Poll Star's Wonderings

Friday, January 26, 2007

Quiet, Genius at Work

I’ve not really done previews on this blog, just the occasional ‘I’m off to do this tomorrow’, but in my last post, I gave Federer the big build up-pretty risky if you don’t believe in tempting fate. Did he disappoint? After making a record 11th consecutive slam semi, did he reach a record equalling seventh consecutive slam final? You may well know the answer, but if you don’t you’ll have to wait, as there was a little other business first.

Fernando Gonzalez bt Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-4, 6-3
Nadal was the obvious favourite and I certainly didn’t think he could go out in straight sets. He may have been recovering from his exertions against Murray; Gonzalez certainly borrowed from Murray’s tactical approach. Gonzalez played brilliantly. At the time I thought he’d have given Federer a good test, which he may still do in the final. I lost count of the number of screamers he struck. I was pleased he won. Firstly, because of Nadal’s disrespect. He hit balls for over a minute after the umpire called time; he’d kept Gonzalez and the umpire waiting at the toss; Gonzalez had never reached the semi of a slam and Nadal was making him wait, trying to unnerve him. You can say that’s just sport, but I wasn’t the only who didn’t like it. It looked like it might have worked as Gonzalez made a nervy start, but after 4 games he dominated the match.

Secondly, I always love a winner who cries and that’s exactly what happened in his post match interview.

The previous day, John had managed to get a return ticket half way through the day session-he’d caught the end of Aussie Kim’s comeback against Hingis and the 5 setter between Haas and Davydenko. Now he’s got the bug, he was looking for tickets for today. We agreed to meet at 8 to queue up for returns for the ladies semis-no guarantee of a ticket, but we were supposed to have a good chance. After a couple of hours, a guy came up with a pair of tickets he didn’t need, which we bought off him. Always a bit of a risk, but the tickets looked fine.

We headed into the complex and stood by some statues-John has the photos, but as a preview, I can tell you that one involves me, a pink headband and Pat Cash. Then it was time to go and sit down in Rod Laver. This proved to be a bit tricky as there were people in our seats. One of my pet hates is people who are unable to read tickets at sport, theatres and on planes and sit in the wrong seat. With a sigh we compared tickets; with a sense of dread we saw they had the exact same tickets. I spoke to a steward and it was looking promising-seemed this sort of thing happened and they’d probably be able to seat us elsewhere. So we waited and a supervisor came and asked us some questions. This was starting to look bad.

We weren’t exactly removed by security, but not far off. Turns out our tickets were stolen and had been reissued-we had the duds; I have used touts a few times and this is always the risk. Once we’d been through the bar code scanner to enter Melbourne park, I figured we’d be OK. I was wrong. Luckily, there were still some tickets available-quite a few returns had come in and there were still 30 left, so we bit the bullet, bought another two tickets and headed back into Rod Laver. This time our seats were empty and we’d only missed 3 games of the men’s doubles semi. And lost $100!

Serena Williams bt Nicole Vaidisova 7-6, 6-4
Felt the Czech would need to win the first set to make her first final. She served for it, she had set point, she came back to 5-5 from 5-1 in the tiebreak, but she couldn’t win it. She suffered in the match from only playing her best when well behind. She was 5-1 down in the second set before closing to 5-4. This was when the match truly came alive and it was a shame there was no third set.

Serena was asked in the post match interview how it felt to back in the top 20 of the rankings; she jumped up and down, screaming ‘that’s awesome’. I guess it was news to her.

Maria Sharapova beat Aussie Kim 6-4, 6-2
This match started strongly and then fell apart. Kim had an early break, Maria got it back and the quality was very good. Then as Sharapova got stronger, Kim went off the boil. Evntually Sharapova did the same, serving a host of doubles, but Kim couldn’t capitalise. It was as if they both knew the match was over and lost focus. They were right. When she was playing, Sharpaova was very impressive. I hope she wins when Nicole and I go to Saturday’s final.

‘I know it’s over, but it never really began’
Not sure if Andy Roddick is a Smiths fan, but he surely echoed this sentiment last night.

Roger Federer was on a different planet taking Andy Roddick to pieces 6-4, 6-0, 6-2. I was very excited. I’d not had a lot of sleep and had struggled in the afternoon. Since then I’d had a few drinks with John, who stayed to watch the game on the big screen. I should have been a prime candidate for nodding off, but that was never going to happen. To stop myself bouncing up and down, I wrote while I waited for the players to be introduced.

This isn’t so much a tennis match, as a pilgrimage. It’s like seeing Ali, Barry John, Niklaus, Korbet, Michael Johnson, Bradman, Thorpe, Botham. Federer is in a very select band of all time greats. Just sitting here, waiting, I’m feeling very emotional about it. Surely it can’t live up to the level I’m building this up to.

