The HAPPY SLAM, Roger? Are you sure about that? Even putting the disheartening Serb-Croat violence of the opening days aside, this final weekend has made the BEATDOWN SLAM seem like a more fitting nickname. What is up with the crazy, one-sided, over-before-the-spin-cycle’s-done natures of the men’s semis and last night’s ladies’ final? But hey, I’m not complaining – like any great action movie (the Fast and the Furious, anyone?)these matches have been thrilling, short, and good quality despite how obvious the plot becomes after the first few minutes.
Roger/Roddick: Yeah, Andy sucked it up, getting passed in an irresponsible manner and seemingly unable to adjust the strategy that he and Conners must have put together in their oft-hyped coaching sessions. But look, usually when one person plays “badly” (which I think is a slightly unfair appraisal of Andy’s performance)the opponent either drops a level out of mental weakness or goes about finishing the match in a boring, press-fast-forward-on-the TIVO way. Roger himself, although I would NEVER insult him with the fast-forward button, has won many a match like this (Tommy Robredo anyone?) so I think it’s worth noting that Roger decided to enter his beautiful-human realm in chalking up a victory here. He said to the interviewer right before walking on the court, “I hope it’s a good match for the fans.” Once he realized that Andy wasn’t going to help him, it’s like he decided, “well, if I’m gonna slaughter him in straights, I’ll at least give the crowd their money’s worth.” Thanks, Rog.
Haas-Gonzalez: Gonzo. That’s the only way to describe Fernando’s play. We all love the guy, we all admire his ability to hit screamers (remember at the Olympics in Greece, where Andy R. said “When he started playing offense off of my offense, I knew I was in trouble”?), and we all knew that he had a great shot against Haas in the semis, even without accounting for his beyond-emphatic win over Blake in the Quarters. But geez, did you ever think the guy could play more like Federer than Federer? Maybe not as smooth, as poetic, as majestic-in-its-inevitability, but it sure as hell was as exciting a display of shot-making and pure domination as anything Fed has drummed up recently (including his “rout” of Roddick the evening before.) I just can’t get over it. Here’s Fernando, a long time figure on the tour, playing like a fearless teen phenom (a.k.a. “young gun” Nadal at the ’05 French)on the road to his first ever major final. It’s weird. Everyone knows him, everyone likes him (he’s not, as the commentators say condescendingly, just “really famous in Chile”) and now everyone, including Serena Williams, is watching him with their mouths wide open in awe.
Federer really has to watch out tonight, I’m not kidding. If Fernando plays the way he’s been playing against Haas and Blake, Roger’s going to lose his first Aussie Open final. Even the mighty Federer will be reduced to spectator status (a term I pulled from wordsmith Mary Carillo) if faced with the kind of outrageous game Fernando’s displayed. Still, Roger is a great neutralizer of hot streaks and tends to play “up” when faced with a worthy opponent, so I think this match is going to be outstanding, no matter who wins. (Go ROGER!)
SERENA SLAYS SIBERIAN SHARK: It’s my blog, so I can have all the dumb headlines I want. Moving on: what a killer two sets Serena played! Here I was all grumpy about the unforced errors and see-saw play I’ve seen on the women’s side during this slam, and Serena decides to play what has to be one of the cleanest matches of her life. (I loved how post-match she said, “well if Fernando can make only 3 unforced errors in three sets, I can at least keep it to 10 or 11 in two. . .”) Like Fernando’s performance against Haas, she basically didn’t give her opponent a chance to get her racket on the ball. Maria, putting double faults aside (but just for a moment) had nowhere near the level of unforced errors she usually has (when she wins!) showing how Serena overpowered her. Again, just like Fernando did to Blake and Haas – Serena took ol’ Sharky out of the equation. Wow, isn’t it so much easier when you don’t even have to play against your opponent?
Oh Maria, this match reminded me of the two bagels Lindsay fed you at that tournament you played sometime after winning Wimbledon (can’t remember the time or the place, exactly, just the beatdown.) There you were, tough, confident-with-reason, and focused, yet you were still humiliated on the court. Anyone who gives Amelie a hard time for the slips she has had in her game, even as the top ranked player, better give Maria the same tough love. She looked like a sacrificial lamb out there – a player a few tiers below Serena. Those double faults! I mean, I actually started wondering if Dementieva would have been better off in the serving category.
But all of this creates a great story line for the ’07 women’s season (I can just imagine the WTA’s marketing staff dancing around their cubicles), as the return of Serena (with Venus close behind?) becomes a reality. The entire tournament, Serena has been so intense, so positive, so far from the flailing-shrieking-whining Serena I saw last year, that I don’t think this will be an 05 Aussie blip or the double-take win Venus had over Lindsay at Wimbledon. And maybe, like Serena, we all needed a mental break from the Williams era of domination (and dubious publicity stunts – aces for Katrina, anyone?). Because all of the sudden, I realize how much the victorious Serena’s been missed (by us fans, of course – I’m sure the players feel differently!)
And the fitness “issue”? I love this from Serena’s post-match presser (stolen from Peter Bodo’s great Tennis World blog, with his commentary):
Doug Robson: Serena, are you in better shape than people give you credit for?
Serena: I definitely think so., Just because I have large bosoms, and I have a big ass (laughter), I swear, my waist is 30 inches – 29 to 30 inches, it’s really small! (Steggy notes: That’s a modern size 10) I have the smallest waist, but just because I have those two assets, it looks like I’m not fit. Just in the locker room staring at my body, I’m like, “Am I not fit, really not fit? Or is it just that I have all these extra assets?” You know, it just looks like I’m not fit. I don’t care if I didn’t eat for two years, I still wouldn’t be a size 2. No matter how slim I am, I always have this and that. We’re living in a [Mary-]Kate Olsen world (gales of laughter now). I’m just not that way, I’m. . . bootylicious, so to say. That’s just how it is and always going to be (sheer anarchy, with Serena laughing as hard as anyone).