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


Roger Federer: Tilting Windmills

Federer On A Very Windy Evening on Ashe
Thierry Henry was in the house last evening.

Last night's quarterfinal between Soderling and Federer, highlighted among many things - the sheer versatility of the Swiss.

Within the first ten minutes of the match, here is something perhaps a not so surprising tale.

An extremely close call was referred to hawk-eye (after the linesman called it out), Federer's ball was literally millimeters within the line, and Soderling had a play on it but he hit out out. Hawk-eye ruled the ball in, and instead of replaying the point, Pascal Maria automatically awarded the point to Federer. In Pascal's opinion the call did not affect Soderling's shot. Disgruntled Robin, walked to the chair umpire and on his walk back, he turned to Federer for a fleeting moment, and quipped, "Do you want it?' (as in, do you want the point this way). Federer was impasse.

How many players of today you think would do that ?  Not because of some outer world respect or anything for Federer, but simply because "why would one do that?'. Soderling does do that - just to get a bit personal .... get the competitive juices going.

Windy conditions exacerbate the situation, more so inside the cauldron of Ashe when compared to other courts (I dont know why this is actually, ?)

The trade wind bowl of Ashe was anything but conducive to playing tennis last night. It completely prevented both of them from playing with freedom, Soderling was affected more because he is more one dimensional out of the two.

If you can sense the nuances - you can see why Federer is quite simply, a stud. He quite simply accepted the fact that he is going to shank and make mistakes, and did not get ruffled. He continued on, sometimes its hard to not get frustrated even when you know that the ambient conditions prevent you from playing at the level you know you can. His body language seemed extraordinarily relaxed.

The crucial thing under such gusts is to not allow your racket head speed to decrease, and Federer was very conscious of the same throughout the three sets - even when he shanked regulation forehands. Federer hit more shots towards the vertical T, than in any other match - gave himself more margin for error than on regular days. Soderling for his part, also gave himself more margin for error.

At around 3-3 in the third, Federer had an opportunity to drill one through straight into Soderling at the net (Lendl - to J'Mac remember), but it was classy that he took the down the line curver (which he missed eventually) instead.

Make no mistake, Robin did not lose this match, Federer won it fair and square simply because of his impeccable adaptation to ambient conditions.

Most interestingly ... look at the mechanics of his shots last night.

On regular days when you see Federer hit a forehand, the most striking thing is the "snap" at the point of connection after which the ball comes off his racket with laser like precision and with maximum velocity.

Yesterday, time and again - it looks like that very "point of contact" - the "S-N-A-P" was slowed down by times hundred. He did not hit it as much he he guided it last night, giving himself more time and more margin, the ball still came off his strings beautifully, but with less velocity and more directional consistency.

The match was never under control, but Federer managed a quite intractable situation, until he went down 3-5 in the third.

Soderling should have held to take the third set, but the conditions played havoc again. Federer would eventually survive 4, 4 and 5.

We thought (and quite correctly) that Soderling's serve holds the key for him to push Federer. Yeah, one of the biggest servers in the world clocked two aces, to Federer's 16 - thats also a true testament to how effective Federer was in getting back those almost impossible flat hard curvers (and) Robin simply served poor.

And Federer had 5/6 converion rate on break points. Make no mistake, this was Quentin Tarantino's - Pulp Fiction. In other words, A Masterpiece.

Federer won today, simply because of his sense of adaptation to anything that a tennis match and opponent can throw at him, from both inside and outside the court. Today, he literally tilted windmills successfully.

Cant wait for his Second Saturday date with the Jokester.

--- Keep Rockin, Long John Silver


Kim Clijsters: More Peaks than Troughs

Kim Clijsters in Ashe
As the wind wreaked havoc last evening on Ashe, Clijsters and Stosur went to battle to earn the right to play Venus Williams in the semis.

Stosur started brilliantly, by breaking Clijsters and taking an early lead. That forehand is something which I cannot get over with (Andy Murray can watch a bit of Sam's forehand). It strikes a perfect delicate balance among power, pace and control. The racket head speed is phenomenal and the placement - pin point. Its not quite the liquid whip of Federer, but its in the vicinity. Its fearless as well.

Consistent with the entire tournament, Kim has her ups and downs, and peaks are followed by troughs. She came back to win the first set 6-4, and then a lull engulfed her game at the beginning of the second set. She would once again even the second set at 5-5, only to see Stosur win the second 7-5.

Unlike Robredo and Youzhny yesterday afternoon, Clijsters and Stosur play at an incredible pace - both during the points and between them. They hardly go for the towel and this was clean ball striking between two players who are like a well oiled engine in an Aston Martin.

