Federer’s Withdrawal Revisited

The mess of the clay has without a doubt affected the quality of my blog of late. Sure, you might not have noticed since the form here, as you know, has been “the highest level ever played.” 😀

There have been some choppy posts, but I’m going to attribute this, naturally, to the chaos of the clay. At the same time, some of the blame goes to the circus at the top of the tour: a 35 year-old wins the first three big HC events of the year, and then a 31 year-old (he turns 31 on June 3) practically sweeps the clay schedule and now is the favorite for

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the year’s second major (see: 2017 Fedal). Meanwhile, nos. 1 and 2 are searching for something, anything –  and this is where some real inference and analysis (my two favorite cups of tea!) come into play. In the end, we’re fine here at Mcshow Tennis; please be assured of that.

None the less, the mess, to which I’d like to add a little clean-up, focusing on the Federer withdrawal from the French Open.

In retrospect, the withdrawal makes sense. Certain media members have found quotes from reputable sources (current and former players) that confirm his decision to skip clay is smart because of his intentions and expectations on the grass. Sure, I’ll drink some of that, but I’m rather conceding it’s smart because he has no recent clay play to get him ready for Roland Garros. Nadal said something to this effect, which makes the most sense. Federer didn’t play any clay tournaments, so it’s only logical he pulls-out of the French.

In addition, we can all see the possibility that the unevenness of the red dirt could play havoc with his 35 year-old knee that put him on injury-out for most of 2016. So, I should have known better.

I should have done my homework; there is a history of tennis that goes beyond Federer-Nadal-Djokovic, which I remind readers of regularly. Presentism is a lethal intoxicant that can make you sound pretty uninformed. Federer ruined tennis. Remember?

Is skipping the French unprecedented?

As Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times reminds us, “Skipping the French Open to improve one’s chances at Wimbledon was more common in the past, especially among Americans. John McEnroe played Wimbledon after skipping the French Open five times; Jimmy Connors did it six times. Martina Navratilova played at Wimbledon after missing the French Open 10 times, doing so in two five-year blocks, 1976-80 and 1989-93” (NYT).

Indeed, years ago, believe it or not, the tour was vastly different. Equipment, surfaces and scheduling were of a different order. I explain this in my series HRFRT although most of you probably understand this historical complexity already.

One of my all-time favorites is the fact that Bjórn Borg played the AO once, in 1978. In his nine-year career, he played that major one time.

Jimmy Connors’ career spanned roughly twenty years. He played the AO twice. He won it in 1974 and lost in the final in 1975. That’s it. Twenty-year career. Twice. Do the math, people.

Two of the sport’s greats could have added several majors to their totals. Connors skipped, as the quote above says, six times. Different time, different sport all together, really.

Lesson: don’t forget your history.

This would have helped me rationalize the decision by Federer, who, again, ironically, ruined the sport according this guy right here. I should have known better. If it was a snake, it would have bit me.

Ultimately, here’s my problem with him skipping the French. The draw needs more significant quality for the second week. I think the way the clay build-up went, we have some real deals in Goffin, Thiem and Zverev to add depth. Others will hopefully make their case. This tournament has a favorite and its #2 seed will be an interesting watch, as well, as he looks to defend with his new coach. But beyond that, this tournament is fairly wide-open.

I assumed this would be the case weeks ago, which is why I was encouraged to see Federer play. Nothing to lose, rested – if you go out in the 3R, who cares. His withdrawal, initially, denied the sport that mystery, especially given his form in 2017.

Moreover, I connected the decision to his impending retirement. I thought of those comments he made at the Australian Open trophy ceremony (slip of the tongue?).

My logic moved immediately to he’s skipping the French to devote entirely to WB and then the U.S. Open, his two most successful venues. He’s going to get while the gettin’ is good. This is indeed his farewell tour, which makes some sense given the idea of a great going-out on-top.

Consequently, his comments about seeing his French fans next year make no sense to me. Why would you play next year at 36 1/2 years-old? That would point to the knee.

Of course, don’t you have to second-guess any retirement propositions given that he just won the AO and the sunshine double? It’s a tough read, which is why I wanted to revisit this just for a bit. What a perplexing year of tennis, no?

He certainly has our grass attention. Certainly looking forward to that stretch of tennis culminating at The Championships.

While I have your attention, tune-in tomorrow (I wanted to add another discussion here tonight, but that’s probably a bit messy 😉

Tomorrow I will explore this war of 2017 between the current King, Djokovic, who’s lost his way, who’s Kingdom has been cracked and pillaged first by a brawny Brit (Scot), and secondly, and even more ruthlessly by the two Kings of old. The Serbian great must now gather himself, and replenish his armaments, prepare for a war the likes of which we may have never seen before.

Cheers!

5 Reasons Djokovic Fans Should Avoid Sharp Objects; or Shit or Get Off the Pot

Rome Fallout

Zverev Wins first Masters (first guy born in the 90s to win one ((sad))) and Djokovic Confirms Bizarre Form

Sorry for the delay in writing about the Rome final, Agassi, etc. To be honest, part of the delay was due to needing to watch the final on replay (my life, dear friends, is not only watching and writing about tennis 🙂

In watching this Rome final I had to pause (for perhaps hours, along with sipping my deserved adult beverage) to thank the late night forces that drove me to write “Djokovic Bullshit” on the eve of the final. That was as good a prediction as I’ve ever made. Between my pre-view/re-cap of the SF and defending the fortress against the Fangirls, I called bullshit on the whole thing.

