Grigor Dimitrov

Nitto ATP Finals Sees Dimitrov Crowned

Grigor-Dimitrov-ATP-Finals-e1511046440166

Good match between Goffin and Dimitrov, the Bulgarian coming through finally 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

On these last three matches:

I got to watch finally the Federer v Goffin match (son’s soccer game, what can I say – but of course I could follow on my phone, which, by the way, reveals a lot about a match if you can believe that: length of service game, patterns, like Federer getting to 30-0 on several Goffin serves, but then laying an egg and unable to break, etc.).

I watched the Dimitrov v Sock and saw most of the final earlier today/night.

  1. The Federer v Goffin match was almost predictable and quite unbelievable at the same time.  I really never felt that confident about Federer’s chances, which goes back to me saying the tennis gods would give this title to Nadal (joking, but not really). This, of course, unleashed fanboy in my comments saying I was being “controversial” or whatever. Ha ha. Federer’s ability to get through his group (a tough group) even facing some resistance, suggested he had enough to handle most of these blokes. Throughout RR play, he’d play well, then look pretty shaky, hang-on, put-together some brilliant shots, serve well, come-up with a BoS, yell at his demons, etc. This characterized Federer’s London. As much as I did not see him breadsticking anyone, he looked to have enough left in the tank to get #7. And like most of you, if he did lose, perhaps we thought it would be to a high-flying Dimitrov in the final. But Goffin was plucky and skilled enough to take-down the favorite. His entire game, as I have observed often, is solid throughout, perhaps a tennis player’s player, can work both sides of his stroke, both corners of the court, can come to net, has a decent serve, can slice and play more offensively, etc. . . just no definitive weapon, necessarily, that scares his opponents. He outplayed Federer. That’s for sure. And Federer, on the other hand, looked so out of sorts in this match; which turns-out to be more the case the entire tournament. Watch his footwork, especially with his FH. This is that shot where he looks like he’s rushing it, wristing it, and actually looks almost like he’s sitting down trying to hit this FH. But it comes back to his footwork. He’s not getting up to the ball. And why is that? Well, if we play detective, we see him struggling with whether to be more offensive or more conservative, employ more slice and stay back or more like his Shanghai and Basel campaigns where he was up inside the court, thrashing his opponents with that topper BH and brutal FH. He wasn’t sure in London, and this hesitancy probably did-him-in. We saw this in his play with Zverev early, a pretty consequential match; he smartly played that BH slice a lot because it gives the tall German fits (keeping the ball low, etc.). Perhaps he just didn’t adjust enough to his different opponents and then became increasingly unsure of himself. Look at the camera cuts to his box; Ivan and Severin look like they’ve had some corrupt curry. Not all was quite right in Federer-land all week; at least that’s how I read it from the get-go. Still, I was surprised he wasn’t able to win the decider vs. Goffin. And like we said, bravo, David.
  2. The Sock v Dimitrov match went about according to plan. I thought Sock’s run ended here as that’s how I previewed the match, unlike my pick of Sock over Zverev, more or less. But we also referenced the fragility of Dimitrov. And he did try to give the match away there at the end. Sock showed-up again, despite taking that middle set off, like he did against Zverev; but when the chips were down, Sock hung easily with these more established players. Didn’t surprise me and I hope this turns-out to be a good experience that pays interest for Sock.
  3. Dimitrov’s fragility showed-up today vs. Goffin in the final. If I was having to pick someone in this final, I’d have to go with the Bulgarian, partly because of his form right now (85% of the time) and his easy win over Goffin earlier in the RR. But he had all sorts of trouble here too with closing-out the match and the championship. Credit goes to Goffin for playing such gutsy and quality tennis when he needed to (I believe he saved 5 championship points, several other big BPs as well), but the Bulgarian got shaky again. Sure enough, an error from the Belgian ended this match; still not sure Dimitrov could have closed on his own racquet. The errors did begin to creep-up on the tired Goffin, who played a whale of a tournament — and he has a DC final v France in about a week. . . on clay I suspect. :0

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One thing that really adds to David’s game is something that was talked about in his win over Nadal but you could see Federer struggle with this, as well and it goes back to his fluency on both wings: his opponents have trouble reading where he’s going. Same set-up and movement whether that BH/FH is going CC or DTL. Lovely little nuance that drove Fedal, among others, a little crazy.

So, bravo to all — a surprising final but really solid tennis at times from all 7 players (we’re leaving that little Spanish contingent out of this 😉

Goffin’s run has to be the most compelling story here (sorry, Grigor even though this is the biggest title of your career). Goffin is practically a journeyman, but has had really a brilliant 2017. His play on the European clay was very high quality and after coming-back from his injury at RG, he played well enough (two titles in Asia if I’m correct) to get himself into London, along with representing in Belguim’s inspiring Davis Cup run. Then his London exploits, which include sending packing Nadal and Federer both. I waved the Belgian national flag for a reason (before even the SF): Goffin’s humility and class belong near the top of this sport.

