What is the Biggest Surprise of 2017?

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For starters, we might say there a few surprises to this tennis season, beginning with #2017 Fedal. That these ATP elder statesmen have, combined, won every major championship and every Masters level tournament, minus Rome (that’s 3 majors and 4 Masters tournaments between the two) is a bonafide trip down memory lane.

To round-off the 2017 “headlines,” Djokovic is still struggling since going-out in the 2016 WB 3R and Murray, after chasing-down the #1 ranking from the 2016 Djokollapse, has really failed to maintain that sparkling form since the start of 2017. Whereas a year ago we were talking about the Djokeray combat that would resume and reach perhaps new heights in 2017, Fedal have emerged as the new tour dons (“new” seems like an odd term to use here).

We’ll focus our discussion on these guys, the top of the tour, the “Big 4,” though I am happy to say that a few other developments that have probably not surprised too many of us, but have certainly been promising, concern the play of Thiem and Zverev (both brothers actually though Sascha’s first Masters is great news), the emergence of Khachanov and even a glimpse finally of Thanasi Kokkinakis; and speaking of young Aussies, Kyrgios’ play in February (Acapulco) and March (Miami) was quite fortuitous. The Brisbane/Melbourne of Dimitrov squared gave us all a bit of a thrill, as well.

Of course, there are other interesting stories being told on tour this year, but we’ll put that top-of-the-tour back on the table here and have another look.

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Federer

Let’s start and actually focus on the surprising rise of Federer, who sits currently at #3 in the world, but who, along with Nadal, looks to be battling for year-end #1.

You probably know where I’m going here:

Federer’s 2017 dominance is not very surprising.

If you disagree with this statement, please feel free to field an answer in the comments:  what is so surprising about his dominance?

Here’s a summary of his year and the “surprise”:

  1. Most people point to the injury of 2016, how coming-off a six-month leave of minor surgery, rehab and rebuild to win the first major of the year is unreal, supernatural, is suspicious and shocking – beating 4-5 top-ten players, all of those five-setters and beating Nadal in the final, down a break in the fifth, as a 17th seed.
  2. He then goes-on to win the Sunshine Double, beating Nadal two more times, both times in straights, decisively, including the Miami final.
  3. He sits-out all of clay and returns to win Halle for the ninth time and Wimbledon for the eighth time.  He has, meanwhile, returned to the top-three in the world rankings and along with Nadal, has his eyes set on world #1.

How did all of this happen? Why should we not be very surprised by this?

If you read my blog, the seeds of my disagreement with the TSQ (Tennis Status Quo) should be pretty apparent. I will generally be 2 to 3 steps ahead of the mainstream. I hope you’re starting to believe that, will spread the word, and keep reading.

Federer’s History

Melbourne 2017 has Federer in the draw, as a 17 seed. We’ve gone over this before, but what are out expectations of Federer at a major? Naturally, we go to recent history and see some pretty clear patterns.

Before the injury exit, he made the 2016 WB SF and lost a five-setter to Raonic, in which he was up 2 sets to 1. He missed the 2016 French because of the lingering injury he exacerbated at SW19; this was the first major he missed in his entire career. Did you get that? 2016 French was his first miss at a major tournament. He started the year at the 2016 Australian Open where he made the SF. Of course, he took his leave after WB in 2016, so he missed the USO. In 2016 he was 34 years of age.

Mid-post quiz: how many majors has Federer missed in his career as of today?

2015: AO-3R RG-QF WB-F USO-F (33 years of age)
2014: AO-SF RG-4R WB-F USO-SF (32 years of age)
2013: AO-SF RG-QF WB-2R USO-4R
2012: AO-SF RG-SF WB-W USO-QF

Looking at those results, all things being equal, does it surprise you that Federer made the final at 2017 AO? That he went so deep, is this a shocking development? The answer is no. He may not have been closing the deal in 2014-2016, but he was getting into the business-end of the draw, per usual.

As for the time-off, and people having trouble grasping his return at that level? Well, it’s new to the Federer program, this leave of absence. You nor I have experience watching Federer come-off an injury-leave like that. To say you’re shocked or this is somehow unbelievable, suspicious, etc., is an overreaction. You, I’m afraid, don’t have a clue how he comes-off injury.

Actually, I take that back: prior to his 2017 return, he did come-off one missed major (some considerable time-off), which was 2016 Roland Garros. What happened after that? He proceeded to reach the WB SF where he was a set away from reaching the final to play his pal Andy Murray. In other words, Federer had come-off injury prior to 2017 AO and he did pretty damn well.

So, throughout the summer and fall/winter of 2016 he gets a real chance to reconfigure his game, rest, get healthy, scout and get prepared for Melbourne and what-do-you-know: he absolutely ruins the return of the tour in 2017.

But his deep run, itself, at Melbourne, should NOT be a surprise at all. That’s what he does at majors, what he’s always done.

Ivan Ljubičić

We’ve been over this a lot lately. The Revenge of Federer was not the title of that post, but that’s what the WB final amounted to: the latest installment of the Maestro’s deadly return (Nadal, Kyrgios, Zverev, Raonic and Cilic all got taxed big-time). This clutch professionalism is the result of some kind of renaissance. I and I am sure many others wondered why Federer seemed to take points, games or even sets off even while advancing to major final fours (really throughout much of his career). Of course, this lacksidaisical tennis seemed more apparent on the big stages against Djokovic or Nadal. With your skill, Federer, what in the world are you doing not serving 85-90%/70% 1st/2nd, converting that absolutely critical BP? Are you afraid? Are you a choke?

Tough to call a guy with 17 majors (at the time) a choke, but you all know what we’re talking about here.

Bits of 2016 ( two majors played, two SF appearances) and 2017 look like a revamped mental approach – and the common denominator is Ivan. He was a bad ass, a guy without a lot of talent, certainly a more blue-collar player, and what do you know: Federer is playing some blue-collar tennis (it doesn’t look blue-collar because he’s the one swinging the racquet, but you better believe it’s blue-collar).

