Monday 24 January – Losing Streak
I’m really on a tear here people. The only two players I’ve got behind in Round 4 who’ve actually won, are Rafa and Tsonga. Everyone else I’ve got behind has crashed and burned. Which is frankly the only way to describe what happened in Verdasco’s match against Davydenko today. Actually other expressions do come to mind, but I’ll get to that shortly.
First up on my schedule today was recovering from Feña’s late-night loss last night. I wish I’d seen more of Gonzalez earlier in his career. There was a while (after Henman and before Rafa) where I really wasn’t inspired by anyone’s tennis. Marat was too temperamental, Hewitt likewise, and I just never got into Federer. He’s just too clinical. Pure technique, nothing else to latch on to. I never got to see any clay court tennis so Moya and Gonzalez went pretty much under my radar, although David Nalbandian impressed me at Wimbledon and if forced to chose a favourite player, he would have been it. Now with the internet and live coverage I’m able to watch so many more tournaments around the world, and I’ve rediscovered my passion for tennis. Anyway, my point is that I’m really disappointed I didn’t start following Feña years ago. But credit to Roddick, he played a great match and given that Cilic is on a tear of his own, it should make for an interesting QF. Expect a tight match.
After insufficient recovery, and checking that The Windy has been behaving itself (apparently, to quote a friend, Olga was the lamest cyclone ever, and Maria & Tommy are doing just fine :) it was time to head over to Rod Laver Arena for Verdasco v Davydenko.
1pm-ish, Rod Laver Arena, Verdasco v Davydenko
It was a bit on an anti-climax seeing Fernando walk on court, possibly because my seat was behind the players benches, so I didn’t really see much. But then they started warming up and the temperature soared. It was hot enough on court anyway, but ‘Hot Sauce’ just sends my temperature to boiling point. I don’t understand this, I really don’t. He’s a very pretty man, but that has never been enough to impress me, and he lacks many of the other qualities I normally find attractive. He doesn’t even have the kind of looks I’d normally go for (a sweet face like Rafa’s or maybe Jeremy Chardy would normally be more my type). I never lusted over Marat despite appreciating that he was a very (very) hot man, because I never really liked him, same with Feli Lopez – does absolutely nothing for me. But I guess there has to be an exception, and Fernando seems to be it. I look at him and I go all wobbly. Which unfortunately, I discovered, happens in real life too. I was actually shaking for at least half of the first set, and even more embarrassingly, I’m admitting to it! Only in the final set did I realize that I had barely looked at Davydenko all match. Stupid, because it would have been useful to have some insights into his form coming into the later stages of the tourney, but other than the fact that he was (for the most part) Mr. Consistent, to Verdasco’s complete disintegration at times during the match, there’s nothing I can usefully contribute, because I simply couldn’t take my eyes off Fer!
I was lucky with the people sitting around me for this match. A couple of Swiss girls on one side, who were just waiting for Federer’s evening match, and completely ambivalent about the players until they watched Fernando warm up and then borrowed my smaller Spanish flag ;) There was a gay man and a female friend behind me (no guesses as to who they were supporting!) and an older couple who come to the tennis every year, and were present at the now legendary semi-final in 2009 and were hoping that Fer would go all the way to the final this year. They were lovely. They knew their tennis, and so did the gay guy, so we had a good chat about what the hell was wrong with Fernando in this match. There were a few Spanish flags around the place, and by the end of the match, Fernando had almost everyone behind him, despite it being increasingly obvious he needed a kick up the backside. Or perhaps one of those Chilean flares.
I don’t know what Gil Reyes and Darren Cahill have been up to with him lately, but perhaps a little less work on the body (I mean, seriously, can it get any better?! ;-) and a little bit more work on his head. The people behind me were at a loss to explain what was going on, but sadly, for those of us who’ve been following him closely for the last year, it was an all too familiar story. He choked, his mind went walkabout, his game went to pieces, and apart from a few brief games where he caught fire and his forehands were sizzling and the whole arena was in danger of catching fire, it was really quite painful to watch (19 double faults Fer? Seriously?). It would have been excruciating except that the sheer hotness of watching him made it worth while. I would have been very sorry to miss seeing him play, so I’m glad I got the ticket.