Dimitrov is a bit more complicated, for me. I have referenced 1,000,000 times my Grigor stock purchase at the tail-end of 2016 – he played well there in the fall, which catapulted the one-hander (seemingly) into his run in Australia early 2017. His Brisbane tennis was dynamite, truly.

We know of the epic five-setter in the Melbourne SF v Nadal. But that, I guess, was his early peak. He struggled through the spring, really didn’t have much to show even through WB (Federer toyed with him in the R16 4 2 and 4).

But then he wins Cincinnati vs. a strong Kyrgios. Well, well. On the eve of NYC, the athletic, all-courter has finally decided to revisit that early 2017 hard court form.

In New York, losing in straights to Rublev in R64 pretty much spoiled that delicacy. Sure, Rublev made a nice little run there at the U.S. Open, but Dimitrov should have found that deeper draw, perhaps a date with Nadal. Of course, Dimitrov was part of that grand slam bracket implosion at the 2017 U.S. Open.

Still, Dimitrov was being Dimitrov. Losing in the Stockholm final to Del Potro just another nail in the proverbial coffin.

Yet, here we are (congrats, Dimitrov!). If 2017 has taught us anything, it’s that players rise from the dead. Right?

2018 will be all kinds of interesting on that topic.

Another Weekend of Grass On Tap

The Halle SF are set. Federer beat the defending champ, Mayer, 3 and 4 and will face the young Russian Khachanov in one SF while the second SF has Gasquet facing Zverev the younger.

Zverev traded TB with RBA in their QF before the German took control 6-1 in the decider. Gasquet’s grass looks fairly potent, so we’ll see how he handles the rising Zverev who looks to find another Halle match with Federer; he beat the Swiss in last year’s Halle SF in three sets, but lost to Mayer in the final.

In London the SF look pretty much like Cilic v Muller and Dimitrov v the winner of Lopez /Berdych (Lopez up a set and they’re in a TB in the second – will update).

Dimitrov looks to have survived his QF, taking the first set 6-3, but losing focus and allowing the young Russian Medvedev back into the match before taking the final set 6-3.  Dimitrov seems to be finding some kind of rhythm though it’s tough to say if he has the legs of that early 2017 hard court form back in Brisbane and Melbourne. He’s still on our list.

Another we’ve been watching who continues to play well is Cilic. His serve, benefiting from his time with Ivanišević, is formidable at this point and if his ground strokes continue to be strong, look out for his grass campaign. The FH, which looked so strong early in his match with D. Young, lost a bit of its snap as that second set stayed close, but the American lost his cool and the Croat simply closed him out 64 75 (Young’s profanity was somehow overlooked by the umpire – not a good look for the American, cursing-out his box after every error).

To clarify, Cilic, WB quarter finalist in ’14 – ’16, is finding his grass slippers just in time, or so it appears. His solid serve will go toe-to-toe with the serve of Muller, winner at last week’s Ricoh Open, where he beat Sascha in the SF there in straights; no one should be overlooking the #26 in the world from Luxembourg, but if Marin wants to build his confidence for WB, I suspect he needs to and should beat Muller.

The Lopez v Berdych QF has gone to a third set.

So is everyone excited about Federer’s form now, consolidating his 2017 Jan – March run?

Yesterday’s R16 with Zverev the elder was good tennis from both men. Watching the S&V pressure players to make shots and be creative is a nice addition to the era of grinders we’ve become used to over the years. As I said back in January, listening to McEnroe the elder call the Zverev v Murray match in Melbourne was quite a treat. The present vs. the past, in a way. A bit like this blog of mine.

Most notably from the Zverev match, Federer looked very focused, sensing the importance of the result, needing more tennis than he’ll have under his racquet when he steps to the lawns of SW19. In other words, there was a shred of urgency to Federer’s game in that R16 match. Zverev held his own and the match could have become quite interesting at 4-4 in the first set TB. Federer held-on in the TB 7-4 and found a break at 4-4 in the second set to seal that victory. Pretty tight.

In today’s win over Mayer, the following seems to be the case here in our tennis laboratory at Mcshow Tennis. Federer looks good, but he’s reminiscent of the pre-Fed_Halle149815148594322017 Federer. The most glaring shortcomings of today’s match (pretty much of his tennis so far since his 10 week break) were in his attacking BH consistency and his BP conversion. He was pretty bad on both fronts today. I want to say he was 2/11 on BP opportunities today, and it was his slice BH that truly gave him the edge vs. Mayer. Sure this is a classic grass tool (slice), but the BH we came to enshrine in Melbourne through Miami was no where to be found, really.

Federer still has his FH and his flick-of-the-wrist creativity that still causes people to lose a breath. His serve is intact, as well. He was up 5-2 in the first set, had several BP (4) on Mayer’s serve to take the set 6-2, but, agonizingly, couldn’t find that break. Then he served-out the set at love (or something to that extent – the serve is very strong, still, which is a big reason he has and can continue to remain dangerous on this ATP). But that’s the 2015-16 Federer. What’s made 2017 so special is his attacking BH and his nerves on some big points. Granted the grass is making things a bit touchy and more difficult right now, but that’s my take-away from today.

