I have not said anything about the Open so far, mostly because the Engaging God stuff is so big for me right now. I have another one of those in the hopper - I just have to type it and find out what it's about. :-)
I have been nursing a bum wrist. I am hoping that it's just a tiny thing. I've felt it before, a number of times, so I'm familiar with it anyway. It's hard not being able to get out when I feel like it. That's alright. I will try to strengthen the muscles around the weak joint, and see if I can't get things working again.
The smartest, best, most exciting match of the Open was Youzhny/Nadal.
We all know there's no love lost between Nadal and I (all respects to Anon out there, but... ;-) I was looking forward to Nadal/Federer again, but Youzhny had something special in mind. Nadal changed his game for the hard court season. He started hitting a flatter forehand.
That may not mean much to you. Let me explain. Most people hit a topspin forehand for security. They can add 20 miles an hour to the ball, and be twice as sure the ball will go in anyway. It's a great idea. In fact, nobody hits a forehand slice consistently, except Fabrice Santoro - the Magician.
Nadal does something different.
He hits a topspin forehand to break your wrist.
When Nadal finishes his classic forehand shot, his arm is not around his right shoulder like the rest of left-handed mortals. No, his arm is wrapped around the back of his head! He spins the ball furiously. When he spins that forehand, the ball goes egg-shaped. And when it hits the ground on the opponent's side, it bites the clay and jumps for the sky. The opponent has two choices. He can guess just how it is going to jump, and swing where he guesses, or he can back up 15 feet and wait for it to come back down. He can guess wrong and commit errors all day, or he can give Nadal all day to pick angles and dissect him.
Did you notice that I said, "clay."
Yeah, that doesn't work on hard courts.
On a hard court, a pro can predict the bounce. The guesswork is gone. And it will bounce about 2 feet lower, too. Nadal's wicked topspin fades to somewhat unpleasant.
So Nadal flattened out his forehand. He is hitting a forehand like everyone else (in his own inimitable style, of course.)
And Youzhny was the first guy to put 2 and 2 together.
Youzhny must have figured that Nadal could not possibly be 100% comfortable with his new forehand, so he decided to test it. He spent the entire match hitting directly into the most feared forehand in tennis. Nobody ever thought to feed Nadal raw meat, but Youzhny tossed him filet mignon for 3 hours.
And it worked.
The first two sets were close. Youzhny took the first, and Nadal took the second. The third was where the showdown happened. It went to the tiebreak.
I watched as Youzhny sliced to Nadal's forehand 8 times in one point. Nadal smacked them all back. But, if you were watching closely, you noticed Nadal starting to wrap his arm around his head again. You noticed him using a different motion for each shot. You watched him losing confidence in either shot. You watched him losing it.
He lost that tiebreak 7-5.
But then he lost the next set 1-6.
Youzhny had walked onto the court with a daring, unthinkable straightedge, and he had broken down the most feared forehand in tennis by walking straight into the buzz saw. I could NOT have been more impressed.
Youzhny's game did not match up so well against the new and improved Andy Roddick, so he put up an entertaining struggle, but it was pretty much Andy's to lose and he failed to do so.
The second most entertaining match was Federer/Blake.
I don't often find myself even remotely wanting to cheer for both players. (Not root, but cheer. Aussies understand.) Thursday night, I could not help myself.
Blake is Han Solo to Federer's Obi-Wan Kenobi. Blake is all laser blaster, while Federer pulls out his light sabre, and deflecting impossible shots, he works his way in to finish the fight up close. Blake sends a 95 mile an hour screaming forehand into Federer's backhand corner, and somehow, with a gorgeous flick of the wrist, Federer deflects it back.
For 2 hours.
The first set was awesome. Blake was on. Really on. He was cranking the ball like a madman, making shots work that only a delusional would try. And Federer was answering everything. When Federer broke for the early lead, most of the audience started collecting their things, because it was going to be a short evening.
Then Blake immediately broke back. The match was back on serve, and suddenly looked interesting. Of 90 service games, it was only the third one Federer had lost since the start of the tournament. Blake was going to be able to touch him. Suddenly, nobody knew how this might end. Could Federer have one of his rare but real weak nights? If so, Blake was having a hot one.
Anything could happen.
Blake forced the tiebreak, but fell behind. A mini-break they call it, because it's enough to win if you play perfectly, but nobody ever does. Federer didn't. After 4 straight points to Blake, it was he who held the mini break, and he held it at set point. With one serve, Blake could break history. In 4 matches, Blake had never taken a set off Federer. The blaster could overpower the sabre.
Federer didn't blink.
Blake had two more chances. He only needed to win one point, and the set was in the bank.
