February Tournament Play and Early 2017 Contenders

I watched Tsonga get his 2nd set break-of-serve of Goffin up 5-4 in their Rotterdam final, which became a run-away title for Jo-Willy 46 64 61. I was literally thinking, if he loses to Goffin here, it’s over for Jo-Wilfried. That tenth game of the 2nd set was so typical Tsonga. Microcosm of his career. He has the game and set in hand, 40-15, Belgian serving to get the set to a potential TB, maybe a straight-set win, massive achievement for the world #11, a guy who pretty consistently shows-up, but just doesn’t quite have the fire power of the top guys. Game goes to deuce. Tsonga hits a monster FH DTL to find another SP. Then Tsonga hits an inexplicably (characteristic) tired BH into the net. Then another show of brilliance. Then another soft point. He finally wins the game, but it’s just too typical of Tsonga to see this kind of, as I have said many times before, lackadaisical tennis. The 3rd set seems a pretty definitive measure of the contrast of these two tennis talents.

Goffin will continue to show-up and play solid tennis, but really doesn’t earn that distinction as a “contender” on the ATP, and we’re, of course, really talking about the 1000s and majors. None the less, I may be eating these words as back-to-back finals appearances in Sofia and Rotterdam is tremendous work. I am rooting for the Belgian player. I used to have a few Belgian commenters (I see some still read); perhaps they might find some poetic inspiration from the play of Goffin, resident of Monte-Carlo, the tennis capital, apparently.

Tsonga remains a potential threat, or contender, for the 2017 tour. Barely. But we’re always on the look for the underachieving Frenchman to bring some quality to these draws. Good for him to get this Rotterdam title, which had a loaded field.  The mysterious Frenchman . . .

I’m late on this 2017 tournament commentary, but Montpellier, Sofia two weeks ago and Rotterdam, Memphis and Buenos Aires this past week provide some insight that will only become clarified, extended or complicated in the coming weeks as we anticipate the tour touching-down in the desert for the 2017 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, the season’s first Masters 1000.

Dimitrov is still surging though he was beaten in Rotterdam last week by finalist Goffin. Dimitrov took care of business in his hometown of Sofia with what looked like a very emotional bit of tennis for the Bulgarian. A much anticipated SF between Grior and DimitrovBH.jpgDominic Thiem came up empty as the Austrian fell to 24 year-old Nikoloz Basilashvili, from Georgia. Dimitrov is on track for sure. Of course, we had that back in the first weeks of January, our eyes on Baby Fed because of his strong finish to 2016. Indeed, this tennis site strives for no surprises.

In other words, as lovers quarrel over GOAT genitalia, we keep our eyes on the prize.

Dominic Thiem continues to make his case for being a contender. Sure he lost early in Sofia, but he was the #1 seed, and followed that up with a great win in 1R of Rotterdam where he got quite the floater in Sascha Zverev, coming off his win at Montpellier, where he dismantled a bunch of locals on his way to another title (Chardy, Tsonga and Gasquet all took the mat against the young German).

Thiem beat Zverev 36 63 64 in a show of big hitting youngsters showcasing the future. Something to keep an eye on: Thiem figured-out the 6’6″ Zverev had trouble with balls below the net; this became an obvious strategy and advantage. Turned the match around.dominicthiem2017australianopenday2pucnqoemiojl Clearly, Zverev is the next Del Potro. Aside from obvious style differences, the comparison is pretty clean though Zverev needs to develop that huge FH. Good early season match-up of future stars we’ll probably reference again.

Worth noting that Zverev and his older brother won the Montpellier doubles. Great work! What genius turn of events Melbourne was – the rise of Mischa among the highlights.

Dimitrov actually had a tough 1R match against Mischa in Rotterdam before his rematch with Istomin. After those two Melbourne throw-backs, Grigor took it on the chin to Goffin in the following match.

What we see in the relevancy of Sascha is the influence this has on Mischa, so we get a kind of two-for-one. Mischa will hopefully remain a strong threat in the early rounds for the lazy or incomplete player.

So far: Contenders: Tsonga (barely but brilliant Rotterdam win, mate!), Dimitrov, Thiem, Sascha. . .Nishikori?

The loss to Dolgopolov is pretty poor. I didn’t watch much of this tournament at all, but there is not concern here, really. I will say this (listen up, Belgium): Goffin’s play puts him just a few steps to the rear of Nishikori. That’s not looking at the last three years, but three weeks, so admittedly Goffin has to continue, to consolidate.  But I’m growing weary of Kei, perhaps more a Tsonga-type than anything: one magical run to a major final, like Jo-Willy, interestingly enough. His collapse in the WTF, his inability to stay healthy. Guys like Dimitrov have so much more game and variety. That baseline “brilliance” made famous by Djokovic and Nadal is beginning to wear-out, my tennis friends.

How about Cilic, our dear friend, Marin. Good heavens he stinks. First match in Montpellier, as the #1 seed, he loses to 32 year-old Dustin Brown, who’s no slouch, granted, but what the hell. Then Marin travels to Rotterdam, again as the #1 seed, only to get hammered by Tsonga in the QF (Cilic survived a 3-setter 1R vs. Paire and a 3-setter vs. Coric to reach Tsonga). Awful, dreadful stuff from world #7, winner of a single major.

Should we include Cilic in our contender category? No.

Let’s get to the big boys.

Raonic? Not convinced. I love his professionalism, but don’t like the athleticism and his professionalism can actually be seen as a try-hard. He forces the ball too often. He does not have the athleticism of a Del Potro or Sascha Zverev. He’s more Isner than those two.

Del Potro. We get some evidence in Del Ray Beach (Florida) this week. How can his play somehow decline from 2016? We will be rooting hard for the Gentle Giant this year.

Wawrinka always. Can’t wait for him to find a few good matches, maybe a good run at one of the clay Masters as a run-up to Roland Garros. We need Stanimal in Paris all pissed off and fit.

Sir Andy should rebound well. He probably wins Miami and will be a handful/nightmare for many this season.