I did not buy the semi-final between Djokovic and Thiem. Sure Thiem apparently doesn’t match-up well with Djokovic, which we discussed a bit and has been confirmed by Dominic himself (thanks for the link, Nambi), but Djokovic’s sudden heated animation and aggressive antics to go along with a near flawless tennis was just not quite making enough sense. In other words, if we read the tennis as an argument, a player making this or that “claim” in form or strategy, building a case throughout a tournament, season or even career, we can analyze these different “moves,” “claims,” and the evidence he or she provides to assess the strength or weakness of the argument.

That Thiem v Djokovic SF failed the narrative. Thiem’s position is reasonable in that he doesn’t match-up and he is out-of-gas: the result, from his perspective, was “logical.” That clears-up part of the equation. But why the exaggerated madman antics from Pepe’s pupil? Novak has been struggling; but he’s been more reserved, and classy in his work to regain his confidence and form.

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If you watch the final, Novak seemingly tanks the match. Either he simply had nothing to resist the 20 year-old German’s brilliance, or something is totally rotten in Belgrade (or Monte Carlo). What explains such a rise and fall of the Roman second seed? Just inconsistency? Pretty bizarre stuff.

The end of the match is very much a tank job. The Serb’s joker-like facial expressions, along with the agitated body-language we grew accustomed to last summer, contextualized him hitting meekly into the net or sailing match point sincerely long. In the end, this was a tank job.

So, what do we have here? Send a message to Rafa (Thiem SF) of the Serb’s clay superiority, but then show-up to the final drunk?

The television call of the match (Ted Robinson, Paul Annacone and Tracy Austin), the crowd and even Zverev were at a loss watching Djokovic’s horrific championship display unfold and implode at Foro Italico yesterday.

If I at all didn’t trust my gut on reading the ATP before (which isn’t the case 😉 , I certainly trust it now. I waved all kinds of banners and warnings after that SF; the tennis was incoherent. I don’t trust Djokovic right now on several levels. The final only confirmed my distrust.

Of course, the point of “Djokovic Bullshit” was also to call-out Nolefam. I have been charting this Djokovic crisis for so long now and their inability to see the light is a tragicomedy. This blog will be around for a long long time because I have so many points to make about BH, surface, style, player superiority, the highest level of tennis ever played and on and on.

Question:

Better form: Federer 2017 (let’s take any number of highlights such as his AO run, or parts of his sunshine double, say, for instance in the Miami SF v Kyrgios

or

Djokovic v Thiem?

More on all of that in another post.

This leads me right into the center-piece of this post:

5 Reasons Djokovic Fans Should Avoid Sharp Objects

First let me point-out that I appreciate the great legacy of Djokovic, his remarkable runs through the years, his ability to hold his own and even overcome Fedal on several occasions. If you have missed this, read some of this work as it may give you more of an appreciation for my criticism of him (and others). I am calling it like I see it. Those who write me off as a Djokovic-hater have something resembling only a poor primary school education or are such Djokerfanatic fangirls and boys that even perhaps despite an extended post-secondary education, they’re rendered incapacitated. I am fair and I am honest.

Without further ado:

  1.  The Djokollapse. For more foundational discourse and clarification of this, search “djokollapse” on my blog or scroll through some of the articles from September 2016, which takes us to the commentary following Novak’s 2016 U.S. Open final loss to Wawrinka. The collapse began, of course, after the 2016 FO (I have even suggested that the fourth set of the FO final got a little shaky despite the crowd shouting “Nole!” in unison almost throughout, only encouraged by his seemingly desperate gesticulations). Here’s the real concern here: THIS HAS BEEN DJOKOVIC’S TIME to dominate the proceedings and at 29, he should have. Granted, he did dominate, winning the Novak Slam, winning 6 of 8 – but he has more of that mountain to climb when you look at the sport historically and the discussion turns to GOAT (which it always does). This is an inherently flawed argument, as we’ve said – with the likes of McEnroe, Borg, Lendl and now Sampras getting the short-end of an almost meaningless argument. But it’s still an argument people have everywhere about this glorious sport and this golden-age in particular. When I coined “Djokollapse” I meant to accentuate/highlight the historical significance of this fall from grace at this most inopportune time. He flew too close to the sun, I guess. He lost the chance to add to his year-end #1s (with only Murray to beat), his WTF titles, and his general but powerfully significant position as the tour Don, the one who would still control the draw going into 2017. He lost all of that at a time when he could not afford to. I said it then, and I’ll say it again: this 2016 collapse would have devastating consequences on his legacy.What is important to point-out, however, is that this collapse was not unprecedented from Novak. One of the more decent Djokovic fans I’ve encountered and had several good discussions with about the game is Mat4. He pointed-out early in our discussions, as Djokovic solidified his latest run in 2015, that he believed Djokovic would not necessarily win that many majors, not of that high-teens count at least, because he’d already missed some of those opportunities. I had noticed the same thing, for example his losses to Murray at the US Open (’12) and WB (’13) finals. Losing to Stan in that 2015 FO final was tough, not to mention last year’s USO final. We’re talking about a guy who’s won so many big matches, 12 majors, 5 WTF, 30 Masters, but he’s had some dramatic misses. Some of these are forgivable. But the Djokollapse at the end of 2016, imho, is haunting.
  2. His inner-circle. Something seems off in the land of Novak, and I’m not talking about Serbia or Monte Carlo. I am not here to dig-up some kind of social media rumor garbage. His wife used to have a kind of cute, almost innocent smile that defined her visage; now, she looks sinister. The little brother sits beside her and on occasion we’ll catch Pepe, a few others and then the parents. With Marian and company along with Boris gone, executed, bye-bye, I just think as Annacone says over and over, “His problem is not tennis.” I agree although I am going to qualify that statement below.Folks, firing the entire coaching staff, but keeping Pepe, with Jelena now looking-on with that “I’m not amused” expression on her face, we hear she’s pregnant again and appears to building Novak’s matriarchy.

