Thursday, 30 June 2011

Wimbledon: Petra ‘Erratica’


This is the future of tennis. And it has 40 Winners (to Vikas 9) and 9 aces (to Vikas 1), etched into it. Love it, or make your peace with it – but find better things to talk about than grunting or yelping or screeching.

Much as I abhor the expression, this match was always going to be won (or lost) on Petras racquet.

The first set took all of 27 minutes – pretty long when you consider Vika was only able to salvage one game out of it.

Petra served it out with three aces: on her racquet, with her racquet, all about her racquet.

And then came an erratic stretch of play which, in my mind, will, ultimately, decide the winner in Saturday’s final – and, indeed, determine how many titles she notches up in the future.

You see, as wonderful as it is that Petra is able to decontextualise herself from a poor spell of play (she hardly ever berates herself), or any single UFE, it also means she takes little or no corrective action. Most of the time it doesn’t seem like she’s alert to anything awry at all.

Her most telling look came at 3-5 down with Vika serving for the 2nd set. The bemused disappointment was simply priceless: it only just seemed to have dawned on her that shunting every ball into the stands wasn’t such a fine idea, or that her little foray into ‘Erratica’ may have cost her the set – perhaps even the match [Ya big talented Silly]

Pova’s no Vika – she hits the ball as hard as anyone out there, and is second to none in gutsing out tight matches when she’s not playing her best. Which she quite clearly isn’t. And that concern over Pova’s form, together with how much erratica Petra brings to bear, is what will probably end up deciding this match.

Berd said Petra could go all the way. He's right. And I think she probably will.


Unforgivably subjective, but if we go on expressions alone, I don’t think there was anyone in the semis that wanted it more. No one, but no one, wears the face of anguish and desire the way she does.

I don’t wanna have to resign myself to seeing Vika go out in a spate of semis now that she's got the ‘quarterenka’ monkey off her back. Ergo, I still believe. :(


Maria Sharapova is back in her first Slam final since 2008.  But if she serves the way she did today, she might lose the entire match quicker than Vika lost the first set. Petra’s my first choice – there’s simply too much dorkish promise –  but I won’t be unhappy if this woman pulls it off.


Only an obnoxious neanderthal will be insensitive to Sabine’s troubles, or ambivalent to her triumphing over them. So I’m gonna to the kind thing and just put the match behind us.

Nothing is to be gained by revisiting the carnage, except to say that Pova really wasn’t playing well enough to win it against better competition, in which I include the Sabine from the early rounds – she didn’t show up.

Of course, if I wanted to be spiteful I could bring up Marion, whom you deprived of a SF spot and who I’m convinced would have given a better account of herself….*continues bitching as editing team effect a fade out*


Wimbledon: “Flying forehands”


This is the tweet that first got my attention. I was busy with the Tomic/Nole match, figuring on a trouble free passage for Fed through to the semis.

The Wimbledon TweetMaster has been quite “excitable” this past week, but this was colourful even by their standards.

The trouble is, I could actually picture Jo hitting a “flying forehand” winner down the line. He may not do it as often we’d like, given his well-documented injuries and resulting problems with form, but there’s no doubting that that’s precisely the type of flamboyance he’s known for. And it usually spells trouble for his opponents.


I can’t say I’m completely clear as to what happened next – I’m sure if they took a brain scan of someone undergoing a hallucinogenic experience and compared with my own during the last two sets, they’d be very similar. 

It was the kind of pandemonium that would have left a player lesser than Fed browbeaten, disoriented and with scorch marks on the fabric of their soul. Fed fared only slightly better and did what we could, but, really, no one stops Jo when he’s tripping this way.

The defining moment came when Jo broke free of even his own natural rhythms and passed Fed at the net with a single-handed backhand winner down the line.

I’m gonna say that again: Jo passed Fed at the net with a single-handed backhand winner down the line.


It was that kind of match. It was that kind of electricity

And if he continues to play that way, Jo ain’t going down to no one.

The utter tragedy is that he probably won’t.


Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Wimbledon: Upset Potential

Say what you like. I don’t think all of the top four will make it to the semis.
Whether its the doubt created by Rafa’s not-quite-injured foot, Feli “having one of those days” (perhaps we should start saying “weeks”), Jo-Wilfried operating in “Slamdunk Mode”, or Tomic….being Tomic, there’s at least enough upset potential there to conceive of one upset.

