Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - The Best Surprise
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The Best Surprise 03/21/2010 - 9:53 PM

Jj Has your NCAA bracket officially been busted yet? Whatever the damage, I doubt it was as bloody as what went on in Indian Wells over the last 10 days. It wasn’t just the champions—Jelena Jankovic and Ivan Ljubicic, two players whose long-term trajectories had been pointing downward—who stunned us, either. From the moment I arrived 10 days ago to find out that Justine Henin had lost in her opening round, this was a tournament that overturned expectation and precedent on a daily basis. Among other stunners, Marcos Baghdatis beat Roger Federer for the first time; Kim Clijsters folded with a commanding lead in a third-set tiebreaker; and Ivan Ljubicic ignored his collective 4-12 record against Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick long enough to beat both for the title.

Even on Sunday morning, if forced to predict the winner of the women’s final, I would have taken Caroline Wozniacki. She hadn’t been scintillating this week, but she had looked intimidatingly competent. While there wasn't much between her and Maria Kirilenko as far as their games went, Wozniacki ruthlessly exploited what difference there was to win 0 and 3 in the third round. Then she ran Nadia Petrova and Jie Zheng into the ground in third sets—love and 1, respectively. And she’d been in total control of her straight-set semifinal with Agnieszka Radwanska.

Then, just when Wozniacki appeared set to make a Premier-level breakthrough, her competence deserted her. It began, from my perspective, in the first game of the final. Jankovic, in the middle of a standard crosscourt rally—the kind that Wozniacki had been playing and grinding through and winning all week—belted a forehand up the line for a winner. The anticipated dynamic had been broken. Wozniacki began to try to hit her ground strokes with more depth. She sent two balls over the baseline. She lost that game, and lost her equilibrium with it.

The most obvious problem was with her forehand. She missed it in every way and on every big point. Returns into the net, rally balls wide, passing shots long, you name it, when she needed a point, Wozniacki’s forehand was there to lose it for her. It appeared to me that her contact point was all over the place, that she never settled on how she wanted use it. Asked about her forehand later, though, she denied it had been a particular problem. “I just think that I was making too many errors,” she said. You can’t argue with that.

On the other hand, this was the best I’d seen Jankovic play in many months. She did a lot more than just shovel the ball back over the net, too. She won points with her serve out wide in the ad court. She reached for a nice poke drop-volley winner. She knocked off a difficult overhead while drifting back close to the baseline. She even fooled Wozniacki with a cleverly deceptive short-angle crosscourt loop forehand behind her.

Where did this shot, and this match, leave Wozniacki? She became No. 2 in the world this week and looked strong for much of it, but she didn’t rise to the moment in the final, and she didn’t seem all that frustrated about that fact afterward. She also lost to a player who, if she wants to continue to be No. 2 for any length of time, she’s going to have to beat. Wozniacki was upbeat in her presser; if she were a couple of years older than her 19, I would say she was too upbeat. Asked how she tried to change the momentum today, she didn’t have much to say. “I wanted to get her moving a bit more,” Wozniacki said. “But it’s the way it went, and it’s OK, you know. I just need to get back on the practice court, and there’s always next week.” That’s the right attitude for now. But it won’t always be.

As for Jankovic, it’s nice to have her back in the winner’s circle. For today, at least, she kept the drama-loving J.J. under wraps and played it calm and straight. She didn’t beat the Williamses or the Belgians on her way to the title, but she was back to playing clean tennis and opening up points with her famous down the line backhand, a shot that I’d seen less of from her over the last year. She got herself to match point by belting one for a winner after a long, moonball-heavy rally. It even sounded good, coming off her racquet with a deep pop. Wozniacki didn’t expect it and the crowd didn’t expect it, either. But that's what this tournament was all about.

Il ***

Who did I predict to win the men’s final, you ask? Can you guess? Come on, I’m sure you can—that's right, Andy Roddick. I thought that Ljubicic would be forced to leave his comfort zone at the baseline more often than the steadier Roddick, and that the errors he would commit doing this would be the difference. I also—big mistake—looked up their head to head and saw that Roddick had a 7-3 edge.

