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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Frence Open climax

One down, one to go for Fed

So Roger Federer made it (squeaked it) against del Potro yesterday, and now stands one match away from the title that it seemed might elude him in his glittering career.

Standing between him and that title is Robin Soderling, who rallied from an apparent slide to beat Fernando Gonzalez in his own five-set thriller. Soderling was all but buried, having led by two sets, he let slip the third and fourth and then found himself trailing 4-1 in the fifth before winning five games in a row to make his first final.

For Federer, I believe it was the best possible result. Can Soderling muster up any more great tennis, having already dismised Nadal, Davydenko and Gonzalez in such epic circumstances? I doubt it. For him, the achievement of reaching the final, by far his greatest achievement, changes the stakes. Also, I think Gonzalez had more weapons and might have beaten Federer, Soderling does not.

And so Federer has seen yet another (potentially) favourable outcome on the other side of the draw, as though the stars are lining up for him. I think, based on yesterday's match, that Federer will now feel that the worst is past, and he'll win the final comfortably...

Then again, perhaps the pressure will be too great, and he'll simply try too hard to finish what many expect, and what he wants so badly.

I gave my thoughts on the pressure in yesterday's post, so I won't do it again. I will however steer you towards another excellent piece that I read in the Times this morning... (this is the fallback plan when I find I haven't watched enough to post myself!)

One of the perks of spending the week in London is that I've been able to read some of the journalism here, which is just world-class compared to what we have in SA, sadly. OK, some of the writing is quite self-indulgent, and either overly hopeful or overly critical of English sport (depending on the occasion), but on the neutral topics, it's absolutely brilliant.

And this article, by Simon Barnes, is one such piece. It's a great read ahead of the Federer-Soderling match, and is the last word I'll leave you with before the men's match tomorrow.

The women's final

A cursory word on the women's final - I noted that earlier this week Serena Williams said that women's tennis is far more exciting than men's tennis, because of the personalities and characters involved.

Apparently, I've been watching the wrong version of the women's game, because I find women's tennis to be in something of a rut at the moment. Obviously, this is the marketing/management hat that I wear speaking, not the science, but I think women's tennis needs an injection of something to regain parity.

There was a time, perhaps 5 years ago, when it was the other way around. The men's game was completely dominated by Federer, Nadal's rise was only just beginning, and Murray, Djokovic and co were not nearly up to the challenge. We' d moved on from the Sampras-Agassi and Sampras-Courier rivalries, and the game had become a little boring.

In contrast, the women had the Williams sisters, Sharapova, two Belgians in Clijsters and Henin, Davenport and a mix of Russians who could win any tournament. Before that, diverse playing styles of Sanchez-Vicario, Hingis, Graf, Seles, and the Williams sisters created compelling viewing precisely because of the characters.

The situation is now different on both sides. While men's tennis is extra-ordinarily strong, with some of the greatest rivalries ever fuelling some of the greatest matches ever played (think Nadal-Verdasco in Aus, think Nadal-Federer in Aus and Wimbledon), there are no great rivalries in the women's game, and there seems to be a general lack of suspense.

There seems little consistency in the characters (who are the same as in previous years), because top players seem to be on a carousel of injury, recovery, retirement and loss of form. The overall hierarchy seems to have been flattened, the result being that new players can emerge, win big matches, and then disappear again. For example, name the Romanian who beat Jelena Jankovic this week in Paris? And will she feature again this year? I doubt it.

Speaking of, wasn't Jankovic a world number one once? Then again, so were Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Amelie Mauresmo, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and now Dinara Safina. As I was saying, it's something of a carousel.

Now, some may say this is a sign of strength, and in a sense, it can be viewed positively. It means that there is great parity among the top 10 players. The trouble is, it doesn't lend itself to popularity and creation of affinty among spectators for recognizable, consistent performers.

The French Open final this year will be played between Dinara Safina and Svetlana Kuznetsova, world number 1 and world number 7. In the semi-finals, two relative unknowns were knocked out - Samantha Stosur and Dominika Cibulkova. The men's final, while featuring a player who was not expected to be there, also features one of the game's great players. Even the progress of the unknown Soderling has been marked with suspense, great matches, huge interest and drama. Women's matches rarely reach the heights of the men's game - finals are routinely won in straight sets in one-sided contests, the winner barely leaving third gear.

So Serena may feel the game is more popular, but I'm afraid she's either watching the wrong men's game, or has lost sight of what is possible for the women's.

So for the women's final, my interest levels are too low to even warrant a prediction. Hopefully Safina wins, as number 1, it would at least lend some credibility to the rankings.

Bring on the men



Hung-Kwong Ng said...

I hope you don't mind me posing a question unrelated to tennis: do elevated body temperatures cause muscle or neuromuscular damage?

In the Keys 100 miler, I had trouble getting back up to running speed after temps drop from 90F to 80F at sunset. During the day, once my body temp peaked at 101.5F (ear thermometer). I walked to cool off. In previous 100 milers, I had been able "reset" my pace when temps dropped at sunset.

While I shuffled along at a 17 min pace in the last 25 miles, I ran the last mile at a 10 min pace upon learning a competitor was catching up, kicking down to a 6 min pace at the finish line. So it seems to a problem with neuromuscular activation rather than actual muscle damage. I can't figure out why I was not motivated to hold a running pace after sunset even though my body temp was normal.

But some sort of damage occurred. The next day, my leg press strength was down 75%. It recovered to a 25% loss after 4 days recovery. My gluts and calves did not lose strength. In recent 100 milers, I lost no more than 15% strength leg press strength post race.

Do elite marathoners have an extended recovery time from when hotter marathons compared to cooler marathons? If elevated body temps can cause muscle or neuromuscular damage, I would consider using cooling paks on my quads.
I am running the Badwater 135 in Death Valley in July and am nervous about a repeat of the Keys 100 experience.

Sometimes upon leaving the sauna after 40 minutes at 180F, my ear therm reads 103F but drops by to normal within 10 minutes. Skin temps are 115F to 125F in the sauna. Is prolonged exposure to sauna heat detrimental?

Another possible explanation is excess sodium intake leading to water retention in the quads and inflammation. It would take several days to rid the body of excess fluids. I think inflammation would reduce activation of muscle fibers??

I would appreciate your comments. I look forward to reading your new book "The Runners Body".