Sunday, January 30, 2011

Red peril stared down at her from across the border. Challenged her with menacing intent, she did. Threatened to overrun the site that she had marked out to celebrate an Australian Open win to go with the three previous grand slam titles she had amassed. For, the instigator of this threat, Li Na, had designs on invading the territory that Belgium, Kim Clijsters, was mightily keen to continue occupying.

Clijsters wasn’t about to concede defeat easily despite Na’s differing opinion on how to proceed with hostilities. The Belgian had procured a 2-0 lead early in the opening set and appeared to be on course for her fourth major title. But, then, the advance began. Na had settled, after an early bout of self-doubt requested the presence of that most restrictive of hindrances, nerves, and forced her way ahead in the battle for the first set.

She was doing it in admirable fashion, too. Heavy artillery in the form of more than adequate ground strokes as she intently settled on a strategy of pounding the Belgian fiend into submission. Worked a treat, it did, as Na reeled off four straight games to lead 4-2. Clijsters had no answer to the power or depth of shot from the Chinese lady. Not only that, but, when Clijsters decided upon any form of rearguard action, Na steadied herself with some extremely effective defence.

Chased everything as if her life depended on it, did Na, never giving up no matter how difficult an assignment was. The Belgian was using the angles to take Na out of court, but, still, the red peril wasn’t about to cease with her efforts to make Clijsters play one more shot whenever possible.

This desire to never give in was never more apparent than in the eighth game. Down 15-40, Na fought her way back with her usual gritty determination to take the game and a 5-3 lead, forcing Clijsters to serve to save the set.

Which she couldn’t manage. Na was able to easily negotiate her way through the Belgian’s service game with relative ease to take the first set 6-3.

The showdown was going swimmingly for Na. Her much publicised liking for treating herself to a shopping spree after winning a match was looking a likely proposition. The Great Wall of China was on track for a visit to the great mall of China.

So she thought, anyway.

Clijsters had other notions of what would make for a delightful evening’s entertainment. In her mind, she certainly didn’t envisage anymore of what she considered to be Na’s indulgent forays, in the form of startlingly powerful ground strokes, behind enemy lines.

Clijsters had to put a stop to it, or she would fast be staring down the barrel of a quick and easy two set defeat. So, she fought fire with fire. Anything Na could do, she would do better. If Na was going to hit enormous winners off the forehand as she had been doing regularly, she would just have to outdo her. Which, slowly but surely, Clijsters started to achieve.

Initially, it was even-steven as neither player was prepared to back down. And it made for some gloriously entertaining tennis. A shortage of twenty shot rallies, there was not. And often, at the end of them, there would be a spectacular winner from one or the other of the combatants.

This was tennis paradise. Utopia had found its home on Rod Laver Arena. It was to become even more sublime as Clijsters launched a raging torrent of effervescent forehand winners that rained a storm of terror down on Na’s fast fading hopes of grand slam glory.

No sooner had the score been even at three a piece than Clijsters had ripped through Na’s defences to take the second set, 6-3. There had been a momentum change that had shaken the match to its core.

Torrid stuff on the front lines, then. Both ladies had each won a battle within the war, but Clijsters now had her foot planted firmly on the throat of her opponent. She wasn’t about to let her foe off the hook, either. Press on, she did, as she charged to a 4-1 lead. Na was rattled, now. Her concentration appeared to be shot to pieces. She was on the rack and stretched to her outer limit. What had once been an impenetrable defence was now being penetrated at will by her Belgian adversary.

She had snapped. There was to be no comeback. Bereft of ideas on how to counter the brilliance of the renowned front runner in Clijsters, her cause had nothing left to do but shrivel up and fade away in the face of an overwhelming onslaught from the popular Belgium lady.

It had been a hard fought match, but, Clijsters had finally prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Tears emanated from her visage, showing just how much the victory had meant to her.

Surely they won't last too long, as it seems that she will be the one enjoying the shopping spree. Though, there will be no need to use anyone else’s credit card as she now has a lazy 2.2 million to throw around.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It was a battle that pitted experience up against youthful exuberance. A battle of a player ranked number two in the world attempting to subdue the young tyro gunning for her spot.

That player of a towering ranking, Russian, Vera Zvonareva, doing her utmost to give the young Czech, Petra Kvitova, a tennis lesson in their Australian Open quarter-final contest.

And this she most certainly did. While Kvitova was happy to attack from the outset, Zvonareva settled into a more realistic approach; attacking when the opportunity arose, but, making well thought out decisions to defend when necessary.