What’s ironic is that Ljubicic won this tournament, whose slow hard courts make it a showcase for defense and solid all-around play, with one very old-school power shot: his serve. Down love-40 early in the first set, he served his way out of the hole, hitting an ace at 30-40. In the first tiebreaker, he took advantage of a botched, inexplicable serve and volley by Roddick on the opening point by following up with a service winner  for 2-0. More crucially, at 3-2, he hit a nasty sliding second serve that handcuffed Roddick on his backhand side.

By the start of the second set, Ljubicic’s serving dominance had Roddick shaking his head, then hanging his head, then pointing to the back of the line to indicate the exact spot where he was placing his bombs time and again. Ljubicic used a strong serve to save a break point later in the set and finished that game with an ace, and, as he had against Nadal, he turned it up even more in the breaker. He opened with a service winner and hit two aces to go up 6-2. At that point, though, with his first Masters shield one swing away, Ljubicic suffered a serious brain cramp. He tried a drop shot that he’d later call “stupid.” He threw away another point by hitting his second serve as hard as his first serve and netting it. Then he made the score 5-6 by ill-advisedly stopping a point to make an incorrect challenge—he was hoping more than playing. Ljubicic didn't need to hope: He stepped up at 6-5 and hit a perfect serve to the corner for the title.

This wasn’t an event that was indicative of tour trends. I’ve talked about the continued rise of overall competence at the expense of creative risk-taking, and that's true for both tours. But Indian Wells is an extreme example. What wins here doesn’t win at Roland Garros or Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. In 2009, Andy Murray’s retrieving skills made him the top performer over the course of the Indian Wells/Key Biscayne double, but he didn’t end up reaching any major finals.

Instead, this year's tournament ended with a one-off: An overdue and well-deserved triumph by a respected member of the game’s second-tier. After the final, Ljubicic sat in the press room next to the tournament’s shining abstract trophy and spoke about what winning it meant to him. “Looking at my career, I did feel like I was missing it,” he said. “It gives something special to your career. It's another thing after Davis Cup, Olympic medal, and two Top 10 finishes and now a Masters 1000, so it makes everything look—look better, actually.”

The day before, Ljubicic had proclaimed forthrightly his desire to finally win his first Masters title, after losing in three other finals. “It would mean the world to me,” he said. “When I see my name on the court, to have that little shield [the Masters-winner shield] next to my name, it would be nice.”

Sometimes, with all the money on offer in tennis, you start to wonder if it's the primary motivator for most of the players, or at least for the guys without legitimate shots at winning Slams. It would be understandable if it was, but it's not a fun thought for fans to consider—we want to believe in the glory of our game. When we hear a guy like Ljubicic recount his career achievements—none of them monetary—with so much pride, we can believe in it. We can believe that the players love the game's history as much as we do. Ljubicic's appreciation is a function of his age and his background, of course—he’s 31, and he knows all about not getting everything he wants. But hearing him talk so lovingly about that little shield was the best surprise of all this week.


Posted by John Culhane 03/21/2010 at 10:14 PM

I like Roddick, but I had to smile at Ljubicic's win. He's gracious, intelligent, and witty in his way. And a pretty good tennis player, too.

Posted by pount 03/21/2010 at 10:16 PM


Posted by tina 03/21/2010 at 10:16 PM

Well, I just might be the happiest fan this side of the Atlantic! Bravo, majstore!

Posted by hokiejake 03/21/2010 at 10:25 PM

when JJ won a 3 set battle earlier this tournament, I thought to myself, this will be what finally gets her back on track-I hope I'm right. Too bad for roddick.

Posted by Yolita 03/21/2010 at 10:26 PM

I'm so glad for Ljubicic!

He so deserves this title!!

Posted by ADETAHER 03/21/2010 at 10:28 PM

that'S amazing Ivan

Posted by roderick 03/21/2010 at 10:29 PM

I'm smiling. Congrats Ivan. First Croat win:) Firsts are always smile-worthy.

Posted by Sid Bachrach 03/21/2010 at 10:43 PM

I'm not sure it's the first Croatian win. Goran Ivanesevic won alot of events. I'm assuming he won some Masters series tournaments. I don't know for sure but assume so.

