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.

Wimbledon QF Preview and A Rant

Quarter Finals

1. Murray (3 set R16) v Querrey (5 set R16)

My numerology is fantastic! Everyone who played a three-set R16 match raise your hand. You are going to win your QF match and advance to the SF! Congratulations! This is a conspiracy and we’ve let this one go a little too far. You are all part of a grand chain of events beyond your control. If your R16 match went 5 sets, sorry. Better luck next time!

Actually my Rant is below, but I’m really feeling it right now. Sorry. Thought that pattern nonetheless is pretty funny and does probably work to determine the SF match-ups. Ha ha.

Murray should advance here and wear-and-tear will be a part of that. Plus, Murray has more leverage across the board, starting with he’s a better tennis player. But the intangibles are speaking-up, as well. He’s the defending champ at his home major. Lendl is in the house. Murray looks untroubled so far and we know he’s been getting good reps. That RG SF wasn’t all for nought. What’s not to like about Murray?

Of course, Querrey isn’t just an empty pint. Querrey made the QF last year after beating Novak (the supposed beginning of Djokollapse) and lost to Raonic. He can play grass and his big serve makes him relevant (as it does Muller and Raonic and even Berdych). Andy’s ROS will partly neutralize the American’s big weapon, but stranger things have happened. And what’s the status on injuries? I have heard Andy is injured. Novak looked injured today, yet the talking heads around SW19, who have better access than we do, don’t seem to be talking much about any of this. This could be Andy in 3 or 4, but if gets into the land of TB, the contest could get tight, go either way; and Murray, we know, is still chasing that lion. But you have to favor Murray here.

2. Cilic (3) v Muller (5)

These two played a tight SF at Queen’s Club that Marin won 63 57 64. Muller may be rested and feeling really confident from that win over Nadal, so we could be in for another tight match. I have been big on Cilic and I think he over-powers the lefty; at the cilic-wimbledon-2017-wednesdaysame time, the big serve can neutralize a dangerous opponent, too. Can Muller tap into a big day on serve and keep things going for another round? Probably better to surmise that Gilles is pretty taxed, and Marin will continue to march towards another final-four showdown (remember, he was up 2-0 sets on Roger in last year’s WB QF. He had MP at Queen’s two weeks ago in the final. This is a guy with major championship range and he’s probably pretty motivated). Jonas Bjorkman doesn’t hurt either. We like Cilic here but an energized and stoic Muller would be gift for us fans, again (that Nadal match is still ringing in our ears).

3. Fededer (3) v Raonic (5)

Federer is rolling, and Raonic has had a less than good year on tour; but we better understand that Milos will not be an easy match for Federer. Of course, last year’s SF plays into that. But even more so: his run here at these Championships. A win like that in the R16, against a young hot-shot who’s been playing better and more (consistently), has to bring Raonic out of his slump a bit. And the serve is just enormous. We think back to the role a big serve can play on these lawns, even the slower manifestations of the grass. The Zverev match is a big win for the Canadian.

But, the taxman did collect, Raonic needing five big sets (though he breadsticked Sascha in the fifth) to compile the victory. That was a tough battle, so some fatigue would be expected and Federer has been pretty light on his feet, flowing, seems ready for this revenge match.

A reader asked about my commentary last year where I called Roger out a bit for failing to close-out Raonic. I have not re-read my post on that SF, but like most matches, there are a few big moments in the exchange that will determine the big shifts in score and momentum (clutch). I remember that being the case with that match, that Federer, whether it was injury, the Ljubičić-project still in its infancy, who knows, but Federer couldn’t handle the big Raonic at that point. Raonic had a better year in 2016, had McEnroe in his box during the fortnight, etc. He was a better player then.

And Federer has that clear re-interpretation of tennis at the business-end. 2017 Federer, understatement of the era, has been remarkably more efficient, lethal. Before, all of that lethality would dull in those critical breaths of huge games and points. He’s closing now; the BH being a good tangible example of this new approach; but the intangibles seem as palpable, as well. Federer’s variety, sorcery, and talent are now polished with that more efficient gamesmanship, match management, etc. You know what I mean.

