A Quickie in Miami and a Short Report Card

We witnessed a rare type of tennis match in Miami today and let’s take a quick look at the state of the tour before the red clay kicks in.

I sat down to watch what precious little broadcast material I could lay my hands on this evening and what did I get, Mr. Rafael Nadal and his sacrificial lamb Teimuraz Gabashvili at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. I was a bit grumpy about that as it didn’t sound too promising and I stayed grumpy until midway through the fourth game.

Gaba was already a break down and had just managed to win his first service game when my grumpiness turned to delight. Poor Gaba had been running around like his pants were on fire all match long as Rafa was positively on fire himself. In the second point of that fourth game, Rafa served up a kicker and Gaba sent back two straight high loopers – mainly in self defense. A few shots later Rafa hit a sharp crosscourt shot that sent Gaba scurrying out of the court to track it down and when he did track it down, he tried to hit a running forehand winner down the line. Instead, he ran his butt all the way to the opposite corner to track down Rafa’s response. All Gaba could do was put up another looper and Rafa tapped the ball lightly into the open court.

Sony Ericsson Open Day 6

Rafa was a bit too casual with that shot and he allowed Gaba to get to the ball and hit a beautiful running forehand down the line for a winner. Yes! We have a boxing match not just a rope-a-dope. I’m telling you, that was one of the best points of the year, and two points later Gaba had broken Rafa at love.

It was short lived excitement as Gaba failed to win another game in the set and, of course, it’s the highest testament to Rafa’s skills that someone has to play points like that to beat him. And the final score was 6-2, 6-2, which looks bad, but Gaba pushed Rafa into a “can you top this” short points bonanza the likes of which we seldom see with the slow gummy courts we have today. I was positively nostalgic.

In the last game of the match, Rafa served up a ball then ran around Gaba’s return till he was standing in the deuce corner and unloaded an inside out forehand with so much overspin that it landed well inside the service line. And that baby was flat, I mean it barely got over the net. You can see why Rafa is cleaning up on hard courts this year.

I settled in for the second telecast of the evening only to find out that it was a copy of the first – Gaba and Rafa all over again. That’s what I get for practicing my overhead and serve all afternoon instead of tuning into to TennisTV.com.

I’m generally not a good aggregator – I’m better when I stick to one subject at a time rather than the entire pro tennis tour – but let’s take a look at the state of things now that we’re coming to the end of the winter/spring hard court season and we’re a week away from the heavy duty clay court season.

The Top Ten

Don’t hate me Sakhi but Andy Murray is looking like the real number two on the men’s side. Look at this. Rafa’s record for the year: 22-2. Andy’s record for the year: 21-2.

Nikolay Davydenko has played only three matches all year because he has a foot problem and he’s about to drop out of the top five because he can’t defend his title in Miami. Is the fast little scooter finally wearing down? Will he ever see the top five again?

Svetlana Kuznetsova is down to number 8 and she’s lost her first match in the last two events she’s played.

Andy Roddick has three semifinals, a final, and a title in the five events he’s entered this year. And he has the most wins on the men’s tour with 24. Maybe Roger Federer should have stolen Larry Stefanki away from Fernando Gonzalez instead of letting him go to Roddick.

Vera Zvonareva is 18-2 for the year with two titles including Indian Wells. And unlike Roddick, who surely doesn’t welcome the clay court season, Zvonareva was 17-3 on clay last year. Oh, and she’s 7-0 in doubles.

Roger Rasheed is not a good coaching choice for Federer but Rasheed has done something that seems almost impossible: He’s turned Gael Monfils into a relatively consistent top ten player.

Who’d take a $500 bet that Rafa can win the grand slam this year? I would.

The Rest

After losing to Gisela Dulko today, Jelena Janovic is 4-4 on outdoor hard court for the year.

Jeremy Chardy has a quarterfinal, semifinal, and final already.

Richard Gasquet is down to number 25 and it’s not going to get much better with the new ranking system that rewards good results at big events. Gasquet does have three semifinals but he lost in the third round at both the Australian Open and Indian Wells.

What did I leave out?