The title of this post doesn’t necessarily refer to the Nadal win, his 10th MC title and his 29th Masters title (a new-era metric for all of you tennis “historians” out there who unknowingly build wishful thinking logical fallacies to promote their favorite player).
Nadal continuing to play solid tennis is more the story relating to his win, not that he wins MC again, or that he’s at home on clay (again).
2017 Fedal continues to sort things out at the top of the tour right now and with Murray and Djokovic (and Wawrinka) continuing to struggle, the theme of the ATP has to continue to be delightful/shocking/miserable for diverse tennis fans.
Instead, the “same old” refers to clay’s inferiority as far as championship tennis is concerned. The tennis, all the way around, was pretty mediocre this past week, but I am guilty of comparing the tennis to hard courts or even grass (the grass seems to have gotten a bit chunkier and soft in the last ten years or so, as well).
Before I get ahead of myself, I do want to applaud Goffin, who played very well, consistent, quick, beautiful hitting from both sides ( and especially from the mental stand-point, how he was able to stay upright and close-out Djokovic, how he had control of the SF until a chair umpire took a giant doo doo on the red clay of the Monte Carlo Country Club). And applause too to Rafa, who did what he was supposed to do (and let me reiterate, in defense of Nadal: he has been playing well all year, so one figures he should consolidate his quality of play on hard courts at the first clay opportunity he has). Again, bravo to both players.
But the clay tennis just didn’t really take-off, in my humble opinion, which is the same-old. It rarely seems to take-off.
The Nadal v Zverev match is a great exhibit of the dramatic change of surface (change of season) on the ATP and the inferior tennis quality fostered on clay. Nadal buried the 20 year-old in long, exhausting rallies of top-spinning risk-free tennis the German just couldn’t withstand; the images of Sascha standing there in complete dejection were almost bizarre. Again, credit to Nadal for mastering this style, but what a substantial shift in court quality from the truer bounce and style that is the hard court. Zverev looked like many players this week, who seemed to wilt in the conditions (not the heat): the call for uninspired ping-pong-like rallies that go to the fittest player with the best top-spin and clay sensibility.
Ramos-Vinolas is a perfect example of this kind of “specialist.” The balls in almost every rally seemed like those practice balls you can buy that are bigger and lighter, which you can smash, but they don’t carry nearly as far. This makes them great for rallying, for practicing bigger baseline groundstrokes that pose much less threat to the hitting partner.
I didn’t watch every match of Monte Carlo, but Nadal and Goffin seemed to play the most inspired tennis; Goffin was seen flattening-out some shots, looking very confident around the court, and Nadal is, of course, fairly apt at harnessing some depth and weight on his clay groundstrokes.
The bit of the Pouille v Ramos-Vionlas match I saw was unwatchable. Pouille tried desperately to play “tennis,” but was met with this soft-top balloon-ball from the Spaniard that rendered almost a different sport. It was painful. The look on the Frenchman through-out the first set sealed the result of that match. Ramos-Vinolas is a decent player, but come-on.
If you’ve been reading the last couple of days, you saw the comment by my esteemed Belgian reader who posted an excerpt of an interview with one-time clay great Thomas Muster (I put a little effort into finding the actual interview online, but to no avail, so we have to take this reader’s word for it. But it makes sense to me).
The comment reads:
“The following interview on Skysports is worth sharing with you’ll I think .
Annabel Croft: Has tennis on clay changed ?
Thomas Muster: It’s the balls that have changed. They are made now (in comparison with back then) of a different kind of rubber, and have also less pressure (inside is a gaz) than they used to have. As a result of this the current balls don’t take off (the ground) as fast as they used to in the past, which gives the defender more time to track the ball down and hit a passingshot. In other words, the attacking player is now getting punished on volleys that used to be winners in the past; and because it is harder to hit winners, the rallies tend to be much longer (too long in his opinion) than they used to be in the past.”
This only fit with much of what I have seen in the past, but seemed especially apparent this week in Monte Carlo. I know the clay is a different surface, that this kind of diversity of surface is good for the sport, but the conditions seem to be “worsening.”
The defense-first tennis is just tiring; one can see it in the more offensive-minded players and from fans, as well. We have discussed the changes in the sport and we will continue to march to this band or warning: the bigger equipment, softer balls, softer surfaces, better “nutrition,” etc., impede sport integrity and history.
The other point that evidences my title, that this is clay, that this is the same-old, concerns that ghastly call by Cedric Mourier in the 6th game of the first set of Goffin v Nadal. To put this shot into context, we all have to acknowledge that Nadal was putting massive pressure on Goffin in the game, that even before the controversial call at
advantage Goffin, there had been 4-5 deuce and advantages in this intensely tight game at 3-2, Goffin serving for a pretty firm hold on that first set. Nadal was finding his feet after being really dominated in the first 4-5 games. In other words, this was already becoming pretty tight; one had to assume this was going to probably go Nadal’s way, either way.
But the call was buffoonery. Mourier should have been stripped naked and sent shamefully to the shower or the waters of the Riviera. Get the hell out of here with that garbage. The ball sailed long, the call was made by the line judge and not even Nadal raised an eye-brow, looked at it, or glanced at his box.
Goffin was getting situated to return serve. But this Cedric the Entertainer-type comes bumbling out of his chair to confirm. . . what? That the match is fixed? That you fell asleep, Mr. Mourier?
And because it’s clay, there is no Hawk-Eye; the system hasn’t been calibrated for clay. The rationale stands that Hawk-Eye is not needed on clay because of the mark left by the ball. There have been far too many cases where these umpires have missed. The Hawk-Eye TV determined, like everyone else watching the point, that the ball was long, that Goffin had a 4-2 lead in the first set of a SF v Nadal.
Having said that, as I already pointed-out, the match was tightening, Goffin’s upper-hand in the early stages of the first set was weakening and in no way can we determine that this decided the match.
But it reminded us of the claw (flaw of the clay). Believe it.
Of course, the call drew heavy boos from anyone watching and really affected the play of David Goffin, a top-ten player who was making a big run at a Masters 1000. His play has been pretty solid of late. In 2017, he has reached the AO QF, and finals at Sofia and Rotterdam, before a couple of 4R defeats at IW and Miami.
His win over Djokovic was a big break-through for sure.
The win answered my rhetorical question from my previous post about the survival of the Serb. Said survival was in massive doubt from our end. Did I think Goffin had it in him to put the Djoker out of his misery? I did not and I was wrong.
I figured Nadal would do the trick.
Not sure how the Serb processes a loss like this. The obvious point is he is still struggling, in a big way. Remember, even though Goffin, a solid top-ten player on the tour these days, beat him, he has been struggling with all sorts of players from all sorts of rankings. He is going to have to make quicker work of these earlier round “beatable” opponents in order to control and overcome even more dangerous opponents.
Then again, if 2017 Fedal has anything to tell us: it’s that these great players, who have so many past victories to fuel their impending form and motivation, can recover from these apparent dips in quality.
As I have written, however, on several occasions, Djokovic needs to get back to his winning ways sooner than later. Younger talent is rising, and his game, one of endurance, a huge base-line grind, and steel-nerved BPs doesn’t dominate forever.
We suspect he’ll find more fitness in the coming weeks, but one could see the clay grind and three-set standard taking their toll on the Serb. With regards to the time violation against Goffin in the QF, Djokovic said, “That’s fair from the chair umpire to tell me that I’m taking a little bit too much time. It was just in a very awkward moment to give me a warning. . .It’s just that sometimes there should be maybe a little bit more tolerance and understanding for certain situations like that one, where it was very long point, at 6-5 in the third.”
The chair got this one right, I’m afraid.