Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - IW: Sorb-eee-Yhuh!
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IW: Sorb-eee-Yhuh! 03/23/2008 - 10:17 PM

AiIt took me a while to discover where the guttural cries were coming from. The sounds in the air during the women’s final between Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova were incomprehensible, but consistently so: something like “sorb-ee-yhuh!!!” was being hollered over and over, at different pitches and volumes. Then I glanced up to the very top of Indian Wells’ Stadium 1 and understood. There a small pack of wild youths had taken over a section of the cheap seats and unfurled the red, blue, and white flag of Serbia (“sorb-ee-yhuh!!!”). A few glances later I noticed a second, smaller, black flag beneath them that read, “Kosovo is Serbia.”

The soccer-match intensity and nationalist fervor was jarring in an arena filled with the docile, golf-hatted tennis fans of California. Needless to say they weren’t going to be any match for the Serbs, even if some of them harbored a deep, previously unrevealed passion for Kuznetsova. It was also hard to connect the Serbian fans with the object of their affections at the bottom of the stadium. Ana Ivanovic’s personality can be described in many ways, but “guttural” is not one that comes immediately to mind.

That doesn’t mean she isn’t tough. You know how some athletes are described as “sneaky fast”? Ivanovic is “sneaky tough.” Her walk is delicate, her speech guileless, her fist-pump less-than-terrifying, and she’s wilted under pressure in the past. Today Ivanovic played a cagey match, a scrappy match, a veteran match. When she missed, she went right back with a big shot in the same direction; if that didn’t work, she bailed herself out with clutch serving. She took her time between points and never looked anything other than composed, even at her worst moments.

After another scratchy, momentum-less, hit-and-miss start—is this an Ivanovic specialty?—the Serb decided to take a step forward and create a little momentum at just the right moment. With Kuznetsova serving at 4-4, Ivanovic let fly with a backhand winner for 15-30, drilled a forehand winner for 30-40, and then moved into the court and put together a pretty one-two forehand combo, first crosscourt and then down the line for the break. It was the first moment of strategic focus in the match that had been sustained for longer than a single point.

Contrast it with the play of Kuznetsova, who, as you may have heard, has now lost eight of her last nine finals. This was the first time I’d watched her at length this week, and I’d forgotten how messy her game can be. Nobody makes as many athletic moves as Kuznetsova; the problem is, she makes so many of them in the wrong direction. How many times have you seen her go for the corners while falling backward or sideways onto her back foot. She always seems to be in her own version of no man’s land; she has the shots to dictate every point, but she never settles down and takes over the center of the court, which is what Ivanovic did at 4-4 in the first.

We’ve learned three things about Ivanovic this week: She can win a big tournament as a No. 1 seed and favorite; she’s entrenched herself at No. 2 in the world; and, most important, she’s learning, rapidly, how to win. That doesn’t just mean hammering winners at 4-4. It means saving a break point with a service winner, getting a return in the court at 30-30, and following up a break by winning the first point of the next service game, which Ivanovic did at 5-4 in the first set. She went on to hold at love and never lost focus after that.

NdBy the time the Serb fans' second hero, Novak Djokovic, took the court, they were a bit more subdued (they would take down the “Kosovo is Serbia” sign at the tournament’s request; it gave us too much to consider on a hot afternoon in the desert, I suppose). Djokovic, of course, didn’t need any fans. He came out in his usual flawless way, his clothes and hat brilliant white, his wristbands fastidiously mismatched, and his pinpoint game perfectly organized.

I’ve always liked a fast starter, a guy who comes out having already found his range by the end of the first point. Nadal is like that, and Djokovic even more so. Today he won eight of the first nine points, quieting a pro-Fish crowd and heading off any thought in his opponent’s head that he could ride the momentum he had going yesterday.

But Djokovic is different from champions like Federer, who, once they get you down, step on the gas and offer no hope whatsoever. The Serb often mysteriously stalls just when you think he has the match in his grasp. It happened today when he was up a set and serving at 4-2 in the second. He chose that point to miss three backhands and double-fault to give the break back (in the presser afterward he said he was “really nervous”). Suddenly Fish found the momentum he had lost from the previous day. The forehand winners were back with a vengeance and Djokovic found himself in a third set.

It got worse in the first game, when he went down 0-40 on his serve. While Djokovic is not a supreme front-runner yet, he chose this moment to remind us of what type of champion he is and will continue to be: The kind who hits three aces in a row to stop his opponent’s momentum in it tracks. Some romantics of sport might say this is the time when the great ones “raise their games,” as if these things are done by choice. I would say that Djokovic is simply the type of player who can hit three aces in a row at a moment when all signs say he shouldn’t. Djokovic is not a momentum-rider, he’s a momentum-stopper. Better, he’s able to ignore momentum altogether, which requires a deep confidence that can’t be shaken from one game to the next.

The missiles had been fired, the message had been sent, and the match was over in three swings. Fish never seriously threatened again. Even when he was smoking service returns deep into the court, Djokovic parried them with his fast-handed open-stance defensive forehand (another form of momentum-stopper). The gates were closed for good.

Djokovic came into his presser looking, as always, bigger than you think he is. Big head, big sneakers, lots of hair, long arms—a jock through and through. How did he feel about representing his country and his wild pack of fans in the stands? He said “athletes are the biggest ambassadors for their countries,” but declined to do more politically other than his “job," which is playing tennis. Ivanovic had said much the same thing in her own press conference. She claimed she didn’t know much about politics, but it was important to “represent your country well.”

These might sound like safe answers coming from an American athlete. But they have a different ring coming from Serbians. The faces and names that have come to my mind in recent years when I think of Serbia have been the ones I’ve seen on TV: Milosevic and Karadzic. Now there are new faces—confident, intelligent, youthful, successful faces—from Serbia to put in their place. That's "political" contribution enough in my mind. Djokovic and Ivanovic would be winners wherever they came from and whatever they did. Tennis, with its international, meritocratic nature, should be proud that it has provided the stage for them.


 
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Comments
 
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Posted by chicken-power 03/23/2008 at 10:44 PM

First?

Posted by yay ana 03/23/2008 at 10:45 PM

first

well done ana

Posted by chicken-power 03/23/2008 at 10:50 PM

As always, Novak plays his best when it matters the most.
To serve three aces when down 0-40 and then take the game,
that one goes right to the history books.

But the match left me scratching my head. It was actually quite
close and hard fought -- but --
how in the world Mardy managed to get so close
while serving *that* bad? 33% first serve. Like,
I have to go back and pore over statistics to figure
out what happened. It doesn't make any sense.

Going forward.

Novak needs a haircut. He looks funny.

Rafa needs to play his forehand flatter. He just plays with so much
spin, his arm could fly off with racquet and all. This is exhausting
for him -- and while it is good against most players, it is useless
against Roger, Novak, and even Jo.

Roger I believe is just taking it easy, playing with 60% or so until
he is completely recovered from mono, and whatever win comes his way, so much the
better. He actually gained like 225 points at IW -- not bad for a 60%
effort. Yes, he said he was completely healthy but that is just his
sportmanship for he won't blame any loss on not being healthy.
He is really after French Open and I fully expect him to play like
this till the clay season.

Posted by Tennis Fan 03/23/2008 at 11:24 PM


Great article. I'm not going to comment on the men's part as there are more than enough others to do this.

So:

The is the best line. Ivanovic is “sneaky tough.”

However, you forgot "squeaky" too.

is it "squeaky sneaky tough" or is it "sneaky squeaky tough".

Have you noticed in pictures Ivanovic looks older and tougher with the visor. Without the visor she looks like a very young and innocent. It must be the visor that makes her so "sneaky" tough.

I was really rooting for Fish. Even though he did not win, he put in a superb effort and made the tournament exciting. Hope he can keep it up.

