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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 GB 11/23/2010 at 11:55 AM

I really hope Ferru can win.

Posted by @work 11/23/2010 at 11:59 AM

GB,
Me too, me too.
I want him to at least win one match.
I can't believe I missed the award ceremony!
Why couldn't they have done it after the second match when I can watch from home?

If anyone finds it on youtube, please post it here, thanks! :)

Posted by Ruth 11/23/2010 at 12:00 PM

I missed the match this morning -- new dentist etc! But...was Federer's win "predictable" as some said about Rafa's or was it a big surprise? LOL (I love TW!)

I see the questions about whether a player is through to the semis -- or not -- and who will play whom have started. Here we go again! I have nothing against complexity in sports or life; it's CONFUSION that I hate.

Let's hope that we can escape the craziness of last year about who made the semis -- or, at least, let's hope that poor Murray isn't in the middle of the confusion again this year.

Now, to take a quick look at the earlier TW during-the-match comments, always a fun activity. :)

Posted by CL 11/23/2010 at 12:01 PM

Thanks GB & Jackson...that makes as much sense as can be gotten out of the RR format.

I agree Muzz was flat, but a little credit where credit it due. Fed used the court, served well, was creative and hit the ball very cleanly. You could argue that Fed was flat against Muzz in Shanghai as well. As I said, much, not all, but much of Muzz's success against Fed depends on Fed either being a bit 'off' or Muzz frustrating him into becoming 'off' -forcing errors from Fed's racket. It can be a successful strategy against Roger as evidenced by the h2h. But there are matches where Roger hits winners before Muzz can get into long rallies and in turn Muzz can then become the one who starts to leak errors. And that was what was happening today. I also think that Roger was seeing Muzz's serve and returning very well today. Sometimes w/ye olde chip BH and sometimes w/something a bit more aggressive. And he also often successfully kept the ball in the center of the court where Muzz has a harder time creating the angles he is so brilliant at. Oh, and also, Fed did a bit of what he did so well in the AO...he went behind Muzz, catching him moving the wrong way.

There. Is that enough to convince you that, on balance, Fed won as opposed to Muzz losing? ;-)) Of course, as in almost all tennis matches among the top guys, , it is a bit of one guy playing very well and the other guy not being quite up to par. But in this case, Fed made it especially hard for Muzz to get to par.

Posted by CL 11/23/2010 at 12:12 PM

And this is?

http://bit.ly/gDDINb

um, soccer or boxing? auto racing?

**blushes at provincialism**

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 11/23/2010 at 12:14 PM

Well, I'll be here to support wee David, even if nobody else is.

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 12:20 PM

By the way, if Ferrer win a set against Soderling in the late match, Federer will be playing on Saturday.

Posted by CL 11/23/2010 at 12:22 PM

Lynne - me too..I'll be in the Ferruuu corner, and not just because it would help Fed. I do like David and his beautiful eyes. I like Robin fine too, but he has Bercy.

BTW - I just started the latest Bryson book...only about 5 pages in and already fascinating and funny.

Posted by Jenni 11/23/2010 at 12:23 PM

I'm here too, Lynne, although I can't guarantee I'll stick around if things get ugly.

Posted by CL 11/23/2010 at 12:24 PM

Eeek - I broke the thread! so sorry...

moderator - can you fix?

Posted by Andrew 11/23/2010 at 12:25 PM

If Ferrer wins this afternoon, Federer will be on 4 points (max 6), Murray and Ferrer will be on 2 points (max 4), Soderling on 0. With Murray and Ferrer to play each other, only two players (Federer + 1) can possibly get 4 points, so Federer will have qualified. In this case, the winner of Murray/Ferrer will be the other qualifier (1st / 2nd TBD).

If Soderling wins, Federer will be on 4 points (max 6), Murray and Soderling will be on 2 points (max 4), Ferrer on 0. Here's where it gets more complicated.

Federer could (potentially) finish behind Soderling and Murray if Soderling and Murray wallop Ferrer and Soderling wallops Federer. If Soderling wins in 3 sets, he can't have a better set record than Federer (4-3 best vs Federer's 4-2 worst). If Soderling wins in 3 sets, Soderling, Murray or Ferrer could still qualify from the group. Example: Soderling in 3 sets today: Federer d Soderling in straights, Ferrer d Murray in straights. Then set scores are Soderling 2-5, Murray 2-4, Ferrer 3-4, and Ferrer is through. Y'all can make up other permutations, but I think my math is right.

Posted by Heather 11/23/2010 at 12:26 PM

This may be a dumb question....but...the semi-finals are played within the groups right? It seems kind of silly for you to have to play someone potentially twice in the same week, no?

Posted by Moderator 11/23/2010 at 12:29 PM

CL: done.

Posted by Andrew 11/23/2010 at 12:29 PM

Heather: no, winner of group A vs runner up group B, winner group B vs runner up group A. Winners of SFs play F.

Posted by Heather 11/23/2010 at 12:30 PM

Oh okay then, thanks for clarifying, Andrew! :)

Posted by alex 11/23/2010 at 12:31 PM

ouch. congrats fed + fans, great play. muzz, shocking. muzz to beat fed sunday. our muzz is far too inconsistent for that to happen twice in one week.

Posted by Ross (FOE, even Gael) 11/23/2010 at 12:33 PM

Ruth,
The Philly Spectrum will be demolished today. My condolences.

