The 2016 Australian Open: Final Thoughts

The match went pretty much according to #1 from my previous post: If Federer stayed the course of his offensive style and strategy (tough to criticize Roger on anything tennis), he’d be summarily dismissed.

I stand by my “advice,” which I’ve been screaming from this blog, especially leading up to this semi-final. Why am I interested in this change of form to precipitate a change in result? Because it’s good for the game. Period. Besides, Roger’s brilliance at 34 years is unprecedented, for the most part. Any tennis fan wants historical achievement to help characterize the era. But, as I will argue shortly, this era is actually a little troubling in terms of the competitive nature at the top of the sport. Double-edged sword: Amazing “golden era” and too much of a good thing/too good to be true. But before I go there, a few thoughts on the match (and btw, Novak’s tennis is historical, so we shouldn’t be complaining that much either way).

Roger was steamrolled. To be fair, I don’t think a more defensive approach would have done anything in those first two sets. He might have been implementing such a “defensive” plan (Roger’s ability to “mix it up” does count, almost, as “defensive”), but had to abandon once he was run-over on the way to that first set bread-stick. Seriously, any and all strategy turned to survive-breath-take cover-endure-absorb-and-withstand, hoping for a drop in form from the Djoker.

Roger’s serve was awful. This is a good question: if Roger has been serving so well through-out a tournament, but then he plays Novak and doesn’t have his serve, couldn’t it have something to do with Novak? That is a fair question. However, Roger’s serve, when it’s on, is better than that. Granted, maybe because of Novak’s return of serve, Roger (and most players in general) are going for more on that first serve, so that’s going to explain the lower %; they have to take more of a risk against such a dangerous return.

I’m not buying that entirely. Roger’s serve out wide in the deuce court or his down the T is pretty much unhittable; even if Novak does get to some of those (and he does), Roger’s at the net for the easy put-away. So, Roger’s serve was shit. That’s the end of that. Moreover, Novak abused Federer’s second serve.

But here’s what happened in the third set: Roger showed, clearly, that he can beat Novak. Novak was still playing well, but Roger stayed in the match. Playing games of shoulda woulda coulda is pretty meaningless, but we all know that if Roger stays on serve in the fourth and gets to a TB, anything can happen and tying that match at 2-2 would’ve been for the ages. But Roger doesn’t have that level.

As for Roger’s style and level at this point, 2016: I continue to stand-by my insistence that Roger has to adopt a more defensive approach when he is getting pushed around by a younger, stronger athlete (this is happening more and more and will always happen against Djokovic).

Pat Mac and Cahill were saying the same thing through-out the match. Roger has to hit more backspin, has to take pace off the ball. This was a theme of the commentary. At one point, in the fourth actually, Roger was exchanging CC BH with Novak. It lasted about 6-7 shots before Roger committed the error. Roger can not hit BH with Novak. Although I am a huge fan of the flat/top-spin SHBH, Roger has no business trying to use that and out-hit Novak. That is a microcosm of how Roger’s offensive tennis fares versus Djokovic.

As you can imagine, I felt validated listening to the guys echo my analysis that Roger has to complicate the rallies with Djokovic by taking away the pace, cutting the ball, making Novak generate his own pace. Not sure how much more I can say this. Clearly, this rang true Thursday evening in their semi-final.

And, again, I think Roger can beat Djokovic. The first two sets were unsustainable from the Serb. That wasn’t realistic form. Sorry. Roger can handle the Serb, but he needs to serve more effectively and borrow a book from Simon on how to mix-in more defensive strategy. Of course, that wouldn’t be as fun to watch, nor would it be classic Federer. Remember those Murray v Djokovic matches of old? Pretty uninspiring.

2016 probably signifies Roger’s last real threat at these majors. If you don’t see this coming, wake-up. He has a shot at 2016 WB and USO, but everything pretty much has to fall into place. The talk of Roger saying he’s still in peak form and can play 5 sets, still run around with these youngsters, etc., is press-conference bullshit. He’s 35, in effect. He’s slower (how about the 10 minute delay after the third set. Ha. He was as stiff as a corpse). Folks, dream on about Roger’s fountain of youth. The end is near despite the results in these big ATP tournaments. The competition is just thin. Really really thin. Djokovic is a bridge to the next era. That’s pretty much all you got; no one, presumably, is going to challenge the Serb unless unforeseen drops in form occur, which will raise other questions, for sure.

As I alluded to above: Today’s top of the ATP is a double-edged sword: Amazing (end of a) “golden era” and too much of a good thing/too good to be true.

