Since this is my first tennis post in the new year and we have perhaps a few points to wrap from 2018, let’s preface our discussion of Melbourne with some final thoughts of last season, a look at 2019, which will of course pretty much blend together as we circle back to preview Novak’s 7th AO crown.
My last post did a bit of a wrap on London, touching on how Fedfans may view the outcome there of Federer in light of Sascha’s win against Novak in the final. Fedfan: “If Federer had that kind of read on Sascha in the first set, played him that even until he shit the bed at 5-6, given that Sascha routined Novak in the final . . . doesn’t that suggest that Federer is maybe the second best or something like that?”
As delirious as that sounds, ignoring so much other evidence, the Fedfan has a point!
In these difficult times of men’s professional tennis, the truth of the matter is grand old Federer is still closer to the top than 90% of the field.
Having said that, . . . be that as it may, . . . none the less, _________________.
Zverev’s WTF win was splendid, as was Dimitrov’s in 2017. But I’m not quite buying Sascha stock. Bo3 and Bo5 remain vastly different, especially with the Big 3 still hanging around.
Championship character begins with wins and losses, but quickly turns to success at the 1000s and the majors. Dimitrov, to stick with a good example, a good microcosm of the entire field — players not named Federer, Nadal or Djokovic — is a mediocre talent, in the end. Zverev certainly has age and some early 1000 and WTF success on his side, but still lacks that definitive championship pedigree best established at a major. His deepest run is a QF at the French last season.
What is this little Dimitrov/Zverev tangent (other than referencing almost accidentally the last two WTF winners)?
This: Right now, as we sit here and think about Melbourne, the first major of 2019, we still can’t look past Djokovic, Nadal or Federer for the biggest favorites of this 2019 title. Indeed, they still remain the most potent tennis games in the sport. And we’re, as you know, not even going to look past Novak.
Let’s have a few words about each of the Big 3:
Federer is back to his farewell tour I wrote about extensively (made reference to this at least continually) in 2015-16. He made finals, even major finals, but his best years were in the rear-view mirror. He was a step or two behind Djokovic and the ledger only supports this. If Novak gets caught early in a draw, Federer might be able to take advantage, but 2017-18 will simply go-down as enormous statistically for the Swiss great. Adding three more majors and a few Masters, beating-up on Nadal, etc., just couldn’t have gone any better for Federer (and his legacy). The return of the dark knight at WB only, nearly surreally, underscored this time warp of sorts. We only need to recall the 2017 AO, the final in particular, to recall how truly retro the top of the sport had become.
But then again, Fedal only maintained the Big 3 dominance that’s been in vogue for practically twenty years.
It’s also like a story about the mob. The Don (Novak) had to serve a couple of years behind bars; as a result, the two rival families (Federers and Nadals) moved-in to reassert their power, reestablish their synchronized dominance as if said control of the tennis streets had never ended.
Speaking of Nadal, he’s poised for another run at Melbourne. His withdrawal from Brisbane is Nadal SOP. He’s fine, but not really, but here he comes with a revised serve, apparently, along with all of the gusto and guts you usually get from el toro.
2017-18 were fine vintages from these grapes of wrath: he did quite well during the Djokovic sabbatical, like his pal Roger, grabbing (admittedly) a huge third USO but also cementing his legacy as the greatest clay courter of all-time.
And like clock-work, beginning in Rome 2018, the sport’s savior rose to chase Fedal back to the museum. Djokovic’s 2018 second half will go down as remarkable on so many levels. For our intents and purposes, he dramatically ended the Fedal encore (think WB SF and Cincy F) and has reestablished his tour dominance ever since.
Granted, Djokovic’s losses to Khachanov (Paris Masters) and Zverev (WTF) taint the crystal ball’s clarity some, but given that we’re prefacing our analysis of a major, a Bo5, Novak has to be considered the imminent favorite, prohibitive, practically sardonic.
We have made quite a bit of hay on the Djokollapse here on this blog. The most salient part of that argument remains that this fall in 2016 was only consistent with Djokovic’s volatile career. He has risen and subsequently disappeared for stretches on multiple occasions.
