Hmmm. I think I'm officially a little bit in love with Jelena Ristic.
And while we're on the subject (we're not really on the subject), what is up with the Serbs and their ability to rock the English language? It's so impressive.
Sigh, Nole. Sigh.
Did you really go on Conan wearing tighty whitey pants? And did you really spend seven minutes humblebragging to the point that Caro was at home in Monaco knitting a sweater for Jesus out of unicorn hair thinking "Jesus, dude. That's a bit much." And most egregiously, did you seriously somehow make it so that your appearance on LENO was BETTER than your appearance on CONAN???
To accomplish all three took a remarkable effort*. It makes The Streak look like peanuts.
*To be fair (which I am ALWAYS) some blame goes to Conan and his team of writers. Really? You're going to ask him about his famousness for seven minutes without making sure he had some sort of self-deprecating story to go along with each question? Lazy, Cone Bones. LAZY.
So Rafa has made good on his promise during Wimbledon to join the awesome heaven and hell that is THE TWITTERVERSE. Good news? Bad news? I genuinely don't know. Twitter has been a boon for fans, players, and organizations who choose to use it as a medium to show off their personalities. In some cases, if they have awesome personalities, it's the best thing in the world. In other cases, if they have crap personalities (or no personality) it's complete boresville. And in other cases (HOW MANY CASES ARE ON THIS DOCKET???) it's a complete waste because the Twitter accounts are completely corporate and agent run. Oh, you just posted 15 new pictures on your Facebook page, JJ? Thanks for the breaking news.
So basically I'm a little scared for Rafa. This is a 90% you lose, 10% you win situation. He's such a huge public figure with an established persona. His Twitter account already has a lot to live up to, whereas most of the players who have greatly benefitted from Twitter (Petko for example) were virtual unknowns when they started. They had the freedom to brand themselves as they saw fit. Not everyone can pull off a Novak Djokovic.
And so, as a public service to one Mr. Rafael Nadal, here is a list of tweeters to emulate, and a list of tweeters to...not.
Twitter Jersey Shore:
So here's the basic upshot: Let your twitter show off *your* personality, Rafa. Don't *try* to be anything. Just be Rafa. If you're not funny, that's ok! You know what you are? YOU ARE ADORABLE AND NICE. So be adorable and nice. My guess is that your Twitter will be a cross between Sunshine Sabine's always happy and informative tweets (that include a lot of pics), and Andy Murray's semi-boring-but-they're-not-really boring-if-you-love-him tweets about sports. Or maybe you can shoot for a Mardy Fish-style (I know, it's weird for me to say that). But his Twitter has been great. Informative, classy, and occasionally funny.
But, like, no planking, dude. Also, don't "vamos" in every tweet. That would be the Caro equivalent of winking.
All I'm saying is vamos responsibly. Our eyes are on you.
(Pic: Rafa's Twitter)
Mirka, airing it out au naturale.
Can someone get Andy a towel please? Gross, dude.
Nice to know that Robbo watches the tennis the same way most tennis nerds do: Smart phone in hand.
Celebrities. They're just like us!
All the women who're independent, throw your hands up at me.
All the honeys who makin' money, throw you hands up at me.
All the mommas who profit dollars, throw your hands up at me.
All the ladies who truly feel me, throw your hands up at me.
"Can I just touch it? For a second?"
"No. Get the fuck away."
And so we meet again.
Truly truly truly fantastic.
(Pics: Getty, Reuters, AP)
After two months on the road I'm finally back home in the States. While I didn't get the retardedly amazing hero's welcome that Nole received in Belgrade last night, I am happy to report that my dog Chase did, in fact, recognize me.
Tougher than Wimbledon, guys. Way tougher.
I am just...so not looking forward to this. I just feel like this is destiny for Fed. It already hurts.
Rafa took care of a very game Andy Murray on Friday. I'm proud of Andy. He chipped his tooth, he tore his ankle, and he's Andy Murray. He really could have just thrown in the towel against Rafa and saved his body for the grass season (which is already in jeopardy because of his ankle). But my boy competed and he competed well. He did everything he could against Rafa and can walk away from this match with a "too good" racquet clap. Because seriously, Rafa was just too good.
Tough luck, Charlie Brown. Next time wear a collar.
As for Fed, first of all, I told you so. I just need to get that off my chest because I've spent the week being laughed at because I told people I thought Fed was going to stop the streak. Why would he stop the streak? Because Fed takes pleasure in doing things like that to me. It's like he KNOWS.