The revenge is telling of this kind of ethos, as is his latest run at WB, which you know had to have been #1 on the 2017 agenda: and the plan worked. He didn’t drop a single set. That’s professional. He did not fuck around (I am going to find some footage of that 2010 Indian Wells run where the Croatian, as a 20-seed, beat Nadal and Djokovic on his way to beating Roddick in the final).

Federer is healthy; that’s a big factor. On top of that, this no-time-to-waste, blue-collar work ethic spells the run of 2017. The team has him primed; his serve (1st and 2nd), ground strokes (BH is exceptional) and closing-awareness are sharpened. SABR? That’s 2015, pre-Ljubičić. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that made the final cut for Ivan the terrible’s “Federer’s winning form.”

Even the clay abstinence is an Ivan innovation (we’ve detailed this several times). I was still critical of his 2017 implementation, but that was Ivan’s insistence, I suspect, since he said such a pattern would have benefitted Federer earlier in his career.

Nadal

Are we surprised that Nadal is playing so well? This is more surprising than Federer, actually, because he fell-off the face-of-the-earth in 2015. He looked gone, adios but given his injury-plauged career, this would not have been much of a surprise for him to make a kind of come-back (I wrote him off, admittedly. But I can’t deny the pattern. This is what Nadal does – so don’t be surprised).

Where Federer had missed two majors through 2016, Nadal had missed ten. He has done this throughout his career, taking time-off and coming back strong.

When they met in the AO final, I tried to clarify how, despite the one-sided H2H, Federer could very well win (this should be very close), given their recent form. Federer back through 2014 has been at the top of the tour, especially in the majors. Nadal has been MIA often and even coming into Melbourne this year he was one of the first to see the 2017 Djokollapse, not having to see him on that side of the draw. Nadal’s appearance in that AO final was much more surprising, but we have this kind of pattern from Nadal and we’ll have to ask Novak about his role in this, as well.

The point is Nadal’s 2017 hasn’t been that surprising other than we probably didn’t see the absolute maniacal form he found on the clay.

Djokovic

We have to attribute some of the Fedal re-emergence to the Djokollapse. This has been severe and tragic. I have documented this since 2016 USO (here and here, but there’s a lot more, as I hope you know).

I am surprised by the severity of this decline, but this is not out-of-touch with the Djokovic career arch. We’ve been over this, as well.

First major in 2008. Next major in 2011. 2011 is huge, but the 2012-14 period amounts to only 3 majors. 2015 is massive and he wins the first two majors in 2016, but it’s been a free-fall since. So, this fall, then, is not that surprising.

You get the pattern, the argument, folks?  There is NOTHING surprising about 2017 – though the Fedičić formula has been pretty stealth, pretty remarkable.

Murray

Murray’s 2017 isn’t that surprising either as his career zenith was 2016 where he grabbed  #1 finally, in large part because of Nover-the-falls, but he hasn’t defended this honor much at all, nor has he been much of a #1 in our collective tennis imagination, either.

Folks, not very surprising. Don’t let the mainstream media fool you. “Oh my gosh, how did Roger do it? Incredible? Unreal?” Not really, actually. He’s continued to play pretty dominant tennis (as is the case with his massive variety and fluid form that does not beat him up), and there have been some other factors, too, such as the continual roller-coaster ride that is Novak’s tennis career.

Thoughts?

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The Blog

I am in the process of trying to revamp my blog, make it a lot more dynamic, efficient, brilliant, etc.

One of the first items on the agenda, for which I do need this upgrade, is to finish and package HRFRT. I am going to polish it, and sell it as an Ebook. Sure, this helps fund this blog and the work I want to do, but I think it will be a particular artifact that really speaks to the essence of this blog. I have other arguments/narratives too that I’d like to curate a bit more thoughtfully.

Many/most/all of you might tell me to go to hell on such a venture, but I’m willing to risk that. This will push me to polish and develop some of the commentary, which I think you gather is pretty much written on the spot, in a couple of hours at most, each. I have other ideas too for generating some revenue (random ads do not appeal to me, by the way).

I do know that this blog/venue is nothing without you all. The core group is brilliant (you know who you are). I encourage more of you to chime-in and give the tennis some chatter, give some of my long-windedness some feedback 😀

Continued thanks for reading and responding.

Cheers to you all.

Notes on a Wednesday

The grass continues to befuddle a few of our higher ranked players and, in fact, as you know, London this week has become a kind of journeyman’s journey.

The top three seeds are vanquished at Ageon Championships with Murray getting beat in straights by lucky loser Thompson from Australia, Raonic getting over powered by Aussie super boy Kokkinakis, who has yet to live up to the youth hype of his countryman Kyrgios, and Wawrinka falling to grass veteran F.Lopez, which we probably don’t even consider an upset; Lopez is playing well and likes the grass, a finalist last week in Stuttgart.

Nice to see the young Kokkinakis rise-up, but we need to see a lot more from him before we start putting him in the same sentence as his better half: Nick Kyrgios. Speaking of, he looks to be dealing with some hip trouble, extending from the clay, and was dismissed via retirement down a set to American Nick Young, who had some nice showings on earlier hard courts.

Winner last week in s-Hertogenbosch Gilles Muller just beat Tsonga in 2R (R16) at Ageon, so he continues to use his solid serve to advance (that final v Karlovic was an ace factory, probably not a match enjoyed by our clay court fans).

Other notable play in London is to see if Dimitrov can find some form pre-Wimbledon. He’s down a set now, so we’ll see what happens there. Cilic should be able to find some deeper draw this week in London and I’m a bit interested in watching how this young Canadian Shapovalov fares vs. Berdych today. This kid, unlike the two Australian super boys who are now 21 years-old, is still a teenager. Looks like he can play. Good test today against Big Berd.

Murray’s loss is not a good look, like the loss from Federer last week. Federer has this week to find some rhythm, but Murray has to just get his shit together at this point. Murray should be able to outlast many an opponent in the Bo5 format and probably gets Andy-Murray-819267a decent draw from the top, as the no. 1 seed. He looked like he’s looked most of the season yesterday, sluggish, defensive, uninspired. His tennis in the RG SF vs. Wawrinka showed signs of the more offensive Murray, which, combined with the world-class defense, becomes a fairly potent brand. But simple defense won’t cut it. He has to raise his level, starting confidently in a couple of weeks.

