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Unnamed Monday

July 3rd, 2012 3 comments

Wimbledon, Day Seven

Of the 128 men who more or less randomly populated the Wimbledon men’s singles draw on the tournament’s opening morning, fully 112 failed to last the week. They have since joined forces with the roughly three billion other men who never had any chance, a staggering tally that features yours truly, although not prominently. We are the rabble, for all that our number includes kings and captains, cabbages and Rafael Nadal. Sixteen men remained, and it is only by generously rounding up that I could even call them the one per cent, although doing so was a necessary step in cultivating my outrage. Their number included Roger Federer and Denis Istomin. They got to play in the second week. It’s a privilege.

All sixteen men were scheduled to play today, ostensibly the greatest single day of tennis in the year – our sport’s answer to Sandwich Day – which is surely a blow to the US Open organisers, who’ve gone to some lengths to dub their second Saturday ‘Super’. Isn’t it fitting that the second Monday at Wimbledon doesn’t even have a name? Can you imagine an American event permitting that oversight to continue? Think of the wasted marketing potential, the value of which can be measured in ‘Lobotomies per square mile’. My research department informs me that by failing properly to christen its second Monday, Wimbledon has foregone approximately 143,400 lobotomies in the Open Era. That’s a lot of people who are still capable of independent thought. Frankly, it’s too many.

With that in mind, I propose the formation of a working committee to address this issue. After all, a concept un-marketed is a concept wasted, a concession to the vacuum, and I vaguely recall reading somewhere that nature abhors those, although I might be thinking of gerbils. The first rule of naming anything is that, as with Superman’s love-interests, one cannot go wrong with alliteration. That’s presumably why Super Saturday is such an unalloyed success, since it cannot be due to the undoubted wisdom of scheduling both men’s semifinals the afternoon before the final. Sadly, Mad Monday is already taken, although ‘mad’, like ‘super’ is suggestive. What it suggests is that whichever word is eventually chosen – following an extensive submission and shortlisting process – must lend itself to exclamation points, and to deployment in the kind of font that would flash up on screen whenever Adam West or Burt Ward punched people. Mental is therefore good. Mellow is not. Maximum might usefully be incorporated. Midget, not so much. Manic would work, if it hadn’t been co-opted by the same women who ruined Egyptian perambulation for everyone. Anyway, submissions are open.

(3) Federer d. Malisse, 7/6 6/1 4/6 6/3

Mostly today was Meteorologically-Abbreviated Monday, which I don’t expect will catch on, notwithstanding that England is the spot for it. Only three of the eight scheduled matches saw completion. The first of these, assessed chronologically and in terms of concern over Roger Federer’s spine, was said player’s scratchy, lurching, masterful, lumbar-inhibited victory over Xavier Malisse. Malisse Monday? Federer, as almost anyone who cares will presumably already know, was troubled from near the outset, especially in his movement, footwork, groundstrokes, volleys, and serve. His hair was pretty good, and at one point he rocked the hell out of a fairly natty cream sweater. But he could barely push to his right, and his forehands were uncharacteristically feeble when stretched that way. Malisse duly stretched him to that side, but nowhere near often enough.

Initial bafflement among the faithful bloomed into heaving unease when Federer left the court leading 4/3 in the first set for a medical time-out. John Newcombe, commentating on Channel Seven, perceptively suggested that Federer might be sick. Malaise Monday? Darren Cahill over on ESPN had already identified a back issue. Federer returned eight minutes later, but hadn’t improved. Malisse pushed him wide to the forehand, and broke. Then the Belgian made a tiny tactical error, although it was one that would ultimately cost him the set, if not the match. He stopped hitting the ball wide to Federer’s forehand, and he stopped hitting the ball into the court. Federer was by now caressing his shots with a Tomic-like somnolence, and in several pivotal rallies merely goaded Malisse into over-hitting. These points were usefully interleaved with ripping backhand passes, deft hands, and brazen chip-charges. Anything but big forehands. The second set disappeared quickly. Once he’d broken back in the fourth, that one went quickly too. Malisse grabbed a set, too. Mercurial Monday?

