Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Australian Open 2005

Eurosport commentator Simon Reid, brother of the late, great Olly Reid, concluded that this year's Australian Open tennis tournament was one of the best Grand Slam events he had ever been to. There were certainly some great matches, especially the two semi-finals won by the eventual champions.

But there remains something about the final match of this championship that brings out the most extraordinary apathy in some of the game's greatest talents. Lindsay Davenport's third set against Serena Williams was an utter capitualtion, on a par with Marat Safin's desultory first visit to the final back in 2002 , a performance which earned him a hefty fine for apparently not even trying.

Another great player that never won this tournament because, quite frankly, he couldn't be arsed, was Marcelo Rios, who was the person on the other side of the net in the match won by doped-up Petr Korda in '98.

Safin and "el chino" Rios are two of my tennis heroes. Players like Sampras and Federer that stay in the zone throughout the peak years of their careers can be less interesting to follow than others like Agassi and the two aforementioned reprobates, that have quite pronounced ups and downs. (Tim Henman has been in the zone for most of his career, it just happens to be Zone 2!)

V and I first spotted Rios playing in the post-Roland Garros clay court season, a time when most of the taller members of the ATP Tour have moved stateside. He was the most naturally-gifted back-court player I'd seen since the emergence of Agassi. We started to follow his progress...and his regress. A bit later on I had the ITF as my clients and the fact that they HATED him with a passion made me warm to him even more. Sure, he wasn't exactly the most media-friendly of stars, but he had oodles of Latino attitude and there was no arguing with his ability, whenever he could be bothered to bring it with him onto the tennis court.

This year's Men's Champion Marat Safin is far more charming than the now retired Chilean, but since his teenage years has had the same tendency to come off the rails. At 14 the Russian was packed of to Spain to get his act sorted out - the long term consequences of this seem to be that these days when he's throwing a real tantrum he treats us to some very colourful Spanish expletives. My concerned readers may grumble, but long may these continue!

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