Lucas Pouille

Notes on a Wednesday

The grass continues to befuddle a few of our higher ranked players and, in fact, as you know, London this week has become a kind of journeyman’s journey.

The top three seeds are vanquished at Ageon Championships with Murray getting beat in straights by lucky loser Thompson from Australia, Raonic getting over powered by Aussie super boy Kokkinakis, who has yet to live up to the youth hype of his countryman Kyrgios, and Wawrinka falling to grass veteran F.Lopez, which we probably don’t even consider an upset; Lopez is playing well and likes the grass, a finalist last week in Stuttgart.

Nice to see the young Kokkinakis rise-up, but we need to see a lot more from him before we start putting him in the same sentence as his better half: Nick Kyrgios. Speaking of, he looks to be dealing with some hip trouble, extending from the clay, and was dismissed via retirement down a set to American Nick Young, who had some nice showings on earlier hard courts.

Winner last week in s-Hertogenbosch Gilles Muller just beat Tsonga in 2R (R16) at Ageon, so he continues to use his solid serve to advance (that final v Karlovic was an ace factory, probably not a match enjoyed by our clay court fans).

Other notable play in London is to see if Dimitrov can find some form pre-Wimbledon. He’s down a set now, so we’ll see what happens there. Cilic should be able to find some deeper draw this week in London and I’m a bit interested in watching how this young Canadian Shapovalov fares vs. Berdych today. This kid, unlike the two Australian super boys who are now 21 years-old, is still a teenager. Looks like he can play. Good test today against Big Berd.

Murray’s loss is not a good look, like the loss from Federer last week. Federer has this week to find some rhythm, but Murray has to just get his shit together at this point. Murray should be able to outlast many an opponent in the Bo5 format and probably gets Andy-Murray-819267a decent draw from the top, as the no. 1 seed. He looked like he’s looked most of the season yesterday, sluggish, defensive, uninspired. His tennis in the RG SF vs. Wawrinka showed signs of the more offensive Murray, which, combined with the world-class defense, becomes a fairly potent brand. But simple defense won’t cut it. He has to raise his level, starting confidently in a couple of weeks.

Federer should get tested in Halle. Zverev the elder might help the Swiss groove that S&V a bit. Down the draw there are some other potential interesting matches for the people’s Wimbledon favorite. Looking forward to watching some of these Halle contests with the likes of Pouille continuing to build (though he has a difficult one next with local grass authority Mayer), Khachanov, Zverev the younger, Thiem, et al.

A nice counter-point to my Djokovic post yesterday about his fall, that in my sportsman’s mind seems among the tennis intelligentsia such a whisper at what amounts to the gates of hell, would be a little commentary on the Federer milestone, upon posting his 1R Halle win against the unlucky loser Sugita: 1100 wins.

That list puts a lot of tennis history into perspective. Makes you almost want to open the door on the statistical arguments that really persevere through time and space.

When you enter the discussion of greatness in anything, you are taking for granted to key elements: genius and time. The craft of greatness has reached a highest level and this level has been maintained over a period of time that we can define in various ways, depending upon the craft.

In tennis, Federer’s career consistency is incredible. For one perspective on that, see my comparison of Federer and Nadal in terms of their 2017 level. Federer’s level is consistent with his level over the last several years. With Djokollapse (and Ljubičić, the improved BH, etc.) he has made quite a move to the winner’s circle, but the level has been high for years. Nadal’s level in 2017 is more of a surprise. Period.

This is the context of my concern for Djokovic.

Speaking of which, let’s see how Eastbourne treats the Serb. I am certainly rooting for his improved form and confidence.

2017 Grass in Progress

Stuttgart final four:

French connection of Pouille v Paire
and M.Zverev v Fel. Lopez

Zverev took-out the German sharp-shooter (Haas) 4 and 4 and Lopez took care of Berdych in three after losing the first set TB. Pouille, a WB QFinalist last year, got by Kohlshreiber in three today and Paire beat Jankowicz in straights.

