Time to Talk Tennis — AO 2019



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

Top half:

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.

Bottom half:

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!

12 thoughts on “Time to Talk Tennis — AO 2019

  1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    Sock??? Well, a pair of Socks would maybe do the trick, hahaha …
    It’s trendy now to write “xxx reasons XXX can win AO.
    So here’s three for Thiem.
    1. No Sandgren on his way before final
    2. Problematic preparation (ill on preseason, ill again in Doha, ill again in Melbourne, no match win before AO) He had similar “preparations” before AO 2018, RG 2018, USO 2018. The worse the preparation the better performance in the next slam.
    3. Completely under the radar – fits him very well. No Kid Days, no photos with (monty) pythons, no interviews, nobody telling, he could advance to second round. Just like before his every good run.

    How Nadal will stop Federer (long before QF). On Monday, when they both play, Nadal arranges a big conference, featuring Federer and Anna Wintour and some numerous public and makes all clocks in the room not work. After 4 hours of speaking (the time, he first starts to be hot) Federer hears from a TV gigascreen, he just lost by walkover to Istomin. All this short after Rafa withdrew because of feeling fine from the Duckworth match.
    This time I’m serious (like Djoko on your GIF (I Gotta Say).


  2. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    Need a dark horse? Sandgren just made a statement winning Auckland. I can recall his coach screaming in interview (don’t remember, if it was after Wawrinka or Thiem defeat “There is still meat on the bone”. I guess, Sandgren needs to meet Thiem again. There is a lot of meat on the bones.
    BTW” – I don’t know much about college tennis in USA. Can you tell me, how it works, someone who was playing only college tennis until 26 years old and did never play a 5-setter before, qualifies to AO to beat 2 or 3 top players in Bof5 format? Then he looses everything and may be does not play at all over the whole season (having good portion of meat in the refrigerator). Then he must not qualify anymore, so instead he wins first ATP title and starts AO being prepared better than Thiem, Zverev, Federer, Djokovic and and … And on the end wins maybe his first GS and … retires??? With so much meat one can survive many years and play tennis lifetime for fun on Maldives?
    Does not seem to be a bad concept.
    Given this year Tennys cannot beat Thiem before the final, I’m going to cheer for him.
    Even starting new classics, beating Top Thiem every time they meet in AO I would maybe cheer against Thiem, hahaha …


  3. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    He beat Norrie (Auckland native ;))
    My conspiracy theory was, Sandgren was pumped with PED’s and his task was to eliminate some potential dangers for Fed. After Thiem the story was over. Sandgren lost to Chung, Chung retired against Fed.
    Or do you have another explanation for Sandgrens run (once a year)? Has college tennis in US so high level?
    BTW – Norrie is fresh acquirement from college tennis too.
    Maybe higher IQ helps?


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  5. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    The King is dead, long live the King. Sandgren is dead so my new black horse is Opelka. 3 cm taller than Isner, so his win over John well deserved. BTW – Opelka is quite fast on feet and has some baseline shots. There is a chance, he beats Fabbiano and Dimitrov to maybe meet Anderson in round 4. (+8 cm, so the result can be only one ;)). If Nadal survives Ebden>de Minaur>Berdych (another dark horse candidate), Opelka will have a chance to go for more than Sandgren 2018. Funny sport.(+26 cm for Rafa, so maybe better Opelka meets first Berdych (only +13) and then Anderson (see above) Next for Opelka would be Federer (bot great enough for +26 and 26 years younger. Next Thiem and Opelka lifts the trophy, NO?


    1. Everyone and his/her grandmother had Opelka beating Big John.

      And your Sandgren pick was so bad, you need to take a time-out until the 3R.



  6. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    OK, you hide my former comments about Sandgren and I take an MTO until the final. Then I tell you who was the dark horse.
    But hey, Matt – your are going for a risk-free game. Remember, I’m Thiem aficionado and the essence of his game is always hitting for a winner. Tactics is shit. Defense is wasting of energy. Always serve for an ace. Always hit for a winner. If it does not work, he is in troubles. @MeToo hahaha 🙂
    My Sandgren pick did not work. So what to do? Hit next time for a winner. Please note, my chances are rising with every round played. If in semis stay only Nadal, Federer (I know, I know, it’s impossible, but I don’t care about draw, I care about logic :)), Djokovic and Thiem, you know who was my dark horse (btw – dark horse or black horse?)
    Did you watch Federer today? I guess, Fed has more peds in the blood than blood itself. How can he suddenly run like that?
    To be honest, Istomin was not so bad. He plays the same classic game, only … on a bit lower level, hahaha. Of course tactically it was a failure, to play Federers game against him and not being him. No way, Fed can play this game against Fritz. Against Monfils he can. Monf likes happy losing 😉


    1. Now you’re saying Federer is doping.

      Your time-out is extended to the QF.

