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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 ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:14 AM

Muzz with a DF..

a gift...take it Fed...take it. Pleeease

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

Oh Muzz:((

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:14 AM

Fed still on fire. Okay Muzz, your move should be either

a) slow down tremedeously and start feeding junk balls all over

or

b) call the trainer

Lousy DF to go down 15-40.

Posted by NP 11/23/2010 at 10:15 AM

MA, and the home-court advantage should help. 2nd your prediction.

A dumbass DF by Muzz gives Fed 2 BPs to start the 2nd set. 1 saved.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:15 AM

dang it...

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:15 AM

There was nothing the Fed could do there...

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:16 AM

I'm just SB'ing, so all I see are the numbers...

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:16 AM

Nice Fed...manufacture a breakpoint..allez

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:17 AM

Morning all -- I'm just getting caught up -- How is Fed looking? I had a feeling Muzz might come back down to earth a bit after the Sod match.....

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 11/23/2010 at 10:18 AM

Mom Murray and Kim looking serious.

Posted by temes 11/23/2010 at 10:18 AM

wilson75 yeah I remember I'll sign the petition for you to be the DJ lol.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:18 AM

Nice!

Muzz tried to dropshot the Fed..

deuce..

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:19 AM

Muzz being more emphatic now..

Posted by @work 11/23/2010 at 10:19 AM

Is it still deuce?
I just don't know if my SB is stuck or these guys keep getting back to deuce!

Posted by GB 11/23/2010 at 10:19 AM

Just hold already Muzz!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:19 AM

Master Ace, Fed says that before his career is over, he promises to try one more time to push for DC title. Do you believe the old man? I don't. Since the earliest chance he will get will be 2013 and by then 32-year-old man and aging Stan have even lesser chance than today. I say 2013 since he definitely won't make that move in 2012 with the oympics.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:19 AM

its game point now...

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:20 AM

@work,

they keep getting back to deuce

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:20 AM

I'm not loving Murray's argyle shirt -- plus he needs a haircut, plus that droppah was really dumb...

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:20 AM

break point...c'mon Fed

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:20 AM

another breakpoint..come on Fed..convert or u will regret..

Posted by GB 11/23/2010 at 10:20 AM

17 ues for Muzz, for Fed

Posted by NP 11/23/2010 at 10:21 AM

Muzz should've taken this game by now if not for those 2 dumbass DS attempts. And now Fed's got another BP.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:21 AM

ooooh...Fed is on fire today....that was even sweeter in slow motion

Posted by wilson75 11/23/2010 at 10:21 AM

Alright Roger, all you have do now is hold serve.

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:22 AM

ooohhhhhh, very unlucky for Muzz. net cord lets Fed hit a FH and he gets the break. unfortunate to say the least...

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:22 AM

Fed breaks. Geez. Another beatdown.

Posted by GB 11/23/2010 at 10:22 AM

that should be 7 ues for Fed

So, great, Muzz is broken to start the set

Posted by sisu 11/23/2010 at 10:22 AM

Confused. Why did Roger apologize after hitting the winner to take the game?

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:22 AM

ok, now lets just hold our service games...nice and easy...no brain freezes...

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

So I guess now is Evil Sod and Muzz to duke it out for 2nd place? Oy, if only Djoker can cooperate and lose to Rafa tomorrow. I hate, HATE, another Fedal SF. Why can't we have Fedal final instead!!

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

I love these 58-second service games..... hold it together Fed and I might actually get some work done.....

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:24 AM

sisu...because of the preceding ball that hit the top of the net when Muzz hit it..it allowed him to set up the winner. So, he apologized i guess.

Posted by @work 11/23/2010 at 10:24 AM

Oh I see Murray got broken.
Not a good day for him or a great day for Fed or most likely a combination of the two.
Looks like we're headed for another straight set match.

Posted by NP 11/23/2010 at 10:25 AM

Not only is Muzz unable to buy a 1st serve and cut down on UFEs, he's playing like an absolute retard. Where's the brilliant tactician that the smitten Brits always go gaga over?

Posted by sisu 11/23/2010 at 10:25 AM

Thanks lj.

