Australian Open at the QF

Stan Wawrinka is down two sets to Raonic as I begin this post. Raonic has confidence for sure. He beat Roger in the Brisbane final though I have said it wasn’t a great match, mainly because both men’s serve was mediocre and Roger was under the weather. Having said that, he pretty much hit Roger off the court. It reminded me of Raonic last year at IW where he beat Nadal in the QF, but got beat by Federer in three in the SF. When his inside-out FH is going strong, along with that serve, as well as his burgeoning net game, he’s a beast. We’ll see if Stan can pull-off this third set, he’s serving 4-5 to stay in the match.

Nothing too remarkable has happened so far other than for many of you Nadal lost 1R. Sorry, I had to bring that up again. I’ve heard the apologists say Verdasco is his worst match-up, Verdasco can beat anyone when he’s on form, etc. Some of these folks are the type to then turn and say Roger’s form is crumbling, looks shaky, he lost a set to Dimitrov  blah blah blah. Roger is preparing for QF play. Enough said.

I want to make a few quick points about Fed’s R3 and Novak’s R4. These are the best players in the tournament. Other than Stanimal or some crazy streak from a guy like Kyrgios or Raonic, we’re not that far removed from 2015. Remember that? Novak’s reign with Roger as his only credible foe? Right. That’s also why the Nadal early exit is not a surprise. Remember 2015?

Roger and Novak.

Maybe a new feature of my blog is a “live blog” during a live match. Stan just broke Raonic at 5-5, now serving for the third set.

Roger R3. Here’s what we can observe about Roger’s game at this point: when an opponent pressures the 34 year-old Swiss, his game gets pretty shaky, he tightens-up, and commits lots of errors. Sure, this sounds pretty obvious, as in this happens to most players.

Stan 7-5 in the third – we go to the fourth set, Raonic 2-1. Well done, Stan. . . imal?

Novak does this to Roger when they play. Roger actually matches-up pretty well with Novak – yes, it’s competitive. But Novak is able to apply steady pressure and Roger usually succumbs to this, can’t handle the consistency, especially when you add Novak’s depth. We saw this in Brisbane with Raonic. And we saw this with Dimitrov in the second set of their AO R3 match a couple of days ago.

Roger controlled most of that match, but in the second set, Grigor sharpened his game, and started to attack more. He out hit Roger. What was so clear to me about Roger’s subsequent hardship (in trying to deal with this surge from the Bulgarian) was his impatience, his lack of a coping mechanism, which would be a more defensive tennis strategy. He tried to stay cleverer 😉 He continued to try to out hit and out maneuver Grigor as he’s always been able to do against most players. But his timing suffered as he tried to do things with the ball that his still-attacking game-plan dictated. He looked uncomfortable. Errors came in bunches. He didn’t find ways to put pressure back on Dimitrov.

This is Federer’s flaw. Roger can look so out of sorts when he’s under pressure. Players can see this more and more. Roger can’t snap his fingers and pirouette some kind of brilliant escape. He plays right into his opponents’ hands. Errors. More errors. Dimitrov rested control from the champ.

Of course, Roger went on to win, but this abrupt fall from grace during a match doesn’t have to happen like that. If you get outplayed, you get outplayed. But Roger’s problem is he doesn’t have a  solid strategy for these periods in a match where he needs to be defensive, especially against certain players.

What should that strategy be? We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face, but I saw it modeled for the tennis world in Djokovic’s R4 match with Simon.

Stan just broke Raonic in the fourth at 2-2, consolidated and now the Canadian serves 2-4.

The Djokovic v Simon match will be remembered for Djokovic’s 8,452 unforced errors (I know it was an even 100). This is very un-Djokovic-like. We agree. But Simon’s strategy was brilliant. He kept balls in the middle of the court. He retrieved and made Djokovic hit another shot. He kept the pace down. He played Djokovic like the counter-puncher Djokovic himself is. Djokovic is the best counter puncher in the sport. He has the best defensive game, better than Ferrer, better than Murray. Simon simply played a safe, defensive style of tennis, which enhanced the bad day that Novak was having. Indeed, he gave Djokovic a five-setter of his own medicine.

Granted, this might be more of Simon’s style, but Roger can use this kind of approach. Roger is always going for winners. Roger’s SHBH is attack. His forehand is one of the greatest attacking shots of all time. His S&V can be quite effective, quite good at putting pressure on opponents.

