The most interesting questions at this point revolve around the Big 3 and mainly Novak. How would Novak succumb to an early exit in this tournament? Who could possibly beat the six-time winner, the winner of the last two majors, the current and future #1 player in the world?
I uploaded some videos below, three of which are of Novak, his last three losses. If you think I’m trolling Novak, good. That means you’re an idiot, and I might even be trolling you, too. Ha ha.
The first here is of his Doha loss to Bautista-Agut, a player we have enjoyed watching for years. Sure he’s a Spaniard, but he’s not like those muscly clay rats. This guy is a pure ball striker. I didn’t watch the match until today; I saw the score after they played, in fact I saw the scores leading-up to this match. Novak was not at his most invincible, untouchable best, apparently. He went three sets with his two previous opponents I’m pretty sure.
But this is a great match, here with the Spaniard. Give it a watch if you haven’t seen it. Incredible ball striking, fierce rallies and it’s an interesting development to watch RBA find his belief in this match. He goes down a set, then even loses his serve in the second set. When he breaks back, Novak loses it, smashes his racket. Even the Serb knows his opponent is finding that all important belief. RBA takes the TB and finishes Novak in the third.
Some quick take-aways here are: again, Novak might not have been quite right, perhaps even wanting to preserve himself with Melbourne a little over a week away. Who knows, but he struggled a bit all week, as we know. He came-up against a player absolutely tattooing the ball, hitting big from both sides, serving big, etc.
As for finding possible evidence for a Novak trophy-less exit in Melbourne? The sustainability of his style still concerns me. He prefers to sit back and exchange big ground-strokes with his opponent. Period. The points don’t last very long when he’s really in form, but that’s Novak’s cup of tea. He got tired v RBA, no question. This was a very physical match. Novak lost the plot, the Spaniard gained more and more confidence, and the story went that direction. Novak is not getting any younger, so this will continue to be an issue I’m afraid.
I discussed Novak’s career volatility in my last post. There is an absolute correlation between that inconsistency and his style. The same is true of Nadal. Novak will out-work everyone on tour, grind them out with his incredible defense, shot selection and overall class. But this is tough to maintain. We know this. Watch this Doha match with RBA. One can see Novak wear-out (even if he was having a less than stellar week).
Moving to the ATP final and his unfortunate loss to Zverev, preventing him from adding to his WTF title count, here we have Novak losing in straights in almost inexplicable fashion. He had destroyed Zverev in the Group stage a few days prior 4 and 1. Is Zverev buoyed so much by his win over Federer in the SF that he simply rides said momentum through the #1 player in the world in straights, on that particular stage, the WTF final?
Maybe. As for the actual tennis, again I’m going to point to style. Novak wants to stay at the BL and try to out-hit and out-defend his opponent. Fine. But he’s in for quite a day if that opponent is seeing and smashing the ball particularly well (RBA), or he’s playing a guy who may be bigger and athletic enough to stay with him and simply out-hit Novak enough.
Moreover, one of the biggest features of this win from Zverev is his ability to come to net and simply give Novak a different look and feel for the match. Sascha’s net play in this match is critical to his victory. Watch for yourself. Variety. This gives Novak a wrinkle he may not have expected. Either way, he got simply outclassed by the young German. A guy like Zverev has the serve, as well. Again, these bigger, younger guys can cause all kinds of problems with their power. Obviously. Zverev showed this, along with that occasional delicate touch in the forecourt.
Lastly, the Paris Masters final loss to Khachanov. We already talked a bit about this match. Staying with our discussion of power, here Khachanov is exhibiting all sorts of effective power, whether he’s going FH to FH / THBH to THBH with the Serb, or closing-out a set with his big serve. Novak could find difficulty with this kind of in-form power tennis, which is a BL-oriented game, which is what Novak prefers to play.
What I commented on earlier with regards to this match was an additional feature of Khachanov’s game that seemed oddly Novak-like: the Russian’s ability to get balls back to the Serb in this match, to chase all sorts of deep and wide-angled ground-strokes and return them to Novak spelled trouble. The massive favorite could not finish the point, close-out the game and quell his opponent’s courage and desire to attack.
Novak was playing a bigger version of himself. Scary!
Novak is a virtual lock to win his seventh Australian Open. But there are a few dips in the armor, something we weren’t seeing last summer as he finished Nadal in Wimbledon and comfortably beat Federer in Cincy or Del Potro in NYC.
Lastly, Novak is going to need that serve to ensure his passage to #7. The serve, I wrote after Wimbledon, is largely responsible for his win over Nadal in that epic WB SF. His serve continued to lead the way throughout the summer. Imagine if one can’t for their life break Novak? Considering he’s likely going to break you a few times, the margins get thinner and thinner.
Actually, this is lastly: I meant to say this up above with regards to those videos, those Novak losses.
You know who Novak is most vulnerable against? Guess. What player or two is most likely to beat Novak Djokovic?
Answer: Anyone not named Federer or Nadal.
If Novak was playing Federer in the WTF final instead of Zverev, who do you think would have won? And Federer would have been coming to net as much or more than that youngster. Novak has been conditioned to beat Fedal at all costs, no matter the court, or the occasion.