Federer should get tested in Halle. Zverev the elder might help the Swiss groove that S&V a bit. Down the draw there are some other potential interesting matches for the people’s Wimbledon favorite. Looking forward to watching some of these Halle contests with the likes of Pouille continuing to build (though he has a difficult one next with local grass authority Mayer), Khachanov, Zverev the younger, Thiem, et al.

A nice counter-point to my Djokovic post yesterday about his fall, that in my sportsman’s mind seems among the tennis intelligentsia such a whisper at what amounts to the gates of hell, would be a little commentary on the Federer milestone, upon posting his 1R Halle win against the unlucky loser Sugita: 1100 wins.

That list puts a lot of tennis history into perspective. Makes you almost want to open the door on the statistical arguments that really persevere through time and space.

When you enter the discussion of greatness in anything, you are taking for granted to key elements: genius and time. The craft of greatness has reached a highest level and this level has been maintained over a period of time that we can define in various ways, depending upon the craft.

In tennis, Federer’s career consistency is incredible. For one perspective on that, see my comparison of Federer and Nadal in terms of their 2017 level. Federer’s level is consistent with his level over the last several years. With Djokollapse (and Ljubičić, the improved BH, etc.) he has made quite a move to the winner’s circle, but the level has been high for years. Nadal’s level in 2017 is more of a surprise. Period.

This is the context of my concern for Djokovic.

Speaking of which, let’s see how Eastbourne treats the Serb. I am certainly rooting for his improved form and confidence.

The Palantír: Chaos, Chaos and Andy and More Chaos

A palantír (sometimes translated as “Seeing Stone” but literally meaning “Farsighted” or “One that Sees from Afar”; cf. English television) is a crystal ball, used for both communication and as a means of seeing events in other parts of the world or in the distant past (Encyclopedia).

You might recognize the reference from J. R. R. Tolkien, as well.

Are you following the transmogrification of the game? If you are not twisted and spun, or spinning-out-of-the-bowl, as we might say, listen-up.

Professional tennis is under siege. Such a series of events could drive any (wo)man crazy, but I assure you: we will survive. The civilized game will chart and lead us toward Big4_38f19160e1fbed1175906d2db43101a3greener pastures where our confusion will subside, though perhaps only temporarily. These are trying and concerning times on the tour; imbalance and epiphany fight for the throne while we can only wait and watch, calmly, and reasonably the struggle to understand the headless leadership whose stewardship repairs a system flawed beyond repair.

I confessed my church attendance following the Roland Garros massacre. Indeed, I sought council for the mess I had yet to fully comprehend.

Meditation and the blog, literature and great match replays have afforded me perspective and rest from the 2017 ATP chaos that we somehow must represent, explain, only to lessen the crazy and the crying. Even the shame.

The Federer loss today to Haas is not, by itself, a calamitous event. But there is commentary and foreshadow in the 2R Stuttgart result. I have plainly submitted that this is very much a result of his decision to skip the entirety of clay. Just a bad move that contradicts the fellowship’s ethos. To be clear, just a dumb move.

Such a decision is quite questionable for three reasons:
1. It’s arrogant. I think clay is inferior and still I wouldn’t skip the entire schedule. He has to respect the venues and crowds and players enough to report and play even a few matches. He’s too good for clay? I have entertained the injury excuse long enough; he did mention his concern for the knee, the unsteady court, etc. But you have to compete even symbolically, remind the boys you’re still there, still in all of that glorious form with grass on the horizon, so actually this or that match doesn’t mean a whole lot, but I’m here to play and keep you guys honest, especially you, Rafa. How’s it going, pal?

Instead, Rafa can go take care of his La Decima, devour the clay and continue to build momentum? no worries?

Maybe he is that confident or indifferent. Who knows.

He could have played cautiously and as if he had nothing to lose. He could’ve developed his game, deepened his familiarity with the tour, stayed in-touch. Nope. Federer is off to train in the clouds with the seraphim and other angels. Very bold move.

When Ljubičić publicized the idea of a reduced clay schedule back in 2016, upon his hiring, I suggest that was in retrospect, certainly an idea to consider, but perhaps something that might have made a difference in your career in the past, Federer. Sitting-out so much tennis at this point is probably not advised. You missed two months of tennis, which is different from practice, as you know; this acknowledgement in your statement recently hinted at perhaps a tiny admission that you’ve been away for too long. As we age, what’s the most important thing we can do physically? Keep moving. Utterly paramount. Playing competitive tennis is “moving” for a player who wants to compete at the highest level.

You had so much form early, so much momentum. Why throw all of that away?

2. It’s inviting too much pressure. Federer: Forget about the clay and the French; I’m pinning all of my hopes and dreams on Wimbledon. You all can have that entire season of competition: I am going to focus all of my training and preparation on this fortnight in July.

That’s crazy.

3. It’s scared. Again, if Federer is injured, rest, take a break from the phenomenal first three months of the season (a major and sunshine double). But the complete abstinence is too drastic, almost telling in a way. Why not play one of the Masters, or one of the smaller events, just to stay fresh, add some points, keep it real. Nope. He wanted nothing to do with the clay. Nothing! He was a clay abolitionist.

This might be the greatest of all examples of the intimidation of Rafa.

At least you’re keeping us guessing, Federer. After the loss today, I argue Federer is anything but a sure bet for Wimbledon. He’s almost 36 years-old. His year is teetering, if you ask me.

Adding to the chaos is Nadal, who you watched destroy the 2017 clay, including his RG La Decima that I have already married and divorced several times on this blog: it was beautiful and disturbing. His form is monstrous, scary, and seemingly as dominant as he’s ever been. Go figure.

2017 Fedal has been just a bizarre development, splitting the first two majors and first four Masters. They’re pretty much #1 and #2 in the world based on 2017 projections – Nadal is currently #2 while Federer currently is #5. They’ve shaken the entire tennis planet.

But just to be clear about the current chaos: Nadal’s freak-mode coming out of Paris is ironically unstable (which is so surreal) and Federer, though dominant before the clay, suddenly has a bit of a concern with only one 500-level tournament to play before The Championships.

