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Quotable Quotes: Out of chances.

I feel unstoppable, I feel I’m playing great tennis.

When you know no-one can beat you, not to even the number one, you’ve got a good feeling and it’s amazing stepping on court.

Okay, okay I geddit. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and how you want to read Tomic’s comments after his win in Sydney depends on your opinion of Tomic. And I hear the other side of the argument from Tomic Apologists as well: the guy is young! We’ve been harsh on him for things that other young people do. He’s confident! What’s wrong with that? He just went for a whole … 2 weeks undefeated, including against the No 1 player in the world. He’s allowed to be a little cocky. We should judge him so harshly because of his history because some of his earlier controversies were all because of his father. And boyyyyy … aren’t we glad we’re through with that man? Bernard Tomic is the “bad boy” of Australian tennis, and hey – everybody loves a bad boy, right?

Tomic Sydney 2013

Right. Let’s look at Tomic’s history here:  Read More…


AO2012 Post-final thoughts: All in the head. (by PJ)

And thus ends the first Grand Slam of the year. The guy with the trophy is Novak Djokovic and the guy with the plate is Rafael Nadal. And as we sit back and watch, the tennis media/world explodes with excitement at the new GOAT…

(I just want to interject here and say that I’ve never really believed in the GOAT debate. GOATS, to me, are these. Other than that, I feel that the eras/surfaces/players/competition – all too vastly different to arrive at one single absolute conclusion. But I disgress.)

Anyway, some post final thoughts to wrap up the dizzying explosion of tennis, tears, dramas, sweat and sunburn…

AO2012 final – a replay of the AO2009 final. Replace Federer with Nadal, and replace Nadal with Djokovic. The one who came off a gruelling semi-final defied the odds of physicality and fitness to win. The one supposedly more well-rested, the one with the supposed advantage…lost – not because of a lack of skill or talent, but to that mental demon floating around the head.

Rafa had all the chances and the momentum. Crawled back from a 0-40 hole in the 4th set, dug deep to win the tiebreaker, was up a break to lead 4-2 in the fifth. But then when Djokovic found that extra something, Rafa lost that extra something. When Djokovic broke back in the 5th, that was when the doubt crept into Rafa’s head. And mentally, that was that one hurdle, a magnanimous one, that gave Djokovic the ultimate advantage. The same advantage that Rafa had over Federer in the 2009 final (and in all their finals/meetings, I may add).

Rafa’s post-match conference spoke a lot of positivity, as did Murray’s post-match conference. These two guys have lost absolute heartbreakers, but to arguably the best player of the moment right now. Murray will move on – I have no doubt – and I feel that he will be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season. He’s at a good place, despite the loss.

Rafa? There is a lot of discussion and debate surrounding his mental state with this 7th-straight loss. As a Federer fan, who has watched Federer suffer and struggle at the hands of Rafa, believe me when I say that I know how Rafa fans feel. It’s frustrating and annoying to see your guy lose to that one other guy on a constant basis, and no matter what Rafa (and Federer) may have to say about it, we just know that it’s mental. Of course it’s not 100% mental but can we really deny that the block in both their brains against their respective conquerors had to do with the losses sustained over and over again?

No matter how mentally strong one may be – even to a toughie like Rafa – it has got to hurt. It has got to raise questions. And it has got to affect the confidence.

But where does Rafa go from here? For that fact, where does Federer go from here?

I’m not entirely sure that Federer will ever solve the Rafa riddle. As LJ had noted in one of her tweets, tennis is a game of match-ups sometimes, and the match-up between the Federer-Nadal game gives Rafa the bigger edge, not to mention that mental advantage. Of course, the old man may still find a way now and then – I won’t ever count him out – but I’m pretty sure he’ll end his career with that deficit H2H to Rafa.

And hey, I’m okay with it.

As for Rafa…he finds himself on the undesirable end of this rivalry with Djokovic. What had hurt Federer – game wise – will not hurt Djokovic. It will be back to the drawing board for him, and he will have to figure out Djokovic in a way that he never needed to figure out anyone else. It will be a challenge for him, but I’m sure that he will rise to the occasion. I’m not ready to write him off as the eternal loser in this rivalry. Because we all know that isn’t set in stone, not yet.

Roland Garros will be very interesting, especially if Rafa and Djokovic happens to meet again. As the best clay courter the tennis world has ever seen, Rafa will have the edge. And beating Djokovic on his beloved Parisian clay may be what Rafa needs to boost his confidence once again. Although if I can be selfish, I am, of course, rooting for a certain pair of Grandpa Pants to spoil the potential of a Rafa/Djokovic final.

I think I’m approaching that zen point of Federer’s defeats – to Rafa, or otherwise. Yes, the losses still hurt. Yes, they still make me feel like crap. But I think the time it takes for me to get over it has lessened gradually. At the end of it, I’m just glad I still get to see him play.  I’m glad that he’s still around. After all, I’m not a Federer fan because he wins (in fact I kinda loathed him when he was all dominant and winning everything circa 2004-2006). I’m a Federer fan because he embodies what I admire in a sportsperson – the determination, the spirit, the passion he has for the game. Because he plays a friggin’ beautiful game of tennis, and because his pants are friggin’ hot. Everyone loves a winner, but strangely enough, I became a bigger Federer fan than I was when he was at the losing end (Wimbledon 2008) because then you see what kind of stuff that he’s truly made of.

Rafa fans, you have a lot to be proud of when it comes to your man. Even if he doesn’t figure out the Djokovic riddle (but I doubt this), he’s never a loser. His willingness to fight, his never-giving up spirit, and the fact that he always leaves it all on the court, each and every time – that speaks volumes about him as a person.

I think the level of men’s tennis is at dizzying heights right now. The Top 4 is probably the strongest Top 4 we’ve seen in recent years. It will be interesting to see if any outsiders can wrestle their way into this circle. This sets up for a very intriguing 2012 season…even if I may encounter heartbreaks and heartaches along the way, I’m excited to see all of this unfolding.

As for the ladies’ side…they have a new #1 – Victoria Azarenka, who captured the spot by winning Australian Open and blasting Shrieky Sharapova off court with a bagel. Ladies’ tennis looks as exciting as the men’s and even less predictable. The last 4 Slams are all won by first time Slam winners – 2 young ‘uns (Kvitova and Azarenka) and 2 oldies (Li Na and Stosur). Will this trend continue throughout 2012? Not if Serena Williams has anything to say about it. Her Australian Open campaign is not successful according to her lofty standards, but she’s back, and back with a vengeance.

This year’s Australian Open has been good for me. I was a cover girl as a tennis tragic who visited online tennis forums. I got to cover an adidas event and see Tsonga, Woznicaki and Simon up-close. I’ve written a lot more about tennis than I ever had in the past. Most importantly, I saw a lot of great matches, saw a lot of 5-setters, saw the players grind it out, saw Federer playing some wonderfully fantastic and pretty tennis, saw the heart and soul and guts of Lleyton Hewitt. The results wasn’t what I wanted, but that isn’t something I’ll dwell on when I think about my experiences at the Happy Slam this year.

And thus this concludes my guest bloggage for Australian Open. I’ve been rambly and most of the time not making a lot of sense, but it’s been a LOT of fun, as usual. Thanks again to dear Dootsiez for letting me occupy this spot on the fence.

And now back to you!