But in all seriousness, he played the best match I've seen from him in a long-ass time. And I haven't seen him that fired up and intense since Crazy-Eyed Fed made an appearance in 2008. And we know what happened there....
And so The Streak endeth. It's been fun and I'm bummed it had to end at the hands of Smuggy McSmuggerson. Then again, I mean, if you're going to lose to someone I guess it doesn't suck that it took the GOAT to end your ridiculous streak. But...yeah. I still don't like it. AND YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!
So...Fedal. An emotional letdown from Fed wouldn't be surprising. And I mean, this IS Rafa on clay. He's just that much better than everyone else. But if Fed is able to serve the way he did on Friday, he's got one hell of a chance. And you know he knows that we all kinda gave him sideways glare when he won Roland Garros without beating Rafa. The guy gets hard for a challenge. This is The Challenge of All Challenges.
So...shit. Seriously. I think he can do it. Then again, I thought Frank would win in straights, so...here's hoping I'm still off with my final predictions.
(Pics: Getty, Reuters)
All that Sturm und Drang and here we are. The Top 4 boys battling it out. What was the point of all the other stuff? Gosh, where to begin.
You know how confused I am when I start a sentence with "Gosh".
So we have the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), the GORN (Greatest of Right Now), the GORC (Greatest on Red Clay), and the GAPP (Greatest at Popping Pills). The GORN is one win away from securing the #1 ranking outright. So if the GOAT beats the GORN then he not only stops the potentially record-breaking streak, but he keeps the #1 ranking out of the GORN's hands for at least a few days. The GORN can still take the top spot if anyone but the GORC wins the title here, meaning that if the GOAT can beat both the GORN and the GORC then the GORN still takes the ranking. Which would make the GOAT cry a little bit into his new trophy, methinks.
But the GORC looked awesome against Sod today. He finally found his game and even when Sod raised his level and made things tight in the third set, the GORC stepped it up and stopped his charge, winning in the tiebreak.
As for the GAPP, he will be doing what he does best (popping pills) to try and mount a charge and not make a complete fool of himself on Friday. Can he pull off the upset? Um...I guess? I mean, he took a set off the GORC in Monte Carlo with a numb arm. But unless the GORC eats some bad gambas on Thursday night, no, I don't think the GAPP has a chance. But well done to him for gritting and gutting it out this week to make the semis. He's now made the semis at all four Slams. Not bad for the pill-poppin sonofabitch.
So...the only thing I think I know for sure is that Rafa will be in the final. Past that...no result would surprise me.
(Pics: Getty, Reuters)
There came a point while I was watching Francesca drop that second set to JJ when I thought "I refuse to live in a world where Fabio Fognini goes deeper at Roland Garros than Fran. I REFUSE." But THIS FUCKING GUY.
Did you know that in Italy they call him "Fogna", which means "sewage"? And that he's proud of it? He and his team have shirts. This one is a piece.
For a recap of what happened in this hugely entertaining dumb-ass match, go here.
If Francesca Schiavone is Italian drama done right, Fabio Fognini is Italian drama done wrong. Or maybe not. If I were to compare him to a movie, he's the movie that absolutely sucks so hard that you find yourself screaming at the screen, openly mocking the actors and their line readings, pointing out all the flaws in the plot, and leave the movie theater pissed off that you just spent $12 bucks and spent two hours watching that putrid piece of shit that deign call itself "art".
But you can't deny you were entertained for those two hours. And that's what pisses you off even more. He's the Michael Bay of tennis.
So of course, after all that drama, after basically lying to the chair umpire in order to get a trainer on court to see you mid-game when your opponent is two points from the match (Fognini told Louise he was cramping, when the real reason he couldn't move is because he pulled a muscle), after getting so into Montanes' head he couldn't think straight (Montanes' brain had the biggest cramp of the day), and notching the win and soaking in the boos like only he could (I thought he was going to jizz his pants), the douchebag of course, OF COURSE, withdraws from his quarterfinal showdown against Nole.
This means that Nole will not be able to match Vilas' record of the longest-ever win streak (46) in Paris. It also means that Nole only needs one more win to clinch the #1 ranking and that win might have to come over Fed in the semis. Fed gets the winner of Ferrer/Gael, which was called for light last night and continues today with Gael 2-1 up on Daveed, but having twisted his ankle right before the match was suspended. Either way, both players will be taxed and there's a bit of debate over whether the four days off for Nole (the semi is on Friday) will hurt him. AUGH!
God help me of Fed beats Nole to end the streak, keep Nole at #2, and goes on to beat Rafa, who has looked sub-par almost all week. I will throw things into the Seine. Possibly myself.
