Zverev Wins first Masters (first guy born in the 90s to win one ((sad))) and Djokovic Confirms Bizarre Form
Sorry for the delay in writing about the Rome final, Agassi, etc. To be honest, part of the delay was due to needing to watch the final on replay (my life, dear friends, is not only watching and writing about tennis 🙂
In watching this Rome final I had to pause (for perhaps hours, along with sipping my deserved adult beverage) to thank the late night forces that drove me to write “Djokovic Bullshit” on the eve of the final. That was as good a prediction as I’ve ever made. Between my pre-view/re-cap of the SF and defending the fortress against the Fangirls, I called bullshit on the whole thing.
I did not buy the semi-final between Djokovic and Thiem. Sure Thiem apparently doesn’t match-up well with Djokovic, which we discussed a bit and has been confirmed by Dominic himself (thanks for the link, Nambi), but Djokovic’s sudden heated animation and aggressive antics to go along with a near flawless tennis was just not quite making enough sense. In other words, if we read the tennis as an argument, a player making this or that “claim” in form or strategy, building a case throughout a tournament, season or even career, we can analyze these different “moves,” “claims,” and the evidence he or she provides to assess the strength or weakness of the argument.
That Thiem v Djokovic SF failed the narrative. Thiem’s position is reasonable in that he doesn’t match-up and he is out-of-gas: the result, from his perspective, was “logical.” That clears-up part of the equation. But why the exaggerated madman antics from Pepe’s pupil? Novak has been struggling; but he’s been more reserved, and classy in his work to regain his confidence and form.
If you watch the final, Novak seemingly tanks the match. Either he simply had nothing to resist the 20 year-old German’s brilliance, or something is totally rotten in Belgrade (or Monte Carlo). What explains such a rise and fall of the Roman second seed? Just inconsistency? Pretty bizarre stuff.
The end of the match is very much a tank job. The Serb’s joker-like facial expressions, along with the agitated body-language we grew accustomed to last summer, contextualized him hitting meekly into the net or sailing match point sincerely long. In the end, this was a tank job.
So, what do we have here? Send a message to Rafa (Thiem SF) of the Serb’s clay superiority, but then show-up to the final drunk?
The television call of the match (Ted Robinson, Paul Annacone and Tracy Austin), the crowd and even Zverev were at a loss watching Djokovic’s horrific championship display unfold and implode at Foro Italico yesterday.
If I at all didn’t trust my gut on reading the ATP before (which isn’t the case 😉 , I certainly trust it now. I waved all kinds of banners and warnings after that SF; the tennis was incoherent. I don’t trust Djokovic right now on several levels. The final only confirmed my distrust.
Of course, the point of “Djokovic Bullshit” was also to call-out Nolefam. I have been charting this Djokovic crisis for so long now and their inability to see the light is a tragicomedy. This blog will be around for a long long time because I have so many points to make about BH, surface, style, player superiority, the highest level of tennis ever played and on and on.
Better form: Federer 2017 (let’s take any number of highlights such as his AO run, or parts of his sunshine double, say, for instance in the Miami SF v Kyrgios
Djokovic v Thiem?
More on all of that in another post.
This leads me right into the center-piece of this post:
5 Reasons Djokovic Fans Should Avoid Sharp Objects
First let me point-out that I appreciate the great legacy of Djokovic, his remarkable runs through the years, his ability to hold his own and even overcome Fedal on several occasions. If you have missed this, read some of this work as it may give you more of an appreciation for my criticism of him (and others). I am calling it like I see it. Those who write me off as a Djokovic-hater have something resembling only a poor primary school education or are such Djokerfanatic fangirls and boys that even perhaps despite an extended post-secondary education, they’re rendered incapacitated. I am fair and I am honest.