– PJ

Federporn (Belated) Friday (By LJ): Choice Slides from AO2012

Are you feeling a little low? Thinking the final with Novak and Rafa just won’t do it for you? Well hopefully some pRon will make you feel a little better and keep you energised once you decide to swear off tennis forever after the end of AO2012…or until Davis Cup starts up in 2 weeks time.

Now I was only able to grace AO2012 with my presence for 2 days and thus only saw Princess Rog a few times but hopefully I’ve made up for it with the sheer amount of photographic spammage I made.

Now, I’m pretty short, 1cm shorter than Francesca Schiavone…or so Wikipedia tells me…so after a giant debacle whereby I was sticking by Roger’s OWN practice schedule on Court 4 and waiting in the hot hot sun for over an hour…douchebag decides to turn up on Court 16 (which is like 5km away) and the only reason I caught him was because I decided to saunter over and say hi to some RFcommers.

For those who haven’t had the privilege of waiting out for a Federer practice session in the scorching Melbourne sun…let me put it this way…if you’re not there at least 45min before his scheduled practice…you ain’t getting a front row seat baby…and thus have to fight through a 5-9 deep crowd (if you’re short) just to get a glimpse. And this is when being an aggressive photographer with a BIG lens…comes in handy…

At first…it was pure hold the camera up and spam…I couldn’t see shit…I just hoped my camera could…

Roger Federer Day 6 Practice - Australian Open 2012

Roger Federer Day 6 Practice - Australian Open 2012

Roger Federer Day 6 Practice - Australian Open 2012

Yeah douchebag even looked good without been seen…is that akin to if a tree falls in the woods does it still make a sound type analogy? Anyway…i dunno, soon I had a relatively clear line of sight anyway…

Roger Federer Day 6 Practice - Australian Open 2012

Roger Federer Day 6 Practice - Australian Open 2012Do you like ACTION??? I LOVE ACTION…here are some action SHOTS…

Roger Federer Practice Session Day 7 Australian Open 2012

Roger Federer Practice Session Day 7 Australian Open 2012

Roger Federer Practice Session Day 7 Australian Open 2012The above photo btw…is possibly one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken…I’m blowin up that baby and making it into a NIKE JUST DO IT! poster or some shit…I should probably sell it to other worshipping fangirls…or I should just sell it to NIKE, in fact why doesn’t NIKE just hire me to take photos of him for their campaigns…huh? huh?

Roger Federer Practice Session Day 7 Australian Open 2012

Roger Federer Practice Session Day 7 Australian Open 2012

Roger Federer Practice Session Day 7 Australian Open 2012

Roger Federer Practice Session Day 7 Australian Open 2012

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED??? Well here’s some more pervy stuff…

Roger Federer VS Bernard Tomicmirnin’ himself on the big screen

Roger Federer VS Bernard Tomic

Lashes..and Chest hair…completely unintentional….I SWEAR!!!!

Roger Federer VS Bernard Tomic


Roger Federer Practice Session Day 7 Australian Open 2012


Roger Federer Practice Session Day 7 Australian Open 2012

Well I hope you enjoyed that…and I hope it made you feel slightly better about AO2012 in general. If you liked my photos, the rest from the tourney of Wogie McFed are here, here and here. Also if you really really like the pRon that I give you…petition AO2013 to give me a media pass or something…or even better maybe ask to make me their official Photog for the next Aussie slam…cause you know it’ll result in more stuff for you guys.

I’ll try and enjoy the final as much as I can tomorrow night, but for now Wog and I will both bid Adieu!

Roger Federer Day 6 Practice - Australian Open 2012Great posts by PJ and Matt below on the serious stuff…like tennis and whatnot…check them out.

AO2012 Men’s Final Preview Thoughts: So this is how it’s going to be. (by PJ)

If this is not Australian Open, I wouldn’t bother…no, not really. As sadface and grouchy and kinda devastated I am over Roger’s loss, I like to think I can still appreciate a good tennis match. And let’s face it, yesterday’s match – after sucking for 1.5 sets in hilarious comedy of errors – ended up being a great one. The match showcased shots, talent, stamina, physical and mental strength, and the fact that I think that may be a match more about the loser than the winner.

The general consensus after the match was that Andy Murray has arrived. I’m not entirely convinced – just because of the way he sort of mentally disappeared during the 4th set after a hard-fought 3rd set, and the way he could not mentally hold on to push Djokovic after successfully breaking him when he was serving for the match. Those are opportunities he HAS to take and by not taking them, he ended up on the losing side, and the “could have, should have, would have” side of things (my my, how familiar). Having said that, his post-match conference showed a maturing player, confident about his chances for the rest of the season. I doubt that he’s going to go into post-tournament meltdown ala 2010/2011. Mr.Lendl is good for him. And Mr.Lendl will ensure that the for the rest of the season, it will be more about the Big 4 rather than the Top 3 + Murray.

So, the final tomorrow. Nadal versus Djokovic. Playing for the history books, playing for confidence, playing for that humongous mental advantage for the rest of the year. How much bigger can it get?

Despite that 6 straight losses last year, you’ll have to be insane to count out Nadal completely. And despite that gruelling semi-final and lesser rest, you’ll also have to be insane to count out Djokovic. For me, there’s no clear-cut winner in this one. In my opinion, skill/game wise, both players are similar in their baseline styles. Nadal has a killer forehand. Djokovic has a killer backhand. Their chances will be hugely dependent on how well they serve on the day.

Mentally? Now this is interesting, isn’t it? Going back to 2009, I believe Nadal was able to beat Fed purely because of the mental edge. Fast-forward 3 years later, Nadal finds in himself in Federer’s shoes. Will he follow the same footsteps – ultimately losing the match because of SIX LOSSES lighting up in his brain in neon lights – or will he defy all odds and pull off a spectacular win? Rafa is one of the toughest out there when it comes to fighting spirit, let’s be honest. But then again, I’ve never seen him as lost as he did during last year’s US Open final…so it had to be said that tomorrow will be very very interesting indeed.

Why do I think Nadal will beat Djokovic:

1)      Extra day’s rest. With his style of play, that extra day’s rest is VERY VERY handy. Djokovic is at a slight disadvantage just because of the physicality in their games.
2)      PJ’s theory of Something’s Gotta Give. 6 losses in a row? No one beats Rafael Nadal 7 times in a row, no?
3)      Rafa played the best tennis I’ve seen from him in a while in the match where he beat Grandpa Fed. If he keeps up that sort of performance and pulls off those crazy defensive shots, he’s well in it.
4)      Djokovic’s “breathing problems” although let’s face it, it’s questionable but if it’s affecting him (like truly), it’s advantage Rafa.
5)      Ya think Rafa wants to put a stop to this nonsense of Djokovic beating him all the friggin’ time? YA THINK???!?

Why do I think Djokovic will beat Nadal:

1)      Repeat of AO2009, replace Fed with Rafa and Rafa with Djokovic. Adrenaline and history (6 straight wins across all tournaments – from the Mickey Mouse to the Masters 1000 to the Slams) says he will.
2)      He’s gotta be supremely confident he can do it, 5-setter semis or not. He played a 5-setter against Fed in USO last year. Didn’t affect him.
3)      He beat Rafa 6 times last year. On all surfaces. Obviously knows how to beat him.
4)      I think there’s something about Australian Open that brings out the best in him. It’s where he won his first Slam, and since he won last year, I’ve been seeing a certain kind of edge and confidence this year that seemed to suggest he couldn’t lose (but then again, my gut feelings are often lame and wrong).
5)      He’s not the same player he was, mentally and physically, as proven yesterday. He’ll hang with Rafa. Hang like a barnacle and may just pull it off towards the end.
6)      Ya think he wants to keep Rafa as his bunny, and therefore have a VERY REAL shot at Djokovic Slam at RG – especially if Fed ends up on Rafa’s half again? YA THINK?!!?!?

