Demmie could TOTALLY go out to Henin (R2) who thereafter goes out to Cibulkova, Bepa out to Kleybanova (R3), Woz out to Kirilenko (R3)
Needs to happen Bepa v Demmie (R4)
Sympathy Vote Bepa, just coz she lost shed loads of points at IW

That early match up between Demmie and Henin could prove (as it did in Oz) to be the match of the year. Or you know, it might not.

Kleybanova currently in the midst of an ‘Isner moment’. Heads may roll.


Indian Wells: Don’t EVER “Colour me Surprised”

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

-- Please don’t tell me you saw this one coming. Please don’t reverse-engineer/retrofit your analyses of the last 5 days to make it sound like you “liked the look” of Ljubicic all week (I still find myself liking the look of Ernie, doesn’t mean that Delray Beach won’t remain his crowning achievement for a very long time). And please, please don’t “colour me surprised”. DON’T EVER “colour me surprised”.

-- If you really did see this coming (and aren’t currently under the tutelage of the Mad Hatter), I can only assume you have already made your fortune as the tipsters’ tipster, and are at this moment reading this comfortably ensconced in your newly acquired $190,000/square metre 2nd floor apartment in Avenue Princess Grace, Monaco - all forms of tennis speculation now mostly behind you.

-- Anyone that defeats Djoko, Nadal and A-Rod consecutively and as convincingly as Ljuby did, deserves the title more than either of those three and certainly more than anyone else. I’d like to see Ljuby replicate this form at the Slams, except they are indeed “different animals”. Just like the man said they were.

-- I made much of what Rafa and Soderling had to gain by winning here, but it occurs to me that the most patently radical measure of “worthiness” the least loaded definition of “deserving”, simply involves winning 7 matches in a row beating three top tenners enroute (two of which are top four) further underlines said worthiness.

-- Roddick played an exceptionally clean and, I would say, tactically mature first set – only to be unceremoniously upstaged in a tie break. Ljuby was the better server with Roddick seemingly the more confident from the baseline.

-- Both appeared more vulnerable in set two. Roddick could probably have taken more chances: there was clearly a sense that Ljuby would have fared less well without that monster of a serve of his. Except he wasn’t without it.

-- At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Ljuby ’s Serve was a rock: the significance of this cannot be emphasised enough. Without it, I suspect he would have been broken at least once in set two.

I might be wrong about this, and it’s certainly true that a third set may have gone either way, but I don’t think Ljuby looked particularly fit or able to go at it tooth and nail for another hour – it’s as well he served it out when he did. Which of course he almost didn’t.

-- It wasn’t all about the serve though – Ljuby had had real purpose behind those smooth, rolling groundies of his all week.

-- The backhand is of course, a thing of beauty. Ljuby takes special pride in dispatching high bouncing single handed backhands, which he does better than just about anyone else in the game – his height and uncomplicated, repeatable motion inevitably play their part in bringing that about. Should we be that surprised he coped with Rafa’s forehand to that wing rather betterer than Federer might have?

-- Some of his forehand winners were also right up there with anything we saw from Big Rob. No really. And yes I am still in mourning after that semi final loss.

-- If anything, I’d say he looked rather less confident at the net than he had all week. Somewhat easier now, to be able to relive that very Golden Ljuby-Mario Davis Cup partnership from 5 years ago, no?

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

-- First off, what’s with the kryptonite-like trophies that the winner can’t even lift, much less pose with (a hastily constructed plinth was eventually arranged)? Ljuby -- all 6’4” of him -- probably only managed it after a clean-and-jerk.

-- Why the lengthy, droning monologue plugging BNP Paribas (at least three times in every sentence) that would have seen Dr Seuss scrambling for cover?

And if we really must (economic climate being what it is, BNP Paribas does represent quite a conquest), how about we get that out of the way before summoning up the Champion for their trophy? Instead of making her hang around awkwardly like a ball girl, I mean.

-- I don’t intend to philosophise very much about whether JJ is ‘back’ or not. Well, maybe just a little then.

My antennae were fully attuned after her fourth round clash with Errani (a player not as obviously endearing as her compatriots Franny and Flavlova maybe, but just as compelling).

She seemed a little displaced in her subsequent matches electing to do as little as possible to get through.

