Juan Martin del Potro: Lethal Elegance

Watching Juan Martin del Potro is an experience …

There is a tranquillity he brings to the arena. It’s as if angels saunter inside his head when there is a bedlam of a fire storm outside. One can almost visualize each grain of sand falling through the sand clock in the Aztecs, as he quite nonchalantly yet unhurriedly towels himself before looking for optic wilsons to serve for the next point. It’s almost as if the call of ‘Time’ by the chair umpire is as effective as the words of wisdom of a worried dad to his revolting teenage son.  Have you seen those commercials (I think Old Spice) where they freeze the frame, when the undulating waves of the ocean are at their very crest? It’s the point just before all mayhem breaks loose when the waves come crashing down as they dismantle themselves in unison. That is the same freeze point that exists as ‘The Elf’ (as he is called) prepares to serve.

The ‘Tower from Tandil’ trans-morphs himself from being the quintessence of serenity into a vicious machine that spits fireball forehands and hissy fit serves towards the opponent. Tranquillity morphs into chaos, and serenity into ferocity.

It’s like a clinical scalpel working its way through a patient on a surgeon’s table. The slow yet fluid and economic backswing followed by rapid racket head acceleration – eventually resulting in what I would pay a million bucks to see live, that ‘Flat Tyre Forehand’. Its clinical, it’s lethally effective, most entities associated with such power aren’t supposed to elegant, but this one oddly is. Let’s use an oxymoron to describe it – ‘Lethal Elegance’. Such ferocity and power isn’t usually emblematic of nimbleness of feet, this one oddly embodies nimbleness and flexibility. His feel for the ball is quite unparalleled, probably most evident as he reflexively sliced across the ball from the baseline for a clean lob winner that bounced a millimeter inside the tram line. His opponent today, Simon could only look and wonder.

For a fleeting moment del Potro looked at the skies with clenched fists, only to assuredly morph into his bubble of unperturbed tranquillity again, as he looked at Simon to receive a serve.

As the crowd in Louis Armstrong looked in awe …


Fanning The Fire More (Trilogy): The Joker Burns the Brightest

I was a bit torn, on how to develop the plot line for this piece.

The Trilogy: Fanning The Fire More: "The Joker" Burns Brighter by Himself

More often than not, highly successful people are defined by their "predominant" essence. An artisan of Federer against the the warrior of Nadal - but in reality Federer is as much as a warrior as Nadal (London 2008 and 2009 final), and Nadal is as much as an artisan as Federer, only his artisanship is not to create a symphony in A minor, but to construct n towering cathedral with asetic meticulous commitment and discipline.

But we do visualize artisan ship and being an innate warrior with Federer and Nadal, because thats the innate essence that is displayed more than other characteristics when they play the game.

Its funny, am writing this with Bethoven's Adagio's resonating in its consummate regale'ness in my stereo. People identify with players because they see traces of themselves or traces of how they like other people to be, in how a player plays the game.

Very few artists dont - not like Federer. He reminds them of a mercury fluidity in how an activity must not only be constructed, but be practiced and presented. Seriously, I can see the Federer collage of you tube videos being picture perfect when played at the background of "Fur Elise" "Moonlight Sonata" or "Ode to Joy". Make no mistake, he is by far the most elegant player I have ever watched through fifteen years.

Very few intellectual minds don't - not like Rafael, because he reminds of how much one can improve my venturing into dark territories where you have not been before. Its require courage and the ability to risk failure - along with experiencing the sowed seeds of success eventually. He embodies continuous improvement through learning with a humility that's alien to the best player of any kind on planet Earth. Make no mistake, he is by far the most invigorating player I've watched for a long time, those long flowing locks, pirate clam-diggers, popeye biceps, boxer running back to the baseline, and the pirate tee (Thanks Nike), he gets the blood flow goin.

But to the artisan of Beethoven, and the field marshal warrior of Muhammed Ali ... the world also finds a unique purpose for ...

"Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson, Jules in "Pulp Fiction", Colonel Hans Landa in "Basterds", Mick Jagger in Rolling Stones, Robin Williams, Conan O'Brien and Jonathan Ross, and perhaps one of my most favorite characters on screen until now, the Heath Ledger inspired "JOKER in Gotham"

The Entertainers

The pencil make-disappear act and the wet wispy hair flip with head stickin outside a NY cab at midnight. "You know what I found out, people freak out if somethin goes against their plan, if I tell today that tomorrow someone's gonna get shot, and if it happens tomm, then no one will freak out because 'its all according to plan'. On the other hand if I do somethin tomm much less evil without telling anyone, people freak out because 'its wasn't in the plan'. Introduce a little anarchy, and disrupt formations ...."

The Joker is the character you know is wrong, but not all what he says is wrong, in fact a fraction of it is true about humanity. He is the character who makes Batman, who he is ... and he is the one whom you try very hard not to fall in love with by the time the credits come on screen ... but when you come out, you inevitably go, "WOW - The JOKER". Characters such as these, are a shoe in for Oscars. No doubts: The Joker and Hans Landa were as confirmed as the sun rising tomorrow.

Nole is an entertainer trapped in a tennis player's exterior. It comes easy for him that he does not even need to try. An unabashed extrovert, the soccer inspired shirt swappin, shirt rippin, cheast beatin Jokester is a "The Dark Knight" on a tennis court. Besides the impeccable impersonations (he did Rafael, in front of Rafael in Rome last year - at the insistence of the organizers), the imploring plead to the heavens if a Federer backhand down the line burns the outside of the far line after a twenty five shot rally, the resigned wane of a smile in front of the net when a Nadal simply refuses to miss after a high octane baseline exchange when he eventually wins the point with that outside the doubles ally hook .... the delirious look towards his mum and dad when Ashe was on its feet as he sent the Swiss packing on the second Saturday - take a seat, for this train is just up and runnin' ... its Mick Jagger'esque on the theater of a tennis court.

Like we said at the beginning, he plays to win as much as Federer and Nadal, he isnt a purpose-less entertainer (Le'Monf ?) who prefers to entertain, rather than win. Nole can buckle down and win ugly when he needs to, and can trade power groundies with the best of 'em as he showed us a couple of weeks before. Perhaps what draws me to Nole more than the artisan and the warrior is the spontaneous self deprecating humor (No, I have somethin else between my legs), the unconventional disdain to authority, the visceral craving to win and most of all ... that down the line backhand on the dead run where he arrests his slide and imparts torque on power in a split second - Steve Jobs would be proud of its construction and mechanics.

Federer the artisan, Nadal the Warrior, Nole the Entertainer - but they all can hit a tennis ball around ....

Tuxedo, Sgt Pepper Jacket, Pirate Clamdiggers, Sleveless tee  ... and Electric Prussian Blue Shoes and Acid washed blue fade torn jeans.

Beethoven ... Muhammed Ali ... Mick Jagger ...

Jagger burns alright, he burns the Brightest ... Just ask a 'Stones fan 

--- Keep Rockin, Long John Silver


Symphony and Metallica (S&M): Album Review 1

"We are in Berserk-ley: Berkleeee Communiteeee Thetreeee, Metallica with one hundred and four back up musicians", James Hetfield

"Not only are we playing with the symphony, but we are also one the same stage as Jimi Hendrix played", Kirk Hammett

"I was tellin everybody, I dont know if its gonna be good, but its gonna be interesting and you can come and watch it anyway", Jason Newsted

"Whose fuckin idea was this?", Lars Ulrich

"I've done it (a symphony with rock ensemble) with Pink Floyd and orchestra, I've done it with Bob Dylan with orchestra and I've done it with Eric Clapton and orchestra, but this is the first time we have taken it all the way and said, M-E-T-A-L-L-I-C-A", Michael Kamen (Chief composer, San Fransisco Symphony and Orchestra).

