Rome (the city and the verb ;). . .Breaking: Federer is Out at the French

I know how to spell “roam,” ladies and gentlemen. The primitive emoji, as you can see, clarifies this play-on-words, being playfull (only to balance all the F-bombs and vitriol I lob at my opponents – stay on the good side of me, folks! 🙂

Let’s check-in with our Rome correspondent (glancing at TennisChannel and reading scores) and “rome” through some of the tennis discourse at this point in the season, given the absolute fireworks of 2017 where you have Fedal going absolutely blitzkrieg on the ATP, the history books and your uncle Doug; to steal a line from my post-AO 2017 commentary:

“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.”

Hyperbole, sure. That’s the intoxicant of #2017Fedal (of the sport of tennis, 30+ years of advanced spectatorship 😉 and genuine fondness for the use of language, as a musical and analytical instrument .

But I digress. 2017 has been utterly wild. Let’s “rome” about those sorts of topics, as well.

I saw the score of Querrey over Pouille today in two TBs. Thought to myself this I want to see. TennisChannel is bit behind so I just caught a bit of the match where Querrey is up 7-6 4-2, and the tennis is pretty bad, actually. The announcers were mentioning that the Frenchman is giving away a lot of points. It’s just bad tennis, including what I saw. Guys can’t string together 2 points – this is clay in general, as  you know. Breaks of serve, double faults – happens anywhere but that’s my beef with clay. Just slow and choppy tennis. Just stepped away and watched the second set TB. Pouille got it to 4-1, had a few SPs later, but like the first set TB, Querrey from way back refuses to go away and beats the Frenchman. Pouille got the SF here in Rome last year.

Pouille is having a B- season, off the top of my head (not staring at any stats or video, but I watch a lot of tennis). I suspect he’ll play better on the grass and HC.

They call that an upset, but Sam is having a nice little 2017 himself. He spanked Kyrgios and Nadal in Acapulco to take that title. But even he didn’t look very impressive today in Rome.

Almagro continues to hit the ball hard, beating the local fellow Seppi in straights 😉 But that was my point with the Djokovic v Almagro Madrid match – this was watchable tennis because Almagro was going to make the Serb win most of that match. That’s what makes this Pouille Querrey exchange so disappointing. Both played with themselves.

Nice that Goffin came-back to beat Bellucci in three sets. Looked troubling for awhile, as if the Belgian’s tank was running low, perhaps, given his recent nice run on the red clay.

When I’m done with this post, I have Dimitrov v Del Potro starting-up.

Let’s “rome” on a few thoughts of this season some more.

NOTE: I was in the middle of writing this post, to make these comments on the Federer/Roland Garros proposition, when Federer announced (2 minutes ago, literally) that he is skipping the French.

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Let’s get this out of the way: Federer better play Roland Garros, or his 2017 is cut in half (in my eyes). Get your ass on the competitive court, Roger the dodger.

What’s probably happening is he’s practicing intelligently (would be really smart if he’s mixing-in some clay) under the guise of the new head of his Office of Strategic Services-like command: Ljubičić.Lubjicicafe7d5066b14fc3c4c373d1987245746c6f474cc-tc-img-previewThe last time Federer played RG he made it through to the QF where the eventual champ (Wawrinka) beat him. Federer is no slouch on clay (ha ha), so this tour desperately now needs him to show-up to Paris to play well in this thinly planted tennis landscape under siege of another Spanish Inquisition (note all of the war reference!).

Who has stepped-up on clay this season to really challenge Rafa at the French Open? Murray and Djokovic have this week to find any kind of momentum. Not looking good, but maybe history plays a role: since 2005, either Nadal or Djokovic have won this event (that’s twelve years) though Murray won this tournament last year. Can a title defense give the Scot a little inspiration? Didn’t help Djokovic last week. But we can hope.

Federer was in the Rome final two years ago. Federer, if healthy, should bring some very purposeful tennis to RG.

One of the little whispers this season has been the shock of Federer playing so well, coming-off such a long injury break; you know the rumors. There are conspiracy theorists that talk of the Fedal corruption (some kind of tennis capitalist corporatization). I guess anything is possible these days.

Problem with Roger’s case is this is the first big break he’s had.

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So much for that (that means I better end this post):

This is very disappointing about Federer. I have to wonder, based on his comments at the end of the AO, when he tells the crowd, if he isn’t back next year, to take care, or something like that. He got his 18th, so now he’s going to just roll the dice on grass and HC, see if he can pick-up another major here in 2017 before he really does hang-up the career?

That has to be his plan. Skipping the French (along with all of the clay) seems a bit of a tell because it’s a bit obnoxious. You’ve heard me say that Ljubičić has said publicly that roger-federer-announces-he-will-miss-the-french-openFederer should limit his clay schedule, was talking about this in early 2016. I supported the reasoning only in that the clay weighs so heavy to Nadal, that this affected that rivalry. I stand by that thinking, that rationalization.

But to skip the clay entirely? Including the French? I’m a fan of your thinking, Fed, but this is unfortunate. For the draw, for the audience, the history.

In Federer’s first 17 years on tour, he missed only two majors, that was last year. We were going to talk about how this come-back of his is unprecedented because it has never happened to him.

In Nadal’s 14 years on tour, he has missed 10 majors.