    By the way, people who wonder why Djokovic is not as popular as Federer or Nadal? Consider how his parents (especially his father) have behaved at matches when Novak was merely trying to compete, and the way Novak himself has and is acting.

    All this to say, the inner-circle seems to have some complication that could be obstructing his clarity and coherence.

  3. Fedal. Not sure how long this is going to last, but Federer and Nadal have arisen from the dead. The year could not have started-off worse for Djokovic. Think about it. Let’s say Djokovic actually does find a way to win Roland Garros. He’ll have survived the most stressful, pressure-packed couple of weeks that another implosion probably ensues. Think of the consequences for Novak (and especially his fans) if Nadal wins the French in a few weeks. 2017 Fedal, with Wimbledon on the horizon, will be in all of its glory.This is a massive by-product of Djokollapse. Finishing last year #1, winning the WTF and coming into 2017 feeling refreshed and ready to continue his charge would have probably prevented 2017 Fedal. But the king was dead, and Andy has clearly not been up to the challenge. The crown has been under siege.
  4. The field. There has actually been some solid evidence that legitimate talent is rising to the occasions on the ATP. They’re fairly young (some quite so) and talented. Let’s start with Nick Kyrgios, not only because he seems to have Novak’s number (under these 2017 conditions, at least). He is going to be (at last) a monster in many future draws. I should have started with Sascha Zverev. He won his first clay 1000, but he’s going to be solid on grass and HC, as well, presumably better given his serve, ball striking and creativity (he was hitting 134 mph body serves at Novak in the Rome final). This youngster is way ahead of the curve. Thiem will continue to grow and hopefully find some adjustments to handle quicker play, certain match-ups, etc. Goffin and Dimitrov will continue to compete. I see Grigor finding that early 2017 form during the second half of the season (hopefully getting over a couple of really tough losses –Sock in IW and Del Potro in Rome.Wawrinka has made a run the last three years. Raonic and Cilic can be dangerous off clay and Nishiouchi has a good match in him every other waning gibbous phase of the moon.

    There is trouble through out the draw now for Novak. We all know this because he has allowed that confidence to permeate the locker room. A year ago it seemed pretty thin at the top. The tour is turned up-side-down in 2017 and Djokovic has a lot of work to do to fight his way back to the top to stay there consistently.

  5. Age. Today, ironically, is Novak’s 30th birthday. We have (everyone has) gone over this age as a harbinger of decline in tennis (that particular age and having kids are the two death knells of the men’s game). Sure, these signs of age have been overcome by certain players, but such cases are still much rarer than otherwise.Sampras was 31 when he won his last major, a U.S. Open in 2002 that was pretty much the stuff of legend, conquering NYC as a 17th seed. Indeed, this wasn’t expected.

    Federer, 35, as we know, was also a 17th seed in Melbourne this year. This wasn’t expected. He beat four players from the top-10. Not an easy task. He’ll have an easier draw most likely at Wimbledon and the USO this year having raised dramatically his world ranking. But this was pretty remarkable.

    Federer won his first post-30 major at 2012 Wimbledon. #17. Then he went dry for almost five years.

    Nadal has not won a major since turning 30.  Although he looks perhaps primed to do so in a few weeks, this still will be a very challenging endeavor, if you ask me.

    Of course, the other name we need to mention in this group is Andre Agassi, who has agreed to work with Novak beginning in RG.

    Andre won 2 majors after turning 30. At 30, he beat Clement in the AO final in 2001 and Rainer Schuttler in the AO final in 2003, as a 32 year-old. He did make the USO final in 2005, as a 35 year-old, where he lost to Federer, but Andre, just to be clear, only has 2 majors past his 30th birthday.

    The argument that this relationship with Agassi is going to magically breathe life into Novak’s post-30 tennis seems a bit far-fetched. He is apparently inspired by Agassi, has been for years while the American has shown interest in Djokovic’s game, as well.

    Here is an unembeddable video that helps illustrate the connection Novak has with Andre.

    Sounds good, but will this pay dividends on court?

    People talk of the style similarities. Look: as great of a tennis player that Andre was, he was limited. His baseline style was a bridge to the future of the game, perhaps, but this, as we all know, is a grinding style of play and at 30 and beyond, you’re getting into some no-man’s land.

    Novak-Djokovic-Andre-Agassi

    And as I have said repeatedly, Djokovic’s style will not necessarily benefit him as he continues to grind this out, hoping to out-hit and out-run his younger and stronger opponents. We know how his tennis fares on the quicker HC. Cincinnati is the only Masters title missing from his trophy case and he has struggled on the HC of NYC in September.

    What if the grass is quicker!

    Becker was right to encourage Novak to come to net to shorten points. It’s advantageous on a few different levels. Although he did absolutely embarrass Thiem in the Rome SF, trying to sit back there and trade ground strokes with the Austrian, or Kyrgios or Zverev will be more and more difficult.

    This similarity in style may not be the match-made-in-heaven that some predict. There are so many other factors. Their careers have been different, their competition different, so a lot of this charming narrative of two distant relatives joining forces is flawed.

    Andre had fairly big breaks in 1995-97 that gave his body a rest from the tour and the grind of that base-line style. 1995 was one of his best years, reaching #1, but he took time-off toward the end of the season, allowing Sampras to pass him for year-end #1. Things got worse in 1996 and by 1997 he was ranked #141 in the world.

