Sunday, January 31, 2010

Australian Open Day 14: The King

Curtain Call

Player: Andy Murray
Nation: UK
Age: 22
Current Ranking: 4
Notable Conquest: Rafael Nadal (2nd seed, Spain)
Tour Page
Player Website
Today's Result: loss to Roger Federer (1st, Switzerland) in straight sets

It can't be easy to be Andy Murray, just as it couldn't have been easy to be Tim Henman. I will admit to being a bit rough on Murray myself but I do think the guy has more than enough to worry about with Fed across the net from him. Breaking down on the podium while apologizing for letting down the folks back home? That was hard to watch. I get annoyed with the tennis media for promoting the highest-ranking Anglophone (if you don't count Roger) over more deserving players and I can't help thinking that I've never seen Rafa slump his shoulders when he falls behind. But I can now count myself among those who would like to see Murray win one someday. On talent alone, I think it's a reasonable expectation.

What's left to be said about Federer? A year ago, it looked like it was going to be a Nadal year in '09 with questions looming over Roger. It turned out to be very much a Federer year with questions looming over Rafa. Now at 28 years old and with 16 Slams to his name, it seems the gap between Federer and the rest of the field is wider than it's been in a long time. He holds three out of the four Slam titles at the moment and no one else can even claim two final appearances in the past twelve months. With Nadal's future in doubt and no one else seeming able to mount a consistent threat, Federer should have the top ranking all to himself for quite a while.

Still, it's early. A lot can happen in a year.

For four rounds in a row, I have featured Federer's vanquished foe as the Curtain Call: Hewitt, Davydenko, Tsonga and Murray. I didn't plan it that way. All four should be said to have had good tournaments. All four are Slamworthy - Hewitt, of course, has already won two - and are probably disappointed not to have gone farther. But what can you do? Roger's the King. To be the best, you've got to beat the best. That's been a tall order for six years.

All Part of My Fantasy

I think I've been spelling "Racquet" wrong all this time for Racquet Bracket. Humblest apologies. I really should know better.

Once again, the World #1 has saved me from looking entirely the fool. My men's bracket was still pretty awful. Unlike the women's draw, I prefer the narrative I had in my bracket to the reality. I had early upsets over Djokovic and del Potro and a storybook run to the quarters for Carlos Moya (Spain). Plus, Jeremy Chardy (32nd, France) and Stanislas Wawrinka (19th, Switzerland) would have made their first Slam semis. And of course, any tournament with a Federer/Nadal final is automatically a great tournament.

Apart from Fed's continued dominance, I'd say the best story to come out of the men's draw is the rise of Marin Cilic (14th, Croatia). We'll be seeing him again, I'm sure.

Getting on with Our Lives

Goodbye to Melbourne. The tennis year is kicking off with some great story lines. A huge thank you to those who have taken the time to read my humble musings. It may be a while before I get back to tennis but there's plenty of excitement coming in the next few months: Olympics, NCAA basketball tournament, baseball openers, Stanley Cup playoffs, etc. March Madness, however, does extend to tennis with Indian Wells and Miami on the calendar. Hope to see you soon!

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