Djokovic’s current run is incredible. The numbers are adding-up, one of which is something like 17 straight finals? As I said in my preview of the Fed/Djok SF, to beat Novak, you will have to go five and have enough to separate at the end. He gets better as the tournament and the match develop. Pretty nasty trend. Not sure who can stay with him in these big matches. I’m grateful I get to see this man carry the sport, set the bar for the future players. His incredible run is good for the game. Or is it?

Players like Roger and Nole have been talking about the need to support the lower half of the tour.  Prize money needs to be more evenly distributed, support provided for these younger talents in order for them to develop, sustain on tour, find success. But the gap is huge. The top of the sport is so “developed.” The inequality that exists on tour is massively affecting the overall health of the game, I would argue. A seventeen year-old can not compete with these top pros. Apples and oranges.

The dominance of the big 4, big 5, whatever we call it, could be much more sinister than we want to believe. The match fixing is troubling. But I’m really just referring here to the inequality. The top players have access to certain coaching, nutrition and other fitness/recovery plans that separate them from the middle to lower class of the tour.

The Djokovic/Federer SF informed my concerns. For example, the depth and power of  Djoker’s shots were insane in the first two sets. He was pounding the ball, seeing the ball and the court in ways no one else could. Coming out like that in such a big match was like some kind of fantasy championship tennis. Almost surreal. If you initially said, “this is the greatest tennis I’ve ever seen,” you’re new to the sport or a Djoker fanboy. If you said something more along the lines of, “what the fuck is that?” you’re a tennis fan who has watched a lot of championship tennis. The first set or two (the first set was a joke) was almost not tennis. It was that bizarre, perfect, fast, deep, clean, powerful, etc. It was on such a completely different level.

Turned-out to be unsustainable. But it’s almost non-competitive. The Federer (who is really from a different era) – Nadal – Djokovic era has been so rampant in its drive for majors, along with the excessive wealth of the tour and its marketing/advertising partnerships, it’s created this almost non-accessible top. The “lost generation” is clearly a by-product of this incredible run of great players, all three seemingly vying for GOAT status. It’s insane, really. Guys like Dimitrov, Nishikori, Del Potro, et al., can’t compete with this frenzy of excellence. What does that mean? I’m not sure. Quite different from the tennis I grew-up on, and actually enjoyed more, to be honest.

The form now is almost surreal, unreal. Watching the first two sets the other night I’m sure were right out of Djokovic’s Doha form. He’s on another planet. I thought I’d almost seen this before.

Indeed, reminds me a bit of Nadal 2013. Watch highlights, of the first set especially, of the Nadal/Djokovic 2013 USO final below. Look at the depth of Nadal’s shots. He did to Djokovic what Nole did to Federer the other night. Similarities in the tennis and even the score –  almost identical.

This is great tennis. Sure. But it’s almost unreal, unsustainable. Too good to be true.

Looks like Murray outlasted Raonic, who succumbed to injury. He’s just a bit too big, too awkward really to have a real shot at winning extensively on tour, especially with Novak around. Yet he has really developed a game.

Novak should destroy Murray, per usual. Then again, Murray’s two majors did come at Novak’s expense: 2012 USO and 2013 WB. This seems a different version of Nole, I’m afraid. Murray breadsticked is probably not out of the question.

Compare Nadal’s form to Djokovic’s 2016 form. The power and athleticism are quite the spectacle.

 

 

3 thoughts on “The 2016 Australian Open: Final Thoughts

  1. Hey Matt,

    Thanks for the insights. I wasn’t able to watch the SF or Final b/c or work restrictions, but I was hoping you’d report back that Roger took a page from your book of strategy. I’m sorry to read that wasn’t the case…

    As Novak said after winning AO ’16, “I knew coming into the match against Andy I’m going to have to be patient and construct the point.”

    I think this is good advice for Roger too, along the lines of the points you made about defense. I find it a little strange that Roger would (well he seems to) have a blind spot about defense in his preparation, esp. wrt Djokovic. But I think tennis is such a complex game that there’s a lot to think about, and we all have blind spots.

    I think there are a couple of aspects of his game that Roger might still be able to improve, but my knowledge of tennis is very basic. So instead of dwelling on them, I’ll just say that I hope someone on Roger’s team will read your insights at some point, and convince Roger to make a few adjustments.

    He still has a lot of beautiful tennis in him, and I’d love to see him make the most of his amazing talent.

    Regards,
    Incondite

    Like

    • Not really. I will write more about it. I did mention in this post how there were clear moments where he went toe-to-toe with Novak. Pat Mac and Cahill were saying the same thing: Roger shouldn’t do that.

      In Novak’s form, not much anyone can do, I’m afraid. But Roger is just so naturally aggressive. Players have learned how to capitalize, take advantage of that.

      More to come on this for sure.

      Like

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