He’s playing well, but the vulnerability from the BH and the BP conversion is alive and well.

Otherwise, the serve, the FH, the footwork, the BH slice, the volley magic, etc., are all there. The main thing, back to the point that’s being made in several posts here, is he continues to advance (doesn’t get Haas’ed), gets to play more matches, which he absolutely needs. No doubt.

Roger’s spring break will perhaps benefit him especially late in the season. He will be fresh for the summer Masters, NYC, the WTF. This is undeniable as long as he stays healthy.

But right now I am seeing a Roger who’s missing the pieces that made January thru March so historical.

Ljubičić’s expressions from the box look comforting, meaning he looks a little uncomfortable. At least that’s how I’m reading this: relief in advancing, but a little rough around the edges, for sure. Which we expect.

Lopez has overcome Berdych 76 67 75 to book passage for that second SF at Queens-Club.

I hope you’re enjoying the tennis, as well.

Djokovic Almagro and Nadal Fognini . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More wins might improve things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February Tournament Play and Early 2017 Contenders

I watched Tsonga get his 2nd set break-of-serve of Goffin up 5-4 in their Rotterdam final, which became a run-away title for Jo-Willy 46 64 61. I was literally thinking, if he loses to Goffin here, it’s over for Jo-Wilfried. That tenth game of the 2nd set was so typical Tsonga. Microcosm of his career. He has the game and set in hand, 40-15, Belgian serving to get the set to a potential TB, maybe a straight-set win, massive achievement for the world #11, a guy who pretty consistently shows-up, but just doesn’t quite have the fire power of the top guys. Game goes to deuce. Tsonga hits a monster FH DTL to find another SP. Then Tsonga hits an inexplicably (characteristic) tired BH into the net. Then another show of brilliance. Then another soft point. He finally wins the game, but it’s just too typical of Tsonga to see this kind of, as I have said many times before, lackadaisical tennis. The 3rd set seems a pretty definitive measure of the contrast of these two tennis talents.

Goffin will continue to show-up and play solid tennis, but really doesn’t earn that distinction as a “contender” on the ATP, and we’re, of course, really talking about the 1000s and majors. None the less, I may be eating these words as back-to-back finals appearances in Sofia and Rotterdam is tremendous work. I am rooting for the Belgian player. I used to have a few Belgian commenters (I see some still read); perhaps they might find some poetic inspiration from the play of Goffin, resident of Monte-Carlo, the tennis capital, apparently.

Tsonga remains a potential threat, or contender, for the 2017 tour. Barely. But we’re always on the look for the underachieving Frenchman to bring some quality to these draws. Good for him to get this Rotterdam title, which had a loaded field.  The mysterious Frenchman . . .

I’m late on this 2017 tournament commentary, but Montpellier, Sofia two weeks ago and Rotterdam, Memphis and Buenos Aires this past week provide some insight that will only become clarified, extended or complicated in the coming weeks as we anticipate the tour touching-down in the desert for the 2017 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, the season’s first Masters 1000.

Dimitrov is still surging though he was beaten in Rotterdam last week by finalist Goffin. Dimitrov took care of business in his hometown of Sofia with what looked like a very emotional bit of tennis for the Bulgarian. A much anticipated SF between Grior and DimitrovBH.jpgDominic Thiem came up empty as the Austrian fell to 24 year-old Nikoloz Basilashvili, from Georgia. Dimitrov is on track for sure. Of course, we had that back in the first weeks of January, our eyes on Baby Fed because of his strong finish to 2016. Indeed, this tennis site strives for no surprises.

In other words, as lovers quarrel over GOAT genitalia, we keep our eyes on the prize.

Dominic Thiem continues to make his case for being a contender. Sure he lost early in Sofia, but he was the #1 seed, and followed that up with a great win in 1R of Rotterdam where he got quite the floater in Sascha Zverev, coming off his win at Montpellier, where he dismantled a bunch of locals on his way to another title (Chardy, Tsonga and Gasquet all took the mat against the young German).

Thiem beat Zverev 36 63 64 in a show of big hitting youngsters showcasing the future. Something to keep an eye on: Thiem figured-out the 6’6″ Zverev had trouble with balls below the net; this became an obvious strategy and advantage. Turned the match around.dominicthiem2017australianopenday2pucnqoemiojl Clearly, Zverev is the next Del Potro. Aside from obvious style differences, the comparison is pretty clean though Zverev needs to develop that huge FH. Good early season match-up of future stars we’ll probably reference again.

Worth noting that Zverev and his older brother won the Montpellier doubles. Great work! What genius turn of events Melbourne was – the rise of Mischa among the highlights.

Dimitrov actually had a tough 1R match against Mischa in Rotterdam before his rematch with Istomin. After those two Melbourne throw-backs, Grigor took it on the chin to Goffin in the following match.