Posted by topboy 03/23/2008 at 11:50 PM

Ivanovic's and Djokovic's restraint in answering political questions is probably due to fear of backlash/consequences due to west's continual degradation of everything Serbian (including recognizing an illegal declaration of independence by Kosovo Albanians). Just this past week, Milorad Cavic (American-born Serbian swimmer) wore a "Kosovo is Serbia" t-shirt (in cyrillic Serbian mind you) on the throne when he won a gold medal at Euro championships and was later suspended from the rest of the competition thus preventing him from competing in his other discipline where he was a favourite to win as well.
No matter, they don't need to flash their political views at every turn. After all they're just tennis players. Nole did express his opinion in Dubai and of course during a rally in Belgrade last month. Ana's more reserved and apparently more interested in psychology (which is nice). In any case, they are extremely popular and admired in Serbia as they should be!

Posted by PM 03/24/2008 at 12:12 AM

topboy: exactly. We know that Djokovic has strong views on political issues but avoids discussing them because he would be skewered by a hysterical media and ill-educated public who's anti-Serb attitude verges on the racist. But that is what over 15 years of propaganda and lies do. It's a shame that Goran Ivanisevic was lauded as a player while he talked about how he wanted to kill Serbs with his own hands, and at the same time Tudjman's units were massacreing Serbs in Croatia. I suppose Goran's outright statements of hatred meant nothing. But Novak's/Ana's rowdy fans shouting in support of them and their country, without saying anything hateful, suddenly invokes Milosevic? I don't agree with what the fans did but the response is far more disgusting. At any rate, this article is more tame than Bodo's article. What a disgusting piece of crap that is.

Posted by Eddy 03/24/2008 at 12:23 AM

"Roger I believe is just taking it easy, playing with 60% or so until
he is completely recovered from mono, and whatever win comes his way, so much the
better."
Wishful thinking. The FO is months away. No world class athlete is going to trade a win for a loss. Federer is usually good at taking down opponents who are red hot, but he didn't do it against Fish, which concerns me. Miami will tell us a lot about the rest of his year. Good job Serbians.

Posted by SND 03/24/2008 at 12:35 AM

Fantastic article!!!!"Djokovic and Ivanovic would be winners wherever they came from and whatever they did"-This line impressed me the most!!!
Go Serbia!!!

Posted by topboy 03/24/2008 at 12:49 AM

PM:

"I don't agree with what the fans did but the response is far more disgusting. At any rate, this article is more tame than Bodo's article. What a disgusting piece of crap that is."

Spot on mate! Made sure to respond to Bodo's article although it might not be worth one.

Posted by tennnisbest 03/24/2008 at 01:33 AM

Steve, good post,,But you never got real by stating Fish played sooooo much inconsistent and lacked so much confidence compared to his previous "warrior" runs with Hewitt, Davedanko and Federer. To me he handed the match to Novak mentally. And Novak had one year of experience under his belt to capitalize on it. Last year he came to same Final under the same conditions and had "cold Hands" as Pam Shriver I remember commented on. He just had that edge over Fish because of his last year experience (also, Miami win, FO semi, Wimby semi...but wimped out of etc..etc..This match was such a easy match up for him to totally dominate I almost could not watch it happen...He is almost TOOOO Hungry TOOO Sooon! I feel like screaming Easy Novak your Ego and Ambition are blocking the court!!! I disagree with the earlier comment posted that Pete Bodo's post was bad. You could not have been more right on Pete. I attended IW last year and it is a "sauna tournament" and I think you read Novak pretty well. One thing else..Thank GOD his embaressing family could not make it to this one. Please God not Miami...

Posted by jon 03/24/2008 at 02:45 AM

"Roger I believe is just taking it easy, playing with 60% or so until
he is completely recovered from mono, and whatever win comes his way, so much the
better."

I'm a huge Federer fan but people like you disgust me....no matter HOW he loses, no matter how badly he's outplayed, people like you will always come along to say that he wasn't trying, or that he's injured, or whatever other CRAP excuse you can think of at the time. Simple fact of the matter is that Roger has a confidence problem right now and he is playing badly. Get over it and stop the hero-worship, it is kinda sickening.

Posted by jon 03/24/2008 at 02:52 AM

and i agree with the tournament making the 'kosovo is serbia' people take down their sign(s)...it's a tennis match, not somewhere to make political statements...we watch tennis to forget about the troubles of the real world. you never know whom signs like that could offend and what kind of fight it could start.

Posted by topboy 03/24/2008 at 02:59 AM

I wonder if they'd make them take down the sign if it had said 'free tibet'?!?

Posted by PM 03/24/2008 at 03:02 AM

Just to highlight a different view, and I'm not advocating for any political statements in a sports stadium whatsoever, would there be such a reaction to a sign that says "Free Tibet" or "Down with Communism" or "Save Darfur"?

No, there would not be, because - let's face it - there are certain political statements and causes that in the West are acceptable under the banner of free speech and "human rights" and there are certain statements that are not, e.g. "Kosovo is Serbia." So let's dispense with the notion that this is about political statements per se and accept that it is the nature of the political statement in question here that led to the response. It led to a much more drastic response in the European swimming championshim when the gold-medalist Milorad Cavic wore a T-shirt that had that statement on it - they banned him from further competition at the tournament, even though he was the favorite to win.

Posted by Charles 03/24/2008 at 04:04 AM

When Laver won the Grand Slam in 69, who could imagine that he would never win another GS title? When McEnroe won the 84 US and finished the year with the best ever w/l in the open era, who thought he would never win another GS title? when the GS train derails, it can happen fast. Federer is more similar in his utter domination to Borg, McEnroe, Laver, than to the much less consistent reigns of Connors, Sampras, or Agassi... all of whom went on to cop the odd GS title in their declining years.

Djokovic is a force to be reckoned with. He's exactly where he needs to be age-wise in his career with his first GS title to be the next ONE. He's got it psychologically, his game is more complete than Nadal...

The question is, can Federer fend him off, like Sampras did to Rios and Kafelnikov? Fed was still ascending and was young enough when Nadal came along to hold him off... Sampras never faced as big a challenge from a young gun at the same stage of his career as Fed faces in Djokovic... I think the order is too tall, and Fed will never dominate again--he might get the odd GS title, I hope...

Posted by BornInSerbia 03/24/2008 at 06:32 AM

TYPE or PASTE your Since we touched politics here is my view. Unfortunately whether we like it or not lately politics are the subject almost everywhere.
If Texas was ever to declare independence from USA, Roddick would have strong political opinion about it because this is his country, Djokovic's father comes from Kosovo. Bottom line they are playing beautiful tennis and are one of the very few that could succeed in such conditions in Serbia.

Posted by Katja 03/24/2008 at 06:44 AM

Nole and Ana, and of course Jelena and Nenad, you are our heroes!

(And I’m sleepy at the work again)

Btw. for those of you who would like to learn; this is how Novak's and Ana's name are spelled in Cyrillic:


АНА ИВАНОВИЋ

НОВАК ЂОКОВИЋ

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/24/2008 at 08:25 AM

Ana is so beautiful, nice and sweet. Serbia has a lot to be proud of, three top players. Ana is prove that you can be at the top and still be nice. Good luck to her in Miami. Miami should be great, all the top women will be there except Sharapova who seems to "hurt her shoulder" everytime she loses a match. The Queen will have to wait to get her revenge. Go Justine,world's #1!

Posted by Christopher 03/24/2008 at 08:52 AM

Just for the record, 99% of Americans have ABSOLUTELY no idea of the issues surrounding Serbia and Kosovo. They bear no ill-will towards Serbia because it simply never crosses their mind. This is clearly a much bigger issue in Europe (and understandably so).

Posted by Master Ace 03/24/2008 at 09:10 AM

Samantha Elin,
If Justine and the Williams Sisters do not win Miami, do you think Ana can win and pull off the rare IW/Miami(Tier I) double? Only Steffi Graf(1996) and Kim Clijsters(2005) have managed to do it. What made Clijsters,coming back off wrist injury, feat remarkable was she was unseeded

Posted by 03/24/2008 at 09:51 AM

"except Sharapova who seems to "hurt her shoulder" everytime she loses a match. "

I'm not buying it either...

