Friday, January 25, 2008

Day 12: Taming the Monster?

Has the course of Roger Federer's career changed forever, or is that just "the monster" talking?

Novak Djokovic defeated Federer in the Men's Singles semifinals on Day 12, 7-5/6-3/7-6. It was the world #1's first straight sets loss in a hard court slam since he was victimized by Max Mirnyi in the US Open Round of 16 in 2002... before Federer was even "Federer."

Surely, after such a deceptively quick start during the first two rounds of the 2008 Australian Open, this tournament was Federer's toughest since he rose to the top of the tennis world four years ago. From his narrow escape against Janko Tipsarevic in the 3rd Round that was followed by a pair of closer-than-expected wins, leading up to the end of his record ten consecutive slam finals streak, his road in Oz was anything but lined with yellow bricks.

But is this just a single-slam alteration of course, or a sign of things to come. Has the talented, younger field caught the King?

Djokovic has been in Federer's rear view mirror for the past year, and after squandering the opportunities given to him in New York in the US Open final last September, he seemed determined to not do the same thing again this time out. Instead, it was the Swiss Numero Uno who did the squandering.

After breaking the Serb for a 4-3 lead in the 1st set, then holding a 5-3, 30-love advantage on Djokovic's serve moments later, Federer blinked. As was the case against Djokovic's countryman Tipsarevic last week, Federer was unable to put away the big points that have defined his career. After letting Djokovic off the hook in a set in which the 20-year old wasn't particularly sharp, Federer gave away the set with a string of wildly errant groundstrokes that ended with his own serve being broken to close the match's first stanza.

From there on, zero-time slam champion Djokovic simply outplayed the twelve-time slam winner, running to a 5-1 lead in the 2nd and dominating Federer's service games. Federer offered up some resistance late, gaining a break and closing to within 5-3, but it was too late to salvage the 2nd set.

In the 3rd, with his 40-match hard court slam winning streak on the line, Federer again couldn't take advantage of the chances he managed to carve out of Djokovic's game. He failed to convert an early break point, then saw the Serb's big serve save two set points late. Federer took a 3-1 lead in the tie-break, but consecutive forehand errors knotted the score. Djokovic's service winner gave him a match point, then Federer's netted forehand halted tennis history.

But did it really?

Well, Federer WASN'T quite himself during the last week. It may have been the lingering aftereffects of the illness that struck him down prior to Melbourne, or even the slower Plexicushion surface. But the fact is that his own struggles to win big points at this Australian Open had as much to do with his opponents' lack of intimidation and fear as it did with Federer himself.

Still, even while a burgeoning men's tennis posse may be surrounding Federer at the moment, it'd be premature to assume we've now reached the stage in his career where he'll still be able to dominate at SW19, but be something less than the favorite at the Australian and US Opens.

Of course, even if that did turn out to be the case from here on out, think of all the potentially great matches we have to look forward to as the slams become ultra-competitive and not just a Rafa-or-Roger proposition (which it has been for the previous eleven grand slams, with the pair splitting up the titles 8-to-3).

Federer hasn't relinquished his position as the best player on earth. Nadal's loss in the SF to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga assures Federer of retaining his #1 ranking for now, but don't be surprised to see the upcoming clay season finally allow Rafa to rise to the top spot after a ridiculously long "apprenticeship." When Wimbledon rolls around, Federer might be ranked #2 in the world... setting the stage for him to attempt to reclaim his aura in London, Beijing (he's still never won a Gold Medal) and New York. By the end of the year, Melbourne could be a footnote as Pete Sampras' all-time career slam mark of fourteen could be tied.

But, make no mistake, the days of simply assuming we'll see a continuation of Federer's three-slams-in-a-season dominance might have died a natural death on Day 12. The superhuman expectations his brilliance has inspired -- a "monster" of his own making, he noted after the match -- will for the moment work against his reputation. But once the dust of Melbourne settles, the last four seasons will be viewed in context as the extended prime of a career that still has many chapters left to be written.

Djokovic's moment in the sun was coming, and he had to go through Federer to fully legitimize his inclusion in the discussion about who's the best player in the world. Of course, now, to back up THIS victory, he'll have to win another match against the #38-ranked Tsonga, fresh off his shockingly incanddescent performance against Nadal.

If the 22-year old Frenchman can capture his SF magic -- the mesmerizing mix of power, touch and athleticism -- in a bottle, well, then Djokovic might be left in the wake of ANOTHER rising star and Melbourne won't turn out to be the defining moment in his career that it appeared to be just a few hours ago.

Without Federer or Nadal, it'll be an odd match on Sunday, for sure. It won't even feel like a grand slam final. Roger's not going anywhere, and neither is Rafa... but tennis will go on without them in Melbourne.

And if both of the NextGen champions play up to their abilities, this could be one of the wildest, most entertaining finals on record.

