2017 Australian Open Hangover: Calling Dr. Ljubičić

Remember the argument I made about a year ago in response to the hiring of Ivan Ljubičić?  The reasoning went something along the lines of Roger needs to start winning ugly; the beauty pageant is over if you want to win anything resembling anything of significance.

Re-read this completely different post I wrote on the eve of 2015 U.S. Open. This amounts to what I would have told Roger before he took the court against a guy (Djokovic) that will play the match like his life, his very last breath, depends on it. I called it “Attitude and Form.” His form ultimately would depend on his attitude, which often looks like he’s on vacation.

Roger’s pretty much considered tennis class personified. His elegance precedes him, defines his greatness and his flaw. The rise of Nadal and Djokovic has been at the expense of Roger’s sophisticated style that became more and more flawed and even soft in light of the grind and grit of the Spaniard and the Serb. Almost everything about Roger had come to be associated with this style of tennis: his nationality, his family, and his coach. The latest had been Edberg, about as buttoned-up, almost stoic, as Roger.

I had been arguing for a while (to no avail) that this was killing the guy. His game still may have been the easiest on the eyes, but the flaw (that nonchalance) was devouring his relevance.

Enter Ljubičić. I liked it from Day 1. Ljubičić had always been an uncompromising opponent  for anyone on tour. The move seemed a little late in the making, but Roger was still knocking on the door at the majors; he just couldn’t muster the strength, the attitude, to kick the fucking thing in and take what belonged to him.

This highlight could not be more appropriate to this point. Look at coach Ljubičić’s reaction to Roger finding a break-point at this critical, and I mean critical, juncture of the final.

Can you imagine Edberg doing that? Perhaps I should admit to have not looked at much of Edberg or Annacone (or any of his past “captains) to determine their “attitude” or “focus” during a match like this. This was the end of the rope for Roger. He had to break, or the match was pretty much in the refrigerator and the jello would’ve been jiggling.

Ljubičić’s form was perhaps as brilliant as Roger’s. And this is not a stretch when you consider how Roger MENTALLY was able to come out of quasi-retirement and win his 18th major. . .against Nadal, after surviving a pretty stiff draw (by the way, the Murray exit is not necessarily a luck of the draw for Federer because you and I both know that Murray v Federer would have been very very interesting – Murray’s run last summer was really sans Novak and Roger, keep in mind, and the Swiss has usually faired pretty well against the Scot – but that’s for another post 🙂

In other words, Ljubičić’s influence was massive. This look and shake from the box should not be underestimated. Nor should the sudden resilience and devastation of the BH. Ljubičić’s hands are all over this historical run from Federer. What a masterpiece on all sides.

Would Edberg do anything remotely resembling this?

 

Brilliant. Great sport brings-out the best in people, right? You think this passion (from both sides – the mental toughness and the ecstatic joy) benefits Roger’s game?

I watched most of the final again, jotted down some notes during the opening and closing sets of the match, which were really the heaviest in the way of importance. We all know that Roger winning the first set was paramount. We said the same things about Roger’s 2015 finals vs Djokovic at WB and the USO. If nothing else, the early lead helps mentally. Of course, Rafa still had the match on his racquet in the fifth, so the fifth, obviously, became incredibly consequential.

First Set Notes

7th game, Rafa serving 3-3. At 0-15, after a nice BH return to S&V put-away, Federer on the second point comes 2-3 ft inside the BL to hit the BH and misses, but Nadal serving 15-15 is uncomfortable.

Roger’s aggression seems to be a little intimidating, even this early. The FH is working early and he outhits Rafa to win the following point and then with a running volley he stamps the next point to create the double break point. He converts the first BP.

He has dominated the first set. Roger inside the BL, coming to net, Rafa on his back foot. Roger’s return and defense the better of the two, as well. Serving well and quickly. Suffocating tennis. Consolidates at at love with an ace. The chess match.

Nadal caught off guard.