Novak, though he hasn’t missed any majors in his 13 years on tour, he has a bit of a pattern of highs and lows, like Nadal.

Djokovic won his first AO in 2008 and not another major until 2011. Wins a major and gets blanked the following two years. He wins three majors in 2011 and then three majors over the next three years! Three in one and then three in three. That’s dramatic. Then he won five majors in two years and here we are in slump city once again.

Indeed, Federer has been pretty consistent over the years, just had a big drought in his 30s. But he kept representing: WB final ’14-’15 and the SF in ’16; USO SF in ’14, F in ’15, AO SF in ’16, FO QF in ’15, etc.

Federer’s break and resurrection is unprecedented in his career. Up until last year, due to injury, following the AO SF loss to Djokovic, he never missed. The wheels are coming off now.

The point of this section of the post was that one can’t be that surprised that Federer’s is playing so well. He always does. Could Djokovic maintain his top form? That was the question. As the tennis went, if Djokovic wasn’t there, Fed would probably grab one of these majors here. Nadal and Murray have not been factors up until pretty recently.

Now, Federer is just getting greedy, ironically. He’s avoiding the French to do what I think is two final majors before he calls it quits. This pull from the 2017 French is a tell that says he’s folding. In a way, it’s weak and perhaps a bit depressing for fans. But the announcement and it’s meaning might be insightful to a competitive fire burning inside that he wants another WB and USO for his quiver: the two most prestigious majors of the grand slam.

Wow. Sorry about the oddity of this post. Began writing about Rome and wanted to throw some Djokerfan rumor-mill into the garbage. Then Federer pulls the plug on Paris. Wow.

Again: this reads true farewell tour. This is it, folks. London and NYC, WTF and that’s all she wrote. The only explanation.

I’ll be back.

Miami 2017 Finale

I hope this post isn’t as anti-climactic as Sunday’s final. Here’s how I began my preview of the Miami final a few days ago: “The Fedal final tomorrow is a bit anti-climactic to be honest. If you’re caught-up in the Fedal rivalry, you’re probably a bit confused. If you need any clarity on that, search my blog under Federer v Nadal H2H.”

I had Twitter lined-up, streamed the match on my computer, in case other “discussions” surfaced and needed any attention, and the quality of the picture on my Mac surpassed the quality of Fedal XXXVII.

The first set was certainly competitive, with Nadal actually establishing some control, pushing forward, letting Federer know that this could be a classic. Through 5 games, Rafa had seen 3 BPs to Roger’s 2. My notes clarified “nothing too spectacular,” as the guys maintained pretty uneventful exchanges, Roger came to net effectively, Nadal held his nadal-federer-indian-wells-2017-miami-reactionown, especially on serve and as Roger even pointed-out later, saving some of those early BPs was critical to the match. Nadal pressed Federer in that first set, but somehow (like the mettle Federer displayed in the QF and SF) the Swiss held and added pressure to the Spaniard’s Miami title drought.

Federer ended-up 1/6 on BPs in the first set; Nadal settled for 0/4. The break came and went and the first set went to Federer; the writing was on the wall. Nadal’s sweat drenched kit vs Federer’s wind-blown mane seemed to reiterate this Miami final graffiti.

The second set became almost tough to watch. You can see in my Twitter feed how critical I was of Roger’s game. He seemed to take points off, handle Nadal SS like a weekend warrior – the match lacked energy and intensity by the second set. I reported that Nadal was set to break and assume control, so long as he kept his serve. Roger’s nonchalance spoke volumes, in the end.

What explains this seeming lack of effort on Roger’s part? Mind you: I am not saying he didn’t put forth a championship effort – that would be wrong and foolish to suggest. But the tone was palpable: Federer was in complete control here; he didn’t appear troubled much at all. We are used to seeing Federer tangle with opponents professing such control and nonchalance, but the problem with this explanation is that two nights earlier, this same poker-faced tennis elder showed all kinds of emotions and intensity vs. Kyrgios. That was a match for the ages; the final vs. Nadal seemed more like an exhibition.

To say that Federer’s difficult draw may have qualified this championship match seems fairly reasonable; indeed, Fedal37 may have lacked the level of his previous two matches, so the Swiss simply flew with the punches.

Federer assumed control in the second set, especially late as he again found the break and served-out the match, securing his third Miami title, third tournament win of 2017 and third win vs. Nadal during this calendar year.

His 63 64 victory spoke volumes of his form and the current 2017 run he’s on, as well as the bigger picture that I have written so much about on this blog regarding the flawed (failed) analysis of these players’ H2H. I am not fact-checking this, but I am almost positive that Sunday’s victory brought the players’ HC H2H to 10-9 Federer.

The talk of Nadal’s excitement and comfort on the up-coming clay reminded me of more of these observations I made last year (or late 2015) when I dug into the H2H and what I called “Nadalism.” At one point I wrote a post discussing Sampras and Nadal, both of whom have 14 majors.

My main point (from what I can remember 😀 ) was that Nadal does not belong in the company of Sampras. I said something to the extent that Nadal would be remembered, mainly, as a great clay court player, the clay GOAT.

I don’t think I ever have to or want to get into those discussions again (unless I’m forced to): I respect Nadal and actually miss his dominance. Do you know how many AO and FO matches I stayed-up to watch, or woke early enough to see the first (or second) ball toss in many of those great Fedal matches? Take it from me: Nadal had his way with Roger, which we know is tennis lore.

