Monday, January 30, 2012

Djokovic defends title, legally blind officials, Dolgopolov and Tomic slice the Aus Open

2012 Australian Open was memorable for a variety reasons. The final won't be forgotten more than that towards the end of the post.

Novak Djokovic defends title

Once again the Aus Open broke attendance records, the proximity of the venue makes it easy to get to for many diverse people. It will be better once the expansion of the site is complete, though with the roof going over the Margaret Court Arena the ticket prices will go up to cover it. It's good for the players as well, everything is close and centralised unlike say the US Open and not as stuffy as Wimbledon. The weather apart from the qualies and a part of the final was excellent.

Poor officiating

One aspect that was truly awful was the standard of line calling. To say it was shit, especially for a high level event would be an insult to shit. Of course there is no such thing as 100% accuracy for the most part, the chair umpires and linespeople do a good job. Sadly this event won't be remembered for that, it just got noticed more so as it happened in main draw instead of just qualies. John Millman and Antonio Veic, the former getting ripped off on a call that would have given him 0-40 on Pospisil's serve and the latter incorrect overrule on his match point which cost him.

The David Nalbandian/Kader Naouni incident was the peak of the poor standard of officiating. Perhaps Nalbandian could have challenged quicker, there was a lot of nonsense around this incident. Overrules should only be made on a clear mistake, which this wasn't and Naouni paid the penalty for his poor work. He didn't get any high profile matches after this.

Marcos Baghdatis snapping the racquets and getting less of a fine than Nalbandian, well the tennis world is confusing. Perhaps Technofibre aren't doing a good job with the racquets these days.

No brainless ball bashing

Alex Dolgopolov being in two tough matches but such a contrast with Kamke, the points were aggressive, won by winners mostly and not wasting time like 1 min between points like Nadal and Djokovic. This was one of those matches that was surprising, because while Kamke has some big shots it wasn't expected that he could sustain it for 5 sets. It showed that when it comes to ball striking ability there isn't much difference between the players, the top ones have better mental toughness and application.

His next match with Tomic was very different to the Kamke one. It was a great contrast to the ballbashing that is prevalent on the tour, perhaps they overdid the slicing stuff. For example when it was James Blake and Fernando Gonzalez playing each other it was total macho tennis my forehand is bigger than yours, so just battle of forehand bludgeoning. The Tomic/Dogs Balls match was funny, one hit the slice, the other wanted to hit more slice. Dolgopolov blew his chances in this one big time. Tomic already came back from 0-2 sets down twice. Tomic has a great tennis brain, anticipation which makes it harder to expose his movement, he is progressing at a rapid rate, he'll still be a clay bunny this season.

Berdych not making the step

Tomas Berdych showed once again he can play top quality tennis, but when it comes to the crunch he couldn't step it up against Nadal. The lack of variation on serve, some very poor volleys, when Nadal is 5m behind the baseline, commonsense says hit short volleys, at the same time Berdych isn't known as the most cerebral tennis player around.

Berdych managed to annoy the Aussie crowd with refusing to shake Nico Almagro's hand because Almagro hit the ball at him when he was at the net. Most people supported Almagro who while not being the most popular guy around the place, used a legit tactic to win the point. Hit the ball at the body of the volleyer, he's not going to get a swing at the ball.

Josh Eagle married to Babsi Schett is a commentator on Fox Sports, was one of the few to support Berdych's actions. The link below highlights it

Josh Eagle has launched an extraordinary attack on controversial slugger Nicolas Almagro.

Almagro was the victim to most when Czech Tomas Berdych refused to shake his hand on Sunday, but Eagle is adamant the Spaniard copped what he deserved.

"I wouldn't have shook his hand either. I would have belted him," a fired-up Eagle (above) said yesterday in his role as Fox Sports commentator.

"He would be in the top three fools on tour ... he treats his fellow players with a lack of respect."

Eagle said it was hard for those on the outside to understand.

Berdych was furious after Almagro smacked a forehand at him, hitting him on the arm, and Eagle had no doubt it was deliberate.

"He had the whole court to hit the ball in," he said.

"You don't get your squash grip out, try to hit it as hard as you can and try to take your opponent's head off."

Asked how his fellow players would have reacted to Berdych's "no shake' policy, Eagle said: "When he would enter that locker-room, he'd be the first person to be congratulated ... 100 per cent.''

David Ferrer another solid performance but he wasn't able to take down Djokovic who had some breathing issues. When asked about the gap to the top 4 and whether he was closing in on them. Ferrer was very honest as usual, he didn't see it happening this year.

As for whether this is good for the sport depends on whether the individual follows the ATP/ITF line. Surface homogneisation is great as it gives them predictability and easy to market the game from this perspective, in reality it’s the same style of tennis being played on all courts with the only challenge being the movement of the specific surfaces. I have explained previously how the current situation came about, the ball not being in play at all on grass or the indoor events at the end of season, so using a heavier ball and slowing down the court speeds. There needs to be some diversity, the game needs it.

Sure, I've been saying this for years but Federer agrees and stated so after he lost to Nadal in the semi final "Every surface is very similar today, otherwise we couldn't have achieved all these things on all these different surfaces so quickly". This is a factor in the final.

Semi Finals

Andy Murray with Ivan Lendl in his corner played an outstanding match against Novak Djokovic in the semi which was the best one of the tournament along with the Dolgopolov vs. Kamke one.

Andy Murray so close

Djokovic with the allergies has some remarkable recovery skills at times he looks dead and can't run. Then an hour later he is running better than before. Got to give to him for the over the top facial expressions and it still ropes in the players, no need to change the bait if the fish are still biting.

