Weekend Wrap

Final thoughts on the Doha final: there appears to be traction with the following claim: Djokovic is playing the best tennis that’s ever been played by a human on earth. Yes, some of the “commentary” we’ve all seen sounds similarly grandiose and, really, pretty ridiculous. Djokovic is #1 in the world, playing brilliantly dominant tennis. That’s all we really know. One of the biggest problems I have with such a claim is not about Djokovic, but about the guy who gave everyone this proverbial pill, or cup of Kool-Aid to swallow. Nadal is the arbiter of such discourse at this point?

Let’s review: Nadal goes three with Busto, beats Haase R16 (not the German who reached #2 in 2002, but the Dutchman Haase), then beats Kuznetsov in three in QF, Marchenko in SF, only to get destroyed by world #1 1 and 2 in the F. If you read this blog, you know I have very little faith that Nadal is on his way back. It’s not there. Not sure what else to say. If you aren’t reading the video “text” in front of you very well, then you’re missing the point. You’re creating a different world. Esteemed tennis points-of-view see Nadal getting to #2 by the end of the year. How is that going to happen exactly? His road to the Doha final was so unimpressive; fortunately for him, he didn’t have to play his little pal, David, for 2.5 hours along the way. Mayer and Berdych must be playing really high quality as they pushed the Serb to 7-5 and 7-6 respectively.

Look, Nadal getting absolutely laughed off the court in the final (pretty embarrassing for a guy with his resume) and then saying that he was beaten by the greatest tennis player to ever set foot on earth is hyperbole, scapegoating, etc. You got trounced, pal. Go talk to Toni about it. Nadal in this form making that claim after a 250 final in January? Watch the tennis, folks. Djokovic is brilliant right now. We got it. He beat Nadal. Most players aren’t going 1 and 2 against Nole because they have at least some semblance of a serve. Bad loss, Nadal. That’s it. And deflecting the attention away from you onto Nole is a good little move on your part, but I am not falling for the distraction. You, Rafa, got absolutely smashed.

I watched the first set including TB of Djokovic v Federer 2015 Cincy final last night just for shits and giggles. Pretty much some of the best tennis you’ll see, too. There are a lot of examples of great tennis, and I suppose we’re all open to our own interpretations. But Nadal’s interpretation, after getting embarrassed in a final, is not very objective, imho. That’s my advice to you if you fell for that BS.

Speaking of that Cincy final, Djokovic serving 1-3 in the TB, second serve that was clocked at about 108, upon which Federer came-in with his little SABR, to take the point and move to 4-1 and go on to take the set was pretty stunning stuff. Some of Djokovic’s passing shots, lobs in that first set to stymie the ultra-aggressive Federer were simply unreal. The tennis of that 1000 final I’ll take over a Nadal v Djokovic 250 final in January 2016 and there are other examples too we could examine.

Raonic beats Federer in Brisbane final. I got a chance to watch a bit of this match. My take-away is Federer looks awful. I watched some of the Dimitrov match and thought Federer played some key points but Dimitrov handed him much of that match. I did not see him beat Thiem, but it sounded convincing against a rising star. Yet the final was really not very impressive from Federer or Raonic. Both first served in the 50s (%). Raonic just overwhelmed Federer in much of the rallies. Raonic is a big hitter. I am not that surprised in this result, nor should you be. I have seen Roger play Milos several times. Milos always has that advantage on serve, but rarely gets those crucial points to beat Roger. Look at their H2H results. Always tight matches. Milos is a solid top 10 player.

I saw them play last year live at Indian Wells. We were all hoping for a Nadal victory over Milos in QF to set-up a Nole/Murray Fed/Rafa final four. But Raonic went three v Nadal and really abused the Spaniard, in the end. Milos was playing well then. His ground strokes can be over-powering to go along with that serve. He’s a talented player. He had Nadal pinned 15 feet behind the baseline throughout their match. Federer put on a clinic in the SF, winning 7-5 6-4 though it appeared more convincing than that. Even Milos playing well simply could not deal with Roger’s shot-making. Otherwise, as you can see, very tight. For me, Milos is too tall to ever really be that consistent. Having said that, he got to #4 in the world last spring. He is a handful for anyone. Despite not playing that well himself yesterday, he overcame a droopy Fed. Simple as that. Roger’s errors were in abundance. Did not look good for the Swiss #3 in the world.

Furthermore, you think Milos had any extra motivation with Ljubicic in Federer’s box? This is as real as Nadal trying to deflect criticism of his game by talking about Djokovic’s greatness. You have to read this stuff, folks. Milos was very motivated, and playing well on top of that. I am happy for the Canadian. Roger better get well, find his form, etc. Big boy tennis in about a week.

Congrats to Stan on his title. He seems definitely a guy who can trouble Novak in Melbourne. We’ll see. Not much to say beyond that. Stan has to prove himself, I’m afraid. Pretty unpredictable.

Kyrgios and Gavrilova winning the Hopman Cup for Australia is good news for the 20 year-old Kyrgios. He went 4-0 in singles matches against good players. Kyrgios and Tomic should be difficult matches for most at the AO. Hopefully they can keep their wits about them and let their tennis do the talking.

