Madrid Open - Semi Excellence leads to The Fednal Final
by Steve Law
So here we are, for the first time in a year, awaiting the return of Rafael Nadal v. Roger Federer.
Both of them have had their challenges this week. Nadal looked set to waltz to the final until he came up against Nicolas Almagro yesterday.
Almagro tore Nadal apart for the first 5 games to lead 4-1. Not that Nadal could have done much about it, he was simply outplayed by Almagro's crushing first serves, blistering early forehands, Federer-style angled backhands and a laser sharp focus. High-risk tennis from the "other" Spaniard helped Almagro take the set 6-4.
The question was obvious: Could he keep up this level for the rest of the match?
Well, the simple answer to this question was No.
Nadal broke at 1-1 in the second set. Pumped fists and ridiculous winners from two miles behind the baseline turned Almagro back into an also-ran. Nadal took the match 4-6 6-2 6-2.
It seems like the old Nadal is back. Which seems like a funny thing to say considering he's only 24. I think I was just out of nappies at that age.
Federer has had a little more trouble on his way. Though I can't help thinking that maybe he's bored; he certainly looks like it at times. I also can't help thinking that his wife feels the same; there she is texting courtside as he pulls out the world's most incredible drop-volley. I guess she's seen it all before, and complacency comes to us all eventually. Right?
Federer took the first set 7-5 , then was struggling to keep up his standard in the second.
My girlfriend asked me, "Why does he (Federer) keep hitting his backhand in the net."
"Um, maybe because he's not aiming high enough?" I replied.
"Look at that," she noted, "he keeps hitting the ball on the racket frame."
I nodded and sighed, "It happens."
But really, these are good observations. And I'm sure many of you will have different explanations.
And then it dawned on me.
When watching Federer, our definition of normal is, in fact, excellence. So our normal expectations of Federer are that he has turned into a machine. We forget that he is human. So when he makes a mistake or two, we think something is terribly wrong. When in fact, he has just dropped below excellence for a moment.
So what is our expectation of the Final? Nadal v. Federer? Will we ever become complacent? I hope not.
Oh and the match score, Federer won 7-5 3-6 6-2.
The last time I went to a WTA event in San Diego was the last time a WTA event was held in San Diego - the fall of 2007. The tennis world's relationship to gambling had just blown up after online betting site Betfair.com canceled all bets on a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vasallo-Arguello because it had all the earmarks of a fixed match.
The ATP never managed to proved match fixing because they couldn't connect either of the players to a gambler, and the event in San Diego was canceled partially because - as I remember it - the residents of the tony La Costa Resort and Spa didn't appreciate the intrusion of all that traffic, they had enough already with the yearly PGA golf event.
Fast forward to 2010 and now it's Los Angeles that will lose its WTA event at the Home Depot Center only to relocate to San Diego. The Home Depot Center was an awful place for a tennis tournament by the way, more cement that you could possibly imagine and just not very much atmosphere. The media hordes were relegated to a dark underground area that let out onto a dirt field that was all dug up and grooved for the X Games motocross competition. That's the good news.
The bad news is that Los Angeles was a Tier III event while San Diego used to be Tier I so the new event in San Diego will be smaller, though I must have been wrong about that traffic problem because once again it's at the La Costa resort. Tier III and IV events are now referred to as International and even though it's a lower level event, it's still part of the U.S. Open Series that runs up to the U.S. Open and, so far, Ana Ivanovic, Dinara Safina, and Svetlana Kuznetsova have signed up.
We'll see if they really turn up when July 31st rolls around but at least the event has a title sponsor and that's a good thing. Mercury Insurance Group has signed up and the event will now be known as the Mercury Insurance Open. If you want to go and see a beautiful spot and see some pretty good tennis players, check out the tournament website. See you there.no comments
Match report -
Federer v Gulbis
by Steve Law
Ernest Gulbis shows once again that he is mature for his 21 years by closing out the first set pretty convincingly against Roger Federer 6-3. If we're being picky he was at 40-0 and let Federer get back to deuce before closing the game with an ace. Still pretty convincing from the Latvian.
