Locking Up

Monday, April 02, 2012 /by

ArTennis writers are always “learning” things. We like to tell you about the “five things we learned” at this event or that event. But what if what we discovered this week contradicts what we found out last week? In Indian Wells, we learned that Roger Federer can still win spring hard-court titles, and that Novak Djokovic can be beaten. This past week, in Key Biscayne, we found out the opposite remained true as well. Two weeks ago, Agnieszka Radwanska barely had enough game to walk onto the same court as Victoria Azarenka. This time Vika was left bashing her legs in anger, and Aga is being talked about as a favorite for the French Open.

So which is it? It’s both, it’s neither; the truth is that most lessons from one week on the pro tour don’t carry over to the next, let alone to six months later. From Andy Roddick to Caroline Wozniacki and beyond, a month in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne left almost no one exactly where they began—except, I suppose, for the game’s perpetual bridesmaid, the winner of everything but the last match, Maria Sharapova. (See my Racquet Reaction on her loss to Radwanska in the women's final here.)

We can watch, in other words, more than we can learn. So, to lock up the Key for another year, here are a few things that I saw in Miami over the last two weeks.

*****

Ecstasy, Meet Agony
It’s hard to think of a faster or more vertiginous comedown than the one Andy Roddick experienced over the course of one day. His win over Federer at night—from his return-to-2003 forehand to his match-saving service bombs in the final game, to his prayer to his late agent, Ken Meyerson, afterward—was inspiring. Eighteen hours later Roddick was in such a hurry to get off the court after being bageled by Juan Monaco that he didn’t even take the time to zip up his racquet bag.

Roddick said he was gassed. Judging by John Isner’s loss to Florian Mayer and Mardy Fish’s Davis Cup pullout, it seems to be a contagious condition among the American men at the moment. Good thing Ryan Harrison has enough energy for them all.

Challenger
Radwanska came out the big winner on the women’s side, and Sharapova held steady, but I felt like it was a breakthrough of sorts for Caroline Wozniacki as well. After upping her tempo and varying her game enough to beat Serena Williams for the first time, Caro should have an idea of just how well she can play, and a blueprint for making it happen.

She didn’t follow that blueprint in her next match, against Sharapova, until it was too late. And Wozniacki embarrassed herself by using up all of her challenges, trying to get the chair umpire to let her opponent use one for her, and not shaking his hand when he didn’t. But even then, I felt a sort of perverse admiration for her. Wozniacki has more fire than most, to the point where she’ll do virtually anything to win. That’s not boring.

Muzzled Muzz
Talk about inconclusive results: Where do these two tournaments leave Andy Murray? On the one hand, his runner-up finish in Miami was an improvement on his opening-round loss to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in Indian Wells. On the other, it came courtesy of withdrawals by his two toughest opponents before the final, Milos Raonic and Rafael Nadal.

While Murray may have been hurt by the extra time off—he only played five matches total in the States—his performance in the final against Djokovic was still a disappointment. (See my Racquet Reaction on that match here.) Murray was flat-footed, and not looking to create or move forward. The new forehand he’s been working on with Ivan Lendl was mostly absent, and both his serve and return were off.

These things happen, but Murray’s gloomy mood was puzzling and frustrating. This was a chance, after his win over Djokovic in Dubai, to put another seed of doubt in the world No. 1’s head. Novak, who wasn’t at his best in the second set, gave Murray an opportunity. He didn’t take it.

Can Murrray change his forehand significantly? He belts it in practice, and he loosened up and belted it at the end of the final. So yes, even with his conservative grip, he can make it into a dictating shot, with the requisite power and margin for error. Murray might take a lesson from his fellow non-Slammer Wozniacki’s attitude in her match against Serena. She was more aggressive because she had no choice. I don’t think Murray is going to have a choice either if he wants to take the next step.

Images
Rafael Nadal, after his win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, talking about his knee pain but nonetheless sounding pleased that he had reached another Masters semi. I got the feeling, with all that lies ahead, from the clay season to the Slams to the Olympics, that in Rafa's mind his season starts in earnest now. Not that the U.S. swing didn't matter, but that he had done well enough and was ready to switch gears—these events don't lead to a major, but the clay ones do. Probably just the thought of red dirt in his immediate future is enough to make him, and his knees, feel better.

Dominika Cibulkova blistering winners through a brilliant first set against Victoria Azarenka. As impressive, and fun, as any stretch of games played all tournament.

Vika, a few days later, tears in her eyes, hammering the legs that wouldn’t move fast enough against Marion Bartoli.

John Isner, at sea against Florian Mayer, finding out what it takes to win and keep winning on the ATP tour.

Grigor Dimitrov, overjoyed at beating Tomas Berdych. Hopefully we'll see that look from him again soon.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, all over the map from first game to last against Rafael Nadal, showing us in detail how his racquet had betrayed him. He’s had a year of freedom, and he’s made the most of it. Is it time for a new coach?

Novak Djokovic, in the second-set tiebreaker against Murray, after looking unsure of himself for more than an hour, drilling a serve down the T and knocking off a forehand winner from above his shoulder with authority. Disdain, even.

Agnieszka Radwanska, beating her nemesis for the biggest title of her career and acting like she’d been there a dozen times before.

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