Roger Federer played absolutely fantastic tennis during his 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 first round victory over Lukas Lacko on opening day of the Australian Open. (“I thought I played great!” he said afterwards.) His flawless performance thrilled his fans even as they nibbled their fingernails to the nubs. Yes, Fedophilia is a disease. So indulge me for a minute:
There’s been a lot of talk about pressure in the weeks or so before the Aussie Open. Is Major-less No. 1 Wozniacki ready to crumble? Is Nadal tossing and turning over the Rafa Slam (he’d say “no,” no?) And, as we’re reminded by countless journalists, Roger Federer must be quivering at the brink of his own tennis mortality.
A sampling from the ESPN site includes Ravi Ubha’s “Aussie a Harbinger for Federer’s Future”, which tries to convince us that Australian Open 2011 is a must win for Fed. Wait, wasn’t the World Tour Finals a “must win”? Evidently, Roger can only ride that victory for so long – as in, a few weeks. And according to commentator/coach Darren Cahill, that WTF final doesn’t really “count” against Roger’s head-to-head vs. Rafa, because, you know, Rafa doesn’t play great on that type of court. . WTF, indeed.
The article asks Roger’s agent, Tony Godsick, about the inner depths of Roger’s troubled psyche:
“If people say that if he doesn’t win the Australian Open that it’s over for him, I don’t know what to say to them other than maybe they’re right and maybe they’re wrong,” Godsick said. “He’s healthy, though, and enjoys the sport more than ever. I don’t think people understand that he loves the sport even when he’s not winning. The training doesn’t bother him; the travel doesn’t bother him; the grind doesn’t.”
Also at ESPN.com, one of my fave jounos, Tom Tebbutt, has an article called The Fanatical Following of Roger Federer, claiming Fed fans are “ready for some time on the psychiatrist’s couch.” No news, there. But he does provide a little back-up for those paranoid Fed Freaks who feel like their man faces the brunt of the media’s “must win” pressure:
In the back of their minds, the fans know the game will suffer its greatest loss the day the man from Basel hangs up his Wilson racket. The incredible consistency and beauty of his play on the court, combined with his grace and unfettered decency away from it, will be impossible to replace.
The great man has to feel the incredible weight of expectation. Last fall, when Nadal was losing to the unheralded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (in Bangkok) and Jurgen Melzer (in Shanghai), there was hardly a hint of concerns or suggestions that he was in any way vulnerable. But when Federer lost to much better players — Andy Murray (in Shanghai) and Gael Monfils (in Paris) — it was automatically viewed as yet another ominous indicator of the inevitable descent.
Speaking of “ominous,” here’s the headline at AustralianOpen.com:
Federer in ominous form
But back to the rant: what’s up with ESPN’s obsession with Roger’s “gamesmanship”? They’re like “Roger talked about winning the World Tour Finals and Doha! He said that Rafa likes to take the pressure off himself by saying he’s not the favorite! Bulletin board material!”
They may as well say: “Oh my God, Roger states the obvious in his interviews! He actually answers the questions we ask him! What’s he trying to pull with all this telling-the-truth stuff?”
Did I mention Tom Tebbutt called Fed Fans “hypersensitive?”
Moving on. . .
Venus Williams, like Roger, embraces Billie Jean’s “Pressure is a Privledge” mantra. Though she’s not dealing with the weight of expectation Down Under – this is her first real tournament since the US Open and she’s suffering from knee tendinitis (and was sneaking puffs from an inhaler during changeovers today) – she also isn’t winning at least one major in her “disappointing” seasons. But I thought she played great, aggressive tennis against David Ferrer, er, I mean Sara Errani, in her first round match. That was a hard fought 6-3, 6-2 victory. I’m so impressed, I won’t even give her crap about the dress. (It’s more the fit, than the concept that bugs me. She should just put on a properly fitting bathing suit and call it a day.)
Brad Gilbert may make some verbal faux pas, but sometimes he comes up with true genius. Like Thiemo de Bacle. I mean, the guy was up two sets to none and serving for the match against a very dicey Gael Monfils. But de Bakker/de Bacle just couldn’t close it out. The funny thing is, what saved Gael was the knowledge that Thiemo is an even bigger whack job than he is. (For the record, Theimo swears he was done in by a sudden groin injury.)
Q. Were you surprised he tanked the fourth set? (This question after Gael said: “I knew he would tank the fourth one.”)
GAEL MONFILS: Maybe I was surprised it turned like earlier in the fourth like that. Because the first two game, he won it, but he was like in the edge. And then I saw he was tanking. Yeah, maybe if I break him early, yeah, he would tank and then be ready in the fifth. I was kind of surprised.
But I know Thiemo a bit. I know sometime he snap in the head. So this is like a strong belief. We know like he can snap. It’s a weakness for him. So you play with that.
You know, before the match, my coach, Rog, told me, Sometimes Thiemo is not a big believer. When I saw that, you get it (snapping fingers). So you tank, be ready in the fifth, because I will. Maybe this is play for me today.
