Would you look at that?! In the course of the last three days, we've had post #1000, Christmas and now this blog's third birthday. So many celebrations!
I am obviously choosing to celebrate them by writing very little, because you should be off eating lots of delicious things and lolling by a beach (southern hemisphere) or a fire (northern hemisphere) rather than listening to me try to talk about tennis when none is happening.
Happy birthday to me! (And let's hope for a slightly better day in the cricket tomorrow.)
This is my one thousandth post on this blog. This clearky means I have a few too many thoughts, and I like hearing the sound of my own voice a bit too much. If that analogy works with typing instead of speaking.
But for today, as it is Christmas time and I have many things to do - and also because no one's playing any tennis - I'm going to keep it very short and simple. Thank you for reading my self-indulgent thoughts, even when I repeat myself (which, in the course of a thousand posts, is quite a lot). Thank you to commenters and lurkers and thank you tennis (especially you, Mr Federer), for being awesome.
As expected, Rafa won the Spanish leg of the Match for Africa exo mini-tour, which is a perfect result. This may be the only time you will ever hear me say that a Roger loss is a perfect result, so cherish it! If one guy had won both the exos, people might start to talk about these matches as some kind of foreshadowing for Australia. I don't think these matches are about competitive tennis at all.
No. They're about charity, they're about entertainment, and I'm a bit convinced they're about Roger and Rafa bro-ing out together.
I said this yesterday, but I cannot get over how awesome it is to have these two dudes at the top of tennis. Seriously, you could not hope for two nicer guys. These matches weren't about competitive tennis - they weren't about Slams or ranking points or the rivalry or anything - but there were about tennis as a sport: as something sporting, about being a good sport, about using what you have to help others. There are not many players who would give up time in their off season - especially this close to Christmas - to play some exos. But these two...
We saw it at Hit for Haiti - and Hit for Haiti redux, where the bromance was thrown into sharp relief by the animosity seething between their predecessors, Sampras and Agassi. And now we're seeing it again. We're seeing that sport doesn't have to be about hatred and that competition can be healthy. And that that the competition inherent in sport can be used to do huge amounts of good.
Roger and Rafa have raised enormous amounts of money with these exhibitions. And hey dudes, if you want to do another Hit for Haiti-esque charity event right before the Australian Open again... I WILL BE THERE.
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to say THANK YOU to Roger and Rafa for having these exos. Quite apart from all the money that they have raised for disadvantaged children in Africa, they have given me something to write about for the next couple of days.
I don't even want to pretend that the tennis played in these exos means anything. Roger has won the one in Zurich and it's a pretty sweet bet that Rafa will win in Spain. I don't want to say that they're scripted or anything - but, yeah, this is hardly the time to bring out any ultimate tennis weapons. These are matches meant to entertain, matches to make people feel good, and I think that that goal has definitely been reached.
So if we're not going to talk about the matches, what are we going to talk about?
Well, it's pretty easy, really... it's time for a Fedal love fest. Yes, another one.
Seriously, how lucky are we to live in an age where we have both Roger and Rafa at the top of the sport? One of them would be a blessing, two... well, it's more than a mitzvah. It's hard to think of two more sporting, awesome guys. And despite the fact that they have one of the most intense rivalries in sport, it doesn't exist off court. On court, they are fierce competitors. Off court... they have a rad bromance. And anyone who saw those pictures Roger took yesterday of him all excited off to meet his mate Rafa... well. There's no doubting that these two were, in some senses, Meant To Be.
More on wildcards, as I have nothing else to talk about (thank you, Roger and Rafa, for your charity matches. I can see material for the next two days lined up already!)
So the French wildcards have been announced, and they are Virginie Razzano and Benoit Paire.
I have absolutely no idea who Benoit Paire is, but Razzano is a familiar enough name to all of us - and seriously, wasn't she in the top thirty like yesterday? I was totally shocked to see her name on the wildcard list, because honestly, how has she not made the cut? Now that I think about it, of course, I cannot think of a single thing she's done in 2010 - has she been injured or just out of form? - but it still is a shock to me that she's not inside that magic number.
As she is obviously outside the main draw cut, I think she is an excellent choice for a wildcard. Though I bet Kristina Mladenovic is pretty bummed. Oh well.
Now. Benoit Paire. Who are you? A quick Google reveals to me that he is 21 years old and ranked #150 odd. It also reveals to me that Nicolas Mahut is ranked about twenty places above him, which means he likewise cannot qualify for the main draw without a wildcard (or playing qualies).