Well, I hope we’re in for a good match tomorrow and not a total snooze-fest like last year. However I’m not nearly big enough to say I’ll be truly happy for whoever that ends up winning because frankly, I kinda couldn’t care less. #sourgrapes #bitter #smallperson #sosueme

But I’ll say this: May the best man win, and may he be truly deserving. 

(And Federer’s pants are still the hottest.)

– PJ

P.S. don’t forget to read Matt’s excellent write up on the Djokovic/Murray semi-final.

The Multiplication and Magnificence Beneath the Masks

And then there was “The Other Semifinal,” which has led us to “The Other Rivalry.”

I know that Novak Djokovic is referred to as “Satan” by some Fed fans, and I know that Andy Murray is not quite the favorite player of the foundress of this Roger Blog, but as you might expect, I’m not going to be the one to take swipes at Mr. Federer’s other prime competitors, the men who are going to make it hard for him to win major number 17 when Rafa’s not the opponent. It’s just not how I roll… unless you do what Fernando Gonzalez did to James Blake in the semifinals of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. (Then you land in my doghouse/firing zone and stay there.)

No, after watching every bit of Djokovic’s 4-hour, 50-minute triumph over Murray in a spellbinding semifinal (well, except for a few 40-love points during which I tweeted or read tweets), what is there to do but praise both men and note how the Federer-Nadal alchemy was multiplied in a magnificent manner by two men who wear their own share of masks? Indeed, what is so deliciously fascinating about “The Other Semifinal” (Djokovic-Murray) and “The Other Rivalry” it has brought us to – Nadal versus Djokovic for the championship, again – is that the dynamics which enfolded the hero and central Swiss protagonist of this blog have boomeranged to other players.

Federer’s inability to consolidate break leads in sets? Andy Murray knows the feeling after his loss to the Joker.

Federer’s inability to win one or two final points against Djokovic in New York, especially this past year? Murray tasted the feeling against the Serb last year in the Rome Masters semifinals, but now he’s absorbed that exquisite pain in a major semifinal, after losing three break points at 5-all in the final set… two of them on masterful Djokovic saves, but a third on a donated backhand.

Djokovic doesn’t just break Federer’s heart at the US Open. He breaks Nadal’s heart with regularity across the globe, and now he’s building a track record of leaving Andy Murray one inch short of the finish line. Truly and without dispute, the most outstanding feature of Novak Djokovic’s rise to the top of men’s tennis is found not in his early-round demolitions of tomato cans, but in his ability to so consistently pull five-set epics out of the fire against elite, credentialed foes. The 2010 US Open semis. The 2011 US Open semis. The (four-set, not five) 2011 US Open final. The 2012 Australian Open semis. When you so regularly win four- or five-hour matches that sit on the razor’s edge for an eternity, it’s hard to assign an overly central place to luck in the larger scheme of things. Consistent winning is borne of toughness; it’s only the occasional winning that can be seen as aberrational. Right now, Djokovic’s belief in himself is so substantial that any of his old tics – the heavy breathing, the hangdog appearance, the works – do not deter him, not after his body spills the tank. I thought Djokovic’s body – clearly cooked at the World Tour Finals – would not recover in 1.5 months for this tournament, but his win over Murray, in which he improbably outlasted Murray on a physical level (not just a mental one), proves otherwise.

I remarked on Twitter after Djokovic broke for 5-2 in the fifth set – ironically, by playing the kind of defensive point that Nadal used to fend off Federer late in the fourth set on Thursday (a ridiculous defensive lob from the ad corner that floated to the back baseline and reset the point) – that while Nadal is the best fighter I have ever seen in tennis, Djokovic has established a remarkable standard for competitive grit over the past 12 months. Blog manager P.J. thoughtfully noted that Lleyton Hewitt deserves to be at the forefront of such a conversation, a point that is well taken. In recalibrating my remarks, then, Hewitt is probably the best fighter tennis has seen in terms of making the most out of otherwise pedestrian talent. Hewitt has a crisp backhand, but his rise to two major titles was based on work ethic and stamina, and not much else. This is where the discussion between Hewitt and our two Australian Open finalists takes divergent paths.

When I say that Nadal is the best fighter I’ve ever seen on a tennis court – and that Djokovic has been the prime pugilist of the past 12 months – I mean (and meant) to say that Rafa and Nole are the best exemplars of a fighting spirit translating championship potential into championship reality at the highest levels of competition. Hewitt filled the post-Sampras, pre-Federer (non-Safin, non-Nalbandian) vacuum with two majors won on the back of relentless consistency owing to fitness and determination, but once Roger ushered in this new and more formidable era of men’s tennis, Hewitt took a back seat, with his 2005 U.S. Open semifinal run being his last great charge at the flag and his 2005 Australian Open final against Safin being his last major championship match in a decorated career. For Nadal and Djokovic, the fight they invest in their tennis – and especially in late-stage major-tournament marathons – has carried them to more than a few mountaintop moments. Rafa and Nole are collecting the scalps and accomplishments of all-time great players, players who belong in top-10 lists and not just the ranks of those who have had (“merely”) highly successful careers. It’s in that especially lofty sense that Nadal and Djokovic are prime tennis fighters.

Spiritual author Ron Rolheiser says that the saints of our age “carry solitude at a high level,” without bitterness or pettiness. Similarly, Nadal and Djokovic – as is apparent after their Australian Open semifinal triumphs – fight at a high level, carrying their bodies to remarkable feats even though they both worry a lot about their physical condition, often to the point where it seems as though they’re acting. They’re not “acting”; it’s more like “acting out” in a necessary, albeit sloppy and inelegant, discharge of nerves and other accumulated psychic debris.

This brings us to Sunday’s championship match, the match that Federer fans can’t stand but which – speaking only for myself – is still a consummate tennis treat: Nadal and Djokovic, now in a third straight major final. There is pain associated with this matchup for any Fed fan, but much as I spoke beyond the agony of Woger’s loss to Rafa in Thursday’s semifinal, I will speak beyond the hurt in sizing up this match as well. Not every Fed fan will be able to appreciate this match for what it is, and that’s okay, but I will personally choose to see it as an event of epic proportions, which is frankly what a major final should be.

The aspect of this major final between Nadal and Djokovic – in Melbourne, in 2012 (not their previous meetings) – which jumps off the printed page is that it brings about yet another delicious bit of role reversal in men’s tennis. In 2011, Nadal became the Roger Federer of 2008, making finals left and right but losing to a nemesis at virtually every step along the way. Now, Nadal is once again placed in Federer’s shoes, relative to the last (and only) time that the Spaniard lifted the championship trophy inside Rod Laver Arena.