Roger running around the second serve, again getting control of the point on return (aggressive play).

In closing out, serve is solid, BH still dominant, 2 aces over 90% first serves won, about 68% FS efficiency.

Roger’s look at his box after 1st set isexpressionless, just a stare. Lubicic.

Different mindset here, this time, and the BH has completely shaped the tone of the match.

Fifth Set Notes

Rafa serving 2-3. First point typical of what Roger was doing with some of that big FH tops-spin to his BH, ballooning it back, playing safe, keeping ball in play and then he finds an opportunity and drills the flattened BH CC winner: 0-15.

(these ballooning, rally perpetuating shots play a big role. People will say that Roger was more aggressive in this match, and they’re probably right, but he’s also keeping some points simply going, playing some defense, playing some shots safe; but he is certainly looking for the offense. No doubt. None the less, watch his “defensive” tennis accentuate the offense. It’s smarter tennis).

Back to the sixth game of fifth set, Rafa serving 2-3. Solid rally, but Roger starting to really out hit Nadal: forced error: “Come on” says Roger 0-30.

15-30, errant FH.

Great serve out wide, easy put away for Rafa, 30-30.

Rally, Nadal long. 30-40 – break point Roger (he has had BP in all of Rafa’s serve games in 5th set. Considering Rafa doesn’t win another game, you can say that table was turned).

Nadal saves a BP with great spot serve up the middle. Another good serve follows, Rog dumps into net. Ad Nadal. Pretty much match point.

Nadal hits the tape on FH and it bounces into alley, back to deuce.

Roger then wins next point with the lethal BH CC to reach another BP. The box, Ivan the terrible…again because it’s worth an encore.

6th BP of set and that’s the one. Roger Breaks, evens the set at 3-3.

7th game. Ace. S&V quick point 30-0. Tough serve, Nadal misses, 40-0. Second serve ace (#17), 4-3.

Nadal misses wide on FH. 0-15. Wide again as Roger is flying all over the court, 0-30. Nadal fading. 9 straight points for Roger.

Double fault, 0-40.

He saves one with great FH. 15-40.

He saves another with big serve. 30-40.

Roger misses badly,deuce.

Nadal a warrior even in this diminished stage. What a fighter.

Then “the rally.” 27 shots. BP Roger:

 

(Here’s a look at the box after the massive 27 shot exchange. The Box. EyeVan making eye-contact with his student. . .ha ha)

Then, Nadal huge serve back to deuce.

Roger another hitting clinic, Roger dictating. BP # 5 of this game.

Insane BH CC return, Nadal wide. 5-3 fifth set of AO final.

Nadal from way back, BH CC return winner. Vintage Nadal, 0-15.

Out hits Roger in next point, 0-30. Will not go away. Insane mettle, this guy.

Ace. 15-30. 18th ace of the match.

Nadal eats him alive in the next point and it’s double break point, 15-40. RAFA!

Wow.

Ace #19, 30-40.

Second serve…huge inside out FH, vintage Federer. Deuce.

Big first serve, Nadal long, Ad in, championship point.

Second serve. Double fault? Challenge. Rog wins challenge.

Rog hits it long, deuce #2.

Ace #20, 2nd championship point.

Roger hits line, it’s challenged. Roger wins the AO.

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How does some discussion about court speed sound?  These are the conversations I love: time to go macro and put careers in perspective! 😀

7 comments

  1. Mat, you are the Goat in objectivity, analysis, in depth tennis knowledge, etc etc. Absolutely no fan girling, no bias and so damn refreshing. Can’t find another tennis blog like yours on the web. Why aren’t there more readers/commentators I’m really surprised. Maybe there are lots but they don’t bother commentating. Or maybe most tennis fans find it hard to see and hear the most accurate truths about the game and their favourite players! Because you have seemingly fewer comments, I’m scared you will stop writing. Please don’t, EVER stop. We need sanity, Matt in this golden tennis era gone mad! GOAT, MAtt, you truly are. Period. And shout out to all your regular GOAT commentators as well! Please keep up the great work guys! We need sanity.

