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Gazing at Elf’s Navel

Posted by gauloises1 on January 25, 2010

(To be perfectly frank, I advise against reading this post. It’s like post-Delpo-loss therapy for me.)


So, I promised/threatened earlier my thoughts on Delpo’s defeat to Marin Cilic. Thinking about it, I may have been too harsh earlier on when I described his performance as ‘shambolic’. I still maintain it had elements of shamble – don’t even talk to me about the game he played when serving for the third set – but overall he did well to take it to five on the form he’s showed this past week. And let’s not fool ourselves, his form has been anything but the kind of play we’ve been accustomed to seeing over the past year or so. The good news is that I don’t think he’s crumbling under the pressure of being A Slam Champion and Top Player. The bad news is that I’m not sure what exactly is going on with him.

He’s clearly not right physically. The fact that he started the match brightly and then faded as he has done every single match this week speaks volumes, as does the fact that with the exception of sporadic moments of brilliance, his forehand was M.I.A yesterday. I’ve said before that matches between him and Cilic come down largely to who’s landing more big forehands, and while Cilic’s increasingly dictated from the second set onwards, Delpo’s was really nowhere to be seen by the end.

While recognising that physical ailments prey on one’s mind in all sorts of ways, it was really the lack of mental focus that cost Delpo the match today. He’s got away with lapses in focus all week, but Cilic simply punished him for it and rightly so. He really talked himself out of contention for the second set by getting so wound up by the (admittedly annoying) behaviour of some of the Croatian fans, and never really got back into it, failing to string together enough good competitive points and playing with a worrying passivity that was quite painful to watch. He normally seems to respond to perceived adversity by raising his level, but – with the exception of unexpectedly taking the fourth set – he just didn’t seem to have it in him today. And that’s not good.

That said, he’s young – he and Cilic were the youngest players remaining in the men’s draw – and it’s a learning curve. And the heart he showed in taking that fourth set and continuing to fight, however ineffectually, until the end is always great to see. Just … learn, that’s all. And sort out your bloody wrist.

Anyway, here’s the man himself on the loss:

Q. You’ve had some very tough matches leading up to today’s game. Did that affect you at all? You looked a little tired.

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Yeah, but this is normal. We play hard match, five sets again. Marin is playing a great tennis.

I think he did better than me and he won.

Q. What do you think the difference was? Where did he get you?

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Well, just the serve in the end. You know, after four hours, you have to focus. And he broke me very soon in the fifth. Then I had my chance in last game. I miss a forehand.

But he play very good.

Q. Did you run into one of the courtside cameras at one stage?


Q. What about your wrist and foot, those factors today?


Well, I will go home and I will see the doctors there. I need little rest to recovery and be in good shape for next tournaments.

Q. He’s in his second major quarterfinal in a row. Do you think he’s lifting parts of his game in certain moments?

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: He’s playing very well. He won last week. He’s beating everyone.

I think he has the opportunity to keep going. He will play a quarters here against González or Roddick. He can beat both of them. So I wish good luck.

Q. There would have been a lot of extra pressure on you, being a reigning Grand Slam champion. Do you think that weight will be lifted before your next major?

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: No, I really enjoyed that pression. The crowd is unbelievable with me. They support me every match, every point. I was down in every match, and they help me to keep fighting, like today. I really like it, that pression.

So that’s Elf’s Australian Open over and done with. But can we talk about Marin for a minute?

Because … wow. I’ve watched Marin lose a lot of matches – a lot – including two to Elf, and after the first set it really did look like it was going to be another; Marin hanging with Elf until the sharp end when Elf just had that little bit more solidity and assurance. Given their history, that must have been so discouraging for Marin. But in he hung and raised his level and just kept on doing that, keeping his cool despite Elf getting into it with the crowd and plugging away despite shipping bushels of break points, especially in the fourth set. Not once did he retreat into his shell; he kept forcing the issue, pressing forward, dictating play and attacking the net. Steely stuff, and I loved it.

This kind of feels – more than Marin’s defeat of Murray at the US Open – like his big break. It was certainly the empirical proof of a phenomenon I’ve observed emerging since the US Open; Marin hitting big forehands that – and I can’t stress this enough – actually go in. He’s always had that huge shot, but it’s largely been painfully unreliable (back me up here, Bismarck) and it’s cost him, not least against Elf. But to play four sets and keep making that shot and using it as it should be used … this is what the Mariners (speaking for my people) have been waiting for. In many ways it felt like he took a leaf out of Elf’s book and started hitting it with depth and consistency rather than going for the lines as a matter of course, enabling him to use it to dictate play and get himself into a winning position. Don’t get me wrong, he also defended brilliantly – as I, Witness imtotallyrad pointed out in the comments to this post, his court coverage was something else – and served solidly throughout. But his forehand won the day.

He was also his usual sweet, serious self afterwards:

Q. It was a hard way to make your first Australian Open quarterfinal. Tell us how did you do it in the end.

MARIN CILIC: Yeah, it was hard. But with lot of joy in the end. I mean, it was really tough match, especially first two, three sets where he played some great tennis, and I didn’t even get a chance on his serve to break him till the end of the second set.

It wasn’t easy to play him. I had to stay all the time really focused. I think the good thing that kept me in there was my serve. I wasn’t going up and down so much. I think that was one key thing that I did well.

For the later parts of the match, I think in the fourth set I had some chances to break him earlier, but I think he also played there well. And I saw him that he was a little bit tired in those moments, so I just kept my focus till the end of the match, as I knew that I’m going to at least get one shot to break him.
Q. Did losing last year’s U.S. quarterfinal to him have any influence in the way you approached today’s game?

MARIN CILIC: Well, of course I took some experience from that match, and also from the match over here last year. It was different occasion. I played well since the beginning of the year. I knew what I could expect from him. The things he did in New York was easier for me to adjust here because I knew what could be coming and these things.

So I think I played some great points today. In my view to the game I think I approached very good.
Q. Did seeing him win the Open provide you with any extra motivation or self‑belief because you are so close in age?

MARIN CILIC: I mean, not really. I mean, he did that on his own. And for me, well, it’s tough sometimes to judge myself with other guys or the other guys with me. Everybody has its own way.

But I think since that tournament, since US Open, I think I started to play much better. To win against better guys more often. Of course, here I had some tough matches in the first few rounds, and also that gave me a little more in one way that I was hitting a lot of balls. But also physically‑wise I was maybe a little bit skeptic what it was going to be. But today I felt really good physically, and that in the end was the main difference.
Q. How much has your game changed since you started working with Bob Brett? What kind of changes has he made to your game?

MARIN CILIC: I mean, we are working already three, four, five years, I’m not sure even. We’ve been always working on some things to improve. I think now I’m in a good position where I can look at myself, how I’m supposed to play. Definitely physical part is one thing that I improved a bit in this off‑season.

So that helps to play these long matches in a more consistent way. And also from the first few rounds, I had tough opponents, tough matches. So it just shows me how well I can play also, how well I’m prepared.
Q. Compared to the win over the Murray in New York, how is…

MARIN CILIC: It’s different. With Murray, is completely different match. Obviously, I mean, he didn’t play great there. But I did some good tactical things against him. It just opened like that.

But here, I mean, Del Potro knew I could play good, and we also ‑‑ I mean, we had also good match in US Open last year. It was different. Today I think he played well, really good, and maybe he was struggling physically. But, I mean, when he had the ball on his racquet, he was dangerous.
Q. To win it in five sets, more of a struggle versus New York, is that more satisfying?

MARIN CILIC: Doesn’t matter. It’s the same. Five sets or four sets, it doesn’t make a difference for me.
Q. Can you talk about either Roddick or González as your next opponent?

MARIN CILIC: I mean, not much to say about them. They’re both great players for guys who are playing at Grand Slams their best tennis. With González, I played here in 2008, where I won. So I think, anyway, I mean, whoever I’m going to play, it’s not going to be easy definitely. I just have to I think recover good tomorrow and to try to be a hundred percent again.
Q. Do you feel ready to win three more matches?

MARIN CILIC: Well, I mean, I was thinking what could happen today if it went to four sets, five sets. But I survived pretty good. I was moving great I think in the fourth and fifth set. So I’m positive about that.

