frustration

In the Heat of the Moment

Perhaps more so than others, tennis is a sport in which the gladiator narrative is consistently embraced. It features two competitors going head-to-head in a war of attrition. Heavy forehands and backhands are akin to body blows, and the repetition of these rallies akin to rounds in boxing. If one player wins a long, grueling rally, they’ve “won the battle” but will “lose the war.” As professionals, it should be expected that players are held responsible for all of their actions while on court; however, as tennis continues to embrace this warrior mentality narrative, this really isn’t the case. This was fully on display early in Madrid this week, as Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka flamed out before the quarterfinals; both players did not go quietly, as each was embroiled in controversy in defeat.

Djokovic faced off against rising talent Grigor Dimitrov in the second round on Tuesday. Djokovic, despite suffering what looked like a severe ankle injury in Davis Cup, managed to unseat Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo and came into Madrid on a solid run of clay court form. On the other hand, Dimitrov has had numerous matches against the ATP’s best in his career and has fallen just short, sometimes agonizingly so, each time.

After Djokovic took a nearly-eight minute medical timeout for an alleged recurrence of his ankle injury when down a set and a break, the Madrid crowd began to turn against the World No. 1. Dimitrov flourished in the increasingly hostile on-court environment, as the partisan crowd let Djokovic know their increased displeasure with everything that he did.

After saving a match point and winning the second set tiebreak, Djokovic had some choice words involving some certain body parts for the crowd in his native language. However, he was not penalized for his outburst. The merit of the audible obscenity rule has long been debated, particularly in situations where the chair umpire does not speak the same language as the offending player. Although Carlos Bernardes speaks multiple languages, Serbian is not one of them. Djokovic would eventually lose the match, and was booed off the court.

Azarenka, playing in her first event since Indian Wells due to an ankle injury, bested Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her scrappy return to action on Monday. However, after surrendering a break in the third set to Eakterina Makarova on Wednesday, she lost her cool with chair umpire Mariana Alves. On the first point of the seventh game, Azarenka lamely missed a chipped forehand and decimated her racket. After having previously given Azarenka a warning for an audible English obscenity early in the second set, Alves docked Azarenka a point with her second code violation for racket abuse. The Belarusian did not take too kindly to the penalty, and let Alves know about it. Makarova would eventually win the last five games of the match to claim victory.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFZfD2umx0g

This isn’t your typical argument with an umpire; whether she intended to or not, Azarenka took a cheap shot at the umpire from Portugal. Anyone with a sense of tennis history knows Alves’ track record of questionable officiating decisions, highlighted by the infamous match between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati at the US Open in 2004. Nonetheless, her previously poor decisions have no bearing in a match where she made an entirely correct decision, and handled Azarenka impeccably. However, by saying what she said to Alves’ face, Azarenka is making her aware that the entire locker room knows of this previous history; she’s undermining Alves’ authority right in front of her for not only that match, but for future matches.

Two outbursts, two different reactions.

A majority of the outrage over Djokovic’s on-court reactions subsided once the match had concluded; a sizable number of people defended the World No. 1, saying that it would have been impossible for him not to react in any way to such a hostile environment. Regardless of the tongue, he still directed profane abuse at fans and other observers, and this is truly inexcusable. On the other hand, Azarenka suffered much post-match scrutiny for an outburst that took place entirely in English. Are these facts correlated? Perhaps.

Of course, players are human and it’s naïve to expect that they not show emotions during a match. However, “the heat of the moment” and “in the midst of battle” should not be appropriate excuses for poor behavior. As two of the top players in tennis, both Djokovic and Azarenka should know how to conduct themselves better on the court. All players should be held to the same standard, regardless of how (and in what language) that this emotion is expressed.

Murray Applies the Heat in Flushing Meadows…

Despite looking suspiciously like Jasper, the dashing vampire from the Twilight films, Slovakian, Lukas Lacko failed to draw blood against an impressive Andy Murray amidst the blistering heat of a New York afternoon, losing 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in just under two hours.

Murray used his typical variety of shot to gain two break points with a drop shot at 2-1 in the first set; a fabulous topspin lob awarded him his first break of serve. A muscular looking Murray continued his aggressive style of late, in the following games, stepping well inside the baseline to attack Lacko’s second serve and approach the net; a tactic that served him well throughout the course of the match. After a closely fought game at 5-3 and a couple of erratic shots from Murray, the Scot took the first set in 38 minutes.

Murray applied the pressure early on in the second set, breaking Lacko immediately, however buoyed by an audacious defensive shot in the second game, Lacko broke back straight away to level the set at one game a-piece. After taking out his frustration on his racket, Murray decided it was time for a new one and broke back once again in the following game.

A couple of service holds later and Murray went up a gear once again to set up three break points; a double fault by Lacko handed him the game and a definite psychological advantage. There really was no return for the Slovakian as Murray served out the second set with a penetrating forehand winner.