Looking for some patterns to affect the draws at SW19 in about a couple of weeks, Pouille could be finding some rhyme and rhythm after his choppy clay. He has a nice offensivetennis that the grass suits. Zverev’s S&V will be fun to watch match-up with certain players who will struggle with that grass gas. Lopez’s game is a nice change-of-pace from a Spaniard – he’s a graceful grass player who can certainly make opponents earn a win or a loss. Paire is a mystery, decent ball-striker (solid BH) with a terrible temper, who can seek-out an upset.

Let’s look for a Pouille v Zverev final in Stuttgart (to raise the volume on the Zverev grass factor).

In s-Hertogenbosch, the SF:

Cilic v Karlovic
Mueller v A.Zverev

Ahhh, the serve is a factor again. Haven’t seen much of Karlovic this week, but Cilic continues to show some form; the 2016 Wimbledon Semi finalist should surgically impair the Dr., but I suppose he could ace the court right off the Croat 😉

Big serving Mueller shouldn’t have enough to beat Zverev, who continues to grow. We have to like the play of Zverev at WB this year (both of them, perhaps). He had a bad draw in Paris (Verdasco), but got his first Masters, of course, and is really mowing the lawn this week. He got beat last year in WB R32, I’m pretty sure, by Del Potro, so we’ll have to see his draw. But he’s different player this year.

We will continue to watch next week’s WB warm-ups to assess more form and possible contenders at The Championships.

These names jump-out as players to watch, some quite obvious.

Federer
Nadal
Murray
Djokovic
Wawrinka
Raonic
Zverev(s)
Pouille
Cilic
Berdych
Kyrgios
Dimitrov

We hear Djokovic is considering a warm-up in Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon.
Federer, Wawrinka and Murray should be in action next week, as well.
Another note on the Federer loss: he had, correct me if I’m wrong, 29 aces. Up 6-2 and MP in the 2nd set, with a gob of aces. . .no panic in the loss, but in the potential that he’s lost that edge that began the year in all-time fashion.
I might not be back to write untfederer-haas-stuttgart-2016-monday-2il next Tuesday (my son’s soccer team has a big weekend up the road a couple of hours). Then again, I have my phone and have been known to touch the keys from the discomfort of that awful Apple phone keyboard. 🙁  I know, get a laptop, pal.
Of course, some of you might want me to take a break anyway. Good luck with that 😀
Wimbledon will be here before you can say “upset!”
Cheers.

2017 Dubai and Acapulco Takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Murray and Djokovic Colliding in Doha

Doha has gone according to plan although as I tuned-in today Djokovic limped into a 2nd set TB with Verdasco, already down a set. The TB started-off and Djokovic proceeded to go down 2-5 on a point that looked very much like a guy throwing-in the towel. He then faced five MPs. Five. Verdasco has to somehow live with himself after not being able to shut that door on world #2. Unreal, watching a guy just die at the door-step like that. The Spaniard’s potent BL game became a weekend warrior at the club just happy to sip iced-teas and play with his pals. Wow. He had four MP at 6-2, Djokovic brought it back to 6-6 and Verdasco

ivan_andy

2007 Doha Final 😀

was able to find one final MP, yet he still couldn’t close the deal. Well done to the Serb for surviving. Need less to say, the Serb’s draw has been pretty easy (though Fernando can bring it) and he looks just OK. Then again saving those MP is a good sign for the former world #1.

Murray had a tougher draw, but has managed pretty well. He has played a few TBs himself. The straights victory over Berdych today (3 and 4) has to feel pretty good going into a final against Novak.

The final has to favor Murray only because of Novak’s Djokollapse just a few months ago, the final installment coming in a H2H against the Brit. Novak can help right the ship for sure with a Doha crown, but Murray must be feeling pretty good.

