Despite Draw Depletion, Western & Southern Open Looking Good

The ATP youth continues to rise, the absence of tour heavy-weights due to injury or defeat only making this reality clearer.

e57e6This is what I said about one of our American youngsters from the aforementioned post: “For instance, I was really looking forward to a Tiafoe v Kyrgios Montreal 2R, but the American lost today to the Lorenzi 67 60 26. That just seems a lack of focus. This may be the brightest of the group, with some nice showings over the last couple of years (he played Federer pretty well in Miami ’17 early rounds losing 67 26). He’s an athlete at 6’2″ and, again, only 19.”

Tiafoe’s victory today over a weary Zverev was better than nothing. Certainly the young German is fatigued, but the American exacerbated this condition with uncharacteristic drop-shots and lobs only to extend Sascha’s exhaustion.

With a FH take-away like Kyrgios and a similar snappy top-spin, the 19 year-old showed again all kinds of potential on the court today. Brilliant stuff, no matter the context of Zverev’s form.

Unfortunately, Tommy Paul could not handle Isner, so Tiafoe now gets the big guy. Hopefully, Frances can hold serve and continue to run down shots and come-up with some interesting takes on the ball. His timely shortened ground-strokes, taking bigger angles into the shallow court, gave Zverev all kinds of trouble in the second set, as he is one who camps pretty deep behind the BL. Little tactics like that were big today; hopefully he can employ some similar smart tennis against Johnny Iz. And the youngster’s speed and power are very apparent. Watch this guy play. He has some legitimate weapons at only 19.

Think of the youth we’re seeing grace these high-stakes matches the last couple of weeks: Zverev (who’s already made a mark), Shapovalov (who stayed in the basement of Félix Auger-Aliassime), Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe, Kokkinakis, Donaldson who won today in Cincy and marches on to play Basilashvili in R16, among others. Khachanov has taken advantage of the Federer withdraw and has made the R16, as well.

Certainly, we are watching the draw with much interest.

We’ll see how Nadal responds to his ascension (on paper) to No. 1 against Gasquet tonight. He should survive.

The draw could get a little more interesting up top there if Kyrgios can keep his form, needing to get by Karlovic to potentially see Nadal in that QF. Of course, that means Nadal beats Gasquet and then Mueller, who’s knotted at a set-a-piece with Ramos.

Mannarino does continue to play well (I brought this up about a week ago and one of our readers had the same observation – only bolstered by his come-back win against Haase). The sneaky-good Frenchman has a date with Querrey, and the winner there plays Thiem.

The other match of note, in the bottom half, is Delpo v Dimitrov. I was not terribly impressed with Juan in his win over Berdych as Tomas really gifted points and games with a FH collapse. Del Potro’s serve has improved and the BH is showing a little more pace and depth as he’s mixing-in a top-spin, but the Czech really helped Juan’s cause in that TB and decider bagel.

You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit: that’s the theme here with this Cincy draw. This is the future of the tour sooner than later, folks. Enjoy. We are.

ATP Youth On the Rise

The complicated discussion of the ATP youth took a more positive spin last week (for which I will provide a more positive spin), which naturally follows from play earlier in the year and is actually part of a basic cycle of life: the young grow, mature, become stronger and more refined in order to overcome their elders. However (and this has become pretty redundant over the last ten years or so), the this discussion has been suffocated by the delayed/nonexistent fulfillment of the youth (the lost generation) on the ATP.

This is really a discussion/essay/thesis all to itself. What the fuck has happened to the younger generation of players who should have been poised to make more headway into the Masters and major level tournaments? Most will say that’s because the big 3 (or 5) have been just too strong/great/wonderful/heroic blah blah blah. But that doesn’t excuse a more genuine effort from players not named Fedal or Djokeray or Wawrinka. The emptiness of challenge from the field against these top dogs as been bewildering.

We saw glimpses of the Dimitrov talent in January where he swept a solid field at Brisbane and then made a solid run in Melbourne, finishing with a stand-up effort against Nadal in that classic AO SF.

But it wasn’t just his results. I wrote a bit, excitedly, about his all-court game showing so much promise early-on. He’s baby-Fed for a reason, but does have his own style and it’s an ascendant style that should frighten the stationary, defensive status quo of the tour. But he’s failed to break-through, whether that was in Melbourne vs. Nadal or afterwards, at IW, Miami, on clay or even the lawns of SW19 where he gave the tennis world all sorts of hope back in 2014 when he made the WB SF, losing to Djokovic in a tight four-setter 64 36 76 76. This is merely trivia at this point. His consistency has been an issue certainly, but his loss to Federer at WB this year seemed to really expose the Bulgarian’s glaring weakness: his serve. At 6′ 3″ he should be much more imposing on that feature of his game.

Nishikori makes perhaps the best case of this era’s “youth,” but despite this rumor based only on consistency (ironically, given his investment in injury), he’s without a Masters title, and only one major final appearance (’14 USO). This we’ll find pretty much describes most youthful candidates.

