Surprises, Upsets & Coaching Parents
August 31, 2008 -- Gilles Muller has interfered with the order of things once again. He thumped Andy Roddick in three tiebreak sets on Arthur Ashe Stadium in the first round of 2005. As a former number-one junior in 2001, Muller was expected to do great things. But not against Andy Roddick in a first-round match of a major or against Nicolas Almagro, the 18th seed, as he did today. Muller took five sets to earn the "W." And, he came from two sets down to do it -- 6-7 (3), 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6), 7-5 -- an enormous achievement for a guy who has played a total of six rounds to date: three rounds of qualification plus three rounds in the main draw.
The six-foot-five lefty from Luxembourg made his Wimbledon debut in 2005, his best year on tour to date. He defeated Rafael Nadal there, and lost in the third round to Richard Gasquet. Although he's currently ranked #130, Muller is the type of player who could continue to wreck havoc. His lefty serve is a giant threat because Gilles is so tall. The natural spin left-handed players put on their serves is something tour players constantly adjust to, no matter how many times they encounter a left-handed player. On the downside, he plays Nikolay Davydenko in the round of 16. The #5 seed has progressed through the draw, so far, having only played 3-set matches. Muller's last two rounds have been five setters. He has to get tired at some point; it's just a matter of when. Davydenko is probably one of the fittest guys on tour. Their contest may send Muller back to Luxembourg for some rest and relaxation before Davis Cup. But no one can ever predict the effect of adrenalin and unbridled inspiration during a major.
No matter where Jelena Jankovic plays she makes it seem like her home. She chats with fans seated close to the court. She converses with the chair umpire, as if they're seasoned friends. Today was no different, either, for a woman some have crowned a "drama queen." At one intersection during her morning match, after a scrap of paper skittered across the court behind her opponent Caroline Wozniacki, and after the chair had called "Let," Jelena complained. She wanted to know why the chair had taken so long to make the call, which most people would agree was executed in a timely manner. Then Jelena did her splits, always a crowd favorite. To milk the situation, she stayed sprawled on the court long enough to provoke questions from the chair and comments from broadcast journalists -- is she okay... will she be injured... again! But she stood up, ready to play on. Thank goodness for flexible Jelena and her new fitness commitments.
The swirling winds on Arthur Ashe Stadium caused Jankovic and Wozniacki some problems, too. Tosses had to be adjusted. More spin had to put on the ball from one side of the net and not from the other side of the net. Even so, in the third set Jankovic pumped up her play and Wozniacki accumulated unforced errors, which sealed her loss -- 3/6 /6/2 6/2 -- and sent the #2 seed through to the quarterfinals. Much to her credit with this win, Jelena Jankovic has reached the second week of all four majors this year.
Sybille Bammer, the #29 seed and mother of a seven-year-old daughter, upset Marion Bartoli, seeded #12, in three lopsided sets 7/6 (3) 0/6 6/4. With 65 unforced errors and only 36 winners for the match, it's hard to believe Bammer edged the Monica Seles look alike. But as the match wore on into the third set, Bartoli's fitness surely was taxed. In fact, Bartoli chalked up over half her unforced errors for the match -- 19 -- in the final set. Sybille Bammer will next compete in the quarterfinals of a major for the first time in her career.
The subject of parents as coaches is a complicated and lengthy one. However, the implications of that relationship are critical given the short-lived careers tennis players seem to have. A case in point is Marion Bartoli. She is coached by her father Dr. Walter Bartoli, as she always has been. At one point, he hired a fitness coach for his daughter. However, he eventually fired that coach when Marion lost weight. Whether more or less weight on her frame is better for her tennis career is arguable. However, Bammer's fitness level surely pulled her through a match that extended over three hours while Bartoli's fitness level dragged her down to the point where she lost the match on a break of serve at love. She wasn't moving her feet. Her shot selection was questionable. Her shoulders slumped after every point.
Congratulations to all the American players who have made it to the second week of this 2008 U. S. Open. Sam Querrey will make his first appearance in a major in the fourth round. Some are more familiar with this stratosphere: Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, the Bryan brothers, Lisa Raymond and Lindsay Davenport in doubles with their respective partners, Lizel Huber in women's doubles, Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, and Jill Craybas and her mixed-doubles partner Eric Butorac.
One last note... this one about tennis outfits. Caroline Wozniacki wore a Peter Pan style dress today in her match on Arthur Ashe against Jelena Jankovic. The dress by Adidas was taupe with coral accents... a fashionable combination of colors. The bottom half of the dress, though, was a series of seven or eight scalloped panels that draped from the top of her thighs. When she ran, served, or was battered by gusty breezes the panels fluttered thus exposing matching taupe sport panties. Adidas should revisit their design standards, because this dress missed the mark of acceptable good taste. With space-age fabrics that wick away moisture and hug well-toned body parts, the choice of clothing manufacturers and players, the matter of decent civility shouldn't be lost. Maybe some fans want to see women's sport panties exposed, as players dart around the court. However, some consideration should be given to fans that would prefer to watch good tennis and not get too caught up in the underworld support systems that aide players' movement and the on-court comfort of an 18-year-old blossoming tennis star.