Posted by Heidi 03/21/2010 at 10:46 PM

Amazing. It really was a great week. I have to say, I'm glad to hear Ljubicic's name back in the mix, and I hope he has some success at the majors this year. Good for him! And who knows, maybe Jankovic will have a resurgence as well.

Posted by Bibi 03/21/2010 at 10:53 PM

"Ljubicic's appreciation is a function of his age and his background, of course—he’s 31, and he knows all about not getting everything he wants"

That is so well written and about summarizes it all.

I am sincerely glad that Ivan won.
Congratulations to Jelena and Ivan.

Posted by adman 03/21/2010 at 10:55 PM

can't believe roddick finally gets away from playing federer or nadal at the end of a tourny and he still loses. Tough loss big guy.

Posted by Bibi 03/21/2010 at 10:57 PM

And also, perfect article title.

Posted by Dean 03/21/2010 at 11:04 PM

Cannot believe how much useless spin Roddick puts on the ball. His pseudo attacking game does not translate well to powerful ground strokes, thus allowing players to rally with him all day long.

Posted by Dan 03/21/2010 at 11:26 PM

Beatiful final paragraph, as always. Very inspiring.

Posted by victore14 03/22/2010 at 12:13 AM

well said. it was a very fitting end to a wild tournament. I am very happy for JJ and Ivan. One should get back on track and start dreaming about Grand Slams. The other is closing on a great career.

Posted by jojo 03/22/2010 at 12:18 AM

Didn't it seem like Luby played a lot of slow balls? I remember him as a solid striker of the ball.....seemed to me in both his semi and final that he purposely changed paces a lot....hit some really slow balalls, and even moon balls, then just stepped up with the big backhand once in a while......I think it made him more consistant. Many commentators talk about players who use spin, but it seems like a lot of guys are making their bones using change of pace as well.....Murray, and Djokovic being two others.

Posted by Darko 03/22/2010 at 12:22 AM

Bravo Jelena and Ivan! Happy for both of you.

Za raliku od tebe mnogi Srbi ne mrze kao ti.

Posted by Paul Murphy 03/22/2010 at 12:26 AM

Poor Roddick. His ground game has no penetration, he merely stands there and rallies and generally just hopes the other guy misses.
And when he comes up against an opponent with a serve as good as his he's clueless.
Serve and volley on the first point of a tiebreak against a guy with the quality of Lujbicic's passing game?
Way to go Andy.
I know the surface at IW is slow but Lujbicic was able to hit some high quality winners and not just rally.
Roddick had a first rate forehand once, where is it?
It's been buried in an avalanche of topspin and caution.

Posted by Zox 03/22/2010 at 12:43 AM

Bravo Jelena i Ivane!!
Balkan Wells again.

Jelena, a confidence booster to get you back on the right track.
A convincing performance!

Posted by Madhur 03/22/2010 at 12:53 AM

This has indeed been quite a surprise. I expected Roddick's serve to rescue him when it matters, but that was not the way the Tennis Gods planned it. This has been one of the most eventful tournaments.

I loved the last paragraph, it is truly heart-warming to look at it from your perspective.

Posted by Jesse 03/22/2010 at 01:01 AM

I always feel compelled to point out when your writings have been less than desirable. For instance, when you constantly write about Sharapova even though she hasn't been much of a contender at a slam recently. But I will say this article is one of your best. Great comparison on monetary success vs the glory of tennis history. Please give us more articles like this Steve. Thanks.

Posted by Stewart 03/22/2010 at 01:04 AM

Agree with Paul about Andy R - although not completely. There were some excellent rallies here where Andy used the spin to create severe angles and run Ljub about for some winners. But it is depressing to see someone so capable with his forehand retreat into a Murray-like backboard shell.

Unlike Murray, Andy HAS a great forehand, we saw it early in his career, we saw it at Wimbledon last year and we saw it bigtime in the 3rd and 4th sets of his loss to Marin Cilic when it was go big or go home time. Roddick's biggest weaknesses are his mediocre service return, where he primarily blocks the ball back, and his (quite) poor sense of anticipation, which shows up again in his serve return, but even more importantly, in his net game. His decisions about when to approach, what shot to come in behind and where the passing shot is going are easily the worst part of his game, and the bit Federer has ruthlessly exploited in the past.

