Paris QF

I assume you all watch the tennis live/taped or follow the matches via mobile device if you have a job/life.  Seems a bit redundant for me to constantly update the blog with each-round-drama.  Of course, the most unpredictable thing happened today in Paris R16: Federer lost to Isner.  Oh, it’s not that surprising?  Yet another thing we agree on.  Common sense says the 34 year-old Federer might lose a match after an emotional week prior, beating the hard-court charging Nadal no less who is playing suddenly like he’s king of the indoors.  I digress.  image

Roger succumbed to Isner in three sets.  He didn’t drop serve once, but he’s packing for recovery and WTF preparation.  The only surprising part was this followed his 47 minute thrash of Seppi.  Such is the 1000 field, a deep trough of talent on a tight schedule.

I doubt this convinces the crowd chiming Roger is playing better than he ever has that they’re terribly mistaken.  These arguments are of passion and politics.  Tough to sway a crowd of such bias and belief system blue balls. Roger is an older fellow, none the less.  He will not tear through every half of the draw that’s his. Not in 2015. He just won a 500 and he has WTF in a week and a half. This loss today should be anything but shocking. Congrats to Big John. Get some rest, Mr. Federer.

Paris is going to be a bloodbath.  Already some fine tennis has been played; gents are reaching for that end of year peak (hoping at least).  Djokovic has much to play for and will most likely overcome anyone in his path to 1000 #6, title #10 (I think my fact checker is right on that).  Djokovic is charging, obviously.  He has Berdych who just spanked hometown fave Tsonga 3 and 4 and then gets the winner of Nadal/Wawrinka.  Goodness gracious this is going to be good.  As well as Novak is playing, he’s going to have to earn #6/#10.  Nadal seems to have found the 2010/2013 form after looking like a drunk Serena Williams all year.  Would be nice to see Stan avenge his Shanghai walkover vs. Nadal.  All four in that top half are finding WTF form.  Should be good.

On the bottom half, I didn’t like Roger, as well as he was playing prior to Isner, against Murray anyways.  Murray is intent on representing his country at the DC opposite Belgium in the coming weeks.  He agreed to play WTF, but I suspect he knows this is his week, perhaps letting up in London to be ready for DC play.  He is bread-sticking folks.  I thought Coric looked decent vs. Verdasco (although Verdasco might have been up all night), but Andy destroyed the Croat before practically bageling Goffin, whom he’ll play in some high-stakes singles when their respective countries square off in the DC final at the end of the month.  Gasquet nor Isner/Ferrer stand a chance against Murray if you ask me.  Djokovic has a tough road, indeed, if the tennis stays the course.

Cheers to those who think Federer took a dump in Paris.  I can’t wait to see how Murray, Nadal, or even Djokovic play when they’re 34 years-old.

Jusqu’à ce que nous nous reverrons. 😉

24 comments

  1. Well, the tournament goes as planned, in my mind. Federer, as I commented in your “tennis excellence” article was never a serious contender in Paris. He improved his slice (which employed rarely in Basel, mind you) and which he will need for London, for sure, but he still hasn’t found a way to deal with heavy topspin serves well- the response to Nadal and Isner’s second serves was inferior to what he can/should do.

    Taking into consideration the surface which favors heavy hitters, Djokovic potential opponents as you pictured them above (and the fact that if he plays Nadal he will give everything to win that match), Djokovic’s number of matches played and the draw overall, I like Murray’s chances.

    The kind of tennis Nadal and Murray play is unsustainable for five/six more years; Djokovic with his newly inserted attacking elements has some chances to be competitive. That being said, I don’t expect none of them to age as gracefully as Federer, all of them being two-handed baseliners who count on their physical abilities (stamina, power, elasticity) a lot to win points.

    Waiting for the end of this tourney and the London draw which will be interesting for sure, since it is entirely possible to have Djokovic/Federer/Nadal in the same group, but I believe this will be “somehow” avoided. If I could affect the draw I’d pit Federer-Nadal together and Djokovic-Wawrinka in the other half. Your thoughts?

    1. Fed might have trouble with that kind of power/spin, but his opponents have trouble with a lot of his game. I don’t read too much into that. Nadal attacking the BH high is well documented. As we’ve said, the new racquet and work on handling that shot, along with Nadal’s drop in form, the surface, etc., might help Fed. But again, Nadal has to deal with Fed, too. Isner just has a huge serve. Their match at the USO was very tight but Fed was on the better side there and he usually is.