I think day off tomorrow ‑‑ always day off brings me some refreshment. And I think playing now these more important matches is also a little more adrenaline, so you don’t feel so much if you are tired or not. But I believe I’m going to be ready.
Q. Do you feel nothing to lose before the match?

MARIN CILIC: I mean, I’m coming also with good background. I played great matches, winning against Del Potro also shows that I didn’t go in that match, not to lose anything. I mean, I’m coming here, came to quarters. Now I’m not going to let it go easy.  

All in all …


Now go and beat Roddick. Please.

12 Responses to “Gazing at Elf’s Navel”

  1. irefusetotellyou said

    I followed your advice and just looked at the first picture.

    Then read the last “Beat Roddick” remark.


  2. robert said

    Not to pile up on the misery, but rather to try and clear the misconception: what JMDP has is not an actual wrist injury (nothing in the wrist is strained nor broken), but rather wrist tendonitis (inflammation of tendon due to overuse). This according to all press reports and his own interviews.

    Same thing has been bugging on and off many a knees (Nadal, Simon, Monfils, Roddick), shoulders (Roddick), elbows (Soderling), wrists (Youzhny, Wawrinka)…

    Each player nursing tendonitis in the body part prevalently overused. Note also the similarity between that frying-pan forehand of JMDP and Soderling. Both hit with overextended hand, extremely hard and with huge backswing; JMDP just adds more wrist. Hence the respective tendonitis.

    Problem is, those defensive Duracell Bunnies have some hope of easing their knees by becoming more aggressive. But what change can huge servers or huge forehand/one-handed-backhand hitters make? Run more? Play less?

    • imtotallyrad said

      yeah i just finshed reading an article in a argentina newspaper saying about how the only way to fully recover is to just stop playing because overuse is the promblem, it also made a comment about his new racket being heavier then his old one and that it can make a noticable difference with repeated hitting. hopefully he can just rest up and come back better because theres no point continuing to play and make it worse.
      Tendonitis is a b*tch, its like a semi death sentence for tenis players =P

  3. linz said

    I have a feeling he’s going to slaughter Roddick. I’m just terrified of Marin for some reason. Partly because of the hype. Partly because of the mystery. And partly because the only time I’ve ever really watched him play was when he dismantled Murray at the USO (and I saw that live).

    I loved Marin’s presser though. And Delpo’s. I loved this insight “I think he did better than me and he won” =)

    • Budour said

      Thank you, Linz, your post gave me so much optimism. 😉
      Seriously, though, if Marin’s FH holds up, I can only see one winner and sadly that’s not Andy. As Andy said, Marin is one of those players who can kill the ball out there. He won’t go away mentally and he has a big-match experience, clinching a DC tie at home, beating both Murray and Rafa in the last six months and now his first ever win over JMDP. Marin is a sweetheart, too, and I really like him so I can live with him beating Andy. Or not. 🙂
      Very well-writen post, by the way, Gaul. As per usual.

      • linz said

        LOL- Optimism express coming through =)

        You know what though? I’ve been rethinking things. I’m just going to have faith in Andy. He can beat Marin. He’s capable of it. So I’m just going to see this as an opportunity to see how he measures up. He made it to the quarters, so it wasn’t a bust of a tournament, so anything past this is gravy. Right?

        (I really don’t know what I’m saying, I’m just over being so frazzled all the time.)

  4. mrdarnley said

    Rusedski was talking the other day about how Nadal has new racquets and changed the paint on them. Apparently type of paint can affect racquet weight and so the game. I suppose god is in the details in elite sport. Anyway Go on Cilic. I’d love to see him win against Roddick.

  5. imtotallyrad said

    is it just me or does it kind of look like marins having a wank in that last photo…thats not an image i really want in my head… o.O

  6. Maria1 said

    OMG, it so does! XD XD The look on his face just makes it worse.

  7. Yeah! said

    Thank you.
    We all needed some del potro loss therapy 🙂

    but seriously he is such a great guy. Anyone can be a nice guy when they’re winning (cough cough federer) but despite his loss he is still giving praise to Marin and being honest with himself.

    I love del potro…like a lot

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