Friday, June 5, 2009

Monsters

There is no question about it. Juan Martin del Potro is a monster.
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He's approximately twelve feet tall, has a screaming forehand and a two handed backhand that can only be described as monstrous. He can dominate from the baseline and while he isn't exactly a dab hand at netplay, he moves well up and down. Even his hair is monstrous, and he seems to have turned up at this year's tournament dressed as a jaundiced zebra. Which is scary. The man is a monster.
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Robin Soderling? Monster. Not only is he the player pretty much unanimously voted as 'player most other players wish to stuff in locker', he has the ugliest goddamn forehand in the history of tennis - effective, but dudes, that thing is fugly. And if anyone can knock out Rafa Nadal on clay, they've been dabbling in something inhuman.
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And Fernando Gonzalez. Lovely guy, but with a shade of the monster about him. That forehand is a monster of a thing. You don't say that he 'hits' forehands. He crushes them, destroys them, murders them and burns down a few villages on his way through. You see him on the other side of a net, and even when his forehand is missing, you don't want to get in the way. Yep, monster.
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And then today we had two pretty monstrous matches. The first one - Nadal-slayer vs. one-time-Slam-finalist - was dubbed the battle of the forehand versus the ugly forehand (can't remember who wrote that, but kudos to whomever did: best description ever). And that match was a war of mythological monsters - Gonzalez the dragon, breathing fire with his draconic fiery forehand, smoking them here and there across the court, and with a serve that could kill a small elephant; playing against Soderling the swamp monster, who plays hideous tennis, but which seems to have become suddenly effective. And, in five tough, tortuous sets, the swamp monster came out on top, even though the dragon seemed to have it all down pat at 4-1 in the fifth.
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Actually, maybe Soderling isn't a swamp monster. Maybe he's more like the creature from Alien that bursts out of people's stomachs. He certainly burst out of the collective stomach of the ATP like some parasitic horror this tournament, and longtime Roland Garros heroes Ferrer, Davydenko and Gonzalez have fallen to him, not to mention the indisputed King of Clay Rafa Nadal (who may be injured, as he has pulled out of Queen's and I just found an article saying he might be in doubt for Wimbledon, but still). You have to be some kind of mean green mother from outer space to wreak the kind of havoc he has. This isn't like when Baghdatis made his run to the AO final in '06. This is some kind of otherworldly horror.
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What one needs to defeat such a monster is obviously an Ellen Ripley, and the man who will be stepping up to the plate is Roger Federer. If Soderling is the alien and Gonzalez is a dragon, Federer's opponent del Potro is some kind of ogre, or possibly an abominable snowman. That dude is scary. His play in the first and third sets was lethal, and if Federer hadn't totally owned that second set breaker, I shudder to think what might have happened. Del Potro is deceptively fast for a big man, and he dug out a lot of balls I never would have expected him to get back. This wasn't the guy who got eaten for breakfast in the quarters in Australia. That was a baby ogre, just stumbling into the light. This ogre's all grown up now, and he's ready for some pain.
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I have no doubt in my mind that if Juan Martin del Potro plays like he did in the early part of the match today, he's going to win a Grand Slam. His game on clay is exceptional and we all know he can move on the hard stuff as well - though it will be interesting to see how he goes on grass. I would give him a huge chance of going deep in the US Open - because if the ogre's all grown up now and he continues to improve at this rate, he's going to be a big daddy ogre in no time. Novak Djokovic better watch himself at #4 - JMDP is a-coming!
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But the thing about monsters, in the end, is that, by nature, they are vulnerable to one thing - heroes. And that's what Roger Federer was today, and what he has been to the tennis community for many, many years now. I don't ever recall a tennis tournament when Roger has had to fight so hard. Four sets against Acasuso. Four against Mathieu. Five against Haas, a tight three against Monfils, and now an absolute five set EPIC against del Potro. In nearly all those matches, there has been a moment when it looks like the misrule that has struck down Nadal, Murray and Djokovic will get him too - that this dream is not to be for him. Often that moment has gone on for quite a long time... several sets, in fact.
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But a hero, when all seems lost, fights back.
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And that is what we have seen Roger Federer do this week. This tournament, which might be his most testing to date, has taken the measure of the man and has not found him wanting. The world wants him to do this. He is the white knight riding into this Roland Garros final, and he is wearing the favours of just about every tennis fan in the world on his sleeve. To quote a favourite kids' movie of mine, Labyrinth: 'Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, he has fought his way here to the castle beyond the goblin city.' He has struggled, for it has not been easy. And why should it be easy? This is the pinnacle of our sport, and he is going for history. But he has succeeded where others have failed. He has slain the monsters.
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And now just one monster stands between Roger Federer and the Coupe de Mousquetaires: Robin Soderling, the parasitic alien swamp monster who has lured so many into his pit of despair under the guidance of Magnus Norman. If he could win this, I think it might well be one of the weirdest, most unexpected results in the history of tennis - and I shudder to think about the psychic that won the bracket challenge if that happened.
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But watch out, Robin. There are some things that are scarier than monsters, that make monsters want to hide under the bed. And one of those things is Roger Federer.
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Today's Results
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French Open (Roland Garros)
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Men's Draw
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Roger Federer def. Juan Martin del Potro, 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 2-6 6-1 6-4
Robin Soderling def. Fernando Gonzalez, 6-3 7-5 5-7 4-6 6-4

2 comments:

sinkhustla said...
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Vangmayi said...

Jodi-

One of the coolest reads about the FO 09. :D
Hilarious. Loved it.