Madrid Final and Rome Draw

Madrid 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2007 or 2012?

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

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

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

Or is it 2009?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source.

Rome (link)

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

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

Wawrinka and Cilic have their own little irrelevant quarter.

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

More to come as this plays-out.

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

Djokovic Almagro and Nadal Fognini . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More wins might improve things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miami QF

Yesterday saw Kei Nishikori play-out what an injured wrist looks like. That’s what determined is zero FH, resorting early and often to chippy drop-shots and just getting out-hit. Fognini had very little difficulty with Kei. Fabio hasn’t had the toughest draw, but federer-miami-2017-mondaybageling D. Young was a bit of an eye-opener. The American has played well the last couple of weeks. Either way, Fabio v Nadal could be interesting if Fabio has that disruptive spirit going. In the last couple of years, I’ve seen him give Nadal fits on clay and hard court (we all recall USO 2015).

Today’s QFs is the big league. Stan didn’t make it into this round because the tennis is too big. Sorry, Stanimal. The Kyrgios v Zverev is round 2 of what they started in IW. Nick dismissed him in IW. Let’s see what the young German can put together here. If Nick dismisses again, remember that separation for future “big” encounters. We really need Sascha to step-up.

Federer should beat Berdych, especially in this form. We’ll leave it at that.

As much as I liked Nadal’s tennis yesterday (I thought Sock would show more fight), he has quite an opponent coming-out of that top half.

The odds are probably Federer survives 53.3% the top (nod to B.Gilbert), but the winner of Kyrgios/Zverev seems quite the candidate. Let’s hope all four men today are playing high level tennis. We shouldn’t be disappointed.

Carry-on!

Update: Federer needed (I think) a little luck to escape the ominous Berdych. The Czech was out-hitting Federer from the second set on. He even had a courageous 120 mph second serve on Federer’s first MP in the third set. In other words, the influence of Goran is quite positive. In the first set, the conclusion looked foregone, Federer cruising. But you will have to go see for yourself (on replay) how Berdych began to strike the ball. With his serve working well and a BH down-the-line that Federer had no answer for, this match was tipping toward Tomas in a big way. 

Federer saved 2-3 MP in the TB, and was able to convert his chance, with Berdych serving 6-7, when the big Czech bloke double-faulted. I felt bad for Berdych. He played well. I’m not so sure Roger’s form dipped. It’s just that it takes a player to play at a very high level to really take Federer. A big hitter like a Berdych or Kyrgios might be that type. 

I’ll have to tape the second QF, but be sure to watch this match, folks. 

Miami madness!

Indian Wells Preview: ATP 250 & 500 Action

The build-up to Indian Wells has intensified with some business-end of tournament play in Rio, Marseille and Delray Beach this weekend, followed by some big boy tennis next week in Dubai and Acapulco.

In Rio, the lone 500 this week, we have maybe a Thiem v Dolgopolov final in the cards though Thiem has to take care of Schwartzman and Ramos-Vinolas on his side while the Ukrainian must get through his quarter and semi final matches, as well. Not much more to speak of there other than Kei continues to consolidate our view of his game: he was put out in R1 via home-towner Bellucci. We have nothing against Nishikori, but his prospects murray500-18just don’t look very bright, looking at the surrounding athletic landscape. His loss to Roger in Melbourne had to sting a bit, and then to lose to Dolgopolov and Bellucci since, and remain title-less, with the tennis only about to get even more intense. . . Not ideal for Kei.

In Marseille, the usual French suspects are wreaking havoc. What we’re left with is some potential fireworks. As I write this, the 1st set of the Monfils v Gasquet QF is inching toward a TB. The winner there gets Pouille in one SF. Nice to see the 23 year-old find a bit of form after a slow start to 2017. He hasn’t really steamrolled anyone on his way to this SF, but he’s there scheduled to play a fellow countryman to see who will face the winner of the other SF: Kyrgios v Tsonga. Ah. Could be brilliant. Could be a wet rag of heartlessness. I’ll be optimistic and say this should be a must-watch, as Tsonga surely wants to back-up his big Rotterdam title, no? Solidify the confidence and form he’ll need in bigger tournaments, seeing the twilight of his tennis career in the on-coming traffic? Right? I like me some motivated Tsonga.

Kyrgios, on the other hand, has to want to continue his reformation, no? Especially with Tomic tanking another match, this one vs. Darcis in R1 at Delray Beach. Put Tomic on time-out for good. This kind of Kyrigios/Tomic/Monfil theatrics of the mentally ill needs medical treatment/supervision, not professional tennis where supportive audiences are paying high prices to watch these athletes perform. Kyrgios, we know his talent, has to see the razor’s edge upon which he plays, knowing he can follow toilet-Tomic right into the swamp if he doesn’t keep his wits. Obviously, I want Tsonga to test the crap out of Nick.