Nole and Andy are the same person, except Nole's an extrovert and Andy's an introvert. The theory ain't perfect but stay with me.
I thought about this a lot last night as I shoved popcorn and beer into my system as if were high. Which I might as well have been as someone in my section was puff-puff passing like it was 4/20. When I wasn't eating my feeling I was holding on to my seat for dear life, trying to make sense of the three-hour passion play that lay before me.
It made sense in the beginning. After an epic third game in the first, which saw the boys show off their incredible movement and shot-making ability, the NoleTron kicked into another gear and completely dismantled Andy. Andy didn't hold his serve once in the first set. WTG, ANDY! There's room in the WTA if you want to grow your hair out a bit! Strong is Beautiful!
So yeah, this made sense. Nole's incredible, he has another gear that can make Top 5 players look like Top 20 players, yada yada yada, ajde. But then Andy found his first serve in the second and Nole started to look...well...human. He looked tired, both physically and mentally, and for a while there he looked completely beatable. I was confused.
But then the third set started. Confuzzlement doesn't even begin to explain my mental state during this one. After breaking to go up 3-1, Nole would lose serve three straight times and next thing you know, Moose was serving for the match. He double faulted. Twice. To get broken back.
WHO ARE YOU, SAM STOSUR???
“I’m one of the best closers in tennis and I very rarely, especially against the best players, lose matches when serving. It is the first time it has happened to me and I’ll make sure it is the last."
It was on to the tiebreaker, where Nole was just solid and apart from that missed volley on the first point, there's not a whole lot more Andy could have done. 61 36 76(2). That's now 36 straight matches in 2011, 38 straight going back to Davis Cup, and 15 hours to recover for yet another final with a hungry and unforgiving Rafa.
"There's no secret that physically it's catching up with me definitely."
No secret at all. The biggest test comes today.
Oh, so getting back to my theory.
Obviously they're both kinda emo. We forget how emo Nole is because he's been on this streak and frankly, there's nothing for him to be emo about. Life is pretty good for the King of Serbia. As for Andy, it's been nothing but depressing emoness, right down to his petty refusal to cut his hair or match his clothes. It's all so "Hey guys. I don't even care anymore."
So watching them last night take turns carrying the "woe is me" torch was quite entertaining in and of itself. While Nole directed his frustration outwardly, looking to the heavens and throw up his hands as if to say "Why are you doing this to me?", looking at his box ruefully stating his annoyance that Andy kept hitting the lines, sarcastically applauding MoLay upon receiving a time violation, Andy's ire was directed at one person and one person only: himself. As the moments got tighter, it seemed like the differences between how these two handle pressure and negativity would be the difference in the match.
It seems to me that when you direct your negativity outward, blaming anyone and everyone else for your circumstances (a) it gives you an outlet, (b) it takes the pressure off of you, and (c) it allows you to relax because you know you can't control what other people do so you just focus on playing your game. On the otherhand, bottling the negativity and directing at yourself only puts more pressure on you to fix the situation. "I'm fucking up. I'm the problem. I need to stop being the problem." With no outlet for the negativity (other than some F-bombs and pulling at your collar) it's just a dark cloud that builds on itself until you reach a point where you're like "Fuck it. I suck. Whatever." You hit a wall because you can't get past yourself. It totally sucks. I know because that's exactly how my brain works.
I thought last night's match really reflected this. Nole gets tired, he tweaks his leg, he takes a massive fall in the third set, and yet, after an initial "woe is me" series of outbursts, he kinda looked like either he had given up, or he had refocused. I honestly couldn't tell until the tiebreak. As for Andy, all I could think throughout the match was "GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY." Bummed me out big times.
I'd elaborate more but I actually have to run off to the site right now. So thoughts? Totally off base here? Dead on? Clearly had too much ganja and Chinnoto?
I'm running off to the airport to hop on a last-minute flight to Tokyo to visit my sister. Well, really, it doubles as a family visit and a scouting trip on behalf of Kim Clijsters to see if it's safe.
I have thoughts on this epic match (duhr!) but still jotting down. In the meantime, feel free to wax poetic or discuss heartbreak in the comments.
Everyone knows the formula for an awesome boy band. You always have to have the super-talented, hot, charismatic, wide-grinning one who all the boys want to be and all the ladies want to be with. They're the Michael Jacksons, the Timberlakes, the Lacheys, the Lennons, and the George Michaels of the world.
