Preview of Final 16

From the top:

Murray, like Djokovic, has a banana cream pie draw to the SF. Not much to say about his next two matches other than we can include mention of the other side of that QF, that  Querrey revisiting some of his Acapulco gold could provide some drama; he should outlast the big S. African and give Murray’s (by God he should beat the ill-tempered Paire) ROS a run for its money.

Don’t want to completely overlook Murray here, but the Big 3 along with Cilic seem to have so much more to say about the SW19 learning outcomes. Good luck, Murray.

The other half of that first SF is where things get interesting. Nadal v Muller doesn’t have the marquee currency, but this should be competitive. Muller leads the tournament in 1aces, he’s coming off a very solid grass tune-up where he won in s-Hertogenbosch and reached the SF a week later at Queen’s Club, losing a tight three-setter to Cilic. He’s a grass specialist with a big serve and his experience should keep him focused on the point rather than Rafa’s muscly outfit.

Nadal has arguably been playing some of the best tennis throughout the tournament; his FH is berserk, his finish at the net is smart and efficient, and he seems very motivated. I said earlier, having been in the mountains for most of the first week, upon glancing at scores and seeing some highlights (and reading the stars/cosmos/etc) that I saw a Nadal v Djokovic final (if you know my views on the sport, you know there is some rather obvious hedging going-on here).

However, having seen a bit more court evidence, what does raise my proverbial eye-brow on the Mallorcan maniac is a possible inability to keep such a surge going. Granted, the two have vastly different styles and strengths, etc., but the effort and stress of Nadal’s win over Khachanov compared to Federer’s win over Zverev is worth noting. As I predicted in my preview, Nadal’s Muller/Cilic back-to-back (following Khachanov) is quite a sequence.

I watched the third set TB with Khachanov today and just getting into the TB was a massive chore for Nadal. He saved a SP (maybe 2). If Karen wins that third set, who knows what would have happened. Look at the scoreline: 61 64 76; Khachanov was starting to figure-out Rafa’s game. Reminded me of the clay season a bit and the Nadal/Thiem head-to-head; Thiem got closer and closer before finally eclipsing the clay GOAT in Rome.

Nadal has looked nasty out there, his FH and net play phenomenal; but can he keep playing in what appears to be a very high gear. I know that’s his style, all-out, ferocious tennis. But he looks to be really efforting and I only wonder if, especially given his draw, he can keep this going.

To be clear, if I’m betting I still might have him reaching the final; but tomorrow’s match along with how Cilic looks could really inform this view of that quarter.

Cilic is marching. Although RBA is a really solid player, he’s, I’m afraid, in the wrong place at the wrong time here.  We talked prior to the draw alarmingly about who gets Cilic – he’s a big dark cloud in the draw. Spain will get a good look at this Croatian’s search for that zone (likely has RBA and Nadal back-to-back), that rampant form we know that has devastated at least two big tennis tournaments (’14 USO and ’16 Cincy).

Indeed, Cilic is playing very well recently, even at RG where he made the QF. His run at Queen’s was splendid, the final with Feli Lopez a real classic, especially given how meaningful the win meant to the Spaniard. Cilic had MP in that final. He’s on the verge. Such a close call often pays dividends later, a latent peak, so to speak.

The top of the bottom half gives us a huge clash of big games in Raonic v Zverev the Younger, what may seem like a toss-up or an edge to last year’s WB runner-up.

I see the German winning this match though Raonic’s mammoth serve could certainly be too much for the precocious youngster. Raonic may be favored here, and a win from the Canadian would not surprise me nor anyone. But I see Sascha going toe-to-toe, making another significant step toward his constellation.

Federer v Dimitrov aka Darth Vader v Skywalker. I loved Grigor’s form early in the year. He was playing inspired all-court tennis, winning Brisbane (beating some big boys in the process) and we all recall his follow-up run in Melbourne culminating in the epic SF with Nadal.

But we have to give the nod to Federer here, even in routine fashion. Why do I say this, especially in light of my criticism earlier? There are signs of Federer and his coaches’ design. His match with the young Serbian Lajovic was interesting early, the Serb up 2-0 and serving in the first set. Federer looked unimpressive. That first set went to TB. Even steven. Federer took-off after that, but it was pedestrian as far as Federer is concerned.

Next was Zverev the Elder and we’ve talked pretty extensively about this affair. Not the most exceptional form, especially getting broken back in the first, serving 4-2, having to go to TB. But watch the third game of the second set, the boys tied 1-1, Zverev serving. That break will be a microcosm of Federer’s crusade if he hoists the trophy. The combination of ROS and his unmatched footwork and grass genius are on full display, pointing specifically to the two swinging volleys he took from practically the baseline, instead of letting the ball bounce. He’s poised if this is part of a progression that he and Ivan and Co. have in thought and design. We talked about this kind of progression at Halle.

I predict that tomorrow’s match will see a more urgent Federer, trying more consistently to execute a more efficient game plan that revolves, as all grass tennis revolves, around the serve and ROS. We need not look much further than these two grades of achievement. His serve and ROS have to become more dangerous, more deliberate.

I forget his UE count in the Lajovic match, but it wasn’t very clean. In his 3R match he finished with 61 winners to 7 UE. That kind of progress must continue for Federer.