What we see in the relevancy of Sascha is the influence this has on Mischa, so we get a kind of two-for-one. Mischa will hopefully remain a strong threat in the early rounds for the lazy or incomplete player.

So far: Contenders: Tsonga (barely but brilliant Rotterdam win, mate!), Dimitrov, Thiem, Sascha. . .Nishikori?

The loss to Dolgopolov is pretty poor. I didn’t watch much of this tournament at all, but there is not concern here, really. I will say this (listen up, Belgium): Goffin’s play puts him just a few steps to the rear of Nishikori. That’s not looking at the last three years, but three weeks, so admittedly Goffin has to continue, to consolidate.  But I’m growing weary of Kei, perhaps more a Tsonga-type than anything: one magical run to a major final, like Jo-Willy, interestingly enough. His collapse in the WTF, his inability to stay healthy. Guys like Dimitrov have so much more game and variety. That baseline “brilliance” made famous by Djokovic and Nadal is beginning to wear-out, my tennis friends.

How about Cilic, our dear friend, Marin. Good heavens he stinks. First match in Montpellier, as the #1 seed, he loses to 32 year-old Dustin Brown, who’s no slouch, granted, but what the hell. Then Marin travels to Rotterdam, again as the #1 seed, only to get hammered by Tsonga in the QF (Cilic survived a 3-setter 1R vs. Paire and a 3-setter vs. Coric to reach Tsonga). Awful, dreadful stuff from world #7, winner of a single major.

Should we include Cilic in our contender category? No.

Let’s get to the big boys.

Raonic? Not convinced. I love his professionalism, but don’t like the athleticism and his professionalism can actually be seen as a try-hard. He forces the ball too often. He does not have the athleticism of a Del Potro or Sascha Zverev. He’s more Isner than those two.

Del Potro. We get some evidence in Del Ray Beach (Florida) this week. How can his play somehow decline from 2016? We will be rooting hard for the Gentle Giant this year.

Wawrinka always. Can’t wait for him to find a few good matches, maybe a good run at one of the clay Masters as a run-up to Roland Garros. We need Stanimal in Paris all pissed off and fit.

Sir Andy should rebound well. He probably wins Miami and will be a handful/nightmare for many this season.

Roger won Melbourne. We’ll have more to say about his 2017, but I think he’s very dangerous. How is he not very very dangerous at this point? His tennis is not as physical as the rest of the gang. He’s got so much experience it’s nauseating. . .to his detractors. His nadal_netfaultserve is big and he may have found the perfect pitchman who doubles as the janitor, just the guy Roger needs in his corner at this point: Ivan the terrible.

Who wants to play Roger, raise your hand?

Nadal may be just as compelling as Roger, for obvious reasons, but with the FO on the horizon, he has to be readying his game for war. Looks like he liked what he saw in Moya: Toni announcing his “retirement.” Finally. Several parallels in the Fedal 2017 campaigns, no?. Moya makes Rafa another unknown quantity, like Federer. Nadal’s Melbourne tactics were very interesting. Look at his ROS court positioning vs. Raonic. Not sure Milos has much for a surging Rafa anyways, but this seemed to be a huge factor. Out of nowhere.

Another show of hands. Who wants to play Rafa?  😀

This spring should be a blast.

Ahh, and then there’s Slowvak Courtkovic, or N(sl)o(w)le. Tell the fan club sniffing the slow court specialist’s gym shorts to shut it down; they’re making their boyfriend look like a Djoker.

Novak is one of the greats. That’s our position we’ve written about from day 1.

But there has been a bit of change in the narrative as of the last 9 months, which has given birth, if you will, to a bit of Serbian crisis.

And, again, no surprises here. The base-line physicality of defense-first tennis has massive limitations. See: age. And the demise of court homogenization?  I have so much to say about a Sampras/Federer kind of universe vs. an alternatively slow court era.

But back to the Serb.

Not enough has been made about the 2016 Djokollapse. Think of the fan club talking now about his clay prowess as RG nears. Comparing him to Roger, talking of his domination of the Spaniard whose level fell off the face of the earth.

Folks, fan clubbers and tennis aficionados alike: the Djokollapse was a disaster for the guy. History is speeding by and the time is now to get “it” while the getting is good. Roger’s early 2000s is of that model, as is Nadal’s FO domination. Novak’s time is/was now. He novak-djokovic-australian-open-tennis_3406915needs to mount that horse in a hurry and get back to business. He hasn’t done enough to become what the fan club desires so desperately.

Most sensible tennis brains have the top level as Laver/Federer/Sampras/Nadal. Why? Partly because of majors and enough of the eye test to say, yes. I actually put Lendl right up there, as well. Nole is essentially in there because he’s not done. But he has to win big tournaments. 2017 AO was huge. So was 2016 WTF and 2016 USO. The man has to get his act together quick.

