Sizeable Hurdles

Auckland, Final

(1) Ferrer d. Rochus, 6/3 6/4

It is a criminal offence to discuss Olivier Rochus without mentioning how tall he isn’t – listen to the commentary accompanying any of his matches for clear proof – so I won’t endeavour to try. However, punning on said deficiency is merely considered bad taste, so I cannot promise anything there. He came up short against David Ferrer in the Auckland final today – you were warned – and thus falls to 2-8 in tour finals. 2’8’’ is, by sheer coincidence, exactly half Rochus’ height, regardless of what the official figures say, and is somewhat lower than a standard tennis net. There is probably a complicated equation waiting to be devised measuring tennis skill against height, which will legitimately demonstrate that Oli Rochus ranks among the most skilful players ever to play the sport. We are left to wonder what he might have achieved had he chosen his dimensions more thoughtfully.

His path to the Auckland final was hardly straight, though it did lead him through the two most entertaining matches of the tournament. Rochus is a gifted shotmaker, and so watching him overcome equally gifted shotmakers in Philip Kohlschreiber and Benoit Paire was a rare treat. Shots, you may be sure, were made. Ferrer, sadly, was simply too substantial a hurdle. Sorry.

It is the Spaniard’s third title in Auckland. He has clearly developed an affinity for the place, and spoke of the tournament with great affection afterwards. He won here last year, and progressed all the way to the Australian Open semifinals. In order to repeat that effort this year he will probably have to beat Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, the largest hurdle in tennis.

Kooyong, Final

Tomic d. Fish, 6/4 3/6 7/5

The issue with Kooyong, insofar as an exhibition event conducted in a swirling zephyr can have other issues, has been the low standard of the officiating. Being an exhibition, the players are mostly lenient towards the odd missed call, but there are limits. There is still prize money at stake, and a few thousand onlookers, and a major tournament starting next week. There is still pride, and for all that the results will not figure the official record, the players do keep count. Jurgen Melzer today expressed great pleasure in achieving his first win over Gael Monfils.

Sadly, dud line-calls were not the extent of it. The umpires were slow to overrule admitted errors, and in at least one case did not appear to know the rules. This came as Monfils rushed the net, and Melzer sent a curling dipping pass beyond the Frenchman’s reach. Or so he thought. Monfils threw his racquet at the ball, connected, and it fell over the net for a winner. It was a moment of exhibition cheer, and less heavy-handed than most. But Melzer was astonished when the point was awarded to his opponent, since you cannot win a point if you aren’t holding the racquet. The umpire seemed to concede that Monfils had indeed released the grip, but would not be otherwise swayed.

Too often this week the players felt obliged to take matters into their own hands, with an unusual number of points being conceded on clearly erroneous calls. There was a moment in today’s final when Bernard Tomic’s first serve was called out, then immediately corrected. The umpire then overruled, calling ‘Fault’. Mardy Fish then overruled the umpire – since the serve had clearly landed in – and the umpire was forced to call a let. The issue, surely, is that there are tour events under way in Sydney and Auckland (and Hobart), as well as qualifying at Melbourne Park. With finite personnel, it has apparently fallen to the work-experience kids to oversee the matches at Kooyong. There is also no Hawkeye.

Mention should perhaps be made of a curious incident earlier in the event, when Tomic was playing Monfils. The Frenchman was, naturally, remonstrating with the umpire over yet another poor call, when Tomic marched up and for no discernible reason removed the umpire’s right shoe, and placed it with his gear. It was a strange moment, even allowing for its keeping with the generally forced bonhomie of an exhibition (and this match was rapidly descending into farce). No one has quite been able to explain what Tomic was getting at, though I perhaps we’re being generous in supposing he had a point to make at all. I suspect he felt he was due for some zaniness, but that was the best he could come up with, and ended up merely referencing Woogie from There’s Something About Mary, which may well be the first time that’s happened in a professional tennis match.

The question was later posed on television as to whether this signalled a broader issue with tennis, whether the players have too little respect for the officials, proving that there are things even more humourless than Tomic’s lame gag, and that some of them are permitted to speak on TV. Andy Murray took a swig from a spectator’s beer in his match: won’t somebody please think of the children?

Commentary of the week: “Maybe that’s a sign that Monfils is beginning to think?!”

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