A Lack of Vision

Miami Masters, Second Round

The second round having commenced, the presiding powers at the Miami Masters have graciously allowed the cameras at the Crandon Park Tennis Center to be turned on. Blake Miami 2013 -1Around the world tennis fans were intrigued to discover that watching tennis matches unfold provides an even richer visual experience than following the scores on one’s smartphone.

Perhaps ‘rich’ is the wrong term. After all, as Borges, Empson and many others have pointed out, ambiguity derives not from certainty but from ambiguity, and there’s nothing as ambiguous as wondering how a sporting contest is unfolding merely by noting a few numbers ticking by. The imagination is free to populate the yawning gap between each score update with a phantasmagoria of one’s own devising. That was Miami’s gift to us, and to grumble overly at the lack of television coverage is to be churlish and ungrateful.

I personally enjoyed the moment when the feud between Michael Llodra and Benoit Paire erupted into violent mayhem, as they recreated several classic Road Runner episodes for the few people in attendance, culminating when the elder Frenchman dropped a grand piano on the younger man’s head. Paire, addled, refused to shake hands afterwards. With no vision, you can’t say it didn’t happen. Meanwhile I have it on some authority that James Blake’s victory over Ryan Harrison involved little actual tennis, but was called off when Blake beat the younger American half to death with his walking frame. Lleyton Hewitt progressed after defeating Joao Sousa in a spirited game of KerPlunk. Sadly, he lost to Gilles Simon today at tennis.

Actually, there has been word that there were already cameras running, providing streamed content for the media present on the grounds. The decision to withhold these streams from a global audience, without even shady television interests to ‘justify’ it, is coming to seem more capricious all the time. At least this year nothing truly momentous occurred, unlike last year when Fernando Gonzalez retired on the first evening. Apparently it was very moving.

Juan Monaco last year reached the semifinals in Miami, and thanks to an accommodating draw was lucky enough to have most of his matches shown on television. Like so many South Americans before him, Monaco was thrilled to discover that he enjoyed at least as much local support as those players who’d opted to be born in the United States, and that his supporters were far more accomplished in the thriving art of close-harmony, full-throated chanting. More of Miami’s population are born on foreign soil than any other US city. A sizable proportion of those are South American, a fact that both Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish were reminded of upon facing Monaco. Roddick, still hung over from defeating Roger Federer the round before – which biologists have confirmed to be the rarest species of Roddick there is – was bagelled by the Argentine. Fish was thrashed. Monaco even gave a decent account of himself against Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.

This semifinal run proved fundamental to his subsequent rise into the top ten. The 360 points he gained was the second best result of his season. By losing to Albert Ramos in the second round this year Monaco – on-site reports mention a Cloverfield-type monster was involved – he will fall four places to number eighteen. His form this year has been poor, and it’s hard to imagine he won’t sink considerably lower in the next six months.

It wasn’t the last time an Argentine was upset today, and nor was it the most surprising (Horacio Zeballos lost to Kevin Anderson). Juan Martin del Potro didn’t win his maiden Masters title in Indian Wells last week, although leading by a set and break he wasn’t miles away from doing so. But he did beat Andy Murray and Djokovic en route. According to the rules governing such things, he was permitted to take the next tournament off. There was a time when an actual title was required before one was allowed a catastrophic letdown the following week, but not any more. Now it is enough merely to have beaten a member of the top four. I suppose the principle is the same, though; enervated from conquering Everest, you cannot be expected to hurdle a mole hill.

Today that molehill was Tobias Kamke. I’ve long since given up expecting much from the German, and have progressed to the stage where I’m merely pleased by the rare moments when his aspirations towards shot-making result in him actually making shots. Today, faced with an inexcusably somnolent del Potro, he made plenty of them. From 2/5 down in the first set, Kamke won ten games to one, as well as a tiebreaker, and he did it by surpassing del Potro blow-for-blow, especially on the forehand side and often on the run. He wasn’t deflected from his course by a long rain delay in the second set – it justified the comparisons to Lukas Rosol – although the wait apparently depleted whatever scant reserves of energy del Potro had left, and raced to 5/0. The Argentine managed to grab a game, but any hopes of a fight-back – unlikely given his fatal lack of endeavour – came to naught. Kamke served the match out at love. This is the first time he’s reached the third round at Masters level. Expect a let-down next week.

If Kamke had earned the right to be compared to Rosol, Rosol soon disqualified himself from the same privilege. He managed just one game against Djokovic in a match that detained both men for rather less than an hour. Everyone could have retired earlier had the lights on the main stadium not failed for about half an hour during Maria Sharapova’s emphatic destruction of Eugenie Bouchard. They could have played on through the delay and it wouldn’t have made much difference, whether Sharapova was equipped with night-vision goggles or not.

Rosol doubtless would have preferred darkness as well, if only to ensure fewer witnesses. He might have also requested the television cameras be turned off (perhaps he was bewildered by having his match televised at all). At least then we could have imagined that the lopsided scoreline reflected a more intriguing contest than the one which actually unfolded, i.e. the usual one in which the world number one scourges his hapless opponent from the court. The Serb looked invincible. Of course, he isn’t. Del Potro proved that in Indian Wells, thus inspiring him to take the following week off. It’s a mark of respect, really. Rosol has therefore paid Rafael Nadal the ultimate compliment by taking nearly a year off.

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