    That helps explain his formidable tennis past the age of 30, not to mention that the likes of Becker, Edberg, Sampras, Rafter, Courier and Chang had retired.

    Different set of circumstances for Djokovic and Agassi. And, again, Andre only won 2 majors past the age of 30.

    If Agassi can help Djokovic, this will be more from a mental stand-point. That’s where they are alike: both are brilliant competitors. We hear that the coaching will be quite limited, Andre only visiting Paris for a part of the tournament. But Agassi’s cerebral approach, his knowledge and experience could help calm the Serb.

    I would add, the point of this entire post, hopefully the American can make clear to Novak that the time is now! Taking an entire year to finally find your form is almost amateur; Andre will hopefully get Novak back on track. But it better happen sooner than later.

    Don’t believe the hype, Novak: 30 is not the new 20; Fedal and the rest of the field sense your instability; and, your family, for the sake of your tennis legacy, needs to understand the historical stakes.

    That has to be Andre’s message. In other words, shit or get of the pot.

Madrid Final and Rome Draw

Madrid 2017

The SF and F matches went pretty much according to form. Though Cuevas played well, knocking-off Zverev in the QF (playing well of late, generally), we figured the future of clay would advance. Though a lot of people are critical of Thiem’s scheduling, he’s been learning how to win for a few years now, so these deep runs are becoming more and more common place. He belongs. He’s podium material.

I only saw highlights of the Nadal v Djokovic SF. My own scheduling got in the way here. However, his tennis is not “moving” me; I’m not really looking for a Djokovic match these days. 14nadal1What I tell people often, who are trying to reach an audience: if you don’t feel it, nor will your audience. Djokovic is only going through the motions. But we knew this going in. Those who think Djokovic made things difficult for the Spaniard to close. . . come on.

I don’t trust Djokovic right now because I don’t trust him under pressure. He had nothing to lose down a set (2-6) and looking at the shower and an early flight to Rome. He has to play well to see adversity. He isn’t playing well enough to see any real drama in a match. Nishikori went running (Djokovic needed that match), so he had, really, no chance in the SF. Djokovic is all smiles. We need the madman.

Thiem, on the other hand, played brilliant today. How about some progress on a week-by-week basis? Last week, he crumbles at 4-5 in the first and the match is gone. Today, he’s at 4-5, down 0-40 to Nadal – three set points!

The Austrian fights back to even it at 5-5. The TB is even better. Nadal saw a total of 5 SPs before finally closing. The Dom is pop corn pop-star stuff. He got another clinic from the master today, but showed much improvement. The TB got to 5-3 Nadal, looking pretty grim for Thiem, but he fought that off, got it to 5-5. Just brilliant stuff from both players.

The actual tennis analysis takes us straight to, as I said in my last post, court positioning and ball depth. Thiem likes to play from the men’s locker room, scorching one-handers and his big (fallible) FH like a street-fighter from about 100 feet behind the BL. He actually got more offensive today, moved in, enabling him to engage his BH eaNadalandThiem-1rlier (ala Federer) and pin Rafa a bit to his own BH. That’s how these guys try to escape Nadal attacking their one-hander: feed his BH. Thiem went toe-to-toe with the clay GOAT today. Much growth in the young man. Back-to-back finals on the red clay vs. El Rey de la Decima (sure Madrid wasn’t a 10 spot, but you know what I’m talking about).

Of course, kudos to Nadal. What a throw back. Watching Thiem and him battle today was a bit of that Federer v Nadal of old – work with me here. Thiem has a bit of that raw offensive big serve/first strike/one-hander attack to counter-balance the soccer mid-fielder’s strength and athletic pitch mastery of Nadal. One of the biggest take-aways from this month-long clay master-class from Rafa is his court fluency, how to read and execute the drop shot, or the nasty BH, running around that short ball to end the point on his inside-out FH. He’s the chess master. Have always been perplexed by the fact that I truly believe clay is a less sophisticated surface and game, yet the king of clay is perhaps the smartest guy out there in shorts and tennis shoes. Bravo. Much respect to Rafa.

2007 or 2012?

We’ve been relishing this 2017 Fedal phenomenon since January. What a remarkable season thus far. As if we’re in a time machine. I said something to the extent of how ironic: Fedal is on top of the sport and there is no sign of the Djokovic-Vajda project. As Djokovic bid his ~10 year-old box good-bye, Roger and Rafa are destroying the tour. Flash-back to 2007, right?

Or is this more like 2012? What’s the connection? Well, Rafa did win FO and Roger did win WB, but the bigger deal was the massive drop in form (relatively speaking) from Djokovic. 2011 many will argue was peak Novak, where he blitzed the ATP for three majors and numerous other titles. The following year, however, other than the AO (which he wins almost every year), he went away. That appears to be the case this year, following his incredible ’15-’16 run. In fact, even 2013 was pretty rough by Novak’s standards.

What explains these giant peaks and valleys of the Serb’s dominance? In other words, we’ve been here before: not only with Fedal taking hold of the men’s game, but with Djokovic almost vanishing. If you think about it, sounds pretty natural: sustained dominance is difficult.

Or is it 2009?

Here are some videos of Madrid 2009. Nadal had the epic SF with Djokovic, which he survives, of course. Federer pretty much routines Nadal in the final 4 and 4. Look at the S&V Federer employs on MANY points. If he’s serving, he’s coming in. Brilliant stuff on the clay. Sure Nadal passes, but that’s pretty relentless stuff from the Swiss.

