The psychology of sports forms the basis for a brief commentary on the evolving Roland Garros tournament, currently lodged between the second and third rounds at the end of Wednesday’s play in Paris. The events of the past two days have enabled tennis observers to appreciate the inner game of the sport, the test between the ears that gives rise to such engrossing drama even when the raw level of play leaves something to be desired.
Plenty of coaches and sports psychologists have drawn from Timothy Gallwey’s seminal 1974 book, The Inner Game of Tennis, to impart to athletes the importance of acquiring the right frame of mind. It is obvious that the mind matters so much in tennis, a solo-flyer sport that demands the ability to handle a lot of loneliness. At the majors, the women don’t receive coaching during changeovers; every match at a major – for the men and the women – is a true test of the individual’s ability to solve problems on the fly.
Yet, for all the ways in which the primacy of mental toughness is so evident at a major, there’s one specific way in which the mind can get overlooked.
Yes, it’s important to be able to fight back when trailing, to persevere when things aren’t going your way. Yes, it’s important to be able to hit a clutch serve when facing a break-and-set point at 30-40, 4-5, in the third set of a match that is tied at one set apiece. Yes, it is important to deliver the goods at 5-all in a tiebreaker or at deuce in the 12th game of a set. However, those situations – as important as they are – don’t quite fit into the one situation that trips up so many players: Arriving at a midpoint in a set or tiebreaker when everything is going right and a once-unlikely victory becomes possible.
If you study a major tennis tournament closely enough, you’ll quickly realize how often this specific problem ambushes so many talented tennis professionals. Ernests Gulbis led Gael Monfils 3-2 in the second set in Wednesday’s featured second-round match at Court Philippe Chatrier. Gulbis busted out his best and most untouchable heaven-kissed tennis to break for a 3-2 lead, having already taken the first set in a tiebreaker. The flow of the match was headed in Gulbis’s direction.
Gulbis promptly lost serve for 3-all, and then donated a bunch of errors when serving at 4-5 to hand Monfils the second set, 6-4. The third set was glorious, but when Monfils got a lucky get-out-of-jail net cord to survive a break point at 5-all, he rode that bit of fortune to a tiebreaker win and a four-set triumph a short time later.
Understand this about Gulbis: He loses so many matches not merely in exasperating fashion, but after taking the first set. Gulbis can oh-so-easily find an exalted level of tennis, but his career has been such a study in underachievement precisely because Gulbis can’t stay on the mountain very long. It is a mental skill, not just a physical one, to remain locked in — no, not to the point where you hit ridiculous winners again and again, but to the point that consistency becomes built into performance so that the muscle memory becomes reliable.
Gulbis is perhaps the most prominent example on the ATP side of a gifted tennis player who allows himself to think about how well he’s doing… which opens the gateway for doubt to creep in as soon as a bad shot flies off the racquet. Svetlana Kuznetsova is the prime example of this dynamic on the WTA Tour. When a player should be relishing the ability to play well, the Gulbises and Kuznetsovas worry when it’s all going to fall apart — not consciously, but subconsciously, and certainly enough to hijack peak performance.
Another example of this counterintuitive dynamic — playing well until leading, when the prospect of victory becomes too much to bear — was in evidence in Wednesday’s second-round match between Roger Federer’s next Roland Garros opponent, Julien Benneteau, and Tobias Kamke. Benneteau, who – remember – has not won an ATP singles title in his career, led by two sets against an inferior opponent. The thought of winning (not losing) paralyzed the Frenchman, who proceeded to drop 10 straight games and fall behind 2-0 in the fifth. The fear of success, not the fear of failure, is the overlooked dimension of frailty in professional tennis, and Benneteau succumbed to it.
Fortunately for him, so did Kamke.
The German had little reason to believe for most of the match that victory was likely his. After his third-set escape, he had a right to expect a fifth set, but it was only at 2-0 in the fifth that the finish line appeared.
Naturally, that’s when Kamke disappeared.
It’s not as though the end of this match was dramatic. Benneteau held at love when serving for the match at 5-4. The end came not with a bang, but a whimper. It was at 2-0 in the fifth when Kamke lost hold of the proceedings. He lost this match in the early and middle stages of a set, not its endpoint. Gulbis, when blowing the 3-2 break lead in the second set – following one of his best stretches of performance in the match – gave Monfils the opening the Frenchman needed.
Head games are such a central part of tennis. “Ahead games” — at 3-2 or 2-0 in a set — show why those head games matter so much. Life seems too good to be true for a great number of tennis players only because they fear success too much.
Rather than look at the order of play for each day – come on, what’s to say about that Tipsarevic-Ferrero match or that Kerber-Pennetta quarterfinal? (others can guest blog-post on those kinds of matches…) – I prefer to look at the entire second week of a major tournament.
