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Meltdown of the Week


Finding Roger Federer Meltdown footage on YouTube is like finding a seat on the Number 4 Lexington Avenue subway at 9:30 in the morning. [Non-New Yorkers, take note: it's rare.] The Greatest of All Time usually deals with blown shots by dragging his middle finger across his forehead and tucking his hair behind his ear. Not this time. This was a semi-final match with Novak Djokovic at the 2009 Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida. Djokovic just broke Fed in the third and deciding set and was up 15-0 when the Greatest of All Time took his eyes off a routine approach shot that could have evened the score. Federer went through lots of racquets when he was playing the junior circuit; wonder if he felt a little wave of nostalgia upon banging this one hard into the court.

On the Sideline

Entries from January 1, 2013 - January 31, 2013


Australian Open: Finishing Shots

From a Tennis Hater's perspective, there was a lot to love about the 2013 Australian Open (yes, Haters, I relish getting into your heads with my syntax; might as well, since I can't do so with my game).  

She's got game AND gamesmanship: Azarenka, after winning 2nd Australian Open. Photo courtesy of European Press Photoagency/Dennis SabanganThe final between Victoria Azarenka and Li Na was a graduate course in managing one's emotions on the court. Azarenka successfully defended her title despite a hostile Aussie crowd that cheered every time she missed a first serve. Li kept pace with Azzie, through early breaks of serve (she opened each set, and was broken each time by Azarenka), two tumbles to the court and a knock to her head during one of those falls that had her seeing stars.  Both players had to contend with a ten-minute break for Australia Day fireworks.

Blogger Matt Zemeck at All I Need is a Picket Fence thought the women's championship was a "more impressive competition" than the men's final between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray:

The way in which a person competes refers to immeasurables and intangibles, to realities that can’t easily be defined by numbers or raw assessments of technique....The men’s finalists, in short, were not subjected to the hardships that the women’s finalists had to walk through. Yet, when presented with a vast array of physical and psychological challenges, the point remains that the women showed so much more as competitors than the men did.

I agree.  The first set of the Murray-Djoko match was exhilarating for its fierce speed and aggressive athleticism, but after that, it got boring and predictable.  Murray eased off his shots.  Djokovic went for his.  Bada-bing, bada-boom -- game, set, match, Djokovic.

The Azarenka-Li final was like a good mystery novel.  You stayed to see how it would end, how all the clues would come together.

Li Na had 30 unforced errors off her usually-steady backhand. Photo courtesy of clue for me was the look on Li's face near the end of the second set:"Oh, shit, it's 2011 all over again." That's when she lost the AO championship to Kim Clijsters, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.  

She could as well have said, "Oh, shit, it's 2012 all over again." She lost to Clijsters then in the Australian Open's Round of 16, dropping the second and third sets after winning the first.

Do I sense a pattern here? Does Li Na?  Did it mess with her head?

Yep, yep, and yep.  

"I really feeling I wish I can win the title because this my favorite Grand Slam," she told reporters, after being asked why she cried after losing.  ("It seemed like after the loss in 2011 you were a little more happy," said one.  Clearly, this journalist doesn't play tennis.)

"The second time I was in the final, and twice I was lost the match.  So, of course, I was feeling a little bit sad."

Meanwhile, the Bludger from Belarus successfully kept newspaper headlines like "It's Melbourne v Victoria" from getting under her skin and into her game.

"I knew what I had to do.  I had to stay calm.  I had to stay positive.  I just had to deal with the things that came onto me," said the Iron Maiden.  "I was actually really happy that I went through so many things knowing that I can still produce the tennis that I can and keep the focus that I can."

Someday, maybe Li Na will experience that kind of happiness. 

OTHER NOTABLE MOMENTS OF TENNIS HATE: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, saying Serena Williams and the other "girls" on the women's tour "are more unstable emotionally than us," leading to Williams' quarterfinal upset by up-and-comer Sloane Stephens, and no consistent Top Four, like the Djokovic-Federer-Murray-Nadal block.  

"It's just about hormones and all this stuff.  We don't have all these bad things.  So we are physically in a good shape every time, and you are not.  That's it."

