Who you got?
Okay, I’m getting way ahead of myself here.
Sorry for the delay in posting; I wanted to make sure I saw some actual tennis from the two matches I was going to write about.
The Djokovic win is not the biggest news if you’re a big-time tennis fan. Not in the least. The match didn’t tell us as much as we would like. Granted, if you’re a fanboy with a fanblog and you’re just beside yourself that your favorite tennis player won, well, good for you. Have fun expressing your joy to your adoring readers.
In other words, close your “analysis” of said final like this: “As a fan, I am delighted to see Djokovic playing this well again and to see my faith in him paying off. I missed that incredible level of tennis and intensity from my favorite player.”
The match had decent quality (at times high – especially given the time of year – and at times pretty mediocre) and top-of-the-tour excitement, for sure. These are the boys to be reckoned with on the tour right now, obviously. As we said in the preview to 2017, the year’s majors could be split 2 and 2 between these two (but most likely won’t be). One can not deny the fortune of the tennis world to get this first installment of Murray v Djokovic 2017 at their first tournament of the season, a preview, literally, of the year’s first major. Again, the first week of the tour and we get a #1 v #2 with spill-over anticipation and tension from 2016, a long-standing rivalry, etc. This match had the goods and it pretty much delivered.
To be sure, good on Djokovic for pulling-out the win. This is a big win for the Serb and his camp (his moral support). When Novak was playing well, finding that great penetrating FH cross-court, down-the-line combo, for instance, he showed why he can be very tough to beat. There were signs of that form, of simply out-hitting Andy, starting a point perhaps tentatively, but finding that rhythm, finishing the point with that Djokovic BL brilliance, even coming to net effectively (35 times), and hitting some nice over-head smashes (a shot that worries most Djokovic fans).
Indeed, much of the match had the look of many past Djokovic v Murray tilts. The Serb is just an all-around better player than Murray, or was. That’s the question that lingers from 2016 and has to be answered in 2017. Based-on their H2H, and/or a comparative look at their tennis, Djokovic generally has too much (depth, angle, precision, consistency, fortitude) for Sir Andy.
Murray has developed a nice shot repertoire from both sides, a return-of-serve that can rival Novak’s, a solid service game, and tremendous touch at the net. He’s a beast and not too many players can match his overall strength and versatility (especially that defense!). But he’s been looking-up most of his career at the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Two are exit-stage-left, so there’s only the Serb with whom he has to contend. And he’s done OK. Two of his three majors have come against Djokovic. Add to that the end of 2016 and you have to tell yourself that Andy stands a chance against Novak.
But Novak, in form, should get the better of Andy. That’s pretty much what went down in the Doha final. That’s why the second half of 2016 (from Wimbledon thru to the WTF) is such a good debate: is that period of tennis more the Djokollapse or the rise of Andy Murray?
So, the Doha final reminded us of the historical edge that Djokovic has had over Murray. Murray just didn’t cash-in on breaks of serve (2/7 I believe), didn’t do enough with his serve, came-up short too often with his BH. He made Djokovic look like that old Djokovic through-out most of the match. For most observers, the match might suggest that we’re returning to an ATP status-quo circa 2014-15. And this may be the case.
HOWEVER. Djokovic unable to close-out the 2nd set is a huge asterisk on this here Djokovic win. His three-set victory counts in the win column, for sure. Personally, I think a win is a win in most cases. But the context for this match is the Djokollapse and the edge he has over the Scot. If he closes-out that match 3 and 4, wow. Definitive. Big confidence boost going-in to Melbourne. But Andy breaks back twice to reverse the entire direction of the match? What?
I was jogging through some local mountains but did have my phone, decided tentatively to check the score once I figured we’d have some kind of verdict. Djokovic serving for match was, again, a pretty definitive story-line. As I checked back, just to be sure, only to see Djokovic serving to stay in the set at 5-6 I thought that’s it, that’s the question mark that will still hover over the Djokovic camp. I actually thought Murray could ride that reversal to victory, even thought we could see Djokovic go away in the third set. Hanging-on and winning that match is a solid move for the Serb, no question. Be that as it may, the break at 4-5 is almost philosophical in its meaning.