Posted by Kenneth 03/24/2008 at 09:54 AM

It takes utter belief to post major wins back to back to back in the same week long tournament. Fish was awesome in his run, and the wins he posted were great. But Djokovic is playing Federer-esqe tennis at the moment, despite the brief let down in the second set. Even during that set, where he took a mental break and was broken, I never got the feeling that Fish would be able to close him out. Djokovic displays at the moment all the confidence one needs to win and keep on winning. If he defends his points in Miami, I see some major ranking disturbances on the horizon where Federer could fall to #3 with Nadal and Djokovic battling for #1. Clay can be brutal indeed to someone still recovering from a severe virus. Ask Henin.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/24/2008 at 09:55 AM

Master Ace, I think she has a great shot at it, she has improved so much from last year and she will be going in with a lot of confidence.

Posted by Master Ace 03/24/2008 at 10:39 AM

Kenneth,
Agree that Novak is playing like Federer at the moment coming up with big points at crucial time but he does not have the weaponry of Federer and extreme defensive skills as Nadal but he is solid in all phases which makes him a hard customer to beat. Even if he defends KB, I will be interested to see if he can keep this up on clay and beat Nadal,who is the undisputed King of clay at the moment.

Posted by becky 03/24/2008 at 10:46 AM

Djokovic is facinated with Wimbledon, he said once that to him that is the greatest tournament and he wishes he could win it. I think he will go after that one more than clay. On the other hand Rafa is just so good on clay.

Posted by Tony 03/24/2008 at 10:46 AM

O.K already! It is not only the Serbian fans that were roudy. Fish's fans were just as if not more roudy. And let us not forget Ouerry's fans. So if chanting for your favorite athlete is disgusting then an overall observation of fans should be made. Ofcourse we are seeing it more and more with Serbian fans because their athletes are winning. CHAMPIONS!!!
And please, that whole political views issue. These tennis players are doing the right thing. Staying out of politics. THEY ARE TENNIS PLAYERS NOT POLITITIANS. A perfect example right now is Obama and his pastor. Guilt be association, oh my god, please!!!! CONSERVATIVE LIBRALS
If there isn't any possitive to say about the Serbians, don't say anything and just let the kids play tennis. It's beginning to look good on them.

Posted by Dee 03/24/2008 at 11:09 AM

Ana proved me wrong as I picked Jelena in 3, then Kuzzy in 3. Take away the trophy in the picture above and a non-tennis savvy person would think she is just one of those tourists posing for a souvenir shot in IW, straggly hair and all. As for Novak, you picked the right photo, Steve. The look says it all. Focussed, hungry, determined to get there ―――> No. 1

Katja, thanks for the Cyrillic spellings. I would like to add Tipsarevic to the list of admirable Serbian tennis players. He played outstandingly fluid tennis vs Federer at the AO.

The drama at the top continues now that the new rankings are out. Federer has 6550 points, Nadal 5705 and Djokovic 5280. As Federer said before IW, it will be interesting to see how Miami plays out. Mardy Fish is in 40th spot with 790 points. Tsonga has gone up further to 12th spot with 1464 points. Tsongali is getting scarier by the week, a real threat to the listless ones Berdych, Gasquet, etc.

On to Maah-yaah-mee!

Posted by Master Ace 03/24/2008 at 11:43 AM

Dee,
Bring on the ATP clay season because this is where we really find out who is going to setp their game up.

Posted by Sunflower 03/24/2008 at 11:49 AM

I think is not good political issues in sports. I think sports should be get the coutries close, it is the meaning of Olimpics Games so in tennis should be the same.

Posted by anna 03/24/2008 at 11:58 AM

jon;
"Federer has a confidence problem" "you folks sicken me".
You know this for a fact ,do you, that Federer has a confidence problem.
I don't think anyone except Federer has the slightest idea what the 'problem' is.Could be confidence,could be fitness ,could be a bit of both since if you are not as fit you are not as confident.
You and everyone else has a right to their opinion,but not to put other posters down for their opinion.

Posted by M-life 03/24/2008 at 11:59 AM

Topboy & PM- If there were a Tibetian, or Darforian playing in the final yesterday, and fans from there contingent had hung up a sign that read "Free Tibet" or "Liberate Darfur," you can bet your's and your parents bank accounts that tournament officials would ask/make them to take the signs down.

Samantha- I'm with you on this one. Imo- there is know bigger prima donna, no player who feels and enjoys a sense of privlage and entitlement in the game of tennis today, male or female, than Maria Sharipova.

Christopher- I am an American and I am quite aware and knowledgeable about Serbia, their politics, their nationalism, and of Balkan wars of the early 90s. My parents know about the Serbia, my brother, and everybody I call a friend knows about Serbia as well. I can assure you that I and my community have an opinion. I think likely that 99% of the people you know, people of your community, your family, your friends, are ignorant, uneducated, and happily unaware; otherwise you would not have made such a general, sweeping, over-the-top statement in the first place. Clearly this is something you must believe. Speak for yourself Chris, not for those you don't know.

Tennis fans and anyone who knows of Ana Ivanovic, and Novac Djokovic ought to be proud of them, none more so than the country and people of Serbia.

Posted by Master Ace 03/24/2008 at 12:07 PM

M-Life,
Why do you feel that Maria is a big prima donna?

Posted by Kenneth 03/24/2008 at 12:34 PM

Master Ace,

Remember that even though Nadal has been undisputed King of Clay, Federer has been the undisputed 2nd best player on the stuff. Hell, he's got clay finals and semis to defend right along with Nadal, and if Djokovic can make headway on Federer, it may be mid-season before Federer can even garnish a win...he's still currently King of Grass, but this may be his longest streak without a title as well. This has already become quite a year, and they've yet to contest a clay Masters...

Posted by Maja 03/24/2008 at 12:57 PM

This is a great article...I'm a big fan of Djokovic...it's such a shame that those "small pack of wild youths" are acting like nationalistic garbage and those who are talking about Kosovo and politics right in this comments which should be about sport - they don't look much more civilized either.

Go Djokovic, you're the best, not because you are Serbian, but because you're talented young man who's born on this planet to make tennis the most beautiful sport in the world!

Posted by M-life 03/24/2008 at 01:02 PM

Master Ace- other than her actions, behavior, and words there isn't any reason.

Posted by Master Ace 03/24/2008 at 01:30 PM

Kenneth,
Good points in your post and with that, I am going to say:

Bring on the dirt.....

M-Life,
Prima donna has won 2 out of the 3 major tournaments(AO,Doha,IW) so far. Oops, 2 out of 4 as she is resting while KB is played.
Who is the best player in the WTA so far in 2008?

Posted by Sam 03/24/2008 at 01:41 PM

Master Ace - Are you the poster formerly known as patrick/Schwab?

Posted by M-life 03/24/2008 at 02:27 PM

Master Ace- Good point. No women has had a better season in terms of wins so far than Sharipova. I never said that she wasn't a great player having a great early season. I said she has a sense of privlaged entitlement beyond that which all other players don't enjoy that gives her the right to do and say what she wants.

May I point out that a day after her win in Doha, she withdrew in the 11th hr & 59th min. from Dubai with a mysterious virus, so that she could rest and be ready for Indian Wells. While at IW, she proudly proclaimed that "this is my house" as though all other players were mere guest, and that she was the honerary Grand Madame. Then after losing rather convincingly in the 3rd set to Kuznetsova, she withdrew from yet another commitment for the Sony Championships with yet another mysterious ailment, the ever available and always good in the clutch- "shoulder injury." She neither showed nor expressed any effects of an virul ailment while winning Doha, she likewise expressed not a word of shoulder injury or pain while cruising (for the most part) in the early rounds at Pacific Life.

