Roland Garros Quarter Finals

In tomorrow’s matches, Murray will beat the 21 year-old “Special-K” (Karen Khachanov) but what a nice run from the Russian who beat Berdych and Isner en route to his R16 date with the no. 1 seed. Murray looks like he’s finding some energy and stronger form with Lendl looking on and the stakes terribly high. Needlesstosay, Murray losing here is rich failure.

Murray will play Nishikori in that top QF, meaning the Japanese guy who survived his match with the 21 year-old South Korean, Hyeon Chung, will beat Verdasco in that R16 andy-murray-cropped_40e0pw88ma4l1ormc5muwl1htmatch tomorrow. That I am picking Nishiouchi means I am insane, but this is all part of the contradiction of me when I called the top half the least reliable draw in the history of men’s underwear.

In fact, I should stick with Fernando here. The only reason stems from Kei’s likely inspiration in pulling-out that 5-setter. He’s probably injured (which again makes the Verdasco call smarter).  Just win the match Nishikori; quit bullshitting everyone.

Stan will play Cilic in that other QF because Stan has no patience for a guy like Monfils and Stan does look deadly with this FH on serial killer mode. Even his exhibition match with Fognini gave him great hitting practice. He seems to be dialing-in his Stanimal zone. God forbid Monfils provides any sort of antics resembling some of his other tank-jobs. Stan gets impatient when an opponent requests medical. He should deliver a solid beat-down to the Frenchman.

Stan+Wawrinka+2017+French+Open+Day+Three+Q5496lgplz6lCilic is rampant like he was at Wimbledon and Cincinnati last year. We won’t bring-up USO 2014, but we have seen Cilic like this before. He can flatten the ball, hit big, and he’s returning serve well. He won the 2005 French Open Boys’ championship. He can play clay for his size; he looks comfortable.

Of course, Anderson has game, too. He beat Kyrgios and Edmund, both young, both big strikers. I just like Cilic, which, like Nishikori, makes me want to take a cold shower with a stiff drink.

The QFs are set.

As for what happened today, I watched most of the Djokovic victory. He looked good today and clean in beating a tough clay courter.

The first set TB, of course, played a big role in this match and the Spaniard got very close to taking that first swig of momentum that could have made this a very different match. He was down 0-4 in the TB before bouncing back and making things quite tense for the Djokovic camp. After securing the TB at 7-5, the Serb was in control.

The one caveat I’ve had with Djokovic through out this slump has been how he handles adversity. He hasn’t handled it very well. Schwartzman doesn’t have the tennis to close-out Djokovic despite leading 2 sets to 1. And that Schwartzman match probably did give Novak more confidence, winning a 5-setter (he said this in his PC).

Deeper in the draw that will be more difficult. Even a guy like Ramos-Vinolas would have been quite the menace had he won that first set. His FH was making the Serb work and his fitness and clay comfort were real factors.

But Novak’s ground strokes from both sides got deeper and cleaner as the match wore-on, partly from the relief of winning that first set, I suspect. Still, the Serb’s chances here boil-down to the obvious, whicNovakhi-res-6490899e4f9264d4e511a9d7939fc512_crop_northh is evidenced in the matches: is he playing into peak; or is his tennis still too inconsistent and given match difficulty, will his emotions get the better of him?

It was interesting to hear McEnroe and Carillo call the match. The commentary is pretty abundant. They talked about how Djokovic’s own antics and unpopular behavior should be seen as an extension of his family’s, which is well-documented. I have pointed to this quite often, mainly to call bullshit on the Nolefruitcakes out there who are at a loss as to why people don’t “buy” Nole (will Lacoste become a more popular brand?).

More to our concern was an exchange where Mary suggested that we ask this question, at the QF: who would Nadal rather face: Novak or Thiem? Mary said she’d caught wind of Nadal’s camp and claimed that the Nadal camp is more concerned with Thiem. Johnny Mac immediately chimed-in: No way. Mac clarified his view that Novak is a much bigger threat to Nadal here at the French.

I’m with Mac. We will never know exactly because Nadal will only play one of them. Despite Thiem’s win over Rafa at Rome, Novak is playing into form here, it appears to me, and in a SF, if Novak takes care of Thiem in the QF, Nadal will have his hands full.

The experience alone says Novak is a bigger threat.

I think with Rafa’s unbelievable run throughout the spring clay and especially here in Paris this week, he’s become a huge favorite (his match score lines, his confidence, La Decima, etc.). Many people think the championship is on Nadal’s racquet.

Which means Novak is an underdog. He is an underdog, should be the underdog in a potential SF. But with his direction of play ->> toward peak and Nadal trying to hold-on to this astonishing level . . . very interesting.