Federer should win this (on the 5 v 3 numerology) but also on the arch of their careers (ironically); Federer is looking to continue an historical year, playing well. Raonic seems to be struggling just a bit and might have expended a bit too much getting to the QF.

Lastly, on this match; that serve and ROS equation. If Federer can serve well here, then the Canadian has to have a mammoth day on serve. Federer’s ROS is much better and will, most likely, get a look at some BP – of course, he has to cash-in, unlike Nadal yesterday. But if Federer is serving like he did against Grigor, how does Raonic pressure Federer?

4. Djokovic (3) v Berdych (5)

I will write this analysis tomorrow, but as you can see, based-on my sophisticated numerology, I can predict that Novak will win in 3 sets (follow the pattern there?).

I wrote that sentence yesterday, so another prediction fulfilled! I know, I’m being pretty silly, but the match (I watched bit toward the end) looked off. Novak had a MTO and seemed to be wincing through out his service games. That did not look good. I saw highlights of the first set and Novak looked solid, running Mannarino side-to-side at will; Novak looked to be hitting the ball well. 

But he looked off closing-out the match, unhappy, uncomfortable. After the match, Gilbert and Goodall didn’t say much about the injury. Is he injured? Was that an inappropriate MTO? I’m referring to my back-in-forth with Wilfried in last night’s comments. Novak looked legitimately uncomfortable in that right shoulder/elbow/etc.

As for Berdych, he can play grass and he’s a big boy with a big game. He does struggle playing these top guys; he is 2-25 against Novak overall. But, he’s also 1-1 at WB against the Serb, the win coming in the 2010 QF.

We’ll see. I still don’t know the status of Novak. I’ve been anticipating his return for a few months now. He didn’t really prove too much at Eastbourne, his draw here has been a joke (again, Mannarino looked completely over-matched out there. Looked like a bad ticket to watch Wimbledon), and now he looks to be battling injury with another match tomorrow against a big hitter?

You got me on this one.

Berdych has been playing well this year; I keep going back to the QF at Miami where he played 2017 Federer to a stand-still. He’s under the direction of Ivanišević. But he just played 5 v Thiem and he’s 2-25 against the Djoker. I’m not calling upset though this would not surprise me; would validate this mystery form and health that the shitty draws perpetuate. Instead, I’m calling BS on the Serb – if he’s healthy, and he probably is, he routines the big, tired Czech underachiever (you hear that, Tomás? Prove me wrong, big guy).

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Is there any pressure on Djokovic? You bet there is. He has to prove to someone, anyone (himself, his coaches, Pepe, his fans) that he is in major championship winning form. This isn’t Novak, #1 in the world, with a seasoned box including Wimbledon great Boris Becker on staff. This is Novak, clawing his way out from under the Djokollapse, who’s hired Agassi and Mario Ancic, a decent player back in the early to mid aughts, but left the game to go to law school and become a banker.

Brad Gilbert, referring to Djokovic’s R16 match today getting postponed (and finally moved to July 11), suggested that both Djokovic and Agassi must have been pacing back Agassi_Wimbledon-2017-player-Novak-Djokovic-988952and forth like Agassi used to do during his playing years, anticipating the start of his match (Gilbert coached the American for a time). These two have to be somewhat nervous since there’s a lot on the line – more so than for any other player (an argument I have been making all year, which I started in 2016). This is more important for him than it is for Fedal, Andy, Cilic, Mannarino, yo mama, etc.

Don’t be fooled.

And Agassi is not messing around. He’s doing this coaching gig pro bono. He’s going after people even somewhat critical of Novak, including John McEnroe; according to reports, McEnroe likened Djokovic’s fall to that of Tiger Woods’. Hmmm. We might have to consider the context here like was necessary with his comment about Serena’s relevance on the ATP. Agassi told Johnny Mac to shut-up.

So, from the nervous pacing to the mafia-like public relations, the Novak camp has to know that tomorrow had better be a smooth three-setter.

If you recall, I joked about the upset alert in my last post regarding Djokarino. Instead we got Muller Time (another t-shirt). I don’t think Novak has much difficulty tomorrow, but then again I don’t have much on which to base my confidence in Novak.

