Young and Old, Relatively
March 30, 2010 -- When all four players are 6'1" and up, a tennis court can seem to shrink. The scale of a match takes on an Alice In Wonderland quality. Not real, but certainly approaching surreal except when fans duck from heavy-hit overhead smashes on their way to another court.
American John Isner, the tallest in this third-round doubles match, is 6'9". His racquet resembles a teaspoon, comparatively speaking. If he laid his hand on top of the strings, his fingers would probably reach the frame -- a spider web of strength. Sam Querrey, his American buddy and doubles partner here in Miami, stands 6'6". These two have two doubles titles each, one a combined victory from Memphis this spring.
But the young Americans -- Isner 24, Querrey 22 -- were no match today for their sage opponents Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi -- 36 years old and 32 respectively. These doubles specialists have a combined 81 titles. Max 'the Beast' Mirnyi is also the defending doubles champion. He won the title alongside Andy Ram last year here in Key Biscayne.
Querrey's and Isner's huge serves were their chief asset, during this match. If a ball was lofted... kaboom, the point ended. Except once on a break point when Isner had a sitting, mid-court shot that invited a showboat reply and got one from the former Georgia Bulldog. Of course it landed long. That was the only break their opponents needed to win the first set 6/3.
Querrey's and Isner's tennis wasn't all heavy hitting and power, although they masqueraded as singles players most of the time. Querrey flicked and feathered a couple shots, sweet replies to Bhupathi and Mirnyi. Isner put away backhand overhead volleys. These additions to their doubles toolboxes will certainly help their Davis Cup team competition, if, and when, the Bryan brothers fade from the spotlight.
After the break in the second set, Querrey and Isner sulked periodically in the backcourt. They watched overheads fly out of range, drop shots hit too far from them, and angled shots come back with more angle on them. Bhupathi and Mirnyi exploited their assets, making the young Americans look like amateurs, which they are not.
These wise 'old' men had a bigger arsenal of shots and strategies, which out-performed the wicked pace of Querrey's forehand drives and mammoth kick serves from Isner.
Isner and Querrey will learn. They will practice and improve. Perhaps someday when younger American players nip at their heels, they too will 'retire' to the doubles side of tennis -- wiser for their courage in doubles, their wins and losses, and their singles bravado.
At 29, Venus Williams is the oldest woman in the singles draw. Seems odd, though. Wasn't it a few years back we saw her with beads in her hair? Fast forward to a seasoned sportswoman worth gazillions of dollars who owns seven Major titles, five of which are Venus Rosewater Platters from Wimbledon, the stage where she has shone the brightest.
With her little sister Serena out of this year's Sony Ericsson Open, the stage is set for Venus. Her power has not faded with age. Her intensity and determination remain palpable. Venus and Serena set the women's game on its ears with their power games, back in the late 1990s. Some players can match the sisters' power games, but when they are on no one can approach their competence and consistency when the ball rockets through the court at 80 to 120 mph.
"When I'm executing and playing my best, it's great," Venus began. "It feels good, and I feel like I'm definitely dictating the points, and that I don't give my opponent as many chances to have a say."
Agnieszka Radwanska, the #6 seed, didn't have a chance today on Stadium Court against Venus. The diminutive woman from Poland has a weak serve. Venus pounced on it. Radwanska's variety is her strong point. However, rally after rally illustrated what a strong offensive player like Venus Williams could accomplish against a younger, fresher player that relies on spin, finesse, and movement.
"Obviously, I have an advantage with my serve," Venus said. "Her game is based on being a counter-puncher. She can move forward, and is very consistent. She relies on her wheels. That's what makes it interesting."
Venus moved on to the semifinals 63 61.
The elder statesman of American tennis, Andy Roddick, had his hands full today with Benjamin Becker, forever to be known as the last man to defeat Andre Agassi at his farewell U. S. Open in 2006.
Early in the first set, Roddick was down 1/4 and 0/40.
"That's not the way you draw it up as far as starting a match," Andy began. "But, if you're going to be down a break at 2/4 it's almost better coming back from 0/40 on your serve where he's thinking about, I probably could have closed this set out."
Andy pulled himself even at 4-games through perseverance. He also started to hit serves over 130 mph.
"It's nice at 0/30 to be able to make a few first serves," Roddick said.
Roddick will be 28 this August. He was 17 when he turned pro. His huge serve and formidable forehand mesmerized crowds. Over the years, Andy has learned to take the bad with the good, as matches progress.
"When things aren't going my way, I'm probably better now," he said. "Six years ago my highs were a lot higher and the lows were a lot lower. So, it was a lot more reactionary."
Roddick believes he thinks more on court, now.
"I feel like I have more options," he began. "The consistency is there, now. I go at a draw a little bit more day-by-day I guess. I think the strength training and the nutrition have played a big part, too."
Roddick is through to the quarterfinals. He will play Nicolas Almagro who defeated Thomas Bellucci 64 36 76 (3). Almagro hasn't learned to end matches before three sets are played.
A Final Note on Federer
Roger Federer warmed up for his 9 PM match against Tomas Berdych on Stadium Court, immediately following Rafael Nadal's win over friend and countryman David Ferrer 76 (3) 64. In contrast to Roger's contained persona during a match, he seemed animated -- almost childlike at times. His hitting partner, Lukas Dlouhy, amused Federer at times. They exchanged groundstrokes, tight volleys, and overheads. Federer performed Sampras-like leaps time after time on his smashes, one would suppose, to relax and prepare his legs. For whatever reason, he sure looked like he was having fun. We know that the #1 player in the world loves tennis. However, his pre-match routine allowed a few lucky fans to witness a rare sight -- an informal Federer.
[Editor's Note: After Jane submitted her copy for Tuesday, Tomas Berdych went on to save a match point against him in the third set tiebreak and defeat Federer, 64 67(3) 76(6) in nearly 3 hours, snapping his eight match loosing streak against the number one seed.]