      Like I hinted at, I don’t think this is a bad loss AT ALL. He just hoisted a trophy and has WTF in two weeks. Might have a little physical niggle to overcome too. On top of all that, Murray, Nadal and Djokovic (perhaps Wawrinka and Berdych) are going to be fighting hard for this. Will be a bloodbath.

      At the WTF, I think form will out-weigh luck of the draw. Should be very interesting. Hopefully Stan and Berdych can represent, so we have some real battles.

  2. I watched tennis yesterday (my lower back hurts, so I was home, working on my computer and resting). The only match I missed was Berdych-Tsonga, but I knew that the Czech would easily win: he’s just too good for Jo — powerful, with a great return, and a backhand a notch better. The only place where Jo can win is RG, where he has enough time to run around his BH and where the support of the public help him play better.

    Goffin didn’t wake up for his match against Murray. But anyway, when I watched that encounter and the following, it became clear that the surface heavily favoured powerful players. The surface seems very abrasive, the rebound is very high. It’s very difficult to hit through a good defence,

    (here, you have very good explanations about surface speed — it’s probably the best article I found on the net about this topic — https://fogmountaintennis.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/court-speed/ Don’t miss the following:

    “The influence of topspin on how balls bounce and the extent to which court surfaces affect play during a match is usually overlooked by fans and pundits. Modern synthetic racket strings are more elastic and create less friction where they rub against each other, allowing them to return more of the energy of a player’s swing to the ball, and making it easier for more players to generate more spin. Topspin is defined as spin in which the top surface of the ball is rotating in the same direction as the ball’s linear motion. Therefore defending players have to swing their rackets faster to effectively return heavy topspin shots, because they must reverse the spin their opponents put on the ball in order to flatten out a shot or create topspin of their own. As players start using more topspin, it creates an arms race in which more players adopt slick new strings and make more effort to develop more topspin. The result is that most tour-level matches today occur between players using significant topspin at least part of the time, and in such matches the differences in friction between various surfaces may have little enough effect to go unnoticed by players and fans alike.

    If many matches nowadays seem to unfold in similar ways on different surfaces, the effect of increasing topspin probably bears more responsibility for it than any conspiracy to homogenize court surfaces. Blame the string manufacturers, not the court surface technicians or tournament directors.”)

    and players who hit with spin have difficulties to adapt.

    Gasquet played very well against Nishikori in the first set. In the early phase of the match, he put a lot of pressure on the Japanese, but at 5-5, Kei had 7 break-points. Richard played valiantly in those moments, and further in the tie-break. Two things were important: the side-spin of his one-handed backhand, that drove Kei out of the court — usually Nishikori is the one that manages to open angles with his two-hander, so much that Djokovic and Wawrinka have changed the way they play against him, while Murray has requested Hawk-eye data to find the right strategy. The other key factor was the rebound — Kei just lacked power against high bouncing balls, something Gasquet used well. He didn’t find his timing. On the other side, Richard ventured to the net often, and won crucial points volleying.

    In the second set, Nishikori was visibly hampered by his lower back, and he didn’t finish the match.

    Then, there was the strange Djokovic-Simon match. Simon plays soft balls, and both players have the habit to use the opponent’s power to generate pace. Here, Novak had to be the aggressive player, make the game, but he often missed with his FH. All in all, we saw 12 breaks in that match. Novak remained focused on crucial points and managed to win in two sets. He broke at love two times in the second set, and Simon celebrated when he finally won a point at love-40 the third time. Djokovic missed a lot of chances, struggling to keep his motivation at moments.

    That the surface was good for big hitters was clear in the encounter between Federer and Isner. Isner had no problem on his serve, while he had a few tens of seconds on every shot and on the return. The match has the physiognomy of the Federer-Wawrinka match at RG, where the more powerful but slower player had a clear advantage. I still don’t agree with you, Matt, about Federer’s game. Novak lost to Karlovic in Doha, and players like Isner, Karlovic, are bound to win some, especially in a big serving day. A few years ago, Isner beat Fed on clay in DC — any surface that helps his kicker and slows down the return is very favourable to his game.

    Finally, Rafa beat Anderson. Anderson clearly had his chances, but he missed badly when it mattered most. Rafa plays very well — I don’t understand what his fans expect more, he is clearly at his for a few months now — but he still lacks the power he once had. This tournament suits him well, and his match against Stan should be a good one. I think that Rafa is the clear favourite here.