(26) Youzhny d. Istomin, 6/3 5/7 6/4 6/7 7/5

That might usefully describe Mikhail Youzhny’s fairly stirring win over Denis Istomin, who, had he won, would have seemed like a pretty unlikely Wimbledon quarterfinalists, in contrast to Youzhny, who has somehow never been there, either. This is surprising. It feels like Youzhny should have made the quarterfinals of Wimbledon before. Indeed, there’s no one particularly good reason why so elegant a grass-courter hasn’t reached the final eight in a career’s-worth of visits (he has done so at each of the other majors), although there are lots of little ones. Mostly he keeps losing in the fourth round. I suppose that’s hard to argue with.

Anyway, The Colonel didn’t lose today, but it was a close thing. Up two sets to one, it seemed quite likely that he’d finish it off, especially since Istomin’s lone set had come against the run of play. Then Istomin augmented his lone set with another, further thumbling his nose at the run of play. Then he broke in the fifth – thereby blowing his nose on the run of play’s favourite t-shirt – and nothing made sense anymore: Muddled Monday. Youzhny broke back, quite magnificently, and displayed typical reticence in broadcasting his satisfaction, looking as ever like he could bite the head off a chicken in his exultation. Again the hope that he’d push on was quashed, or at least forestalled, as Istomin kept finding break points, although Youzhny kept retrieving them – overhead winner, ace, forehand – in a long tenth game that Istomin otherwise spent supine on the turf. There was a persistent misty drizzle, and footing was not secure. Youzhny held, then eventually broke. He’ll next face Federer, for the former a first Wimbledon quarterfinal, for the latter his tenth in a row.

(1) Djokovic d. Troicki, 6/3 6/1 6/3

The only other completed match saw Victor Troicki put in his usual effort when confronted with the towering Novak Djokovic – Matterhorn Monday - which is to say a perfunctory one, suggesting that Janko Tipsarevic’s newfound determination to take it to the world No.1 isn’t at risk of becoming a trend among his lesser compatriots. As ever, this lesser compatriot instead set about proving Henry Ford’s famously inspirational maxim: ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re Viktor Troicki.’ Being who he is, he probably wasn’t going to beat Djokovic, who has the wherewithal to be what he is irrespective of our beliefs, but he could have given a far better account of himself. He needed to be a better Troicki than the one he invariably is when faced with the defending champion.

Djokovic looked tremendous, but it was the kind of tremendous that is almost troubling for a fan, since it’s so good you immediately assume it isn’t real, like watching someone nail every shot in target practice. Whether Troicki lurched to the net, or noodled about near the baseline, target practice was all he provided. Mismatch Monday.

The rest of the matches will be finished on Tuesday. Train-wreck. Torrential. Tangential . . .  

A Mild Hangover

April 24th, 2012 No comments

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. We’ll all be riotously drunk on clay soon enough. Rafael Nadal’s latest trophy feast at the MCCC has been duly digested – exultantly or wearily depending on one’s constitution – 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 Raonic’s first round win over Alejandro Falla with typical literary panache, running the by-lines ‘Good step forward’ and ‘My serve was key.’ Amazing. On that note, they recently promoted a profile of Matt Ebden with the revelation that ‘I’ve made good progress’. While I’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 wasn’t, so it won’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 won’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 Bulgarian’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 isn’t enough. For a match so fraught with perspective and portent, today’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.

Elsewhere

Flash back just a year, and the week following Monte Carlo was dominated by the Spanish tennis federation’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 – which grew farcical when Spain took the tie easily on the allegedly unplayable court – 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 don’t own enough stuff, can rest easy for the moment.

This will mean that the so-called Golden Swing – or as I prefer it, the Nicolas Almagro False Hope Parade – will boast two 500 level events. It will also mean that the United States only has one. I’m satisfied with both of these outcomes, although the USTA, justifiably given their mandate, isn’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 Fish’s disastrous adventure in Marseilles wasn’t a salutary warning to his compatriots, Monte Carlo last week proved just how realistic the USTA’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.

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He Just Can’t Win

October 19th, 2011 No comments

Stockholm, First Round

Nalbandian d. Malisse, 4/6 7/6 7/6

Nine years ago David Nalbandian and Xavier Malisse met in the semifinal of what is widely considered to be the most dreary Wimbledon in living memory, a judgement derived in large part from the fact that they both featured in the final four. (The other part of the reason is that the tournament was little short of a gimme for world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt, which should never be said of any major.)

