Friday, January 27, 2017

AO Day 12: Rivals

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

First things first, folks. Feast your eyes upon these two graphs.

And today we have to talk about rivalries. You think about some good ones.

Brady versus Manning. The Packers and Bears. New York and Washington. Pittsburgh and the Ravens, recently. The Red Sox and Yankees. The Celtics and Lakers. The Blackhawks and Red Wings. The Penguins and Rangers. Australia and England in cricket. Manchester United and Liverpool in everything, but particularly football. America and Russia at the Olympics. Sydney and Melbourne.

So many rivalries. In tennis we use them as measuring sticks, the standard by which a generation, a decade, is judged. McEnroe, Borg and Connors. Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall before them. Edberg and Courier had a rivalry. Sampras and Agassi. Hewitt and Roddick.

If I was Todd, apart from that being a worrying situation because how could I possibly run BACKSPIN, I would write freely about the WTA side of things. But it quite literally is not my job. However, one must talk about the dynamic duo on the WTA.

The Williams sisters have played few classic matches because they are famous for hating to play one another, but theirs is a rivalry that has defined three generations of WTA tennis. Well, two and a half. Venus has won their only mixed doubles final. At the 1998 French Open she and Gimelstob saw off Serena and Lobo.

120 combined titles, 320 combined weeks atop the rankings. 14 grand slam women’s doubles titles. No two women have ever played four consecutive grand slam singles finals. Not Evert and Navratilova. Not Graf and Seles. Only these two ever have. Steffi Graf had no great rivalry. Even before the stabbing, she led the head to head. But these two sisters have been playing since 1998. We are going to have somebody win a match this year born after the Williams played their first match, if we have not already [Ed.note: Destanee Aiava, born in 2000... boom. - tds]. In fact, that was in the second round of Melbourne.

That Wimbledon final where Venus surprised Serena remains to this day one of the greatest straight sets matches ever. Another is Venus taking on Henin in New York. Particularly compared to the infamy of the other semi-final. In the late 1990s, Venus said, “Just wait till you see my sister - she’s even better than am I.“ Everyone thought she was wrong. They don’t anymore.

But the greatest rivalry of all is one that is not even close.

"Rafa has presented me with the biggest challenge in the game," Roger Federer said when asked about the prospect.

"I'm his number one fan. His game is tremendous. He's an incredible competitor."

"I'll leave it all out here in Australia and if I can't walk for five months, that's OK. Rafa has presented me the biggest challenge, I think I played him too many times on clay early in my career."

"I am probably his number one fan, his game is tremendous. We had some epic battles over the years and I think both of us would never have thought we would be playing here in a final."

"I opened his academy last year. I told him I wish we could do a charity match or something – I was on one leg, he had a wrist injury, so we played some tennis with some juniors and that was the best we could do. It's very special for both of us."

But the best thing to come out of the interview?

After the final is over, this BACKSPINNER will do a proper Federer/Nadal piece. But for now accept that the commentators are right when they say this is the biggest match on the ATP in the last 50 years. This is really it. If Federer can slay that demon it would be a huge achievement. Nadal has been on court longer and this is the fastest non-grass court in the world. But Nadal can obliterate Federer’s backhand. But before that match, let’s look back to what was the match of the tournament.

The funny thing about BACKSPIN is it is best to have a four-set match or a very close three-setter. If it is straight sets and wrapped up in an hour, well, what can one possibly write about? And if, like on this occasion, it is a big five setter filled with drama and all kinds, well, then it becomes a question of what to leave out. There’s too much to cover. The rallies were brutal, the similarities to the Verdasco match were obvious. Dimitrov saved two match points with big time tennis with Rafa serving for it at 5-4. Nadal won 6-3, 5-7, 7-6[5], 6-7[4], 64. The scoreline doesn’t even demonstrate how close the five hour match was. 45-43 on winners/UE for Rafa, but 79-70 for Dimi. Nadal won just seven more points. In the first set, Rafa dominated, running wild over the Bulgarian. But Dimi slowly pulled it back, taking the second and with it the momentum. But Rafa clung on in the third set and took it in a breaker. Dimitrov’s backhand had given Nadal trouble all match and in the fourth it carried him, it was his saving grace. Dimitrov is ready for the big time - the last two sets were filled with tension, with drama and he withheld beautifully. Nadal got tight towards the end of the fourth and fifth, but only by his high standards. That fifth set was brutal. The rallies were grueling, Rafa’s defence mind-blowing. This was a classic offense versus defence duel. The backhand to backhand rallies were something else, the different styles complimenting each other nicely. As pointed out on Reddit, Federer is the boss battle for Nadal. Federer is just like Dimitrov, but with better ‘stats’ across the board. How Nadal, with all those physical ailments and time on court, hung on here is something akin to a miracle. Dimitrov attacked brilliantly all match. It was unrelenting. ‘Babyfed’ is ready to win a slam. Nadal now goes on to face Federer. This BACKSPINNER should not have to sell you that one. But if you only watch two Australian Open matches make the semi-final one of them. The other should be the final.


P.S- If you loved Mirka’s sweater you might enjoy this.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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