The fan club says Novak is back on track. The Mcshow Tennis Blog has doubts in that the very evidence that Djokovic is back is flawed. That poor 2nd set in the Doha final about which we were clear was a sign of lingering trouble, not to mention his 2R dismissal in Melbourne suggest he has to prove the reverse of this pattern is reality and not nostalgia.

Obviously, Novak is a contender; if we’re getting to the business-end of the tennis in these tournaments, he should be right there. His big match mettle is all-time. But he needs to wake-up, smell the coffee and get back to his winning formula.

Fedal is rejuvenated and Murray is on his own last crusade. Not to mention Stan is your worst nightmare. Yeah, I’m talking to you.

Everything tennis looks pretty damn good, you all. Sorry for the delay in discourse.
Know that I’m here, defending the wall. Always.

Bring on March.

2017 AO Final: Federer Beats Nadal and Secures 18th Grand Slam Title

What a fortnight of tennis, ending in what will go down as an historic final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Despite whatever criticism a viewer might have of some of the actual tennis in the final, Federer’s wayward FH, for instance, or Nadal’s failure to convert breakpoints (both respective cornerstones of these titans’ games), the historical weight of nadal_federerthe match (combined with its unlikeliness) overshadows any sort of nit-picking, I’m afraid. There was well enough incredible shot-making, break-point-saving and extended rallying to quench the tennis fan’s thirst for all we ever want in a major final: greatness. And we got the G in spades.

If you ask me, there is as much irony as greatness in these most unlikely finalists playing in a final that seemed almost predestined or preordained. You may not realize this irony because you had time during the QF and SF stages to begin to process this unbelievable turn of events. In other words, the match-up was totally unforeseen, yet once it had “arrived” seemed only natural because this is Fedal, the Aussie Open, etc. For a second (or several), you might even have forgotten about Murray and Djokovic, the early favorites to make this final, two players who have dominated the tennis world as of late. However, the weight of Fedal is a heavy intoxicant; they crashed and trashed this 2017 Aussie Open like two warlords from time elapsed who’d returned to relive their glorious past.

There are several directions to go on this (late) commentary, but let’s stick to some insights on the outcome.

On the eve of the match I wrote:

This should be a competitive match, imho, for really two reasons:

1. Dimitrov did push Rafa to the edge. This point concerns Rafa’s form. He has not been the Rafa of old but for the last couple of matches. Since the Zverev match, we’ve begun to entertain the idea that his unbeatableness might be back, and headed for the final (the collective awe and anticipation was intensified as we saw Roger making the same kind of run). I have been critical of Rafa for a few years. His ball is too short, he’s slower, his serve is unthreatening, etc. Many an ATP athlete were beating him. The intimidation hasn’t been there, not to mention that the Don of the tour was a Nadal antidote.

So this UNBEATABLENESS is relatively recent, which leads to #2.

2. Everyone and I mean everyone is looking at 2009 as a comparison. Even Nadal playing a brutal 5 set SF fits the model. But there’s a difference between then and now.

Nadal was #1 in the world then. Sure Roger was #2; but that Nadal – 22 years-old, #1 in the world, had beaten Roger at WB six months earlier – is a quite different player compared to this year’s final. You might say, “well, Roger is #17, so there’s that.” True, but he’s been off since 2016 WB where he made the SF. He sat out the ’16 FO but did make the ’16 AO SF. And he made the ’15 finals, as we know, at WB and USO.

Sure, it might sound like I’m rubbing my own belly, but this is exactly the case. Nadal’s level was pretty solid, but there were times when he looked like a 30 year-old former #1 who was making a comeback. This is complicated a bit by Roger’s play that made Nadal look slower than a more prime Rafa. Roger took the ball early and aggressively throughout, which enhanced the look of demise in Rafa. My two reasons (#1 and #2) are obviously related quite a bit. This is not a 2009 version of Rafael Nadal. Again, at 22 years of age, #1 in the world, playing five hours a couple of days before playing Roger, over whom he had created a definitive advantage, based on a 2008 clay season and a 2008 WB final that finally went Rafa’s way: 2009 AO is not even in the same universe as 2017.

To cement this point of misreading the 2009/2017 similarities, unlike Rafa’s massive struggles on tour over the last few years leading-up to this latest showdown, Roger made two grand slam finals (2015: WB, USO) and two semi-finals (2016: AO, WB). Roger has been just that much more consistent and relevant than Rafa.

As for other factors that made this final more balanced (or even favor Roger), let’s talk about Roger’s coach and one of his young apostles.

In December 2015, I wrote a piece titled “Ljubičić.” Here’s what I said about this new coach announcement:

Ljubičić is going to help Federer, I believe, with some in-match mental fortitude.  How to convert a BP, how to withstand an opponent’s surge, how to just play a little smarter when that is absolutely paramount.  Federer’s beauty pageant is over.  He needs to start winning ugly, getting the job done, with or with out the stunning pirouette that dazzles the crowd. If he has any hope of continuing to remain relevant and/or win another big tournament, he needs to listen to the big Croat, Ivan the terrible, and come-away with a more sustainable game plan.