This brings-up an important point with regards to Federer having this kind of dominance over the declining Spaniard. There is a balance in life. Some call it karma, balance, the truth and even life. I, and probably many others, feel somewhat sorry for Nadal, coming-up short like this, not finding that peak physical monstrosity that defined his tennis back in the day.

Miami on Sunday really underscored his shortcomings. He’s never won Miami, his decline seems pretty definitive, and Federer has found a game (at last) against which Nadal really can’t compete. The journalists around the world are especially echoing this last point: as much as Federer couldn’t figure-out how to play Nadal through much of their past encounters, Nadal seems the one lost now.

As we turn to clay, Nadal perhaps can locate some of that advantage we grew to expect, but this seems a bit of an uncertainty, as well. We’ll save that discussion for another day; I will add that I look forward to this clay season and watching 2017 Nadal bring this year’s confidence to defend his dirt legacy.

On the other hand, Federer will be skipping the clay, working-on his recovery – as many are now aware, as he told Brad Gilbert and certainly others this news following Sunday’s victory. But this has been in the works for over a year.

When Ljubičić was hired, this reduced (removed) clay season was part of this campaign’s agenda. Here’s part of that post I wrote back in December of 2015:  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.

Here I want to talk about Federer’s much diminished clay schedule. I am attributing this to Ljubičić. Here is another competitive strategy, a little more macro than the in-match help he’ll give the Maestro.

This will help Federer continue to ruin tennis. You are sick of hearing me reference this volume of essays that puts this golden era in perspective. My argument, as articulated in this series of posts, it that Roger has ruined tennis. This is both satirical and serious. I waited to write the Djokovic chapter; my patience has paid off since we are in a very interesting stage of the Serb’s career.

I referred to balance above. Almost certainly, Novak will rebound and find his confidence again. Does the resurgence of Fedal complicate this rebound? Most likely. This is another reason why the clay is a much anticipated schedule, even without Roger. Novak (and Andy, of course) will return to fight for their confidence, their tour points (both have several to defend and are both already free fallinIvan_Rogerg in the 2017 tally).

But the Novak chapter will be interesting. As will the essay that explores 2017 Federer, that phenomenon that few saw rising from the ashes to reclaim such dominance. I can’t tell you how much I believe that Ivan the Terrible has much to do with this. Federer has such a quiet confidence –  perhaps more it’s an assassin’s cool.

The manifestation of this is a much better BH, a more offensive court positioning, better ROS, insanely steady S&V (btw, did you see the point where Roger comes to net to meet a 118 mph Kyrgios FH that Federer softly forwards to the open court? I will search, find and post this point). Here’s the point. Scroll to the 9:20 mark to see this lethal FH from Kyrgios meet Federer’s insanely steady grip:

Looks like ATPmedia blocked this video.

It’s these physical improvements that SEEM to define 2017 Federer. But I argue it’s mostly mental. People, from Chris Everett to fanboy and girl bloggers alike, ask where did this Federer form come from? How is he doing this?

The fanboy will say it’s Djokovic’s slump. To be fair, we can’t say how Djokovic would factor into this run because he’s been dismissed from each draw he’s shared with Federer.

Ljubičić is at least part of the common denominator. If you never watched Ivan play, you have little to go on here, other than taking my word for it. He got to #3 in the world and certainly one career highlight was winning IW in 2010 where he beat Djokovic (4R) and Ivan-LjubičićNadal (SF) before taking down Roddick to claim that prestigious Masters title. He lost to Roger in the 2006 Miami final in three TBs. He has been critical of Nadal for taking too long between points. In short, Ivan knows his way around this golden era tennis court, so to speak, and his level-headedness and business sense, in my humble opinion, have been critical in this resurgence of Federer, in 2017 Federer.

Lastly, people are crying about the crowds again. The last big incident (at least that I caught wind of) was US Open final 2015. Both, interestingly enough, involve Federer.

I said it then and I will say it again: Federer can not control the crowd (though his whistling wife could be asked to shhh).

Then again, he completely controls the crowd.

With regards to NYC, if you win the US Open five times in-a-row, you will have a favorable reception. Granted, Federer’s fandom is well-documented, and a bit fanatic. But that kind of success breeds that kind of following. Folks, five in-a-row. He is beloved in NYC and elsewhere. People appreciate consistency, integrity and victory. These have defined his legacy. His genius is well received, one would think. I recall pulling for Agassi in the USO final 2005. To no avail. The Swiss giant had begun to spread his wings. Tough for people to disregard or deny that kind of “entertainment.” Pretty much what you see is what you get and people really like this kind of tournament-in-and-tournament-out brilliance.

On the other hand, Kyrgios is a complicated cat. I said recently that people need to keep their thoughts to themselves during those kinds of heated matches (though this is tough to control – I talked about seeing this in IW two weeks ago). But there are people saying that Roger cheated somehow, or his win over Kyrgios was unfair because of the crowd. That’s sour grapes or incapacity. My goodness that’s a weak argument.

Blame Mohamed Lahyani, the esteemed umpire. He did seem to provide some council to the animated crowd, but, I suppose, to no avail. Either way, Kyrgios is going to have to earn his reception. Roger, like many before and after him, developed that kind of support because of a certain kind of legacy.

