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Too bad for Li Na and Andy Murray! January 31, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Sport, Tennis.
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What a fantastic weekend of sports.  I’ll start off with the biggest news — the Australian Open.

I’m not much of a tennis player (the fact that I won two consecutive ‘Most Improved Player’ awards at school and still suck says it all) but I do love watching it, especially the Grand Slams.  Unfortunately, both players I was rooting for lost.

Women’s Final

Sadly, Li Na won't be able to celebrate Chinese New Year with a Grand Slam title

In the women’s, Belgian Kim Clijsters beat the sentimental favourite, China’s Li Na in three thrilling sets (3-6, 6-3, 6-3) to claim her first Australian Open title and her fourth GS title.  As a friend of mine told me recently, GS finals usually disappoint, but this one really didn’t.

Clijsters has long endeared herself to Australians and earned the nickname “Aussie Kim” because she once dated Lleyton Hewitt (when he was the world’s top player and did toilet paper ads on TV) — and managed to keep that nickname long after they broke up because she actually wins (kinda like how Russell Crowe is Australian when he wins Oscars and a New Zealander when he throws phones).

Li Na is also a fascinating story because she’s the best tennis player China has ever seen and will probably inspire a whole new generation of Chinese tennis players.  She’s funny and charismatic too, which is a bonus.  At 28, Li is probably heading towards the twilight of her career, but the current world no. 7 is certainly not done yet.  She had actually defeated Clijsters in a tournament just before the Australian Open and won the first set of the final in dramatic fashion.  However, in the end Clijster’s poise and experience guided her to victory.

I would have loved to have seen Li take out the trophy because it would have been quite historical, and more importantly, I find it extremely embarrassing that Aussies latch on to “Aussie Kim” simply because she’s a winner.  But then again, when the media makes a big fuss because Bernard Tomic didn’t get completely wiped off the court by Rafael Nadal (well, it was in straight sets), I guess they do need someone to root for.

Men’s Final

Sadly, this unappealing expression will continue for Andy Murray

It was great to finally see a GS final that didn’t involve Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal (as much as I admire both men).

But this was an intriguing matchup.  Novak Djokovic was searching for his second GS trophy (having won the Aussie in 2008) and Andy Murray was looking for his first (having lost two finals to Federer before, including last year’s Aussie final).  The two came up the ranks together as juniors and have been friends forever.  With Federer declining and Nadal a potential timebomb because of injury concerns, this was the perfect opportunity for one of them to step up.

My wife dislikes Djokovic because, let’s face it, he looks like and sometimes acts like a bit of a dick.  But I actually quite like him and thought he has embraced the occasional villain role quite well.  And he’s one heck of a player too.

However, on this occasion I was definitely going for Murray.  I felt sorry for the guy after he lost to Federer twice in previous finals, despite being a legitimate chance in both matches.  He, like Tim Henman before him, must have been feeling the pressure of all of Great Britain on his shoulders, so I wanted him to finally relieve that tension.  Besides, he’s too good of a player to never win a GS.

But this one turned out to be competitive but one sided.  Perhaps it was the experience from winning one before, but Djokovic just seemed so much more comfortable than Murray, who served poorly and failed to execute the big shots.  Luck certainly played a part in it — Djokovic’s shots were landing on the line and Murray’s were hitting the net.  In the end it just wasn’t Murray’s day (6-4, 6-2, 6-3), and it looks like that perpetually frustrated, constipated look on his face will live on for yet another GS tournament.

Nevertheless, a good start to 2011 and a great end to the week!

PS: I wouldn’t feel too sorry for either loser though.  The winner took home AUD 2.2 million while the loser got AUD 1.1 million.

Federer crushes Murray in 2010 Aussie Final; why don’t I like it? February 1, 2010

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Andy Murray's face says it all: kissing the trophy like that was a total dick move on Federer's part

It was just another day at the office for Swiss maestro Roger Federer, who annihilated a game Andy Murray at the 2010 Australian Open Final in three sets, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11).  With the victory, Federer extended his Grand Slams record to 16, which is unprecedented in the history of men’s tennis.

Is there any doubt now that Federer, with two more Grand Slam titles than his nearest rival (Pete Sampras with 14) with many more competitive years left in his career, and having completed the career Grand Slam last year by capturing the elusive Roland Garros title, is the greatest of all time?  The one and only argument against him is his record against Rafael Nadal (ie if Federer isn’t even the best player of his era, then how can he be the greatest of all time?).  I don’t buy that for more than half a second.  If you still don’t believe it then you should check out this article (written before Federer won the 2010 Aussie).  Unless a guy comes along and starts smashing 230km serves with his dick, I’m always going to argue that the Fed Express is the GOAT.

But enough suction on Roger Federer for now.  I feel gutted for Andy Murray.  I don’t even like the guy that much, and I was hoping he would win.  It took me a while before I realised what that meant: I don’t like Federer anymore.

