A couple of years back during the US Open, Roger Federer, sitting for a panel interview, on one of those nights where the tennis ended way too early, found himself basically in the midst of an “Ask Roger” sort of segment, as ESPN prayed for time. One of the questions that came was who he liked to watch play. I guess Roger wasn’t in the mood to compliment any of his fellow men, which reminded me once of an interview I saw where Notrious B.I.G. was asked which rappers he listened to. “Slow Jams” was all he’d say. Roger had said that he liked watching Svetlana Kuznetsova play tennis. The panel was somewhat surprised. When they pushed him for more, the great man said, “she knows when to hit her shots and hits the right shots at the right time.” Later on in that event, Federer’s comments were repeated to Kuznetsova. The lady was in shock. Not a mild shock either.
Earlier, while the AFC Championship was played (so sorry New England!), and as the Rangers were getting killed, we were spying tennis scores, and saw that Wozniacki and the Federer favorite, Kuznetsova, were going to a deciding third set. Obviously Wozniacki has a conditioning advantage over Kuznetsova, who has never been mistaken for a hard body, and the slow Plexicushion also favors Wozniacki a bit, even if it is a bit more quick this year because in deference to copious player complaints, Laver Arena was not repaved, and as you may or may not know, the older a court, the faster it plays. Why is that, you ask? Because as a surface loses its jump, the ball bounces lower, and low bouncing balls skid nicely through the court. Doug Adler, perhaps our most favorite announcer, at least this fortknight anyway, since we keep missing Justin Gimelstob, talked very candidly of the court on Saturday night during Gasquet-Dodig, of how the outer courts were not repaved or else, were not repaved with any grit in the top layer, which also reduces the friction on the ball, causing it to move quicker. And Adler also said that in some places, they have still not been able to get up the old Rebound Ace, and that those spots are essentially more dead, causing for quicker points. Leave it to Tennis Australia to better the game via its own inefficiencies for irony.
Sam Querrey had said earlier in the week that these courts this year were the fastest hard courts he’d played on in “a long time.” Federer had said that in his estimation, the courts are playing at least 10% faster. We’d have to say we’ve noticed. Many big servers and hard hitters have been able to out muscle their opposition, namely Maria Sharapova, never confused for a finesse player, and as Adler said, where and when have we seen Serena hit her top serve bracket (129-131 MPH) with such regularity. Now we’d be rooting against Wozniacki no matter what, but considering all there was to consider, we wish we’d have bet Kuznetsova, who we were certain was going to come out on top in that 3rd set on Laver. Unfortunately for us, we missed the post time to wager. And also unfortunate was that the 3rd set went 75 minutes, and the coverage went from the very dignified team of Bill Macatee and Martina Navratilova to the ESPN team of Patrick McEnroe and Chris Evert, as at 9 PM EST, TTC loses their right to cover matches, and at that time, the deuce gains theirs.
At a few minutes to 9, on a brilliant play by Kuznetsova, who does know when to hit what shots when, she pulled Wozniacki way out wide, forced a hand off of her racquet, and came forward to knock off an easy forehand volley. Perfect tennis. At that stage, the match was about 90 minutes long, and the graphic flashed that Wozniacki had only 4 winners on the forehand side. Navratilova, who also respects Kuznetsova a great deal, and not so much Wozniacki, called the Dutch Miss’s situation “the same old story”. How right she is. Wozniacki, like ESPN2 on a US Open short night, just prays for time. Kuznetsova closed that game out on the next point, seeing that the Dutch Miss was a good 2 meters beyond the baseline, by drop shotting, forcing Wozniacki to scramble forward, and then coming up with the easy pass. These type of plays make up the play book against Wozniacki, who hates coming in, and who hates taking her hand of the racquet on the backhand side. Navratilova has some very interesting perspective on Kuzentsova’s game, a pleasure to hear her share really. As Martina tells it, when Kuznetsova was very little, her parents, at some event where Martina was, asked the star if she could take a look at the young girl, and tell them what she thought of her game. Martina liked her so much, that they would play doubles together when SK was a young teen.
And then we switched off the tennis to catch Bernard Pollard rock Stevan Ridley’s world and sink the hopes of Patriot nation, and when we came back to the tennis, TTC was done, and we had to deal with PMac and Evert, who spoke not a word of Kuznetsova, practically, while they gushed for Wozniacki, predictably, who they kept calling “gutsy” and “a fighter.” And, who is a loser. At one point, we nearly had to throw up, when on an important second serve which Kuznetsova needed, she went to an 82 MPH kicker, got it out wide, and when the next ball came back mid court, Kuznetsova jacked an opposite corner forehand, and then approached, and hit a very nice half volley forehand winner, Evert exclaimed, “Kuznetsova took a chance right there.” Um yeah. It does often work for players with talent, Chris. We long for the days when Evert was out of vogue, shuttered up in Florida with The Shark.
The match came down to that very atittude in essence. Kuznetsova made 23 of 25 net points, while Wozniacki made 8 of 19, and “Koozie”, as Martina affectionately refers to her, hit 52 winners to the Dutch Miss’s 21, and Wozniacki has now stretched her run of futility all the further, despite being a terrific fighter, but as we know in tennis, it’s tough to fight with pop guns.
Set your Tivo for tonight at 3 AM EST to see some real attack tennis, when Raonic gets his latest crack at Roger, who he has yet to beat in 3 tries, but the matches have been really close. Each of the 3 Fed wins were best of threes in which Federer has narrowly won in 3, and they have already played 4 tie breakers. We see it as being a very tight match for both guys, though Federer is moving like early prime Federer right now, and frankly never ceases to amaze. Too bad we have to ride out the rest of this tournament without the great announcers on the mix channels, as ESPN moves into exclusive coverage this week. Hopefully they won’t show a poor women’s match during Federer-Raonic like they did with Fed-Davydenko, especially compelling because of the stunning turn around in their last meeting in Melbourne, when Fed took a bathroom break and then won 14 game straight. And, hopefully they will not show a loop of Raonic-Federer after the match ends, instead of live tennis, like an advantage set between Monfils and Simon.