SERIOUSLY, WHAT DOES NICO HAVE TO DO TO CATCH A FREAKING BREAK AROUND HERE?!?!?!?!?!
So we have Olivia Rogowska and Marinko Matosevic through from the Australian playoff, and now we have our American entrants. Ryan Harrison and Lauren Davis will be joining Olivia and Marinko in Australia.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who said 'huh?' when they heard the name Lauren Davis... and I still have pretty much no idea who she is. A quick WTA search reveals nothing about her except the fact she is 17 and that her career high rank (last month) was #437.
And yet she beat Coco Vandeweghe, of whom I have heard, and is notable for upsetting Vera Zvonareva earlier this year, creating a festival of excitement in American tennis for about four second. I understand she's pretty sketchy, but you don't beat Zvonareva without a bit of something going on. So this Lauren Davis kid must be a bit all right. We should keep an eye on her!
And then Ryan Harrison won. He played some good tennis in 2010, so this is a very nice beginning to 2011 for him. I doubt he'll be winning any Slams right at this second, but he has a nice game and he could go a round or two if he gets a good draw. It kind of freaks me out that he is so young - and Lauren Davis too! It makes me feel very old.
Harrison beat Jack Sock, and that does make me sad. Quite apart from any, you know, tennis that Jack Sock might have going on... how can you deny THAT NAME?! I think it is my favourite name in tennis right now.
Anyway, congrats Ryan and Lauren (and good luck to Coco and Jack Sock - no, I can't separate those names at all). See you in Oz!
Wow. WOW. I did not expect this coming - and neither, I think, did anyone ekse vaguely interested in the December Showdown for the AO Wildcard. Olivia Rogowska and Marinko Matosevic have won the wildcards, leaving their higher ranked and better known opponents to hope and pray for a discretionary one.
Let's start with Olivia. What a stellar effort. It would have had something of the fairy tale about it to see Dokic win, but can a spirited comeback like the one Rogowska pulled off be denied? She came back from a crushing in the first set and two match points down to win the second and then the third sets of this match. And she has served notice now - she will take on anyone.
I think Rogowska is best known for the time that she took on then-#1 Dinara Safina in the first round of the US Open and very nearly won. Although she's had some good results - like that one - she never seems to have really captured the imagination of the Australian public. For her sake, I hope she manages to go a few rounds at the Open, because as Casey Dellacqua and Jelena Dokic have shown us, there is no surer way to become a national darling than a win a couple of matches in Melbourne in January.
As for the defeated Dokic? She'll be okay. You'd get long odds if you bet she wouldn't get a discretionary wildcard. (Double neg for the win!)
Now. Dudes. Marinko Matosevic, how about you? Five set long haul and you came out on top, beating Peter Luczak (who is no slouch). This is a big, big win, and will see Matosevic going straight into the main draw. My hopes for him are pretty much identical to my hopes for Rogowska - win a match or two, raise your profile. Profile can almost be as important a weapon as a forehand sometimes - if you can get a crowd behind you, create a little fear in an opponent's mind... that can work wonders. Matosevic doesn't have that yet - but, as Luczak would surely know, he's well on his way to earning it.
It does not take a stretch of the imagination to see that Jelena Dokic is looking dangerous.
Oh, I don't mean that she's going to make some fairy tale comeback and win the Australian Open or anything, but... well, we all remember 2009. You just never know what is possible with Jelena - she's out injured or sick or whatever so often that there is no real sense of what she can do. We just haven't seen it yet.
I don't think anyone was expecting Dokic to steamroll Molik the way she did - least of all Molik. I saw a little of this match on the livestream - not much, but enough to tell that Molik was looking seriously shellshocked. Dokic took her and smacked her down like the hand of God, and there was absolutely nothing Molik could do about it.
She'll face Olivia Rogowska, who overcame a vaguely injured seeming Sophie Ferguson, and you have to put your money on Dokic here. Sure, she might suffer a bit of a slump, but what we do know about Jelena is that she is determined like whoa. You'd have to wake up very early in the morning to out grit Ms Dokic.
Over in the dudes, Peter Luczak overcame Matt Ebden and Marinko Matosevic beat Adam Feeney, and now these two will final it up. I really like Luczak - he seems like a nice bloke - and I don't know very much about Matosevic... which is why, I think, I'm going for him. Luczak has an awesome shot at a wildcard. Matosevic could get swept under the rug pretty easily.
Wow! Suddenly it's the semis of the December Showdown! That happened with a speed I was not prepared for!