Then there's the super emo dude who isn't all that good at singing or dancing who leave you wondering why the hell he's even in the band. Did he secure his spot by letting the overweight, sweaty, band manager to touch him inappropriately? What blackmail material does he have on the other members? Does he even want to be in the band? This, of course, would be the Andrew Ridgeleys, Danny Woods, Chris Kirkpatricks, and Justin whatever his last name is in 98 Degrees. You know, the fat white dude with bleached blonde hair? Yeah, that dude.
"Oh oh oh oh oh. The Right Stuff."
With all that said, introducing the Wham! of tennis: NolAndy. Do I really have to specify which one is the Ridgely in this dynamic duo?
It's you, Andy. You're Andrew Ridgeley. Ya doof.
I was only able to catch the super-tiebreak, as I was a bit preoccupied with Sam hitting the shit out of the ball across the grounds on Grandstand. But I sprinted over and caught the calamity that is "Andy Murray Playing Tennis When He Really Has No Business Doing So." Novak was, of course, AWESOME. This narrative has, thankfully, been captured in this epic point, which illustrates beautifully the WIN/FAIL yin-yang that is, NolAndy:
It seriously only makes me love you more, Andy.
I know, Nole. I know.
God, you guys are adorable.
Look at them coordinating their dance moves!
"Thanks for letting me play with you, Nole."
"Look Bro, I love you. But I gotta go solo. You understand."
Keep bringing Sexy Back, Nole.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
The boys took the footie pitch last night for a charity footie match organized by Novak and Kei to benefit Japan. It was great fun and if you missed the stream that was commentated by a random dude who had no idea who any of the tennis players were, let's just say that much like the above picture, it was an unintentionally comedic fail of rather epic proportions.
First of all, the guy only recognized Novak and Andy. So the commentary went like this: "Oh, great switch by one tennis player to another tennis player. Nice touch to Novak Djokovic, Novak Djokovic takes it up the field, Novak Djokovic passes to Andy Murray, great move by Andy Murray, crosses to a tennis player, GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL Tennis player!"
If you think I'm exaggerating, I'm not. Pretty sure others who watched the stream can vouch for me here.
She's the best.
Anyway, the boys seemed to have great fun, the crowd was genuinely enjoying it, and Baggy and my pale-faced dork of a boyfriend, who showed up in tennis trainers and full ankle braces, scored goals. Honey, you're just lucky you got picked on a team.
Interestingly, Rafa was in attendance but he didn't take the pitch. I wonder if Tio put the kibash on that the minute he landed. You know he would have loved to. No word on whether he sprinted on the field to tackle Nole. Again, you know he would have loved to.
Great stuff for a great cause. My sister's charity of choice has been Second Harvest Japan, an organization dedicated to getting much needed food and supplies to the hard-hit areas. You can donate here. I've also heard that the players are planning more fund-raising activities for Friday night. Stay tuned.
I'm still in a bit of shock. I honestly can't believe Nole pulled off the come from behind win over Rafa. I'm not sure why I can't believe it. Clearly Nole's given me no reason to have any doubts about his game. But after Rafa took the first set and Nole's body language seemed to indicate a tired and resigned boy, I thought it was just a matter of time. I totally get the Serbian fatalism and I thought that Nole accepted the fact that his luck had run out and that he was ok with it running out against Rafa. He just didn't seem to have the fire that he had yesterday.
But just as with Fed yesterday, Rafa was the one who blinked. He struggled with his serve, serving 25% first serves in in the second set, allowing Nole's confidence to grow and giving him more and more looks at second serves. At one point Nole would reel off six straight games, quite a feat considering Rafa had only been broken three times in the tournament. It got to the point that Rafa turned negative, scowling after easy misses, barking at his box, and generally, to quote BG, "looking disheveled."
The win not only gets Nole yet another huge title this year, besting both Fed and Rafa back-to-back, but it breaks Nole's 0-5 streak against Rafa in finals. It also earned him the deserved title of the best tennis player in the world right now, a title that would be much more tenuous had he lost to Rafa.
It's hard not to watch Nole these days and think "Well, your luck has to run out at some point, right?" Indian Wells was all about Nole, both on court and off. The kid has swagger. Whether it was bageling opponents on court, yukking it up on the practice courts and field, or he and his team camping out in the middle of the player cafe/courtyard, laughing loudly and generally drawing attention to themselves, he has been ever-present. I keep waiting (though not hoping) for the day that he pulls an Icarus and comes crashing down. But he's on a 20-match win streak (dating back to Davis Cup) and it's actually 23 matches if you include Hopman Cup. Other than these two matches against Fed and Rafa, he has looked absolutely untouchable, playing an unmatched level of tennis. While there's no reason to think he can't run his streak to at least 27 in Miami, I can't shake that nagging feeling that it has to end soon.