Sure, we can start in the fourth round, but let’s then work through the rest of the week to provide an overview of the stakes in New York for several different kinds of players.
So, about that fourth round: Fish versus Tsonga. That’s the match the Picket Fence will be leaning on. It’s a fascinating match, and it is rightly the third match of the day session on Ashe Stadium, meaning that it’s being treated as the featured match of the day by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and CBS television, the American broadcast network which chooses the matches it wants for the three-day holiday weekend.
So. The Mighty Swiss Cheese made it to semi-finals of le French Open. Before I dwindle into any more specifics, first things first:
I’m mighty pleased he went one better this year after last year. I’m mighty pleased that he’s been playing quite well throughout the last week and a half. And I’m mighty pleased that he overcame Gael Monfils in three sets (although I’m not so pleased about his aversion to BP conversion – which made a FULL return yesterday, but let’s not talk about unpleasantries).
It wasn’t the best of starts from Fed yesterday. He was broken early in the match with TWO double faults in one game, and seemed to be struggling with the wind, hitting a rather hefty number of 10 unforced errors in mere three games. But as we all know, soon as he finds his mojo, he gets it going, and that he did, breaking Monfils twice to tuck the first set under his belt.
On the flip side of that though, as we all know quite well (as well), he can lose the mojo just like *that* with his sudden walkabouts. Walkabout-Fed hadn’t really make a significant appearance so far in the tournament, but he was out and about yesterday, contributing to the chapters of Federer’s best-selling novel, The Break-Points Not Taken. Dude had numerous opportunities to break Monfils in the third set, but opted to send ‘em waving merrily away.
There is, you know, some stuff at stake. The FINAL, for one. And the #1 ranking (for Satan). The Satanic Streak. The JMac record. Small fry stuff.
BUT. I am going to try my very best not to think about the semi-final until semi-final day on Friday. Because the mere thought of the final makes my head hurt/my stomach ulcerate/my bipolar-multiple-personality disorder of ZEN VS OMGWTFFRAZZLE rear its very ugly and very confused head.
What happened to nice normal hobbies like reading, painting, writing, caged-tiger fighting, shark-swimming, y’know, hobbies that are not horribly detrimental to my health?
Anyway, for the ladies’ stage – Francesca Schiavone overcame a horrific performance in the first set to stage a comeback and wrestle the match from Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s fingertips in three sets. The third set was a tussle – with breaks and rebreaks galore until Franny managed to held on for the match. The final game between the two laydees was brilliant though – screaming winners won the points, not ugly errors.
Props to Pavlyuchenkova for getting this far and putting up a fight but I am very very VERY pleased that Franny is still rolling. I know that it’s a fairytale if she defends her title, but at least she’s still on track to make that fairytale a reality.
Sveta, however, didn’t manage to play her part in completing my dream semi-final, but Marion Bartoli certainly played her part in continuing the dream of the Frenchies as well as her own. She’s the first Frenchwoman into the semis since Mary Pierce in 2000 (who went on to win the title). I have to admit I have no great affection for Bartoli, but hey, if that’s what the crowd wanted…
My heart weeps for Sveta, though. I really did think she had a chance – not just for the semis, but for the whole tournament.
Yeah yeah yeah, I live in Delusion Land. But just so you know, we’re building up a pretty good population. Interested parties please e-mail me for the application process to become permanent residents/citizens.
That’s the wrap!
Remember how I said in the OOP preview post that I was worried about Stanley because, y’know, something’s gotta give SOMETIME?
Well, that “sometime” did not turn out to be yesterday, as Wogie McFogie again proved to be much too good for the guy across the net. Try as he might, Stanley had no answers to his Friend Roge’s game. When your opponent’s weakest shot is as good as your strongest shot – that’s when you know that you’re kinda screwed.
Federer was on song from point 1, his backhand out-dazzling Stan’s backhand, and his shots kept singing and zinging for two sets, until a lapse in the third set allowed Stan to seize the advantage of a break-up. It was short lived as Roger broke back, and then broke again to comfortably avoid a tiebreak and seal the match.
It’s okay, Stanley. You will always have Campfire Times.
Federer’s quarterfinal opponent – however – is yet to be decided, as the Lord F and Monfees match was suspended due to darkness. As I write this, they’re still lock in a battle of “who-is-brain-cramping more” in the fifth set, as Monfils very Monfils-ly farted two match points and then the usually steady Lord F farted three game points. Ah well.
(Edit: A further 3 MPs on Lord F’s serve not farted, and Monfils is through to face Fed.)
Novak Djokovic, however, rolled over Reeshie Gasquet, who simply couldn’t keep up with, losing quite tamely in three sets. Sooo…Satan hasn’t lost in half a year, is on a 41-match streak and in very close proximity of wrestling the number 1 ranking from an out-of-sorts Rafa Nadal.
