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LaRosa's Aussie Blog - Week 2

1/31/2010 6:00:00 PM

Catch up on James' weekly column: LaRosa's Sweet Spot |

Check back daily throughout the Australian Open as our resident blogger, James LaRosa, offers up his humorous and poignant take on the day's action.

LaRosa's Week 1 Aussie Blog


DAY 14 - 1/31/2010 - 3:42PM PST

Once again, the Happy Slam has ended in tears.  But cheer up kids, these DUNLOP AWARDS will make you feel better. You know, or worse.  Either way, you deserved 'em!

 

Best Match (ATP):  Juan Martin del Potro/Marin Cilic. No offense to a tepid final, but this match was the thriller of the tournament.  With similar playing styles, it was literally a slugfest from start to finish.  Marin was steady as they come and looked poised to overtake the US Open champ, but a gimpy delpo raged on and pushed it to a fifth.  He was surly, the crowd was unruly. When Cilic finally closed it out, we all needed an ice bath.

 

Best Match (WTA):  Serena Williams/Justine Henin.  Two No 1's with 18 major titles between them. One the undisputed queen of the court, the other looking to get back there in only her second tournament back.  It was less a match than psychological warfare, short on rallies but long on drama. Each and every point felt important and was played that way.  After a year of lackluster Slam finals, it was about time we got a solid 3-setter to sink our teeth into.

 

Worst Match (ATP): Nikolay Davydenko/Fernando Verdasco. Heavenly father. Both players were so aggressive in blowing chances to gain any kind of momentum that, as a result, the match itself was completely inert.  It just sat there, trapped in time and space. And so were we.  Davydenko didn't win the match, it committed suicide.

 

Worst Match (WTA): Venus Williams/Na Li.  See the last match, multiply it by two, then push it off a bridge.

 

A Dunlop Award regular

Most Memorable Quote: “I can cry like Roger, it’s a shame I can’t play like him.” Nothing to be ashamed about Andy.  The dude's got 16 titles for a reason.  And he's never had to play with the hopes of a Slam-starved nation on his back. While Murray came up a few nerves short in the final, I still left this tournament with a way better feeling about the Scot. He showed a nasty game v. Nadal, and he showed a sweet side in defeat.  Onward and upward, mate.

 

Breakthrough Performance (Female): China.  Whether Jie Zheng and Na Li's semifinal runs (and Na Li's breaking into the top 10, a Chinese first) signals their emergence, it certainly sends a Kournikova-like signal to the young women – and men - coming up behind them. 

 

Breakthrough Performance (Male): Marin Cilic. He not only gave us the del Potro match, he also gave us perhaps the second best match of the tournament, his 5-set barnburner v. Andy Roddick.  He showed nerves of steel, and in making the semis in Melbourne also showed that the stable of top players is getting more and more crowded.

 

Serena Williams Cockroach Award:  Serena Williams (she wins everything!), who won this tournament not in the final, but in her flawless fightback from 0-4 down in the second set of her QF v. force of nature Victoria Azarenka.  Nice serve, but Serena's biggest weapon will always be what's in her chest. And it ain't Gatorade.

 

Biggest Choke:  Nikolay Davydenko. Hara-kiri is over in an instant.  What Davy did to himself v. Federer went on for an hour.  An hour of not winning a single game.  This after utterly dominating Fed for the first set and a half.  This wasn't a choke, it was a stroke.

 

Biggest Upset: Kim! What happened??  Okay, she couldn't feel the ball.  I get it. I can't feel the ball half the time I'm on court.  But a whole bunch of players played a whole lot worse than you and still managed to get more than a game.  The cause? Nadia Petrova, who played the single best match of her life. Hats off.

 

Breakdown Performance (Female): Maria Sharapova.  Even in winning one game, Clijsters still looked better than the Russian. And I don't just mean the outfit.

 

Breakdown Performance (Male):  Robin Soderling, we hardly knew ye.

 

Biggest Bummer: Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina's retirements. They're both only 23 and they have potentially career-threatening injuries.  Watching their rankings suffer is icing on the shiz cake. Tennis is becoming 10% talent, 10% will and 80% injury management. And 100% depressing.

