Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Month: January 2005

Safin takes Australian Open

I am relieved that Marat Safin won the Aussie Open. After losing two finals, it just seemed right. He is a player who likes a beer or 10, likes the ladies and, if he put his mind to it, should have a very tidy career of 5-8 slams or so, perhaps on the level of Becker or Lendl. But he won’t. <br />
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Why? Because he gets frustrated. I can’t ever see him winning the French as some little clay-courter will piss him off, and he always winges about the grass of Wimbledon. So that leaves the Australian and US Opens. A max of 2 per year. And there are several other players who target those titles as surfaces that suit their games – Federer, Hewitt, Roddick et al.<br />
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Hewitt may well win his home slam one day, and he has many years to do so. I would guess that he has almost given up on the French, but will certainly contend the other 3 titles. That’s if he isn’t hospitalised by his fellow players. <br />
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OK, a bit of a joke there, but Hewitt is really getting under some players skin. Yet, is this new? Weren’t Connors and McEnroe even worse? All players tend to have the psych-out tools. Becker had that big-man walk. Sampras would prowl around like a big moody panther, much like Federer does now. Lendl was like the terminator. Agassi has changed from brash upstart to the destroyer of serves to elder statesman, but it’s all an act. Hewitt has little shit writ large over him, that’s his thing. Live with it.

Serena back in the big time

Time will tell whether Serena will dominate tennis again, but she was true to her word. She said she wanted to be in movies AND win slams, and so far she has. If she and Venus want to be part-time tennis players, part-time something else and have the results to back it up, then fine. Is the sport poorer for their choice? Not really. <br />
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This tournament was there for the taking, and Serena stepped up. I would dount Lindsay Davenport will ever get to be in another major final, and she missed out. She had to put away the second set and get out fast, but she wasn’t able to.<br />
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The Hewitt-Safin match has more of a buzz about it. An Aussie in the final is great. But let’s face it, we all wish it had been Pat Rafter rather than the brash Hewitt. But, there you go. Safin should be the favourite, but will those two previous final defeats haunt him? Certainly Federer deserved to win last year, but the 2002 final against Thomas Johansson is a massive tennis blip. Johansson should have been a Magnus Norman, a MaliVai Washington – finalist, nothing more. Safin made sense as champion. If that match creeps into Safin’s head… well, it could be tantrum time. <br />
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Then again, Hewitt might just start a fight on court for all the agro surrounding him the last 2 weeks. The crowd will be very boisterous. A night match, the final, a few beers. It could get ugly.

Shock result?

Safin beating Federer (<a href=”http://news.ft.com/cms/s/44b8d832-707a-11d9-b572-00000e2511c8.html” target=”_new”>see my article here</a>) is not such a big deal. OK, it is, but let’s face it, Federer is still hitting a tennis ball like the other guy. He <b>had</b> to lose sometime. Safin might have won the final against Federer in Australia last year had he not had the draw from hell.<br />
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Roger will still win a slam this year, possibly 3, but this was inevitable. Winning streaks never last for ever.

Hewitt – is he that annoying?

Lleyton Hewitt has always been a controversial character. Ever since he won the Sydney ATP event at 16 he has been brash, in-your-face and generally hell to play. He is often described as the ultimate competitor.<br />
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For some reason, this seems to have come to a head at this aussie open. Why now? I have no idea. For years he has been doing the same thing. “C’mon!” he screams, partly to pump himself up, partly to unsettle the opponent. Now, is it just me, or did Connors and McEnroe play that card 20+ years ago?<br />
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Hewitt has had something of a tricky relationship with, well, everyone. First, it was the Aussie press. Then all the press. Then it was the ATP, who he refused to do interviews for, and ended up in a long legal battle. <br />
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Along the way, he pissed off the fans – especially when implying some black bias at the US Open when comparing a linesman to his opponent, James Blake. So some of the fans don’t like him. But all along, even when #1 in the world, he seemed popular with his fellow professionals.<br />
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Not now. Chela spat at him in their match at the Aussie Open. Nalbandian trash-talked him before their quarter, and the pair had words during the match. Unless this is some Aussie-Argentine thing, it seems he is losing friends. Perhaps he lost mates when he said that the aussie open should tailor the surface speed for him (see below). <br />
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The problem is, Lleyton is half the player when he calms down. He needs the edge, the battle. So this will run and run. He may become something of a panto-villian, but tennis will always be better for having him in the mix.

2-1 series win

Very happy to see England win the test series in South Africa. Mainly because:<br />
– it’s a great result away from home<br />
– we didn’t play that well but still managed to win<br />
– Flintoff.<br />
– Graham Smith annoys me<br />
– Andre Nel is the biggest prick in world cricket

He started it!

