Nole, Rafa, Nole’s Girlfriend and Vlade Divac!

January 30, 2012 in Best Of, Sport, Tennis

Greatest.  Tennis.  Match.  Ever.

As a new father I have about 10 minutes to spare, so I’m going to blog about what’s been on my mind — last night’s EPIC Aussie Open Final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.  The two fighters went toe-to-toe like to heavyweight sluggers, absorbing killer blow after killer blow in the longest grand slam final and longest Aussie Open game of all time.

The Djoker came out on top in the end, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, but Rafa’s valiant efforts won him a lot of fans.  It was a see-sawing battle that shifted momentum numerous times.  Just when I thought Rafa was finally going to get over the hump against Nole, Nole fights back to dominate.  And just when a Nole victory looked like a mere formality, back comes Rafa.  Then there was the brief rain delay which I thought was going to kill Rafa’s momentum, but it only made him stronger.  And when it looked like Rafa was going to put it away, back comes Nole again to steal the match from the grasp of defeat.  I had no favourite in the match, so I was just glad to be a witness.

Everyone’s talking about this fantastic tennis match, so instead of my usual waffle I’ll just toss in some random thoughts:

  • Let’s face it, Nole’s girlfriend, Jelena Ristic, was one of the main reasons so many millions of people stayed up watching the match last night all the way until the end.  It certainly was the reason why my blog (which wrote briefly about her once), got so many hits overnight.  It was hard not to notice her — the freaking camera zoomed in on her on every single break in the action!  Kudos to the television crew for knowing what sells.  Nole’s victory is even more amazing considering how difficult it would have been for him to focus on tennis with her around.
  • That said, message to the TV crew for next year — go easy on the super slow-mo.  Super slow-mo on Jelena Ristic jumping up and down is fine, but super slow-mo on Djoker’s and Rafa’s faces as they crack massive forehands?  Not so much.
  • Speaking of Jelena, she seems to have embraced the role as tennis’s no. 1 WAG.  She always seems to wear cobalt blue, except the dresses are getting more and more expensive.  I wonder if she has clothing sponsors.
  • Huge surprise last night as I was watching the match.  On the odd occasion the camera panned away from Jelena, it landed on a bearded giant behind her that made me do a double-take.  Was that the biggest flopper of all-time, Mr Vlade Divac?  As it turned out, it was.  I have no idea why the retired basketball superstar was in Djokovic’s camp.  These Serbian athletes must be real close.  Maybe Nole learned some of his flopping mental tactics from Divac.

The big dude on the left

  • What the heck was the deal with the rain delay?  Seriously, the thing has a roof.  It looks like it might rain.  Why take the risk?  And how laughably primitive was the ball-boy brigade that wiped down the court on their hands and knees?  You would have thought someone (probably Japanese) would have come up with an ingenious contraption to suck all that moisture up in a jiffy.
  • Excellent post-match speeches at the award-ceremony too.  Rafa was awesome in defeat and super gracious, and the usually amped up Nole was also very kind with his words — both men were probably too tired to do much else.  Seeing them handed bottles of water and stools to sit on while that hilarious Korean (?) fella from KIA Motors rambled on said it all.  Then again, I felt like I needed to lie down after listening to that guy too.
  • Lastly, I just want to reiterate what a pleasure it was to watch the match.  These dudes are physical freaks.  How can someone crack the ball with so much force while running all over the court for almost 6 hours?  That’s just mind-boggling.  Especially for someone with bread stick arms like the Djoker.  I get a sore wrist from three consecutive two-handed backhands.

Djokovic downs Nadal in 2011 US Open Final!

September 13, 2011 in Sport, Tennis

The current undisputed king of tennis, Novak Djokovic

I want to work on a few other posts I have lined up, but the tennis news just keeps flooding in.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, or the Djoker or Nole, or whatever you want to call him, just overcame Rafael Nadal to win the 2011 US Open title, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1.  It was a fantastic final with lots of long rallies, running all over the court, and plenty of spectacular shots.  Nadal fought valiantly to bring the third set into a tie-breaker, which he won comfortably, 7-3, but the fourth set was a total annihilation.  This is the Djoker’s first US Open title following two previous finals losses, including last year’s final to Nadal.

The win continues a memorable run for Djokovic, who also captured his second Australian Open and first Wimbledon title and made the French Open semifinals this year.  For the season, he now has 10 titles and a 64-2 record, which gives him a remarkable 0.969 winning percentage, and if he does not lose again this year, will finish with the best single season winning percentage of all time (currently held by John McEnroe, who went 82-3 in 1984 for a 0.965 winning percentage).  Unbelievable.

Some people dislike Novak for his seemingly cocky demeanour, but I like the guy.  I think he brings a bit of spice to the game, which has been dominated for far too long by ‘nice guys’ like Federer and Nadal.  That said, I also like Rafa too, so I wasn’t going for anyone in particular in these finals.