 

Biggest Surprise:  Justine Henin.  I didn't believe you when you said you changed. I thought it was one more trick in your bag. But that smile when you walked out on court for the final, and your speech after losing… I'm kind of, dare I say, warming up to you. Now if you can just say you royally screwed Amelie Mauresmo over in the final four years ago, we'll be totally square. I can wait.

 

Biggest Game Changer:  The bathroom break. Venus used one when she was down in her match v. Schiavone, as did Fed v. Davydenko and Novak v. Tsonga. Okay that last one didn't really work but it at least kept the court clean. Speaking of…

 

Oddest Sighting: Leaf blowers on court – to dry off a ball boy's bladder malfunction in the middle of the Donald Young/Christophe Rochus match. Hi nightmares for the rest of his life.

 

Best Use of a Microphone:  Nikolay Davydenko and Na Li. When the Mic was on, so were they. See you at the Funny Bone, kids.

 

Best Use of $336 Million, the announced budget for a Melbourne Park upgrade: Security, to prevent the third crazy in four Slams from running out on court and accosting a player. At what point does this stop being cute? Oh wait, we know at what point it stops being cute.  Do we need to get to that point again?

 

Best Use of $336 Million (Runner up):  Hawk-Eye, absent on outer courts. Think it doesn't make a difference? Youtube Ana Ivanovic's swan song match. She imploded, but she certainly had help.

 

Most Satisfying Moment: "The Hit for Haiti" event, which got everything started on such a positive, wonderful note.  Besides raising a lot of money for a very worthy cause, it also allowed fans to see their favorite players loosen up and have fun, and have fun with each other.  The reason they were all there was bigger than any rivalry, and in a sport that's every man for himself, for a brief moment, we felt like a family. 

 

Prom King and Queen: Roger Federer hatched the idea for "Hit for Haiti," and he got to handpick his mixed doubles partner.  The woman he wanted was Serena Williams, and when all was said and done in Melbourne, it was Roger and Serena left standing.  These two terminators proved why, despite some serious opposition, they're No 1 in the world.  Now go have your royal dance.

 

Okay, that's a wrap.  Of course drop back Wed. (and every Wed.) for the Sweet Spot.  You can also follow me at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa. For now, on behalf of Dunlop and myself, see you next time.

 

James


DAY 13 - 1/30/2010 - 4:42PM PST

Hello peoples! It is Dunlop.  James fall into open sewer (accident, Dunlop swears!) so now I get to, how you say, live-blog women's final! Funny how he always hurt himself before my favorite match, no?  Not funny strange, funny ha ha.  Away we go!

 

:01 – Out walks the little Belgian girl.  She has big smile.  A child her size give flowers, little Belgian almost run after her to kiss and thank.  Who is this person and what did she do to Justine Henin?

 

:02 - Serena walk out next. No smile. She take flowers and strike the child. How dare she disrupt her concentration!

 

:07 – Billie Jean King is here! I love Billie Jean! She give Serena, you do you say, the stink eye.  Don't you dare tie my record or I will take crowbar to your kneecaps! She only thinking this but Serena understands.

 

:11 – Serena begins with ace! She is going to win!

 

:13 – Serena make three easy mistakes. She is going to lose!

 

:17 – Venus look like the Foxy Brown, so beautiful!  Like sexy lady in Old Spice commercial. Dunlop is in love. 

 

:19 – Little Belgian look to coach Carlos after she make terrible shot as if to say, what should I do?  Ha! As if he is going to answer THAT.

 

:22 – Three bad calls fixed with the Hawk-Eye. The linespeople are more nervous than the players!

 

:23 - Is Venus looking at Dunlop?

 

:24 – Ball hits net, Serena wins point. She laughs in Justine's face.

 

:27 – Ball hits net, Justine wins point.  She sticks middle finger at Serena.

 

:30 – Serena passes Justine. Eat this!

 

:31 – Justine passes Serena. No you do the eating of this!

 

:41 – Serena talks to umpire. She is going to kill her!  Police!  No, she just having conversation. You can never know, Serena is so violent. We must be careful. 4-1 Serena.

 

:51 – Little Belgian gets back on serve, looks to coach. He points right finger up to sky like number one, raises left hand palm up to meet it.  Totally natural! Dunlop sees it all the time when he watches baseball.

 

1:02 – Serena wins first set.  Billie Jean unzips purse, shows Serena glimpse of crowbar. She zip up quick before cameras can see. She is so sneaky!