I defended Kyrgios, but I have been very critical of him. He has done some deplorable things on the tennis court. Fans, who pay and support these players and their sport, do not easily forget this kind of lack of character. I have faith in Kyrgios. He will earn his stripes.

But again: if you are complaining about Federer’s popularity at this point, you’re a clown.

Look around. There are some things we have to accept. I am, as you all know, not a Fedfan. But I really appreciate great tennis (I still want to see Sampras ’96 v Federer ’06 😉

Thanks for sticking around and reading and enjoying this insane early season of ATP tournament competition.

Talk to you soon.

Miami Final, Fedal and 2017 Federer

That’s a lot of Fs, if you know what I mean.

We have another Fedal final, this time in a Masters tournament, so the past keeps coming back to haunt the tennis world in a worst-nightmare kind of way (if you fail to see the historic brilliance).

First, obviously, we got the AO Final that capped all kinds of upside-down tennis discussion. Indeed, if you can’t see said brilliance, you end-up thinking and talking like someone watching a different sport, which we may start calling “hero ball.”

Here’s what entails some of that madness:

The courts are faster!

Istomin was unplayable!

Andy is burned-out!

I have written about this but no need to link these discussions since you all should know your way around this place by now. In short, Djokomiami_open_federer_nadal_compvic has dipped big-time, dating back, I might say, to the FO final when he limped to the title in those final games against Andy. The free fall really started at WB and has continued throughout the end of 2016 through to IW/MI 2017.

Those who disagree that Novak has not been in a world of hurt, since May/June last year, point to one match that stands-out as a Novak-is-back example. Let me do you a favor and say that the Doha final was all kinds of complicated (see my write-up on that) and to go back further to the WTF SF vs. Kei, that was Kei laying an egg, which more or less defines Nishikori’s career. Again, let me know if I missed a moment of DjGOATovic since FO 2016. You should see that his matches recently involving Del Potro and Kyrgios, though they show signs of Djokovic’s championship fortitude, are more examples of a dip in form. Besides, one should see the limits of the Argentinian’s game right now.

Andy’s demise has been a little more of a corollary between his 2016 run to #1 and a bit of a drop in level (burn-out, etc). Having said that, the hurt that Zverev and Pospisil’s S&V put on the Scot has to count for something. Uh oh, we’re back to the speed of the court argument!

But the other thing that’s happened, obviously, is Nadal and Federer are playing very well. Nadal has an incredible highlight reel for 2017 already. Nadal has and is gaining confidence, no doubt.

2017 Federer is the hashtag everyone should use to designate this particular trend, movement, phenomenon, etc. The Swiss champ has taken the tour by storm. I, and others, have written already too much about this form that is really too much right now for anyone to deal with.

For the Djokovic apologist, his win over Del Potro, fairly dismissive, and his epic clash against Kyrgios yesterday should subdue this fan club’s hysterics, momentarily.

As I said in a tweet recently: I really miss Djokovic, but I do not miss his fan club’s myopia. We need the Serb back on track, but his fans retard the campaign. I bet you anything he finds 2017 Federer quite inspirational.

Back to the Fed Express.

A few numbers that have popped-up in the last few days. Here is 2017 Federer by some numbers:

He is still holding 90% of his serve, about 5% better than opponents (if you add-up all of these small percentage advantages he has against his opposition, you can easily see how the Ws keep compiling). He is #1 in first serve winning %, #2 in second serve %.

His 2017 BH is 3mph faster on average.

He’s used, in the past, the slice BH 38% of the time; now that happens 29% of the time during a match. Everyone’s been tracking the Federer BH.

He’s converting BP 50% of the time in 2017 vs 38% in the past.

On his ROS, he’s breaking his opponent 29% vs 24% prior to 2017. 

These last two stats above (in bold) are, imho, big-time Ljubičić effects. We’ve talked about the BH a lot, but the killer instinct or “win dirty” mentality is, theoretically, a result of some choice words between Ivan and Roger. This is aggressive tennis. From winning the first set against Nadal in their AO final, to winning pretty convincingly in most of his matches, he’s up early and often, pretty much suffocating his opponent from the word “go.”

These are just a few numbers that Cahill and Gilbert (among others) have divulged, in light of the streaking Federer, 2017 Federer.

He is backing-up his 2017 performances, which makes this a form, a level of talent the tour, minus Novak and Andy, has trouble dealing with. We saw this early, starting with his solid form at the Hopman Cup, backed-up by his 5th AO title; despite the dip in Dubai (pretty shocking the fashion of that collapse but Donskoy is no donkey), he wins a 5th IW and here we are in the Miami final.

Please tell me you watched the Kyrgios SF. This was the match we anticipated seeing in IW, but was postponed to yesterday. Kyrgios has been “unplayable,” flashing his talent all over the court, beating just about anyone in his way. Though he had the loss to Seppi in AO 2R, Querrey in Acapulco, and the W/D in IW, he has been playing an extremely lethal brand of tennis, serve, BH defense, FH genius and all.