Tsonga is forgetting long runs at the top of the women's game by menstruators like Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, who took 31 of the 36 Grand Slams between 1968 and 1976...or Evert's and Martina Navratilova's classic rivalry through the 80s...or 22-time Grand Slam champ Steffi Graf's dominance during the 1990s.  And then there are the Williams sisters, hoarding 21 of the 49 Grand Slam titles since 2000.  Testosterone has been known to make men say, and do, stupid things.  

Dr Ramon Spaaij, a research fellow at LaTrobe University, says sexism like Tsonga's colors people's view of most professional sports, and is what makes casual observers think the women's game is less predictable, more uneven and more competitive than men's tennis. 

There is compelling evidence that the prevailing belief that men’s tennis is currently highly predictable and less competitive than women’s tennis is false when we look at the entire tours. Economist Liam Lenten calculated that overall, men’s tennis is actually (slightly) more competitive than women’s tennis in terms of the percentage of matches that go to the deciding set, the likelihood of upsets, and so forth. 

I think the women's game is wobbly because of the serve.  Excluding Serena, who's the best ever, certainly the best right now, the top players cannot hold serve.  In their final, Azarenka and Li traded breaks, racking up seven of them in the first set alone.  Women on the WTA tour don't have the big boomers that win them easy points, and they don't have crafty, reliable second serves to get them out of trouble.  Why, I don't know.  Tsonga would say their breasts get in the way.

AND FINALLY, I may be giving too much credit to Novak Djokovic's mental toughness and confidence for the way he's been able to recover from grueling matches and notch more victories.  The New York Times had noticed this, too.

Last year, after a brutal semifinal victory over Murray, he bounced back with one day’s rest to beat Rafael Nadal in nearly six hours in the final.

This year, he played for 5 hours 2 minutes against Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round on Sunday night before winning, 12-10, in the fifth set. After his recovery work, he said, he went to bed at 5 a.m. on Monday and did not wake up until 2:30 p.m.

Djokovic's response to a question about how he does it got me curious.  

“After five hours of match, you need to really put a lot of time into recovery, different kinds of recoveries," he told reporters.  What KIND of recoveries?

“I understand that many people have many different views and opinions, and I respect that."  WHAT views and opinons?  "But I’m doing everything that is legal, that is correct, that is natural that I can, possibly can, in my power. And it’s working well.”  Legal?  Correct?  Natural?  What is Djokovic doing?

He's resting in an egg after matches, Haters.  Djokovic's secret weapon, contrary to HEAD ads, isn't his racquet or his gluten-free diet.  It's a $75,000 egg-shaped pressurized chamber. He's been using one since at least 2011, which is when the Wall Street Journal got wind of it:

The machine, which is made by a California-based company called CVAC Systems and hasn't been banned by any sports governing bodies, is one of only 20 in the world....The company claims that spending up to 20 minutes in the pod three times a week can boost athletic performance by improving circulation, boosting oxygen-rich red-blood cells, removing lactic acid and possibly even stimulating mitochondrial biogenesis and stem-cell production.

Rock star Axl Rose owns one.  It's where he goes when he's not churning out an album every fifteen years.  According to the WSJ, Djokovic stays at the estate of tennis pro and former ranked player Gordon Uehling III in Alpine, New Jersey when he's in New York for the US Open, and uses Uehling's egg.  Does this mean I can call Uehling an egg donor?  

Djokovic told the New York Times he didn't have a CVAC pod with him in Australia.  Too bad; it would have made for a spectacular arrival at Melbourne Park:


Meltdown Down Under: Serena Williams vs. Sloane Stephens

Serena Williams is the best server of the women's game, even when she's taking aim at Plexicushion instead of the ball.  Watch as she rotates her body weight into this racquet smash. There's no evidence of her second set back spasm in her Australian Open quarterfinal loss yesterday to rising queen-ager Sloane Stephens.  

The number 3 seed said she had a "wry smile" on her lips afterwards.  "It made me happy, unfortunately."  Thatta girl, Serena!  The Beatles had it all wrong.  Happiness isn't a warm gun.  It's a busted racquet.   




Australian Open: Williams Ousted by Her Mini-Me

Sloane slides into Australian Open semis, ousting Serena Williams in 3 sets. Courtesy: API had to wipe the drool coming off of my flat screen TV like dew during the all-American quarterfinal at the Australian Open between number 3 seed Serena Williams, and the 19-year-old everyone sees as her heir apparent, the 29th seed Sloane Stephens.  