 

1:07 – Venus blows Dunlop a kiss! Oh my gosh!

 

1:15 – Serena hits terrible shot to give little Belgian three break points.  Her mother laughs. She is very mean, or crazy. Mama, is that you?

 

1:28 – Serena chases down drop shot. With bandages she look like King Tut but she move like Bruce Lee. Chop chop!

 

Serena and the giant trophy

1:29 – Justine holds up hand, stops Serena from serving. The umpire does not see, gives point to Justine. Serena shakes head to Justine, says "oh you…"  She and Serena have big laugh.

 

1:31 – Justine looks to coach. He holds up sign that say "come in more and pick on her forehand."

 

1:32 - Margaret Court blows Dunlop a kiss!  What is going on?  Maybe it is Dunlop wearing the Old Spice?

 

1:34 – Justine chases down drop shot.  Copycat! She is striking so hard now, like hurricane or viper. In only a few minutes, she steals second set like thief in night.  She high-fives Billie Jean on way to bathroom break. Yeah baby!

 

1:45  - Venus sees Margaret Court flirt with Dunlop, they get in big fight! They pull the hair over Dunlop!

 

1:50 – Justine wins 15th straight point, and five straight games. Venus have Margaret in headlock, miss everything.

 

1:51 – Serena wins first point in so long.  Crowd gets naked and does wave for 10 minutes straight.

 

1:58 – Serena is on fire. Billie Jean screams fire. She is carried out by security.

 

2:10 – Serena is up 5-2. Justine retires. Ha! She is only kidding.  She and Serena have big laugh.

 

2:14 – Serena wins!  Venus let Margaret Court drop to the ground to give sister a big hug. Dunlop likes!

 

2:15 – Kim Clijsters giggles like schoolgirl back home in Belgium.

 

2:24 – Margaret Court is okay, but now they make her carry giant trophy out by herself. How do you say, Elder Abuse!

 

2:32 – Justine give speech. It is nice!  She say it is honor to play in front of legends. This is not Justine that Dunlop remembers. I am smiling for her!

 

2:35 – Serena ask man to hold her big check, says hello to god and Gatorade.

 

2:36 - Billie Jean chases Serena out of stadium.

 

2:55 – Dunlop is passenger in Venus's convertible. The end.  (I do not do the poljubac and tell!)

 

See you next time!

 

xo

 

Dunlop

 


DAY 12 - 1/29/2010 - 2:42PM PST

Juan Martin del Potro. Rafael Nadal. Andy Roddick. Nikolay Davydenko. Novak Djokovic. These are the big names that kept everyone from being able to guess who would possibly separate from the pack to take the Australian Open title.  But separate from the pack Andy Murray and Roger Federer did.  Only an idiot would try to coach them over the last hurdle.  But I'm no ordinary idiot.  And this is no ordinary coaching. In the spirit of boxer Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton, a guest in Murray's box (yeah, I don't know who he is either), I'm setting up camp in the ring, in the finalists' corners, and I'm getting in their face with my red-faced encouragement. My fire.  My spit.

 

ROGER! 

The Champion

Look at you! Everyone said you were old. You're old!, they said. All these young guys comin' out, snatchin' at your candy. Takin' all your titles. That Nadal kid takin' over your spot.  Djokovic gettin' mouthy.  That Argentine pushin' you around with that forehand. In your house. YOUR HOUSE!  Everyone thought you were weak comin' in to this Aussie Open.  You needed to show 'em otherwise.

 

That Andreev kid thought he could boss you around, but you broke him down.  Broke 'em all down, including Australia itself by spankin' the 'Oi! Oi! Oi!' out of Hewitt in front of God and country. That guy who helped stink up your last month and a half, Davydenko?  Cracked like a circus peanut. Just like Ali in the semis.  TKO.  You're the ice man.  You're the star.  But there's a new star. That guy over in that corner with the Day-Glo skin and the unhingible jaw?  He wants your throne.  And that smug sunofabitch thinks he can take it from you. FROM YOU?

 

You need to go out there and cut him off at the gangly knees from the word go.  Don't start off all wussy like you did against baldy. Take it to him.  Don't get cute, don't worry about style points, or feel him out.  Go for the all-out blitzkrieg. He's thinkin' about it bad.  Had an extra day to sit in it.  The more he thinks, the more he'll be worryin' about lettin' Queen Elizabeth herself down.  Or Sean Connery, or wherever he's from.  All you need to care about is sendin' him back home in a box. 