Roger won Melbourne. We’ll have more to say about his 2017, but I think he’s very dangerous. How is he not very very dangerous at this point? His tennis is not as physical as the rest of the gang. He’s got so much experience it’s nauseating. . .to his detractors. His nadal_netfaultserve is big and he may have found the perfect pitchman who doubles as the janitor, just the guy Roger needs in his corner at this point: Ivan the terrible.

Who wants to play Roger, raise your hand?

Nadal may be just as compelling as Roger, for obvious reasons, but with the FO on the horizon, he has to be readying his game for war. Looks like he liked what he saw in Moya: Toni announcing his “retirement.” Finally. Several parallels in the Fedal 2017 campaigns, no?. Moya makes Rafa another unknown quantity, like Federer. Nadal’s Melbourne tactics were very interesting. Look at his ROS court positioning vs. Raonic. Not sure Milos has much for a surging Rafa anyways, but this seemed to be a huge factor. Out of nowhere.

Another show of hands. Who wants to play Rafa?  😀

This spring should be a blast.

Ahh, and then there’s Slowvak Courtkovic, or N(sl)o(w)le. Tell the fan club sniffing the slow court specialist’s gym shorts to shut it down; they’re making their boyfriend look like a Djoker.

Novak is one of the greats. That’s our position we’ve written about from day 1.

But there has been a bit of change in the narrative as of the last 9 months, which has given birth, if you will, to a bit of Serbian crisis.

And, again, no surprises here. The base-line physicality of defense-first tennis has massive limitations. See: age. And the demise of court homogenization?  I have so much to say about a Sampras/Federer kind of universe vs. an alternatively slow court era.

But back to the Serb.

Not enough has been made about the 2016 Djokollapse. Think of the fan club talking now about his clay prowess as RG nears. Comparing him to Roger, talking of his domination of the Spaniard whose level fell off the face of the earth.

Folks, fan clubbers and tennis aficionados alike: the Djokollapse was a disaster for the guy. History is speeding by and the time is now to get “it” while the getting is good. Roger’s early 2000s is of that model, as is Nadal’s FO domination. Novak’s time is/was now. He novak-djokovic-australian-open-tennis_3406915needs to mount that horse in a hurry and get back to business. He hasn’t done enough to become what the fan club desires so desperately.

Most sensible tennis brains have the top level as Laver/Federer/Sampras/Nadal. Why? Partly because of majors and enough of the eye test to say, yes. I actually put Lendl right up there, as well. Nole is essentially in there because he’s not done. But he has to win big tournaments. 2017 AO was huge. So was 2016 WTF and 2016 USO. The man has to get his act together quick.

The fan club says Novak is back on track. The Mcshow Tennis Blog has doubts in that the very evidence that Djokovic is back is flawed. That poor 2nd set in the Doha final about which we were clear was a sign of lingering trouble, not to mention his 2R dismissal in Melbourne suggest he has to prove the reverse of this pattern is reality and not nostalgia.

Obviously, Novak is a contender; if we’re getting to the business-end of the tennis in these tournaments, he should be right there. His big match mettle is all-time. But he needs to wake-up, smell the coffee and get back to his winning formula.

Fedal is rejuvenated and Murray is on his own last crusade. Not to mention Stan is your worst nightmare. Yeah, I’m talking to you.

Everything tennis looks pretty damn good, you all. Sorry for the delay in discourse.
Know that I’m here, defending the wall. Always.

Bring on March.

AO Collateral Damage: Djokeray/Murkovic

Who’s dismissal at the 2017 Australian Open was more surprising, Murrays’s or Djokovic’s?

Murray. The guy was on fumes as much as he ran into an all-court magician (M.Zverev) in the fourth round. Who can ever really know what exactly accounts for these victories and upsets as there are a combination of factors. Which is why when a fangirl in all her glory says court speed made all the difference, or when an elementary school intellect shares his theory of AO doping, you can laugh out loud and wish these slaps a speedy recovery. That is not commentary; that’s politics.

We can talk here about at least two reasons for Murray’s earlier-than-expected exit: Murray looked out of gas; and he was made to look limited in his tennis.

His run at the end of 2016 to catch and castrate the Serb’s invincibility was taxing, absolutely. You saw him barely get through his group in London though he did make quick work of Novak in the final. Pretty demoralizing all the way around for Novak, which I murray-djokwrote about, at length (see: Djokollapse – losing the WTF and another year-end #1 is big-time damage). Murray had a career defining run there, so he more or less limped into Melbourne after getting beat pretty dramatically in the Doha final by Novak that, again, didn’t give Novak the best look, despite people’s predictable premature celebratory pee party.

Indeed, Murray’s 2016 run was memorable, but let me qualify this accomplishment and make another suggestion. The absence of Federer helped his Scottish Majesty and foreshadowed Melbourne. Despite the incredible consistency and strength of his game overall, he was playing a tour without Novak and Roger. We have already talked about the absence of Novak (throughout much of the later part of the season), but Roger’s absence is equally as consequential.

Granted, I wrote of how Andy would have handled Roger at WB had the Swiss beaten Raonic in the SF. Murray was rolling and Roger was reeling. Despite the win over Cilic (coming from 2 sets down), Federer was just hanging-on, having missed a bunch of tourney play already, including Indian Wells, Miami, and Roland Garros, getting beaten at Halle by A.Zverev, and not really being tested at WB. Andy most likely takes Roger at Wimbledon though even that would have been an interesting final.

However, Murray did not have to deal with the Maestro. Interesting H2H numbers, for what it’s worth: it’s Fed 14-11 overall, but 7-3 in their last 10 meetings. We recall that 2015 WB SF where Federer looked balletic (superficially) and clinical. In other words, the Swiss has had, especially recently, Murray’s number. And as we all know, match-ups are huge.

The foreshadow, the meaning, that came to fruition in Melbourne was that Roger was back to full strength, I would argue; had Murray beaten Zverev, don’t for a minute think Murray was a lock to get by Federer. Sure, Murray was strong last summer, surging after his FO loss to Novak, claiming his second WB, really playing well, which he took to Rio and on to London. But we’re here to, again, argue that the AO result is more realistic than it is circus. That Murray’s AO result is not so surprising.