      You seem to have lost your focus. If Thiem tries to end every point on every shot, any defense of this tactic will be mocked. Must devise some kind of strategy. He must evolve.


  7. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    No, Matt, I’m just admiring, how Federer moves now after how he was moving most of 2018.. You are not Fed’s fangirl, are you?
    I have seen him before in Hopman Cup. The first impression was, he is very slim compared to 2018. Maybe just this. 2018 he was too lazy and got fatty.
    I’m only wondering, how his endurance will look like, when he must play someone like Coric or Khachanov. They will not buy his game only to look nice.
    I think, from his potential path, Fritz will be the first to not get involved in this kind of game. First he will serve better and it will be harder to break him. Then he will pass better and hit harder, so the match can go in the length. Then we will see, if Federer has another ace in the sleeve, namely he shows Nadal-like endurance 😉
    Thiem is evolving. I guess, he is not inclined or designed to play Federer-like.
    Read Bresnik’s book. You will know, how the original material, from which Bresnik created this player, was looking like. Bresnik developed this game because with the classic tactical game Thiem would never reach Top100. I didn’t loss focus – simply i know more about Thiem. And you cannot lose focus because you never had it, hahaha …
    Of course I’m exaggerating a bit. But first what Thiem will do (is a kind of evolution too) will be to serve faster and hit harder. Staying closer to the baseline is a must and this is what he is doing since late 2017. Not yet perfectly, but he will improve this. Staying closer, he will be able to hit sharper angles- Sharper angles added to the speed and spin will be much more than placing balls between the sidelines.

    This is tennis he likes and he is maybe the best in on the tour.

    This almost worked against Rafa at USO. Why should it not work against anyone on any surface? It will work. If he can find more consistency. If he can (this will be another direction of his evolution), most guys will not reach the ball or need to learn how to hit such monsters back (about the same problem, when you play Stan). Or they will slice. Then is the next challenge for Thiem. He must go to the net after such hard and well angled shots and learn to finish points at the net with more consistency. That’s the way of his evolution, I guess.

    I’m occasionally playing against guys, who can hit comparably hard and I know, how it feels like to be on the other side of the net. You think, you have the ball on the racket and can easily hit something back. Yes, but this something happens to be weak and short something, the ball lifted to gain time. And after you hit 20 or 30 such balls, you start to have pains in the wrist or elbow and you start to think – maybe better not even try to hit? With a bit of luck the ball lands out 😉

    This does not mean of course, Thiem cannot occasionally play a good stop volley or dropshot, lob or tweener. But these will never be his preferred shots.

    Why Thiem lost 2018 to Sandgren? Because the faster were Thiem’s shots, the faster the ball was coming back. That’s because Thiem didn’t stay close to the baseline enough to create sharp angles. This is what was missing in his toolbox. It is no more. He can now stay close, not make full backswing and still hit monsters, but with better angles.
    Now everything depends on how consistent can he be with this game. If he reaches the consistency of Stan. he will be his follower and dangerous enough for everyone.

    There are another aspects (character, missing killer instinct a.s.o.), why he will never win so much he could with more aggression (a real one, not a kind of “planned aggression” – I guess, you cannot learn this.
    If you want to understand more, don’t be lazy and read Bresnik’s book (at least my poor English translations).

    He has very specific own understanding of tennis – think of your own invention “transcend trophies”. Thiem is happy with his performance (if it was good enough) even if he loses.


    1. Not sure what you’re saying, but it sounds like a lot of bullshit.

      I’m certainly not going to read all of that garbage. And you calling me a fangirl will get you fucked right out of here. Most of the time your “jokes” make you sound like a joke.

      Your false bravado of Thiem expertise is pretty transparent, too.

      Liked by 1 person

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