 

And if all else fails, take a bathroom break.  Kick his ass.  You got this.  GO! GO! GO!

 

ANDY!

 

The Challenger

He's baiting you, man. He's baiting you!  Sayin' you have all the pressure comin' in.  Aren't you sick of it?  Sick of everyone cowtowin' to that smug sunofabitch?  What is he, 40?  He has 15 majors already, so he's greedy too.  And aren't you sick of all the press? Wasted talent, they say.  Agassi loves you.  Everyone who knows anything about hittin' a ball thinks you're the real deal, but all you get is, "Choker!" "Pretender!" "Tim Henman!"  Djokovic, del Potro, they won a Slam before you?  BEFORE YOU?  Your girlfriend left you, you had a mid-midlife crisis and bought a $200,000 Ferrari.  And you came in ranked No 5. No. 5! 

 

But you got it together baby, and you did it right.  You took it easy the first few rounds, reserved your energy.  Bounced a lot of losers, then you pumped up the volume against Rafa.  You're nuthin' but defense huh?  BAM! Take that. Cilic was playin' perfect and you shut him down.  Devoured him with that big ole beautiful mouth of yours.  Now you need to clamp it down on the Swiss Miss. Bite his head off and watch the body wriggle.

 

Don't get cute, don't worry about style points, or feel him out.  Go for the all-out assault.  Let him know you're not a kid anymore with a ridiculous bozo afro.  Let him wilt like he did against Rafa last year.  Let him know he's ancient history.  Don't do it for Scotland, or anyone else.  Screw shoulderin' the hopes of millions.  Let them go out there and play for it.  You play for yourself.  And play hard.

 

You got this. Like the Goonies, this is your time. It's your time now.  GO! GO! GO!

 

--

 

I'm out of time. And spit.  Until I think of what's next: Justine/Serena for all the marbles. And I'm a drooling all over again.


DAY 11 - 1/28/2010 - 10:42AM PST

To the tune of "Endless Love" by Lionel Richie

JUSTINE:

My love,
There's only you in my life
The only one who fights…

 

SERENA:
My first love (after Gatorade and Nabisco snack packs, buy my book),
You're every split step I take.
You're every "Come On!" I make.

 

JUSTINE/SERENA:
And I
(I-I-I-I-I)
I want to share
All my love with you
No one else will do...

SERENA:

And Carlos' hand signals
(Carlos' hand signals, Carlos' hand signals)
They tell me how much you care
Ooh yes, you will always be
My endless love.

Serena belts out her finals tune


JUSTINE:

Two champs,
Two champs that beat everyone
But beating you eez the most fun (allez!)

 

SERENA:
Forever
(Ohhhhhh)
I'll remember the French in '03
Talk to this hand, buddy

JUSTINE/SERENA:

And the title
(Oh, the title)
You'll be a fool
To think you'll get in my way,
I'm sure
You know I'll try
(Oh, you know I will try)

'Cause it,
It means the world to me
Oh
I know
(I know)
I've found in you
My endless love

SERENA:

Eat my serve, it goes
Boom, boom
Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom
Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom

JUSTINE:

Oooh, and love
(Oh, love)
How are those legs, all wrapped up?
You look like a broke down King Tut.
I'm sure
You know I don't mind.

 

SERENA:

Oh I know you don't mind!

Yes,
But only a jerk would retire.

 

JUSTINE/SERENA:

No one can deny
This love I have inside
And I'll give it all to you
My love
My love, my love
My endless love…

 

--

 

It is Dunlop! Oh my gosh, I get so many questions from millions of fans on interweb! I try to answer in most truthful, kind way possible. Only idiots will be offended.

 

@stephblurb ask: Dunlop, Players with tattoos, what do you think about that?

 

I think it is vulgar, like picking the nose or Access Hollywood's Billy Bush. It shows the no-class and it never go away, like the cold sore or Access Hollywood's Billy Bush.  I was born with this "Dunlop 3" on my backside, and if James Blake tell you otherwise he is big fat dirty liar.

 

@GVTennisNews ask: What did you think of Brad Gilbert calling Nole's draw an "Easy Bake Oven" draw?