The proximity of only one friggin’ match in fact – because his quarter-final opponent, Fab Fog announced that he was pulling out from the tournament due to a left-thigh injury sustained in his marathon with Albert Montanes the day before.
After all that drama of a 5th set which includes:
1) Fab Fog receiving treatment mid-game when serving to stay in the match at 4-5 down, amidst fans’ booing;
2) Montanes blowing FOUR MATCH POINTS;
3) 95-minute set with the final score-line of 11-9.
It was a complete GIVEN that Fab Fog was going to get sporked by Satan’s pitchfork, especially since he was limping to the net after the match – but the retirement sees Djokovic getting a whooping four days’ rest before his semi-final match.
Somewhere out there, Montanes is sending hitmen to Fab Fog’s door, and Djokovic is sending lots of flowers, chocolates, and attractive female massage therapists.
For the ladies:
Marion Bartoli reached her first RG quarterfinal after Gisela Dulko retired with an ankle injury. Excuse me while I angst in a corner again – SAM, IT COULD’VE BEEN YOU.
And another top seed in the form of Vera Zvonareva took a tumble, losing to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (first time I typed her name right without looking! And then I found out I got it WRONG so it’s right again now) in three sets. So none of the top 3 seeds made it to the quarterfinals. This has not happened in a very long time.
Franny Schiavone is on the right track to her title defense, beating Glitter Gal JJ in three competitive sets. Daniela Hantuchova’s gallant run ended with Svetlana Kuznetsova – the latter prevailed over the sometimes Battle of the Brain.
I may be looking waaay ahead but I’m already looking forward to the Franny/Sveta semi-final. Please not to implode against Bartoli, Sveta. Keep yourself together and win your next match to give ME my wanted semi! I WANTS IT.
The end of Week 1 always makes me a blue.
The first week of the Aus Open has a village fair atmosphere to it, so full of youth and vibrancy. People come for the tennis, but also for star-gazing, freebies, amusement park-styled stalls, and a little rock-and-roll with the live bands.
By the second week, the smell of sausages is gradually replaced with the smell of gun-power … or Dootsie’s hair on fire. This is serious business bitches. So serious, that it must be spelt SRS BSNS.
Anyone heard John Isner’s Barmy Army at the Aus Open?
Here they are. In their own universe, it all made sense.
So getting down to the SRS BSNS: I spent my entire weekend right where I spent the last one: at Melbourne Park, making it 9 consecutive days of dawn to dusk tennis, and by close of play on Sunday, I was bleeding yellow fuzz coming of my nostrils.
There is such a thing as tennistical overkill, after all.
1. Canadian tennis. It like … exists or something.
As of Sunday night, when Andy Roddick was whipped off the court by the Wawrinka backhand, Milos Raonic became the only “North American” left in both the men and women’s draw. He eventually ran out of steam today against Ferrer, losing in 4 sets after taking the first emphatically, but I saw him earlier, against Youzhny, where he clobbered the Headclobber with icy power.
Not much not to like – massive serve, attacking, purposeful baseline game with a good affinity to the net – an unfortunate resemblance to Mark the Poo. Let’s hope Milos has more motivation and less of a penchant for reality TV than Scud.
The only thing I’m sure I’ll grow to dislike: hearing his migrant family story over and over again in the years to come.
2. New balls, pwease.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen one day when I lose my Swiss muse. As much as I love tennis, words just flow more when I write about McWoger – or rather – they burst through a dam of angst, anger and adoration.
But new faces are focussing out of the blur too – faces that I think I could get used to:
- Cilic Peppers, despite losing erratically to Rafa last night, is looking less like an empty shell and more like the shot-twisting stick insect that he was one year ago.
- Dolgopolurrrve seems to have caught the annual Aussie Open giant-slaying bug, literally slaying the gigantic Tsonga and Soderling. I remember the first time I ever saw his name at last year’s Brisbane International: “how on earth did Bernanrd Tomic lose to someone named Oleksandr Dolgopolov Jnr?” I asked. I don’t think anyone would be saying that after the spirited performance he put on against Soderling yesterday.
- The Petkorazzi, newly crowned Miss Popularity of the Aussie Open, danced on the grave of Maria Sharapova after defeating her in straight sets. As much as I hate to admit it, Shazza has completely lost the zinging presence she used to have on court – her movement exploited, her power matched, but her mind and spirit as eager as ever. As a fan, it’s been a hard journey watching her attempt to rediscover her slam-winning form pre-injury, a journey that del Potro fans will take in the coming year.
- Petra Kvitova, shotmaking brilliant in its sheer randomness, eyes shining with desire and determination. Sam Stosur couldn’t have done much more to neutralise the deluge, and mercifully, most of the Australian media have picked up on this assessment.