Lastly, in my criticism of Nadal, I said earlier that this 2 of 3 format has been his most vulnerable tennis. We all know what a beast he is in best-of-five. In Bo5, as we all know, the tennis can actually take a “back seat” to the fitness, stamina and mental fortitude of a player. This is why he’s been so tough. I still think he’s past even that point in his career, where the tennis is such that his running and grunting can not overcome his achilles heel (his serve/shot depth/etc).

Either way, let’s try not to give players these free passes; some tennis commentary sounds like marketing. What do you see happening on the court? That’s all we care about, right?

Looking forward to the AO draw (I guess there is some off-court business that matters, after all 😉 I’m sure the tennis establishment has, believe it or not, a Nadal v Djokovic final in mind. Why? I have no idea. Nadal is a shell of his former self, yet the tennis world simply yearns for his uncomfortable energy to grace the late rounds at every tournament he plays.

I can think of several players I’d rather see than 2016 Nadal. I guess we’re just reading different “texts,” on different pages so to speak.

9 thoughts on “Weekend Wrap

  1. We have discussed Rafa’s case many times before, and it’s evident that he seems completely unable to adapt. Of course, your take was a bit superficial — you didn’t notice that Novak played faster than in the previous rounds (114 kmh vs 122 kmh in the final), and the biggest difference was in the FH — Novak averaged 79 mph on this shot, Rafa only 73.

    Here starts a mystery, at least for me. I found on tennisspeed that the speed of Rafa’s fh was, in the period 2009/10, 89 mph. There are data for other players (http://blog.tennisspeed.com/2011/01/forehand-speed-and-spin-rates-of-atp.html), and we can notice that, while the shots themselves changed (Novak’s is more compact, Murray hits flatter, Rafa doesn’t hit flatter shots any more, etc.), their speed remained similar for most of the players — Federer, Djokovic, Murray — but it decreased substantially in Rafa’s case.

    I don’t know what data were used on tennisspeed — was it from matches, or training sessions, how many fh were analysed, etc. — but it seems huge. It could be because he was mainly defending on the FH side in the Doha final, so I would like to have data for the previous rounds.

    About his serve: it’s not that bad. But Novak knows his patterns so well that he manages to put his racquet on almost every serve.

    The bounce seemed lower, but it could be just an impression. The numbers I found on heavytopspin seem to indicate that the surface in Doha is slow. It’s plexicushion. Then, an impression that I had is that Novak’s plays more FH nowadays, and it’s inside-out FH looked improved. Novak hit it flatter than usual. On the other diagonal, Rafa can’t sustain the pressure of Novak’s CC FH any more. He’s without options — his CC FH doesn’t hurt Novak, quite the contrary, and he doesn’t know what to do with his backhand.

    It was a great performance by Novak, finally.


    1. What’s your point with FH speed? That this indicates higher quality tennis? Please elaborate. And you bringing-up Rafa’s speed in 09/10 and how it’s dropped-off considerably since pretty much sinks whatever you’re reaching for here. FH speed, BH speed, first serve mph. . . where are you going here? The harder you hit the ball, the better is your tennis game?

      Of course Novak’s performance was great. But Rafa’s is not. And Novak is not the only guy beating Rafa on his serve. Rafa went 3 sets with two players at Doha. As I pointed out in my “Notes,” Busto couldn’t take that first set TB on his serve, but was able to close it out on Rafa’s. If he had a decent serve, he’d do better than 1 and 2 v Djokovic.

      Think about what you and Rafa are saying: a Rafa v Novak 2016 match is home to the greatest tennis ever played.

      Sounds like a spin zone or a marketing campaign.


  2. “Think about what you and Rafa are saying: a Rafa v Novak 2016 match is home to the greatest tennis ever played. ”

    Where did I write that, Matt? Novak played a great match, much better than in the previous rounds, but I am not obsessed by media, and I don’t give a damn about players’ post-match statements. I really don’t understand why you are so focused on that, when everybody knows that it’s a story repeated on and on, with each new number 1, each new generation of players, each great victory, etc.

    Yes, the speed of the shots _is_ important. In combination with the placement, it shows how relaxed a player is, and how well he plays. Novak played really well that final, and, probably because not only he knows well Rafa’s game, but also because that game suits Novak well, he performed better in that final than in the previous rounds. Let’s also take in account that he has regularly risen his level in the final rounds of a tournament — he did it in New York and in London lately.

    But the speed of the FH is something that bothers me. If 88,7 mph was indeed the speed of Rafa’s avg. forehand, then something is deeply wrong. An alternative theory would be that this number was the speed of forehand winners, or something like that, and that the numbers are not the good ones. That there was a kind of selection not mentioned at tennisspeed.

    Meanwhile, I’ve seen data for Murray (at Bercy, last year), where his avg FH speed was 69 mph. I had data for Novak, from a match against Berdych, and I’ve seen HE data for Fed, and all of those were consistent with those given by tennisspeed.

    The question is: how come only Rafa’s FH changed so much for the worse? 15 mph less! Is it an error in stats?