    1. Good stuff, Trigg. The tennis will get very interesting going in. Murray needed 3 to get by Gasquet today but the Frenchman has been simply solid most of the year. Consistent tennis from him. Murray will get by either Ferrer or Isner, unless Isner goes to cloud 9 with his serve. But Murray should be fine. The other side is going to be real blood shed, especially if Stan is in a good place.

      As for the Fed age issue, keep in mind, you are saying that he and Djokovic are at the same place in their respective careers. You have to agree, that’s what you are saying. No if ands or buts.

      And that’s not only ridiculous; it’s factually incorrect.

  3. Dear Matt,

    “As for the Fed age issue, keep in mind, you are saying that he and Djokovic are at the same place in their respective careers. You have to agree, that’s what you are saying. No if ands or buts.”

    No, Matt, that’s not what I wrote, and I was very precise in my formulation — I wrote that gamewise, despite his age, Federer is at his peak. It’s not the same thing. Why? Because tennis has changed, and, just like in the ’80-es, players had to adapt to new playing conditions. Back then, it was the introduction of graphite and bigger frames, now it’s the impact of strings that models the game. Just like then, players needed almost a decade to change their approach, and most of them never managed to do so: JMac played the same kind of game he used to play with a wooden racquet although he made the switch to his famous Dunlop Max 200, Connors initially even refused to switch. What were the changes back then? First, the physiognomy of the forehand; then, the serve. Look at the top in 1986: there are really no heavy servers among the top 5. But by 1992, when the new generation arrived, a generation that learned to play with modern racquets, tennis had completely changed.

    The second important shift started at the beginning of this millennium. It was a slow process — new strings were effective when returning, and the amount of spin one could generate with them was a new experience, not fully understood back then. We saw the use of spin to generate height, and then only to generate angles; we saw the disappearance of net game, then the reintroduction of volleying; defence made big steps, then attack improved, etc. New ways had to be found all the time.

    I guess you will agree with me that only the greatest champions manage to adapt and improve their respective games in such conditions, with such important changes. JMac couldn’t, Edberg couldn’t, Sampras also couldn’t. But Federer managed to do so. It’s another sign of greatness.

    Then, you imply that Federer and Djokovic have similar careers. They don’t, quite the contrary. Novak’s stagnation lasted from age 21-24, while Fed stagnated from age 24-29. Novak started from a relatively adaptive game, Roger started from a framework made for the previous technological generation. While Novak changed racquet every year until he found a convenient one, in the second part of 2010, and used slightly improved variations each year, Fed allowed a change only last year. Then, although Fed embraced the new strings, and the frame that go with them, he incorporated the new possibilities into his existing game, and he made good use of lateral spin, avoiding vertical spin. On the other side, Novak adapted his game completely to the new paradigm.

    A “peak” is the moment when a player is at the height of his physical abilities and at the height of his technique. Novak was at the height of his abilities in 2011; he hasn’t declined in this sense visibly, and now he’s at the top of his game. We could say that he probably is “at his peak”. But Federer was at the top of his physical abilities in 2005 or 06, and only now he’s at his top gamewise. When did he peak? Has he ever “peaked” in that narrow sense? Or do you consider that he peaked when his results were the best?

    “And that’s not only ridiculous; it’s factually incorrect.”

    Here, I chose the other path: I compared his game now and then. I compared Novak’s, Rafa’s game now and then, and I watched old matches — Roger vs Andre Agassi, or against Marat Safin. It is certainly not ridiculous — we are not in a logical, deductive system, but in history. An empirical approach is due. Then, all right, it could be factually incorrect and I could be wrong; my memory is not what it use to be, and the corpus perhaps wasn’t big enough (not more than 5 to 6 hours of watching); my methodology founded on subjective impression mainly — is probably flawed — but it is certainly not ridiculous. Anyway, Federer agrees with me 😉

    ===================================================

    Just finished to watch Novak against Thomas. The court is bouncing so high that Novak couldn’t hit cleanly his returns, and, in general, couldn’t hit through Berdych’s defence. It was painful to watch. And now, let’s watch the finale before the finale, between two heavyweights — Stan and Rafa. I guess that one of them could make it to the end.

    1. I’d say that I partly agree with you when you say that Federer is better. He is better tactically, he often makes better decisions, his backhand is more solid and potent, his net game is superior to his peak during his aggressive baseline years.