Quite often her defence would win her points as much as an attacking groundstroke would. For early in the opening exchanges, Kvitova, was intent on attack at all costs, despite looking incapable of performing to optimum level due to out of control nerves. This led to errors on her part and Zvonareva gaining easy points by doing no more than simply making sure the ball was put back into play.

With Kvitova suffering the effects of a lack of self-belief, Zvonareva wasted little time in winning the first four games. She didn’t just feel the need to defend. When the time was right, she would launch into aggressive ground strokes which overpowered the sluggish Kvitova.

Despite the Czech lass closing the gap to 2-4, Zvonareva was able to pursue the taking of the first set with relative ease over the next two games, winning both and the set 6-2.

By this stage one would have thought that Kvitova would have got her game under control. Alas, not. Turns out that it was a case of same old, same old as the Russian took advantage of a high error rate on the part of Kvitova, to race to a 3-0 lead.

Just when it looked like she was going to continue to have a walk in the park, events conspired against Zvonareva that potentially would change the course of the match. First, a spectator fell and injured an ankle directly behind the court. For reasons unbeknown to any rational thinking person, the umpire declared that play should continue despite the fact that the spectator was being attended to directly in the line of sight of a miffed Zvonareva. Then, just when it was safe to assume things were back to normal after the injured woman had been assisted from the stadium, a twenty-one gun salute began as part of Australia Day celebrations.

Zvonareva was clearly unnerved by all the goings on. This was Kvitova’s cue to enter the fray on a serious note and clearly state her intentions to all and sundry. Her nerves appeared to have calmed considerably, the fluency missing early on was now in attendance, and mentally she was hyped. The winners started to flow. All of a sudden Kvitova assumed the role of the Australia Open’s international woman of action. A veritable verb in every sense of the word, she was.

Everything was going her way as she plundered her way to a 4-3 lead. Power shots that were missing earlier in the match had entered the scene. Zvonareva simply could not match Kvitova at her best. Trouble was Kvitova couldn’t maintain the power and precision for any great length of time. No sooner was she dominating than she was back to her bad habits of earlier. Errors started to occur and Zvonareva, not being one to miss a chance, pounced. She quickly finished off the match, winning the last two games to take the match 6-2, 6-4.

Kvitova, on the day, was disappointing in her display. But, youth is on her side and with consistency will no doubt become a top ten player.

For Zvonareva, this was not the tough encounter she would have expected. Not that she will mind as she is now only two matches away from a first grand slam title.
Novak Djokovic is on fire and has scorched his way through his quarter-final match-up with Thomas Berdych in Melbourne tonight.

A scorched earth policy seemed to be what Djokovic appeared intent on as he proceeded to destroy anything in his path. No matter what Berdych sent his way, he generally had an answer to it in his 6-1, 7-6, 6-1 win. Unfortunately for Berdych, he was the unlucky recipient of Djokovic’s ire, and, the heat was simply too much for him to handle. Djokovic, looking fit as a fiddle, started a bonfire of the Berdych game from the get go. If his Czech opponent had any tennis vanities, they were soon to be wiped out.

Not letting up, he raced through the first set in thirty-six minutes. The Djokovic serve was having the time of its life as he made short work of his service games. Yet, Berdych was struggling with the enormity of the situation as he seemed to take an eternity to hold his own serve. And that was just in the second game. For the remainder of the set, Djokovic simply made haste with wonderful anticipation of the rewards that were surely coming his way. Berdych, on the other hand, had made a hasty retreat into a set long slumber.

Regularly, Djokovic moved Berdych around the court relentlessly, all the while making splendid use of the angles available to him, until there was an opening. Which, sure as can be, he pounced on with monotonous regularity. It had looked likely that Djokovic had burnt off his rivals chances very early on, indeed.

Berdych, however, had other ideas. Notions of a second grand slam title were not deterred from introducing themselves to his thought processes. And mind he did not, as he surged forth to a 4-1 lead as Djokovic fell into a form slump that threatened to arrest his seemingly unrestricted path through to a mouth watering contest with Roger Federer. It seemed that he was having problems with his eyes as he continuously rubbed at them and frequently complained to his support crew sitting in their court-side box.

Eventually, though, whatever had been troubling him appeared to dissipate, and he started a mighty comeback in an attempt to blunt Berdych’s momentum. First, Djokovic broke his foe’s serve in the sixth game, then reeled off three straight games to take a 5-4 lead.

Sensing a grand opportunity slipping by the wayside, Berdych steadied himself and fought back once again, forcing the set into a tiebreak. A close run thing it was, but Djokovic handled the pressure with aplomb, securing a two sets to love lead.
Having seen his chances take a sudden turn for the worst, Berdych looked for all the world a man that had lost hope. The spark that had raged within for much of the second set, seemed to have been extinguished. Instead, it was the enemy who was on fire. And look out anyone that dared to get in Djokovic’s way.

