Monday October 10th, 2011

1. Frustrating case of Andy Murray: It's hard to imagine a more maddening experience than being a fan of Andy Murray. Just when it looks like he might finally win that elusive major, he pulls up short and you're left to wonder whether he's simply a very good player born in an era that demands greatness. (The latest example: winning the Cincinnati tune-up event before the U.S. Open, then, in New York, he is thoroughly outclassed by Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.)

Yet just when you're prepared to consign Murray to bridesmaid status, he offers a tantalizing glimpse of his abilities, suggesting that maybe he can, one day, win the Big One. The latest example: On Sunday in Tokyo, Murray chopped up Nadal 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 in the final of the Japan Open to win his fourth title of 2011. (For good measure, he teamed with his brother, Jamie, to win the doubles.)

Unlike the match in New York, when Murray lost the first set to Nadal, he didn't go into hangdog mode or shake his head at his entourage as if to say, "Not my day." Instead, he persisted, worked Nadal's backhand, served lights out and dropped just two games in the last two sets to the world No. 2. If nothing else, performances like that ought to fire Murray -- and his fans -- with confidence.

2. Polar opposites: The good folks in Beijing got to witness two opposite sides of the tennis "talent optimization" spectrum last week. In the women's event, Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska topped Andrea Petkovic 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 to claim her second title in two weeks. Generously listed at 5-foot-8, 123 pounds, Radwanska isn't going to win too many slugging contests. But she wrings every ounce from her talent and is on the fringes of the top 10 mostly because she can go an entire set without missing a ball.

In the men's final, Tomas Berdych beat Marin Cilic, also in a three-setter. Both Berdych and Cilic are the polar opposites of Radwanska. Together, they are 13 feet of potential; hulking, flat sluggers who can beat anyone on a given day, but come and go like the karma chameleon, losing matches inexplicably, and replicating a sine curve with their results. With any luck, both players are on upswing now.

3. The silly season continues: Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic pulled out of the Shanghai Masters event that starts this week. Djokovic claims he has not recovered from the injury he sustained in winning the U.S. Open and aggravated during Davis Cup. "[I] did another check this week and the results are not good. I need to continue my rehabilitation."

Serena Williams has apparently shut off the engine for 2011. We can debate whether the calendar is unsustainable, whether the demands put on players are untenable. But when the top draws simply don't show up for fall events -- and forfeit not insignificant amounts of money in the process -- the debate becomes almost moot.

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