Australian Open at the R16

There has been some brilliant tennis down under in Melbourne and we have even bigger matches still to come. Are you all excited about this major championship right now, or what?

Let’s go through the draw, starting actually at the bottom, in that half that has absolutely exploded with possibility after the exit of world #2 and six-time AO champion Novak Djokovic.

A couple of thoughts on that development: first, the win over Verdasco wasn’t nearly as reassuring for Novak fan(boy)s as they might have made it out to be. The fact that the two just played recently (Doha) and the Spaniard absolutely shit the bed with 5 MPs pretty much ensured that this following match was going to be an easy win for the Serb, on his court, in his (perhaps fictitious) new found confidence. You think this is a similar set of circumstances to Nadal’s first round loss to Verdasco last year at the AO? Not even close.

There were to be no surprises here; Novak new what danger there might be in such an opponent, so he was on his game and the Spaniard had ZERO chance. No surprises, so to get all excited about that R128 win sounds like you’re looking for reasons to get excited. Is that where we are now with Novak and that fanbase? Novak even suggesting that this is the match that really worried him, that this might be “the only match to focus on” sounds bizarre.

And, of course, the irony: the following match issued the big surprise. He looked good throughout much of the match, but still, without going into detail, the Serb has lost a step, whether that means he’s not as sharp mentally during BPs, in hitting his lines, applying his impenetrable defense, etc., he’s off-center. And here’s another big factor in the problems he’ll face going forward – same with Nadal (though not the same with a guy like Federer): the Serb’s serve is unexceptional; his serve does not intimidate the guy across the net. Sure he can find a better serve in his practice and confidence, but it’s not his go-to weapon. He and Nadal are similar here. Pete could have played a few more years, like Roger, because of that serve.

And for those saying Novak will come out of “this” and still win 2-3 (or more) majors need to wake the hell up. I argued he HAD to win AO because he’s 30 at the FO, and WB and the USO are not his cup of tea or martini, so to speak, so he needs to get the hardware while he can. You think he’s dominating in 2018 like he did in 2015 or the beginning of 2016? How many majors did Nadal and Federer win after 30? I’m pretty sure it’s 1 major between them. We’ve talked about this at length.

However, despite Novak’s situation, a defense of his 2016 FO is not an impossible scenario, imho. Should we delve into his clay form? Interestingly enough, clay could be his best surface though I know he’s fared admirably on the HC, as well. He grew-up on clay and has collected many clay titles throughout his career. The fact that the clay GOAT had prime tennis during the same era is pretty much the way it goes. More on that later and there’s a lot of tennis to play between Melbourne and Paris either way.

The AO Bracket at the R16

Istomin v Dimitrov should be a win for the Bulgarian. You know where I’ve stood on Grigor’s form for a while now. He finished 2016 surging and has simply looked brilliant in what tennis we’ve seen from him in 2017. Istomin has played back-to-back five-setters, so he should be taxed, but the man also seems to be on a mission. Very impressive that he backed-up the win over Djokovic. But Dimitrov’s form (energy and efficiency) should prove a bit much for Istomin.

I was a bit concerned about the Gasquet match and woke up this morning to watch. Even though the score line looks completely one-sided (3 2 4), the match was tighter than that, the tennis simply eye-candy. I have promised a post or two on the OHBH for a while; it’s just a better stroke than it’s counterpart. If you didn’t see the Dimitrov v Gasquet 3R match last night, find it. Gasquet played well, but, AGAIaustralian_open_tennis_grigorN, the Bulgarian is flying right now. His tennis is confident, ascendant, fluent from both sides, his serve very efficient (he won a remarkable amount of his first service points), his defense terribly good, flexible, quick. His body language and overall urgency in these matches is palpable. I know what happened in the Djokovic v Istomin match: Novak ducked Dimitrov 😀

Brad Gilbert was calling the match and said he sees Dimitrov cracking the top-5 by the end of the year. Looks like BG is on-board. Going-in to this match with Gasquet, the Frenchman had a 5-1 H2H advantage, but the last time they met, 2016 Shanghai, Dimitrov advanced 4 and 4. Under the guidance of Danny Vallverdu, this is a different Dimitrov, similar to the 2014 project, with major development perhaps in store.

Goffin v Thiem is a solid match-up. I haven’t seen much of either in Melbourne. It’s #11 v #8. If Dimitrov can continue his march, a QF with either the Belgian or the Austrian should be an entertaining match.

RBA v Raonic should go the way of the big 3-seed. RBA is a tough player, however. I watched a bit of his match against Ferrer last night. Talk about a grind. RBA is pretty capable out there and with that flat FH weapon, he can finish points from the BL, has grown accustomed to winning tennis matches, so this is not necessarily a run-away for Milos. We expect Milos to advance.