The people (Djokovic fans) saying Nick is a serve bot are not the savviest of tennis aficionados (the nicest way to put that). That’s bias smeared all over that pretty face and stinks of a bitter beer that I actually enjoy, as if I’m drinking their tears, not because I wish ill-will or flaunt my own bias: I just like to expose the thin and emotional tennis “intelligence.” That’s not analysis, fanboy or fangirl. That’s banner waving hooliganism. That’s the likes of what I saw in IW, that I already described, of a Fedfan yelling, more or less, in the ball toss of his opponent with Fed up 5-1. That’s garbage.

Which brings me to this: Listen up: give Kyrgios a break, especially if you are in the stands. The belittling of a 21 year-old who is playing supernatural tennis, who may have more tennis talent and intelligence than anyone, ever, is just poor. Many many great players have shown a bit of a temper on and off the court. I advise people (these are not tennis fans) to back the fuck-up on their hatred for Kyrgios. You are embarrassing.

Sure I’ve called him out, as has the ATP. Tanking matches, or saying something disgraceful about another player, etc., is uncalled-for. He was suspended by the tour toward the end of 2016 and required to attend counseling. This is a brilliant tennis player with unreal potential. If you are at a match, rooting against the youngster, keep it to yourself.

Deal with him the way that Federer dealt with him. That match was tense and emotional (from both players) from set 1, game 1. Unbelievable tennis match, folks. The shot-making, the clutch serving, passing, drop-shots, BH, volleys. . . I could go on and on. This was an epic. The call compared this match to the Dimitrov v Nadal AO SF, which means the tennis was at such a high level, only barely (or not) surpassing the level of competitive spirit. This was a war.

Federer and Kyrgios have played six sets and all six have gone to TB, several of which extended beyond 7. This is monster tennis, ladies and gentlemen. Yesterday was the past and present against the future.

To be fair, this was similar to the Berdych Federer QF, in a way. Federer got a little lucky to survive Berdych; likewise, I’m not sure how he survived Kyrgios. The only problem with this “luck” description/theory is that Federer’s involved.

His play continues to just baffle the audience. His return of serve yesterday was a bit incomprehensible. He beat the biggest serve in the game yesterday and Kyrgios, along with the serve, does not lack for clutch. He saved multiple SPs, a few MPs and breaks throughout the match. Unreal nerves from the young Aussie. So impressive.

The 10th game of the first set, Nick serving for the set; Roger breaks back to even the set at 5-5. In that game, Nick made 3/4 first serves. Monster break, folks. The tension was thick as old honey.

In the first set TB, they’re at 9-9. Kyrgios goes to second serve. He unloads a ballsy 123 mph SS. Double fault. Federer serves it out, takes the TB 11-9. Courageous stuff out there for three hours. Rest up, Federer.

I followed the match on Twitter, tweeting my thoughts throughout the match. There’s a bunch of stuff over there. As Nick closed-out his consolidation of that break in the first set, he went back-to-back first serves 139 and 141 mph. This kid has a very very high ceiling. Calling him names is like you’re smelling your underwear. You look/sound incapacitated.

Fedal XXXVII – Miami Final 2017

The Fedal final tomorrow is a bit anti-climactic to be honest. If you’re caught-up in the Fedal rivalry, you’re probably a bit confused. If you need any clarity on that, search my blog under Federer v Nadal H2H.

Here’s how a tennis fan sees the final tomorrow. Part of you wants to see Nadal win Miami, something he’s never done. This is a tournament that suits him, from the surface to the climate and the character of the fans. He has admitted all of this.

Fedal has quite a history here. They met here for the first time ever in 2004. Nadal, who was about 10 years old at the time, beat Federer in the 3R 3 and 3. Federer beat Nadal in the 2005 final coming from two sets down (remember, they used to play Bo5).

By the way, speaking of Kyrgios and people critical of his immaturity, racquet smashing, etc., scroll to the 39th minute of the video below, their 2005 Miami final. You’ll see a bit of temper there. Also, see at the end of the match, how tired Nadal is. That’s an obvious affect of that reliance on the BL-defensive style of tennis. The ball-striking, which seems like vintage slower court tennis (ha!), is superb. Enjoy.

A Nadal win would be rich in tennis history along with reinforcing this 2017 run by the two tennis greats, who are way past their primes.

Federer has beaten him twice this year (people point-out 3 times in a row!), but, again, this refers to the H2H, a flawed analysis. 2017 Federer continues to make my case regarding the level of these men’s games. Federer has so much to offer an opponent. He should beat Rafa tomorrow. But this is tennis, and Rafa is playing very well.

What about 2017 Nadal? I agree – I’m glad you asked. Indeed, he has been quite good. His run at AO, for instance, on the way to the final, went through Sascha Zverev (5 sets) and Grigor, who was surging back then (5 sets). Nadal played Federer pretty even in the final.

He made the Acapulco final but was overcome by a rampant Querrey, who pretty much spanked Kyrgios in the SF. Then he lost to 2017 Federer in IW. In other words, he’s been playing well all year and continues to play well. I thought Sock would put-up a better fight in their MI affair, but this was not the case. He’s playing that efficient, heavy-handed BL game with an under-rated net presence. If you get loose against Nadal, he will make you pay.

Nadal is due tomorrow. The only reason I see Federer winning is the reason I saw him beating Kyrgios or Del Potro here at MI. He has so much for an opponent to overcome. The ROS is becoming a big talking-point of the 2017 Federer phenomenon.