I will fill-out the QF preview tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

PS
Djokerfan is suggesting that there’s a conspiracy in putting Djokarino on Court 1 today, knowing full well that they would never get that match in, so moving the match to 7/11 is part of, again, some conspiracy to undermine Nole. Djokerfan is wrong again. The conspiracy, rather, is that this unrepentant mass needed something about which to hiss and piss; it’s not a meaningful tournament unless the Djokergirls and boys are crying. Alas, we have a complaint! Couldn’t cry about the draw. But they got something to piss on, after all. Only the Djokes on them. 😀

PPS
Good luck, Novak. Just play good tennis.
Berdych is waiting and playing like it’s 2010 😉

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The Rant

Folks, you and I read and watch a lot of tennis. The fact that you’re reading this right now makes me very happy, by the way – might even add a little motivation in the morning to get out of bed 😀

I grew-up listening to many of our great tennis narrators add so much layer and depth to matches, tournaments, championships, and their players. I’m getting side-tracked here; this is not a recollection of some of the sport’s great voices – that would be a fun post to write for sure.

This is about some of the garbage out there that I want to say a few quick words about. Indeed, some of the less qualified “voices” in our super-charged social media environment decorate this glorious tennis landscape like wads of senselessness that I guess at least provide some of us fuel for discourse. But you know of what I speak.

Let me paraphrase the sentiment that I have been torpedoing for awhile here lately. It’s pretty much the Djokerfan. Separate this discussion from the discussion about tennis and their hero. He’s an all-timer, one of the very best ever and watching him struggle to get out of this collapse is a little disturbing; I can go into that more later, but let’s just say that the world isn’t quite right when a 30 year-old Novak Djokovic is struggling. As I’ve been saying, get your shit together, bud. Shit or get off the pot. What is this? Seems very personal, emotional.

Of course, Andy last year and now Fedal have moved to fill the void; so it’s not like we’re abstinent from genius competitive professional men’s tennis. In other words, the sport we love is better when people are healthy and playing their best. All players.

Do you hear that, Djokerfans? Your pissing and moaning about the conspiracy against your player is a bad look, a really bad look. You believe Novak has been singled-out because he’s a threat to Fedal, the sport in general, whatever.  You believe others (a vague “they”) perpetrate an historical crime (perpetuated) against Djokovic. If that’s the case, and it is, then the spirit of your complaint implies you would prefer to see bad fortune brought upon others. If you believe there is ill-will toward your player, then you naturally (we all assume this if you’re too dumb to realize this) invite ill-will on your opponents.

You recall my exposé on CindyBlack3 (look her up on Twitter) and that fog horn of fanatical garbage. She blocked me finally when I asked her how her argument that Novak is the greatest HC player of all time jives with Roger’s and Pete’s 5 USO majors, or Lendl’s eight straight USO finals. That’s the land of hard courts, folks, where the men separate themselves from the pretenders. Federer has as many of those titles as Novak, Nadal and Andy have combined. Get your saber metrics toilet paper out of the building. She and her cohorts have all kinds of statistics that argue the corruption of draws designed to undermine Novak, historically.

The Djoker conspiracy around 2017 Wimbledon has finally landed, as of yesterday (tough to bring too much attention to the draw in which their player has played a bunch of top-50 players). I touched-on this extra-terrestrial encounter yesterday, as the alien ship landed only because there was nothing acutely, of note, for them to sink their teeth into until that Muller v Nadal match.

Because Djokarino played today, the scheduling of a Djokovic match is now under protest; the calendar was altered, moved to today because the court it was scheduled to play on yesterday, Court 1, happened to be occupied by one of the great matches of recent memory.

One popular strain of the conspiratorial virus reads along these lines: “They” (whoever the fuck that is) want a Federer-Murray final. They’ll go on to say crap like Federer’s scheduling has never been subject to so much “bad luck.”

The Fan will look past the pure manner of scheduling and the coincidence that Nadal and Muller would play a ~5 hour classic. Are Muller and Nadal in on the conspiracy, too?