You read it here first.


Wimbledon: The stuff Slams are made of.


Lisicki d. Bartoli 6-4 6-7 6-1

You just can’t play two 3 setters in week one (one of which goes 9-7 in the third), follow that up with an emotionally-consuming win over one of the greatest players of all time, and then expect to be at your optimal level only 24 hours later.

That’s a big ask for anyone, let alone Marion.

Having played that much, I don’t think I’m reaching when I say that she could have done with the extra days rest – or that it could have been a very different result had she had that rest.

Coulda-shoulda-woulda….this is the stuff Slams are made of.  You might even argue the mental cost associated with pulling off a win over Serena sapped her of more vitality than any number of 3 setters would.

My guess is she knew that only too well – happy, presumably, with beating Serena to stand as her crowning achievement at this event: not only did she not fail to compete, she actually dialled up the fire further still. Until, that is, her legs would carry her no more.

That takes “More balls than all the French men put together”, as someone said on twitter yesterday.


And for that, as always, she has my respect.


I don’t know if I quite buy into Sabine as the “deserving cause”, and I’m still not completely reconciled to her having knocked out my fave (*snarl*), but you have no soul if you’re not pleased at her return.

Can she keep it going? Probably. Will it be enough against Pova? I rather doubt it. Certainly not if Pova plays the way she did vs. Domi.

Perhaps sensing the electricity that Domi sometimes brings to bear (see Wozniacki), Pova squashed any pretensions to “competition” Domi might have had within the opening few games. Alas poor munchkin, she never had a chance.


Petra played her worst match of the tournament today. There’s a cost/benefit analysis you might choose to make whenever something like this happens.

On the one hand, she got through and will likely emerge more battle-hardened as a result, which should set her in good stead for the semis.

Trouble is, Petra’s never really fit that mould. She seems to thrive on quick wins based on strutting her very capable stuff. Today’s troublesome encounter is neither “empowering”, nor should it be seen as very much more than a minor irritant. She may very well go down to Vika, or (as I rather suspect) she may knock her out – either way today’s episode will have had little to do with it.


Wimbledon: Reckless


Cibulkova d. Wozniacki 1-6, 7-6, 7-5

I make no secret of my love for diminutive firecrackers – its one of many weaknesses.

This was supposed to be the worst possible match up for her – Caro’s dogged resilience in eliciting errors from her opponents by getting them to play that dreaded “one more ball”, is supposed to be anthema to someone as reckless as Domi.

But somehow, it didn’t turn out that way. She was still as reckless as hell, but seemed to be less insistent on hitting the lines on every single shot, opting instead for a more measured (but equally aggressive) ball sent some 80% up the court.

I don’t know if that was a conscious decision (maybe something Zeljko introduced), but it worked a treat. It allowed her to construct rallies on her terms instead of simply going for broke on everything – that’s not something you normally see from her.

As for Caro, she was said to have turned up to her presser “beet red”, and went on to castigate herself for “not making more of her break point opportunities”. I hope that means she’s sensed a need to grow beyond being content merely eliciting errors (funny as it may sound, I actually want to see her improve) – it’s pretty frightening if it means anything else.

Besides, Domi won’t be the last player to call that particular bluff – Julia’s already done so twice in the last two months.


Sunday, 26 June 2011

Wimbledon: His name is ‘Bernard’ and other week one curiosities.


Ok look, I can’t promise I’m gonna stop poking fun (not in the short term), but we can’t go on pretending he’s not a serious talent.

And what’s more is, he’s probably the future of Aussie Tennis. If, as an Aussie, such a prospect fills you with mortal fear, you should probably consider switching nationalities, as it may happen sooner than you or I think.

All that stuff about him being an irritant? Probably still true, but there’s still time to “man up”, and here’s a sobering truth: Tennis Australia needs Bernard Tomic, not vice versa.

I’m not saying he’s the “next big thing”. Would never hit you with something as tawdry as that. And of course there’s room for improvement:  I’ve heard criticisms about the movement – Pat Cash went as far as to say he plays “like a junior….like Andy Murray” (one in the same I presume). Tignor has him going “even further into the funky” than, say, someone like Dolgopolov.

