Sunday, January 23, 2011

Schiavo and Sveta and Isner and Mahut

A Jamaican friend woke me up this morning to complain again about my portrayal of the Isner-Mahut match as 11 hours of pointlessness. He has taken great offence to this characterization and my articles on the subject have strained our friendship.

For my friend, Isner-Mahut was the most exciting tennis event ever. He could not understand how I could write so dismissively about it. And because he is my friend I have avoided saying what I really think of that Isner-Mahut match – which is that it was a long and boring serve-fest between a beginner and a bottomfeeder. For the sake of my friendship, I toned it down to ‘pointless’.

But my friend had another agenda in waking me up at 0730 on a Sunday morning. “So,” he demanded to know, “I guess now you goin’ to say that de women can be just as long and boring and pintless?”

Pintless? Oh, pointless. No actually I’m not. I would not stay up past 3am to watch a match that was pointless. I would however stay up past 3am to watch two experienced Slam winners take to each other in a gutsy contention, the outcome of which did not become obvious until the very last game.

There is in my mind absolutely no comparison between the Sveta-Schiavo match and that piece of crap put down by Isner and Mahut. Frankly it’s downright insulting to even think of comparing them. For a start, these two women played all-court, crafty, quality tennis.

They didn’t just serve and serve and serve. It was four hours and 44 minutes of high-quality tennis that often left me gasping. (As an aside, I enjoyed the couple of minutes with Roger Federer as commentator, and his frank enjoyment of this women’s match.) And the more fatigued the women became, the higher the quality of the tennis both put out. They actually seemed to inspire each other.

As John McEnroe famously noted about the fifth set for the men, it’s really not about tennis. It’s about mental fortitude. In the end, it was Schiavone who demonstrated the better mental fitness. She saved six match points. Kuznetsova had so many chances that it literally broke my heart when she found herself blocked by the determined Schiavone again and again. And their hug at the net when it was all over put the meaning to that catchphrase from ‘Entourage’. That is how you hug it out bitch.

Anyone who finds a comparison between these two matches must be someone who did not actually see these women play. Which is what I ended up saying to my friend. “I’m shocked to hear that Jamaican TV showed this entire match. That’s incredible!”

Well actually, they didn’t, at least not where he lives. Actually he only saw the match highlights on the sports coverage this morning. Actually he knew little more than how long the match lasted, which was enough for him to wake up the tennischick to give me grief because I dared to trash that piece of crap match on the men’s side. Some people just invite a good cussout yes. Luckily for him it was Sunday morning and I try to restrict my cussouts to weekdays.

The only comparison that I will allow between these two events is that the benefactor will be the person who faces the winner next in the draw. I think the world of Francesca Schiavone, and under normal circumstances I would like her chances against Caroline Wozniacki, who plays side to side to side boring baseline tennis with little variation or craft. Yes I know she is the #1 player in the world but it is easy to become #1 when most everyone else is also playing the same defensive side to side baseline crap and you happen to do it better than most.

But I don’t see how a fatigued Schiavone will be able to either do the amount of running it will take to beat Wozniacki, or to generate the amount of power it will require to dominate her. So Wozniacki may benefit from this prolonged event. Of course I still hope that the far more talented and experienced Schiavone finds a way to dig deep and deny her.

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