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Headlights and Shadows 01/27/2009 - 9:06 AM

Good evening from Melbourne, where a heat wave is on the horizon. Temperatures will reach into the 100s the rest of the week and are bound to affect the remaining day matches. (You think Fernando Verdasco wants to play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with the roof closed? I don't.)Federerpotro

Will Serena handle the heat and the volatile Svetlana Kuznetsova? Can Carla Suarez Navarro, the tiny Spaniard who upset Venus Williams, stand her ground against Elena Dementieva's rugged baseline game? Can Gilles Simon, the clever Frenchman, set a trap for Rafael Nadal? We'll learn that and more later today. Until then, here are my observations from Tuesday of week two at the Australian Open.

Big Talent, Bad, Bad Night
Can Juan Martin "Deer in the Headlights" Del Potro become a great player? Many people believe so, and I want to agree with them. Two years ago, when the Argentine had a string of retirements and poor showings, I wondered whether he had the resolve to compete on the game's biggest stages. Last year, the 20-year-old erased many doubts by winning four titles and becoming the youngest man to finish inside the Top 10. The doubts returned last night in Melbourne.

Del Potro played an absolute stinker of a quarterfinal. Yes, Roger Federer was in form--by far and away his best form of the tournament--but it takes two to produce a 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 score in a men's quarterfinal. Federer rattled off the final 13 games of the match as a sulking Del Potro retreated from the challenge.

Del Potro showed poise when he defeated Marin Cilic in the fourth round (he lost the first set before winning the next three). Clearly, though, he wasn't prepared to play Federer under the lights in a major tournament. We'll see over the next few months how much this hurts him.

Federer was fabulous. He drilled forehands, dinked drop volleys, served aces, and generally made the 6-foot-6 Del Potro seem like a boy of 12 years old. I can't help but wonder if Andy Roddick's victory over Novak Djokovic earlier in the day gave Federer an added burst of energy. He likes playing Roddick--they have a good relationship, whereas his rivalry with Djokovic is a bit more strained--and holds a 15-2 record against the American. Right now, the tennis world is just as Federer wants it. The Big Four is no more; instead, Federer and Nadal are on top, and everyone else lags miles behind. Are we on track for our first Federer-Nadal final at a hard court major?

Fast and Fit
Make no mistake, this was Andy Roddick's most important victory at a major tournament in quite some time. Since he won the U.S. Open in 2003, Roddick has played in two Wimbledon finals and one U.S. Open final, losing to Federer on all three occasions. In all those years, though, he has never beaten a Top 5 player at a major.

We all know what people say about the best-laid plans. Well, Roddick and his coach, Larry Stefanki, are not listening. So far, their approach to the Australian Open has been perfect: Lose weight, run fast, withstand the heat, serve big, and watch your opponents wilt.

Djokovic, who retired with cramps early in the fourth set, was at a disadvantage in this match. After his Sunday evening contest against Marcos Baghdatis, Djokovic went to bed at 5:30 a.m. He didn't practice on Monday; he also requested a night match on Tuesday, but the request was denied (not surprising considering Federer's popularity here--he belonged on prime time television). Still, the long night isn't the only reason for Djokovic's loss. He had to adjust to a new racquet and he also started his pre-season preparation a bit late. Djokovic didn't seem quite as fit, or composed, this year as last year. Credit to Roddick for exposing those weaknesses.

Me, Myself, and I
Dinara Safina did it again: She beat her opponent--the remarkable Jelena Dokic--and narrowly escaped defeating herself. Dokic's run to the quarterfinals has been the highlight of the tournament. She has overcome depression, ended her relationship with her temperamental father, and regained the form that once took her to No. 4 in the rankings. Here's hoping her good fortune continues.

If Dokic is the most inspiring woman in the draw, Safina is the most entertaining. One minute, she clubs four deadly winners, launches three aces, and belts a few swinging volleys. The next she smashes a racquet, draws a code violation for foul language, double faults four times in the decisive game of a set, and spikes a ball as hard as she can. How is it that this long, lean, gifted athlete can do no wrong for long stretches and then, at a moment's notice, become incapable of tying her own shoes? I asked Safina if she is her own worst enemy.

