Quiet man of cricket: a tribute to Johnny Gleeson

 Another good man leaves us.

Remember the days when Australian Test cricketers carried an air of mystique. When they weren’t thrust upon us. When they went about their business with quiet dignity. When bowlers obviously had plans to dismiss top-line batsmen on the other side and didn’t blather on about ‘targeting’ them. When there was a little more grace in the game.

Around a dozen years ago when working as South Australian Cricket Association historian I proposed Johnny Gleeson as one of a number of guests for our annual Test match dinner, a black tie affair which regularly attracted 1000 diners. Often it was the quiet men – another was Ian Redpath – who’d been out of the public eye for a long time who made the most impact. On this occasion it was Gleeson’s laconic outback humour which was most memorable. Asked by MC Mike Coward about Warney’s range of a dozen deliveries (and working on new ones) he chuckled and replied, ‘That’s bullshit. A spinner has three deliveries: one breaks from the leg, one breaks from the off, one goes straight on.’

Simple.

Gleeson made a late start in first-class cricket at the age of 28 as a mystery spinner after having been a batsman/wicket-keeper in country cricket until his mid-twenties. Fascinated by a photograph of Jack Iverson’s grip he perfected a technique of bowling leg-breaks with what appeared to be an off-break action. The leg-break remained Gleeson’s stock delivery whereas for Iverson it had been the off-break. Gleeson’s nine seasons in first-class career yielded 430 wickets at 24.95 from 116 matches. In 29 Test matches between 1967 and 1972 his strike rate wasn’t quite so good but was still eminently respectable with 93 wickets at 36.20.

It has to be admitted that he ran into some good batsmen at the top level. In England in 1968 Boycott, Edrich, Cowdrey, Graveney, Dexter, Barrington, Milburn and D’Oliviera all played at some time in the series; in Australia against the West Indies in 1968-69 he met Fredericks, Sobers, Kanhai, Nurse, Butcher and Lloyd; in South Africa in 1969-70 he was confronted by Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards. Gleeson took 26 wickets against the West Indies but I was at Adelaide Oval in 1969 when he was savaged in the second innings when they made 616 and he finished with 1 for 176. At Durban the following year when Pollock made 274, Richards 140 and South Africa 9-622 declared Gleeson suffered to the tune of 3 wickets for 160. A couple of beltings like that muck up anyone’s averages.

I had a special affection for Johnny Gleeson because he inspired me to have another crack at cricket. I had put the game aside to concentrate on golf at the age of twenty but seven years later after experimenting with Gleeson-Iverson’s flick-finger spin I thought I’d give it a trial. Presenting myself at the Adelaide District Cricket Club I turned out at the Adelaide Oval No.2 nets under the watchful eye of club coach Rex Sellers.

At one point I tossed up a flighted leg-break which landed on leg stump, lured the batsman forward,  and he got a faint edge which would have been swallowed by first slip. ‘Beautiful ball, Bernard’, said Rex. How good is that? A Test cricketer saying, ‘Beautiful ball, Bernard.’ Of course, the next six balls came out as hopeless half-trackers, no flight, little spin, which the batsman mongrelled to the mid-wicket boundary and that was about the end for me.

Not quite.

Occasionally Gleeson’s memory and method would cause me to dust off the creams. A half-season for Old Scotch in my mid-thirties and a game for Old Iggies (St Ignatius) in my forties – no, I didn’t attend either school – brought the odd analysis of 3/0/25/1 but nothing significant enough to tempt me away from the golf course or lawn tennis court.

My last game of cricket was played in twilight on a delightful college ground in Blackheath, London the night before the Lord’s Test of 2009. Again I folded the fingers and flicked the ball. Two overs 0 for 14 is a pretty good average in my one and only game of T20 but would’ve been far better if a butter-fingered wicket-keeper had not mucked up a simple stumping chance, and a stiff-jointed mid-on not dropped a sitter. 2 for 14 would’ve been eminently respectable.

There is also a post script.

