Tales from Brisbane
Happy new year bitches. Long time no blog.
As some of you might be aware, I kicked off 2014 by heading to Brisbane to bask in the sweaty glow of Turderer, and the final loss aside, it was a glorious week. One that had me itching to log onto wordpress and start tapping away again. And ain’t that one of the most liberating feelings in the world.
1. Sensational sports headlines went up all over Australia today: Ashes Whitewash! Hewitt beats baffled Federer! Let’s party like it’s a new millenium!
Theoretically speaking, there is of course no shame in losing to Lleyton. Even as a tour veteran with a bionic foot, Hewitt remains a smart, strategic and persistent player, and more crucially yesterday – not one to falter on key points. In his three set victory over McFudd, Lleyton played some of the most inspired tennis we’ve seen from him in years, and his victory speech showed just how much a title in Australia meant to him at this stage in his career, a poignant moment for fans on both sides of the fence.
Serene, Supreme, Sixteen
Great sports moments — tennis fans witnessed one on Saturday in Paris — own a two-tiered quality. The actual competition, the business of winning and losing, is its own story, rooted in technique and strategy and execution under fire. Then, when the winner wins and the loser loses, the career achivements of the participants can then be measured. Serena Williams’s 6-4, 6-4 victory over Maria Sharapova in the women’s singles final of Roland Garros neatly unified the competition between the painted white lines and the enormity of the feat that was forged.
On an immediate level, Serena’s win over Sharapova was genuinely impressive in itself. Sharapova, knowing that the history of her head-to-head series with the younger Williams Sister was so lopsided, embraced the underdog’s role with clarity. She went for her shots and established considerable depth on her groundstrokes in the first few games of the match. Her serve faltered on a few occasions, but it is more of a weapon than it was last year, a big reason why Sharapova managed to make history this fortnight in Paris. Sharapova used her beefed-up serve to make the final of a major tournament as the defending champion, the first time in her career she has crafted that particular breakthrough. That same serve, combined with a generally aggressive mindset, enabled Sharapova to show that her 2012 Roland Garros championship was not an aberration.
Yet, for everything Sharapova did well, her opponent clearly outplayed her and won two sets without needing to win seven games in either stanza.
The details of a tennis match ultimately determine how close a scoreline actually is, but on a general level, a 4-and-4 win is simultaneously competitive and tidy. In a 4-and-4 match, the winner is pushed, but not to the extent that the prospect of a penalty-kick-style crapshoot — that’s what a tiebreaker is — becomes possible.
Think about it: A set needs to arrive at 5-5 in order for an 11th and 12th game to be played in a set. If the favorite is able to close out a set in 10 games, s/he will not spend the first-set changeover worrying about the heat of a 12th-game pressure cooker. One can quite reasonably say that while Serena was indeed tested today, the intensity of Sharapova’s inquiry was never so severe that the outcome of each set was in grave doubt after the ninth game. The first set was modestly more contentious than the second, but at the business end of each journey, everyone on hand at Court Philippe Chatrier knew who was in charge.
This, mind you, on a day when Maria Sharapova played well.
Serena’s serve; her severe-angle forehand to the decue court; and her steely confidence, bolstered by her quarterfinal escape on Tuesday against Svetlana Kuznetsova, enabled the 31-year-old to access a lofty level of quality that Sharapova couldn’t match.
Sharapova and Serena are both world-class competitors. Relative to their skill sets, they both get as much out of their arsenals as they can because they don’t take a backseat to anyone else in terms of the inner game in tennis, the one between the ears. Serena’s skill set is better, though, and she is therefore able to perform at a level commensurate with her skills. Sharapova is a master of the art of competing, and on Saturday, she wasn’t all that deficient as a performer, either. However, there’s no better performer in women’s tennis — and at the present moment, all of tennis — than Serena. If you can’t match her as a performer, you’re not going to beat her.
That’s why Serena is now a 16-time major champion. That’s why she managed to win Roland Garros 11 years after first conquering the terre battue of Paris. That’s why she’s playing the best tennis of her career right now.
