waiting game

Nadal & Djokovic To Play Doubles: Are You Kidding Me?

The song ‘Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’ was unfortunately the most over-played tune from Sunday in Toronto as the Rogers Cup was forced to deal with plenty of precipitation as the qualifying tournament approached its end.

The first match of the day on Centre Court between Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan and Marius Copil of Romania began shortly after 10am local time and finally ended just after 3pm with Lu prevailing 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-3. Rain halted progress for a lengthy period of time at the start of the second set and forced competitors and fans alike to play the waiting game at the Rexall Centre.

I took the time to test my serve at one of the popular interactive fan attractions on the grounds and walked away humbled by my 136 kilometre per hour attempt. Gonna do a few bicep curls and come back stronger for tomorrow.

The second match on the main stadium was between Canadian hopeful Philip Bester and veteran American Michael Russell. Bester – who looks strikingly similar to Max Mirnyi – was unable to perform like the beast he had hoped to and was beaten by the 32 year-old Russell 6-2, 6-2 in front of his home fans. Bester made good on his promise to, “go out guns blazing,” as he was the more aggressive of the two players. Unfortunately his shots were often off the mark which sent his unforced errors tally spiralling out of control. As the sun finally broke through the persistent cloud coverage it became clear that Bester was not going to get the reprieve he so-badly needed.

Of the six Canadians admitted into the qualifying draw, none have advanced to the main tournament that begins Monday. Don’t worry Canadian tennis fans, we still have four of our own represented this week so you’ll have plenty to cheer for.

Youngster Milos Raonic gets first dibs on Monday’s schedule and will face 53rd ranked Victor Hanescu on the Grandstand court at 11am. Despite giving up about ten years in age, the 19 year-old Raonic has a decent shot against a player mostly known for his clay-court prowess. One stat that may buoy Raonic’s hopes is the three straight first-round losses that Hanescu has accumulated this summer.

In the evening session top-ranked Canuck Peter Polansky gets the unenviable task of taking on Jurgen Melzer who has had the best results of his career in 2010. The Austrian made the semi-finals at Roland Garros and followed that up with a fourth round showing at Wimbledon. Not bad for an eleven year vet who had never previously advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam.

The doubles draw also offers some Canadian content as Frank Dancevic and partner Adil Shamasdin will face the duo of Simon Aspelin and Paul Hanley on the more intimate court 1.

There are tons of great singles matches set for day one at the Rogers Cup but the real show-piece no doubt will feature Raonic and partner Vasek Pospisil against the ‘are-you-kidding-me’ tandem of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. That match will close-out the evening session on Centre Court with some fireworks that will truly impress.

JOVIAL ANDY MURRAY ADVANCES DOWN UNDER

By Melina Harris

Andy Murray has made his name, often consistently camped three feet behind the baseline, counter punching his opponents with his wicked consistency and variety of shot over the past few years, helping him to rise to the giddy heights of No. 3 in the world, yet the Grand Slams have remained stubbornly elusive. Since the beginning of 2010, it’s not just his image that’s had a radical revolution (he recently signed a lucrative deal with Adidas replacing his often mismatched Fred Perry wear), his approach has changed too.

Far too often Murray has played the waiting game, drawing his opponents into long grueling rallies and reacting to shots with his exquisite intuition to sucker punch his way to victory. But, as Pat Cash rightly noted of Murray in his article for the Sunday Times from January 17th, ‘he is a potential Grand Slam champion but too often he has fallen short because he preferred to be reactive rather than proactive.’ However, like me, Cash has noticed a distinct change of direction in Murray’s game, noting his movement forward onto the baseline and sometimes even stepping aggressively inside the baseline during his devastating demolition of Andreev in the Hopman Cup competition. Cash congratulated Murray after the game, saying ‘Good on you, mate. You have finally played the way I want to see you playing and if you keep going that way, I am sure you will be a Grand Slam Champion’.

Murray opened his account at the Australian Open Monday with an emphatic victory over the 6’8” South African qualifier, Kevin Anderson, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 in a swift hour and 37 minutes. Although the first week of a Grand Slam is all about playing within yourself and conserving energy, while the storm raged impressively on the outside courts, I was pleased to see Murray continuing his ‘cat and mouse’ approach, with Murray as the cat, toying with his lanky and often awkward opponent with ease – his vibrant blue and yellow Adidas shirt hardly displaying a hint of sweat throughout the three sets. Interestingly, Murray had been criticized for his decision to play the Hopman Cup as his preparation for the Open, but shrewd as ever, ironically the indoor conditions in his first round match at the Open were almost identical to those at the Hopman Cup, not even allowing his opponent the weather on his side.

His opponent hadn’t dropped a service game in the three qualifying matches he had won en route to his match up with Murray, nevertheless after a convincing game to love in the opening service game, Murray ruthlessly ruined Anderson’s unbeaten record, breaking him in the second game with his instinctive returning and aggressive play. There were very few of the long rallies for the Australian crowd to get their teeth into, which we have long learnt to associate with Murray, but they must have been impressed with the way he controlled the pace of the match with skill like a puppeteer, he had us all on a string.

The only low point being his first serve percentage, which disappointingly stood around the mid thirties and the lack of velocity and bite on his second serve averaging around 80-85mph which could cause him problems against a more challenging opponent. However, on the plus side, it was fantastic to see his more relaxed and jovial manner from the Hopman Cup continue in his post match interview, with the crowd reacting accordingly.

In the second round, he will meet either Marc Gicquel of France or Simone Bolelli of Italy and it remains to be seen whether Murray will be brave enough to continue his offensive play further into the tournament.