My one brilliant delivery at the Adelaide Oval nets partly inspired a poem which I entered in a national sports poetry competition in 2012.

dream ball

a flick of the wrist
a snap of the fingers
the ball described a perfect arc
well directed too
pitching on leg stump
luring the batsman forward
spinning hard
catching the edge
carrying to first slip’s pouch
pocketed with ease

no need for appeal
the batsman nods          awe-struck
‘too good son’              takes his leave
‘great ball lad’ says the old ump
white-washing hat tugged hard
over his ears
lizard skin blistered
from so many years
baking under a brutal sun
firm jaw creasing now
into a weary grin

‘you’ve made my day, tiger’
‘you’ve made my day’

It didn’t win but I’d like to think Johnny Gleeson would’ve given a nod of approval.

 

© Bernard Whimpress

Posted on http://www.footyalmanac.com.au on 14 October 2016

Advertisements

What about cut?

Galle, Sri Lanka v Australia 

Day 1, 4 August 2016

 By Bernard Whimpress

 

I tuned into the game after lunch,  Sri Lanka 3-160 or thereabouts, and  Mitchell Starc into the attack for a spell bowling round the wicket.

Can you believe the commentators?

Well, you’re expected to.

They blather on about reverse swing when it’s nothing of the kind.

According to the dynamics of physics you have to be able to bowl above 140 kph to achieve this. Starc can do it but it’s not what he was doing.

His first delivery was a rip-snorter. A magnificent ball with a low arm aiming at off stump, cuttingaway and which went within millimetres of drawing an edge from the bat. No doubt he had similar intentions with some other deliveries but had not the same control.

In the nineteenth century in the days when cricket balls scarcely had seams worth mentioning, and these were well worn down because only a single ball was used for an entire innings, bowlers had to employ various crafts to extract a batsman on a good wicket.

Cut was one of these. A pace bowler cut his fingers down one side of the ball to produce deviation off the pitch. The great English fast bowler Tom Richardson was noted for his break-backs as was Australia’s Fred Spofforth. The term ‘break-backs’ gave way to off-cutters and among other bowlers to employ the delivery at lesser pace were the Australian trio of Charlie Turner, George Giffen and Monty Noble.

The off-cutter was produced by sliding the fingers down the outside of the ball while the opposite effect (a leg-cutter) resulted from fingers cut down the inside of the ball. Exponents of the latter have included England medium-pacer Alec Bedser and even fast bowlers such as Dennis Lillee and New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee late in their careers.

Left-arm pace bowlers have often employed what for them is a fast orthodox leg break by cuttingtheir fingers outside the ball. One has read of Ernie Toshack in a post-war Test against India proving unplayable and his contemporary Bill Johnston regularly dropping his pace to bowl quickish cutters.

Pakistan’s Wasim Akram opened a day’s play at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the 1990s bowling an over like this to Ian Healy. Healy was beaten five times in a row before being dismissed by the final ball.

The phrase, ‘It was wasted on thee’, came quickly to mind.

Starc’s tactic today reminded me of several occasions when Mitch Johnson dropped his arm to bowl fast leg-cutters, once in an SCG Test against South Africa when he knocked over the tail to win the match. Johnson, of course, may have tried the tactic too often and his career fell into decline when his arm fell too low too often. One trusts Starc will control his experiments better.

I’ve got nothing against the use of the term ‘reverse swing’. The great Pakistani trio of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis got the ball (and the cricket world) talking with reverse swing in the 1990s and Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones used it with great effect against us in the 2005 Ashes, especially by going round the wicket to our left-hand batsmen.

My complaint is not with reverse swing, my gripe is with commentators and reporters who can’t make the distinction in the bowler’s intention between cut and swing, reverse or otherwise.

It’s time cut was given its due.

Second Test, Galle.   Sri Lanka 281. Australia 2/54.  Full scorecard.

 

Posted on http://www.footyalmanac.com.au 5 August 2016

Eat up! Eat up! And play the game

Eat up! Eat up! And play the game.

