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    Key Biscayne Tennis

    Over the last two weeks, I got to watch a fair number of matches from the Sony Ericsson Open - another big tournament near a wealthy enclave, combining both the men's (ATP) and women's (WTA) tours. It has had a number of different sponsors and names - Lipton, Ericsson, and now Sony Ericsson - but is also known as the Miami Masters, or just Key Biscayne. CBS commentators called Key Biscayne the unofficial fifth major today, but the Tennis Channel called Indian Wells the fifth major a few weeks ago, so enough of that. There are only four majors, but there are other big tournaments with a lot of prestige, and Key Biscayne is one of them.

    Caroline Wozniacki had started to justify her #1 ranking by winning Indian Wells, but was dumped early by Andrea Petković, a lanky 23 yo German national with a Serbian name and the sort of powerful strokes that can derail Wozniacki's defensive game. Petković then beat former #1 Jelena Jankovic, but fell to former #1 Maria Sharapova, who played a strong tournament - when she could get her post-shoulder-surgery serve in. Match after match she'd miss serve after serve, fall behind then slowly fight her way back into the match.

    Former #1 Kim Clijsters fought back from a 1-5 third set deficit against former #1 Ana Ivanović, then surrendered meekly in the next match to #6 Victoria Azarenka (above), who then outplayed former #2 Vera Zvonereva from A to Z. In Saturday's ugly final, Sharapova served as if the old FBI (first ball in) rule was in effect and lost the first set quickly 6-1. I let my daughter watch her DVD after that, but read that Azarenka took the next set 6-4.

    During the men's final on Sunday, Mary Carillo spoke of a giant For Rent sign on the lawn in front of the women's #1 ranking while bemoaning the absence of a real rivalry in women's tennis. What sponsors want are marketable stars, not a succession of unfamiliar players having a good day beating former stars having a bad day. I actually prefer seeing a close match between two good players playing well - but what do I know?

    Novak Djoković came into the final undefeated this year, without dropping a set in this tournament. CBS commentators were talking about a "trivalry" in men's tennis, but my stepson told me that Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer as handily as Djoković had at Indian Wells, so I don't see Fed as a true rival for Rafa or Novak until he steps it up.

    The men's final was damn near a classic. The scoreline was a very competitive: 4-6, 6-3, 7-6. In the first set, Nadal led 5-1 only to have Djoković fight back to 5-4. Rafa finally held for 6-4. Djoković got an early break in the second set, leading 3-0 and winning 6-3. In the third set, both men held to force a tiebreak, which Djoković won 7-4. Unlike ABC two weeks ago, CBS stayed with their coverage even though the match ran long.

    Djoković was the shotmaker, serving and hitting as well as during his victory at Indian Wells. Nadal was the runner, making Djoković hit shot after shot, and punishing anything short. Nadal's serve was improved from Indian Wells, but he still only managed to win about 40% of second serve points in the first two sets, averaged about 10 mph slower than his best, and double-faulted half a dozen times, once in the tiebreak. Nadal did improve to winning 56% of his second serve points in the third set, but Djoković won 71% of second serve points throughout the match. Either Nadal was having a bad patch of second serving or Djoković's excellent return game was too much for Nadal's safe serve ... or both. 

    Had Nadal served better, it would have been a classic. Even with a mediocre day of serving, Nadal could have won, so I expect him to dominate the clay court season once again, starting at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters next week.



    Nadal had 60% first serve percentage in the match according to the match stats on ATP web site.  Actually he had better first serve percentage than Djokovic (57%).  I don't think it was a bad day of serving for Nadal, wasn't a great serving day but not a bad one either.  He is likely to dominate on clay though.  You just need to accept that Djokovic is a better hard court player at the moment.

    You're right, I was thinking of his poor stats on winning second serve points. But I still don't think his serve was very effective in the final. Nadal served a lot of long games - eight, nine minutes. I recall one easy hold for 6-5, but I think Novak was saving his strength for the tiebreak.

    Yup, Federer looks washed up. But then there's the up and coming Swiss tennis talent who will kick everyone's butt - the ETHZ Quadricopter

    Well, I read this blog just before leaving to play a match this morning. I couldn't help but notice the forehand grip of Novak Djoković. Aha! So I tried it and it worked great.....about twice. Then I noticed that we were down 4-1. Turns out I couldn't do it quite like Novak  Trying something new in a match against an arch rival is not the best strategy and so I went back to what I was used to.
     You mention the network staying with the match even though it went long. The way tennis is scored, which makes the length of a match so unpredictable and therefore hard to schedule for TV is, IMO, the reason that it does not get much more coverage. Too bad. More coverage would develop more fans and encourage more kids to take it up and to develop a love for a game that can be played against equal competition for as long as you can walk.

    Hmm. According to this site, Novak uses a 2/3 Western grip (never heard that term before) which is between the Western "frying pan" grip that most youth players learn these days and the Semi-Western grip. Western is good for hitting high balls when you're a short kid and for generating extreme topspin when you're an adult, but tough to use for half-volleys. I learned to play as an adult, and was taught the Eastern grip, which is good for hitting deep with moderate topspin like Stan Smith or Jack Kramer. Over time my grip moved towards Semi-Western as I added more topspin.

    One of the adverts they show over and over describes teaching little kids on smaller courts. I wonder if that will catch on and affect the grips they use.

    World Team Tennis seems to be trying to modernize all aspects of tennis including the scoring. I hate it.

    Donal, I hope you don't mind too much if I go off  the tennis topic here but stay in the game/sport/recreation/keep on livin' area. I mentioned being able to play tennis as long as you can walk. I am getting to the point where I am quite impressed by old farts that still go for it in one way or another. With that in mind I think some may enjoy this video even if it brings a tear or two.

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