Great win for Ljubicic though, esp to come through over Djok, Nadal AND Roddick, well deserved. And I was incredibly excited to see Jelena Jankovic showing winning form and playing so well - that's the form that took her to #1 in the world, and it's refreshing to see her so solid.

Posted by larrleah 03/22/2010 at 01:16 AM

" wins here doesn’t win at Roland Garros or Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. In 2009, " and so it is a measure of Fed's greatness, in his heyday, that he did precisely what you state is not done: in 2004 he wins IW and Hamburg and Wimbledon and USO ... in 2005 he wins IW and Miami and Wimbledon and USO ... and in 2006 he wins IW and Miami and Wimbledon and USO

Posted by Elly 03/22/2010 at 01:18 AM

Bravo Ivan!!! We were rooting for you in our household and we are so pleased with your win. Well done. On the other hand, Jankovic and Wozniacki getting to the final is an indication of how weak the women's field actually is.

Posted by eric 03/22/2010 at 01:25 AM

well said, tignor. they should get rid of bodo and have you write twice as much.

Posted by Ian 03/22/2010 at 01:35 AM

Congratulations Ivan and Jelena!

Posted by Ray T. 03/22/2010 at 01:43 AM

What a "Goranesque" win for Ivan today ! Just like Ivanisevic at Wimbledon, he finally wins his 4th Masters Series final upsetting one top seed after another.

Two years ago Darren Cahill suggested that Ivan's ranking went down after he got a lucrative contract to switch from Babolat to Head. His wife also had complications during her pregnancy, and Ivan admitted that it did affect his game and schedule. He fell as low as #75 last June, but has been climbing back steadily ever since winning Lyon last fall and finishing the year at #26. Ivan had already beaten other Top 10 players like Simon, DelPotro, Tsonga, and Verdasco on his way back last year, so the old man definitely belongs in the Top 20 where he should have always been the last couple years anyway...Welcome back Ivan !

To Sid Bachrach...Ivan is the first Croat to win at Indian Wells, but Ivanisevic has indeed won 2 Masters Series (Stockholm and Paris) before. It's an easy check for any player on Wikipedia:

Posted by Ray T. 03/22/2010 at 01:47 AM

Correction: Ivan finished 2009 as #24.

Posted by Andrew 03/22/2010 at 01:53 AM

I wouldn't beat up on Andy Roddick too much for this match. He won exactly as many points as Ljubicic today: the only problem was that the Croat got to win the last point in each set. Just rearrange the point order and we're talking about Roddick's steel under pressure, new found fitness, and Ljubicic's inability to rise to the big occasion.

Nice writing, Steve. It was fun working with you this week.

Posted by Chieko 03/22/2010 at 03:13 AM

What a great article. Thank you very much.

Posted by Geellis 03/22/2010 at 04:43 AM

part of the reason a win here doesn't mean much at the GS, is the different format for the men (2/3 v. 3/5). Do you really think Nadal loses to Ljubi in best of 5? If so, watch the match again. Ljubi was out of gas at the end of that match already. He loses 1 and 0 in the 4th and 5th sets in a 3/5 format. That's why this doesn't translate to the GS. Furthermore, the mighty Fed hasn't been doing much at these Masters events over the past three years but, boy, he sure has got the GS thing down. He's lost to tons of people at ATP 1000 events who he's gone on to crush in GS (think Murray, '10 AO final). Nuff said. So Ljubi will celebrate his win here, which was awesome, but he understands, as well, what it all means and what it doesn't mean.

Posted by Freddy 03/22/2010 at 06:09 AM

Steve, I always loved your predictions, because they are funny. Please, do not give up. We need more lough in this World. Kidding a little bit, of course, but you know how good you are at predictions. On the other side, you are very good journalist and tennis analyst. Go on! Regardless of that I believed that Ljubicic, after beating Djokovic, and Jankovic, after seeing her playing better and better, could win this tournament, everything was strangely unpredictable.