As conventionally called, Berserk-ley, a left centrist hippe town with some of the best minds on the planet. As my mates in Stanford haze U'CAL as, "Ohhh, the poor public school at the other end of the San Francisco bay". Berkeley located proudly in North California, is very much an intellectual haven. Once you move out of places such as Ann Arbor and Berkeley you very much miss the crowd there, because of its innate progressiveness and the sheer high of being surrounded by people to whom you never need to explain anything, they'll just get what you're saying without any painful explanation.

This is where the quite unique almost an experimental concert of 'Symphony and Metallica' took place on April 21st 1999. It was groundbreaking in many ways because it was an integration of bipolar worlds: musicians who dress up down to the the last bow tie and shaggy haired rockers who show up in black jeans and biker boots, an orchestra which reads, learns and plays music and musicians who riff through a six string with no idea on how to read a note, people who innately follow set formations and people who are all about spontaneity and outlaws at heart. Their music is bipolar, even more so are their personalities. Michael Kamen one of the most talented composers of our time went through the unenviable task of creating a live concert between (for the lack of a better word), Christ and Anti-Christ: Classical Symphony and Metal: One of the best orchestras in the world and the loudest band in the world,  San Francisco Symphony and Metallica ... S&M. It was a two nighter, the first of which is reviewed here.

In more ways than one the documentary of "Making of S&M" is fascinating. The set list was a hit and miss because, no one was sure on how to hear a Metallica song when they played in concordance with an orchestra. Michael Kamen took the album versions of existing Metallica songs, and he would get the orchestra to add a layer of embellishment by playing in conjunction (i.e. he does strings for each song). It was creativity in its purest essence. You do not want the orchestra to be undermined by the sheer loudness of Metallica, nor do you want the orchestra to drown out the sheer ferocity of Metallica: it had to be a cohesion, and a consummate one at that as well. The audience included the best of both worlds: regular symphony lover and a long haired beer guzzlin' Metallica fan.

As always we start with the instrumental Ennio Morricone classic of "Ecstasy of Gold". Conventionally, Ecstasy is succeeded by the frantic Sandman or Creeping Death, but this time Ecstasy transitions seamlessly into 'Ktulu'. The S&M version of Ktulu earned the best instrumental performance of the year award, the orchestra does what a chocolate layer does to Tiramisu. Its a single layer, but the tiramisu will not taste the same without it. A complex layer of enrichment to the existing riffs. Jason's bass is undoubtedly the highlight of Ktulu. Jason is all about business and his efficient style of bass riffin' is an elegant example of function over entertainment, cohesion over show'doggin ... band over individual.

Ktulu leads to Master and the crowd falls in love with the live rendition, especially with the slow interlude in between two frantic halves. After 'Master', James takes a moment to thank the crowd as he senses they like it. "Hey, hey, they like it, so, so did you hear about the rock bank who wanted to play with the symphony? this is no joke friends, we're havin some fun here, and we want you to have some fun out there as well 'cos that's what its all about", Hetfield. Lars Ulrich must rate as one of the best metal drummers of all times, his work on the Tama's is quite simply breathtaking and a bit suffocating (in a good way). I love the way he stands up sometimes just to stop the echoes of the drums by holding them from back as soon as he hits them. 

"Of Wolf and Man", becomes "Of Wolfgang and Man" indicating Mozart and the symphony influence, it was perfect, along with "The thing that should not be" next. "Fuel" for some reason stuttered a little bit, its a great live gig rendition, but it stuttered a bit, it lacked the ferocity in the studio version. With "Memory Remains", James asks the crowd to sing along by loosening a bit, and it worked. The camera captures the reaction of the crowd beautifully as they belt out the entire song with Hetfield. La la la la ...la la la .... la la la la ...ra ra ra ra ra ...as he says, "We like it when you sing man".

No Leaf Clover was one out of the two songs that Metallica played new, so that this concert was interesting to them as well, due to playing new material. Its one of my top favorites, not only in the album but overall. Its been played since then without the orchestra, but it never sounds the same. Its strength is sounding so aristocratic, resounding and absolutely regale - and the instrumental role played by the orchestra in Clover is realised completely when its heard without the orchestra. Its probably the song that lends itself best towards an interpretation by the orchestra.