"Most of the time it's me against myself playing," she said, smiling. "You know, I play against me, my shadow, myself, everything against me. If one day I will play only against [my] opponent, this will be the perfect day."

Sign of the Apocalypse
I'm not trying to stir up trouble here, but I just can't resist a little speculation. What if Serena Williams falters in the heat, or if Svetlana Kuznetsova plays way over her head on Wednesday afternoon? I don't give Kuznetsova much chance, but if she does win, we might well have four Russians in the semifinals. And not just any four Russians, but Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina, Kuznetsova, and Vera Zvonareva, who crushed Marion Bartoli on Tuesday. Yes, that's right, these are the four Russians most incapable of winning big matches at majors, the ones most susceptible to dramatic collapses and mind-blowing defeats. Kuznetsova is the only member of the group who has won a major, and she did it with a lot of help from Dementieva, who couldn't cope with the pressure of the U.S. Open final. If it happens, what we lose in quality tennis we'll make up for in fine theater.


80 Comments

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Posted by Andrea 01/27/2009 at 10:10 PM

nadal definitely has speed on his side. many shots that didn't come back from del potro yesterday will be coming back - with interest, as they say - if nadal is on the other side of the net.

i'd love to see a hard court final between those two - they embody the best of this sport in two completely different MO's. i'm feeling it as fed/tsonga though -don't know why. in some way i'd love roger to win the 14 and then have the whole matching of sampras's record being done with - then we can focus on beating it! which is just gravy.

that being said, with roger playing like he did yesterday, nadal or anyone is going to have their work cut out for them.

and i wholeheartedly agree with Lynne's comments about Novak - and i don't see them as being mean - pretty on point actually. Novak is a player that has really polarized the tennis bloggers of this world. there is no denying he has talent but it's the overall package that he represents - on court bullshit; a family who seemingly have no limits when it comes to publicly denouncing other players and aggrandizing their sons abilities; massive ego (it was Novak who said that Fed was vulnerable at Wimbledon and then Novak gets dumped in the third round); getting snippy when Andy Roddick took him to town at the USO for his litany of health problems.....and now, he retires again due to said health problems -it's pretty tough to warm up to a guy like this.

Posted by Mel 01/27/2009 at 10:10 PM

The temperatures in Melbourne are not "abnormal temperatures" they are normal - it is the middle of Summer. Tennis is a Summer sport. It is just as hot when players play tournaments in the Middle East, Florida, Scottsdale etc in the Summer. Tennis players are pro athletes & it is their own fault & their coaches if they are not acclimatised. Other amateur endurance athletes like long distance runners, cyclists and triathletes manage to do it all the time.

Posted by Bozho 01/27/2009 at 10:29 PM

This is just a quick piece of undebatable stats for the Djokovic haters:
The man retired at 61 Celzius (144 farenheit)--sadly there was no initiative to close the roof of the Rod Laver Arena.
The following day, Serena-Kuznetsova match, the roof was closed at 57C. Call me crazy, but seems like the "extreme heat" policy means different things at differnt days. I just heard the ESPN commentators say that Djokovic retire was unexcusable because the heat on that day was nowhere near as today (Williams/Kuznetsova match)...which, btw, was 10 degrees cooler. People please get the facts!!!
My personal opinion is that Andy Roddick is fortunate that Djokovic was hot because otherwise he would be boarding the first plane back to the States. But, stay put, Roger Federer will finish the job tonight!

Posted by Wayno 01/27/2009 at 10:52 PM

Bozho if you want to make statements like that at least post your sources because at the moment it looks like you are talking out of your arse

Posted by Bozho 01/27/2009 at 11:35 PM

Wayno--no problem. Source--ESPN for temperature yesterday during Djokovic/Rodick match, at the end of second set, camera zooms in at the floor thermometer. Needle is braking 61-62C (144 F) (almost going off the scale). Minutes later Djokovic asks for trainer due to hyperthermia.
Today, ESPN reports 134 F (57C) as the announcement for Rod Laver arena to close during Kuznetsova-Williams match.