This is beyond strange.  For years I have supported Roger Federer and cheered him on in every tournament.  It was great watching his effortless play as he waltzed on towards history.  Even when he went up against players I liked more (like Michael Chang…just kidding), there was a part of me that still felt good when Federer won.

When Nadal came onto the scene and beat the crap out of Federer, I felt sorry for him and wanted him to win more than ever.  When Djokovic and Murray started beating him too, the same feeling rushed over me.  And that sobbing exhibition after losing the 2009 Aussie Open broke everyone’s heart (including mine and except Nadal’s).

However, somewhere between winning that 2009 French Open title to tie Sampras’ 14 slams and breaking the record at the 2009 Wimbledon, Federer started to lose his charm.  To me, anyway.  The hair flick after every point that used to be cool suddenly turned dicky.  His pre-match and post-match comments, which I used to classify as ‘confident but honest, proud but humble’, suddenly became ‘smug, arrogant and annoying’.

Almost overnight, I wanted other guys to beat him.  Murray, Djokovic, Roddick.  Either of the Williams sisters.  Anyone that may play against him, really.  And when Del Potro finally did it in the 2009 US Open Final against all odds, it was the first time I didn’t feel bad for Federer.  And yesterday, when Federer disposed of Murray in convincing fashion, it actually irritated me.

What could this possibly mean?  Has Federer become too dominant, too successful for his own good?  Is this bad for men’s tennis?  Does he need a Tiger Woods-style incident to bring him back to Earth?  (And let’s face it, there’s a pretty decent chance of that happening)

Please explain.

Federer massacres Hewitt (again) before Australia Day January 25, 2010

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Did anyone seriously expect a different result?

For the 15th consecutive time, Roger Federer has ripped the hearts out of the Australian public by annihilating Lleyton Hewitt –  6-2, 6-3, 6-4 – in the fourth round of the 2010 Australian Open.

On the same day Sam Stosur was handed a similar fate by Serena Williams (6-4, 6-2) on the women’s side.  A day before Australia Day.

You have to hand it to Hewitt though.  Despite not having beaten Federer since the 2003 Davis Cup, every single time he faces the man he talks it up as though he has a legitimate chance.  And the amazing thing is that every time, he has us believing it, even if it’s just for a split second.

There was a glimmer of hope in their latest match when Hewitt finally broke (back) Federer’s serve in the eighth game of the third set.  But Federer broke again immediately and sealed the match with ease.

The fact is – no matter how hard he fights, no matter how tough he is mentally – the physical gap between Hewitt and the top players of today is just too much.  He is still capable of cruising through the mid-tier players and beating the lower top-tier players.  Once in a blue moon, he could even beat a top top-tier player if mitigating circumstances are present (eg injury).  But in a grand slam event, Hewitt will need all the stars aligned to ever get close to winning again.

Nevertheless, even though he was just handed another drubbing, Hewitt is optimistic as he is returning to the top 20 in the ATP rankings.

“Obviously I’ve been able to work my ranking back up.  I feel good about that.  I don’t have a lot of points to defend really through to Wimbledon, the quarters there.  So I feel comfortable I can do some damage. The way I hit the ball tonight, I still think I could have taken a lot of other guys still left in the draw. That’s probably a little bit more frustrating.”

I think this is why, despite his less-than-ideal personality, Aussies still want to support him.  No matter how ridiculous his assertions sound (I mean, come on, does anyone think Hewitt can still beat the likes to Djokovic, Del Potro or Murray, let alone Federer and Nadal?), we want to believe Hewitt because he seems to honestly believe in himself.  And that’s an admirable trait.

Besides, who else are we going to support?  Bernard Tomic?

2010 Australian Open Predictions January 19, 2010

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Look, for some reason I can’t get revved up for the Australian Open this year.  I don’t know why.

It’s already started and I can barely force myself to follow the results, let alone watch it on TV.

Nevertheless, I sought advice from a tennis expert (okay, he’s just a friend who really likes tennis and has been quite spot on in the past, except when he puts money on it) on what he thinks will happen.  Here is what he said.

Who do you see coming through on the men’s side?

I expect Murray v Nadal in the QF for an epic match.  I also see Roddick making it to the SFs. I think Del Potro is not prepared enough to go far.

Davydenko or Verdasco to get through in the top half, but the winner is out of Nadal, Murray or Roddick.

What about the great man Federer?

As you know, I am as anti-federer as I have ever been now so I am hoping his GS semi final run ends here.

What about the ladies?

Elena to beat Henin in the next match.  Can’t help but think that if Elena didn’t have tennis player arms and not stayed in the sun all day, she’d be quite attractive.

Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.

