I think I have Robbie Ginepri figured out. Give him a hostile crowd and move him onto indoor courts and he shines. He reached the semifinals last year here in Madrid and he’s made the third round this year where he played his second Spaniard of the week, Tommy Robredo.

So here is a conundrum: Ginepri doesn’t do well under pressure and yet he needs external pressure to distract him from his inner demons.

When Ginepri played Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the first round, all hell broke loose. The partisan crowd whistled and booed Ginepri after he asked for clarification on a Lopez challenge then gave the crowd the horns hand sign. The chair umpire for the match, Lars Graf, let the crowd get out of control and couldn’t rein it back in.

Graf is in the umpire’s chair again today. Maybe that’s why Ginepri was intelligent enough to keep his hands to himself; he couldn’t count on Graf to help him if the crowd turned on him.

Ginepri broke Robredo in his first service game and attacked the net to win the first set 6-3. On the last point of the first set, Robredo floated a return deep to the ad corner and Ginepri calmly ran around the ball and whacked it down the line for a winner. No fuss, no stress.

That’s good for most tennis players but Ginepri seems to prefer stress from external sources such as the crowd because it distracts him from his inner voices. Some of us tortured souls like distractions because it takes us away from our inner turmoil.

On the other hand, Ginepri did not fare well with the pressure of being a top twenty player. After starting the year ranked number sixteen, he’s been to only one semifinal and his ranking dropped into the forties after the U.S. Open.

So here is a conundrum: Ginepri doesn’t do well under pressure and yet he needs external pressure to distract him from his inner demons. It’s a no win situation. Reminds me of a woman I once saw on a street corner in mid-town Manhattan. She put out her hand to ask people for money but when they tried to give it to her, she put her hand up to refuse it. She needed medication. Ginepri needs a sports psychologist and a library of self-help books.

Here’s another pressure Ginepri has trouble with. He served for the match at 5-3 in the second set and unraveled. He lost a challenge on his serve then immediately double faulted. He never got a first serve in and lost the game at love.

Like many of us tortured souls, however, Ginepri has a saving grace. He’s a grinder, he keeps working and working knowing that eventually he’ll be alright and everything will work out. And it did.

Ginepri was up 5-3 in the second set tiebreaker when Robredo stopped playing in the middle of the rally after he thought a Ginepri shot went long. A player has to stop play immediately if he wants to challenge a call. Robredo lost the challenge – the ball clearly hit the line – thereby handing match point to Ginepri who gladly took it and won the tiebreaker and the match, 6-3, 7-6(3).

That was a terrible decision. Robredo was still in the point and could easily have hit the ball. Unless that ball was absolutely, clearly out, he should have played it. Ginepri received a gift.

James Blake received a gift too. Robredo would have moved ahead of Blake in the race for the remaining six spots at the year-end tournament in Shanghai if he’d won today. Challenging a close call at a critical point in the match is like hoping your opponent is going to double fault. You’re trying to back into a victory instead of taking it. That’s not the kind of thinking that will get Robredo into the year-end championship.

Roger Federer doesn’t have problems with pressure or inner voices. He had an incredibly tight match with Robin Soderling. There were no breaks in the match, a 7-6(5), 7-6(8) win for Federer (of course), as Soderling saved eight break points. I expected Soderling to make his push at the U.S. Open because he’s been matching up well head-to-head with a lot of players, but it looks like he might make a more progressive climb up the rankings.

Tomas Berdych seems to be taking a slow but continuous crawl to the top ten also. He beat Andy Roddick 7-6(7), 6-3, in the third round. Unlike other talented players like Marcos Baghdatis, who rocketed to the top with a monster Australian Open this year, and Novak Djokovic, who started the year ranked number seventy-eight and is now at seventeen, Berdych started the year ranked number twenty-four and is now at number eleven. Except for a leap from twenty to fifteen, he hasn’t skipped any numbers in between, that’s methodical.

[blockquote]We expect talented players to take longer to find their stride because they have more skills to harness, but once they do, we expect a quick run up the rankings as if everything will magically fallen into place. Once Federer won a grand slam, there was no looking back and we expect the same thing of Berdych.

But Berdych’s career isn’t playing out that way. He won the Paris Masters last year and that could have been his take-off point but when the new year came around, Berdych returned to normalcy. His game has matured but his personality doesn’t seem completely formed yet. He’s rather quiet on the court but he’s not a calm person. His on-court demeanor might not match his personality. If so, he should let a bit more of himself show before he develops the “Alex Rodriguez complex” – trying to appear perfect when you’re far from it.

The ideal player would be a clone taken from both Djokovic and Murray.

That other young talent, Djokovic, was at a disadvantage in his match with Andy Murray. First of all he played a horrendous first set and lost it 6-1. Secondly, David Beckham, who plays for the Real Madrid soccer team, sat in the stands and cheered for Murray. If Djokovic’s family had transferred their allegiance from Serbia-Montenegro to England as they were rumored to be considering earlier this year, Djokovic could have claimed Beckham too.

After the first set, I assumed Djokovic would lose the match because Murray was outplaying him so badly, Djokovic couldn’t keep a forehand in the court – must be that altitude again. But in his first service game in the second set, Djokovic fought off three break points to hold serve. In the next game he pulled a Robredo and stopped playing in mid-rally to challenge a point. He got it right, though, the ball was out.

Murray broke Djokovic at love to go up 4-3 in the second set as Djokovic starting hitting backhands out too and I was sure it was over. But Murray is another of those young talented players, the theme of this tournament, and he has a few problems himself. In particular, closing out matches. He lost the next game to give back the break.

This is an interesting match to watch because Djokovic is a power player and Murray a strategist. Being a strategist can put you in position to win a match but when you do get ahead, you have to be more aggressive.

The ideal player would be a clone taken from both Djokovic and Murray. The downside of the clone would be its horrendous temper; it would yell in exasperation as Djokovic does and berate itself, albeit humorously, as Murray does. But the Murray part would put the clone ahead in the game with guile and strategy then the Djokovic part could close the match out. Also, if Murray got behind, the fighter in Djokovic would get the clone back into the match.

It’s not that Murray can’t play aggressively, he just doesn’t do it when he should. For instance, Murray was serving to stay in the second set at 5-6 when he gave Djokovic a break point with a double fault then hit an ill-advised drop shot to lose the second set 7-5.

By now Murray had lost his temper. He was yelling at himself worse than I’ve ever seen. He was dropping f-bombs and, worst of all, missing first serves. Djokovic broke him in his first service game in the third set and that was all he needed to win, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.

We might not see any of the young and talented in the final this week but it won’t be much longer.

See also:
2006 Madrid Second Round: Everything Is Upside Down
2006 Madrid First Round: Don’t Jump

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