But sometimes Roger needs to back-off. Sure he might employ this from time to time, shot to shot, but it behooves him now to play this way when he gets on his heels, when he’s not controlling the tennis.

Simon played a safe, defensive style of tennis made quite popular by guys like Djokovic and Nadal. That’s a fact. This style has been the ruin of Roger Federer. His burden can be lifted by employing a more defensive, safer style of tennis when players make these kinds of runs against him, which is happening more and more. Just hit with them. Stay in the middle of the court. Play it safe sometimes. Be patient.

Guys like Djokovic love pace, thrive on attacking brands of tennis. Simon’s consistent, defensive game plan against Novak was irony. Novak wasn’t sure what to do with many of those softer struck balls. Of course, Novak had a bad day and of course Simon played some brilliant passes and attacked some, as well. But this was simply Simon coming-in with a good game-plan.

Is this defensive style a lesser brand of tennis, an inferior style? That’s up for debate. Either way, it’s a safe bet that Roger’s farewell tour might benefit from a few cans of a more defensive – survival-mode – style of tennis.

Tremendous match between Simon and Djokovic. Despite the moderate temperatures, Novak seems to struggle in those sunny mid-day matches. Reminded me of early Novak really struggling in that Melbourne heat.  But, again, the temps are mild this year. Pretty interesting match to say the least. Good win for the Djoker. This is typical Nole. He’ll probably start peaking now for the final. Hopefully we see him clash with Mr. Federer this next week.

Stan and Raonic are two sets apiece.

Berdych looks good, but I’m taking Fed in the QF and I have to assume Novak takes care of Kei though he seems to be playing quite well. That top-half looks good.

Murray v Stan/Raonic winner, right? With Tomic as a possible threat?

Lastly, a shout-out to John Isner. Great match vs. the always tough Lopez. Fun match to watch. Down a set (TB), winning the second set TB and cruising to the finish. Solid work, Big John. He’ll have to play really well to beat Ferrer.

Raonic with the break, serving 4-2 in the fifth. Wow.

 

2 thoughts on “Australian Open at the QF

  1. blackspy

    Firstly, congratulations are due for your Nadal prediction Matt. Although Verdasco has an excellent forehand when working (some say the most dangerous on tour) his nickname isn’t “fiasco” for nothing – his consistency leaves a lot wanting. I admit that I was way off on that prediction expecting Nadal to reach QFs (but I think I have already mentioned my predictions are pretty mediocre). If he fares as you predicted in the FO I’ll have to salute your foresight, regarding his downfall, for good.

    Secondly, the consistency problem also showed up for Wawrinka who interestingly, as Federer in Brisbane, admitted being a bit ill after the end of the match. After the Raonic victory (a bit unexpected for me – his game is not ideal for this surface) the third quarter, and subsequently the bottom half, is pretty open since the early reports of improvements on Murray’s second serve seem unfounded as Tomic showed in their match. A good and powerful server as Raonic should have a chance against Murray’s defense which remains his main asset (the 8 breaks of serve in two first sets in the Tomic-Murray match should prove that point). I don’t consider Ferrer a problem for Murray and Raonic is too professional for Monfils (who continues to entertain the crowd thanks to a friendly draw till now).

    Thirdly, in the upper half, Federer handled Goffin easily, as expected, since Goffin doesn’t have the power to use this surface work for him in the quick pace he likes. Well, I didn’t believe Goffin could beat Thiem on this surface, but the latter’s lack of experience shows from time to time. The clash with Berdych should be interesting, but given the fact it’s a day match (faster), I guess Federer should take that one. Sidenote: Federer, being patient, playing a bit of defense? I guess it’s part of the strategic/tactical ideas what Ljubicic can teach him, but even if he did so, could Federer (taking into account age/stamina/character etc) apply these lessons? I’m not very sure about that.

    Finally, you summed up the Simon-Djokovic match perfectly. Djokovic remains the favorite for the title, after all, or as Wawrinka eloquently stated “But to win a Grand Slam, you have to beat two of the big four”.

    PS: Does plexicushion react very differently during day/night time matches? In TV it seems so and a few players stated that, but others don’t seem to notice. Any insight on that Matt?

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    1. Mat4, our resident surface guy, can probably speak to the plexicushion question.

      On the defensive strategy, all I’m really saying is hit with them, Roger. Middle of the court, safer tennis. Let the attacking opponent take chances every once in a while. Use the slice to defend. Keep the point alive. That’s the age of Djodal. Federer needs to out-think, not out-play at this point.

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