If you read more of that post, you’ll see what I say about how Ljubičić had an immediate ivan_rogereffect on Roger’s clay schedule, how this kind of strategic scheduling could have had a real impact on Roger’s career, especially in terms of his H2H with Nadal. Roger, in fact, made a comment about this in Melbourne last week in relation to the 2008 WB final, the “greatest” match of all time (bullshit). Roger attributed some of his lack of form/confidence in that match to his clay encounters with Nadal earlier that year.

I argue this has had a lot to do with Rafa’s great H2Hs with so many players. His overwhelming clay success (pretty early in a season) created that mental edge that complemented his aggressive, bullying tennis that I have written about at length. That post, “Ljubičić,” goes into that a bit, as well. This comment by Roger has to have ruffled Nadal’s feathers a bit, no? I liked reading this older post as it seemed to highlight some of this insight on the past, as well as the future.

As you can see in the quote above, I had a solid feeling Ljubičić would benefit Roger’s game by addressing his mental strength. Who knows how they managed this mental fitness, but one knows that Roger’s win last Sunday in the AO final over Nadal had a lot to do with Roger’s mental strength. That 5th set comeback was ridiculously mental. He check-mated the grand master of the mental board game. I knew this was absolutely essential to Roger’s continued relevancy and even breakthrough at a major.

Look at the 2015 USO final between Fed and Djokovic. Roger was on cruise control, all summer, winning Cincy by beating Novak, smashing his draw in NYC, including a laugher in the SF vs. Stan. Then he got, really, pretty embarrassed in the final by Novak, a very mental player. Roger’s BP conversion in that final was awful, something like 3/18. It was a point here or there. Roger needed help and got it when he hired Ivan. Roger’s injury-plagued 2016 didn’t give us a chance to see how this mental fitness was perhaps coming along. I think we can say that it’s coming along.

Of course, another critical return-on-investment in hiring Ljubičić is his knowledge of the OHBH. Ivan’s was a thing of beauty when he was on tour. Hiring a guy who could help Roger strengthen his tennis “backbone,” his competitive resolve, and his flawed BH is genius, whether or not that’s what went into that hiring exactly.

There are two things – and only two things – that stand-out in Roger’s win over Nadal in the 2017 AO final: firstly, his mental strength at critical points in the match, such as ivan_bhwinning the first set (critical), running off a quick and decisive bread-stick in the third set, and imposing his will on the match in the fifth, especially at 2-3; secondly, his aggressive and game-changing OHBH. Those two weapons decided the match. Sure, I argued Roger needed to serve well, but establishing the lead early (and consolidating that lead in the 3rd and 5th) and dominating much of the play with his aggressive OHBH were pivotal.

Of course, another element in the Ljubičić hiring might concern his closeness with Djokovic. Both the Serb and the one-time #3 in the world are Monte Carlo residents, and Ivan is very familiar with Novak’s game. Pretty genius hire, no?

I will keep looking for the footage to share here, but the shots of Roger’s box in the 5th set were definitive evidence of the Croatian’s influence: he was demanding, focusing entirely on the physical rhetoric of winning, of finishing the job; he was not applauding a passing shot; he was looking into Roger’s soul and demanding bravery, determination, guts, and grit. It was marvelous optics, my friends, that brought this entire coaching decision full circle.

Lastly (for this delayed post), the Dimitrov match was tremendous modeling for the Swiss’ approach in the final. I think the fact that Grigor took Nadal to five difficult sets was important mentally for Roger and it put Nadal at a deficit. But you know where I’m going here. The BH Grigor used on Nadal gave the Spaniard trouble. Roger was able to employ this tactic. Very little cut BH came from Federer in the final. That charging, aggressive dimitrov-sf-bhOHBH hasn’t looked that good in a long time. Having this shot dialed-in with the help from his coach certainly helped. But watching Dimitrov push Nadal around with it was equally as insightful. This shot symbolized Roger’s rebirth here in Melbourne. Mentally he was leaving it all out there, and physically the CC version gave Nadal all kinds of difficulty. Roger’s intent on establishing the baseline and taking that Nadal FH earlier changed the dynamic of the match entirely. Instead of that rising FH bounce to Federer’s OHBH breaking-down the Swiss physically and mentally, Roger moved aggressively to take time away from Rafa. Rafa was befuddled, clearly.

Dimitrov gave Federer a lift in strategy that seems to have fit well with what Ivan brings to Federer’s game. Did you buy stock in the Bulgarian yet? 😀

On the other hand, as we know, the match wasn’t flawless. Roger had 57 unforced errors. We saw this number climb, especially in the fourth set with that FH, his greatest weapon usually, succumb to nerves, timing, etc. He was able to find that again and use it to finish, you and I both know, some huge rallies late in the match. He ended-up with 73 winners to Rafa’s 35, so Roger’s aggression certainly played a huge role.

Chew on that for now. The Ljubičić and Dimitrov factors needed some clarification, but there’s so much more to consider, obviously.