- Bernard Tomic, almost universally disliked in tennis fandom, deserved a lot of credit for the pressure he unexpectedly exerted on Nadal. I wonder if sometimes, it takes a little bit of brattishness to be nonchalant to the occasion of playing the top seed and one of the great guys on the ATP tour. As for his style of play, until he moves with the kind of cat-like court coverage that Murray brings to the game, I think we can stop with that comparison. If anything, Tomic plays like Marin Cilic with greater variation.
None of them stirs up the kind of dam-bursting desire to blog that Wogie McFed does, perhaps I won’t find another muse like him for a long time, but they are reasons to keep watching and keep returning to the moving tides of tennis, to see if these tiny ripples converge into tidal waves of awesome further down stream.
3. THE MATCH.
I could come up with a wittier tag line, but I think CAPSLOCK suffices to express my awe. You know you’ve just witness something that transcends tennis when your non-tennis following friends ring you to let you know, “I just saw the most amazing tennis match …”
There is a difference (or so I’ve always felt) between fearlessness and bravery, being not just the mere absence of fear. Sometimes, it is precisely brave to overcome your fear, to play through it and live dangerously. To paraphrase a well-known truism, “it is better to have fought and lost than to have never fought at all.”
And third set between Schiavone and Kuznetsova epitomised this sentiment to poignantly. Neither wanted to lose, both struggled physically and mentally to hold and to convert match points. Yet neither relied on the other to hand the match over on a silver plait. Neither stopped making their shots, swinging for the fences. Neither stopped attacked, or fell back into their comfort zone. The longer the match went for (the clock finally stopped at 4:44), the more they put on the line. Winner takes all, loser is left with nothing but the tale of a lifetime.
Unlike the Petkorazzi or Kvitova, there was no merry dance to celebrate this fight to death; there was no youthful, eager spark in the eyes of either woman, a desire to prove oneself on a big stage for the first time in their career. Sveta and Franny played with such bravery, maturity and hearts of steel that they made the contrast between girl and woman on the WTA tour an incredible sight to behold in a single tournament.
Perhaps the best moment after the match was when Svetlana Kuznetsova logged onto Twitter after the match with this tweet:
i was worryed that i gaig one kg…i think i ve lost it)))
It takes a giant well of optimism to joke about your own heartache.
4. The Outsider
The amount of Wawrinka-hate I am being exposed to in tennis fandom these days is making me sick.
Such is the absurdity of human existence, that when a man decides, for whatever reason UNKNOWN to us, to end a relationship and inform the world of it, our first reaction is to judge. Our second – to hate. Our third – to wish a fellow human being ill. As my nan would say, if you haven’t got anything nice to say to that, don’t fucking speak at all.
At the end of the day, Wawrinka is a tennis player. What he chooses to do with his private life is none of our fucking business. He’s never going to be the next Mister Family Man, but without cheating on court, without bringing an inexcusable attitude to tennis, I had no reason not to cheer him on as he played like a man possessed to dismiss Roddick, hitting a total of 67 winners to 19 unforced errors.
I hope Wogie McFed saw the stats sheet.
Seeing that Australian Open is the home Slam of this blog, and Dootsiez is just really worn out from working/tennis-ing/writing awesome SI blog articles, I thought I’ll give her a hand in keeping the Aussie Open posts somewhat intact-ish.
I was at Melbourne Park for tennis for AO Day 5, 6 and 7, so let’s see what I remember from those outings.
Day 5 was a last minute decision for me. I somehow scored a day off from work, and decided to buy myself a day ticket to catch Roger v Xavier Malisse. I missed most of Wozniacki due to successful Roger stalking (but to be honest, I don’t really want to put myself through a Wozniacki match, not even when I’d paid for it), and managed to catch Kuznetsova v Henin. It wasn’t that competitive of a match given the two players were – well, Kuznetsova and Henin. Justine seemed to be still suffering from her elbow injury. She was unable to find her first serve, double-faulting her way to being broken. She clawed back to take the second set to a tiebreaker – but it was a shockingly bad tiebreaker as both girls shanked shots, shanked serves and in the end, it was decided with what seemed to be routine for the match: a Justine double-fault.
I have to say though: Kuznetsova v Henin for a friggin’ 3RD ROUND? Man, that’s about ten kinds of cruel, ye olde Tennis Gods.
And then it was Fed-time with a match against Malisse. If I can be honest, I did think that Roger seemed a bit cranky during his practice session, but I brushed it off as my tendency to over-worry about things not worth worrying about. Until Roger started playing.
As said by Dootsiez, it wasn’t a bad match – he after all won in comfortable straight sets – 6-3, 6-3, 6-1. However, the whole match was just bizarre. His shot selections were bizarre. He seemed disinterested in the first set, but he won that. Only when he got broken in the second set, then he seemed to come to life.
