Looking Back While Moving Forward

I have not written in a while. Obviously. Nor did I watch much tennis other than some Olympics matches and a couple of Toronto/Cincy contests I sniffed perhaps by accident. Between the crumbling nature of competitive excellence on tour and the Djokovic fanboy blowhards, I needed a nice little break.

My last post was a bit of a downer, right? The hardcourt season has the potential to showcase the best tennis of the year (and there’s still hope with NYC on the horizon). I just didn’t see much in order to get that excited and sure, to be honest, with Roger and Rafa going down, Djokovic plateauing, and Murray making a little run, this is the tour we know and love turned upside down! Not to mention that the rest of the men’s field seems to evidence a disturbing lack of maturity and competitive brilliance. Frankly, I’m not that interested.

Yet.

I will, like you, come to appreciate more the tennis of Nishikori, Raonic, Thiem and some of the rest of the boys, I guess or hope. I watched the first three sets of the Djokovic v Federer 2015 USO final last night. I’m not sure what the ATP has right now or in the near future that can find even the same continent as that kind of sport. As they see, we’ll have to wait and see.

The best way for this post to proceed is for me to go player by player, the ones that made my radar. In the end, although a big surprise or two might have encouraged me to move more quickly to the blog possessed again by the game’s athleticism and character drama, we instead had delivered course after course of mostly predictable and underwhelming tennis.

Andy Murray

Think about it: You owe Lendl for the top level right now, for any real consistent tennis excellence. Had the Czech stayed hibernated, and Murray trenched in his solid medium game, we would have had the rise of Raonic or Nishikori to calculate right now. Actually, if there was no Lendl, Murray’s form would be much less inspiring – no Wimbledon, no Olympic gold, so Djokovic probably never would have dipped. Indeed, Djokovic’s fall and Murray’s rise are conjoined. Murray via Lendl completely changed the complexion of this summer of tennis (along with the descent of Fedal).

Of course, this is a good development, no question. Can Murray beat Djokovic H2H? Probably not, but with Lendl on-board we have a completely different kind of player in Murray. You know I find this a little embarrassing for Murray. I have been very critical of him in the past, not so much his defensive-oriented game, but because he’s such an emotional mess. Lendl (the surrogate father-figure) demands better behavior. This translates into more focus, confidence and given Murray’s age and power, he can proceed fairly comfortably through the draws.

Still, Murray owes almost all of this success to Lendl. The association’s record doesn’t lie. Don’t fool yourself. This, like I have said, is a huge nod to that earlier golden-age of tennis about which millennials (and other poorly informed tennis fans) have little clue.

Milos Raonic

Since his Wimbledon finals run, he reached QF in Toronto and SF in Cincinnati. The loss to Monfils in the Roger’s QF is a pretty big upset if you buy stock in the Canadian’s game, in front of his home crowd. Indeed, Monfils looked a bit of a threat in that tournament though the SF vs. Djokovic (which I did watch) was over before the first or second toss. Monfils is the ATP. Lacks consistency and that other level we’ve grown accustomed to seeing late in the draw. Back to Raonic: nothing to write home about. McEnroe has his work cut-out for him.

Kei Nishikori

The first thing that has to be said about the Japanese star is he’s really a 500 level player. History doesn’t lie. He has had his moments, but he, like Raonic, will win mainly due to this depleted field. Like Monfils, he was tamed by Djokovic in Toronto. And his loss in Cincy, early, again makes the case for Kei. Not very durable.

He had a nice run in the Olympics, but couldn’t quite break through that top level. Although his win over Nadal in the bronze probably gets some people excited, not sure what those people are valuing here. Nadal is old, injured and playing for third on hard court. Huge advantage Nishikori.

Juan Del Potro

Perhaps I should have led with this player as his run in Rio was pretty special. But we definitely have to wait and see how he does on the tour. He got into the U.S. Open (needed an invite), so let’s see how he does in that field. Watching him play Nadal in Rio, or Murray in the final, one could really sense the Davis Cup-like climate. Those players rise to the occasion because of country. No doubt, great to see the Argentinian beat Nadal in that epic SF. I watched much of this match. He is cold-blooded. His FH is ferocious.

What a reminder of how badly we’ve missed this tennis talent on tour! Very sad. I remember the 2009 USO final like it was yesterday. He was 20 years old then. Think about that. Look what he did to Nadal in the SF of that major: 2 2 and 2. Get out of here.

Any excitement I felt for the great tennis from D Po was qualified big-time by the sadness of his injuries. The entire history of this most recent golden-age could have been different. People forget how promising his game was back then.

Novak Djokovic

He’s plateaued for sure. Even he’s uninspired by the tennis, apparently. Getting bounced in the third round at WB seems to have lingered. His win in Toronto was pretty ho hum. His Olympics was a disaster. In short, he needs to get his greatness outfit on again and get back to work.

Listening to some tennis folk rattle-on about the history of the sport, I saw one particular point about how Roger is the grass GOAT, Nadal the clay GOAT and Djokovic the hardcourt GOAT.

LOL.

This is the best example of presentism I have seen, of some tennis “buff” figuring s/he knows the sport based on watching the sport since. . . 2008 or 2009?

The only part of that paradigm that can hold is the clay commentary. I’ll give the Nadal cheerleaders that, which is practically a different sport all together, at least according to Rafa. Borg was no slouch, played in a different time and this historical context is crucial as I tried to explain in my HRFRT series (which I still need to finish). But I’ll give the nod to Nadal here.