So let's enjoy the ride for now. It's a pleasure to watch.
This is Josh. He's been my traveling this year. He braved the heat and rain of Australia and on his first trip to Indian Wells, he went a little nuts. You'll be seeing more of Josh, trust.
And they love him, too. Dirty, Petko. Dirty.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
Oh, ATP. You're so cute. You make us pretend to care in the early rounds, only to give us the juicy goods regardless.
The men's semifinals at the BNP Paribas Open will feature two revenge match-ups between the four players to have won ALL the Slams since 2005. First up at 11:00am is the newly maybe, hopefully, let's pray he's healed DelPo vs. a not-so-scintillating-this-week Rafa. Rafa's lost three straight times to Delpo, perhaps most memorably (at least to me) in Miami 2009, where I saw Rafa unravel emotionally in a way that I had never seen nor seen since. Delpo has been fighting off a cold/virus all week, but he got a walkover on Thursday over Tommy, which had to have helped.
I regret to say that I haven't had a chance to see Delpo play live all week, so I can't really comment on his form. But I feel like all I need to know is this: He came back from 1-6 down in a tiebreaker against PEHK by simply deciding to hit the shit out of the ball. It worked. So...I'm guessing he's finding his power game.
I'm going to go ahead and tip Delpo here, simply because Rafa hasn't been all that impressive this week. But hey, he competes, and 90% of the time, that's enough to notch the win.
The Battle of Vamos will be followed by the Battle for Number 2, as Fed and Nole clash for the third time this year, the winner getting the distinct honor of staring at Rafa's perfect ass. Nole had a bit of a hiccup today against Reeshard, which only means that he was a few ticks below untouchable. He fell behind in both sets and but shored up and reeled off a string of games in response. Janko said it best: He's got confidence falling out of his pockets.
Fed's had a pretty easy draw, especially after Stan rolled over today in a 2 and 4 drubbing in an hour. Want to know how much Fed is in Stan's head? Andrew Burton, who is here writing for Tennis.com, observed that Stan completely abandoned his usual ritual of taking 5 balls on his last service game. He just took the first one the ballkids tossed to him and served. That's an owned man right there.
Personally, I think you're an idiot to bet against Nole these days. Having had the opportunity to observe him quite a bit in Perth, Melbourne, and now Indian Wells, I can tell you this: The boy got swagga out the yin yang. Never underestimate that. The way he walks into the room these days, strutting around the player cafe, accomodating fan requests and soaking in the adulation, he just oozes that "it" factor. I suppose some will say that he's always had it. You'll get no argument from me. But the difference in 2011 is that he *knows* he has it.
On the difference between 2008 and 2011:
"Just inexperience, you know, a young tennis player who has made an incredible achievement winning a Grand Slam and then a couple of other major events, it maybe happened too fast for me and I was confused and didn't know what to do. But now it's different."
It is. You can see it.
Anyway, can't wait to see how this shakes out.
(Pics: AP, Reuters, Getty)
Her milkshake really does bring all the boys to the yard.
And I mean ALL the boys.
Yup, Novak was snuggled up in Ana's box (never not funny!) as she played a solid match, with flashes of brilliance here and there, to beat Kimiko 64 62. The serve was ok but the story was her forehand which looked better than I've seen this year, particularly on the return. Let's not get too excited, Ana fans. It wasn't exactly an inspiring performance. But it was a win and if you think about it, it's her biggest win of the year.
To add awesome syrup to awesome pancakes, Strycova upset Petra today. So Ana gets her next.
Like I said, let's not get too excited. But we are most certainly allowed to flash a smile.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
I was en route to Indian Wells when the Nole/Andy soccer match from heaven was taking place. You can see pics here. But DonkeyGrooming was on-site and she drunkenly relayed this rather amazing anecdote.
Apparently, while Nole, Andy and the boys were embroiled in some intense kicking of things, Rafa was walking across the practice field on his way to practice. He was walking rather slowly and kept his eyes on the footie the whole time and, according to DG, it was clear that he wanted in on the game. He kept walking and watching until he spotted Novak.
Upon sighting the Australian Opened One, Rafa immediately threw down his racquets and sprinted across the field, interrupting the game in order to give Nole a hug.
I mean...gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. The Bromance is out of control.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
You know you're big time when you get papped in the States, TMZ thinks it's newsworthy, and they're too busy wanking off under the desk to fact-check.
That said, I cannot, even in the slightest, blame them. HOLY HOT.
You know how I said I couldn't wait to see Novak and Roger clash again on hard courts? Yeah, this is too soon.
