Indian Wells CC (Thursday)
I'm sure you're as sick as I am - stop, let me try that again. I'm not sick, which possibly puts me in a minority of people within a 25km radius of the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens this week. Well, not yet, fingers crossed.
I'm sure you're as disappointed as I am that much of the news from this tournament has looked like outtakes from Grey's Anatomy. The Bryan twins became the latest celebrity patients: Mike Bryan was confined to quarters, so the no 1 pair (who have never won here) had to withdraw.
It's a pity (as a Swiss ATP former no 1 might say), because there are some other great stories threading through this tournament. With 96 player entries on both the ATP and WTA draws, plus the doubles specialists, you have literally hundreds of players to follow, with their differing and intersecting career arcs. Pete's post, below, on Thomaz Bellucci is a great introduction to a mid level player (ranked no 50 right now) who really ought to have won his match against Roger Federer last night. Federer had no idea where his forehand was going to land in the first set last night, and for most of the match Bellucci enjoyed the advantage any time a rally lasted longer than eight shots. Yes, I know Federer had something to do with his own comeback. Still, Bellucci joins Sofia Arvidsson and Mona Barthel as one of the sorry players filing back into the players' lounge after almost-but-not-quite making a statement win against a top seed.
Pablo Andujar isn't quite in their company. Novak Djokovic took his measure early and clicked into "ruthless efficiency" mode, knocking off a bagel first set in about half an hour. I'm not sure what happened next: maybe Djokovic has a "fanatical devotion to the Pope" mode, or maybe he got a subtle coaching signal from his box to work on his break point defending drills. Andujar gained 7 break opportunities in the second set, and converted none. In the tie break, he went up 6-3 with his own serve points to come, then surrendered both opportunities to win the set outright. But he cashed in on the final chance, taking Djokovic to a likely unexpected third set.
The closing set was a nervy affair. Djokovic still looked the more polished player, but Andujar had a scrapper's energy about him. At one point he pulled off a full stretch stab backhand volley that just cleared the net and dropped stone dead, and he roared his approval. The match was still a contest when Andujar gained a chance to get back on serve at 3-2, but his last break chance went begging, and Djokovic ran off the next three games. The one stat you needed on the day was Djokovic 5/5 on break points, Andujar 0/8. Nice to have a bunch of diverse weapons when you need them.
Djokovic was followed onto court by the WTA no 1, Victoria Azarenka. I built up yesterday's clash with Aga Radwanska, the no 5 seed, in my Wednesday CC, after their spat in Doha. Azarenka responded yesterday with cold, brutal precision. Radwanska's gained a lot of favorable attention for her finesse and subtle point construction: she wasn't given a half second to employ either of those tactics. Instead, she was run remorselessly from side to side, until Azarenka decided to end the rally with a cracked winner, next point please.
I'd seen Djokovic let up in set two and allow Andujar to find his game. Azarenka wasn't having any of THAT, thank you very much. By 3-0 in the second set the crowd was watching with the sort of horrified fascination you see on the faces of people forced to watch investigative video of some ruffian drowning kittens one by one. How ruthless was she? At 6-0, 5-0 she challenged a Radwanska backhand winner on the sideline (call stood, as it happens).
Maybe Azarenka is a student of tennis history, and aware of all WTA traditions: she did, remarkably, end a string of 11 straight games by getting broken serving for the match. Radwanska, bless her, did a set of whooping gestures to the crowd, held her own serve, then once Azarenka had restored order by serving the match out second go she trotted meekly to the net for a less dramatic handshake with her opponent.
After the match, Radwanska was asked to describe her emotions as she stared down the barrel of a 6-0, 5-0 score:
Q. How big a difference was it for you to get those two games? You seemed very excited.
AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA: No, first thing, I wasn't excited. (Smiling.)
Either you can cry or laugh, right, when you see that it's just not going your way. Pretty much the match is almost done. What you can do? I said, Either have fun or cry.
Q. That's what you were thinking at 6?0, 5?0?
AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA: Yeah, the match is over pretty much, right? I mean, of course, you know, you fight until the end, and, you know, it's never over until when you lose the match point.
But, you know, it was really getting very fast, and I just ?? I was just happy that, you know, I played a longer match than the warmup in the morning. So it was good.
Her opponent played down any thoughts of payback for the Doha, apart from one apparently throwaway line - "I hope I was a good example of woman's tennis." After the February match, Radwanska had been moved to say "I was angry because I don’t think this is the great image for the women’s tennis, what was going on there." Next time she sees Victoria Azarenka slip and fall on a court, Radwanska's best move is going to be to run quickly up to the net, lean over and offer a bandage or an Advil.
The other payback match, Almagro vs Berdych, had a near mirror image score, 6-4 6-0 Almagro. It does tend to reinforce the message to us weekend warriors: you diss an opponent at your peril. Revenge is a dish best served toasted with cream cheese.
All the singles matches left in the competition now take place on Stadium 1, and we have two quarter finals from each draw. Bartoli-Ivanovic kicks things off, then Novak Djokovic (who's only played day sessions here) is next against Nicolas Almagro. Kirilenko-Sharapova follows, then the 2010 doubles champions Nadal and Lopez play Fyrstenberg and Matkowski.
John Isner has the marquee evening session match against Gilles Simon, and the program concludes with WTA doubles, Hlavackova/Hradecka against Mirza/Vesnina.
As always, enjoy today's tennis!