Naturally, our regard for Wimbledon 2002 would have seen a sharp revision upwards had either of those players gone on to forge stellar careers. The prevailing memory of drudging inevitability and pedestrian upsets would have been softened had it somehow portended mastery to come. It didn’t, of course, though to say so is to subscribe to the popular view of Nalbandian as a feckless wastrel. I have always found this view a little pernicious, since compared to most, he has achieved a lot, and would certainly have achieved more had he chosen his era more carefully. The fact that he can beat everyone occasionally does not mean he can beat anyone at will, and if his legendary 2007 indoor season enhanced his legend, it probably harmed his reputation in the long run. As for Malisse, he really is a feckless wastrel, and would be in any era. He is something like what Nalbandian would have been if he really had won nothing, if the Argentine’s essential streakiness had been condensed still further, such that his best tennis lasted not weeks, but hours.

Sadly, minutes was about the extent of it tonight in Stockholm. Neither player played well at the same time, and neither sustained their form for long. Malisse played better at the start, but Nalbandian was superior at the very end, which is when it matters, I suppose. Tennis matches are often decided by whoever wins the final point. It’s a funny sport that way. Despite all of that, it was a tremendously absorbing contest, although it is misleading to say you just never what was coming next. When Malisse moved ahead in the second set tiebreak, you just knew he was going to blow it. The same went for Nalbandian when he served for the match in the third. He also saved a couple of match points, most excitingly of all, but also most revealingly. Both men were striking the ball well by this moment, although it was Nalbandian who retained a clear head – his genius has always been for thoughtful point construction – while Malisse grew aimlessly careful, suddenly going against type. It cost the Belgian the match . . . perhaps. Usually he is more reckless, because more frustrated, and the result is much the same. Sometimes, you just can’t win.

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Just Because It All Looks Smooth

Madrid Masters 1000, Third Round

Federer d. Malisse, 6/4 6/3

Returning to the court less than a day after scraping through a life-shorteningly tense encounter with Feliciano Lopez, Roger Federer today saw off another talented near-contemporary in Xavier Malisse. Federer’s last three matches have been against players aged 29 or 30, which, as we are reminded daily, is his age, too. In the wider world, we like to refer to this type of thing as a ‘coincidence’. Within the more limited scope of tennis reportage, it apparently indicates a clear case of something or other, and therefore has to be exhaustively dissected.

Interviewed on court after the win, Federer was unusually expansive when invited to elaborate on why Malisse has never made it to the top level of the game. It is the kind of reasonable question that almost invariably elicits a guardedly bland response from a player, and so the comprehensiveness and honesty of Federer’s answer caught everyone off guard. He happily conceded that Malisse boasts an array of excellent strokes – although he suggested the Belgian’s second serve was a little ‘predictable’ – but then went on to add that despite this, Malisse generally falls short in his application. Malisse will hit some ‘magical’ shots, but the physicality and ‘work-ethic’ required to make oneself run down balls and grind it out from week-to-week is missing. In other words, Malisse is lazy. I have often wondered whether Federer looks at Malisse and experiences a ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ moment. Now we know he doesn’t.

Federer finished by suggesting that ‘just because it all looks smooth doesn’t always mean it all comes so easy, either’. Mere talent does not guarantee greatness, and it’s worth considering the idea that Malisse has actually played to his abilities, or even exceeded them. It’s a discussion worth having. I’ve noted several times before that onlookers tend to exalt talent over mere hard work. The expectations for the talented know few limits, though the capacity to feel betrayed when they do not meet those expectations is consequently vast.

Part of the problem is that Malisse and Federer entered fan-consciousness at around the same time, and were foremost in a coterie of touted next big things. Following the 2002 Wimbledon, the standard word was that Federer was merely a promising headcase – he fell to a qualifier in the first round – while Malisse was the real deal, having progressed to the semifinals. Nine years later, however, and that Wimbledon semifinal remains the Belgian’s best result in a major, and that Wimbledon is itself considered to be among the worst in living memory, not least because the last four included Malisse. His fans wait in vain for a Melzer-style late-career bloom, but it wasn’t hard work that’d hitherto held Melzer back, and a work ethic is not something players suddenly discover at 30.