While Berdych hung tight for the opening games of the set, Djokovic soon gained the ascendency after he broke serve in the fourth game to go 3-1 up. From there on in it was a procession of winners on the part of Djokovic. It had even got to the stage that one could have been forgiven for thinking Berdych was a boy in a man’s world, such was the dominance of Djokovic as he finished off the set, 6-1.

The Serbian had played a smart game, constantly peppering Berdych’s forehand and forcing him to play straight down the line. Not one of the Czech’s strong points, it must be said.

It was near to the complete performance on the part of Djokovic. Not only did he do a marvellous job on Berdych tactically, he made limited unforced errors himself.
Which bodes well for what shapes as an epic duel with Federer, a man whose grand slam record is as safe as a Swiss bank.

Djokovic will be hoping to stage a successful break-in. And the way he is currently playing, he stands a very realistic chance.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

You’ve got a good one in Petra Kvitova, Czechoslovakia.

Look after her, as she is an absolute star in the making. You never know, she may have just announced herself as a genuine title contender as she demolished fifth seed, Samantha Stosur, 7-6, 6-3 in their third round match.

Seeded only twenty-five Kvitova wasn’t meant to win against her more fancied opponent. It was Stosur who was expected to go through to the fourth round and challenge well into the second week of proceedings. But, try telling that to the six foot lady with an armoury that was well complimented by a match temperament that no twenty year old was ever meant to be in ownership of. Maturity plus she has.

Played like a seasoned pro of thirty, she did. Hasn’t anyone bothered to tell her that she was supposed to be nervous when confronted with the biggest match in her short career thus far? Not that Kvitova would’ve expended any energy whatsoever listening. She knew full well what she could produce under pressure. Must have, for in the end she made world number six Stosur look decidedly average.

Calmness and serenity introduced themselves early on to Kvitova, and she accepted the alliance with unabated pleasure. This union seemed to be a winning formula as she played with a self-assurance that was missing in her opposite’s game. And it contributed to her breaking Stosur’s serve in the fourth game to advance to a 3-1 lead. A deathly silence befell Rod Laver arena as Kvitova had succeeded in, at least temporarily, taking the partisan crowd out of the equation. Set up accommodation to see their favourite usurped by an invader from foreign shores, they did not. But, the knowledgeable locals could sense something was amiss.

Stosur simply did not look her usual self with the fearsome serve and forehand that usually fail to introduce themselves to an opponent as it hurtles past. Tentativeness had taken hold. Doubt had seeped into her mind. Perhaps, deep down, she knew within just how much of a threat Kvitova was to her aspirations of winning this match, let alone an Australian Open title. She had a battle of gigantic proportions on her hands, here.

Despite all of this, Stosur managed to break back in the sixth game to level at three games all. With the games even, it suggested an even encounter. Appearances can be deceiving though. There was always a feeling that Kvitova was achieving her goals with considerable more ease than with which Stosur was. Surely the Australian was going to snap soon and leave Kvitova to run away with the match.

Happen it did, but, not quite yet. There was still a tale to be told in the first set. It came in the tiebreak, after each of the pair had held their serves over the previous six games, when Stosur had her chance to stamp her mark on the encounter. Up 2-0 early, Stosur has her opportunities to close out the first set, but could not seal the deal. Kvitova fought her way back doggedly to 2-2, only for her foe to surge forth towards a 5-3 lead. The set was within Stosur’s grasp. She could reach out and touch it.

Well, nearly.

For the ice queen cometh. Now was the hour for the Czech to announce her arrival on the world stage. Kvitova was about to enter the consciousness of the tennis public, and what better way to do this that reel off four straight points to take the first set 7-6.

Kvitova sure knows how to handle pressure. There is good and bad pressure. Good as in handling bad situations like a trouper and finding a way to forge ahead despite the worst of intentions from the other side of the net. Completing your objectives in small steps in the way a rally is set up. Not biting off more than you can chew, thus, believing in what you are aspiring to. When you believe, you achieve.

Kvitova inhabits and handles the land of good pressure with consummate ease. She eats it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, not to mention the odd munch on it for morning and afternoon tea.

A champion embraces pressure. Kvitova is one such player. It’s what makes her special.