I do think that the 2008 Wimbledon final – owing to the circumstances, the pressure, and the overall magnitude of the occasion – was the greatest men’s tennis match ever played. However, when Rafael Nadal’s story is told in full, the greatest feat ever attained by the Mallorcan will be his 2009 Australian Open double: Winning two matches – a semifinal over Fernando Verdasco and a final over Federer – that took 9 hours and 37 minutes in a span of just two days. Nadal completely emptied his tank in a 5-hour, 14-minute semifinal against Verdasco, and with just one day off, he was able to find enough fuel in that tank to outlast Fed (and that’s exactly what he did; Roger hit a wall at 1-2 in the fifth set) in a 4-hour, 23-minute epic whose quality through the first three games of the fifth set was arguably better than in the 2008 Wimby final.

Yes, the shoe is now on the other foot. It’s not the rested Nadal – the beneficiary of the first semifinal slot in Melbourne – who is being forced to dig deep into the last reaches of his stamina. It’s Djokovic who must recharge after the 4-hour, 50-minute war with Murray in the second (Friday) semifinal. If Djokovic beats Nadal in a protracted battle, the Serbian will have become Nadal, and Rafa will become Fed, adding a new 2012 twist to the “changing places” narrative which emerged in the 2011 season.

Federer fans might detest both players – with the clear majority wanting Djokovic to keep Nadal’s major title haul at 10 – but even if some of you hate the reality of this match, you can’t deny that the backdrop is juicier than the freshest farmer’s market mango. If Djokovic beats Nadal THIS TIME, Rafa’s confidence will be shaken to an even greater degree; however, the flip side is that if Rafa finds a way to prevail against a taxed foe, the Mallorcan could produce a three-major year and renew talk about overtaking Fed’s 16 crowns.

You thought there was a lot riding on the Wimbledon and US Open finals? The stakes have been raised. It’s not just Nadal who is playing for history, either; if Djokovic wins, he’ll be the reigning champion of three majors and will have a chance to win four in a row in Paris at the French. He’ll also have a great chance to win three more majors this year after his ridiculously good 2011. Had Murray been able to beat a physically struggling Djokovic (in the early sets, at any rate; Nole found a fifth wind in the fourth set…), the narrative would have been that the Serb’s body just wasn’t ready to reduplicate its 2011 magic, but after surviving that scare, Djokovic has given himself a shot to prove his doubters (I was one of them) that his body is more resilient than October and November of 2011 ever suggested it could be.

As was said at the end of my Fedal post a day and a half ago, I prefer – as do all of you – the way Woger plays tennis. I like my tennis players to be artistic, flowing shotmakers first and pugilists second. That will always be the case, and rightly so. Bold risk-taking is such a more marvelous feat worthy of this brief human lifespan than baseline grinding. It’s why Fed is treasured by his fans across the globe.

However, as I also said in my Fedal post, there’s room enough to acknowledge and appreciate other forms of excellence and different, multiplied manifestations of greatness. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic wear their own masks of insecurity (Andy Murray does, too, but Mr. Lendl seems to be getting the Scot to grow up at long last…), but those masks shouldn’t be seen as the real persons who thrive so fully within the tennis rectangle. As one great champion – Federer – moves to the side and two other champions form “The Other Rivalry” in men’s tennis, my heart – though certainly wishing for a more Swiss-flavored outcome – cannot help but appreciate the men’s final we’re about to have. What Novak Djokovic showed against Andy Murray is that he’s decent enough to rip out the hearts of players other than Roger. Sunday night, Mr. Djokovic will try to rip out the heart of Rafa Nadal. If he can, he will ironically produce a feat every bit as impressive as Nadal’s crowning career moment, the one fashioned in Melbourne three very long years ago.

I don’t care if some Fed fans can’t stomach this matchup. Personal preferences aside, this is going to be a compelling sporting event, with aftereffects and storylines that will fill the 2012 tennis year with an unending supply of intrigue and richness.

It’s hard to be too unhappy in the face of such a landscape.

Facing Facts And Feeling Fine

The story of Fedal XXVII began on Twitter. P.J. and I briefly DM-ed each other before Thursday’s Australian Open semifinal (notice that you can’t spell “semifinal” without “seminal,” for that is what the moment was…) between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. If Grandpa McSquishy Pants won, P.J. would do the write-up. If Rafa rose to the occasion and did the voodoo that 2009 in Melbourne once knew, it was agreed that I would handle this task.

Well, here I am.


This is a Federer fan blog, for those of you on the outside looking in (if you’re a first-time Picket Fencer, welcome; just know that Federese is spoken in these here parts…). Therefore, this community once again feels the sting of a semifinal loss against a great rival. However, I’ve always written – here and on other online haunts such as Peter Bodo’s TennisWorld – that there’s room enough for Rafa fans in a Fed appreciation society, and vice versa. Ever since their first major semifinal – on that electric June evening in Paris in 2005 – this most fascinating of sports rivalries has polarized and fragmented tennis fans across the world. Yet, on the occasion of their second semifinal meeting in a major – six and a half long years later – the appropriate instinct is to emphasize how great these men have been – together – for the sport and, by extension, our lives. Thursday’s 3-hour, 42-minute battle royale should evoke such a sentiment in every continent and heart.

Yes, the pain of loss is fresh for Planet Federer, but that sick, sad feeling ought to subside and give way to an appreciation of both Our Roger – deficient but gallant – and the Vamos Brigade’s dashing hero, who found some more of that 2009-style mojo at Rod Laver Arena. This well-worn rivalry has become so entrenched in the public mind that its various memes and narratives have become almost impossible to detach from, its tension points intractable and insoluble. Yet, it’s my humble opinion that as Federer climbs into his 30s and Rafa begins to face the march toward his late 20s and – with it – the loss of the footspeed on which he depends, it’s so important for Roger and Rafa fans to come to terms with these legendary champions, their soaring virtues, and their small yet present weaknesses.

The bottom line is that after Thursday’s match, Federer fans need to face some facts… and feel fine about it all. There are plenty of truths to be told in the careers of Roger and Rafa. The ones that don’t favor Wogie McFed don’t have to be denied or avoided, and they don’t have to be cast in a negative light. In fact, the more respect Mr. Nadal receives, the more the happy glow of praise reflects on Mr. Federer himself.

You don’t have to like it, fellow Fed fans. I don’t. However, it’s simply a fact of life that when Roger and Rafa play in the majors, the Spaniard is the better big-point player. Make no mistake, Federer won plenty of big points on Thursday; Roger saved triple break point in the third set and dug out of a few 15-40 deficits at other points in the match, including 2-all in the fourth. Federer won the tense first-set tiebreak; held serve at 4-5 and 5-6 in the third when logic suggested that Nadal would break to win the set before a tiebreak; and created break point opportunities until the very end.

There was just one problem with all the big points Federer did win in this battle of champions: They weren’t as numerous as the points Nadal won.  In a match littered with errors but defined primarily by the artistic excellence and always-emergent creativity of these two marvels, Nadal had the final say. It is perfectly fair to say that the breakdown of Federer’s forehand cost Roger the match, but one can’t make that comment in isolation; in tennis, the opponent on the other side of the net is part of the dialogue, and on Thursday, Nadal played a part in making Federer’s money shot hit far too much tape and net.