The final saw a return to a level of play not that far removed from late 2007.

-- JJ’s movement and defensive skills are well known. What’s less frequently a feature of any commentary surrounding her, is the incredible knack she has of playing the right shot at the right time, the length she gets on her DHB in particular and how uniquely adept she is at moving her opponent around (and off balance).

-- Her well-publicised lack of a knockout blow (or one which packs any meaningful weight) is a matter of public record. But it also means she sometimes gets unfairly cast as a ‘pusher’.

-- Let there be no mistake about this: unless she’s playing truly awful (which she has been all too frequently over the last year), JJ does go for her winners – just not as early as some of her colleagues. The fact that they lack bite, does not turn her into a pusher. Or at least that’s the way I see it until I’m swept away by the next revisionists’ reawakening.

-- Wozniacki played poorly, perhaps not a patch on any of her performances this week. But not only did I expect JJ to out manoeuvre her – I loved that she out manoevred her.

-- This was a textbook case of the headgirl beating up on the young fledgling – and tossing her head whilst doing so. Not at her opponent, but almost in surprise at how effortless and painless it can all be when it comes so naturally. By which I mean there were smiles to be had. Plenty of smiles.

-- Woz did make a few half-hearted, desperate attempts at reeling off some winners (you can generally count her total winners over the course of a match on one hand) – but really, never was the need to break out of her comfort zone more amply demonstrated.

We actually got a sneak preview of the carnage that was to follow in the semis against Aggy – a match made completely unwatchable by the proclivity of both players to refrain from anything that might be construed as “stepping out a little”.

-- Whilst it’s true Caz-Woz has plenty of time to develop that elusive WMD, it’s also true that any player worth their salt (and with more sting on their groundies) wouldn’t have given her half as much time on court. Noteworthy too I think, that both here and at the US Open last year she didn’t face a single elite gunslinger.

If she is to be considered a contender against the likes of the Williamses, Clijsters and Henin, she’ll need to locate those WMDs sooner rather than later. I say she’s not looking hard enough. Or in the right place.


Saturday, 20 March 2010

Indian Wells: ‘Meet-and-Not-Greet’

Easier to let the (moving) images do the talking, no?

Big Rob firing backhand slices that leave Murray (of all people) spitting blood?

This match was always in danger of being the subject of misanalysis in one of two ways:

1) Robin having a let down, and the subsequent high UFE count resulting in Murray’s dink-a boos being credited as the height of “crafty tennis”.

2) Murray being free-wheeled off court by Robin’s abominable big swingers, resulting in those all too familiar accusations of Murray’s passiveness.

We’ve had some of (2), though thankfully not very much.

He could have served better perhaps, but really, Murray was never going to win this one without some kind of a let down from Robin – and that hasn’t come all week.

All of which brings us to the question of Rafa.

Never has the possibility of a meet-and-not-greet between the two had so little to do with ill-will and so much to do with what actually happens on court.

For Rafa, a win here on Sunday must be said to represent a very welcome line under the unwholesome happenings of the last ten months – even if it leaves me less than convinced that every last one of those questions that remain over his fitness have suddenly dissipated into thin air.

For Robin, it would underline his deserved top ten status and truly announce him to the unconverted few as the real deal. I wouldn’t imagine there’s that many.


Friday, 19 March 2010

Indian Wells: “Didn’t see HIM coming”

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

If there is to be anything more surprising than the upsets we’ve seen this week, it’s surely the way Big Rob keeps slipping under everyone’s radar.

I don’t get it (not least because he doesn’t seem like someone that adept at “slipping under” anything).

The ripples generated by his win over Rafa last year were so forceful they actually crossed over into other sports - there can be no pleading ignorance on the grounds you “didn’t see him coming”.

Form? Straight sets win over all his opponents, sometimes in the most devastating way imaginable (c.f. Jo-Wilfried). Ok, so you could say the same about A-Rod (there’s not been that many tongues wagging about him either), except he didn’t have to play Korolev, Lopez and Tsonga.

I’m not ready to make anyone my pick this year (it’s been that sort of event) though you could do a lot worse.

Murray will need to be at his most tactically astute and put shed-loads of first serves in to even get a look in.


It may not be the line up you expected, but the fact remains: all four womens semi finalists are top ten players (or very soon will be).