Increasingly, Stosur was struggling to hold her serve. When she did, more often than not, it was after having been taken to deuce, whereas Kvitova was charging along winning her opening two service games of the second set with remarkable ease.
Defining moments usually make their presence felt in a tight match. If there was any doubt remaining over Kvitova’s mental fortitude, she well and truly dispensed those thoughts when at 2-2 and down 0-40 in the fifth game, she fought her way back to hold serve and take a 3-2 lead.

Then, it happened. It had been threatening for some time now to occur. Stosur snapped. Hang with a superior opponent on the night, she could no longer. Try as she might, nothing was left in the tank. She was running on empty. All the while Kvitova was cruising along, delighting in the plethora of winners she was now accumulating. The Kvitova forehand expressed itself with a particularly menacing power and accuracy that soon had Stosur subdued. Sixteen winners in the second set Kvitova hit as opposed to none from Stosur. It spoke volumes.

Kvitova was soon up 5-3, and all that was left to do was to serve out the ninth game to secure a mighty win on her part. But, hang on a second. Players of considerably more experience than the Czech lady have succumbed to the pressure of serving for the match. Not Kvitova, though. Nothing fazes her. Certainly not having to win four points for a career best victory. For, ninety-five minutes after hostilities began, she put an end to Stosur’s hopes for another year.

What she also did was give her upcoming opponents something to think about.

And worried they should be.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Swiss are known for their efficiency and having the most reliable clocks in the world.

And when it comes to that efficiency, there is generally no more reliable in the tennis playing world than Roger Federer. He just keeps on producing the same flawless tennis day after day, week in week out. That’s how it was for the first two sets of his second round match against Frenchman, Gilles Simon, on day three of the Australian Open.

For two sets he dominated with a stupendous display of shotmaking supremacy. Occasionally, the upstart Frenchman would get a little uppity and decide to muscle his way into a rally and attempt to control it, but, bang on time, Federer would simply launch a missile in the form of a forehand winner to detonate time on any designs of dominating proceedings that Simon may have had.

Tennis can be heavenly to watch, and, at his best, Federer is without peer. The sheer mastery of the courtmanship that he displayed during the first two sets was a joy to behold. He pulled out every shot that he possesses in his extravagant repertoire. Everything from off-forehands, passing shots from both sides and an outrageous backhand smash that was all interspersed with delicate drop shots that had his challenger mesmerised. Power hitting, it all wasn’t, for he would wisely vary the pace of the game with a dose of sliced backhands every so often. Not only that, but, Federer would intelligently make splendid use of the full array of angles available to him to manoeuvre Simon out wide, thus opening up the remainder of the court to procure himself a winning volley.

Having won the first set 6-2 in a zippy thirty-five minutes, the maestro continued on his merry way with another virtuoso display. It wasn’t long before he had apprehended the second set and locked it away 6-3.

Of those that had sat through the opening exchanges, few would have predicted what was to come. Nothing that had occurred thus far had suggested that Simon could fight his way back into the match. Or so it had seemed. The keen observer, however, would have been alert to a potential weakness in the Swiss machine during the second game of the second set. With Federer charging along at a great rate of knots towards a seemingly easy victory, he, on three consecutive points, used drop shots to win each point. It worked, too.

Despite this, what it displayed in the Federer psyche was a penchant for a touch of arrogance when he is in total control of a match. Not the first time that he has indulged in showing a lack of respect to his opponents, over the years.

Royalty Federer may be, and at two sets to nil up he was certainly flush with opportunities to erase Simon from the tournament quick smart. But, that arrogance of an earlier date was about to come back to haunt him. There was a full house in at Rod Laver arena to watch Federer’s cards hit the deck and Simon to cash in on a mentally flat Federer over the next two and a half sets.

No longer was it Federer who was firing off winners, it was a revitalised Simon who grew a arm and a leg as he preceded to give the world number two a dose of his own medicine. Earlier it had been Federer in total command. But, life can be an unpredictable beast at times. It was now Simon who was about to put in a performance that was anything but simple.

Whereas before it had been Federer who could do no wrong, now Simon was keen on some role reversal and a chance to dazzle an adoring audience. And a mighty job he did of it, too. He was now doing a Federer on Federer. Crushing backhand winners were a specialty. Simon was hyped. There was to be no holding him back as scythed his way through the third and fourth sets, winning both 6-4.

Upsets have always occurred over time, but this was shaping as one of the biggest. A player barely ranked in the top fifty was making a man that many claim to be the greatest ever, seem decidedly average. No matter what Federer tried, he just couldn’t make a go of it. For two sets despair had spread through his being until he looked anything but a champion. Would he have an ace or two up his sleeve to pull out at the appropriate time?