The shot that lingers in the memory from the 2009 Australian Open final was Rafa’s forehand pass in the first set, with Federer serving at 4-2, 30-15. Federer did everything right — playing with aggression and decisiveness, he ultimately stuck a shot to the ad corner with textbook crispness and precision. Rafa, though, running like a demon well behind the baseline, used his long strides and bolo-whip action to call forth a mighty passing shot that Federer couldn’t touch. It’s possible to say that Federer thought the point was over, but then again, how can any human being be conditioned to expect not just a ball coming back, but with a ridiculous hooking spin just inside the sideline? There was no answer for Rafa’s passing shot three years ago. Nadal is that rarest of men who can absorb a peRFect-10 kind of point from Roger Federer and stamp a big fat “11” on a package marked “return to sender,” or more technically, “return past sender.” Those displays of otherworldly brilliance have managed to unsettle Fed just enough to make a difference when it really counts. In the spirit of disrupting a person’s mental comfort zone, there’s simply no need to overthink the matter: Federer loses to Nadal not because of the game plan, but because his shots don’t hold up for the duration. He doesn’t lose because of tactics, but because of execution. He doesn’t lose because he fails to hit tremendous shots – Federer would have owned a good 35 more winners on Thursday if he had been playing anyone other than Rafa – but because Nadal forces him to hit four or five more weapons-grade groundstrokes on a majority of points. Federer finished so many of those points by hitting “only” three.


It’s human nature to be unnerved – as the athlete in the arena or as a devoted fan of that very athlete – when all the things that led to your success and happiness over the years are thrown back at you by an opponent who was born and molded to beat you or make you miserable. Remember all the times when Fed would block back a 135-mile-per-hour Andy Roddick serve, hitting that floated stab return which would land on or just inside the baseline at Centre Court Wimbledon, thereby resetting the point and taking away Roddick’s one big hammer?

Well, that’s what Nadal has done so often to Federer, and with Roger on the verge of making a stirring comeback deep in the fourth set on Thursday, it happened once more, with (anguished) feeling for Fed and his followers.

You saw the play unfold, but it has to be noted for the record: Down 4-5 and having already been counted out by thousands of people on Twitter (I follow only a few thousand; surely, the 20 Fed doubters on my feed could be multiplied…) and perhaps millions around the globe, Federer – cracking the backhand that kept him in this match – earned a break point for 5-all. With one more point, Federer could have put himself in position to take the fourth set to a tiebreak, thereby earning a very realistic shot at one set for a spot in Sunday night’s final. On this break point, Federer didn’t flinch the way he so often has in the past against Nadal (including the 2009 Australian Open final). He played a picture peRFect point, whipping his groundies with authority and then steaming a forehand to the ad corner… the same corner at the same end of the Laver Arena court where Rafa hit that passing shot at 4-2, 30-15, three years ago. This time, though, Nadal didn’t uncork a thermonuclear response. Instead, he hit a defensive lob that soared into the sky. The moonshot didn’t seem likely to stay in the court, given that it flew off Rafa’s racquet, but after 11:15 p.m. at night in Melbourne, the ball wasn’t flying as much as it did at 7:45 p.m., when the match was only three minutes old and Roger was hitting through the court. The ball hung in the air for an eternity but lacked the starch it needed to sail long. It dropped right on the baseline, and in that moment, Federer’s mind had to be in unison with the collective thoughts of his fans: “SH*T!!!!!!!!”

Wanting to do something substantial after putting Rafa on the ropes, Fed went with the overhead from the baseline as he normally does. What wasn’t normal, though, was the combination of pressure and frustration that comes from knowing that an opponent perfectly equipped to beat him – to counter each and every one of his strengths, to beat him at his strongest points – had withstood his very best. Federer has seen Rafa pass him; he’s seen Rafa block balls back, especially on clay; he’s seen Nadal hit mind-boggling shots with impossible angles from unheard-of spots behind the baseline and wide of the doubles alley… spots Nadal used with scary regularity on Thursday night. (By my count, Nadal hit at least five of the 25 best passing shots he has EVER hit in THIS ONE MATCH. Think about that for a bit…) Yet, no matter how often Fed sees Rafa play to the height of defensive genius, it is still hard to accept the notion that your best shotmaking can be stopped by better defense. A real dose of mental weariness crept into Fed’s overhead, and a tame soft-slice version of the overhead – not the emphatic slice overhead Fed hits so well – swerved wide. Nadal, preposterously still serving, closed out the match two points later, and his block-back lob retrieval represented his final escape from peril.

There is simply no point of comparison with the way Rafael Nadal Parera defends a tennis court. Novak Djokovic is worthy of being in the discussion, but he’s very clearly the number two man in the room as far as defense is concerned. (Federer remains a brilliant defender in his own right, and in his 2005-2007 prime, he was every bit as formidable as Djokovic is now.) When Nadal and Djokovic play, they stretch the notions of what defense can be, but that’s because the two-handed backhanders are willing to trade strokes in a male mating ritual version of tennis, two young bucks knocking antlers in an open field. With Federer’s one-hander creating breathtaking brushstrokes of virtuosity at every turn, it’s different for Nadal — Rafa has to respond to Roger’s ability to take the ball a lot earlier and create a more daring angle. If a Nadal-Djokovic tennis meal is meat-and-potatoes two-hand-backhanding at its gritty, grinding best, the Fedal dinner is a succulent stir-fry of colors, oils and spices colliding in a wok and bursting with zesty flavor.

The fact – and it is a fact – that Rafa usually blunts and parries Federer’s finest offerings is the true testament to the quality of the Mallorcan. Federer played an imperfect yet still mesmerizingly entertaining match on Thursday – his highlight reel was anything but sparse – only to run into an opponent who had more answers in the crucible of crunch time.

What are we left with after Fedal XXVII? We’re left with simple truths – some of which go acknowledged and some of which remain hidden. The thing to appreciate about these two men and this rivalry is that there’s room for both truths, both stories, both resumes, to exist side by side.

There’s room for Roger’s offense – supplemented by terrific defense – and Rafa’s defense, which is accompanied by an always-underrated offense.

There’s room to acknowledge that Federer came up short while also seeing that he attacked points and pursued victory with the fullness that was so nakedly absent from the 2007 French Open final, when he refused to go after Nadal’s second serves and hit one tame second ball after another into the net. There’s room to acknowledge that while Federer still fails to win the biggest points against Nadal, he no longer goes meekly into that good night.

There’s room to acknowledge that Federer was the inferior man on Thursday while just as quickly pointing out that Roger is 4.8 years older than Nadal, playing the best 30-year-old tennis since Andre Agassi and retaining so much of the instinctual genius that makes him a fan favorite the world over. There’s room to acknowledge that Federer’s tennis at 30 is likely to eclipse anything Rafa or Djokovic are going to muster.

There’s also room to acknowledge that while Federer has left trophies on the table against Nadal, it is just as true – if not more so – that Nadal has always existed in a mental comfort zone against Federer for reasons that transcend the forehand-to-backhand dynamic. As Rafa said in post-match interviews late Thursday night, seeing Federer set own a standard of extraordinary achievement gave Rafa something to aspire to and shoot for. Rafa has always been the hunter in this rivalry, the man who could measure his evolution as a professional by his performances against Roger. By having that target in front of him throughout his career – in a way Federer could never replicate (not even with his idol, Pete Sampras, who left the scene before Federer hit the big time) – Nadal accessed the deepest wells of concentration and belief, wells that are not about to run dry. One can acknowledge Federer’s frailties against Nadal and yet see, paradoxically, that Roger’s career and all of its virtues are the very things which gave his Spanish friend and rival so much motivational fuel for the long haul, fuel for a decade and not just an 18-month spurt that so many tennis players enjoy but then lose hold of just as rapidly.