Federer didn’t bother to point it out, but the corollary to these considerations is that his unmatched accomplishments owe less to talent, or even his oft-ascribed genius, than to his willingness to grind out matches when his game isn’t flowing free. Naturally, those truly intimate with the sport know this, but it always bears repeating, along with Martina Navratilova’s line that it doesn’t matter how good you are when you play well, but how good you are when you play badly, or the line that you’re only as good as your second serve. Cliches both, but particularly pertinent to Xavier Malisse.

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Risking Censure

February 9th, 2011 No comments

ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, Rotterdam

Tsonga d. Dimitrov, 6/4 6/4

Did you know that Grigor Dimitrov has modelled his groundstrokes on Roger Federer’s? Yes? I mention this purely for legal reasons since, judging by the commentary for every one of his matches, the censure attracted by not doing so is severe. No one can quite say what will happen if this fascinating fact goes unmentioned, since that has never happened. We are told that such close emulation of another player’s game can be ‘dangerous’, which I suspect is a definition of ‘dangerous’ somewhat removed from, say, the CIA’s, or Michael Jackson’s. I can’t really see the harm in it, and don’t subscribe to the view that it somehow curtails Dimitrov’s essential tennis personality, whatever that is. His technique is excellent, clearly, and he’s young. More troubling is that in addition to Federer’s strokes, Dimitrov seems determined to doggedly trace his idol’s career arc. We’re now at the point where initial promise is constantly frustrated, and he is overtaken by whomever the current iteration of Lleyton Hewitt is. Some lean years ahead, but he’s very soon to meet his future wife.

SAP Open, San Jose

Berankis d. Becker, 6/3 7/6

Raonic d. Malisse, 6/3 6/4

Realistically, Dimitrov would probably be better served by playing San Jose, where the field is considerably weaker, and a hungry Bulgarian in search of confidence and steak could notch some meaningful results. This was clearly the reasoning for his fellow-upstarts Ricardas Berankis and Milos Raonic, both of whom today posted very solid wins over much older and more experienced opponents. Last night Raonic also had a steak, according to the crushingly dull blog he’s maintaining in San Jose. Perhaps he’s more like Sampras than we realised.

Monfils d. Sampras, 7/6 6/4

The stream of last night’s exhibition match between Pete Sampras and Gael Monfils in San Jose was broadcast in high definition and commentated without distinction. It was all too much for my internet connection and my brain, respectively, especially when the stream would stutter to a stop whenever someone did something outstanding. This invariably involved Monfils running very fast or Sampras rushing the net. I know this because the commentator – from the ‘bro’ school of sports calling – would be saying things like ‘Woah! Serve and volleying! That’s some serve-volleying right there. Good old serve-volleying. Old-school California serve-volley!’ These were not separate comments, by the way, just the one.

It was the old-school Roman philosopher Seneca who first argued that frustrated expectations lie at the root of all rage. He lived before internet streaming, yet he somehow foresaw my urge to hurl my monitor into the wall. Matching his stoicism (which was legendary), I refrained, and saved myself the cost of a decent LCD panel. But I’m being churlish. A couple of years ago I couldn’t have watched tennis from San Jose at all. Last year year I couldn’t watch it as a high definition slideshow. Who knows what the future might bring? Perhaps in a few years I’ll be able to reach through my screen and throttle the commentator personally.

As for the match, it was the usual exhibition fare, which Monfils failed to enliven much with some usual exhibition antics, such as grabbing a camera from a photographer, or pocketing a ball that Sampras had ostentatiously mopped his brow with. It wasn’t hilarious, at least not in the league of Nicolas Mahut in drag. Still, Monfils appeared genuinely honoured to be there, and said as much several times in the interview afterwards. Actually, that was basically all he said. For his part, Sampras admitted he was pleased he’d held his own, before allowing himself to be goaded into trash-talking Andre Agassi, against whom he is due to perform an exhibition in a few weeks. It was all in good fun, or would be if anything between those two could be.

A Stuttering Stream

January 21st, 2011 No comments

Australian Open, Third Round

Djokovic d. Troicki, 6/2 ret.