 

We do not have what you call "Easy Bake Oven" in Serbia. Nothing is easy in Serbia. But if it comes from melon head commentator then it must be insult!  Daniel Gimeno-Traver is heavy hitter! And Marco Chiudinelli is from Switzerland, just like Roger Federer!  Denis Istomin, he knows Taekwondo (somebody tell me)! And still my Nole only lose four games. Lukasz Kubot make plan with Mikhail Youzhny for him to withdraw so he can get extra rest against Nole but it does not work!  Somebody poison my Nole before his match, give him, how you say, green apple two-step before match. So many superheroes and cheaters he must play, so Brad Gilbert is wrong wrong wrong. I bet he has tattoo too.

 

@kefuoe ask: "Who picks out Jelena Jankovic's player party outfits?

 

Ever since costume designer from Golden Girls pass away, it is Dunlop's job!  Lucky for me I have key to U-Lock public storage where all Golden Girls outfits are kept.

 

@kefuoe also ask: How do you pass the time between the Australian Open and Roland Garros?

 

Good question! (Unlike your last one.)  Sometimes Dunlop has adventures. Sometimes he has romance.  Most of the time James keep me in mini-fridge filled with airplane vodka bottles. He say it is good for me because it fuels rage, allow me to do best job. I say he need to stop playing online poker with Damir Dokic.

 

@JamesLaRosa ask: Do you know many things you can make a tennis ball into?

 

Dunlop needs to go away now, like Access Hollywood's Billy Bush.

 

Poljubac!


DAY 10 - 1/27/2010 - 1:03PM PST

Day 10 perfectly sums up my Australian Open experience thus far.  Insane promise, baffling tennis, missed opportunities, flashes of brilliance to keep me coming back for more, more baffling tennis, even more missed opportunities, total meltdowns, Houdini escapes, some laughs and a little vomit for taste.

 

We start with Venus Williams taking on Na Li. Lots on the line.  The obvious being an all-Williams semifinal (and Venus's first crack at a major not played on grass since Walker, Texas Ranger).  On the other side of the net, if Li wins, she not only makes her first major semifinal, she also becomes the first Chinese woman to crack the WTA top 10 since ever. 

 

Venus wonders what happened?

Li is by far the slowest starter in tennis, so it's no big surprise to me when she ends up eating it in the first set. Venus serves for it in the second but can't close the deal.  Na rallies, and when she takes it to a third, I don't think anyone foresaw what a disaster it would become. Venus comes apart at the seams, Na was never really sewn together to begin with.  Somehow someone wins. And cracks the top ten for the first time.  I'm thrilled for Li.  And left speechless by Venus.  Since Serena kept her from converting those 10 set points back at the '08 US Open, she's had a tough time converting at the big moments.  Get well soon.

 

Everyone's fearing for Victoria Azarenka as she takes the court against Serena.  Sure, Serena's in killer form, but Azarenka don't play that.  She had Serena's number last year at the Aussie before she had to retire with the woozies.  I expect Serena to win, but it won't be a total dismantling.  What I don't expect is how hard Vika comes charging out of the gates.  One marathon game after the next, and more often than not they're going the Belarusian's way. Mostly because this Serena is not the Serena of the last round who gave an atomic wedgie to Sam Stosur. She's not even the Serena who battled Mother Nature.  As she falls to 0-4 in the second set, I don't know who this Serena is.  Except she looks like she's about to get bageled.

 

Then out of nowhere, she's back.  Can't explain it.  I know it's my job. Sorry. Just, BOOM, here she is.  She breaks back, breaks back again.  Azarenka isn't playing any worse.  She's not wilting.  Until Serena hammers. And hammers.  And hammers.  I've never seen a player go from bad to good so completely, so immediately.  By the end, Vika's decimated.  Dismantled.  Serena quickly grabs her Gatorade bottle for the interviews, so she's for sure herself again. And I'm left, once again, speechless.