Thiem doesn’t have the S&V of Federer, but you saw him use it a bit today, which was pretty effective. Watch the Fed/Nadal highlights. Some of the S&V is all-time. Federer goes on to win Roland Garros that year (The Djokers say but he didn’t have to face Nadal. When Djoker won RG, he didn’t either). Compare Thiem today to Federer. Certainly different, but glimpses and he’s going nose-to-nose (new body part) with Rafael.

Lastly, I did want to get another shot off at Nishikori:

Asked what are his plans now, Nishikori replied: ‘I’ll take couple days off, for sure. I will plan to play Rome, but we’ll see. I cannot promise to play or pull out right now. I feel a chance, you know. I just need couple days, I guess, to recover well. But French is more important. We’ll see next couple days.’

It was inflammation‘, Nishikori explained furthermore. ‘Now I think it’s getting better. It was my first tournament. So, you know, I was feeling a lot of little bit issue everywhere. I think that’s little bit causing to get little bit of pain. But I was expecting to have some pain. I tried to get used to little bit of pain. Yeah, hope I can get better.’

Inflammation? Kei needs to find a good spot in the top 20, say 15 or 16 and ride-it-out.

Source.

Rome (link)

Novak has Nishikori again in his Rome quarter. There are a few other interesting names in that quarter that the Djokerfans might not approve of. Yawn.

Nadal has Thiem in his quater. Really? That’s the best you can do, Rome? A Nadal v Thiem QF?

Wawrinka and Cilic have their own little irrelevant quarter.

Then the Murray/Raonic party in the top quarter. Does he even beat Fognini in his first match?

More to come as this plays-out.

I’m in tennis watching and writing mode so stay-tuned and feel free to chime-in. Interesting stuff for sure.

Djokovic Almagro and Nadal Fognini . . .

Above was literally the title a few days ago where I just wanted to comment on those two matches and a few other things, but never quite got there: but that’s where I was going – to analyze some of this dirty tennis happening in Spain. Madrid.

I had this video all lined-up, thought it told much of the story right now concerning Djokovic; it actually does clarify the general result of whatever is causing this slumpy tennis.

The idea was scroll to 8:40 on the replay. This is where we’re at 4-5 in the second set, Djokovic serving. Almagro gets a look at two BPs. The shortness of Almagro’s shots in this particular game, with the Spaniard about to break and take the set, goes unpunished from Djokovic. Sure it’s clay, but the Serb should have dealt with these shots given his “potential” (at this point), make his opponent pay for this.

The depth of shot is about all you have to look at in these matches, court positioning too, of course. When Nadal is short, he’s even getting beat, but his opponent has to play almost perfect clay tennis to beat Rafa at this point. At least this one axiom is still in play, even in the tennis sandbox that is clay (ha, you all must love my _96001914_djokovic_getty3commentary of the European dirt): “If you’re short, you’re dead.”

That particular stage of the match (4-5 in the 3rd) is interesting because it’s showing the converse of this axiom: “If you don’t destroy shorty, you’re clowning at the top.”

There, get some t-shirts made, put the text in quotes and give me credit – part of my branding strategy.

Djokovic lacks a spark right now that kills the threat of his game. He actually plays pretty well against Almagro and then the match with F. Lopez had some insightful evidence, as well. I think Novak looks generally good on the court and improving (though I need to finish that thought). He’s hitting the ball effectively, serve is improving and there’s a certain lightness in his play, not brooding, being more creative, even on the clay.

I see improvement; however, he has to pass a big test. Nishikori today might have been, but I really don’t trust anything about the Japenese player, who is plummeting in the rankings. He’s just not a healthy guy and can’t finish a lick. Sorry. Bye-bye.

Djokovic now gets Nadal in the SF. We will watch with a magnifying glass. Interesting reality check here is does Novak still have a kind of mental edge at all over Nadal, as Djokovic has really had his way with him over the last few years. I think Nadal will be too much for Novak.

That was the big take-away from the Lopez match. I don’t believe that really tested Novak other than he was forced to be more creative with the points and did show quite well at the net, adjusting to the bigger Spaniard’s serve & volley. I like watching Lopez, always have; but his tennis is a much softer version and Novak needs to be tested by a stronger hitter, a clay rat like Goffin, Thiem, maybe someone like a streaking Cuevas (love the one-handed tennis, folks). Needlesstosay, Novak gets his big test tomorrow.

Again, Novak is turning the corner a bit, but he still appears a little “soft” out there. If you want Novak to succeed, you want to see the madman. The Pepe Imaz influence perhaps has some other benefits, but I don’t “feel the love” in Djokovic’s tennis.

More wins might improve things.

Murray is a mess, as in a terrifying free-fall. This could get ugly, folks. He can’t beat his mom, right now. Talk about no depth, just nothing to offer.

Like the side of Fognini that keeps his tennis midweek. He looked destructive against Nadal early and then simply HANDED Rafa the break-back that just changes a match. Fabio can be a broken string out there, for sure. Too bad. Really an awful bit of terribly errant tennis, literally gifting Nadal huge points, games, a set. . . (when he can easily play with Rafa and beat him).

Well. The Nadal steamroll continues with an interesting match tomorrow. The clay king should survive.

262.924.627Do I need to save these next thoughts for another post? No. I’ll just keep it short: the best watch right now on the clay is Thiem. His match v Dimitrov yesterday was sensational. The Bulgarian was on MP FIVE TIMES in that third set tie-breaker. He was in the same position against Jack Sock at Indian Wells a month or so back: had 5 set points. Grigor whiffed against the American and repeated the effort against the rock star that is our one-handed Austrian who can absolutely control a match (somehow and someway) with his raging tennis. What a watch. Those two played some dynamic tennis yesterday. Loved it. That’s tennis, folks. Fire, style, brilliance.