But none of this detracts from the eclectic blend of junk and easy flamboyance that seems to serve him so well. Nor from his ability to keep cool under pressure. Nor does the fact that a stomach bug Sod contracted was causing him to break out in a cold sweat, double over in between points (sometimes even having to sit down) and have a well-documented (too well documented) episode of liquid poo – almost certainly causing  him to squander the first set and a half.

Just like Robson against Pova a day earlier, a lesser player wouldn’t have worked their opponent’s “flatulence” so well.

I can’t help feeling a public endorsement from the likes of Hewitt and Rafter would benefit his tattered image (particularly amongst fans). It seems steps have already been taken with both showing up at his matches, and Rafter even being said to provide tactical input.

The efforts to legitimise Bernard begin here. And I’m gonna start by calling him ‘Bernard’. How’d a hobgoblin end up with a name as wholesome as that anyway?

-- Loving what I’ve seen from both the Williamses. Serena seems to be improving every match (that she’s able to win anything at all, is itself remarkable), and Venus seems to have that electricity about her that usually spells trouble for the rest of the draw.

Still, it’s early days and, Kimiko and Aravane aside, they haven’t really been tested. Can still see both of them running into trouble if things get tight. And I’m still leaning to Venus over her sister.

-- Andy Roddick’s best days are behind him. His last best crack at winning here (and surely any Slam) came and went in 2009 under a flurry of 50 aces and only 4 double faults.

We all know this. But for some reason, we’ve begun pretending that Feli making 57 winners and only 7 UFEs wouldn’t have had exactly the same result against any number of top ten players – perhaps only excluding the top three.

That’s no reason to act like he should quit or, in even poorer taste , to goad him into doing so (as one reporter seemed intent on) – perhaps I expect too much.

That said, if the fire’s gone, it ain’t gonna spontaneously re-combust. Let him decide – and give him room to do so.

Aside:  I will never say ‘Deliciano’. Not ever.  In any case, I much prefer Rafter’s invention, ‘Felix’.

-- No one’s talking about Shuai Peng. That’s probably a good thing. Her R16 match against Pova will answer a lot of questions about both women.

-- In contrast, everyone’s talking about Delpo – mostly in terms of how he WILL go down to Rafa. That seems the likeliest outcome – but I still insist that an upset isn’t anywhere near the “long shot” being suggested. Not by a long shot.

-- Didn’t follow the Gimelstob/Feli bust up very much. It’s the kind of episode that holds very little interest for me and tends to bring out the worst in even the most respected commentators.

The man is very obviously a twat – which probably accounts for his position on the ATP Board of Directors.


Saturday, 25 June 2011

Wimbledon: Quote of the Day


Q. What do you feel about Sharapova's grunting? We had a gruntometer in the court.

LAURA ROBSON: Is that a thing?

Q. It is if you work for The Sun. She was the loudest she's ever been. Does it put you off your game? Do you find it distracting?

LAURA ROBSON: Absolutely not. You know, you hear it sort of for the first game or two, but then after, you're just really focused on the point. I didn't even notice, to be honest.


Friday, 24 June 2011

WombleTown: Bring It…


I fear this won’t live up to its billing. Nalbie’s simply been out for too long. His #25 ranking is born mostly of a little surge during the North American Hard Court Season last year. Still, won’t ever say no to this much vintage.


This, on the other hand, could go all the way. And perhaps not, I fear, my way. My guy has already been put through the mill by Petzschner and Hewitt. Depending on your take, that could prove either beneficial or ruinous. Tomic may be evil, but he can play.


Thursday, 23 June 2011

WombleTown: Oh Please. Why did we think this was NOT going to happen?

Soderling d. Hewitt 6-7 3-6 7-5 6-4 6-4

It was GRASS. And we all know what Lleyton does to top tenners in the first week of ANY Slam. Having picked him isn't quite the 'punditry' being suggested.

I’m not sure putting out Sod would be #GoodForTennis. But then neither would Lleyton retiring.


So proud of my guy. He came back from two sets down in a match most expected him lose. But he can’t fist pump to save his life – it just doesn’t come naturally to him.

There isn’t a fist-pump “finishing school”.  There should be.


WombleTown: A Star is not born


Tsonga d. Dimitrov 6-7 6-4 6-4 7-6

If Grigor had pulled this off, there would have been a roll call of pieces headlined “a star is born” .