"When it comes to the soothin light at the end of the tunnel, there's a freight train comin your way", James literally growls his way to glory by bringing the roof down. But for the beginning of Hero of the Day, the latter part of the song sounds like a flat piece of cardboard. Devil's Dance sounds bloody wonderful. Devil's Dance sounds more ghoulish due to the orchestra, and more Halloweenish than Marylin Manson can ever could. Its one of the highlights of the first day. The first show ends by Bleedin; Me. Its starts so innocuous, torpid and mellow. James' lead and Kirk's riffin and Lars's flawless thrashin, along with Jason's inconspicuous bass is an elegant ensemble. With each minute Bleed picks up in its tempo, and the last one minute is quite simply an orgasmic culmination of what was a MET lover's paradise. "Thing that should not be" and "Clover" lend themselves to the orchestra best, the strings, horns and trumpets on both of them were exemplary.

You need to listen to the second night, to understand how unique, and experimentally successful this symphonic metal concordance really is ... traditionalists might claim this represents a softening of Metallica, but it represents more of an ability and courage to try somethin this ballsy, new and risky. Fuel and Hero backfired, but when Bleedin' ends, you are left with a feelin of 'This is outstanding, and a true cohesion between the both contrarian genres of music ... and darn it, I dont have tickets to see both these guys rock out tomm evenin".

In other words, "You've gone out with someone you're crazy about the first time ... and cant wait to call her to tell her that you would love to go out with her tomm evenin again ...but you dont know if she wants to?"

Keep Rockin, Long John Silver




Rod Laver Arena LP: Garage Days

"Helloooo Melbourne ... DID YOU MISS Metallica?"

bellowed the larger than life - lead vocal James Hetfield at exactly 21.18 in the Rod Laver Arena, last evening.

I dedicated my dissertation to each member of Metallica, and you can still find it in the UM deep blue webpage. This was a once in a life time opportunity, at least to a MET fan it really is. I had to borrow a visa card from my best mate to get the ticket, because for some odd reason ticketek does not accept mastercard (WTF ?). The tickets, all 16,000 of em were gone is less than effin 12 minutes.

As always, we started with 'Ecstasy of Gold', the cult Ennio Morricone classic that gives the boys enough time to get to stage in the dark, and grab the crowd by the scruff of our necks with either Sandman or another faster riffed ensemble next.

Its a metal concert, hence all the signs were there to see. 'Special' tobacco, rage inebriation, weird kids, head to toe tattood kids, downright jerks, silent ones, each word knowin-song recitin ones, screamin ones, runnin to the stage and gettin kicked out ones, headbangers and people holding hands during 'nothin' lovers ... welcome Home, this is OUR Sanitarium.

As we riffed through the classics, the visual themes inside the arena were elegantly dark, and frantic in transition. Not a lot of bands around the world can have 16,000 people, every single one of em screamin on top of their lungs all standing at once. The fireworks on stage were a sight as well: red fames, blue flames, green blames, hell doggon'it sometimes even pinky pink flames.

'We NEED some loud shit comin outta your mouth' .... YES, James. Loud shit it will be. He is an innate performer and entertainer that he had us eating out of his hands within the first ten minutes.

Lars was just being Lars, spillin beer all over the first row of the standin'there (magnetic strip or some shit like that, its called) section. Kirk as always was quiet, constantly riffin' spontaneously after each song. I really used to like Jason, for his no nonsense classic metal bass - at a steady pace. His bass solo for 'My Friend of Misery' is an absolute classic for a bass lover. But I do love Rob as well, he is pacier than Jason, and he is more funkier than Jason as well. But I digg his style too.

As we riffed through the religious classics: Bellz, Fade, Sad, One, Fuel, Sandman, Master and Nothin .... the candles inside Laver in pitch darkness during 'Nothin' were innately romantic, and people holding hands and kissin in the middle was poignant and shit. I love the 4-2 and 3-5 riffs of 4th and 5th in the opening of Sanitarium too.

"Moon is full never seems to change, they labeled me mentally deranged, I dream the same shit every night, I see my freedom in my sight ..."

