(5) Simon d. (3) Almagro, 6/4 4/6 6/4
Somewhere between the week that was and the finals that werenâ€™t, the finals that should have been were misplaced. The surprisingly enjoyable German Open taught us that second tier Europeans will stick flock to a clay court tournament of sufficient pedigree, and also that when placing bets we need not forsake the comforts of home. It deserved an exciting finale. Alas, it didnâ€™t get one.
Following Nicolas Almagroâ€™s quite remarkable run through Februaryâ€™s optimistically named Golden Swing, I suggested that he really needed to prove himself on European clay, where it matters. It turns out there are two European clay courts where it doesnâ€™t matter much – Nice and Hamburg – and so heâ€™s done quite well on those. I stand corrected, or at any rate amended. Actually, after last nightâ€™s final, I mostly stand disappointed that the Spaniardâ€™s form should vanish so abruptly. He was fearsome a day earlier against Fernando Verdasco, cruelly denying me any number of hearty puns on the term â€˜close shaveâ€™. Today, faced with the redoubtably scruffy and waif-like Gilles Simon, he looked overwhelmed. They gave Simon a retro deskfan, but never explained why.
(1) Fish d. (3) Isner, 3/6 7/6 6/2
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the week proved as dull as it was foregone. Mardy Fish has defended his title, though it was run as close as these things can be. He saved match points. Somehow he rallied back from a set down, and then a break down, and then 1-5 down in the tiebreak. Then Isnerâ€™s match points came and went. It was terrifically exciting, a final truly worthy of . . . Hamburg.
Really, the victor was American tennis, as it invariably is at this moment in the season, a triumphant procession through numerous 250s before the very important Europeans swan in over the coming weeks. Los Angeles is the next stop, where Fish is No.1 seed. A couple of not-so-important Europeans in Tommy Haas and Grigor Dimitrov will meet in the first round, hopefully one to savour. Dimitrov remains at the very beginning of his career as the next big thing, and a glance across the net will demonstrate that that particular phase of a career need not end, ever. You can be the next big think until you retire. Somewhere along the line, against all likelihood, Haas has made peace with this, and so it is good to have him back.