Murray’s impressive serving and aggressive returning made it hard work for Lacko who still didn’t have the answers in the final set, going down 6-2 once again.

The signs look bright for the Briton, who looks set to progress well into the tournament and possibly go all the way. Memories of a once physically weak Murray, cramping through lack of conditioning, have well and truly faded into insignificance; he could almost give the werewolves in Twilight a run for their money; well maybe not, but a transformation has certainly occurred.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter. She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

Federer Rallies To Defeat Ferrer In Cincinnati; Murray, Nadal Advance

World No. 1 Roger Federer rallied from a break down in the final set to edge past unseeded Spaniard David Ferrer, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, in extremely windy conditions Thursday afternoon to advance to the quarterfinals at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.

Federer, who is one victory away from winning his 200 win at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament, quickly broke the Spaniard in the opening game of the match but was then broken back in the fourth game. Ferrer followed it up by breaking Federer’s serve in the eighth game, before holding serve to win the opening set.

Federer, who lost to Ivo Karlovic last year in the third round in Cincinnati, remained steady despite being down a set and was able to secure a break at 4-3, before holding serve to take the match to a deciding set.

“I think at the beginning maybe my footwork was just a touch off,” said Federer, who reclaimed the No. 1 ranking in July after winning Wimbledon for a sixth time. “After that I think I got it together and started to play better and better.”

In the final set, the 27-year-old Spaniard jumped ahead 3-1 but could not consolidate the break. Ferrer, who had beaten Stanislas Wawrinka and No. 14 seed Marin Cilic earlier in his first two matches, then smashed his racquet in frustration after not being able to take a 4-1 lead.

Federer, who has won a record 15 Grand Slam singles titles, picked up his game tremendously after leveling the match at 3-3. The momentum shifted towards Federer as the Swiss broke Ferrer in the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead. Federer then served out the match at ease to advance to his tenth quarterfinal of the season.

“I thought he played a good match,” said Federer, who has won three titles this season.

Federer, who improved to 9-0 against Ferrer, smashed six aces and just two double faults compared to three aces and two double faults by the Spaniard. Federer won 75 percent of first serve points and was able to break serve on four of nine opportunities. Ferrer, who reached the finals earlier this year in Barcelona and Dubai, won 69 percent of first serve points and broke serve on three occasions.

Federer will next face unseeded Australian Lleyton Hewitt, who edged past American Sam Querrey, 6-1, 2-6, 6-3, in one hour and 26 minutes in the final match of the day session on Stadium court.

Also on Stadium Court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, No. 3 seed Andy Murray of Scotland, who overtook the No. 2 ranking earlier this week from Rafael Nadal, rolled past No. 16 seed Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-1, in one hour and 16 minutes.

The 22-year-old Scot, who is the defending champion in Cincinnati, broke Stepanek’s serve in the second game of the opening set, but was broken on his own serve when he tried serving out the set at 5-3 up. Despite the hiccup near the end of the set, Murray quickly broke back to take the opening set, 6-4.

“I started the match very well, serving well and not giving him any chances,” said Murray, who won the Masters 1000 Montreal tournament last week. “The wind picked up at the end of the first set and he managed to break me. But I played a good game to break back.”

In the second set, Murray had little trouble keeping the momentum on his side, as he broke Stepanek in his first two service games of the set before winning the match on his serve to advance.

Murray, who improved to 3-0 against the 30-year-old Czech Republic native smashed eight aces and won 29 of 38 first serve points. Stepanek, who has won titles earlier this year in Brisbane and San Jose, didn’t have his best serving outing, hitting three aces, three double faults and winning just 51 percent of first serve points.

The Scot, who has won five ATP World Tour titles this year, will next face lucky loser Julien Benneteau, who edge past Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4), in a three hour and three-minute thriller on the Grandstand court.

In the late match, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal recovered from a 0-3 deficit to roll past Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu, 7-5, 6-2, in one hour and 55 minutes.

The Spaniard was able to break serve on four of 12 opportunities, while smashing five aces and winning 32 of 41 first serve points. Mathieu was only able to break Nadal’s serve once, which occurred in the early stages of the opening set. The Frenchman hit three aces, three double faults and won 33 of 49 first serve points.

Nadal, who improved to 9-0 lifetime against Mathieu, will take on Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych on Friday night for a place in the semifinals. Nadal leads the head-to-head 4-3, winning most recently in 2008 in the semifinals in Miami.

Other Winners on Thursday in Cincinnati
Third Round
No. 4 Novak Djokovic def. Jeremy Chardy, 7-5, 6-3
No. 9 Gilles Simon def. No. 8 Nikolay Davydenko, 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-4
Tomas Berdych def. Chris Guccione, 6-4, 6-3