Sad in many way represents the undertone of a strong metal ensemble. In many ways, Sad is like Clover: its very very drawn in. As in the each drum beat does not accentuate the riffs, but the drums sit back and let's us hear the riffs, sort of inward rather than outward, drawn in rather than explode ... 'Sad' more than 'Master'.

They are truly an ensemble, the drums, rhythm and lead riffs in concordance with James' 'blow through the effin roof' voice, and the bass sits picture perfect in between, as the under-stated, yet indispensable part of the ensemble, the very cornerstone on which a song is constructed upon.

"ARE YOU ALIVE ? How does it feel to be alive?"

Speed is only speed, when its juxtaposed next to somethin slow, you appreciate Fuel more when it precedes Nothin, in fact you appreciate both if the set list is put together properly (Thanks Lars). Another example is the slower yet hug'gorgeous interlude between the two frantic sides of Master.

I was a bit (infact, very) low in energy reserves (thanks to the long day in the lab), hence I had to sit down for a bit. I wish I had more energy, but I decided to wing it anyway, after all it will be years before I see the boys.

I could have done with Outlaw, Orion, Memory Remains, Harvester, bass doodle, Sleepzzzz or even Battery - but now am gettin greedy and shit.

As we asked for one more in the end, Jaymzz goes like, "OK, we will do one more if you promise to give us all the energy you got, no savin and shit for tomorrow ... and if you dont I WILL call you out, I'll embarrass you, so lets have a crowd lights on for me to check who aint singin" ...

With black balloons being floated through the crowd by the organizers - we screamed our tiny 'rest pleadin' lungs to recite every syllable of Seek and Destroy ...

"We like you when you sing man, I dont care if you effin can or cannot sing (much like me), just yell the words, we like to see some effin action goin on ..."

Adore the boys and James to come around towards each part of the podium after to see us, thank us and virtual man-hug us.

as you say, it was one crazy night with the boys, like the good ol' Garage Days. Thanks Boys.

--- Keep Rockin, Long John Silver


Novak Djokovic: Deliverance ?

Novak Djokovic after winning Federer in Ashe
I noticed something very interesting: One of the biggest advantages in watching a tennis match with no vested interests is to be able to appreciate the game played by both players. In the rare case, where if you watch a match favoring one player to win over another (in my case) ...

Its an enormously stressful situation. You are probably more stressed than the player himself because at least he controls a part of his destiny, you on the other hand can control the remote. I have never understood not watching a match because one is too mindful of the result. I know a number of die hard tennis fans like that, I can never do that because in my mind supporting Nole, or Rodge when they are playing through the ups and downs is the least I can do. As long as I watch each point and live and perish with each point with them, then am fine with the end result. Watching a game after knowing the result is sort of chickening out.

This Saturday morning is one of those rare occasions where I had a vested interest, and going through self-induced stress is something I dont appreciate during the best of times. The last time I watched a match like this was the 2009 OZ final (ironically, I watched it in NY). When you root for someone, you basically take on the role of a coach, and then the fan. What you're really stiriving for is  'perfection', when you know its not realistically possible. You fear the worst and become innately negative, every clean winner is treated like as if that's the least Nole can do for you, and every unforced error or near misses is merciessly berated. And with each miss at the back end of the fifth set, you prepare yourself in pieces on what you would do if he loses, you more often than not convince yourself like, "he pushed the best player of our generation (and possibly best ever) to 4-4 in the fifth on the second Saturday in Ashe ... that's bloody good". You lose count of the Guinness' you've consumed, and here is an interesting part - for those entire three hours and forty four minutes, I probably saw Federer for less than five. As in, he was on TV but he was hardly in my line of sight. I saw Nole, I saw the ball coming off, of Nole's racket and then I saw a racket at the other end of the court hit the ball back (or miss it), but never actually saw Federer, unless the cameras focused on him exclusively. I guess its the second person's sight, Nole had the first hand view of how things went, and I focused on the second hand view. I dont have other words to explain this unique case. One thing am good at is, however tough the match is, I can watch it no matter what. Welcome to the insanity palace of watching tennis, through the years very few have exerted such an effect on myself: Courier, Hingis, Sabatini and Hewitt. I was absolutely on Federer's corner in the 08 London final, but this is different, this one was personal, this one was intimate, this one was passionate, this one was ... raw and innately Visceral, like screamin as loud as you can inside a sound proof basement.