Questions abound concerning these two since Nadal’s apprehension of grass has reared it’s head by skipping the London warm-up this week (per “medical” advice), and people wondering if he can transfer his manic clay recipe to grass; and Federer is finally returning “home” like the prodigal son, who seems, naturally, disoriented.

The whereabouts of Djokovic are unbeknownst, especially after Paris. We’ve charted this ad nauseam. What are one’s expectations for the Serb?

Wawrinka might still be partying, trying to postpone his French final hangover. Grass is not his surface, but he did, apparently, hire the celebrated Paul Annacone to consult during the grass campaign. Still, questions and chaos surround Stan the Man.

murray_grin2_976Of the top 5 guys, Murray may be the eye of the storm. This is not a betting site though I have been propositioned by several sports betting entities. Here’s my own advice: bet Murray to emerge throughout the fortnight (still awaiting confirmation from Fedal).

One could say I’m tempting fate here, as many may see Federer, in the end, rising to stake claim to his most cherished prize. Others might see Nadal forcing his way into the business-end of the draw with a suitable grass attack.

However, Murray, who might have escaped real damage in Paris, is perhaps the cleanest, the clearest and safest bet to steady his nerves and game for a defense of his Wimbledon grass.

What’s missing from this discussion and from most “betting” prospects? The younger future. Dimitrov (not exactly green) began 2017 sharp, with a renewed confidence. He’s suffered some tough losses and seems to be in retreat. Thiem and Sascha Zverev continue to blossom, yet both have yet to convince us of their Bo5 credentials. Then there’s Kyrgios and Raonic who seem to have the kind of game for SW19. The sport needs them to rise and ignore these giants banging around and creating such a mess.

This we will continue to follow and analyze: the carnage of the tour, seen quite clearly now in the aftermath of the early HC and Euro clay. Of course, I see this as nothing more or less than HRFRT. That’s more or less what we continue to observe here on this blog concerning these courts throughout the tour, for instance with Fed winning #18 and then Nadal winning #15. You realize how absurd this is, right? The sport is, one could argue, getting so far out-of-reach we’re in the throes of a kind of crisis, a little pandemonium, perhaps.

Bring it on.

More to come, thanks for reading and cheerio.

You’re Welcome

My read once again pays dividends. Folks, I just call it like I see it: Federer’s withdrawal from RG after skipping all of the clay left an immediate and continued bad taste in my mouth. I knew deep down it was a poor strategy.

That news, if you recall, came down in the middle of me writing a post about the Italian Open and Federer’s RG preparations, and you can see what this bombshell did to my thought process; even worse, the point I make is I knew what this news would do to Federer. 

You’re rolling in 2017, a major, two Masters, 3-0 v Nadal. . . and you take a seat for two months? What was my hypothesis? That he’s retiring, getting ready to take two final runs at WB and the USO. The move to skip clay didn’t make sense any other way, unless he was battling injury, which I think we can rule out.

He is out at Stuttgart 62 67 46. He had a MP in the TB and Haas (yeah, the 39 year-old tournament director Tommy Haas) saved several BP, consolidating his break in the 3rd and he just served-out the match.

Guess what, Federer. Take another break why don’t you.

Skipping the entire clay court season was just unwise, unless he really was injured. I tried to make sense of this disaster on my blog (history, retirement, etc.), but that’s all neither here nor there at this point.

He’s got Halle to get ready for The Championships and that’s it. Practice is not the same as match play, old pal.

This just solidifies my read on everything else. I actually smell a Fedal collapse here in 2017. Could it be?

Ha ha.

And stay-tuned because I have a lot more to say, or follow me on Twitter for the occasional chirping. . .

 

 

French Open 2017 Aftermath Part II

To continue the thread from my previous post, Nadal has to be considered a favorite for The Championships. His form is too high and devastating to not be considered transferable to another surface, such as the homogenized grass, especially in the slower conditions during the first week or so. If one wants to certify the tennis we saw last week, especially in the final four, then one has to argue that such massive dominance can translate to the grass.

We should use the 2008 model – where he didn’t drop a set in Paris (destroyed the field, including Federer in the final) and then went on to beat Federer in the Wimbledon final, as we all know. Nadal had similar outcomes in 2010: didn’t drop a set in Paris and followed that with a championship at Wimbledon (Federer was spared in these two finals).

Rafael Nadal with 2017 French Open trophy, Eiffel Tower_7083367_ver1.0_640_360

The point is: this past week we saw a virtuoso performance, again, by the clay great. With my own eyes I saw an unplayable tennis of incredible strength and quickness with violent depth and accuracy to go along with his almost unrivaled tennis nous. What wasn’t working for the Spaniard?

To then offer some sort of excuse that the clay and grass are so different and therefore he could struggle undermines Nadal, fatally. This is not the hard and fast grass of the 90’s. The court homogenization has created the kind of tennis circumstances to cater to the baseline grinder like Nadal and Djokovic.

And, again, that kind of dominance on clay not only has transferred to grass, but it had better, in order to consolidate that kind of run with that kind of all-time, almost cartoon-like dominant form.

What about Federer? What about him?

Many of you know that I write from my gut. I warned of the Djokollapse extending through to the 2017 French and beyond back in September; I called bullshit on Djokovic’s Rome SF master class, among other reads (in 2015, to be fair, I argued Nadal had shrunk and disappeared like the threat of his ground strokes).

When Federer announced he was skipping RG (following his early clay abstinence), I thought “this isn’t good.” All I could use to rationalize the decision was his injury (he must not be 100%) and a bit of history (skipping the French to prepare for WB has been done many times by tennis greats). I discussed these propositions in a few posts. The only problem with this latter reason is this is a different tour, a different brand of tennis and these guys, especially Federer, don’t skip majors. Using this historical rationale is a stretch, a camouflage covering perhaps a more meaningful and accurate logic. My initial thought was he’s essentially preparing for retirement, wanting to give WB and the USO two final runs in the best possible condition he can manage at 35, turning 36 in September.