Unfortunately for Dimitrov, this was devastating, like what happened earlier at IW. He had such a brilliant start to the season, winning Brisbane, the epic QF with Nadal in Melbourne. He had control of this match. That’s what’s so utterly brilliant about Thiem. His in-point focus, a Nadal-like fighter’s fury, dumbs him to his disadvantage, like Nadal. Dimitrov served in the third 4-1. The 3rd set tie-break is a great battle. Thiem’s velocity and angles, from both sides, makes for compelling tennis. Dimitrov battled, too, but faded in the end. Thiem was just too much.

What happened today with Zverev both disappointed me and had me nodding my head. I wanted to see Thiem v Zverev in the QF, but Zverev got mugged and stuffed in a bag by Cuevas.  The one-handers!

I would have liked Thiem in that potential QF (I still like him v Cuevas). Thiem is a clay-courter, a pretty dazzling striker. Big serve, as well.

Hope you’re getting a chance to watch. I can distrust the surface and appreciate the tennis at the same time. These points are not mutually exclusive. This is true with a lot of things.

Madrid and the Clay Maze

Nadal, Federer (actually), Djokovic (generally), Murray (hopefully), Thiem and Goffin (stylistically), Stan (if and when), and perhaps a few others make up a short list of guys whose games translate to clay.

Otherwise the analysis of a draw like Madrid is witchcraft. Clay is witchcraft, at best. Otherwise, as I and many before me have argued, it’s a kind of dumbed-down tennis. No question.

That translates to odd-ball tennis.

Your Monte-Carlo and Barcelona villain/superstar Ramos-Vinolas is out to another clay maker Schwartzman. Been watching Murray struggle a bit with this Marius Copil, nice one-hander out of Romania (though Murray appears to be headed toward 5-2 in the second – took the first 6-4).

I enjoyed the end of Cuevas v Bellucci. I swear. Cuevas, like the Romanian, has a nice one-hander to give the tennis a bit more than the clay generally makes available. Thanks, boys. The erratic Brazilian served for match in the third of a typical clay adventure, but Cuevas broke back to go to a TB. Which was another adventure, the Uruguayan going up 6-2 and finally closing-out the set and match 8-6.

Guys like Dimitrov, Kyrgios and Tsonga are fighting for their lives (and our tennis enjoyment) to get through to the next round. Pouille is about to get whacked by fellow young Frenchman, Herbert, a #88 over #13 – standard clay foray.

Sock is out, the Brit Evans is out (not a huge loss but again just the nature of the beast here where the everyman/journeyman/etc is in tremendous “form” on clay).

The sky is blue, the air we breathe, and the clay is uneven.

The draw looks quite similar to MC, as I’m sure others have noticed.

Some interesting match-ups take place in the next few days, so long as any semblance of talent can survive.

Djokovic has a French/Spanish omelette in the next few matches involving Almagro tomorrow and then winner of Lopez v Simon. Djokovic, I suspect, will get a little boost from this mental retreat, the novelty of a fresh start, a lightening of the load, so to speak. But he should be challenged on the Madrid clay here early. Those left at the top of that quarter can pose a threat on clay, as well.

But Djokovic has to go deep, at least show his wares in a SF v Nadal. Djokovic can’t just djokovic-madrid-2017-player-partyshow-up in Rome and/or Paris and dominate the world. He has to start now. We’ll give him a pass on the team turmoil, but he needs to get some work done, now. Good luck to the Serb. As we’ve said, we need him deep in these draws. More on that in a minute.

In the next quarter, we have an ailing Nadal (ear?) ready to go with Fognini, then probably Kyrgios, which leads to a survivor here playing the survivor of all kinds of trouble in Raonic (who showed-up in Istanbul last week in the final), Goffin, and Muller (finalist last week in Portugal).

Top half looks pretty interesting with a power patch in the Cilic/Verdasco/A.Zverev/Berdych part of a quarter to settle things with the likes of Stan and Cuevas (but you can’t, because this is clay, count out Paire and Mahut either. Ha.).

The top of that half has some nice one-handed tennis with hopefully Thiem and Dimitrov finding their showdown in R16. Murray should find his SF, but we never know these days.

The struggles of the top two ranked players continue until we’re notified.

I alluded to the fact that Djokovic could get a little boost from this skin-shedding of sorts, a newness perhaps washing over his box and his tennis. Madrid and the rest of us are all on watch here. How does Djokovic fare in Madrid? Critical.

Please remember: as far as minimizing Djokovic’s concern here in 2017 based-on the logic that he has many years to accumulate trophies and titles, etc., such a flaw is donning a dunce cap.

He turns 30 this month. We have been over the age factor in the men’s game. To summarize, though there are exceptions, and one could try to argue that the game is seeing older players thrive in the advance of technology (and nutrition and motivation) that characterizes this era (with the likes of Karlovic, Lopez, and others having almost second acts in their careers), don’t be fooled.

In the last several years, Agassi proved to be the biggest exception, winning the Australian Open when he was 32 and making a USO final when he was 35.

Of course, Federer has shocked the trend with his AO win this year at 35. But these are exceptions and all-time greats, especially Federer. One might (and should) point to Wawrinka. For sure he’s a late bloomer. He won his third major (2016 USO) as a 31 year-old. He turned 32 in March, so we’ll see if he continues to be a bit of an outlier.