As a nod to my OHBH argument, watching the Dimitrov v Gasquet match in comparison to the tennis in the RBA v Ferrer match: (practically) adult tennis v a junior brand of the sport. What a contrast, in more ways than one (pun intended).

Nadal v Monfils is strangely a coin-flip. Here’s the point with Nadal in a look at his match vs. Zverev, which I saw almost in its entirety: the Spanish great is not that sharp these days, something I have said for a few years now. Everything from his serve to his ground strokes, the tennis is certainly above average, but not by much. His net play is still strong, but he has to get there. Zverev was much more impressive but for the bad unforced errors, his terrible play at the net and then the cramping in the fifth set.

The German teen looks good. His game is big. Both the BH and the FH are scary good (he absolutely crushed Tiafoe, not a surprise but I had more –false–hope for the American teen). Zverev’s serve is big, as well. This guy, as everyone knows, has a solid perhaps great future on tour.

But he let Nadal stick around, and one thing is true about Nadal: he’s a chess player out there. He absolutely schooled the teen in five-set calculus. That was fun to watch, actually. I’m happy for Rafa. He’s one of the best performers out there, giving his all, battling. When Zverev began cramping at 2-2 in the fifth, it was over.

However, I do not for a second think Nadal can win the AO, a thought I am seeing thrown around the tennis discourse right now. No no no. His short balls, average serve. . .not enough. He did use the cut very effectively against the German, his patented inside-out FH was scary (per usual), but not enough to beat some of the players he has in his path. Looks like Moya’s influence was there in the serve, adding more body serve to the game, but again, Nadal is a few steps slower and the ball is just not deep enough. Nonetheless, good luck to the Spaniard.

As for Monfils, who the fuck knows what he’ll do. He looks good, but he hasn’t played anyone and who knows if he’s smoking the same crap that’s got Kyrgios all messed-up, so to speak. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know my thoughts on Monfils. Let’s hope he shows-up and plays well, at least tries. But don’t be surprised if he goes MIA.

Evans v Tsonga. Yes! I like both of these players. Tsonga looks good and I said watch-out for the old Frenchman – he might have one or two more big runs in him as he winds-down his tennis career. He spanked Jack Sock. Tsonga can be a very difficult out.

Evans is looking good. We did not overlook that second round match against Cilic. Cilic is a mess, but this may have a bit more to do with Evans’ form. A bit of a nod to Fed’s form, he beat the Brit pretty easily in the Hopman Cup a few weeks ago, in a match that was quite entertaining as far as the purist shot-making interest is concerned. Evans can play. I love the Evans v Tsonga match. I’m saying Tsonga has the form, but watch-out for that squasher. Watch this match.

Seppi v Wawrinka. Not much to say here other than we need Stan to march-on for the sake of the deeper rounds. Stan has to be licking his chops right now. Seppi hasn’t really been tested. Stan has to win this and should.

Federer v Nishikori. I saw the highlights of Fed v Berdych, so I understand all of the arousal for the Express’ game right now. Like I said, he looked decent at the Hopman Cup against the likes of Evans, so he’s got some match play under his shoes and his form (display) vs. Tomas was vintage, I get it. But we (should) know not to get too excited. He’s 35. Nishikori will be a very interesting match. Is Kei healthy, 100%? He faded in the Brisbane final due to injury, we’re told. roger-ao

Bottom-line: if Fed straight sets (needs to for any further success) Nishikori, that QF could be even more interesting. He has a mental edge over Murray, as he does with Berdych and Nishikori. That’s fine. But we have to see the Maestro string together a few of these brilliant tennis matches. His BH looked so good against Berdych. His form when it’s going is of legend. But I’m yet to get too caught-up. This we can agree on: so nice to see Federer playing well at a major. The youth of Kei and especially Andy just seems like a lot to overcome. Can Roger’s errors stay in check? Can his serve give him some freebies? A lot of questions with the 35 year-old but the intrigue is pretty electric!

Murray will play Federer or Nishikori in that top QF. We know this. And Andy should win this tournament, on paper. But they have to play actual tennis on the tennis court, so let’s buckle-up and get our spectatorship in order.

Talk to you soon!

Djokovic Falls to Istomin in 2R

One problem with the ATP “establishment” concerns the media and their failure, on a consistent basis, to be objective and smart in their analysis of the sport. Sure it’s been easy over the years to say Roger, Rafa or Novak will win here or there. But fancy a little more sophisticated read on the sport and these buffoons sound like fans (even fanboys/girls) instead of the arbiters of play aimed at helping other viewers or readers to foster a clearer understanding of the competition and the sport in general.

One of my first big posts for this site (also published on your favorite Djokofanboy’s site) was when I called-out the media and Serena during her run at the calendar slam in 2015 and, subsequently, Graff’s legacy. I called bullshit on Serena and the media who could be heard saying things about Serena and the sport that made very little sense. Most readers got up-in-arms about my challenge to Serena’s character, but I was going after the media’s character, as well. Looking back now, the media is more of a concern than Serena. The media are continuing to make fools of themselves.