The second set looked like it maybe just as troublesome for Federer as Gulbis broke in the first game. However, the glory was short-lived for Gulbis as Federer broke back immediately and finally pumped his fist with a ‘come on!' The first sign that he was into the match.
All of a sudden Federer looked a lot more convincing as he started to pick Gulbis's serve that had caused him so much trouble in the first set.
At 3-1 Federer had to absorb the increased pace from Gulbis and a timely lob from the Latvian also kept Federer a little weary of coming forward. But Federer kept pressing and Gulby was unable to live with the precision serving, the mid-court sliced backhands and the variety of the world #1.
Federer continued to show incredible court awareness throughout the set and
at 5-1 Federer closed the set in true class, with a beautiful half-volley drop shot from mid court. 6-1 Federer.
The third set produced some high quality tennis from both players.
At 1-1 Federer picks the 214km/h Gulbis serve and fires a winning backhand beyond the reach of the Latvian. Federer breaks with a beautifully disguised backhand lob to go 2-1 up.
Cries from the crowd of ‘close the roof' when the rain started falling did nothing to distract the players or change the quality of the match.
Although Gulbis stayed within touching distance, Fed's superior class pulled him through to a 3-6 6-1 6-4 victory.
With Murray defeated, and Ferrer likely to be tired from a late night finish it looks odds on for another Federer v Nadal showdown.
Serena and Venus are unbeatable
by Steve Law
Getting front row seats to see the Williams sisters play doubles is not something I had ever thought would excite me. How wrong could one be.
I even gave up the beginning of the Federer v Gulbis match in the Manolo Santana to stay with this match. I wasn't disappointed.
The ambience in court three of La Caja Magica - Madrid is like no other I have experienced. One is within touching distance of the players, and because it's enclosed by a tight metal box, the sound reverberates ‘round the whole stadium and it FEELS like you are actually playing in the match. The sound of the ball-strike is deep and dramatic. One can even hear the dirt slides echo if you pay close attention. Truly incredible.
The presence of Serena and Venus Williams together are likely to intimidate any opponents. At the opposing end, the Italian Sciavone and the Israeli Peer are no slouches. In particular Sciavone has an attitude to match Serena's. And she has a game to be reckoned with, too - clearly demonstrated on Wednesday when she took Venus to three sets.
The Williams sisters took the first set 7-5.
Serena started the second set with a string of errors, but fortunately for her, had the rock-steady stability of ‘big' sister to calm her down.
On the opposing team Sciavone seemed to be struggling with an internal inferno. In moments she looked like she might turn Serena to stone with her customary glare.
The most memorable point of the match was as Venus hit what appeared to be an overhead winner to take the first game of the second set.
It was initially called out.
Venus questioned the call, and as the line judge unconvincingly pointed to a vague mark, confirming his decision, she exclaimed, "Excuse me," in a tone that can only be described as teenage attitude, "That mark is not out."
All four players started smiling as the line judge struggled to convince them.
The umpire eventually came off her chair and ruled the ball in.
The poor linesman retreated like a tortoise into its shell, to the relative safety of the back of the court.
The Williams sisters went on to take the second set 6-2. Venus making just one unforced error in the whole of the second set. It seems that they may, once again, be unbeatable.
It's all a matter of attitude, Andy.
by Steve Law
"Honey turn on the light, it must be 8am by now"
"Isn't it a little early" I said
"Ok, I'll do it" she said as she leant across and caught me full on the jaw with her fist.
"Owwww, gees honey, shouldn't that one be saved for Andy (Murray) and not for me."