Either way, good stuff in Marseille (Gasquet and Monfils have gone to a 1st set TB).

Delray Beach sees two QF matches coming-up: Ranoic v Edmund and Querrey v Del Potro. The first SF is set with Americans Sock and D. Young ready to exchange. Sock will beat his fellow American, Young. As the #3 seed, Sock continues to play pretty consistently. Another delpotroAmerican we’ve talked about in the past, waiting for his development, is Taylor Fritz, who lost to Young in three sets, after Young upset the #2 seed Dr. Ivo. Young then got a W/O against Darcis to face Sock.

The top half seems much heavier with the big Raonic/Querrey/Del Potro trio ready to sort-out a few things. Del Potro has a chance to return the favor against Sam, who beat the Argentinian in a SF at last year’s Delray Beach Open on his way to the title. Should be a decent final between Ranoic, we suspect, and Sam or Juan.

Definitely some good tennis on the horizon this weekend (Monfils took the first set TB 7-5; those boys are mixing it up. This is what we’re talking about. Get ready Lucas!).

Some even bigger tennis is on next week’s horizon with the Dubai and Acapulco 500s ready to go.

The Dubai field includes four of the top-10, including Murray, Wawrinka and Federer. Monfils, Pouille and Berdych, and guys like Dan Evans, Muller and Verdasco appear to be in the draw, as well. In the end, we have the world #1, the seven-time winner and the defending champion (Wawrinka) set to do battle in Dubai, where they’re celebrating the tournament’s 25 year anniversary.

In Acapulco, Novak appears to have decided late to grab a wildcard and enter an already solid field who will be swapping ground-strokes there, between margaritas.

The field here is loaded, like I said: Djokovic, Raonic, Nadal, Cilic, Thiem, Zverev, Goffin, Del Potro, and Kyrgios, among others. Thiem is the defending champ.

As Dubai and Acapulco crown winners, we will be less than a week away from Indian Wells kicking-off, so what do we make of these early mosh pits of top guys sharpening their form before a huge and historically prized Masters tournament in southern California?

Tweet from Novak accompanying the image of Acapulco:

nole_twitter_mex-jpg-large

Great news! You’ll see me back on court next week in Acapulco at Did you miss me?

I suppose the most interesting point here is Djokovic “crashing the party” (making everyone, as some might suggest, spill their margaritas). Is there much to make of this seemingly strategic move?

On the one hand, people might have had Nadal ready to consolidate his Melbourne tennis, build his confidence going into the IW/MI double, continuing to find positive feedback at those HC 1000s before turning to his much beloved clay. Nadal continuing to gain confidence has to be on a few people’s radars.

Therefore, the thinking might go, the Djokovic wildcard might be seen as a chance to punish the Spaniard himself, quell some of that confidence and reestablish his “dominance”?

That’s too simple and too flawed.

I think it’s a smart move for Djokovic, still, to play Acapulco, against these boys, all of whom are looking for a solid warm-up for Indian Wells. No question. Why you weren’t in the field already, Novak, who knows. But I say smart to test your game against some top guys.

In fact, why wasn’t he already in the field? If he was resting until IW, this could be seen as a smart strategy/preparation, as well. Shake-off some more of the supposed burn-out. But that plan’s been scrapped for the must-sharpen-my-form-before-IW plan.

The only person Djokovic should be worried about at this point is Djokovic. Not sure he’s in the position to keep an eye on Nadal, try to send an early message to Rafa that Novak has the upper-hand, etc. Novak has many many other things to worry about than Rafa.

If you look at the Acapulco field (alongside the Dubai field), you realize the gentleman playing Dubai probably represent Novak’s biggest concerns, so if he is wanting to send an early message, maybe he should have tried to get a spot in that other 500.

In the end, Novak is playing for his own form and confidence, both of which have taken a beating since last year’s FO. We’ve all seen it.

I suspect he just needed a little warm-up, that Pepe wasn’t providing the best tennis prep on the planet, etc. Nothing more than that: Novak wants to smell a little ATP 500 blood before the desert bloodbath in Indian Wells in about two weeks.

And there’s a lot of pressure on Novak right now. I suspect he will be fine, but we have to see him actually fulfill this prophecy. Even Doha lacked the fulfillment to which we refer. Downplaying the Doha final win, like we did, turned-out to be spot-on. He was very vulnerable in Melbourne. Remember?