Nole had to win - and there was no other alternative, that's just the way it had to be.

At first I did think Nole was some punk-kid who was another to be pretender, and then he won in OZ. But somewhere during that time, a quiet little elegant tale, got me. I am not sure where I heard it either, but either ESPN or tennis.com (pmac, killer, mary carillo? Bodo, Tignor?). When Nole was six or seven years old he practiced tennis after school. Every single day after practice, he used to go around the gardens, and pick wild flowers. When one day, one of his teachers came about and asked for whom he was indeed picking up those wild flowers, he would respond, "I am picking wild flowers for my mum". I think thats pretty much it, thats the tale that got me.

We all know the mechanics of the match, and hence there isnt any real value in stating, whats been stated a number of times before. Let's look at the lines in between ...

The plot lines were very similar, a break up in the first set to lose the service game, and then lose a close first set. But where Novak Djokovic turned this around was the way he relentlessly attacked even when he was down - and he believed he can win. Those two early service games Federer lost in the second and fouth sets were invaluable, because he let Nole into the match as much as Nole broke the locks open into the match. Federer's strives for more on the serve, when he senses a threat imminent, he pushed, and he pushed more ... and then some to the point of no return. The signs were there early in the match for all of us to see, the high octane rallies off the ground - and this was no Montanes versus Costa, this was Tyson and Ali, two prize fighters going at it with each other from round one, no quarter given, none really asked for either. As Nole's return game reached its culmination point, Federer had no choice but to go for more (with futility) to earn some breathing space. One of the best examples of why Federer - is indeed de'Federer, is that game he played at 6-5 in the third to break Nole, to take a two sets to one lead.

Up until then, he was kind of hangin about holding on to his service games and Djokovic had played the better tennis until then. For the next five minutes, Federer turned the wick up on painting every line he could on Ashe ... (i.e. versus Roddick, London 09 final), his flashes of unparalleled brilliance kept him in the game, but those flashes were a little too few for him to win the entire match. With both men splitting the first four sets, both played well at the same time in the fifth.

Has anyone every seen Federer defend better in the fifth ? he did not chip and charge more because when you are under extreme duress you go back to what you know best and what you're most comfortable with. And Federer is still not entirely comfortable at the net, he might come in against Mathieu in round three, but he does not feel comfortable coming in against the Jokester in the semis on Ashe. I am not sure he ever will be completely comfortable.

Clijsters and Zvonareva must have felt like what Chandler would claim as, "its like a routine comedy show you have to sit through, before ---- Pink Floyd comes out'.  (changed a bit for this context), "Its like watching a comedy show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York .... after a three hour audio-visual masterpiece of Pink Floyd"

Deep into the fifth set as you saw Nole work and grunt from the baseline, you cant help wonder but think, he simply isn't going to miss, too much control and conviction. The breaking point was when he was two match points down at 4-5, even as recent as two months before he would have probably played defensive to go down (as he called himself "stupid" for playing so defensive in the London semis earlier this year) ... he pretty much cleaned the lines on the two points, and painted the far corner line with an inside out FH to get out of that game. That ball went screaming past Federer, even as he was on his full skids.

About five minutes later, he would break and serve out the match successfully. With the crowd tied in knots, with delirious disbelief he would look at his mum and dad in the stands before shaking hands at the net with Federer. Salvation from within ...People's Monday has a funny way of delivering romantic tales in the name of big serving Croats.

As I said last time around,

'Some would like Nole to suspend reality for three odd exhilarating hours on Ashe and WHALE his way to a second final, but you would be hard pressed to find punters who are inclined to stack a few chips on him doing the same'.