Well this is what I felt look doing to British Andy Murray, after suffering two hours watching their backhand cross-"caught" drilling session last night. Or was it an actual tennis match? If ever there was a need for a change of attitude on court, this was it. I'm sure even McEnroe didn't let his temper tantrums last this long. Two and a half hours of racquet tapping, biting, cracking, and ten year old boy sulks and I was exhausted and fed up of rooting for Andy.
The Spaniard David Ferrer on the other hand was in complete contrast: Positivity personified.
I had educated my girlfriend, by text from the chilly Manolo Santana, that Ferrer didn't have enough in his locker to ‘hurt' Murray in this match.
"Murray is often a slow starter" I informed her after he was a break down in the first.
"He'll win it in three (sets)" I continued.
"Nah," she replied, "Ferrer's attitude will win through." And how right she was. Ferrer took the match 7-5 6-3.
The most tragic thing of all here is that Murray is currently the sole representation for British tennis abroad. If only we could adopt Ferrer. He may not have a lot of the weapons of the very top players, but he has enough spirit and energy to make up for it. Which takes me right back to the beginning:
It's all a matter of attitude, Andy!
La Caja Magica...
by Steve Law
Here in Madrid much of the talk is about the crisis, of course better known globally as "the recession." Though, as I'm learning, Spaniards always like to be a little over-dramatic.
Spain may be in a financial spin, but in La Caja Magica, the magic of Rafael Nadal suggests anything butt! Well at least my over-excited girlfriend seems to think so.
Thought I reminded her, "Now, Honey, I'm sure we came today to watch the tennis...," I too found myself marveling at the perfect-bodied Spaniard.
The routines, the rituals, that ridiculous forehand grip, the whip, the spin, the water bottle Over-Compulsive Display, the line hopping, the perfectly-fitted outfit, that incredible bicep, and so much more. So it was little surprise when she turned to me and said: "Look at all those incredible fibres in his back, it would be sooooo great to draw." Yes, I thought, couldn't have put it better myself!
After the disappointing withdrawal of Andy Roddick, due to an injury, or was it a tummy sickness, nobody seemed sure. It was great to see a true professional at work.
Conditions weren't easy for Nadal; swirling wind, a little rain and a crowd chanting for roof closure. His Ukrainian opponent, Dolgopolov Jr. was no push over either. Though his suspect backhand must have given Nadal a sigh of relief. The first set took a standard 38 minutes, 6-4 Nadal. The second was won with another single break 6-3. In Interview Nadal commented that it was difficult to gain any rhythm and he paid respect to his opponents play and particular his serve throughout the second set.
To the onlooker it appeared to be pretty standard stuff for Nadal. And his journey will be made easier after the straight sets defeat of Soderling by another Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro.
The biggest shock of the day came in the Serena Williams match. After seeing her elegant sister Venus Williams, dressed in red, take out the gritty Italian Sciavone in three sets, Serena must have forgotten the light switch whilst getting dressed for her own match. She strutted on court adorning a clashing pink and peach outfit. Though, it clearly wasn't enough to distract her opponent.
Nadia Petrova lost the first set to the American but it was the precision hitting of the Russian that took out the American 4-6 6-2 6-3.
In other matches:
The Ladies match between model looking Ivanovic and the ever playful Jankovic, in the battle of the Serbs, will be remembered more for the brightly coloured dresses than the standard of tennis. Orange and green respectively. Though Ivanovic is the bigger hitting player, she struggled to find the court on several occasions and amassed several double faults whose main culprit was a consistently suspect ball toss. Jankovic was hardly on top form, but her variety of shot and smaller number of unforced errors eventually gave her the match 4-6 6-4 6-1.
In the mens draw the tempremantal Russian Youzhny was given an education by an in form Gulbis. Although Gulbis looks like he has just gotten out of college, or even out of bed, he closes a match like a seasoned champion. He went 6-0 up in the first set tie-break, to eventual take it 7-2 and he dropped only one point in his last two service games of the second set. Most of those being unreturnables from a laser first serve. Gulbis took the match 7-6 6-3.
