Labor Days: The Most Wonderful Tennis Time of the Year
Will Cilic Imitate 1990 and 2000?
Montreal witnessed all top eight seeds reach the quarterfinals, and Cincinnati saw the top four players reach the semifinals. Conformity has its place. After Andy Murray easily dismissed an inspiring Taylor Dent, I firmly suspected that Juan Martin del Potro was the only thing standing between the semifinals of the 2008 U.S. Open being reset for 2009. The Croatian Sensation, Marin Cilic beat Andy Murray 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 demonstrating how treacherous the path to any title can be. I left for work after watching as much tennis as I possibly could. The last thing I saw was Cilic fend off two set points at 4-5, 15-40 and then routinely break Murray to take a 6-5 lead. I expected Cilic to hold and be up 7-5, but I did not expect 6-2, 6-2 to follow.
This upset is not on the level of Robin Soderling’s win at the Roland Garros, but consider that Murray was 17-2 this year in the four North American Masters 1000 events and was the runner-up at the 2008 U.S. Open. This was not a minor upset. Like Pete Sampras in 1990 and Marat Safin in 2000, Cilic could mature rapidly and leave the U.S. Open a radically different player. I do not see a U.S. Open trophy for Cilic this year, but sometimes a player has a metamorphosis mid-tournament. The idea that this is possible is fun in and of itself. Of course, Juan Martin del Potro looms.
Melanie Oudin – The New Jimbo?
I have seen various experts compare Melanie Oudin to Justine Henin, Rafael Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt. I will throw another one out there: Oudin reminds me of Jimmy Connors in her ability to capture the crowd with tenacity. Jimmy also often worked his way into and through a match even if he fell behind. Oudin is smart enough to let an opponent implode, but also has enough foot speed and an ability to hit winners at opportune times that nudges her opponent toward implosion. She has also confirmed my theory that someone with comparable speed and heart to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario could do well in the current WTA.
Death in the Afternoon*
I enjoyed watching portions of the Rafael Nadal-Nicholas Almagro match. When Almagro was dialed in and believing in himself, the points featured each player simultaneously playing great defensive and offensive tennis and absolutely knocking the cover off of the ball. When Almagro was not confident, it was obvious Rafa would win. Still, I could easily imagine all of the fans fading away and seeing these two just crushing the ball back and forth on a practice court in Spain. As a player, I wish I could move as fast and hit the ball like they were. It was great stuff. Similarly, Tommy Robredo played ten great games versus Roger Federer. Those ten games were some of the most fun I have had as a TV viewing tennis fan, but Robredo was unable to maintain that level after sloppily dumping serve at 5-5 in the first set. Federer and Nadal’s ability to play at that level most of the time and to recover that level after facing adversity is something I greatly admire.
Five Quick Takes
1. Andy Murray has the tools to win a Grand Slam event, but he does face a tough question: “Should I stick with a generally effective strategy of counterpunching or change strategies by developing and using bigger shots?” Internal doubts arising from this quandary might be worse than just selecting one option and committing to it. If I were on his team of coaches, I would emphasize sticking with the current format at least through the 2010 Australian Open while also consciously working on a better second serve. Murray is too young to panic, but he is too talented to not reach the quarterfinals at either the U.S. or Australian Opens in 2009.
2. Sam Querrey had a great summer, but he needs to keep working on improving his fitness and movement if he wants to be a bona fide top player.
3. I wish Dick Enberg would not use the adjective “delicious” when describing men’s tennis. It would be creepy if he used “delicious” when calling a women’s match.
4. Spain is easily the top country in men’s tennis right now. France is solidly second in terms of having multiple quality players. I am sure the Bourbon monarchs are proud.
5. Professional tennis is getting taller, and I think this will make having a slice backhand with bite a must.
* – This was my only literary reference, but I did consider discussing how Oudin survived the “shrieking shack.”
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