Or is it that you want to play on Centre Court? Part of this complaint might be that because the Nadal/Muller went so long, Agassi and Djoker were upset that the last R16 match wasn’t moved to Centre Court on the fly. They were upset, apparently. But can’t you all see how/why that seems a little more complicated than you’d all like it to be? A lot of pieces, quickly, and confusedly, have to move. Sorry to break it to you, but the entire planet doesn’t just revolve around Djokovic. But isn’t that ironic, because you think the tennis planet revolves around Federer (and Nadal?). Actually, clarify that for me; is Nadal part of the bad guys? Is it Djokovic v Federer or Djokovic v Fedal? I haven’t heard if Nadal was upset that he was on Court 1 for the R16. Perhaps we should look into that…

If you’re bummed that Djokovic wasn’t originally scheduled for Centre Court, what’s your point? That your player is being de-valued, you’re insecure that he’s not “liked” or as popular as other players? That sounds ridiculous. But is it possible that there is some truth to that? Would such a sentiment be totally unfounded?

If you can’t possibly see the rationale for Murray playing on Centre Court and/or Roger Federer playing on Centre Court (from a fan’s point-of-view, the role of marketing, the pulse of business enterprise, the growth of the tournament and the sport, not to mention the quality of the match – your draw stinks, Novak), I can only encourage you to keep reading my blog, because I believe that will help.

What about your draw?

If you think the tournament really wanted Federer v Murray, why wouldn’t they just switch Federer’s draw with Djokovic’s? Your QF opponent has a 2-25 record against you. You played a guy today in the R16 that looked way out of his league and the guy he beat in R3 is best known for tanking matches. You get the most favorable draw in the tournament, yet you think we’re all coming for you?

Did you see the move that I made in that last sentence? I changed the pronoun from “they’re” to “we’re.”

Your irrationality does see it as the world is after you. And people like me will come after you because your hysteria taints an ordinarily decent event (Is the sport totally void of corruption? No. But we can certainly utilize our crap-detectors to determine what and when something is really worth some kind of investigative discussion).

The only thing, of course, that will cure this disease is for Novak to start winning; then again, we know humanity well enough to gauge that even that won’t curb the conspiracy enthusiasm. 😉

Carry-on.

2017 Wimbledon Commentary Catch-up

You’re supposed to say, “do you want some chips with that ‘catch-up’?”

Thanks for the comments while I was gone; no internet service where I was, which is pretty primitive at this point in time and it wasn’t like I was in the bush. As I went into town, I could see and publish comments but really didn’t have time to read much, comment, etc. But thanks again for keeping the boat afloat.

I tried to respond to each of those comments having returned today.

I have caught scores throughout the first week and have since watched some highlights (which really just add to a pretty strong spring/grass tune-up narrative already in play). Needless to say, I am excited to see tomorrow’s 3R matches which include Federer and Djokovic, among others.

What is clearly present in this year’s tournament is that we have some pretty palpable drama at the top – one could make an argument (if s/he has the wherewithal 😉 . . . for all four (Murray, Djokovic, Federer and Nadal). Then, of course, there’s the Cilic-type who might be pretty dangerous.

But what is most interesting (perhaps remarkable) is that we have a richly loaded draw, amounting to massive contests late that will inform legacy and determine what could be a pretty epic final.

Murray appears to be returning somewhat, has a favorable draw and should go deep here (I am pulling for Querrey to make any sense of the other side of that QF). Pouille and Wawrinka, especially Stan, can go fetch me a pint. What the hell.

Murray is the defending champ and hometown boy, so he could be riding pretty high marching into a SF with . . .

Nadal. I saw the guy play and his FH is arguably the best in the tourney. The argument that one’s clay form can’t translate to grass is getting murdered by the bull. A big serve and bigger weapons are what it will take to keep him at bay. If he can come into the court  and run-around to the FH, he’s going to be very tough to finish (the BH is decisive, as well, as we know). He’s hungry as ever, he’s quite good at the net. . . the tennis intelligence works with this one, folks.

Nadal looks dangerous though he does have a dangerous draw, which I just addressed with a reader in the previous post. We suspect he’ll handle the lefty from Luxembourg, but Gilles is no grass slouch. That match follows a banger with Cilic. Cilic is angry and hungry and big. Nadal hasn’t an easy route.