He isn’t crashing any party in Mexico. He’s trying to find his game, his confidence, the keys to his legacy since this is absolutely his time and place (Murray might disagree) and there are actually people (Roger and Rafa) trying to crash Novak’s party.

Should be very very interesting to watch.

First things first: I’m pulling for some boys to hit the ball well this weekend, mainly Tsonga, Pouille and the Gentle Giant. We want the fire-breathers bringing all sorts of monstrosity to Mexico, and the U.A.E. before descending on southern California, where I’ll be waiting.

Oh, Gasquet just took the 2nd set, so a decider it is.

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.

Australian Open at the R16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The AO Bracket at the R16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk to you soon!

Djokovic v Dimitrov

Who you got?

Okay, I’m getting way ahead of myself here.

Sorry for the delay in posting; I wanted to make sure I saw some actual tennis from the two matches I was going to write about.

The Djokovic win is not the biggest news if you’re a big-time tennis fan. Not in the least. The match didn’t tell us as much as we would like. Granted, if you’re a fanboy with a fanblog and you’re just beside yourself that your favorite tennis player won, well, good for you. Have fun expressing your joy to your adoring readers.

In other words, close your “analysis” of said final like this: “As a fan, I am delighted to see Djokovic playing this well again and to see my faith in him paying off. I missed that incredible level of tennis and intensity from my favorite player.”

Weeeeeeeeee!

Analysis:

The match had decent quality (at times high – especially given the time of year – and at times pretty mediocre) and top-of-the-tour excitement, for sure. These are the boys to be reckoned with on the tour right now, obviously. As we said in the preview to 2017, the year’s majors could be split 2 and 2 between these two (but most likely won’t be). One can not deny the fortune of the tennis world to get this first installment of Murray v Djokovic 2017 at their first tournament of the season, a preview, literally, of the year’s first major. Again, the first week of the tour and we get a #1 v #2 with spill-over anticipation and tension from 2016, a long-standing rivalry, etc. This match had the goods and it pretty much delivered.djokovicmurraydoha

To be sure, good on Djokovic for pulling-out the win. This is a big win for the Serb and his camp (his moral support). When Novak was playing well, finding that great penetrating FH cross-court, down-the-line combo, for instance, he showed why he can be very tough to beat. There were signs of that form, of simply out-hitting Andy, starting a point perhaps tentatively, but finding that rhythm, finishing the point with that Djokovic BL brilliance, even coming to net effectively (35 times), and hitting some nice over-head smashes (a shot that worries most Djokovic fans).

Indeed, much of the match had the look of many past Djokovic v Murray tilts. The Serb is just an all-around better player than Murray, or was. That’s the question that lingers from 2016 and has to be answered in 2017. Based-on their H2H, and/or a comparative look at their tennis, Djokovic generally has too much (depth, angle, precision, consistency, fortitude) for Sir Andy.

Murray has developed a nice shot repertoire from both sides, a return-of-serve that can rival Novak’s, a solid service game, and tremendous touch at the net. He’s a beast and not too many players can match his overall strength and versatility (especially that defense!). But he’s been looking-up most of his career at the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Two are exit-stage-left, so there’s only the Serb with whom he has to contend. And he’s done OK. Two of his three majors have come against Djokovic. Add to that the end of 2016 and you have to tell yourself that Andy stands a chance against Novak.

But Novak, in form, should get the better of Andy. That’s pretty much what went down in the Doha final. That’s why the second half of 2016 (from Wimbledon thru to the WTF) is such a good debate: is that period of tennis more the Djokollapse or the rise of Andy Murray?

So, the Doha final reminded us of the historical edge that Djokovic has had over Murray. Murray just didn’t cash-in on breaks of serve (2/7 I believe), didn’t do enough with his serve, came-up short too often with his BH. He made Djokovic look like that old Djokovic through-out most of the match. For most observers, the match might suggest that we’re returning to an ATP status-quo circa 2014-15. And this may be the case.

HOWEVER. Djokovic unable to close-out the 2nd set is a huge asterisk on this here Djokovic win. His three-set victory counts in the win column, for sure. Personally, I think a win is a win in most cases. But the context for this match is the Djokollapse and the edge he has over the Scot. If he closes-out that match 3 and 4, wow. Definitive. Big confidence boost going-in to Melbourne. But Andy breaks back twice to reverse the entire direction of the match? What?