The point is not whether they applied different temperature standards to close the roof. The point is that hyperthermia today or yesterday is a serious condition that will precipitate electrolyte imbalances, cardio-respiratory distress and unless resolved can result in sudden death. As a physician, I can attest that Djokovic withdrawal was not only neccessary but also prudent. Hope this satisfied the sceptic.

Posted by tina (double-posting amnesty, please) 01/27/2009 at 11:38 PM

If the temperature was "nowhere near" 61, then please - where is the magical thermometer that the tournament people really use to decide what the on-court temperature is? They have a big thermometer display on the court, but the tournament referee has some special secret agent thermometer only he has access to? Maybe the Melbourne air temperature did not have a reading of 61, but late afternoon is always the hottest part of the day.

I am not saying the Djokovic shouldn't be prepared for extreme heat - it's part of the sport, and Roddick came prepared. Sure, I was exasperated because Djokovic had played an amazing first set - hell, he even had some amazing break point saves and a valiant break back early in the third set - but I really am still confused about the roof and the extreme heat policy. Had it been closed for Djoko/Roddick, it might not have changed the final outcome, but at least we all would have enjoyed a better match.

Posted by Bozho 01/27/2009 at 11:40 PM

As to the earlier posts (Mel and others), there is nothing "normal" about this summer heat. Starting yesterday, Australia has been hit with worst/hottest heat wave in last 100 years!!! (source for the sceptics: http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,24968430-911,00.html).

Posted by Bozho 01/27/2009 at 11:43 PM

Tina,
my guess is that after such a dramatic retire from a world's top player, the refs had a quicker trigger the following day. I agree with you, for us spectators, we stayed up to watch tennis!
So, disappointment overall. Had the refs/organizers had a bit more foresight, we would have enjoyed a better match, and I am convinced, quite a different outcome.

Posted by Mel 01/28/2009 at 12:19 AM

Bozho it is very normal to have days higher than 40 degrees Celsius in Australia in Summer. I seem to remember Adelaide had 7 straight 40+Celsius days last summer.Melbourne gets extreme weather (4 seasons in one day) and gets pretty cold in Winter. Granted it is unusual to have more than about 4 days of 40+ days in a row in Melbourne, but again not unheard of. It was 41 degrees here in Sydney on Saturday and even hotter out west. My 70 Year old dad and step-mum and all their old running pals went for a 15 km run in it (and unlike poor Novak) just shrugged it off and drank lots of water. Everyone handles heat differently and what ever Djokovic is doing he is doing it wrong and needs to work it out. I like Novak and it will not be the last time that he has to contend with extreme heat in his career. It looks like Roddick trained hard andgot it right this year.

Posted by pedja 01/28/2009 at 12:58 AM

I don;t know whether we watched the same match or some ppl here are just simply extremely biased.
When Djokovic was ok, he was clearly dominating. After it, he was getting more and more unfit. Some say that he should have playing until the very end. Well, I say it is a BS.

Why would he aggravate his position?
Recently I played a semifinal of some minor tennis league and I injured myself after the 1st set (which I won very easily). Instead of forfeiting the match, I continued giving "satisfaction" (using a term someone has mentioned here) to my opponent although it was clear I couldn't properly run.
The outcome was that I couldn't walk the following 10 days (had meniscus tear). My doctor told me I was an idiot.

The real question here is, why some players have way better status than others? I am very angry at Federer for accusing Novak for quitting the match and saying he did it only once. Just for reminder, Federer is playing ALL his matches at night so he always has the same daily rhythm and doesnt play under extreme conditions.

Another player that clearly had help was Serena. Do we need to remind people how organizers have acted 100% differently in her last 2 matches? I am very disappointed.