The blockbuster semi is, of course, Dokic vs Molik. It's a shame that they're not on opposite sides of the draw, or this could be a final, but sadly it hasn't played out that way. Nonetheless, this match should be an awesome one. I can't remember the last time these two girls played, and I think it's going to be very interesting to see which one comes out on top. I fully expect them both to get carded into the Open anyway, but that does not make this match any less interesting.
This is not to say, though, that whoever wins this match wins the wildcard. Both Dokic and Molik went three sets in their last matches, so clearly neither is in OMG DOMINATION mode right now... though those cylinders could fire up at any moment! Whichever one gets to the final will have their work cut out against Sophie Ferguson or Olivia Rogowska.
In the dudes, James Duckworth is out, which makes me sad, because he's a bit cool. He was knocked out by Marinko Matosevic, who will face Ball-conquering Adam Feeney. You'd like Matosevic to win this one - he is the second seed - but you never know. This said, Matosevic has been coming through the tournament quietly... I kind of really hope he gets the card here, actually, because he doesn't seem to have made the name for himself that some of the other players have. Peter Luczak and Matt Ebden will face off in the other semi. You can pretty much bet Luczak will get carded in, and Ebden will have a pretty good shot, but Matosevic seems to be under-the-radar man. This could be his best shot.
Day 2 of the December Showdown, and the attention is all off court rather than on - focused on Bernard Tomic, who pulled out because of illness and now is reportedly practicing somewhere in Queensland, confident of getting one of Tennis Australia's wildcards into the main draw.
I'm a little torn here. Most of me wants to prove the little f^&*er wrong and yell DON'T GIVE HIM A WILDCARD, TENNIS AUSTRALIA! NO NO NO NO NO! But then the other part of me is like... don't give him any more attention. Do we really need another Bernard Tomic scandal? Card him in, shut him up, and for heaven's sake, don't put him on Rod Laver Arena at night when I could be watching a real player.
So let's not talk about him. Let's talk about actual tennis instead.
Dokic and Molik both came through, which is to be expected. So did Rogowska and Ferguson and the other minor challengers - except for Isabella Holland, who was put in her place by Monika Wejnert. I didn't see the match, but I've followed Wejnert for a few years now, and it would totally tickle me pink if she got the wildcard!
In the dudes, Luczak is through - of course - as are Ebden and Jones and Groth (husband of Jarka) - but in a bit of a surprise, John Millman went down to James Duckworth, who is a real up and comer, and in a MASSIVE surprise, Carsten Ball went down to Adam Feeney. The men's tournament is, I believe, knock out, which means Ball cannot get this wildcard. I would not be surprised if he got A wildcard - he's done his Davis Cup duty pretty well - but this is a bad loss for him. I don't know if there were any extenuating circumstances, but he must be pretty down on himself...
The December Showdown has begun! It seems a little strange to get so involved in what is just a playoff for one of the 128 spots on offer in the Australian Open draw... but then the showdown is wonderful fun.
The real question seems to be whether Jelena Dokic or Alicia Molik will be the one to get the wildcard. I think you can probably bet your bottom dollar that both would be carded in anyway - they are big names - so I certainly won't be unhappy if one of the many other girls in the draw pulls through. But Dokic and Molik did both have good wins yesterday and looking hot. That would be a bit of a drawcard final!
If I had to pick, I think I'd throw my cap into the Dokic corner, purely for emotional reasons. When she won the playoff a couple of years ago she went into the Open and won her way into the quarters - wasn't that a story? I don't expect we'll ever see the like of that again but it would be lovely to see the circumstances mirrored, so to speak. There might be a kind of magic in that.
Meanwhile, I'm a little surprised at the names in action in the men's draw. Peter Luczak? I suppose with his ranking he doesn't qualify for direct entry - which is an enormous shame, because he managed to get it up so high there for a while. And Marinko Matosevic and Carsten Ball as well... I suppose it's just indicative of the fact that there is only one player for whom entry is a guarantee that is Hewitt. Everyone has to throw their cards in. Everyone has to play. We've been so spoiled on the women's side with Stosur and Groth and whatnot that we forget this a bit.
Anyway, I wish I could say something about the actual tennis, but not having seen any of it, I can't. I will say this, however - fourteen year old Ashleigh Barty, I hope you play some awesome stuff out there. I always have a soft spot for the young 'uns!
Hola, my reader friends! As you know, December is a bit of a quiet month in the tennis world - but the December Showdown starts today, and our coverage of it will start tomorrow. Well, when I say 'coverage', I mean, 'me talking about matches I didn't actually see', but I'm sure we can make something out of that.
So yes. This is going to be a short one today, due to lack of content.