A Murray SF could be anti-climactic if Nadal survives his next two matches, especially if the QF is Cilic.

The Federer Djokovic situation needs clarification with some viewership on my part, but I suspect Djokovic is going to be very tough in that SF. I received word from London this Day-Two-The-Championships-Wimbledon-2017evening that his next few matches have been waved so the Serb is awaiting his Swiss pal in the SF. Kidding aside, Novak looks confident. His groundstrokes look “back” from where ever they went and he’s coming to net, hitting lines, etc.

On the coaching front, he’s pretty dialed-in, too. Andre and Mario Ančić are captaining the Serb’s Wimbledon campaign. Andre’s confidence is quite interesting, calm and reassuring, which speaks volumes if the Serb is actually in the process of a peak for his showdown with Federer.

Federer, from the little I saw of his Lajović match, looks handsy with his FH (never a good sign). I need to see the BH (as does everyone) forcing the issue here to supplement the serve, net and FH. Running around the BH and trying to ping-pong the FH will not get the Maestro #8.

I wasn’t overly impressed with his tune-up, either: Halle seemed more of a Sascha dip, but Federer did take advantage, which is all one can ask. He did shut-down that final’s hype, but we do know the German gets another crack, most likely, in the WB QF.

First, however, Fed has to beat M.Zverev, Grigor and then Sascha, so long as the Younger survives Raonic or RBV. Tough draw for Federer.

A match-up with Djokovic could be incredible, but Roger had better have that AO/IW/Miami ambidexterity brilliance on display. Djokovic’s ROS and mental toughness, especially with the timing of a return and his coaching think-tank supporting this run could be a beast of an opponent.

There is no way I easily pencil Federer into the winner’s circle just yet. Seems terribly ill-advised aka fool-hardy to overlook his company here at The Championships.

Tomorrow will tell us more.

Seems way premature (and to be honest I hope I am wrong) but I see a Nadal v Djokovic final.

Remember, this is not a fanblog. I eat fanblogs.

Cheers.

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.

Nadal vs Wawrinka Roland Garros Final

Nadal is up two sets to zip over Thiem as I begin this post, 63 64. I’ll have to re-write this if Dominic comes back and makes this really really interesting. But I really doubt that’s going to happen (the match has thus ended, as I edit this, with Nadal closing out the final set bageling the apprentice).

Nadal is giving Thiem a clay lesson on the Court Philippe-Chatrier at Roland Garros today. Not sure many of us saw this, which is almost like the Djokovic Thiem Rome SF a few weeks ago. There were a few short breaths of competitive tennis in the first two sets NadalTELEMMGLPICT000131440595-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqajCpFXsei0OXjDFGPZkcdBPsSdN2iVSnX82MOhj5HpAtoday (I didn’t eve watch the third set — it’s taped 😉 but the early advantage in both two sets pretty much set the tone, a clear irrefutable tone. Rafa has out-played the youngster throughout. Even from the baseline. We have seen Rafa come to net, but really this is actually more a part of his game than people think; I just thought he might need to do it a little more given the Austrian’s strength from the baseline. But the 9-time French Open champ hasn’t needed to as he’s out-hitting the Austrian from the baseline.

The summary is Rafa out-hitting Thiem (out playing him really in every way) and Thiem coming apart due to over-hitting, over-cooking his shots (too often and at that wrong time, which is pretty much saying the same thing. The apprentice needs patience like all of us apprentices need). He needs to take something off many of those ground strokes, play more maturely. A pretty obvious observation, sure.

This was the same formula in the Wawrinka match early on. He was so intent on finishing the point with his big Stan muscles that he got pretty embarrassed in that first set; for a brief moment he had a serve for 5-2. Lost the set in a TB, a set rife with Wawrinka over-hitting and error committing. Murray looked the steadier of the two.