At the same time, we’re waiting for Federer to hit the wall. His age and his consistently high level says a wall is coming. I would easily describe Nadal as a wall. I thought Berdych was the wall. Berdych played very well, should have beaten Roger. Kyrgios had Fed on the ropes in that third set TB. He was up 5-4 in that TB. Roger won the last three points, which included a double-fault from Nick. Berdych double-faulted MP.

Is that luck? Does Roger need a bit more of this favorable bounce to get by Nadal, overcome another wall? Does a win tomorrow by Federer absolutely obliterate the ATP?

Do you sense another chapter to my HRFRT? I penned the first few sections in the spring of last year; that time of year is upon us, so the story will continue (I have to write the Djokovic essay and looks like 2017 Federer is a kind of epilogue).

Enjoy the tennis, folks.

Behave yourselves! Which means root for the match, the sport and keep reading Mcshow Tennis Blog.

Cheers.

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 Australian Open Hangover: Calling Dr. Ljubičić

Remember the argument I made about a year ago in response to the hiring of Ivan Ljubičić?  The reasoning went something along the lines of Roger needs to start winning ugly; the beauty pageant is over if you want to win anything resembling anything of significance.

Re-read this completely different post I wrote on the eve of 2015 U.S. Open. This amounts to what I would have told Roger before he took the court against a guy (Djokovic) that will play the match like his life, his very last breath, depends on it. I called it “Attitude and Form.” His form ultimately would depend on his attitude, which often looks like he’s on vacation.

Roger’s pretty much considered tennis class personified. His elegance precedes him, defines his greatness and his flaw. The rise of Nadal and Djokovic has been at the expense of Roger’s sophisticated style that became more and more flawed and even soft in light of the grind and grit of the Spaniard and the Serb. Almost everything about Roger had come to be associated with this style of tennis: his nationality, his family, and his coach. The latest had been Edberg, about as buttoned-up, almost stoic, as Roger.

I had been arguing for a while (to no avail) that this was killing the guy. His game still may have been the easiest on the eyes, but the flaw (that nonchalance) was devouring his relevance.

Enter Ljubičić. I liked it from Day 1. Ljubičić had always been an uncompromising opponent  for anyone on tour. The move seemed a little late in the making, but Roger was still knocking on the door at the majors; he just couldn’t muster the strength, the attitude, to kick the fucking thing in and take what belonged to him.

This highlight could not be more appropriate to this point. Look at coach Ljubičić’s reaction to Roger finding a break-point at this critical, and I mean critical, juncture of the final.

Can you imagine Edberg doing that? Perhaps I should admit to have not looked at much of Edberg or Annacone (or any of his past “captains) to determine their “attitude” or “focus” during a match like this. This was the end of the rope for Roger. He had to break, or the match was pretty much in the refrigerator and the jello would’ve been jiggling.

Ljubičić’s form was perhaps as brilliant as Roger’s. And this is not a stretch when you consider how Roger MENTALLY was able to come out of quasi-retirement and win his 18th major. . .against Nadal, after surviving a pretty stiff draw (by the way, the Murray exit is not necessarily a luck of the draw for Federer because you and I both know that Murray v Federer would have been very very interesting – Murray’s run last summer was really sans Novak and Roger, keep in mind, and the Swiss has usually faired pretty well against the Scot – but that’s for another post 🙂

In other words, Ljubičić’s influence was massive. This look and shake from the box should not be underestimated. Nor should the sudden resilience and devastation of the BH. Ljubičić’s hands are all over this historical run from Federer. What a masterpiece on all sides.

Would Edberg do anything remotely resembling this?

 

Brilliant. Great sport brings-out the best in people, right? You think this passion (from both sides – the mental toughness and the ecstatic joy) benefits Roger’s game?

I watched most of the final again, jotted down some notes during the opening and closing sets of the match, which were really the heaviest in the way of importance. We all know that Roger winning the first set was paramount. We said the same things about Roger’s 2015 finals vs Djokovic at WB and the USO. If nothing else, the early lead helps mentally. Of course, Rafa still had the match on his racquet in the fifth, so the fifth, obviously, became incredibly consequential.

First Set Notes

7th game, Rafa serving 3-3. At 0-15, after a nice BH return to S&V put-away, Federer on the second point comes 2-3 ft inside the BL to hit the BH and misses, but Nadal serving 15-15 is uncomfortable.

Roger’s aggression seems to be a little intimidating, even this early. The FH is working early and he outhits Rafa to win the following point and then with a running volley he stamps the next point to create the double break point. He converts the first BP.

He has dominated the first set. Roger inside the BL, coming to net, Rafa on his back foot. Roger’s return and defense the better of the two, as well. Serving well and quickly. Suffocating tennis. Consolidates at at love with an ace. The chess match.

Nadal caught off guard.

Roger running around the second serve, again getting control of the point on return (aggressive play).

In closing out, serve is solid, BH still dominant, 2 aces over 90% first serves won, about 68% FS efficiency.

Roger’s look at his box after 1st set isexpressionless, just a stare. Lubicic.

Different mindset here, this time, and the BH has completely shaped the tone of the match.

Fifth Set Notes

Rafa serving 2-3. First point typical of what Roger was doing with some of that big FH tops-spin to his BH, ballooning it back, playing safe, keeping ball in play and then he finds an opportunity and drills the flattened BH CC winner: 0-15.