But a few quick words on the Hopman Cup - a few months ago, they had such a sweet line up, and now they're dropping like flies. First we lost Serena, who's been replaced by Bethanie Mattek-Sands; then Steve Darcis, who has been replaced by Ruben Bemelmans (he who played Lleyton pretty tight in Davis Cup); and now Gael Monfils has got all injured.
I heartily approve of his replacement, though. Nicolas Mahut and Kristina Mladenovic might not stand a great chance of taking the trophy, but any man who can play a 70-68 fifth set is all right by me. I wonder if Nico has a hair gel endorsement yet...
It shouldn't be hard to guess that this was my absolute favourite result of the year. There are few things that make me more gleeful than the sight of Roger Federer kissing a Grand Slam trophy.
It seems a long time ago now, the Australian Open. The next one is right around the corner, and here's hoping we have a repeat result! But the ripple effect of this tournament was felt throughout the year - not so much for Federer, I think, who didn't really play this well again until after Wimbledon, but for a few other players, this tournament was massive.
This was about the midpoint of Rafa's 'slump' (note inverted commas), and it certainly wasn't his best tournament of the year... which might have had something to do with the fact that he was a bit injured. However, he did play some excellent tennis, and those two sets he played against Andy Murray were highly interesting stuff. It'll be interesting to see how he backs up at the tournament in 2011, presumably uninjured and with the wind of success firmly at his back.
But let's talk Murray, because I think this was where his year was set. Once again, he got to a Slam final. And this time, it was clear he expected himself to win. And he was absolutely humbled - totally brought low - by the might of Roger Federer. And even now, I don't know if he has fully recovered from that.
Oh, he's beaten Federer since. He's had some good results - you don't get to be the guy that played Rafa tight like that in London without a bit of something going on. But at the Slams this year, Murray has looked spectacularly unconvincing. For so long, everyone has said that it's only a matter of time until Andy gets a Slam. This year... we started to doubt that. And those seeds were planted in Australia.
Murray played some fantastic tennis. I will never forget that passing shot he hit against Cilic that totally got him back into that match. But that final - and, in particular, that tiebreaker - broke him and did some bad damage to his psyche. Whether or not he recovered from that is anyone's guess. I don't think he has - and I don't think he will until such time as he manages to lift a Slam trophy over his head. Recovering from doubt like that... well, it's not going to happen overnight. Or even overyear.
The other two semi finalists ended up being spectacular non events this year. Tsonga was injured and Cilic... well, I don't know where he went.
The tournament was Federer's, of course, and I could gush for a long time about how happy it made me. But I won't. I will just say this - the world is a lovely place when he has a trophy in his hands. It is, somehow, intrinsically right.
This tournament, I would argue, is when the real Jonah Day of the Federer fans in 2010 began (ending sometime after Wimbledon). It was always going to be a sad day when that semi final record went down. 23 major semi finals in a row. I would venture that that is one record that is never, ever going to be beaten.
It was Robin Soderling that did the damage, and in a strange way, this tournament belongs almost as much to him as it did to Rafa, even though Rafa absolutely routed him in the final. (We have had heinously boring Slam finals this year. I mean, I loved the one in Australia, but there's only been one that went more than three sets, yesno?) He became the man who not only broke That Record, and not only had victories over both Federer and Nadal at Roland Garros to his name, he proved that he was not a one Slam wonder. Robin Soderling can and will challenge for Slams, especially at Roland Garros. Count on it.
There was another dude who came out swinging and really made an impact at Roland Garros this year - well, I certainly stood up and took notice of him. That dude is Jurgen Melzer. He had an amazing year, and the semi final finish at Roland Garros is the crowning glory. Sure, he went down to Rafa - but who isn't going to go down to Rafa at Roland Garros? - but he had an absolutely amazing tournament full of big wins. He was preciously close to making the cut for the World Tour Finals, and if he keeps up his standards next year, I think that he just might. He'll have a ton of points to defend, but so what? If he can defend them - and improve on them - Jurgen Melzer is going places.
The other semi finalist was Tomas Berdych. In hindsight, that is dreadfully portentous.
But there is an elephant in the room. And his name is Rafa Nadal.
Rafa Nadal, who everyone had talked about as down and out a few months earlier. Rafa Nadal, who had not won a title in eleven months when he took the title in Monte Carlo - the first of what was to be a claycourt clean sweep, ending with his reclamation of the Coupe des Mousquetaires. Rafa Nadal, who pulverised his opponents into submission. Rafa Nadal, who became world number #1, and who never looked back.
Rafa Nadal, who deserves every bit of praise we can heap upon his head.