And I am not forgetting Thiem. Of course we recall the beat-down two weeks ago in Rome at the hands of Novak, but this is a different context and the Serb has shown some up-and-down form from match to match.

You know we beliem in Thiem, but the Serb, as we have been predicting over the last few days, might be finding a necessary peak. Necessary for two reasons:

  1. We find it necessary that he continues his climb in form and consistency to overcome his slump demons and his opponents (some of whom are playing at a very high level) for any chance to win this major.
  2. We find it necessary that he find this peak because winning this major (as I have argued since his USO loss) is critical to his legacy. A loss would extend the slide, imho.

The second week of the French Open is here, ladies and gentleman. Enjoy.

11 comments

  1. Nice write-up, Matt.
    Will add here my two cents.
    Murray will beat Karen Khachanov. I agee with you.
    Murray’s opponent in the QF might well be Fernadod Verdasco.
    Judging from the score of Fernando’s victory against Pablo Cuevas in the 3d round, Fernando must have played very well.
    Nishikori however, Verdasco’s opponent in R16, normally should have lost his 3d round match from the young Korean Heyon Chung (a very delicate encounter btw). I watched that match between the two asian rivals from start to finish. The Korean started playing very well after he won that third set tiebreak from the Japanese, and the crowd was getting more involved. In the fourth set Chung broke Nishikori’s’s serve twice in a row, which led to a frustrated Kei demolishing his racquet , just before the match was suspended because of rain. Kei visibly wanted to get off the court as quickly as possible, because at that point the momentum was completely with Chung. Kei got very lucky here with that match being suspended, because it allowed him to regroup. His luck should end at some point though, and I think Verdasco may stop him, particularly when the conditions are heavier.
    The odds for Dominic Thiem to beat Novak Djokovic are close to nihil I think. The Austrian does only have a small shot to beat him if the conditions are “very” heavy I think, but even then he is theunderdog.
    Nadal will make the QF. No doubts here.

  2. “The odds for Dominic Thiem to beat Novak Djokovic are close to nihil I think.”

    I strongly disagree here. Thiem has more than enough power and speed to keep up with a rising Novak, his mental fortitude will be the deciding factor. if Thiem can embrace the challenge, and not force his FH to start accumulating unforced errors then it will be a much more different match than the Rome SF. Novak isn’t a miracle out there, if you can stretch him out and keep the points relatively short then the Serb is in trouble.

    I look at it this way: An over the hill 30-year-old baseline grinder vs. a near prime form 23-year-old attacking player who has found his clay-court mojo. Thiem’s odds of pulling out victories are much more promising than “nihil”.

    1. I didn’t see Thiem playing in his latest matches, so you could well be right.
      The result will also depend on which Djokovic shows up in the QF. The over-the-hill-version that played Thiem in Rome won’t be easy to beat imo. Novak is a difficult match-up for Dominic.

      1. If Thiem beats Djokovic I’ll admit that Caligula is indeed a god and his horse is the hard court GOAT.

  3. Thanks to everyone one the blog for the positive feedback on my analysis on the tour and FO draw included in Matt’s relevant article. Matt continues to spoil us with his on the spot commentary and in depth insight, as always.
    For once though I’ll disagree with you Matt: the results on clay are predictable as the best power defender (retrieving ability+strong shots) wins nine out of ten times; the rest tennis qualities(innovation, volleys, serve etc.) are secondary.
    Based on the above thoughts I was not surprised that Matt picked Nishikori(better defender) over Verdasco(knowing the match’s result it was an precise preview!). Personally, I’ve given up trying to predict Verdasco matches long ago. Cilic-Anderson is a matter of preference,I guess, but Cilic moves a bit better.
    Murray’s game is improving steadily but he’ll need to do much better if he arrives in the final; people don’t give him much of chance against the SF against Wawrinka (who’s in great shape by the way-Stanimal awakening?) but the match-up&the surface helps Murray more than e.x. Djokovic since Andy, being quite strong himself, he doesn’t mind power players. The current N1 should put up some fight at least should he pass the QF(which he should), which will tell us more about his game.
    Djokovic remains untested to my eyes-Swartchman’s injury affected the critical match decisively in my view. Thiem is a good match-up for him and the youngster has to introduce new(attacking?) elements to his game to trouble him-but Matt is, as usual, wright: the stakes are higher for Novak.
    The Goffin injury was a big loss for the tournament but a big gain for Thiem and Djokovic who would be seriously troubled against him in my view (I’d favor him slightly over both from what I’ve seen before his withdrawal). None serious contenter of the lost boys generation remains in the draw…
    Nadal plays as the clear favorite should, smashing his opponents confidence, and cannot be easily stopped by an unstable Serb or a defensive Austrian. Wawrinka seems the best equipped to stop ‘La decima’ but can he make it on clay? Unless nerves get to the bull’s head, a great performance will be required from whoever will try the feat.