While your response formed into a question may have some merrit, "Who is the best player in the WTA so far in 2008?" Your point is utterly immaterial, for one truth has absolutley nothing to do with the other.

Sam- there is no way that Master Ace the same person as Patrick.

Posted by zolarafa 03/24/2008 at 02:28 PM

I don't think Djoko and Ana should be cornered with political questions. Whatever they answer, they will offend a group, because the situation in that part of the world is so fragile.

I think Djoko has already reacted to some political issues and I don't agree with his views at all but I think it is not the time or place to discuss politics.

Let them be as athletes and let them enjoy their moments. . Btw, congratulations to both for the titles and to Serb fans.

Posted by Sam 03/24/2008 at 02:36 PM

M-life: Actually, they are the same - I just got confirmation from him on Bodo's blog.

Posted by M-life 03/24/2008 at 02:40 PM

Okay Sam. I never read Bodo's blog unless Steve shuts his down, but if you have confimation, then I guess I was wrong. Sure didn't look or "feel" like Patrick though.

Posted by Staz 03/24/2008 at 02:43 PM

I think that it's important that political questions like that of Kosovo are discussed and I think that both Djokovic and Anna, and all the tennis players come to that, have a right to express opinions about the political situations in their countries. If they choose not to answer then that's fine but I think that it's sad that they feel that questions like this can't be discussed openly just because the fact that they hold an opinion will offend people who hold a different one. I think that if people could discuss political issues in an open but civilised way then we'd all understand better everybody's points of view and, who knows, we might find that some people have some very good suggestions to make about what should be done. I don't think that covering up the problem except in the political arena is the answer at all.

Anyway, congrats to Djokovic and Anna, I can't wait for Miami to start. I think that trivalry is making this year one of the most exciting tennis years I can remember.

Posted by M-life 03/24/2008 at 02:57 PM

Sam-

Caught that. Good job to you and fifteenlove for your determination in uncovering the truth. But you deciphered that Master Ace and Schwab are one in the same, are you certain that they and Patrick are identical?

Posted by Sam 03/24/2008 at 03:07 PM

M-life: I already knew that patrick and Schwab are one in the same.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/24/2008 at 03:08 PM

Master Ace, let me help out with this question. The belief that "this is my house" proir to winning the title indicates a sense of entitlement. The last time I checked, you're ONLY entitled to a "house" or title after you win the final, not before.

Posted by mw 03/24/2008 at 03:20 PM

I couldn't believe when Maria said that...

She's been hanging around Andy Roddock too long...

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/24/2008 at 03:25 PM

Patrick in regards to how she's a prima donna who thinks she's better than other, let's look at some of the things other who know her have said. According to Natalie Dechy, Sharapova has the bad habit of walking by players she knows without speaking. Ivanovic on Sharapova. How are we different. "I'm nice and I talk to everyone". Patrick, these quotes have been talked about widely on the WTA site, Pete's blogs and this site, so this isn't anything new. Sorry, but where I come from this is considered rude and arrogant and the fact that she had the best 2OO8 doesn't "entitle" her to treat other in a way that she wouldn't like to be treated.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/24/2008 at 03:48 PM

And before one of her fans does it, let me help them out. Dechy, Ivanovic and anyone who criticizes her are "jealous".

Posted by Juan José 03/24/2008 at 04:16 PM


Hey Steve,

Just popped here to say that I enjoyed reading your posts throughout this tournament, and as you can imagine, I'm quite happy.

The momentum-stopper element had me thinking for a while. When you watch Djokovic play these heavy hitters, you get the feel that he doesn't really redirect the other guy's power back at them, but absorbs everything smoothly and generates "something" in a blink of an eye. You never know what can come back at you: a loopy forehand, a deep, deceptively innocent backhand, a flat forehand missile or even that weird slice he has. And of course, that's assuming the ball comes back at you, since most of the times he re-directs stuff to the open space anyway.

I think the reason why Djokovic and Nadal play such entertaining points on every surface is because they're both great at playing the ball to the open space. When they get it going, it really seems like there isn't a spot left on court that wasn't touched by either one of them. Still, one of the things that surprised me during their match is how much Djokovic was willing to pound Nadal's backhand side, while daring Nadal to take control of the point with that stroke. He does a similar thing to Federer. I thought he was going to play a more open match against Nadal this time, but you never know with this guy. I really don't think Djokovic has played Nadal the same way on any hardcourt match they've played.

Another thing that jumps at me these days is watching him return serve. He's getting to a Federer-like level of returning first serves, and I really don't think there's anybody on tour now that puts so much pressure on your second serves. It's not like he'll kill you with return winners: he lets you know that every time you throw a second serve at him, the ball will come back deep, and it will push you back. Which is not comfortable, of course. This will never show up in the stats sheet, but the way he starts putting pressure on you throughout the match with this aspect of the game alone is quite interesting to see.

Cahill called him the best returner of serve in the game after the Australian Open, and I thought that was a little bit too enthusiastic. However, thinking about that while watching him win Indian Wells kind of makes me want to agree with Cahill. After all, Killer's a decent coach, no?

Anyway, kudos for the coverage, and I hope to read more from you from Miami.

Long live Thelonious!

Posted by Master Ace 03/24/2008 at 04:46 PM

Juan Jose,
Congrats to Novak for winning the Pacific Life Open yesterday. Novak has the ability to win the big points. When he made those 3 aces against Fish down 0-40 in set 3, I felt like the match was over for Fish at that point and Novak proved so when he broke Fish in his next service game.

Samantha Elin,
Good explanation of the prima donna in your post at 3:08 PM and 3:25PM. Read somewhere on another blog that security at IW told the crowd, who waited hours for her, that she will sign autographs for only 15 minutes and no pictures while Jelena always took time to do both.

Posted by Billy 03/24/2008 at 05:20 PM

I think Ana played a great match. She is getting stronger and more expierienced every match she has. I also think Svetlana has to save her energy more for the final. She had an awesome tournament. The win over Maria was amazing, but I'd like to see her win a couple more finals.

Posted by Master Ace 03/24/2008 at 05:21 PM

Miami WTA draw:

http://tinyurl.com/38qkvn

Posted by Donal 03/24/2008 at 06:33 PM

But who was it that said that sports are our substitutes for war? How much better that the young Serbs at Indian Wells are holding up banners than engaging in actual war. Interesting that the moderator is not changing these comments (see PM's above) whereas during the Australian Open things got a little censorial under Mr Perrotta's watch. Great wins for Ivanovic (who is honestly becoming a little too cutesy-pie) and Djokovic (love how he gets on Federer's wick)

Posted by Christopher 03/24/2008 at 06:35 PM

M-Life, you write: "I think likely that 99% of the people you know, people of your community, your family, your friends, are ignorant, uneducated, and happily unaware; otherwise you would not have made such a general, sweeping, over-the-top statement in the first place. Clearly this is something you must believe. Speak for yourself Chris, not for those you don't know."

1. It's not nice to insult people on these boards. I didn't.

2. I've did substantial legal work with Ethnic Albanian Muslims from Montenegro seeking asylum in the US in the 1990's. I would consider myself fairly well informed about any number of issues surrounding Serbia and its neighbors. In the process of doing this work, I found that most of the people I knew at the time (Ivy educated New Yorkers) knew very little about Serbia, and that's when it was in the news almost every day.

3. You claimed, "your community, your family, your friends, are ignorant, uneducated, and happily unaware." My present community is Harvard University. There are many negative things about this community but ignorance and a lack of education are not among them. As for my family, my father wrote his MA thesis in the mid-1960's on the likelihood of ethnic strife if Yugoslavia were to break up into smaller states. My friends are primarily people with doctoral degrees. I say this not to be arrogant, but as I teach at a university, such a state of affairs is pretty unavoidable. They are highly educated, but by and large know very little about Serbia.

