Monday, July 03, 2006

Damn, does that boy learn fast!

There was a lot of emotion surrounding what turned out to be Andre Agassi's Wimbledon farewell on Saturday. It was so emotional, in fact, that fellow Americans Andy Roddick and Venus Williams dropped their third-round matches in deference. Or something.
First, though, the bottom half of the draw has opened miraculously, it seems, for Rafael Nadal. A lot of people thought the surface would be his undoing in the Agassi match. Wrong. Nadal showed that he can adjust his game, hitting harder and lower, but still with that topspin safety on. He has adapted nicely to moving on the grass, too. There's a little Agassi in him. Seems he's seeing where his opponent's going before they know. He'll go wherever that ball goes, and his fighting spirit is phenomenal. There aren't a lot of players, especially on the men's side, willing to make adjustments in their game in order to succeed on all surfaces.
Most of the potentially tough obstacles have been removed from Nadal's half. Ivan Ljubicic and Andy Roddick have been accounted for, and now, former Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt replaces them as Nadal's biggest upcoming problem. The bad news for Hewitt is that he has a seeded opponent next, David Ferrer, then could play Andy Murray, who dismantled Roddick. You don't even want to think it, for the fear of disappointment, but a French Open final replay could ... never mind, I won't even write it.
Back to our great American hypes, though. First off, Roddick's loss has really exposed what I've been saying for a long time. Over-rated (clap-clap-clap-clap-clap). God bless him, because he seemed really disappointed by his loss, but Roddick is still deluding himself (as is Venus Williams) that he is among the tennis elite. No, my boy. You are slowly entering Ivo Karlovic territory -- becoming a one-dimensional player. Roddick's matches were always so hard to watch, because he'd serve and the game would be over. His opponent would get worn down trying to do something great with the return and wear themselves out. Now, players have figured out that all you have to do is return his serve. Block it, because he won't do much with it. His forehand is huge, but not terribly consistent. His backhand has nothing. He can't volley, and therefore, if things are going wrong in his game, there's no backup. What you see is what you get. What Roddick needs is a coach who is going to tell him to stop serving in practice. He can serve already. He needs someone to expand his game -- make him an aggressive-minded player willing to quickly finish off points he started strongly with his serve. And for crying out loud, he has got to get someone to work on that backhand. Please, Andy, please.
And Venus. Dammit, Venus! I'm getting the pattern here, though. Win, win, loss, loss, bad loss, win, loss. So basically, we should expect Venus to lose in the first round next year, then mount another huge comeback the following year. Seriously, the time has officially passed where Venus can expect to win a major on sheer athleticism. She's going to have to (gulp!) work more on her game. This isn't a Roddick situation, though. Venus' forehand has seen a marked improvement over previous years, and her backhand has always been dangerous. And she's got the intangible that Roddick doesn't: a killer instinct on court. It seems Venus is awfully comfortable on the baseline. She could have beaten Jelena Jankovic if she had come in on some of those serves. Let's face it: As comfortable on the baseline as she is, she makes a hell of a lot more errors from back there, too. She's got such a strong serve (at times) and a great wingspan that she shouldn't fear being more aggressive. I don't think the window has closed on her, though. She's a great fighter, and seems to be a bit more dedicated right now than some other Williamses on tour.
Venus' ouster leaves the top half of the draw somewhat open. It's looking pretty good for Sharapova to make it through the week. Mauresmo has been flying through the first week, but her next oponent is Ana Ivanovic, who's beaten her twice, as recently as this January.
All told, Andre Agassi put on the best performance among the top Americans, and I'm not just saying that because he's a legend. If he were playing anyone else, except Federer, his effort would have been more than enough. He would have been in the locker room in the time it took for that first set to wrap up. He ran up against a better player, and that's not clear in the losses of Roddick and Williams. And yet, Agassi put it out there and made Nadal work for that win. That's enough to make him rest comfortably tonight. Some other people will be tossing and turning.

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