Posted in Tennis

Stan Wawrinka, Occasional World Beater

3839506500000578-3784470-image-a-124_1473640181423

‘Wawrinka stuns Djokovic to win US Open’ went the BBC headline. But how stunned could the Serb world number one have felt, really? Of Stan Wawrinka’s three grand slam triumphs, every single one has featured a win over Djokovic – including the 2014 Australian Open quarter-final, and last year’s masterclass in the final of the French Open. If Novak was indeed stunned by Stan’s win on Sunday, he must have the most terrible memory in tennis.

You can’t fault Djokovic for feeling confident pre-match, though. Based off cold statistics, he was the favourite, ahead in the head-to-head 19–4, and in the grand slam count twelve to two. But he would have known that where Wawrinka is concerned, any such tale of the tape is academic. In grand slam finals at least, the Swiss is a statistical anomaly: the underdog that isn’t. Three times he’s faced the world number one player – once Nadal, twice Djokovic – and three times he’s beaten him. It’s almost as if Wawrinka becomes a different beast when the stakes are highest. So he does: Stan morphs into The Stanimal.

It’s not a physical transformation; he had those stevedore’s shoulders and oil-drum torso all along. As Stanimal behaviourists will attest, it starts with the specimen’s body language instead. Watch closely and he’ll begin pointing to his temple after winning an important point, as much as to say: you won’t beat me, I am a mental fortress. The real giveaways, though, are the groundstrokes. Stan’s backhand has long been the market leader, engineered and conditioned for optimum destructiveness. But when wielded by the Stanimal, the backhand gets an upgrade, and the forehand – generally the less reliable shot – becomes an all-powerful winner machine. A fusillade of heavy artillery later and the enemy is battered into submission: by the close of the US Open final, Djokovic’s body had buckled at the impact of Wawrinka’s powerful blows.

If Stan could summon The Stanimal on command, there’s no telling how many grand slams he’d rack up. Of course, he can’t. Tether a beast and it loses its wildness. Which explains the most common charge levelled against Wawrinka: his inconsistency. Yes, he has the talent to win grand slams; equally, as we saw in Wimbledon and the Australian Open this year, he’s not above losing them the early rounds. If anyone can unseat Djokovic from world number one, then, it won’t be the Swiss. Where Stan goes missing for months at a time, losing to the Andrey Kuznetsovs and Grigor Dimitrovs of the tour, Novak is never off duty, gobbling masters events for breakfast and reaching the business end of almost every grand slam going. The Serb is the keen-jawed tennis executive, nine-to-fiving week in, week out. The Swiss, by comparison, is the stubbled part-timer, swooping into the office unexpectedly to close the big deal – much to the chagrin of his more strait-laced coworkers.

While in all likelihood Stanimal will never have the number one next to his name, he’s singular in another way – an unusually late bloomer, he didn’t win his first major title until aged 28. Previously, Wawrinka fell into the same bucket as Richard Gasquet: a shotmaker with a highlight-reel backhand who lacked the steel to threaten the top players. That was until Wawrinka’s ‘big bang’ moment at the 2013 Australian Open, when, outplaying Djokovic in round four, he lost narrowly 12–10 in the fifth. Encouraged that he could mix it with the best players, he shucked off his low self-esteem and a year later won the very same tournament, up-ending Djokovic and Nadal for good measure along the way. When the French Open was added (in spectacular fashion) a year later, it confirmed the arrival of a new force at the top of men’s game. Until then, grand slams were the monopoly of a favoured few, with everyone else (Cilic, Del Potro) left fighting for the odd scrap from the table.Wawrinka, thrillingly, had broken the bear hug of the big four, arriving just as his Swiss compatriot Roger Federer fell off the pace, just when tennis was threatening to become the Murray-Djokovic show (where the word ‘show’ is used loosely).

We can all be thankful for the Stanimal’s predatory swoops. And at 31, the old beast is showing no sign of mellowing with age. Will we see him one more time on the lawns of SW19? A career grand slam – now that really would leave the tennis world stunned.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Nostalgia, Tech

All the Mobile Phones I Have Ever Owned 2002 – 2016

Here’s an easy-to-forget fact: mobile phones are quite young. Born in 1973, as a consumer product they grew slowly, not penetrating public consciousness until the mid-eighties – as expensive exoticisms for nerds and yuppies. Even as recently as twenty years ago, they stubbornly remained more luxury than necessity. Not until 1999 did the tipping point arrive, when suddenly everyone and their mother had a mobile and you couldn’t leave the house without hearing the bleep-bloop of the Nokia theme.