Most are fairly beside themselves at the possibility of Federer winning #8 here this year. But we so easily have forgotten the greatest grass run of all time, from a guy named Sampras; were it not for the rampant Krajicek, Sampras would have won 8 in a row. That pretty much skunks La Decima. Eight WB in a row. Think about it and this includes the new slower balls and softer lawns post 1994.

Pete talks a lot in his book, as do others elsewhere, about the value on grass of the serve and the ROS. This is Federer’s cup o tea; drink-up, young Swiss lad. If you try to fuck around too much with the BH flick or the swinging volley from the toes, you are going to die. Serve your ass off, coupled with the Sampras-like suffocating volley attire that imposes dominance and surrender. Federer has to go to school on this feature of the grass. The more you look at the weapons of this guy, the more you see that he simply has to execute, intensify his focus on these few tasks at hand.

Pete’s greatest rival was Andre Agassi. He was 20-14 overall against Andre, 4-1 in grand slam finals. Andre was a brilliant tennis player, with one of the best ROS of all-time. But he couldn’t hang with that massive serve (first and second) and volley. Watch the 2002 USO final and the 2005 USO final. Some brilliant tennis, Andre hanging tough with two of the GOATs. With Roger in 2005 it was just an overall offensive and defensive display of tennis genius. With Pete, the genius was in spades, but some of that might be hiding under that humiliating serve (and volley). Pete’s game was so imposing. Too bad he burned-out. With a serve like that, underrated BH and unreal FH to boot, he could have won for years.

Do I digress?

Speaking of serves, Novak has been broken only once so far. Impressed? I guess, except he hasn’t played anyone.

Novak has to beat Mannarino at love, three bagels. The Frenchman just played a five-setter in which he came back from down 1-2 sets. He’s 51st in the world and he’s gassed.

But we don’t really know Novak’s form. I spoke of Novak finding his form and perhaps reaching the final because I’m a big narrative guy. Federer has to watch his step, has to get very very serious about his cleaner 2017 game that hasn’t given foes much chance or opportunity. Novak is a kind of Federer antithesis, has been slumping for a year, has to, according to the cycle of life, return home, a wiser individual. I sensed this in the early rounds, Agassi in attendance, Ancic in the house, etc.

But we will never really know Djokovic’s form until the SF (if he reaches it). That’s troubling. The Gulbis match was a good showing, but there were the errors of the slumping Serb to speak of, the stress of the third set, Gulbis still believing he could extend and challenge, down 0-2.

Look for an easy win from Djokovic tomorrow that doesn’t tell us much about his game, compared to the rest of the draw.

I skipped Thiem v Berdych and like I said earlier, this could be a very interesting match, partly because Novak gets the winner. Thiem we know has a ton of talent and desire to compete though grass doesn’t necessarily facilitate his attack. Having said that, he did win 2016 Stuttgart, beating Federer in the SF. His clay campaign only adds to his intrigue.

Berdych is Berdych though he has had some nice showings this year, mainly his QF match v Federer in Miami that saw the two need a third set decider that Federer won in a TB 8-6.

Thiem and Berdych probably play a wasteful five-set classic that only vanquishes any chance either has against Novak in the QF. All kidding aside, this should be a good tennis match with plenty on-the-line.

Enjoy the tennis, folks. Thanks for reading. I will be tennis-bound tomorrow. Can’t wait.


16 thoughts on “Preview of Final 16

  1. Incondite

    Hmm, could there be another upset brewing?

    I’m not watching but reports are coming in to suggest Nadal is not at his best against Muller…


  2. clint grike

    ‘Nadal v Muller doesn’t have the marquee currency, but this should be competitive.’
    That’s why I keep coming to this blog. Superb analysis.


  3. clint grike

    yeah the smart money would have been on cilic to take out nadal even if he’d made it past muller. Nice to see roger taking care of business.


    1. What a day. Didn’t see much of the Raonic/Zverev, but that could be the Canadian playing into a little form. Still, Roger looks solid, timely, like he’s making progress in each match.


  4. Jason Bourne

    To think what I previously said has just been totally turned upside down…Nadal the most in form, now gone. Federer’s game at low state…he just schooled his jr.

    You should really try to bet sometimes, Matt. I can easily see you win big with this type of observation and analysis.

    Now from Murray’s half, I think Cilic is the one making it to final. Note sure yet about Djoko’s half. Mannarino should be a breeze for Novak. Berdych has 1 day rest advantage after the delay with Nadal Muller match. How big of an advantage is this? Perhaps not too big. Berdych’s game should thrive on grass and if Novak is not returning well, it will become a question whether Berdych will choke. The guy is unfortunately a known choker for the big occasion.


    1. Quite a day. The Nadal result doesn’t totally surprise because upon further review, especially against the Russian, he was winning mostly on that momentous confidence of his that involves so much fist pumping, jumping, vamos, etc. Seemed pretty vulnerable actually, which is why I made that call in my preview (despite the FH just destroying points). Plus, Gilles is no joke. Very tough draw for Rafa.


  5. RJ

    Matt, keeping it real as always. Great call about Nadal. He does get challenged by grass court specialists and voila it happened.
    Keep it coming.


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