It wasn't the plan (especially because I was meeting friends for breakfast early this morning), but I stayed up until nearly six in the morning last night to watch the men's final of the Australian Open. I was pulling for Safin since Hewitt is such an annoying brat. After the first set, when Hewitt just destroyed Safin, I thought the match was over.
I shouldn't have doubted a guy who beat Roger Federer, the world's top player. Back when Safin destroyed Sampras in the 2000 U.S. Open Final, I thought he would go on to win numerous Grand Slams, but he went mental. Safin, to me, is the current purest embodiment of what men's tennis has become. It's the power baseline game which began with guys like Lendl and Krickstein and passed on through Courier and Agassi. The tennis court is still the same size and players move at about the same speed, but increases in player strength and improvements in racket technology have increased the pace and spin of the average groundstroke. That makes it much tougher to come to net. Even an average approach shot will likely lead to an unreachable passing shot.
Safin's average forehand or backhand travels at around 75 to 80mph, and he can hit winners at 90 to 100mph. At any point in time, any forehand or backhand he hits could be 90mph to the corner of either service box. One of the crosscourt backhand winners he hit in the fourth set looked like it was shot out of a bazooka, and it still landed inside the service box. I don't think a shot like that was possible with wood rackets. Safin serves huge, yet he only double faulted something like 7 times the entire Australian Open. He has a beautiful service motion, but that statistic is still mind boggling.
Hewitt is the modern incarnation of Michael Chang, a scrappy baseliner, but a bigger hitter in every way. And a bigger mouth. He once made a not-so-subtle racist remark about a line judge at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, I can't remember which, and he annoys other players by screaming "Come on!" when they make unforced errors. He's a great player, unbelievably quick--he reached some balls by Safin that I don't think any other men's player could have chased down--but his attitude on court is aggravating, like that of so many spoiled tennis brats you see in junior tennis. Last night, after a line judge called a foot fault on him, he still won the point, and afterwards pointed at the line judge in a threatening manner, receiving a conduct code violation from the chair judge.
I'm not sure why Hewitt chooses to be such an unsporting prick. He doesn't need to be. With his scrappy style, he could easily be the people's favorite. Instead of screaming and fist-pumping after an opponent's error, he could easily save that for some of his own great shots, yet after some of his best gets against Safin, he didn't react at all. He has a bit of Jimmy Connors in him, the provocateur. I always felt that some of McEnroe's outbursts resulted from aggravation at himself and his inability to live up to his perfectionist standards. Connors and Hewitt seem to want to goad their opponents into losing their cool.
Entertaining stuff and worth watching on replay on ESPN2, if for no other reason than to see shots of Safin's fairly-hot girlfriend Dasha Zhukova, on screen nearly every game. Patrick McEnroe is very solid on color commentary, though he brings a more laid back personality than his brother, also an astute color commentator.