Preaching to the Choir
If you have not attended a professional tennis tournament, please do so if you can. I highly recommend the event in Cincinnati. The number of players a fan can see at close range on the practice courts and side courts is always great on the first few days of an event. Due to receiving byes, the top players are not seen on day 1 as frequently as in years past. Still, watching Novak Djokovic practice was impressive. His strokes are grooved perfectly, and Djokovic is a great athlete. Anyone who has tried to play tennis ought to be floored watching how easy Novak makes tennis look even compared to most of the other pros playing and practicing in his vicinity.
Impressions from the Day Session
On a day like today, there were many courts to choose from and a lot of sun, heat and humidity to absorb. It was so hot that clouds with visible lightening flashes were still welcome sights as they temporarily cooled the venue while passing over head. Despite the heat, the crowd was strong for an opening day.
I tried to divide my time as best I could to see enough of multiple players and matches. I wanted to see great things, so the first place I stopped was the Igor Andreev – Nicholas Kiefer match as I had never seen Andreev’s forehand live. When he has time to hit it, Andreev generates a ridiculous amount of pace and spin on his forehand wing. An unexpected bonus was seeing Nichols Kiefer serving big and executing nice drop volleys in a tight 2nd set. At 5-5, Andreev trailed by a break point and crushed a forehand that hit the top of the net, bounced about 6 inches into the air, hit the net again and rolled onto Kiefer’s side of the court. Instead of facing a likely 3rd set, Andreev led 6-5 and broke Kiefer to end the match. I expect Andreev to give Gilles Simon all he can handle in the 2nd round. This was a good start to the day.
After being wowed by Djokovic’s practice, my companions (more below) and I watched most of the Stanislas Wawrinka – David Ferrer match. If this were boxing, Stan and David would be an undercard bout headlined by a Federer-Nadal main event. While I was impressed with Wawrinka’s backhand and most of his game, it was clear early that Ferrer is a bad match-up for the Swiss. Stanislas’ lacks an overwhelming weapon to earn free points. On a hot day versus a lightening quick and consistent Ferrer, Wawrinka had to force the issue more than he usually does. Playing more aggressively meant errors and missed 1st serves. This was a fairly routine win for Ferrer minus some colorful language from the Spaniard (more below).
I did get to watch the end of the Ivo Karlovic versus Gael Monfils match. (Are Wawrinka – Ferrer and Karlovic – Monfils really 1st round matches?) Before play began, I saw Karlovic stretching near the press box. He is obviously tall, but in person he also looks a lot stronger and more intimidating than John Isner did when I covered Indianapolis in July. Karlovic won the final set in a tie-breaker by serving back to back 135 mph aces. Ivo does not move well if an opponent can hit behind him, but his service motion alone leaves him ¾ of the way to the service line as he rushes the net. Ivo could give Nadal a tough match if they meet in the 3rd round.
Fernando Verdasco is incredible. Feliciano Lopez and Verdasco won their doubles match. Lopez is a strong smooth athlete, but Verdasco was jaw dropping at times. Verdasco is exceptionally quick and hits his forehand even bigger than Andreev. His backhand has pop, he has good hands at the net for a baseliner and his serve is solid. With his speed and forehand, he can bully players from the baseline in doubles. Whatever “it” is, Verdasco has it. I hope to see more singles results akin to the 2009 Australian Open as his game and athleticism are top flight.
Jeremy Chardy also has a live arm. His win over the steady Tommy Robredo was an exhibition in huge serves and crushing forehands. Chardy won the match with a deft cross court angle volley. Chardy has all of the tools to contend for big prizes.
Night Session – Safin’s Last Stand?
Marat Safin is one of the most vexing talents tennis fans have ever encountered. Look at the semifinal and final rounds of the 2000 U.S. Open and 2005 Australian Open. “Safin could have …” and “Safin should have …” are sentences that have passed through all of our minds. His two handed backhand is still among the best on tour. Robby Ginepri put up a valiant effort in losing 7-5, 7-6, but Safin lives to play at least 1 more match in Cincinnati. The trajectory of their ground strokes told the tale of the match. Ginepri must put some air under the ball to get depth. This is not bad, but it also allowed Safin to at times tee off even if Robby’s shots landed close to the baseline. Marat can change the direction of the ball and drive the ball through the court with depth at will. Had Robby won the 2nd set, I think Marat might have folded as both players looked drained by the ridiculous humidity of southern Ohio.
My youngest sister and father drove from Louisville to watch the day session. I spent most of my time watching matches with them rather than hanging out in the air conditioned press box (blood is thicker than wisdom?). My sister lives in Spain working as a teacher during the school year. Not surprisingly we saw a lot of Spaniards play today watching Tommy Robredo and David Ferrer play singles as well as Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco play doubles. We kept an eye on Juan Carlos Ferrero’s practice session as well. Spain is a dominant force in tennis with a deep crop of talented players. Of course Spain is also the reigning Davis Cup champion and home to Rafael Nadal holder of 6 Grand Slam titles and a gold medal.
My sister jotted down some of the words David Ferrer yelled at different points in his match with Stanislas Wawrinka. While I know more than 1 semester of Spanish, having a translator around added a new dimension to match analysis. I will simply say Ferrer dropped several joders/f-bombs and said a few things that go beyond the f bomb when translated into English. To be fair, I was not offended by what he said. The fact that Ferrer was berating himself and risking audible obscenity penalties in sweltering conditions during a match he was winning has me thinking that David could conserve energy by avoiding such outbursts. Ferrer will need all the energy he can muster versus Marin Cilic. Humorously, Fernando Verdasco yelled “puta!” when he got lobbed in his doubles match, and Feliciano Lopez smashed his racket on 2 occasions for no discernible reason.
I have not had good luck in my journeys to professional tennis events in 2009. My drive to the Indianapolis Tennis Center was marred by bad directions from an internet site that led to a stream of words that might have put Ferrer to shame. This morning I should have had a simple 45 minute drive to Mason, Ohio yet an entire set of roads going the direction I needed were closed. The road signs should have just said, “All exits from the county are blocked.” I can take heart that neither trip lived up to the misadventures seen in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” as I was not beaten up by a bible salesman. Then again Lleyton Hewitt versus Robin Soderling could generate a man of constant sorrow on day 2.
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