The <a href=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/eng_prem/4178407.stm”>running feud</a> between Wenger and Ferguson reminds me of one of those wildlife shows where two old elephant bulls square off and endlessly headbutt each other, whilst some suave young bull turns up and shags all the females. They can squabble all they like. Mourinho will be laughing all the way to the title.<br />
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On another note, why do the FA keep banning “unnamed” players for using coke and pot? Just sodding tell us who they are. It smacks of a sport in a panic.

AusOpen run up #1

OK. You’re Tim Henman. It’s the first slam of the year, your confidence is high after recent results, and you have just been tipped by <a href=http://www.sportinglife.com/tennis/news/story_get.dor?STORY_NAME=tennis/05/01/12/TENNIS_Column_Rerun.html target=_new>Jim Courier</a> to get to the final. And then the <a href=”http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/40717000/jpg/_40717211_henman_getty_203.jpg” target=_new>BBC publish a pic</a> of you looking like an utter spaz. Not much of a confidence boost, is it?

Keeping mum

When a football incident that doesn’t involve violence or sex gets discussed on the Today programme and Question Time, you know that it is one of “those” issues. Should Roy Carroll have admitted to the ref that the ball crossed the line?<br /><br />For the background story you can go here (<a href=”http://football.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/0,,1384274,00.html”>guardian</a>), or here (<a href=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/4143131.stm”>bbc</a>).<br /><br />The best point I heard was that if your boss was Alex Ferguson, you wouldn’t start admitting to stuff like that either.<br /><br />But on a more philosophical level, players should let referees and linesmen do their job. There is lots of whining about sportmanship, and comparing football to snooker and golf (nice sports apparently where people admit mistakes), and complaining that batsmen rarely walk in cricket (it’s just not cricket). But players calling the decisions and “owning up” is actually no different from claiming a penalty which isn’t there, or diving. It might be honourable or good, but you are still doing the ref’s job for him. You can’t depend on a goalkeeper to go against his instinct and not claw the ball out. Carroll looked pretty bemused by the whole thing anyway.<br />

Eng vs SA – 3 down, 2 to go

To go from inches from 2-0 to 1-1 must be tough to take. The next couple of tests will determine whether England really are a force to be reckoned with and capable of winning the Ashes, or a side who can put away the smaller teams but aren’t ready to be world beaters.<br /><br />England’s big problem has been two-fold. Strauss aside, the batting has been very poor, which puts everyone under pressure. And the other problem has been Jacques Kallis. When you encounter someone in such form, scoring centuries and fifties almost at will (448 runs in 3 tests), you have to have a plan. Or several. Pepper him with short stuff and get someone in his face at short leg. Give him something to think about in terms of field placings. Restrict him. Perhaps a little sledging wouldn’t hurt.

Hewitt’s surface issues

So. <a href=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/tennis/4143311.stm”>Lleyton Hewitt wants the courts in Melbourne to be quicker</a> to help his chances of winning the Aussie Open. Perhaps he should have a chat with Tim Henman. The surface at Wimbledon in 2002 when Hewitt won was ridiculously slow for grass. Henman has for years hoped for a quicker surface to suit his volley-game, but though he might be seething in private, he has publicly always been pretty gracious about the conditions.<br /><br />Hewitt, however, feels he is owed a bit more. Here is his quote: “I thought I may have had a bit of pull after being number one in the world for two years and winning a couple of slams, but obviously not that much. I’m baffled by the whole thing. I really am and I’ve had a gut full of it to tell you the truth.” <br /><br />What? “Baffled”? “Gut full”? I don’t remember this being a running issue for Lleyton. I find it baffling myself for several reasons. 1) Pete Sampras, hardly a slow-court specialist, did fine at Australia, winning twice. And Federer won last year. Can’t be that slow. 2) Courts aren’t the only issue in tennis. The heavier balls also affect things, as they create wrist injuries, slow down the play and have a greater impact on the speed of the game. 3) Why can’t Lleyton succeed on a slower surface? He has speed, perseverance, solid ground strokes, a baseline game, and an iron will. Sounds like a slow-court player to me.<br /><br />If every tournament tried to adjust the surface just for their home players, it would be a great shame. Many players have an advantage at home as it is with support, familiarity with the surface, and a likelihood of getting the main show courts. The event organisers can’t be worried about the surface for just one player – they have 128 to think of. Lleyton has a mental block at the Aussie Open about his failures there and the resulting hard time from the Aussie media. He should get over it.<br />

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