It was one of those nights when a few middle-aged blokes get together to talk about old times in sport. John was a new fellow to join the group and everyone’s eyes lit up when he said ‘I saw Bradman bat once’.

John’s view of Bradman was when the Indians played a Test Match at Adelaide Oval in January 1948 and John said ‘he got something like 196’ which drew immediate but darting glances from a couple of the sporting pedants among us. The Don, in fact, made 201, Lindsay Hassett 198 and the Australians 674. No-one got 196.

John was more certain of the number of eskimo pies he consumed. ‘Seven’, he said which was no doubt the making of a little fat kid, and a 60-year interest in sport.

The eskimo pie story reminded me of my of some of my own sports eating experiences, mainly at the footy.

If you’ve been to watch football in Melbourne you’ve inevitably suffered the pain of the execrable Four and Twenty, surely the worst so-called meat pie in the world without a shadow of doubt. The alternative when I lived there in the late 1970s, was three or four round doughnuts before the game, purchased from the vans parked outside the grounds. Without being a doughnut connoisseur I reckoned they were the best in the world. It must be the footy itself which creates such extremes of thought. The romance of the doughnut only ended when I went to a game at Princes Park (sob, sob) several years later and taking a huge bite, spread raspberry jam all over my smart new Harris tweed sportscoat.

My improved football diet can be dated specifically. 3 September 1977, Elimination Final, South Melbourne v Richmond at the old VFL Park, Waverley. I can be sure for a couple of reasons. The first was because good old South (sob, sob) were playing in their first final of any description since 1945 and the second because I took a good-looking girl to the game. She was the first girl of any description I’d ever taken to the footy and American as it turned out. I was all set to explain the finer points. What happened was this…

We took up our positions and I started to unpack the binoculars when she said. ‘Daaaahling! I’ve prepared a little something’. The ‘little something’ turned out to be cold turkey, cheese, celery, french rolls, an avocado or two, pate and what’s this?, a bottle of chilled white from the good old Barossa Valley. ‘Jeez! whadya think I am, a poofter?’ I remember thinking. People thought like that in those days. I didn’t get anywhere with the finer points but we did get stuck into the grub.

At the half-time break the wine and glasses (not plastic cups) came out as well which brought a chorus from the row of beery blokes behind. ‘Jeez! whatarya, a poofter or something?’ People said things like that in those days. I gestured with a french stick. She and I kept sipping through the second half which was too much for one old bag complete with brolly and overcoat, who spat out. ‘Huh! Toorak set, you’ve no right to be here’, conjuring up images of the split level and the Porsche Turbo in the double garage. Oh well! and South were annihilated 7.12 to 13.10.

The logical eating endpoint was probably lunch at the Adelaide Crows Chairman’s Club what seemed half a lifetime later at Football Park, West Lakes in 1994, and definitely pre-AAMI. Crows versus Somebody: soup, entrée, mains, cheese, more than half-decent wine, scones, jam, cream and coffee. After that fill the football was bound to be an anti-climax except that first one had to hear from the guest speaker/interviewee, the then Leader of Her Majesty’s Federal Opposition, Alexander ‘Things that Batter’ Downer.

Chairman Bob ‘Half-Case’ Hammond’s introduction of his guest as ‘the next Prime Minister of Australia’ was one of the great gaffes of all time to which I remember responding with an almighty ‘BOOOOOOOOO!’ This was a non-politically partisan gathering, we were located in Adelaide’s western suburbs, and we were at the footy after all! Clearly embarrassed Mr Downer wasn’t a bad guest and revealed a warm and genuine interest in football. Only one thing worried me. When asked whether as a boy he harboured any ambitions about becoming prime minister he replied along the lines of: ‘No! I really wanted to play full-forward for Norwood’.

I could have possibly stood him running the country but the prospect of him representing my footy team was far to much to stomach.

 

 

A Love of Golf

Pud was 85 years young. When he was in his fifties he had one of the ugliest golf swings I’ve ever seen.  His hands were low. He sagged at the waist. He bobbed his head up on the backswing and down again. Yet in the hitting area he must have been in the right place. His first handicap was two.

