A day at the Open
Russell Degnan

In which we learnt why good players are good,
and why Australian supporters deserve their reputation for being dickheads.

Unless your a big doubles fan, Wednesday and Thursday are generally the best days for outside court action at the Australian Open. Most of the under-prepared and out-gunned have been eliminated already, leaving lots of reasonable contests and the odd outstanding match-up. Unfortunately, no games really stood out last Thursday, so I resolved to wander the back-courts, enjoy the sights and sounds and see what turned up.

The first match looked a lot more competiive on paper than it turned out to be. Court 6 played host to the attractive, seeded Gisela Dulko and Aiko Nakamura aided by a sizeable Japanese crowd. But Dulko's game fell apart. She never gcame to grips with Nakumara's solid serve, made an incredibly 34 unforced errors in 14 games (that's almost down 40 every game) and just 4 winners. A better player would have changed a few things, got the ball in play, and tried to hang in there until the groundstrokes started going in. But this one was all over very quickly. At 3-0 and two breaks of serve in hand I left Nakamura to chew on the carcass of the Argentinian to watch the end of Pennetta's mauling of Sucha on court 8.

Court 8 is a lovely little boutique court with some trees and a small grass embankment on one side. Unfortunately one of the open's most comfortable viewing spots is ruined by a double row of seats that obscure the court when you sit down. Despite this impediment, the grass was still more popular than the seats for patrons. Heaven forbid though, that we might want to sit somewhere comfortable and see the tennis.

Myskina's match against Jackson was the opposite of Dulko's loss. This was a match noone wanted to win. Myskina was erratic, but attacking anything with mixed results; Jackson didn't attack short balls, despite having some solid ground strokes, leaving Myskina to lose for herself. And she almost did. She should have lost 6-4 6-0, but managed to scrape back into the first set and win the tie-break before doing the same in the third. Good enough to win, but it was horrid tennis.

Then back to court 6 for some women's doubles. Doubles is often a good place to see big names normally confined to show courts, or younger players. A few years ago I first saw Sharapova play and you could tell she'd be handy. This year it was Nicole Vaidisova. Still 15, but ranked 16, she is tall and solidly built, but has a nice touch. Sugiyama is almost double her age, but still handy, while Hantuchova is proof that you can win grand slams in doubles without being particularly cognizant of its subtleties. The lady in front of us quietly used her as an instructive guide for her daughter in incorrect court movement. I suspect however, that this was all lost on the bloke who told Hantuchova he "wanted to f*** her" as she went to serve. If he was trying to put her off he succeeded, but women's tennis can probably do without fans like that.

Noticing that Hrbaty was involved in a trademark five-setter on court 18, we went and watched the last few games. 10-8 in the fifth is a fair game, so its a pity we only saw the end, but fortunately, the game on Vodafone was to prove almost as good. Ferrero didn't play especially bad tennis; he just didn't play as well as he might. His opponent, the lowly ranked Serbian, Tipsarevic, was coming out of qualifiers so he had the form to turn it into a dog-fight. Like Myskina though, Ferrero is good enough to win when it matters. The turning point came when he broke back, after Tipsarevic had a point to lead 4-2 in the fourth set. It was never in doubt after that, but it was a close thing.

Finally, as night came in, Martina Hingis came on court, and neatly disposed of Emma Laine. We only stayed for the first set in a game that was never a contest. If players can force Hingis back behind the baseline she will probably still struggle, but against Laine that wasn't going to happen. It is good to see her back though, not least because she adds something else to a sport dominated by long-limbed sluggers. If only she came to the net more.

Tennis 24th January, 2006 02:38:10   [#] [1 comment] 

Ratings - January 2006
Russell Degnan

India v Sri Lanka
Opening Ratings: Ind: 1151.25 Sri: 1089.47
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: India by 188 runs
3rd Test: India by 259 runs
Closing Ratings: Ind: 1175.00 Sri: 1067.61

Vaas's remarkable figures (21 overs, 4/20) brightened the first test when rained ruined the first three days, but after that India showed the advantages of depth. With the unexpected exception of Pathan, who followed two ducks with a match winning knocks 93 and 82, no batsman was more than adequate on either side. India were adequate all the way to number 11 though, scoring important runs when it mattered to set up big victories on the solid bowling of Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Rather than being brilliant, Muralitharan's 7-for in the second test underlined a lack of support as India secured big victories without playing particularly well.

Australia v South Africa
Opening Ratings: Aus: 1345.82 SAf: 1127.19
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: Australia by 184 runs
3rd Test: Australia by 8 wickets
Closing Ratings: Aus: 1349.53 SAf: 1122.41

All hail Ricky Ponting. Three tons showed his mastery of the bowling, but were necessary for Australia to overcome a dogged South African side. While the most significant statistic is probably that the top four Australian batsmen (Ponting, Hodge, Hussey and Hayden) outscored the top eight South Africans, most of the wounds suffered were self-inflicted. Dropped catches were symptomatic of a larger problem for South Africa; namely an inability to follow through good positions. For their part, the Australians did what they had to, but seem to be lacking bite in an ageing bowling attack. While the batting is no more or less than it has been for the past several years, the inability of the bowlers to keep control of the game makes the attacking batsmanship seem a dangerous conceit when it fails. A series which asked more questions than it answered.

Forthcoming Series:

Pakistan (1127.04) v India (1175.00) - 3 Tests.

Anything less than an interesting series would be a great disappointment given the history between these sides. It is hard to determine why they couldn't play five tests instead of just three. Pakistan should start favourites, based on recent form but both could push into second place on the rankings with a sufficiently strong win. A lot depends on how the Pakistani batsmen perform, as the most unreliable unit of the two sides. If they score runs then Pakistan to win, otherwise India to slowly strangle them.

England (2nd) 1204.38
New Zealand (7th) 1051.26
West Indies (8th) 812.23
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64
Bangladesh (10th) 610.86

Cricket - Ratings - Test 8th January, 2006 01:16:48   [#] [3 comments]