Punters would be hard pressed to pick Nole against the best player in the world, who is probably the only tougher challenge, after sending the Swiss packing in the semis ...

But then again, when was the last time Nole won or lost, based on what the punters thought ?


--- Keep Rockin, Long John Silver


Rafael Nadal: Will Keep his Date on Sunday

Rafael Nadal Winning US Open Quarters in 2010

Two thoughts about the women semis:

First time Ive someone break so many strings and a coach had to get her the last racket, imagine if indeed she was coach less, she would have had to default because she had no schhhticks to play with on the second Friday in New York- Ms Z

And a point that Wally Masur made was very interesting and true, when you are under extreme pressure, you most fundamental liabilities come to the fore-front. Like in my case, since I drive my life based on what is efficient and what is not, when am pressed for time with a deadline, patience is the first thing that flies out of the window. I can dig in well and concentrate for more time, and cut through any whipped cream over an espresso. Its a strength, but it does not make one popular among people whom you work with. Venus' second hit is not technicaly sound, and hence each time when she is under extreme pressure, thats the first shot that lets her down (and it did last evening on Ashe, hope Nole does not suffer the same curse today).

As its always the case with Rafael Nadal, he has played (i.e. WILL'ED) himself into this tournament. The chips have fallen his way deservedly, he neither had to play Gulbis nor Murray. He had to handle Tobasco (Verdasco) instead, and he did with consummate authority.

For all of Federer's artisanship and elegance, Nadal looms ... and make no mistake, they both claim they are thinking about the semi-finals. But at some corner in their mind, they are thinking of each other, not much, but enough.

Rafa has handled the blustry conditions quite effectively as well. The most important thing when playing under windy conditions is not to get frustrated (admittedly easier said than done), and Nadal quite simply dug into another level of concentration in the quarterfinals against his compatriot, and left him high and dry in the end. He won the match as much as on court, as he did in his mind, and F'VED knew that too.

Thats the challenge in playing Nadal - sometimes when you are two sets down, you really can try hard, be ignorant and live in denial - but if your name is not Murray, Federer, Nole or Juan Martin - you re really thinking of 'how the hail am I gonna win one set, leave alone three against Rafa?'. More often than not the simple (and probably correct) answer is, 'Well, you cant'. And thats when you pack it in.

The military salute' Russian sent Nadal packing in 2006 at the Open, will that make a different tonight ?  Perhaps not. Rafa was still learning on how to play on hard courts back then, and its fair to say was not among the best five or six hard court players at that time.

Now he probably is, and added to that he has what we call as the 'X' factor. With Nadal, you can play him on clay, grass, plexicushion, deco-turf, bubble gum, tooth paste or even chocolate cake pasted surface ... you have to beat him, and he wont beat himself. And this time, Youzhny probably does not have enough in his fuel tank (thanks to Stan Wawrinka) to go the distance toe to toe with Rafa.

The mental intensity of Rafael at this stage in a tournament is nothing but staggering, he simply WILL "refuse to lose", the only way you can beat him is to blow him off Ashe, and Youzhny is the type of player who neither has the stamina nor the skill set to do that.

Pencil in Rafa, in three close sets ... he does not go AWOL on second Saturday's most times.

Our dream final beckons ... Is it Monday mornin already ?


--- Keep Rockin, Long John Silver

PS: A great article in New York Times, on Uncle Toni's influence on Rafael

Nole Djokovic: Odds "Against" Favorite

Novak Djokovic Winning in the US Open 2010 Quarters

Congratulations to my very good mate - Marianne, who quite deservedly earned the 'USTA Tennis Writer' Award. It could not have been awarded to a more deserving person - Felicidades Clara.

And then there was the Second Saturday in New York ...

To die hard tennis fans this is more of a roadblock to what they really want on Sunday - you know, the final between a once is a lifetime artisan Swiss and a large than life pop-eye Spaniard.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let us think about the second semifinal for a moment (we'll think about the first semi a bit later in the night)

Clad in 'The Second Coming' theme by William Butler Yeats, Djokovic has pretty much embodied the theme of that verse ... "let the beast out to create anarchy"

"TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand"

After the first round blip, he pretty much has played brilliant until now, he dispatched the lean and green Fish in straight sets, and then he took Monfils to the woodshed (its such a Brad Gilbert word) in the quarters.

