Madrid and the Clay Maze

Nadal, Federer (actually), Djokovic (generally), Murray (hopefully), Thiem and Goffin (stylistically), Stan (if and when), and perhaps a few others make up a short list of guys whose games translate to clay.

Otherwise the analysis of a draw like Madrid is witchcraft. Clay is witchcraft, at best. Otherwise, as I and many before me have argued, it’s a kind of dumbed-down tennis. No question.

That translates to odd-ball tennis.

Your Monte-Carlo and Barcelona villain/superstar Ramos-Vinolas is out to another clay maker Schwartzman. Been watching Murray struggle a bit with this Marius Copil, nice one-hander out of Romania (though Murray appears to be headed toward 5-2 in the second – took the first 6-4).

I enjoyed the end of Cuevas v Bellucci. I swear. Cuevas, like the Romanian, has a nice one-hander to give the tennis a bit more than the clay generally makes available. Thanks, boys. The erratic Brazilian served for match in the third of a typical clay adventure, but Cuevas broke back to go to a TB. Which was another adventure, the Uruguayan going up 6-2 and finally closing-out the set and match 8-6.

Guys like Dimitrov, Kyrgios and Tsonga are fighting for their lives (and our tennis enjoyment) to get through to the next round. Pouille is about to get whacked by fellow young Frenchman, Herbert, a #88 over #13 – standard clay foray.

Sock is out, the Brit Evans is out (not a huge loss but again just the nature of the beast here where the everyman/journeyman/etc is in tremendous “form” on clay).

The sky is blue, the air we breathe, and the clay is uneven.

The draw looks quite similar to MC, as I’m sure others have noticed.

Some interesting match-ups take place in the next few days, so long as any semblance of talent can survive.

Djokovic has a French/Spanish omelette in the next few matches involving Almagro tomorrow and then winner of Lopez v Simon. Djokovic, I suspect, will get a little boost from this mental retreat, the novelty of a fresh start, a lightening of the load, so to speak. But he should be challenged on the Madrid clay here early. Those left at the top of that quarter can pose a threat on clay, as well.

But Djokovic has to go deep, at least show his wares in a SF v Nadal. Djokovic can’t just djokovic-madrid-2017-player-partyshow-up in Rome and/or Paris and dominate the world. He has to start now. We’ll give him a pass on the team turmoil, but he needs to get some work done, now. Good luck to the Serb. As we’ve said, we need him deep in these draws. More on that in a minute.

In the next quarter, we have an ailing Nadal (ear?) ready to go with Fognini, then probably Kyrgios, which leads to a survivor here playing the survivor of all kinds of trouble in Raonic (who showed-up in Istanbul last week in the final), Goffin, and Muller (finalist last week in Portugal).

Top half looks pretty interesting with a power patch in the Cilic/Verdasco/A.Zverev/Berdych part of a quarter to settle things with the likes of Stan and Cuevas (but you can’t, because this is clay, count out Paire and Mahut either. Ha.).

The top of that half has some nice one-handed tennis with hopefully Thiem and Dimitrov finding their showdown in R16. Murray should find his SF, but we never know these days.

The struggles of the top two ranked players continue until we’re notified.

I alluded to the fact that Djokovic could get a little boost from this skin-shedding of sorts, a newness perhaps washing over his box and his tennis. Madrid and the rest of us are all on watch here. How does Djokovic fare in Madrid? Critical.

Please remember: as far as minimizing Djokovic’s concern here in 2017 based-on the logic that he has many years to accumulate trophies and titles, etc., such a flaw is donning a dunce cap.

He turns 30 this month. We have been over the age factor in the men’s game. To summarize, though there are exceptions, and one could try to argue that the game is seeing older players thrive in the advance of technology (and nutrition and motivation) that characterizes this era (with the likes of Karlovic, Lopez, and others having almost second acts in their careers), don’t be fooled.

In the last several years, Agassi proved to be the biggest exception, winning the Australian Open when he was 32 and making a USO final when he was 35.

Of course, Federer has shocked the trend with his AO win this year at 35. But these are exceptions and all-time greats, especially Federer. One might (and should) point to Wawrinka. For sure he’s a late bloomer. He won his third major (2016 USO) as a 31 year-old. He turned 32 in March, so we’ll see if he continues to be a bit of an outlier.

Novak has time not on his side. He could win WB this year and the USO. Granted. But as I have argued, his game is not ideal on these surfaces, especially if the grass turns-out to be “fast.” All kidding aside, there are a lot athletes and games that will come into play on the grass, not to mention the rejuvenated Federer will be lying in wait.