Posted by Texastennis 11/23/2010 at 10:25 AM

Quick check between work here. And this is why Murray hasn't won a major yet - extraordinary lack of consistency of form from day to day, accompanied by (caused by?) brain freezes. Has any top player ever made such repeated mistimed use of dropshots?
UK hopes may be dashed again this week:-)

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 10:25 AM

"Alright Roger, all you have do now is hold serve."

Wilson75,
Easier said than done against Murray. Roddick was in the same position yesterday and we all know what happened.

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/23/2010 at 10:25 AM

the commies said Andy's mom was scouting his matches....hhhhmmmmm he might wanna have a coach do that

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:25 AM

I love Attacker Fed!!!! Why he doesn't do this against Rafa is beyond me......

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:26 AM

c'mon Fed, get the insurance...

Posted by temes 11/23/2010 at 10:26 AM

I think apologizing for a net cord is unnecessary.

Posted by @work 11/23/2010 at 10:26 AM

Oh wow, just checked the stats and Andy is serving at 37% 1st serves.
That's not going to do it.
Looking like a double break is brewing.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:27 AM

I like it...I like it a lot...

Posted by temes 11/23/2010 at 10:27 AM

Wow total demolition so far.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:27 AM

NOW it's a TOTAL beatdown. Boo Muzz, English crowd. BOO him! Let him have it, geez!

Posted by sisu 11/23/2010 at 10:27 AM

TMFunk I hope you get to see this later. Fun play from both. And, of course, I like the score. ;))

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:27 AM

there's the insurance break...... 3-0 Fed. I'm trying not to get too excited, because Lord knows a trip to Mirkaland or Twinsville could be on the horizon......

Posted by wilson75 11/23/2010 at 10:28 AM

MA: It's much easier to do now that Roger's got the insurance break. I hope he keeps it together.

Posted by GB 11/23/2010 at 10:28 AM

Jamie looks seriously gutted

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 10:28 AM

Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan,
I do not see Federer lifting a Davis Cup in his career or an Olympic gold medal in singles but I would not count him out for that gold medal in the Olympics.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:28 AM

texastennis - "Has any top player ever made such repeated mistimed use of dropshots? "

ummm.. a certain Serbian world #3 comes to mind... :)

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:29 AM

Well, I am glad that this happens to Muzz now instead of Rafa when he meets Fed on Saturday in their SF match. Surely by then Fed will get a little less hot and we will see some competition at last!

Posted by thebigapple 11/23/2010 at 10:29 AM

Lovely rally...some good shots!

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 10:29 AM

"MA: It's much easier to do now that Roger's got the insurance break"

Wilson75,
Still would not sell Murray short at this point. We all know what happened last year in the QF at Montreal.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:30 AM

Allright...the Fed can have one brain freeze..but doubt if he will have two. His level is quite decent so far.

I will take Muzz's off day..when you are playing catchup on the H2H..anything subpar from the Muzz is a chance to level the H2H.

Still..until Fed actually converts a matchpoint, nothing's given. Its been that kind of a year.

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:30 AM

Muzz could still be in this had it not been for 2 moronic drop shots...

Posted by temes 11/23/2010 at 10:30 AM

Andy summon some British courage! You need something like the charge of the light brigade or anything stupid and crazy such as that.

Posted by GB 11/23/2010 at 10:30 AM

Old man Fed fan: *anti jinx, anti jinx* Rafa is a long, long way from any semi

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:30 AM

thanks sisu - I'm gonna check it out on youtube later - assuming Fed doesn't let it slip away from here! oh, all those matchpoints lost - what have they done to me? I need to see a shrink...

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:31 AM

Fed shanks a FH -- 15-30

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:31 AM

Jon W on twitter:

"Federer just drilling Murray...a set and 3-0....wait for match points?"

Posted by wilson75 11/23/2010 at 10:32 AM

MA: Montreal was the first tournament after 6 weeks break and his wife giving birth to twins. I don't give any credence to that result.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:32 AM

Allez Fed...hold and finish the job.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:33 AM

I like seeing Fed hold from 0-30, 15-30 down...got to help his confidence.