If you’re Djokovic, you’re ecstatic about the win in Doha over Andy Murray in a thrilling final that seems to reestablish the ATP pecking order.
On the other hand, if you’re Andy, you’re quite pleased with how you made this a match. You got to Djokovic in that second set. Even in the first set, Andy was broken at 3-4 when he appeared to be in control of the game. I didn’t think Andy looked very sharp, though certainly his opponent had something to do with that. The few laser BH Andy hit that cause even Djokovic lots of trouble were very few and far between. Even that flatter CC FH was too rare to be much of a weapon for the Scot. I recall one BH from Andy that sat-up like a fattened fruit, which Novak murdered with an inside-out FH winner. Great shot, Novak, but the world’s #1 shot execution just wasn’t very sharp.
Andy winning would have been devastating for Novak. But the break back in the 2nd, including the loss of composure from the the Serb (breaking his racquet, receiving the point penalty – after hitting a ball into the stands earlier) all added-up to a kind of moral victory in a match with this much context: and I am NOT a moral victory kind of guy, by the way. But with the championship on his racquet in the 2nd set. . .There’s still some concern.
In the end, Djokovic gets his Doha title defense and a solid result going-into the Australian Open where he’s very much in a certain comfort zone. But there are signs from Doha that he’s not that peaking, indomitable world beater. His Doha draw was weak, he miraculously survived five MPs against Verdasco in the SF and Murray, who was not very sharp, still managed to put a massive scare into the Serb when the world #2 should have cruised to a straight-set win. In other words, it’s complicated and I wouldn’t say anything definitive happened in Doha last week. Other than a pretty dramatic final for all tennis fans to enjoy. Bravo.
On that note, speaking of drama, excitement, the way Djokovic and Murray extend points, sit back on the BL and try to out-hit the other. . .Though the tennis is exciting, the affects of that style can be undermining of quality; the tennis so physical, the players noticeably tiring in such a three-setter. Again, fun to watch and terribly exciting at times, but this can be reminiscent of less creative, less offensive tennis.
This is a long way of asking, did anyone see Dimitrov play this week? I said it in the preview that his surging form is something to keep an eye on, and I said the Dimitrov v Raonic SF was certainly something I wanted to see.
Folks, the 25 year-old (turns 26 in May) is showing all kinds of brilliance on the court. I know it’s obnoxiously cliche to call him Baby-Fed, but the guy’s all-court athletic fluency is clicking on several cylinders right now. His movement and execution from both sides is quite Federer-like given the angles he can play with his FH and OHBH. Whereas Federer’s OHBH is now come-and-go effective, Stan’s is a military fire-arm and someone like Gasquet’s is at least nice to look at, Grigor’s is demoralizing. I watched in the first set of today’s Brisbane final Nishikori give-up on some of the Bulgarian’s devastating ground strokes. He moved Kei all over the court, out-hit the world #5 player fluently, made it look pretty easy actually.
Not to mention he beat Raonic in straights in the SF. Not a bad weekend for Dimitrov. I can only hope the form is for real and he can sustain this in bigger stakes, longer more physical matches.
Look at a few of these highlights if you missed his march to the Brisbane title this week. This is only from the final today vs. Nishikori, but really solid form from a still relatively young Grigor.
His movement is sensational. Cutting and driving the OHBH, ripping the FH, coming into net with ease and efficiency. . . the tour needs this style and this talent to develop. No question.
Watching the SF I was reminded of how someone who knows tennis told me he liked a young Milos Raonic back in 2012 or so. After watching some of his tennis, I never bought-in. Raonic’s movement around the court reminds me a bit of those gangly monsters from the film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Dimitrov, by contrast, has so much more athleticism and a kind of prodigious fluency to his game. After that 2014 WB SF appearance he seemed to go away, girl trouble, immaturity, etc. Hopefully he’s back. Truly impressive stuff from the Bulgarian this week in Brisbane.
Hats off to Roberto Bautista Agut, as well. His game continues to show a consistently dangerous quality. Come on, boys, get your games ready for Melbourne.