In the event, it far exceeded my expectations.

Federer’s start was merely brilliant. He broke Roddick’s opening service, drawing gasps from the crowd as he immediately found his range. He had a slightly wobbly service game and at 4-4, he’d been the better player, but there was encouragement for Roddick. Then something happened. Federer went to a level that only he has. A level I believe only he has ever had. Sporting greatness is too easily bestowed in our overhyped age; pundits therefore have to use genius to distinguish the brilliant from the outstanding. I’ve often wondered if sporting genius is something that can really exist. Can you apply genius to sport? I’ve seen Warne, Jimmy, Ronnie, Woods and a number of others who’ve had label applied to them. Until last night I still wasn’t convinced. Federer is a genius.

He won the first set, and then blitzed Roddick in the second. It was simply incredible to watch. The stats tell some of the story.

I guess he could work on that first serve a bit.

It was overdrive plus some. The crowd were sitting there awestruck, applauding and wondering what Roddick could do. Nothing. No one could. It reminded me of the US Open final I saw, when Federer beat Hewitt 6-0, 7-6, 6-0. Hewitt was on a massive unbeaten run; he had won the US Open series (essentially he had been the best player in the US hard court season); he hadn’t dropped a set in the US Open; he wasn’t the favourite, but it was expected to be a match up. Federer wiped the floor with him. Hewitt never stops fighting and he won 6 games. I said that Federer would have beaten anyone, from anytime in the history of the game that night. Last night, he repeated the trick and Roddick was his victim.

I did feel sorry for Roddick, everyone did. He had the best seat in the house to watch Federer, but it was no consolation. He’s teamed up with Jimmy Connors, made massive progress and beat Federer two weeks ago in Kooyong (admittedly, this was an exhibition match, where Federer decided he’d play serve and volley for the first time in a few years as it was windy and it might come in handy). Roddick himself had said that the gap between them had closed and he had reason to hope. I have never seen a sportsman look so lost. At 5-0 in the second he smashed at a ball in frustration and the racket slipped out of his hand and nearly hit a photographer. In the past Roddick might have held his hands up and said too good, but recent events had changed his expectations and this really hurt. It was cruel, but beautiful to watch. Roddick didn’t throw the towel in, but in a boxing match it would have been stopped. Roddick was reduced to being cheered for wining points (6 in the second set) and lauded for winning games in the third.

Federer was even invincible with Hawkeye. He might as well have called the lines-he challenged 4 times and was right 4 times. Roddick’s two challenges were both wrong. It got to the stage where the crowd would shout ‘he’s missed one’. Someone bellowed ‘He’s human, Andy’, I shouted ‘barely’.

I needed to go to the toilet after 3 games. I didn’t move a muscle-it was all over in an hour and 23 minutes and I’m pleased to say I held on. When I met John afterwards, he was saying the crowd reaction at the big screen was the same. We decided that after that, we’d have to make a bit of a night of it.

When I’d known Rich for a few years he told me he’d seen Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis in the greatest snooker match ever. I was astounded. I’d known the man for years and he’d never seen fit to mention it. I told him, it should be the first thing he said to anyone-‘Hi, I’m Richard Hughes and I was at the Crucible in 1985.’ After tonight, I shall be introducing myself ‘Hi, I’m John van de Poll and I saw Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in Melbourne’.

To paraphrase Sid Waddell ‘When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer……… Federer’s only 25’.

Grand Slam leg one will surely be completed on Sunday. And I thought Gonzalez would trouble him. It was worth every penny of the ticket. And every penny of the two I’d had to buy earlier in the day!

So am I getting carried away? Two bits of the BBC website-John Lloyd has called it ‘the best he has ever seen’ and there’s an article asking ‘Federer-was this his greatest ever performance’? And Federer himself declared himself unbeatable. From anyone else, that would sound ridiculously cocky. With Federer, it’s just a simple statement of fact.


  • "I had one of those days where everything worked. It's just unreal, I'm shocked myself, I don't know what to say."

    You know you're in trouble when he's shocking himself.

    You have no credibility as a sportsfan anymore though, John. Niklaus? Really?

    By Blogger John, at 10:19 AM  

  • 'Hi I'm Richard Hughes I was at the Cruciable in 1985' '

    Nice to see you you guys enjoyed the tennis - the Gonzalez v Haas match was the one game I saw on TV from start to finish - a little one sided :-)

    After watching such a memorable tournament, whats next on the agenda for you crazy kids?

    By Blogger OxfordOwl Rich, at 4:52 PM  

  • Need to sack the team's typist and proof reader over the Nicklaus gaff. Sadly they're both me.

    We're off to tassie on Saturday, then Great Ocean Road to Adelaide.

    Hoping to actually do a post later.

    By Blogger Poll Star, at 10:33 PM  

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