Roddick d. Haase, 2/6 7/6 6/2 6/2

It was really brought home to me today what a lottery buying tickets to the tennis is. At a shade under fifty bucks, a day in a roasting Hisense Arena appeared to be the hottest deal in town. First up Novak Djokovic vs. Viktor Troicki. Second, Andy Roddick vs. Robin Haase. Some enticing third round prospects: mouths were watering, palms tingling, backs sweating. Stomach muscles were tearing. Unfortunately this last was Troicki, and at a set down he was obliged to give it away. Djokovic now joins Nadal and Murray in enjoying an early-round gimme. Federer zealots are livid. The fix is on! Their ire (which is infinite) is evenly apportioned between Craig Tiley, Uncle Toni, and the cosmos.

Spare some regard for the poor buggers baking in Hisense, whose coveted tickets had lost some cachet. Then Roddick and Haase strode from the tunnel. Dutch fans speak highly of Haase – whose professed hobbies include tennis and knee surgery – as do aficionados of ‘tremendous ball striking’. At 0/1, he seemed to roll his ankle, and limped to his chair. The Hisense crowd was less sympathetic than it might have been. Then my stuttering internet stream expired.

I turned to my television, curious to hear its thoughts. Not much: commercial break, after which Channel 7 brought up that split court graphic they’re currently so proud of, the one where they display all courts simultaneously, in real time. It lets you feel like you’re manning the security station at a shopping mall, which is exactly what one looks for in tennis coverage. It does have the advantage of showing you just how much interesting stuff is going on outside of Rod Laver Arena, while inside it Caroline Wozniaki was grinding down some diminutive hacker from the Eastern Bloc. Over on Hisense, Haase had expanded his breather into a full-blown medical time out. Sadly, the coverage stayed with Laver, which is a shame since I’ll take a tight shot of a physio strapping an ankle over Wozniacki any day. Luckily, the stream reconnected, so I could.

Haase ambled gingerly back onto court, held, then broke Roddick twice, which you might have missed while Jim Courier argued at soporific length that the American is the greatest server in the universe. A clear disconnect between words and images, but blame the Dutchman. I was reminded that, once upon a time, big guys like this used sometimes to rip through a slam draw, unheralded and unstoppable. It wasn’t to be. Stuff like that doesn’t happen any more. Roddick is too professional, and the unheralded titans of this age are all basketcases.

Back on Rod Laver, and Justine Henin and Svetlana Kuznetsova were providing another reason to be thankful for the invention of the tiebreak: it means two players can only concede flaccid service breaks for so long before someone is forced to win the set, whether they like it or not. Despite her best efforts, Kuznetsova took the second. Luckily for her, she’d won the first, too. Henin is out. The torrent of audacious winners had almost entirely dried up on Hisense; only a trickle continued unchecked from Roddick’s racquet. The whole thing had devolved into the kind of dour penance that Roddick insists he thrives on, and that his fans must by necessity tolerate. He’s through. The draw now lacks Dutch men. Roger Federer and Xavier Malisse were not far off; a very tough afternoon for the Low Countries.

Federer d. Malisse, 6/3 6/3 6/1

Federer and Malisse sauntered out onto court, a ‘sliding doors’ moment. They’ve been playing each other since they were 12. Now they’re ancient. It has been about eight years since they’ve had much else in common, back when they were the next big things. There was a fork in the road, but only one of them turned right.

I wonder, does Federer ever see Malisse and think ‘There but for the grace of God go I?’ It’s difficult to imagine. It’s easier to imagine Xavier Malisse in a dodgy bar somewhere, conspiring with Tommy Haas to do Federer in.

Overload

January 10th, 2011 1 comment

Qatar Open

Any hope that Doha might provide a clear form-guide ahead of the Australian Open was frustrated by Rafael Nadal’s illness. The tribal zealots are of course over-analysing it, which is a kind way of saying they’re incapable of any analysis at all. When you hold a hammer, so the saying goes, all you see are nails. With brains of iron, the outlook is basically the same. Faceless chumps who actively wish bodily harm on their forum-peers presume to condemn a slightly tepid handshake following Nadal’s semifinal loss. Unquestionably he was unwell. The real question will be how profoundly it affects this most meticulously prepared of athletes.