 

Speechless continues as Nikolay Davydenko is next on court, whipping a guy I sort of recognize as Roger Federer.  Nik has his two wins v. Roger and he's cashing them in with interest.  He has the first set and a break in his pocket before Mirka can cover the babies' eyes.  PlayStation 3 is now PlayStation 8 and, with his 22 Slam semifinal streak on the line, it looks like game over for Rog.  Until PlayStation implodes.  Just…implodes.  One missed shot on a break point and Davy proceeds to lose game after game. FOR THE NEXT HOUR.  Gameless.  I've never seen a player go from good to bad to completely, so immediately.  We need a new word for speechless.  Nik gets it together in the fourth set but it's too late.  Streak intact.  Russian in tiny bald pieces on the court. Yet one more match that defies description.

 

Nikolay manages to laugh, and make me laugh, in his presser.  But I'm not here for a comedy show, I'm here for tennis.  By the time Novak Djokovic barfs in his quarterfinal match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, I'm done.

 

I've stayed peppy this whole time.  Did my cheerleader duties.  But this Australian Open, while giving lots to gawk at, has given me little in terms of kick ass tennis.  I've seen world class meltdowns in Clijsters, Davydenko and Venus.  Frightening injuries in Nadal and Safina.  Crippling nerves in everyone. I'm over it.  The Aussie is one of my favorite tournaments because it has a history of delivering.  All it's delivering for me so far is a heaping bowl of HUH? and Novak's lunch.

 

In tennis, it's not how you begin, it's how you finish.  So I have hope.  But everyone left in the draw: you're on notice.  End this thing with a bang.


 

DAY 9 - 1/26/2010 - 1:57PM PST  

With all the juniors clogging up the courts (massive apologies, kids), it can only mean one thing.  We're getting down to brass tacks people. 

 

Justine Henin and Nadia Petrova are first up, and some people are really looking forward to this one.  I say some people because, with a 2-12 record against the Belgian, I'm not expecting a ton from Nadia.  The Russian did scalp both the reigning French Open champ and the reigning US Open champ (and in the case of the latter, I think she came away with a little bone, too), so maybe it could at least get interesting. Imagine my chagrin when, despite the fact that Nadia comes dressed like a glow stick, it doesn't. Imagine my horror when, after botched overheads and serves into the back fence, it becomes the Davydenko/Verdasco match all over again.

 

A smiling, playful Henin

I black out. Or go into some kind of happy place.  When I come to thirty minutes later, Henin is smiling and waving.  She's won.  How?  It's jammed somewhere in my subconscious, never to be spoken of again.

 

Henin's prize is sort of a shocking one.  Either Jie Zheng or Maria Kirilenko as her speed bump for a spot in the final.  But as the two take the court, something miraculous is happening. The ball is staying in!  Jie is rock steady and takes it in straights. My prize is sort of a shocking one. I'm actually looking forward to that semi. Could Zheng crack on game day? Absolutely.  But she's also an unknown quantity. I like that in a Henin opponent.

 

PS, with all this talk of Wozniacki v. Kirilenko, I'm thinking Stella McCartney should be giving Jie a call. Just sayin'.

 

PPS, seeing Justine interviewed after the match, I've never seen her so playful. So engaging. So of this earth. It makes me feel funny inside.  This is a Henin I could get down with. I mean, not boogie with.  But hey, she keeps this up, you never know.

 

Andy Roddick and Marin Cilic are up next, and the first set is quality stuff.  Which makes Andy's calling for the trainer after losing the tiebreak a bummer.  His shoulder's jacked, and when Cilic takes the second set it's just a matter of time before he retires. And then something wild happens. Andy starts playing like a wounded animal. I looove when players play like wounded animals.  It's primal. It's nasty. It's effective.  He grits out the third set.  And is a human cyclone in the fourth.  For the first time today, I have absolutely no idea what's going to happen next.

 

0-40 on Marin's opening serving game!  He holds!  Roddick holds!  Marin has refocused. He's playing so much steadier.  And Andy looks mentally fried.  The wounded animal is suddenly thinking, way too much.  He's broken first.  Cilic rides it out to the end, serving it out. Another tough loss for Andy at a Slam. But good on Marin for once again stepping it up in a fifth set against a top player – first del Potro, then Roddick.  What's the Croatian word for cojones?

 

Finally, the Main Event: Rafael Nadal v. Andy Murray. Before the first changeover we've already got one crazy point for the highlight reel.  Rafa draws first blood, but Andy breaks right back. And decisively so. It's gonna be that kind of match.  First set: Murray.  After more fireworks in the second (this kind in the sky as part of an ill-timed "Australia Day" celebration – hello, there's tennis going on, couldn't you have lumped this in with Christmas or something?), Rafa again draws first blood. And gets bitten right back.  For the second time today I've never seen an Andy play this well.  Murray decided to be aggressive today, and it's like he whipped off a mask and revealed the player everyone's been waiting for.  In a word, scary. He takes the second set, and takes charge in the third.