Davydenko wins ATP World Tour Finals; did Federer tank? November 30, 2009

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Davydenko wins!

I wish I was there to witness it.  Nikolay Davykendo, one of the best players on tour without a Grand Slam, took out the last big event of the tennis calendar, ATP World Tour Finals, by defeating US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro in the final, 6-3, 6-4.

When the tournament began, few gave the No. 7 (out of 8 men in the draw) a chance, and he stumbled out of the gates, losing to Novak Djokovic in his opening round robin match.  However, he managed to regroup and defeat Aussie Open winner Rafael Nadal and French Open finalist Robin Soderling to advance to the semi-finals.  There, he finally beat French Open, Wimbledon winner and World No. 1 Roger Federer for the first time ever (in 13 career meetings).

So congrats to Davydenko, one of those underrated guys who plays consistently well but never seems to be able to pull out the big games against the top players.  That said, he had actually won all 5 of his championship matches in 2009, the last (before this one) coming at the Shanghai Masters, which he needed to qualify for the end of year tournament.

Did Federer tank his match against Del Potro?

I’d just to take a step back for a moment back to the round robin section of the tournament to talk about Roger Federer (who finished the year ranked no. 1).

The ATP World Tour Finals has a strange (not not overly complex) system where the top 8 players are split into Group A and Group B, with the top 2 from each group advancing to the semi-finals.  As each player has 3 matches in the round robin, it is not uncommon for players to end up with identical win-loss records.  Where there are 3 players with identical records (as was the case this year in both Groups A and B), the tie-breaker provides that the 2 players with the highest percentage of sets won will advance.  If that does not resolve things, then it’s the top 2 with the highest percentage of games won.

In his final round robin match, Federer lost to Del Potro 6-2, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3.  This meant Federer, Del Potro and Murray all finished with a record of 2-1 in the round robin round.  All three men also had identical set records of 5-4.  This meant that the tie-break came down to the percentage of games won.  Federer ensured he would go through by winning 44 from 80 games (55%), thanks in part to a couple of 6-1 sets in his wins against Verdasco and Murray.  Del Potro, the other man to make it through, won 45 out of 88 games (51.1%), knocking out Andy Murray, who had won 44 out of 87 games (50.6%).  If Federer had taken just 1 more game against Del Potro, Andy Murray would have been the one to make it through instead.  Just 1 game!

Though the conspiracy chatter has been relatively subdued (and mostly in jest), there are those who believe Federer tanked the last 3 games of his match against Del Potro in order to knock Andy Murray out of the tournament.

In the final set, with the score tied 3-3, Federer fell apart, losing 3 straight to end the match.  However, it was the way Federer lost those games that began raising eyebrows.  As a furious friend told me after the match in an email entitled “Federer is a disgrace”:

“I watched the entire match, and he played entirely different in the last 3 games.  He double faulted, charged the net kamikaze style (ala Andy Roddick) and got passed, dumped return of serves into the net…I don’t understand why he did it but he is not a sportsman.  So upset by this!

I admit, it does sound a little far-fetched that Federer would do this, and even more far-fetched that he could purposely lose in a way that would knock Andy Murray out.  Nevertheless, the way in which Federer played to end the match is highly uncharacteristic, especially the way he botched his service game when down 3-4 in the final set to hand the match to Del Potro on a platter.

It is probable that before the match Federer and his team would have done some calculations to see what he and the other players in his group needed to advance (and remember that Murray’s game finished first).  Federer admitted that he knew he had to win the second set or else he would be knocked out (which explains his celebratory fist pumps after winning it 7-6). As he said himself:

“I knew I couldn’t lose in two sets because I knew that was going to knock me out.  That’s why I was very excited.”

However, if Federer did indeed make such calculations, then he must have also known that even a 0-6 third set would not have stopped him from advancing to the semi-finals.

Federer’s post-match words are somewhat telling:

“I asked Juan Martin myself at the net, ‘Did you make it or not?’  He said, ‘I don’t think so.’ … Of course, you got to feel sorry for the guy who didn’t make it.  At the same time, Del Potro beat the No. 1 player in the world in the group, and I guess also deserves to go through.  There’s only two places, and that’s the way it is.”

Notice how Federer had only questioned whether Del Potro had made it – which means he had no doubt that he had already made it through himself (ie confirms calculations were made).  And notice how he suggested that Del Potro deserves to go through (instead of Murray) because Juan Martin had beaten the ‘No. 1 player in the world’ (ie himself).  Maybe it’s just my imagination (and it’s not the image of Roger I want to have), but it’s not out of the realm of possibility, is it?

If Federer did indeed attempt to tank his match against Del Potro, even just a little, then I suppose you could say karma struck back.  With 12 straight victories against Davydenko, you could be forgiven for thinking the match was in the bag.  Who would have thought Davydenko would finally get him on try number lucky 13?

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