You’re telling me he’s going to play clay and RG next year, at 36 going on 37? He’ll be stronger next year? That’s practically an insult to our intelligence.

That means the decision had to be in consideration of his injury, his preservation.

And/or Ljubičić sat him down and told him, “No,” which turned-out to be a smart move perhaps.

Wilander even says as much in an article on Tennis.com: “[Nadal] has taken confidence away from [Stan] Wawrinka, from [Andy] Murray, even though he didn’t play him. And Roger Federer is a very happy man that he didn’t come to the French, because his confidence has not been dented.”

I’ve talked about that strategy already, completing Ljubičić‘s thought-experiment on Federer’s career and rivalry with Nadal: if Federer had skipped more clay in the past, his H2H with Nadal and probably his tennis in general post-French Open and over-all would have resonated more confidence.

Either way, here we are:

“A rejuvenated Roger Federer is committing to a full schedule in the second half of the season, saying that he’s had enough of practice and is hoping to quickly recapture his stunning early-season form. Fresh off a two-month break to rest his 35-year-old body, Federer returns to the ATP World Tour this week at the grass-court MercedesCup in Stuttgart.

‘There are no more breaks now,’ Federer told ATPWorldTour.com Monday. ‘I’ve had enough breaks. I’m a practice world champion now and that’s not who I want to be. I want to be a champ on the match courts. So I’m going to be playing a regular schedule for the second part of the season… And this is the beginning here at the MercedesCup in Stuttgart.'”

You don’t say; you’re done with “breaks” now? You missed a shit ton of tennis, Roger. No shit you’re done with breaks. This statement is troubling if you ask me. He seems to have come to the realization, especially after last week’s macabre tennis theater, that the situation has gotten a little more intense, a little more apprehensive.

Granted, he came off an eight month break last year only to win Melbourne. Certainly, this smaller two month break can result in a quick return to that kind of form, only he’s even more refreshed, right? Sounds perfect!

I’ll believe it when I see it.

The build-up to SW19 is short. Nadal is taking this week off but will be back in action in London next week at the Aegon International.

The Championships begin a week after that.

My eyes will be tuned to these next couple of weeks, to the form these two greats manifest for the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

Federer has some interesting competition at the Mercedes Cup this week with the likes of his buddy Haas in his opening match, followed by some S&V with M.Zverev, perhaps Berdych, Pouille and if we’re lucky a final vs. baby Fed.

Indeed, the clay interrupted some interesting tennis from some interesting players; hopefully we can see these gents find enough rhythm and confidence to prepare for some big results on the grass.

Nadal only has to maintain that fire-breathing form of his. Again, who would bet against that kind of relentless, rampant form at this point? Borg, Nadal and Federer have all completed the FO/WB double. When was the last time you saw Nadal so ruthless? He has to consolidate that, or he’ll continue to be plagued as a virtual one-trick pony.

To counter my impression, hell, back to Wilander at Tennis.com:

“As for the remaining Grand Slams on the 2017 calendar, Nadal is a two-time champion at Wimbledon (2008 and 2010) and a two-time champion at the U.S. Open (2010 and 2013). He hasn’t won at the All England Club in seven years, and has made it to the fourth round just once since 2012. Nadal reached the final in Melbourne this past January, and in 2014 and 2012, but has only hoisted the trophy there once, in 2009.

Still, Wilander believes that, the way he’s playing, Nadal has the ability to hold all four majors, just as Novak Djokovic did this past year.

‘Rafa could arrive here next year, in May, with 18 [majors],’ the Hall of Famer told the news agency.”

Perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but in defense of the Swede’s Nadal-hype, this is what I am actually talking about.

In the aftermath of the French Open 2017, concerning Nadal’s incredible tennis exhibition, one has to either buy-in and sound like an idiot (or genius, Mr. Wilander), or almost call into question this kind of level, so insanely dominant that it renders the tournament irrelevant, the draw practically meaningless and the tennis likely unsustainable (what was that about the highest level of tennis ever played?).

If Nadal crumbles on the slowed grass and can’t consolidate Paris, we have more questions. That kind of dominance should transfer; a non-transfer brings into question the player (inferiority) and continue our denigration of the clay. We are beyond the days of Costa, Ferrero, or Gaudio winning the French in the days of clay specialization. We got a once-in-a-generation player who can dominate that surface, as well as achieve huge results on other surfaces, in other majors (allegedly due to the fact that those surfaces have been slowed). Is he different, a more complete player, or is he a manic dirt baller whose form contradicts the tennis imagination?

As we slowly tip-toe to the end here of this exploration and really come to the question of style sustainability (that’s really what this is all about, folks; can Nadal sustain this? And I’m saying he better), we reach a philosophical intersection.

I am reminded of the way Sampras approached tennis as a junior when he was figuring-out his game, switching from a two-handed BH to the one-hander, watching his results reflect this change, short-term, but knowing he would benefit in the long-run, trusting his mentors. He clarifies: “To us, it was always about playing the right way, trying to develop a game that would hold up throughout my career. It was a calculated risk [. . .] On the other hand, some of those juniors were like starving guys, eating everything on the table while the eating was good. They didn’t think long term, they lived and died by their daily results. . .” (A Champion’s Mind).

Consistency is the quintessential element of class and greatness.

You know me: these two posts (Aftermath Parts 1 and 2) are explorations of this brilliant and unplayable and awkward and disturbing tennis that Nadal delivered at Roland Garros. It was humbling and unappetizing, if that makes sense (and I will continue to make sense of all of this).

This Nadal puzzle has been missing pieces for almost a decade; we’ll call the puzzle la década del misterio.

This grass season we’re stepping into will answer, for me, many questions concerning 2017 Fedal and other players, of course (are you awake Kyrgios?).  My tennis calculus and calibrations will be working overtime to locate these missing pieces.

I say Nadal’s form has to carry him to Wimbledon as a tournament favorite. The eyes don’t lie; that transcends clay (it’s more Borg or Federer or Djokovic than it is Gaudio, et al.)