That was in 1946, the war was over, and he’d already been a long time in golf.

Pud grew up in Queenstown and was a victim of the Depression.

His love affair with golf began in the 1920s when with mates Teddy and Howard Cocks, Allan Robertson and ‘Bull’ Reval (the future Port Adelaide football champion) he used to walk over to Seaton and watch the members at Royal Adelaide.

Golf became his livelihood during the Depression:

There were 40 or 50 of us caddies, Cocksy, Robertson, Reval, Clarrie Peterson … we were among them. You would only make 2/6 a day as a junior storeman at McKell’s. Thirteen bob a week if you were lucky. We’d make more than that on the golf course.

 

The Royal Adelaide professional Willie Harvey controlled the caddies although later there was a caddie master called Bert Rodda.

The pro would give you a medal for a booking which was 1/3 but then you’d get tips. Usually two shillings but sometimes only a bob. You’d chat them if you only got a bob. Legh Winser was the best golfer by far, a national amateur champion, he was secretary to the Governor, but he was a miserable bastard. 

Three shillings and threepence might not sound much but Pud would get four rounds on weekends which made it 13 shillings. And often he’d get to carry two bags which meant double the money. In addition to that he usually caddied a round a day during the week when about 20 caddies supplied their services. Ladies day was on Friday.

Lady Elizabeth Britten-Jones was the best woman golfer. ‘She could play, the cunt’, Pud said, and a look at the record books shows that she won no less than eight club championships and 11 South Australian titles.

Pud’s language was always colourful but such was his manner of delivery one would never describe it as foul. A fellow golfer of later years Pud once described as a ‘real foul-mouthed bastard’. You had to believe him.

The caddies carried the clubs, cleaned them and dried them and polished them with a rag, and laid them in racks afterwards. The wooden shafts required this to prevent warping. Caddies rarely offered advice on choice of club or shot selection to the members.

Who were the players in those days?

A lot of wealthy men. Doctors — Jay (Sandy’s father) … At one time I got a cancer on my lip and Dr Jay said to come down to the hospital and he cut it out free of charge’. Then there was Norman Darley the wool merchant and Alan McLachlan the pastoralist (father of Ian, the politician). 

Pud got to carry lots of clubs but had less opportunity to use them.

We caddies were allowed to play the course once a week on Thursday mornings but we had to be finished by nine o’ clock to make ourselves available for members. We had no clubs of our own but were able to use those of the members. This meant that you rarely played with the same set twice in a row. We would start at daybreak and finish in two and a half hours. We always managed to complete a round.

For most of the time, however, play was restricted to the caddie yard where a makeshift game was organised with a ‘club’ shaped out of wire, and cork for a ball.  

Sometimes the caddies went further afield. One occasion Pud remembered going up to Mt Lofty, catching the last train to get there, sleeping the night in the sheds and consuming a bottle of plonk to keep warm. Another time he caddied for the North Adelaide professional Angus Polson at Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne. ‘The only trouble was he couldn’t play.’

Pud says caddies were rarely abused by members. It was only in championships where players might get nasty and this happened more in national amateur and professional titles than in club events. 

Royal Adelaide was the site of the Australian Open and Amateur in 1932 and Pud remembers the precociously talented young Victorian left-hander Harry Williams.

He nominated that he would drive over the roadway that cuts through the eighteenth fairway and he did, that’s a distance of around 300 metres, not bad with hickory shafts, and in winter. 

He recalls the powerful team of American golfers who came here in 1934, people like Denny Shute, Craig Wood, Leo Diegel and Paul Runyan. Earlier he had seen the incomparable Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen.

Pud didn’t start playing until he was 32 years old. He caddied through the 1930s and then came the war. In order to play golf he had to get a clearance from Dick Destree because caddies were regarded as professional and he couldn’t play as an amateur. 

His first club and only club was North Adelaide. He remained an active member there for more than 40 years, winning the club championship four times and playing pennant golf over three decades. 