Posted by Peter 03/22/2010 at 06:36 AM

happy for you ljubicic, you're number one after seeing the final! and a croat as well=)

Posted by proud2bcroat 03/22/2010 at 06:59 AM

This is great sucess for Ljubicic, I am so glad that he won and I hope that he will be in such good form when we play against Serbia in Davis Cup.

Posted by Aube,spring alone is a blessing! 03/22/2010 at 07:24 AM

Congratulations to both Ivan and Jelena... but before I start betting my money on JJ being back to previous form I'll wait to see what it translates for as to consistency,after all she won Cincy last year and went to sleep again for a while,I believe that more and more upcoming players will give her trouble because they have the same type of game as her,that is to say send the ball back to your opponent side of the court,that's no much for GRAND SLAM excellent results!!!
Good luck though and welcome back to the winner circle,hopefully you'll start smiling again!!!

Posted by Mr. T. 03/22/2010 at 07:26 AM

Steve - Tremendous coverage of the tournament. One has to feel good for Jankovic and Ljubicic - two players that must have gone into the tournament not expecting what happened. Both are very hard workers - it is always good to see someone not at the top win one for a change. And thanks for the terrific blogs - you made the matches come alive. You have our permission to take a week off.

Posted by Larry 03/22/2010 at 07:55 AM

Ljubicic - A mediocre winner for one of the most mediocre Masters 1000 in history. If I was the Indian Wells' tournament director, I would be furious.
Jelena - She saved the credibility of the women's field at the very last minute. She also proved that Wozniacki is nothing more than a good top ten player.

Posted by Master Ace 03/22/2010 at 08:28 AM

"Bravo Ivan!!! We were rooting for you in our household and we are so pleased with your win. Well done. On the other hand, Jankovic and Wozniacki getting to the final is an indication of how weak the women's field actually is."

Good for Ivan and Jelena to win the title. As far as how weak the WTA field, can we say the same thing about the ATP field despite the Top 4 playing? Also, Ivan was seeded 20 while both of the WTA finalists were seeded 2 and 6. Jelena was number 1 in 2008 and Caroline is making to finals consistently only to lose to former number 1 these days.

Posted by ricardo 03/22/2010 at 08:29 AM

I do love Jelena ... amazing legs

Posted by Colette 03/22/2010 at 08:31 AM

How about a Bravo! for another (wonderful for us Rafa fans) surprise - Nadal and Marc Lopez winning the doubles.

Posted by Babe 03/22/2010 at 09:03 AM

"But hearing him talk so lovingly about that little shield was the best surprise of all this week."


Posted by Babe 03/22/2010 at 09:09 AM

Well done, Ljubi-I was very HAPPY 4 U!

Posted by maedal (vamos rafa!) 03/22/2010 at 09:11 AM

I'm very happy for Ljubi, one of the players not Rafa whom I've always had a soft spot for. Steve, this tribute to him glows. I especially like the closing lines. Thank you.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/22/2010 at 10:22 AM

From my living room seat, I'd say the best man won, hands down. I've always liked Ljubicic, but this week he showed some real class and a fighting spirit that quite frankly I wasn't certain he possessed. He's an intellignet, thoughtful person and a fine player, and I'm very happy that he came through. He was also extremely gracious to Roddick in his acceptance remarks. Very classy.

Posted by fedfan 03/22/2010 at 10:28 AM

Very nice. I was happy for both winners. Ljubicic's serve obviously was working well, but I was struck by how hard he seemed to be hitting the ball, relying more on the brute strength of his arm than racket-head speed, or at least that's how it looked on television.

Posted by fedfan 03/22/2010 at 10:33 AM

jojo, yes it did seem that Ljubicic was deliberately slowing things down, and it worked. In his match with Nadal he seemed to be forcing Nadal to play at his pace. Roddick, who normally seems a quick,impatient player, also seemed content to plod along a Ljubicic's stately pace.

Posted by streams 03/22/2010 at 10:34 AM

Thanks Steve for your more regular than normal posting this past week, it really made IW from a distance much more fun than just reading match news. Keep up the good work and I hope you love your job!