With regards to the big upset yesterday at the Australian Open 2R, this could be heard by the guy calling the match: ‘“Nothing,” John McEnroe said in the commentary booth in Rod Laver Arena, “would suggest this was about to happen.”’

istomin_novakFolk, Istomin’s Melbourne Masterpiece was a remarkable match to watch, especially live on the tele as it all went down in real time. The Australian Open is a tough watch here on the U.S. west coast given how late some of the matches are live, but when there remained a hint of competitive suspense in that fourth set, I stayed-up and watched. Sure this was a big-time upset. I would have been more comfortable saying trouble for Novak might come in the fourth round against an ascendant Dimitrov (he has to get by Gasquet first, mind you) or in the SF or F. This is an upset for sure.

Istomin is a fun watch with his always matching glasses and head-band that accompany a pretty powerful and inconsistent game. What was so remarkable about last night was his ability to stand and trade with the best hitter in the sport. Novak tried to intimidate late in the match, but the 30 year-old, #117 in the world, hit back harder. His serve turned-out to be more reliable than the Serb’s and the great break early in the fifth, after a jaw-dropping 4th set TB, sealed the deal as the big resident of Uzbekistan served it out. Incredible theater to be sure.

But not the most shocking event in the past ten years. People like McEnroe, who really feel like “nothing would suggest this was about to happen,” aren’t paying attention.

Djokovic is not the 2011 version. Sorry, folks. Just like Federer was not playing his all-time peak tennis at 34 years-old, Novak is a much older 29 than, apparently, many people realize.

We have been talking about that here for months.

This, naturally, opens the draw big-time. Murray probably finishes his AO pilgrimage.
I’ll be back to say more about some other tennis, like my boy Evans sending Cilic home early. Let’s hear it for the sport of squash!

Big 3R matches on the horizon.

As for the mcshow tennis blog way ahead of the curve on this Djoker descent, here’s some further reading: 😉

Shanghai Fallout

Where Does Novak Go From Here

Follow-up to My “Novak is Doomed” Article

Right. On. Cue.

Djokovic’s Run

Andy Murray v Novak Djokovic

Now What, Novak?

Djokollapse

Folks, the mainstream media is distracted. I am not. Stay tuned!

Australian Open First Round

Starting at the top in the Murray quarter, everything looks pretty status quo. I did see a bit of Murray’s match v Marchenko and whether it was the Ukrainian’s form, the heat or that lack of precision in Murray’s game, the No. 1 seed had his hands full.

aoI’m going to say this is more on Murray though Marchenko was playing very well in stretches, hitting deep from both wings down both lines (an inside-out BH that gave Murray no chance on several occasions). Murray’s FH is sitting up too high. He’s not necessarily ballooning the ball, but the pedestrian, playing-it-safe top-spin FH is giving his opponents all kinds of options. As much as we want to applaud Murray’s defense, his offense is missing and this could be all kinds of trouble for him.

He’ll beat almost everybody by just being more consistent, out working, and ultimately out-lasting his opponent. But he’s going to be wasted by the second week if he continues to hit from the BL like this. He closed-out the second set TB (7-5) with a much flatter inside-out FH that definitively established control of the match. It took two sets to see that kind of power and precision.

Was not very impressed with Murray’s form.

Other than that, looks like Nishikori struggled a bit but pulled it out in five.

Federer I did not see, but read Tignor’s write-up, which seemed both hopeful for Fedfans and a bit more of a reality check on the Express. As the story goes, he was tight the first couple of sets, looked way out of sorts, and according to him he was thinking too much. Once he relaxed and found his rhythm, he cruised in the final two sets 2 and 2. So, I would say looking good; in the end: no harm, no foul. He has the instincts to play a big match, but having been off since WB 2016, he needed to find that rhythm. He has one of the surviving young Americans in 2R, Noah Rubin.

You might wonder why I’m calling Pouille’s R1 dismissal status quo. Certainly there was reason to continually be fairly high on the 22 year-old’s prospects in any match. He made the QF of both WB and USO last year, beating Nadal in NYC as a highlight of that particular run. He then won his first title in Metz last summer, which helped consolidate the promise of this solid tennis player.

However, in Beijing he lost to Dimitrov in R16 (Dimitrov, to evidence some of why I have had my eye on him early this year, even before the Brisbane win, in China beat Pouille, then Nadal, then got a w/o from Raonic in the SF and lost to Murray in the F). Pouille followed-up that with a loss at Shanghai to Murray in the R16 1 and 3; he followed that with another loss to Murray in the R16 in Paris, this time 0 and 3. All this to say, Pouille has been seeing the exit sign pretty early in this last run of tournament play. At Brisbane he lost in the 2R to young Brit Kyle Edmund, retiring on a foot injury.