Rafa doesn't inspire the same poetry and awe that Roger does. I don't know if anyone will ever call watching him play a religious experience. But that does not make him any less great. He's not that guy. He's the conquistador, the raging bull, an almost elemental force of nature. And we have been privileged to watch him play this year.
As far as Wimbledon's I'd like to forget go, this one ranks up there pretty highly. And it's not just because of Federer's demoralising loss to Berdych in the quarters - though that is obviously part of the reason! No, it actually comes down to the fact that the final was really spectacularly uninteresting.
We have been blessed with some classic Wimbledon finals of late. Wimbledon 2007 - Federer takes down Nadal in five sets. Wimbledon 2008 - the match widely touted as the greatest of all time, when Nadal prevailed over Federer in a heartbreaking 8-6 final set. Wimbledon 2009 - if you want to talk about a heartbreaker, ask Andy Roddick how he felt after going down to Federer 16-14 in the fifth, giving Federer his fifteenth Slam.
2010. Rafa Nadal beats Tomas Berdych in three sets so dull it's almost agonising.
This is not to take anything away from Rafa, who had a stupendous tournament. (I find myself saying that I don't want to take stuff away from Rafa a lot, for some reason - I suppose that as a Federer fan I'm always looking at things from a very specific perspective.) This was the tournament where people started to talk about Rafa not just as the dude that stopped Federer being far and away the greatest of all time, but as a candidate for the title of Greatest himself. But none of that makes the final any less than dull.
I don't especially want to talk about the Federer/Berdych match, which had me swearing and crying and screaming like a maniac. One match I will talk about, though, was Federer's first round - which also had me swearing and screaming and crying. Who ever would have thought that there would be a day when Alejandro Falla would be serving for the match at Wimbledon against Roger Federer? Not me, that is for sure, and I would venture that the thought hadn't really occurred to many other people either.
I think that that was when I realised that this Wimbledon was probably not going to be Federer's. But when Federer came back from the brink of defeat, I wasn't thinking about that. There have been a bunch of matches this year when Federer has lost from a match-points-up position. Let's not forget that he's fought his way out of some pretty dark holes himself.
So, over the next few days, I'm going to do a little series - a sort of year in tennis. More specifically, a year in Slams, and even more specifically, a year in Slams backwards. Why? Because I can. So today we're going to talk US Open.
This tournament belonged to Rafa. There is no doubting that. He didn't have the hardest draw in the world, but he played excellent tennis all the way to the final. And what an achievement for him - getting not only his third Slam of the year, but completing his career Slam. Having seen Federer do it the year before, I think we were highly sensible to this achievement. And for such a young man... wow.
The final was a bit anti-climactic. Even when it was a set apiece, one could sort of sense that Rafa was going to win. And there's no way it could measure up to That Semi - the one that broke the hearts of Federer fans around the world.
It was, strictly speaking, Novak Djokovic's turn. But the way he won that match - after Federer had held match points - was simply heartbreaking for those of us of the Federer disposition. Several people (as usual) thought it signalled the demise of Federer. In hindsight, we know now that it didn't. Federer went on to tag Djokovic two or three times before 2010 was over. But I think he'd swap a couple of those wins for that one.
But maybe we weren't quite ready for Federer and Nadal to face off again yet. The world needs time to prepare before those titans clash. And if there's one thing I want to prove with this little series, it's that the year finished on exactly the right note. Federer vs Nadal. At the end of the day, that is what the ATP is about.
But anyway. My favourite match of the US Open was Federer vs Soderling in the quarter finals. I thought it signalled good things to come in the rest of the tournament - clearly I was a bit wrong there! But it was a fantastic Slam-level - I don't want to say revenge match, but you know what I mean - time for Federer to get Soderling back for Roland Garros. He played very well there. And my favourite matches are always the ones where Federer does well. This is no secret.
But before I go, there was another key player in the tournament, and that was Andy Murray. He lost early. Again. After he made the final in Australia, even though he didn't win - actually, even before this, really - I think just about everyone thought it would be a matter of time until he had a Slam to his name. When he went out at the US Open? That's when I started doubting his ability to ever win a Slam.
But at the end of the day, this tournament was Rafa's. And it was very, very well deserved!
The big tennis story of today is, of course, the theft of Pete Sampras's trophies. Which is a horrible, horrible thing.
There's not too much more I can say other than it being a horrible, horrible thing. Sure, any number of jokes have been made about the fact that Sampras was keeping them in a cheapish storage facility, but than in no way means that he deserved for them to get stolen. It's such a tragedy. All those memories... well, I suppose he still has the memories, but it would be better if he had the trophies to go with them.