Posted by md 03/22/2010 at 11:06 AM

a nice article that paid homage to a nice guy who won at last. It also cheerfully ignored that IW appears to the tournament none of the top players could be bothered winning. I got the feeling the elite regarded the tournament as one if they did ok that was fine but they sure as hell were not going to dig in deep to win. The same will probably go for Miami. These tournaments mean nothing to the top players. The weather is good, the money is fine but the real season starts on the clay. This part of the season is a bit like the post US Open and pre Masters part of the season, lesser players win because the top guys are taking it relatively easy. The only difference is that IW and Miami mean less than the Indoor season as the Indoor season can at least be regarded as some form of preparation for the Masters Finals (or whatever they are called these days). The organisers of Rotterdam, Dubai, IW and Miami can look forward to many years of sub par performances by the top players, as these tournaments in the grand scheme of things just do not matter.

Posted by Eugene 03/22/2010 at 11:19 AM

>>> Posted by md
>>>These tournaments mean nothing to the top players.

Right! Even though Nadal hardly to beat another top player for almost a year, he is sure not interested to beat tier 2 player. Just bring him Federer, and he will show us !

Actually, this is perfect strategy. From now on, whenever I loose in my club, I just will tell that I am not motivated enough, unless I play Federer, or at least DelPo.
For anyone else, please, just don't bother ...

Posted by independent 03/22/2010 at 11:37 AM

@md, understand your point, however, here are the former men/women winners in Miami over the last 10 years...all except 1 of the women was in the top 5 when they won. Even if you go back further, others like #1 Steffi Graff were consistant winners in Miami. Not sure about the other tournaments but easy to look up. Maybe going forward top players may not perform as well at IW, Miami and Dubai, but that has yet to be a reality in Miami.

2009 Andy Murray Viktoria Azarenka (played Serena in the final)
2008 Nikolay Davydenko Serena Williams
2007 Novak Djokovic Serena Williams
2006 Roger Federer Svetlana Kuznetsova
2005 Roger Federer Kim Clijsters
2004 Andy Roddick Serena Williams
2003 Andre Agassi Serena Williams
2002 Andre Agassi Serena Williams
2001 Andre Agassi Venus Williams
2000 Pete Sampras Martina Hingis
1999 Richard Krajicek Venus Williams

Posted by Game Lover 03/22/2010 at 11:38 AM

Hello everyone,

Like both the first poster and Slice-n-Dice have allready pointed out: Ljubicic is intelligent! Smarter then Roddick, imo.

And if you add Roddick's poor return and Ljubicic's serve (that I had initially picked as a model among all, last year), there you have it.

Posted by CL 03/22/2010 at 11:52 AM

Steve - you often really do write superbly . Especially like the phrase, "intimidatingly competent" re Wozniacki. Apt, very perceptive and wonderfully expressed. And funny.

Andrew - yes, but it DIDN'T go the other way. You theory is just a bit in the 'if wishes were horse, etc...' I don't meant your personal wishes of course, just the overall sense of what you wrote. Very few matches turn on the zero number of points that separated Andy and Ivan yesterday, but many, many matches, especially when top players face each other, turn on very few points. That's the game. Winner takes all.

I think the poster who commented on Andy's overall tennis lack of anticipation made a very good point. Off court, Andy seems 'smarter than the average bear,' and funnier as well, but his ON court intelligence I often let's him down. He can be quite smart about using his serve, but the rest frequently eludes him.

Anyway, good for Ivan and JJ. JJ will probably add another wing to her house.

Posted by meilisa 03/22/2010 at 12:23 PM

very good JJ.
go jj.....

Posted by Douglass Graem 03/22/2010 at 12:56 PM

The majesty of his measured strides, the cool remaining when misfiring, the calm confidence radiating out of his face - Ivan, the role model per excellence!
There is as much depth in him as height.