They have work to do over there in camp Pouille.

I hope Harrison gives Berdych some work. The American, never a threat in a match like this, played Jack Sock pretty tough in Auckland and he did straights on Mahut here in R1, so who knows. Berdych is big, but stranger things have happened.

Stan’s quarter is very unpredictable, as I said earlier. Both Wawrinka and Cilic just about saw the exit in their respective openers. Both needed five. Klizan actually had the match on his racquet, serving 4-3 in the fifth. Unreal. And Cilic was down 0-2 before he finally woke-up. We said Janowicz would be tough; the Croat has Daniel Evans next. Might be just what Marin needed, that scare in the first round. Evans should be tough too. After Evans, a victorious Cilic would get Tomic. That’s a major championship bracket!

Jack Sock v Khachanov should be interesting. The American is playing well and should advance but the young Russian can play, too. Perhaps a bit of the future there in that match.

Stan will probably be tested again by Johnson though Stan after a scare like that tends to wake-up? We’ll see. Keep your eye on Kyrgios here as he’s the sexy pick to emerge and play Murray in that first SF. Kyrgios has a very favorable draw, by the way, not seeing anyone until possibly Stan in the fourth round. Of course, that could be fatal. I want to see how the Aussie does in a tough 4-5 setter. That’s where his emotions come to play.

In the Raonic quarter, here’s what I’m watching: probably the best of the young American bunch (there are several aspiring teens with international potential) is Frances Tiafoe. I wrote about him briefly after IW last year. He has a ton of athleticism. He took care of Kukushkin and now he gets the German prodigy A. Zverev. This could be good.

I saw just the end of Nadal’s win over Mayer. He seems to be on track for his R3 match against Zverev, but let’s see if Tiafoe and (forever young) Baghdatis can complicate things a bit.

Other than that, I want to see if Raonic is finding GS finals form (Muller should be a tough out given his strong S&V) and how good Bautista Agut is really playing. Sorry, I can’t really find enough interest in Monfils at this point.

Lastly, the Djokovic quarter is a joke. The only thing I’m watching there is that Dimitrov gets through Gasquet. That’s going to be tricky for the Bulgarian. If he smashes him, great, get ready to play Djokovic (a match we need to see). I will not, unfortunately, be surprised if the Frenchman wins that R3 match.

That quarter needs Dimitrov (in form) v Djokovic. Otherwise, that entire bracket is simply an underachievement on the part of the tournament. Wawrinka’s quarter is bloated while Djokovic’s is malnourished.

Go figure.

The 2017 Australian Open Draw

Let’s get it on.

Murray: In the top half of the draw, the Scot has a tough route for his quest to win a fourth major and first Australian Open. Here’s how his quarter should play-out.

australian-openHe opens with Illya Marchenko, a Ukrainian who made the AO 2nd round in ’10 and ’11. Murray gets a breather in R64 and then he should see Querrey or the young Frenchman Halys in R32, Pouille/Isner in R16 with a potentially big QF v Nishikori, Berdych or Federer.

Looked at from the bottom of that quarter, Federer should see Berdych in R32. Chew on that. Those two played in the QF last year, but
with Federer’s deserved 17-seed, he needs to slide into form early or he’s out. You and I like his chances against Berdych, but this is no easy draw for the 35 year-old. The winner of that match gets Nishikori in R16, the winner to almost certainly play Murray in that top QF.

So, Murray has Pouille, Federer, Berdych and Nishikori as big threats.

Wawrinka: The Swiss 4-seed has a fairly lighter draw, compared to Murray, but then again with such draw mystery and Stan’s unpredictable form, who knows. He certainly has potential fireworks in a R16 match with Kyrgios who’s lurking as a 14-seed with a lot to prove and seemingly comfortable playing at home. Cuevas, Troicki, and Johnson are in that bracket as potential spoilers; that aside, we hope to see Stan finding form as he squares-up with the uber talented (ill-mannered) Aussie in that match to decide one half the 2nd QF.

The other half of that quarter will see Cilic attempt some semblance of respectable tennis, the kind we know he has in him, sorta, we guess. Looks like he’s in like-minded company with the guys such as Tsonga and Tomic in that draw. All this means is there are guys who can rise-up and be very difficult outs. Tsonga, on a downward trajectory, might have one or two big runs in him left, and Tomic, like Kyrgios, could keep his shit together, act like a man and be a dangerous opponent for anyone in Melbourne.

Beyond those three musketeers, this bracket has some other threats: Jack Sock is looking to close-out his win in Auckland in that AO warm-up, looking pretty good despite the warm-up talent there, but still: he’s maturing, has a solid serve, huge FH and works to develop that BH along with his Bo5 fitness. He can be dangerous. Along with Sock, speaking of AO warm-ups, the British former (or occasional) squash player Daniel Evans is closing-in on the crown at the Sydney warm-up, the APIA International. He plays big serving Gilles Muller in the final.