Murray was on fumes and has always been more trustworthy than transcendental in his championship form. He made a virtual solo run (that was both impressive and admirable) to the top in 2016.

All this to say: Murray has his work cut-out for him going into March and April and beyond. Djokovic will be coming, and Federer and Nadal have been re-introduced to the waning ATP tour.

Djokovic. What is driving his game at this point?

Murray’s diagnosis is fatigue and tennis quality (I’ll come back to this in a moment). He pushed himself in order to catch and surpass Djokovic; and his tennis let him down, as has often been the case throughout his career.

But what of Djokovic? The burn-out was 2016. What happened in Melbourne? The popular opinion was he’d cleared the room in the off-season, organized his box and supposedly resumed his HOF tennis clinic. I’m afraid this wasn’t the case. He was beaten in 2R by a tour journeyman, losing in the way we saw him go down throughout the summer and fall.

I remember a reader here asking what I thought was going to happen when Djokovic’s level starts to drop. I pointed to the big points. That’s what will go, since that’s what happens to just about everyone, in sport and in life. He would start to crack in those do-or-die points. We know this practically defines Novak’s genius. Sure, his court coverage is all-time, his BH a potent weapon, but the guy’s ability to play those critical points better than his opponent has been the real difference.

He doesn’t overwhelm his opponent as much as he outlasts him, wears-out his nerves and his serve.

That sharpness has been missing. I have pinned this on a career fatigue; he looks almost beaten during a match. But Federer and Nadal have shown that a little time “off,” a little valley may be required before one begins to ascend those future peaks.

Therefore, I suggest we wait on Djokeray and accept that they have a lot of work to do since the ATP forecast has gotten a little more interesting since January.

This brings us to my little opportunity to entertain the freshman in the room talking about another factor that may have upended Djokoray or Murkovic (whatever you want to call this AO mystery that really isn’t a mystery): court speed.

I actually won’t say much about this other than to even raise this issue speaks to the limits of both of these players’ games. Why, if you are a super-duper love disciple of one of these athletes, would you even touch this topic?

As always, my post is running long, so let me put a quick, distinctive wrap on this affront to common sense. If you have this burning (love or hate) bias for an athlete, don’t draw everyone’s attention to that player’s greatest flaw. If you write about these issues, I recommend you not put it in your title, which could potentially confuse your reader: is this guy being sarcastic?

The rise of Nadal at the AO is another fallacy in this ridiculous fast court theory (like the steroid theory). I’m almost done. . .

As one of my esteemed readers pointed-out (I did some similar verification), the courts were allegedly slowed in the early 2000s (This means Roger has been part of this reduced speed tennis). People have pointed-out, with statistical accuracy, that all four surfaces (AO, FO, WB and USO) have more similar speed and bounce than the reverse. Indeed, we’re talking surface homogenization.

Was the fact that 3 of the 4 AO semi-finalists were OHBH (Fed, Stan, Grigor) or that 3 of 4 were  decent at the net (Fed, Grigor, Rafa) indications of the court speed? Was the Mischa Zverev run evidence?

I certainly enjoyed listening to Johnny Mac call the Zverev v Murray match. He beamed about how this is the way to play these kinds of power brokers, using a brilliant display of all-court tennis with angelic S&V to disrupt the less-developed base-line game.

You’re going to argue that the conditions changed a bit and your player’s limited game couldn’t handle the more historically true conditions? While other players seemingly made the reads and necessary adjustments?

The argument is that Djokovic and Murray couldn’t handle the speed?

Speed is one of the reasons why Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are the most prestigious majors. Don’t just take it from me. London and NYC might have something to do with it. But the graceful grass and slick hard courts of the two venues play a big role in the esteemed heritage of those tournaments. Might have something to do with the fact that speed showcases quality.

Murray and Djokovic couldn’t handle the speed?

As entertaining as this is, I’m going to shut this down. Murkovic will be fine. The reason those two fell in Melbourne had much more to do with form and momentum. . . than court speed.

And another hint: If you want to ride that “court speed” bus, know that you sound like a Fedfan or an old-schooler. I know you think you’re qualifying his 18th major, or complaining about the tour tainting the court surface, but in reality you’re underscoring the limits of Djokovic and Murray, highlighting the fact that baseline grinders can’t handle the quip and ingenuity of all-court tennis. Not a good look.

I’ll be back to put a little commentary to Montpellier and Sofia.

Dear, Reader . . .

I could have thanked the couple of readers in my previous post as the subject came up about people appreciating my blog, but I thought I’d write a post thanking them and anyone else who enjoys the blog (loved the big boost in readership during the AO. . .stick around! 😀

First and foremost, cheers to all who do visit and read, and if you do enjoy the discourse, the style of commentary (of blogging), awesome; that makes me feel really good – feel free to add your “two cents” to the mix; the more the merrier!

On this idea of readers’ appreciation, I have to be honest with you: I want to write about tennis every single day, travel, watch matches and talk about the tennis. Getting compensated for this would be ideal, so I will continue to write and think about ways to climb into the cockpit of that rocket ship. First, I need to get this blog in any way positive on the bank account. I am not a businessman first and foremost – I just like to analyze the sport and other events, cultural issues, etc. But I really do want to raise the stakes with my writing and my readership. I will continue to think about that when I have the time between work and writing, because those are my priorities (along with watching the boys hit the ball, of course 🙂

Any ideas you might have toward this end ($$$), please send them along. You can contact me via this link (one of the ways, as you know, is to leave a comment on a post).

I have some damn fine readers and commenters. You all make me smile and smarter at the same time. Keep the dream alive! And keep me honest. I really do appreciate the back-and-forth. That’s a big part of this social media, the blog.

Help me blow this thing up and make the tennis coverage and insight even better! Don’t be shy.