Otherwise, we discovered that Roger Federer is a better player than Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, although the Frenchman is coming back from injury, having severely ruptured whichever ligament enables him to return serve. Federer’s awkward win over boyhood chum Marco Chiudinelli proved that even the great man can be temporarily handicapped by ‘feelings’. We found out that Nikolay Davydenko can overwhelm an ailing Nadal. The way he was connecting – very hard and very early – suggested he might overwhelm a healthy Nadal, but we just can’t know for sure. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say Davydenko was back to his old self, which meant he was no match for Federer in full flight. On this surface, who is? The Swiss now has his 67th career title, and his fourth from the past five tournaments. He certainly has momentum heading to Melbourne, unlike last year when he lost in the Doha semifinals, then blitzed his way to a 16th major.

Brisbane International

There is apparently some debate about whether the Pat Rafter Arena is an indoor or outdoor venue. Insofar as it matters either way, surely this issue can now be put to rest. Indoor arenas tend not to allow the outside in. Pat Rafter Arena kept letting the Queensland monsoon in at the sides, which seems fairly conclusive to me. It also provided Andy Roddick with the excuse to blow his top in the final. Down a set, looking out-muscled, it was almost on cue. The squeamish thing about Roddick’s increasingly predictable dummy-spits is not their severity, nor even their length. It’s their pettiness; the way he quibbles. The latest installment saw him take issue with umpire Fergus Murphy’s technique for testing the slipperiness of the court surface. A worldwide television audience was treated to a lengthy disquisition on the matter. Even Robin Soderling – with as vested an interest as anyone – gave up on it, and buried his head in a towel.

The most important result of the indoor-outdoor debate (as it will be whisperingly dubbed by later generations), was that this is Soderling’s first outdoor title. The rangy Swede is now world No.4, meaning he’ll receive a slightly better draw in Melbourne. The corollary is that Murray at No.5 will have a slightly worse one, as will the poor sod that draws him in the quarterfinals. There’s no telling what will happen. Last year it was Nadal, and his knee exploded.

Lessons learned: Smug entitlement does not a committed Bernard Tomic make. He’s since fought through qualifying in Sydney, and looks ten times more imposing. Fernando Verdasco taught us that a change is not as good as a haircut, especially a goddamn awful haircut. For Radek Stepanek, purple is the new kak.

Hopman Cup

The thing the Hopman Cup does better than any other event is make the players seem like human beings. This is not an inconsiderable achievement, and those involved are rightly proud. As an invitation event it has the luxury of a small draw. Scheduling allows it to welcome the players with a grand New Year’s Eve ball. There’s a pro-am golf thing, and a welter of TV fluff-pieces (treating us to, say, Tommy Robredo knocking up a paella). Amidst all this bonhomie, there is the odd tennis match, though these too evince an infectious joie de vivre, even the men’s singles. Nicolas Mahut saw to that.

The great disappointment was that the hoped for encounter between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray never materialised. There’s is a rivalry that has never been, two high-quality players whose trajectories are restricted to near-perfect parallel by the greats above them. That might change in Melbourne. The other disappointment, if only for the promoters and idiots, was that the anticipated Isner-Mahut rematch proved rather shorter than their last run-in.

Lesson learned: The only thing that can upstage Bethanie Mattek-Sands in full get-out is Nicolas Mahut in a snug frock. It would be easy to be snide about this – drag isn’t my bag – but it was pulled off with such dead-pan Gallic aplomb that I couldn’t help but be amused.

Chennai Open

Chennai was won by a gradually-improving Stanislas Wawrinka, which tells you something about how he’s bounced back from divorce. In the final he overcame world No.60 Xavier Malisse, whose No.7 seeding tells you plenty about the depth of the Chennai field. Tomas Berdych – the thirtieth best player in the world who is somehow ranked No.6 – was top seed.

In a week with four tournaments running concurrently, it was probably inevitable that one of them would be a dud, and that Chennai would be it. Notwithstanding all the work the ATP is putting into China, it seems obvious that there’s a vital market going untapped in India. The country deserves a higher profile event, one less overshadowed by Qatari petro-dollars or the Hopman Cup love-in.

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