      It’s very easy to come to the conclusion that Roger is at his best. But to do that without further investigation would be to ignore the causes of these improvements. He is better tactically because he has begun to come up against players who can outhit him and who can return more balls than he does. He volleys better now out of necessity. He cannot physically keep up with most of the tour. He has emphasised the natural aggression in his game and employed tactics basically from a bygone era.

      Lastly, his backhand is better because: a) starting with Nadal, the rest of the tour found it to be a viable gameplan to break that shot down.
      b) The new racquet. This is a massive factor. Watch Roger’s matches from 2013 or even 2012. He shanks a LOT of backhands. It’s a far more reliable stroke now, even an offensive weapon. To me, the racquet is the game-changer.

      In the years 2004-2007, Roger dominated the tour playing primarily aggressive baseline tennis. This was not a style that he had shown any affinity for as a junior or in his first pro years. But he managed to make the transition. He managed to beat just about every player not named Nadal at his own game. Then, 2008 happened and brought mononucleosis. Since then, we have witnessed all of the adjustments I mentioned. There’s a common thread running through them.

      He made all of them to cope with his physical decline. If he is better today, it is because he isn’t, in fact, better. He makes more errors, gets to fewer balls today. At his peak, there were few able to keep up with him physically. Consider the AO 2005 SF with Safin. An injured Federer was running hard in a gruelling match well into the 5th set. He fell on match point. Also consider the finals of the Masters Cup in 2005, when he was injured against Nalbandian. He led 2 sets to love but lost the last three very narrowly. That was the gap between Fed and the rest of the tour.

      Another point to consider is the slowing down of surfaces since 2001. Wimbledon changed its grass to engineer longer rallies. The Australian Open moved away from Rebound Ace. The US Open increased silica content in court pain jobs in 2007 or ’08, not sure. Clay has been sped up. All of this has made surfaces a lot more homogenous than they were in the 90s, where specialists were the norm. Can you imagine Nadal win Wimbledon in the 90s?

      The final point I’d like to raise is the serve. Statistically, it would appear that his first serve is a lot better today. Unfortunately, in tennis, all points aren’t created equal. Clutchness is a major factor too. I remember watching Federer throughout his peak and it was routine to see him 3 BPs down and not feel even a twitch of nervousness as a supporter. You just knew he’d serve himself out of it. In most matches, you’d get the feeling that he wasn’t even trying very hard.

      I think you understand that my version of the objective truth says that while Federer is bettter, he isn’t really better. 😀

      1. Well said, Utsav. This comparison has a similar feel to the cross generational debates: impossible to know. FWIW, if Sampras had today’s equipment, I think he’d be insanely tough to beat. You bring-up the surfaces, etc. Impossible to compare and even some kind of statistically enhanced simulation of the highest order is going to leave-out the intangibles.

        However, this comparison involving young and old Roger has a very critical factor to consider that usually is not part of those other comparisons: age. I know you and Trigg might think I am over-simplifying, but this doesn’t take much analysis. He’s older and less the athlete than he was. Is he a better tennis player now, more refined, having remedied some of his flaws? He might be able to handle a part of the game better (everyone’s bringing-up his BH), but that is not the entire picture (btw, Utsav, you’re right about his serve). He can’t keep-up with some of the youth because he doesn’t have the ability to do that any longer. The game is very very athletic. This is the only reason Nadal has been viable. His physical presence (along with his gamesmanship) has intimidated, bullied and out-lasted many many foes. His heart is immense. He is a better athlete than almost everyone he’s faced.

        Roger’s game was pure athleticism. Career-wise, he has outplayed Nadal but for a few years more recently. The numbers don’t lie. The H2H is flawed because it over-values parts of the game/career. But on the whole, Roger has by far been the more dominant player. They are both incredible athletes and if Nadal wasn’t so athletic, Roger would have beaten him more.

        We can go on and on about this athleticism. Roger is the talk of the men’s field amongst the sport’s greats because they witnessed this athleticism. That’s his game. Well, when your calling card is your ability to run, jump, cut, recover (during and after points/matches), time and age will destroy you. Okay, “destroy” is a little much. It will slow you and force you to do other things. MJ developed his jump shot. Djokovic is starting to develop his net game anticipating this issue (other than the fact that it makes him more formidable, more complete).