This was Gael’s first victory from two sets to love down. Snap.
Mardy Fish, who, according to Matt Cronin @tennisreporters, is worried he has mono, overcame a sluggish start to score his first ever victory from two sets to none down vs. Victor Hanescu (who really should think about a second career as an Eastern block villain in retro spy movies.) Given his health concerns, it’s hard to imagine the American will last too much longer in this tournament, but I was happy to see at least one of my countrymen dig deep and find a way out of deep trouble.
Yeah, I’m raising an eyebrow towards Sam Querrey who lost to 6-8 in the fifth to Lukasz Kubot. (Maybe I’m being harsh – once you get past tiebreak territory, it’s a crap shoot.) Ironically, it could have been Kubot’s Samurai style cheering section that made that little difference in the end.
Kubot treated his fans to a happy dance:
Ryan Harrison crapped out in straights. I’ll go easy on him this time.
Andy Roddick didn’t have to pull out the Gladiator stuff during his better-than-routine 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Jan Hajek.
There were a lot of big comebacks today – Philipp Kohlschreiber also came back from two sets down vs. countryman Tobias Kamke. Nice of him, since I was looking forward to his second round vs. Tomas Berdych. As of press time, Frederico Gil and Alberto Montanes also went the distance.
The Big/Not-so-Big Upset on the Men’s side today was Nikolay Davydenko’s four set loss to Florian Mayer.
Maria Sharapova avoided a repeat of her own first round upset from last year, battling through nerves on her way to at 6-1, 6-3 victory over Tamarine Tanasgarn. It didn’t help her surprisingly fragile psyche that she played the tournament’s first match on Rod Laver Arena – I almost expected Maria Kirilenko and that disastrous nightgown of a tennis dress to make repeat appearances. But alls well that ends well – just try not to think too much about those 10 double faults Maria hit along the way (and the fact she hit just one more during last year’s three set loss to Kirlienko.)
Maria gives pretty good press conferences – this explanation of her serving issues is pretty interesting:
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the approach to your second serve this year. You’re still trying to hit it fairly big, but you’re also taking a bit of a risk with doubles. Do you feel eventually that is going to come around to where you can actually hit it big enough and make it somewhat of a weapon?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think, you know, at certain points I definitely feel like I can, you know, go for bigger ones. But on different days the spin feels a little bit different to me.
That’s something that I’ve really had to adjust to; whereas, you know, maybe before when I was younger, before the surgery, I’d step up to the line and all the type of different spins, whether I hit a kick or slice, were a lot more natural. I didn’t really have to think about jumping up and putting something extra on the ball.
Now if I don’t, then, you know, my arm, I don’t really feel the spin sometimes. That’s something that I really have to concentrate on, definitely more on the second than on the first.
Q. You’re saying you don’t feel the spin? Why? You don’t have feeling in your arm or hand like before?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: No, just sometimes it’s not as free as other days. Been serving really good in practice. Uhm, I think sometimes it’s just about, you know, bringing that out into the matches, yeah.
Here’s a funny one, where she compares her life to those poor saps in college nowadays.
Q. Is it any element of frustration having to take it step by step rather than seeing it come very quickly?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, which part of life isn’t frustrating? I think if I wasn’t a tennis player, I’m sure if I was a college student you know, I have many friends that are in college, and they go through daily frustrations of having a test the next day and having to stay up till 3:00 in the morning and study for it and not know what they’re going to be, what their job is going to be when they’re done with school.
Every aspect of life has frustrations but I think that’s what makes it interesting, when you break through and find a way to get back or to get to a place where you want to be and achieve your goals. I think it’s really, really worth it at the end whether you’re a tennis player or anything else in life.
I know you’re human, Maria, but come on! You’re living the dream! Oh, except for having to deal with stalker-cum-journalists in your press conferences. This time, he was reportedly in the press room with a sign reading “I’m not a stalker.” Oh the hilarity:
Q. You called me a stalker the other day.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yes.
Q. Have you had a problem with a stalker before?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Not until you, no. I don’t know why you’re here today. That shouldn’t have happened. You even have a sign. Oh, goodness (laughter). That’s wrong.
FoxSports “outs” the “journalist” “not stalker” as one James McOnie, from the New Zealand spoof TV sports show “A Crowd Goes Wild.”. (See Ana Ivanovic cannonball video for examples of the show’s fine work.) McOnie faces “possible censure” from Australian Open officials for his sleazy questions.
Caroline Wozniacki, No. 1 player in the world, handily won her first round match vs. Gisela Dulko: 6-3, 6-4. Her English language press conference was all of six questions, with exactly half of them pertaining to Neil Diamond’s opus, “Sweet Caroline.” Uh. . .huh. . .
Other winners on the women’s side: Schiavone in three, Azarenka, Bartoli, and the tournament’s popular not-so-dark horse, Li Na.
Now I’m going to kick back and watch the rest of Henin vs. Mirza, which is turning out to be quite a match. . .if Sania doesn’t suddenly figure out that she can win the match.
Enjoy Day Two, everyone! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!