On the fourth deuce point, Dominika Cibulkova’s return of Li Na’s return of serve went long and once again she faced a break, but she saved it. Then on the fifth deuce she returned a return of serve into the net and then there was a long rally and it appeared at last it was going to be Miss Li’s break, but no. It went to a sixth deuce and this time at long last Miss Cibulkova got the ad. This time, for sure, she would hold — but no again, she shanked an easy forehand and it was deuce once more and the tough and spirited lady from Wuhan, winner of the Australia Open six weeks ago, hit a perfect backhand down the line that Miss Cibulkova could only look at. So was this it? No, still not. Miss C. saved still another break point and on deuce again an exasperated Miss Li sent a return of serve wild and on the net point the mighty mite (five-three) from Bratislava played it shrewdly, played her like a sucker, actually, caught her running the wrong way. Third set, 2-2, Li Na to serve.
Serve and Volley
In one of the most anticipated matches of the first week of the Masters 1000 tournament at Indian Wells, California, the doubles team of Roger Federer and Stanislaw Wawrinka beat the legendary Indo-Pak Express team of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi in three sets, largely due to sensational return-of-serve shots by the ex world No. 1 (presently No. 8). Wawrinka (presently No. 3) did his job as well as you would expect of the man who beat Djokovic and Nadal, both, at the Australian Open a few weeks ago, but it was Federer, fresh from his triumph over Tomas Berdych in the final at the Dubai tournament (Bopanna and Qureshi took the doubles trophy), whose lightning reflexes at the net and absolutely uncanny sense of where to put the ball, drew the oohs and aahs, perceptible even on TV, of the capacity crowd at Stadium Two on Friday afternoon.
Roger Federer played great tennis for a week and a half at Melbourne Park, the venue of the Australian Open, which bills itself as the Grand Slam of Asia and the Pacific. Australia, of course, is a continent in its own right, but it is closely interested in Asian and Pacific affairs. Federer was a feared and loved power here a few years ago — feared by his adversaries, loved by the fans, who appreciate his grace and classical form. He won four championships here, most recently in 2010. The fans still love the beauty of his game and the demeanor of the champion that he carries with him even when he loses.
Given the poor level — by his standards, no one else’s — of his game last year, which knocked him all the way down to number seven in the ATP rankings, it was a victory in itself to make it to the semis.
In my youth newspaper writers were taught to avoid “As I said” or “As I wrote,” it is bad form, so I should note right away that if I wrote in this space that I never make predictions, it is because I believe in free choice as well as inexplicable chance, even if there is a higher power: though the argument in theological circles regarding just how much He concerns himself with human affairs rages on. In tennis there certainly are ways of trying to stack the cards to insure a certain outcome, including training, coaching, thinking, and practicing, by no means necessarily in that order.
It is not correct to generalize and it is not factual that all women who play tennis are divas. You might as well say all male tennis players are egomaniacs. It is demonstrably false. There is much humility in tennis because the sport teaches you that winning depends on you alone and you cannot blame anyone else. Even in doubles it would be viewed as insufferably bad form, especially if your partner made most of the mistakes: maybe they were made because you set him up.
Serena Williams blamed no one but herself for bowing out in the fourth round of the Australian Open last week, snapping a breathtaking winning streak that included wins last year at Roland-Garros, Wimbledon, and Flushing Meadows, three of the four great tournaments. Everyone in the tennis world with a microphone or a typewriter said she was bound to win at Melbourne Park, giving her a Serena Slam, which is what tennis commentators have taken to calling four in a row but not in the same calendar year.