Monthly Archives: September 22, 2021

Apart from Tommy Haas’ surprising run to the semifinals this week, the other Tommy has been the big surprise. Most of us expected Tommy Robredo to be passed by the fast charging Fernando Gonzalez in the race to take the last spot in the year-end tournament in Shanghai. Even Mario Ancic had a good chance to jump over him. But Robredo beat Sebastien Grosjean – no easy task in Paris – and Jarkko Nieminen and he’s on his way to Shanghai.

The other reason Robredo’s here is that buzzards collect when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal skip a Masters Series event because there is a rare Masters shield to be had.

We know why Robredo’s opponent today, Nikolay Davydenko, is still playing after having qualified for Shanghai: Davydenko is constitutionally incapable of skipping an ATP event. But what’s Robredo’s excuse? Why is he risking injury to keep playing here? Well, his parents are in the stands for one thing and he certainly doesn’t want to disappoint them.

Both of his parents are tennis coaches. That might be similar to being raised by Freudian analysts except that your parents are endlessly analyzing your tennis game instead of your id. Could be tough because it’s rare that parents are objective about their child’s tennis skills. Typically parents are either too optimistic, and therefore too demanding of their child’s capabilities, or they’re chronically disappointed, and therefore overly critical.

The other reason Robredo’s here is that buzzards collect when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal skip a Masters Series event because there is a rare Masters shield to be had. Federer and Nadal won eight of the nine Masters Series events last year and six of nine this year.

We had low expectations for Robredo because his strength is clay court tennis and he has a losing record on indoor courts. We shouldn’t have dismissed him. The match today turned out to be an fascinating example of the emotional rollercoaster that makes up most ATP matches.

Davydenko started in rhythm and hit so many solid ground strokes in the first set it only took a few errors by Robredo to go down a service break. After that, Robredo was discouraged, which affected his serve and led to a second break, which led to losing the first set. Davydenko was content, not that he’d ever show it, and Robredo was a bit befuddled, what could he do?

When your opponent is playing well, you can either keep doing the same thing – and keep losing – or you can try a different tactic, coming to the net more often, say, or throwing in some off speed shots to change the pace. Often, though, this tactic takes you out of your comfort zone. If it was something you were comfortable with, you’d already be doing it, wouldn’t you?

Robredo decided to be more aggressive and that may have affected Davydenko because he started to miss his first serve and lose the rhythm on his groundstrokes. But maybe that wasn’t the problem and here is another part of the emotional rollercoaster. Davydenko sometimes has trouble closing matches out. Something about deserving victory I’d say. Maybe he should have had analysts for parents.

In any case, Robredo was inspired by this turn of events and hit a fantastic running passing shot at 5-5 in the second set to get the break and even the score.

Now we get to one of the more discouraging parts of the rollercoaster: injuries. Robredo has a slight tear in his calf and received treatment for it at the end of the second set. In the second game of the third set, he pulled up after reaching for a deep ball. He lost the game to go down 0-2. No doubt Davydenko saw Robredo stumble and that was enough to lift his spirits and restore his rhythm which tells you that it was entirely a matter of nerves in the first place.

By the time Davydenko was up 5-2, Robredo’s movement was noticeably impaired and Davydenko cruised to a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, victory. And there you have it, one player’s misery is usually another player’s inspiration.

If you aren’t carted off on a gurney, we expect you to play your heart out, especially with so much riding on the result.

When you pick the winners in a sports event, one of the qualitative variables is motivation. By that measure, Tommy Haas was the pick to beat Dominik Hrbaty in their semifinal match. If Haas wins this tournament he can move past James Blake and take the last spot in Shanghai.

Haas should have been able to overpower Hrbaty as long as he didn’t self-destruct, but he was already swearing at himself by the fifth game after failing to cash in on a break point. He was nice enough to use English so I could make out what he said. Robredo may have the tennis coach parents but it’s Haas who has the emotional problems.

Haas seemed out of rhythm. He was late on backhands and volleys were unpredictable. After the players exchanged breaks earlier in the set, Haas lost his serve again and lost the first set. Then the situation became clearer. Haas called for the doctor and complained about weakness and a headache. That explains his erratic play but there’s a berth in Shanghai at stake. Surely that motivation could carry him through the match.

He played two more games and called it a day. The crowd was pissed. If you aren’t carted off on a gurney, we expect you to play your heart out, especially with so much riding on the result. Not only that, but now the final is inconsequential.

After the match Haas said that he had vomited earlier in the day and appeared to have a virus. On a day like this, I pine for Michael Jordan scoring 38 points in the 1997 NBA finals while fighting the flu. This was Haas’ chance at the final and he didn’t even hang around long enough to see if Hrbaty might accidentally twist an ankle or run into a ballboy and knock himself out and have to retire. Could happen. And Haas wouldn’t have been the first player to vomit on court.

