Would you like me to wrap that up for you?

So I never did my usual 10,000 word tirade for the Australian Open. Truth be told, the tournament’s taken a bit more out of me than expected. To go from not knowing anything about what happened after Round 2 to images of Roger Federer sobbing his nose off on TV was a bit like diving into a whirlpool of angst. So instead of trying to sort through the emotional haystack, I gave it two weeks of rest. But it’s back to business as usual at Picket Fence and here’s the Hot-or-Nots of the week ending 16th February 2009.





Muzza hits Title No 10

Gotta love Tennis.com’s headline captions: “Andy Murray became the first player to defeat Rafael Nadal in over a month…” Correct me if I’m wrong, but Rafa’s only played Rotterdam and the Australian Open in the last month? I’m constantly amazed at journalists’ ability to create sensationalism out of nothing. 


How do I explain this? A win’s a win, and being the last man standing is always hot, but this is obviously not one of Murray’s best wins, primarily because neither Muz nor Rafa played their best tennis during the match, in fact, neither of them played particularly well the entire tournament save for their respective semifinals. Don’t know what more to say really: 10 titles at his age, not bad. Pity none of them are grand slams. 


Rafa plays on.

Rafael Nadal doesn’t have the cleanest record when it comes to retirements and withdrawals, but not a lot of people would hold it against him. If he thinks he’s still got something left in him, he’ll play on, and when he does retire, you can bet your bottom dollar that there’ll be a legitimate reason for it. Someone send a tape of the match to Novak Djokovic please? 


The Record lives on

If Rafa gets few thumbs up for playing on despite his injury, so should James Blake, who chose to play against Mardy Fish even though he rolled his ankle in his previous match against Querrey. Blake and Federer are the only two guys in the Top 10 to have never retired mid-match in their careers. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it means something. 


MoMo’s back. Shhhhh…

Like I said in the previous post, I’ve long put Mauresmo in the same basket as my other “tortured artists”, namely Safin, Nalbandian, and Gasquet. The general policy for the T.A’s is to pretend to ignore them, but quietly enjoy when they do find the art within. Without raising expectations, I must say that I do appreciate the effort Mauresmo’s put in with her new-ish coach to get her game back to a good level. MoMo can be quite “Federer-esque” when she’s on, and it’ll be a sad day for women’s tennis when she decides to hang up her racquets. 


Foetus Fed serves notice

Oh yeth.


Dimitrov had a few tennis purists purring this week with his spirited performances against Berdych and Nadal. I did manage to youtube the first set of his match against Rafa plus a few more highlights and from what I saw, the guy moves very well for a 17 year old, big serve, even bigger forehand, not to mention that single handed backhand which has become a rarity in the men’s game these days. Some have compared him to a Federer junior. I myself dubbed him “Foetus Fed”, but maybe Mikhail Youzhny is a better comparison. In any case, best to forget about this one and let him develop in peace. It’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon in 2 years time if it looks any good. God knows too many junior champs never quite make it in the “real world”.


The Quiet Russian 

It’s tough being a female Russian tennis player these days. Compared to the Dementievas, Kuznetsovas and Sharapovas of this world, Vera Zvonareva often fades into the background. But whereas Dementieva and Kuznetsova can be classified as the underachievers of the women’s game given their potential, Zvonareva is their exact antithesis. Every time I see her name in a semifinal, final or as the winner of a tournament, it seems to take me by surprise, as if at the back of my mind I expected her to fall to some minor floater long before she even makes it to the tail end of a tournament. But as in life, often it’s the quite ones who overachieve. Congratulations to her on winning her first title of 2009. 


The Worm wins his second title… THIS YEAR

Generally, having the Worm’s name displayed anywhere near the vicinity of the word “Hot” should be made a crime. But Radek Stepanek has four ATP titles so far in his career, 2 of them won just this year, and in case you needed a reminder – it’s February. I’m a little disturbed. 


