Saturday, January 04, 2014
Qatar ExxonMobil Tennis 2014
A friend of mine called to see if I wanted to go to the quarterfinals of the tennis tournament as he had a spare ticket. Unfortunately he had a spare ticket because earlier in the day he had a bad fall so was unable to go -- not the kind of circumstances one wants to get a free ticket from. (He's doing better now, we both went to the semifinals yesterday)
Thanks to a rain delay I managed to get there just a few minutes before Rafael Nadal’s match versus Gulbis.
It was a decent match. Nadal won in straight sets but Gulbis did not make it easy, playing a number of excellent winners.
As an aside, in the past years children under the age of three were not allowed in the stadium. At least that's what I remember the ticket said but the rule was generally ignored and people were bringing babies and toddlers into the match. Naturally that meant there was crying and other noise which would occasionally disturb the players. This year I noticed the ticket said children under five wouldn't be allowed in the stadium so I figured the organizers were getting stricter. Nope, there were still plenty of kids under five in the stands, occasionally making noise at inopportune times. The organizers really need to get strict about this, people shouldn’t be bringing babies to a tennis tournament.
After the Nadal match most of the crowd left, which is a shame because next up was Gael Monfils, one of my favorite players. While he can be inconsistent he is a player who takes a lot of high-risk shots so when he is on his game he is very impressive and fun to watch. A few years ago he beat Nadal here in Doha so there's no reason why he couldn't win again. Monfils was facing Daniel Brands, who was also on a roll, as the previous day he had a straight sets victory over world number three David Ferrer.
I wasn't sure what happened during the match, whether Monfils was “on” or Brands was off his game, or both. Monfils won easily, 6-2, 6-1, in about half the time it took Nadal to win his match. Impressive.
So last night my friend and I went to see the semis. We got there in time to watch Nadal play a complete unknown: World No 162 Peter Gojowczyk, who was clearly having the tournament of his career and was in his first ATP semi-final. My friend figured this would be very quick and Nadal would crush the guy. My view was Gojowczyk might be having a golden week so who knows? If he’s playing really well he could win this. I decided to root for Gojowczyk -- I like underdogs and besides, most of the crowd was rooting for Nadal so someone had to give him some support.
Gojowczyk had nothing to lose so he came out firing. My friend and I sat stunned as Gojowczyk won the first 11 of 12 points and went up 3-0. Incredible shot after incredible shot and Nadal looked really out of sorts. Things settled down a bit but Gojowczyk kept up the pressure and took the first set 6-4. Awesome!
Sadly, tennis is a game of inches and after that Gojowczyk’s aim was just a little bit off and he was not making as many awesome plays as before. And that's all Nadal needed, taking the next two sets 6-2, 6-3 for the win.
In the post-match interview when asked what he was thinking after that first set Nadal said something like, “I hope he [Gojowczyk] doesn't play like that for the rest of the match!”
It was a good match to watch and it also brings up a point that top players like Federer and Nadal have to keep reminding people: the difference between a top 10 player and a top 100 player is slight. These days you can't just judge someone based on the ranking, all it takes is for that lower-ranked player to be having a great game that day and they can take out the top players. Last year both Federer and Nadal lost to far lower-ranked opponents during Grand Slams. That’s why top players don't underestimate opponents and assume it’ll be an easy match just because the guy is not in the top 20.
After that match it was Gael Monfils once again. He again had an awesome match, blasting Florian Meyer off the court 6-3, 6-2.
Unfortunately I can’t be at the final. I’m rooting for Gael but he’ll need to bring his A-game. He’s beaten Nadal before in Doha so he could do it again.
[update: Nope, Nadal won in three sets.]