Caligula, his majesty, has been a steady stream of sharp commentary and I indeed appreciate his latest attempt to halt a post I might write about the incredibly “controversial” court speed of the ATP that he and I both know would be a shot across the bow of a special individual who needs our help. In fact, this insane Roman tyrant of whom I write did offer a nice cliff note on the discussion: the history of court surface evolution is actually pretty vague and, more importantly, not an issue one can really investigate with much hope of uncovering much definitive conclusions.

But I will investigate, not the specific idea of court speed difference necessarily, but what the AO offered us that has some correlation, I suppose (again, nailing down whether or not an auxiliary factor had much to do with the outcome of an event is tough to determine). The exit of two prominent base-liners coupled with the success of more all-courters has to recruit a few choice words for any brains awake on the genuine history of the sport, the importance of change, and the possibility that we get a chance to witness talent, above all.

So, I’ll explore that harbor, so to speak. Nonetheless, thanks for the advice, my friend Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus. I’m heeding your counsel to a certain extent, and was certainly lazy in even making such a suggestion at the end of that previous post. You called me on it. Fremitus! or Στην υγειά σας!

Cheers to the rest of you, as well (blackspy, Incondite, RJ, et al). Thanks!

Now, before I go: I read tonight a post by a “tennis purist” claiming that Federer’s win in Melbourne was certainly a result of doping. This guy really has two premises: there are drugs in the sport and winning big after a long lay-off is a red flag for doping.

I know, incisive stuff, right?

This guy should have a little more than that. Yeah, he’s an idiot, which might surprise him given that he takes himself so seriously. I, as you know, have a decent crap detector, and this guy is a steaming double or triple helping of bullshit.

He goes into an amateur’s history of doping and the flawed testing system. Fine, it’s flawed, yeah we’ve heard the anecdote about McEnroe, the Williams sisters’ and Nadal’s

federersmoke1

Ha ha 😉

hacked files, etc., but this is all murky and stuff we’ve known about, which doesn’t tie anything to Federer, nor does it shed any light on the reality of drugs in sport. Federer is guilty by association, according to this “journalist.”

That’s garbage. Classic conspiracy theory.

The next argument comes from the Nadal model, coming off injury and reeling-off a huge win at a major. He then goes to the 2017 AO and walks us through all of the five-setters won by this ancient 35 year-old, etc. etc.

Ultimately, he argues, how can a guy who ran out of gas vs. Raonic at the 2016 WB SF after going five big ones vs Cilic in the QF then run through the likes of Nishikori (best five setter on the planet according to this guy’s statistical hemorrhoid), Stan (beast at Bo5) and then Nadal (the greatest Bo5er of them all), AFTER coming-off the extended injury time-off.

Aside from his entire agenda having the bias of a well-known fan-girl, I suggest that pointing-out the suspicion of a WB SF loss in 2016 followed by a 2017 AO is poor strategy if you want to win even some light applause from tennis intelligentsia or general readers, for that matter.

Federer was having a pretty rough 2016, for starters. He suffered a knee injury after the AO SF he lost to Novak; he had surgery. He didn’t play IW, Miami, missed some of the clay because of back injury, missed the FO (breaking a string of majors played dating back to AO 2000), and then found himself at WB after a little warm-up at Halle, where he lost to the younger Zverev. Coming into WB a little banged-up, perhaps? Strike you as relevant?

After the loss to Raonic, who was clearly relishing the service-friendly grass, mind you, Roger took the rest of the year off because of his knee, perhaps his back, etc. This wasn’t really shocking then, nor is this sequence of events shocking now, especially given some amateur’s wet dream.

Are you questioning the validity of his injuries? Good luck with that one. 2016 was injury plagued for Roger Federer. That’s the story I’m sticking to along with most of the other earthlings.

Then he opens 2017 at the Hopman Cup, and plays well, challenging some world class players like Evans, Gasquet and A. Zverev. This is followed by an historic run in Melbourne that saw a lot of pretty interesting upsets and runs from a few players. Was Roger’s run some kind of isolated “event”?

Wake-up, sporto. You can do better than that. Roger was doping, but Novak and Andy weren’t? Is that your explanation? Was Mischa Zverev jamming needles into himself, too? That guy came out of the clouds. What’s your explanation for that?

So here we are: Roger, a 35 year-old, goes on an incredible, difficult to fathom run that needs some kind of explanation, perhaps one that’s informed by WADA? You just can’t imagine Roger Federer going on such a run?

Even if in the last four majors he played, prior to AO 2017, consisted of these runs: SF WB (2016), SF AO (2016), F USO (2015) and F WB (2015)? These deep runs are a rarity from this Swiss guy? That’s your take? Who’s paying you?

It gets better. He really gets all frothy and aroused when talking about all the five-setters that Roger played. How in the world could this 35 year-old survive all of those longish matches and still overcome Nadal in a five-setter on top of that?!

He gets a little confused at this point. He assumes that the five setters are 5+ hours long. We are all impressed with Roger’s run, that he beat the likes of Berdych, Kei (5 sets), a surging Zverev and Stan (5 sets) on the way to beating Nadal (5 sets). This was nearly unheard of. Historical. Etc.

But this is what many miss: The Berdych match was 90min; Nishikori 3hr, 24; Zverev 92 min; Stan 3hr, 04; and Nadal 3hr, 37 min.

Sure that’s still a lot of tennis, but those are quick matches in the realm of five setters. That’s part of the genius of Federer’s tennis (not the genius of guys like Djokovic or Nadal). We saw this year the reminder of how tennis was and could be played by guys that want to just serve and ball all-court style. Settling at the BL and ripping/retrieving for five hours is not necessarily the only tennis (for those who are too young or slow to remember). That’s actually more drug suspicious tennis, mr. tennis media guy expert.

And I have already provided some pretty decent rationale for Federer’s run at the 2017 AO.

Is this guy (this voice) suggesting too that Kei, Stan and Co. took a fall for Federer? Give that guy some smelling salts or some O2.

He even included a quote from Andy Murray, who questioned some players’ stamina last spring in Monte Carlo, I believe. At least that’s where he was interviewed. Totally unrelated to Roger’s run at the 2017 Australian Open.