The overall feel I get from the world of tennis at the moment is upheaval or, to put it another way, changes we thought would come have arrived.
Federer has had an awful spring, Andy Murray even worse (not a change we expected but I’m getting there), Rafael Nadal is back to winning on clay only, Novak Djokovic is still finding ways to get sick, and Ernests Gulbis is finally moving up the ranks.
Gulbis could have gone either way. He could have ended up as a joke after being busted for soliciting a prostitute in Sweden late last year, or he could have realized that he’d better change his ways instead of fooling around. And I don’t mean that as a sexual innuendo. Gulbis admits that he wasn’t a hard worker. Think about how much ego that takes, especially when you watch these interminable battles on clay. Here was a young player who thought he could stay on tour without working as hard as everyone else. Granted it’s not the same as going down a mine and digging out the side of a mountain day after day but it does require supreme conditioning.
Gulbis started off by losing his first service game to Albert Montanes in Madrid today then won the first set 7-5 and finished Montanes off 6-1 in the second after Montanes hurt his groin. I love Montanes’ Roscoe Tanner serve by the way. I wish more players had the nerve to toss the ball short and smash it. Imagine if one of the brawnier players took up that serve - Marcos Baghdatis? He could kill with it. (For obvious reasons I should have said stocky in Baggy’s case instead of brawny.) Robin Soderling’s toss is so high I have a hard time not flipping channels during his service motion.
And then there’s Quisner – U.S. tennis’ two headed tallness of Sam Querrey and John Isner. Someone please tell me how this duo got to the final at last week’s event in Belgrade? That’s a change no one saw coming.
Belgrade was a small event but Querrey beat Igor Andreev, a fair clay player, and Isner beat both Richard Gasquet and Stanislas Wawrinka who are much more than fair on clay. Querrey won the title in Belgrade and both guys are into the second round in Madrid.
I would argue that the U.S. has produced tennis twins before. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were two sides of the same coin. While their styles were very different, both were incredibly ill mannered and notorious for using those ill manners in any way necessary to win a match. McEnroe may have acted out of a sense of privilege while Connors acted as if his opponent was stealing food off his plate, but this was as much a matter of parental training as it was childhood circumstances.
McEnroe and Connors were fraternal twins while Querrey and Isner are identical. Not only identical to each other but veritable clones of Andy Roddick. And that’s a bit disappointing. The rest of the world is turning out athletic all court players and the U.S. is still producing big servers. Unless some ground up cement was tossed in with the red clay at that event in Belgrade I protest too much, but I would have loved it if Donald Young had amounted to something with his touch and creativity and I’m still looking for a U.S. player like that today.
Back to one of those expected changes. Federer appears to be turning into late career Pete Sampras before our eyes. In the three seasons from 2000-2002, Sampras won three events: Miami, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. That gave him 14 slams and that ain’t bad. If Federer won two more slams in the next three years he’d have 18 and that would be unbelievable.
I’m wondering what Pete and Rog might be texting as Sampras’ late career tutoring takes hold:
Dammit Pete, first I lose to Baghdatis for the first time ever and now I lose to Berdych who hasn’t beaten me since 2004. This is killing me!
Rog, Uh, hello? Isn’t the next slam on clay??? Who cares about Indian Wells and Miami. Just keep your muscles warmed up till the big stuff on clay happens ok? Besides, you don’t want to wear yourself out do you?
Hello yourself Pete, losing to Ernests Gulbis! Didn’t he start the year at like number 90?
Rog, Rog, it’s Rome. Clay warmup. Don’t worry buddy.
Pete, It’s tiny Estoril and Montanes is older that I am. This is embarrassing!
Rog, you got to the semis didn’t you? Everything’s right on schedule for Paris, defending champ.