Suddenly, I see Roger muttering, glaring, shaking his head, yelling NIEEEEEEEEN at missed forehands, and giving C’MONS and fistpumps at 15-all. He won the second set, basically steam-rolled Malisse in the third, but his mood didn’t seem to calm down, not until he got the match in his pocket.
If he’s a girl, I’ll definitely say he was PMS-ing. All the symptoms were there. But hey, he won, and he’s through.
Day 6 observations in dot-points – mostly the outside court matches as there was where I was at:
1) Milos Raonic. Who woulda though this young, gutsy and most unknown Canadian qualifier would have the goods to boot world no.10 Mikhail Youzhny? I watch one set of this match and he was outplaying le Colonel from the forehand wing. It didn’t help that Youzhny’s backhand was not as sharp as it usually was. Coupled with Raonic’s amazing serving – he currently holds the record for fastest serve for this AO season – Youzhny couldn’t keep up and was bundled out in 4-sets. It will be interesting to see how he now matches up against David Ferrer.
2) Alexandr Dolgopolov. What a guy. At the ripe old tennis age of 22, he’s finally beginning to make himself seen and heard on tour, reaching the 4th round on his debut Australian Open (didn’t manage to qualify last year) after knocking out Jo-Wilfrid Tsonga in 5 sets. Granted Jo was not 100% – still fighting off the effects of a niggling injury – but Dolgopolov hung on, clawed back from a 2 sets to 1 deficit, and blasted Tsonga with solid forehands and volleys and impressive serving. Tsonga’s frequent double-faulting contributed to the 6-1, 6-1 score of the last two sets, but well played, Dolgopolov. I don’t think he will get past Bobby Sod (who is flying under the radar looking ominous) but I daresay he will give Sod a run for his money.
3) John Isner and Marin Cilic. There’s something about Mr. Isner and 5-set marathons. . If I was John Isner, I will bloody make sure that I never play 5th sets, ever again. I think he is still haunted by Wimbledon. After missing a chance at 0-30 on Cilic’s serve at 6-all, his face was literally wrought with PAIN. He was totally thinking about Wimbledon and OH LORD PLEASE NOT AGAIN I SWEAR. But the final scoreline of 9-7 fell short of his 70-68 Wimbledon record, of course. And the other difference is that he was not the victor. Marin Cilic won himself the right to be stomped on by Rafa in the quarter-finals
4) Bernard Tomic. The kid was a spoiled brat with no EQ skills and social etiquette, but if people expect him to roll over and play dead for Rafa, they expected wrong. Tomic rose to the occasion, matched Rafa on every play – even managing to take a 4-0 lead in the second set before inexperience on his part and experience plus GRIT on Rafa’s part levelled things again. The scoreline of 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 was much closer than it suggested. Rafa was actually pressured in most of his service games. Tomic is no pushover, but he is still a brat. Still, I am curious to see where he goes from here, whether could he sort his personality out along with his game.
Day 7 of tennis was pretty full-on – and again, I missed Wozniacki’s match due to Feder-stalking. Oh well, wouldn’t change it for the anything!
My first match on Rod Laver Arena saw Li Na taking out Vika Azarenka in straight sets – although not without the usual WTA business of losing serve a couple of times before hanging on for the win. Li Na definitely had the crowd on her side – as Azarenka’s screeching just annoyed the hell out of everyone else – little old lady next to me called it “disturbing the peace”. Crowd tittered and laughed every time she went “OOOOOOOORRRRRHhhhhhhhhhhh” and imitations were rampant. Mean, but no one could really stand her. I’m pleased that Li Na is through. She’s playing well, and she meets Andrea Petkovic – who completely outplayed Shrieky Sharapova – in the quarters. It will be a match worth catching.
Roger McFed then took centre court for what 99.9% of the tennis community expected to be a routine trashing of Disco Dancin’ Tommy Robredo. Roger has a perfect 9-0 record, and has only ever lost two sets to Mr. Bright Red Pants. He was imperious on serve the first set, firing aces and unreturnable serves and T-Rob could not even make a single-point dent on. However, although he wasn’t really taking his chances with T-Rob’s serve, he did well enough to earn that one break and to take the first set. The routine was still on track.
Until the second set. Suddenly, T-Rob found his first serve and his disco groove. Fed lost his first serve and most of his ballet groove. A loose game from Roger late in the set found him broken, with Tommy then serving for the set and before I can yell FUCK YOU FEDERER, it was one-set all.
Roger wasn’t in the mood for any more five-setters though. He broke the Disco serve early in the third, and hung on to close the set out in a back-to-routine fashion. Tommy then changed into a presumably lucky red shirt (and maybe lucky red underwear) but it wasn’t nearly enough. Le Fed then earned early simultaneous breaks again in the fourth, and then it was business as usual in the office of Federer.