We’ve talked Evans here before, from him holding MP vs Stan at the USO last September to Federer looking good in a victory over the Brit at the Hopman Cup a couple of weeks ago. As I said then, it was a shot-making clinic, the squash player’s ability to shape the ball a nice complement to some of the Maestro’s touch.

Cilic has Evans in R64 and that’s if the Croatian 7-seed can take care of Jerzy Janowicz, a guy who’s big game has seen the 3R at the AO as recently as 2015. In other words, Cilic will be tested early and often.

People want to say the QF here is Wawrinka or Kyrgios v Cilic. Kyrgios is a sexy pick given the context but that guy could easily implode in a match against Wawrinka, especially since a good Stan will probably take you, at least, into a 5th and decider. A lot of opportunity for Nick to counter his explosive tennis with some explosive immaturity (big stage, big stakes, big lights, potential 3-4 hour match. . .). Again, may seem like a straight-forward bracket, but there are a lot of players in here with no one who seemingly has the consistency to really stand above the throng.

Raonic: This is the weakest bracket in the tournament. Raonic’s huge serving professionalism will get him into the R16 vs Zverev, Monfils or Nadal (I suspect) and onto the QF, most likely. You probably know where I stand on Monfils and Nadal. I don’t trust either one (the former because of his Kyrgios-like instability and Nadal because of his form). Zverev is still quite young so you have to factor that in, but he should beat Nadal in that R32 show-down.

Outside of that, what else do you see? I guess Bautista Agut could give Raonic some difficulty (or Simon? Not). Raonic fell in Brisbane while the 13-seed Spaniard continues to show-up and find victories, winning Chennai last week. Has Raonic’s coaching changes perhaps affected him poorly? We suspect he’ll be fine in this format, on this surface.

Seeing Zverev emerge from the top would be a good development though I know a lot of people would like to see Rafa make a run.

Djokovic: This doesn’t look like a tough draw at all. People could get their panties in a bunch regarding his first round “re-match” with Verdasco, but who thinks the Spaniard really has a chance in this match? Sure the Serb has a habit of starting slowly in tournaments, but this certainly should wake him up. He’ll want to punish the dangerous Spaniard for his insolence in Doha. Of course, you and I both know the poetic justice here would be the Spaniard “setting the record straight” against the sneaky Serb who escaped FIVE MPs in that Doha SF 😉

But the defending champion here should clean-up his act against Fernando and move-on.

Of course, there’s a 3R match, Djokovic vs. Dimitrov, that makes this blog ring again with its steady prescience. Too much to ask from the Bulgarian I suppose, but I certainly hope he’s on his game. If that BH is working along with the rest of his arsenal, he’s moving like he does, keeps his head in the match (fortitude), could be a classic. I love it. Especially since that’s the title of a recent post that I penned (almost) jokingly 😉

Thiem? I don’t see it. Hopefully he’s in better form. Watch the difference in style between Thiem and Dimitrov, both OHBH practitioners. Dimitrov has so much more behind the shot, meaning his movement and versatility. Thiem’s execution is too slow, or was in 2016.

Goffin doesn’t concern me (prove me wrong) and I don’t necessarily guarantee Thiem reaching the QF. Which means that’s a shitshow, pretty much.

Djokovic v Dimitrov is (hopefully) about as good as it gets down there.

One player who could upset the Serbian-Bulgarian tilt is Gasquet. I could see him beating Dimitrov, which would be a disaster as the vacillating Frenchman would then retreat to the loo for the remainder of the tournament. Give me Djoker v Grigor!

Seems fairly likely a 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 semi-finals plays-out. But it’s tennis and the winds of change are always blowing. Stan seems the likely uncertainty, Murray perhaps the most certain to reach the final four. What say you, dear reader?

Many many interesting storylines.

Stay tuned.

The Grigor Potential

As I implied in my previous post, the biggest news of last week’s ATP opening tournament play was not necessarily the Djokovic win at Doha over friend/foe world #1 Sir Andy Murray; that was the second most interesting development in men’s tennis.

We like to get out front of these less obvious developments, so we may look to purchase a little stock earlier than most, which takes some doing since most might not even see the stock’s potential in the first place.

In Grigor Dimitrov’s case, some may haveseen his potential back in 2013-14 (or even earlier), but have dismissed him since, justifiably lumping him in with the others as one of the “lost boys” (this linked article has a grigor_brisbanecouple of insightful points about this lost generation – when you look at their actual ages compared to Nadal/Murray/Djokovic and Federer, misperception abounds. Something else I can explore later. . .)

The last line of that article reads: “Dimitrov shouldn’t wait till Federer or Nadal fade off from the scene. The young ones — Kyrgios and Coric — are catching up a lot faster. He should act before it is too long.” 