Raonic? WB final appearance, some major SF appearances, as well. But I’ve never thought he was much of a challenger beyond a big serve.

Cilic and Del Potro are perhaps the two that really do symbolize this group’s short-comings. Cilic captured his one major (’14 USO), but has had massive consistency issues since (though has looked quite good at times this season on multiple surfaces deep into draws). Del Potro is just a sad story. Hopefully he can rebound in the near future (saw signs of an improved BH), but by winning his first major at 20 years of age, and showing all kinds of character in big matches against the big 3 early-on, this legacy will have tennis fans scratching their heads, and mumbling the shoulda coulda woulda eulogy in their tennis dreams.

There are just too many Dolgopolovs and not enough Del Potros.

But there’s a new era in town. It’s about time, right?

This youth includes these gents:

Dominic Theim – 23. He looks poised, especially on clay. Some strategic changes to his game will open-up success on the other surfaces, as well. We have followed him closely. His heart is in the right place; he wants to play, compete and win. It should be just a matter of time.

Sascha Zverev – 20. Has a Masters (Rome), comes from a good tennis family and added a coach (Ferrero). He’s the most serious, it seems, with a very serious game, big ground strokes, serve and mettle. Will continue to get better and at 6′ 6″ we have our Del Potro second-coming.

The Russians – Andrey Rublev (19), Karen Khachanov (21), and Daniil Medvedev (21). Khachanov has made the most noise, perhaps, but Medvedev has challenged all year and Rublev won Umag a few weeks ago, his first ATP title. Lots of potential here.

The Australians – Kyrgios (22), Tomic (24), Thanasai Kokkinakis (21) and Jordan Thompson (23). The first two are well known, and we’re getting to know the other two. We can delete Tomic based-on his continual failure in the professional ranks. Kyrgios has been documented by us all, in terms of his talent and his emotional instability. He’s arguably the most talented/gifted of this next class, but he has to find some deeper draws, some finals and some titles. He needs to keep growing along the lines of the commitment shown from Zverev.

Kokkinakis has all kinds of potential. He made the Los Cabos final last week after beating Berdych. A fine run from this youngster who’s been battling some injury the last couple of years.

I enjoyed watching this highlight between Taylor Fritz and Kokkinakis as this is potentially what the future of the tour could look like. This is a QF in Los Cabos.

This is a close match, especially that first set which more or less is decided on a ball hitting the top of the tape. Good stuff.

The Americans – Taylor Fritz (19), Frances Tiafoe (19), Jared Donaldson (20), Reilly Opelka (20), Ernesto Escobedo (21), Tommy Paul (20) and there are a few others like Frantangelo (24) and Mmoh (19). This is a good group, a lot of youth here. But, we’re seeing a lot of inconsistency (naturally) and/or just the lack of experience (strength) to muster a significant breakthrough.

For instance, I was really looking forward to a Tiafoe v Kyrgios Montreal 2R, but the American lost today to the Lorenzi 67 60 26. That just seems a lack of focus. This may be the brightest of the group, with some nice showings over the last couple of years (he played Federer pretty well in Miami ’17 early rounds losing 67 26). He’s an athlete at 6’2″ and, again, only 19.

Fritz has seen the most press given his small pedigree from Juniors and he has some tennis in the family. He became the youngest American to reach an ATP final (since Chang) with his run at the 2016 Memphis 250. He lost to Nishikori in that final. This showed all kinds of promise. He’s backed-off that a bit with some untimely losses, lack of consistency.

Donaldson beat Pouille in 1R play here in Montreal, but it looks like Pouille is having a bit of a sophomore slump. Either way, the kid Donaldson does have some fight in him and he gets Paire next.

Indeed, Pouille is having a tough time against these younger Americans. As I pointed-out in a recent post, Tommy Paul took care of him in straights in D.C. Tommy Paul has some pedigree as well from Juniors, which I clarify briefly in that previous post. He’s a clay courter by way of American east coast tennis where he grew-up playing on mostly clay.

This translates into a lot of top spin, but speaks to his ability to chase balls, keep points alive and use some of that athleticism and stamina to challenge and beat an opponent. I saw a lot of him from last week. After beating Pouille, he was asked about his next opponent, Gilles Mueller, who spanked the American in Atlanta the previous week. Paul hadn’t even been looking at the draw, didn’t really care. The demeanor was a very good look. He was brimming with confidence, which he explained grew as he found his feet and the longer rallies against these higher ranked players. A bit of that defensive tennis mentality but overall just a way to build confidence: stand your ground; get the ball back in play.

He had three MP against Nishikori in the Citi Open QF. He beat Pouille, Mueller and then had Kei at MP in the second set. The Japanese player looked fragile, actually played a bit of gamesmanship, apparently, as he looked at the end as the young American tried to close the door (Kei was not at the end). But, imho, that loopy clay-groomed top-spin came back to bite him; Paul has a ton of game and the future looks quite good for this guy, but he needs a flatter ball on this surface. At least so he can hit through the court at those critical points in the match. Three MPs.