In 1947 Pud joined Ansett as a storeman and the generous arrangements for staff enabled him to travel widely to watch golf as well as to play interstate. In 1952 he took a trip to Melbourne and was amazed that playing the major championship courses at Royal Melbourne and Metropolitan cost 7/6 whereas the public golf course at Albert Park was 8 shillings. 

In the 1970s when I was playing pennants Pud had retired but was never short of an opinion. He was ever critical of one of my team-mates, a short but accurate hitter. ‘He should never be in the side, the weak cunt’, Pud would say. You wouldn’t be surprised if he added, ‘I could hit the ball further with my dick.’ 

He never did explain what else they learned in the caddie yard.

 Bernard Whimpress

© 1999, 2010

 

The Roger and Serena Show: Australian Open 2010

Not only, but also.

It was a bad start to the women’s part of the draw with the best body and maybe the best legs in the tournament exiting in the first round.

Out went Maria Sharapova, the 2008 champion, back on the tour after shoulder injury and seeded fourteen. But this wasn’t just the loss of body and legs but THAT SCREAM. Thousands of male fantasies would be put to bed. It would be an ORGASMLESS event! Out also went Aussie Alicia and Aussie Jelena. At 29 Alicia had battled back after a year in retirement and had played backblock tournaments from Darwin to Mount Gambier to Mildura. She led 6-3, 5-2 against France’s Julie Coin when she went walkabout, started to think about her victory speech, and contrived to lose in three sets.

Poor Jelena’s support team didn’t offer much support. A heated argument with her boyfriend, Tin Bikic, during practice for the Open was poor preparation and followed disagreement with coach Borna Bikic the previous week. The Bikic brothers also helped derail her grand slam campaign after being interviewed by Australian Federal Police over an air rage incident on a flight from Hobart to Melbourne a few days before. In bowing out to the big Russian Alisa Kleybanova (whom she defeated in the fourth round last year) Jelena said at her press conference, ‘It was a poor performance and I am very disappointed with today and this whole month hasn’t been great. I would have liked to have played better, but in a way I am glad it’s over. I can move on and I have to refocus.’

On the men’s side Aussie Pete (that’s Peter Luczak) was game to serve for the first set against Rafael Nadal, not so game when he got into a tie-break and didn’t win a point, and was scarcely noticed thereafter. In stayed Aussie Bernard (Tomic) which hasn’t got an Aussie ring to it and Our Casey (Delacqua), Our Sam (Stosur) and, of course, Lleyton, who’s outgrown Little Lleyton, and doesn’t need to be Aussie Lleyton cos he’s the Aussiest of them/us all.

Round two and Elena Dementieva departs, the other best set of legs. Only the week before she had beaten Serena Williams to win the Medibank International in Sydney and at 28, seeded five was running into the best form of her career, and a strong chance to win her first grand slam championship. Her misfortune was to meet the unseeded Justin Henin so soon, in her second comeback event, and go down 5-7, 6-7 in a match lasting two hours 50 minutes that would have done credit to any final but will be quickly forgotten.

A diversion.

What is it about women’s tennis? Throughout the year they play the same best of three set tournaments as the men but come to the slams why can’t they do it in five? It’s not a question of pay and equal pay for equal work. Five sets is like a thrilling five day Test match. There is much more ebb and flow and room for manoeuvre. It offers the opportunity for heroic comebacks and it’s more difficult for the player in front to maintain peak performance. The test is thus greater, finer, nobler. We are not back in the 1920s when it was unfeminine for women to sweat. We like women sweating. Clive James even wrote a poem about the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini.

I can think of many women’s matches that it would have been lovely to extend. In the Wimbledon final of 2008 Serena and Venus Williams slugged out a brilliant two-setter that Venus won despite the fact that Serena was working her way back into the match when it was over. A day later Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played a game where Nadal was on top early but Federer came back from two sets down, and won the next two before Rafa triumphed 9-7 in the fifth in one of the game’s greatest encounters. The potential for the women’s match to reach similar heights was denied.

