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Blue Velvet in the O2 11/21/2010 - 7:42 PM

Andy

by Hannah Wilks, TennisWorld Contributing Writer

Two weeks ago, I saw the Paris Meridian, also known as the Rose Line. For many years, it was considered the prime meridian; the line of 0 degrees longtitude which divides the eastern and western hemispheres. But in 1884, a conference of scientists decreed that the Greenwich meridian - which now runs right past the western edge of the 02 Arena - was the Prime Meridian; that London was the alpha and omega of the world. One unintended consequence of this instance of punching above one’s weight on a global scale is that this week’s tennis takes place at 0 degrees longtitude. As the signs insist, it’s the final showdown. Zero hour.

The ATP likes to play up the Britishness of this event; London, as anyone watching the World Tour Finals is repeatedly reminded, is calling. The players pose with the Prime Minister or a red London bus, as if there’s nothing more to being British than a suit and a stiff upper lip. Personally, next year I want to see the eight finalists come out of a TARDIS dressed as various cultural heroes from the UK. Harry Potter. Robin Hood. Shakespeare, complete with tights and Elizabethan ruff. Mr. Darcy and King Arthur. Labyrinth-era David Bowie. Braveheart. Speaking of whom, the stars just might be aligning for Andy Murray, who recorded the first singles victory of the championships today in a 6-2 6-4 defeat of Robin Soderling.

Murray, well-rested, set loose on a slow, low-bouncing indoor court, has as good a chance as anyone of ending his turbulent year on a high note. Better, if you believe in the power of home-court advantage. But I’m wondering if, The Clash notwithstanding, there is anything quintessentially British about this event that makes playing here a better experience for the Scot than what he might find at any other anonymous indoor venue.

A tide of people made its way to the arena, braving the icy rain hanging in the air and the biting wind blowing off the Thames. Tennis is calling, and London is answering. It’s not like a Wimbledon crowd, either; scattered throughout are the sort of middle-ageds you’d expect to see in SW19, who pack for a day’s spectating as if it’s a hiking expedition, but there are plenty of groups of young people, too. It’s not a lawn tennis crowd; it’s a London crowd, and that means that there are all sorts of people here. This is the newly gentrified Docklands (it’s not too far from Deptford, where the street my mother grew up on was condemned for slums and demolished to make way for a high-rise), not leafy Wimbledon. This is the heart of a city that continuously reinvents itself.

The 02 arena itself started out as the Millennium Dome, built by the New Labour government at a cost of 789 million pounds to celebrate what it meant to be British at the year 2000. Five years later, a colossal white elephant, it was sold as an empty shell to Orange to be rebranded; a bloated failure to define our national identity, repackaged as a slick, corporate entertainment facility.

Last time I was here, it was for Kings of Leon; last week, it was the Gorillaz; next week, something else. Everywhere you look this week, though, you see ATP World Tour Finals branding and signage. The big screens carry vignettes on the sponsors’ support for sporting opportunity for children, or remind the crowd that Sky carries over 100 hours of live tennis a year. Volunteers shoot ATP -branded T-shirts into the crowd during breaks; the fans are asked to call the toss at the beginning of the match. Tennis, tennis, everywhere, and plenty of Corona to drink. But this venue was made to be a blank canvas, and the blanket of tennis promotion that covers it this week will be whipped off next.

Unlike the Parisian hip-hop and house of Bercy, the London DJ favours classic rock and pop during changeovers, with a fondness for Britpop, Bowie and Lady Gaga. Raised on the silence of Wimbledon, there’s an expectant hush during points, and a minimum of polite applause between. Invited to show their appreciation for the slick play of the Bryans, the crowd dutifully complies, but it’s about to get a lot louder in the arena. Because Andy Murray is about to play.

There’s no shortage of hyperbole preceding the British no. 1 on to the court. On the pre-match VT, Justin Gimelstob informs us that Andy Murray is the master of when to use the drop shot (a bold statement that Murray will later seem intent on disproving). The announcer describes him, apparently without irony, as “an amazingly gifted and talented athlete who reads the game like a wily veteran”. Robin Soderling is introduced as … Robin Soderling.

