The surprise element is often greater here than in the other majors, since this one comes immediately after the off-season and conventional wisdom about form, fitness etc has to be discarded – unless the player in question is Federer, that is. Dark horses who have trained really hard during the off-season often do well despite not being ranked very high and there have been a few surprise finalists in the last few years (Fernando Gonzalez and Marcos Baghdatis in the last two editions).
I’ve seen a few matches so far, including three marathons (Baghdatis-Safin, Roddick-Kohlschreiber and Federer-Tipsarevic, all superb in different ways). Eyedrops have been pressed into service: watching even four straight hours of power tennis – long rallies with the ball darting back and forth – can be harder on the eyes than a couple of days of Test cricket. Also, the way this particular Open has been going, the action often stretches to 16 straight hours (the Aussies are so sports-mad they actually started a third-round match at midnight Melbourne time – it finished past 4 AM) and my tired eyes have also been surfing the thousands of comments on Pete Bodo’s Tennis World blog, which are far more entertaining and informative than any news report could be.
Some favourite moments so far this year:
The human Fed: It’s well-established by now that Roger Federer is an android, but we saw him doing a fine impersonation of a person during his match with veteran Fabrice “The Magician” Santoro, a very popular medium-rung player who is in his last season on the tour. The android won comfortably and was always in control of the match, but it was seen to be laughing its head off during the many points where the nimble-footed Santoro repeatedly floated the ball back into play, even after Fed had hit seemingly clear winners and smashes. (Take a look at this point.) At the end of the match, Federer actually climbed over the net and hugged the Frenchman. I wonder if there was a short-circuit in the system or he had actually been programmed to do these things, just for this match? Either way, it was very nice to see.
- The new Plexicushion surface used this year has been a big subject of debate with commentators wondering whether it will play faster or slower than the earlier surface and how it might advantage or disadvantage different types of players. Sitting in the Star Sports studio, Vijay Amritraj and Alan Wilkins waited breathlessly to see what the world’s best player has to say about the finer points of the new turf. Cut to a Federer press conference where he says, very gravely:
“Well, I sort of liked the green surface better, you know. This shade of blue is hard on the eye – the reflection from the overhead lights is more difficult, though maybe that’s because we haven’t got used to it yet. In general, I like green better than blue...”
And he goes on for a minute or two about the differences between the two colours without mentioning how the surfaces compare in other respects. Basically, this is the android telling his opponents: “It doesn’t matter if we’re playing on quicksand, I’ll still beat all of you in straights.”
- For an awkward, lumbering American tree that has little personality on the court, Andy Roddick has a sense of humour off it; his press conferences/post-match interviews are often quite piquant, especially when he loses. After his five-set loss to Philip Kohlscreiber, an over-enthusiastic reporter says to him:
“You tried a lot of ways to get into his service games...Especially the last set, seemed like you were climbing uphill the whole time trying to get the ball back in play, and then he was dictating pretty quickly, and then that went on for a few games...”And Roddick cuts in:
“Is that a question or are you having, like, a monologue here?”With my thesis-length questions, it’s a good thing I’ll never have to interview him.
(Some earlier tennis posts: Thoughts on complete dominance, Dealing with the Federer problem, Mixed singles, Perceptions)