Who else you got at Wimbledon? Raonic? Djokovic? If you said Murray, I agree with you; he found his game in Paris, along with some confidence, missed facing the wood-chipper in the final, will be the homeboy in-front of andy-murray-i-hope-that-in-2017-federer-and-nadal-will-be-injuryfree-his home-crowd and he’s the defending champ. Good call. Of course, with Nadal #2 in the world now, he won’t have to see Murray until the final.

Federer? He has some quick make-up work to do and I still think he rolled-the-dice on skipping all of that tennis, while his rival found the fountain of youth and some Parisian absinthe that empowered him to La Decima and could inspire him to become, perhaps, the werewolf of London.

Time will tell, folks.

French Open 2017 Aftermath

Are you all ready to move-on to grass? Wasn’t the French terre battue quite the scintillating high none the less? Let’s not get too used to these sorts of fireworks; let’s truly appreciate what is going on here. How long can these “farewell tours” last, after all?

The continuation of this story starring Fedal and their seige of the ATP tour continues to boggle the tennis imagination: their assault on the supposed top of the tour and the lost generation, which we can only hope doesn’t extend to nextGen, as these poor teenagers, like their slightly older siblings, have to be still staggering from the highs and hangovers of Melbourne and Paris.

Seeing these two elder statesman dominate like this is at first brilliant; their tennis styles and qualities are historical, perhaps the best the sport has seen.  Any doubt of this, including the consideration of other players into this specific wing of our tennis pantheon, seems to have been eclipsed by the reemergence of the Fedal comet, which was first seen in 2006-7. Hell, it’s 2017!

My playful “#2017Fedal” still stands, of course, but it’s significance has to be more closely examined, especially in light of this past couple of weeks. To the point: RG 2017 brought the tennis planet again to a searing celebratory high; but perhaps this is a cause for concern about the rest of the ATP (the history and future of the game). It’s almost embarrassing, referring specifically to what happened in Paris last week.

In other words, this is my now more thoughtful and honest takeaway from the French Open: what the fuck was that?

Seriously, what was that?

We were certainly caught-up in the matches, the different narratives (Thiem, Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka), the main one being La Decima, and you and I know exactly what happened: each and every narrative was obliterated by Nadal’s conquest. What I mean by “obliterated” concerns the realization that no one, in no conceivable way, stood a chance against the 31 year-old.

What’s your take on Thiem now? Ha ha. What about Djokovic? Maybe a different surface, pal. The rest of the tour and tennis universe have returned to the worship of the Spanish clay immortal. This 2017 clay campaign seemed destined, appropriate and truly historical. This is a fair assessment. But by the conclusion of RG, everyone is trying to stay upright: Nadal has confirmed his position to challenge Wimbledon, the rest of the calendar and finish the year #1.

You and I might be quick to point to surface and style elements that complicate the above statement, but the sea change that Melbourne foreshadowed is pounding the shores of our beloved sport. We owe it ourselves to put this year into more perspective.

At least that’s what I’m going to (continue to) do.

Nadal’s run in Paris was, as we know, as dominant as he’s ever been. The only more dominant run at Roland Garros is, still, Borg’s run in 1978. Nadal lost 35 games at this year’s French whereas Borg conceded only 27 that year. Go look at the scorelines of Borg’s matches. The American Roscoe Tanner was responsible for 12 of those 27 games in the 4R. The rest of the contests are cute little baskets of bagels and breadsticks, your typical impeccable French bakery products.

(Interesting reminder of the ever-so-flawed GOAT debate: the Swedish former no.1 retired when he was 26 years-old, despite accomplishing so much — 11 majors; and more to the point, there are some of his seemingly ancient records that even the great Nadal can’t quite eclipse.)

The Spaniard’s tennis couldn’t be touched last week. Nadal’s SF and F were the real eye-openers, as his draw was fairly (or unfairly) barren. Thiem and Wawrinka were both embarrassed; or, to be fair, made exempt from any embarrassment by how dominant was Nadal. How can you blame or hold at all responsible these players in light of this absolute peak Nadal?

Truly stunning stuff. He didn’t miss. His ground strokes were nearly unreturnable; forget his ability to retrieve or  his enhanced serve (Moya’s influence seems effective); his defense was offensive. These matches weren’t even worth watching there was so little competitive balance. I was the one a bit embarrassed. Seriously.

I guess what’s so insane is the actual level of Nadal’s French Open tennis. Again, this tournament was a continuation of 2017Fedal, where two greats met in the AO final, and again in the Miami final (Roger dominated the early HC like Nadal dominated the clay). We coined #2107Fedal then, so to our credit, the theme was indeed a real development of the sport. This read on the tennis coincided with the read on Djokollapse. We made sense of this all winter and spring.

Consequently, we were reading the result of Roland Garros back in January – March.

But I have to admit that this French Open, in the end, is just bizarre. Although I just explained how we weren’t that surprised by the Nadal run in Paris, the level at which it occurred, especially in the final two matches, caught-us off-guard a bit. Of course, this was La Decima: he’s owned the venue, loves that court, the history, his success, etc. Should we be surprised by his French dominance?

We return to the discussion of confidence. Nadal has his confidence (and health) back; with the Spaniard, health has been a real issue throughout his career, partly from that style of tennis. Taking the time-off in 2016 (he’s taken time-off throughout his career) seems to have helped him get right. But I have a hard time reconciling the Nadal form of 2015 and 2016 with this past couple of weeks. It’s so so different.

Shouldn’t I say the same thing about Federer’s win in Melbourne, that it was as bizarre? Besides, he’s actually four years older than Nadal. Shouldn’t his #18 be considered a bit of a surprise, too? Sure. Federer’s run there is for the ages, remarkable, genius. I’ve included Nadal in this run as he’s risen to the challenge, played some inspired tennis, as well.

The French, then, was simply a development of this early run from Nadal; but, I didn’t quite expect the level at which it was played, the juxtaposition of that with his 2015-16, along with his age. You and I even discussed throughout the tournament the prospects of Rafa being challenged. By the eve of the final, most if not all of you had gone belly-up, conceded your man/womanhood.