(these ballooning, rally perpetuating shots play a big role. People will say that Roger was more aggressive in this match, and they’re probably right, but he’s also keeping some points simply going, playing some defense, playing some shots safe; but he is certainly looking for the offense. No doubt. None the less, watch his “defensive” tennis accentuate the offense. It’s smarter tennis).

Back to the sixth game of fifth set, Rafa serving 2-3. Solid rally, but Roger starting to really out hit Nadal: forced error: “Come on” says Roger 0-30.

15-30, errant FH.

Great serve out wide, easy put away for Rafa, 30-30.

Rally, Nadal long. 30-40 – break point Roger (he has had BP in all of Rafa’s serve games in 5th set. Considering Rafa doesn’t win another game, you can say that table was turned).

Nadal saves a BP with great spot serve up the middle. Another good serve follows, Rog dumps into net. Ad Nadal. Pretty much match point.

Nadal hits the tape on FH and it bounces into alley, back to deuce.

Roger then wins next point with the lethal BH CC to reach another BP. The box, Ivan the terrible…again because it’s worth an encore.

6th BP of set and that’s the one. Roger Breaks, evens the set at 3-3.

7th game. Ace. S&V quick point 30-0. Tough serve, Nadal misses, 40-0. Second serve ace (#17), 4-3.

Nadal misses wide on FH. 0-15. Wide again as Roger is flying all over the court, 0-30. Nadal fading. 9 straight points for Roger.

Double fault, 0-40.

He saves one with great FH. 15-40.

He saves another with big serve. 30-40.

Roger misses badly,deuce.

Nadal a warrior even in this diminished stage. What a fighter.

Then “the rally.” 27 shots. BP Roger:

 

(Here’s a look at the box after the massive 27 shot exchange. The Box. EyeVan making eye-contact with his student. . .ha ha)

Then, Nadal huge serve back to deuce.

Roger another hitting clinic, Roger dictating. BP # 5 of this game.

Insane BH CC return, Nadal wide. 5-3 fifth set of AO final.

Nadal from way back, BH CC return winner. Vintage Nadal, 0-15.

Out hits Roger in next point, 0-30. Will not go away. Insane mettle, this guy.

Ace. 15-30. 18th ace of the match.

Nadal eats him alive in the next point and it’s double break point, 15-40. RAFA!

Wow.

Ace #19, 30-40.

Second serve…huge inside out FH, vintage Federer. Deuce.

Big first serve, Nadal long, Ad in, championship point.

Second serve. Double fault? Challenge. Rog wins challenge.

Rog hits it long, deuce #2.

Ace #20, 2nd championship point.

Roger hits line, it’s challenged. Roger wins the AO.

_________________________________________________________________

How does some discussion about court speed sound?  These are the conversations I love: time to go macro and put careers in perspective! 😀

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.

Impressions of Wimbledon

First of all, congratulations to Andy Murray. Getting that third major does back-up his two odd-ball majors in 2012 (USO) and 2013 (WB) when Djokovic’s form took a long-term dive, Nadal was typically erratic and Federer was in the midst of his steady decline.

I watched as much of the match (taped) as I could, but, frankly, since I had seen the result (I checked my phone while away hoping to see Raonic grab an early set and make this interesting, having a pretty good feeling like everyone else that Murray was going to take care of business here), I watched the first set and a half or so and saw the diagnosis. Plain and simple: Murray was playing on a much higher level than Raonic. Raonic looked terrible, to be honest, but Murray’s return of serve and his general baseline strength were just too sharp, too imposing for Raonic.

Tough to say if Raonic was simply worn-out from playing Federer (emotionally, five-setter, etc.) or if Murray is just that much better than either one of these guys. Perhaps a bit of both.

Murray’s serve was unthreatened and he was all over the Canadian’s serve which statistically was just not as good as it was in the semi-final. The SF had what amounts to one of the greatest big serve displays of all time, where he had something like 14+ serves of over 140mph.

So, his level appeared to have dropped coming off his big SF win, but no question Murray is playing very well. My biggest take-away, other than Raonic seemed a bit out of sorts, was Murray seemed very determined, and the win was never in doubt. McEnroe et al, seemed to find this surprising at first since they had mentioned in the intro that there had to be so much pressure on Murray for this match. As the match began, Raonic looked to be the one overcome by the weight of the moment. The match lacked drama, but nice to see Murray play so confidently and capture that third major and his second Wimbledon.

In terms of some of the actual tennis and strategy, the call (probably Pat McEnore) pointed-out how Lendl and co. wanted Murray to actually go to Raonic’s FH, but push him out wide and open the court. It was brilliant strategy, leaving the Canadian to scramble for his weaker BH. Murray passed well and, again, served well. Just outplayed the younger player thoroughly.

Where most players might want to play to Raonic’s weaker BH, Murray perhaps surprised him and, in addition, pushed him out wide, which enabled the Scot to come to net and finish points easily. This was a huge part of that win. Murray dictated points, pushed Raonic around the BL and kept his serve very professional and unthreatened.