Posted by CL 11/23/2010 at 12:33 PM

Andrew - reading you third paragraph is exactly why I flunked math before I even got out of grade school. 'If a train leaves NYC going 60 miles an hour and stops in St. Louis for twenty minutes and goes from St. Louis to Denver at 57.4 mph and stops in Denver for 8 and a half hours, and goes to LA at 61.23 mph, how many people named O'Brien are on board?' Sheesh!

And, yes, that's all very well, but who IS that dude with Fed in the page breaking link that I posted?

Posted by CL 11/23/2010 at 12:34 PM

Moderator - many thanks. Breakage hadn't happened in so long, I forgot. Tsk.

Posted by Kwaku 11/23/2010 at 12:39 PM

Wonderful play by Federer, congrats to his fans. It's a pleasure to watch him play like that.

Posted by CherryNYC 11/23/2010 at 12:40 PM

I'll be watching Marquis-Ferru in between trying to get work done -- I missed Sod completely in Paris, so I do want to see him at least a little...... Who knows, it could be great....

Posted by Holds 2 Love 11/23/2010 at 12:43 PM

CL, that would be footballer Diego Maradona, see this link for more info, including the Hand of G*d reference.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diego_Maradona

He seems to be in the players' box for most of the matches. Where do I get that ticket package?

Posted by CL 11/23/2010 at 12:46 PM

Well you people are no help at all! But thanks to google image, I think I have figured out that Fed's 'lil buddy' is Diego Maradona, no? A former soccer player of renown and some controversy. I was chuffed to read something about CL, (moi?) and Real. No idea what it meant, but am always happy for travel opportunities.

Posted by CL 11/23/2010 at 12:47 PM

H2Luv - thanks! I finally got there myself. Yeah, a tennis groupie.

Posted by zenggi 11/23/2010 at 12:48 PM

"Anybody sticking around for Evil Sod-Ferru match? I will answer that. No one."

Speak for yourself. I'll be watching it. Two hard-workers at work. Always fun to watch.

Posted by Holds 2 Love 11/23/2010 at 12:49 PM

=)

Posted by zenggi 11/23/2010 at 12:56 PM

Has Diego Maradona grown? Or was Roger kind enough to hunch a little bit for the Argentinian on that picture? Diego is like 5'3".

Posted by Kwaku 11/23/2010 at 01:06 PM

"To beat Ferru you have to work hard" seems to be the standard praise, as if beating him were a given (you just have to work hard).

And "I want him [Ferru] to at least win one match" seems to be the meme du jour.

Well, some of you people may be surprised to know that Ferru has not lost to Murray since 2006. He has won 3 out of his 4 matches with Murray overall, including the last two ones, both this year.

And he has also won 2 out of the last 3 matches he has played with Sod (which are all the matches he has played with him on hard this year). That's a chilling 66.666% success rate in recent encounters of the hard kind against the glacial Sod that comes from the North kommst du igen or something like that :-)

Yes, you can add nuances to those stats, please don't fill me in. Still my point stands that his chances to even qualify for the semis are not so bad. Remember Ferru has only played with Federer, and everybody is going to lose against Federer the way he is playing right now (at least in his group ;-)

Posted by Ruth 11/23/2010 at 01:06 PM

Ross: Ah, the Spectrum -- so many wonderful memories of using a "sick day" each year so that I could attend three consecutive early-round days of the Men's Pro-Indoor tourney in February. Saw Sampras play there a few times, including the year when he won his first professional title there, and enjoyed so many other special moments in that old building.

Posted by Jenni 11/23/2010 at 01:20 PM

"And "I want him [Ferru] to at least win one match" seems to be the meme du jour."

True, but I also had this exact mantra back in 2007 at Shanghai. Maybe lightning will strike twice.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 01:36 PM

**waves back to CL @ 11:43 am**

hey CL, long time, how goes??? Decent times for us Fed fans, eh? So far at least...:)

So, you didn't recognize the greatest footballer of all time?? (sorry if I just started a Peledona war...) Clearly not much of a football/soccer fan are you?? :)

Posted by Master Ace 11/23/2010 at 01:40 PM

Pete has posted today's thread. Match call for evening session should be on that thread.

Posted by CL 11/23/2010 at 01:41 PM

TMFunk - Been fine...even had a bit of time in the sun...and yeah...the old guy rocks on even if he does still hit a few rocks in the road. ;-)

And no, no so much a soccer fan. This dude must have played UNDER his opponents.

C'mon over to the new thread.

Posted by zenggi 11/23/2010 at 01:47 PM

TMFunk,
Glad to see that you've adopted "my" moniker. At least the moniker I chose for you :)
Don't tell me you are a Maradona fan. It won't do. :)

Posted by Testing 11/23/2010 at 02:12 PM

Testing

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 02:13 PM

hey zenggi - You bet I'm a Maradona fan...I saw the '84 World Cup as a school kid in India and Maradona's wizardry in the QF (?) against England. The "Hand of G-D" goal aside, the goal beating the entire England defense was pure magic. I'd never seen anything like that before, never saw anything like that again. There was no turning back!

Now, I'm talking about Maradona the football player, mind you. Maradona the crazy, back-from-the-dead rambling celebrity coach? Another question altogether :)

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 02:14 PM

Anyway, hopping over to the new thread...

Posted by thebigapple 11/23/2010 at 02:51 PM

It is amazing how that Maradona memoery is etched in memories. That second goal was the stuff of dreams.

Posted by TMFunk 11/23/2010 at 03:22 PM


tba - In the immortal words of banya - It was gold Jerry, gold!!

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