So this “journalist” has Federer on that “list.”

Lol.

I have to write, folks, just to deal with this bizarro bullshit.

And I will be back to serve-up a reminder of the brilliance of all-court tennis, a little S&V and maybe throw some other picnickers under the bus.

Talk to you soon!

2017 Australian Open Hangover: Calling Dr. Ljubičić

Remember the argument I made about a year ago in response to the hiring of Ivan Ljubičić?  The reasoning went something along the lines of Roger needs to start winning ugly; the beauty pageant is over if you want to win anything resembling anything of significance.

Re-read this completely different post I wrote on the eve of 2015 U.S. Open. This amounts to what I would have told Roger before he took the court against a guy (Djokovic) that will play the match like his life, his very last breath, depends on it. I called it “Attitude and Form.” His form ultimately would depend on his attitude, which often looks like he’s on vacation.

Roger’s pretty much considered tennis class personified. His elegance precedes him, defines his greatness and his flaw. The rise of Nadal and Djokovic has been at the expense of Roger’s sophisticated style that became more and more flawed and even soft in light of the grind and grit of the Spaniard and the Serb. Almost everything about Roger had come to be associated with this style of tennis: his nationality, his family, and his coach. The latest had been Edberg, about as buttoned-up, almost stoic, as Roger.

I had been arguing for a while (to no avail) that this was killing the guy. His game still may have been the easiest on the eyes, but the flaw (that nonchalance) was devouring his relevance.

Enter Ljubičić. I liked it from Day 1. Ljubičić had always been an uncompromising opponent  for anyone on tour. The move seemed a little late in the making, but Roger was still knocking on the door at the majors; he just couldn’t muster the strength, the attitude, to kick the fucking thing in and take what belonged to him.

This highlight could not be more appropriate to this point. Look at coach Ljubičić’s reaction to Roger finding a break-point at this critical, and I mean critical, juncture of the final.

Can you imagine Edberg doing that? Perhaps I should admit to have not looked at much of Edberg or Annacone (or any of his past “captains) to determine their “attitude” or “focus” during a match like this. This was the end of the rope for Roger. He had to break, or the match was pretty much in the refrigerator and the jello would’ve been jiggling.

Ljubičić’s form was perhaps as brilliant as Roger’s. And this is not a stretch when you consider how Roger MENTALLY was able to come out of quasi-retirement and win his 18th major. . .against Nadal, after surviving a pretty stiff draw (by the way, the Murray exit is not necessarily a luck of the draw for Federer because you and I both know that Murray v Federer would have been very very interesting – Murray’s run last summer was really sans Novak and Roger, keep in mind, and the Swiss has usually faired pretty well against the Scot – but that’s for another post 🙂

In other words, Ljubičić’s influence was massive. This look and shake from the box should not be underestimated. Nor should the sudden resilience and devastation of the BH. Ljubičić’s hands are all over this historical run from Federer. What a masterpiece on all sides.

Would Edberg do anything remotely resembling this?

 

Brilliant. Great sport brings-out the best in people, right? You think this passion (from both sides – the mental toughness and the ecstatic joy) benefits Roger’s game?

I watched most of the final again, jotted down some notes during the opening and closing sets of the match, which were really the heaviest in the way of importance. We all know that Roger winning the first set was paramount. We said the same things about Roger’s 2015 finals vs Djokovic at WB and the USO. If nothing else, the early lead helps mentally. Of course, Rafa still had the match on his racquet in the fifth, so the fifth, obviously, became incredibly consequential.

First Set Notes

7th game, Rafa serving 3-3. At 0-15, after a nice BH return to S&V put-away, Federer on the second point comes 2-3 ft inside the BL to hit the BH and misses, but Nadal serving 15-15 is uncomfortable.

Roger’s aggression seems to be a little intimidating, even this early. The FH is working early and he outhits Rafa to win the following point and then with a running volley he stamps the next point to create the double break point. He converts the first BP.

He has dominated the first set. Roger inside the BL, coming to net, Rafa on his back foot. Roger’s return and defense the better of the two, as well. Serving well and quickly. Suffocating tennis. Consolidates at at love with an ace. The chess match.

Nadal caught off guard.

Roger running around the second serve, again getting control of the point on return (aggressive play).

In closing out, serve is solid, BH still dominant, 2 aces over 90% first serves won, about 68% FS efficiency.

Roger’s look at his box after 1st set isexpressionless, just a stare. Lubicic.

Different mindset here, this time, and the BH has completely shaped the tone of the match.

Fifth Set Notes

Rafa serving 2-3. First point typical of what Roger was doing with some of that big FH tops-spin to his BH, ballooning it back, playing safe, keeping ball in play and then he finds an opportunity and drills the flattened BH CC winner: 0-15.

(these ballooning, rally perpetuating shots play a big role. People will say that Roger was more aggressive in this match, and they’re probably right, but he’s also keeping some points simply going, playing some defense, playing some shots safe; but he is certainly looking for the offense. No doubt. None the less, watch his “defensive” tennis accentuate the offense. It’s smarter tennis).

Back to the sixth game of fifth set, Rafa serving 2-3. Solid rally, but Roger starting to really out hit Nadal: forced error: “Come on” says Roger 0-30.

15-30, errant FH.

Great serve out wide, easy put away for Rafa, 30-30.

Rally, Nadal long. 30-40 – break point Roger (he has had BP in all of Rafa’s serve games in 5th set. Considering Rafa doesn’t win another game, you can say that table was turned).

Nadal saves a BP with great spot serve up the middle. Another good serve follows, Rog dumps into net. Ad Nadal. Pretty much match point.

Nadal hits the tape on FH and it bounces into alley, back to deuce.

Roger then wins next point with the lethal BH CC to reach another BP. The box, Ivan the terrible…again because it’s worth an encore.

6th BP of set and that’s the one. Roger Breaks, evens the set at 3-3.

7th game. Ace. S&V quick point 30-0. Tough serve, Nadal misses, 40-0. Second serve ace (#17), 4-3.