Don’t tell me the women don’t have the stamina. The WTA Championship (formerly Virginia Slims) which has been played at Madison Garden since 1979 saw five set finals from 1984 when Martina Navratilova defeated Chris Evert until 1998 when Martina Hingis beat Lindsay Davenport. And come to think of it Gabriela Sabatini did play one of those five set matches in 1990 but was defeated by Monica Seles 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. Perhaps she did sweat at the end of it. Perhaps they both were knackered. So are the blokes!

And so Elena D had gone. What is it with these long-legged blondes who can surely hit a ball? I though of English poet John Betjeman and wondered, if he was around, who he would favour with a verse. Who would be his Amazonian ideal,

Pam, I adore you, Pam, you great big mountainous

            sports girl,

Whizzing them over the net, full of the strength

            of five;

his Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, his Olympic Girl?

Oh! Would I were her racket press’d

With hard excitement to her breast …

Would it be Elena or Maria? Too cool, too sophisticated these Russians. Would it be their countrywomen Kleybanova or Nadia Petrova? Or would it be Venus or Serena? Venus maybe, Serena’s breast might be welcome but that strong right arm would crush a poet’s head to mush. But then what about Kim? Aussie Kim Clijsters that was. Kim it has to be you. No doubt he would feel a poem coming on. It has to be you.

Back to the main game.

Bernard Tomic went out in round two in a five set centre court thriller against the Croatian fourteenth seed Marin Cilic 6-7, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. He put a wonderful game on show, displaying superb depth of shot in the Andy Murray mode and (like Murray) an ability to vary the pace of his strokes. At 17, however, he needs to pay his dues and not give a stupid press conference in which he complained about his match being scheduled in the evening and not finishing until 2.09 a.m., way past his usual bed time. The junior champion must now realise he’s playing in the big league and can’t expect to be tucked in with his teddy by nine or ten o’clock every night.

Our Casey had fought through a three set win in the first round and two tie breaks in the second before running up against Venus in the third and being defeated 6-1, 7-6. Our Sam had overcome a three set first match, to follow up with comfortable wins in the next two rounds but the surprise loss was Kim who’d won her first two matches with ease following her victory over Justin Henin in the Brisbane International a fortnight before. Seeded fifteen, she took her worst game on to the court against nineteenth seed Nadia Petrova who won 6-0 6-1. If Betjeman had been urging his Olympian Girl he would have found that Nadia had even better credentials than Kim as her father was a leading Russian hammer thrower and her mother was a bronze medallist at the Montreal Olympics in the 400 metres relay. She also packs a frame to throw hammer herself.

Lleyton is still in it, cruising his through his opening two rounds to set up a Saturday night clash with Marcos Baghdatis. Aussie Marcos when there are no other Aussies left and a five setter for certain. Two fellas playing the same game, almost like hitting against a wall. In this case half the wall gave way. With Marcos trailing 0-6, 2-4 he retired hurt with a shoulder injury. The men were crumbling in a disappointing round which saw Lukasz Kubot win in a walkover from Mikhail Zouhnzy and Stefan Koubek retire after losing the first set against Fernando Verdasco. Can’t they stand the strain? Perhaps like long-distance swimming it’s the women who are made for the long haul? Perhaps the men should play the best of three and the women five!

Sam is into the fourth round but is up against Serena. Sam has a powerful serve and great athleticism but needs to eliminate loose ground strokes to be a force at the top level. Serena dispatches her 6-4, 6-2. Lleyton is also in the fourth and facing Federer. In the early part of his career he was Roger’s master. Not since 2003. Roger makes it 15 wins in succession with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 demolition job. It’s time for the Australian media to face facts. Lleyton has had a fine career, done better than could have been expected to win two grand slams and 27 singles titles in the modern big man’s game. The day’s of glory are over. Lleyton then had surgery on his right hip to match his left and it’s hard to see it making a difference.

The first week ends, the Aussies are gone. It’s been a long time thus.