So this take-away of Murray’s form, a player peaking, in his prime, was a vivid contrast to Federer who, despite not being very match-fit because of his weak 2016, looked erratic and ineffective. How many times would Raonic come to net on Roger, and the “Maestro” would hit a soft elevated ball back, only to be put-away easily. Roger, on several occasions, made futile attempts at driving a winner past the big S&V machine. Murray and that great THBH had to have Raonic a little nervous coming to net. This contrast between Roger and Andy was a huge tell-tale that Federer is in over his head at this point. We’ll get a match or two perhaps where he plays very well, but the consistency of Federer is long-gone.

So, Andy’s determination and continued solid 2016 form is my first impression of Wimbledon (the match more about the Scot than the Canadian or anyone else – I thought Novak would drop in this tournament).

My second impression is that Andy’s play made quite obvious how impotent Federer’s tennis is at this point. Those were my first two impressions of the Championships.

But there were other impressions.

Firstly, how about that coaching trend.

Lendl’s presence in Andy’s camp is unquestionably beneficial. One could practically make the argument that this is almost as much Ivan’s title as it is Murray’s. Murray’s form was dominant throughout, and included his best behavior during and between points. Totally different Murray from the petulance and insane immaturity that’s plagued the player in the absence of the tennis great. Lendl never stands in the box, practically never smiles. Murray would look to his box through out the final gesturing for them to stand and fire-up. Darth Lendl would just sit there, emotionless. If you never saw Lendl play, you probably think the Big 4 are the greatest thing to ever put foot on a tennis court. First of all, it’s the Big 3 with out Lendl, if you know what I mean. Lendl’s influence in that camp is so massive it’s quite astonishing. Murray is a completely different level of talent with the Czech in the box. Like they do in other circumstances, Lendl should be given an honorary Wimbledon championship. There, you have another career GSlammer.

This Fedalovicay golden era argument makes me laugh when you look back at some of the greats who played a much tougher brand of tennis, who must laugh at some of the softness of this era. These current champions at the very least have a much cushier tennis existence. The money, the celebrity, the equipment, the nutrition and camp resources. . . it’s a different game today.

There’s evidence of my claim in some of the very success of the Big 4. We just discussed the mind-boggling affect that Lendl’s tennis genius has on Murray. Murray has zero majors without Lendl. You think that’s a coincidence? Murray should be giving the eight major coach of the century a blank check and follow his master’s commands like a dog. How is this latest Wimbledon (and Murray’s legacy in general) not more of a nod to how great tennis used to be. Does Lendl stay with Murray for the rest of the year? I would love to see Murray with Lendl in NYC. Lendl went to eight straight USO finals. Wrap your brain around that statistic. This would be a tremendous development for the final major. It’s all about Lendl.

What about Becker’s influence with Djokovic? Yes, Becker is a great from that forgotten age of tennis, long before the so-called golden era that’s erased the past. Lol.

Look at Djokovic’s career arch and you can see the affect of Becker (unless this is just strange coincidence ;). Djokovic became pretty relevant in the greatness discussion in 2011 when he was actually only being coached by his long-term ally Marian Vajda. The following two years, coming-off that 3 major explosion of 2011, he won two AO, which he wins every year. He basically went away for two years. Pretty remarkable, actually. Boris was brought on in December of 2013, so he’s really been at the helm since the beginning of 2014. Since then, Novak has 6 majors. Yeah, he went from six to twelve, under the leadership of Boris Becker. That’s more impressive than Lendl’s magic. The game is so mental, it doesn’t take much to see how these old school greats might have helped. The game was brutal back in the day with the depth, the lack of resources, match formats, etc. Bringing that kind of tennis toughness and leadership to these players’ games clearly has had a huge impact.

We’ll have to wait and see with John McEnroe, whether or not he can take Raonic’s game to that next level. He already has, but let’s see if the Canadian can grab a major in the next year or so. I think the Canadian will struggle against the likes of Murray and Djokovic at the very top. Their games are built specifically to trouble a guy like Raonic. Time will tell.

Indeed, the tennis genius of the past helping elevate this era’s game is classic irony for all those people popping their proverbial bottles of bubbly, celebrating the greatest level of tennis of all time blah blah blah.

On the other hand, Federer’s coaching experiment is quite inconsequential at this point. His game plan vs. Raonic was awful, but I suspect Roger’s form had a little to do with that dumpster fire.

One final impression of Wimbledon is the look of the game heading into the next few years. We might not think much has changed since Roger made the final four. Djokovic was upset, but that will certainly happen from time to time. Aside from those kinds of unusual developments (I would argue Roger’s success has as much to do with the draw/the field), this is a glance at the tour of 2016-17 and on. Djokovic will continue to dominate, and Murray (depending on his coaching situation) should be able to contend; that kind of focus (from the box) will certainly challenge Djokovic, I suspect. Should. That’s the men’s game in a nutshell. We’ve already talked about the tour without Fedal; that’s already a reality at the very top. Will Raonic progress? Presumably. The USO should be interesting if everyone is healthy and not too burned-out from Rio.

Looking ahead to the hard courts and NYC (I can’t get that excited about Rio), I think Djokovic absolutely needs to win this last major to have a good chance at reaching 17. Not that I put much stock in that conversation, but the reality is that Djokovic is aiming for that specific number, which, admittedly, has a lot of historical significance.

We will continue this discussion heading into the NA HC season. Plus, stay-tuned for my final installment(s) of How Roger Federer Ruined Tennis.