The week following Monte Carlo always feels like a small hangover after a modest bender, the queasy Saturday morning you spend lining your stomach with bacon and eggs ahead of the planned Bacchanal that night. Weâ€™ll all be riotously drunk on clay soon enough. Rafael Nadalâ€™s latest trophy feast at the MCCC has been duly digested â€“ exultantly or wearily depending on oneâ€™s constitution â€“ and his inevitable victory in Barcelona is still days away; a curious echo, or a short satisfied belch. The presiding genies have thoughtfully bulldozed his draw, smoothing any stray bumps on the path before him. These bumps initially took the forms of Tomaz Bellucci and Tomas Berdych. Both are now unrecognisably mangled, and have been carted away.
Barcelona, First Round
(11) Raonic d. Falla, 6/4 7/6
The ATP website has commemorated Milos Raonicâ€™s first round win over Alejandro Falla with typical literary panache, running the by-lines â€˜Good step forwardâ€™ and â€˜My serve was key.â€™ Amazing. On that note, they recently promoted a profile of Matt Ebden with the revelation that â€˜Iâ€™ve made good progressâ€™. While Iâ€™ll concede that neither of these guys is an aphorist on par with, say, George Bernard Shaw or Roger Rasheed, the ATP needs to work harder to help them sound less like cavemen.
Nevertheless, it was a decent match, and no one can say that Raonic was wrong: his serve was, without question, key. Falla, whose leg was taped so comprehensively that he initially resembled a swarthy Phillip Petzschner, toiled with great heart. He produced some tremendous passing shots. One running forehand, had it been struck by Nadal or Federer, would have featured in YouTube compilations for years to come. But it wasnâ€™t, so it wonâ€™t.
Bucharest, First Round
Malisse d. Dimitrov, 6/4 6/2
Someone will undoubtedly win the mercifully rescheduled BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy in Bucharest. Based on current form it wonâ€™t be the defending champion Florian Mayer, which is a shame. Nor will it be Grigor Dimitrov, who has already fallen to Xavier Malisse. Flash forward a decade, and imagine the Bulgarianâ€™s careworn face: that ingravescent brow, and those tired eyes, still searching for that breakthrough win. Or flash back a decade, and picture the Belgian: gaze dew-laden with hope, calm with the knowledge that a trip to the Wimbledon semifinals guarantees big things to come. Sometimes, all the talent in the world isnâ€™t enough. For a match so fraught with perspective and portent, todayâ€™s was mostly without incident, until the end, when character became density. Thus weighed down, Malisse blew a 5/2 lead, and a few match points. Dimitrov blew a break point in the final game, utterly buggering a simple return. I was less exciting than it sounds.
Flash back just a year, and the week following Monte Carlo was dominated by the Spanish tennis federationâ€™s set-to with the USTA over the surface for the Davis Cup quarterfinals in Austin, which they insisted was illegally fashioned from oiled glass. It was a complete non-story â€“ which grew farcical when Spain took the tie easily on the allegedly unplayable court â€“ but this is the kind of week for that kind of thing. Thankfully this week has produced actual news. As expected, the San Jose 250 event has been relocated to Texas. Concerns that this will cruelly overload the already inadequate facilities at the Racquet Club of Memphis have been allayed by the decision to sell the Memphis 500 to IMG, and haul it off to Rio de Janeiro. Those who were worried that IMG has too little say in tennis, and that they donâ€™t own enough stuff, can rest easy for the moment.
This will mean that the so-called Golden Swing â€“ or as I prefer it, the Nicolas Almagro False Hope Parade â€“ will boast two 500 level events. It will also mean that the United States only has one. Iâ€™m satisfied with both of these outcomes, although the USTA, justifiably given their mandate, isnâ€™t overly thrilled. Apparently they’ve written a letter. But Memphis, honestly, was a dud 500, and invariably served up a far more malnourished field than the concurrently run 250 in Marseilles. The USTA has expressed fears that US players will now venture abroad in the lead-up to Indian Wells. Even if Mardy Fishâ€™s disastrous adventure in Marseilles wasnâ€™t a salutary warning to his compatriots, Monte Carlo last week proved just how realistic the USTAâ€™s fears aren’t. There was one American in the main draw, and none in qualifying. However, that lone American was Donald Young, who was dealt with severely. Hopefully he has learned his lesson, and that it is a lesson to others.
Update: The lesson has indeed been learned. Mardy Fish’s aversion to leaving the States has grown so consuming that he has opted to skip the Olympics, and play Washington instead. Lleyton Hewitt controversially did the same in 2004, and went on to win Washington and Long Island against piss-weak fields, before running to the US Open final without dropping a set. Then, famously, he was destroyed by Federer 6/0 7/6 6/0.