Now of course, their ascent is total. We can no more live without mobiles phones than without air (they’re, geddit, our O2). But certain questions still dangle. Does their connectivity and convenience come at a cost? Are smartphones one of the great emancipating advances, or have we become subject peoples, ruled by the lump of metal and Gorilla Glass in our hand?

First thing in the morning, having dismissed our smartphone alarms, our first order of business is to read our smartphone emails, check our smartphone WhatsApp messages and scrutinise our smartphone Twitter mentions. All assuming, of course, there’s still charge in our smartphone battery. These days, we measure out our lives not in coffee spoons, but in phone contracts, twenty-four months at a time.

And if you’re anything like me, you still keep your old phones: heritage handsets gathering dust in a bedroom drawer. Laid in chronological order, they tell a tale. Not just of the warp speed of technological development (compared to my Samsung Galaxy S7, my first Nokia is a museum piece) but of something more autobiographical. Whether or boasts a camera or not, a mobile phone takes a snapshot of your life. Each one is a chronicle of your tastes, your value systems, your spending power at the time. Cue this fascinating article: a complete history of every mobile phone I have ever owned. Please turn off your mobile phones.

2002-2004: Nokia 5210

My first mobile phone came late. For my first sixteen summers, I owned neither smartphone nor dumbphone – making me one of the last holdouts in my school. In the unlikely event you wished to get in touch, your options were as follows: snail mail, landline, telegram, face time (real conversation, that is, not Apple’s videotelephony app). Suspecting – wrongly – that I was missing out on all the great parties, I resolved to be behind the times no longer. Finally, I would possess a blessed mobile phone.

It being 2002, there was no choice but to choose Nokia: they were masters of the planet. But rather than default to the 3310 like everyone else, I dared to be different, slightly. Small, sturdy and packing a built-in thermometer, the 5210 was made for the more adventuresome consumer. The battery life came in at over a week, and carapaced in a thick rubbery exoskeleton, the handset was as idiot-proof as possible. While not quite armour-plated, the 5210 was certainly thick-skinned. And it needed to be. My sister called it, with dismissive hauteur, a ‘camping phone,’ and it met with a cool reception at school for being, well, uncool.

For all that, I liked my 5210 greatly. It dragged me into the modern world, and only rarely was I frustrated by the ten-text-message limit and low-pixel monochrome screen. After all, with a mobile phone in my pocket I was supplied for every eventuality, or so I thought at the time.

2004-2007: Nokia 6610i

snok6610i_l

In 2004, university beckoned: the most vital three years of any geek’s life. And to be ready, I needed a serious makeover. A fresh wardrobe. A fresh computer. A fresh personality. And, with all the friends I’d be making, a fresh phone. Though reliable and worthy, the 5210 was more clunky than sexy. What I desired instead was something sleek, new – a phone for the student I wanted to be, not the student I was.

Sadly, no such phone existed in 2004 (and arguably still doesn’t). So I settled instead for another Nokia: the 6610i. Having ditched the rubber exoskeleton for a blue plastic onesie, it did out-cool its predecessor – just. And there were further advancements. First, the colour screen, which I gulped through my eyes in wonderment upon first pressing the ‘on’ button. Second – and here’s a real extravagance – it had a camera. It was a ‘camera phone.’ Not only would the 6610i store my new friends’ numbers, but it could prove they existed. Look at the smiling pictures – the camera never lies! Of course, in the end I used the camera barely at all. Not just because no one let me photograph them. At a piddling 0.1 megapixels (288×352), the image quality shamed a daguerreotype.

But the 6610i gave good service. It accompanied me on my undergraduate adventures and misadventures (mostly in libraries), and bears the marks of a life well-lived. I could have looked after it a bit better, in truth. By 2007, the shiny new phone of three years ago was a battered ruin, its keypad worn away, its blue plastic cover warty with spilt ink.

No longer a student but a keen-jawed graduate itching to put my stamp on the world of Work, I obviously needed a new phone. A serious phone. A corporate phone. To the Orange shop I duly went.

2007-2008: Sony Ericsson K810i

k810i_1_b

2007, also known as When The iPhone Launched, was the Year Zero of smartphones. Naturally I had no idea of that at the time. In 2007, I was still two years away from my first iPod, and anyway, as a pound-conscious recent grad, the iPhone would have been hopelessly beyond my purse.

But I was aware of certain other industry developments. I knew that (much like my old beaten-up 6610i) the shine was starting to come off Nokia at this point – that other players, chiefly Sony Ericson, were muscling in on their market share. To see why, you only need behold my shiny new handset of the time, the Sony Ericsson K810i. It had a great camera, a superior screen and – farewell, faithful Discman – an MP3 player. If, by today’s standards, my first two Nokias were phones from before the flood, this one looks recognisably twenty-first century.