  2. Matt please don’t, I beg of you, no more court speed theories! I think we already had a great and in depth discussion about these in one of your prior write ups about the idiotic GOAT debacle. I’ve just about have had enough from reading TheUltimateCourtSpeedBlog lately and its accumulation of dead brain cells has severely tainted my mind to a point beyond repair, which is saying much for an already manic Roman tyrant.

    I therefore Echo your statement, calling Dr. Ljubičić!

  3. I tend to think that Matt sums things up so completely that few comments are necessary. And that is a testament to the quality of his output, IMHO. 🙂

    In regard to court speed, I think Roger said after a few matches (maybe after the Berdych match) that he was becoming comfortable with the court, his timing, etc. But it seemed to take a few days for him to get the new feel of things in Australia.

    I would tend to think that the different court (and ball?) dynamic affected all players roughly equally, but that Roger (and maybe Nadal as well) adjusted better than some others. As a newcomer to tennis, I’ve wondered why that would be the case. Any thoughts?

    Also, although a faster court would help Roger against Nadal, and against certain other players as well, would things tend to balance out across the board? I’d be interested to know your thoughts about how significant a factor court speed was from a macro perspective.

    Thanks again Matt, loving your posts as always – and your comments too, Caligula.

    1. Thank you Incondite for the kind words. If I may elaborate a bit on this court speed dilemma some mental midgets seem to cling on to as of late, and I think we all know the cesspool of idiocy it stems from by now, but I digress.

      It may very well be true that the Courts were indeed faster this year at the AO, but not nearly enough to make a noticeable difference, if one looks back at the 90’s and early 2000’s the points were much shorter and the ball was indeed traveling and bouncing faster on average, which was very good and healthy for the sport since we had players WHO were specialists for different surfaces, this kept the competition in check. as Matt writes the homogenised nature of courts (clay is still pretty much intact IMHO). We had Pistol Pete who served and volleyed like a fiend, demolishing everyone in his path on the USOPEN hard-and Wimbledon grass courts, if you watch some of those matches you will immediately see the difference, there was no time for baseline grinding, you either had the point in the bag by serving big and closing out the point in 2-3 moves. After having watched the AO2017 in almost its entirety as far as the men’s game was concerned these courts weren’t anything near as fast, and anyone claiming they were drastically faster are either on some very potent fumes, or are completely out of their mind and in damage control of the love of their life.

      If in fact the court speed does not factor in racket technology ball refinements etc.…
      What we do know is that the minuscule difference in potential court speed this AO had almost nothing to do with Federer’s success. His success came from his incredible mental focus (when it mattered the most), mastery (per usual for Federer) and his SBH improvement. Nadal used to rape his SBH, but this year a 35-year old Grandmaster turned the tables. Now some degenerates are suspicious of Federer and believe foul play was involved. Some hypothesize that while he was in recovery mode that someone slipped something into his drink, or perhaps the cows he has in his barn are of alien descent which make their swiss milk infused with a rare steroid like protein substance which helped him on his way to GS #18.

      Whatever the case may be, sensationalizing the small bump in court speed is a huge disservice to all the players who participated at this year’s AO, and an insult to our intelligence, but as we have seen time and time again, you don’t have to display intelligence to be a blogger and attract likeminded buffoons, luckily, we have Matt’s blog where we can look at tennis without having to leave our brains at the door.

  4. Hey Caligula,

    Great stuff! I was trying to keep the door open for someone who knows more about tennis to clarify what I suspected was the fairly minor impact of the new courts.

    And I especially enjoyed reading your observations about the disservice it does to the players (notably the tourney winner) to claim the court speed caused the result. Can you imagine, I actually read a post on another blog that made the claim that everything came down to the court speed… 😉

    Btw, I also appreciate the way you refer to Roger as the Grandmaster. He deserves that title as much as any player!

    Best,
    Incondite

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