4. I certainly did not mean my original comment to be insulting to Serbia and its part of the world, but I stand by my assertion that most Americans know and care very little about Serbia. I would bet my last penny that 9 in 10 could not pick it out on a map. I most certainly don't think this is a good thing, but it does seem to be reality. It appears your community is different. Congratulations! Knowledge is better than ignorance.

You are, perhaps, correct that I should not speak of those I don't know, but plenty of studies of American ignorance about foreign affairs strongly back up my overall points. Perhaps you should have heeded your own advice in this case.

Posted by Eddy 03/24/2008 at 06:37 PM

M-Life, I believe Sharapova does have a shoulder injury. I don't think she's so concerned about what people think of her that she would fake a shoulder injury. But if she is faking, I don't give a damn anyway...but then again, I didn't think Sharapova would be arrogant enough to claim "this is my house". It's more like something Serena would say.

Hi zola, and newly out of the box Samantha Elin.

Thanks for the posts Steve. I always enjoy the posts where you are on site the most. By the way, contrary to what you claimed months ago, Concrete Elbow hasn't grown on me--I've just learned to numb it out.

Can't wait Miami guys! I don't always blog but I'm always following. Steve, will you be on site there as well?

Posted by Eddy 03/24/2008 at 06:47 PM

Christopher, I was about to say the only reason I know Serbia has problems is through tennis. But I guess you proved your own point. Americans reallly don't care. I can't remember even seeing a news article on this before, and I see headlines on a daily basis.

Posted by Branimir 03/24/2008 at 06:51 PM

It is SRBIJA, not Sorb-eee-Yhuh, you retarded, pathetic monkey face.

Posted by Sher 03/24/2008 at 06:58 PM

I actually like that Djokovic gets involved in matters he cares about, i.e. Serbian politics. It's very admirable.

Posted by Milan 03/24/2008 at 07:00 PM

good article.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/24/2008 at 07:08 PM

Hi Eddy, prior to the tourney in Moscow, Sharapova stated, "I'm l00% physically fit." After she loses, she complains of a "shoulder injury" Now clearly there is a contradiction in these two statements. Prior to losing to Kuzzy, when she was on a 15 match winning streak, there was no mention of her shoulder,but after she loses to Kuzzy, she claims another "shoulder hurts". Clearly there seems to be a connection between when she loses a match and when this alleged shoulder injuries comes up. I'm not saying she's the only player who claims injury after losing a match. I think a lot of them do it. I also think we have every right to call them on the contradictions in their statements. To me if you declare yourself "lOO fit" this means you have no physical problems.

Posted by Eddy 03/24/2008 at 07:10 PM

"I actually like that Djokovic gets involved in matters he cares about, i.e. Serbian politics. It's very admirable."
I am almost inclined to agree Sher. However, it would not be a wise one for an athlete to pose his political views especially if he is not at least as informed as the general public. Or unless he plans to help the situation somehow. I think he and Ana made the right choice not to speak on it on a day where they should just be allowed to celebrate their tournament wins.

Posted by Amit 03/24/2008 at 07:12 PM

Juan Jose/Steve,

A quick question to both of you about Federer's demise that most of the viewing public have come to accept. Don't you honestly
think it is rather premature to expect Fed's tennis to come
crashing because of Djokovic ? I didn't quite notice the same level of gloom and doom when Djoko lost at Dubai to Roddick.

We are talking about a guy battling the onset and after-effects of a serious virus and yet manages to reach the semis of a GS and a Masters. I would put Fed's fitness level at about 50% or so at the moment; just by looking at his sluggishness on the court (of course I have no insight into it). Does anyone seriously believe
that a Mardy Fish serving at 34% would even show up on a fully
fit Roger's radar ?

Aren't we jumping the gun a bit here ? I would like your opinion, given the insights you have into this.

Posted by Eddy 03/24/2008 at 07:21 PM

Samantha...true. I guess in that sense, almost all athletes lie. Players often hide minor injuries so their opponent won't try to exploit them. My theory is that Sharapova is bearing through minor pain in her shoulder, which physically and psychologically increases in magnitude when she loses. Nobody wants to have their shoulder hurt And lose too--if they are winning, however, they are often willing to bear through it while exercising the silence treatment. In which case she never was 100%. Or it could be that she just got the shoulder problem again this week. I don't want to overanalyze it. What do you think?

Posted by Eddy 03/24/2008 at 07:24 PM

Amit, Federer said Fish was playing great, which means Fish had to play well to beat Fed. To me that's a bad sign for Fed because he usually doesn't let those players beat him. If Fed says he is fine, that I am going by that.

Posted by Tkne 03/24/2008 at 07:31 PM

Mr. Tignor, I really enjoyed your article! Peter Bodo also writes with great insight and humor but I didn't appreciate "Hangover" for its use of negative cliches about the Serbs as a basis for his witticisms.

Unfortunately you can't ignore politics when it comes to this part of the world but I agree that the tennis players from Serbia are the best ambassadors of their country through tennis alone. But if they want to voice their opinions - it's their right.

Ana and Novak are great players and personalities and I look forward to watching them play for many years to come.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/24/2008 at 07:35 PM

Eddy, great point, I think the shoulder pain does increase physically and psychologically when she loses. When you're winning even if you're in pain, it's not as bad. My only point was to show a connection between losing and the increase in her "shoulder injury" Again, she's not the only athlete to blame a loss on an alleged injury. But I agree with most of what you said. I'm a little disapointed because I was looking forward to a match-up between her and Justine in Miami when each is playing at their best. I think I'm going to have to wait for the clay season.

Posted by 03/24/2008 at 07:40 PM

Maria could be re-tooling. Give her a break. I'd like her to be right there with Justine and Ana at the French. She could have a chance for two slams this year.

Posted by Amit 03/24/2008 at 07:44 PM

Eddy,

I have to disagree. In the presser, Federer was bending over backwards to credit Fish for the win. The fact is - Fish didn't play that well. The guy was serving at 34% for Christ's sake and he isn't exactly a Sampras with his second serve.

I have no idea what is going on, but Federer almost didn't seem to give a crap out there. Would like to know why that was.

Posted by Eddy 03/24/2008 at 07:53 PM

Wow...I didn't know the 34% was for his match against Federer. Maybe there is more than meets the eye. I don't suppose if there is more, Federer is likely to tell us huh...
"I have no idea what is going on, but Federer almost didn't seem to give a crap out there. Would like to know why that was."
Ditto Amit.
Samantha, with Sharapova out of Miami, Henin will feel like she deserves to be the no. 1 seed. Don't know if that AO beatdown is out of her head yet, and it probably won't be until she has to face Sharapova again. I felt sorry for her when that happened. Every year for the last few years, the AO is the slam that a player from the mens and the womens side gets to ambush. On the men's side however, they usually lose in the final. Cool beans.

Posted by Juan Jose 03/24/2008 at 08:03 PM


Thanks, Master Ace. I was really tempted to call you Schwab, but then I read how you came up with your new handle, so all I can say is Kudos. Those three aces are all I will remember from that match. When he went down 0-40, the last thing I thought was that he was going to pull out three straight wide serves. The only other person I remember doing just that was Federer, playing Nalbandian at the US Open, I think. I think Federer hit 4 or 5 straight, I can't remember exactly. Quite the thing.

Which brings me to Amit. Roger Federer is at a very strange juncture right now. This whole year has been strange. First he misses his only tune-up because of his virus, somehow survives a Performance Of A Lifetime by Tipsarevic (which wasn't that surprising. I've seen Federer pull those off quite a few times in the past few years. The only new thing is that he lost sets this time). Then, he crushed two of his favorite poodles (Berdych and Blake), and the stories kept coming in about how he feels perfectly now, how he's ready for a meeting with Djokovic, and how Djokovic will be lucky to take a set.

Turns out, he lost in straight sets for the first time in Ages at a hardcourt Slam, to a guy who later went to win the first two big tournaments of the year.

