If you had work today, had some kind of commitment or responsibility that prevented you from watching today’s R16 action, I sympathize; that was me last week, out of range to witness any of the 1st week at SW19.
Of course, I am quite pleased that I didn’t miss today’s tennis, a chance to sit in-front of the tube and watch the sport’s best (8 of the top-10) show that 2nd week gear they’ll need to reach the true business-end of the Championships. The only downside today is we had a few matches going-on at once. My best effort was to have Federer and Nadal on two different channels which enabled me to toggle back-and-forth.
The earliest matches, Cilic v Bautista Agut and Querrey v Anderson went according to form. I really only saw highlights of Cilic, but he looks tremendous right now. His big, quick serve and potentially lethal ground strokes finished the Spaniard, so he’s through and looks very confident. Again, he had a great WB tune-up and looks to be as scary a player as we have in the draw. The best thing that could have happened to that guy is losing Queen’s.
We’ll take him over Muller, a rematch of their Queen’s SF Marin won in three. This is big-boy grass tennis, ladies and gentlemen.
Of course, I am very pleased to see Sam outlast Anderson. Anderson has been mediocre this year, but the American has shown all kinds of class, smashing Kyrgios in Acapulco before beating Nadal in that final. His BH is solid, knows the grass well enough, which only adds to his big serve.
I suppose I am overlooking Andy a bit, quietly purring along up there in the #1 slot. Sam should give him a go, and Andy didn’t really need too much today to beat Paire, but he’s through, he’s defending and the crowd adores the #1. Smart money is on Andy in that QF, especially with Sam needing a longer outing to get himself through.
Two other matches that went five were the Raonic v Zverev and Thiem v Berdych. Zverev seemed to have the advantage up two sets to one and even a break I believe in the fourth, but the 2016 finalist evened it out, took the fourth 7-5 and won going away in the fifth. I did like Zverev a bit here, but the experience of Milos and a bit of guts looks to have gotten him back to the races here at The Championships. Still a good fight from the young German.
Thiem v Berdych had to favor the 2010 finalist and he ended-up good enough to survive. You have to hand-it to the young Austrian for his competitive spirit, but he simply needs more experience (and coaching perhaps) to get that game suited for surfaces other than clay. Good on him for the five setter, but Berdych’s grass class might be just getting a bit of shine for his big match coming-up in the QF. Nice to see Berdych get into a good beef with the chair over a call that could have really turned the match; but the Czech 11-seed overcame and advanced.
The last two matches of the day were terribly interesting mainly because they played into the fate of Fedal. I really nailed these in terms of prediction, meaning I did my homework. Nadal, upon further review, did not seem as formidable as he did at first glance.
As I said (and you probably could tell due to the lack of commentary), I missed the first few rounds of action. I saw highlights, but those are highlights (not fully disclosing the entire story of a match). Rafa did look dominant, attacking, FH amazing, net efficient, etc. But the flaw appeared as I watched more of his matches on replay, especially his R3 with the Krussian (another nickname: my T-shirt empire will be impressive). Rafa was working pretty hard in these early rounds (I compared this to Federer who is almost frustratingly composed and relaxed, fluid and seemingly showing-off). Well, even if this is partly true of Federer, he certainly wasn’t expending so much energy.
The Muller v Nadal match was just brilliant (aside from fulfilling more or less my prophecy). The fifth was quite interesting in that, aside from the incredible back-and-forth, and the MP and SP saving tennis from both that ended 15-13, one really saw the advantage of order of serve; Muller did not go away in that fourth set, made Nadal serve-it-out. So Muller opened the fifth on serve and this was huge.
Muller wasn’t losing serve easily, so this just meant that Nadal always had to serve to stay in the match. Even breaking Muller meant he would still have to consolidate. This isn’t a feature of a match I’m that much tuned to, but the pressure on Rafa’s serve, serving to stay in the match, was immense and finally broke him, no question. The lefty from Luxembourg really should have ended the match on a few occasions, whether via his several MPs that Rafa saved, or with some very questionable shot selection (drop shots) that kept the 4-seed alive. Great theatre and as I mentioned to a commenter, “buckets of class” out there. A real pleasure to have the time to watch those guys battle it out.
The Federer v Dimitrov match went according to prediction, as well. Here’s what I wrote about this potentially tough match:
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. [ . . .]
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.
