Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Manic Monday at Wimbledon, as Seen by a Commoner

Manic Monday at Wimbledon is a day like no other at a tennis tournament. One day, one entire round for both the men AND the women. And then the men and women don't play on the same day for the rest of the tournament. It makes for an ridiculous day of tennis, and I figured what else could be better than watching it all...?

I’m at the mercy of ESPN/NBC programming; while I could head over to espn3.com and see all the matches, that simply isn’t going to happen. I’d rather sacrifice quantity for quality, and hope the producers at both those networks can handle the flipping back and forth between matches as well as I can handle a remote during March Madness. While my hopes aren’t too high, I remain cautiously optimistic.

The day starts bright and early, with a look at the Sharapova/Peng match. Sharapova is one tough cookie. Don’t let her golden locks and ample bosom fool you; put her hair up in a bun and give her a sharp, angular business suit and she’s one shoe knife away from trying to kill you. Her shoulder troubles finally cleared up after the last three years, you can hear her determination and desire to win with every grunt and scream.

Peng gamely attempts to counterpunch her, but Sharapova is in steamroll mode. With both Williams sisters playing below 100% and an otherwise wide open field, you can tell she feels this is her tournament to lose. I just wish she’d dedicated her dress design to Big Ben or something and kept her motif going throughout the Grand Slams.

Sharapova’s nemeses(?) saw action on Monday too; but with much different results. Both Serena and Venus were trying to reestablish their dominance of the women’s tour after bouts with injuries. Serena’s medical troubles had her on the bench for nearly eleven months, and while you could tell she was rusty in earlier matches, she still showed the tenacity and ferocity that helped her win 4 Wimbledon singles’ titles.

Alas, today it all caught up with her.

Her opponent on Manic Monday, Marion Bartoli, came in with a cunning game plan, and executed it to perfection. It is almost a cliché to liken high level sporting events to chess matches, but this match definitely had a mental edge to it that transcended the physicality of play. And I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, as during the match, Dick Enberg casually mentioned that Bartoli’s dad claimed she had a 175 IQ. He backed it up with a mention of how much she enjoys math as well. While I would have loved to hear a little more follow up on such a bodacious claim, NBC chose to go with restraint. Plato must be rolling over in his grave right now.

Regardless of her IQ however, she played the match of her career, and dispatched Serena in two sets. It mattered not that she plays the game like a meth addict on crack, tweaking between points, and practicing her ground strokes. It worked and gave her exactly what she needed to beat the defending champion.

Venus ran into similar trouble. To the casual tennis fan, her match against Pironkova must have looked like a straight set winner. But Pironkova owns Williams, much like Michael Mimbs owned Tony Gwynn (that might be the most obscure reference I’ve ever made – and that’s saying something). Pironkova knocked Williams out last year at Wimbledon, and this year was no exception. The most exciting moment of this match for me actually, was seeing Pironkova’s coach, Kiril Enchev (also her father), who looked like a very tan, very evil Don Adams. More shots of him would have helped me get over Venus’ attire, something I suggested one would see in the wardrobe department of a 1970’s ancient Greek porn parody.

A quick note about the Williams sisters before going on…obviously their talent and ability is mind boggling, and they have reached successes only a few have been able to achieve. Their power, athleticism and determination revolutionized women’s tennis. They’ve inspired countless young players to mimic their style. That’s why its disappointing to see them crumble when they play someone who is a lite version of themselves. They never seem capable of changing their game plan or style, instead choosing to hit the ball harder. In their youth, that certainly worked (I can’t argue with results) but I wonder if we’re now seeing the results of their affect on these younger players… players who can handle their pace and hit just as hard as them. Serena certainly put up a fight and tried to hit herself out of defeat, but Wiliams looked resigned to the fact that she was going to lose, and there was little she could do about it. It’s hard to watch champions like them at the twilight of their careers (and obviously injuries play a HUGE impact here, and most of my ramblings can probably be dismissed based on that) not alter their games to find new ways to win. And, to be fair, I also find Federer has the same stubbornness. As much as I abhor Agassi, he certainly knew what it was going to take for him to continue to compete, and to his credit, he worked at it like a mad man.

The number one player in the world was almost an afterthought to the television coverage, and since she’s never won a grand slam, it’s hard to argue with them. Wozniacki has the looks, but it’s yet to be seen if she has the game. I doubt anyone would pick her to win a tournament that had Sharapova, the Williams sisters and Clijsters in the draw. Wearing a dress that seems more appropriate for stepping off a plane in Hawaii, Wozniacki’s game is competent, if nothing else. And that’s not saying much. Her ability to run down shots and place her forehand and backhand where she needs to does her well in places like Indianapolis and Austin, but when it comes to the big stages, she tenses up and falls short. And though the she started out strong against Cibulkova, winning the first set 6-1, it seems that had more to do with Cibulkova’s nerves, as she came roaring back to take the next two sets and the match.

The men’s round of 16 did not go quietly into the night either.

Well, Djokovic/Llodra match did. Other than the second L in his name Llodra didn’t bring much to this match. Or perhaps Djokovic is playing that well. I’m not 100% sure. I think it was a case of Llodra being enamored with his results for the week, and was playing the “I’m just happy to have gotten this far,” card. With a strangely tight match against Baghdatis in the previous round, Djokovic had to feel good with his play.

And actually, the Murray/Gasquet match showed little drama. While I’m certain there was 100 Years’ War tension built into this match, it seems Murray will be able to sleep soundly after taking out the Frenchmen with relative ease. In front of the royal couple no less!

