Miami highlights the latest stop for both the ATP and the WTA this week, and after two days with the main draw the top seeds are not enjoying life right now. Upsets are raining fast and furious, including #2 Rafael Nadal on the men’s side along with #8 Gaston Gaudio and then #13 Lleyton Hewitt; Justine Henin-Hardenne, the #3 women’s seed, went down in her first match, and countrywoman #2 Kim Clijsters chose to keep her company. Whatever is going on in Miami, they can’t blame the heat. The weather here is about as strange as it was last week in Indian Wells: these normally cosy hot spots are socked in with some unaccustomed cold weather. Maybe this is throwing the players off their games. Isn’t this the time that people are supposed to start rounding into form? We may have to wait a bit.
On Saturday, we were treated to a couple of decent matches, starting with Kim Clijsters taking on Jill Craybas. Craybas is one of the older veterans on tour, she is over thirty now, so, for her, fitness is of absolute importance. Her shots are steady if not spectacular, but her movement is impeccable. She was playing one of the better moving women on the tour, but today was not Clijsters’ day. She looked very sluggish out there, even a bit pudgy. Let’s hope she is not keeping the Williams’ sisters company in those all you can eat buffet lines. Clijsters is usually the one who gets marks for her movement and fitness, but today it was all Craybas, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5. Clijsters made no excuses in her post-match interview; she maintained she was fit and ready to play, but for my money she looks about five pounds heavier, and her feet were just fixed in cement.
For the second week, Rafael Nadal exited early, at the hands of his mentor and friend Carlos Moya. Carlos seems healthy now, maybe he can get further along here in Miami. How does it feel when you mentor someone as great as Nadal will be, and your own game is starting to decline? I for one have wondered how Carlos handles that, but maybe we won’t have to ask him that probing question today. He was victorious, 2-6, 6-1, 6-1. In fairness to Nadal, his ankle was not quite 100%, and it affected his ability to push off and run for shots.
Tim Henman is the other male player making a name here upsetting guys. Marat Safin was the first to go, in the wee small hours of the night after a lengthy rain delay. In the next round, Henman did himself one better in taking out #13 seed, Lleyton Hewitt, 7-6, 6-3. A few weeks ago Henman was being written off, as newcomer Andy Murray of Scotland continued to work his way into the hearts of Brit fans with his win over Hewitt in the San Jose final. But Murray is now struggling, he has gone out early in tournaments since San Jose, and it is Henman who is playing very well.
James Blake continues the fine play he showed us last week at Indian Wells, beating up his first opponent, Carlos Berlocq, 0 and 0. Life was starting to look like one big bagel for Berlocq anyway. He took out American Newcomer Donald Young in a qualifying match, 0 and 0, then succumbed to the same fate himself. Blake is in the top ten now, at #9 in this tournament, and he would most probably love another shot at Roger Federer in the quarterfinals.
Federer’s first match was against Arnaud Clement yesterday. Federer looks sharper than he did last week, he did not seem as tentative. He was striking the ball with confidence, but with a goodly sprinkling of errors along the way. He won the first set 6-2, then proceeded to let the Frenchman back in the second set. They ended up in a tiebreaker, where Roger seemed to do a mental walkabout of sorts, losing 7 straight points. He managed to make the correction in the third. An over-correction, we could say. He must have gotten mad at himself, and now proceeded to offer up the Frenchman – not a croissant – but a bagel instead. Final score, 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-0.
Federer’s really big match is Monday night, against Tommy Haas, who has pushed Roger considerably in their earlier meetings this year. Even though Roger is playing better this week in the early rounds, I think Tommy may pull an upset off tomorrow night. If he doesn’t, then Blake fans will get a chance to salivate over another Blake-Federer match-up looming in the quarterfinals.
Today, Sunday, ESPN2 served up Maria Sharapova, the #4 seed, who took on Maria Camerin, a svelte Italian who is even blonder than the Russian and whose game nearly got her into a third set. But she faded, and Sharapova doesn’t give anything away. She saw Roger Federer squander his two-setter into a three-setter, and said “No thank you, I can handle things fine in two sets.”
Sharapova really fires herself up for the big points, and with those piercing shrieks of hers she’s almost becoming a force of nature at times on the court. Maybe she could be an actress, an action female character, her level of aggression might translate well on the big screen, who knows. Lara Croft, move over.
Svetlana Kuznetsova had her hands full with Martina Hingis today, before beating her in what sounded like three great sets. We don’t know from this front though, since ESPN2 stayed on for only two hours, then left us stranded in the middle of this hard-fought match. They have also this week neglected to show any of Nalbandian-Berdych, another three-setter, or of Marcos Baghdatis going down in three as well to #5 seed, Nikolay Davydenko. And did anyone living see Moya and Nadal?
When are the sporting networks going to realize that if you want to draw more TV viewers to tennis, you actually have to show the tennis?
And to show it even if, God forbid, there are no Americans to be seen. Alright, so Davydenko is nearly invisible in terms of tennis flash, but Baghdatis has enough personality for a handful of Nikolays, and Nalbandian is #3 here for heaven’s sake, and Berdych is a Fresh Face on the block, and they deserve a viewing too. Sorry to say, most of the best of the tennis these days is not being played by Americans. Maybe the networks should stop praying for rain and get on with it.
One of those finer non-Americans is Amelie Mauresmo, playing great tennis still in this new year, moving quietly and with no trouble through the draw.
And Instant Replay is doing it’s thing for the first time, officially, and so far so good. We think. Like Roger, let’s stay neutral, at least through the finals.
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