He still has thirteen of his fourteen Slam trophies, but the one that was taken was, I believe, his first Slam - Australia in 1994. He came out and said that he wanted these trophies to show to his kids, who are largely too young to remember him playing, and you have to think that your first Slam - well, that's a biggie. That's one for the kids. Straight to the pool room. But not any more.
I sincerely hope that Pete gets his trophies back and that they haven't been destroyed. It's not like 1994 AO trophy is something you could hock on eBay and make a ton of money from, so I hope that whomever took them realises it is relatively worthless to them and gives it back - because while it might be worthless on the market, it's priceless to Pete.
You know what? I think I can probably squeeze another day out of Davis Cup blogging after all. So here goes!
Even though, as we all know, I am definitely not Novak Djokovic's biggest fan, I kind of love the story of Serbia and the Davis Cup. It reminds me of Croatia five years back - it's a sort of Little Nation That Could story. It's the story of a country who managed to topple countries much bigger with much deeper pools than they have with what seems like heart alone.
Of course, that isn't one hundred percent true - the Serbian team is totally talented and it's more than just will that's got them this far. But the incredible driving force of the will of the nation - correct me if I'm wrong, but tennis is the most popular sport in Serbia, yesno? - was definitely a big deal.
By rights, France should have taken this one. Serbia may have Djokovic, but France has got about ten dudes in the top hundred (or something similarly ridiculous). And France was also the team that knocked Spain - the nation which is clearly the world's tennis powerhouse at the moment - out of contention. France has the depth which Serbia lacks - while Djokovic is excellent and Tipsarevic and Troicki are very good and Zimonjic is a world class doubles player - if one of them is out, then there are REAL problems. But Serbia - well, it's the little nation that could.
I don't think Djokovic functioned quite in the way that Ivan Ljubicic did for Croatia in 2005 - I don't think he provided quite the same kind of extreme rallying point than Ljubo did, though his matchplay record is clearly comparable. No, the Serbian triumph was, I feel, much more of a team effort. I feel almost a bit bad for Djokovic, actually, because his excellence was sort of assumed. It was just sort of assumed that he would win both his singles rubbers and that the team would try and take care of that one remaining point... and the people that did take care of that point were the ones who were the heroes (Tipsarevic in the semis, Troicki in the final.) The Ljubicic story was almost the story of How One Man Won The Davis Cup (with a bit of help from Mario Ancic). The Serbian narrative is different.
But I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing that it was this way. Actually, I think it's a good thing that the Serbian victory has been a team deal. Novak Djokovic winning a big tournament? Well, that's not that exciting. But a tiny nation with a handful of talented players and a whole lot of heart winning it? Now that is a story.
We're having a rest day today in honour of the Serbian Davis Cup win. And also because, even if I had time to write something, I don't have anything write about. So have a glass of champagne for the Serbian Davis Cup team and see you tomorrow!
Well, I did not expect this. I would have sworn that France was going to win this one. I was convinced that Llodra would have the guns to pull through and that Monfils might get a sneaky one in over Djokovic. But I was totally, utterly wrong. Sorry about that, Serbia. And congratulations.
It's hard to pick a hero for this tie - I mean, you can safely say it wasn't Tipsarevic, but beyond that, not so much. You really do have to go with Djokovic, I think, who won those crucial two points and gave Troicki a fighting chance going into the fifth and deciding rubber. You can throw Troicki's name into the ring as well - he did, after all, win that rubber - but his serve was the yippy one in the doubles. So Novak gets the honours, I think - but it was a big team effort.
Let's talk about the two matches for a second. I think they both would have been terribly anti-climactic - especially after the epic doubles match - if it wasn't, you know, the Davis Cup final. I definitely wasn't expecting Djokovic to put the hurt on Monfils the way he did. I definitely was expecting more from Monfils than he brought. It seems like he left it all on the court against Tipsarevic... he should have saved some up for this match, because with the way Tipsarevic was playing, he didn't need to use it all then.
I think the crowd definitely drove Djokovic on, but I think it also negatively affected Monfils... which it didn't in the first match, so I found this surprising. I thought that Monfils sort of enjoyed being the antagonist then. Today... not so much. Maybe it's different because it's Djokovic. I don't know. But Gael won't be too happy with himself.
And neither will Michael Llodra, and I am really sad about this one, because I would have totally backed him against either Troicki or Tipsarevic. Unlike Obradovic, I would have played Tipsarevic here, but his choice was obviously a good one, because it paid off big time. Troicki had the match of his life out there. He was definitely spurred on by the crowd here, because he had an absolute blinder. I have never, ever seen him play that well.