When asked by Courier whom he prefers for the quarter-final, Roger answered, “My friend, Stanley”. Well, Roger’s friend Stanley was at his smokin’ Ewok Stanley best when he literally blew Andy Roddick off court in the last RLA match in straight sets. Everything was working for The Other Swiss Guy – his backhand was sublime, his forehand was clicking, his volleys were there, he was able to chase balls, return them, and suddenly, out of nowhere, he was pulling 200kmph serves and outserving The Serve himself. Poor ARod didn’t help himself by having a horrendous serving day by his usual standards, seeing his first serves faulting, and thus having Stanley pouncing all over his second serve like PJ pouncing all over Federer if she can guarantee she won’t be arrested for *ahem* inappropriate harassment.
I would just like to remind Roger that when he meets Wawrinka during the quarter-finals on Tuesday, he’s not going to be Your Friend Stanley. He should be Stanley Your Enemy Whom You’re Going To Destroy So That He Won’t Get In The Way Of Number Seventeen. Heads up, okay?
As for the other quarter-final, Djokovic and Berdych both hammered Almagro and Verdasco respectively. As Jodi so aptly puts it, it will be The Battle Of Sesame Street when Bert meets Big Bird. I hope they clobber each other to death.
Saving the best for the last – Schiavone and Kuznetsova. What a brilliant, brilliant match, and brilliant, brilliant display of heart, of determination, of passion. I started watching at 5-all, and could not leave Garden Square despite brambles sticking to my thighs and an extremely sore back. I watched those two girls played their guts out. The level of tennis was RIDICULOUS. The points played – I could only gasp and scream NO WAY as they just blazed the balls back into play for winner after winner with the most ridiculous volleys and ball-chasing.
Towards the end, there would be four breaks of serve. And each time, the girls broke each other with amazing plays and gutsy shots – really going all out for it instead of hanging back and hoping for the opponent’s mistakes. They let nothing go. NOTHING. It wasn’t a serving marathon to hold serve. It was a tennis marathon for every single point. Every single one of it.
In the end, the first to blink was Kuznetsova, as she lost serve that one final time. But she made sure that Franny did not have an easy time serving it out. Sveta kept chasing the balls, kept hitting the winners and never once gave up the belief that she could maybe break back and keep herself alive. But it was not meant to be as Franny finally held that one crucial serve, and it was all over.
At the same time, my heart breaks for Kuznetsova, as I’m sure with millions of other people out there. Franny will play Wozniacki next. And unfortunately, she will have nothing left in the tank to play Wozniacki’s brand of tennis. Still, I hope for a miracle, I hope that Franny’s heart will be enough to propel her through, and through again, and again.
Because I now truly think she deserves the title of Australian Open women’s champ, 2011.
No prizes on who I think should have the men’s title. But I won’t say it outloud.
And onward we go.
P.S. photos from daylife.com
SPECIAL EDITION FRAZZLES – Served by yours truly.
On the menu: cupcakes, muffins, bricks, perhaps a few asterisks too?
Which one would you like to take? Because folks: Andy Murray is gone, GONE. And NO ONE CARETH. *Sally Draper lisp* In related news, Ahndee Mooray apparently 62% Scottish as I write this, whadaya know.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR FRAZZLE-FILLED LIVES?
Why I’m glad you asked!
- It means that the top half of the draw is smashed into James Frey. In a Roland-Garros-09-parting-of-the-seas kinda way, only swap Roger Federer for Rafael Nadal, Paris for New York.
- It means that there are too many of Rafa’s playstation mates left in the draw. Some of you share my boredom. Others don’t. That’s okay, since none of it will change the outcome.
- It means that it is very unlike that Murray, a “pre-tournament favourite”, will ever be a “pre-tournament favourite” again. That’s what you get for rocking the US Open Series, then flaming out early at what should’ve been your best tournament, TWO FUCKING YEARS in a row. Am I complaining? Why yes. But more on that later.
- It means that there are two Swiss in the second week of a slam. Coulda been three if Nutty Patty had survived Wicky. They make ’em good in Switzerlandia. They make ’em real good.
- What does this mean for the bottom half of the draw? ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY NOTHING. The 3rd seed? Still in. The fifth seed? Lurking just around the corner. Second seed? FRAZZLE. Only perceptions of loadedness has gone up.
- How unfair! How cupcakey! Now Roger has the bitchiest draw of all time – Melzer, 5th, 3rd, and top seed – if he wants to win. OH SHUT IT. When the draws came out, Rafa had the tougher half. It’s beyond the control of everyone except for Murray how that pans out. Besides, I’m a firm believer in Dootsie’s Principle of Cupcake Equal Opportunity: eventually, everything evens up. So cut the crap.