His latest tumult seemed, on the one hand, to at least complicate the hell out of the grand narrative of the men’s game; however, at the same time: this collapse only drove deeper the same themes and character development of this multi-volume classic that is the golden age.
In short, Djokovic maintains his tragi-brilliant volatility, Nadal somehow continues to push his GOAT cocaine while actually continuing to institutionalize his glorified clay courter moniker, and Federer reached even more incredible numerical heights (age, majors, etc.).
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
At the same time, Fedal’s run is over. We should fundamentally understand this statement. Novak authored this eulogy through to the end of 2018. Had Federer beaten Zverev in the London SF and upset Novak in the final, this would have been interesting at least — but Federer’s own collapse there permits us to reiterate that Nadal (injury and the dark knight) will have much fewer glimpses of success this side of the clay and Federer is simply running out of gas, class and Novak will continue to find enough form to kick the Swiss’ ass.
Nothing I have said nor can say will deny, still, that the tour is still run by these three tennis greats.
The retirement of Andy Murray comes only as another reminder of what I just said and have always said. Andy’s incredible run at the end of 2016, as covered on this blog, was pretty much seen as a compelling shadow of the Djokollapse. Andy has never really been in the class of the Big 3. His two Olympic golds remain huge accomplishments to go along with that fine finish to the 2016 season. His run down the stretch should not be underestimated by me; he continued to win tournaments around that “final turn” and the run he had at the 2016 WTF will always be an incredible climax to that run to #1. His win in the SF v Raonic was mammoth tennis endeavor. His win over Novak in the final only fitting, only fair. Cheers to Andy on a great career.
But even if he had a few years left, he probably wasn’t going to pose much of a threat to a focused Djokovic.
2018 (I can only do this here and now off the top of my head) will be remembered for the bizarre portrayal of the Big 3 showing NO MERCY toward the rest of these tennis gents. Federer — Nadal — Djokovic — Djokovic. No break in the Big 3 dynasty. You want corruption, or conspiracy? Look no further than the way those three, with some assistance from pals Murray and Wawrinka, have dominated all significant tournaments of this era (sure the Masters have seen a bit more diversity, but you understand my point).
And what about Cilic and Del Potro? Cilic remains one of the other serious threats of the tour, most importantly at Bo5. Del Potro? Yikes.
2018 includes the rise of Tsitsipas. Sascha had another solid year. Thiem continues to show real signs of the highest level of competition, against Nadal no less (see: Roland-Garros and NYC).
Coric is here to stay. Anderson is having quite a run, Khachanov beat Novak to claim a Masters, Isner finally won a Master and seems still somewhat relevant (though his loss to Fritz recently was quite an outcome — I watched. I will continue to hope a guy like Fritz can represent. There are shreds of evidence since Annacone has come aboard).
Goffin, Nishikori, Dimitrov, Raonic . . . the lost boys seem content to represent an occasional threat.
Medvedev, de Minaur and Edmund could be classified with that future hope, especially the Russian as of late (end of ’18 beginning of ’19). Dangerous fellow.
There are some that I sense have faded, of the youth. Chung seems quite vulnerable as does the once dangerous Rublev. And Shapovalov seems to have gone missing. We are not pleased at all with this. Gather your stones, boys.
Can Kyrgios find his ass, ever? Looks like he has tough little draw . . .
But sure: Thiem, Zverev and Tsitsipas (Coric and Khachanov perhaps) seem likely to take that next step. These seem to me our athletes who can hopefully find the courage and class (and form) to clear a bracket, devour a draw, etc.
2019 AO Draw
Djokovic should be supreme in his quarter: Tsonga, Shapo or Kokkinakis, Goffin or Medvedev and then Nishikori for his route to the SF.
His SF opponent will involve these possible participants: Zverev/Sock/Coric/Raonic/Kyrgios/Wawrinka/Thiem.
Cilic or Khachanov and Tsitsipas or Federer in one QF.
Anderson, Isner or Dimitrov and Nadal, de Minaur, et al. in the other QF.
On paper we have
SF #1 Djokovic v the winner of that LOADED 2nd quarter
SF #2 Federer v Nadal hahahahahahahahahahahah
Let’s leave it there and I will continue to get my act together on this blog.
Thanks for reading and let’s watch some major championship tennis!