Nadal misses wide on FH. 0-15. Wide again as Roger is flying all over the court, 0-30. Nadal fading. 9 straight points for Roger.

Double fault, 0-40.

He saves one with great FH. 15-40.

He saves another with big serve. 30-40.

Roger misses badly,deuce.

Nadal a warrior even in this diminished stage. What a fighter.

Then “the rally.” 27 shots. BP Roger:

 

(Here’s a look at the box after the massive 27 shot exchange. The Box. EyeVan making eye-contact with his student. . .ha ha)

Then, Nadal huge serve back to deuce.

Roger another hitting clinic, Roger dictating. BP # 5 of this game.

Insane BH CC return, Nadal wide. 5-3 fifth set of AO final.

Nadal from way back, BH CC return winner. Vintage Nadal, 0-15.

Out hits Roger in next point, 0-30. Will not go away. Insane mettle, this guy.

Ace. 15-30. 18th ace of the match.

Nadal eats him alive in the next point and it’s double break point, 15-40. RAFA!

Wow.

Ace #19, 30-40.

Second serve…huge inside out FH, vintage Federer. Deuce.

Big first serve, Nadal long, Ad in, championship point.

Second serve. Double fault? Challenge. Rog wins challenge.

Rog hits it long, deuce #2.

Ace #20, 2nd championship point.

Roger hits line, it’s challenged. Roger wins the AO.

_________________________________________________________________

How does some discussion about court speed sound?  These are the conversations I love: time to go macro and put careers in perspective! 😀

2017 AO Final: Federer Beats Nadal and Secures 18th Grand Slam Title

What a fortnight of tennis, ending in what will go down as an historic final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Despite whatever criticism a viewer might have of some of the actual tennis in the final, Federer’s wayward FH, for instance, or Nadal’s failure to convert breakpoints (both respective cornerstones of these titans’ games), the historical weight of nadal_federerthe match (combined with its unlikeliness) overshadows any sort of nit-picking, I’m afraid. There was well enough incredible shot-making, break-point-saving and extended rallying to quench the tennis fan’s thirst for all we ever want in a major final: greatness. And we got the G in spades.

If you ask me, there is as much irony as greatness in these most unlikely finalists playing in a final that seemed almost predestined or preordained. You may not realize this irony because you had time during the QF and SF stages to begin to process this unbelievable turn of events. In other words, the match-up was totally unforeseen, yet once it had “arrived” seemed only natural because this is Fedal, the Aussie Open, etc. For a second (or several), you might even have forgotten about Murray and Djokovic, the early favorites to make this final, two players who have dominated the tennis world as of late. However, the weight of Fedal is a heavy intoxicant; they crashed and trashed this 2017 Aussie Open like two warlords from time elapsed who’d returned to relive their glorious past.

There are several directions to go on this (late) commentary, but let’s stick to some insights on the outcome.

On the eve of the match I wrote:

This should be a competitive match, imho, for really two reasons:

1. Dimitrov did push Rafa to the edge. This point concerns Rafa’s form. He has not been the Rafa of old but for the last couple of matches. Since the Zverev match, we’ve begun to entertain the idea that his unbeatableness might be back, and headed for the final (the collective awe and anticipation was intensified as we saw Roger making the same kind of run). I have been critical of Rafa for a few years. His ball is too short, he’s slower, his serve is unthreatening, etc. Many an ATP athlete were beating him. The intimidation hasn’t been there, not to mention that the Don of the tour was a Nadal antidote.

So this UNBEATABLENESS is relatively recent, which leads to #2.

2. Everyone and I mean everyone is looking at 2009 as a comparison. Even Nadal playing a brutal 5 set SF fits the model. But there’s a difference between then and now.

Nadal was #1 in the world then. Sure Roger was #2; but that Nadal – 22 years-old, #1 in the world, had beaten Roger at WB six months earlier – is a quite different player compared to this year’s final. You might say, “well, Roger is #17, so there’s that.” True, but he’s been off since 2016 WB where he made the SF. He sat out the ’16 FO but did make the ’16 AO SF. And he made the ’15 finals, as we know, at WB and USO.

Sure, it might sound like I’m rubbing my own belly, but this is exactly the case. Nadal’s level was pretty solid, but there were times when he looked like a 30 year-old former #1 who was making a comeback. This is complicated a bit by Roger’s play that made Nadal look slower than a more prime Rafa. Roger took the ball early and aggressively throughout, which enhanced the look of demise in Rafa. My two reasons (#1 and #2) are obviously related quite a bit. This is not a 2009 version of Rafael Nadal. Again, at 22 years of age, #1 in the world, playing five hours a couple of days before playing Roger, over whom he had created a definitive advantage, based on a 2008 clay season and a 2008 WB final that finally went Rafa’s way: 2009 AO is not even in the same universe as 2017.

To cement this point of misreading the 2009/2017 similarities, unlike Rafa’s massive struggles on tour over the last few years leading-up to this latest showdown, Roger made two grand slam finals (2015: WB, USO) and two semi-finals (2016: AO, WB). Roger has been just that much more consistent and relevant than Rafa.

As for other factors that made this final more balanced (or even favor Roger), let’s talk about Roger’s coach and one of his young apostles.

In December 2015, I wrote a piece titled “Ljubičić.” Here’s what I said about this new coach announcement:

Ljubičić is going to help Federer, I believe, with some in-match mental fortitude.  How to convert a BP, how to withstand an opponent’s surge, how to just play a little smarter when that is absolutely paramount.  Federer’s beauty pageant is over.  He needs to start winning ugly, getting the job done, with or with out the stunning pirouette that dazzles the crowd. If he has any hope of continuing to remain relevant and/or win another big tournament, he needs to listen to the big Croat, Ivan the terrible, and come-away with a more sustainable game plan.

If you read more of that post, you’ll see what I say about how Ljubičić had an immediate ivan_rogereffect on Roger’s clay schedule, how this kind of strategic scheduling could have had a real impact on Roger’s career, especially in terms of his H2H with Nadal. Roger, in fact, made a comment about this in Melbourne last week in relation to the 2008 WB final, the “greatest” match of all time (bullshit). Roger attributed some of his lack of form/confidence in that match to his clay encounters with Nadal earlier that year.