In simpler terms though: Mardy Fish did not play his game because of him getting slimmer, and Monfils really wanted to entertain, more than he wanted to win, and on blustry days on a tennis court - good luck with that.

We've discussed previously on how Federer and Nadal have played miles ahead of the field on windy days and evenings on court (check out the "Tilting Windmills" post), but Nole himself has not been too bad either.

His match against Monfils was a testament. With gusts blowing constantly, the ball moved in between and even worse, sometimes after the first bounce (its like it had a mind of its own - the notorious Adidas Jabulani). But Nole strapped himself tight to the pilot's seat - and just got the job done. Yeah, he quite simply got the job done.

He did not try to play elegant tennis, did not try and entertain the crowd, did not go for the side lines .... he just wanted to win, and he did in three straight sets against one of the most talented opponents on the tour.

So, here we are ....

Winning against Fish and Monfils on windy days is one thing, and winning against de'Federer on the Second Saturday in NY is completely another - and thats without the winds.

As am thinking on answering 'what can Nole do - to win this' or 'if am Marian Vajda, what would I say', I realise that this article is going to end soon, because there isnt much he can do to win

Other than ...

He has been in the NY semis 4/4 times between 2007 and 2010, and all the four times he has lost to the Swiss (once in the final, and thrice in the semis). I really thought he had a great opportunity in that close four setter in 2008 semis, if only he had not mentally caved in.

Hope the wind gods smile on Nole, because if it's windy then Federer handles the conditions much better than anyone else on tour (and he actually enjoys plying his trade in the wind, to see how much he is better than the bloke across the net).

The first set is KEY - Nole simply cannot afford to let it go to wake up somewhere in the middle of the second (Toronto). He has the game to win against the Swiss, and he claims he has it mentally as well [?]. But when you play Federer, there are so many ups and downs in a match on a big day, that you simply need to hold on to the train and not get demoralized.

"Burn the lines. serve big and consistent, offensive body language and hope the FED has an off day" - and hope the chips fall your way when it all shakes out in the end - In A Nutshell.

Tactically: Nole can keep Federer pinned to the right corner of the court on his backhand, by using his own cross court backhand, but he needs to pull the trigger down the line on his backhand to end the point. That's the risk, because if he does not burn the line or anywhere close, the down the line backhand goes to Roger's forehand, from which point he can control and win most points eventually.

Nole's forehand is no more a liability, it holds its own very well even to the extent of hitting winners at will, and hence that's not as much as a weak link as its made out to be.

The problem - is his second hit. If he has a low first serve percentage, Federer will prey all over the second hit, assuming Nole makes his second hit consistently (and he does not under extreme duress).  I would like to say, he needs to serve big and consistent, but am not sure he can.

He has the ground game to beat Federer, and he has played well enough to beat him as well. But a Second Saturday in New York is much more than game based winning alone,

Nole needs the wind to smile serene on him tonight, and he needs Federer to have an off day - on his forehend (been known to happen). He needs to serve big and consistent, and keep the double faults to a minimum. And "WHALE" off both flanks, before Federer controls and wins the point eventually on his forehand.

That's the problem, there are too many things that NEED to go Nole's way for him to win this match. I think his second hit will eventually cave in under pressure ...

Nole Train has the game to win this, but FED-Express will be the one getting through in a regulation four, or an air tight four.

Some would like Nole to suspend reality for three odd exhilarating hours on Ashe and WHALE his way to a second final, but you would be hard pressed to find punters who are inclined to stack a few chips on him doing the same. If for nothing else, at least for his ol' man to get rid of that awful tee he has been rockin all through the two weeks.

Anything less than a A+ Nole day, then the 'FED' part of the FE'DAL final is  good to go.

He is indeed, the 'Odds Against' favorite

I'll be back later for the first semi-final

--- Keep Rockin Long John Silver