I love how unpredictable tennis has been lately.  I remember when Nadal captured the French, Wimbledon and US Open last year and it appeared he was on the fast track to catching up to a sliding Roger Federer, or at least getting close enough to make the GOAT discussion even more interesting.

Then Djokovic suddenly takes his fitness and mental aspect of his game to a whole new level and becomes an absolutely unstoppable killer on the court.  Djokovic is 6-0 against Nadal this year, all in finals, and probably would have made it 7-0 and a ‘Grand Slam’ if he hadn’t dropped the French Open semi against Federer.  If Djokovic can keep this level of fitness up, there is no reason why he can’t continue this kind of run for at least another year or two and push his Grand Slam total into double figures in a hurry.

With Nadal as Federer’s kryptonite and Djokovic as Nadal’s, we now have a very interesting triangle of power, with Djokovic at the apex.  Now if only Andy Murray can do something — anything — to make it a quadrilateral…

PS: It is clear that Djokovic is also dominating the WAG category in men’s tennis as well.

No Djoke; girlfriend Jelena Ristic at the final

Too bad for Li Na and Andy Murray!

January 31, 2011 in Sport, Tennis

What a fantastic weekend of sports.  I’ll start off with the biggest news — the Australian Open.

I’m not much of a tennis player (the fact that I won two consecutive ‘Most Improved Player’ awards at school and still suck says it all) but I do love watching it, especially the Grand Slams.  Unfortunately, both players I was rooting for lost.

Women’s Final

Sadly, Li Na won't be able to celebrate Chinese New Year with a Grand Slam title

In the women’s, Belgian Kim Clijsters beat the sentimental favourite, China’s Li Na in three thrilling sets (3-6, 6-3, 6-3) to claim her first Australian Open title and her fourth GS title.  As a friend of mine told me recently, GS finals usually disappoint, but this one really didn’t.

Clijsters has long endeared herself to Australians and earned the nickname “Aussie Kim” because she once dated Lleyton Hewitt (when he was the world’s top player and did toilet paper ads on TV) — and managed to keep that nickname long after they broke up because she actually wins (kinda like how Russell Crowe is Australian when he wins Oscars and a New Zealander when he throws phones).

Li Na is also a fascinating story because she’s the best tennis player China has ever seen and will probably inspire a whole new generation of Chinese tennis players.  She’s funny and charismatic too, which is a bonus.  At 28, Li is probably heading towards the twilight of her career, but the current world no. 7 is certainly not done yet.  She had actually defeated Clijsters in a tournament just before the Australian Open and won the first set of the final in dramatic fashion.  However, in the end Clijster’s poise and experience guided her to victory.

I would have loved to have seen Li take out the trophy because it would have been quite historical, and more importantly, I find it extremely embarrassing that Aussies latch on to “Aussie Kim” simply because she’s a winner.  But then again, when the media makes a big fuss because Bernard Tomic didn’t get completely wiped off the court by Rafael Nadal (well, it was in straight sets), I guess they do need someone to root for.

Men’s Final

Sadly, this unappealing expression will continue for Andy Murray

It was great to finally see a GS final that didn’t involve Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal (as much as I admire both men).

But this was an intriguing matchup.  Novak Djokovic was searching for his second GS trophy (having won the Aussie in 2008) and Andy Murray was looking for his first (having lost two finals to Federer before, including last year’s Aussie final).  The two came up the ranks together as juniors and have been friends forever.  With Federer declining and Nadal a potential timebomb because of injury concerns, this was the perfect opportunity for one of them to step up.

My wife dislikes Djokovic because, let’s face it, he looks like and sometimes acts like a bit of a dick.  But I actually quite like him and thought he has embraced the occasional villain role quite well.  And he’s one heck of a player too.

However, on this occasion I was definitely going for Murray.  I felt sorry for the guy after he lost to Federer twice in previous finals, despite being a legitimate chance in both matches.  He, like Tim Henman before him, must have been feeling the pressure of all of Great Britain on his shoulders, so I wanted him to finally relieve that tension.  Besides, he’s too good of a player to never win a GS.

But this one turned out to be competitive but one sided.  Perhaps it was the experience from winning one before, but Djokovic just seemed so much more comfortable than Murray, who served poorly and failed to execute the big shots.  Luck certainly played a part in it — Djokovic’s shots were landing on the line and Murray’s were hitting the net.  In the end it just wasn’t Murray’s day (6-4, 6-2, 6-3), and it looks like that perpetually frustrated, constipated look on his face will live on for yet another GS tournament.

Nevertheless, a good start to 2011 and a great end to the week!

PS: I wouldn’t feel too sorry for either loser though.  The winner took home AUD 2.2 million while the loser got AUD 1.1 million.

Rafa Nadal captures his second Wimbledon crown!