    1. You made some very good points, Blackspy.
      I share your view that results on clay are to a great extent predictable, in my perception not less than on other surfaces.
      However I share Matt’s view that Murray’s, Wawrinka’s and Nishikori’s level in the lead-up tournaments didn’t suggest at all that those players would go deep at Roland Garros, which supports on the other hand his view on ‘legacy matters”, namely that players don’t consider those tournaments as important as the slams.
      I share your thoughts on Goffin, who probably would have been a handfull for Thiem, by which I don’t say he would have won.
      As far as Djokovic is concerned, he was seriously tested by Diego Schwartzmann, who took the balls very early and agressively, in return as well as in the rallies, and was running down everything he could. But from the start of the fourth set Diego was clearly either already slightly strained or hurt, or left without any energy, as he was pushing his serves in from then onwards, which allowed Djokovic to ease to victory.
      Don’t see this happen against Nadal.

  4. Matt is spot on on QF so far fior first three matches..Murray and Stan in straights.. Kei and Verdasco is bizarre as many pointed out here but Kei did get it done on 4 sets…Just one more match to go on Top half…Hope Marin gets it done too..

  5. Well, I was 4 for 4, having written that last night PST. Of course, these weren’t difficult – other than the Nishikori match.

    Blackspy, your point about the predictability of clay needs to be hashed-out. It’s more than just defense, though this is a defensive player’s surface.

    Nadal is a great defensive player but he’s an outlier, a guy with 9, perhaps 10 French Opens. That’s abnormal

    If I asked you who the two best defensive players in the past 20 years are, you would at least have to consider Djokovic and Agassi. So, it’s more than defensive power, etc. The surface benefits the European, the type who has grown-up on clay – let’s not over-complicate this. A certain comfort-level is big factor.

    As I said, Cilic at 6′ 6″ won the Juniors French Open in 2005. Not your typical build for a clay guy, but he’s comfortable.

    Point being the clay is unpredictable unless you know a players’ experience with clay. Andre and Novak have 2 FOs between them. The best clay court players are clay fluent, scramblers, good defenders, and size doesn’t matter (see Schwartzman v Cilic).

    Or how about the Soderling or Wawrinka type. Big hitters who benefit from the slower conditions, but not defensive juggernauts.

    As for more on today’s tennis, not sure what was happening with Stan today – he looked uncomfortable out there: Cilic beating Stan would be USO 2014-like, a disaster.

    I agree with Caligula about Thiem, but of course we at Mcshow Tennis beliem in Thiem (yes, any opportunity I have to say that I will, yes I’m getting it put on t-shirts and yes I will trademark that and make millions, funding the future of this blog into the stratosphere).

    Djokovic has to consolidate the tennis of sets 2 and 3 of his R16. Into these deeper waters, he will have to string together much more “greatest level of tennis ever played” form. Thiem has a lot of confidence right now but to be fair: he hasn’t played the toughest draw.

    None the less, he has plenty in the tank. If he goes out and gets dismissed like a little school boy, shame.

    But I don’t think that’s the case. Though the spanking in Rome should help Novak/hurt Dominic in terms of confidence going into this QF, there is simultaneously more pressure on Novak because of that NOT TO MENTION HE HAS TO WIN THIS MAJOR. Maybe that point hasn’t been clear enough in my commentary on this tournament. I have also pointed-out that Novak may be playing into a form that will enable him to do that.

    But first things first: Thiem. I think he and his coach have made some adjustments. His ROS position looks adjusted and he definitely needs more DLT play from both the FH and BH. Novak predicted Thiem’s CC all day long in Rome and destroyed that lack of strategy.

    Wow. Can’t wait for QF play!

    Stay tuned for more!

    And keep up the good work, gents. The discussion, like the tennis, is compelling stuff.

    Cheers.

    1. Federer uttered once the following words about playing on clay:
      “On clay you don’t need to have a volley,” Federer says. “You almost don’t need to have a serve. All you need to have is legs, an incredible forehand and backhand and to run things down. I’m not trying to take anything away from Rafa, because he’s an exception and he did everything on other surfaces as well, but I think you can get away with having problems with your game on clay more than you can on other surfaces.
      http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/federer-on-clay-you-dont-need-a-volley-or-a-serve-its-too-easy-1979825.htm
      In se not so far from what Blackspy mentioned in his comment.

      1. In case the above mentioned hyperlink doesn’t work, you can always google this article on the internet by introducing “Federer: on clay you don’t need a volley or a serve” in your search engine.

What say you?