One can acknowledge that Rafa is now 3-2 against Fed in majors on non-clay surfaces, but there’s also room to realize that Nadal did not play Fed in hardcourt majors when the Swiss was at his peak. One can acknowledge that Federer’s major dominance extends across all surfaces, but there’s also room to realize that when Federer was Rafa’s age (25.5 years), he had only one French Open final under his belt, which means that Rafa still has time to burnish his hardcourt major credentials.

In the end, I think of this when I think of Nadal’s pursuit of Federer’s records: It is so easy and instinctive from a Fed fan’s perspective to want to make the argument that diminishes Rafa and enhances Federer, but really, why not give Nadal all the credit in the world and flip the script in the process? Praising the Mallorcan for being the one man to stand against Federer only ADDS to Roger’s reputation instead of detracting from it. If Federer’s achievements and skills were not that imposing in the first place, Rafael Nadal would not have emptied his insides and spilled his soul to become the man and player he is today. If Federer’s quality is what we think it is – the most beautiful tennis the world has ever seen, even at age 30, when Pete Sampras was sliding to No. 10 in the rankings (when men’s tennis was comparatively weak) – then Nadal’s ability to pick Fed apart becomes that much more impressive. If Fed’s old man tennis should be treated as the gem it is, Rafa’s 25-year-old prime – which should be better than Federer’s 30-year-old game – can be given its due as well.

For Roger Federer to be throwing down THIS kind of tennis at age 30, reaching his 30th major semifinal (he’s likely to pass Jimmy Connors for first on the all-time list before the year’s done…) and being the “old man” in the Big Four, should be seen as a very special affirmation of a champion’s enduring legacy. In tennis, though, the cycles of time are short and the person on the other side of the net is never excluded from the conversation. Rafael Nadal – thanks in large part to Roger Federer – is better than his Swiss buddy in the present tense. Accepting that fact might seem to be the heart of darkness and the admittance of defeat for a self-respecting Federista, given that we all prefer Roger’s way of going about his business and playing the sport of tennis. However, acknowledging Nadal’s lofty place in the pantheon – as Fedal clashes become more precious and rare on the big stage, in the shadows of Father Time – is the true way to magnify what our Swiss hero means to us.

Rudyard Kipling would agree, no?

AO2012 Men’s Semi-finals Preview: Here they are again. (by PJ)

Oh gee whiz. This preview seems so effing familiar. Is it because I’ve done it before? AND before? This is the third semi-final preview post I’ve done featuring the same four dudes, albeit different match-ups.

Anyway, I’m a big ol’ bubbling pot of emotions and anxiety and excitement, accompanied with ulcers, nausea and all of that, so if this doesn’t make an iota of sense, forgive me.

Federer v Nadal.


Why I think Federer will beat Nadal:

1)      Federer seems to be in better form. If he serves well, returns well, play like he did against Tomic and Delpony, his chances are more than just realistic. Simply put, he has to take his opportunities and make full use of them, because Rafa is not going to give up many of those opportunities.
2)      It’s not clay. I like his chances better when it’s not clay.
3)      He should have some confidence based on their last meeting at WTF – even if it’s a different court, different scenario and different things on the line.
4)      I think the old man still has something to prove…to himself, most of all. I have no doubt he will give his all, and may his all be enough.
5)      Rafa is struck by The Curse of Australia Day. Fireworks do not like him.
6)      Because, as usual, my heart says Federer. It always always ALWAYS says Federer.

Why I think Nadal will beat Federer:

1)      Duh.
2)      By duh, I mean Federer’s propensity to brainfart to epic proportions when playing Nadal. See Miami 2011, RG 2011. Especially in RG when Fed’s been the better player all tournament – turning in the most fantastic performance of the year to boot Djokovic – and yet he fell to Rafa in the final, after essentially farting away the massive first-set lead. UGH UGH UGH to the MAX.
3)      Nadal has beaten Federer in Australia. But not vice versa. In other words, Nadal knows how to beat Federer in Australia.
4)      The Curse of Australia Day may work along the theory of Something’s Gotta Give.
5)      In the words of Steve Tignor: History shows that whenever Federer plays Nadal, Nadal wins.

As for the Djokovic-Murray semi…

Why I think Djokovic will beat Murray:

1)      Djokovic has beaten Murray in a Slam – the same Slam – in a final.
2)      He will be keen to repeat his year of 2011. That’s gotta provide extra drive and volley for him to power through Muzzface.
3)      Ranking suggests it.
4)      Djokovic has proven in that he can outrun Hewitt (although half-crippled) and most ofall, Ferrer. He can certainly outrun Murray.
5)      Muzz has not been challenged (except for Harrison) and need not play his best tennis thus far, and may find Djokovic too suddenly challenging. Djokovic got that kink out of the way with old man Hewitt unexpectedly pushing him.
6)      Confidence wise, I think Djokovic’s got it more than Muzz.

Why I think Murray will beat Djokovic:

1)      Mr.Lendl in his corner. I think that’s a huge positive for Muzz and may help him greatly as far as the mental side goes.
2)      If a half-crippled Hewitt can take a set off Djokovic, Muzz has got to fancy his chances of taking three sets.
3)      It’s not a final. He’s less likely to choke and implode mentally.
4)      Point 5 for Djokovic may also work in Muzz’ favour.  The lack of challenge so far means he has yet to peak and may peak and pull off this big feat in the semis.
5)      He’s the only one in the Top 4 without a Slam. You think he’d want a chance to rectify that? YA THINK?? (déjà vu)

I’ve said my piece, essentially. May the best men win.

(As in the best player because Federer will always be the best man as far as I’m concerned)

– PJ

AO2012 Day 9-10 Wrap: The Quarterfinals (by PJ)

Semi-final stage has been set, and we all know what’s going to be on the menu. Before I go into dissecting the fine dishes for tonight and tomorrow night…some random thoughts to wrap up the events of the last few days.

1)      Federer-Delpony. A match that I was excruciatingly nervous about, just because of USO09 angst. Yes, Delpony isn’t the player he was – but still, I couldn’t discount the damage he can potentially do, with that forehand. From the start, I thought this would be the quarter-final match up – helped that Mardy Fish got hooked and grilled by Falla. At first, seemed like my worry was displaced as Federer started brilliantly in the first three games to break Del Potro (recording something insane like 8 winners and 1 UE in those games). All cool if he keeps up, right? But noooo…dude got broken and I was sitting in a meeting at work feeling my stomach curling up in ulcers. But as Delpony was serving to stay in the set, a couple of great returns from the Old Man seemed to rattle him, and he tossed in a double-fault to give Fed the first set. Set 2 seemed to roll around like the first – early break for Fed but a tough service game as he was attempting to serve out the set. I was so worried that it’ll be a repeat of USO09 (NIGHTMARE! NIGHTMARE!) but Fed hung tough and served it out. Third set was pretty much kinda smooth-sailing and straightforward with Fed taking a double break and serving out the match prettily, much to my relief.

         Federer served well, returned well, and had some brilliant shots – overall a solid match from him. But the harder test, of course, will be tonight.

2)      Nadal-Berd. Berd will be kicking himself in the head FOREVER on that flubbed volley on the second set tie-breaker…which would’ve given him the second set and a two-sets-to-none lead against Rafa. As it goes – if you let Rafa back into a match, it will most probably be curtains for you, and that was what happened with Berd…went bye bye Berdy in 4 sets. He had his chances – the second set, and early break in the third set – but just couldn’t capitalise on  them. I’ll refrain on commenting on the so-call controversies though, because in the end, it is what it is. Doesn’t make a difference either way.