Jankovic – Puzzling. Her match against Errani, despite the high UFE count, was amongst the best of the week, featuring movement and shot selection not seen from her in well over a year.

Not half as convinced with her performance against Kleybanova – who only showed up for a couple of games midway through set two. Shame – it’ll do wonders for JJ’s confidence to win this thing, but she’s not going to get away with the same mistake twice.

Radwanska – Equally puzzling. She actually seemed to match Bartoli’s pace – which is a day I never thought I’d live to see, but reverted back to her unique brand of slight-framed tomfoolery against a Dementieva who, to be frank, wasn’t at the races.

Wozniacki – Nothing Woz does ever comes close to inspiring me much – that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. She’s never willing to step out of her comfort zone – I don’t actually know that that there's that much to step out to. With the four remaining semifinalists however, she might not need to.

Stosur – I quite like what Stosur brings to the WTA, though I haven’t been much impressed this time round. She’ll be a top tenner on Monday, though is playing a shocker against JJ as we speak.


Thursday, 18 March 2010

Indian Wells: Playing Catch Up

So a busy couple of days and my neighbour deciding to scaffold over the cable that brings in my sat signal minutes before they’re due to broadcast highlights of Baggy’s win over Fed, mean I’m a little behind, and a little out of sorts.

It also means I’ve largely relied on 2nd hand accounts to piece together an understanding of what happened.

Still gotta say this though.

Fancy THAT?

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

From what I can tell, the main talking point appears to be Fed’s inability to make good on no less than three match points. Which I’ll be the first to admit is a little scary.

It also seems obligatory to recognise that this hasn’t taken place since Rome 2006 – so let me do the same, although it’s there I’d say the similarities end.

Let me add one more: Baggy has been away for too long, and he’s too good a player not to take advantage of Fed-Long-Shanks lapsing the night away.

[20] I Ljubicic (CRO) d [2] N Djokovic (SRB) 75 63

Only caught the last few games of this.

Djoko’s been complaining of “not feeling the ball” all week - when you consider the amount of three setters he’s played since Dubai, this should hardly be surprising. Throw in an emotionally charged Davis Cup Tie and you can see why he might rather be inclined to wilt in the desert.

That said, and even if you discount the way he fended off those three match points opposite Kohlschreiber, I still didn’t expect this result.

At first I put it down to big serving from the Gentle Giant (who did win over 70% of the points on his first serve), but then learnt he also hit twice the winners Djoko did.

I hadn’t followed him much at this event, but I will now.

A Radwanska (POL) d E Dementieva (RUS) 6-3 6-3

"I was so slow. I was reaching for the ball instead of going forward and attacking her second serve," she told AFP.

"She slowed down the game a lot and mixed it up a lot. You have to be very aggressive. You have to step forward. You have to create something. I was way too slow."

-- Elena Dementieva, CNN

Were it anyone else, and I’d be sorely disappointed for Elena. With Henin, Clijsters and anyone else considered a “contender” (what ever that means these days) out before the quarters, I was almost ready to declare this event was ‘hers for the taking’.

Then I remembered how I’d already jinxed out the other half of the top ten. It seems I possess a greater talent for picking upsets than winners.

Still, so glad to see this, even if it’s at the expense of one of my favourite players.

It was first apparent when she came through against Bartoli (a match I expected her to lose).

Still unsure of when or how it happened, but make no mistake - Aggy, since the last time I saw her, has transfigured herself into a badass mutant ball striker. As ‘mutant’ as her slight frame will allow.

She’s always had the guile, that intangible ability to get heftier opponents off balance and wondering why they’re losing points they were largely in control of – a quality that’s led her to being compared to Hingis.

I prefer to think of her as ‘Agnieszka’ - and her less-overtly aggressive brand of tennis as born of her own instincts.

[3] R Nadal (ESP) d [15] J Isner (USA) 75 36 63

Isner may have faded into insignificance in that last set, but with Rafa playing as well as he is, deserves all kinds of props for pushing him as hard as he did in sets one and two.

I don’t do so very often, but I find my hand forced in declaring John Isner a ‘top tenner-in-waiting’ on the tenuous grounds that he’s “So much more than a serve and a forehand”.

As for Rafa, yes he’s playing as well as he was in Oz, perhaps even better – yes,we all know how that ended – no, I don’t get the feeling the same will happen again.

On the other hand it’s all too premature to begin declaring the title as “his for the taking”, now that Fed and Djoko have left the building.

In any case, and taking form and history into account, it’s more natural right now to think of Soderling and Berdych as greater threats.

[6] R Soderling (SWE) d [9] J Tsonga (FRA) 63 64

I loved the look of of both La Monf and Tsonga as they marched into this event. They both seemed charged up with a euphoric intensity I put down to that recent Davis Cup win over Germany (Ok, so that’s kind of Monfils’ default “game face” anyway).

Tonight Jo-Willy learned the hard way that big serving and starry-eyes alone do not suffice, as all six of his lights were roundly punched out.

Big Rob has been working his way through the draw under everyone’s radar, seemingly happy to embrace his fate as the “player everyone loves to hate and who takes down the players they simply love”

Being a fan of Mr Jellybeans myself, I need not explain why this isn’t the way I feel, or if anything, why that’s rather an integral part of the charm.

It’s difficult to see what Jo could have done any differently, as he he was prevented by Big Rob’s penetrating flatties from his usual go-to of coming to the net.

The sight of a Frenchman stationed metres behind the baseline is one that fills me with revulsion and a pleasure I usually forego. As it stands, I have no reproof for young Jo today, just bags of actual compassion and heaps of jellybeans.


A week or so before news of Vaidisova’s retirement broke, I remember reading of her defeat to 17 year old Heather Watson of GB in the first round of the Tangipahoa Tennis Classic – an ITF event – and thinking to myself that she really ought to have a long hard think about her future in this game.

The media have all but given up making any mention of her – unless that is they want to wheel out the odd overly-worn contextualisation of Ivanovic’s ailing form.

With that it mind, it comes as little surprise to learn she is said to “have tired of losing and lacks the desire to grind her way back”.

I couldn’t help however, feeling a slight lump in my throat, when reminded that she made the quarters of Wimbledon as recently as 2008: 20 months does seem astonishingly fast for a demise of this magnitude.

20 years, on the other hand, seems a little young to settle down (she's to marry Stepanek in July) – did I mention it also leaves ample time to ‘unretire’?


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Indian Wells: Playstation II

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Zheng d. Sharapova 6-3 2-6 6-3

"She's like a ball machine," Sharapova said. "She hits a lot of balls back, hits them hard and deep.

"I mean, I'd say I should have done a much better job on her serve, because her serve is definitely one of her weaker parts of the game, but… "

--Yahoo Sports

WTA – you have your Playstation.

Quite similar to what Ivanovic had to say of her after her 2008 loss to Zheng at Wimbledon. Particularly the hard and deep part.

Zheng definitely troubles the tall girls – especially those that can’t keep themselves from firing 14 double faults and 49 UFEs.

I’m no longer much convinced that shoulder biomechanics have anything much to do with this. The injury may be what got her into this position in the first place, but this particular malady just became systemic, and it’s currently working it’s toxins into her groundies.

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Djokovic d. Kohlschreiber 6-3 2-6 7-6 (7-3)

Yeah…I’m actually kinda glad I got hold of this shot, because since late last year, I put it to you all that Djoko’s service action has become more and more…..‘clubby’ – by which I mean that there’s now barely any bend in his arm at all.

His serve was always a little nuanced like that – the effect has been more pronounced in recent months. Viewed side on, it’s almost like he’s pushing the ball over.

None of which had any bearing on the match of course

Kohlschreiber’s always a good bet to bag a top ten scalp – today he held three match points, before going down in three.

It was never going to be easy, perhaps even incomplete to leave Djoko with anything other than another three set win.

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Federer d. Hanescu 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-1

Fed’s victory over Hanescu was another ‘routine’ affair. By which I mean the obligatory lapsed set.

Douglas Perry preferred to focus on the lapse. Tignor preferred to debunk the cool clinical mystique– painting Fed as “agitated” and “making the most of getting scared” (he should know, seated up front with the bigwigs, only a row or two behind Larry Ellison).

There’s a lot to agree with in both those analyses – I just found it all a little blah.

Which is probably a good thing at this stage in the game.

And it might be the new choppy hairdo, but that’s the most un-Federer like Federer photo I’ve seen in a while.



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