Monthly Archives: February 2009

Leftover Feelings From Melbourne

Before we launch into the tennis season, I have to get over my feelings about the Australian Open.

2009 Australian Open: Day 14

I’m almost ready to get on with the rest of the tennis season. will crank up next week with online coverage of the women’s event in Paris and the men’s event in Rotterdam meaning that I can now say goodbye to TVAnts peer to peer pirated broadcasts which never worked anyway because I was too lazy to upload any footage of my own. That’s why it’s called peer to peer: you get back what you give.

Our writer Mike McIntyre will be in Dubai covering the women’s event this month when he’s not snowboarding down the indoor slopes at Dubai’s ski dome or, who knows, riding up a glass elevator to share a Turkish coffee with Dubai resident Roger Federer. We’re pretty excited about that, but first I’ve got some leftover feelings to spill.

Last Sunday Melbourne time wasn’t the first time Roger cried after the final at the Australian Open, but it was slightly different this time. They weren’t tears of joy on the shoulder of the legendary Rod Laver, they were tears of despair as his shot at the “greatest of all time” appears to be slipping away.

Give a slight nod to the new Plexicushion courts that were slow enough to produce one of the best clay court-like semifinals of all time between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco. Rafa’s epic 2005 final against Guillermo Coria in Rome was the longest match in that city’s history and it was 5 hours and 14 minutes long – yes, exactly the same length as the Rafa-Verdasco match. But no one will remember that.

Because first it was grass as Rafa snatched away Roger’s Wimbledon crown last year, and now hard court. One more slam title than Pete Sampras or not, it won’t matter, because Roger couldn’t consistently beat Rafa on either of his two favorite surfaces. I’m telling you, it may be killing Roger, but it’s killing me too and I couldn’t help being a bit snarky as Rafa fell to the court in victory.

When my lovable Arizona Cardinals lost the Super Bowl later that day, at least I could kick my inflatable referee punching bag across the room. All I could do about Roger losing was accuse Rafa of taking drugs. How does this guy do it? Steroids? HGH? EPO? How can he play a 5 hour and 14 minute semifinal, have one less day of rest, then watch as his opponent is the one who fades in the fifth set?

That doesn’t matter either because Rafa is slowly taking over the world tennis tour. Can he win the calendar slam? Oy, I hope not. Local sports shows are actually beginning to talk about tennis again because we now have a bona fide rivalry. We have five set matches between the two best players in the world and that’s what people want.

Oh, and personality. We want personality too. Rafa has it and Roger is finding it – even if it means overshadowing Rafa at the award ceremony. Martina Hingis completely disintegrated and walked off the court after losing the 1999 French Open final before the award ceremony even started, and Mary Pierce could barely speak through her tears after losing the 2005 French Open final. Lleyton Hewitt watched with cartoon-sized saucer eyes as Marcos Baghdatis walked off crying after their epic five set match in Melbourne last year.

Hewitt looked like he couldn’t quite believe it but that’s what we want. We want drama and we’re getting it and it’s not just Rafa and Roger. England was beside itself when Verdasco dropped Andy Murray in the fourth round in Melbourne and Novak Djokovic always has a bit of controversy following him around.

It ain’t Borg and McEnroe and Connors and Lendl, but it’s a whole lot better than we’ve had in a long time.

Serena Reigns as Safina Stumbles in the Australian Open Final

Dinara Safina played in her second slam final but she’s still not comfortable there.

2009 Australian Open: Day 13

So far I picked Juan Del Potro and Novak Djokovic over Roger Federer at the Australian Open, and last year I said that Serena Williams wouldn’t spend much more time at number one. I am guilty of grossly underestimating the inexhaustible ability of human beings to make and remake themselves – in short to change ceaselessly.

Take Fernando Verdasco. He’d been chugging along with a ranking in the 30’s and 40’s and sometimes the 20’s and a grand total of two titles since 2005, and all of a sudden he jumped up to number 11 last year. Then he came from behind to beat Argentinean Jose Acasuso in Argentina to clinch the Davis Cup for Spain. If that wasn’t enough to boost his confidence, for a short period in there, he was dating Ana Ivanovic. That would boost my confidence.

The end result of all that confidence building was a 5 hour 14 minute marathon Australian Open semifinal with Rafael Nadal which will go down as one of the historically great matches at the Aussie Open. Verdasco lost the match but only because he played a guy who will probably end up with the “mentally toughest player in history” award.

Having said that all that stuff about change, we don’t all start at the same place. As my yoga teacher says, we all have emotional presets. Some of us start life off at a disadvantage in relation to others. Maybe we had a demanding mother, or a moody talented older brother, and maybe the combination led us to be overly self-critical. This might describe Dinara Safina. For the past five or six years she’s been winning Tier II level and lower events and yelling at herself a lot. Then, last year, she won three Tier I events and reached a slam final at Roland Garros and she yelled at herself a whole lot less.

Dinara was ready to take the next step forward in her career in her second slam final against Serena on Saturday in Melbourne, and it didn’t work out so well. Dinara didn’t win a game until the second set and ended up losing to Serena, 6-0, 6-3, in under an hour. Serena was dominant and, as you can see here in Pat Davis’s post, when Serena gets this look on her face, get outta the way, it’s gonna get ugly. This is Serena’s 10th slam and it also puts her at the top of the list for female athletes in all sports for all time with over $23 million in career prize money. That ain’t bad.

I’m not concerned about Serena. At the rate she’s going, she might end up winning more than one slam this year for the first time since 2003. But what about Dinara? Will this set her back or is a second slam final a step forward?

She had an excuse coming in because her serve has been up and down all tournament. And she did run into a dominant player on a very good day. And this was a first for her in a way:

You know, it was first time for me to play not only for the Grand Slam, but it’s also for No. 1 spot. And I never been through this situation and she was already. So she was much more times in this situation. I would say she was much more experienced than I was today stepping on the court.

That response tells me that Dinara might need more opportunities than most to find her slam finals groove and it makes sense given her emotional preset. Amelie Mauresmo also had few emotional problems to overcome before winning her first slam. It’s difficult enough being one of the very few out lesbians on tour, but Amelie also had self-doubt issues. She won her first slam on her second try but it was also seven years between her first and second slam final. By the way, she played her first slam final against Martina Hingis in 1999, the same event at which Martina said, “She’s here with her girlfriend. She’s half a man.” Hingis knew exactly what she was doing when she came out with that nugget.

If Dinara takes that long, she really will have a problem because Maria Sharapova should turn up pretty soon, Ivanovic is likely to find herself at some point, and the Williams sisters are still winning slams. According to my yoga teacher, the only way to improve your emotional preset – and therefore vastly improve your life – is to have loving and caring relationships. For yoga students that includes your teacher. For a tennis player that includes your coach.

Dinara is on good terms with her coach and presumably with her parents too. Maybe she should see what she can do about that grouchy older brother of hers. Maybe that’ll speed up her path to her first slam.