Well, he may appear to be acting-out this potential (better late than never). And as we will certainly say from the stands, or sitting in-front of the tele, “Act on, Greegoar!”

Aside from whatever promise he showed as a junior, this is a guy who won his first ATP title in Stockholm in 2013 and backed that up in 2014, at the age of 22, when he won three titles: Acapulco (hard), Bucharest (clay) and Queens Club (grass). Queens was backed-up by his SF run at the The Championships. He beat Murray in the QF in straights 61 76 62 before losing to the eventual champ Djokovic in the SF.

Note that he won three different titles that year on three different surfaces, which only supports some of the thoughts that arise when you watch him play and think about what he could be capable of doing. His game is one of genuine athleticism and versatility. This is undeniable. BUT we have to wait and see how this potential works-out, whether we indeed have a real development on tour of a player that can cause opponents (even the top players) all kinds of problems. Or this is another false alarm from “the field.”

His new coach is worth brining-up as well. Daniel Vallverdu was hired last summer after the coach parted ways with Berdych. One highlight of Vallverdu is his work with Murray and Lendl from 2010 to 2014. He was Andy’s hitting partner and assistant coach under Lendl when Murray broke-through and won his first couple of majors. Another note here is Vallverdu’s capacity as head coach of the British Olympic tennis team in the 2012 London games where Murray took gold in singles. Vallverdu is only 30 years-old but has a fair bit of successful experience. The resume is not too shabby for a young coach, who might just be able to really connect with the still young Dimitrov and perhaps share some of that big boy tennis knowledge Vallverdu has picked-up along the way.

Here’s an excerpt from an article on the ATP website, where the coach discusses the Bulgarian’s current form after his win at Brisbane last week (again, where he knocked-off Roanic and Nishikori on the way to the title) and how this is great, but that they have just started, have a lot of work ahead in order to cash in on any legitimate success (and realization of the Grigor potential 😉

Source

“He is close to the best form that he can be in, but the important thing is to maintain it now,” Vallerdu added. “At this moment he is feeling good physically, but still we can improve a little more. I am very happy with how he is playing and how he is competing in all his matches from start to finish. For me, the match against Raonic in the semi-finals has shown how much better he is playing since we have been together.”

With his pupil up to No. 15 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, Vallverdu believes that he still has a long road ahead and is only first starting to realize his potential.

“We are in the first phase of our work. You are not able to create habits in a player in just three or four months. To create habits is the work of eight, 10 or 12 months doing the right things. And above all, they have to be the right habits in the important matches. Dimitrov has played important matches, but I want to see it in the semi-finals and finals. That is where you can see if the habits are where they have to be.”

Crack on!

Djokovic v Dimitrov

Who you got?

Okay, I’m getting way ahead of myself here.

Sorry for the delay in posting; I wanted to make sure I saw some actual tennis from the two matches I was going to write about.

The Djokovic win is not the biggest news if you’re a big-time tennis fan. Not in the least. The match didn’t tell us as much as we would like. Granted, if you’re a fanboy with a fanblog and you’re just beside yourself that your favorite tennis player won, well, good for you. Have fun expressing your joy to your adoring readers.

In other words, close your “analysis” of said final like this: “As a fan, I am delighted to see Djokovic playing this well again and to see my faith in him paying off. I missed that incredible level of tennis and intensity from my favorite player.”

Weeeeeeeeee!

Analysis:

The match had decent quality (at times high – especially given the time of year – and at times pretty mediocre) and top-of-the-tour excitement, for sure. These are the boys to be reckoned with on the tour right now, obviously. As we said in the preview to 2017, the year’s majors could be split 2 and 2 between these two (but most likely won’t be). One can not deny the fortune of the tennis world to get this first installment of Murray v Djokovic 2017 at their first tournament of the season, a preview, literally, of the year’s first major. Again, the first week of the tour and we get a #1 v #2 with spill-over anticipation and tension from 2016, a long-standing rivalry, etc. This match had the goods and it pretty much delivered.djokovicmurraydoha

To be sure, good on Djokovic for pulling-out the win. This is a big win for the Serb and his camp (his moral support). When Novak was playing well, finding that great penetrating FH cross-court, down-the-line combo, for instance, he showed why he can be very tough to beat. There were signs of that form, of simply out-hitting Andy, starting a point perhaps tentatively, but finding that rhythm, finishing the point with that Djokovic BL brilliance, even coming to net effectively (35 times), and hitting some nice over-head smashes (a shot that worries most Djokovic fans).

Indeed, much of the match had the look of many past Djokovic v Murray tilts. The Serb is just an all-around better player than Murray, or was. That’s the question that lingers from 2016 and has to be answered in 2017. Based-on their H2H, and/or a comparative look at their tennis, Djokovic generally has too much (depth, angle, precision, consistency, fortitude) for Sir Andy.