They still haven’t got the hang of the son et lumiere in the stadium, missing audio-visual cues all over the place. Soderling, too, looks out of step with events; the choruses of “c’mon Andy” from the crowd are restrained, partly because Murray rapidly establishes dominance. The pace and power of Soderling’s forehand is more impressive, and less ungainly than it looks on TV. For a shot more utilitarian than beautiful, the length of the backswing makes it seem almost impractical.

This one is the fifth Murray match I’ve been lucky enough to watch in 2010, and I’m nowhere near getting sick of it. He’s amazing when he wants to be - smooth, aggressive, clever. I love watching his feet, and the exceptional balance that enables him hit forward while going backwards, which creates good depth on even defensive shots.

I like Soderling, too, but the experience is a bit like watching a Hollywood action hero taking on a gang of foreign terrorists. You know Soderling is going to attack, pummel the ball, press forward until he misses. The formulaic elements don’t vary, but you still want to see it unfold. Watching Murray, on the other hand, is more like viewing a David Lynch movie. It's  incomprehensible at times, full of twists and turns, sequences of unexpected and hypnotic beauty, and permanently on the verge of straying into the surreal.

I’m also aware of how often Murray aces his way out of trouble. One has to wonder, can he - will he - ever serve big for seven matches in a row? Without that ace, you’ve pretty much got a hole where a grand slam should be - and a crowd that still finds more entertainment in ironically cheering for the retired Tim Henman, the paradigm of the plucky over-achiever, than it does in taking the often rocky path of being a full-on Murray fan. Errors are greeted with a peculiarly British mumble of disappointment, a dispirited acknowledgement of the inevitable, and even Murray’s exceptional first set doesn’t satisfy the punters - a young woman near me shyly says “he’s playing well, isn’t he?”, only for her boyfriend to snap “he’s world no. 4 [sic], he should be playing well.” Tough crowd.

But Murray’s a tough player. He isn’t Monfils, looking outside himself, drawing energy from the cheers; I don’t know if he hears the crowd, if it means anything to him. He’s introverted, inwardly focused. It’s not a coincidence that he yells his own name when he commits an error he finds particularly egregious. He does like to complain, looking down at his legs, the court, his racquet when he makes an error, searching for something to blame. That’s British. I think about all of his disappointments this year - Melbourne, the lost months when he seemed sick of it all, his crushing defeat at Wimbledon and the disaster that was the US Open - and what it must take to pick up and carry on.

That’s rather British, too.

[[I'm pleased to say that once again this week,  during the Barclay's ATP World Tour Finals, we have Gauloises covering the action for TennisWorld. Only now, shortly after posting, I've changed her avatar to her proper name. Hannah will be filing regulary, at least during the early going, and don't forget to look for Racquet Reaction posts as well - Pete]]


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Posted by Andrew 11/23/2010 at 09:24 AM

Morning, all. Corporate meeting at 10am ET (8am my time, so I'll miss most of the match). Hope it's a good one.

Posted by Andrew 11/23/2010 at 09:26 AM

Federer wins the toss, says he'll receive. Hmmm. The last two times they've met, Murray has jumped all over Federer's first service game. Murray, of course, will remember this.

Posted by Texastennis 11/23/2010 at 09:27 AM

Sam E - where are you seeing the Cronin post on Serena?

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 09:27 AM

Allright Fed...keep Fred in the locker.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 11/23/2010 at 09:29 AM

Morning guys : Hoping to see a great match.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 09:30 AM

oy oy, Fed KADs in full force!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 09:32 AM

Muzz wearing Lendl shirt ver. 2. Old man is sticking to the blood red shirt.

Posted by Andrew 11/23/2010 at 09:32 AM

Federer humiliated Murray at AO F 2010? Huh? I understand Murray was disappointed, but it was 116/100, or 53.7% to 46.3%. That's a clean kill, but only just. It was at least as close as Federer - Gonzalez AO F 2007. Anyhow, that's just commentator talk.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 09:35 AM

the stream is awful...

Posted by Anna 11/23/2010 at 09:36 AM

Metro, thanks for the post- it is always interesting to hear first hand comments.
I guess Dlouhy- Paes are out. I like Paes, I hope he and Bhupathi do well together next year

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 09:37 AM

man I thought the court was slow yesterday, but it looks pretty fast now. Or is it just old man and Muzz's play? Deuce.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 09:37 AM

Fed already with a dropshot..breakpoint...