Without further ado:
- The Djokollapse. For more foundational discourse and clarification of this, search “djokollapse” on my blog or scroll through some of the articles from September 2016, which takes us to the commentary following Novak’s 2016 U.S. Open final loss to Wawrinka. The collapse began, of course, after the 2016 FO (I have even suggested that the fourth set of the FO final got a little shaky despite the crowd shouting “Nole!” in unison almost throughout, only encouraged by his seemingly desperate gesticulations). Here’s the real concern here: THIS HAS BEEN DJOKOVIC’S TIME to dominate the proceedings and at 29, he should have. Granted, he did dominate, winning the Novak Slam, winning 6 of 8 – but he has more of that mountain to climb when you look at the sport historically and the discussion turns to GOAT (which it always does). This is an inherently flawed argument, as we’ve said – with the likes of McEnroe, Borg, Lendl and now Sampras getting the short-end of an almost meaningless argument. But it’s still an argument people have everywhere about this glorious sport and this golden-age in particular. When I coined “Djokollapse” I meant to accentuate/highlight the historical significance of this fall from grace at this most inopportune time. He flew too close to the sun, I guess. He lost the chance to add to his year-end #1s (with only Murray to beat), his WTF titles, and his general but powerfully significant position as the tour Don, the one who would still control the draw going into 2017. He lost all of that at a time when he could not afford to. I said it then, and I’ll say it again: this 2016 collapse would have devastating consequences on his legacy.What is important to point-out, however, is that this collapse was not unprecedented from Novak. One of the more decent Djokovic fans I’ve encountered and had several good discussions with about the game is Mat4. He pointed-out early in our discussions, as Djokovic solidified his latest run in 2015, that he believed Djokovic would not necessarily win that many majors, not of that high-teens count at least, because he’d already missed some of those opportunities. I had noticed the same thing, for example his losses to Murray at the US Open (’12) and WB (’13) finals. Losing to Stan in that 2015 FO final was tough, not to mention last year’s USO final. We’re talking about a guy who’s won so many big matches, 12 majors, 5 WTF, 30 Masters, but he’s had some dramatic misses. Some of these are forgivable. But the Djokollapse at the end of 2016, imho, is haunting.
- His inner-circle. Something seems off in the land of Novak, and I’m not talking about Serbia or Monte Carlo. I am not here to dig-up some kind of social media rumor garbage. His wife used to have a kind of cute, almost innocent smile that defined her visage; now, she looks sinister. The little brother sits beside her and on occasion we’ll catch Pepe, a few others and then the parents. With Marian and company along with Boris gone, executed, bye-bye, I just think as Annacone says over and over, “His problem is not tennis.” I agree although I am going to qualify that statement below.Folks, firing the entire coaching staff, but keeping Pepe, with Jelena now looking-on with that “I’m not amused” expression on her face, we hear she’s pregnant again and appears to building Novak’s matriarchy.
By the way, people who wonder why Djokovic is not as popular as Federer or Nadal? Consider how his parents (especially his father) have behaved at matches when Novak was merely trying to compete, and the way Novak himself has and is acting.
All this to say, the inner-circle seems to have some complication that could be obstructing his clarity and coherence.
- Fedal. Not sure how long this is going to last, but Federer and Nadal have arisen from the dead. The year could not have started-off worse for Djokovic. Think about it. Let’s say Djokovic actually does find a way to win Roland Garros. He’ll have survived the most stressful, pressure-packed couple of weeks that another implosion probably ensues. Think of the consequences for Novak (and especially his fans) if Nadal wins the French in a few weeks. 2017 Fedal, with Wimbledon on the horizon, will be in all of its glory.This is a massive by-product of Djokollapse. Finishing last year #1, winning the WTF and coming into 2017 feeling refreshed and ready to continue his charge would have probably prevented 2017 Fedal. But the king was dead, and Andy has clearly not been up to the challenge. The crown has been under siege.
- The field. There has actually been some solid evidence that legitimate talent is rising to the occasions on the ATP. They’re fairly young (some quite so) and talented. Let’s start with Nick Kyrgios, not only because he seems to have Novak’s number (under these 2017 conditions, at least). He is going to be (at last) a monster in many future draws. I should have started with Sascha Zverev. He won his first clay 1000, but he’s going to be solid on grass and HC, as well, presumably better given his serve, ball striking and creativity (he was hitting 134 mph body serves at Novak in the Rome final). This youngster is way ahead of the curve. Thiem will continue to grow and hopefully find some adjustments to handle quicker play, certain match-ups, etc. Goffin and Dimitrov will continue to compete. I see Grigor finding that early 2017 form during the second half of the season (hopefully getting over a couple of really tough losses –Sock in IW and Del Potro in Rome.Wawrinka has made a run the last three years. Raonic and Cilic can be dangerous off clay and Nishiouchi has a good match in him every other waning gibbous phase of the moon.
