French Open 2017 Aftermath Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Federer? What about him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either way, here we are:

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

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

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

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

I’ll believe it when I see it.

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

The Championships begin a week after that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consistency is the quintessential element of class and greatness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time will tell, folks.

French Open 2017 Aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously, what was that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014:
AO – SF
FO – 4R
WB – F
USO – SF

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

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

2017:
AO: Win

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

Nadal over the same period:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace.

2017 French Final: La Decima

The last two lines of my preview of this match were:

“A guy can dream 😉

Enjoy the match!”

Dream crushed and not an enjoyable match. Not only was the match a terse rejection of my blog’s final proposal, but Wawrinka has to be thinking the same thing: Dream crushed and not an enjoyable match. Even some losses are “enjoyable” if there are some rafael-nadal_reuters-mredeeming qualities to the experience. Making some kind of stand against Rafa today would probably have given Stan something memorable to carry with his game the rest of the season. This might haunt him like it’s haunted so many players.

Remember the discussion of how Ljubičić would have, had he given Roger meaningful coaching advice earlier in his career, suggested Fed skip some of the clay? Today was a reminder of that; or, I should say: what comes from a day like today, as in Stan has a long hangover from a beating like this.

Rafa wins La Decima at the 2017 French Open 6-2 6-3 6-1. This looks like several other finals scorelines involving the Spaniard. It’s just the way it is. The only hope or optimism surrounding this final was my preview of the match. I looked for a way to make this more interesting, and I still stand by many of those points.

But two things happened today to retard any hope:

  1. Stan played mediocre tennis
  2. Rafa reaffirmed his GOAT clay court genius

Two things can be true.

Stan needed to be more brilliant. He wasn’t. He hit some decent shots, but those were buried in errors, by which time he was buried in the match.

Funny to even say this, but watch the match through the first set at 2-2. Things looking good, Stan’s serve, his deep ball, etc. But that was all she wrote.

Mary Carillo continued to give us some useful background on Rafa, which included how Toni noticed Rafa’s naturally gifted clay footwork at 3 years of age. The footwork is critical, how quickly he gets to balls, but more so how quickly he can run around balls, get to the net, etc., for winners. Winners. Winners.

Vs.

Errors. Errors. That was the difference today between Nadal and Wawrinka.

Many of you will say “Rafa’s offense facilitated those errors from Stan.” Sure. But Stan just looked poor and Rafa just doesn’t miss.

Some of the readers and I have been talking about what makes a clay court specialist. One of the defining characteristics for me is the natural ability to put the ball in play, which comes from a combination of footwork (experience on clay) and ball spin.

Rafa RARELY misses. It’s a natural wonder of the world. Insane.

We have seen the same from other solid clay court players. Ramos earlier this season, guys with that great clay sense simply find the court, continue the point. Rafa is the greatest of these defenders but he has the incredible offense, as well.

Between his unbelievable clay skills and his point-to-point will to dominate, the match is pretty hopeless.

Which makes the tennis tough to really enjoy. We can appreciate his mastery, his all-time clay game, but the contest is without much competition, or hope.

Congratulations, Rafa. You are the true clay GOAT.

Indeed, today perhaps more than any other confirmed the peculiarity of this surface, the specialized kind of tennis that’s played there.

Of course, Stan certainly didn’t help.

I will have a longer wrap later. I’m off to church, to pray.

2017 Roland Garros Final Preview

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

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

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

Rafa is moving the chains, so to speak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A guy can dream 😉

Enjoy the match!

Nadal vs Wawrinka Roland Garros Final

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nadal looks absolutely in charge. Wow.

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

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

Talk to you again soon. Ha ha.

RG 2017: QF Wrap and SF Preview

Djokovic

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

djokovic-madrid-2017-player-party

2017 Djokovic. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semi-finals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about how this tournament has unfolded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get it on!

Dominic Thiem Ends Djokovic’s French Dream

This was an historical match as the 2017 tennis continues to chart the catastrophic Djokollapse. Yes, we have been charting said collapse since the summer of 2016. Yes, there have been signs of recovery; and yes the future looks pretty dim for Novak as the tennis continues to lack championship quality and consistency.

Like I said after the 2016 U.S. Open, where does he go from here?

Many of you know the foresight of this blog, some of which must be attributed to his majesty (one of many brilliant readers/commenters over here at Mcshow Tennis), the comic genius who goes by Caligula. Read his first comment on my QF preview. Sure the tone might distract you, sound somewhat hyperbolic, sarcastic, etc.; but you’d be wrong, even before the match not to take him seriously, which is true genius – coating the insight (and supplementary disgust) in a more palatable humor. Bravo.