James Blake wasn’t pissed. He can now get on a plane for Shanghai. At least someone is happy.

See also:
2006 Paris Masters Quarterfinals: Petulant Children
2006 Paris Masters: The French Armada
2006 ATP Fantasy Tennis: Paris Masters

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 231 user reviews.

When Croatia won the Davis Cup last year, Ancic ran around the court shedding his clothes as though he was ridding himself of all past disappointments.

This was a nerve wracking day for James Blake. If Mario Ancic managed to beat Nikolay Davydenko in his quarterfinal match today, he’d jump over Blake in the race for the last spot in the year-end tournament in Shanghai. Blake is in this predicament because he lost to Dominik Hrbaty, of all people. Wait a minute, Hrbaty beat Tomas Berdych today. Damn, Berdych was my last chance to move up in my fantasy team subleague. What is Hrbaty taking these days anyway?

Unfortunately for Ancic, Davydenko is a human backboard. He’s an exceptional returner and gets everything back, but he’s not a counterpuncher in the style of Lleyton Hewitt. Davydenko’s balls come back a lot harder. And he’s a grinder. This is his thirty-first event of the year and he was the only player qualified for Shanghai who turned up here.

Ancic is a big server with that Croation windup serve used by both Goran ivanisevic and Ivan Ljubicic. Ancic likes to come to the net and finish points as quickly as possible. This was a fascinating matchup of Ancic’s power versus the energizer bunny consistency of Davydenko.

The difference in styles between Ancic’s and Davydenko’s game is echoed in their physical makeup. Ancic is a tall, excitable guy with a headful of unruly black hair. When Croatia won the Davis Cup last year, Ancic ran around the court shedding his clothes as though he was ridding himself of all past disappointments.

Davydenko is a smaller balding man who is stoic and rather dour. You rarely see him smile and he’s been known to respond to a question at a post-match media sessions with the following expansive answer: “That’s a stupid question.” After hitting a winner against Ancic early in the match, his face looked hostile rather than pleased in the slo-mo replay. I worry about the guy, does he actually enjoy playing tennis or is this a battleground of some sort for him?

A big serve is fine as long as it goes in. Serving at 3-3 in the first set, Ancic lost the rhythm on his serve and made two ground stroke errors to lose the game. When Ancic served to stay in the set at 3-5, he missed four straight first serves and gave Davydenko the first set. I can imagine that made James Blake smile.

Ancic didn’t know whether to stay at the baseline and shoot it out with Davydenko, a losing proposition, or go to the net and take the chance of getting passed. But he was down a set and having trouble holding serve so he had no choice. At 2-2 in the second set, he started coming in on his return at every opportunity so he could cut off Davdenko’s ground strokes and avoid those dreaded long rallies

Ancic kept approaching. Serving at 3-4, he hit a shot that sent Davydenko wide to the ad court. Most players in the universe would have gone crosscourt with a passing shot but Davydenko somehow managed to angle the ball into the court and down the line past Ancic.

Davydenko won that game and the next to win the match, 6-3, 6-3. Blake no doubt let out a big sigh of relief but it’s not over yet. If Tommy Haas wins this tournament, he jumps over Blake too.

The battle here was not a question of strategy as much as which player would self-destruct first.

Haas and his opponent today, Marat Safin, have similar personalities. They’re both popular with the ladies – one discerning spectator hung a banner offering to marry Safin but only if he won – and they both blow up on the court. Safin berates himself and Haas berates himself and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity.

The battle here was not a question of strategy as much as which player would self-destruct first.

Safin earned that distinction. He hit a silly unforced error in the first set tiebreaker and quickly found himself down 0-3. Then he hit a return into the net and there went the racket, not once, but twice into the carpet surface. That must have warmed Haas’ heart. Nothing is better that seeing your opponent blow up when, often as not, you’re the one that blows up first.

This is a quintessential example of Safin’s problem. It explains perfectly why he has only two grand slams despite having the most powerful game on tour. If you lose your temper, an entire set can go down the drain in a heartbeat. Safin lost the tiebreaker 7-1.

His difficulties continued in the second set. He slammed a ball to the backboard after hitting a ball long but Haas bailed him out. Serving at 3-4, Haas hit a few unforced errors and smashed a ball of his own then hit a double fault to give Safin the opportunity to serve for the set. Maybe it’s asking too much but shouldn’t Haas have learned something from watching Safin? Jeez, they deserve each other.

Safin won the game and the battle of the petulant children continued on to a third set. Haas regained his composure and remembered his first set strategy – hit a lot of backhand slices to dull Safin’s power. Case in point: with Safin serving at 1-2, Haas hit a backhand slice that stayed so low all Safin could do was slice it back. Haas then hit a forehand at such an angle that Safin ended up hitting a shot around the net post as his feet slid out from under him. The ball barely missed the sideline. A few more slices and Haas had the break and served out the set for a 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3 victory.