Or something like that. While I think Rog can wake up in time for Paris, Soderling is unlikely to take out Rafael Nadal this year so it probably won’t matter. As for the U.S. Open check back in July.no comments
Upon the eve of the most important clay court tournament of the year, there's usually a lot more going on than just the tennis. May and June in Paris can excite any crowd and the Roland Garros crowd can be boisterous and loud. Mainly, however, the sport will continue to be about expectations of the bouncing yellow ball and what goes on in the minds and heart of the hundreds of players negotiating their bodies and desires on the red turf. There have been books and blogs written and physics tested on why tennis is played so differently on clay than grass or hard courts. For me, it boils down to expectations.
A life-long tennis player and one of my new students, Sergio, was recovering from a broken wrist. During a match on a hardcourt he misfooted and tried to break the fall with his hand - breaking his wrist. The surgery was routine, he was sidelined for several months and he continues physical therapy. Today, after the surgeon, physical therapist and the pain management doctor all agreed he was ready, Sergio decided to return to the court.
As we warmed up in the service boxes, I could sense his caution and distrust. He told me he was afraid of his feet. "They will betray me again."
"You think you fell because of your feet?"
"They bunked into each other," he said sadly.
"Hit a few and make them bunk into each other," I requested, assuming his feet would not want to do this.
Sergio's right foot missed the left on his step to the first shot. He smiled. During the next few shots Sergio's feet touched each other, and he did not fall. He actually started to hit harder and with more focus. He was also getting mad.
"My feet don't like touching each other."
"Maybe it was not a foot conspiracy against you?"
"Well, I was playing the net on my 65th birthday," he ignored my theory by starting the story, "the guy I was playing against usually returns the ball crosscourt. This time he didn't and the next thing I remember is I was lying on the cement looking down at a wrist bone protruding from my skin. And blood."
"Did you see the ball coming toward you?"
"I did until it went the wrong way," he laughed. "Maybe it was my expectations that let me down and not my feet," Sergio surmised.
Sergio's displaced blame for his feet is common. With this fall: Is he on his way to watching the ball with fewer expectations? Or will he be willing to watch the ball rather than his expectations?
Do you transfer culpability for your missteps (on a date, in a meeting, on the tennis court, golf course, bowling, eating a peach....) to a body part? Which men and women, in the next few weeks, will embrace the ball on its unexpected path?no comments
As the second Grand Slam tournament of 2010 is drawing nearer, all signs are pointing to a resurgent showing from four-time French Open champion RafaelNadal.
With world number one Roger Federer consistently faltering since his Australia Open victory nearly four months ago, Nadal is poised to reclaim his favorite title and with little opposition in sight.
Novak Djokovic remains an enigma, Andy Murray has not yet recovered from his second Slam-final defeat, Del Potro is injured and potentially out of the picture until after the U.S. Open and Andy Roddick has never been a real threat on clay.
So who is there to challenge Rafa on his favorite surface? The simple answer is no one. Sure Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer might put together a few solid rounds and advance to the quarterfinals, but neither is going to threaten his Royal Clayness. Nadal thrashed Verdasco in the finals of Monte Carlo 6-0, 6-1 and has defeated Ferrer twice in the past month without dropping a set.
Until his shocking defeat at the hands of Robin Soderling last year in the fourth round at Roland Garros, Rafa had reigned supreme. That loss can be in-part related to recurrent knee injuries which for the time being, no longer seem to be affecting his play.
So here we are at the last Masters 1000 tournament before the big dance. Federer seeded first, Nadal seeded second. Tournament organizers and tennis fans alike are anxiously waiting for a preview of the French Open final. Will their wishes be granted?
Despite his recent losses to Albert Montanes and Ernests Gulbis, I see no reason why Federer does not bounce back with a strong showing this week. His first round bye guarantees him a second-round showing against veteran CarlosMoya, who should likely have retired a year ago, or Benjamin Becker, who merely holds the surname of a former tennis great. While Montanes and Gulbis both lurk as potential quarterfinal opponents, it is time for Roger to raise the bar and get serious about his French Open title defense. After attaining the all-time Grand Slam record in 2009 and getting married and having twin girls, it is not shocking to see the Swiss champion relent at certain events. Now, as the thought of repeating at RolandGarros looms, expect to see a more resilient effort from Federer in Madrid.