Actually a familiar pattern is beginning to emerge here. I happened to have livestreamed 5 of his matches at two tournaments that he’s won this year – against Soderling, Gasquet and Verdasco in Brisbane, and against Roddick and Fish in San Jose this week. The common theme in all those matches is that each time Stepanek has gotten completely blown off the court in the first set, each time, he’s managed to inch his way back into the second set and win it by a narrow margin. And each and every time, he went on to stepped up the antics in the third set – Tipsarevic-styled grunts, fist pumps, worm dances and celebratory fox trots – until his opponents’ body language began to wane. They started to complain to the umpire, to yell at themselves or simply to smash perfectly good racquets in frustration. Here’s a guy who knows how to get into his opponents’ heads, and he’s not bashful enough to restrain himself from resorting to his demeanour and body language to win a match.


I generally prefer simple good tennis over all on-court antics, and I certainly don’t consider it “honourable” I suppose to purposely resort to demoralising or intimidating your opponent to win a match. But Andy Murray is the only other guy on tour with two titles this year, so what do I know? 


Ana gets a coach

I’ve already written about it this week, but YAY again!  


Not Hot


The UAE gets political

So here’s the thing about Dubai: it’s a modern, metropolitan city full of people from all over the world. The city has a very clear vision for itself – it wants to be the sports mecca of the world. It wants the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to go there each year for an ATP 500 tournament that pays almost as much in prize money as some of the ATP 1000s, or people like Tiger Woods to build world class golf courses in the city to attract big names and their bigger sponsors. But all it takes is one denial of visa to remind us all of what lurks underneath its liberal capitalist facade.


Of course, a country is perfectly entitled to determine who they’d like to invite in or keep out, but you can’t cast yourself as a world class city determined to host big ticket sporting events, only to exclude people of certain nationalities from entering your borders. We go around hearing things about how sport brings humanity together, regardless of race or country, but sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes sport is a cruel reminder of the fault-lines we’ve drawn among ourselves. In the case of Shahar Peer, it’s a conflict of interest that the tournament organisers should’ve worked out with their government way before they gave the all-clear for Peer to enter the tournament. You gotta feel for Peer. 


Nadal’s knees

Rafa’s knees are definitely not hot. I don’t get why Rafa played Rotterdam this week to start with. I know it’s not advisable for players to just withdraw from tournaments the week before they start, but Rafa, dude you played 10 hours of tennis back to back in Melbourne, you know your knees are particularly susceptible to injuries, Indian Wells and Miami are just around the corner, don’t you think your body deserves a bit more than a week to rest up? It’s not like you needed the points. 


On top of that, Rafa got taken to 3 sets every single match at Rotterdam save for one. Is it any wonder the guy’s knees bailed out on him? 


Jelena’s words continue to speak louder…

Louder than her tennis that is. She had a great run after the US Open last year, but seems to have lost her mojo when she changed out of that daffodil coloured dress. 2009 hasn’t quite been the same, and truth be told, it hasn’t quite been the same for her compatriots either. 


And still no hope for the WTA

Here I was, thinking and hoping that Caroline Wozniacki might be the exact thing to generate some life back into the WTA field. But since her epic with Serena in Sydney, she’s been struggling to find her 2008 form. Losing to Dokic at the Australian Open is one thing, losing 64 61 to Rybarikova in Thailand is quite another. Back to some hard training for you.  


(On a side note, I drew a sigh of relief when I saw that Wozniacki has drawn a qualifier first round in Memphis next/this week. Little did I know that the qualifier went by the name of Jelena Dokic. Ooooh the deliciousness.)


Urgent Message for Greg Rusedski:


Call me. 



Mark Philippousis

+61 03 XXXX XXXX



And for anyone who hasn’t seen this yet… hot or not? You decide. For what it’s worth, Michael Clarke looks damn fine and I got a good laugh out of it. 



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