Roger's been absolutely clinical this week in Dubai. Nole's had to fight through tricky draw, and played what he considered his worst match of the year against Tomas, who ended up retiring 2-4 in the third set with a leg injury. Given their form this week, you have tip Fed.
And yes, that's me trying to jinx him.
They'll clash at 7am ET. Ajde.
(PIcs: Getty, AP)
You know, if you take the time to position this picture correctly on your desktop, it is pretty amazing.
Go ahead. I'll wait.
Nole needed three sets to take out an inspired Feli, who was the first player to take a set off Nole in 2011. After two straight serve and volleyers, Noley's got the tricky Mayer next. Can we just book him to the finals?
Nole returned to the court for his first match since Melbourne and the dude hasn't changed his kit, his tape, or his shoes since his win. Unfortunately for people who actually play tennis on the ATP tour, it doesn't look like he's changed his game either. No major signs of rust against Llodra for the Falconed One. He won 63 63 in 63 minutes. He's got Feli next.
How cocky am I about Nole's hard court game right now? I want this guy in the final:
There will be blood.
And from his loins, sprang dolphins.
Nole, Jelena, and little brow Marko (!!!) hung out with a dolphin in Dubai. Yeah, I'd keep an eye on that dolphin too, Jelena. We don't know what's going on under the water. Dolphins can get frisky.
(Pics: Getty, AP)
"He played great. I mean, I would have liked to have played better. But, you know, I think he would have beaten every other player on the tour if he played like that tonight."
To quote @crystaleyed: That's not not an excuse. That's a fact.
Much will be made about Andy Murray's performance tonight. People will ask questions, they will recycle pieces from their file cabinets that haven't even had time to gather dust, they will heap negativity on the pasty dude, calling for new coaches, new gameplans, hell, they'll probably find a way to weave Maggie into their list ot Top 10 Reasons Why Andy Murray is an Embarassment as a Tennis Player, a Brit, and a Human Being.
They will do all this at the expense of Novak Djokovic, who, as Andy observed, would have beaten anyone tonight.
He. Was. Ridonkulous. It was insane. His movement and ability to hit no look backhand defensive lobs that clipped the back of the line was jaw-dropping. Andy was yanking him all around the court and Novak would just not. stop. running. It was truly a masterful performance from Novak, who is clearly riding a wave of confidence that shows no signs of cresting. The Falcon is flying, and just like those seagulls that circle Rod Laver Arena every night, he's shitting on everyone.
One of the first thoughts I had walking back to the media center after the match was, "Man. I cannot wait to see him play Roger again on hard courts." Call me crazy, but based on what I've seen of Novak over the past month, I dare say he's clicked into a new gear, one that none of us knew he had. By my sleep-addled brain, he may just be the best hard-court player in the game.
All week, Nole's been describing the version of himself that picked up his first Slam title as "a 20-year-old kid who just closed his eyes and hit the ball as hard as he could." Three years later he's matured into a completely different player. You can see the intelligence in how he sets up rallies, his willingness to engage in a war of variety with Moose, and his improved speed and strength when he was pulled wide on defense. He believes in his body and he believes that he can hang in on defense to work the point in his favor. How many times against Roger and Andy did we see him get his outside leg outside and behind the ball and have such strength and balance as to allow him to either whip it cross-court up, down the line, or up for a lob. Remarkable. The balance in his game between patience and aggression seems to flow so naturally now that when he does decide (on a handful of points) to pull the trigger too early, it's actually jarring.
Here's hoping his win tonight and his dominant performance throughout the fortnight (6 straight sets over Fed and Moose!) remove all question marks that commentators have been quick to attach to him. Not fit enough, not mentally strong enough, too emotional to his detriment, weak server, not clutch. All that is bullshit now.
If you're not talking about Novak Djokovic right now, you're missing out on the story.
(Pics: Getty, Reuters)
I was out until 5am last night drinking. It is now a little over 12 hours later and I feel like puking. I cannot for the life of me tell if that's just my body rejecting the 6am McD's run and pitcher of beer, or my soul trying to fight off yet another soul-crushing Andy Murray failure. I'm going to pretend it's the former but prepare myself for the latter.
Wouldn't it just be my luck that the one Slam I attend from first ball to last would end in a final between my two favorite players? I mean, this should be a good thing, right? I should be happy and relaxed and just settle in for some cracking good tennis.