3)      Muzz-Nishikori. Nishikori had nothing left in the tank after his 5-setter against Tsonga (which was quite brilliant, by the way. He really showed a lot of steel to outhit and outlast Jo) AND baking two hours in the sun for mixed-doubles before his match with Muzz. I expected an easy straight-sets win, and that was what happened. The general consensus was that he didn’t play that well (apparently served kind of horribly) but Kei-chan had no energy/legs left to really pose a huge challenge. Still, a fantastic run for Nishikori and top 20 is beckoning. He’s a good kid with quite a solid game, definitely one of the potential ones to break out in his career. Hope he continues to do well, and inspire more tennis players in the Asian region.

4)      Djokovic-Ferrer. Oh, Lord F. I cannot believe you were straight-setted by Djokovic. You were supposed to be able to run faster and longer than gimpy old man Hewitt (who had one leg for half the match)! But as it is, Ferrer CAN run faster and harder but Hewitt had the edge over him in arsenal and shots, as well as guts and heart and spleen. Lord F had his chances in the second-set tiebreaker, but suffered mental lapses to allow Djokovic to take control and take the set. Might have been different if he had been able to take a set…but he didn’t and went down tamely in the 3rd.

So for the third time in the last 4 Slams – the Top 4 is in the semis. I honestly think the depth in the men’s game – when it comes to the Top 4 – is probably the best it has been in recent years. Of course, I still think #3 is the tops. 🙂

5)      The unlikely quarter-finals between Shrieky Sharapova/Ekaterina Makarova and Petra Kvitova/Sara Errani yielded the likely results. I thought Makarova had half a chance seeing she was spectacular against Vera (I didn’t see the Serena match) but Shrieky was simply too good for her. Kvitova, however, didn’t play well, but it was enough to beat Errani in straights. But if she doesn’t pick up her game today against Shrieky…I think she’s goners for sure.

6)      Azarenka outhit and outshriek Radwanska to make the second semi-final and Kimmie beat Wozniacki as expected. I know Woz was number 1, but her game just isn’t good enough to combat Kim’s power hitting and aggressiveness. In losing to Kim, she loses the number 1 ranking, thus ending the complaining and discussion of a Slamless #1…for now. When AO is over, the WTA #1 will be a Slammy one – because it would either be Kvitova, Sharapova or Azarenka. And Azarenka will have to win AO to assume that spot.  Hip hip hooray  – no more mocking the WTA for a while at least!

And on we roll to Semis Day 1. (Get your frazzlepants on)

– PJ

The Definition of a Warrior. (by PJ)

It was a match that everyone thought was a given. No one thought Novak Djokovic even have to physically exert himself the tiniest bit to beat Lleyton Hewitt. After all, Djokovic is younger, faster, and better. Hewitt? He’s old (30 years old) and gimpy (mangled left toe) and simply not in the same league. It was going to be a beatdown. People were taking bets on how many games he’ll get. I think the maximum number suggested was 8 games.

I didn’t give him half a chance in hell to make Djokovic work. Sure, when it comes to grit and determination and being fucking stubborn, Lleyton is second to none (back off, Rafa). But even if the heart is willing, the body is not able. With his physical limitation, he was just not going to withstand Djokovic’s barrage of (tennis) balls.

I went into the match, actually dressed in green and gold, to support him – just because I have a feeling that it’s Old Man Hewitt’s last Australian Open, and I want him to go out on the best note. Even so, I was just hoping for a dignified 3-set beatdown. Maybe something along the lines of 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

When they started playing, Hewitt found himself down a double break in 20 minutes, and even as he got one break back, Djokovic powered through to take the first set 6-1. Lleyton didn’t manage to hold serve at all, and continued to lose serve until his sixth service game. The second set ended with a relatively uncompetitive 6-3 scoreline. Right, I thought woefully. So this is how it’s going to go down.

Then the third set began. And within a blink of an eye, Hewitt was down 0-3, and has managed to hold serve twice for the entire duration of the match so far. Groaning inwardly, I prayed that he wouldn’t get bageled. One game, I thought. Just hold serve FOR ONCE, and we can end this fairly respectably.

But just as I forgot who he is and what he stands for – the whole I’ll-fucking-give-up-when-I’m-fucking-dead attitude that is deeply ingrained in Lleyton Hewitt’s soul and mangled toe – he reminded me that this ain’t over till it’s really fucking over. He broke Djokovic’s serve, and suddenly it was back on serve.

Aussie supporters in the Rod Laver Arena who had been a bit subdued throughout, suddenly came to life, cheering and stamping and urging on the gimpy grandpa in red on court. With Djokovic serving at 4-all, Hewitt gritted his teeth and piled pressure onto his serves and to the amazement and joy of the arena, he broke to gain a 5-4 lead. But of course Djokovic wasn’t going to let him have it easy. He pushed Hewitt on his serve, firing winners and trying to crack down the old man, but this old man would have none of it. In a tremendous, tremendous showing of pure grit and guts, he held on like a barnacle, and served the set out.

Lleyton Hewitt took a set off Novak Djokovic. After he was down 0-3 in that set.

And RLA was ON ITS FUCKING FEET. I leaped up so fast that I nearly fell headfirst into the row of chairs in front of me. My newly converted tennis fan/Federer fan buddy screamed so loud that I’m fairly sure I’m now 40% deaf in my left ear.

Even so, I think we all know the inevitable, even Hewitt himself. He could barely walk, barely move freely, each point had him grimacing in obvious pain, but still, he refused to give up. As said, those words do not exist in his dictionary. He ran down every ball, he stretched out to retrieve, he hit and walloped the balls and still scampered around the baseline, going for every single shot fucking possible. And the crowd was with him every single step of the way, cheering and yelling encouragement as Hewitt threw himself around the court. To be honest, it was amazing to watch him, knowing what he had been through, and what he was still probably going through.

He held up well in the fourth set, keeping it competitive, until his serve began breaking down. Ill-timed double faults contributed to that crucial break of serve, and soon Djokovic was serving the set out. Faced with 3 matchpoints, 40-0 on Djokovic’s serve – and I can see he was still refusing to give up. Running down a Djokovic return, he stretched himself out, and smacked a winner. Still hanging in there. But that was it. On his second match point, Djokovic took the match – but the standing ovation? It was for Lleyton Hewitt.

No one gave him a chance to make this competitive whatsoever, including myself. But again, he proved what one can do with that pure, unfettered determination. Three months ago, he wasn’t sure whether he would still be able to play tennis. Three months later, he socked it to the world number 1, doing what the other players in the earlier rounds could not do.

Many a bad thing can be said about Lleyton Hewitt, as we all know. But witnessing this man on-court tonight, all I can say is despite everything, he defines what it means to be a warrior, and what it means to never give up, not when you are still out there. If you’re still out there, you bloody well fight till the end. And this is not limited to a tennis court. This is life. His life. Our lives.

