Some of the men are making last minute appeals and preparation for the 2016 Australian Open.
The tennis of Jack Sock continues to make little improvements, tempting us to take this young American more seriously. His 16 64 64 win over Kevin Anderson in Auckland QF play has him facing Ferrer in one SF. I watched the end of the pivotal 2nd set, where Sock broke KA coming from 0-40 to begin the upset. Anderson’s game seemed pretty comfortable, but he started to force shots in that 2nd set, succumb to error and some of Sock’s solid ground strokes. If Sock can trust and develop a better BH, we might have something to talk about here. Running around his BH just limits his game, which includes a decent serve and muscular FH; he can even come to net. I think Sock staying-put and hitting his BH was a big factor in the win. His court positioning improved and he actually caught Anderson a little off-guard. Big win for Sock.
Sock beat his doubles partner Pospisil in R16, who had beaten Karlovic in the opener. The surface is playing pretty fast, yet these big serves are needing more to advance. Even Isner has gone down though his form seems not quite there, having struggled with Querrey in his R16. Karlovic, Isner, and Mr. Anderson: gone.
The Tsonga Fognini match was a tale of superb tennis coupled with emotional goofing around. Both players were pretty inconsistent. Fognini forced two tight sets, but the #2 seed advances, as he should. Still, when Fognini keeps his head in the match, he can trade with almost anyone. Tsonga could be a guy to watch if he finds that form. He looks fit and can play in Melbourne. Taking the Auckland title would help his form certainly but he has to beat a tough Bautista Agut and Sock/Ferrer winner.
In Sydney, Dimitrov (who looks to get past Dolgopolov in QF) and Tomic might be on a collision course for that final. This would be worth the risk of predicting that. I very much like the idea of these two finding some form and confidence for next week and 2016 in general.
19 year-old Taylor Harry Fritz is off to a good start for 2016. He beat #1 seed Dudi Sela in the final of the City of Onkaparinga ATP Challenger in Happy Valley, Australia last week and is set to take on Mischa Zverev (older brother of Alexander) in R32 in AO qualifiers. He “upset” German Michael Berrer in R64. Indeed, I’m charting and happy to root-on my fellow Americans.
Lastly, I read a couple of interesting articles about Djokovic recently. One was from The Guardian, about his relationship with specific women in his life and the Serb’s strength of character, which the author attributes to these relationships, especially to the one with his first big coaching influence, Jelena Gencic. As the article reads: “She’s the woman who first saw Djokovic at the age of five and decided that the fastidiously packed tennis bag this young boy had brought along with him to the local courts pointed to unteachable qualities, some innate capacity and depth of character. Here was a champion in waiting.”
Djokovic’s respect for her and later his own wife, Jelena, has a profound affect on his life. The article speaks to this great humility and what many would call progressive thinking in the way that he views women. I find this quite compelling. He is an interesting, terribly focused gentleman, complex, yet very down-to-earth. These champion qualities of tennis skill and overall character are a deadly mix. His observations of others, detailed briefly in the article, are terribly insightful. We already knew him to be a class act, but this article gives us even more reason to think this way.
At the same time, Mats Wilander has predicted (I guess as he did in 2015, as well) that Djokovic will win the calendar GS. In my prediction post, I clarified that he is or should be the favorite on every surface, in every tournament. He is that dominant and the rest of the field is that much of a long-shot to beat this guy. However, I think this is too easy to say, on Wilander’s part. A better analysis would be to look closely at the calendar and Djokovic’s career to determine a better forecast.
The Olympic Games are this summer. Based on what Nole has said about those competitions, does Wilander think Novak will win the golden GS? I guess so. Novak is determined to win the FO. I made that remark before I heard Novak confirm. That tournament is #1 on his agenda. Then the OG. Given that, I think Novak is vulnerable at WB where he will be coming off an emotional FO and looking ahead to the OG. The USO will be tough, as well. I already wrote about this. Wilander has spoken, but it sounds like he’s a bit of a broken record, claiming the current #1 will just win everything, every year.
Even Djokovic might disagree with Mats, given the Serb’s incredible modesty. As he so eloquently states (in the above referenced article),“I think it’s important to respect the sport … Always try to respect your opponents … and leave this sport with dignity and understand that you are part of something that is greater than you. Tennis is greater than all of us.” Ironically, this humility will probably play a big role in defining his tennis greatness, which many predict will be huge. Even all-time.