Yesterday I saw the best match of (the week-old) 2011. Today I saw the craziest – although I missed the Falla-Nishikori lunacy in Chennai, it should be said.  But even if I had seen that particular Indian insanity, this match still might out-crazy it. 

I’m speaking, of course, about today’s calamitous quarterfinal between third-seeded Joao Souza and seventh seed Federico Delbonis at the $100,000 Sao Paulo Challenger.  Total loco-motion.

We’ll pick up the action in the first set tiebreak. Souza got the mini-break on the first point but relinquished it on the sixth, and we moved forth on serve until Souza served at 4-5.  The 22-year-old came to net on a good approach that Delbonis met with a better reply, a superb low backhand slice that Joao couldn’t half-volley, giving the 20-year-old Argentinian two set points.  Sousa saved the first with an ace, but Delbo converted the next one on his serve with a couple of forcing forehands, the second of which Joao hit long.  First set to Delbonis 76(5).

Things progressed, as things do, to Federico serving at 3-4 30-40 in the first set – that’s a break point, don’tcha know?  Well, Fede served and volleyed. Except he didn’t need to volley as J-Wow couldn’t get the ball back in play.  And Delbo was able to worm himself out of the jam. *tries not to picture worm-filled jam*

Except! Two games later, he was back in the jam again. Would there be worming?  At 4-5 30-all, Joao jwas 2 points away from the 2nd set. The home crowd rhythmically clapped, as home crowds tend to do.  But Delbo closed out to 5-all on an unreturned approach shot and an ace.

In the next game, Souza opened with a forehand full of longing, over the baseline for 0-15. The Brazilian then came to net on a down the line approach, but was passed with a beautiful forehand crosscourt from the Argie.  Joao disputed the call with the ch/ump, as the crowd whistled its disapproving whistly noises.  This would be a foreshadowing of things to come.

I had a screenshot of this moment, but now it’s gone – have a screenshot of the Groths instead!

Souza returned to the baseline, and aced with a cry of “Allez!” Huh. J-Wow, clearly keyed up, won a long rally on the next point with a deep ball that Delbo couldn’t half-volley off the baseline. 30-all.  A service winner and another “Allez!” got him to game point (and got me to thinking he needed to allez off with the “Allez”s – who do you think you are, Joao, Justine Henin?).  And then Federico forehanded long to cede the 11th game.

Souza started out well as Delbonis served to stay in the set, hitting a wrong-footing inside-out forehand to 0-15.  Delbo dug deeper into the jam with a FH long.  But the plucky Argie (that’s right, plucky) took the next three points and looked to be on the verge of yet another successful jam extraction. Then my stream froze.  When it returned, he was set point down.  Conspiracy? You make the call.  Either way, Fede hit a terribly mediocre approach to Souza’s forehand, three-quarter court up the middle, and Joao made a relatively easy forehand crosscourt pass to take the second set.

Picking things up the third set, at 3-all.  My stream unthawed from its latest flash freezing to find J-Wow arguing with the ch/ump again, the crowd getting all geed up.  Was this the kind of calculated move that Steve alerted me to in yesterday’s commentsDunno, but if it was, then the strategy backfired.  Unable to regain his composure, Souza netted a groundie to go 0-30 down (I wish I knew what happened in that first point!) and then another to 0-40.  And then he pushed an inside-out forehand into the tramlines.  “Yeah!” shouted Delbo.  “Jeer!” went the crowd.

Serving at 4-3, Federico was determined not to make things easy for himself, which he accomplished by netting two forehands and hitting another one over the baseline to 0-40.  Triple breakback point.  As a change of pace, Delbo hit a nice forehand up the line for 15-40 to save one.  A service winner up the T saved another.  The crowd was getting antsy.  At 30-40, Delbo served out wide, and then ripped a crosscourt forehand winner to deuce, silencing the crowd completely.  But they wouldn’t be silent for long.  A forcing forehand crosscourt from Sousa got the Brazilian another breakback point.  And then began the nuttiness. 

Joao shanked a ball that floated to the other side of the court from where the webcam’s located, and the ball landed near the sideline closest to the ch/ump chair.  The ball was called in, but the chump overruled it.  You can only imagine the calamity.  Or you can look my next series of Pulitzer prizeworthy, grainy screen shots!  The crowd all riotous, J-Wow went and sat down in his chair, refusing to play until the supervisor came out, the spectators yelling all the while.  When the supervisor arrived, Souza argued to no avail.

Super Argument

Then at deuce, the crowd was making so much noise that Delbonis couldn’t serve, constantly having to step back from the baseline.  Finally Delbo served, and hit an ace.  Or was it?  J-Wow certainly didn’t think so, and he threw his racquet down and went to argue some more.

arrow indicates thrown racquet

Eventually, things settled enough (other than the idiot who kept coughing loudly every time Fede tossed the ball) for Delbo to serve again, which he did. And it was a good ‘un, unreturnable, and Souza smashed his racquet with great enthusiasm.

Smashing!

Surprisingly, despite a quadruple fault to start the game, Joao regained his composure enough at 3-5 to hold and make Federico serve for the match.  Which, after a nervy-looking all-armed double fault at 15-0, Delbonis did quite easily and anticlimactically with three straight unreturned serves to advance in a zany 7-6(5) 5-7 6-4 affair.  He’ll face top seeded two-time defending champ Ricardo Mello, who brutally dismantled Juan-Pablo Brzezicki 6-2 6-0, in tomorrow’s standout semifinal.

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