One couldn’t be entirely sure early in the fifth set. Simon was still firing on all cylinders, and, even though Federer was starting to reacquaint himself with sweetened timing of shot, Simon was hanging around with the air of a parasite with nothing but the most sinister of intentions. He wasn’t about to give up the chance of a third career win over Federer after he had endured the mental torment of being on the receiving end of Federer’s genius over the first two sets and knowing that there was nothing he could do but to accept being made to look like an amateur in front of fifteen thousand people.

He’d fought back, regained his dignity, and now was a chance to show what he was really made of. Unfortunately for him, though, Federer had no intention of suffering the ignominy of an early round defeat. So, they went at it, game for game, until the sixth game when Federer broke Simon’s serve to go up 4-2. The Federer of the first two sets was starting to reappear. Rare shows of emotion were starting to come to the surface. Fists were pumping; there was even the occasional roar of approval from the great man after winning vital points. To the brink he had been, defeat staring him defiantly in the eye.

Federer, though, was no longer in any mood to tolerate the presence of an unwanted companion and saw the spectre of defeat wander off into obscurity as he reasserted his authority on the match to take a three game advantage, 5-2.

It was all over, then. Well, not quite, as Simon had other notions. He hadn’t spent so much time and effort putting himself into a position to spend more time in Melbourne, to give in now. So, at 0-40 down in the eighth game, with three match points against him, he called on all of his fighting spirit to conjure up another comeback of epic proportions. Amazingly, after nearly one hundred and ninety minutes of energy sapping battle, he found a way out of a dire predicament to secure the game and leave himself with a chance-however slim- of victory.

Famous victory it was not to be for Simon, as Federer served out the ninth game and took the 5th set and match, 6-3.

In the end, this would have been far too close for comfort for Federer’s liking, but, he got out of jail due to the sheer weight of his undeniable talent. Not necessarily because he deserved to after his attitude early in the third set.

Which goes to show, for the likes of Gilles Simon, that sometimes life just ain't fair.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

David Ferrer is guilty of many things. Outrageous talent, superb fitness combined with a healthy smattering of consistency. And now, it seems, greed.

Hasn’t he ever heard of sharing?

Not content to deny Argentinean David Nalbandian any hope of gaining a set in today’s Heineken Open final, he went even further and only afforded Nalbandian the opportunity to win five games in his 6-3, 6-2 stroll to victory on a hot summer’s day in the city of sails.

What had initially appeared to be a classic in the making instead turned out to be a one-sided affair dominated by the twenty-eight year old world number seven. It wasn’t always the case, though, as the two antagonists spent the first seven games exchanging blows. Nothing was left out. Use of all available angles to open the court up so as to execute a legion of winners. And the winners came thick and fast as, first, Nalbandian would smash a crosscourt forehand winner.

Far be it for Ferrer to be outdone, though, as Ferrer would take his turn to stun a captive audience with a backhand passing shot down the line. They sparred, they poked, they prodded. A punch here, a counter-punch there. World class tennis of the top tier, it most definitely was.

It was a tremendous exhibition while it lasted. Problem was, once Ferrer broke Nalbandian in the eight game to go 5-3 ahead, it turned into a Spanish inquisition. Ferrer grilled his Argentinean foe with a relentlessness that Nalbandian found too hot for his liking.

Gone from the Argentine’s game was its original fluency. His timing soon disappeared south, and the frustration was showing as he took his ire out on his racquet. It was to be the first of two that he deliberately broke. Obviously Nalbandian is yet to feel the effects of the recession. Lucky for some.

Despite winning the first set 6-3, and contributing mightily to a splendid contest early on, there was always a suspicion that Ferrer had plenty more to give. And he did. Not just another gear, but several of them. The better he played, the more pressure he exerted, the worse his rival appeared to get.

Even though Nalbandian managed to hold ferrer to 2-2 during the opening of the second set, hostile emotions were gathering within. He simply could not break down his opponent who chased every shot regardless of how improbable it may have seemed.

Something had to give. And it was Nalbandian who cracked in the fifth game of the second set as Ferrer easily dismantled the former world number three’s serve.
This was Ferrer’s cue to go on a points scoring rampage and abandon any thoughts of conservative play in favour of indulging himself in a veritable feast of extravagant shot making that was his equivalent of an all day buffet.

Ferrer quickly snacked on the last three games as he raced through them in record time to claim his second title in Auckland.

Nalbandian, for his part, will have been grateful when the nightmare was over. Not one of his finest performances, it must be said. However, it was clear from his efforts during the first half of the opening set that he is potentially the better player of the two. Currently ranked twenty-seven in the world rankings, and having missed the majority of 2010 with injury, with more match play there is no doubt that he will soon climb his way back into the top ten.