The threadbare allusions to Federer may generate scratchy blackboard noises in all our heads, but they’re not without foundation.

Grigor may have been a set down but he held break points and, as anyone that saw the match will tell you, could quite conceivably have had the upper hand in the fourth. The energy and urgency was with him rather than Jo.

In other words, this was exactly the kind of match he should have turned around if we are to take his ‘talent’ seriously.

That said, if you’re gonna go down to someone….



Wednesday, 22 June 2011

WombleTown: All Hail, The ‘Anti-Lasso’


Day 1: Fran/Dokic…Day 2: Serena/Aravane…..Day 3: Venus/Kimiko....

We’re only just underway, but this is not the first time the women have outperformed the men in terms of the quality they’ve brought to bear.

It’s also no fluke, in my opinion, that four of the above-mentioned women that brought that quality to bear, are aged 29 and over.

I’ve marvelled at Kimiko’s shortened backswing for almost as long as I’ve lamented at the super-swiped lassoed forehand that sadly, now, forms the staple of the womens (and much of the mens) tour – the amount of pace she generates seems inconsistent with the laws of physics.


But today, she went to town with it in a way which even I didn’t think was possible – and left Venus, the assembled count of 15,000 people, and many more around the world, breathless and confused. It’s like the anti-Lasso.

Every groundie, each and every volley, seemed precision-engineered to keep Venus off balance – which she did for around 80% of the match.

And not just once, she was able to put a 120mph Venus first serve away, down the line, for a winner. That would be Venus serving, on grass…..INDOORS. Again, no fluke.

Kimiko's shot selection should be required viewing for every WTA player under the age of 25. And if they refuse to watch, they should be banned from playing tennis – at least until they’re prepared to properly abbreviate their obscenely lassoed backswing which I consider to be nothing less than the scourge of civilisation.

As for Venus, you’ll hear a lot on how she “did what champions do”. There is some truth in that – there always is – but its also true that she was mere games away from going out. Kimiko was simply that good, and talk of “champions” simply obscures that very relevant fact – and that’s coming from a fan of Venus.

Even so, it is, of course, a credit to Venus that she was able to emerge from this intact. Her serve didn’t break down and she seemed to move increasingly freely as the match progressed. It can only bode well for her.

Whether or not this turns out to be ‘match of the year’, its right up there with the Australian Open match between Franny and Sveta – but I doubt you’ll see a better set of tennis all year than the opener.

Hats off ladies.

*2nd slow clap in two days*

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

WombleTown: “Disaster Year”


"I never cry, with joy, for anything".

Williams d. Rezai 6-3 3-6 6-1

She’s right. I’ve no doubt that she feels deeply, but that’s just not her style.

For what its worth, I didn’t think she needed to demonstrate her “commitment” to her profession to anyone – she could have gone down in straights in the first round and I’d need no assurance on that front.

Even so, the flood of emotions that erupted within seconds of shaking Aravane’s hand at the net caught everyone by surprise, and left no doubt about it whatsoever.

The best part? Aravane (who’s had her own set of troubles in a different kind of “disaster year”) made it a match.

*Slow clap to both women*

Monday, 20 June 2011

WombleTown: Day one Drive By.


Williams d. Amanmuradova 6-3 6-1

I won’t pretend I don’t have an opinion on it, but lets just say I’ve made my peace with the dress. I almost don’t care what she’s wearing, provided she makes the second week.

As intimidating as she was today – 23 winners, 7 aces and just 5 UFEs – I can’t help thinking back on how thoroughly she butchered Ana in Eastbourne less than a week ago, before going down to Dani on the back of some pretty shoddy play only 24 hours later.

The worst bit is I’ve seen it happen before that too. And not following a 6 month outage either. Kimiko next.

Oh wait, this was meant to be a positive post. 


Murray d. Gimeno-Traver 4-6 6-3 6-0 6-0

Ok look, I’m glad he dug himself out of trouble, and I’m even glad he gave the crowd and assembled Brit press something to get hormonal about.

But that scoreline says less about his play than it does about Gimeno-Traver throwing in the towel, which he did somewhere towards the end of the 2nd set.


Schiavone d. Dokic 6-4 1-6 6-3

Fran got through this but it wasn’t easy. And I’m glad it wasn’t. It gave Cesca the tune-up she needed, and, well, its always a pleasure to see Jelena put up a fight and play to her capabilities.