"The future is here," announced ESPN's Mary Jo Fernandez, following Stephens' upset of the 15-time Grand Slam winner, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Serena gets medical treatment for back spasms. "It's no excuse," she told reporters after her loss. Courtesy: AP It helped Sloane's cause that Serena suffered back spasms in the second set after moving forward for a short ball. It hampered her ability to rotate into her serve and her shots. 

Another ESPN commentator, Chris Evert, kept talking about Serena "mentoring" Sloane. It made for a good story line: the mentor versus the mentee.  But Williams has denied playing any role in Stephens' recent rise, from 198th in the world at the end of 2010 to 25th today. 

"I would need a better definition of the word mentor," she said. "I just feel like the older one and maybe some of the younger players look up to me.

"It's hard to be a real mentor when you're still in competition.

"I don't feel any responsibility (towards her). I doubt she has any expectations of me to be responsible for anything. Maybe she does. I don't know."

The two have several qualities in common, besides their nationality, their race and their chosen profession.  Deadspin did a hilarious summary of the media's breathless iterations of all their similarities.  I'll keep the hyperventilating going by saying both are baseline sluggers and both have big serves.  Stephens is good enough to have given Williams a scare when they met in the quarterfinals in Brisbane earlier this month.

Watch the video at around 4:18.  Serena gets to break point for the first set against Sloane and belts out the first of several "C'mon's!" complete with flexed bicep and fist pump.  

This starts getting on Sloane's nerves.  

Which brings up a big distinction between Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams.  Here's one way the teen is NOT like the 31-year-old veteran and all-time great.  She's a fierce competitor without being fierce.

Stephens is unguarded, the very opposite of Williams.  She's not snarky, the way Williams can be, the way Williams was in 2009 when the well-endowed champ sported a T-shirt with the slogan, "Are You Looking At My Titles?" as a subtle protest against her number 2 ranking behind Slam-less Dinara Safina.   

Much has been made of Stephens' perky personality and her poise.  She Tweeted a picture of a hot dog stand at the tournament grounds in Melbourne and offered two tickets to her players' box for the first fan to order a "Sloane Sandwich."

Her reaction to her victory was subdued, just a big smile and a few claps of her hand against her racquet.  No, she did not pull apart her shirt and scream like Novak Djokovic.  She was considerate of her opponent.

"I'm sure she doesn't feel good," Stephens said to ESPN's Pam Shriver after her victory over her idol.  She went on to describe her win as "nice."  

It's more than that.  It's a big deal.  She's the first American teen in a Grand Slam semi-final since a 19-year-old Serena reached the semis at Wimbledon in 2000.  




Australian Open: Djoker Pushed, But Prevails in 5 Sets vs. Wawrinka

NOOOOOle continus march toward 3rd consecutive Aussie Open title. Courtesy: Australian Open.comI'm so glad my cats get hungry at 5:00 AM, because I got to witness the exciting, dramatic match between defending champ Novak Djokovic and on-fire 15th seed Stan Wawrinka. All 5:02 of it.

Click to read more ...


Meltdown Down Under: Jerzy Janowicz Doesn't Like Line Calls

Up 9-8 in a tense first-set tiebreak against Somdev Devvarman in their second round match at the Australian Open, number 24 seed Jerzy Janowicz explodes when the chair umpire does not call Devvarman's deep baseline ball out.  

They were playing on Court 8, an outer court without Shot Spot or Hawk-Eye or Mac Cam or whatever you call it.  Janowicz does his best impression of a zoom lens, putting his face thisclose to the white line and the place he thought the ball landed.  He also gets philosophical, asking the chair how many times she was going to make bad calls.  

The Pole asks her this seven times.  He also tells her it's "not fun" playing like this, when calls go against him.  You don't say.

Janowicz was derided for his behavior by Tennis Channel commentator Justin Gimelstob, who said that if Jerzy wants to become a top player, he has to quit behaving so badly.  I say he gets himself a banya hat, to keep the Tennis Hate at bay.

Devvarman goes on to win the tiebreak, 12-10.  He takes his momentum into the second set, winning it easily.  Then Devvarman goes on walkabout, winning just one game out of the next 13.  

Janowicz gets to bellow again, this time, in triumph, when he wins the final set and the match, 7-5.  He was ousted in straight sets in the next round by Number 10 seed Nicholas Almagro, but took the Spaniard to tiebreaks in the first two sets before lying down, 1-6, in the third.

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