Murray has developed a nice shot repertoire from both sides, a return-of-serve that can rival Novak’s, a solid service game, and tremendous touch at the net. He’s a beast and not too many players can match his overall strength and versatility (especially that defense!). But he’s been looking-up most of his career at the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Two are exit-stage-left, so there’s only the Serb with whom he has to contend. And he’s done OK. Two of his three majors have come against Djokovic. Add to that the end of 2016 and you have to tell yourself that Andy stands a chance against Novak.

But Novak, in form, should get the better of Andy. That’s pretty much what went down in the Doha final. That’s why the second half of 2016 (from Wimbledon thru to the WTF) is such a good debate: is that period of tennis more the Djokollapse or the rise of Andy Murray?

So, the Doha final reminded us of the historical edge that Djokovic has had over Murray. Murray just didn’t cash-in on breaks of serve (2/7 I believe), didn’t do enough with his serve, came-up short too often with his BH. He made Djokovic look like that old Djokovic through-out most of the match. For most observers, the match might suggest that we’re returning to an ATP status-quo circa 2014-15. And this may be the case.

HOWEVER. Djokovic unable to close-out the 2nd set is a huge asterisk on this here Djokovic win. His three-set victory counts in the win column, for sure. Personally, I think a win is a win in most cases. But the context for this match is the Djokollapse and the edge he has over the Scot. If he closes-out that match 3 and 4, wow. Definitive. Big confidence boost going-in to Melbourne. But Andy breaks back twice to reverse the entire direction of the match? What?

I was jogging through some local mountains but did have my phone, decided tentatively to check the score once I figured we’d have some kind of verdict. Djokovic serving for match was, again, a pretty definitive story-line. As I checked back, just to be sure, only to see Djokovic serving to stay in the set at 5-6 I thought that’s it, that’s the question mark that will still hover over the Djokovic camp. I actually thought Murray could ride that reversal to victory, even thought we could see Djokovic go away in the third set. Hanging-on and winning that match is a solid move for the Serb, no question. Be that as it may, the break at 4-5 is almost philosophical in its meaning.

If you’re Djokovic, you’re ecstatic about the win in Doha over Andy Murray in a thrilling final that seems to reestablish the ATP pecking order.

On the other hand, if you’re Andy, you’re quite pleased with how you made this a match. You got to Djokovic in that second set. Even in the first set, Andy was broken at 3-4 when he appeared to be in control of the game. I didn’t think Andy looked very sharp, though certainly his opponent had something to do with that. The few laser BH Andy hit that cause even Djokovic lots of trouble were very few and far between. Even that flatter CC FH was too rare to be much of a weapon for the Scot. I recall one BH from Andy that sat-up like a fattened fruit, which Novak murdered with an inside-out FH winner. Great shot, Novak, but the world’s #1 shot execution just wasn’t very sharp.

Andy winning would have been devastating for Novak. But the break back in the 2nd, including the loss of composure from the the Serb (breaking his racquet, receiving the point penalty – after hitting a ball into the stands earlier) all added-up to a kind of moral victory in a match with this much context: and I am NOT a moral victory kind of guy, by the way. But with the championship on his racquet in the 2nd set. . .There’s still some concern.

In the end, Djokovic gets his Doha title defense and a solid result going-into the Australian Open where he’s very much in a certain comfort zone. But there are signs from Doha that he’s not that peaking, indomitable world beater. His Doha draw was weak, he miraculously survived five MPs against Verdasco in the SF and Murray, who was not very sharp, still managed to put a massive scare into the Serb when the world #2 should have cruised to a straight-set win. In other words, it’s complicated and I wouldn’t say anything definitive happened in Doha last week. Other than a pretty dramatic final for all tennis fans to enjoy. Bravo.

On that note, speaking of drama, excitement, the way Djokovic and Murray extend points, sit back on the BL and try to out-hit the other. . .Though the tennis is exciting, the affects of that style can be undermining of quality; the tennis so physical, the players noticeably tiring in such a three-setter. Again, fun to watch and terribly exciting at times, but this can be reminiscent of less creative, less offensive tennis.

This is a long way of asking, did anyone see Dimitrov play this week? I said it in the preview that his surging form is something to keep an eye on, and I said the Dimitrov v Raonic SF was certainly something I wanted to see.

Folks, the 25 year-old (turns 26 in May) is showing all kinds of brilliance on the court. I know it’s obnoxiously cliche to call him Baby-Fed, but the guy’s all-court athletic fluency is clicking on several cylinders right now. His movement and execution from both sides is quite Federer-like given the angles he can play with his FH and OHBH. Whereas Federer’s OHBH is now come-and-go effective, Stan’s is a military fire-arm and someone like Gasquet’s is at least nice to look at, Grigor’s is demoralizing. I watched in the first set of today’s Brisbane final Nishikori give-up on some of the Bulgarian’s devastating ground strokes. He moved Kei all over the court, out-hit the world #5 player fluently, made it look pretty easy actually.