- Jurgen Melzer is the bane of my existence right now. NOTHING ELSE. We all need to put our tunnel vision goggles on. *hands out tunnel vision goggles*
THAT IS ALL UNTIL LATERS ALLIGATORS. Frazzle away!
ARTHUR ASHE – 11:00 am
My flu meds and electoral rage have given me a rare moment of lucidity, so let me write this in the only way I know how – numbered, listed, for and against. The acknowledged limitations of my education.
1. With Roger Federer’s win this weekend, speculations have begun as to what role Annacone played in his two weeks of good form. The most popular theory seems to be that the biggest change brought about by the Federcone was in the attack game – serve and volley, chip and charge, this is what Annacone and his past protégés are all about. I wonder though, how much of this victory was due to a change in coaching and not to other factors – i.e. more rest, a fired-up Federer post-Wimbledon loss. I’m firm believer that as a genuine blue chip, Roger Federer’s stocks are only capable of sinking so low, and any emotional investments I make will one day be returned in abundance. At Wimbledon, he hit the nadir, and as if you needed to see Wogie McFed’s sourpuss face after losing to Berdych to know that he’s had enough.
In fact, the single, consistent message we got from those associated with Feddykins during his 6 week break from tennis post-Wimbledon was that he practiced like a maniac and sought outside help. If there were positive indications that Mr Federer’s stocks were on their way up, they came earlier than Toronto 2010, and came at least partly out of a desire to ‘get’em back’.
I’m not trying to discredit Annacone’s role here. As far as coaches go, sans Daren Cahill, I can’t think of a better match for the Fed than the Cone. But isn’t it a little premature to make out grand theories as to what Annacone may or may not have done for Federer based on pure speculation and Federer’s newfound willingness to attack, conquer and spit on his opponent’s remains?
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I’m hesitant to buy this “new coach, immediate success” story. As the Fed himself says, let’s reevaluate post-US Open. We may have very different, and possibly not very nice things to say about the Federcone then.
2. And where does all this leave Severin Luthi? He was court-side as usual last week, and his presence sparked the general mixture of emotions from Federer fans: love for his absolute loyalty to Fed, exasperation – the same kind you get when you see the most beautiful woman dating … well the antonym of “the most beautiful man”, and general WTFuckery – the inexplicable relationship between the two which Federer himself calls “coaching”, if only we believed him.
In a way, Luthi’s tight-lipped media-shyness over the years hasn’t done him any favours with the so-called tennis connoisseurs out there. We have no real evidence that he has a mind independent of Roger, or an authority to guide, instruct or direct Federer to try something he doesn’t want to try. In this sense, Luthi has been reimagined by the media and by fans into something more akin to a confidant, rather than a coach. I wonder if that’s true.
But then again, perhaps Luthi’s discreetness is precisely his biggest asset, for Federer has shown him more loyalty than he has to anyone else on his team, save Mirka. Hey, what do I know?
3. Personally, I’m thrilled to see Federer back at No 2, but for reasons more vain than practical. I was never worried that Fed wasn’t going to move up the rankings again. After all, dude is defending a shiny total of 5 points between Shanghai and Bercy, and don’t get me started on the rankings bonanza post-Australian Open next year. Sneak attack on the rankings, don’t say you weren’t warned, ATP.
But back to the present: essentially, the difference between a No 2 seed and a No 3 seed at the Open is the difference between getting Nadal for the semifinal or Murray for the semifinal. Which is really the better choice here – rankings be damned?
I wanted to avoid a Federer v Nadal semi for sentimental reasons, but who am I to say that a 50% chance of getting Murray for the semifinal is really the better draw over a 50% chance of getting Nadal? Not based on recent results anyway, although I would never bet against Nadal, not even in my feverishly delirious state. In either case, Djokovic seems to be the bunny of the lot … until the bunny turns into something far more sinister and carnivorous. Come on, it’s a slam after all, the only prudent thing to do is to be scared shitless of everyone.
4. In the clusterfuck of my life over the last weekend, I almost missed the fact that Serena Williams has pulled out of the US Open. Let me be the first to slap an asterisk onto that trophy, since we’re such fans of asterisks in modern tennis.
But her absence (along with the absence of Henin) has indeed decapitated the field. Who’s going to win it now? Svetlana? Sure, she’s in good form, but when her form is good, the last thing she needs to know is that the seas have been parted for her to win a third slam. GodforbidWozniacki? Fortune favours the brave. Aggression wins slams. May those remain truths universal. Will Kim Clijsters defend her title? For some reason, I don’t see it happening. Happy to eat my humblepie should I be proven otherwise. Venus? Perhaps. If she doesn’t lose to someone ranked outside the top 40 in the first week.
And somewhere in a hotel room in New York, hope lives on in Sharpie’s heart.
What say you?
Oh Nike, WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME?
