There are a couple of major story-lines as we reflect on Madrid, and order another beverage on our stop-over in Rome, en route to Paris with the anticipation and excitement for the potential drama of the 2019 French Open.
Maybe this little hint at “a couple of major story-lines” is for the readership, for the discourse. Maybe these story-lines are rendered in legitimate analysis, needed for a season of competition cloaked in doubt and complexity.
Maybe Mcshow is simply “trimming the verge.”
These are the story-lines, in the order of influence.
Djokovic has found his “major” confidence and form.
Go back and watch the Thiem match in Madrid last weekend. Nothing ambivalent about this. Anyone watching the men play this season knows that since Melbourne, Novak has been, more appropriately, trimming the verge. He’s looked a bit mischievous; maybe cavalier. We’ve followed this post-Melbourne “dip” with the understanding that he doesn’t seem to care at this point about anything other than majors. With there being several opportunities throughout the year to win a 1000, this behavior can be defended, even explained.
But with Roland Garros on the horizon and his wobbly form becoming a bit of a nuisance even, he decided, obviously, that the time was right to find his form. We saw this in Cincinnati last summer on the verge of the U.S. Open. In Melbourne, perhaps we saw this in his R16 match against Medvedev, where Novak appeared earlier in the tournament satisfactory, and looked a little shaky against the Russian there, before lowering the proverbial boom. Nishikori, Pouille and Nadal (Novak’s QF, SF and F opponents) won a combined 14 games against this “major” confident and in-form Serb.
The Madrid draw couldn’t have been more ideal for Djokovic. He had us all continuing to guess at his progress heading into that SF with Thiem, the hottest player on tour until the conclusion of that SF match. Early in that match one could see the return of Novak’s glare, his posture and crisp counter-punching following suit. I couldn’t sit and watch the match live, but saw the early few games and felt good that Thiem didn’t turn and hide; but I could easily sense the outcome (I recall their 2017 Rome SF where Novak destroyed the Austrian 1 and 0). Speaking of that Rome 2017 SF; guess who Thiem had beaten in the QF? Nadal. We read these matches in terms of messages to opposing players. Djokovic took Thiem to the woodshed following his win over Nadal there in Rome in 2017.
In Madrid this last week, Novak took the same opportunity to find his form and send a message to all that he’s back on track, reasserting his authority against Thiem again, who again was coming-off a huge win over the now seemingly pedestrian Spaniard.
Had Thiem beaten Novak, held one of his breaks-of-serve and closed the deal, gotten the match to a decider, etc., we’d have an entirely different “order of influence” with these French Open story-lines. Diversity and equality would be galavanting around like some kind of niche liberal experiment rife with tolerance, enlightenment and hope.
Instead, Novak’s tennis dominance has returned. Hope has become dangerous again, perhaps futile. And despite his drunken denouncement of Bo5 when asked last year, said format will only reinforce his ascendancy.
Indeed, unless we have a Rafa awakening, or if Thiem can find another level entirely for that French pilgrimage, along with some kind of Roland Garros draw shenanigans or something horrific like injury or illness, Novak should be set-up now, mid-May, for a formidable assault on his 2nd French, 2nd Novak Slam, and 16th major.
Rafa looks 33 years-old (turns 33 in a couple of weeks) and simply not very dominant, at all.
This has become a story-line for 2019. He has no titles, as you know. His Melbourne showing, though a grand campaign of aggressive tennis, ended startlingly bad. Indian Wells wasn’t much better. He ground his way to the SF, to face Federer, only to feign injury and catch his next flight to his Mallorcan clay headquarters. Maybe Rafa is paying for his sins at this point. He looks very beatable on the clay, which renders 2015 or 2016 in our imagination. That’s it. No clay crown going into Rome. He’ll still be a beast in Paris, one has to assume, could even win his 738th French Open title, but at this point, anyone’s confidence in his tennis can’t be authentic.We have irony to reinforce this story-line and transition to our final sub-plot, if you will: he’s been lanced and sacked by one-handers.
The OHBH has risen.
We haven’t even talked about Federer’s Madrid showing. He was superb, really. He had Thiem in his grasp there, but one could see after that first set that the Austrian began dictating much of the points. Still, like his match against Monfils, Federer kept battling. He has to feel pretty good. Looks like he’s taken a spot in Rome to continue his preparation. But the OHBH of Thiem and Tsitsipas have clearly added to the clay intrigue heading into the year’s 2nd major; granted, we have another 1000 this week, but I think we can assume that these warriors have the game and the mental make-up to frighten anyone on the other side of the net. Aside from their brilliant styles, the power and beauty of that one particular shot, at least, these two have beaten the Big 3. There is nothing “potential” about these two twenty-somethings. This has to have the entire tennis world (many parts of it, unfortunately, swaddled in fanboy and girl garbage) quite optimistic.
Of course, Novak, just to be clear, out-smarted and out-played both in Madrid (see: first story-line).
I do think Thiem can play better — he seemed off a bit vs Federer, as well. His Barcelona masterpiece had to signify a bit of a peak. He can reclaim, perhaps, some of that IW and/or Barcelona magic. Likewise, Stefanos had to be somewhat smashed after his epic win against Nadal in that Madrid SF.
But Novak, again, looks awfully good.
The Rome draw looks interesting, with Novak up-top on a pretty makeable route to another Masters final.
The bottom-half is completely bungled with Nadal, Federer, Thiem, Tsitsipas, Fognini, et al poised to destroy one another.
Yes, this looks like Madrid in reverse. Nadal had the lighter draw (though the one Greek opponent might disagree with me) with Novak, Federer and Thiem pitted against one-another up-top.
What did I say back in January, post-Melbourne? We talked of the next big plot: Novak hunting-down Nadal on the clay. Rafa dodged him in Madrid. They’re on a collision course in Rome, of course.
I suspect we will see this epic come-to-pass, however, in two or more accurately in three weeks’ time. 😉
This brings us all much anticipation, joy and inspiration, no?
Here’s a tweet from today from Tsitsipas that speaks of our future tennis carte du jour: