Thursday, 25 November 2010

London WTF: What they forgot to tell you about Berd.



Berd didn’t just demolish Roddick yesterday. He didn’t even “serve notice” to the rest of the draw (too early to say that + they’re not the ones taking him for granted).





He did, however, insert a very large twin-pronged skewer up the rear ends of those that made a Burlesque Pantomime of discrediting his chances.


If he qualifies, his victory against those self-satisfied morons (that wrote him off before the event even began) will be complete. Almost irrelevant what happens from that point on.


There’s nothing especially shrewd in observing he’s had a post-Wimby slump.


It reminds me of those twats that think picking Rafa to win RG makes them some kind of prescient pundit.


Is it really so difficult to see him working his way into form on what is, after all, a surface that should suit his game?  The forgiving RR format affords you the luxury of doing just that.


Sure, he might still go back to juggling poo-poo against Rafa – but if that happens, it will be as much a consequence of the idiosyncratic top 8 round robin environment than of any inherent form coming into the event.


Berd admitted to struggling with the pressure that accompanies his new top ten standing and, in particular, of qualifying in the lead up to WTF.


That pressure no longer exists. If anything, his status as a relative ingénue to these proceedings should allow him to relax and, in particular, not to think too much…for that way lies madness.




My only regret is that ARod should form part of the collateral damage.


Rod wasn’t the player he was opposite Rafa – in fact with the amount of time and space he gave to Berd it was, in some ways, the exact opposite of that performance. On the other hand, it’s difficult to see what anyone could have done during that psychedelic spell of tennis Berd went through in the second set.


There’s actually several very plausible permutations for Berd to qualify now – though the cleanest (and easiest to understand) would be for Berd to beat Nadal and for ARod to beat Djoko.


Don’t pretend it can’t happen – we’ve already been there.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

London WTF: The Seven Layers of Grunge.






A welcome dampener to the wild, euphoric and, frankly, irresponsible British outpourings that followed his Sunday afternoon carving-up of Robin Soderling .


No – I’m happy this happened. Maybe now the press will realise that couldn’t actually be sustained. Believe it or not it is possible to get get through this thing without painting the sky seven different shades of argyle.


In fact the worst thing you could do in the aftermath of that ‘sub-prime’ performance would be to analyse what went wrong. Don’t even try.


Make like sunshine.


Announce a royal wedding.


Declare your support for the nuclear disarmament of developing countries.


Pretend. Nothings. Happened.


Coz in the grand scheme of things it might not matter. And in the grander scheme of things it might turn out to be exactly the kind of stimulus package he needs. The stick rather than the carrot.


It was nigh-impossible not to be sardonically-totalled by the careless, catatonic, dithering way Muzz began what was undoubtedly his most important match of the RR stage.





His shirt was the wrong colour. His shot selection was iffy. His first serve looked like it was in need of a banking bailout.


Like he said, against Fed that’s simply not going to get it done – against a Fed as focused and unforgiving as he was yesterday, it’s ATP hara-kiri – a wonder, really, that he avoided the bagel.


Far from being anything tactical, he simply wasn’t present.


Which is why I think a tactical analysis is essentially redundant and perhaps even counterproductive – why risk ushering in a double dip recession by focusing on any remaining layers of grunge that might still lurk in the subconscious of his tennis memory banks?





It’s not all bad. He was hardly going to better the euphoria of his first match – the best opener played by anyone this week.


Better to detox early on during the RR stages rather than in the midst of a chaotic semi with Novak or Rafa.


Fed will, now, only miss out on qualifying if he loses in straights to Sod (stop sniggering) and if Muzz defeats Daveed in straights in which case we have a three way “games-won” face-off.





But I don’t expect they’re thinking about any of that.





Speakin’ of detox….here’s someone that managed to exfoliate all seven layers of grunge remaining from his very tepid opener against Muzz.


Which is all the more surprising as Daveed had troubled him throughout the season both at the Slams and, it seemed, everywhere else.


Sod will have to beat Fed in straights (STOP SNIGGERING I SAID) and will need Muzz to lose to Ferru to stand a decent chance of qualification.


Which leaves me in something of a quandary. You don’t root against Muzz at home – you just don’t do it.


So which is it to be?


The Mighty Viking or the Celtic Tiger Kitten?


The home favourite or my favourite?


Faust himself would struggle with this one.


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

London WTF: Tron - Fuschia Edition








Lest we doubt the essential rectitude of a winner?


It seems 5 weeks out of the game really do show at this level.


For the best part of the first set Rafa could find nothing. And I mean squat. Nothing other than a forehand that was fully flatulent and a serve that was about as souped-up as the slosh you get served in an M25 service station.


Ever since before the event began Ferru, Berd and ARod have been cast as everyone’s favourite whipping boys.


Difficult to argue in Ferrus case that there’s not a very real danger of him being comprehensively outclassed – particularly with the group he’s been drawn in.





And after yesterdays pitiful performance one wonders what, if anything, will extricate Berd from the pooey pigswill he’s wallowing in right now.


But to write off anyone at this event is to effectively ignore the eccentricities of the three set Round Robin format.


The beauty of this format is that Ferru can still, in principle, qualify by defeating Sod tonight (he’s already beaten him twice on hard this year) and somehow wangling a three set win over Muzz (not impossible).


But ARod as the butt of your worst ATP jokes? Really?




Drawing Rafa in his opening match was always going to have been his best chance of beating him – and it’s no fluke he came so close.


He obviously came out primed to shorten the points and smother the net at every available opportunity – that Rafa won around 80% of rallies longer than 8 shots confirms the moral rectitude of this approach.


But it was his near-flawless execution of that strategy that underlines how daft I think those anti-predictions really are.


He clearly benefited from that deliriously poor start from Rafa, but if it hadn’t been for an especially acute-angled pass from Rafa during that second set tie break, one I’m not fully convinced he meant to strike so sweetly, Roddick might just have been looking at a straight sets win.


As it stands, he’ll now have to get through Novak (somewhat likely) and Berd (wholly likely) to stand a chance of qualifying – uncertain yes, unlikely no.


Sunday, 21 November 2010

London WTF: ‘Argyle’ Andy






Murray d. Soderling 62 64


Yep….it was that darn good.


Sod never got going, but in truth Muzz ran down everything he did manage to send his way and got him into all sorts of four dimensional knots every time he came to the net.


Sometimes you can neither run nor hide. Thankfully Sod has a couple matches to go, but will have to raise his game having come out so scarred and ‘set-less’ from this encounter.






There was some talk about why Muzz should change his “passive” style of play when it’s good enough to beat the #4 player in the world so emphatically.


Truth is, the #4 player (get used to hearing me say that) could neither buy a first serve  nor any semblance of momentum – most of those other six won’t have those problems and have more options to draw on if and when they do.


A spectacular way to come through what was, after all, his opening match – it’d be equally spectacular folly, though, to expect to continue to win playing with the same slicey-dicey economy. A little mix and match never hurt anyone – and there's plenty of wandering monsters lurking in both groups looking to do just that.


Have to admit I had my doubts about the argyle vintage wear – but it looks FAR better on court than the pinstriped thing you see in the online brochures.






It also has other vintage approval.





Federer d. Ferrer 61 64


A straight sets dismissal that went on for at least half a set too long.


It’s no surprise, surely, that this would be Ferru’s eleventh consecutive loss to Fed. Far more alarming that he couldn’t buy a first serve and took a full set to enter the match.




You can cope with seeing Ferru getting comprehensively outplayed – it is, however, jarring to see him so jittery and lacking in confidence. Not the ‘Federer complex’ surelyyou have been there ten times, one of which was in the final of this very event.


And a far better match it was too.


Saturday, 20 November 2010

London WTF: Daveed Cameron unveils a few last minute additions to the coalition.





It hasn’t been a good month for David Cameron.




First there were the student riots  that saw the near-sacking of Tory HQ (a couple of broken window panes) and a fire extinguisher being hurled off its roof that only narrowly missed police.


Since then, floods, banking bailouts not to mention the continuing fallout from the the deeply unpopular “austerity” measures – a word that almost sounds like a period themed wallpaper.


He was even taken to task for employing a personal photographer on the public payroll – what is a man to do?


1. Announce a royal wedding.


The scarcely concealed theory being that flooding the public sensibilities with talk of “Kate and Will” & “Will and Kate” will gently assuage the grim public mood so ostensibly damaged by those nasty public cuts.



Who has time to worry about your home being repossessed when you might be debating Kate’s bridal wear and the rights and wrongs of Wills presenting her with Diana’s ring? 


Or why she hasn’t ever held a proper job (it would seem, disturbingly, that some of us believe privilege has no part to play now that the royals sometimes marry outside of a carefully screened courtly set).


Complete the set piece by flooding the airwaves with a series of period romps showing the gentry in a lovingly eccentric and well-meaning light and the working class in a sufficiently reverential one. Sit back and let it simmer.


And if that doesn’t work…


2. Hobnob with tennis elite inside Downing St.


To be fair to him Cameron has actually played tennis before. Though there's no reason to suppose he was any better than Tony Blair who almost had a panic attack before going out for a charity knockabout with Pat Cash & Illi Nastase




Nice one Ferru. A gauche, awkward Viking has been made to feel even more socially inept and about *this* small.


All in all, Sod’s win in Paris has meant I haven’t very strong views about whom I’d like to see win. They all seem to make a compelling case.




Group A


Rafael Nadal.


Simply coz, other than this title, he really has won it all (in some cases several times over). Think Fed and RG 2009.


Novak Djokovic


Simply coz it’d be nice if the revival we saw at Flushing actually turned out to be one, rather than one of the many false starts we’ve seen since winning Indian Wells 2008 – the last title he won playing the way I like him to. Seems fitting for him to win at least something this year – and he has a chance to do that not just here, but to also clean up at Davis Cup and at Aus next year (hat tip @DavidLawTennis). That would be something.





Tomas Berdych


Simply coz he ‘s wallowing in doodoo at the moment and I don’t want him to go the way of Marin – for that way lies madness.





Andy Roddick


Simply coz this is the 8th time he’s qualified(!) yet has somehow never made it beyond the semis. And because he has a better chance here than at another Slam. And because Elena’s retirement has made me especially protective towards anyone associated with tennis circa 2004-2006. And because I’m still not up to talking about that yet.




Group B

Roger Federer.


Simply coz those blasted 5 unconverted MPs threaten to define what I still maintain was a better ‘one-Slam’ year than 2008. (Side note: how many “declining” players can cite having a ‘one-Slam year’ as an exception to the norm?)





Andy Murray


Simply coz having comprehensively scattered his seed on the Masters-1000 scene (read 6 Masters and 0 Slams), there’s a certain justifiable urgency surrounding the need to “step it up”. Winning here isn’t quite a Slam. It is, however, the next best thing – and it’s at home, and it wouldn’t do either him or his street cred any harm. Or, for that matter, David Cameron’s.





Robin Soderling


Simply coz “Simply coz” alright?….though I do so wish he hadn’t been drawn with Dave Ferrer.


Daveed Ferrer


Simply coz he tries so hard. Always.


P.S No one seems to have noticed that for the first time in six years Kolya is not part of the draw. Please tell me some one out there cares.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Paris: About time too.


So it’s like this. Paree and me? We go waaaayyyyy back. But it’s also what they call “complicated”.


The top players (those that have qualified for WTF in particular) haven’t always shown up. Those that have are almost always too banged up to care.


The venue is a study in criminally bland interiors - the outside courts look like something they’ve annexed from the local primary school – the main court is certainly big, yet still lacks the spunk expected of (what to most is) a season ending event, occupying instead a no-man’s-land of confused obsolescence: too cluttered to be minimalist yet too vacant to have anything like an atmosphere.


Is it any wonder the stands are barely filled until well into round three (and even then it’s only for marquee matches)?


The trouble is, it’s also the place Marat won three of his five Masters titles and the site of Daveed Nalbandian’s little late season surge of 07 – ideologically speaking, I have a hard time even feigning indifference to any of that.


Then there’s the crowd…its one thing seeing an outside court full of empty people, but that’s not half as jarring as those that eventually do turn up:  French fans that don’t boo and hiss and poke and leer and….flap(?) Or is that just for RG?

Like I said. Complicated.









Yeah, yeah, yeah. What took you so long?


You might expect me to be jumping clean out of my boxer shorts over this one, and I am, except….it should have happened one whole year ago.


With it being Paree, and with the show both Llodra and Monfils had put on for the better part of the week, there was a certain tricoloured electricity in the air – and, consequently, much of the pre-final commentary had centred along the lines of…. “Has Gael come of age?” …. “Will Sod be affected by the Parisian crowd?” … “Has Rasheed finally pushed the right buttons?”.


I see no problem with any of that. Trouble is, it diverted attention from that bloated, frisky, Scandinavian elephant on the other side of the room: that it’s more than just a little anomalous for a guy with GS wins over the best two players of the past decade (one of which arguably ranks as the greatest sporting upset of recent years) not to have won a single Masters event – not even on a fast indoor court.





So when Sod finally put paid to Gael’s last (and obviously doomed) attempts at treating the rising damp of French melancholy, it was all a little ‘are you not done yet?’ (and not just because the final was such a blowout).


The greater and more obvious moral victory was against Mika in the semis who despite having spawned a blister and very evidently tiring in the final set, remained, for me, the better player out there for most of the match week.


So when Amelie, Fabrice, Guy, Julien and, quite possibly, the spirit of de Gaulle all showed up courtside at the same time – for the briefest of moments, it really did seem the week was destined to end on that flavoursome, tricoloured note.


A lesser player (or a pre 2009 Sod for that matter), effectively being prevented from playing their best tennis, would have crumpled in a self-effacing heap of hopeless obsolescence .




And yet, the truth is no one, not even Napoleon himself, could have enabled Gael to beat Sod on a court as fast as this.


Swedes win on fast indoor courts. That’s just the natural order of things dear boy. Why should it matter in 2010 that he’s (clearly) not cut from the same cloth as Edberg or Wilander?


Robin’s groundies on the fastest court we’ve seen this season? Well that’s just a marriage made in heaven.


We hold these truths to be self evident because…well, mainly because Robin’s oppressive groundies say they are – truths that should, in any case, by now have been drummed into us by the violence of his, otherwise well-meaning, forehand – a forehand only a mother (and a certain doting tennis blogger) could love.




Expecting him to S+V or otherwise cavort with the net the way Edberg did is like attending a Burlesque show and complaining about the overdressed, hammy actors.


And with that, Sod – sorry Söd – usurps Muzz as the #4 ranked player in the world. With less than 300 points between him and Djoko and virtually no points to defend in Melbourne (both have 400 points to defend at WTF) , the future’s looking very bright indeed.


It’s a career milestone….and yet it’s also just another box to be ticked along the way to bigger and better things. He’d completed all the the other rites of passage and, if you ask me, reaching two Slam finals in the manner he did has got to be worth a Masters title alone.


Do I think he needed to win a Masters title before a Slam, something of a diktat amongst tennis’s chattering classes? ‘fraid not if anything, he seems more akin to Delpo in the way he simply ‘arrives’, should he decide to play well enough to win a Slam or any other event.


This one was long overdue….and it’s only the beginning.


In yer MonFACE


So sad Gaël. Here, have a Germanic umlaut for your pain.


Decriers will, of course (correctly) point to that poor excuse for a final – and yet, did any one of us believe they’d live to see the day Gael pulled the plug on that tired, poorly-choreographed stuntman act that riles me, and countless others, so very much?




No amateur dramatics, no Car-Crash TV – in fact, no broken glass of any kind.


It meant he was able to go through three top ten players (and score his first win over Fed) in the same week – don’t be surprised not to see that again for a very long time.


There was always a very real danger that, having delivered such an extraordinary performance piece, Gael would ‘revert to type’ in the final  – no surprises there then. Only, playing brain-dead passive tennis (which there was plenty of), is, this time, only in part responsible.


“Since the beginning of the tournament I’ve been really using up my reserves physically and mentally,” said Monfils, who also beat Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco in earlier rounds. “It’s the whole week that made me tired.

“Today I wasn’t able to find the extra stamina that I would have needed to be more competitive. … It’s the first time I’ve been beating three top-10 players in the same tournament.”


Dya know, I actually believe the man?


Gael’s not accustomed to the kind of mental/physical demands that such a restrained, patient and focussed passage of successful play at the highest of levels inevitably brings – his character’s usually killed off early on the second act and so has never been part of such a structured narrative, certainly not in such a prominent role.


Should it surprise us he wasn’t able to cope? He wouldn’t be the first player to default to more comfy territory under pressure.


Except the trouble with reverting to type ‘A’ Gael is that it’s the exact ideological opposite of what you’d normally do in such circumstances: when you’re running so low on fuel, the sensible, considered goto-play is to serve big and to shorten points – arguably what got him there in the first place.


But then nothing Gael ever did was either ‘sensible’ or ‘considered’.




If it were up to me, this entire post would be dedicated to Michael Llodra – my player of the week.


Having him win this event would have been exactly the kind of madcap, kooky yet-strangely-appropriate result this tournament’s become known for.


For what I hope are very obvious reasons I wasn’t rooting for him…..and yet as I sat there watching him arabesque from one end of the court to the other, it was impossible not to be utterly entranced.


A curious, throbbing, elemental mix of idiosyncratic French flair and Moulin Rouge.




There’ve been all the usual pitiful, nostalgic comparisons to the idealised age that never-was – and yet what’s made this little window into 1996 possible has been the choice of surface – the fastest we’ve seen anywhere all season.


Of course it has its drawbacks – there was a reason they slowed down both the grass and the balls at Wimbledon. All the same, I’m thinking it’s pretty obvious the pendulum’s swung too far the other way when one, admittedly superfast, event upends some of the best players of this generation.


I’m also thinking it’s a small price to pay for a slightly different look to the type of tennis we get on one awful, anodyne medium-pace, blue hard court after another.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tennis and The Tea Party



Remember that time Rafa was cartwheelin’ fistpumps all over town after beating a qualifier in round two of a 500  event? Well…










*whispers* Think we should tell him it’s not 2003?


We don’t see this sort of thing nearly so often from you now, but like I said to Rafa – don’t ever change.


Roger Federer hit for the cycle in 2010: a Slam, a Masters Series titles, a 500-level and a 250-level title. (If this were any other player it would be a banner season; because it's Federer, we keep hearing how it's least productive output since 2002.)



Actually no. Well, sort of.


See, the only people that actually focus on it being his “least productive output” are the type of cavemen that probably still think he’s world #1.


This is the opinion of a hot-headed fringe group – the ‘Tea Party’ of tennis.


Anyone else with even a passing interest in the sport (including me :p) picked up on his multi-tiered title tally (tongue twister, much), as well as noting that this is now his 7th consecutive final outside of the Slams.




And if we really want to be picky, then I think you’ll find it was 2008 (USO, Estoril, Halle, Basel), rather than 2010, that was his least productive.