Still, with a healthy Nadal owning a 9-2 winning record against him on clay, Federer is going to be hard-pressed to emerge victorious either in Madrid or in Paris. It just doesn't seem like a Federer victory is likely at either venue. Regardless, a return to the finals in either or both events would bode well for Roger and give him a nice boost of confidence heading into June and a return to his favorite tournament at the All-England Club at Wimbledon.
Enjoy the clay court tennis while it is still here, and enjoy the wonderful display of tennis that a healthy Nadal can provide us with.
Since we've had earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tsunami, not to mention man-made disasters like the housing crash, recession, terrorist attacks, the BP oil spill, maybe it's only, ahem, natural that the tennis tour is also seeing its share of nuttiness, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Just in the last hour I watched the final in Rome, where Jelena Jankovic fell to Maria Jose Sanchez Martinez, an, ahem, natural serve & volleyer, whose doubs results have far outshone her singles play until recently. Even as I type, she's contending for the doubles trophy too. The singles trophy was a beaut – those Italians can design, gotta give'em that. Then I saw someone who looked like Roger Federer try to do something against the gap-toothed journeyman Albert Montanes and lose in straights. Yesteray it was Djokovic retiring in Serbia against rhe baby-faced 19-yr old Krajinovic in the first set. Breathing problems. Remember those? Last year Djokies was the home boy/conquering hero at his own tournament. Then there was Davis Cup. He hasn't been the same since. How soon you have to defend those points.
Let's discuss the girls. When I first saw Maria Jose play, it was great to see that style of play again, especially from a woman – what's more, a Spanish woman, and a Spanish woman who's 27 and 5'9 1/2”. A Spanish woman who's 27 and 5'9 1/2” and a LEFTY. Outrageous. Big serve, soft hands, fearless at net. Groundies less impressive. That was about two years ago, and she's continued to make a mark as her groundies have improved too.
When she beat Ana Ivanovic yesterday, the British commentator remarked that Ana, who seems finally to have found some form again, was struggling because she had never played against someone like Maria Jose before; it's probably fair to say that about 95% of the girls playing right now. Oh, and did I mention MJ has a killer dropshot? And I mean KILLER. In her runner-up awards speech, Jelena mentioned just that - “she killed me with those dropshots” - I lost count of how many MJ hit, and at least two were service return winners. OMG, what chutzpah, though I'm not sure it work too well on the guys' tour against Ivo or Isner. Jelena was at least as bugged as Ana was yesterday. They both looked befuddled, out to sea. Backcourters are rhythm players, not used to being attacked like that, aced, dinked, and dropshotted. Nothing makes them feel more insecure than being dropshotted out of the blue.
I'm expecting nice stuff out of MJ at the French. She could make serious noise at Wimbledon. I wanna see a JUSTINE-MJ MATCHUP!! Add Samantha Stosur into the mix, and we now have THREE women who can seriously trouble the rest of the tour! A new day has dawned. Last spring I was totally bored by the girls, but now I am totally hyped!!! Even if MJ just lost her doubs final. She's going home with her gorgeous surprise singles trophy.
Onto less cheerful commentary re the pseudo-Rogi vs Montanes match. Rogi has been struggling this spring, no question about it. Fatherhood is affecting him, after all. Less practice, fewer matches. Let's face it. The third-tier 29-yr old Spaniard with the hangdog expression wasn't the player the crowd paid to see. It was embarrassing. Rogi thinks about going home, drinking coffee out of his expensive Jura espresso machine, consoles himself by considering the hundreds of more millions of $ he has than Albert, and decides to head for Madrid to practice for next week, because he needs to man up quick to have any face-saving chance at the French. Stay tuned.....