Posted by Bozho 01/28/2009 at 01:02 AM

Mel--Your point is well taken, but does not stand logical scrutiny: I can tell you that I have patients, 70 year-olds like your parents that run half marathons and triathalons, and then also have 25 year-olds that pass-out after running a mile. Genetically people are predisposed to tolerate environmental extremes to a different extents. The temperature on the court was not in the 40s, it was in the 60s celzius (due to reflective gathering heat of the floor). Clearly Djokovic has a history of breathing problems and had surgery several times to correct errant airway. Despite those physical disadvantages, he has sustained to play at a high level and win GS at Oz last year. It is a feat that should be congratulated on. Andy Roddick on the other hand should be congratulated as well. He does look better and is more fit, clearly that is true. But, I do not see Roddick staging a "comeback" nor getting by Federer nor winning another GS nor doing anything signigicant this year. I hope he proves me wrong.
ALso, I believe that AO organizers blew it big time when they failed to close the roof at Laver at such extreme heat. Had they done that, we would have been entertained by a good and probably close game of tennis with different outcome, I am sure. Afterall, closing the roof allowed Serena to survive tonight.
As this will be my last post on this blog, I will say this to all you tennis fanatics: For years I thought tennis was so boring!!! I mean, you watch two people bounce ball back and forth for hours. Then, you had a period of absolute dominance by Roger Federer where you knew the outcome of the slams before they even started...Fed was gonna win and then Fed was gonna win. Now, within the last 2 years, you got a guy (Djokovic, who along Rafa) has talent capacity to be a contender to the great Federer. Djokovic made me start watch and adore tennis--his incredible game, his flamboyant and polarizing personality, ability to imitate and amuse thousands and then come back to the same and be boo-ed by the same people that adored him, are some uniques that made the game fun to watch and talk about. But, what bothers me is that people crucify him for retiring to save his health...does not make any logical sense at all.
No doubt, Federer is the greatest there has ever been and will be for a while. Rafa may be a contender, and Djokovic may never reach that level (despite of what his parents may say). However, no other player brings so much excitment to the game of tennis than Djokovic...for that, I guess we love him and hate him so much at the same time. Good night to y'all!!!

Posted by Bozho 01/28/2009 at 01:03 AM

Pedja--thank you for your post--Serena clearly won b/c roof was closed promptly. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Posted by Aram. 01/28/2009 at 01:36 AM

Very interesting comments... I agree that Djokerovic has not heart of champion. Hi is arrogant and annoying. So are his parents. Nadal and Fedex are the best players of our time and we are lucky to watch their fights.

Posted by Ragnar 01/28/2009 at 02:17 AM

Wow. Belittling the Russian women huh? They arent the Olympic medalists for nothing, no? =p

Posted by abeckman 01/28/2009 at 02:39 AM

I think the Djoker is quite transparent in his quitting tendency. (I agree with those here who say he would not have quit if he were winning.) For his sake, I hope it's a rue...

But just the same, my jaw dropped when they closed the roof. On behalf of the players and humans everywhere,THANK YOU AO organizers!! I don't want to see any more wan, pasty tennis players woozing around like anesthetized, post-operative cats.

Simon is a like a little magical tennis Sprite! I like his game, but expect Rafa to show another masterclass tonight. (53 winners/8 errors the other night was just amazing.)

Here's hoping for another Federer-Nadal final!

Posted by abeckman 01/28/2009 at 02:40 AM

It's official: today Adelaide measured 114 degrees today, the highest temp ever reached there.

Posted by 01/28/2009 at 02:44 AM

...make that a ruse (typo). I'm not making gravy...

Posted by englishwoman 01/28/2009 at 02:53 AM

pedja

".........Just for reminder, Federer is playing ALL his matches at night so he always has the same daily rhythm and doesnt play under extreme conditions......."

This is not true. He's alternated every time - 1st, 3rd and QF rounds at night, 2nd and 4th rounds during the day.