I argue this has had a lot to do with Rafa’s great H2Hs with so many players. His overwhelming clay success (pretty early in a season) created that mental edge that complemented his aggressive, bullying tennis that I have written about at length. That post, “Ljubičić,” goes into that a bit, as well. This comment by Roger has to have ruffled Nadal’s feathers a bit, no? I liked reading this older post as it seemed to highlight some of this insight on the past, as well as the future.

As you can see in the quote above, I had a solid feeling Ljubičić would benefit Roger’s game by addressing his mental strength. Who knows how they managed this mental fitness, but one knows that Roger’s win last Sunday in the AO final over Nadal had a lot to do with Roger’s mental strength. That 5th set comeback was ridiculously mental. He check-mated the grand master of the mental board game. I knew this was absolutely essential to Roger’s continued relevancy and even breakthrough at a major.

Look at the 2015 USO final between Fed and Djokovic. Roger was on cruise control, all summer, winning Cincy by beating Novak, smashing his draw in NYC, including a laugher in the SF vs. Stan. Then he got, really, pretty embarrassed in the final by Novak, a very mental player. Roger’s BP conversion in that final was awful, something like 3/18. It was a point here or there. Roger needed help and got it when he hired Ivan. Roger’s injury-plagued 2016 didn’t give us a chance to see how this mental fitness was perhaps coming along. I think we can say that it’s coming along.

Of course, another critical return-on-investment in hiring Ljubičić is his knowledge of the OHBH. Ivan’s was a thing of beauty when he was on tour. Hiring a guy who could help Roger strengthen his tennis “backbone,” his competitive resolve, and his flawed BH is genius, whether or not that’s what went into that hiring exactly.

There are two things – and only two things – that stand-out in Roger’s win over Nadal in the 2017 AO final: firstly, his mental strength at critical points in the match, such as ivan_bhwinning the first set (critical), running off a quick and decisive bread-stick in the third set, and imposing his will on the match in the fifth, especially at 2-3; secondly, his aggressive and game-changing OHBH. Those two weapons decided the match. Sure, I argued Roger needed to serve well, but establishing the lead early (and consolidating that lead in the 3rd and 5th) and dominating much of the play with his aggressive OHBH were pivotal.

Of course, another element in the Ljubičić hiring might concern his closeness with Djokovic. Both the Serb and the one-time #3 in the world are Monte Carlo residents, and Ivan is very familiar with Novak’s game. Pretty genius hire, no?

I will keep looking for the footage to share here, but the shots of Roger’s box in the 5th set were definitive evidence of the Croatian’s influence: he was demanding, focusing entirely on the physical rhetoric of winning, of finishing the job; he was not applauding a passing shot; he was looking into Roger’s soul and demanding bravery, determination, guts, and grit. It was marvelous optics, my friends, that brought this entire coaching decision full circle.

Lastly (for this delayed post), the Dimitrov match was tremendous modeling for the Swiss’ approach in the final. I think the fact that Grigor took Nadal to five difficult sets was important mentally for Roger and it put Nadal at a deficit. But you know where I’m going here. The BH Grigor used on Nadal gave the Spaniard trouble. Roger was able to employ this tactic. Very little cut BH came from Federer in the final. That charging, aggressive dimitrov-sf-bhOHBH hasn’t looked that good in a long time. Having this shot dialed-in with the help from his coach certainly helped. But watching Dimitrov push Nadal around with it was equally as insightful. This shot symbolized Roger’s rebirth here in Melbourne. Mentally he was leaving it all out there, and physically the CC version gave Nadal all kinds of difficulty. Roger’s intent on establishing the baseline and taking that Nadal FH earlier changed the dynamic of the match entirely. Instead of that rising FH bounce to Federer’s OHBH breaking-down the Swiss physically and mentally, Roger moved aggressively to take time away from Rafa. Rafa was befuddled, clearly.

Dimitrov gave Federer a lift in strategy that seems to have fit well with what Ivan brings to Federer’s game. Did you buy stock in the Bulgarian yet? 😀

On the other hand, as we know, the match wasn’t flawless. Roger had 57 unforced errors. We saw this number climb, especially in the fourth set with that FH, his greatest weapon usually, succumb to nerves, timing, etc. He was able to find that again and use it to finish, you and I both know, some huge rallies late in the match. He ended-up with 73 winners to Rafa’s 35, so Roger’s aggression certainly played a huge role.

Chew on that for now. The Ljubičić and Dimitrov factors needed some clarification, but there’s so much more to consider, obviously.

Roger won his 18th major championship. He’s won at least 5 at three different majors. Come-on. Much more to discuss there and, like I said, there are some other story-lines that emerged during the tournament that I found particularly interesting.

I needed to get this post off asap. As I said in my short preview, no computer and being on the road made communicating difficult.

Thanks for reading and keep the comments coming!

Talk to you soon.

2017 AO Final: Fedal XXXV

Folks, I haven’t had a computer all day (this from my phone), so I’m unable to really write, but what is there really to say at this point?

This should be a competitive match, imho, for really two reasons:

1. Dimitrov did push Rafa to the edge.  This point concerns Rafa’s form.  He has not been the Rafa of old but for the last couple of matches.  Since the Zverev match, we’ve begun to entertain the idea that his unbeatableness might be back, and headed for the final (the collective awe and anticipation was intensified as we saw Roger making the same kind of run).  I have been critical of Rafa for a few years. His ball is too short, he’s slower, his serve is unthreatening, etc. Many an ATP athlete were beating him. The intimidation hasn’t been there, not to mention that the Don of the tour was a Nadal antidote.

So this UNBEATABLENESS is relatively recent, which leads to #2.

2. Everyone and I mean everyone is looking at 2009 as a comparison. Even Nadal playing a brutal 5 set SF fits the model. But there’s a difference between then and now.