...and I can't remember the last time I saw Llodra play so poorly.
This one breaks my heart, because I am in love with Llodra's game. He epitomises French tennis - the flair, the style, the everything. But today he epitomised the bad side of that - the erraticness. And it was horrible to watch.
This is the kind of match that can break a man, and I will be so, so sad if it breaks Llodra. He is so much better than this. He has so much more ahead of him. Here's hoping he can just put Davis Cup behind him and rock 2011 like the French tennis god he is.
But for now, congratulations to Serbia. Talk about a fairy tale.
Okay. Now we have some action. A fightback from two sets down? That is what I'm talking about.
I bet Obradovic is fiercely glad he didn't play Djokovic here, even though the Serbs didn't get the point, because if Djokovic had gone five sets today? No way he'd be up to it against Monfils tomorrow. That just wouldn't be happening.
Troicki and Zimonjic put up a good match here - they won the first two sets, after all - but they're both going to be bitterly disappointed. To lead two sets and then go down, in front of a home crowd? Geez. That is like a slap in the face with a fish and no mistake. And if I'm Nenad 'I love doubles' Zimonjic, I am a bit annoyed about being let down by the weak serving of my partner. Because that, at the end of the day, was the clincher. So in that sense, maybe Obradovic is regretting he didn't play Djokovic. I doubt he would have got as yippy as Troicki did.
But let's talk about the dudes that really pulled it out. Clement. Llodra. I love these dudes. They might be one of my favourite doubles teams ever. They are GOOD TIMES. I don't really have a side I'm pulling for in this tie, but in terms of this match? I was pulling for these two all the way. Forget did a really good job putting these two together - though I doubt it was a rocket science decision.
What I always admire in a comeback like the one they pulled is the ability to not panic and to not give in. It must be so easy to fold when you're two sets down - the way back seems insurmountable. But for Arnaud and Michael? Not so much. They rocked it. And I bet that Serbian crowd was NOT happy.
This leaves us in a very interesting place for tomorrow. The long and short of it is that if Djokovic loses, Serbia are screwed. But let's assume that rankings hold and Djokovic beats Monfils (even though I have a sneaky suspicion Gael might pull that one out). The fifth rubber is due to be contested by Tipsarevic and Simon. But will it actually be these two?
If I'm Forget, I'm definitely considering picking Llodra, even though he played five sets today. Simon was overwhelmingly disappointing in the first singles rubber... but then, he was playing Djokovic. Llodra has had a great time of it lately and should be high on adrenaline, if on nothing else. So despite the five sets, I'm going Llodra.
But if I'm Obradovic, I'm sort of between a rock and a hard place. Troicki was definitely the weak link in the doubles, and he's coming off five sets. But then Tipsarevic was terribly disappointing in the first singles match. Neither option is particularly attractive. Yesterday, I would have got Troicki in a second. But today, I think I'm leaning towards Tipsarevic. Maybe he can make something happen through talent alone...
Davis Cup seems to have come around surprisingly quickly this year, yesno? I remember getting tons of mileage out of it in the offseason last year. But no matter. It hasn't been especially interesting yet, so it probably doesn't deserve the space.
So we've had the singles match - Djokovic vs Simon and Tipsarevic vs Monfils, and we're locked at 1-all after two straight sets victories. While this could lead to a very exciting finish - a live fifth rubber could be awesome! - the day was somehow not that exciting.
I'll start with the second match, which was Djokovic/Simon. I'm not sure why Guy Forget played Simon here. Maybe he thought that there was no hope of winning this match anyway so he sort of tanked it a little bit? I would have played Llodra for sure. Simon never had a chance in this match, as you would well expect. There was a little excitement when he saved match points to break back to 5-5 in the third set, but then he got broken straight back, so meh. That's a good word to sum up this match, actually: meh.
It also sums up the performance of Tipsarevic. I think that, like Obradovic, I would also have picked Tipsy over Troicki here, but he just did not bring it. Monfils has had a screamer of a summer but there definitely isn't the mismatch element going on here that there was in the Djokovic match. I probably would have picked Monfils to win (if I'd realised Davis Cup was even coming up - oops) but Tipsy should have at least got a set here, I think.
Maybe he was nervous in front of his home crowd. Maybe he is just not in form. Maybe it just wasn't his day. Whatever the reason was - or whether there is a reason at all - I expected a bit more from Tipsarevic. I expect that Troicki will be played on Sunday. Llodra, too.