He didn't choke. I don't care what anyone says. Blake did not choke. He kept ripping his shots. Federer just quit making mistakes. He moved his points of aim in, 6 inches to the safe side, and kept ripping his shots right back. He built his points. And when the opportunity came to close a point down, he did. Federer has an eery ability to just stop making mistakes when it matters. We all do, to one degree or another, but he has it on a tennis court, and he has it when the point matters most. Blake was suddenly hitting into a man who could do no wrong.
3 set points were erased against Blake, and soon Federer had one. It was all he needed. The set was Federer's. It had been Blake's, but Federer snatched it right out of his hands, and slammed it down on his side.
The next set was pathetic, in the classic Greek sense. Noble Blake was on the verge of tears at the beginning of the set. I'm not sure I didn't see a little moisture in his eyes, but don't tell anyone I said so. I don't like Blake's style at all. He plays a game of pure power with no margin. But I sure like Blake. I would gladly serve with him anywhere, any time. He is the consumate sportsman, and has the tenderest heart of anyone out there. That he could weep on that stage, in that moment, is a weakness, but what a glorious weakness.
He lost that set 0-6.
He was doomed in the third set as well, but his professionalism asserted itself. It didn't matter whether he won or lost any more. He was going to play the game like a man. Slowly, painfully, he fired laser blasts back at his Jedi nemesis. Contrary to all expectations, he held twice for 2-2. Asking for a third hold, was too much, though, and he fell behind 2-4.
And he broke back for 3-4!!!!
Where did that come from? He stopped the master! Federer is known for stomping on people when they're down - granted, he uses a velvet boot, but he never lets a beaten man breathe. Blake had taken his game to Federer.
He stood to the line to serve again, and the crowd gave the chair umpire a rousing raspberry by doing the wave twice around the stadium despite his clearly spoken, "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, but play is about to resume." Federer backed away from the service line, and Blake just stood there and glowed in the joy of the moment - he was where he wanted to be; with his fans, his game, and his nemesis - and he loved it.
The third set went to a tiebreak.
Blake actually had 5 - yes, 5 - set points in that tiebreak. He had worked hard to jump out in front so fast. Federer swatted them all away with errorless precision. Hearts were broken all over America, and on one side of that net. Blake alternated between his soldier face, and his warrior face. Yes, there's a huge difference. A soldier gives his life for a cause. A warrior takes his opponent's life. The one look Blake never had was the quitter's.
He stood in like a man.
At 8-9, Federer served for the match. Blake returned it, to live for one more stroke, but Federer put it high into Blake's backhand. And Blake drilled it flat into Federer's forehand corner. Federer didn't even take a step. The shot was too good.
If Federer had made that shot, Blake would have said, loudly enough for us on TV to hear him, "Too good." It's one of the things that makes Blake who he is, and one of the things that I just love about him. Federer, looked down at his racket, and lined up to serve again.
Blake tagged the ball in that rally too!
Now the ball was on Blake's racket at 10-9, and he had his 5th match point.
He served and stepped in. Federer returned well, but short, and Blake drilled into into the center of the court and followed the ball to the net. Federer's return came right at Blake, and he volleyed into the deep backhand. Federer stepped over for it, and forgot to put his foot on the ground. Falling to his knees, Federer still managed to put a racket on the ball, but it sailed forty feet long, and it was over.
Blake had taken a set off the Jedi.
Many players have been handed a set by Federer, but they were not player enough to receive it, and Federer snatched it back at the last minute. A few have held on, and gotten their set. Blake ripped this one from Federer's fingers while he was clearly on form.
Federer took the 4th set, as he surely should have. Blake gave him a little scare when he started to choke. If Federer was going to hand out a free set, Blake was certainly going to take it. But Federer closed the match down resoundingly, and Blake went back to the practice court.
I don't know whether Blake will ever string together three perfect sets, and beat the light sabre with a blaster. I rather doubt he will. But he knows now that it's possible.
Bagel of the Year:
I hand out the bagel of the year to the producers of the CBS coverage in their promotion of Sharapova's glistening legs to the exclusion of her more highly rated opponent. Come on people! I would rather see Sharapova beat Miss Anti-Sportsmanship, but when you run 3 spots of 30 seconds each on the US Open Women's final, you MUST give at least 1 second to the other opponent.
Literally. Not one shot of Henin-Hardenne appeared in 3 - 30 second spots until both of their head shots were put on the screen side-by-side.
It's the tennis. Focus!
Federer in 4 over Roddick. Roddick is playing better, but he's not playing "Blake" better, much less "Federer" better. If Federer is Obi-Wan, and Blake is Solo, then Roddick is Greedo. (And yes, I know Solo shot first.)
Henin-Hardenne in 3 close ones over Sharapova. Get real. Yes, Sharapova has awesome focus. (BTW, if you have not seen the commercial of Sharapova and "I Feel Pretty," you MUST correct that deficiency. It's excellent!) But excellent focus cannot correct the fact that she has a one-dimensional game. Henin-Hardenne's all-court power/touch game will prevail.