Today, though, was Ferrer’s day to bask in the glory of an eleventh career title. He didn’t always do things the easy way in the earlier rounds with two of his matches going to three sets and lasting well over two hours in duration.

But, then, acclaim goes to those that work hardest. And Ferrer's work ethic is second to none.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

David Ferrer is so cool under pressure that he is at serious risk of suffering frostbite.

And the Spaniard required nerves of steel, too, as he was taken down to the wire by German Tobias Kamke at the Heineken Open today. Defeat came a knocking, but, instead, Ferrier stared it down and brushed it aside as only a player of his calibre could. He’s not the world number seven for no reason, you know.

For nearly two sets, he was more often than not on the back foot. It wasn’t that he necessarily played badly, just that everything Kamke tried tended to come off. He was simply a step or two behind early on as Kamke used superior racquet head speed to whip up the pace of his shots. And the winners were coming, because of it.

With those extra winning shots came the first break of the match in the sixth game to the unseeded German. He was up 4-2 and didn’t look back as he charged away to take the first set, 6-3. The match stats had been extremely even thus far, with the exception of the winners who had sided with Kamke nine to four.

Nothing changed over the first four games of the second set. The winners kept coming for Kamke, and Ferrer was constantly scurrying to dig himself out of trouble. There was a crispness of shot to Kamke’s game that Ferrer seemed unable to muster up. Despite games going to serve, Kamke was hitting with more power, managing supremely to run Ferrer ragged, giving his opposite little time to unleash any firepower that he may possess. It was shaking Ferrer’s game to the core, the epicentre of the strike coming from the menacing presence of a German machine at the height of his pre-eminence.

Somehow, despite the dominance of Kamke, Ferrer was able to hang tough, keep holding serve, and be ahead 4-3 as the set was so far without a service break.

Then it happened. The first chinks in the armour of the German began to appear, in the eight game. Sure, he held serve and levelled at four a piece, but, having expected a relatively easy service game, it came as a shock to Kamke to have taken considerably more effort than normal to come up with the desired result.

Sport at the top level, it is often said, is as much about mental fortitude as it is about physical prowess. As Kamke found out to his dismay. What became evident over the remainder of the set was the frustration of Kamke. He was now remonstrating with himself on a regular basis, not to mention throwing his racquet on occasions. Ferrer had finally cracked the German. It had taken nearly two sets, but, he was rewarded for not giving in. His time was coming at the wrong end of the match for Kamke.

Earlier in the match it had been Kamke dictating terms, now it was the turn of Ferrer. The percentage of winners hit was changing its allegiance to the Spaniard. What had been working for Kamke was now not so keen on cooperating for the German. Such as his prediralection for the drop volley. Played it so often, he did, that he may as well have taken out a patent on the shot. Problem was that, now, Ferrer was anticipating his every move and running down everything with his all.

It was taking its toll on Kamke, and by the time the tiebreaker happened along, Ferrer was in no mood to surrender the momentum that he had worked so hard to gain, as he wrapped up tiebreaker 7-1.

Fear is not one to hold anyone in high regard, but, like any bully, it only goes after the weak. It will greet its nearest and dearest with the wickedest of intentions. Evil personified, is fear. And fear careth not for the ambitions of the meek. Centre court would turn into his prison, if he let it.

Fear is what was etched all over Kamke’s face as the deciding set was to commence. He had been so near to an upset against one of the world’s best but could sense it slipping away. The voices in his head were saying it was no longer possible to stay with the top seed. Ferrer was riding the winning wave. So fear was telling him, anyway.

Remarkably, Kamke stood his ground. When all was looking lost, he refused to succumb to either fear or Ferrer. He had no intention of letting this stay a threesome in the long term, so he disencumbered himself of an unwanted acquaintance. This left the two combatants that had been going at each other for 1h49min to date, to duke it out. Another forty-one minutes of high quality tennis to enthral the masses would be greatly appreciated.

Which, they duly got. A seesaw battle was played out between two desperate foes eager for more match practice before the upcoming Australian Open. One minute Ferrer was on top producing sublime acts of tennis ecstasy. The next, Kamke would suddenly take control, unleashing a belting forehand winner, or at other times, his favoured drop volley.

After nearly two and a half hours of high ferocity tennis, something had to snap. And it did. Kamke, in the 9th game, let his guard down and allowed his concentration to wander from the job at hand. Ferrer, ever the professional, pounced, breaking Kamke’s serve with ease to get the decisive break and go up 5-4.