But explain this (someone, anyone, please?!) – how is it that someone who clearly has so much confidence in himself as a person (maybe a little too much at times!) can completely lose faith in his tennis at the drop of a hat? I was yelling my head off with the other Spanish fans, and telling him to believe in himself and Fuerte! but he seems to just implode and collapse in on himself. Fernando has great posture, something I always notice. Rafa kind of slouches at the best of times, but when Fer’s confident, his head’s up, his shoulders are back and he stands proud. When he starts to lose it, his head drops, his shoulders slump, he starts ghosting his shots (Nole is the same way). CUT IT OUT Fernando. In the words of another NN reader who was tweeting during the match, you need to get your shit together. In the few moments that he relaxed and had a laugh about something, it really improved his game. Perhaps he should learn to work the crowd like Feña and use that support to buoy him up, because more than anyone else (except Federer) Verdasco was the person I heard people talk about most and say they wanted to watch. He has a lot of fans in Australia after last year’s performance. Thinking about this match afterwards though, I realised that perhaps the fact that he falls apart so completely is partly why I like him. I don’t like that strutting peacock stuff, but I’m beginning to get the sense he hides behind it, because when it falls away, he’s left looking almost shockingly vulnerable. I suspect I might not like him quite so much if he actually started winning all the time. Maybe what I like is that raw, unfinished quality about him.
There’s not much I can really say about the tennis in this match, except that when Fernando hits that hard, flat, heavy, running forehand down the line it’s breathtaking. Perhaps not as beautiful as Feña’s, but whoa! the raw explosive power of that forehand is unbelievable. It doesn’t have the sweet sound off the racket that I got from Rafa and Nole it’s more of a thunderous “get the hell out of the way now!” whalloping thwack! Another observation, Fernando broke a shoelace and needed to get a new shoe. Okay, nope, it’s not in there, maybe here? Er, no. Ah yes, here it is. Valuable time wasted. That wouldn’t have happened if he was Rafa. Rafa would have known exactly where his shoe was, because it would be exactly where he put it, exactly where it’s been for the last however-many years. I don’t see Rafa’s tics as a sign of OCD or superstition. They’re good preparation. I’m like this when I’m camping. I have an exact place for everything with my camping gear, and an order that it all fits into the car, so that it’s as easy as possible to set up camp and find anything I happen to be looking for. It just makes life so much easier so you can focus on the important things instead. Hmmn, get your shit together Fernando!
Watching tennis live, as opposed to on TV, you don’t get to see the wonderful close up expressions and emotions, which I miss, but you’re also able to focus on one player, or one particular shot a player makes, and really study their movement, in a way you can’t when the cameraman is dictating what you see. When I finally managed to drag my eyes off Fernando for a while, albeit briefly, I noticed that although I’ve never thought of Davydenko as a particularly elegant player to watch, he does have a beautiful service action. I got some nice photos.
