I got a chance to see Djokovic, Federer, Wawrinka and Nadal play among others a bit as Rome has gotten underway.
Djokovic vs. Robert was vintage Djokovic. Unless he’s really not going to invest much in Rome to save himself for RG, this was just typical Novak doing enough in the early rounds to survive and show-case his big match brilliance at the business-end of the tournament. Why not consolidate the Madrid title and roll into RG having made very clear to everyone, even the Rafa-goons, that Nole is the one to beat. Period. By the way, hearing Wawrinka come-out and say Novak is the one to beat in RG is vintage Stan. He doesn’t buy into the Rafa hype either. If only Stan’s tennis could find the confidence of his commentary, we’d be in business for some RG fireworks.
I saw Federer play Zverev. He was brilliant, coupling the depth of his BL blasts to his genius touch on the drop-shot. Racquet wizardry was on display to remind the teenager that the upper-echelon of the sport is a little further up. I am still nervous watching Fed’s BH as we know this is one of his big vulnerabilities. But when it’s on, he’s tough. He looked sharp, deep, and was moving well. Zverev is a big hitter, so Fed’s command and control of much of the match was impressive. Federer’s all-court tennis will be missed when he’s gone. Djokovic shows some of this, but the all-court tennis is styled genius, a much better watch than this stand-behind-the-baseline-20 feet-swing for the fences crap (Nadal).
Of course, Roger lost today to Thiem. Did not see yet. But we know Thiem’s clay credibility. I will definitely see this match later as the SHBH/OHBH tennis is the superior style of the sport. We know clay is a warm-up for the rest of the season, but I would have liked to see Federer get past Thiem to see the potential of a Nadal/Djok v Fed SF. Good for Thiem. Let’s see him not waste this win/opportunity.
Wawrinka looked okay vs. Paire but in typical Stan form he needed to find his form in some mysterious way. The Chair thought Stan blurted-out “Fuck,” and gave the Swiss a violation, to be fined for his off-color language. Stan responded, “You think I said ‘Fuck'”? Ha. Stan lost the first set to his pal Paire, but cruised through the next two easily after this heated exchange. It was clear that Magnus wanted Stan to keep his cool and play. Magnus should know better. Stan needs some kind of intervention to focus his demonstrative power game.
But then he lost to #114 Juan Monaco. Monaco is your Cuevas of Rome. I might attribute the loss to Stan being Stan, too, but you see this on clay especially: the lesser (often harder-working Spanish/South American) player finding his day on the clay. Nothing new here. Too bad the Swiss softballs are gone from the draw.
Nadal, of course, is flying high in Rome. I watched a bit of his Kohlschreiber match and saw two games of his Kyrgios exchange today but will get caught-up later. Again, Nadal standing 20 feet behind the BL and simply out muscling opponents has never been that interesting. I suppose it was a novelty for a few years in the aughts, but that’s just his bread and butter. No one fights like he does and standing so far back, he can retrieve just about anything from anyone. It’s defensive tennis in all of its glory, on a very slow surface.
How about that draw? Nadal v Djokovic in a QF? And Federer, Thiem and Kyrgios and Raonic in the same bracket? Either they really want to see Nadal v Djokovic or they’re trying to get Wawrinka and/or Andy in form for RG?
Andy should find another final here in Rome and might continue to build his confidence for the year’s 2nd major. I am happy for Andy. Although I think his behavior on court can be unacceptable (this is well documented) coming through in Madrid (just missing-out in MC) is a great development for the now #3 in the world.
Novak losing to Bellucci would not be surprising, by the way. He avoids the Nadal nightmare that has little meaning since it’s not RG. Nole has his clay confidence from last week. A little rest might be most appropriate and a QF vs. Nadal, SF vs. Thiem and F vs. Murray could be not what the doctor ordered. Watching Novak grab at his back in his Robert match was not a good sign.
Regardless of what happens in Rome, taking three sets from a healthy and focused Novak seems like a very tall order.