I did think Sam used the kicker a bit too much, may be showing way more respect to Clijsters than one normally does. The kicker provided Clijsters that additional fraction of time to lock up and load ... on the return. A flatter one down the T could have been used more to take time away from Clijsters.

The wind wreaked havoc - leading to 15 breaks of serve in three sets. The breaks were more due to the wind rather than due to mediocre serves of MA-SHA, Ivanovic or Dementieva. Even Venus Williams struggled significantly on her serve last evening against Schiavone.

With 3-3 dead heat in the third set, Clijsters switched the button 'ON' again. Her shifting gears just at the right time in combination with wind and Sam's inconsistency for a very short period of time - resulted in she winning the final set 6-3.

Sam was down 3-5 in the final set against Dementieva as well, and jail-broke there, but Clijsters closed the door firmly shut. Stosur's camp looked incredibly happy at her run to the quarters in NYC, and she was pretty pleased with she being able to back up her run in Paris as well.

That win against Dementieva under the lights two night before would have given her tremendous confidence. Today was a bit of a crap shoot- and she ran into a player who was just too hot. Her elder brother was in her box, but her younger out of the two brothers chose to actually stay in the crowd with the Aussie boys ... with a few pints in hand - and cheer for his sister. He seemed to have a great time, and the cameras did not miss that. For the nth time these two weeks, Mr 30's ROCK Alec Baldwin was in the house.

With the work ethic and the meat and potatoes serve - FH combination, along with her mental strength, slam days are not far away for Sam Stosur, may be even as early as 2011. What better time to do it than in Laver in front of her adoring home crowd, but realistically her best chance in on the faster hards of New York ... or on the Parisian Clay perhaps.

Coming back to Clijsters, she faces Venus Williams next - and Venus herself struggled on her serve a lot against Schiavone. Makes you think almost - is good bio-mechanics a necessity for a reliable and a strong serve ?

Think about it, almost all of them: Venus Williams, MA-SHA, Ivanovic - all of them use way more of their arm power rather than an ensemble of perfect biomechanics of their body to exert power - on their serves and groundies.

Think about someone like Federer, Sampras or Isner - in addition to their arm, they use perfect mechanics on strokes to facilitate such a strong serve. That comes down to how one is taught to serve early, and thats pretty much set when you are out of your teens. Tinkering with one's serve action (even if its sub-optimal) is almost suicidal (Nole and MA-SHA now withstanding). Dementieva has perfect mechanics on her groundies (she is one of the few women who utilizes mechanics rather than sheer arm power to exert power on to her ground strokes), has one of the most uncomfortable, ungainly and consequently, an ineffective service motion.

Makes you wonder if mechanics and service motion are correleted ?

Clijster meets Venus: Can Venus rally take advantage of the troughs that Clisters inevitably goes through in a match .... one needs incredible coinsistency to take advantage of that. I dont think Venus does have that consistency as of now, I am going to pencil in Kim's name for a second consecutive - second Saturday appearence.

Another late night for Jada I guess, she needs to get used to it if her mum plays at this level though ...

--- Keep Rockin, Long John Silver


Roger Federer: Hitting his Strides

Roger Federer on Ashe Stadium
Cameron Diaz and Alex ROD were in Ashe last evening, to catch a glimpse of Federer.

Melzer threw the kitchen sink at Federer, and then some. On Sunday evening, as Dementieva absolutely unloaded on a forehand cross court, Stosur stood back on her feet and half volleyed a clean forehand down the line winner reflexively (almost like a cover drive). Melzer hit a very similar shot last evening, and he did well by taking time out of Federer's hands.

However, he realistically did not have anything in his game that can hurt Federer, if you check the box and compare both their games I am struggling to think which category is the one in which Melzer would be one up.

To Federer's credit he was on auto-pilot for a good part of the first set, and when needed raised his game at crucial stages of the match. Seond set was key, and Federer did have two net chords go his way in the second set breaker.

From an isolated standpoint, guaging Rodge's game:

Serve - check. Movement - check. Backhand (aggression and timing) - check. The forehand still goes awry at times, but those were minor lapses.

However I am most interested in Federer's net-play. He did not nearly come in as much as he did in previous matches. May be its a sign of his respect to Melzer's ground game, may be he felt more comfortable going back to his bread and butter game, may be a bit of both.

This is where stats can be a bit misleading, Federer was at the net 25 odd times, but he only realistically served and volleyed less than five times. 

