Thursday, July 06, 2006

Tennis youngsters; and in praise of Nadal

So I know it’s a bailable offence to talk about tennis while the football WC is on, but what about Marcos Baghdatis’s superb showing against Lleyton Hewitt in the Wimbledon quarter-finals yesterday? Amazing mix of skill and confidence, and did anyone see that return of serve in the fourth set? He really is a player for the future, as was first suggested by that great run at the Australian Open early this year.

There’s a chance now that Baghdatis will play Rafael Nadal in the semi-final, and what a match that could be! Two incredibly talented youngsters: Baghdatis brilliant on his day but still a bit mercurial, still susceptible to the follies of youth; Nadal much more focused and disciplined, but can he progress much further in a grass tournament?

To my own surprise, I’ve become a Nadal fan in the past few months. First, obviously, there’s the sense of gratitude and relief about his bringing some competitiveness to the men’s game, which had become painfully predictable (what with everyone slogging it out for the second spot, behind Federer). Even if Federer wins every single title in the rest of the year (as he might well do), we’ll at least know that he was beaten in four consecutive finals in the first half of 2006 - and all by one man.

Second, I enjoy many aspects of Nadal’s actual play. I think he’s a much better all-round tennis player than is suggested by the epithets “force of nature” and “brutal power”, which are repeatedly used to describe him. It’s easy to see why his clashes with Federer are labelled “Beauty vs the Beast” (Federer’s grace can make anyone seem beastlike by comparison), but Nadal can be subtle, and very effectively so, when the occasion demands it. And what about the work ethic. And the discipline (which is at such odds with his flamboyant personality). How many people do you know who had all this at age 20?

Best of all, his attitude, in terms of wanting to become a more complete player. It’s been common in the past for clay-court specialists to take it easy during the grass season (and even part of the hardcourt season); to stay in their comfort zone. But this guy says “Wimbledon is a great tournament and I want to do well in it, even if it takes a few years” - and then he puts himself out there, in the face of the danger that he’ll do badly on an unfamiliar surface (and consequently lose some of the respect that his number 2 world ranking and his wins over Federer have brought him).

This year it’s paid off: despite being an admirer of his, I never expected him to move beyond the third round this Wimbledon. But he’s in the quarters now, and who knows what more he can achieve in future. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win the tournament sometime in the next 3-4 years.
For now though, set your sights on the possible Baghdatis-Nadal semi-final tomorrow (that’s only if Nadal wins his rain-delayed quarter-final today).

Here’s another reason to like Nadal: he has a blog! It was set up by ATP a few months ago and was maintained throughout the French Open, though it’ll probably die a natural death now.


  1. Hey it needs much more than just "force of nature" or "brutal power" to beat a Federer, though if Nadal does play Baghdatis I might end up rooting for Baghdatis.......

  2. You may be right about the tennis but give me Baghdatis's lovely personality any day!
    Nadal seems such a spoilt brat in comparison.

    Oh for the old days of Wimbledon when there was no grunting from the females and no fist shaking from the males!

  3. The grunting and the fist shaking does not bother me as much as the all-baseline slugfest...Call me a purist , but what happened to the big serving ivanisevic's and the serve and volley game that was such an integral part of the wimbledon viewing experience ...suddenly, there are no Beckers or Samprases any more..


  4. Deborah: Baghdatis has a lovely personality alright, but I seriously doubt Nadal is a "spoilt brat" - considering the kind of rigour and focus there is in his game (winning 60 clay matches in a row - a quite astonishing achievement for any 20-year-old, regardless of how talented he might be).

    Suhas: Well, the flip side is that when Sampras and Ivanisevic and other big servers were at their best, too many games were dominated by great first serves. Hardly any long rallies - in fact there was a lot of talk in the mid to late 1990s about men’s tennis losing its excitement.

    nightwatchmen: wouldn’t mind Nadal losing to Baghdatis, but I hope he doesn’t somehow make it to the final and then get thrashed by Federer. That would be grossly unfair, because Nadal’s already exceeded expectations by getting this far - and no one thinks he has a serious chance against Fed on grass anyway.

  5. Jai: Agree with you on the big servers. And while on big servers, let's not forget The Scud or Rudeski. Of the current lot, the mercurial Safin comes to mind as someone who has a big serve AND a pretty good all-round game.

    Baghdatis' return reminded me of Agassi at his peak...when he'd returned after injury to take the US Open and the Australian open. The angles he got then...

    erm...strange verification code: panic

  6. Ok, Jabberwock, maybe not such a spoilt brat .... somewhat lacking in charm I should say! Here is what the bbc man has just said :

    After the game, Nadal changes T-shirts and provokes plenty of wolf-whistles from some appreciative members of the audience. The fella has biceps like pineapples.

    ... so at least plenty of wit flowing as well as good play! That's on :

    or just
    for people with no tv coverage.

    By the way, The Telegraph had a special report on India on June 28th. Journalist called Amit Roy wrote a couple of good articles, and one for you: UK or bust for Bollywood film mogul.

  7. Jai,

    Nadal is a fighter and I didn't have any doubt that he would compete well on other surfaces as well.

    It is thrilling to see him perform on grass.

  8. tennis trumps football?
    grunting from the females is just awful....i miss steffi graf...

  9. Thanks for the alert. I shall convey this to the Greek half of the household, he's been lamenting the fact that Greece is nowhere to be seen in the World Cup, at least a Greek-Cypriot's victories would bring him some joy.

    Ela re Baghdatis!

  10. I don't have a favourite for this match, but I'm certainly looking forward to it. They're both so young and energetic and willing to throw themselves into it that you just know it's going to be entertaining.

  11. I support Marcos (which is usually the Kiss of Death). Partly because he looks like he has a life. And because, by ATP standards, he looks FAT. Go the Fatties!

    Tennis post on Dilip D'Souza's blog as well, about Kirsten Braasch. I'm almost inspired ...


    P.S. - "tpsocsew"? Surely this is taking word-verif too far?

  12. I'm not a fan of Nadal's baseline/heavy-topsin style. However, he's shown signs of creativity of late. There is hope that this tennis "hero" might also become entertaining to watch.

  13. People, eat crow...
    What do you think of the game yesterday. Nadal played brilliantly and it was obvious who was given to ranting and tantrum throws. Agreed it was a big match for Baghdatis, he kept venting a bit too much of his frustration.
    And Nadal is definitely better behaved in such situations.
    Remember the French Open finals where Fed made total mincemeat of him in the first set and Nadal stayed as cool as a cucumber and came back strongly...
    Also,unlike Jabberwock, I don't think tomorrow's final will be a cakewalk for Federer