The frustrating thing about this match is that FeVer really SHOULD have won it. Going into the tiebreak (4th set) I thought he wouldn’t withstand the pressure, but somehow he found the reserves and stormed through it. The crowd went wild, and he was pumped with celebration. If only he could have maintained the same level of focus, intensity and self-belief he did at that moment throughout the match, he could whipped Davy’s butt. But he didn’t, so I don’t get to drool over him in the QFs. Damn. At least I got 5 whole sets of drooling in today. There was a nice moment at the net between Davy and Fernando. I know Kolya’s not the most popular player at the moment, particularly with Rafans, but with Fernando looking close to tears, Davy looked genuinely sympathetic. I might have offered to console Fer, but apparently Camilla was there… ;-)
xta tells me she thought she might have seen me on TV again today, cheering for Fernando, but I don’t remember the camera being on me at all. If it was, I hope I wasn’t yelling something embarrassing. In between shouting out motivational support I might possibly (ahem) have yelled a few other things, possibly (for example) during a shirt change… let’s hope that’s not the bit that got transmitted around Australia! Anyway, I’m very glad I had my Fernando moment. Even if he disintegrated badly, he’s still the hottest player on the tour as far as I’m concerned! Excuse me while I faint ;-)
5:30pm Rod Laver Arena – Samantha Stosur v Serena Williams
I really like Sammy. She’s one of my Top Five women. She plays great tennis, is a nice girl, and it’s good to be able to get behind an Aussie – GO SAMMY! Unfortunately she was up against Serena Williams. After a great year last year (her first singles titles after great success in doubles) Sam hasn’t been playing her best tennis the last few weeks. She didn’t play well in the Hopman Cup, fluffed a lot of easy shots during the Hit for Haiti exhibition, and wasn’t playing her best in this match either. She had the whole arena behind her, but she just never hit top gear and Serena made the most of it and won in straights.
When the Williams sisters first exploded onto the courts I thought they were great. Something different. But over the years I’ve come to enjoy them less. Especially Serena. I still like Venus, possibly because I have some empathy with her as an older sister who’s clearly had to put up with a great deal of dramas and tantrums over the years, but the final of the US Open was for me (as I suspect for many others) the final straw. Her behaviour on court that day was truly shocking, but her complete denial about in her post-match interview was even worse. She refused to acknowledge she’d done anything wrong, let alone take responsibility for it, and I think the WTA should have imposed sanctions far beyond a fine she could well afford. That kind of behaviour should not be condoned, I don’t care who you are. So, I’m done with Serena. I hope she doesn’t win again, because frankly, I think she should have been banned from the tour for six months.
7:30pm Rod Laver Arena – Lleyton Hewitt v Roger Federer
Even though I’m not a fan of Roger Federer, it would have been churlish not to want to see him play. I’m not a fan of Lleyton Hewitt either, and because I’m still not quite an Aussie have never felt compelled to support him, so getting behind Hewitt to win a match was a first for me. I really thought that once I actually saw Roger play, I might feel a bit differently about him, but I don’t. I mean, his technique really is superb. If you were writing a text book on how to play tennis, you’d probably use Roger to illustrate most of the shots. I admit, I love his one-handed backhand slice. It’s superb. But I’m afraid he still underwhelms me. He says he loves tennis, but I don’t feel it in the way I do with Rafa. I still feel that Roger loves tennis because he’s good at it, because he believes he’s the best, rather than because his love for the game is so compelling that it drives him to play no matter what. For me, his tennis is technically brilliant but utterly clinical, and he gives me nothing I can grab on to, nothing to get passionate about. No doubt if you’re a Federer fan you’ll disagree, and that’s okay. We can agree to disagree. So, I found it surprisingly easy to get behind Lleyton in this game. Then again, surrounded by 15,000 people, at least 2/3 of which were Aussies totally getting behind their man, it’s not so hard! I have to say though that my patience with the “Let’s Go, So-and-so, Let’s Go!” chant is wearing thin.
Lleyton surprised me actually. I’m not sure I really appreciated before just how brilliantly he moves around the court. No wonder people compare Rafa’s agility to Lleyton’s. His speed and footwork is amazing, he made Roger look, well, almost slow! And he was giving it his all. But he was up against someone who had all the technique and self-belief at his disposal so it was a fight he was never going to win. Federer won in straights. I considered sticking around for the second night match but was exhausted so returned to the hostel and made a start on this.
Given that the Tsonga v Almagro match turned out to be such a cracker, and I still had my original ticket to HiSense for the day session (which is technically what it was even if went on way into the night!) I wish I’d ditched Hewitt & Federer and gone to the Tsonga match instead. I thought it would be a walkover for Tsonga, I had no idea it would turn out to be the drama it was, but that’s Almagro in a nutshell isn’t it? Completely unpredictable! I regret missing out!
Some photos from the day: