2020 ATP Finals, etc.

I figure I should put a wrap on what happened over the last couple of weeks, how the WTF played-out and so forth.

My last post was typed and published in about 2 minutes’ time, as Dominic and Daniil headed for a third and deciding set. Thiem should have finished that match in the second set. There were a couple of chances in that 2nd frame, not even necessarily break-points or the like that seem to define the balance of a contest. Thiem simply has and had better stuff, more variety, a more offensive approach with a developing defensive stability that has given his game even more genius.

He seemed ready to make that move (as he did in the first set, as the more dominant player often does in these tighter encounters) and finish this match, secure the title, put a nice logical end to this surreal year of sport and life.

Specifically, we can pin-point one particular moment in this match: the seventh game of the second set, the Russian serving at 3-3, 30-40. Medvedev had looked less than championship quality on the day for sure, flailing about from nearly 20 feet behind the BL on most points, alternating between the push and the more offensive groundstroke, especially from the BH (he often runs around his FH for said BH — another brilliant facet of the two-hander style. Several two-handed blokes play this approach; Paire and Medvedev come to mind, but there are others).

There in the seventh game of this Championship tilt, facing a BP, Daniil also had a second serve with which to stave off the inevitable, of Domi securing a year-end title, giving root to his reputation as perhaps the best player in the world, having already beaten Nadal and Djokovic en route to this next crowning achievement.

But Thiem choked. This second serve from Medvedev was returned by a Thiem FH and with the desperate Russian coming to net, a SS S&V on this critical point, Medvedev managed only to volley a weak pop-up landing near Thiem’s service line, thus plenty of space and time for the Austrian to pounce. Thiem sprinted to net with a relatively easy put-away in hand, which would have secured the break and given Domi a fairly routine epilogue to this story’s end.

But Thiem choked. He pushed this poor, mismanaged, desperate volley wide/long, everywhere but in.

I have flirted with some harsh criticism of Thiem before.

Most recently, this is from a post (“Thiem is Too Nice to Win“) written during the Thiem vs. Medvedev SF match at the 2020 U.S. Open:

The Austrian has such a beautiful game but such a lousy championship fuck-you frame of mind.

There’s a lot of twists and turns in this match still to come, most likely and Dominic can still impose his will and higher quality, but I smell a botch, the faint likelihood that the one-hander’s made a mess of this match.

That sounds like what happened there at 3-3 in the second set of this Nitto ATP Finals championship match.

Of course, Medvedev is the one with the happy ending. He wins the title, having also beaten Djokovic and Nadal en route. Interestingly enough, Medvedev has said, unequivocally, that his win over Thiem in this final was the biggest win of his career. That’s actually nice to hear, showing the Austrian such respect in light of big wins against the Serb and Spaniard greats.

So, what about my Medvedev’s tennis is crap remark? It is crap. This is purely subjective, of course, but let me refresh my commentary on the Russian.

His tennis will come in spurts only because his approach to the game is unsustainable. He defends incredibly — this is his true genius. At 6’5″ or 6’6″, his ability to track down balls is a difficult skill to overcome for his opponent. He’s 20 feet behind the BL so that’s what he can do; run practically into the locker room to retrieve an opponent’s shot. Thiem’s court position shares some of this dependency on depth and it too is a shame.

The Russian’s defense keeps him in almost every match. But his serve, dangerous BH and deft touch around the court will be what comes and goes. Hey, he’s had enough to reach #4 in the world (projected to go higher), so I can take some of that criticism I have of the Russian and stuff it up my arse.

But it’s a poor man’s game (not referring to wealth or class): it’s just poor.

Did you watch the Nadal vs. Medvedev SF? My God that was tough to watch. I was sore watching that awful exhibition of the interminable slicey and dicey push sandwich. I detected a limp in the Spaniard toward the end.
He could not hang with this Russian’s hard court misery.

But we give Nadal a break. This is not his surface. That we know. He makes the best of a poor opportunity. And he still almost beat Medvedev. That’s bad tennis, nonetheless. You know our frame of reference. Nadal vs. Medvedev at the O2 last week was the antithesis of Mcshow.

What about Djokovic? I listened to an odd discussion between Pat McEnroe and Brad Gilbert. After Novak’s loss to Medvedev in the RR, they were calling for his quick exit from London, to regroup and get ready for Melbourne.

I thought what the fuck are you talking about. He wasn’t showing exceptional form, per se, but he’s the Serb and I certainly see him beating Zverev in that winner-take-a-trip-to-the-SF final RR match and given what he’s said publicly about these kinds of trophies, you figure he’ll take care of business.

He routined Zverev and, as we know, had Domi 4-0 in that SF third set TB. He’d even fought-off some MPs in the second set. Thiem’s recovery there in that TB was stellar. But the point is that Novak was three points from going to the final. Certainly, I still think that reasoning from the American ESPN voices was bizarre. But maybe the Djoker really was done.

In the end, as we harken briefly back to the GOAT discussion, Novak not getting that 6th maintains some of the Federer legacy, probably for good.

This is a tough format for Djokovic (ironically), this indoor Bo3 and these youngsters are only getting tougher, especially after a long year (2020 was bizarrely unusually light on the wear-and-tear). Indeed, Novak spouting that he prefers the sport move eventually to a Bo3 in ALL tournaments looks really unintelligent when we know, for instance, that if this ATP Finals had been Bo5 (it used to be), Novak would have been the prohibitive favorite, other than Thiem (Medvedev can not win a Bo5 match of consequence to save his life — look that up).

The clock is certainly ticking on the elder statesmen. Nadal will get another French and Novak probably (maybe) wins three more majors.

This only cements my take in that recent post I wrote about the GOAT discussion:

First, there will not be a definitive GOAT in men’s tennis; certainly not for the intelligent follower of the sport with some historical perspective.

Does Novak get to 20? I think he does. But these youngsters are coming. They’re beating the Big 3, winning bigger matches, and getting stronger and more confident.

Rafa at 21 majors and Novak and Roger both at 20 would be a very likely scenario, in my opinion. I also said in that post that Rafa winning another French does not change his legacy much, at all. Another U.S. Open or Wimbledon, or an Aussie, of which he only has one — for sure. Even winning the WTF would add some needed texture to the Rafa resume.

Going back into this GOAT riff is only logical given that we started off here talking about the Thiem vs. Medvedev ATP Finals championship. The road is shorter for these legends unless we’re talking about, perhaps, a fortnight in Melbourne in a few months (depending upon what Covid does) for Novak and spring or early summer in Paris for Rafa in 2021.

Thiem has certainly made his move to this next level although we’re STILL not sure how much of an impact he will have on the sport, obviously because of his age. But also because of his major championship (or WTF championship) character. He hasn’t beaten a Big 2 in a major final. How “nice” will he continue to be. Medvedev does not have this problem. His run in the summer of 2019 and this really nice one to finish 2020 speaks to his Daniil the Terrible tennis persona. I’ve given him that. His maturity is beyond his years. He makes some of these other youngsters look like sniveling little teenagers.

So, yeah, I sound like I’m all over the place. I’m starting to write the next chapter, celebrating (and criticizing) the next Gen, mourning the end of the Big 3 era — and then saying that nothing has really changed, yet.

We’re right on all accounts.

I’ll write more later. Thanks for reading.

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