The match had to be stopped for rain – which meant waiting the customary 40 minutes as the roof was shut and the aircon and humidity were got just right. When it reconvened, it did so in a peculiar atmosphere of tinted refrigerator lighting and indoor-echo. Whatever this was, it wasn’t grass court tennis – and that’s before you even consider the very many players that consider the grass (both here and at Queens) to be actually playing slower than the clay of RG. Ljubicic’s words (amongst others) not mine.


One more thing. At some point we’re gonna need to stop treating Jelena like Mother Theresa every time she plays, what is after all, just a tennis match.

I sympathise with her as much as anyone else, but not only is this ‘saintliness’ a gross caricature, it’s downright patronising, and I daresay she’d prefer actual support over such clumsy “sympathy”.


Friday, 17 June 2011

WombleTown: Assorted, Unhelpful, Unholy Thoughts


Braindump of various (unholy) thoughts…….GO.

-- “Isnut Redux” will be over in under 3 hrs, with Isner winning, very likely, in straight sets. Meh.

-- Isnut aside, Fed’s draw looks like a snapshot from 2005.

-- Progress at an event being inversely proportional to points being defended....Berd goes out in week one. Perhaps even to Donald Young.

-- Murray just had his best FO ever. His Queens match against ARod was likely the best he’s ever played. Anywhere. Winning Queens in its entirety was, on the other hand, a clear case of not knowing when to stop, in the foulest of taste, and amounts to cashing in his chips too early. Just a feeling I can’t seem to dismiss.

-- Fernando Gonzalez in a GS draw: thine eyes doth not deceive thee

-- Federer/Nalbandian scheduled to meet in R3: thine eyes doth not deceive thee

-- New game: Pick a farce, any farce. Chances are AbFab’s already done it, or will find a way of doing it before the end of week one. Expect Milos to get very pissed off, which ought to be interesting as I’m not familiar with that phenomenon.

-- Point and laugh all you want, but I can totally see Rafa going down to Delpo (R4) or Berd (QF).

-- James Ward will continue his Union-Jack-coloured epiphany, and come close to knocking out Michael Llodra, before the latter remembers how great he is at coming through these early round, 5-set (late night) raves. Needless to say, he'll go out meekly in his next match.

-- “Pova is the favourite”. Playing her best post-shoulder-op tennis certainly, but favourite? [in my best, whiney call-waiting voice] “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I don’t know what that word means – please try again later…”

I’m looking for a strong run from Serena, but I don’t expect her to win it. It’s simply been too long and the health scare is not something she’s ever had to contend with. Venus represents the more intriguing choice…..

-- Can *just* about see Marion preventing Serena from reaching the quarters. Just. And she’ll need to be lucky.

-- Out of Tsvetana (SF), Kaia (QF) and Petra (SF) – last years result in brackets – only the latter has a chance of not being plunged into rankings free-fall come two weeks time. Which probably means the exact reverse will take place.

-- Incidentally, why is no one talking about Kaia Kanepi? All I’m saying is there’s a lot of hoopla surrounding, say, Tsvetana (who I like btw), who’s only won 4 matches in the 14 events she’s entered since Wimbledon last year.

-- Since the media have done a bout turn and are suddenly shitting on Caro as an early “flameout”, almost as forcibly as they plugged her in RG – I’m gonna put myself out there, and say that she’ll do “great things”. Only, there’s a small chance that most of them take place in the first week.

-- Make no mistake about it: by far the absolute worst thing that could happen next week, is for Li Na to exit the party early. All those euphoria-tinged RG epilogues on how she might now be ready to make good on her talent, will look like nothing more than romantic fallacies. I’ve seen it happen to better players. Of course it may not happen at all. Except it might.

-- Declare thy allegiance then (remembering to balance romance with actual credibility). Here’s mine: Murray, Sod, Fed, Nole (in that order)…..Marion, Pova, Venus, Li, Serena, Petra, Yools (in that order)…..GO.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Eagle Has Landed







The last time Serena played Eastbourne (1998) she went out in the quarters to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Twas a different era.

This time she’d “only” been out for 11 months. It still felt too long.

S. Williams d. Pironkova 1-6, 6-3, 6-4

It was scrappy, it was inelegant, it was ingenious, it was utterly terrifying.