Nadal was #1 in the world then. Sure Roger was #2; but that Nadal – 22 years-old, #1 in the world, had beaten Roger at WB six months earlier – is a quite different player compared to this year’s final. You might say, “well, Roger is #17, so there’s that.”  True, but he’s been off since 2016 WB where he made the SF.  He sat out the ’16 FO but did make the ’16 AO SF. And he made the ’15 finals, as we know, at WB and USO.

No matter what has happened in these last few years (Nadal completely MIA, Roger fairly competitive) the players still have to bring it tonight.

But the point is that this ’17 final has a quite different build-up and historical context from the ’09 final.

Hence I think this will be a tighter match than people think.

Oh, I just thought of a third point that might suggest that this match isn’t quite what we have in mind (A predictable Nadal victory): this tournament has been a circus!  #1 and #2 dismissed early, Mischa Zverev, Dimitrov (for those unaware), and a Fedal final!

I have stayed-up countless nights and/or awakened early and eagerly many many mornings to watch Nadal beat Federer. I understand the popular opinion on this match better than you can imagine. Fed has suffered I am sure.

None the less, as a rabid fan of the sport, I remain hopeful that we get something very competitive, balanced, classic and breathtaking. These men deserve that. We fans deserve that.

Maybe I’ll have a chance to comment on the Nadal v Dimitrov SF since it was classic and so positive for the Bulgarian. I’m glad my call on his form has been verified. He almost upset the Spaniard. That tells us a bit I think, not of my eye for talent/form 😉  but of the topic of this post: Nadal is beatable. I reiterate that only because we sometimes forget this fact when he’s running around a court deep in the draw at a major, best-of-five.

Good luck to both champions.

Enjoy the match, everyone. Talk to you on the other side!

Federer v Nadal: Preface to the Preview

Nadal outlasts Dimitrov in a classic five set semi-final. I will have to reflect on this match as I preview the final, but let me have your attention for a few moments. This is directed at a select few out there who think they have this rivalry all figured-out.

I have a good idea: keep making a complete dip-shit out of yourself and bag on Roger fedal_1Federer because he has a losing record vs. Rafael Nadal. You sound so original, accurate, level-headed, insightful, and you don’t sound like you have your head shoved up your ass. You sound like a real tennis savant!

Does that make you feel better?

Here’s your problem. Even if Nadal beats Federer in the 2017 AO Final, Federer still has a pretty nice career that he can call home.

A couple of points to consider:

#1 Federer’s skill and style (called quality) on the court surpasses Nadal. It’s not close. As a tennis fan, I have to tell you to STFUP because the 23-11, unfortunately, is merely a pregnant red herring, pregnant with a dumpster fire of bullshit and bias. Don’t let those numbers bring you down. You sound confused, sleep deprived, like something’s off, repressed, like you’ve been betrayed, abandoned, someone told you your breath stinks, or your head has a funny shape.

#2 Speaking of numbers, Federer’s numbers are far more superior than Nadal’s (other than the H2H). That’s not a concession; that’s a reminder that you sound like an idiot when you make these ridiculously lame-brain claims about the Swiss giant in relation to the Spanish monster. Where are you going with that statistical argument? Lol.

Here’s where I, and anyone watching tennis, agree with the criticism: Nadal fights harder and has beaten Federer in some big matches. No question, unless we can’t read body language and what seems like a Swiss collapse is really the Express just getting outworked. Fed does not seem to have the same fight as his counterpart. I agree with that. That’s the concession.

But you lose on those two points above: Federer is a more fundamentally sound tennis player with wheel-barrows of talent more than the Spanish bull. And his statistical greatness towers over Nadal. This is an equally definitive reality.

All you have is the H2H. That’s it. I haven’t even said the word “clay.” Do you want me to qualify the H2H? Give us a break. If Federer dumped you, cheated on you, sure: the pain is real. But don’t come waltzing into a tennis conversation with some jerky brained bullshit rationale along the lines of Nadal owning or has superiority over Federer.

Want me to play another riff?

I don’t think Federer gives a fuck.

The way the argument goes, Federer is obsessed with Nadal. Federer ducks him, thinks about him as he manages the draw. In effect, the way the argument goes, Federer tries to avoid his grand nemesis at all costs. Because he’s “owned.”

I have an historical example that eradicates this claim.

The time is 2009, mid January. Roger is fresh off of a U.S. Open win, his fifth in a row. We’re at the Australian Open. You know what happens. The Verdasco v Nadal SF goes 5+ hours. Federer beats Roddick in straights in the other SF. In the final, Nadal beats Federer in five sets. Roger cries at the podium. It’s uncomfortable to watch. Poor Roger. Nadal even puts his arm around the Swiss to comfort him. The shame. Career is over.

At least that’s what some tennis “commenters” will tell you. You know what happened after that?

The following spring, Roger beat Rafa in the Madrid Masters final (clay) before winning the French Open, beating Robin Soderling in that final; the big Swede knocked-off Nadal in the 4th round.

After that, Roger won Wimbledon.

After that, Roger battled Del Potro in the U.S. Open final before (kinda blowing it and) losing in five sets.

So, to re-cap: Roger loses to Nadal in the 2009 AO final, left scarred for life, left for dead. Then he wins the next two majors and loses a tight five-setter in the U.S. Open final to the beast Del Potro.

After that? He wins the 2010 Australian Open.

I think people make a little more out of this H2H than is necessary, a little more out of Roger’s damaged psyche than is the reality. I’ve just given you reason to believe that Federer does not put a lot of stock in this history.

Granted, it’s not the best look. Admittedly. But to jump up-and-down on your little trampoline of bitterness and envy about a rivalry that may be more your obsession than anything else. . .Ha ha.

Federer v Nadal should be good. The 35 year-old Swiss owes it to himself to show-up and make a match of this reunion. I suspect the tennis will be competitive.

But back away from your failed argument, your failed anger management. It’s small. It lacks depth and discernment. Roger made the final! So did Rafa! My God this is a wild development that certainly deserves more than a rash of ridicule from embittered tennis fans.

I will be back tomorrow for a preview of the AO final.

Cheers.