The way the match developed, and to temper some of my criticism of Stan, is Andy played some very good tennis, very good major championship tennis. With his over-lord lording over the proceedings from the player’s box, Andy is a legitimate major championship men’s final four ticket; he’s worth the price of admission despite his tendency to chirp and bitch at the tennis gods (he should just look obediently to Lendl’s shade-covered glare between points and download the appropriate program – as Lendl is to Murray’s tennis as God is to this imperfect world of humanity).

Murray seems to have gotten his tennis going in the right direction. I suspect he will be quite the factor at The Championships at Wimbledon.

The Brit did bring that “defensive brilliance” I mentioned in my caveat to the prediction in my preview, but more to his credit: he out-hit the Swiss at times, showing some comparable offense and just gutsy tennis during critical moments of the match. Maybe I’ll post some of my tweets later, as I was chirping a bit.

So I have to qualify my criticism of Stan because Murray played valiantly, only finally going away in the fifth, 1-6. Murray is fit, but Stan is a tennis bully in these big matches over the last few years. Incredible really. He did this at the 2016 U.S. Open, where throughout the draw he would come-out slow, lose a first set, likely. Then wear-out his victim. Brutal tennis.

I don’t think he had his “A” game at all today, however. He needed that fifth set in a bad way.

Indeed, this first SF was a roller coaster, in the end Wawrinka surprising me as I had doubts midway through the match as the Swiss 3-seed decided it was time for an unforced error harvest, in June for God’s sake.

I lost count of UE when he had 70 (to Andy’s 30) in the fourth set.

Wawrinka is an enigma, to say the least (an entirely advanced discussion for another time). He stumbled and bumbled through this until late in the fourth and the fifth. I was Stan+Wawrinka+2017+French+Open+Day+Five+YIJcvjTM5PNlnot overly impressed though from a point-to-point read there was some truly magnificent points where these warriors showed real character and tennis genius.

We have the final that we predicted and wanted, so no one’s really complaining over hear: Nadal vs. Wawrinka.

I’ll push myself and write-up a little preview later, but I’m afraid there’s not much to say (of course, I will find something to say).

Lastly, in both matches (in both cases), here’s one of the thoughts I started to grapple with: the one-handers are posing an interesting philosophical question about the existence of a dominant one-hander on clay. Is it simply not to be?

We had a nice little offense-first one-hander vs. the classic two-hander defender parallel in both matches.

Like I said, what adds to this parallel is that Stan and Dom suffered a bit of what may be inherent to the one-hander – a riskier brand of tennis that has trouble sustaining and surviving in these clay street-fights that can go on and on and . . .

Stan and Dom, we all agree, have the brand that will sell a championship level tennis at Roland Garros (Stan has already proven this). But both styles made me nervous today.

Nadal looks absolutely in charge. Wow.

Actually, I do look forward to exploring this final a bit later.

And sorry if some of this seems a bit wayward – I’ve had about 3 hours of sleep, am fighting an addiction to tennis and am writing these before the last ball has even scurried into the net.

Talk to you again soon. Ha ha.

RG 2017: QF Wrap and SF Preview

Djokovic

Hopefully you read my reaction to Thiem crushing Djokovic’s dream of a return to the kind of championship tennis we saw from Novak back in 2016. To be clear, not that any of you are not aware of my general concern for all things men’s tennis, this slump/collapse/decline of Novak is fairly troubling. Though I am not a big GOAT guy (although I am more than happy to chime-in), I do look at the top of the tour in that

djokovic-madrid-2017-player-party

2017 Djokovic. . .

grand historical context. What has happened to Novak, such as losing control of his reign mid-year 2016, losing the USO final, the WTF and his #1 ranking at that point was practically careless. Big picture tennis says you have to close the deal on 2016 there, at least win the WTF and maintain #1. If that wasn’t bad enough, the slide has continued (gotten worse) in 2017: the tennis, the health of his tennis family, etc. What a disaster.

This, as I have been arguing throughout, affects massively his prized tennis legacy. Hearing his fans come forward with all of these claims of most rigged draws, best results overall on all surfaces, etc., is too little, too late (and too lame). If he doesn’t lose his way in 2016 and continue that decline in 2017, he’s in an entirely different place.