Roger won his 18th major championship. He’s won at least 5 at three different majors. Come-on. Much more to discuss there and, like I said, there are some other story-lines that emerged during the tournament that I found particularly interesting.

I needed to get this post off asap. As I said in my short preview, no computer and being on the road made communicating difficult.

Thanks for reading and keep the comments coming!

Talk to you soon.

Federer Advances into 6th AO Final

Roger takes down Wawrinka 75 63 16 46 63.

I leaned Wawrinka in this one. He looked a half step behind his mentor in the first set; only a half step as there were rallies such as the one at 2-2 which showcased some nice BL styled OHBH where Stan finally wrestled control of the exchange and over-powered Roger with that monster FH. I thought this kind of tennis would resolve the contest – Stan establishing the upper-hand from the BL, Roger having to come to net or just continue to get out-hit.

But Roger was masterful. This is quite a run for the Express, 35 years and counting, like a man on a mission, delivering packages deep into the valleys of Melbourne Park. How about that massive cut-drop chip-shot that Roger hit, the ball spinning back into the net leaving Stan unable to even touch it. We know this kind of tennis from the Maestro, his own witchcraft, but we’ve come to expect the aging great to fade in these longer battles with younger athletes.

The fourth set saw Stan putting his own stamp on the match, coming-up with several brilliant pieces of hitting and at 4-4, the Stanimal got his break and served out the equalizer. Although Wawrinka continued to look solid in the fifth, he pretty much gifted the break and Roger was able to serve it out.

I stand and applaud Wawrinka. I had him winning this and pretty much wanted to see him advance to challenge Nadal, but I’ve come to see that as a flawed way of understanding this last table, this four-top at the 2017 Australian Open.

Roger has advanced and why in the world would anyone not want to see this man, playing this well, reach the final of the AO, his sixth, at this point in his career? I guess if you’re a fanboy of some other player, you’re mad. Well, let me break this to you: even if Roger loses the final, there are a lot of people who understand that his genius is pure, unadulterated and timeless. He won his first in 2004. It’s 2017, folks. This is his 28th major final.

We’ll have more time to reflect on this run, obviously (hint: I will reflect); but let’s now look ahead to tonight and toward the final.

I have already, as have many I am sure, rapped about the second SF and the likely F involving Fedal.

Does Grigor have a chance?

Nadal has Dimitrov 7-1 in the H2H. Their last match was in October in Beijing, where Dimitrov got his first win against Rafa 2 and 4 in the QF. If you look at their matches back through the years, the Bulgarian has always played Rafa pretty tough, even as an 18 year old back in 2009, in Rotterdam. Played him tough on clay, even.

But obviously this is different. Or is it.

Can the enormity of the match really give the Spaniard that much of an advantage? If Nadal continues to raise his game in Melbourne to a level that takes-out both Grigor and Roger, you have him making another installment as one of the most clutch athletes of all-time, despite his weaknesses. His tennis has been pretty average over the past few years. He didn’t finish 2016, lost pretty early in Brisbane. . . but here we are.

He has to outplay (to some extent) Dimitrov. He can not wave his little wand and the Bulgarian goes poof. Head games and bullying intangibles can have an effect. Hopefully Grigor has been counseled, coach Danny has clarified the stakes and this amazing opportunity.

Hopefully someone has told him that Mchshow Tennis Blog had him in early and often!

This second SF is not over yet. On paper, Grigor is playing better tennis. According to the eye-test, Grigor has a chance.

But we are (I’m guilty as well) putting so much stock into Nadal’s superman cape that he wears deep in the draw at majors. This would be a remarkable outcome: Nadal finishing-off both of these guys when he’s been so far from that kind of form for so long. I am not making any insinuations, honestly.

In other words, I have to see it to believe it. I think we have been thinking more about the legend of Rafa than the 30 year-old. Raonic is so flawed himself. Like Kei, he’s awkward and injured. Rafa did what he needed to do. He got through to the final four.

The Lost Generation is all over this draw, but Grigor is a different cat.

One match at a time. Enjoy the second semi final.

Nadal Cruises, Raonic Looks Lost in AO QF

Nadal is Back

Here’s what I wrote yesterday, previewing last night’s QF between Nadal and Raonic:

“The big question is what happens in the Raonic v Nadal match tonight. Raonic should win that match. Nadal, physically, doesn’t have enough to go deep with a big serve and hitter like Raonic. I am not even crazy about Raonic’s overall game, but he made the SF last year and so long as he’s rafael-nadalhealthy, he should dispose of the Spaniard. He even beat Nadal a couple of weeks ago in Brisbane, in 3 sets mind you, but still. Raonic is 2-2 H2H vs. Nadal in their last four meetings (Nadal is 6-2 overall). In the end, if Raonic can keep his body intact, he should advance.

But the witchery of Nadal could rear its ugly head in this last QF match. . . .