Posted by 01/28/2009 at 03:19 AM

Some of you people disgust me. I can't believe you are putting down Djokovic like this. In the third set when he had his medical break. He looked like he was about to faint. STILL!! He continued to play like a warrior. He came out in the fourth set strong despite being weary and he fought as much as he could. Once he lost on serve, it was pretty much obvious that Roddick wasn't going to loose his serve game as he didn't the whole match and Nole made a smart decision. Who do I blame? I blame the organizers that made Nole, who played in the 4th round against Baghdatis until 2 in the morning! He got to his hotel room at 5 in the morning according to him. He fell asleep around 6 or 7 in the morning! He was one of the first people to play the next day! He barely had any rest. The champion asked if he could play last as he had no time to recover and they rejected his proposal. Ok..I mean that's fine rules are rules. It may not be fair. Here is the inhumane part of the equation. When it reached 139 degrees on the court, which was above 60 degree's C Nole asked for the roof to be closed. They said no....What happened the next day? Serena Williams is down a set and it's the same exact heat!! SAME! She asks for the roof to be closed..They close it for her and she wins two sets in a row. Why is nobody talking about this? Why has this not been mentioned. Why did the champion get a boot out the door in such a disrespectful manner. It's obvious Djokovic would have won if it was 80 degree's inside like it was for Serena, Verdasco, and others. What I praise the most about Djokovic is that he fought till the very end and even at the press conference he never once made a rude alligation towards Roddick, Australia, or the fact that they "screwed him over" during the match. It's ridiculous to play in 139 degree's of heat. How is this fair? If you are a science major, you will know that some people take heat better than others. Nole is in perfect shape. Just look at his structure and muscles when he takes off his shirt. I know his training schedule and it's just as intense as any other player on tour. It's a shame that this happened and I hope Novak gets his revenge next year at AO.

Posted by Nick 01/28/2009 at 03:26 AM

Told you I'm never wrong. Tsonga is overrated...I'm glad he got beat. He lack heart.

Simon is just another player...If nadal feel like it he might give him a match. Nadal all the way. Like nadal say give him more matches.

I doubt it will be a Nadal vs fed...Then Again I could be wrong lol...If it goes down like that nadal is most likely to win. Nadal is still at 110%. Arod vs nadal is most likely to happen tho..Nadal will win that one without a doubt.

As for nadal and fed as the two best players? Who else is better?

Posted by Nick 01/28/2009 at 03:29 AM

How could you say anything good about Djokovic at the moment? He was making so many excuse after the match. I can't recall anybody that lazy in awhile...I hope that kid get rid of his ego and start building good matches.

Posted by dnamgyel 01/28/2009 at 05:04 AM

Hi All,
Vamos! to Fernando Verdasco. I guess he will be the surprise finalist this year. I hope he wins against all odds. Let the underdog win this year. Although I am a big fan of Novak's, after his unlucky exit, I'm all for Verdasco. I must agree that none of us have the same resistance to heat or the same capacity to withstand it. In Novak's case the little rest+the heat+not so physically fit as others(I must say that he gets tired easily) got the best of him....sheer bad luck. How could he fake it? It was all there for us to see...how he couldn't cope with the heat and his own body. And just because Federer and Nadal are all quiet and diplomatic doesn't mean Novak is a bad guy from all the rest. He's just a straight forward guy and speaks his mind. It's in his personality. Personalities differ. And he's talented & has a good sense of humor. He entertains via both his talents and his personality. So stop criticizing him....give him some credits....he does play well...so appreciate that. GIVE IT A REST. Despite your negative comments he will comeback and impress us with his talent and his effervescent personality. Go Novak. All the best with your health and your next tournament.

Posted by Nick 01/28/2009 at 06:39 AM

Nadal just won YES!!..Well not an easy win but still nadal have not drop a set. Nadal is going to win it all >_<.

Posted by E. Thomas 01/28/2009 at 06:50 AM

Did someone say "Nole is NOT a faker?" And he "fight till the end?" I find these comments more amusing than things like "Nadal's knees are going to fall apart in 2008." He may not be faking this time, but he has retired too many times in suspicious situations for you to say those two lines.

Posted by E, Thomas 01/28/2009 at 06:54 AM

Oh, also, "straight forward guy and speaks his mind" is a pretty good description if you are talking about Roddick. Novak, with his lack of sportsmanship (and more importantly, failure to realize that he sucks in this area), does not deserve that praise.

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