But if Paul was tryin to get him to come to the net a bit more, it wasnt seen last night. That was surprising. Like I said, it could very well be because Federer did not feel like he needed to come in to win this match. Something to think about, because if his objective was to practice on that front by coming in against less dangerous players - then it did not happen last night. He certainly is not going to come in more against Soderling or Nole in the immediate future.

Federer is a pleasure to watch in full flight - you can sit back and watch the game to see how it should be, and can be played - in its consummate E-L-E-G-A-N-C-E. His serve is vintage clutch, and time and again he rode on it to get out of precarious situations.The difference was just a band - it was  just that Federer was a shade better. Federer had a winners to unforced errors differential of +9. to Melzer's -7.

Given the way how his next opponent has been timing the ball, and how clean his crystal ball striking has been so far - the quarters is assured to be a barn burner. Will Federer's still limited net play be a factor ? ... Thats a question for the jury in two days time.

But Federer, is hitting his strides quite elegantly, Le'Sod looms next ...

--- Keep Rockin, Long John Silver


Samantha Stosur: Intrepid

Samantha Stosur on Arthur Ashe Stadium
After the mediocre quality of Murray Wawrinka for three odd hours, one needs a lift - and it was probably followed by one of the best matches of the year so far in the women's tour.

It had the ingredients of a classic, and quite undoubtedly a classic it was. Crystal clean ball striking, psychological fortitude, fluctuating fortunes, two different but equally effective sets of strengths and two women who wanted to do nothing more than win a tennis match. It had that quality which I can sense in a tennis match - a veneer of visceral craving to win.

I've always liked Elena Dementieva - other than the fact that she is probably the best player never to have clocked a slam yet, I love watching her play. She is one of the (very) few on the women's tour who does not use only her arm strength to generate power and pop on her groundies. Its the ensemble of the entire mechanics that generates such power. From a physical mechanics standpoint: her groundies are a treat to watch. Federer and Nole would be proud of those groundies.

With four matchpoints for the taking, Dementieva could not quite seal the deal, she left the door unshut - and Stosur came through .... with a greeting in a heavy accent of "Sorry Maaaate". She is a gold coast girl, a vintage Queenslander - my lab mate's a Queenslander and he is always interested in how Sam's doing. I am his update radio each morning (let's call him EC). Stosur is old fashioned, her meat and potatoes are the vintage serve and forehand combination, and her kick serve would do Edberg and Rafter proud (he also is a Queenslander apparently).

This was a match which was won by sheer nerves and ice flowing through your veins, more than forehands and backhands. Sam kept it simple: she knew her strengths and she stuck to them. She quite simply refused to go away each time she was match point down. As the quality of the match reached its culmination point in the latter stages of the third set: the high octane visceral rallies off the ground were a treat to watch. You could hear the sounds of silence in Ashe - could hear a pin drop between points, the crowd were on their feet.

Dementieva served for it at 3-6 6-2 5-3 ... she blinked.

Stosur played what you call as 'intrepid' tennis, she knew what she had to do, and she went about doing it ruthlessly. Time and again that forehand was let rip with lethal reckless abandon, and she never looked like she was going to miss. I think thats why I like her despite her conventional 1-2 punch game, her attitude of being 'Intrepid' and ruthless. As the match found itself at the cusp of the third set breaker (at least no Mahut Isner tale yeah?), Sam continued on and Dementieva's forehand went AWOL. Four errors off that wing, and one more, leading to a well deserved victory for Stosur.

With a second Sunday run on the Parisian clay, the current World No. 6  has definitely shown she has the courage and intrepid essence to take on players such as Henin and S.Williams, and come out winning. That separates her from most of her peers, she has the game and the nerve to hold her own on the biggest of stages. That's a unique quality: W's, Henin, MA-SHA and Clijsters have that, not many more. 

Clijsters awaits next ... but who's to say EC will not happy again in two days?

--- Keep Rockin, Long John Silver

Andy Murray: Stuck in Neutral By Choice

Andy Murray Leaving Armstrong Stadium
Ahhhh, one of those days. Since the little thing called US Open starts at an awful time of 1 in the AM for me, I actually catch my fix of the open in the evening. I just completed a manuscript that I have been working on quite literally non-stop, the past 50 days. I am also submitting it to one of the top journals in the discipline, hence at best I have fighting chance (I need some luck, kiss me …). I finally completed it last evening. And hence this is my hibernation week.

Hence was out of the lab at 17.15 and home in time to catch Murray.