Here’s why Federer’s 2017 run isn’t that surprising. Just looking at majors, let’s go back to 2014, to see how the Swiss generally played throughout the year:

2014:
AO – SF
FO – 4R
WB – F
USO – SF

2015:
AO – 3R
FO – QF (to Stan)
WB – F
USO – F

2016:
AO: SF
WB: SF
Then Federer was out the rest of the year due to injury, his first extended leave from the tour (missing the FO that year broke his incredible streak of consecutive majors).

2017:
AO: Win

Prior to the 2017 Australian Open win, Federer, dating back to 2014 was in the final four 7/10 majors, three finals.

Nadal over the same period:

2014:
AO – F
FO – Win
WB – 4R
USO – DNP

2015:
AO – QF
FO – QF
WB – 2R
USO – 3R

2016:
AO – 1R
FO – 3R and W/O, taking the rest of the year off due to injury.

Prior to the 2017 season, Nadal, dating back to 2014 was in the final four 2/10 majors, but this included a final and a win in 2014. His 2015 and 2016 seasons were pretty bad.

Federer has been consistently good on tour. Some of his “consistency” records are hallowed and, as I have argued pretty thoughtfully, have hurt him as he’s always been “there” and often facing an opponent who happens to be in a rarer peak form. Do the math.

The 2017 AO win is in line with a consistent string of deep draws and near misses from Federer. I think Novak benefitted legacy-wise (listen to the Djokerfans) by facing a 34 year-old Federer, as the Swiss still carried massive appeal/credibility.

Nadal’s career doesn’t arch that way, nor has it really ever. He’s been very up-and-down in form. We know this.

All I’m doing is putting this 2017 French Open awkwardness into perspective. The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Nadal’s tennis continues to strike me as a bit odd. And this is not the case with Federer. Do not confuse the two.

We’re also talking about the very popular current topic of tennis slumps. We’re in the midst of Djokovic’s slump.

People are putting that into perspective by comparing his to other players’ slumps.

Federer’s 2013 is his “slump.” His back in 2013 caused him all kinds of trouble. He made a SF in Melbourne that year, but otherwise was pretty much a third or fourth round exit. Otherwise, Federer has been pretty consistent in his dangerous form, though age has certainly been a factor. in 2013, Federer was 31.

Nadal’s most recent “slump” (he has had several), of really half of 2014 -thru 2016 takes place when he’s 28-30 years-old.

Djokovic’s current “slump” occurs in his 29-30 years of age.

Do the math: Djokovic has time to rise, based on the Nadal model. I think they are similar in style, so this might continue to track a kind of similarity. I think Novak does find his form again, but my concern has been time. He is definitely working against the calendar at this point. The comparisons to Agassi and Wawrinka, on the other hand, don’t work. Nor does comparing Djokovic or Nadal to Federer really work. Agassi was practically out of the sport, had a very inconsistent career and Stan is simply the Enigma (late bloomer, rarified form, etc.). Federer has an historical consistency really beyond reach.

Nadal’s form at the French was simply surprising, for me. Is La Decima surprising? Not at all. But the level at which he played, based on his track record is.

Back to confidence: you might want to say this is Nadal at Roland Garros, on the Court Philippe Chatrier, a place that simply inspires a kind of dominance over his opponent that only history can explain (his record a the French is 80-2 and the score lines are graphic).

But it’s been almost three years of ordinary and less-than-ordinary tennis from Nadal.

All this means is that his historical feat of the La Decima, at 31, in the manner with which it was done, is insanely remarkable.

And for the record, I am not surprised, necessarily, by #10. He’d won 9. This isn’t the surprise. Moreover, for me, this doesn’t add much to his clay legacy. His record indicated prior to this that he is the clay GOAT. So #10 doesn’t move that needle.

It’s his championship tennis bedside manner that has many people aghast. Me especially.

Is he the favorite now going into Wimbledon? We will turn our attention to some of that next, have a few things to say about Roger’s “no more breaks” comment (sounds like he’s nervous) and keep pushing for that highest form of commentary ever made. 😀

To be clear, Part II of this post follows later, this evening, Pacific Standard Time.

Peace.

2017 Roland Garros Final Preview

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We know pretty much the story of this final: Rafael Nadal has put himself into position to win La Decima. People have been talking about this for awhile, sure a bit last year when he seemed to be finding his confidence before pulling-out of the major mid tournament.

The talk has gotten much louder this year, especially as the tour began its clay pilgrimage to Paris in Monte Carlo back in April. Nadal had already laid the foundation of this year’s run with a terrific start to the season on hard courts with finals appearances in Melbourne and Miami. 2017 Monte Carlo offered confirmation of the Spaniard’s confidence, consolidated his early 2017 form and by winning La Decima there along the gorgeous Mediterranean, the clay horizon seemed to open for the king and his entourage to make their steady and victorious assault on Roland Garros.

Keep in mind, the collapse of Novak and Andy have added to this sunny forecast for Rafa, but we’ve sensed, especially after seeing him demolish his draw these past two weeks in Paris, that even their form wouldn’t have been terribly significant.

Rafa is moving the chains, so to speak.

I want to talk of the bigger picture here for a second.

Putting tomorrow or any match/tournament into perspective for me often involves seeing the bigger picture, how history most likely comes into play here. In the end, we can talk and predict and argue all we want about this and that player, but history, the results of these matches on the court over time tell the real story. There might even be a kind of predetermination going on here (inference, interpretation and argument can clarify these perspectives. People who have only been watching tennis for 10-15 years have an inherent difficulty in reading these tea leaves).

For instance, I could venture to explain Novak’s fall by saying that it’s almost predictable historically, forget about his own history of roller coaster form that dates back to 2008. John McEnroe said, during yesterday’s call, as the booth was discussing Rafa’s dominance, that the two best players of all time are Federer and Rafa. Even that has such a presentistic flaw, but tough to disagree completely when you consider 2017 Fedal.

He then added that Djokovic is probably top 6, “depending upon who you ask.”

Folks, history tells the story much more convincingly than any commentator or fangirl writing on her fanblog or twitter feed.

So, does the big tennis narrative include Rafa winning La Decima in Paris tomorrow? Seems almost obvious, a foregone conclusion given the events that have led up to this final tomorrow. In other words, try to think how history will tell this story of tennis. Federer winning #18 in Melbourne seems pretty germane to Federer’s story. He’s been the most prolific, most enduring great of his major-winning era.

