I actually already clarified my hyperbolic enthusiasm for the Rome QF between Novak and Rafa in a post in which I broke down that first set leading unto the 12th game; that’s where the level became more classic; the second set saw better overall tennis then did those first 11 games of the first set. I’ll go even further and say, over all, the match wasn’t necessarily classic in the usual sense – a common sense that most people would recognize.
But as I said in the intro to that Rome QF post, the context played a big role here. Of this chapter of Rafa’s career, that match could/will go down as an important point in the narrative. Djokovic (regardless of actually winning Rome) confirmed his dominance of the Spaniard. You don’t see the “classic” nature of this match? Good luck “reading” the game.
In short, what was most appealing for me about that match was Djokovic’s incredible clutch in those 2-3 huge moments, surviving BP or MP or converting his own, when it absolutely mattered. I suppose I have so much mental tape of Nadal out-clutching his opponent, being dead, down a break, but finding a way to even the score, get back on serve and overcome his shell-shocked opponent. I have yards of mental tape showcasing Nadal performing such tricks.
In this Rome QF, Djokovic was playing this role. Indeed, the worm had turned.
Sure, Nadal’s game has been on the slide; I have documented this decline, which, again, has been a pattern throughout his career, only to see him “rediscover his confidence.”
And this too was part of the contextual analysis of that QF. Nadal was coming back. The clay returned his mojo and he was winning Masters tournaments, scaring the women and children (and the ATP).
Djokovic in that QF had every opportunity to succumb to this clay master’s mind tricks and defensive tennis genius. But the Djoker pulled the ole Houdini more than once and somehow escaped. That was the brilliance. It was a study in clutch and this is just another element of Novak’s game that makes him so difficult to beat. He can win on the biggest stage (and that QF in Rome was a BIG stage, mind you – given the context) even when he’s not at his best.
Is Nadal at his best? Hell no. If you’re critical of my “take” on that match because that’s an older, slower and worn-out Nadal, so be it. But I was studying the Djoker’s magic act against the former great necromancer. There was enough there for us to satisfy our tennis palette. And, again, I clarified my initial “excitement” in that account of the first set.
Back to the FO beginning tomorrow.
Both Stan and Dominic won their respective finals today (Geneva and Nice), which hopefully enhances their preparation and confidence for tennis in Paris. Stan looks like he had a tough little 2nd set TB to finish-off Cilic. Thiem needed 3 sets but bageling Zverev in the third has to feel pretty good.
So, to reiterate: the RG proceedings will be much more interesting if a 4th or 5th party raises his level to join the big 3 at the business-end of the draw. We mentioned yesterday that Wawrinka and/or Kyrgios fits this outfit, but we have to mention Thiem, as well (obviously). Is Cilic now suddenly back on the radar, ready to shake his major contending feathers? Probably not. I know Nishikori is on a lot of people’s cards, but I’m still hesitant. Even his SF with Novak in Rome seemed, for me, more about Novak’s form. But certainly Nishikori is playing well. Adding Kyrgios to that quarter makes the Murray/Nishikori dynamic a lot more interesting as the Aussie could ruin that little tea party.
In closing this post (I will continue to update my blog as I have a break from work!!! And the anticipation for this major is coming-on strong!), I will say that I hope the French are rewarded with some strong play from one or two of their countrymen. As we know, Monfils is out, unfortunately. I really want to see Tsonga continue a fairly legitimate FO legacy, having found the SF twice (’13, ’15). That, too, would make the Nadal quarter that much more interesting. Chardy, Gasquet and Simon, who have all been to the 4R, perhaps can find the home-cooking and benevolent crowds tennis friendly, as well.
Talk to you soon.
2 thoughts on “Clarification and More FO Conjecture”
In view of the Roland-Garros draw, things seem pretty straightforward.
Q1: Djokovic, got a draw “a la carte”. The only decent dirtballer is Cuevas, but he shouldn’t have any trouble at all before SF, due to Ferrer’s and Berdych’s ill-form of late(Coric isn’t ready to challenge him). The fact that he got good practice in Rome may help him, after all. Supporters of this theory claim that the mental edge he displayed there will help him in FO. I have to concur, if he keeps his concentration (no sloppy sets as in Rome), he should reach the SF unscathed.
Q2: Nadal has a slippery path, but he should manage. In the most loaded quarter of the draw, he may meet Fognini, Thiem (overburnt?), Goffin/Sousa/Tsonga in succession before SF. His current level should be better than any of them (Thiem is very close, if rested) and he will get the practice he needs before a meeting with Djokovic.
Q3: Wawrinka’s questionable form opens this bracket. Although he got the Geneva title just before FO starts, he almost lost the first match of the tourney against Rosol. Nonetheless, he remains the best clay-courter of the quarter and should get at least to a QF with Raonic. His draw is as good as Novak’s but this is irrelevant with him…
Q4: Murray has the second hardest draw after Nadal. Paire (if he’s in the mood), Kyrgios, Nishikori may have something to say about the SF position but the Brit is steadier than the first two and stronger than the last. He may arrive in the latter stages a bit more tired than the guys in Q1, or Q3.
SF1 should be a repeat of the show we witnessed in Rome: Nadal has no weapon to threaten Djokovic but may get some help from his opponents nervousness;there is no mystery in this match-up for me. And as you noticed Novak can withstand all of Nadal’s mental games and reflect them effeciently(he has been doing that for quite some time to be precise). If SF2 it includes Stan, all bets are off. Murray is good but Stanimal on fire… well Djokovic can attest to what may transpire.
I agree with you that Nishikori shouldn’t be a prime contender on a slow court where his serve is a liability and can’t hit through his opponent over 5 sets. I don’t believe in Tsonga a lot; he’s out of form recently. Has Thiem overplayed? Maybe he should learn to manage his schedule a bit better, but I guess he wanted to reap the benefits of the clay season the best he could. The absence of Monfils helped the top contenders, I guess.
To sum it up, you are spot on: Djokovic has got the draw and the game. He has to take that chance now; he may pretend to be calm but the clock is ticking for everyone, especially for those who count a lot on their footwork. Federer’s absence (oh how quickly the time passes…) should be treated as a warning.
Unless someone decides to throw a spanner in the works, things seem pretty predictable at least until the 4rth round (Thiem-Nadal match).
On a sidenote, the lack of equivalent installations (no roof, last year I remember a panel falling to the spectators etc.) hurts the tourney schedule and fame big time, comparing to the other 3 GS. I’m somewhat surprised that the ITF and the French haven’t looked into that already.
Keep up the good work Matt.
PS: You are right in reference to the players that clay courts crown; blunt players most of the time. And I didn’t miss your other sub-texted agenda regarding clay, of course.
Thanks for reading and commenting, blackspy. I am going to meditate (write) a lot on the game as I am on work break and a lot of tennis to watch.
“Federer’s absence (oh how quickly the time passes…) should be treated as a warning.” Wish I’d put it that way. Great stuff.
No doubt, a lot on the line for Novak. Imagine the pressure if Nadal gets through to the SF in good shape, the pressure of that SF; nothing vs. everything to lose.