The Bondarenkos Alona & Kateryna became the first champions of this Australian Open, overcoming a slow start against #12-seeds Victoria Azarenka & Shahar Peer to physically take over the match, until the Corporal's (too) late surge made them sweat just a little down the stretch. The Ukrainian sisters won their first career slam titles with a 2-6/6-1/6-4 victory.

Top-seeded Russians Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova & Ksenia Lykina won the Girls Doubles, while Taiwan's unseeded pair of Hsieh Cheng Peng & Yang Tsung-Hua won the Boys Doubles. Yang will try to sweep the junior competition in the singles against Aussie Bernard Tomic.

Meanwhile, a pair unlikely finalists have emerged as dual "Breakout Stars" on the Girls side. Unseeded Australian Jessica Moore upset Romania's Simona Halep, while Dutch #14-seed Arantxa Rus took out China's Zhou Yi-Miao in the SF.

12...Venus Williams (6-6)
11...Justine Henin (7-4)
10...Serena Williams (8-2)
7....Lindsay Davenport (3-4)
6....Mary Pierce (2-4)
3....Amelie Mauresmo (2-1)
3....Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-2)
2....ANA IVANOVIC (0-1)*
2....Elena Dementieva (0-2)
1....Anastasia Myskina (1-0)
1....Marion Bartoli (0-1)

3...Serena Williams (3-0)
2...Justine Henin (1-1)
2...Lindsay Davenport (1-1)
2...Mary Pierce (1-1)
2...Amelie Mauresmo (1-1)
1...ANA IVANOVIC (0-0)*
1...Venus Williams (0-1)

[tied 2-2]
2006 Linz QF (Hard) - Sharapova 7-6/7-5
2007 Tokyo SF (Carpet) - Ivanovic 6-1/0-1 ret.
2007 Roland Garros SF (Clay) - Ivanovic 6-2/6-1
2007 WTA Chsp QF - Sharapova (Hard) - Sharapova 6-1/6-2
2008 Australian Open Final

2000 Lisa Raymond & Rennae Stubbs
2001 Serena Williams & Venus Williams
2002 Martina Hingis & Anna Kournikova
2003 Serena Williams & Venus Williams
2004 Virginia Ruano-Pascual & Paola Suarez
2005 Svetlana Kuznetsova & Alicia Molik
2006 Yan Zi & Zheng Jie
2007 Cara Black & Liezel Huber
2008 Alona Bondarenko & Kateryna Bondarenko

A: Madison Brengle, USA
R: Mariana Duque Marino, COL
W: Urszula Radwanska, POL
U: Kristina Kucova, SVK
A: Jessica Moore, AUS & Arantxa Rus, NED

#4 Ana Ivanovic/SRB vs. #5 Maria Sharapova/RUS
#3 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
Alona Bondarenko/Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR/UKR) def. #12 Victoria Azarenka/Shahar Peer (BLR/ISR) 2-6/6-1/6-4
#7 Arnaud Clement/Michael Llodra (FRA/FRA) vs. #8 Jonathan Erlich/Andy Ram (ISR/ISR)
#5 Sun Tiantian/Nenad Zimonjic (CHN/SRB) vs. Sania Mirza/Mahesh Bhupathi (IND/IND)
#14 Arantxa Rus/NED vs. Jessica Moore/AUS
#10 Yang Tsung-Hua/TPE vs. #5 Bernard Tomic/AUS
#1 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Ksenia Lykina (RUS/RUS) def. Elena Bogdan/Misaki Doi (ROU/JPN) - 6-0/6-4
Hsieh Cheng-Peng/Yang Tsung-Hua (TPE/TPE) def. #2 Vasek Pospisil/Cesar Ramirez (CAN/MEX) - 3-6/7-5/10-5

Sharapova def. Ivanovic 6-4/6-4
Djokovic def. Tsonga 7-6/6-4/1-6/7-5

TOP QUALIFIER: Julia Schruff / GER
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Maria Sharapova / RUS
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): Maria Sharapova / RUS
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): (vacant)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st - Jankovic def. Paszek 2-6/6-2/12-10
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): QF - Sharapova def. Henin 6-4/6-0
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F): (vacant)
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Julia Vakulenko / UKR (1st Rd.-Vesnina)
UPSET QUEENS: The Russians
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Marta Domachowska / POL & Hsieh Su-Wei / TPE (4th Rd.)
IT GIRL: Casey Dellacqua / AUS
MISS OPPORTUNITY: Daniela Hantuchova / SVK
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Jelena Jankovic / SRB (1st Rd.- down 3 MP to Paszek)
CRASH & BURN: #2 Svetlana Kuznetsova / RUS (3rd Rd.- A.Radwanska)
DOUBLES STARS: Alona & Kateryna Bondarenko / UKR
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Jessica Moore / AUS & Arantxa Rus / NED

All for Day 12. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...