But I can't. As much as I would love for Nole to win I think we can all agree (whether you like it or not) that a win here would be way bigger for Andy than Nole. NOLE ALREADY HAS ONE!!! HE'S ALREADY A NATIONAL HERO!!! HE'S ALREADY PROVEN HIMSELF WORTHY OF BEING INCLUDED IN THAT TOP ECHELON OF THE ATP!!! Andy's....Andy. A pasty, grumpy dude, who works so hard only to keep falling short. The last two times he had the excuse of losing to the GOAT. If he can't do it here, who knows what the negative chatter will be going into Wimbledon.
Ok, so that was way Negative Nelly of me and I really don't want to be negative going into this match. So I'm going to try to focus on all the ways this match will be awesome:
They both do a good Blue Steel.
Their girlfriends are totes adorbz.
They have tan friends.
They are secure enough to own tiny dogs.
They both rap. Or...whatever it is they're doing in that "song".
Phew. Well that was fun and kind of made me feel better. This would be a fantastic win for Novak and he absolutely deserves to lift that trophy after his ridiculous display against Fed. And if he can beat Moose, a dude who has, at least statistically, owned him in their last three meetings, he will officially plant the "I'M BACK, BITCHES" flag on the ATP World. That would be awesome.
But...please? You didn't give me Ana, you couldn't deliver Sam, and you refused to give me Nails. Can I have Moose? PLEASE, TENNIS GODS, CAN I HAVE MOOSE???
Of course I can't. How do I know this? Because HItler's a Moose fan. And you're never going to win when you're with Hitler. EVER.
Also, Caro? If you show up in Andy's box with Adam Scott on your arm, I am going to climb over from the media seats and punch you in the forehead. You've been warned.
Q. Did you speak English back when you were 11? Could you talk to him?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, I had it in school so already I knew some basic things. Back then, yeah, we were speaking kind of more with the signs, you know, hands and legs and stuff (smiling). He was using more of a Scottish accent, so he was really hard to understand.
Q. You also played doubles with him.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: He had the hair (laughter).
Q. A crowd of us came into the interview room and you took the senior role because he was overpowered by coming into a media spotlight. You seemed very composed already that day.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Because I wasn't facing that much media, you know, in my early stages of the career.
In one hand it's been a tough situation for him to face this pressure of media and being a British player. You know, everybody expects him to win Wimbledon and be the best player in the world because he's coming from a country of tennis, you know, a great history. Of course, Wimbledon, we all know it's the most prestigious tournament in our sport. And he faced all of that in his career. He managed to become one of the best players in the world. So you got to give him credit for that.
Actually, I remember that press conference we had. It was in the backroom there a couple years back. I was saying in one hand I would like to be in his shoes because he gets a big support obviously because of the country that he comes from. On the other hand I wouldn't like because of the media attention and pressure that he faces, yeah.
(Pic: Getty; Transcript)
Q. You played Novak seven times on the tour. You maybe played with him as a junior or something. Can you talk about the rivalry between you and Novak.
ANDY MURRAY: Yeah, because we've always been like 3 and 4 the last few years, we've always been on different halves of the draw in every tournament we've played. So, yeah, we haven't come up against each other I think for over two years now.
So, you know, we practice a lot together. We get on well together. We're good friends. You know, so in terms of a rivalry, I think this will be the start well, I hope it's the start of us playing each other in big matches.
Q. Can you take us back to when you first met? What were some of your earliest memories of meeting Novak as a teenager?
ANDY MURRAY: I mean, we both went quite different routes. I played him the first time I think when I was like 13 maybe. You know, it's not like you speak that often to the foreign players and stuff. There's normally a pretty big sort of language barrier.
We played each other up until we were like 15, and then he improved a lot faster than I did. Then I managed to catch up. It wasn't really until we got back on the tour that we started playing together a lot and practicing together again.
Yeah, the first time I played him must have been, yeah, when we were about 13. So it's been a long time we've known each other.
Q. Was that first match in Tarbes?
ANDY MURRAY: Yeah.
Q. Do you know who won?
ANDY MURRAY: I won 6 Love, 6 1 maybe. So, yeah, a lot's changed since then, I'm sure. It will be just a bit tougher than that on Sunday.
Q. If it is Andy that you play an Sunday, seems like you guys are rekindling the friendship you had as juniors. You played football. Talk about that.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, he's a great footballer. I've been suffering two loses against him before the tournament in football, and I've been really feeling the negatives of that losses. No, we have been friends for a long time.
Right now, I think we reconnected again and become a bit closer. It's nice to see somebody that you grew up with. We played under 12, under 10, under 14. We grew up together. We basically made a breakthrough to top 100 more or less at the same time. It's nice to see somebody doing well, the person who was your long time friend.