But at the end of it she’d  won her first match in 11 months. And, just like her sister the day before, it took all of three sets.

She might just as easily have taken Tsvetana in straights or herself be taken down in much the same way. It was anyone’s guess. And most felt more comfortable not guessing at all.

In the end, neither, or something closer to both those eventualities, was what came to pass.

The lack of competitive matchplay was only too evident in a torrid first set that quickly saw her go 5-0 down.

But from the fifth game onwards (and notably after what seemed a conscious decision to take some pace off the ball) a transformation began to take place.

It wasn’t immediate, and at first its only observable effect was that she was staying longer in rallies and gingerly constructing the type of short angles that seemed born as much of compromise than anything else.

Whatever it was, it gave her the leverage she needed, as more and more winners began dropping on the right side of the lines, and by the end of it, the “best server in the game” seemed as fluid as ever.

It wasn’t “vintage Serena” (except only sporadically), but then neither was it the unsavoury fiasco some were fearful of.

In other words, she acquitted herself rather well – far better than any of us had the right to expect given the nature and length of her absence.  Bepa or Heather Watson await in round two.

Reluctant as I am to stultify the post with premature and sordid talk of how she may or may not fare at Wimbledon, her appetite for winning was only too evident. 

If you take only that, and nothing else, away from this match, it spells IMPOSSIBLY BAD NEWS for everyone else.

Factor in a sister that’s won more Wimbledon titles than any other active player and…


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Journalistic Licence or Licentious Journalism?

Umm…because you shouldn’t need a warning against being rude?

Let me start by saying that I’m anything but a RafaKad and certainly not a “Worshipper” of either Rafa or of the Prophet Muhammad (as Miss Barber mistakenly seems to think the worlds 1.6 Billion Muslims are).

Let me also say that I totally get the way writers sometimes exercise their journalistic licence to go against the grain of mainstream opinion – even when they might happen to agree with that opinion. Playing devil’s advocate in this way can often yield great insights and provoke a healthy debate that might otherwise be stifled. Sadly, its all too often also used as a cheap way to garner both attention and hits.

The funny thing about Miss Barber’s Times piece on Rafa is that it doesn’t comfortably fit either mould. As problematic as I find it, and as much as she’s clearly out to ruffle feathers, I really don’t think she’s pot-stirring for the sake of it. But then neither does the piece succeed in yielding any of the hard-won, piercing insights writers of such character pieces go to such great lengths in order to deliver: it’s simply too coloured by her own prejudice to do that (will get to why I think so in a minute).
An astonishingly large number of people have greeted it as a truly incisive piece of journalism: lauding the way she supposedly set out to cut through the nauseatingly wholesome image manufactured and managed by Rafa’s PR machine (not something unique to Rafa by the way), and in doing so, to generate an insight (any insight) into “the real Rafa”, often, as they say, “by any means necessary”.
I don’t necessarily disagree with that, it may or may not be true. She wouldn’t, in any case, be the first journo to try it, nor is she likely to be the last: debunking the most cherished tenets of any cult is not nearly as original an angle as some seem to think.

But I also think she overshot a little. OK, more than a little. Actually, I think she was under pressure to come up with a “different take” on Rafa (very welcome) and got lost in a mire of her own preconceptions (not so welcome), in this case a selection of the most trite, unsavoury Rafa-motifs (like, say, pant-tugging) that even his most ardent haters stopped using many eons ago – ultimately, it has to be said, at a cost to her own credibility. A lot to admire, but also something of a lost opportunity.

Let me be clear: I have little problem with the way in which she almost luxuriates in tearing down some of the most sacred and sacrosanct tenets of Rafaworld. I daresay, a certain amount of snark goes with that territory –  the role of the iconoclast is, after all, anything but objective.

There’s only so many times you can be told that Rafa is “unaffected” by the accoutrements of fame and fortune, “happy” to travel economy class from Paris to London, or enjoys nothing better in between tournaments than to retreat back to Majorca for a “quiet spot of fishing”, before it begins to make you gag. How very Huckleberry Finn.
JUST as important, however, is what you attempt to replace the image with – in this case a toxic mix of snide commentary and reckless insinuation, that seems designed as much for inflammatory effect as it does to get at the “real Rafa”.