There is a lot at the periphery, and Murray himself plays rope-a-dope a lot, given the fact that he loves boxing. The leaded heaviness in the legs is as much a function of the kind of day he had at the office, more than the legs themselves.
The “who the hell stole my lunch” look did not help – as Wally Masur and Roger Rasheed went on and on about his body language and attitude. But that’s the way he deals with adversity, he likes to deflect and (at the time on court) attribute it to something physical, so that he can play without any pressure. The NY crowd did not like his attitude, but that's the least of his problems.
That’s his defense mechanism, there is nothing wrong with that – we all have our own.

But the problem of why he lost was not because he looked downright ghastly on court. It was two: and two that we already know. First and foremost – that forehand, and secondly the “defensive” counterpunching.
Wawrinka in his quest to conquer Murray went all the way in embracing ‘net hugging’. He came in more times than probably during this entire year. Time and again, he waited for that cross court forehand pass from Murray to volley into the open court. Nine times out of ten he was waiting at the right place, Murray does not pass down the line on his forehand wing, or at least he does not like to as much as he should have.

And secondly, the elephant in the room which we have discussed time and again: the ever-annoying defensive counterpunching. Watch the rallies, you can notice M’Andy tirelessly hitting those ¾ paced trackers and those high loopy balls. It’s ineffective to the point of throwing a huge glass bowl at the television screen. You almost want to slap him and send him home.

And it’s not like he does not know how to, or cannot pull the trigger. He can, and he did – and when? At 2-4 0-30 in the fourth set. He pulled out two return missiles from his backhand wing that left Wawrinka motionless on the baseline. Flat, fast and lethal.

For his part Stan kept it simple: he was solid and attacked at every opportunity, and when he got a chance took the offense to Murray from the ground. Murray did not even push him to up the risks, if anything Wawrinka played within the risk margin.

Murray eventually got caught between needing to transition to offense by needing to go against his innate instinct. More than once he would be in control of the point from the ground, only to throw in a drop shot (which hardly worked the entire evening) rather than pull the trigger off the ground. Leaves you wondering if he can change something that’s very innate?
Murray keeps leaving the door open to too many first strike players, whom he has no business losing to. Join the list: Verdasco, Gonzo, R’Andy, Cilic, Berdych and now … Wawrinka. The forehand was acceptable at best and ineffective at worst. The defensive counter attack was a neutral strategy at best, and is akin to waiting for a dynamite to explode. How often do dynamites not explode?
If it does not, you win, that’s great. But how often do dynamites not explode?
Seven times, out of seven?   

Come ON, Andy … What's that ol' Metallica tune: "You pretend it doesn't bother you, but you just wanna explode'

--- Keep Rockin, Long John Silver


Demo Tape

Bootleg: Central Park S&G
Hello - 

Ive never been good at blogging because - for some reason its ingrained in me that's its an inefficient waste of time. Besides I also think "why would anyone care what I think?", I certainly don't really care much on what many other people write online ...

Ive also been a member of sport writing sites before, I have learned a lot through interactions with my fellow mates in there, and learned a lot about writing and other things in there. Ive also realised any "supposedly" friendship through an online medium is an illusion at best, deceiving in the middle, and downright cheap at worst. I value them for what its worth, but with much skepticism. 

Few are genuine and you can count those with your fingers. The online world consists of people from all sorts of life: for some its an escape to be what they cannot be in real life, for others its a medium to develop friendship without actually taking on the responsibility of being a real life friend, for some others its a place to argue mindlessly over the most trivial of issues, and for a few its a place to share their writing and creativity. Its a melting pot.

And Ive also gotten a bit jaded about how so called editors and experts who apparently judge your work and its worth, clearly dont know much about the game nor the quality of writing. Not that am an expert either, but I've realised I know more than them through this process. Its really flexible on what am going to write, I dont know yet. But it will probably be about environment, energy, tennis and politics and at rare times, may be something personal. But am not a huge fan of writing personal things online.

I owe a sincere thanks to Zander for all that I have learned about being a sport writer. I also love this background, I am very specific in how everything looks and this is the first background I saw, and instantly fell in love with it. Its elegant, simple and dark.

Some of my favorite characters are Chandler Bing, Gregory House, Conan O'Brien and Hank Moody.

I craved for a sense of originality and spontaneity, hence I named my write space - 'Unplugged'. Remember when Nirvana played in the 'Hammerstein Ballroom' in New York, it was Kurdt's last show and they essentially created a bootleg. In the sense, no mistakes and errors or bad notes they played were fixed ... pure original unplugged. In here, whatever it is I write, once am done writing that post, I will not go back and change, edit or revise it, it makes it not premeditated and very ... 'Unplugged'. The only exception to that rule are spelling mistakes.  

Other than that  - Lets get this started shall we ? Mrs Robinson - Jesus loves you more than you will know ...

--- Keep Rockin, Long John Silver