Federer was really solid today, executed very well and the win, indeed, was routine. Aside from Federer’s progress, Dimitrov has trouble at these stages of these tournaments, having to overcome this level of opponent. We’ve seen it many times. Let me turn to some of my notes I took during the match (sorry for the transparency, but this detail is far too interesting to me and I hope to you as well):
The telecast brought-up some statistics that indicate what a player needs to do to most likely be effective; you probably know to what I’m referring. They said Roger needs to win 28% of first serve returns, which would give him about an 84% chance of winning. This is just a nod to that ROS we know is so crucial.
Early in the first, the players were even, holding serve, Dimitrov showing some solid shot-making, basically the mini-Federer. Pretty decent stuff as they got a feel for each other.
First set at 4-4 was a big moment (the call said something to the extent that the last 8-9 sets between these two have gone 6-4 and this is classic Federer tennis, anyways, seemingly in cruise-control, but for that small window through which he secures the set theft).
Whereas Roger has been holding serve nearly at love, Dimitrov is feeling more and more pressure. 4-4, pivotal point in the match, Dimitrov serving, and Federer reaches a BP opportunity. Grigor with an ace. Then Grigor with a DF, BP #2. Roger BH ROS into the net. FH ROS long, ad in. Then deuce. Ad out, BP #3. Federer breaks.
Then he consolidates at love. The progressive pressure on Grigor’s serve pays-off at 4-4, though RF misses his first two looks at BP.
Brad Gilbert provided some classic commentary and I’m not taking this too much out of context. Dimitrov’s body language is showing the reality of these athlete’s contrasting pedigree as Roger has virtually stolen that critical first set. The comparison of the two (aka baby Fed) is almost adding to the pressure one sees in the Bulgarian’s demeanor as they begin the second set.
Gilbert: “The copy can never be as good as the original.”
What he clarifies for the audience, since this sounds pretty demeaning, is that the comparison has hurt Dimitrov throughout his career. Tough to disagree.
Roger playing with more confidence now, coming to net more. Dimitrov still showing some nice athleticism and shotmaking despite the pressure from Federer. On Dimitrov’s serve at 2-2 in the second, another DF, and then another. 15-40. Federer with a great ROS and Federer breaks.
At 30-30 and 2-4, Grigor DF again. Federer then secures the double break, serving for the set at 5-2.
Up 2 sets to nil, Federer looking really sharp from both sides. BH looking good, service games quick and dominate as Grigor looks more and more at a loss.
Roger secures another break early here in the third set, amongst nice ground strokes (the handsy FH I criticized as a shot that’s rushed and shallow is now a weapon that adds to the variety Dimitrov has to deal with). Roger is flying at this point. Then there’s the drop shot from the heavens from the BL that lands about two feet over the net. Deflation.
Then. . . Dimitrov breaks back! With Roger serving at 4-3, with the break, Grigor puts together a little highlight reel. Find that game in the 3rd set if you missed it. Really great defense and finishing from Grigor. He’s back on serve.
This here at 4-4 is the stuff of Ljubičić, imho. I don’t want to take anything away from Roger Federer here since that makes zero sense. But this next move is 2017 Federer. Dimitrov is serving 4-4, he’s broken Federer’s almost flawless serve.
Dimitrov goes up 15-0.
Then Federer changes his racquet.
Even Gilbert says this is odd, which it is; a racquet change mid-game, no broken string, etc. Federer proceeds to find two BPs at 15-40, he converts the second and serves out the match.
That break back in HUGE. Mental. Stuff I would attribute to a Djoker or Rafa.
There are signs here of that unplayable Federer, the one of AO/IW/MI run, but he, of course, is far from done; this progression, which we first saw in Halle, slight improvement from round to round, his here again, ever so important as the stakes are raised, the opponents more dangerous.
I feel bad for Dimitrov. He has such a nice style, such a potent game when he’s confident and making his shots. No doubt, at 6′ 3″ he needs to improve his serve. This was a glaring issue in the match.
Much more efficient from Federer. Granted, he plays better when he’s up, more confident, etc. That’s where things would get hectic with the likes of Nadalovic. One thing we can agree on: 2017 Federer has been particularly strong in those critical moments of a match. This was clearly on display today v Grigor Dimitrov.
What a day.
Obviously, Djokovic v Mannarino has been pushed to tomorrow.
I have a bit more to say as I preview the QFs.
Look for another post (to close this round and look ahead) around 11:00 PST.