Still, a solid week of work for the youngster.

The Rest: Canada’s Denis Shapovalov (18), Croatian Borna Coric (20), South Korean Hyeon Chung (21), France’s Quentin Halys (20), and, of course, Canada’s other bright youngster, 16 year-old Felix Auger Aliassime. Among others, of course.

As these veteran greats take tournaments and parts of seasons off, opportunity becomes rich for one or two of these youngsters to rise-up. We all want to see it. Believe me. Even if one of them beats your hero, the sport needs this young blood in a bad way.

Did I miss anyone or anything?

Another discussion that bounced high amongst the tennis crowd was the discussion of court speed. We’ll take this up in another post, but D.C. pretty much blew some minds as the center court and the Grandstand 1 court (especially) measured off the charts fast. Jim Courier weighed-in on this information and some overall views he has on court speed.

Hope you’re enjoying the tennis and the discussion.

Miami and the Blog

We’re into the draw in Miami, so a few thoughts on that along with my continuing exploration of how to get this blog to blow the hell up and become a bigger part of my and your life (I am not kidding).

Quick thoughts on Miami. Nothing too startling. If you were caught off-guard by Pella beating Dimitrov, certainly that’s an upset – but I have to say that I don’t expect too many dramatics at the Miami Open. And this really isn’t that upsetting.

The field is depleted. Missing Murray, Djokovic and Tsonga for starters (especially the first two since the story-lines are pretty intriguing) hurts the top depth. I don’t expect Nadal to win this tournament, nor I am particularly high on Federer, but another IW/MI double from the old Swiss gent would be pretty demoralizing for the rest of the top guys. The points race is a fairly interesting story-line all by itself.

Federer will likely take-in a bit of rest during the clay season as that’s what I’ve heard from Federer in interview and Ljubičić said as much back in early 2016 when he joined Federer (if you remember, we loved that idea and said such a strategy would have aided his tennis self-esteem from 2008 on as the clay is where Nadal gained so much dominance over the rest of the tour, which he carried into non-clay events. There is no question in my mind that this dynamic hurt Federer and alternatively emboldened Nadal’s overall game. However, how do you tell Roger, the 2nd best clay courter in the world during this stretch to sit it out? Exactly. Tough call). But expect Roger to rest a bit during the 2017 clay as he anticipates a run at WB.

Having said this about Roger’s clay abstinence in 2017, this might give him a little extra motivation to try to pull-off the double in Miami. Again, this would absolutely rock the rankings/points race and add to the confidence of Federer, which has to be already sky high. But this is a tough tournament, with slower, wetter conditions, so he has his work cut-out and his draw has big-time resistance.

He gets Tiafoe today, a tough, athletic player who could give Roger a little run; then again, the kid is 19. But I like his game. After Tiafoe, Roger should get Del Potro. I suspect the Djoker fan club has their eyes on this match. Knowing how these folks think, they would use a Del Potro win as a massive boost to their flagging tennis egos. We’ll all have our eyes on this. If Federer is in form, I can’t see this as a very competitive match. But we’ll see.

Then the likes of Querrey, Thiem, Kyrgios, Zverev and Stan could meet a charging Federer, if that’s in the cards.

In the bottom, the likes of Nadal, Raonic, Nishikori, Sock, or Verdasco (seems like a guy who could flourish in Miami) could emerge.

Regardless of who is missing from the field, the tennis will get quite entertaining over the next week.

As for a nice transition from my brief (and superficial) notes on Miami to the discussion of my blog, you can go to the search bar on the top left of my home page and type in “Pella” and see what I have written about this Argentinian workhorse. His #158 in the world will Pellafool you. I have watched him play a number of times and have often been impressed with his athleticism and fight. At 26, he’s perhaps been moved by the same spirit that moves his slightly older compatriot, Juan Del Potro. Dimitrov ran into Pella. According to what I’ve already seen and written, not as big of a surprise as it might appear.

I think we’ll see Dimitrov hopefully find his form for the grass and summer HC. Sure he will continue to compete and do damage on the clay, but his all-court tennis will shine as the weather warms and we set sail for England.

Two more thoughts on young American prospects: Taylor Fritz continues to show almost remarkable ways to collapse in matches he’s got on his racquet, breaks in hand, etc. He was up 5-2 in the third against Kohlschreiber, only to lose in the decider’s TB 4-7. This has been a pattern from the young American. Sure he got a win over 6-seed Cilic in IW, but Marin is an absolute tennis turd stain right now. He’s out in Miami R1, as well. Horrible.

The other American, not as young as Fritz, is Donald Young who continues to show decent form. In IW he beat a tough Sam Querrey, who was playing well, coming off his Acapulco title and then Young just routined Pouille, who has shown all kinds of trouble on tour of late, compared to the flashes of brilliance he showed in 2016. The year is still quite young, so we’ll keep our eye on this Frenchman, but good for D. Young. He continues to play well.

