People are still dressing more warmly than usual in the desert this week at Indian Wells, but at least the tennis has been hot. Real hot, in fact, and we might even say that this tournament – spread out nearly over two weeks – is practically another American Grand Slam event to go along with the Open in September. Nearly all the “big” men are here at this tournament, and a lot of the top women as well. They don’t play best of five sets, but the finalists will, so it is very like a slam in that respect.
And to think there was some question about whether Indian Wells would continue in future years as a tournament. Rumors were floating that it might be moved to Shanghai, or another port of call where the prize money might be more sustainable. Billie Jean King and Pete Sampras reportedly put up their own money to keep the tournament here in the desert.
Which is good news, because this has been a great tournament so far, even better than the Australian Open. By the time the ESPN network started its broadcasts during the second week, we saw on the first “real” day of the tournament a rather spectacular array of lineups: Andy Murray had the misfortune to meet Nikolay Davydenko, and Lleyton Hewitt struggled a bit with a re-emerged Rainer Schuettler, who plays a style very similar to Hewitt’s.
But the classic opening day match was Carlos Moya going down to Marat Safin, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-4. As the score would indicate, this was the bravura match of the early rounds, extremely well played . But did we see it on ESPN? No, even though it was promised on the ATP schedule for Sunday afternoon. But Messrs. Moya and Safin never emerged, and so one of the early gems went down the tubes. Sadly, the Tennis Channel has not infiltrated my neighborhood yet. And because it’s a match with a Spaniard and a Russian, do our networks care even if they did show tennis on that Sunday?
The Pleasant Surprises:
Paradorn Srichaphan is having a great tournament, after some rather lackluster months, and dare we say years, slipping further into the doldrums. He has climbed his way over an interesting assortment of guys: Robby Ginepri in the first round, Juan Carlos Ferrero in the second. Today he upset David Nalbandian, the highest seed at number 4 to exit in the tournament so far, until number 3 Andy Roddick followed him out a short while later. Nalbandian had not played since Australia. While Paradorn looked ultra buff in his blue body shirt and black shorts, Nalbandian looked out of shape. I have criticized him for not keeping his conditioning up more. But you could not help but make comparisons out there today. Paradorn faces a tough test in the quarters, against Marat Safin most likely.
The other pleasant surprise, and I find it odd to confess to this guilty pleasure almost, is seeing Martina Hingis blithely go about her new business of humbling the great and powerful. Yesterday it was Lindsay Davenport who succumbed. Not because Hingis has put enough power behind her shots to score outright winners, but that she simply stayed more consistent longer in the match than did Lindsay. Davenport is such a well-oiled machine when she plays well that we forget that it sometimes takes her a while to get into that rhythm. Like those howitzer-type things they had circa WW1, where you would have to fire a few first, then adjust the sights, until you got the range you wanted. Sometimes I feel that about Lindsay’s game. She zeroed in during the second set, but maybe the bulging disk in her spine is affecting her already, despite her denials otherwise. Hingis re-asserted herself in the long opening game of the third set, and after Hingis finally held serve, the message got through to Davenport: she wasn’t going to win on this day. Hingis moved through it without too much trouble from that point on, winning the last set in a 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 effort.
I can remember the time when Martina Hingis really bugged me, and I yearned to see her lose. Suddenly I am very happy to see her back. Maybe this is the natural evolution of our feelings about being in the Era of Power in the game of tennis. Even the midgets can hit the ball a ton now, thanks to racket technology. So to see Hingis again, still a midget herself in spite of her best efforts to the contrary, is like seeing a style of tennis playing that’s in danger of becoming extinct. Because Hingis is not about power. She used to be all about being steady, but now she’s branching out, she’s placing her shots better and with more force behind them. You have an ultimate “control” type of player trying to evolve a more “power” style, wherein you give up some of your control. So far, it’s been an interesting experiment to watch, and to feel happy to see some success flowing her way.
Her countryman Mr. Federer often seems cut from the same cloth, another smooth and well-oiled machine, with some power too but more about placement, control and keeping steady. Maybe because of this effortlessness perhaps it’s hard to analyze them sometimes, it is so subtle. So many things work for them. They are a good challenge for those who think they know tennis.
Sadly, there are more of these than the Pleasant Surprises. Andy Roddick’s match concluded in yet another losing fashion, this time to Russian new kid, Igor Andreev. Igor does not look all that physically imposing, but those legs are fantastically lean and sculpted, and a quick wipe of his shirt to his face revealed abs we’d probably all kill our mothers for. He packs enough power to unload on one of the nicer looking forehands current in the men’s game. He can whip the ball in a low swipe and drive it hard and dipping, in an acute angle just over the net. A nasty inside-out forehand that basically put Roddick’s to shame today. The score was 6-4, 6-7, 6-1.
Roddick lost his focus after the second set tie-break. He should have started the third fired up and ready to seize the momentum. But instead he seemed to lose his edge again, and his way, the advantage shifted to his opponent and his opponent proved a far better grinder today than did Roddick.
Can Roddick keep his mental alertness over time on a court? I keep wondering that, and I keep answering myself in waffling tones. Sometimes I sense his energy is so out there everywhere at once that he may have trouble summoning it up at crucial points in a match. When he really needs it. It’s too diffuse to control and focus upon something.
Andre Agassi lost as well in an early round, by his standards, to Tommy Haas, one of the top players this year. The sad thing here was no one was really surprised, when you think about it. Their rankings aren’t that close really, but by year’s end Haas will probably be in the Top Ten, Andre will have moved out of it.
I don’t know if we are going to see Lindsay and Andre after this year is over. Somehow their similar predicaments seem illuminated now in this bright desert light. If it were anything but their backs, they could fudge it a bit longer maybe. But it’s the back, and that makes life difficult.
As for the women’s final, it is shaping up to be either Sharapova or Hingis to face Henin-Hardenne. Elena Dementieva is not going to be a problem for JHH.
I’m afraid it’s most likely going to be another final between those guys, Federer, Nadal. In fact, I propose we just caught to the chase, shall we? and just call them him, Roger Nadal. We’ll just say, “It’s another Roger Nadal Final.” After all, they probably will become one and the same person, given enough time. We may as well get used to it.
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