Now, how serious is his virus? I have no clue. All I know is that before every single one of his losses, the air is the same: all is right in the world, Federer feels ready, feels perfect, doesn't need match practice. Then he loses, and the virus comes up.

What I think happened is that he didn't really take into account what the Djokovic loss at the Australian Open meant, WHETHER HE WAS SICK OR NOT. In tennis, to get a convincing win against somebody, no matter his health, is a most positive thing for the winning party. The losing party can shrug it off, rationalize it or whatever, but the winning party just vanquished a desired foe. I always thought a big chunk of Nadal's confidence against Federer came when he beat him 3 and 3 in Miami for the first time. Sure, Federer claimed heatstroke that time, and maybe he was sick. But Nadal won in straights, and that gave Nadal an edge.

What happened is not that Djokovic now believes he can beat Federer. He already knew that, but had to prove it on a Grand Slam level. So that's checked. What Federer did not expect was that everyone else on tour was going to look at that and see a changing of the guard. Well, not everyone else, but everyone who in the past few years had been playing out of his mind against Federer, only to wilt in the big moments and let Federer escape with one of his vintage wins, where he doesn't need to play his best, and yet beats the other guy, who was playing at his best.

Murray at Dubai was just a rusty player against a not-rusty player. If anyone watched that third set, the only surprising thing that would come out of it is how easy it looked. Murray served well, granted. But not much else. He was never threatened.

Now we arrive to the Mardy Fish match. Fish is the perfect fit for Federer: big first serve, all-for-nothing mentality, and an obvious weak side. So that explains their 0-5 H2H. However, on this day, Fish was determined to go out swinging, and for once, Federer helped him.

How? I've grown tired to point out how mediocre Federer's second serve return is. Off both wings, against everyone. It's barely average. Just look how he hits it: short slice into the middle of the court. Or, what's more common, into the net. So on the day when Mardy Fish served at 40 percent, Federer didn't have the returns to make him pay for it.

So if Mardy Fish is decided to play first-strike tennis, and Federer lets him off the hook with easy short returns, you can do the math. At to that the fact that Fish was blasting a vast majority of things inside the court, so effectively that Federer didn't even have a look at counterpunches most of the times.

Djokovic beat Fish because he puts pressure on everyone's second serve. Simple as that. Federer lost to Fish because he doesn't punish anyone's second serve, and Fish didn't miss on almost anything.

Amy here says that it's a little early to project the rest of the year, and I agree. All I know is that had Federer won the Australian Open, Mardy Fish finds a way to lose that first set on Saturday. But none of those things happened.

And even if the worst case scenario happens, and Federer is titleless until Wimbledon, I think he's more than good enough to reach semis and quarters everywhere, so no need to fret about a free fall in the standings.

Why the Djokovic loss to Roddick didn't matter much? At the time, it was a good win for Roddick: he wanted it more than Djokovic, was rock solid in everything he did, and Djokovic really never found that extra gear that was needed in the second set.

Now, after Indian Wells, that loss means less, because Roddick lost to Haas and Djokovic won the tournament. Big tournaments determine everything, in the end.

Posted by Voks 03/24/2008 at 08:04 PM

Amit, isn't it obvious?

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/24/2008 at 08:06 PM

Eddy, it was a tough defeat for the Queen, and thanks for feeling bad for her.In regards to Sharapova, I'll give credit where it's due, she had an outstanding 2008. I'm not sure she can maintain that high level for the entire season. So it would have been interesting to see her face a Justine at her best. I don't think a clay match-up is as important as on the faster surfaces. I think people realize that Justine is better on the clay, but there are some questions as to who is best on the faster surface. I think Justine would have put those questions to rest in Miami. She has a 6-3 record against Sharapova, so it would have been an interesting match-up. Again, congrats to Sharapova for an outstanding year thus far. Go Justine, world's #1!

Posted by Eddy 03/24/2008 at 08:16 PM

Juan Jose, interesting. Intimidating analysis you got there. I wasn't sure if I would read it, but now that I have, I agree with it, except for the "All I know is that had Federer won the Australian Open, Mardy Fish finds a way to lose that first set on Saturday" part.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/24/2008 at 08:25 PM

In regards to Roger, I think he's in a slump and can play his way out of it. What's bad for him and his fans is that we're about to go into the clay season which I don't think will help him. He's a great clay court player, but he's only the second best clay court player. I think if he had lost to Novak it would have been worse because then there would have been some who could argue that Novak is matching him. But what is great about Federer is that he can lose twice to Canas and still dominate. I think the people who are counting him out are in for a big surprise. Good luck to him.

Posted by Amit 03/24/2008 at 08:44 PM

Juan Jose,

Thanks for the detailed response. By that token, shouldn't Canas and Volandri have choked away againt Federer last year ? He had won AO and Dubai convincingly when he faced them.


Posted by Juan Jose 03/24/2008 at 08:58 PM

Amit, I think Volandri was a fluke due to the Roche situation, and Canas is different than other players because he had already beaten Federer and had the confidence/knowledge that he could do so. It wasn't unknown territory to him. Plus, he came out of nowhere, prior to Indian Wells he was suspended, and then playing challengers and hadn't become recent fodder to Federer.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/24/2008 at 09:01 PM

Got to watch Dancing with the Stars, everyone vote for Monica tonight. She's in last place so she needs all the votes she can get. Ciao dudes, its been fun. Go Monica go!

Posted by Master Ace 03/24/2008 at 09:03 PM

Juan Jose,
Agree on Federer return of serve is not that great, he just blocks ball especially on Roddick. He beats Roddick 'cuz Andy does not attack like Fish and that gives Roger time to set up his variety of shots. Fish finally showed that you got to attack to beat Roger if you are not a top player like Novak,Rafa, and Nalby who can hurt him with other weapons and/or tactics.

As they say on to Miami. Speaking of Miami, where do you think Novak finish? Does he repeats like Federer did in 2005-2006?

Posted by andron 03/24/2008 at 09:05 PM

M-life: you may think of SharApova whatever you like. it just doesn't matter to her after all. i appreciate your opinion but can't agree. i'm just asking you for the 2nd time: Masha's name is spelled as sha-rA-po-va ( ШАРАПОВА ). since i'm russian, when i read her name - the second one is the stressed syllable, not the 3rd as non-russians read it. so to me your "sharIpova" looks pretty ugly. ponder that.
it's as if i write Chaki's name as Chickvetadze or Checkvetadze. you wouldn't like it for sure, though it's pretty close to how we russians pronounce Anna's name.

Samantha, you're so childish:)) keep bashing Maria, i'm starting to really like it. i guess, Sam changed my attitude (thanks, Sam. i really mean it, i'm not being cynical. and i'm sorry again for being rude that time, it was my bad)

it's Ivanovic's moment. she played great in the semis and in the final and fully deserves all attention and praise. why bring and bash Masha?

Posted by Eddy 03/24/2008 at 09:11 PM

Master Ace, it shouldn't take four years for players to figure that out then. Unless...hasn't he always blocked back his returns on strong serves?

Posted by CuMA 03/24/2008 at 09:20 PM

"These might sound like safe answers coming from an American athlete. But they have a different ring coming from Serbians. The faces and names that have come to my mind in recent years when I think of Serbia have been the ones I’ve seen on TV: Milosevic and Karadzic. Now there are new faces—confident, intelligent, youthful, successful faces—from Serbia to put in their place. That's "political" contribution enough in my mind. Djokovic and Ivanovic would be winners wherever they came from and whatever they did. Tennis, with its international, meritocratic nature, should be proud that it has provided the stage for them."
------------------------------------------------------

Steve, if the "faces", (or in another words "the comments by brainwashing news media") are the benchmarks that you judge and learn about one country (Serbia) then you have no idea what Serbia is.

What did you expect: Karadzic to play tennis? Or Nole and Ana to fight politically for Serbia?

I am glad Nole and Ana are smart enough to read where some jurnalist driving to with their provokative pollitical questions.