Novak has time not on his side. He could win WB this year and the USO. Granted. But as I have argued, his game is not ideal on these surfaces, especially if the grass turns-out to be “fast.” All kidding aside, there are a lot athletes and games that will come into play on the grass, not to mention the rejuvenated Federer will be lying in wait.

Novak can win the USO, but this has historically been tough from him to do.

So then we’re 30.5 coming around to AO 2018, and FO 2018 when he’s going to turn 31.

The difficulty only increases.

Djokovic, with his Agassi super-coach or not, needs to get to work.

We’ll have more on that story as the details surface and filter.

Speaking of surface, enjoy the tennis!

2017 Barcelona Open: Otra Décima

On a court bearing his name, Rafa cinched his 10th Barcelona title, matching last week’s la decima down in Monte Carlo. He beat Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-1 in the final.

The trend continues: 2017 Fedal. Although Federer had the spotlight early and for good reason, winning the year’s first major and first two Masters, Rafa has been virtually right next to him all along: don’t forget that. Nadal played Federer in two of the three finals. Tennis - Barcelona Open FinalNaturally, on the clay Rafa has found his true comfort zone and the confidence and clay dominance are becoming magnificent, which I’d say captures the mental, nasty and efficient tennis of his dirty highness.

We have much clay still to play, much story-line to read and drama to digest, but Nadal is looking pretty strong heading into the next two Masters (Madrid and Rome) and Roland Garros in late May, early June. Like I said earlier, if I were in his camp, I’d call for an early exit at perhaps Madrid and then bring the armada back to Rome heading into war in Paris.

He’s pillaging the clay season and given his appetite for dominance (with his cousin Roger already sitting quite comfortably on his Swiss mountaintop), he will most likely want to press on, continue to damage the field’s hopes, remind one and all of the kind of clay court carnage for which he is best known.

That’s a lot of physical tennis heading into a major (Bo5). Then again, we seem to be reaching that point of no return for the rest of the field: someone ( I think it was Gimmelstob) said again recently: the toughest thing to do in tennis is beat Nadal on clay Bo5. Rafa is absolutely cruising right now. Everyone knows this. If you don’t, you must be an hysterical Fankovic (they are reaching new heights of misery); more on that in a second.

Let’s first give a nice steady applause to the young Dominic Thiem. He’s got a nice game, the style of which makes those of us who know and appreciate style fairly impressed.

But now the Austrian is dead.

Dominic+Thiem+Barcelona+Open+Banc+Sabadell+N1Z2-83p5zvl-1

Though quite short, his was a brilliant ATP stint, if you ask me.

Seriously though: he hung around for those first nine games, played the Spaniard tough, even had game point to go 5-5 in that critical first set. Then el destino (la decima), a wise (tennis) old predator fowl drew its ominous shadow across the clay, an usually cool Barcelona breeze ruffling the patrons’ whispers before the young Austrian was predictably sacrificed.

In almost ceremonious generosity, the youngster was given a breadstick to snack-on in the afterlife. Godspeed, Dominic. Rest-up and bring your bracket wrecking havoc to another clay tournament soon. I saw his championship edge in R1. Of all the youngsters, I enjoy watching him the most at this point. The OHBH, the fury from both wings, his precociousness on display more often than not. Nadal just wasn’t going to have it.

Here’s where we stand with Madrid beginning in a week: Nadal has complete control of the draw on clay. Murray did not fare well in either MC or Barcelona. Though beating Ramos-Vinolas in a tough three-setter in Barcelona (a match that saw him escape death a couple of times, holding serve at 0-40 4-4 in the second set, etc.) seemed to suggest a breakthrough, he was handled pretty easily by Thiem in the SF, only an odd drop in form from the Austrian prevented a routine Thiem victory.

Murray continues to struggle.  There is no way to deny this. Lendl is missing from the box, the Scot is berating the box, looking like the awkward Andy: bridesmaid by birth. He’s ringing again of that less-than-championship quality and character. Add to that my insistence that people not forget that his run last year, despite the incredible consistency and success, was minus Federer (injury), Nadal (injury) and Djokovic (Djokollapse), and you have a less than legitimate contender for RG (and maybe beyond).

Indeed, the Murray campaign is sputtering.

The same applies to Djokovic, I’m afraid. I have documented this quite well. My theory goes all the way back to the fourth and deciding set at Roland Garros 2016, where Novak eventually closed Murray out. But that was almost tough to watch. Novak, we might surmise in retrospect, was starting to collapse.

Scroll to about 02:35:00 where he completes a second break of Murray to go up in the 4th set 5-2, serving for championship and Novak Slam. We can give the guy a break – a lot of pressure had built to this point. But he barely hangs on here. Immediately, following this match, we now know, he’s in a free fall as far as tennis form is concerned.

You and I know how the Fankovic tribe speaks of the hostile crowds that Novak is subjected to (this boggles my mind since most of these clowns are European, internationals of some distinction and fan rowdiness and even hooliganism is a kind of staple at many such sporting affairs): this crowd was massively pro-Djokovic.

Great Mary Carillo line: “He was similing at the 5-2 changeover, but he wasn’t smiling at this 5-4 changeover.”

Some very safe tennis here from Novak. Look at him work the crowd, especially at 40-15, double championship point. Can you imagine if Nadal or Federer did that? Ha ha. The Fangirls would implode. Djokovic doubles on first CP. Then deuce. Then he pulls it off on third CP. Novak Slam. Indeed an historical achievement. But Murray ran out of gas.

The Djkollapse had begun.

Fast forward to now: both Murray and Djokovic are hurting. The question I ask you is are we at a point of no return yet with Nadal on the clay? He did look a little vulnerable here and there, even against that young South Korean “nextgen star,” Hyeon Chung.