And the Mardy Fish/Thomas Berdych match didn’t offer us too much…at least the little we saw of it. Fish, at 31, has finally come into his own, playing in the best shape of his life and hungry. Bedych, on the other hand, always plays his matches looking as though his dog just died. Which I guess is possible, if he has an incredible affinity for dogs, and incredibly bad luck to lose one every time he plays. His emotionless, Lurch like demeanor makes it difficult to root for him. The one thing I enjoyed in this match was hit complete confusion in trying to return Fish’s serve. While I’m sure Fish has a capable serve, it’s not like it was Samprasesque; and yet Berdych lunged the opposite direction a number of times, in a weak attempt to return it.

Yet both the Federer/Youzhny and Nadal/Del Potro matches offered us some things to look at closer. Few gave Youzhny much of a chance against Federer, and with good reason; he was 0-10 against him. Oh sure, Gilbert in his continued attempt to sound “tennis hip,” (nothing to aspire to really) mentioned that players recently have “broken the duck” against Federer (I have no idea where this term has come from, and Gilbert’s use of it is annoying), but that was about it.

And yet Youzhny, who reminds me of Johan Kriek for some unknown reason (Jesus Christ, I’m a weirdo):

hung for a bit, and took the first set, before Federer kicked it up a notch and took the next three. Not really a big deal except that it is a big deal, because this wasn’t an early round where Federer can lapse in concentration and still turn it on. This was the round of 16, and up next for Federer is Tsonga, a player who will not wilt and seems to have more energy than usual (possibly because he hasn’t played a five set match this Wimbledon. This isn’t that big a deal until you realize that Tsongas isone of those players that always happens to find himself in at least one or two marathon five set matches at grand slams, wiping him out both mentally and physically. Not having that this year is going to be interesting to see what he can do against Federer.

But the match of the day had to be the Nadal/Del Potro match. Del Potro is tall for a tennis player; more arms and legs than torso, but not gangly (If I were Jason Isner’s coach I would simply send him VHS tapes of Del Potro labeled, “Um, yeah – you can do better.”). Coming off a wrist injury he seems to be about 90% back, and I predict he will hold the #1 spot in the very near future, once he gets some more match play under his belt.

Nadal is a tennis ninja, and quite possibly a werewolf. His speed on the court is quicker than everyone. His forehand looks ugly and painful through the swing, yet deadly and effective in its result. If he’s not a werewolf he might be a robot, as I’ve never seen him tire or give up on a ball. Of course, there are other sinister explanations to his abiltity as well, and while I hesitate to bring them up, this match almost forced me to.

The first blip from this match was the time violation the umpire called on Nadal; an egregious call against him, not because he violates the time rule (he does) but because it came out of nowhere and did nothing to speed up Nadal’s play. In fact, Del Potro made a point of telling the umpire it didn’t bother him, and made a show to Nadal that he hadn’t been the one to complain.

Nadal still took it out on him.

But then, late in the first set, Nadal seemed to have aggravate his heel, and later called for the trainer… at 6-6. Del Potro, upset at the timing, voiced his displeasure to the chair umpire.

Now, there have been whispers that Nadal takes tactically timed medical timeouts to get his head back in the game and get his opponent’s out of it. It’s happened before in big matches and grand slam events. But here’s the thing: if the rules allow it, it’s hard to suggest Nadal is doing anything other than using some slight gamesmanship. And while we’re here, what does “gamesmanship” even mean? It’s a blanket statement people use when someone, well within the confine of the rules, does something other people deem “unprofessional.” Some suggest Bartoli is using gamesmanship when she bounds around the court in between points; some suggest the women “grunters” are using gamesmanship to throw their opponents off. The problem is, if there are no rules against such things, people are going to use every little advantage to get/be better. It’s what people are taught when competing in sport. It’s tough to police without rule changes. So, Nadal might be doing it, and Del Potro might be mad about it, but at the end of the day, the two embraced after the match and not much more was said about it.

I will say this one caveat in defense of Del Potro: Nadal looked no worse for wear after the medical timeout. His movement was not impeded and he closed out that first set. Del Potro glared across the net a couple of times, as if to say, “I know what you did.” It made for added drama and tension.

It also let Nadal win the match.

I felt coming into this match, Del Potro had a chance to pull off the upset. Nadal was playing consistent but uninspired; Del Potrowanted to prove he belonged with the big boys. And for a few sets he did prove that, before Nadal got the fire back to play some great tennis and take over in the end. Does he have enough for another Wimbledon? Possibly. He still moves better than anyone. Federer almost looks disinterested at times, and while he’ll never admit it, I think doubt has creeped into his game.

Sure there were other matches, and other outcomes, but NBC and ESPN didn’t cover them and so I didn’t see them.

As far as Manic Monday went, it left me satisfied. I love tennis, and I got my fill. I saw some great matches, and I saw some intrigue. The women’s side is wide open, filled with players people outside the game don’t know and probably won’t be bothered to learn (aside from Sharapova who NBC I assume will pump up as much as they can for the next few days). The men’s side still has the big four involved, which is the most Wimbledon can ask for. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether Murray can finally break though, Nadal can continue his dominance, Federer can stave off the swan song mentality, Djokovic can ride his hot hand, or someone else can sneak in and grab the trophy. The next few days will be exciting – at least for me.

1 comment:

gdr said...

Well done! Those of us stuck watching updates on-line all day missed out on a great day of action. Brilliant Kriek footage, and even more brilliant working Mimbs into context!