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This blog is a healthy discussion of tennis, which I can only say because of the contributions of readers. I am so grateful for this chance to interact with the variety of readers I’ve had over the almost two years that I’ve been really pushing the tennis analysis and conversation.

There will be some changes to the blog, as I have to make efforts to build a stronger tennis empire 😀 , provide more coverage and commentary, offer more “products” or production, i.e., make this a better experience for tennis fans.

One thought I had was in simply changing the name to “Mcshow Tennis Blog International.” This might be a bit redundant, stating the obvious, only in that tennis is a massively international sport and culture. But this has been probably my favorite part of the growing readership – you all are from all over the world. This is not an American tennis blog by any stretch of the imagination. I even put the Google Translator on the homepage, to enhance this multi-cultural element (I understand that people can make this move on their own: I just wanted to underscore this value). Again, thanks for reading, folks.

I sense that some people build their site’s “strength” by offering some kind of news letter, which readers have to purchase. This seems a bit bold, but I wonder if it would make sense to make people at least become a “follower” in order to access the posts, etc.  I have to continue to explore WordPress to see what kinds of minor, but effective changes I can make.

As the readership grows, you will see things like a Mcshow Tennis hat or t-shirt. You laugh? Look: I want one, so I may as well make a couple of extra to see if they’ll sell. Indeed, I am going to be a bit bolder on some of these fronts.

I have been bold with my tennis commentary. Do you remember what I did to the Nadal/Federer H2H? Search that on this blog. How has that played out?  Not in the actual numbers, but in terms of the legacy, the argument that this weak statistical marquee is unbelievably flawed. It’s embarrassing.

How about my HRFRT series, which I am going to finish very soon (though I may have to continue to update this “book”) and compile in a more complete “package” for readers to enjoy. How has this played out? He is continuing to ruin, smash, destroy and ridicule this glorious sport of ours ;D

What about my Djokollapse argument last summer?  He does recover, I believe, but time is running out on his “harvest,” if you know what I mean.

These are all bigger arguments, chapters 😉 , compendiums, volumes that I need to compile for a more coherent read on these narratives or debates.

In other word, I will continue to be bold in my analysis and commentary. I only want to strengthen the infrastructure, the community and the commitment to Mcshow Tennis International.  Ha!

Continue to enjoy Miami, which looks a bit like Stan’s second 1000 title. 😉

Thanks again for reading.

2017 Dubai and Acapulco Takeaways

I did not get my post up fast enough prior to the Federer loss, but my brain and responsibility to the blog both wanted to articulate the importance of Murray winning this tournament; having the loss of Federer at hand, such a post would sound like meaningless rationalization. Should’ve tweeted it. 😀

Much of the tennis discourse recently has almost forgotten Andy, as his more famous tennis kin tend to outshine him, even in his more recent manifestation as world #1, in all his royal splendor. Slovak, Rafa, and BEL18VE have all been making more news (good and bad), seemingly, to the chagrin perhaps of Fandys.

Murray needed Dubai and he got it. He is still (would’ve been even with a loss) world #1, so we need him to act his ranking; with big tennis coming-up (IW starting next week), Andy needs to be in full swing, confidence back, ready to keep claiming this time and space. Bravo, Muzzard. The top of the sport needs his respectable consistency and quasi-dominant attitude. Again, the buzzards are circling Muzzard (Rafa is nearing his Acapulco title which is played tonight against American Querrey, who is playing some very good tennis, by the way). Roger is coming-off Melbourne mastery and Djokovic is going to come hard, as his tennis invincibility has been pillaged by enemy forces (and age, family life, i.e., who knows).

But what is the ultimate take away from these two 500s that hosted some fairly deep draws?

Other than the fact that we are seeing some positive tennis from the Big 4, which certainly complicates the tennis a bit (the days are gone of Nole having a staggering 8000 point distance between himself at No. 1 and the No.2 player), there is more threatening tennis from players around the draw that will add even more complication. There’s more parity. That’s where we are. Period.

Granted, some discussion boards and fangirl blogs will say that drugs are involved, that the way to explain this change of tour texture is in the illegal use of PEDs (the only thing dopey here are the people talking like this). Without proof, and seeing that the people saying these things either have an online identity of something like “NolesBrother” or are of the fangirl-type who tries regularly to refute the murray_dubaienemies of his “favorite player” by talking about drugs or fixed draws, court speeds, etc., we have to simply watch the matches and determine more reality-based conclusions. Such buffoonery is amateur-hour.

Take Roger, for instance. He lost to a 26 year-old Russian who a few years ago (2013) was as high as #65 in the world and has 9 challenger titles to his name. The ATP article that clarified some of this player’s background went-on to say that Youzhny and Marat Safin both have shown interest and influence on this player. Rather than pointing to any suspicion of the Russian (a country buried in recent drug charges and rumors), I’d point to the player’s playing career and the bit of tennis I saw him play in Dubai. Even in that first set, as I said in a recent comment on this blog, he was hitting the ball very well, sharp and offensive, and running down all kinds of Federer offense; breaking Roger at 1-5 in the first set was significant, for sure. Evgeny Donskoy can play. That is a reality, folks.