Not to mention he beat Raonic in straights in the SF. Not a bad weekend for Dimitrov. I can only hope the form is for real and he can sustain this in bigger stakes, longer more physical matches.

Look at a few of these highlights if you missed his march to the Brisbane title this week. This is only from the final today vs. Nishikori, but really solid form from a still relatively young Grigor.

His movement is sensational. Cutting and driving the OHBH, ripping the FH, coming into net with ease and efficiency. . . the tour needs this style and this talent to develop. No question.

Watching the SF I was reminded of how someone who knows tennis told me he liked a young Milos Raonic back in 2012 or so. After watching some of his tennis, I never bought-in. Raonic’s movement around the court reminds me a bit of those gangly monsters from the film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Dimitrov, by contrast, has so much more athleticism and a kind of prodigious fluency to his game. After that 2014 WB SF appearance he seemed to go away, girl trouble, immaturity, etc. Hopefully he’s back. Truly impressive stuff from the Bulgarian this week in Brisbane.

Hats off to Roberto Bautista Agut, as well. His game continues to show a consistently dangerous quality. Come on, boys, get your games ready for Melbourne.

Cheerio.

Murray and Djokovic Colliding in Doha

Doha has gone according to plan although as I tuned-in today Djokovic limped into a 2nd set TB with Verdasco, already down a set. The TB started-off and Djokovic proceeded to go down 2-5 on a point that looked very much like a guy throwing-in the towel. He then faced five MPs. Five. Verdasco has to somehow live with himself after not being able to shut that door on world #2. Unreal, watching a guy just die at the door-step like that. The Spaniard’s potent BL game became a weekend warrior at the club just happy to sip iced-teas and play with his pals. Wow. He had four MP at 6-2, Djokovic brought it back to 6-6 and Verdasco

ivan_andy

2007 Doha Final 😀

was able to find one final MP, yet he still couldn’t close the deal. Well done to the Serb for surviving. Need less to say, the Serb’s draw has been pretty easy (though Fernando can bring it) and he looks just OK. Then again saving those MP is a good sign for the former world #1.

Murray had a tougher draw, but has managed pretty well. He has played a few TBs himself. The straights victory over Berdych today (3 and 4) has to feel pretty good going into a final against Novak.

The final has to favor Murray only because of Novak’s Djokollapse just a few months ago, the final installment coming in a H2H against the Brit. Novak can help right the ship for sure with a Doha crown, but Murray must be feeling pretty good.

Djokovic still looks weakened, tired. I don’t see any hint of the invincibility he had a year ago. Having said that, saving MPs like that is vintage Djokovic. That’s what I thought he might be able to employ against Stan in the USO final or Murray in the WTF final. I will always remember Djokovic for being a warrior with a great clutch gene, a player who musters the goods when it counts. There was a bit of that today vs. the Spaniard, but overall he looks quite beatable. We shall see. I like Murray in the final, but a Serb victory wouldn’t surprise one bit only because Djokovic has to be playing with a bit of desperation at this point. A Murray win would be pretty tough on the Djokovic camp.

Elsewhere, Nishikori was indeed tested by American teen Donaldson (I mentioned it would be a test in my preview). Kei was actually in trouble in the 2nd, down a set. He now has a date with Stan in one Brisbane SF while Raonic, who predictably took care of Nadal, is set to play the surging Dimitrov, another call I made, simply based-on his late 2016 form. Dimitrov took care of Thiem in three. I am eager to watch the Raonic v Dimitrov SF.

Federer, as we know, lost to Zverev at the Hopman Cup. Seemed like deja-vu, from the German’s upset at 2016 Halle. All we can say is the Express is en route to Melbourne and has played some fairly competitive tennis in preparation. Speaking of, Roger just bread-sticked Gasquet in their first set, so we can chew on that baguette for a bit. Roger breaking serve should be the headline. His return of serve and BH seem to be the most concerning. Then again, at least he’s healthy.

I think we see the athletes we’ll be talking about in the early part of this season, possibly making a bit of noise at the year’s first major: Andy, Novak, Milos, Stan, Kei, along with Thiem, Dimitrov, and Nadal. Beyond them, Bautista Agut seems to be continuing his form in China along with hopefully some Hopman Cup vibes from the likes of Zverev, Sock, Kyrgios, and Federer. Pouille had to withdraw from his match with young Brit Edmund, but both of these players can hopefully find some big tennis form for Melbourne.

As for Cilic, keep-up the good work, pal.

Over-all, looking good, folks. Big match tomorrow in Doha and let’s see if Stan can find enough tennis to get himself into a final to play the winner of Dimitrov/Raonic (a Milos v Kei final would not surprise me one bit).

Carry-on!