He brought me to tennis (yeah yeah mock me all you want, people) and whilst that affection had withered over the years due to a variety of reasons (and NOT mainly because of someone called Roger Federer, although that can be a partial reason), in recent times I am just reminded of why I took a liking to him, because regardless of whatever condition he is in, if he is on court, he lays it all on court. No looking back, no regrets, no what-ifs. If he kills himself losing, then so be it. If he kills himself winning, he’ll be back on crutches to play the next match. Hell, he’ll even play lying on a stretcher if he can find his way around that. Somehow in his old age he has become more likeable in some sense, and that gritty spirit is certainly admirable. His mental fortitude and his will to fight is extraordinary and is something that all athletes – not just tennis players – should aspire to have. I think I’m actually fucking proud to call him my first favourite, as opposed to being mortified (as I used to be).

If this is his last Australian Open match, then it’s a bloody good one, and an appropriate swan-song, to have pushed the world number 1 in the classic Hewitt style. And I am very proud to be part of that, to be giving him an admittedly slightly teary standing ovation as he left the court. And as I leave Melbourne Park, I think I took a slice of Lleyton’s life lesson back with me, to apply in my own life.

Well done, Lleyton. Hold your head up high. We’re all extremely proud of you.

– PJ

P.S. I hope Bernard Tomic’s parents allowed him to stay up past his bedtime to watch, because he can learn like a million things from this match alone.

P.P.S. General wrap to come tomorrow. Now I need to sleep.

AO2012 Day 4-6 Wrap: Notable people. (by PJ)

Into the second week of Australian Open. Needless to say, the first week has its fair share of dramas and tears and all that jazz. Since I was at Melbourne Park for Day 4 – Day 6…I just want to put some of my thoughts together. For something more intelligent and articulate, head over to Matt’s mid-week wrap post.

–          Andy Roddick. I’ve never really been a major fan of his, but there’s something in him that evokes sentimentality in me. Basically most of the guys in the Grumpy Old Men club (aka Federer’s cohort) do that to me. So the second round-match between Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt was a must-see for me (went through so much grief getting a ticket, it wasn’t funny). It started well, but didn’t end well. Roddick had to retire at 2-sets-to-1 down due to a hamstring injury. He gave it the best he could out there, lasted as long as he could for the crowd and for himself, but with the Olympic year, some things are just not worth risking. But we did get 3 sets of tennis, where, to me, it was like a blast to the past – two Grand Slam champs battling it out. Pity we didn’t get a conclusion befitting to the calibre of these two. But get well soon, Andy. It would make my year to see you and Serena with that Olympics mixed doubles gold medal around your necks.

–          Lleyton Hewitt. Say what you want about him, hate him all you want but no one, NO ONE can deny the spirit, determination and the grit of this man. A lot of people call him delusional for still playing, but if you’d watch his win over Milos Raonic yesterday – man. In the fourth round of his home Slam, and he was in tears. He still wants it. He still loves this game. And it has been a hell of a road for him to get here today, with all the injuries and surgeries. What carried him through is the desire to get back on court and compete. He’s a fucking stubborn competitor and he’ll retire on his own terms.

Rafa Nadal gets kudos for being mentally tough, and rightfully so. But Lleyton Hewitt’s mental toughness – especially in that last game of the match yesterday – is amazeballs. I wasn’t fazed about the outcome of the match – I’m happy with a Hewitt win or a Raonic win, but yanno what, in the end I’m ecstatic Hewitt won because the old fart well and truly deserved it. Of course, Djokovic is going to eat him for breakfast with gluten-free bread the next round but hey, wildcard into the fourth round. That’s an achievement.

–          Milos Raonic. First match on the big stage, first match with over 10,000 people cheering on your opponent. He was a little unnerved, and the slight stage fright is understandable. In the end, lack of experience and lack of ability to handle pressure in key moments cost him the match, but from what I’ve seen of him, this kid’s got game. Give him more time to develop and I believe he’s more of Pete Sampras than Ivo Karlovic.

–          Bernard Tomic. I hate this little shit and I don’t see myself liking him anytime soon. He’s a massive douche with a huge ego, a big mouth and stupid antics like “faking out opponents” – first Verdasco with the whole “I’m giving up” act and then Dolgopolov with the “let him think I’m challenging but not really HAAAHAHA” act. Look, in the long run, I’ll be honest and say it probably didn’t affect the outcome of the matches but it doesn’t discount the fact that Tomic is crappy. What pains me the most is that he is good. Bernard Tomic can play tennis …and he is mentally sound. For a 19-year-old, he is so fucking mentally sound. Definitely more mentally sound than Crazy and hence he pulled off the upset win in 5. Someday this brat will be at the top of the rankings and someday he may win a Slam and when that day comes, I’m going to be royally pissed off.

–          Alexandr Dolgopolov. A disappointing Australian Open for my favourite Crazy Ponytail. I didn’t think he’ll be able to beat Tomic based on his first two matches, but I still hate the fact that I was right. His tennis had been a joy to watch – mostly – but his mental fortitude needs reassessing. All year last year, he could be playing the dumbest tennis and losing 6-1, 6-0 but yet he still looked like he was having fun on court. Always impassive, sometimes smiling, but I’ve never seen him lose it. Well, he lost it against Kamke and lost it again – MASSIVELY – against Tomic. If he was mentally steadier, he would’ve won. But he wasn’t, and it is what it is.

I hope he’ll bounce back, stronger than ever, and with that crazy-ass-I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude and start having fun on court instead of being all angsty and angry. I take back what I said wanting him to show more passion and emotion and even anger. I don’t think I ever want to see a pissy Ponytail on court again. Bad enough I have to watch him lose in front of me, but to lose in a cracked-up fashion against that little shit. Ugh.

–          Roger Federer. He lobs 7-feet-tall people, at the net. He is hot potatoes. Also, he is a perfect 10 -10 wins out of 10 – when I’ve seen him live. So so lovely.

–          Grandpa Returnerers . Who said 200kmph ++ serves are unreturnable? Federer and Hewitt proved this theory wrong. On Friday, Federer casually whipped Karlovic’s 207kmph first serve across court for a winner. Yesterday, Hewitt was returning Raonic’s 222kmph – 228kmph first serves. RETURNING them…for winners. As someone said on Twitter…#weakeraMYARSE

–          Svetlana Kuznetsova. Girl, I love you but you’re crazy. Like all the good ones are. I still hope for Sveta to win another Slam…#delusionland or not.

–          Maria Sharapova. Serena Williams. Both scary strong and scary good so far.

–          Novak Djokovic. Whipping through his matches with ease, and basically killing his opponents, but no one is giving him a challenge so far. Rusty will give his 200% but I don’t think he’ll even come close. Djokovic’s first real challenge should come in form of Ferrer should he get there but MAN I want that Djokovic/Murray semi-final. WANT IT LIKE WHOA.

–          Zheng Jie. Mikhail Kukushkin. Nishikori Kei. The feel good stories of the Open so far, with Zheng Jie and Kukushkin pulling off stunning wins over higher ranked opponents. And Special Kei – first Japanese man into the second week of a Slam. It’s hard not to get the fuzzies when you read about how hard these people work to get to where they are now. Props to Kukushkin especially for beating Viktor Troicki and Gael Monfils. Last year I watch Dolgopolov kicked his ass – HARD – in the first round. This year he’s in the fourth round (and my wacko Crazy is on his way home WAAAAAAAHHHHHHH).

And that’s the wrap as according to my rambly brain. Onward to the second week. More drama? Definitely. More frazzles? Why is that even a question?

– PJ

P.S. Photos are my own.

P.P.S. A fan perspective on Hewitt/Roddick and Dolgopolov/Tomic up at Tennis Grandstand. I’ll like to say it’s more coherent but I think I also ended up rambling.