Having said that, let’s also clarify that Roger massively choked. No need to go into this, but having SEVERAL OPPORTUNITIES to finish the Russian and NOT FINISHING has to be a tremendous plate of crap that the Express must consume. But this is tennis and, like in life, shit happens (and sometimes one has to eat shit). The Maestro will survive and we have another player to keep an eye-on. Next.

Djokovic’s play, again, according to “NolesShowerBuddy” on the discussion board over at FantaticTennis dot com, or the fangirl, is the result of other players taking drugs and/or rigged draws.

But let’s just look at the facts: he is losing a lot of tennis matches. Go back to Wimbledon (where he was beaten by a Sam Querrey who even this week is killing the fuzzy green ball – and his opponents). Then the Olympics. He struggled on tour from that point on, losing his #1 ranking, which he had clear of #2 by like 3 million points, losing the WTF and then losing in Melbourne in the 2nd round. Even his Doha title prior to Melbourne was sketchy, as we pointed-out, since he had the match in straights, serving for the title, but was broken and had to finish in a tough third set – to his main rival at this point. Not good.

And now he loses in the QF to Kyrgios, a player with all kinds of talent (and immaturity). What is the big surprise here? Kyrgios can beat, really, anyone on tour. We know this. His serve is scary, he has an all-court game (something even Slovak must envy) and he likes to nick-kyrgios-acapulcocreate havoc. Kyrgios lost in the SF to Querrey, as we know, but he’s a little more established in 2017. He should be around to scare a few more players in various draws. This is, unless you’re someone who lives and dies on his or her favorite player’s wins and losses, good for the sport.

We’re seeing parity on the tour, partly in the resurfacing of Fedal, but also in the maturation of youth (Thiem, Kyrgios, Pouille, et al.) and partly in the sense that the top isn’t as inaccessible. Do the math.

I have seen the struggles of Djokovic for months now, so I am not surprised at all of what we’re seeing. Nor should you be. His R16 win over Del Potro was anything but dominant. Del Potro had played a long three setter the night before against one of his fans, American Frances Tiafoe, who played inspired, whose game is very athletic and secure in its future relevance and threat. There was brilliant ball striking and competitive rallies in that match. Del Potro, without the BH he will need to go deep in tougher, deeper draws, almost beat Slovak. The syrupy Serb should’ve taken-down Juan in more routine fashion, but that’s not the kind of tennis Slovak is playing. Get used to it. Perhaps this is just a valley of form for the world #2. Perhaps we will see him scale the heights of the sport again soon. But right now, as they say in Acapulco, “nada por tu, El Slovako.”

I do think his short presser is a good sign. Maybe he is really done with this sub-prime Nole. Let’s see what happens. Maybe he’ll take a little trip to Russia.

Andy is in good shape. He’s literally been below the radar. The Kohlschreiber match appears to be just a genius set of circumstances for Murray and nice to see he had little trouble with the rest of the bunch, really. Interesting that he makes H2H pot pies out of both Pouille (4-0) and Kyrgios (5-0), for what it’s worth. Obviously, the Kyrgios H2H is more interesting since everyone’s excited about the Aussie’s success against Fedalovic.

Nadal is indeed playing well. I watched the beginning of the Nadal v Cilic match at the conclusion of the Querrey v Kyrgios match last night. As even the announcers pointed-out, Marin looked terrible with his timing, bouncing the ball 12-15 times before a serve, footwork a mess. What the hell. I’ve been terribly critical of the guy, calling that 2014 USO one of the worst developments in the sport’s history (though I did show some concession after Cincy this year); this guy is a complete mess. He got to the SF with the aid of a  W/O so there is very little positivity for that guy to take with him to IW. For sure Cilic has had a miserable 2017. Welcome to the terror-dome, buddy.

Back to Nadal. Looking pretty good even though we just discounted massively his win over the Croatian. None the less, he’s building confidence.

Did anyone else see the Kyrgios v Querrey? Sam is playing good tennis. His ball-striking, aside from his world-class serve – is very impressive. He lost his serve in that first set, but then pretty much put it on Kyrgios, pretty dismissive. Early in the second he smashed a ball into the stands, got booed, got a warning and then proceeded to breadstick the Aussie and out class him in the third, as well. His FH, BH and, of course, his serve provide quite the arsenal. I give the nod to Nadal because he’s brimming with confidence, but Sam – SO LONG AS HE DOESN’T TANK BECAUSE HE’S PLAYING NADAL – should be very tough. The proof is in the pudding – go ask Kyrgios how that tastes.

And Kyrgios’ loss has to be awfully bitter. Beating Slovak is an achievement, but lacking the subsequent title damages that badge of courage. As much as we want to say Nick is on his way to the top, there are still a lot of signs that he’s ready to tank at any “low” moment. Even last night there was evidence that Querrey neutered the youngster, who pretty much went away at that point.