So if I get to meet him in the final, we're both professionals. Of course we haven't played for a very long time, already maybe a year and a half or two. Going to be interesting.
Q. It's been no secret that Ana has a crush on Roger. She always says that Roger is her favorite player to watch.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: She has a crush on Roger?
Q. I think so.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: But you said for sure. Was she sitting in my box?
Q. Yeah. Why was she in your box and supporting you and not...
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: A little bit of gossip. You want to hear that. No, Ana is my friend for since we were five. We know each other. She's been practicing here. She had the first-round loss unfortunately, and she's been practicing because she goes to the tournament from here, from Melbourne next week. So she used the opportunity to come to the matches. She will come to the final. Great to see her there in the box. Great to have her support.
But I'm not going to answer the other question, because I really don't know. You have to ask her.
A few years ago, Tennis Magazine referred to Nole as "The Player's Player". If my memory serves me right (sorry, I can't seem to find the tiny write-up) they described him as the all-arounder who had every shot and was the type of tennis player that other tennis players like to watch.
There is no doubt that Roger Federer is the artist. He's the guy who thinks up incredible shots, has an awesome tennis IQ, and whose underrated movement makes his whole game look effortless. But he got straight up BEAT tonight by a tennis player. A player who played point by point, hit the right shot when he had it, didn't overplay, and defended the court as though he was running suicides on the baseline (I'm just going to assume you guys know what "suicides" are).
"I thought he played a great match. I didn't think I played bad myself, so it was a match played at a very high intensity for a long period of time. Clearly it's disappointing to lose, but what to do if he plays well on the big points, and potentially maybe I didn't. Novak was the better player tonight. You got to accept that and move on from here."
Can't disagree with that assessment.
The match was tight, it was tense, and the final score, 76 75 64 reflects that. But what it doesn't reflect is how soundly Novak seemed to beat Roger tonight. He played the big points better, he served huge when Roger was on the verge of breaking him, and he somehow fought back from 2-5 down in the second set to steal the set and seemingly break Roger's spirit.
Roger was getting cranky with the umpire about stuff, he was stepping out when Nole would bounce the ball too long for his liking and when Nole stopped his motion, confused as to why Roger was just standing there, Roger actually yelled something at him, saying something that evoked a "Sorry" from Novak. A bit touchy there, Roger. If you have a problem, talk to the umpire. Don't yell at another player. That seemed unnecessary and the boys at ESPN thought it reeked of gamesmanship. Asked about it after the match, Fed took a page from A-Rod's book: "He's a nice guy, the umpire, so I kind of like to talk to him at times."
Thankfully, Nole didn't let it rattle him. He carried on with his business and while he had a few tight moments, he steadied his nerve when it really mattered. A match of maturity from the flying one.
But back to the tennis. This is the first time Fed will be without a Slam in the cycle since before his win at Wimbledon in 2003. How's that for a stat. This was a clean kill by Nole, who hasn't dropped a set to Fed on these True Blue Aussie courts. He's also beaten Roger at the last two Slams. He's riding a wave of confidence and playing the best tennis I've ever seen him play, AND he has Ana in his box.
I mean, can you really bet against the Falcon while she looks on?
It was a clinical dismantling by Roger today over Stan. I mean after a week of Stan strutting around like a badass baby-momma-leaver, he comes out and bends over to his Swiss handler. There's a reason why you're in the shadow, Stan. It's because you choose to stay there. It was just a pathetic performance by Stan. Not that I care.
With Fed booking his place into the semis it was up to Nole to hold up his end of the deal and seal up half of the dream final four (Moose and Rafa play tomorrow). Seal it up he did. He was devastating in the first set over Tomas, racing to a 6-1 lead before finding himself 1-4 down in the second. A bad contact (DUDE. GET LASIK) seemed to be distracting him a bit and Tomas picked up his game. But after the roof closed because of some light drizzle (it's remarkable to me that they can play *while* the roof is closing) Nole turned it up, fought back to 4-4 and forced a tiebreak, which he clinched 7-5. Five fist pounds to the chest, a Serbian salute, and windmill fist-pump later (yes, he totes stuck the landing) he was off to the races, finishing up the third set, 6-2. It was a fantastic performance. Tomas just couldn't get much done despite Lucie's crystal blue orbs urging him on.
I'm talking about her eyes, by the way. I wasn't implying I knew what color her boobs were.
And so we get Fed vs. Nole in the semis. Nole's last three Slam performances? Quarters, semis, runner-up. Hmmm...I ain't no physicist but if I were to graph that out....
So yeah, Fed in four. Because that's the way the universe works.