J. Scott Fitzwater ( @jscottfitzwater on Twitter ) noted in the aftermath of today’s match that Serena is 74-3 in the past year, since the 2012 Roland Garros tournament. This is a 31-year-old tennis pro, not an ascendant 22-year-old or a reigning 26-year-old in her physical prime.
When Martina Navratilova began her streak of 74 straight match wins in 1984, she was 27. When Steffi Graf completed her streak of 66 straight match wins in 1990, she was only 20. Navratilova won 58 straight matches in 1986 and 1987 at age 30, but Serena’s past 12 months have topped that, at least when you realize the health scares that have been thrown her way in recent years.
Even before today’s match began, Serena Jameka Williams had already established herself as one of the 12 greatest tennis players of all time, and just as surely one of the four greatest female players ever (alongside Martina, Steffi, and Chris Evert). When you win at the highest level in the latter stages of a career; when you win a major 11 years after first claiming it; when you conquer your worst surface for a second time, proving that you’re not a one-note wonder at Roland Garros; and when you achieve all of this by playing a high-quality match against one of your more determined contemporaries, you’re only going to grow in stature and rise in the estimation of tennis historians.
This is a Roland Garros made for legends. Rafael Nadal has built his reputation on terre battue. Serena Williams, as lauded and distinguished as she’s been over the years, has managed to transform her reputation on crushed red brick. In so doing, an already-amazing career has managed to become something much greater.
The greatest of the great — in any sport and any human endeavor — expand the sense of what’s possible. With all due respect to Nadal, about to win his eighth Roland Garros, there’s no active tennis player who is re-drawing horizons more dramatically than Serena Williams.
Aus Open Day 11: the Gameswoman.
Don’t get me wrong. I am far from being a fan or even a sympathetic observer of Victoria Azarenka. She is not the most endearing, classy tennis player out there, nor has she ever sought to be.
But the one thing I despise more than gamesmanship is hypocrisy, and hypocrisy was in abundance yesterday as Tennis Fandom collectively got on its high horse and branded Azarenka as a villain and the cheat.
Sure. Vika did not help her own cause by giving inconsistent stories throughout this whole incident. When asked in her on court interview why she left to the court, Azarenka replied, to an icy, silent crowd on Rod Laver Arena, that she was overwhelmed by nerves and almost did the choke of the year. Later on ESPN, Azarenka would claim she had breathing issues. And in her post match press conference, Vika told the media that she had to unlock her rib because it was causing back issues and making it hard for her to breathe. Read More…
Aus Open Day 4 & 5: ’cause you’re hot and you’re cold.
It was insanely hot yesterday and not just because Federer was playing tennis and generating insane hotness.
It was the kind of hot that made you feel like you were being slow roasted live, thinly veiled in a blanket of sweat, and every breath felt like you were breathing the steam out of a boiling kettle. How players managed to play any tennis at all was beyond me. I for one was melting into the seat just watching them.
And through the heat, I watched most of Berankis’ decisive win over Florian Mayer. After a year of injuries in 2012 that stunted his rise in the rankings, it’s nice to see Berankis in such good form. For a small player by modern tennis standards, when he’s on, Berankis plays like a much bigger guy, with easy power and an attacking, all court game. If he stays in form, he should give Toothface more of a work out next round after coming through two cakewalk rounds. Read More…
Aus Open Day 1: And it was all yellow …
Emerald green may have been decreed by Pantone as the colour of the year, but the colour of the Happy Slam is clearly yellow, as both Nike, Adidas, and “the Others” all brought out cheery, yellow coloured gear as a homage to one of the national colours of the host nation.
If only the tennis was bright and cheery. Day 1 of the Aus Open brought with it a drama free procession of the top players, starting with Sugapova’s double bagelling of Puchkova, who more than lived up to the tired puns on her name. Read More…
US Open Day 1 Recap: The Young and the Olderer.
Can you believe it’s the last slam of the year already? Day 1 of the US Open was uncharacteristically free of drama, as the top seeds progressed through the most boring OOP known to grand slams with little trouble. Even the rainy weather was predictably uncooperative, delaying matches for just over 2 hours.