Sam Querrey: the face of American tennis right now. We’ll take whatever we can get, unfortunately. Either way, I hope the Acapulco final is worth the wait.

In a comment on this blog before the AO, I said to a commenter something along the lines of we need upsets. We got those in buckets in Melbourne and this past week has been a continuation of this theme.

However: let’s go ahead and acknowledge that much of this mayhem may actually be the maturity of certain players, the rise of tour talent, coupled with the softening of a few top players.

Don’t let people like world #1 Fangirl or the commenter aka “Slovaksstepsister” skew your view. All is well in the land of tennis. Don’t you ever forget that.

querrey-nadal-rtr-759Edit: Clearly Sam’s form, at least according to Nadal, is as good as I advertised in this post. Wow. For a gangly west coast bloke out of California with a mammoth serve, not bad at all. Keep-up the good work, face-of-American-tennis Querrey.

Australian Open at the R16

There has been some brilliant tennis down under in Melbourne and we have even bigger matches still to come. Are you all excited about this major championship right now, or what?

Let’s go through the draw, starting actually at the bottom, in that half that has absolutely exploded with possibility after the exit of world #2 and six-time AO champion Novak Djokovic.

A couple of thoughts on that development: first, the win over Verdasco wasn’t nearly as reassuring for Novak fan(boy)s as they might have made it out to be. The fact that the two just played recently (Doha) and the Spaniard absolutely shit the bed with 5 MPs pretty much ensured that this following match was going to be an easy win for the Serb, on his court, in his (perhaps fictitious) new found confidence. You think this is a similar set of circumstances to Nadal’s first round loss to Verdasco last year at the AO? Not even close.

There were to be no surprises here; Novak new what danger there might be in such an opponent, so he was on his game and the Spaniard had ZERO chance. No surprises, so to get all excited about that R128 win sounds like you’re looking for reasons to get excited. Is that where we are now with Novak and that fanbase? Novak even suggesting that this is the match that really worried him, that this might be “the only match to focus on” sounds bizarre.

And, of course, the irony: the following match issued the big surprise. He looked good throughout much of the match, but still, without going into detail, the Serb has lost a step, whether that means he’s not as sharp mentally during BPs, in hitting his lines, applying his impenetrable defense, etc., he’s off-center. And here’s another big factor in the problems he’ll face going forward – same with Nadal (though not the same with a guy like Federer): the Serb’s serve is unexceptional; his serve does not intimidate the guy across the net. Sure he can find a better serve in his practice and confidence, but it’s not his go-to weapon. He and Nadal are similar here. Pete could have played a few more years, like Roger, because of that serve.

And for those saying Novak will come out of “this” and still win 2-3 (or more) majors need to wake the hell up. I argued he HAD to win AO because he’s 30 at the FO, and WB and the USO are not his cup of tea or martini, so to speak, so he needs to get the hardware while he can. You think he’s dominating in 2018 like he did in 2015 or the beginning of 2016? How many majors did Nadal and Federer win after 30? I’m pretty sure it’s 1 major between them. We’ve talked about this at length.

However, despite Novak’s situation, a defense of his 2016 FO is not an impossible scenario, imho. Should we delve into his clay form? Interestingly enough, clay could be his best surface though I know he’s fared admirably on the HC, as well. He grew-up on clay and has collected many clay titles throughout his career. The fact that the clay GOAT had prime tennis during the same era is pretty much the way it goes. More on that later and there’s a lot of tennis to play between Melbourne and Paris either way.

The AO Bracket at the R16

Istomin v Dimitrov should be a win for the Bulgarian. You know where I’ve stood on Grigor’s form for a while now. He finished 2016 surging and has simply looked brilliant in what tennis we’ve seen from him in 2017. Istomin has played back-to-back five-setters, so he should be taxed, but the man also seems to be on a mission. Very impressive that he backed-up the win over Djokovic. But Dimitrov’s form (energy and efficiency) should prove a bit much for Istomin.

I was a bit concerned about the Gasquet match and woke up this morning to watch. Even though the score line looks completely one-sided (3 2 4), the match was tighter than that, the tennis simply eye-candy. I have promised a post or two on the OHBH for a while; it’s just a better stroke than it’s counterpart. If you didn’t see the Dimitrov v Gasquet 3R match last night, find it. Gasquet played well, but, AGAIaustralian_open_tennis_grigorN, the Bulgarian is flying right now. His tennis is confident, ascendant, fluent from both sides, his serve very efficient (he won a remarkable amount of his first service points), his defense terribly good, flexible, quick. His body language and overall urgency in these matches is palpable. I know what happened in the Djokovic v Istomin match: Novak ducked Dimitrov 😀

Brad Gilbert was calling the match and said he sees Dimitrov cracking the top-5 by the end of the year. Looks like BG is on-board. Going-in to this match with Gasquet, the Frenchman had a 5-1 H2H advantage, but the last time they met, 2016 Shanghai, Dimitrov advanced 4 and 4. Under the guidance of Danny Vallverdu, this is a different Dimitrov, similar to the 2014 project, with major development perhaps in store.