At the quarter final stage the women’s competition was much more open than the men’s with five of the seeds remaining. In the top part of the draw a semi-final between Venus and Serena loomed likely. In the bottom Nadia Petrova was the only seed, Justin Henin was the danger. However, there were some surprises. Chinese sixteenth seed Na Li defeated Venus 2-6, 7-6, 7-5 and Serena had the mother of all struggles against Belarussian seventh seed Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. Down a break in the second set Serena seemed set for an early flight home. China’s unseeded Ji Zheng had an easy win over Russian Maria Kirilenko and Justin beat Nadia in two closely fought sets 7-6, 7-5.

The men’s quarters saw all seeds through. Murray five against Nadal two, Cilic fourteen versus Roddick seven, Tsonga ten against Djokovic three, and Federer one against Davydenko six. The superb matches were between Marin Cilic and Andy Roddick and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Novak Djokovic which saw the (slightly) less fancied players triumph in five sets. Andy Murray was in superb touch against Nadal leading 6-3, 7-6, 3-0 before Rafa quit with a knee injury. The most bizarre match was Federer’s opening against Nikolai Davydenko to whom he had lost at their last two meetings. Looking strangely tentative Roger lost the first set 2-6 and was down a break 1-3 and 15-40 on serve in the second, before changing gears to win thirteen games in a row and take the match in four sets.

China’s women’s honeymoon ended in the semi-finals although Serena had to work hard to defeat Na Li 7-6, 7-6 while Justin made short work of Ji Zheng 6-1, 6-0. Justin, who had quite reasonably struggled through her early matches seemed to be peaking at the right time whereas Serena after romping through her early rounds had had to tough it out in the quarters and semis. Neither men’s semi-final reached a climax because neither Tsonga or Cilic, after back-to-back five setters in both the fourth round and the quarters, had any gas in the tank.

Williams against Henin pitted the finest two women players of the present time against each other with Serena leading seven wins to six in their previous encounters. Federer against Murray was the case of the champ versus the coming man and yet Andy held the lead head-to-head against Roger six wins to four, the only man apart from Rafa with a career advantage over the Swiss.

The women’s match began with an unyielding struggle with Serena breaking through to take the first set 6-4 but then give ground as Justin stormed back to take the second 6-3. The balance of play shifted quickly at the end of the second set. First with Serena in control and then with Justine winning 15 straight points to win the set and make a break in the third. Somehow, however, Serena stayed calm and Justine was unable to hold serve again in the match which went to the American 6-2 in the third set. Again the question has to be asked. If they were playing best of five would the momentum have changed again? Would it have been a greater contest?

In the men’s final Federer was at the top of his game in the first two sets with Murray doing his best to stay with him. A couple of my mates talked a lot of rubbish at a pub the following night after our customary low-class doubles match. They reckoned Murray was disappointing, negative and failed to take his chances. I felt this was mainly unfair. The third set offered an opportunity for the Scot when he managed a break in the sixth game and served for the set leading 5-2 but was unable to hold. A thrilling tie-break then followed which, as it grew, started to bear comparison with the famous fourth set Borg–McEnroe tie-break of the 1980 Wimbledon final; Murray’s frustration was that he failed to convert his chances on four set points. If Murray had managed to win the third set, he might have got back into the match, or Federer might have reasserted himself and won in four. We’ll never know. Federer’s drop shot near the end saw Murray make a freakish scramble from the base line to push a backhand down the line for a winner but Federer won shortly after when Murray netted a backhand.

Two years ago at the presentation ceremony on the Rod Laver Arena, Roger Federer forgivably wept. A year ago he less forgivably blubbed while a most deserving winner, Rafael Nadal, was left standing on the sidelines like a stale bottle of piss by thoughtless tennis officialdom. This year there was no danger of Roger weeping and indeed it was Andy who choked back tears. Roger offered Andy consolation by saying he was too good a player not to win a grand slam and it is to be hoped that he can take a braver heart into his next major final, particularly if meeting the same opponent.

Bernard Whimpress

© February 2010