The more mature Djokovic has lost some doozies to the non-Fedal crowd, in some surprising fashion. Two of Murray’s three majors were against Djokovic. The Serb lost to the Stanimal at Roland Garros in 2015 and again to Stan in the USO final in 2016. Indeed, it’s a pattern. In these last four or five years, however, he’s seemed to have solved the Fedal equation. I believe Novak calls it the “Fuck those guys” game-plan. He won’t lose to Roger or Rafa. But against younger, stronger and coached-up athletes not named Federer or Nadal? Watch your step, Novak.
Below is Federer v Tsitsipas highlights from the Hopman Cup. I didn’t watch any of the Hopman cup. This was quite a match, having had a chance to see these two one-handed all-court strikers. For one, Tsitsipas is playing very well. His serve and FH are typically big, bombing the court ruthlessly. This kid is for real. Another big kid with all kinds of power and class.
He held his own and then some. Leading the first TB 4-1 seemed bad news for the 37 year-old. Federer pulled that one out of his hat. They both continued to hammer the ball in the second set and the 2nd set TB had enough charm and suspense, as well.
Really fun to see the boys getting after it like this prior to Melbourne. Tsitsipas is all over the net, which is a great look from that one-hander.
And Federer looked pretty good. Nice to see his BH going CC and DLTL with solid results. The camera cutting to the Ljubičić scowl court-side added to my budding 2019 ATP fervor.
Back to the AO draw:
I don’t see much to disturb Djokovic in his path to #7. A whiff of trouble? Perhaps a Tsonga in R2 who made the Brisbane SF last week? Tsonga is Tsonga, but he can go five sets; he’s capable of some big boy tennis for sure though a little long in the tooth. Beyond that, Novak really shouldn’t be troubled until perhaps a R4 meeting with a confident Medvedev (have to see how he’s progressing). If Goffin comes instead, this will be a mere snack for the Serb. Not nearly enough, imho, that the Belgian can do to trouble Novak. Kokkinakis could’ve been some trouble had he been born in a different era of Aussie tennis or matured like a Tsitsipas. Shapo’s in there with the Aussie as a possible R3 v Novak, but other than the Russian in the 4R, Novak is really duty free until the QF.
Admittedly, I do enjoy the Romanian Copil’s game quite a bit. Remember, we’re a one-hander haven over here (sounds suggestive, no?). 😉
Novak will play Nishikori in the QF. If Nishikori doesn’t survive that draw, tournament organizers will declare that first QF comedy hour. No one else in that bracket has a sniff of intrigue (look for yourself). Is a Nicolas Jarry going to make a move, perhaps Fognini or Carreno Busta?
Novak v Kei. Kei has certainly been playing well. He won Brisbane, beating Medvedev. He finished 2018 strong, as well. Would be great to see Kei fulfill some kind of promise, whatever that might be, but no way can he humble Novak. This would be Goffin-like in its simplicity, as far as I’m concerned.
Novak onto the SF.
Here’s who’s in that next quarter. I wrote these names pretty much in last post, but again:
Sascha, Sock (yes, Sock — he can be dangerous), Chung (seems to have lost something), Querrey, Wawrinka, the enigmatic Gulbis, Kyrgios, Raonic (the Aussie and Canadian play in the first round), Coric, Fucsovics (I just like saying his name, but he can play), Pouille (whatever happened to him), Mischa, Paire and Thiem (the French asshole could be a tough R1 match for Dom). The real threats are in bold. By the time some of these somehow reach the second week, confidence could be quite high. Sascha, Stan and Borna catch my early eye (I’m not belieming in Thiem right now — need to see some tennis from the soft maniac).
Novak v Sascha for the first SF? Sounds good, but Zverev is very unreliable in this format. Then again, Ivan Lendl is in his box now.
Remember Andy Murray? How many majors or Olympics would he have won had he not hired Lendl? Serious question. Folks, Murray may owe everything to that particular Czech.
Can you imagine if Sascha gets to the SF? I won’t even be able to see straight. I’ll see Lendl’s surly mug everywhere. Sascha could be an outright favorite and we don’t even know it.
Cilic v Khachanov winner should face the winner of Federer v Tsitsipas. Given the Bo5 format, we should have a rematch of last year’s AO in that third QF. Then again, Marin has the ever so incorrigible local fellow Tomic to deal with in R1. Certainly the Croat should choke that punk out, but Tomic is a big clumsy party pooper.
Murray, Rublev, Verdasco, and Sandgren (quarter finalist last year, Auckland winner last week) could interfere with Cilic and Khachanov R16 — I haven’t seen Murray play, but the guy has to be motivated.
Federer and Tsitsipas should meet in that lower R16, despite a potential dirt clod thrown from the likes of Basilashvili, Monfils, or the infamous Istomin.
Federer, Tsitsipas, Cilic or Khachanov in the bottom SF? Murray?
The winner of Anderson, Dimitrov, and Isner (with Seppi, Tiafoe and Mannarino maybe causing some trouble . . . maybe not)
will play the survivor of
Nadal, de Minaur, Schwartzman, Edmund and Berdych.
The Nadal v Alex de Minaur could be (hopefully) entertaining. If Nadal has an illegitimate kid in Australia, this may be him (I’m kidding, about the illegitimate kid . . .)
Beyond those fireworks. . .pretty inconsequential draw for Nadal. He makes the SF, unless he’s hurt.
Carry-on, tennis fans. Looking forward to seeing this mess get under way.