Goffin v Thiem is a solid match-up. I haven’t seen much of either in Melbourne. It’s #11 v #8. If Dimitrov can continue his march, a QF with either the Belgian or the Austrian should be an entertaining match.

RBA v Raonic should go the way of the big 3-seed. RBA is a tough player, however. I watched a bit of his match against Ferrer last night. Talk about a grind. RBA is pretty capable out there and with that flat FH weapon, he can finish points from the BL, has grown accustomed to winning tennis matches, so this is not necessarily a run-away for Milos. We expect Milos to advance.

As a nod to my OHBH argument, watching the Dimitrov v Gasquet match in comparison to the tennis in the RBA v Ferrer match: (practically) adult tennis v a junior brand of the sport. What a contrast, in more ways than one (pun intended).

Nadal v Monfils is strangely a coin-flip. Here’s the point with Nadal in a look at his match vs. Zverev, which I saw almost in its entirety: the Spanish great is not that sharp these days, something I have said for a few years now. Everything from his serve to his ground strokes, the tennis is certainly above average, but not by much. His net play is still strong, but he has to get there. Zverev was much more impressive but for the bad unforced errors, his terrible play at the net and then the cramping in the fifth set.

The German teen looks good. His game is big. Both the BH and the FH are scary good (he absolutely crushed Tiafoe, not a surprise but I had more –false–hope for the American teen). Zverev’s serve is big, as well. This guy, as everyone knows, has a solid perhaps great future on tour.

But he let Nadal stick around, and one thing is true about Nadal: he’s a chess player out there. He absolutely schooled the teen in five-set calculus. That was fun to watch, actually. I’m happy for Rafa. He’s one of the best performers out there, giving his all, battling. When Zverev began cramping at 2-2 in the fifth, it was over.

However, I do not for a second think Nadal can win the AO, a thought I am seeing thrown around the tennis discourse right now. No no no. His short balls, average serve. . .not enough. He did use the cut very effectively against the German, his patented inside-out FH was scary (per usual), but not enough to beat some of the players he has in his path. Looks like Moya’s influence was there in the serve, adding more body serve to the game, but again, Nadal is a few steps slower and the ball is just not deep enough. Nonetheless, good luck to the Spaniard.

As for Monfils, who the fuck knows what he’ll do. He looks good, but he hasn’t played anyone and who knows if he’s smoking the same crap that’s got Kyrgios all messed-up, so to speak. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know my thoughts on Monfils. Let’s hope he shows-up and plays well, at least tries. But don’t be surprised if he goes MIA.

Evans v Tsonga. Yes! I like both of these players. Tsonga looks good and I said watch-out for the old Frenchman – he might have one or two more big runs in him as he winds-down his tennis career. He spanked Jack Sock. Tsonga can be a very difficult out.

Evans is looking good. We did not overlook that second round match against Cilic. Cilic is a mess, but this may have a bit more to do with Evans’ form. A bit of a nod to Fed’s form, he beat the Brit pretty easily in the Hopman Cup a few weeks ago, in a match that was quite entertaining as far as the purist shot-making interest is concerned. Evans can play. I love the Evans v Tsonga match. I’m saying Tsonga has the form, but watch-out for that squasher. Watch this match.

Seppi v Wawrinka. Not much to say here other than we need Stan to march-on for the sake of the deeper rounds. Stan has to be licking his chops right now. Seppi hasn’t really been tested. Stan has to win this and should.

Federer v Nishikori. I saw the highlights of Fed v Berdych, so I understand all of the arousal for the Express’ game right now. Like I said, he looked decent at the Hopman Cup against the likes of Evans, so he’s got some match play under his shoes and his form (display) vs. Tomas was vintage, I get it. But we (should) know not to get too excited. He’s 35. Nishikori will be a very interesting match. Is Kei healthy, 100%? He faded in the Brisbane final due to injury, we’re told. roger-ao

Bottom-line: if Fed straight sets (needs to for any further success) Nishikori, that QF could be even more interesting. He has a mental edge over Murray, as he does with Berdych and Nishikori. That’s fine. But we have to see the Maestro string together a few of these brilliant tennis matches. His BH looked so good against Berdych. His form when it’s going is of legend. But I’m yet to get too caught-up. This we can agree on: so nice to see Federer playing well at a major. The youth of Kei and especially Andy just seems like a lot to overcome. Can Roger’s errors stay in check? Can his serve give him some freebies? A lot of questions with the 35 year-old but the intrigue is pretty electric!

Murray will play Federer or Nishikori in that top QF. We know this. And Andy should win this tournament, on paper. But they have to play actual tennis on the tennis court, so let’s buckle-up and get our spectatorship in order.

Talk to you soon!