Posted by SR 03/22/2010 at 01:32 PM

I was there too and thought the men's final was an excellent match from both sides. Ivan just played really cleanly, served big at the right time, upped his level in both tiebreaks and was really clocking his backhand down the line, both during the rallies and for outright winners. I'd forgotten just how good his backhand is...he doesn't hit it with the same velocity or flair as Gasquet, Fed, Haas, Gonzalez, etc., but it is a VERY pretty and cleanly hit shot.
Andy would have had an excellent chance had the match gone to three, but honestly, from the way Ivan was playing, I would have picked him even in three. And of course, both post-match speeches were excellent. It was clear just how much the win meant to Ivan, in particular - he just glowed and it was such a wonderful moment when he thanked his family.
It's funny...I've been to Indian Wells several times now and always enjoy it enormously. Yet, after Rafa lost we almost decided against driving down. I think it was a function of our incredulity over how crazy the draw had turned out. I mean, NO one predicted Roddick v. Ljubicic and Jankovic v. Wozniacki. (And as a huge Rafa fan, I really wanted to see him!) And yet, as soon as we got there, lulled into being by the mountains and the palm trees, I was reminded that every big tournament has a story and that the story can be written in the most unexpected of ways. You captured that beautifully, Steve.

Posted by CaliforniaAce 03/22/2010 at 01:38 PM

Two points for me here:

1) I completely disagree with those saying the IW women's results show a lack of quality for the whole field. It's actually USO 09 and AO 10 which would show that point, IW 10 is a step in the right direction. The recent two grand slams featured two women just barely back from retirement mowing down the field, one winning it all and one losing in the final. That speaks poorly for the rest of the field. (Can you imagine this happening on the men's side? There is no man who could take a year completely off, come back, and advance past the 4th round.) However, IW 10 shows that it still takes time, and rightfully so, for players on the comeback trail to reach the top. And the presence of Jankovic and Wozniacki in the final is very good, showing that variety, craftiness, strategy, quickness, endurance, and mental toughness are indeed key factors in the women's game and that it's not all about mindlessly blasting every shot as hard as you can.

2) For all the talk of Nadal dropping to #4, he will reach #1 again this year by August or September. Some errant forehands against Ljubicic notwithstanding, his form was the best of the top 4 ranked players by far. Keep in mind that he has few points to defend at the French and none at Wimbledon. Federer will not be able to defend all his points.

Posted by Orla 03/22/2010 at 03:10 PM

Congratulations to J.J and Jlubici and to they clothing brand, is to much coincidence that they used the same brand of clothing...:)

Posted by TennisRone 1000 03/22/2010 at 03:37 PM

Hi all.....enjoyed Steve's take on the finals. Pretty spot on....i think it's hard for any of us to disagree with his comments and his capturing the ultimate essence of this tournament experience.

As mentioned a couple of times here....Roddick's tennis IQ just neutralizes his natural physical weapons at times. It's hard to root against him b/c he's really a character and mostly seems to "get it". But he makes these finals sometimes and you just scratch your head wondering how he loses some of these matches against an opponent he may match up well with.

It will be interesting to see how both JJ and Wozz follow up this performance. The rest can't hurt Justine, Kim, and Vee (is Ree playing IW?). Caro is at a point where it seems difficult not to envision her at least making the QF of any tourney she enters. JJ I kind of feel the same way....unless she gets an unlucky draw.

Have a good day all!

Posted by stenelli 03/22/2010 at 03:52 PM

You picked the wrong Croat for the men's win Steve. You were at least correct by nationality.

Posted by larrleah 03/22/2010 at 04:06 PM

well of course GS are different from Masters, that's stating the obvious. Nor does it diminish the point made, that Fed, IN HIS HEYDAY, could win the sequence of tournaments that Steve suggested could not be done. And take a close look at the Nadal semifinal: Ljubicic not only outplayed Nadal but outtricked him on at least 2 points in the tie breaker.

Posted by Ronald 03/22/2010 at 09:37 PM

Yay Lubi!!! By the way, do other fans spell his nickname with an "i" or a "y"? Lubi or not Luby...? That is the question.

Posted by tina 03/22/2010 at 09:38 PM

@Darko - I was happy for both Jelena and Ivan, same as you. What's your problem?

Posted by Ronald 03/22/2010 at 09:41 PM

Oh and congrats to you JJ as well. I wanna see you smiling while you are playing defense again. Oh and through in some splits as well. Steve calls you a drama queen but I think you are just crazy fun.