Don’t fool yourself into thinking this is Raonic in a steamroller. This one, as long as Raonic is healthy, is all mental. He has to put-up with the idiosyncratic Nadal on a huge stage where Nadal has support and momentum. Nadal, like most of these guys, is feeling pretty excited about the chance to steal a major with #1 and #2 gone fishing. How much does the Moya factor play into this? Should not. Raonic needs to S&V and hit those little pink lifts Rafa calls shoes off the court.

But we can expect some complication in that endeavor.”

I think everyone agrees with me that Raonic, hovering around #3 in the world, should have beaten Nadal last night. This had to be part of any preview of such a match. He had beaten him in Brisbane, and in Indian Wells in 2015, so the trend should’ve continued, especially when you consider the trajectory, supposedly, of each man’s career.

But in the above excerpt you can hear me hedging, talking about the caution one should have in picking the Canadian. Nadal’s witch-craft, indeed, reared its ugly head. How you ask? Some of this is just Rafa, his OCD, his competitive insanity. And some of this is the Moya factor. We do not know exactly what their game plan was against the large, awkward Raonic. But anyone watching could see how much Nadal’s court positioning during Raonic’s serve affected Milos.

Nadal was inside the baseline on first serves, blocking 135 mph missiles back in play (keeping the ball in play remained one of the Spaniard’s critical strategies). He’d drift deeper during second serves. This change in Nadal’s positioning flustered the Canadian. Nadal got in Milos’ head early and often. This had to be Moya, another voice in his camp that people have been wanting Nadal to invite for years. Not only was Carlos a new voice, but he was Raonic’s coach last year! There was even talk last night on the broadcast that suggested Carlos had told Raonic he didn’t want to travel as much, wanted a smaller role or none at all, only to turn-around and begin working full-time with Nadal. This might have upset the Canadian? He spent parts of this match yelling at Krajicek, his new coach. This wasn’t a pretty picture, at all.

Either way, Nadal’s team had Raonic’s number.

Indeed, I showed some hesitancy in my post toward Raonic, sensing a Nadal uprising, but as the match drew nigh, I got more and more certain Nadal would win this match. As Nadal then proceeded to easily seal the victory (sure the second set had some tension, but even if Raonic had broken, I didn’t see him winning the match), I thought, who will beat this guy, this machine who puts every ounce of himself into every point?

I mentioned yesterday that a factor would be “Nadal’s deliberate, violation-ridden, snail-paced tennis routine [that] could probably bore the heavens into submission.” This is part of his witchcraft. In last night’s match, Nadal did receive a warning for too much time on a critical serve at either BP or 30-30; it was a huge point and Nadal sucked all of the air out of the place (per usual) and was successful on that pivotal point (despite receiving the violation). A guy like Federer would have seemingly rushed the serve and perhaps dropped the point. Johnny Mac said Raonic should have backed-off and made Nadal begin again his routine with this violation in tow. The Spaniard continued, uninterrupted (other than the umpire’s inconsequential reprimand) and delivered the critical blow, going on to hold serve in a very tight first set.

We can criticize Rafa for many things, but one thing remains: he is one of the hardest charging, most deliberate and determined players, with a seemingly flawless style of execution under the big lights. Most players blink or wilt under the pressure of the moment and this Spanish opponent. He seems to have that intensity back and just enough on those ground strokes to get this done. Not to mention his play at the net is very underrated.

I think Nadal will be tough to beat at this point. I have seen this too many times.

His form has been garbage for about two years. There is no mistake in saying this. He has been very flawed and beatable even in this tournament. But a teenager, a loony Frenchman and an unproven 6’6″ Canadian guy who’s more at home in his “lost generation” than he is in a grand slam winner’s circle is the kind of draw, apparently, to get the Spaniard where he needs to be psychologically and physically.

He looks capable of going five the hard way, if need be. Moya’s presence seems a clear advantage, as well. Again, this guy is so efficient right now. I was pretty much watching what seemed like younger Nadal and this has to put a bit of a scare into the other three remaining players.

The Semi-finals

SF 1: Federer is the favorite because of the history and their relationship. But Roger has to play brilliantly. Does he have the strength to hit with Stan or Rafa for that matter?  The longer this match goes, the more it favors Stan. I’m giving the nod to the Stanimal.

SF 2: Nadal seems to be expanding as we speak. How much is this the 30 year-old Rafa? How much of this is the legend of Rafa? He seems destined for the final because of his experience, histrionics and the infusion of coaching and bit of fortune in the draw.

stan_aoAt the same time, I’m hoping, for the sake of our enjoyment, we see Dimitrov go to that next level. Nadal in straights or even four sets would be anti-climactic. Dimitrov might have regained some of that form and confidence against Goffin, but he’s in a major SF, so this is a tall order.

A Stan v Rafa final is probably the case.

I will add: Roger out dueling Stan only to get demoralized by Nadal in the final would be too predictable and diminish the quality of this major. We wanted surprise and dramatics in Melbourne. We have gotten plenty of that so far. Think of the irony of Nadal beating Federer in the final.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. . .