Australian Open First Round

Starting at the top in the Murray quarter, everything looks pretty status quo. I did see a bit of Murray’s match v Marchenko and whether it was the Ukrainian’s form, the heat or that lack of precision in Murray’s game, the No. 1 seed had his hands full.

aoI’m going to say this is more on Murray though Marchenko was playing very well in stretches, hitting deep from both wings down both lines (an inside-out BH that gave Murray no chance on several occasions). Murray’s FH is sitting up too high. He’s not necessarily ballooning the ball, but the pedestrian, playing-it-safe top-spin FH is giving his opponents all kinds of options. As much as we want to applaud Murray’s defense, his offense is missing and this could be all kinds of trouble for him.

He’ll beat almost everybody by just being more consistent, out working, and ultimately out-lasting his opponent. But he’s going to be wasted by the second week if he continues to hit from the BL like this. He closed-out the second set TB (7-5) with a much flatter inside-out FH that definitively established control of the match. It took two sets to see that kind of power and precision.

Was not very impressed with Murray’s form.

Other than that, looks like Nishikori struggled a bit but pulled it out in five.

Federer I did not see, but read Tignor’s write-up, which seemed both hopeful for Fedfans and a bit more of a reality check on the Express. As the story goes, he was tight the first couple of sets, looked way out of sorts, and according to him he was thinking too much. Once he relaxed and found his rhythm, he cruised in the final two sets 2 and 2. So, I would say looking good; in the end: no harm, no foul. He has the instincts to play a big match, but having been off since WB 2016, he needed to find that rhythm. He has one of the surviving young Americans in 2R, Noah Rubin.

You might wonder why I’m calling Pouille’s R1 dismissal status quo. Certainly there was reason to continually be fairly high on the 22 year-old’s prospects in any match. He made the QF of both WB and USO last year, beating Nadal in NYC as a highlight of that particular run. He then won his first title in Metz last summer, which helped consolidate the promise of this solid tennis player.

However, in Beijing he lost to Dimitrov in R16 (Dimitrov, to evidence some of why I have had my eye on him early this year, even before the Brisbane win, in China beat Pouille, then Nadal, then got a w/o from Raonic in the SF and lost to Murray in the F). Pouille followed-up that with a loss at Shanghai to Murray in the R16 1 and 3; he followed that with another loss to Murray in the R16 in Paris, this time 0 and 3. All this to say, Pouille has been seeing the exit sign pretty early in this last run of tournament play. At Brisbane he lost in the 2R to young Brit Kyle Edmund, retiring on a foot injury.

They have work to do over there in camp Pouille.

I hope Harrison gives Berdych some work. The American, never a threat in a match like this, played Jack Sock pretty tough in Auckland and he did straights on Mahut here in R1, so who knows. Berdych is big, but stranger things have happened.

Stan’s quarter is very unpredictable, as I said earlier. Both Wawrinka and Cilic just about saw the exit in their respective openers. Both needed five. Klizan actually had the match on his racquet, serving 4-3 in the fifth. Unreal. And Cilic was down 0-2 before he finally woke-up. We said Janowicz would be tough; the Croat has Daniel Evans next. Might be just what Marin needed, that scare in the first round. Evans should be tough too. After Evans, a victorious Cilic would get Tomic. That’s a major championship bracket!

Jack Sock v Khachanov should be interesting. The American is playing well and should advance but the young Russian can play, too. Perhaps a bit of the future there in that match.

Stan will probably be tested again by Johnson though Stan after a scare like that tends to wake-up? We’ll see. Keep your eye on Kyrgios here as he’s the sexy pick to emerge and play Murray in that first SF. Kyrgios has a very favorable draw, by the way, not seeing anyone until possibly Stan in the fourth round. Of course, that could be fatal. I want to see how the Aussie does in a tough 4-5 setter. That’s where his emotions come to play.

In the Raonic quarter, here’s what I’m watching: probably the best of the young American bunch (there are several aspiring teens with international potential) is Frances Tiafoe. I wrote about him briefly after IW last year. He has a ton of athleticism. He took care of Kukushkin and now he gets the German prodigy A. Zverev. This could be good.

I saw just the end of Nadal’s win over Mayer. He seems to be on track for his R3 match against Zverev, but let’s see if Tiafoe and (forever young) Baghdatis can complicate things a bit.

Other than that, I want to see if Raonic is finding GS finals form (Muller should be a tough out given his strong S&V) and how good Bautista Agut is really playing. Sorry, I can’t really find enough interest in Monfils at this point.

Lastly, the Djokovic quarter is a joke. The only thing I’m watching there is that Dimitrov gets through Gasquet. That’s going to be tricky for the Bulgarian. If he smashes him, great, get ready to play Djokovic (a match we need to see). I will not, unfortunately, be surprised if the Frenchman wins that R3 match.

That quarter needs Dimitrov (in form) v Djokovic. Otherwise, that entire bracket is simply an underachievement on the part of the tournament. Wawrinka’s quarter is bloated while Djokovic’s is malnourished.

Go figure.