Djokovic has always seemed second tier to Fedal (unless you breakdown the numbers and try to excavate a statistical argument, saying he’s been part of some kind of ATP conspiracy, etc.). The Djokollapse, in other words, works with that narrative.

That’s partly how I make sense of some of these events.

La Decima seems to fit historically with Nadal’s legacy; add to that the way he’s playing, the way he dismissed the Thiem obstacle yesterday and we have ourselves a slam dunk prediction.

His form is simply phenomenal. Early in that match, after each player opened with breaks of serve, one could see the two settling into a match that would put the weight and angles of ground strokes at a premium. If Thiem could find the rhythm to exchange with Nadal, use both the CC and DTL effectively, he could perhaps push Nadal back and establish control of the points and the match.

But this is so much easier said than done, as we know. First of all, Nadal had no trouble hitting with Thiem from the BL although very early in that first set there were a few rallies that showed promise from the young Austrian. His ball-striking is difficult to deal with if he’s between the lines and moving the ball, staying forward and not getting pushed too far back.

As we know with Nadal, a break of serve early in a set can be the end of any hope the opponent may have. I felt like Thiem holding serve there in the first, forcing Nadal to serve it out was a good development for Dominic. He seemed to have his whereabouts, more or less.

But the Spaniard’s clay game is so rich. He has so many ways to devour his opponent. What spelled absolute doom yesterday was watching Thiem, as the match wore-on, down a set, try to hold serve as each point was like he was getting beat-up by an older brother or cousin, almost 10 years older than he. This is what, aside from the skill and technique of clay and Nadal’s mastery of those elements, kills the Nadal clay foe: his unwavering point-by-point desperation. Nadal isn’t taking-off a single point. There is no easy hold against Rafa on clay.

Thiem’s attempt to hit through Nadal on nearly every point got pretty old pretty quick. He’s strong, but needs to harness that strength. He needs to mature.

Nadal has been associated with clay and Roland Garros dominance since 2005. Interestingly, someone pointed-out that Roland Garros is particularly suited for Nadal’s defensive approach because of the size of the court. Look at an aerial of Roland Garros vs. Monte Carlo or Rome. One can see the size difference here. More room has given this clay monster scrambler more space to retrieve, frustrate and find his leverage in these marathon points that weaken his opponents’ resolve and stamina.

Clearly, if Mcshow Tennis is putting money on this match, it would seem very unreasonable not to bet on Nadal here in 3 or 4 sets.

However, let’s discuss the crazy alternative of Wawrinka winning this match.

  1. First, let’s start with the number of sets. Nadal could very likely win in 3 sets (you are nodding while reading this). Or Stan puts together a little run, wins a set and extends his demise to 4 sets. Could happen. You agree with this, as well.

    What if it goes 5 sets? Do you see Nadal winning in 5 sets? This would be getting away from Nadal if it goes 5. Stan then would have won 2 sets, have belief, and then we get into a war of attrition, stamina, fortitude, etc. If this goes 5, all bets are off. Most likely it doesn’t go 5; but if it does, Paris is being renamed “Upset City.” Stamina Wawrinka aka Stanimal aka Stan the Man will have achieved the impossible. Even losing in 5 sets to Nadal would be amazing, especially for us as we would witness one of the true great matches of all time, with so much on the line.

  2. Stan’s beaten Rafa in a major final. Nadal did have some injury here, but that wasn’t confusing Stan much: he thought it was some of that gamesmanship the Spaniard employs so strategically. Stan wasn’t buying this. Stan is not (I might argue) intimidated by Rafa. Rafa has had trouble with these types of players (Wawrinka, Tsonga, Djokovic, Soderling, etc). The players who more or less stand up to Rafa have seemed to have at least a more fighting chance. Rafa bullies opponents, and I don’t think Stan can be bullied at this point.
  3. Stan’s form. He’s in zone. Stanimal has arrived. Is this enough to beat Nadal in Paris? Most likely no. But he’s murdering the ball from both wings. What bodes well in addition here is the SF was not peak Stan. He survived that match. He needed that fifth set (and the fourth set TB) to survive. This was not the prettiest match from Stan ala FO and USO finals versus Djokovic. If Stan’s level rises, that’s just more of that heavy clay offense that Nadal hasn’t seen in any other opponent.

    And let’s mention the difference between Stan and Thiem, two players with seemingly similar style. Stan is just so much more mature. Obviously. The mental part of the game, especially. Stan will not get flustered like Thiem did. Thiem was dead by the second set yesterday. Stan doesn’t seem to worry about these parts of the match. He is a slow starter. If he loses the first set to Nadal tomorrow, this is not the same, imho. Stan will not get flustered. Remember, his three majors are against Rafa and Djokovic x2 (during Djokovic’s apparent peak).

    He will have the ability to moon-ball with Rafa; he has a much more stable BL game than Thiem (this is obvious). If Stan is hitting lines, mashing from both sides, which can describe that Stanimal form, Rafa’s hands are full.

  4. Lastly, I have to mention the Magnus Norman factor. Norman coached Soderling when the Swede shocked Roland Garros in 2009. He was driving the Stan bus in 2014 when Stan won his first major by beating Rafa in Melbourne.

    Who knows what those two are talking about right now, but you have to suspect that there is some optimism in camp Wawrinka.

Obviously, folks, Rafa is a HEAVY favorite tomorrow to secure his second La Decima. He’s earned it, he’s focused and seems really pretty much unplayable right now. Even the historical tennis tea leaves say a Rafa win is happening.

But the enigma of Stan Wawrinka has reared its head once again. You have to think Rafa would rather be playing a malleable Murray.

And that’s another factor: Stan had to withstand some world-class defense yesterday to survive Murray. It’s not like he beat some journeyman; Murray rose to the occasion in Paris.

Hopefully the match is entertaining. Stan going away would not be a surprise. But imagine Stan holding his own. Imagine the boys getting out to a set a piece.

A guy can dream 😉

Enjoy the match!