Not that a deliberately skewed perception is anything to be surprised by – never let nerdy facts get in the way of a chance to play contrarian.


By the way, it might interest you to know that the exact same thing’s happened to Kim Clijsters, who’s also won a title at every WTA level (a Slam, a Premier-Mandatory, a Premier-5, an International Event…and of course the SEC), yet all we keep hearing is how unwholesome it is of her to be getting so “Williams” about her scheduling.


And so it was that Fed, in this week of mediocre sequels (I hope no one seriously bought into the idea of that ARod semi as “Wimby part 2”) and trumped-up revenge narratives (Fed either “only cares about the Slams” or he uses titles like this to avenge Slam losses – which is it?), fought his way past Pete Sampras’s title count to 65 ATP singles titles – 4th overall in the Open Era.


It’s a relatively light meander up to McEnroe (77). But to meet the real nutters – tennis’s gasoline-guzzling hell’s angels – you have to work your way up to three digits. Only there do you get to meet the likes of Ivan Lendl (94) and Jimmy Connors (109). I wouldn’t get too close however – not unless you want to get pulled into a drinking game involving engine oil and an industrial solvent.




Rafael Nadal

David Ferrer

Fernando Verdasco

Nicolas Almagro

Albert Montanes

Juan Carlos Ferrero

Feliciano Lopez

Guilermo Garcia-Lopez


8 of the 14 Spanish men in the top 100 have won ATP singles titles this season.




Simply an astonishing stat: it’s one thing having such an epic presence at the top of the game – quite another to make good on it.


Granollers had a chance to join this esteemed Spanish inner circle of truth. All he had to do was go through Daveed Ferrer.




And yet, just as you don’t think of beating Fed in Basel, you don’t beat the tournament co-owner in his own house – it’s just not the done thing deary.


(images: getty)


Monday, 8 November 2010

Bali: Disestablishmentarianism







Admit it.


You struggled with Bali just as much as I did.


It is hard to care very much for an event that positions itself as a wannabe-SEC for the almost-but-not-quites of the WTA – especially when Aravane, the only reason I pretended to care about it, goes out.


And yet, at a certain level, it’s difficult not to admire the way it embraces its fugly, ‘have-not’ status. Not only that, but it appears to have found its calling as a comeback vehicle for former world #1-cum-starlets.






Ana’s back in the top twenty which, amongst other things, means she’ll be seeded in Melbourne. Difficult not to be pleased by this news whatever your opinion of her – she was always too good to sink as low and be out for as long as she was.


It’s good for another reason too: since she nosedived two years ago there’s been an implicit acceptance of the idea that it would be “bad form” to call out those fist-pumps of hers – you know, on her opponent’s UFEs. Yes, I’m afraid that’s bad form too – even (or especially) when a Grand Slam Starlet does it.





I’m not holding my breath. Starlets always get a free pass for bad form and there’s no reason to suppose that’ll change any time soon.


Though this is less about Ana (whom I really believe almost does it habitually) than it is about objecting to having a relentless media-machine foist its clumsy, establishmentarianist vision of “class” upon you. I have my own ideas of what or whom I deem “classy” – indisputably the most  overused (and misused) word in tennis


Ana seems nice enough in other respects, and she’s not that different to countless other players in respect of the fist-pumps either (habitual or not). But then they’re not being lauded as “ambassadors of the sport”, are they now?


Friday, 5 November 2010







PARIS (AP) - Top-ranked Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from the Paris Masters for medical reasons.

Tournament director Jean-Francois Caujolle said Friday he did not know the exact nature of Nadal's ailment. The ATP tour said Nadal would discuss the reasons for his withdrawal at a news conference in Paris on Sunday or Monday.

The Spanish player recently said he was feeling fatigue after a successful season in which he won the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Nadal has not played since a third-round defeat to Jurgen Melzer at the Shanghai Masters on Oct 14.

With Nadal's withdrawal, Roger Federer has the No. 1 seed and will start against the winner between Nicolas Mahut and Richard Gasquet. The tournament begins Sunday.



I’m assuming this is, indeed, ‘fatigue’ though we’ll only know for sure after his presser next week.


Are those Southeast Asian chickens now coming home to roost?


Or is it a more random niggle? Might it even be precautionary?


Is he saving himself for London WTF – the only high-end title he’s not won?


Is that even allowed?


And what, incidentally, is the correct protocol under such circumstances?


Can a blog post be entirely composed of questions?


Would it be wrong of me to try?


You have to think Rafa would need a sick note to pull out of a Masters 1000 event, no?


(Did that last question actually qualify as question? Or was it a fudge?)


Can fatigue even be diagnosed in the conventional sense?


Was playing both Bangkok and Tokyo going into Shanghai a mistake?


Are cumulative, delayed effects indeed the bitch everyone says they are?


Was I right or was I right?


How do you say ‘yes’ and still make it seem like a question?


Are you still listening?




Thursday, 4 November 2010

WTA Championships: Emotional Whiplash




Was I the only one that thought Kim was spectacularly under par in Doha?


And I don’t just mean the double faults, entertaining though they were.


There was simply no continuity to this final however you choose to spin it.


The most frightening demonstration of this was in the way Woz was allowed to claw her way back into the match from a set and 4-1 down – credit to Woz for seeing it through, but it’s something that should never have been allowed to happen.


All the same, kinda difficult to complain when the best player in the world right now (please note the bold font before excommunicating me from your rss reader) caps off the year without playing her best tennis -  in a way which, to my mind, puts an end to the question of who the ‘player of the year’ is (see below).




Fact: Caz hit 35 winners in the final – only one less than Kim Clijsters.


Fact: The day before in the semis, she came out all guns blazing.


Fact: Caz hit forehand winners throughout the week.


(In other news, Yvgeny-Unicorn won a pot of gold in a Challenger event held at the other end of the rainbow. Delegates from Mars and Lilliput expressed an interest in hosting similar events in their home nations.)


It wasn’t always pretty, it didn’t always work – but it’s yet more evidence of the growth in her game. And of the awareness of the need for such growth.


Belly-Flop of of the Week.


Bepa’s second set bagel against Caz. I’m almost not in favour of the “keeping-the-emotions-in-check” approach anymore– which, to be fair, got her to where she is today, but has now, one feels, run its course.


Not that she should return to being ‘Crazy-Bepa’.


But I really can’t see there being that much wrong with breaking a racquet or two occasionally (and to then move on, rather than letting it fester in the way she used to before), if that’s what it takes to avert these horrendous beatdowns we still occasionally get.


Some people just aren’t built to “button it up” – and it’s as wrong to expect them to do that, as it is for them to fly off the handle once too often.




I really hope I’m wrong about this, but it seems to me that Vika joins a growing line of upcoming Slam contenders upended by breathing problems, heat and fatigue.


More Demmie.


Not over it. :((


There’s a small chance I may have shed non-virtual tears over this one. ACTUALLY THEY WERE GREAT BIG “MAN” TEARS.


It would probably have been the same for any player (even one I wasn’t as emotionally invested in) if they went so abruptly.


You have to be a very special, well-loved player to warrant and to then carry off a farewell tour – which is why I’m not, in general, a fan of them.


On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I’m not a fan of the emotional whiplash I’ve suffered over the past few days – a direct consequence of being forced to go ‘cold turkey’.


Can we agree on a more manageable, staged withdrawal strategy – a kind of halfway house – for when, say, Venus retires? The way Amelie cautiously signalled her intent a few months before making it official?

Player of the Year?


Has there ever been such intense speculation over this issue before? Probably not.


It’s easy to see why of course: never have such conflicting notions of consistency, quality, Slams and rankings points come to a head so acutely - nor grated against one another so viciously.


It’s as if Serena, Kim and Woz deliberately set out to demonstrate the three prevailing attitudes to the tour that may as well represent the Bolshy left, centre-right and far right of rankings system politics.


Woz is the young wannabe-opinion-maker eager to make a name for herself by being seen with all the right people at all the right parties – only one that hasn’t yet quite learnt the perils of overexposure.


Kim’s the former tree hugging liberal that has seen fit to drop her most provocative opinions as the demands (and comforts) of family life and the pragmatism of tennis-middle-age kick in.


Serena’s the eccentric aristocrat that expects the ‘National Trust’ to foot the bill for an extension to her country house; that is when she’s not shooting down ramblers exercising their right of way on her land.


Can you be player of the year having only made one Slam semi? I don’t think so.


Can you be player of the year having only played six events, all of which took place in it’s first half? Winning two Slams helps your cause as the best player in the world – but that’s not quite the same as ‘player of the year’.


Kim certainly wouldn’t be my centre-right WTA presidential candidate of choice in any other year – but she’s won a Slam, the WTA Championships, a premier mandatory (Miami), a premier 5 (Cincy) and an International event in Brisbane – that’s one event at every WTA tier.


If that doesn’t make you player of this (not especially representative) year, then I’m not sure what does.



Monday, 1 November 2010

Do Svidánija, Elena :’-)



Q: Why are you doing it?
ELENA DEMENTIEVA:  (Laughter.)  I need some support.  Why are you asking me these questions?
    I think it's the right time for me. I never wanted to wait until my ranking dropped and I'm not going to be able to go to the main draw.  I always wanted to leave this sport with a passion for it.  Tennis has been such a big part of my life, and always will be.
    To be honest with you, I mean, if I would be a man I would never stop playing.  But in the age 29; I have to think about something else.  I think I'm ready for the big change in my life.
    Still, it's very tough decision to make.  Very emotional.  I made the decision in the beginning of this season, so it was very hard coming to the tournaments knowing that this was my last one.  It was very emotional for me to play the whole year.
    But, I mean, that's decision like you know, it will happen to every athlete, and you have to get ready for this.



It’s not often that I’m prescient.


In fact most of what I say bears very little relation to reality.


But when Demmie went down to Stosur at NY this year – there was a feint but lingering whiff of despair in the air.




You didn’t need a MENSA-like emotional intelligence quotient to realise that so much more than a simple loss lay behind the way she despondently mouthed ‘no’ to her mother - heartbreak with a vivid suggestion of finality mixed in.


Not only was this completely out of character for one of the tour’s best known fighters– she seemed to be closing the door not just on any future hopes of Slam glory, but on tennis itself.


Knowing what I now know (that she had made up her mind at the very beginning of the season to pack it in), it makes perfect sense she would feel that loss so keenly: this was to be the last Slam match she would ever play.


Ditto her tearful retirement from RG – her 46th consecutive Slam appearance, and the one she’d felt herself best placed to win, even in her final year.


Well, I always had a dream of winning French Open, so starting you know, playing this season, I just wanted to give myself another try.  After Olympic Games, that was the biggest dream of mine.  I was so close.
    But I mean, I was pretty lucky.  I never had so many injuries during my career.  I was pretty healthy.  But that injury probably happened in the worst moment in my entire career.

Yeah, but, you know, I have no regrets.  I think I was practicing very hard; I was trying very hard; that was my way.
    If it didn't happen, it didn't happen, but I have nothing to blame myself.  I was very professional and I had nothing but tennis, tennis, tennis, and I did it with passion.
    So I have absolutely in regrets.  I have so many things to be proud of.  It was a very difficult and long way for me.  So, yeah, I just have very nice and unforgettable memories.


Ditto-Ditto her final ever tour win against (funnily enough) Sam Stosur just three days ago – the happy-screech she let out after three long sets (surprising at the time)was not unlike the one emitted after winning gold in Beijing – only now has the penny so heart-wrenchingly dropped.


As the season wore on and further losses followed (most recently to Polona Hercog in Luxembourg) I all but resigned myself to an inexorable, James Blake almost-but-not-quite-winding-down phase of her career.




Not once in my wildest dreams, however, did I imagine a retirement announcement would follow so soon.


Thinking back now, it all accords perfectly with Elena’s natural, unaffected, no-nonsense disposition – no emotionally-messy swan-song for her - no staged withdrawal dragged out mercilessly over the year.


The time was right. Her physicality/fitness, her most prized asset, had begun to fail her – what more was there to be done? And why need anyone else know about it?




-- ElenaD: Neither “classy” nor “nice”


*scrunchy-wincey face*


Yes, I’m afraid I really do struggle with those words.


With the frequency those superlatives are doled out you’d think we were living in Camelot itself – or some equally cosy-but-liberalised postmodern equivalent.


Well neither Lady Guinevere nor Audrey Hepburn has made an appearance in the top ten yet, so I’m assuming it’s the terms themselves that have been devalued.




Smile a lot, engage in tour pleasantries, but more importantly, possess the “right” sort of look (it helps if you score some big wins, though this is not strictly necessary) and you’re suddenly an “ambassador for the sport”. Whatever that means.

You see where I’m headed with this: the tendency is at it’s pug-ugliest when you can find nothing nice, nor classy, about the player you’re being invited to drum up. Not so much because they’ve done anything wrong as the plain absence of merit.


“Class” is, at least, quantifiable by how well you take defeat and so on, but what exactly is “nice”? And if we’re so intent on passing certain players off as “nice”, what, precisely, does that make legions of others that don’t make the cut? Not nice, presumably.


All this makes it rather difficult when someone really worthy of these labels shows up – only then is it plain to what degree they’ve been devalued.


I would have to say, therefore, that I never found Elena either “nice” or “classy” (she was too classy for that). Not as we’ve been primed to understand those terms.


She gave quite serious (sometimes stern) , honest and well-thought out responses to tricky questions posed in pressers. Not nice.


Q.  How do you want people remember you in the future? 

ELENA DEMENTIEVA:  Well, I don't know if I want people to remember me.  I'm sure I'm going to remember myself as Olympic champion.  That's the best thing could ever happen in my career.  That was the biggest goal, and I'm so proud of that moment.  It was unforgettable experience and unforgettable memories for me and my family.

I don't think about how people going to remember me.



She chose hard-won prize money over the million-dollar endorsements she could easily have had as a “leggy blond”.

Image clearly not “everything” ----> Not at all marketable ----> *So* not nice.


Here was a player that actually preferred getting rough and dirty and worse still, seemed to harbour an unfashionable enjoyment of her chosen sport. Really not classy Elena.


-- “Best player never to have won a Slam”


Surely now as bad as the posthumous Oscar for “Lifetime Achievement”. The Academy’s way of saying sorry to have missed out on you.


It actually brings into focus, quite brutally, what you haven’t achieved. Close, but no cigar.




Elena’s frailties were well known – I rooted for her because, rather than in spite of them. Fed, Rafa and Serena all have their place, but I’ve always liked my players flawed and I like to see them striving to overcome those flaws – the more powerfully juxtaposed they are alongside their immense talent the better (Think Marat. Think Sveta).


It’s why she’ll likely remain my second fave WTA player for many years to come (Sveta’s queer mix of on-court genius, unceremonious cool and gangsta rap means she comes first. God knows how I’ll cope when she retires).


Her serve stank for the better part of her career. Let there be no illusions as to how debilitating this actually was. This was far more ‘schlock-horror’ than the kind of service yips that continue to plague Ana or Masha (both of whom had perfectly competent serves pre 2008), which have always been more ‘symptomatic’ than they are ‘systemic’.


Yet she played with that debilitation through an iridescent era that included The Williamses, Henin, Masha, Kim, Amelie, Davenport – all (perhaps with the exception of Lindsay) in their prime.




She didn’t have winning records against any of them – but was still able to beat all of them multiple times (5-7 against Serena).


You’ll hear much of her unimpeachable professionalism and work ethic, and how good she was at making the most of a limited game. Not that any of that isn’t true, but it feels too much like selling her short (mainly, I suspect, because it is).


You’ll also hear a lot of commentary on how Elena worked extraordinarily hard to make up for her calamitous serve, this most peculiar of failings (one which should, by rights, have precluded her from ever being a factor given the competition she was up against) and was able to maintain her top ten standing over the best part of a decade largely by shoring up other facets of her game.


I disagree.


For one thing, and as much as I luuurve her, Elena didn’t have that many facets in her game to shore up.


Her greatest strengths – her fitness and timing off the ground -- were pure talent. No denying she worked hard to maintain and improve both, but they were as organic to her as the air we breath.


Perhaps fittingly, the biggest demonstration of this organic talent was destined to come not, sadly, in the form of a Slam, but in career statistics that make your eyes water.




Career statistics that could not have been born of anything other than organic talent.


Career statistics that make you wonder what might have been had she been in her prime in these past few years of less lacquered competition.


It’s certainly difficult to see someone who “merely works hard” (and I mean that in the most flattering sense possible to Daveed Ferrer or Shahar Peer) producing results like these against the players she did:


» 10 out of the last 11 WTA Championships


» 46 consecutive Slam appearances ending at RG 2010 during which she made 3 quarters, 7 semis and 2 finals.


» top ten 7 out of the last 8 years (328 career weeks inside the Top 10)


» Career high world #3


Or, for that matter, a match like this:



Wimby 2009 is held up, depending on who you speak with, as either the “best match of her career”, or as a perfect example of the kind of frailty that precluded her from being “Slam material”.


I’m not sure it’s either.


There’s an unfortunate (if understandable) tendency to sanctify admittedly powerful moments beyond their worth, just as there is to stigmatise players beyond their measure.


The truth is, Elena had played as well as this against the top players many times in her career, though this was likely the most visible of those.


As to the infamous, fateful (has the word ever carried so much weight?) decision not to go down the line in that glorious summer of 2009, I’ve always thought of it as a moment of madness. True, it cost her a spot in the final, but it’s not that different to the kind of errant nonsense we’ve seen from either one of the Williamses or Justine 1.0 many times over.


The other, somewhat inconvenient, point to remember is that had Elena gone down the line, she would still have had to go through Venus in the final – whom she was a significantly less flattering 2-8 against at the time.


If we are to entertain any regrets, let it not be for this moment of madness, let it not even be for the USO 2004 (Sveta was simply that good). RG 2004, however, like one Mr Coria that same year, is a title she ought have made her own.


I have no regrets because, you know, that was my way.  That's the way I played.  I was far away from being perfect, but, you know, I had a great fighting spirit.  Even without good serve, I was struggling for so many matches, but I was fighting and I was never give up.  I was giving 100% on the court no matter who well I was playing.  This is what I like.

    You don't have to be perfect, but you have to try very hard, and I did all the time.



And yet, as a fan I’m left with a bitter aftertaste.






I wish her well of course. But I also feel like that cat put out in a winters night after spending all day luxuriating by the fire.


Or like that kid that drops his ice cream on the pavement after crowing over everyone else (there’s one in every family in every country).


My player was clearly better than everyone else’s :’-(


Mostly, however, I feel stone cold – which is funny, as I’ve never been a fan of farewell tours: they mostly end up being a fare-thee-well-but-get-thee-on-with-it tour.


It’s babies of course.


And I’m told the man responsible is Maxim Afinogenov.


So that’s what you call yourself. >:- (





You’ve only just deprived us of one the most professional, thoughtful, fittest, well-mannered, intelligent, honest, beautiful, cleanest strikers and best timers of the ball this generation’s seen.


(Images: Getty)



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