Federer lost in '04 to Guga at the French in straights

also, I think that ultimately, this loss was great for Federer because it takes SO MUCH pressure off of him. he doesn't have to worry about The Grand Slam, much less The Golden Slam. If he had won Australia, he would have had so much pressure at the French and at the Olympics since the other two slams are pretty much givens (well, now less of a given at the US Open)...

btw, was it just me, or did your stomach turn during Maria's victory speech last night? (it seems as if Serena's still a trend setter...) I mean, last year when I heard Maria's runner-up speech, I conceded that she had given a classy, humble, and humorous-at-the-right-times speech, and that Serena probably wouldn't top that. well, serena kinda did "win" in the speech category b/c she dedicated it to her late sister (but I don't think that she dedicated it to win...if that makes any sense). but it was sincere, touching, and most importantly, mature -- coming two years after that fact and at the ripe old age of 25. Yesterday, Ana gave a good speech that was charming and innocent and the pro-Ana audience ate it up. So what does Maria do, Maria dedicated her win to Jane Joyce, the mother of her coach. While I'm not trying to say that it wasn't a nice thing to do, i just kept feeling like this was a calculated move (made by the Master Shrew of Maria Sharapova INC., and not by someone who really meant it) and it made me feel weird since it seemed like she was utilizing someone's death as a marketing ploy. (The camera panned over to Joyce and his face was blank...) And at 20, which I am as well, I don't think the concept of death, especially in other people's family really makes that big of an impact. You're sympathetic and you try to help, but the understanding is not there.

Additionally, during Serena's speech, you could tell that her sister meant a lot to her. Her voice was thick with emotion that (I believe) you can't fake. Maria's was not...and perhaps that's from youth... And maybe as an actress, Serena can call upon that type of emotion and I'm just too naive to see that it was fake...I dunno...I just never got the impression that Serena was that talented in front of the camera as she is on the court.

But on a more tennis-y note, I can't help feeling that venus lost her match with ana...there were SO MANY ERRORS...and that while, jankovic played really well and beat serena, the amazing shots she hit were (kinda) lucky. any tennis player knows that those shots just don't go in...

And really, daniela hantuchova's side-to-side movement is SO BAD. how in the world is she a top 10 player...I suppose that's what you call an abundance of natural talent

and those were my final thoughts on the tournament (hey, i figure that if Jon Wertheim can have fifty, i can have five). but reading over my comments again, it seems like I'm a rather harsh critic towards people my own age...


Sat Jan 26, 10:05:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Sat Jan 26, 10:11:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

and reading over it yet again, i realize that my use of pronouns sucks and that they [the pronouns] (see!! -- unclear!!) do not help the clarity of my writing...


referring to:
"well, serena kinda did "win" in the speech category b/c she dedicated it to her late sister (but I don't think that she ]serena] dedicated it [the championships] to win [the best speech competition]...)."

see! repulsive use of pronouns...i think i hear my grade 8 english teacher vomitting

Todd, do you think that Tsonga's the real deal?

Sat Jan 26, 10:15:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Hmmm, that straight sets stat was a graphic ESPN used during the match coverage. But, you're right... and he lost to Horna in straight sets at the 2003 French, as well. So, I guess the "corrected" stat would be that it was his first straights sets loss at a hard court slam since the 2002 US Open.

Well, Tsonga surely looked incredible in the Nadal match. He reminded me a little of Safin when he was at the top of his game, but maybe that was partly because of his size and the way he moved around the court. Visually, there was a similarity. Of course, many players have looked great in Melbourne (remember Gonzalez last year?) and then looked average the rest of the season. This is the first tour final EVER by Tsonga.

I didn't really get a calculated feel about the Sharapova speech. I think she planned to mention it win or lose, and knew what she was going to say, so she'd probably gone over it in her head. At this point, at least in my opinion, I don't think she needs to attempt to humanize herself in order to create or change any sort of image. Things are going pretty well as it is.

Actually, I think the scrutiny of the Sharapova team reaches overkill at times, including the stupid throat-slashing "controversy" with Yuri at the end of the week.

(Actually, it's very similiar to how the Agassi group was cast in the early 1990's before and when he first started winning slams. And Sharapova is, in some ways, very comparable to a young Agassi as far as her visibility. I can remember the "controversy" when he won Wimbledon was that the box was telling him to fall on the ground because it would supposedly make him look like he was more overcome with emotion, and maybe it'd be easier to use in a commercial or something. It seems sort of silly now.)

I'm not sure about her history, but since she's been in the US for so long (and didn't even see her mother for a few years), I'm not certain that she's ever had to deal with the death of a close relative since she's had very few around for most of her life. Just her dad, really. So, with the group around her acting as something of a "family," I can understand her taking her coach's loss quite personally.

Of course, something like that's always potentially going to be interpreted differently by many people.

Sat Jan 26, 05:31:00 PM EST  

Post a Comment

<< Home