08 May, 2012

Madrid Masters (5/8): Three Thoughts

School is Out: Milos Raonic is a young gun we've been hearing about for a long time, we'll hear even more in the next 24 hours as tomorrow he's scheduled to be Roger Federer's second round opponent.  For the second year in a row Raonic had a strong run on the hardcourts in the first quarter, claiming his second and third ATP titles in Chennai and San Jose respectively.

Of course, as you recall, Raonic's breakout 2011 season was hampered by an injury at Wimbledon that left him off the tour for a good chunk of the year.  Prior to that however, Raonic's momentum slowed during the European red clay court season.  The Canadian who grew up playing on green clay "quite a bit," opened up about his outlook for the remainder of the clay court campaign and 2012.

"I think last year, I did really well from the beginning of the year," Raonic said.  "Everything changed so quickly.  Because I didn't know what to expect from myself, I didn't know my abilities on clay, I didn't know my abilities really on grass courts compared to the top players, so I was playing a lot of weeks and I was looking at it more as a learning process.  This year, I didn't play last week like I did last year, I felt that tired me out.  I feel like I'm not here just as a learning process, I'm here to compete for the title...."

He's Entertainment: I had become fond of calling Gael Monfils, “The Human Highlight Reel.”  With all apologies to Dominique Wilkins, I think if any athlete, specifically a tennis player, were worthy of the moniker, it’d be La Monf.   With a front row seat on a sun-drenched Stadium 3 to watch him today, it became clear that Monfils is so much more, in fact, he’s a human high wire act. 

Little, if anything, on a tennis court seems to be easy for Monfils.  Even when he “routinely" chips a return into play, he does so with that little extra élan.  In this case, a little extra flick of the wrist that puts a little extra Français onto the ball, Monfils would have it no other way.  In that way, many of the moves the fast, French, K-Swiss pitchman makes on the court are not textbook, they may not even be teachable.  If nothing else, that little extra je ne sais quoi is considered inefficient.  Where a simple slide and swing would do for most players, Monfils leaps, contorts his body and flicks at the tennis ball with a purpose that seems to be equal parts winning the point and making the audience gasp and ask how he did that.  Even the way his eyes bug out when he goes up to serve seems designed to deliver extra effect.  Many feel his history with injury could be somewhat correlated to the little extra that Monfils does on a seemingly quotidian basis.

Today’s match with Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber was never going to be easy, Monfils or not.  Kohschreiber’s low-slung ripping ground-game has bedeviled top players for years.  The German, near his peak ATP ranking of 22, has 16 top 10 wins under his belt in ATP play, having claimed the scalps of (Pre-Robo) Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Monfils himself (last year on the grass at Halle).  Kohlschreiber stuck with Monfils for much of the proceedings, but ultimately it was Sliderman, err, La Monf, err, the Human High Wire Act, who would prevail 7-5 6-7 (2), 6-3. 

There are plenty who will whether a more efficient Monfils would be a major champion instead of a perennial contender,  Remembering that only one man out of the 128 who show up can win each major (and of late, it's always one of three men who do), I'll be thankful for what Monfils is, simply the most entertaining man in the game.

Late edit: Monfils' tweener during his match today

Onward and Upward: We had the opportunity to speak with American young gunnette Christina McHale today and we will have more of the interview for you in the coming days.  However as Christina didn't have a press conference last night, we wanted to bring you her take on the end of last night's 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 loss to World No. 5 Samantha Stosur

Q: Could you give me an idea of what happened going into that third set with Sam:

A: "Yeah, I think I started off really well in the match, and I don't think [Stosur] at the beginning was playing her best maybe, but I was playing well and I knew I had my chances in the second set when I got it back to 4-all, and then I knew pretty much that was my big chance to try and break her there...but I had in those [next] three games, a lot of chances...once she got [the first game of the third set] she just was playing really freely after that and it was tough for me to do much."

Our takeaway from speaking with McHale is that she's got a great head on her shoulders, and is making the right moves to ensure her future.  This Friday, McHale, the third youngest player in the Top 100 (and the highest ranked of those three at No. 36) will turn twenty.  That same day, she will head to Rome for her next tournament.  Things are looking good for McHale, but please, let's hold the hype, I'm sure both she and we would appreciate it.


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