Excellent performance from Monfils, though. There is every possiblity that Monfils/Djokovic could be an absolute scorcher on the weekend - and if Djokovic plays doubles and doesn't get the rest, then 'meh' could be the last word on my mind.
How many days can I stretch out Roger and Rafa? I think it is probably quite a few. And then we have Davis Cup. Wow, what a festival of things to talk about.
I talked a lot about Roger and Rafa yesterday. I think it's not unfair to say that it was a fitting way to end the year, with a Federer/Nadal final. There have been a number of years where Nadal has been the one person stopping Federer from winning the calendar Slam. This year, Federer fulfilled the role for Nadal. For so, so long, tennis has been about these two dudes. At the end, it's always Roger vs Rafa. That is what tennis is about.
And yet... we talk about the Big Four. Sometimes even the Big Five if Soderling gets his nose in, but we're not going to talk about the Yoker today. No, let's instead focus on Roger and Rafa's backup dancers, the two that are supposed to be on the same level - and sometimes genuinely are! - but can't seem to make it happen at the big dance. Let's talk Djokovic and Murray.
Both Nole and Muzz have had one Slam final this year, and both were smacked down by what seemed to be the hand of God. When Djokovic faced Nadal after that marathon of a victory over Federer - it is important to note, I think, that both Murray and Djokovic had a victory at the Slam level over one of the Hispano-Suisse domination machine - he had a shot. If you're going to beat Federer, of course you have a shot. And he actually didn't do too badly - he took a set off Rafa and played reasonably competitively. It was good stuff, good times.
But not enough. Djokovic has that one Slam in his bag, and the second one has never looked further away.
And then there was Murray. He beat Nadal en route to his final at the Australian Open (Nadal did retire, but Murray was playing spectacularly) and a lot of people thought he was going to win that one. And he got absolutely humbled. He didn't play awfully - he wasn't great, but he didn't suck, especially in that third set breaker, where he had a handful of set points - but there was just nothing that he could do against Federer. He did what he could.
But not enough. And now we're wondering whether Murray will EVER win a Slam.
Murray and Djokovic did not have bad years. They both made a Slam final and performed pretty well at Masters level and generally just did not really suck - though there is a case to be made that Murray suffered a supreme slump for a while after his loss in Australia. But at the end of the day, the year belonged to Rafa, and the one dude standing between him and supreme domination was Roger. Just as it has been in other years - 2008 belonged to Rafa as well, and 2004-7 and 2009 were Roger's. There is no room for anyone else at the top. Roger and Rafa are reigning supreme.
In other era, Murray and Djokovic would probably both have a handful of Slams right now. But this year... one final apiece, and that is all. Murray lost to Nadal in the semis of the World Tour Finals and Djokovic to Federer. While Roger and Rafa are around, Nole and Muzz are doomed to always be three and four, the perennial semi finalists.
Right. I have returned from my blogging-disrupting travels and am here at your service. Blogging. Let's do this thing.
So while I was away, it seems there was this one match that generated a lot of talk. What was that...? Oh yeah. Federer vs Nadal. The most polarising match ever, it seems. Everyone wants it to be some big sign of things to come or a total aberration, a blip. There seems to be a lot of 'OMG Federer will never lose to Nadal again!' and 'no, Nadal was injured/sick/tanking SHUT UP!' Everyone wants this match to be some big thing.
Except two dudes. And they're a little important in this debate, as their names are Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
I obvioulsy have an agenda here. I want this match to mean something. I want this match to be the psychological push that Federer needs to send him into a screamer of a 2011. And I think it definitely is that, though probably not to the extent that I would like it to be. 'Ask me how I feel after my first round loss at the Australian Open,' Federer said wryly, when someone asked him whether this was a sign that he was back, back, BACK. I think Roger has a much healthier perspective on this match than I do. I want it to be a SIGN. He... is taking it in his stride. He's keeping it real, and that will probably serve him well.
Though this win obviously can't hurt.
And then there's the 'Rafa Rafa Rafa here are ALL MY EXCUSES for why he didn't win' contingent... when Rafa himself offered no excuses and asked for no quarter. On this particular day, Federer was betterer, and Rafa knows this. He's a sportsman - he won that award, remember? - and he's not taking this one away from Roger, no way. But will it affect him in Australia? I will go with a big fat no.
So what I'm saying is this, I guess. We all want this match to mean something - something more than it does, probably. But the only two dudes who actually know what it means and can make good on it are Roger and Rafa. And they seem pretty chill right now. They're playing it cool. And for both of them, that is probably a Good Thing.