Beside: the name of Serbia nation is SERBS. And not "Serbians" as you wronlgy posted.

Other that that, good article.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/24/2008 at 09:34 PM

Andron, your post made me smile. I hope everything is well with you. Let me repeat what I said about Sharapova in my 8:O6 post, she has an outstanding year, and congrats to her, I guess you skipped over that part. No hard feeling and good luck to all the Russians in Miami. You have a lot to be proud of in Russia.

Posted by Master Ace 03/24/2008 at 09:42 PM

Eddy,
Think the players know about Roger's blocking serves but they are afraid if they were going to attack him, he will make passing shot after passing shot on them. This was missing against Fish on Saturday when Fish attacked the net on his serve and against Roger's 2nd serve. Federer may have been a step slow on Saturday but he loooked bad. The weather conditions are not going to help him either. IW has dry heat but Miami is very humid which will drain Federer even more recovering from mono. Also, Pagnini is going to work with Roger as he tries to gain his fitness back.

Posted by Juan Jose 03/24/2008 at 10:02 PM


Master Ace (really, any handle that makes me remember the three aces is worth writing over and over again), I think Federer's first serve return is one of the best in history. He either blocks it deep, or slices it deep. Either way, it's the most annoying thing for a big server, because he's pushed back, and he's faced with the difficult task of generating their own power to try to take control of the point. Roddick can't do this easily, so he suffers.

It's that second serve return that's pathetic. Almost never aggressive, and almost never puts him in position to gain the upper hand in a point.

About Miami, I think Djokovic is well positioned to make the semis, and then the final. His quarter is accessible, and he proved in IW that he's presently the best player on hardcourts. He's the favorite, but this is a big draw, tough field. You never know.

But being the reigning champion sure does help his confidence.

Posted by crazyone 03/24/2008 at 10:10 PM

Juan Jose: I'm a huge fan of Federer's and I hope he comes back with a vengeance, but I agree with you that he needs to do more on the return-of-serve. The weak short slice returns have been his modus operandi for the last year or so (wasn't he much more aggressive on the return earlier?) and they're what I see as the major weakness in his game. The Tipsarevic match stood out to me as showing how vulnerable he is to the second serve body serve. People talk about weakness of the backhand or even poor forehands but this is the real systematic weakness I have seen in Federer's game, and it's inexplicable, because we've seen him do more in the past.

BTW, Federer never cited the virus as a reason for the Fish loss, it's only speculation by fans. I didn't get to watch that match but he didn't have the obvious heavy sweating that he had in the Murray and Djokovic losses, at least not in the photos. I don't think Federer is at 100% physically--that doesn't mean he wouldn't have lost to Djokovic (or Murray or Fish), but I found the manner of the Murray loss especially due to physical condition more than anything else (and you pointed out the rust as well), combined with the fact that Murray had a good serving day. I didn't see the Fish match but I found it shocking and again an illustration that Federer needs to do more on return of serve. Though I thought he returned well against Mahut and Ljubicic?

Posted by twixx 03/24/2008 at 10:26 PM

Great post Steve! Talking of sport and politics, it's nice to see Serbia (I hope) replaced Milošević, Mladić and Karadžić for Đoković, Ivanović, Janković and Tipsarević.

CuMA: there's no consenus in English, as well in Serbian/Croatian for naming Serb(ian)s, Sloven(e/ian)s, Croat(ian)s, Slovak(ian)s etc. Steve wasn't being malignant in any way, so, you made a pretty stupid remark there.

Posted by Master Ace 03/24/2008 at 10:38 PM

Juan Jose,
Know that Federer is getting older and he is behind in his fitness because I think his movement is one of the best in the game today on all surfaces but Novak is getting to that level very quickly and is more solid than Federer especially on the defensive side.

Posted by crazyone 03/24/2008 at 10:51 PM

Djokovic's movement is excellent, and what I think is the best aspect of his game, but Federer's movement was as crisp as ever in the TMC. I don't think age can have that sudden an impact as to create a sharp decline in movement from November 07 to January/February 08. So I think it is more the falling behind in fitness training and the sluggishness due to illness that is causing the lack of movement.

Posted by crazyone 03/24/2008 at 10:52 PM

Christoper: in what capacity are you associated with Harvard, if you don't mind saying? I'm a grad student there.

Posted by Christopher 03/24/2008 at 11:31 PM

Crazyone,

I did my Ph.D there and am presently a visiting scholar. My wife also teaches there. What department are you in? Do you play tennis?

Posted by crazyone 03/24/2008 at 11:43 PM

Christopher: I'm in SEAS (which department are you in?), and I don't really play tennis but am hoping to restart beginner lessons in the summer. I'm sad that Harvard doesn't seem to offer the tennis courses that my undergrad institution did, but I think I've seen some offered by the city of Cambridge.

Posted by Juan Jose 03/24/2008 at 11:50 PM


crazyone: I don't think Federer has changed anything about his second serve return. He used to do this in the past as well, only that no one really found a way to take advantage of this. Other than Nadal on clay. Just watch any of his matches. The sequence goes like this: Nadal hits a slow, spinny serve into the Federer backhand, which Federer either slices short to the middle of the court or slices short into the net. Nadal has recognized this pattern and even talked about it. He even slows down his first serves to make it more like a second serve. Which should make no sense, but in reality, makes complete sense.

Federer did not lose to Murray because of his illness. He lost to Murray because he hadn't played a match for over a month, thought that was a great idea (just look at those articles just before Dubai), and then lost to a guy who's not exactly a world beater, but a solid top 15 player, with quite a few matches under his belt. In the bast, he was good enough to beat anyone you could face on a first round without much match play. But since last year, that's just not true anymore.

Because the precedent for Dubai was IW last year. After Dubai, where he was playing probably his best tennis in his career, Federer decided to take a mini break, film some commercials, and arrive in IW just in time. Interestingly, he mentioned a few months earlier that the secret to his success (or part of it) was to come to tournaments early to get accustomed to the conditions. I guess he thought "you know, I haven't lost a set in like, forever, I've destroyed everyone I've faced this year, I've won IW three times in a row. Who cares about getting there in time?" That's all right and well when you face Seppi, Garcia Lopez, Kunitsin or Hartfield. When you play a guy like Canias, with tons of matches and no fear, or Murray, with tons of matches and some fear, that's just not good enough anymore.

That's just the reality of the ATP tour now. You can't really stop playing tennis and hope for the best when you come back. Not against a top 15 player.

Posted by Juan Jose 03/24/2008 at 11:55 PM


Master Ace: He's not getting any younger, that much we do know. Agreed with crazyone: he was moving pretty decently at the TMC.

But when you can't follow your own fitness program (however minimal it may be), and you can't get many matches under your belt, it's just difficult to get rolling, ESPECIALLY if you are only playing Masters Series, and even Dubai, where the field is so loaded from the start.

I think that a best scenario for Federer at Miami would be to make the quarters and face Roddick. Playing A-Rod always seems to inspire Federer, and making the semis again would give him more confidence. The most difficult thing to get back after some sort of absence is the confidence you get when you play (and win) match after match, tournament after tournament. That rhythm you develop is impossible to get if you don't play for two months, then play one tournament, stop playing for more than a month, play one match, then play an exhibition, then play crappy people until a real test.

Posted by crazyone 03/25/2008 at 12:23 AM

Juan Jose: excellent assessment as usual. Though I think the break he took this year was due to illness and need to recover. As a fan, I didn't like his draw at IW because I felt he needed people who could actually play from the baseline and give him a challenge. Though it was still better than Dubai, obviously. Sounds like adding Estoril to his schedule may actually be one of the best decisions he made--the draw there isn't nearly as loaded as at some other places.

I'm also in total agreement with your characterization of Murray as a solid top 15 player but not a worldbeater. I've started to find his play fun to watch but I've argued with people at TW that there's no way you can put him in the same category as Djokovic. The consistency, results, and all-round skills just aren't there yet.