The point about his image is not that its fundamentally untrue – it may or may not be (I’m inclined to think some of it is) – but that it’s been managed, massaged and manicured, ultimately, into something above and beyond the original reality. And that this “image-squared” is then being used to control and shape perception.

Which, to be fair, seem to be her precise point. Mired as it is in layers of snark.

The point about snark is that it's the premium you (or rather the interviewee) must sometimes pay for the benefit of an insight. And in so far as “accepted practice” goes, that’s perfectly ok.

But if you’re going to spend an entire article lampooning his underwear, comparing him to Freddie Mercury, even making snide inferences about his libido and sexual orientation, and the future/stability of his relationship with Xisca, then you’d better be darned certain that you’re delivering on that insight. I don’t think she does.

Rafa: “[Xisca] is perfect for me, because she is very relaxed and easy-going and I’ve known her for a long, long time. Our families have been friends for many years.”

Hardly the language of passion, you’ll agree, but at least from then on he had an official girlfriend, which made up for the fact that his sleeveless tops and bulging biceps reminded one inexorably of Freddie Mercury. But The Girlfriend remains a distant presence, never actually around.

The obvious question is whether Miss Barber would be that exacting (if you can call it that) with a player she likes, whether that's Federer, Wozniacki, or anyone else. Whether she’d be as unflinching in her efforts at breaking down the PR machine (in so far as we’re convinced she’s actually done that) of a player more in tune with her (very subjective) notions of the values a sportsperson should supposedly embody – values she very evidently doesn’t believe Rafa does embody (not at any rate, to the degree we are being invited to believe).

She (Xisca) sometimes makes an appearance at his finals, among his family, but even long-time tennis insiders have never met her. Nadal says he sees her whenever he goes back to Majorca, but for a young man in peak physical condition, it doesn’t suggest the height of sexual fulfilment.

I can only record that there was a big difference in the enthusiasm with which he said he phoned his mother and sister every day, and whatever he was saying, or not saying, about his girlfriend. I’ll be pretty amazed if he ever marries her, though.

Try and imagine the outrage if Mirka was the object of such overtly spittle-flecked innuendo. I have a sneaking suspicion – perhaps unfounded (though no more unfounded than any of the more reckless extrapolations the piece makes) – that Miss Barber’s piece on Fed would read very differently. Just a suspicion, as I say.

One can always argue (as many have) that Feds superior command of English would mean he’d negotiate the attempts at cutting through his PR machine far more effectively than Rafa did. That’s probably true. At the very least, he could attempt to preempt some of the more obvious lines of attack, like, say, ‘jacketgate’ .

But I doubt that would have caused the writer concerned to refrain from making the most mind-blowing and sordid extrapolations imaginable if that is, indeed, what they were set on doing (which, as it happens, is EXACTLY what I remember them doing) - it's not, as I say, something I can see Miss Barber being that keen on (or as keen on).

Listen: I dare say Nadal really is a lovely man (though I refuse to say lad). But the point I’m trying to make is, whether he is or isn’t I wouldn’t know, and you wouldn’t either. He lives within this tight stockade of team Rafa, and sticks to the script his minders have written for him. It must require great discipline to be so controlled, but then it must require great discipline to be a world champion anyway.

If your raison d'etre is that we can never get close enough to Rafa (or any elite player) to make that kind of elusive insight, fine – but lets not pretend that’s nearly the revelatory, incisive or blinding piece of journalism so many seem convinced it is. And it certainly doesn’t warrant the flecks of spittle.

I daresay a less preeminent (and less prejudiced) writer could have made the same point with a fraction of ink.


Presumably, her point is that the mere existence of a PR machine, and the hegemony it exerts (again, hardly unique to Rafa), allows you to weave any kind of elaborate fantasy you want, and that that should be a two-way street: if you’re so intent on poeticising him as ‘Huck Finn’ then I have EVERY right to lampoon him as an uncaring, obnoxious neanderthal. 

Couldn’t agree more. Except the Huck Finn “earthiness” (however trite) does, at least, have a grain of truth to it. Even those ambivalent to his appeal concede that much – something she might have been cognisant of had she known more about tennis.

The neanderthal that Miss Barber supposes “will never marry Xisca”, on the other hand, is an elaborate and particularly caustic fantasy concocted in order to demonstrate what remains, at heart, a pretty unsubtle point – let us hope SHE would concede that much.