Murray has improved his fitness levels and the thick legs are still as thick as ever, but he came up short when it counted. Sure, Murray lost the match but Ivan Lendl has a lot to work with here. Best of all with this loss he came out with more respect, none of the usual tripe about him being Scottish when he loses and British when doing well.

One thing Murray didn't do much of was releasing his negative energy to the camp. Lendl wouldn't tolerate it and will make him work harder. Murray's forehand was better this event, it's the shot that needs the most work, look at what happened when Djokovic improved that side to match the other aspects of his game, not including the comedy smashes.

Ivan Lendl and Jaro Navratl

Not as easy to be positive about Federer's loss to Nadal. The difference this time wasn't necessarily Federer bringing the pink dress out as he does on clay. It was more the fact that Nadal was hitting a lot of short balls and didn't really need to use the old faithful tactic of work his backhand over with the heavy forehand. The Fed backhand will drop short, shank and then work him over. This time the forehand was off for some reason, with the best shot not working consistently and the mental scarring over time with all the losses to Nadal contributed to his defeat, after being so impressive in the previous rounds.

Djokovic/Nadal final

Well this was the longest Grand Slam final of all time, this doesn't mean it was the best. This is the problem with the instant gratification generation the need to label something so quickly and definitely as the best of all time. While this match was brutal, which is enjoyable as it's part of the sport. One aspect players can control are their fitness levels barring major injuries, do the work and suffering on the training paddock then the benefits will come competition time.

Another aspect was the time taken in between points, it was too much both guys well over 30 seconds. Pascal Maria not a personal favourite of mine as an umpire, this was the area where he should have told them to hurry up in between points. Apart from that he was outstanding in the chair, overruling when he should have, something he doesn't normally do and on his game unlike the linespeople.

While the match was brutal physically and oozed drama, the overall standard wasn't as good as their 2011 US Open match. This was due to Djokovic being slightly heavy legged from the brutal semi final with Murray, he wasn't able to step into the court initially to take on the Nadal short shots, as he was out of position. Nadal was aggressive in parts of the match, but couldn't maintain it mentally.

Surface homogenisation with the slower court and heavy balls, there was a lack of net play leading to the brutal nature of the match. Nadal and Djokovic are only doing what they can in their particular gamestyles, but there was a lack of variety.

Once Djokovic lost the 1st set, he improved his court positioning and the pattern of the match continued as all battles last year in which Djokovic won 6 in a row. Defensively he can match Nadal, but has more penetration on the groundstrokes, though on this occasion he wasn't hitting to the Nadal forehand as much to open up his backhand side to exploit it.

Nadal wasn't at his best it was just guts and determination that was getting him through this match. Nadal needs to hit that forehand down the line more than he does, but like any player they have familiar patterns they play to especially in pressure situations. With Nadal spinning serve, forehand cross court and average court positioning.

Djokovic was set to win in 4 sets, but Nadal saving break points from 15-40 did it by being aggressive and then takes the tiebreaker. Conventional wisdom says Nadal with his brilliant 5 set record Hewitt and Federer only guys to beat him in a 5th set and he looked stronger was going to win it. Thankfully conventional wisdom doesn't always work, in between the looks of near death and more spring than Javier Sotomayor.

In this particular match up it's on Djokovic's racquet and through the self belief he broke back straight away once he lost serve. Both guys were struggling physically, this is where the drama, the mental strength multiplies especially with the lactic acid build up in the legs, the burning sensation as well.

It was fitting that Djokovic who created the more break opportunities, the more attacking player was able to win the title against the very determined and resolute Nadal. It's the same thing now with Djokovic he has Nadal mentally owned, this was the scenario that was heavily favoured to Nadal and Djokovic still won.

Better luck next time Rafa

There have been times where I've mocked Nadal's claims of being injured and will continue to do so when deserved. He handled this defeat very graciously considering how tough the match was, no excuses made which is the way it should be. It was a great effort to get the match that far.

Stepanek and Paes

Before ending this novel one of the better results was the Sexy Radek Stepanek aka "Thunderlips". winning his first Grand Slam doubles title. He and Leander Paes teamed this year, they showed great chemistry, some fun shotmaking, a few theatrics thrown in as well. It's ironic that Stepanek started his career as a doubles player, then went to Petr Korda and asked him to improve his singles. Korda said "ok, but you do it my way", he did and then flew up the rankings. To prove how sexy Stepanek is when he was struggling, he had the hottest girlfriend, he went the other way usually when you play Futures and Challengers you get those women and vice versa.

Thanks for reading this piece forgot to give a shout out to Mirza, Jamaican Mike and Bognar who are top lads, always fun seeing them.

Novak Djokovic in ice bath drinking James Boags Premium

Djokovic not at his best and still wins the title. Is this the time when Nadal finally cracks but come the clay season besides Djokovic he is so far ahead. Can Murray finally win a Slam this year?

Qualies for Slams are fun, Fognini still struts like he owns the Australian Open, the linecalling was awful, the amount of female talent at the tennis was plentiful.

Now it's time for the Challengers, Zagreb and the South American clay circus.


henry said...

good stuff as always man.

enjoyable tournament overall though a bit low on upsets.

rhinooooo said...

great summary man, thanks for the reports during the tourney especially the qualies stuff...

that final was brutal, engrossing viewing but depressing at the same time

michelle said...

t-e-c-h-n-i-f-i-b-r-e duh.

rate writeup and you know it.

cobalt60 said...

Great column! And yeah the final was exhausting ( to watch ) and not great tennis wise. Really lasted 3 hours if you take out all the time wasting. That drove me so crazy.....