But with these advancements came a pact with Beelzebub – or to be more precise, a contract with Orange. This marked the point where I ditched pay-as-you-go for something more binding. Sign here, here and here, and the phone was mine for a term of 18 months. If my first phone meant freedom, now I was just another node in the network, surveilled by Orange’s all-seeing eye.

It was a hint at things to come. The great age of the smartphone, of GPS and mobile data, was round the corner, and the K810i – 3G enabled – was a proto-smartphone. Unfortunately, and perhaps tellingly, my K810i’s internet button fell off. Perhaps society wasn’t yet ready to be Always On.

2008-2010: Sony Ericsson C905

10133667-sony-ericsson-c905-silver

In 2009, I didn’t just change my phone, I changed my form factor. No longer would I tolerate a ‘bar’ phone – after all, they were a bit 2002-2008. Rather, all like the best handsets of that era, the Sony Ericsson C905 was a ‘slider.’

The slider is seldom seen these days. But in 2009, it was enjoying a moment. A sliding mechanism made the handset more compact overall, and with the rise of touchscreen, physical buttons were beginning to look unsexy. The solution? Hide them away. That’s the C905 summed up – a tidy, if unspectacular presence in your pocket.

But don’t mock. While the C905 may not be the pick of my smartphone litter, it was still first-rate as dumbphones go. A phone of practicality over aesthetics, the build quality was excellent, and it took half a week to make inroads into the battery life. Even now, it would make a very decent stand-in were my Galaxy S7 to go west. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

2010-2012: HTC Desire

htc-desire-1

In July 2010, my life changed. Or at the very least my phone number did. But it was worth the administrative headache, because the HTC Desire was my very first smartphone. And not any old smartphone either. Highly touted by all the review sites, HTC’s flagship handset was prized and praised even beyond the all-conquering iPhone. The name said it all: Desire. Everyone wanted one.

I lie, of course. Everyone still wanted the iPhone (naturally; it had an Apple logo). But in a fair fight, the Desire – faster, cooler, sharper-screened – would have destroyed the competition. I bought mine on holiday, undiscouraged by rural Devon’s non-existent 3G signal. The phone felt sleek in my hand, the screen was arrestingly big and beautiful, and if it existed in the real world, the Android Market had an app for it.

But once I’d got over the hot thrill of being a smartphone user, the chinks in the Desire’s armour began to show. The biggest, undoubtedly, was the lack of internal memory: a woeful 148Mb. Installing anything new involved a delicate dance of arranging existing apps by size and removing the non-essentials, the Angry Birds, the YouTubes, to make room. And then there was the battery life – one of the running sores of our age. It was certainly a rude awakening for me. Used to phones that lived a week, now I was reaching for the charger once a day at least.

Oh HTC Desire, what could have been. You were a marvel and you were a mess.

2012-2014: Samsung Galaxy Ace 2

samsung-galaxy-ace-2

In October 2012, I left my HTC Desire in a Lidl supermarket. Convinced it had been stolen, I hastened back – but not before ordering a replacement. It hardly matters which one, I told the Orange operative breathlessly, so long as it’s a smartphone, and is cheap. The phone he duly offered me – the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 – placed a check mark in both boxes. Certainly I could make no complaint at the price: at a footling £11 a month, it was £25 cheaper than the HTC Desire. Which no one had stolen, by the way. I rushed back to Lidl and it was still there, unwanted, unclaimed. Undesired. But by that point I had already ordered its replacement.

Thinking on it now, perhaps I left my phone in Lidl on purpose. During my two years with the Desire, I had begun to weary of wishlist phones and trophy tablets. What was the point in forking over £35 a month for a top-end phone that was, in its essentials, no different to a low-end phone? It was just so much idle vanity.

Thus it was that I unboxed the Galaxy Ace 2 the next day – unenthusiastically. And my disappointment wasn’t disappointed. Turning it over in my hand, the design was charmless, the proportions bulky, the rear of the case pleasingly cheap looking. In fairness, the phone was not less usable for being affordable. Both the battery life and internal memory were both much improved over the HTC Desire, and there was even a front-facing camera to capture my habitually underwhelmed expression. It was exactly the phone I needed.

2014-2016: Nokia Lumia 635

2014, or as I call it, The Homecoming. After seven years in the howling wilderness – with Samsung, Sony Ericsson and HTC – I went back to where it all began. My first, my only. Nokia. Only the Nokia that greeted me in 2014 was very different to the company I knew in 2002. Having entered into a pact with Microsoft, Nokia no longer had a software platform they called their own. Now they made Windows Phones. The Lumia 635 that I carried home from Carphone Warehouse was a Windows Phone first and a Nokia phone a distant second.