I was jogging through some local mountains but did have my phone, decided tentatively to check the score once I figured we’d have some kind of verdict. Djokovic serving for match was, again, a pretty definitive story-line. As I checked back, just to be sure, only to see Djokovic serving to stay in the set at 5-6 I thought that’s it, that’s the question mark that will still hover over the Djokovic camp. I actually thought Murray could ride that reversal to victory, even thought we could see Djokovic go away in the third set. Hanging-on and winning that match is a solid move for the Serb, no question. Be that as it may, the break at 4-5 is almost philosophical in its meaning.

If you’re Djokovic, you’re ecstatic about the win in Doha over Andy Murray in a thrilling final that seems to reestablish the ATP pecking order.

On the other hand, if you’re Andy, you’re quite pleased with how you made this a match. You got to Djokovic in that second set. Even in the first set, Andy was broken at 3-4 when he appeared to be in control of the game. I didn’t think Andy looked very sharp, though certainly his opponent had something to do with that. The few laser BH Andy hit that cause even Djokovic lots of trouble were very few and far between. Even that flatter CC FH was too rare to be much of a weapon for the Scot. I recall one BH from Andy that sat-up like a fattened fruit, which Novak murdered with an inside-out FH winner. Great shot, Novak, but the world’s #1 shot execution just wasn’t very sharp.

Andy winning would have been devastating for Novak. But the break back in the 2nd, including the loss of composure from the the Serb (breaking his racquet, receiving the point penalty – after hitting a ball into the stands earlier) all added-up to a kind of moral victory in a match with this much context: and I am NOT a moral victory kind of guy, by the way. But with the championship on his racquet in the 2nd set. . .There’s still some concern.

In the end, Djokovic gets his Doha title defense and a solid result going-into the Australian Open where he’s very much in a certain comfort zone. But there are signs from Doha that he’s not that peaking, indomitable world beater. His Doha draw was weak, he miraculously survived five MPs against Verdasco in the SF and Murray, who was not very sharp, still managed to put a massive scare into the Serb when the world #2 should have cruised to a straight-set win. In other words, it’s complicated and I wouldn’t say anything definitive happened in Doha last week. Other than a pretty dramatic final for all tennis fans to enjoy. Bravo.

On that note, speaking of drama, excitement, the way Djokovic and Murray extend points, sit back on the BL and try to out-hit the other. . .Though the tennis is exciting, the affects of that style can be undermining of quality; the tennis so physical, the players noticeably tiring in such a three-setter. Again, fun to watch and terribly exciting at times, but this can be reminiscent of less creative, less offensive tennis.

This is a long way of asking, did anyone see Dimitrov play this week? I said it in the preview that his surging form is something to keep an eye on, and I said the Dimitrov v Raonic SF was certainly something I wanted to see.

Folks, the 25 year-old (turns 26 in May) is showing all kinds of brilliance on the court. I know it’s obnoxiously cliche to call him Baby-Fed, but the guy’s all-court athletic fluency is clicking on several cylinders right now. His movement and execution from both sides is quite Federer-like given the angles he can play with his FH and OHBH. Whereas Federer’s OHBH is now come-and-go effective, Stan’s is a military fire-arm and someone like Gasquet’s is at least nice to look at, Grigor’s is demoralizing. I watched in the first set of today’s Brisbane final Nishikori give-up on some of the Bulgarian’s devastating ground strokes. He moved Kei all over the court, out-hit the world #5 player fluently, made it look pretty easy actually.

Not to mention he beat Raonic in straights in the SF. Not a bad weekend for Dimitrov. I can only hope the form is for real and he can sustain this in bigger stakes, longer more physical matches.

Look at a few of these highlights if you missed his march to the Brisbane title this week. This is only from the final today vs. Nishikori, but really solid form from a still relatively young Grigor.

His movement is sensational. Cutting and driving the OHBH, ripping the FH, coming into net with ease and efficiency. . . the tour needs this style and this talent to develop. No question.

Watching the SF I was reminded of how someone who knows tennis told me he liked a young Milos Raonic back in 2012 or so. After watching some of his tennis, I never bought-in. Raonic’s movement around the court reminds me a bit of those gangly monsters from the film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Dimitrov, by contrast, has so much more athleticism and a kind of prodigious fluency to his game. After that 2014 WB SF appearance he seemed to go away, girl trouble, immaturity, etc. Hopefully he’s back. Truly impressive stuff from the Bulgarian this week in Brisbane.

Hats off to Roberto Bautista Agut, as well. His game continues to show a consistently dangerous quality. Come on, boys, get your games ready for Melbourne.

Cheerio.