Posted by JohnC 03/22/2010 at 11:10 PM

CaliforniaAce, your appreciation of the points situation is a little optimistic to say the least. Some points to consider:
1) Roger now 11,035 and Rafa 6,800
2) Rafa is defending 3,280 points on clay, Roger 3,810, so even if Rafa cleans up and ends with say 4,000 and Roger loses around 2,000 (about the worst-case scenario for Federer and best for Nadal), then the gap has only been closed by around 2,500 points.
3) Roger may not win Wimby either, but does anyone realistically think he won't make the final (losing 800), while the chances of Rafa making the final are rather less assured, I would have thought, but a semi seems safe (if the knees are still working), which still leaves Roger ahead.
4) Haven't factored in Miami or Halle (Roger) or Queens (Rafa), or what damage Nole (who is currently comfortably always on the opposite side of the draw from Roger) may do to Rafa's claycourt resurgence.

All in all, the sequence of events to get Rafa back to #1 seems to me deeply improbable.

Posted by ActionFlunky 03/23/2010 at 12:26 AM

Ljubicic's victory, in my eyes, made this tournament a little more special than it otherwise might have been. Much as I'm a fan of Fed and respect Rafa, another Masters shield for either wouldn't have seemed very career-altering. For a guy like Ljubucic ... well, that shield and that abstract trophy mean as much to him as a first Slam to a younger player, maybe even more given Ljubicic's advanced age.

The semi-ironic thing is it came at the expense of Roddick, who may not have many Masters shield victories left in his own bag, let alone another Slam title.

Anyway, surprising tournament to say the least, and going back to Tignor's March Madness allusion, if someone had asked me last week at what was more likely to happen -- Northern Iowa knocking off Kansas or Ivan Ljubicic winning IW -- I would've chosen Northern Iowa.

Posted by Darko 03/23/2010 at 01:59 AM


Sorry, I tought you are someone else. My bad.

Posted by JA 03/23/2010 at 02:42 AM

Nadal looked alot better to me in IW, much more aggression, closer to the baseline and FH working really well and a close loss to Ivan in three sets in SF.
All in all, this was best I have seen him play in last 6 or 8 months.

Posted by Peter 03/23/2010 at 04:41 AM

Ivan Ljubicic the "Kisser" (poljubac=kiss)

Posted by GameSetMatch 03/23/2010 at 08:55 AM

Congrats to Ivan and Jelena, respectively! Dunno about you guys, but i love JJ's physical fitness, and as Steve pointed out, she got her signature shot back - winner down the line with a backhand parallel ;) she looks good for the rest of the season... ;)

Posted by tina 03/23/2010 at 09:06 AM

ok, Darko, nema problema. I support all Serb and Croat players.

Ronald - as long as you get the j in there (LJUB-) it hardly matters if you use an i or a y at the end. But to call him Lubby or Lubbi is sorta like calling someone named Janet "Jane".

Posted by Well Left 03/23/2010 at 12:15 PM

Fed took a 'no show' at Washington last year, so he'll be able to pick up points in August, when Rafa typically starts showing some wear and tear. Rafa's climb to #1 will occur when Fed lightens his load, as a matter of course.
2010? nah.
I predict Fed will be off the pedestal, for good, the next time he steps down. That could be 3 more years, after he reaches 20 major wins. Hopefully he won't cry about it.

Posted by CL 03/30/2010 at 08:19 PM

Steve - I have thought a lot about the whole 'to declare/to not declare an injury' without coming to much in the way of a conclusion. Other than working within the 'if you show up you are fit to play,' only, sort of flies in the face of reality. Sometimes. Of course, the record books will never show if a player was injured/ill; nor should they. But if one of the two players on court has an injury, not seeing it, not talking about it, in the day to day discourse about the game seems silly to me.

To avoid a Fedal war, let's use Davydenko as an example. Turns out the guy had been playing his way through several tournaments with a broken wrist. Not broken in the sense he had a bone breaking through skin, but broken nontheless. Do we ignore that in assessing his less than stellar results in the last few tourneys since the AO? Or do we simply factor that in as ONE aspect upon which a match might turn? Seems crazy to me not to do that latter.

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