Kamke had given his all to the cause. An effort to be truly proud of, but, he had nothing left. Mentally he was exhausted. Which opened the way for Ferrer to cruise through the final game to secure his entry into the quarter-finals.

He was tested to the extreme, didn’t always have everything go his own way. But then that’s what champions do: take the bad with the good and find a way to overcome adversity.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

As she sat there quietly contemplating what had passed before her, the tears that seeped from the wells of her eyes and gently cascaded down her cheeks spoke a thousand words.

Told a tale they did, of hardship and of a woman that at times was down on her luck. One that was as much about relief, that all those years of traipsing around the world by herself struggling to get by had finally started to pay off, as it was about elation.

She had only ever won one WTA title during her fifteen year career, in 2007.
Now Greta Arn had finally secured her second title at the ASB Classic in Auckland today. She didn’t just beat Yanina Wickmayer 6-3, 6-3, she fair pummelled her.
With the modern propensity to attempt to perforate the ball, hers was instead a victory for acute tactical nous.

Certainly Arn gave the ball an almighty wallop at times. It’s just that, unlike her adversary, she interspersed this with the occasional slice serve, a delicate lob shot and every so often to change the pace of the game she would throw in some high topspin forehands.

Wickmayer had but not a clue what was going on. For the most part, she kept on belting hard flat forehands and not much else. On the few occasions that she ventured into the net, her approach shots were inadequate, leaving Arn free to fire shots back at the Belgium’s feet. Which Wickmayer promptly volleyed back into the net.

Arn simply dismantled her with the utmost precision. Never, at any stage of the match did Wickmayer seriously look like threatening the Hungarian wonder. If there was a service break to be had, it was Arn who would make a rendezvous with it.
Which she promptly achieved in the fifth game, to take a 3-2 lead. To date, despite the score line suggesting an even contest was at hand, in reality Arn always had control. Wickmayer looked under pressure from the beginning, and was hanging on by a mere thread. No matter what she tried, she couldn’t hang with Arn who was playing with great consistency. She put the ball back over the net and let Wickmayer commit errors. And she did.

Enough so that in the ninth game the thread snapped. Arn, ever ready, pounced and once again captured herself another service break and the first set, 6-3. The dream run of the previous four days seemingly was set to continue.

The defining moment of the final came in the sixth game of the second set. With Arn up 3-2 and each player holding their serve thus far, Wickmayer, at 15-15 on her serve decided to attempt a drop shop from the baseline. Not the right place to try such a stunt. Nor was it the right time of the game. Maybe if she had been up 40-15. But, then, she wasn’t. Panic had made an effort to acquaint itself with Wickmayer, who unwittingly welcomed it into her world.

What was there for all to see in that one fateful moment was a searing insight into a mind that was at the end of its tether as it searched for a way to combat the tactical prowess of a player that, by rights, had no business to have visited the upper echelons of the week’s play.

The match was effectively over.

Arn may only have been up 4-2, but, in reality, Wickmayer was a lost soul. She looked beaten. It was merely a matter of time before Arn put the defending champion out of her misery.

Before she did that though, Arn had the small matter of taming her nerves over the next couple of games. This, fortunately for her, turned out to be nothing more a minor blip in the large scheme of things. At 5-3 she was able to serve out the match to secure a popular victory

All week she had been able to keep a lid on her emotions, remaining ice cool under pressure for majority of the five days. But no longer could she contain the tidal wave of emotion swelling up within her as the mental exhaustion of the week finally took its toll as she fell to the ground in a crumpled heap.

Eventually, as she got back to her feet and sat at courtside, Arn would have been able to reflect on a career that hasn’t always gone to plan, but, now, she really will have something to truly saviour.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What a breath of fresh air. Greta Arn, that is. Ranked 177 in the world, she just keeps on keeping on as she steamrolls her way over the field at this week’s ASB Classic.

Not a grunt to be heard, either.

Already she had dealt to former world number one, Maria Sharapova, in the quarter-finals. This time it was the turn of 41st ranked German, Julia Goerges, to feel the tennis wrath of Arn.

Most would rightly expect such a lowly ranked competitor to at least have the decency to struggle through in three sets against more fancied opposition. Not Arn, though. No, she doesn’t have need for such offerings.

Here’s a woman that in a fifteen year pro career has won the princely sum of 500,000US dollars. There is many a modern day player that wouldn’t get out of bed for the opportunity to win less than that amount in one tournament, let alone over a decade and a half. Yet Arn does it all with the minimum of fuss.