July 4, 2010 in Tennis

It felt like yesterday when Rafael Nadal defeated Robin Soderling to claim his fifth French Open title.  Well, he has just won the second Wimbledon and eighth Grand Slam title of his career, defeating Federer conquerer Tomas Berdych in the final, 6-3. 7-5, 6-4.  Having turned 24 a month ago and with Roger Federer in decline, is it out the question to assume that Nadal would one day become the greatest of all time?

I understand why people like Roger Federer, but I don’t really get a lot of the negativity towards Rafa.  The guy may have started off somewhat one-dimensional, but you don’t get to where he is today without having an all-court game.  Rafa has evolved over the years to capture Grand Slams on all surfaces.  He has worked on his serve and backhand, and has ramped up his already unparalleled lefty forehand, court coverage, and determination.  Despite all of this, he remains absolutely humble and sincere — what is there not to like about this guy?

Federer, after capturing the Australian Open at the start of the year, has looked more mortal than ever before, losing to guys you would usually expect him to beat in Grand Slams.  While I think it’s too early to write the guy off just yet, especially with the US Open still left on the calendar, you have to start wondering whether Nadal, halfway to Federer’s 16 Grand Slams, may one day exclipse him.  If he does, then I can’t see how he cannot be the GOAT, considering his imposing record against Roger.

A few years ago, some thought that guys like Djokovic and Murray would continue to grow and overtake Nadal, but it seems those guys have peaked — at least for now.  Of course, the main concern about Nadal, as it always has been, is his health.  He has already missed significant time with his knee injuries, and there have been whispers of more issues this season (though they do not have appeared to have affected him too much).

Let’s hope Nadal can stay healthy and continue to make men’s tennis exciting to watch.  I’d very much like to see how far he can take things.  I remember after the epic 2007 Wimbledon final when Federer said that one day Rafa was going to win them all.  How right he was.

The Rafael Redemption: Nadal wins 2010 French Open!

June 7, 2010 in Tennis

I’m ecstatic for Rafael Nadal, who just captured his 5th French Open title by downing Robin Soderling, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.  It was sweet revenge for Rafa, who defeated his one and only conqueror on Paris clay and is now a staggering 38-1 at Roland Garros.  He also reclaimed his number 1 ranking while preventing Federer from equaling Pete Sampras’ all-time record of 286 weeks at that spot.

Last year when Nadal shockingly bowed out of the French Open last year, paving the way for Roger Federer to win his first ever Grand Slam on clay, people were ready to write off the then 23-year-old as “past his prime”.  They said he was too one-dimensional, his style too prone to injury, and that he had already peaked.  But he proved them wrong once again, as he did by winning Wimbledon in 2008 and the Australian Open in 2009.  Now Nadal has 7 Grand Slam titles (5 French, 1 Wimbledon, 1 Australian) and 2 runner-ups (both Wimbledon).

While it is still waaaay to early to put Nadal in the GOAT discussions with Roger Federer (who has 16 Grand Slam titles and 6 runner-ups, plus that ridiculous 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-final appearances), is it conceivable that one day Rafa might overtake Roger?  Let’s have a look at the numbers.

Federer is turning 29 in August whereas Nadal just turned 24 a few days ago.  At the age of 24, Federer had just won his 6th Grand Slam title (at the US), having won each of his first 6 Grand Slam finals.  Before he turned 25, Federer captured his 7th, the 2006 Australian Open, came runner-up in the 2006 French, and won his 8th Grand Slam at the 2006 Wimbledon.  Barring injury, Nadal would be the heavy favourite to win the French for the next 5 years, and by the time Federer hits 30, Nadal should also be the favourite for Wimbledon.  He could conceivably also win one or two more Australian Opens, and even though he has never done very well at the US, let’s say he breaks through and wins one there.

If we assume Federer doesn’t win another Grand Slam in his career and Nadal doesn’t miss any more time due to injury (both pretty unlikely), it’s within the realms of possibility that Rafa could end up with say something like 10 French Open titles, 4 Wimbledons, 2 Australian Opens and 1 US Open (that’s 17 for you math geniuses).  Even if he doesn’t quite get there, and ends up with say 13 or 14 Grand Slams (still a long long way to go), with his current 14-7 record against Federer, including 6-2 in Grand Slams (and 5-2 in Grand Slam finals), that makes the debate whole a lot more interesting.  Federer’s all-court game, consistency on all surfaces, effortless style and grace will always make him the front-runner in GOAT discussions, but can someone be the greatest of all time despite having one guy getting the better of him the majority of the time?  Right now the answer is yes because Federer is so far ahead of Nadal, but what if one day that gap becomes only a couple of Grand Slams?

I’m already looking forward to this year’s Wimbledon.  Will Federer get another one or will Nadal consolidate his Paris victory?  Or will someone else (like poor Andy Murray) finally come through?  Can’t wait.