We have wanted to give Novak the benefit of the doubt, suggesting he would have enough perhaps to get by Thiem in Bo5, for instance, rely at the very least on your fight to survive and advance in that great Djoker fashion. But he’s, clearly, in so such place.

The slide continues and no one knows what will happen to this tennis great moving forward. No one. He is searching, wandering almost aimlessly it seems.

His tank of the third set was startling and definitive of this lost cause that is Novak Djokovic. Agassi gave him a bump in form, motivation, but to battle deep into these draws and withstand the kind of competitive savagery that is a Stanimal, Nadal or Thiem, not to mention a Kyrgios or a Federer this summerer (ha!), Djokovic needs stability and confidence. Where in the hell did that go?

We have discussed these slumps that are characteristic of Novak’s career. He won his first major in 2008 and the next one in 2011. Following the 2011 masterpiece, he struggled to get to 2015-16. So this is not necessarily an unprecedented drop in form from the Serb; but, at the same time, this is different.

Glance about the court during that QF with Thiem. Djokovic’s box is barren, but for his seemingly perpetually disgruntled parents, the well-behaved younger brother, the sinister wife (sorry, calling it like I see it) and the odd, creepy or dopey (depending upon your view) character that is Pepe, a caricature of some kind of new age spiritual leader, meaning Djokovic is on some kind of spiritual pilgrimage?

Move your eyes to the court and there you have Novak gifting the match to Thiem once he’s fully realized that his dream is crushed, which is probably a good move here in the QF with Rafa and Stanimal (maybe Andy) waiting in two future octagons.

This is sad, folks. I’d welcome the task of resurrecting Djokovic: firing his parents, the wife and her pet Pepe, and putting together a solid coaching and support staff (that he probably shouldn’t have fired in the first place).

Unfortunately, I’m not in that position. Good luck, Novak. Watching you tank the match like that was pretty piss poor. The last impressions I have of the Serb are informed by those two images above.

Semi-finals

Did you see the Wawrinka v Cilic QF? I thought Marin might put forth a bit of a fight, despite the brutal H2H with Stan and the Man’s recent run here at RG. But this was a man playing a child. Everything about this had mismatch written all over it.

Stan’s huge serve (closing-out the first set with a booming ace, for instance) and FH right now are the bread and butter of his dominance and always have been. The problem for his opponents, especially those unlucky to play him in a major final, concerns his adding the BH (blooping and assaulting CC and unplayable DTL) to this hearty fare of bread and butter. Stan keeps things pretty simple and it’s a devastating brand of tennis.

But again: when he’s got both wings going, hitting lines and serving well, he is a mature, potentially angry and punitive sort of opponent.

Nice to see Andy get through the beatable Nishikori; dropping the first set and coming back to win definitively has to bode well for the Scottish no. 1 seed.

So who do we have here? At this end of the draw, we’re in near coin-flip mode. Never the less, Stan just seems so stable and destructive right now. He hasn’t had to work very hard in these wins, meaning he hasn’t dropped a set. However, this is a guy who’s pretty comfortable going 5. He’s fit, which has generally been the case under Norman, who was always one of the fitter guys on tour.

The ball striking seems so pure and powerful – and he wants to avenge last year’s SF loss to Andy. We’ve come to know this version of Stan and believe he’s probably the one to advance from that top half of the draw.

The only qualification would be Andy’s most brilliant defensive tennis showing-up to go along with some flatter ground-strokes that can hurt Stan. If Murray is going to sit back there and lob short balls at the Swiss, he’ll get pummeled. But if Murray can play backboarFrench-Open-2017-results-Andy-Murray-Stan-Wawrinka-813140d and frustrate with some deft use of the drop, effective serve, etc., who knows. I think we’d have to see, in other words, a bit of a drop from Stan. I feel like I’m wasting words here a bit. Wawrinka looks finals-bound.

Think about how this tournament has unfolded:

SF #1 Murray v Wawrinka. (1 vs 3)

SF #2 Nadal v Thiem. (4 vs 6)

All four of these players call clay home (Murray’s welcome mat is only somewhat newer). This is the most ideal final four we could think of, perhaps with Goffin replacing Thiem for those fans of the Belgian out there. But Thiem’s rise has been more dramatic, as he’s younger, has a fantastic style (old school, brash), a tremendously gifted game, especially for this surface. Murray has risen to defend his ranking, finally. Wawrinka finally shows us the goods, which usually does occur when the stakes are highest.