    1. I’m just trying to buffer the Nadal hysteria/hype. He says he has never seen such great tennis and a lot of people jump on that bandwagon. I’m countering that not because Djokovic is not playing mind-bogglingly great tennis, but that this guy Nadal’s POV has that much credibility at this point. He even got a free pass to the final and still struggled a bit. Then he gets absolutely destroyed. His analysis is going to be pretty biased, pretty solipsistic.

      The speed of FH can be part of a more holistic view and analysis but for the most part this part of the game has been so affected by equipment and drugs. That just seems a no brainer. If we’re looking at how comfortable a player is, like you say, how relaxed and efficient is his swing and so forth, okay. But in general, my goodness. The racquets generate so much more strength at this point.

      And, yes, Nadal’s game is pretty suspect. So, the FH speed, etc., just seems to be a troubling stat. The numbers of many sports have been skewed in the drug age.

      I would stay away from that other than more evidence to undermine Rafa’s dominance. I’m all for that, actually.

      Great to see Nole playing so well, again. This makes EVERYONE raise their game. Bravo, Novak.


  3. “The speed of FH can be part of a more holistic view and analysis…”

    We discussed it earlier. We analysed different aspects of his game, but this one was is new for me. A few years ago, in Dubai, Novak hit his forehand at an avg speed of 80 mph, but he played against DelPo, took the ball on the rise, and didn’t have to generate the pace. Meanwhile, in 2013 Head improved his racquet without changing the specifications, and added 4% racquet head speed. But, in general, players don’t change that much — the cases of Djokovic, Federer and Murray are clear.

    It’s time, now, to make a recapitulation for those three players, two years after the introduction of the blood passport: they haven’t change their game, their resilience, their look, their shots. You mentioned Cincy in your previous post. This tournament was characteristic: Novak looked tired before the final, because he had played two tournaments in a row (both singles and doubles in Canada), and in Cincy he played all his matches in the hottest part of the day. Federer started to melt under the sun in the second set. Murray lacked speed in the semi. So human. Time and time again, despite their results, we have seen them tired, we have noticed the impact of a long season, of illness, of age, of too many matches.

    Rafa remains here a mystery. He learns, then forgets. He changes weight. The speed and power of his shots change. A real enigma. And a terrible slump after the introduction of the blood passport, in fall 2013. Did you also noticed that, since that time, he isn’t injured any more?

    I’ll do another search to find Hawk Eye data about the speed of shots for the previous periods, to be sure.


    1. You’re preaching to the choir about Rafa here. The trend you have identified should mean that Rafa will NOT (counter to almost every tennis citizen on the planet) finish #2 in the world in 2016. His form is lost. Unless he can continue somehow to establish an unfair advantage, he has no advantage.

      One thing I wanted to mention in my post with regards to this unfounded Rafa hysteria is the overwhelming sentiment that Rafa will win the FO this year. How does anyone reach that conclusion? Was he hurt last year? Did I miss something? Novak is unrivaled on every surface at this point though we know how difficult it is for one to win everything.

      AO will be interesting.


  4. Sorry, Matt, I had to travel yesterday, so I couldn’t answer.

    What does “preaching to the choir” means? I am not certain.

    About Rafa: I wanted to see if something has changed meanwhile. I believe that this is the “real” Rafa. A good player, a dangerous lefty, with a game adapted to clay so he could win RG a few times (1, 2, perhaps 3, but not 9), but that’s all. Yes, he’s a top 5 player, and he could perhaps finish no 2, but it’s unlikely.

    He seems very bulky again, but obviously, you are bound to have supernatural strength to hit with so much spin and depth at the same time. I thought he may have flatten his FH, but he doesn’t know how to do it any more (he used a different motion back in 2010).

    I like “this” Rafa. If he wins the FO, it will be fine with me, because he would do it in a fair way. I can’t see him win on hard, on the other side, especially after Doha — he just doesn’t have the game to win on a faster surface.

    All the stories about lost confidence, crisis… etc. from last year are nonsense. He’s just a normal player, right now. He was in excellent form for the clay season, and in real great shape, now that he is not “cycling”, after the USO. But that’s the real Rafa. Dangerous, consistent, but a step behind Novak, Roger and “even” Andy.


    1. Yes. Nambi is correct: that means I agree (we all agree;) with this observation of Rafa. We’re part of the same congregation: Preach on, Mat4!

      Your last paragraph makes sense, but I was just saying that you seemed to be focusing on Novak’s mph and I saw that as, perhaps, part of the unnecessary argument that Nole’s tennis is GOAT. Your point, actually, is that scrutiny of these numbers reveals more suspicion of Rafa. I wasn’t hearing that at first.

      As your email and these comments clarify your intentions, this is brilliant as it’s fairly concrete in terms of the massive changes in Rafa’s game, and the height of his tennis during those stretches. These inflated numbers add to the case against him. Good stuff, Mat4.


  5. Nambi

    Mat4, ““preaching to the choir” –> I think he says as most of this blog readers are believe in what you pointing about Rafa..Cheers..


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