 

And then, the unthinkable.  Rafa stops play. He's motioning to his knee.

 

And I'm back to my happy place.



DAY 8 - 1/25/2010 - 1:20PM PST
  

As Nikolay Davydenko takes the court against Fernando Verdasco, I have to wonder.  What is it about the Russian that has everyone in the tennis world so enthralled? Especially now, 11 years after he turned pro?

 

We're a few games in and the stands aren't exactly packed. Just as they weren't exactly packed for the first decade of his career. He has one of the most technically sound ground games, always has, but who buys tickets for "technically sound"?  We buy tickets for passion. We buy tickets for movie star looks and a full head of hair. "Technically sound" we ask to hold the door as we walk into their scarcely-populated press conferences.

 

And oh were his press conferences dull.  Try getting someone who doesn't care about being anything more than technically sound to reveal any kind of personality.  Over the years, it became a joke. It was either Tennis Magazine or Smash that ran an interview a couple years back with Nikolay that was nothing more than a series of curt responses. Look how awful this guy is!  Even being embroiled in the biggest scandal the ATP had seen in the last decade, a 2-year match-fixing probe that ultimately led nowhere, couldn't put him on the radar.

 

Back to the Verdasco match, and Davy is firing on all cylinders. Fernando (good looks, full head of hair) is helping.  The Spaniard is clearly a little intimidated, judging by the serves he's dumping into the net.

 

Players are starting to fear Nikolay.  He's getting some respect.  Earning it.  He's had big wins over top players in the past – Nadal in Miami comes to mind – but it's his performance in the last 6 months that's making tennis fans sit up and take notice.  Winning the World Tour Finals, beating Roger Federer back-to-back…tends to get people's attention.

 

A technically sound photo

As Davy takes the second set in his match against Verdasco, he's got the crowd's attention.  Just like he's got the media's attention in his press conferences.  Nik's surliness with the press has transformed into something else. He claims reporters are only now asking him about his personal life, as if he was the ugly girl at the prom just waiting to be asked to dance. But it's the Russian who's finally having some fun in front of the microphone.  Is it because he's winning so much?  Is it because his wife Irina has injected some blood into his veins? (I'd give her credit for the wheel if I could. She's basically awesome.) Either way, he's become a reporter's dream.  Some nuggets from the last week:

 

On his footspeed:  "Del Potro tell me now I am like PlayStation 3 in London. Now I try to come level PlayStation 4."

 

On if he's more recognized in Russia now: "I am not Paris Hilton."

 

Oh his drinking habits: "Sometimes I drink clear vodka, sometimes mixed with Red Bull. Little bit get power in night club or disco."

 

He's that person in all of us, the not-so-hot, bald, unrecognized-genius who never got asked to dance, who's finally getting seen.  Acknowledged.  Celebrated.  Nikolay is the proverbial swan. He's better than a John Hughes movie.

 

And now, after a career on the outer courts, he's playing on Rod Laver Arena. And, against Verdasco, starting to feel the heat.  A guy who no one picked to win a Nikolay Davydenko look-alike contest is suddenly a pick to win his first major title.  Something, with his technically sound game, he's never done. He's never been to a major final even.  And as he loses the third set to Fernando and, painfully, the fourth, we get reminders why.

 

The fifth set is painful.  Like, gouge my eyes out with a metal rake painful.  No momentum, all blown opportunities.  Will this be another blown opportunity for Davy?  I begin to wonder: Will his fair-weather fans stick around should he become human again?  Will he? Will he lose his Niktacularness in front of the mic? Will he become Mr. Invisible once more?

 

The Russian powers through the fifth set and wins the day.  His prize, another shot at Federer. Can he make it back-to-back-to-back?  Can the swan perform on the Grand stage?  Will we be saying Nikolay Davydenko, Grand Slam champion?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But regardless, for a moment, he was a star. And so, somewhere in our cold black hearts, were we.

 

Davydenko's not on twitter (curses!), but I am.  Follow me at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.

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