        A big hit against this claim is that Roger has been playing at that highest of high levels for so long. If he was a late bloomer, started really dominating in the last few years, then one might have a point, but still the late bloomer is not the athlete he once was. Maybe other circumstances intervened like coaching, strategy, conditioning, sponsorship, etc. But he’s not the physical specimen he once was.

        One might say “Hey, 34 isn’t that old. The development of a player can last into his 30’s.” You might have a point other than the game’s history would say otherwise (tennis players dominate in their 20’s) AND Roger has been dominating for a long time (of course, he hasn’t dominated, really, for a good 5-6 years). He is still sustaining that same level? It’s impossible.

        This debate revolves around this question: Is Roger losing these matches now (especially the majors) because he’s less of a player now than he was in his prime, or because the competition is so much better today?

        Again, the people making this claim that Roger is better now than he was when he was 26-27 are Djokovic diehards. Even your more casual Djokovic fan probably isn’t going out of their way to say this because A) it doesn’t really matter and B) it’s impossible to know.

        He’s losing because he’s not the player he was. He’s closer to retirement than he is playing that remarkably genius and consistent tennis.

        And relying on a GOAT-type talent to evaluate his/her own skills is the definition of solipsism.

    2. “But Federer was at the top of his physical abilities in 2005 or 06, and only now he’s at his top gamewise. When did he peak? Has he ever ‘peaked’ in that narrow sense? Or do you consider that he peaked when his results were the best?”

      Trigg, you argue that 10 years after his physical peak he is at his top gamewise. Consequently, you argue that whatever skill/tactic he improved upon in that time will offset 10 years of physical decline? 10 years?

      Too much works against your theory. He becomes such an outlier, such an exception, his greatness is unmatched, can’t be touched. No one in the sport has ever whiffed such a curve of production.

      Instead, there’s more to this theory: the field is not that stellar now and a true great like Roger remains relevant because he is adapting (to your point).

      Novak stands alone. He has much work to do and very little in his way.

  4. Rafa’s CC FH lands so short that it’s a far cry of the weapon it used to be. On the other side, Nadal seems more versatile.

    1. I’m still at work, haven’t watched but what I called the Paris QF/SF/F yesterday – “Bloodbath” – was quite prescient, no?

  5. You won’t believe me, but since they can’t lose both, I started rooting for Rafa. Stan is way more dangerous on such a surface.

    1. Rafa is KK and the fact that he broke back is unreal, yet standard for the Spaniard. He is a nightmare. Say whatever you want about styles and eras, but I’d love to see a Sampras v Nadal. Sampras’ ruthless nature would be a beauty up against la cucaracha.

      1. With luxilon or without? On what kind of court? With natural guts, Rafa wouldn’t stand a chance. On this kind of court, with modern racquets, I would like to see what Pete could do. He had a wild running forehand and his backhand was consistent, an underestimated shot. But how modern racquets would impact his serve?

        =================================

        BTW, Stan clearly choked serving for the match. 30-15, two good first serves, then two big misses (and a few others later).

  6. I dared hope for a third set, and there was a good chance Rafa would be injured soon or later. But Stan found some magical shots to win.

  7. In a way, I felt a bit of sadness for Rafa: now that he’s clean, that he has to venture to the net (more than he did in the last decade), without supernatural powers, he’s almost… sympathetic? Not to mention that I feel a little pity because he will soon be bold.

  8. Quality comments from Trigg (the surface related article was good and partly validates my point for the use of topspin in Federer’s game after the racquet change) and Utsav whose phrase “if he is better today, it is because he isn’t, in fact, better” concentrates with a paradox his recent evolution in the game. I agree with Matt about the documentation on Federer’s BH vs high topspin shots, but I’m somewhat surprised he hasn’t found a way to deal with it when receiving serve.

    Now onto more current issues: Wawrinka proved again that he has what it takes to take on Djokovic but regularly lacks consistency and Murray was,once again, a disappointment. I mean I expected a somewhat competitive match but seeing him going in the hardest match of the week without a clear plan after 30 encounters is…perplexing. Yes, he tried dropshots (worked when used on the right moment), net play (not effective since he’s clearly out of practice), and low percentage/risky shots (with limited success as he’s no line-painter) but overall he seemed at great discomfort in the court, unable to built and finish a point. He has the power to trouble Djokovic, he just doesn’t know how to use it. Maybe he should take a page from Wawrinka’s book. Or maybe Matt is simply right after all: “Novak stands alone”.

What say you?