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 09:38 AM

Anna,
Dlouhy/Paes are out if the Bryans win later against Fyrstenberg/Matkowski but if the Bryans lose, Dlouhy/Paes still will have a chance to advance.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 09:39 AM

Muzz's brother's wife looks pretty good. Man, even a tennis journeyman can score, I suppose. Muzz holds.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 09:39 AM

Muzz holds.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 11/23/2010 at 09:40 AM

Murray manages to hold.

Posted by Andrew 11/23/2010 at 09:40 AM

Well, the Federer gambit to receive has Murray at a 20% first serve, but Murray holds with a serve winner saving a BP. 1-0, on serve.

Posted by Anna 11/23/2010 at 09:40 AM

MA, thanks- we can always count on you to get reliable information

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 09:41 AM

Did anybody watch Rafa's match yesterday? He's back to his puny server version. Was mostly hitting under 110 and really struggle to hit over 120 all night. This only enhance chances of the old man and Muzz in the potential SF.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 09:43 AM

1-all

Early days yet

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 09:44 AM

they have music for a hawkeye challenge?

Posted by Andrew 11/23/2010 at 09:45 AM

A tennis point begins when a player serves the ball into the net, long or wide, then proceeds to attempt to put the ball into the correct service box. Federer holds at 15.

Posted by sisu 11/23/2010 at 09:45 AM

Boy, the slow motion of Roger's OH was amazing.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 09:45 AM

Fed with three breakpoints.

Come on convert one of them...

Posted by GB 11/23/2010 at 09:45 AM

Muzz:((((

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 09:46 AM

Fed breaks...

yes..that slow motion OH was really good...

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 09:46 AM

oy, predictably Muzz is going down early. Man, I want to see some competition! Enough with beatdown. Oy oy. Muzz broken at love (no pun intended).

Posted by sisu 11/23/2010 at 09:47 AM

Andrew sorry to hear you may miss some of the match. Good to have you here now.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 09:47 AM

the crowd is quite vocal and huge here...for an afternoon match on a weekday

Posted by @work 11/23/2010 at 09:47 AM

Back after having to re-start a couple of times to be able to get the SB to work!

Jackson, GB,
Saw your posts and it's reassuring to relate with you guys. I agree watching Rafa play on this surface/conditions is not for faint hearted :)

Ladyjulia,
I do have a feeling Roger will prevail on this one but I still think the two of them will go through to the semis.

Posted by Andrew 11/23/2010 at 09:47 AM

Federer breaks at love, and now leads 2-1 with a break. Lovely net rally at 0-15, then Federer goes through Murray (legitimately) with a pass at 0-40. Murray never in physical danger, but lost the point.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 09:47 AM

I think whoever GB is rooting is playing lousy these days. In that note, can you root for Djoker and Berdie tomorrow? Thanks!

Posted by sisu 11/23/2010 at 09:48 AM

OMF/PSRF - We're only 3 games in.

Posted by Holds 2 Love 11/23/2010 at 09:49 AM

change of shirt doesn't appear to be helping. Federer 3-1

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/23/2010 at 09:49 AM

hidee hoooo
wow Roger looking solid today...Murray already changed his shirt and is missing badly. looks like the GS final Murray on court now

Posted by @work 11/23/2010 at 09:49 AM

And as I was posting that, Roger breaks :)

The crowd at O2 is totally different to crowd at Wimbledon. They were quite vocal last night with the competing 'let's go andy and let's go rafa' chants.

Posted by wilson75 11/23/2010 at 09:49 AM

Murray changed his shirt after 3 games that's not a good sign. However, early days still.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 09:49 AM

man, oh man. I smell a beatdown blowout 1st set. Fed is super hot right now. Super red hot like his shirt. Maybe a double break in the end, 6-2 set, perhaps?

Posted by NP 11/23/2010 at 09:49 AM

Muzz can't get the ball in. This could be a shellacking.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 09:51 AM

wilson75, yeah, that Lendl white shirt bombed. 3 lousy games and it's back to laundry chute...forever!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 09:52 AM

why on earth did Muzz change from white to black?

the white one was livlier...

