Saturday, January 22, 2011

Getting to know some talented newbies

Much more so than last year, this year’s Australian Open has been marked by the emergence of some new faces whose games I am looking forward to getting to know. And this naturally means that some of my darling Old Farts may be on the decline. So there is a bitter-sweetness to my emotions, as I watch some of my faves struggle to close out matches, while at the same time finding myself becoming excited by the brand new talent pushing them this way and that from the other side of the court.

I won’t pretend at this belated stage that I am much of a fan of Venus Williams. Her apparent fondness for contributing to the dumbing down of the conversation about women’s tennis (by reducing it to one of clothing and fashion) has always disconcerted me. How can this be the same woman who has fought so hard for equal treatment for WTA players? Clearly I just don’t get her.

But despite my ambivalence towards Venus, part of me was saddened to see her hobble off the court after one game against the relative newbie, Andrea Petkovic. Having fought so hard to beat Sandra Zahlavova, one had hoped for a miracle recovery. Instead it has become a point of concern whether the adrenaline-fueled victory may have come at the expense of a worsening of that groin injury.

(As an aside, I want to express my surprise over hearing one of the female ESPN commentators’ repeated observations that Venus is overweight and that the injury would have been preventable if Venus was several pounds lighter. Venus did not look even remotely overweight to me. I suspect that the injury may have had far more to do with her lack of match fitness.)

On the other side of the court against Venus was the dancing Andrea Petkovic, whom I wrote about in my very first column for 2011. This newbie really impressed me in Brisbane. Her next opponent is Maria Sharapova. Given how hard Maria had to fight to beat the talented German newbie, Julia Görges, I really like Petkovic’s chances. But she cannot afford to let down her guard for a moment against Sharapova who has made it clear that she has no plans to spend the next ten years chasing a tennis ball but wants a husband and some babies. Which probably only increases her determination to win this Slam.

And then there is Rafa who clearly struggled to close out his match against the talented Bernard Tomic. I was very impressed by this youngster. Tomic has been part of the conversation of tennis for some years. He has been slammed by the Aussie media for being a bit of a brat. Well all of that seemed kissed and made up in his match against Nadal. What most impressed me was how Tomic managed to force Nadal to change up his game. I liked the youngster’s patience. I like that he strategized on the court, baiting Rafa with long slow rallies. I liked many things about Tomic’s game, but I was particularly struck by the intelligence of it. He is definitely one to watch.

Which is not at all intending to imply that Rafa is on the decline. On the contrary. But I found it interesting that he felt compelled to come up with excuses for his performance against Tomic. He said that he was not fully recovered from a recent bout of illness. He said that he had lost five pounds. He said that he sweat too much. Excuses excuses. I expect that all of his coming opponents will study that Tomic match closely. It’s a template for how to come close to beating the great Rafael Nadal.

And then there was the talented Ukrainian newbie, Alexandr Dolgopolov, who took out Jo-Willy Tsonga in five sets. I fully expect Dolgopolov to be dispatched in the next round by Robin Söderling, but I won’t be surprised if he challenges Söderling in the process. Dolgopolov’s form has improved significantly over the past year. At a solid six feet tall, he has a remarkably complete game and is a joy to watch.

Some other newbies who had their moment in Australia include the Dutchman, Robin Haase, who gave Andy Roddick a good scare. Perhaps this will teach Andy to shut up about talking about his wife’s movies and focus on his tennis.

And there’s 22-year-old Ekaterina Makarova who showed no fear of her 28-year-old compatriot, Nadia Petrova. And Petra Kvitová who was also so impressive in Brisbane, and who proceeded to break every Australian’s heart when she spanked home girl Sam Stosur. Both Makarova and Kvitová are still in the draw. So many newbies. A whole year in which to get to know them.

Finally there is the Canadian by way of Yugoslavia, 20-year-old Milos Raonic. This talented newbie has already made history by being the first Canadian in ten years to make it to the third round of a Slam. Raonic has taken out the far more experienced Michael Llodra and Mikhail Youzhny, so clearly his performance is no fluke. However, he is in Rafa’s part of the draw, so I’m not going to get too attached.

(photo Bernard Tomic)


happygeek said...

such interesting stuff on this blog. wish I knew more about tennis to contribute more meaningfully to some of the discussions I've read...hehehe...for now, I'm just window shopping. :-))

tennischick said...

thanks for reading. window shop away. :-)