That is the question. I like Federer rested in Paris right now more than I do the #1 and #2 players who are reeling and have been reeling for quite some time.

What a remarkable year, with Fedal resurfacing with a vengeance against this lower tier.

My last post insinuated Murray and Djokovic are taking a beating. Indeed, that is the case on the court.

What’s happening off the court with respect to this downfall? You might have caught wind of the Djokofanclub raising hell with respect to their idol.

Our friend CindyBlack3 is back at it with her “Nole Stats.” Her latest has the Serb statistically verified as the best all-around player (most success on all surfaces, in a kind of pound-for-pound subjectively bullshitter high pitched squeal). This is simply awkward. Not a good look, CB3.

I posted her last “homework” assignment (her audience far and wide love, as do most farm animals, stats) in a post about the peanut gallery at Indian Wells when this throng of flare-ups hissed about the Serb’s draw.

As I said in a recent comment, timing is everything: these folks are seemingly trying to 2015 Australian Open - Day 14write the Serb’s obituary, meaning the timing of this advertisement of Djokovic’s career accomplishments as their sugar daddy is struggling to find his racquet in 2017 is just bizarre and boney (we like meat on our bones at Mcshow Tennis). It’s a bad look.

“Novak is the greatest!” Meanwhile, David Goffin is handing your guy a pink slip.

Oh, and CindyBlack3 and the gang’s arguments, supposedly supported statistically? Novak is the greatest HC player of all time? I’ll take Lendl over Novak in a Bo5 format (I might also take McEnroe, Pete, Federer and Conners for that matter – the common denominator here is Flushing Meadows, folks).

Let’s just say that Slovak Slowcourtovic and HC GOAT don’t really work. If you think the USO is anything but the HC Taj Mahal, relinquish your tennis fan credentials immediately. One can not be 2-5 at the USO business-end of the draw and make such a claim. Of course, Novak isn’t making this claim.

It’s your favorite fangirl blogger and this CindyBlack3 who lead the charge, but there are others just as rabid, just as nonsensical, wailing away about this historical greatness.

Think of the irony, again the timing: Federer and Nadal are making big tournament runs here in 2017 that raise this bar to which these fans refer – and they’re trying to talk about their guy’s greatness. This kind of logic is similar to saying the courts were too fast in Melbourne. Shut-up! I can make a better case for Novak than you can. Let me do the talking.

Of course, CindyBlack3 blocked me on Twitter because I questioned her methods, refused her bouquet of bullshit.

Give her hell, folks!

Sorry to bring-up this garbage, but as the Eye of Sauron here in southern California, writing an international tennis blog, I have an obligation to bring to your attention this debris that might distract, or clutter your view of the glorious competitions. You understand.

We actually root for Novak to return, and Murray as well. This would only be good for the sport. These “fans” don’t understand that kind of logic

Fedal 2017. . .Reader Poll: is this trend good for the sport?

😀

Djokeray Can’t Catch a Break

With the build to Roland Garros officially underway, the sport’s pundits (I assume they follow tennis and are more than just Fed, Rafa or Djoker fans) are all excited and really want to start talking about Paris. I suppose they became swept-up in this perfect storm of a slow news day: Roger is off, Djokovic is waiting for Madrid, Barcelona lacks the jazz in the early rounds, so Tennis.com came-up with a doozy, as in a huge turd they can’t flush down the toilet, so we all (if one visits the interwebs in and around such publications) get to smell it.

Indeed, said website has this flashing across their homepage and it surely has readers and even “writers” all excited, I suspect:

TOUGH CALL: WHO HAS MORE AT STAKE AT ROLAND GARROS—MURRAY OR DJOKOVIC?

I believe they provide a “panel of experts” to weigh-in.

This is profoundly naive (I suppose is a nice way of putting it).

I wrote a post after AO and asked a similar question. But I wasn’t asking readers for their opinions (of course, one could certainly comment and offer one). I was continuing to track the Djokollapse, arguing that his loss at 2017 AO (like the collapse in 2016, the loss of #1 and the WTF to Murray) was pretty much dismal for the Serb, catastrophic (I’m happy to elaborate again if you’d like). Djokovic’s AO disaster, my post went, was much worse than Murray’s loss to Zverev in Melbourne. No debate.

This is all much much more about Djokovic.

I’ve shared the run-in I had with the South African spaz who claimed the 2015 USO final was more important to Federer than it was to Djokovic. Wrong again. Folks, see the history. Be the history. This is Djokovic’s time to define. He and Becker getting the silky base-liner to 12 majors has been insane, as in historical. He’s still on the clock.

I am having a hard time believing serious pundits are actually weighing-in on for whom the FO next month is more important.

This article on Tennis.com does seem to suggest (read between the lines here, folks), adding to other parts of these players’ parallel lives (the real rivalry dating back to 2012 – two of Murray’s three majors are wins against the Serb) that Djokovic’s legacy may be aligning more and more with Andy Murray.

And the irony of Fedal reemerging in 2017, cementing their conjoined legacies.

I wrote about the Murray and Djokovic narrative back in November, as well.

I’ve been tracking this and Tennis.com and others are, from my point-of-view, only adding another layer to this headstone.

There I go again. . .

Not to change the subject, but join me in fancying a big run from Dominic Thiem in Barcelona this week. Watching some of these guys hit the ball with such vicious intent (only the ball bounces short, and is easily tracked), is quite the spectacle that is clay.

Thiem is murdering the ball and his match today with Edmund showcased some of this go-for-broke tennis.

Enjoy.