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 09:52 AM

relax guys...there's a long way to go yet...Muzz isn't just going to roll over, not at home, and we all know Fred is just warming up in the background for the second set...I've seen this show before!

Posted by zenggi 11/23/2010 at 09:52 AM

Am I late? Am I late? Meeting went too long.

Looking for a live stream....

I hope the DVR is working at home.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 09:52 AM

Allright Fed...now u better remain sharp.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 09:53 AM

Muzz serving 26% 1st serve. But he toyed with Fed on that last point to hold serve. 3-2.

Posted by GB 11/23/2010 at 09:53 AM

Hey, no fair old man Fed fan! If anyone's a jinx, it's you. Every time you even mentioned TB chances, Rafa got broken.

No way I can go for Nole (even though I flove him). I like Berdie more than Andy, but am confused about what helps Rafa most in that one, except that 3 sets would be best.

Posted by Andrew 11/23/2010 at 09:54 AM

The announcer at the 02 Arena has asked the fans to check under their seats to see if Murray's first serve is underneath. Federer consolidates comfortably, then Murray holds at 15. Not really high quality stuff yet: Big BH shank from Federer, Murray with a lot of UFEs already. 3-2 Federer, with a break.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 11/23/2010 at 09:55 AM

This is not the same Murray that we saw playing Robin, is it ?

Posted by Colette 11/23/2010 at 09:56 AM

Welcome "back" TMFunk

Posted by tina (ajde, Novak: handsome and talented Balkans #1, world #3, Davis Cup hero, AO 2008 titleist, reigning USO finalist, cutest butt in tennis, rapper, the face of Belgrade t-shirts, Novak water and Restaurant - don't u wish your polyglot was hott like me) 11/23/2010 at 09:56 AM

I think Maradona's going to be there all week.
-------------------

Maradona is a particularly big star in Serbia, as he was the subject of a film by Emir Kusturica and in that capacity has visited Belgrade a number of times; they almost consider him one of "their own". So it didn't really surprise me to see he was watching Novak. Oh, there he is again today. I'm not sure whom Diego's sitting with, though it might even be Lepa Brena? (Serbian singer and wife of Bobo Zivojinovic)

Posted by sisu 11/23/2010 at 09:56 AM

wilson75, great memory. Personally, I prefer the white to black on Murray.

Posted by temes 11/23/2010 at 09:56 AM

Go Fed! Glad he is not so lifeless as last time.

Posted by NP 11/23/2010 at 09:57 AM

LOL, how many UFEs has Muzz got already? A dozen?

Posted by thebigapple 11/23/2010 at 09:57 AM

Any good stream?

Help me out some nice person!

Posted by zenggi 11/23/2010 at 09:58 AM

Love game for Roger. And that CC BH is a thing of beauty.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 09:59 AM

Man, it's so much refreshing to watch Fed totally crusing on his service games against top 3 returner in Muzz after watching Rafa serving puny balls that comes all back against a bad returner in Roddick. Rafa totally tricked me yesterday by bringing back his puny serve!

Posted by temes 11/23/2010 at 09:59 AM

One thing that sets Rafa and Fed apart from the rest are their passing shots. No one else can negate net rushing attempts as well.

Posted by Andrew 11/23/2010 at 10:00 AM

Two clean holds, 4-3 Federer. After three games in white, Murray has switched back to the Johnny Cash look. That's all from me for now. Federer leads 4-3, with a break.

Posted by Tuulia 11/23/2010 at 10:00 AM

streams
http://www.fromsport.com/c-4.html

Posted by zenggi 11/23/2010 at 10:00 AM

Try this one:
http://tinyurl.com/3xwcya9

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 10:00 AM

Serbia DC Team - Djokovic, Troicki, Tipsarevic and Zimonjic
France DC Team - Monfils, Llodra, Simon and Clement

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:00 AM

thanks Colette! Good to be back, although it may be intermittent...work is killing me! Missed partaking in all the fun and joy in the Fed world post-USO with the fed fans here... :(

Really hoping Fed does well here and positions himself well for 2011.