James Blake will now have to sweat out the semifinals and, possibly, the final. This is almost as exciting as the NASCAR Chase for the Championship except that we don’t have players throwing debris onto the court hoping to injure their opponent – Robby Gordon was fined $15, 000 for throwing rollbar padding onto the track at the Atlanta Motor Speedway last week.

Two more rounds to go.

Correction: James Blake lost to Tommy Haas. What can I say, it’s late in the season, I need a vacation.

See also:
2006 Paris Masters: The French Armada
2006 ATP Fantasy Tennis: Paris Masters

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 196 user reviews.

Tommy Robredo and Fernando Gonzalez needed good results here to get one of the three remaining spots in Shanghai and they had to go through a French player to keep their hopes alive.

I had heard of the Spanish Armada, a fleet of ships that picked a fight with England in 1588, and there’s even a tennis Spanish Armada which refers to the recent load of successful Spanish tennis players such as Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya. But I didn’t know there was also a French Armada.

Two hundred and ten years ago, a French Armada consisting of forty-seven ships carrying 15, 000 troops sailed to Ireland in order to end British rule and establish an independent Irish Republic. It didn’t succeed. Ten ships went down in a bad storm that made ship-to-ship communication difficult – they didn’t have cell phones back then – and the remaining ships limped home.

This week at the Paris Masters tournament, we have a new French Armada. Half of the twelve matches at the Paris Masters on Wednesday featured a French player. Two more matches featured players from France’s neighbor, Belgium. Tommy Robredo and Fernando Gonzalez needed good results here to get one of the three remaining spots in Shanghai and they had to go through a French player to keep their hopes alive.

The French crowd can be brutal and the French players can also be difficult. Sebastien Grosjean staged a nine minute delay of game in a match with Rafael Nadal at the 2005 French Open. Grosjean stopped play after the chair umpire refused to come onto the court and look at a ball mark. He walked around the baseline with an impish smile on his face as the crowd booed and yelled.

Grosjean behaved well on Wednesday but he must have felt like beheading the nearest person. He won the first set and was serving for the match at 5-2 in the second set when the trouble started. Grosjean couldn’t get his serve in – his first serve percentage dropped from 81% to 53% – and Robredo won the next five games to take the second set.

Grosjean could have been tired, it’s the last tournament of the year after all, but as hard as it can be for foreign players in Paris, it’s not so easy for French players either. They face tremendous pressure to perform well on French soil. Only two French players have won this tournament in its thirty-one year history – Grosjean won it in 2001, and only one French player has won at Roland Garros in the Open Era – Yannick Noah won the French Open in 1983. Grosjean must have felt the pressure as the games slipped away.

In the first game of the third set, Grosjean had break point when he pulled off the shot of the tournament. Robredo hit a drop shot and Grosjean came in and tapped the ball barely over the net. Robredo responded with a lob but Grosjean got back to the baseline, spun completely around and smacked a passing shot past a stunned Robredo.

It was short lived. Grosjean continued to lose his serve and Robredo took the match, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. This was a huge win for Robredo because he’s barely holding onto the eighth position and only eight players go to Shanghai. Still, Robredo didn’t win the match as much as Grosjean lost it.

Gonzalez is sitting in ninth place in the standings and had to go through Julien Benneteau who didn’t behave so well. Everything went right for Gonzalez in the first set so Benneteau tried something different in the second set. He served and volleyed a little and came up with his own version of delay tactics. He repeatedly called time out or wiped himself off with his towel during Gonzalez’ serve.

With the score at 3-3 in the third set, Gonzalez had had enough. Benneteau came to the net and hit a sitter as hard as he could. Gonzalez sent it back twice as hard then yelled at Benneteau as if the say, “Take that, you @#$%%@@!!! Gonzalez now had triple break point and the enmity of the French crowd. But Benneteau thrilled the crowd by getting to game point and now Gonzalez was so annoyed he sent a ball to the top of the stands. Amazingly, a ball boy retrieved it and Benneteau won the game

With Gonzalez serving to stay in the set at 5-6, Benneteaul broke him and won the match, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. Gonzalez must be bitterly disappointed. He’d dragged himself into ninth place in the 2006 Race rankings with three straight final appearances, one of them at the Madrid Masters. Since working with his part-time coach, Larry Stefanki, Fernando has developed some touch to go along with the sledgehammer ground strokes. Maybe he should have hired Stefanki a week or two earlier.

As always happens in Paris, the players who’ve already qualified for Shanghai stayed home because there’s no reason to risk injury. And even though I had a Nadal, a Ljubicic and a Roddick left to play on my ATP fantasy league team, I don’t mind because the matches are more thrilling without the big guys.

Look at this for instance: yet another French guy in the mix, Paul-Henri Mathieu, beat Novak Djokovic, 7-6(11), 7-6(4). Long live the French.

See also: 2006 ATP Fantasy Tennis: Paris Masters

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 216 user reviews.