I chose Windows Phone because I wanted a change. But chiefly because the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 – my logical next upgrade – was dementedly overpriced at £21 per month. By comparison, the Lumia 635 was arithmetically cheap, and clad in a zesty lime case, colourful to boot. And at first, I liked my new phone. The Windows software was intuitive and idiot-proof, and even the battery life was good. At last, here was a smartphone I didn’t have to feed the charge lead every blessed night.

But over time, the low-res screen did nag at me. Then there were the software gremlins. Apps like the countdown timer had a whimsical tendency to restart, and twelve months in, the alarm clock stopped working. And why was the Windows store missing so many apps? Where was the front-facing camera and rear flash? These shortcomings, insignificant in themselves, added up to one big fail. Even the admittedly great podcast and music apps couldn’t begin to make up for it. Nokia, you disappointed me. Or do I need to blame Microsoft?

2016- : Samsung Galaxy S7

samsung-galaxy-s7-edge-2

And so we get to now. The present day. The first phone in this list that doesn’t languish a drawer, but has life coursing through its electronic veins. And what veins. The Samsung Galaxy S7 is the culmination of all that came before it, the greatest smartphone in the annals of consumer electronics, the final word in mobile telecommunications and pocket computing. Until the Galaxy S8 or some other flagship smartphone get released next year, that is.

But until then, let’s savour the S7 awhile. It really is the most wonderful creation. I can’t get enough of the lean frame, the sensationally lovely screen, the extremely respectable battery life. But the camera is the clincher. Or maybe it’s the heart-rate sensor. No, it has to be the fact you can drop it in a toilet and – providing you don’t flush – continue your conversation as if nothing happened. Compared to the S7’s bells and whistles, my old phones are relics from the old stone age.

And I’m obliged to say that I feel pretty flash whenever I whip my S7 out in public. It was none too cheap, but – my coffers boosted from four years of budget tariffs – I reckon I can afford it. After all, phones are now auxiliary limbs, or extensions to our brain. Would you skimp on those?

Posted in Tennis

US Open: Edmund d. Isner

Sport, it is said, is war by other means. And it’s especially so when John Isner and Kyle Edmund are the belligerents. While not tennis’s biggest guns, they do have two of its biggest shots: Isner’s elegant-gun serve and the Edmund’s wrecking-ball forehand are phenomenons best enjoyed behind tempered glass, if you’re a spectator, or a suit of armour, if you’re on the other side of the net. For two hours and 43 minutes they rained blows on each other in an encounter of pulsating, pulverising aggression. Ace followed ace followed ace. Forehand winner followed forehand winner followed forehand winner. The forehand, ultimately, was the winner, Edmund triumphing 6-4 3-6 6-2 7-6 (7-5).

Head-to-head is a misleading term where John Isner is concerned: at six foot ten, the American out-tops Edmund by eight whole inches. But going into the match, Isner was most people’s favourite, having won their sole previous encounter – at this year’s French Open – in straight sets. Since that defeat, however, Kyle Edmund has grown up. In July, he lead a GB team minus Andy Murray to a Davis Cup victory over Serbia. And on Tuesday, in an eye-catching upset, he straight-setted Richard Gasquet in the first round. Edmund always had the big weapons. Now, it seems, he has the big belief to match.

And how he needed it against Isner. Having lost the first set, the American rallied in the second and at the start of the third moved 0-40 up on Edmund’s serve. The match pivoted on this moment. Had he taken one of his break points, Isner would likely have ridden his giant serve to the set, and been odds-on to win the match. As it was, Edmund saved all three break points (with some envenomed forehands) and broke a frustrated Isner in the very next game. While the American hung on all the way to a fourth-set tiebreak, Edmund never again relinquished the momentum, sealing the match, fittingly, with another rip-snorting forehand winner.

Unfortunately, an even taller obstacle awaits him in the fourth round, in the rubbery shape of Novak Djokovic. Djokovic, it’s true, isn’t in his most annihilatingly imperious form. As well as nursing a wrist injury, he’s licking mental wounds sustained during early losses at Wimbledon and the Olympic Games. But to blast holes in the Serb’s anti-tank defence, Edmund will still need his artillery to be at full force. Though if the Isner match is anything to go by, the Brit’s game is developing in unexpected ways. Not just as Nadal-like forehand, Edmund is becoming a a Murray-like passing shot artist too. A cross between Murray and Nadal? That might – just – be enough to take a set off the world number one.