The grass GOAT? Pete in his prime vs. Roger at his would be quite a war. Pete’s serve was devastating. Not sure how Roger gets the definitive nod here. They both have 7 Wimbledons.

The HC GOAT? Djokovic? The U.S. Open is virtually the hard court championships. Not the Australian Open. Sorry. Nadal has as many USO as Djokovic. Pete and Roger have 5 of those EACH. I am using numbers, people. Not bias. The DecoTurf vs. the Plexichusion or Rebound Ace is a nuanced but important point.

Which brings me to an important point about Djokovic. He has to win the 2016 U.S. Open. He probably will given the level of tennis being played on tour right now. If Murray has his Lendl form, and isn’t too burned-out, we could have a nice final.

But Djokovic needs this for his USO resume (to help his fans make those claims). We can see how things turn in the life of an athlete. Father Time is undefeated. Djokovic needs to take care of business and the time is now.

Rafael Nadal

I still don’t quite get his withdraw from the French. Sure I’m suspicious. He was ROLLING. He had a Masters win under his belt, played Novak tough in Italy, was beating people in straights in Paris and then, adios. Then he’s back at the Olympics. Then Cincy? Pretty poor all the way around. His R16 beatdown by Coric in Cincy says it all.

The biggest Nadal news is he’s entered into Brisbane 2017?

Marin Cilic

You know how I feel about this guy. His 2014 run in NYC is bizarro. This year, he was rampant at WB, but lost to Federer. He lost early in Toronto, didn’t show very well in Rio, and won Cincy (first 1000). He’s inconsistent, to say the least. But he appears to like this surface. With a USO crown in his bag, let’s see how he handles the pressure in NYC. If he can become a regular, the tennis world (including me) might be more forgiving. 🙂

With Andy’s return to Lendl, Jonas Bjorkman became available and Cilic has traded in Ivanisevic to work with the Swede. So far, so good it appears.

Stan Wawrinka

On holiday. Or should have been.

Nick Kyrgios

He won a 250 in Atlanta, but then lost to Coric early in Cincy. Show us anything, Nick.

American Tennis

Thumbs-up to Steve Johnson.

Thumbs-down to Taylor Fritz.

Let me know what I missed. I should be back on track with the blog. New York will help.

Having watched the Tennis Channel’s replay of the 2015 men’s final last night, I’m pumped for NY and disappointed, as well. Like most of us, hoping for some drama.

The way that match played-out, as we recall, great first three sets. The pivotal couple of games in the third.

As I watched the end of the second (where I picked it up), Roger finally breaks and takes that second set 7-5.  Now the pivotal third. They trade breaks to even the set.

At 4-3 Federer, Novak serving. He goes 40-0 but let’s Fed back to BP. Fed then gets a look at his 14th and 15th BP. On the first, FH UE that makes Annacone almost cry (he’s calling the replay). I mean, that was the match. Roger converts that neutral FH, he’s been playing well, he serves for third set. Unreal. On the second BP Roger gets a second serve even, but doesn’t do enough, mis-hit, and Djoker buries it. Roger is clearly outplaying Djokovic here in the third set, it’s pretty clear, but Roger just chokes away BP after BP.

4-4. Fed gets to 30-0, then 40-15. Then deuce (choke). He goes 120mph on the T to go Ad-In. Then back to deuce on crazy BH from the Serb. Deuce. Then BP Djokovic. Game over.

Djokovic serving for set. Fed gets 2 more BP. Ha ha. But Novak finds deuce, then Ad In, set point. Done.

Pretty wild to revisit that critical couple of games in that match. Perfect example of Djokovic dominating under pressure. Dominating. Under. Pressure. And Fed mastering the choke. Wow.

Thanks for reading. It’s good to be back.

3 thoughts on “Looking Back While Moving Forward

  1. Well with the Olympics done the hard court party can truly begin. The tour’s HC mecca, U.S. Open @ Flushing Meadows.
    Your latest article summed it nicely. Honestly, Murray looks the goods at the moment. Lendl in his corner keeping him focused and confident as well as riding high off the Olympic Gold medal. Yep, Andy could win a second USO (possibly) beating Novak for the title. Eh the usual suspects but hopefully one of the young guns/Del Potro fires!

    Yep, I’m Australian, mate. “Does Nick make a run here?” I truly hope so. Ah Nick, Nick, Nick! All depends on what Kyrgios shows up. He does enjoy the big stage so that could motivate him but mentally he is all over the place. I do like him and despite some of his antics I believe the Australian press have been somewhat harsh on him. An example would be the Olympics. Basically, the Australian Olympic Committee chef de mission Kitty Chiller wrote a 16 page letter chronicling his ‘bad behaviour’ and to explain his actions before the games. Kyrgios pulled out in protest. You have to be responsible for your actions but I felt the treatment towards him was unfair.
    Part of it comes down to the Australian sporting champ narrative. In short, over here we love our successful sportsperson to be humble and unassuming (basically to carry on the Rafter-Rosewell-Laver etc. torch) but Nick is brash, bold and combative. A brilliant shot maker that I hope gains some focus and consistency.

    Roger always said that it took him some time to piece together his game and understand why he needed to put the work in etc.So maybe Nick will similarly awaken, he is 21 after all. Time will reveal all.

    Like

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