As if Federer – with his potato nose and chocolate curls, his 11-secret-herbs-and-spices legs – wasn’t delicious enough, you’ve now gone and coated him in strawberry icing too!
You don’t play fair, Nike. I’m not having your Swooshy babies anymore! 😦
What do you want me to say about the match? Was it so squeaky clean that you could eat off it, lick it clean and use it as a mirror? Of course not. Who could forget the Furdlike way in which he shanked away a 5-2 lead in the first set?
But then again, I didn’t really notice – I was too busy stuffing my face with a strawberry milkshake after taking one look at that outfit.
Had it been a 62 63 match, you would’ve seen a very happy Doots and a crowd slightly cheated out of their bang for buck. As it turns out, the first set provided a good workout for Fed and those fans who are a little out practice with their frazzling.
The second set, on the other hand, made me realise that I’ve missed his tennis.
… So there’s that.
The numbers, for anyone who wants to crunch them.
The porn, for anyone who wants a strawberry milkshake with chocolate swirls …
… and a Federcone, made with crunchy wafer biscuit. Om nom nom.
In other matches of the day, Maria Sharapova overcame a hotmess of a serve and a hotmess of an opponent to prevail over Sveta, 64 16 62. The serve – as long as the scoreline ain’t close, it doesn’t bother her any more than it bothers every other WTA player out there. But bring out the deuces and breakpoints and watch it become such a foreign part of her game that even her immune system wants to repel it.
As for Sveta – she showed up. Not only did she show up, she took a set off a tough, mentally predatory opponent. Given the emotional and physical exhaustion she just went through in San Diego last week, that’s more than I expected from her. See you in Montreal.
In other matches of the day, Soderling continued his ominous march to No 4 today with a 3 set win over the Importance, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Only saw the last set: one giant shiftest of unreturned serves, wild groundies sailing past the baseline, Gulbis collected 36 winners and 38 unforced errors, to Soderling’s 34-33. Hardly shiny by anyone’s standards. But the reason Sodderkins has transformed himself from a top 30 player into a top 5 player in 18 months is precisely his ability to win matches on a bad day. In other words – bad match, solid win.
On a slight more off-topic note, whatever pact Ernie made with the Devil with regards to the hair? Unmake it. Scalp, face, or elsewhere.
In the battle of the Daveeds, it was the Argentine that triumphed – barely – winning 75 36 63. In stark contrast to Soderling v Gulbis, the Daveeds lived and died by their return games as they traded 11 breaks of serve. Nalbandian won the day as Ferru fell apart completely on serve in the final set, but watching him wobble over the finish line today, one wonders if he’ll have enough gas left in the tank for Robredo.
I hope so. Because Nalbandian v Soderling sounds almost as tasty as a Federcone.
By the way, what is this? And why do people find it him smokin’/endearing/anything other than downright creepy?
Tennis fandom. It makes no sense.
The most difficult thing about Monday posts is that you inevitably search for sense, for meaning, and coherency where there is none. Life doesn’t exactly fall neatly into themes, and tennis – if anything – is a microcosm of life. Some weeks produce a motley crew of winners and grinners, from veterans to youngsters, surprise finalists to players in good form.
But this week, bizarrely enough, belongs to the other end of the spectrum. It folds neatly into a single, consistent theme, running through the entire week, that is the theme of revival.
Much like the weather in Melbourne lately, both Sveta and Nalby have been through a rough winter, plagued by injuries, underperformance, questioned by the media and no doubt by themselves on a dark rainy day. For those two, the first signs of spring couldn’t have come at a better time. But as always with the first warm days of the year, you wonder if it was all an aberration. Will Mother Nature lapse back to her wintry ways? Or are we headed for gradual warmth from hereon? With Ferrer and Sharapova first up next week for our winners, the road ahead doesn’t get any easier.
And what of Jelena Dokic, whose career is more bleak than a Siberian blizzard? She won her third challenger title in 3 weeks, currently on a 15 match winning streak after taking out Virginie Razzano in Vancouver 6-1, 6-4. Good call dumping the boyfriend/coach duo then.
Other familiar faces popping up again in this week of tennistic revivals – Gilles Simon, Marcos Baghdatis. It’s difficult to string wins together when your body is the biggest variable in your game. Great to see all of them back in action, it’s almost like a high school reunion. Without the awkward judgements.
More importantly, is the man in hot pink taking note? More than anything, last week’s tennis has filled me with hope, that if Nalbandian, ranked 117 just 24 hours ago, can come back from hip surgery with a gutful of motivation and unrest; if Sveta can put her insecurities and self-chastisement aside to tough out a match against an opponent who’s far more in touch with her sense and sensibility, then surely, there’ll be warm signs of spring for Roger and Randy and Gonzo and Lleyton … and all those other players going through their own personal winters. Surely.