Shots and Shouts

Friday, January 20, 2012 /by

GmMELBOURNE—As of yesterday, the forecasts in Melbourne called for uninterrupted sun all the way until next Thursday. Naturally, we woke up to thick cloud cover and cool temperatures here this morning, and that’s the way it stayed all day. It was a subdued Friday afternoon for the most part—Rafa in straights, Roger in straights, Vika in straights. Though things sprang to live when the doubles match involving Lleyton Hewitt and the Bryan brothers was suddenly moved to a smaller court. There was a (mostly peaceful) stampede across Melbourne Park to nab a seat. Bernie Tomic may be the flavor of the month, but Little Lleyton, playing his 16th Aussie Open, is still the man. His matches have drawn the highest TV ratings in the country so far, and they're going to get higher tomorrow night when he faces Milos Raonic.

I didn’t make it into Little Lleyton vs. the Bros, but here’s an entertaining scene I did happen to catch, as well as some favorite shots from the week behind.

See my Racquet Reaction to last night's Tomic-Dolgopolov classic here.

*****

I like your work, Anderson!

It happened at last: A backlash to the Berdych Army. The clever chants, bare chests, cool sunglasses, Czech-colored face-paint, and good-looking girls nearby had endeared this collegiate-style rooting section to most of the spectators who heard them cheer for the Big Berd down here over the years. Who wouldn’t get a kick out of 10 guys singing, “If you all love Tomas, hug your mate!” (to the tune of, "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands") and then turning to give their shirtless mate a hug?

Maybe it was the dull weather, or the dull match in Margaret Court Arena between Berdych and fellow 6-foo-5, white-hat-wearing Kevin Anderson, but the Army finally got under the skin of a few people today.

Those few people were half-a-dozen 20-something-year-old Aussie men perched near the top of the stands. They didn’t appear to have given much thought to their uniforms, though the dark-gray hooded sweatshirts and black jeans most of them sported could conceivably have been coordinated. But like the Berdych Army, they had been drinking.

For the first set, they stewed as Berdych built a one-set lead and the Army grew smug in its self-assurance. In the middle of the second set, though, they began to interject short outbursts in the middle of the Army’s chants, throwing off their rhythm. Dark looks shot across the stadium between the two groups. When Berdych moved in and knocked off a nice swinging volley, the Army erupted:

He’s here! He's there! He’s every-bloody-where!”  Like a preppie fraternity in a college comedy, they turned their heads toward their less-fortunate rivals in triumph.

By the end of the second, the rivals had taken up the cause of Anderson in earnest. Unlike the Army, though, they had no organization, no training, and, most likely, no idea who Anderson was.

C’mon Anderson!” one of them pleaded in a loud, raspy voice.

Do it, Andy!” another ventured, more loudly. A few members of the Berdych Army turned their heads. The usher nearby, an older woman, shook her head in disapproval.

"I like your work Anderson!"

Finally, with Anderson down break point and everything slipping away, a third member of the South African's ragged new army let loose with a desperate bellow: “C’mon, big Kev, get excited!!!

The stadium went awkwardly silent in response. Anderson and Berdych rallied. Berdych drilled a forehand. Anderson slipped and the ball shanked off his frame, straight upward. He was broken. The Berdych Army went berserk.

*****

We’ve been here five days. We’ve seen a lot of tennis. Which moments stick out? I probably haven’t seen as much actual play as you have, if you’ve been watching non-stop on TV, and I certainly haven’t seen as much of the big names. But here are a few of the shots that made me go “Jeez.”

—Petra Kvitova’s sharp-angled crosscourt backhand winner when she was down on her serve in the third set against Carla Suarez Navarro yesterday. I’m not sure I’d seen desperation from her before; it worked. I hope to see it again.

—We know Lleyton Hewitt has one of the great backhand lobs of all time. But the one he dropped over Andy Roddick an inch from the baseline last night made me realize just how difficult that shot is. Where other shots have to go to one precise place—inside the line—a lob has to be put in two precise, very different places. Over the opponent’s racquet, and then inside the line. Hewitt does it almost without appearing to swing.

—Roger Federer’s flip forehand dig, on the run, from a few inches in front of the net, while he was down set point to Ivo Karlovic today. Height, angle, the brakes to stop, and the pressure of the moment: Federer’s shot was so good, it didn’t look easy—it looked lucky. It wasn’t.

—Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s around-the-net forehand in her losing effort to Vania King. The ball was called out; I was on that line and thought it might have been good. Good enough for me, anyway.

—Bernard Tomic’s “switch” forehand at match point to beat Fernando Verdasco. All he did was change direction with the ball; all he did was hit the right shot.

—Gael Monfils’ 360-degree . . . .forehand? What do you call a shot that begins from the forehand side, but then, after a full spin away from the net by the player, is hit from the other side of the body, with the other side of the strings? (I think that's a picture of it above.)

You call it a Monfils special, I guess. He tried it while returning an overhead. This being Monfils, it missed. But this being Monfils, it was my favorite shot of the week anyway.

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