Posted by @work 11/23/2010 at 10:00 AM

Andrew,
LOL! Andy better find his first serve pronto if he wants to have any chances in this match.
Btw, thanks everyone for the comments and descriptions of the play since I am at the mercy of the SB.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:01 AM

Oh I hate this, BTW. I secretly hoped that Fed will lose today in hope of avoding another Fedal SF at YEC. If Fed wins this today, he's almost likely end up winning his group and therefore playing aginast 2nd in group A, which in all likelyhood, will be Rafa.

Posted by temes 11/23/2010 at 10:02 AM

Well Murray is the lifeless one today.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:03 AM

Fed is very businesslike today. Efficient.

Ofcourse, that dosen't mean that the second set will go anything like this.

Posted by NP 11/23/2010 at 10:03 AM

MA, where are the DC finals being held? And on what type of surface?

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:04 AM

Master Ace, so no Gasquet, eh? I thought he pulled out from a future event to prepare for DC. Ouch, a dagger in the back by Forget! He'll probably be there again as a cheerleader, alongside of Tsonga.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:04 AM

Ofcourse, the Muzz shows that he can be efficient too.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:05 AM

moment of truth...will Fed serve it out to take the first set?

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:06 AM

TMFunk,

Think Fed will serve it out...its the second set that we have to watch out for.

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 10:06 AM

NP,
DC final will be in Serbia on hardcourts.

Posted by NP 11/23/2010 at 10:06 AM

Forget would've been insane to have Gas play in the DC FINALS. And in a best-of-5 format to boot.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:07 AM

you still think so lj? :(

Posted by wilson75 11/23/2010 at 10:07 AM

Looks like Murray has gotten over his nerves 0-30

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:07 AM

Fed ckoky choke at the right moment.

Posted by NP 11/23/2010 at 10:08 AM

Thx, MA. So who do you think will take the Cup?

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:08 AM

TMFunk,

I still have high hopes...i am disillusioned.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:08 AM

In ladyjulia I trust!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:08 AM

Muzz choky choke at the right moment.

Posted by temes 11/23/2010 at 10:09 AM

A rare men's tennis drive volley from Fed.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:09 AM

phew...

Posted by thebigapple 11/23/2010 at 10:09 AM

Thanks!!! Tuulia...

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 10:09 AM

NP,
Despite Monfils and Llodra playing well recently, my pick is Serbia as Djokovic will join Nadal to win a DC and a Slam in their career.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:09 AM

Muzz goes down in flame. 6-4.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:10 AM

Mirka with a smile.

Now..will Fred show up? The shirt change definitely seems to have helped Muzz stabilize a bit.

Posted by wilson75 11/23/2010 at 10:10 AM

Good first set by Roger. Hoping for more of the same in the second.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:11 AM

Master Ace, at least Djoker played ALL ties to win the title, unlike you-know-who, who had a zillions of minions to back him up.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:11 AM

TMFunk,

Now..the second set is the test. I don't have high hopes at all now.

Posted by temes 11/23/2010 at 10:11 AM

Don't they have any uptempo music in London...

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/23/2010 at 10:12 AM

easy peasy lemon squeezy

Posted by jackson 11/23/2010 at 10:12 AM

Darn, I thought we'd see a better Muzz than we did in the first set. C'mon Andy. Shape up!

Posted by temes 11/23/2010 at 10:12 AM

Murray's forehand is off. It even sounds like he doesn't hit very clean but maybe it's just the sound of my stream lol.

Posted by GB 11/23/2010 at 10:13 AM

Muzz with 31% FS:(

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 10:13 AM

Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa Fan,
Agreed that Djokovic had to play in every tie but in the meantime, be nice to the Rafael Invitational/Williams-Federer Classic/Moonpie Open champion.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:13 AM

they are properly warmed up now...allez Fed

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 10:14 AM

GB,
According to SB, Federer first serve is 48% which is not much better than Murray.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:14 AM

no no ladyjulia...you got to keep your chin up! As you go, so goes the Fed!

Posted by wilson75 11/23/2010 at 10:14 AM

temes: I've been complaining about the music since the start of the tournament.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:14 AM

c'mon, break!

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