Posted by Viktor 11/23/2010 at 10:33 AM

It is quite amusing seeing all the Fed fan here worrying about the outcome when he is up 6-4, 4-0... :)

Posted by @work 11/23/2010 at 10:33 AM

At least get on the board in the second, Andy!
I think I jinxed him by adopting him as a favorite for this tournament :(
Still, glad Fed is playing well and pleasing his fans :)

Posted by thebigapple 11/23/2010 at 10:33 AM

Is that Maradona in Fed's box?

Grandmaster to Grandmaster??

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:33 AM

Mirka looking a bit casual.......

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:34 AM

I knew it. Fed IS Muzz's daddy. He just let Muzz have some false pride by meeking losing to him twice in final this year. He just felt some pity for Muzz crying his eyes out at AO, which seemed like a mirror image of him from last year. Fed has some many kids to take care of, you know. Ferru, Muzz, Djoker, Evil Sod, Hewitt, Roddick, Davy D. you name it.

Posted by GB 11/23/2010 at 10:34 AM

Muzz, do something, anything, to avoid a bagel here!

Posted by Holds 2 Love 11/23/2010 at 10:34 AM

Murray wants to make Federer run. Federer seems unperturbed.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:34 AM

viktor - You find it funny, do you??? *&^*&(**&

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:35 AM

here we go ..... 15-40

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:35 AM

Muzz is burying himself deeper..the Fed's already playing well..if Muzz dosen't pick up his level..he's going to get bageled.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 11/23/2010 at 10:35 AM

Murray's play today is a prime example of why I can't be a wholehearted fan of his. He is constantly inconsistent although Roger is playing brilliantly.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:35 AM

Bagel party! This will bring Evil Sod some big dimple grin.

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:35 AM

Muzz saves them... well, that's something....

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:36 AM

OMG...Fed can't bagel Muzz in his hometown...thats just picking up bad karma for later in the tournament...hold Muzz!!!

Posted by GB 11/23/2010 at 10:36 AM

At least he gets on the board

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:36 AM

TMFunk -- crazy, but I agree. Muzz holds!!!!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:37 AM

Allright...Fed..second set..serving for set. Take deep breaths and I would love a 40 second hold here.

Allez

Posted by temes 11/23/2010 at 10:37 AM

test

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:37 AM

Is it me or that wife of Jamie Murray look a lot like Laura Robson? Anybody noticed that, too?

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:38 AM

ooops....set is far away. Its 4-1 Fed serving.

Muzz still has time to get into match..but his level isn't encouraging.

Hopefully, Fred will not help him out.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 10:38 AM

SB froze at deuce...guess its 4-1 now?

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 10:39 AM

TMFunk,
Scoreboard is out as I was relying on that along with TWibe commentary from the day job.

Posted by @work 11/23/2010 at 10:39 AM

Can someone provide the score?
My SB is stuck again at deuce in the love-4 game

Posted by zenggi 11/23/2010 at 10:40 AM

Roger in a hurry to go home, it seems.
I guess the twins slept well last night. Atta girls!

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:40 AM

Fed serving 4-1, 40-15 as Muzz comes up with a nice winner DTL

Posted by ladyjulia 11/23/2010 at 10:40 AM

ITs 4-1, 40-15 Fed serving..

Its 5-1 now..

Posted by wilson75 11/23/2010 at 10:40 AM

TMFunk: 5-1

Posted by Nitish 11/23/2010 at 10:40 AM

Score board back up Fed up 5-1

Posted by Viktor 11/23/2010 at 10:41 AM

Whatever happened to Master Ace live text comments, I loved those?

Posted by Holds 2 Love 11/23/2010 at 10:41 AM

5-1 Federer (15)

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 10:41 AM

5-1. The serve is great.....zenggi -- I agree the twins must have slept well.....

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 10:41 AM

Scoreboard is back as Federer leads 6-4,5-1

Posted by Viktor 11/23/2010 at 10:41 AM

Especially now when the SB is dead.

Posted by Nitish 11/23/2010 at 10:41 AM

Break him Rog and eliminate Murray!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny Server Rafa fan 11/23/2010 at 10:41 AM

5-1. I think depends on tonight's result, Fed may intentionally lose to Evil Sod if that makes Muzz not advance to SF stage. I still think Fed didn't play 100% towards the end of Delpo match to make sure Muzz didn't advance. Conspiracy, you say? I think not!

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