There are no trainers in sight. Her coach is half way around the world, sitting at home, due to her having insufficient funds to fly him to New Zealand. She has no need to concern herself about which fancy outfits to wear. In between matches, she finds time to do interviews for television and the like, with a smile on her visage. Hell, she even manages the feat of smiling during her matches.

Just a little on the well rounded side then, it seems. The Hungarian does her country proud. A competitor that gets the utmost out of what ability she is lucky to possess. Unlike certain other pros. No names, of course.

Next year, tournament organisers, might like to shell out a few bucks on a free air ticket to bring Arn back to Auckland. They could do a lot worse. Big name she may not be. What she will give, at least, is every last little drop of effort she has to the cause. She certainly did that today in her 7-6, 6-3 victory over Goerges.

Perhaps it is the tough road that Arn has had to travel down all these years that allows her to keep her emotions under control when things don’t nessecarily go her way. Such as the time she led 4-2 in the first set, only to see her lead evaporate as Goerges rolled off three straight games, and had three set points over Arn in the tenth game.

Arn, ever the fighter, reduced the deficit to one set point, then, at 30-40, produced a high pressure ace to bring the game to deuce. Crisis averted, as she went on to level the match at 5-5. This all after her opponent had been on quite the roll. Georges’ serve had come into its own over the second half of the set. A mighty effort on the part of Arn, then, to quell the uprising of her opposite.

Both the next two games went to serve which brought about a tiebreaker.

Once again it was Arn who was the stronger mentally when the pressure came on, as she raced away with the tiebreak 7-3.

It had looked like, as in the first semi-final between Yanina Wikmayer and Shuai Peng, it was going to be a long afternoon for the two combatants.

But Arn put paid to any thoughts Goerges had of making a game of it, as she raced through the second set with relative ease.

Now all she has to do is play out another couple of sets in tommorrow's final and she will be able to collect a richly deserved payday.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Reputations, it seems, mean very little to Hungarian, Greta Arn. Put a former world number one such as Maria Sharapova at the opposite end of the court and she lifts mightily. No cowering to the leggy one’s past achievements, for her.

Nothing fazed Arn as she became the giant killer at the ASB Classic, today, by sending the top seed packing from the tournament in an emphatic 6-2, 7-5 quarter-final victory. Arn seemed to care not of the blistering power of the Sharapova ground strokes. The harder Sharapova hit, Arn would simply see this as an opportunity to return the favour with interest.

That she did, too. Unlike Sharapova, Arn went about her business with an intelligence of play, not to mention patience that the Russian appeared to be lacking in. Particularly in the first set, this was the case.

While Sharapova seemed thrilled at the prospect of belting the ball into another time zone, Arn bided her time with patient thoughtful tennis. Her foe, though, spent the majority of the first set playing with a sameness in the form of hard flat shot making off both the forehand and backhand. Not for her to set a point up with half a dozen topspin shots well over the net in the hope that Arn would make an unforced error.

Instead, it was Arn playing the percentages and waiting for the inevitable Sharapova error to rare its ugly head. And she never had to wait too long, it must be said. Only thirty minutes into the match, she was leading 5-2 and serving for the first set. This Arn managed with ease.

6-2 up and seemingly cruising to victory, Arn could have been forgiven for letting her intensity slacken, somewhat. A mistake, that would have been, though, as Sharapova set about reversing her sagging fortunes.

Despite her approach of the first set not working out to well, she persevered in the hope that eventually her luck would change. And it did for a while. Having drawn level at 2-2, Sharapova went on a two game blitzkrieg of error free tennis to totally dominate Arn, and take a 4-2 lead.

Arn is a fighter, though. The thirty-one year old veteran wasn’t about to let a victory over one of tennis big names slip through her grasp. She broke Sharapova’s serve in the 13th game with a brilliant backhand down the line to leave Sharapova floundering. On a high from such a magnificent shot, Arn then held serve to level at 4-4.

Hard it must have been for Arn, wondering which Sharapova would turn up for the 17th game. As good as Sharapova had been at times in the second set, she appeared to be suffering from a split personality. One minute she was great, the next all airy fairy. Unfortunately for Arn, it was the former who graced centre court with her presence displaying a forceful array of deadly forehands to take a 5-4 lead.

So, a third set was waiting just around the corner. The crowd was starting to get in behind their favourite Russian. Willing her on to greater effort they did, as not often do they get to witness a true world sporting star in their own back yard. They were dammed if they were going to miss out on seeing more of Sharapova.

Alas, it was not to be.

For, Arn steadied her game and fought back as she rampaged her way through the next three games to seal the victory and a spot in the semi-finals, happy in the knowledge that she has put paid to the hopes of local tennis fans seeing more of Sharapova.