Posted by andron 03/25/2008 at 12:38 AM

Samantha,
:)) ok, i know you give her credits. but you're bashing her as well:)
you're not buying "injury", while i saw her serving poorly after the match against Bondarenko (8 df in the semis). you bashed her the whole last year for "injury". but i guess even you noticed the difference between "injured" Masha and healthy Masha. and 1 more thing: no player would claim him/her self injured before tournament, it's ridiculous to do that. you bash her for bringing up "injury" after every loss: 1. she never stated it as an excuse. 2. before 2007 she never did bring up injury at all.
did you see me bashing Henin for bringing up "knee injury" after quaterfinals of AO-08? while she was running like a rabbit behind the baseline for the whole match. exceptional movement it was.
i know, i know Justine has a 6-3 record over Maria, Justine is the best player, go Justine the world #1, Justine will have her revenge, Sharapova is the only mindless ballbasher in WTA, ugly ballbashing should be gone. sorry if i forgot anything.
all right, i promise this is the last time i'm talking to you about "injuries":) i just really hope it's not injury this time, and it's just a preventive move of her team in case she felt uncomfortable with the shoulder (esp. considering the horrible 2007, for her and for her fans 2007 was horrible, i can understand that you've been singing and dancing all the way). cheers, i think Justine wins Miami, i will be rooting for Henin (i really mean it), Chaki and Sveta.

Posted by Juan Jose 03/25/2008 at 02:04 AM


crazyone: You know, it might not be a bad idea to start filling up the schedule with some smaller tournaments, no? I don't see a downside to it: anyone would want Federer to play their rinky dink event, they'd probably give him extra money for it. He plays below average opponents and wins finals. Can't be bad for the ego. Plus, he's barely played any (just Basel, I think), so everything counts for the rankings, which is a definite must since he could face heavy point losses later in the year. I really don't see how this is a bad thing.

About Murray, I'd say that bundling him with Djokovic after the 07 Australian Open was quite accurate. Djokovic had more titles, but all were quite small, and both had lost to the top 2, with Murray losing in 5 to Nadal while Djokovic got killed by Federer in straights. But after Indian Wells, Miami, Djokovic has been in a different league. Murray is yet to reach a MS final, a Slam QF, and his biggest tournament is, drumroll please....Marseille. Although I don't think that's even bigger than San Jose. I mean, they're the same age, they were touted as a package, but one made the leap, while the other teases but hasn't delivered. Yet.

For me, his second serve is way too ordinary for a top 10 player, his first serve is excellent when it goes in, but far from dependable. Way too flat, hit or miss. He plays smart, but seems less and less prone to take the initiative with his weapons. And he fired a coach who could have taken him to the next level. So very smart, but not very smart.

Who knows, he might make it at some point. Anything can happen. Steve Darcis can come out of nowhere, win a tournament, and then lose to someone named Levy whose ranking I don't even remember in the Miami qualies. Feliciano Friggin' Lopez reaches the final of the biggest rinky dink on Earth (!!!), plays well (you can see it coming), dominates (it's definitely coming), then gives the match away (and there it is. To the surprise of absolutely no one). Murray has won two tournaments, Federer is yet to reach a final. Nadal makes the semis of Australia, and is made to look like a junior in a straight sets defeat to a guy who looks more like Cassius Clay than anyone in his own family. Michael Llodra, perennial curiosity and excellent doubles player has 2, not one, but 2 tournaments in the bag, one of them being quite a prestigious rinky dink. Andy Roddick tries to frighten the competition by announcing a cross-hemisphere flight to Dubai (and scares no one), and follows it up by beating almost everyone and taking home a giant silver ship. He then follows that up by losing to *gasp* Tommy Haas, who's a pretty good hardcourt player, but who just a few weeks ago had given Diego "The Cat 2, not to be confused with The Cat 1" Hartfield his first ever hardcourt win. Mardy Fish, that legendary slacker with a big backhand and a, hmmm, "erratic" forehand destroyed Roger Federer on a hardcourt that Federer dominated for 3 straight years in an hour and three minutes. David Nalbandian makes a credible impression of the world's best tennis player at the end of last year, seems to be on his best shape ever at the Australian Open, and then loses to JC Ferrero, a good guy who once was quasi excellent, 1, 2 and 3. He then wins his home tournament for the first time, plays hard for two straight weeks (!!!!!), gets to another final, and loses to Nicolas Almagro, 6-1, 7-6. He then shows up to Indian Wells looking like he camped for two weeks outside an intersection that has a Wendy's, a KFC, a Bojangle's and a Hardee's on each corner. Rafael Nadal puts up some of the best results he's ever posted on this particular hardcourt swing, and yet people keep writing him off for everything, even though there are roughly 2300 points he can get almost automatically, and as of now hasn't self-combusted. Lleyton Hewitt, competitor extraordinaire loses a match in a third set tiebreak to...you guessed it, Mardy Fish. Who wears the most ridiculous pair of shorts this side of Nadal, and who somehow convinced a smoking hot woman to marry him. It was quite funny to see her nod in denial while her man was putting on his exhibition against Federer, like she was thinking "I had already resigned myself to being married to an underachieving jock who's won squat and can't beat anyone that's any good. This has to be a nightmare".

That's tennis in 2008 for you. Fun to write about, and even more fun to follow. Anything can happen. Absolutely everything can happen (*)

(*) except a Marat Safin comeback (please stop it and retire), another Ljubicic "I'm the second best player in the world right now" comment (please retire, too), a Nalbandian Slam (not while having breakfast at the grill), Nadal losing a match at Roland Garros (definitely not going to happen), Tsonga realizing that in order to be an ass, you actually have to have accomplished something (and that looking like the greatest boxer in history doesn't grant you that right, either), James Blake winning a big tournament (never going to happen), Fernando Gonzalez never winning anything of note (too crazy and too bad a backhand), David Ferrer never hoisting big silverware (too nice, too self-loathing), and Andy Roddick beating Roger Federer (Sorry, A-Rod, not even the Devil could give you that one).

Posted by Oyama 03/25/2008 at 02:27 AM

OMG have you seen the Miame draw. interesting

Posted by Svetlana 03/25/2008 at 02:53 AM

There a small pack of wild youths had taken over a section of the cheap seats and unfurled the red, blue, and white flag of Serbia (“sorb-ee-yhuh!!!”).
What a shallow observation. So what this needs to tell us? That if these fans were occupying less expenssive seats ultimately meant they had no class and maneers? I would say that this was rather impressive. Insteade of taking money from their modest college accounts and spending it on drugs or other less admirable causes, these Serbian fans decided to come to "the middle of nowhere" to give support to their young countryman and countrywoman. Many of them drove for hours to be there.
Ana and Novak are excellent players with the bright future and also they are wonderful representatives and ambasadors of their country.
P.S. Novak does not need the haircut? After all it has nothing to do with his playing.

Posted by Dee 03/25/2008 at 05:14 AM

Master Ace, agree. Can't wait for the arduous claycourt season to begin. When the dust settles would it be as before, the undisputed king of clay reigning supreme?

Juan Jose, I enjoyed reading your detailed analyses and summaries, especially your 2:04 AM post. By 2300 automatic points for Rafael Nadal, how about a breakdown on where the points will come from? (sorry am at work but will probably do the research later)

What haircut for Nole? He could do with a few more pounds onto his lanky frame, so his face does not look "funny" as someone up there commented.

Posted by anna 03/25/2008 at 05:35 AM

Roger is a rythm player.His rythm is based on excellnt footwork and timing and lots of matches played.If you look at Rogers history you see he plays his best when he's had plenty of matches,and not too long a break.As someone above said winning matches gives you confidence too.Roger just needs a run of solid match-play.By the time he gets to Hamburg he should be starting to play better.That's what happened last year (although he wasn't sick last year).Hope he's well enough to really go for the French Open and Wimbledon after.

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