Novak can win the USO, but this has historically been tough from him to do.

So then we’re 30.5 coming around to AO 2018, and FO 2018 when he’s going to turn 31.

The difficulty only increases.

Djokovic, with his Agassi super-coach or not, needs to get to work.

We’ll have more on that story as the details surface and filter.

Speaking of surface, enjoy the tennis!

8 thoughts on “Madrid and the Clay Maze

  1. I was thinking about Djokovic again the other day, trying to nail down when he things turned south for him. And I think it was when he was doing that weird “scoop” to the audience from every side of the court when he won a match. I always thought that was weird that it came on so suddenly. Like he was getting to big for his britches. I feel like that’s around the time he started spiraling downward. Do I have the time frame right on that?

    Best of luck to him while he tries to figure things out.


    1. Ha. You may be onto to something there.

      It was in the final of the FO last year where he started to crack. After that win, he could afford to crack. And he’s still cracked. His “run” and the battles and wars he fought to get to that place have taken a toll. That’s my theory. He’s been in a lot of big matches, he’s 12-9 in finals, played and won a lot of Masters titles. I think hunger could be an issue and physically he may be a bit “older than he looks.”

      Who knows what’s going-on personally. He has to deal with finding a new coach, etc. Will be interesting to see how he deals with this big moment in his career.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. wilfried

    A lot will go according to script in this Madrid draw I think.
    Djokovic in ‘Tout va très bien, madame la marquise’-mode, should reach the semis without too much of trouble, as the two most dangerous opponents in his quarter, J.-W. Tsonga and Kei Nissihikori, haven’t shown great form lately.
    I expect Murray to reach the semis as well, because his opponent in the quarter finals (whoever prevails from the Thiem-Dimitrov match-up in the third round) will most likely be less rested than him.
    Not sure Stan Wawrinka will make the semis; his quarter is more open I think, and I don’t know in what form and mindset Stan will show up.
    Cilic, who is in the same quarter with Wawrinka, apparently played quite well in Istanbul, but he never reached the quarter finals in Madrid yet in 7 attemps. I don’t see him breaking that trend this time around either, as Zverev as well as Berdych are two dangerous opponents in his section of the draw.
    Raonic, another seed with a by in the first round, probably won’t reach the quarter finals in Madrid either. He is still searching his best form, and in case he survives Gilles Muller, he’ll face next David Goffin in the third round from whom his serve won’t bail him out of trouble on clay.
    Nadal, who is in the same quarter with Raonic, could be diminished a bit in terms of fitness because of his ear infection, but on clay he should have enough margin to dismiss Goffin in the quarter finals, and make it to the semis, where he most likely will face Novak Djokovic.
    As for the fate of the promising youngsters in this clay event:
    Lucas Pouille lost in the first round from his compatriot Pierre-Hugues Herbert, because Pouille’s fitness was compromised by the aftermath of an angina (and the anti-biotics), and Herbert played very well.
    And I prefer Nick Kyrgios concentrates on singles instead of participating in both singles and doubles, because it reduces imo his chances to go deep in the singles draw.


    1. Thanks, Wilfried. Sorry for the delay. I was disappointed to see Pouille go down. Looked like he did at Monte Carlo, I think it was. Frustrated. He’s got a nice game for the other surface(s). It’s a fitness contest out there, where the more consistently deep ball wins.


  3. clint grike

    Great post; thanks! Really enjoying the top half of the Madrid draw with the young players all coming through. Coric is a guy who people (not least himself) were hyping up a couple of years ago (‘the new djokovic’). I remember him because he dissed Andy Murray and then played the Scot shortly afterwards… and beat him. I remember thinking that that didn’t reflect well on Murray. If someone talked like that about Fed or Rafa or Pete they would have been put in their place. Looking forward to seeing the highlights of Thiem-Dimitrov.


    1. Thiem v Dimitrov is a tennis stylist’s perfect storm. I watched first couple of sets, so I need to see the finish (wow), but these guys make the sport an art of vicious aesthetics.


  4. wilfried

    Not only Djokovic is looking for a coach and a team (team = une équipe in french).
    According to a recent article in the well known french journal “L‘Equipe” (see link below), Nick Kyrgios might be coached in the near future by Sébastien Grosjean, a french ex-pro who coached Richard Gasquet. Nick is now without a coach for about two years.


    1. Nick’s work with Grosjean began earlier in the year, so this has been building. Seems a bit odd, but I don’t follow the coaching culture. Grosjean was a decent player, made some SFs in majors. All-around good player. Anyone who can get the attention of Kyrgios has something going for him or her (apparently Nick is head over heals for a WTA player).


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