And in this year’s version of the French Open, we get what has to amount to the glorious swan song of Rafa, at his favorite venue, coming at the close of a throw-back and amazing clay court season. Seems like old times, right?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is called — as I would hope you know by now — 2017 Fedal.

Rafa’s run has been obscene. The scorelines are scary. We know this. He’s marching toward La Decima. We know this, as well.

What we do not know is how this SF vs. Thiem is going to play-out. Lets’s cut to the chase.

Nadal is favored and should be. His magic around this court, his experience and incredible mastery of the competitive landscape is legendary. In other words, for all the brilliance and youth that Dominic will bring to this battle, Nadal will probably find a way.

He will need to use the entire court, which is fine since he’s become one of the better all-court players, to be fair. He will need to come to net, actually, vs. Thiem. These will be Dominic-Thiemopportunistic attacks. Watch how this plays-out. Djokovic was dead in the water sitting back there trying to predict and counter the Austrian’s big artillery. Nadal will move.  I am almost certain of this. He has to come to net, keep Dominic off-balance and finish points earlier. Federer will find much pleasure in watching his friendly rival battle this young clay master, using this more mature style. This has been part of my criticism of the Serb: his game, wait for it, is limited. Tough to age in this sport sitting back and retrieving all day.

On the other hand, the Austrian has a bit going for him. He has now, attribution here goes to one of the TV commentators, scalped all 4 of the big 4. He fears no one. He beat the Spanish King in Rome a few weeks ago, in straight sets. This came from a series of matches with Nadal in which he made small adjustments that enabled him to close the gap and finally break-through.

You have seen my take on his use of the DTL. This is CRITICAL to Thiem’s outcome. If he can successfully employ this variety in his monstrous baseline attack, Rafa is in for a long and bumpy ride.

What is the most devastating aspects of Stan’s one-hander? DTL. Roger’s? DTL. The CC shot is obviously effective. But Thiem has to mix-in the DTL, which only finishes most points since he’s probably pushed his opponent off the court wide on the deuce side (speaking of his BH DTL). This is true of his FH DTL. CC is great, and necessary, but he has to use the DTL to wear-out Nadal. Keep your eye on this dynamic.

I don’t have the stats in front of me here, but Thiem is hitting the ball and spinning the ball harder than anyone else at this point, even Rafa.

To summarize, Rafa needs to employ the variety of a more full-court game-plan. Dominic needs to employ the variety of his groNadalGettyImages-692153554_1920x1080_959987267790und-strokes DTL.

Sure there are many many more factors. The serve will be critical. The ROS could be a deciding factor, especially if Rafa can get into Dom’s service confidence. A break of serve here and there could decide this.

And of course many of you are probably saying Rafa will just pound Thiem’s one-hander. Could be. But they’ve played recently. Adjustments have been made. Still, that will be something to watch.

Lastly, although this has been implied throughout this post, the mental framework of this match between Nadal and Thiem will be interesting. Thiem caught a break in the QF because Djokovic is broken and the Serb quit in that match (this is quite disturbing for many out there – that he would tank like that); Nadal will not resort to such a thing. No way. The Spaniard will be a nightmare, mentally, I suspect.

Can Thiem keep maturing before our very eyes? For instance, he has to pick the right times to hit DTL. Not when he’s getting pushed back and trying to stay in the point. He has to be smart in how he employs this variety and his approach in general.

The mental strength of these players, all four, will be on display in these next two matches.

Obviously, there is so much more to consider, but I’ll leave it there for now. Let me know what you think of the matches. I’m afraid to say that my gut tends to side with the tennis great here, so I see Nadal surviving . . . and playing Stan in the final. Holy shit that could be good.

Then again, we have a phenomenal final four (Thiem could be defining his rise to that stature this weekend). The tennis stoke is strong with these four, and with this tournament, which I hope you’re feeling with the help of Mcshow Tennis.

Let’s get it on!