We have been seizing the opportunities to identify trouble in Djokovic despite his slow improvement throughout the clay season, which had continued seemingly at Roland Garros. Be that as it may, Caligula’s reference to a “revenge” from the Austrian speaks to the depth of his read on the Serb (which I have written about at length as well); Novak’s antics have continued to evidence trouble in Djokoland with a real sense that his ship is capsized and there’s a tale of karmic and cosmic storm to explain Novak’s tennis miscarriage.

The match seemed very much destined for revenge. I woke from my nap at 3:30am here on the U.S. west coast to catch the match at 4-4 in the first. I missed the early theatrics of the first set, which I will watch later, but I watched the duration with eyes-wide-open.

See the point at 4-4, 15-30, Thiem serving. Novak wins the point to purchase two break-Thiem_581615-dominic-thiem-french-open-2017-reuterspoints which we know would have amounted to set points. He let’s go a defiant roar reminiscent of his Rome SF antics that were accurately described as “every opportunity to inflate his declining ego against a young player who looked petrified and yet was polite not to point out the blatant frivolous indulgence that Chokovic (see Rome finale) was harnessing at his expense.” Again, well said, my lord.

Thiem reversed those breakpoints, held serve and the two players moved to settle this critical set in a TB. The TB saw Djokovic get tighter and less committed to this match and sport. He looks like half the man of 2016. What does that tell us? Either he is having massive marital problems or he was on some kind of performance enhancing drug. Some will say his win at the French last year, fulfilling a life-long goal, along with the Novak slam left him without much desire to continue on, as if he’d conquered the sport, ala his fangirls and boys’ favorite flavor ice cream. What a difference a year makes.

He is a mess. Throughout the Djokollapse, I have tried to bring people’s attention to the crisis of this tennis great, throughout several posts. Going into the 2017 season, I essentially argued: Djokovic better win the AO because the road gets more narrow, and the titles more difficult partly because of the real No. 1 seed: father time.

I will just make a quick reference here to some of my preview, which played-out to perfection. Most agree, other than Caligula, that the Serb was a relative favorite. There’s too much on the line, he has too much at stake (along with his familiarity of Thiem) not to see him as a guy massively motivated to face Nadal and defend his French Open crown.

But there was this caveat, along with my “Beliem in Thiem” t-shirts that are on order for the faithful and fashion-conscious readers of Mcshow Tennis:

“But if Thiem can continue to murder the ball from the baseline, with his added dimension of more DTL, Djokovic could be in for a long brutal match. Look at the highlights of Thiem’s Zeballos match, for instance. I am sure that his camp worked on more DTL from both wings. The inside-out FH, and the more unpredictable direction of the shot, along with his big serve and decent mobility all add-up to a player on the rise in this sport.

I beliem in Thiem, but he needs a bit of that Chokovic to show-up, become angry and errant to advance to a date with Nadal in the SF.”

Thiem was a bit reckless in this match, errors coming from some of those huge ground strokes, some of which were too much, too soon. But his change in strategy to set-up closer to the baseline, keep that more offensive court position as much as he could, and implement more down-the-line BH and FH assaults kept Djokovic totally off-balance, on the run and more and more desperate.

This Austrian’s offensive game is fearless and violent. By adding more DTL, he became almost unplayable.

And the Djoker’s errors started adding-up. I believe he had close to 35 UE.

Add to that Thiem’s big serve, the big kicking serve to the ad court, or the 130+ up the T, and his mobility – he embarrassed Djokovic at the net – and you have a very unfriendly and maybe unplayable opponent in Thiem.

I don’t think Nadal wants to play Thiem at all – Mary was right, perhaps, in her back-and-forth with McEnroe a few days ago. But one has to still favor Nadal. Like in this QF match with Djokovic, Thiem has to prove he can knock-off (on this stage) these tennis giants.

In other words, how much do you beliem in Thiem?

What this match today tells about Thiem is he does make adjustments. But we should have known this from the last month of clay. In Barcelona, Nadal pretty much dismissed Thiem 64 61. A few weeks later in Madrid, the difference was less, Nadal prevailing 76(8) 64. Only a week after that the Austrian overcame his clay master, winning their Rome QF 64 63.

We all remember the Djokovic v Thiem Rome SF. It was embarrassing for Thiem because of his annihilation 16 06 (and embarrassing for Novak because of the way he mishandled that lopsided scoreline – underscored by his retreat in the final against Zverev). Thiem made adjustments following Rome and this Roland Garros QF goes down in history as another big step forward for the 23 year-old Austrian; and another part of this bizarre decline of the Serb.

I will have much more. . .