There is trouble through out the draw now for Novak. We all know this because he has allowed that confidence to permeate the locker room. A year ago it seemed pretty thin at the top. The tour is turned up-side-down in 2017 and Djokovic has a lot of work to do to fight his way back to the top to stay there consistently.
- Age. Today, ironically, is Novak’s 30th birthday. We have (everyone has) gone over this age as a harbinger of decline in tennis (that particular age and having kids are the two death knells of the men’s game). Sure, these signs of age have been overcome by certain players, but such cases are still much rarer than otherwise.Sampras was 31 when he won his last major, a U.S. Open in 2002 that was pretty much the stuff of legend, conquering NYC as a 17th seed. Indeed, this wasn’t expected.
Federer, 35, as we know, was also a 17th seed in Melbourne this year. This wasn’t expected. He beat four players from the top-10. Not an easy task. He’ll have an easier draw most likely at Wimbledon and the USO this year having raised dramatically his world ranking. But this was pretty remarkable.
Federer won his first post-30 major at 2012 Wimbledon. #17. Then he went dry for almost five years.
Nadal has not won a major since turning 30. Although he looks perhaps primed to do so in a few weeks, this still will be a very challenging endeavor, if you ask me.
Of course, the other name we need to mention in this group is Andre Agassi, who has agreed to work with Novak beginning in RG.
Andre won 2 majors after turning 30. At 30, he beat Clement in the AO final in 2001 and Rainer Schuttler in the AO final in 2003, as a 32 year-old. He did make the USO final in 2005, as a 35 year-old, where he lost to Federer, but Andre, just to be clear, only has 2 majors past his 30th birthday.
The argument that this relationship with Agassi is going to magically breathe life into Novak’s post-30 tennis seems a bit far-fetched. He is apparently inspired by Agassi, has been for years while the American has shown interest in Djokovic’s game, as well.
Sounds good, but will this pay dividends on court?
People talk of the style similarities. Look: as great of a tennis player that Andre was, he was limited. His baseline style was a bridge to the future of the game, perhaps, but this, as we all know, is a grinding style of play and at 30 and beyond, you’re getting into some no-man’s land.
And as I have said repeatedly, Djokovic’s style will not necessarily benefit him as he continues to grind this out, hoping to out-hit and out-run his younger and stronger opponents. We know how his tennis fares on the quicker HC. Cincinnati is the only Masters title missing from his trophy case and he has struggled on the HC of NYC in September.
What if the grass is quicker!
Becker was right to encourage Novak to come to net to shorten points. It’s advantageous on a few different levels. Although he did absolutely embarrass Thiem in the Rome SF, trying to sit back there and trade ground strokes with the Austrian, or Kyrgios or Zverev will be more and more difficult.
This similarity in style may not be the match-made-in-heaven that some predict. There are so many other factors. Their careers have been different, their competition different, so a lot of this charming narrative of two distant relatives joining forces is flawed.
Andre had fairly big breaks in 1995-97 that gave his body a rest from the tour and the grind of that base-line style. 1995 was one of his best years, reaching #1, but he took time-off toward the end of the season, allowing Sampras to pass him for year-end #1. Things got worse in 1996 and by 1997 he was ranked #141 in the world.
That helps explain his formidable tennis past the age of 30, not to mention that the likes of Becker, Edberg, Sampras, Rafter, Courier and Chang had retired.
Different set of circumstances for Djokovic and Agassi. And, again, Andre only won 2 majors past the age of 30.
If Agassi can help Djokovic, this will be more from a mental stand-point. That’s where they are alike: both are brilliant competitors. We hear that the coaching will be quite limited, Andre only visiting Paris for a part of the tournament. But Agassi’s cerebral approach, his knowledge and experience could help calm the Serb.
I would add, the point of this entire post, hopefully the American can make clear to Novak that the time is now! Taking an entire year to finally find your form is almost amateur; Andre will hopefully get Novak back on track. But it better happen sooner than later.
Don’t believe the hype, Novak: 30 is not the new 20; Fedal and the rest of the field sense your instability; and, your family, for the sake of your tennis legacy, needs to understand the historical stakes.
That has to be Andre’s message. In other words, shit or get of the pot.