Wimbledon Manic Monday: Plan Z
I remember Federer taking a medical time out just twice in his career. The first time was in the 2005 Australian Open semifinal against Marat Safin. The second time happened in Shanghai in 2008, against Andy Murray in their final round robin.
Unsurprisingly, Federer lost both of those matches. This is a man who keeps his injuries in the closet, along with the skeletons and Wimbledon jackets of yesteryears, unwilling to reveal any physiological weaknesses unless he has to.
So when Federer asked for the trainer a few games into his fourth round match against Xavier Malisse, the gravity of the situation was written on the faces of Anaconda & Co, who watched on in concern, shivering and miserable from the Federer box.
Minding Your Ps, Your Queues, and Your Wimbledon Haikus
Those who braved the Wimbledon queue on Tuesday night received precious ducats to the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club for Wednesday’s session of play on the most hallowed grounds in tennis. Spectators who gained entry to this sport’s most prestigious event were fittingly reminded of the enduring reason why matches are won and lost.
Why did Ernests Gulbis… pull an Ernests Gulbis against Jerzy Janowicz? Why did Caroline Wozniacki (now known to this writer as “Bus Driver” — she wants to know if chair umpires attended school, after all…) continue her downward spiral with a first-round exit against Tamira Paszek?
Why did Tsvetana Pironkova – to the immense relief of Ye Olde Picket Fence Blog’s Owner And Publisher – not win a single one of her five set points against Maria Sharapova? Read More…
Wimbledon Women’s Preview: A Conference of Anti-Experts.
With the men’s draw out of the way, PJ, LJ et moi got together for a chat about the ladies’ draw. Pictures from the pre-Wimbledon party.
Doots: Alrighty. Let’s get started. First thoughts on women’s draw? I feel like every year for the past few years, Wimbledon has always been about what the Willians Sisters will or won’t do, and this year, it’s been the least about them in a long while.
PJ: I have to admit I am in camp “wanting a Williams to win”. Especially Venus where Wimbledon is concerned.
Doots: I think it might be too much of a long shot for Venus.
PJ: Hey, I live in Delusion Land, no?
LJ: I think she’ll be dangerous in the early rounds, but I’m not too positive on current form.
Doots: What do we think about Kvitova? I thought she was royally screwed for Roland Garros given her form going into it, but she actually acquitted herself respectably.
LJ: Her game is just so funky, I don’t know what to think. I feel like she has the potential to really beat anyone, but … but …
Doots: Funky’s one way to describe her game: when she’s on, she is shotmaking genius, when she’s off, she is an unthinking idiot. Her game doesn’t leave much room for grey.
PJ: the Female Dolgopolov, but maybe a lot less crazy.
LJ: Yes, I definitely agree with the Female Dolgo characterization, but she managed to hold it together for a slam.
PJ: Speaking of danger in early rounds, Pironkova to meet Shrieky in the second round. Now that I have mixed thoughts about: [Pironkova is a] two-time semifinalist, [but] she has the equal potential to beat herself into submission. It’s like she does nothing for the whole season and is just waiting for WImbledon to attack or something.
LJ: I thought Shreiky had an okay draw until I realised she has both Pironkova AND Lisicki in the 4th round.
Doots: Well why don’t we get onto Shrieky’s draw then. She has the Aussie ARod for her first round; most likely – Pironkova second round.
Vid: The complete collection
This time 3 years ago, Maria Sharapova had spent a year off tour, dealt with a career threatening shoulder injury, dropped out of the top 100, and came back to play on clay with her game in tatters but her spirit ever the more steely.
If someone had told me then that she would one day climb her way back to No 1 and complete her career slam at Roland Garros, I would’ve probably recommended them a good psych.
But hey, what would I know?
With a title at each of the 4 slams by the age of 24, Sharapova officially becomes “history books” material, and on track to become the greatest of her generation (as distinct from the Williams’ and Henin generation, although that distinction is hazy at best). But more on that and the final later.
Right now, as a fan, I am simply proud of the resilience and dedication of a young woman in reaching the ultimate milestone on her comeback from injury.
Your thoughts …