Let’s clarify two certainties after watching the Toronto final.
1. Tsitsipas has a tendency to sandbag a tennis match, which basically means he’s sandbagging an opponent (for some odd reason playing reserved, too cautious, confused, tanking, etc.).
If you disagree, video evidence makes you a fool.
One (I) could absolutely argue he sandbagged the crap out of Zverev. In effect, he lured Zverev into a stolen car. The German must still be reeling from this kidnapping.
Serving 5-3, absolutely dictating the match, 3-4 minutes from the locker-room, riding a straight-set win — and suddenly he ends-up in the woods with an empty sandbag over his head, its dark: the end.
We’ll see how quickly Sascha recovers, I mean how quickly they recover the body.
As I said during the early parts of the first set of that match, I smelled the sinister plot. Looked like a tank. The way he beat Djokovic (not a 100% Novak, but still) evidenced some very solid attacking tennis. He put-on a show. Bravo!
Some want to argue that the big German prevented him from playing this style. Bullshit.
(By the way, Zverev’s game has a few monster flaws. First, his FH can be quite pedestrian and secondly his hesitancy to come-to-net will continue to haunt him, especially in Bo5. That format separates the men from the boys. Staying back only opens him up to someone who can attack and put pressure on that BL ground game. Not a lot of variety from the flat-footed German 21 year-old. He’s motivated and has a solid game, but his flaws, including his temper, exposed him this week — weak comments from him after his loss to Tsitsipas. Not a good look on or off the court, to be fair).
But we’re talking about Tsitsipas’ magic of disappearing form.
Today’s match against Nadal proves my point. He was fresh kill for the king of the forest — throughout the match. The entire match. Unwatchable early-on. The daytime conditions added zip and bounce to Nadal’s shots. Stefanos couldn’t get a whiff on Nadal’s serve. Nadal, serving only 56% FS for the match, won an astoundingly high percentage of FS points: 30/32. He pounced. He dicated. He never let the kid get even a scent of belief.
Then, suddenly, WHAMO! Nadal is serving for the match at 5-4. Sure the wonderkid has a bit more traction in the second set, but the early break, classic Nadal, has the Greek still searching for oxygen. Nadal ready to deliver the final blow and turn his attention to the trophy ceremony, a bit of a celebration and then it’s on to Cincinnati.
But wait, tennis world. Tsitsipas is going to play some tennis now! Granted, Nadal played a poor tenth game there (a few gifts for sure), but the body language and zip on the Greek’s shots had returned. He breaks Nadal to put the set on even terms and then delivers a definitive hold. WHAMO! Nadal serving to stay in the set.
And wouldn’t you know, Tsitsipas takes the first two points here, so it looks like we’re perhaps heading to a third set. To make a long story short, he had a set point there before Nadal closed-out the game, got to the TB and was able to seal the victory. But even in the TB, despite a few costly errors from Stefanos’ racket, his game had finally arrived, starting, as it did, back in that tenth game of the 2nd set. Suddenly we were on the edge of our seats.
Nadal was having to work very hard at this point in just about every point. This is a complete turn-around, a reversal of fortune, the game has returned. The match got suddenly tense (from a snoozer to a potential epic? WTF). Nadal needed a couple of lucky bounces to keep this from going to a third.
And there, actually, you saw the vulnerability of Nadal. As he started to get pushed, he moved drastically into defensive mode (the worst of its kind) and became gracious in letting the kid put himself out his own misery, or whatever you want to call it. Nadal was forced to change his own game-plan because of this change in the tennis, in the commitment, coming from the other side of the net.
To my point in my preview, Stef’s serve was much better, landing firsts, Nadal unable to find the leverage, Stef now in complete command.
This is an odd development. That’s happened in two matches. Zverev became a victim. Nadal was running for his life.
Other than this surge in energy and desire seems to materialize when the Greek’s proverbial back is against the wall, one has to wonder about this odd pattern in the game of the wonderkid.
I mentioned earlier how Nadal’s defensive tennis was gracious in allowing his opponent, again, like clock-work, to succumb to his own errors; that was a very gracious, very classy move by Nadal to give Tsitsipas another FS when a fan yelled and disrupted the kid’s serve there late in the second set (I am being very serious).
I really can’t stand Nadal’s tennis, but the guy is a legend and a class act. He knows how to win (perhaps better than anyone) but can bore one to death with his balloon ball top-spins that seem to counter the classical ethos of the sport. Period. But much respect to this gentleman and murderous competitor.
2. Nadal is the favorite at the U.S. Open next month.
I didn’t really want to have to say that, nor did today’s victory necessarily encourage me to say that.
He is No. 1 in the world, just won a hard court Masters (his 33rd for you Masters mongers), and looks healthy and (critical for Nadal) confident. Indeed, captain insecurity is riding very high at this point. He played solid tennis in Toronto, beat some quality opposition and hoisted the trophy. A very good development for Nadal.
Arriving as the defending champ probably doesn’t hurt either.
Moreover, the best-of-five increases his chances. He’s probably the fittest guy on tour and absolutely loves to grind, suffer and inflict suffering. In the end, most have no desire (or fitness or tennis) to got five with Rafa; however, the hard courts I think add a small complication to this “certainty.”
We’ll see what happens in Cincy, but I have to imagine he has little interest in going very deep there. His draw is potentially toxic, which seems almost a fix given that he has to prefer a little more rest before NYC. He has the Toronto “warm-up” in the bag. Lose in the R16 or QF in Cincy and find that other gear in practice that he’ll need. I can hear his camp from here.
The other reason he’s the favorite (if you need any more): who is going to step-up and beat him? I still speak from the perspective that his hard court brand of tennis is low budget; he’s like an A-list director using his phone to capture the story’s dramatic twists and turns; again, I credit him with his grinding work-ethic and competitive genius though I am certainly not a fan of his craft.
Based on the last 156 million majors, the winner will be Federer, Nadal or Djokovic. That’s data-driven, based on fact (with a little sarcasm for good measure). Maybe Wawrinka, especially after his nice showing against Nadal in Toronto, or Murray can make a little run, but those top three guys above seem quite poised to be the triumvirate favorite.
Del Potro? He seems to have a left wrist issue; yes, that left wrist. He’s in the Cincy draw, so we’ll have to have a look. Cilic? A little too awkward, if you ask me, and too much questionable decision-making. Anderson? No. One of these youngsters? Too much wood to carry. Sorry.
Quick trace back to my theory about Tsitsipas’ volatile form: if he’s fit, has the physical strength and “depth” to go long, this odd behavior may work better in Bo5. He can tangle with good competition late in a match (Bo3), go deep into a TB, seem to find the energy and some real character late when the chips are down. He made 4R at Wimbledon last month. We certainly have to wait on this.
Zverev has a lot to prove in the extended format. Thiem seems to be struggling just a bit right now; hopefully he can make impressive showings in Cincy and NYC.
And what about Federer and Djokovic? Cincinnati will be quite interesting here. A Djokovic v Federer final would be the best case scenario for the sport. That would give both athletes and their camps reason to feel pretty good about NYC.
Federer is 37 years old. Not sure many people get that. He has sympathetic Cincy draw. Does he have another U.S. Open run in those legs?
Djokovic, after the Wimbledon masterpiece, seems to have relapsed a bit. He might only want to go all-in on one HC Masters before NYC, so maybe he was saving himself for this week. He seems the likely challenger to Nadal, but hopefully Federer can rise to the occasion, as well.
Just a couple of thoughts here on Tsitsipas and Nadal.
Plan to stop-by tomorrow as the game goes on.