Damp Squibs

Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, First Round

I am quite taken by the stadium court at the Dubai Tennis Championships. Notwithstanding the fact that it is hemmed in by city, neatly wedged between the airport and a golf course, it feels from afar as though the desert encroaches. A sky swollen by endlessness, the open gradient of the very blue stands and the name Dubai; all conspire somehow to evoke Arabia. Perhaps I’m just giddy at the prospect of tennis before bedtime, visions before midnight, but my heart sang as the camera swept the stands, idle between points, and caught the delicate azure gradations of the seating, mirroring the sky like a pixelated oasis. It would only be ruined by the pulsing biomass of a vulgar crowd, by actual people actually showing up. Happily, the organisers found a way around this by apparently not letting anyone in. The players played on, and 5,000 pristine seats looked on, except for the red royal seats, which snickered amongst themselves, despite having the best view. The shadows of the flags atop the stands rippled on the court.

All of which is to say it looks like a postcard, which would be useful if there was anything to write home about. There wasn’t. The most explosive line-up of first round matches since Rotterdam proved to be damp squibs, to a match. Only one went to three sets. Plenty didn’t make it to two sets, or even one.

No less an authority than Lleyton Hewitt has anointed both Andrei Golubev and Marcos Baghdatis as ‘tremendous strikers of the ball’. If balls are to be struck, then ‘tremendously’ is easily in my top three ways to go about it, although I’m not adverse to ‘lingeringly’ and ‘infrequently’, depending on the context. Baghdatis lasted four games until, doubled over as though struck tremendously himself, he handed Golubev his first ‘win’ of the year. On paper, Novak Djokovic versus Michael Llodra was a first round encounter to savour. On court, it wasn’t. Llodra has made enormous improvements to his singles game in recent years, but against Djokovic he really could have used the extra guy. There was a Nenad Zimonjic shaped hole that Djokovic kept hitting balls through.

Roger Federer has just finished off Somdev Devvarman. Federer would insist, if anyone bothered to ask him any more, that he never takes any opponent for granted, that he approaches every match with due care. As a statement, it’s crying out for an asterisk, and Devvarman is that asterisk. So much for old Federer. Yesterday, the new Federer Grigor Dimitrov played like the young Federer in going down to Richard Gasquet, who is now the old new Federer, but hopes in time to become the next Gael Monfils. He has the court positioning down pat, and the physical similarities are striking, though he does tend to break character by launching vicious backhands up the line. Meanwhile Gilles Simon celebrated the fact that the tour has moved outdoors by favouring groundstrokes that would have grazed the roof back in Europe. It was enough to earn a maiden win over Mikhail Youzhny, an astoundingly low quality affair. Simon afterward suggested that his play had been ‘tactical’. That may be, but it was also ‘very boring’.

The complete matches can be downloaded here. As ever, please avoid highlights.

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