And I still think that she has an axe to grind with Rafa in particular – presumably because he doesn’t accord with an out-dated (and entirely flawed) vision of tennis “gentility” certain dinosaurs continue to insist upon, and is on some kind of misplaced, iconoclastic crusade aimed at exposing him as an overgrown, £67M fratboy.

Personally, I think that characterisation is flawed and doesn’t bear up to scrutiny (however much you might object to the PR machine) – but I’d be more accepting of it as “her opinion” if she were more honest about simply not liking Rafa very much. Which isn’t, after all, (and shouldn’t be) a punishable offence.

Instead, we’re expected to buy into the entirely spurious vision of the crusading saviour cutting through the tentacles of Rafa’s PR machine. Look at it how you want, but that ennobling image seems just as inaccurate as anything Rafa’s PR machine can conjure up.

Am I reaching? Probably – but, again, no farther than she does with Rafa  (several times over) throughout the piece. That axe is grinding so much its gouged clean through the flooring and is giving rise to various unwholesome tingling sensations in my nails and teeth.

In as much as she was after an angle, any angle, it seems she’d already made her mind up about it before starting the interview – which she then went on to use, almost, as a cathartic vehicle with which to lampoon Rafa with from every angle, and every which way but loose.

There is, to be fair, something to be said for her debunking of “the myth”. Much of what she says is beyond dispute.

As she correctly points out, Rafa is now 25, and,  by all accounts, half way through his tennis career (over half if you buy into all those stories about how the way he plays is supposedly shortening his career) – the “Huck Finn” image is as hackneyed, now, as all those superlative-laden tracts describing Fed’s game in terms like “art” and “poetry”.

And 'Rafa Inc.', valued at somewhere around £68M, is as much a corporate entity as Shell Oil – both requiring the most exacting standards of brand management.

The main trouble with Miss Barber’s piece is, aside from a small, far-right element of Rafaelites (a corresponding element might be found in the spectrum of Fedophiles, SerenaKads or Led Zeppelin enthusiasts), no one’s ever really lost sight of that.
Tennis fans are, by and large, an educated bunch. And are informed enough and savvy enough to realise that much of what is drip fed to them regarding their heroes is saccharine-laced fantasy. Not objecting to the mere presence of a PR machine should not be mistaken for not having the ability to account for one, nor for being unable to form their own opinions.

The material point that’s been been lost in the ubiquitous fallout is how patronising the article is to these tennis fans: it’s really rather difficult not to resent the implication that it takes someone of the preeminence of Miss Barber to re-educate and reorient us and to snap us out of our collective opium-infused stupour – especially when that someone admits to knowing so very little about tennis.

For my part – and I’d imagine it’s the same with most fans – I’ve never really bought into the attempts to further embellish Rafa’s wholesome image. The desperately romantic PR surgery is, at best, overwrought and, at worst, deeply nauseating. And will  in all likelihood, do little to influence tennis fans whose opinion will, long ago, already have crystallised, into something resembling romance, ambivalence or active dislike – or even an irregular fusion of all three – YES WE FANS REALLY CAN BE THAT NUANCED.

As it happens, I might choose to believe the romantic anecdotes, but mostly because I trust my own judgement about him, and only in so far as those anecdotes expound upon that very organic judgement –  the cloying narrative forged by his PR machine has nothing to do with it and serves as little more than an entertaining backdrop.
Unlike Miss Barber, I have no axe to grind regarding either Rafa or anyone else. But I would invite all those people greeting her piece as such fine, exemplary and “penetrating” journalism to ask themselves whether they’d be as tolerant of a piece so overtly derisory and so very evidently couched in prejudice  towards their faves  – whosoever that might be.


When Fed was so mercilessly crucified over ‘JacketGate’ by other similarly “preeminent” writers, there was, unfortunately, a small element of Rafaelites attempting to use the episode to supposedly “vindicate” their toxic hate.

Well, what goes around comes around.

Which is why I’d urge just a little caution from those that now feel supposedly “vindicated about Rafa” – not to crow TOO loudly, and to hold back on rubbing their hands togethr in such obviously grim satisfaction.

Let NO ONE feel secure from the fevered and reckless insinuations of a writer that’s already made up their mind.

(Pics: getty)


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