Djokovic still looks weakened, tired. I don’t see any hint of the invincibility he had a year ago. Having said that, saving MPs like that is vintage Djokovic. That’s what I thought he might be able to employ against Stan in the USO final or Murray in the WTF final. I will always remember Djokovic for being a warrior with a great clutch gene, a player who musters the goods when it counts. There was a bit of that today vs. the Spaniard, but overall he looks quite beatable. We shall see. I like Murray in the final, but a Serb victory wouldn’t surprise one bit only because Djokovic has to be playing with a bit of desperation at this point. A Murray win would be pretty tough on the Djokovic camp.

Elsewhere, Nishikori was indeed tested by American teen Donaldson (I mentioned it would be a test in my preview). Kei was actually in trouble in the 2nd, down a set. He now has a date with Stan in one Brisbane SF while Raonic, who predictably took care of Nadal, is set to play the surging Dimitrov, another call I made, simply based-on his late 2016 form. Dimitrov took care of Thiem in three. I am eager to watch the Raonic v Dimitrov SF.

Federer, as we know, lost to Zverev at the Hopman Cup. Seemed like deja-vu, from the German’s upset at 2016 Halle. All we can say is the Express is en route to Melbourne and has played some fairly competitive tennis in preparation. Speaking of, Roger just bread-sticked Gasquet in their first set, so we can chew on that baguette for a bit. Roger breaking serve should be the headline. His return of serve and BH seem to be the most concerning. Then again, at least he’s healthy.

I think we see the athletes we’ll be talking about in the early part of this season, possibly making a bit of noise at the year’s first major: Andy, Novak, Milos, Stan, Kei, along with Thiem, Dimitrov, and Nadal. Beyond them, Bautista Agut seems to be continuing his form in China along with hopefully some Hopman Cup vibes from the likes of Zverev, Sock, Kyrgios, and Federer. Pouille had to withdraw from his match with young Brit Edmund, but both of these players can hopefully find some big tennis form for Melbourne.

As for Cilic, keep-up the good work, pal.

Over-all, looking good, folks. Big match tomorrow in Doha and let’s see if Stan can find enough tennis to get himself into a final to play the winner of Dimitrov/Raonic (a Milos v Kei final would not surprise me one bit).

Carry-on!

2017. . .Here We Go

It’s December 31, 2016. I have a couple of weeks to dial-in some ATP action as the athletes get their shits together for some 2017 tour action and subsequently some 2017 Australian Open form!

Hope you all had a great holiday/are continuing to celebrate whatever holiday you’re all about.

Let’s take a quick look back at our predictions from last year and make some wildly inaccurate predictions for 2017 since the place (the tour) looks a bit like a mad house.

What we said about the top 5 (at the time).

Novak: “In other words, I see Novak being particularly sharp early in the season, peaking for the FO. You and I know he has to win RG. The greatness discourse includes absolutely the career grand slam. He knows it, we know it; this is a must for 2016, especially given his terrible luck (we’ll call it) at that tourney. Think of the upset at the hands of Fed in 2011 (remember that? was that not a choke?), or his inability to beat Nadal in such closely fought matches more recently, and then the Wawrinka stunner last year. Nole has to hoist the trophy at RG. Must. . . .

From there, I am not so sure what Novak does. A win at the FO might put WB a bit out of reach, yet he is now the king of that surface, more or less. We are waiting for a lull from the Serb and I’m calling for some success early, through the FO and then a lull. He may want to play well at the OG and then the hard courts where he needs to win Cincy for his career Masters quiver, then the Open, and a finish where he can equal Roger’s 6 WTFs.

So, I’m calling for a lull on the grass from Nole. . . .”

Not bad! Put it down, roll the dice. You can read the rest of the post/prediction, but the essence there is pretty much on the spot. Should I have said “collapse” instead of “lull”? Probably.

Federer. “The new coach is interesting at the very least because the change shows he is still trying. Having said that, we could see a significant drop this year as he nears his 35th birthday.”

Not many saw an injury plagued year, but I was not keen on a big year from the old man. He’s now been on a farewell tour for 2 years and counting.

Andy. “He’s a factor, for sure. If he can keep his wits about him, keep developing his game, he’ll continue to threaten at these big tournaments. Of course. But the coaching situation seems less than ideal (Mauresmo back, Bjorkman out). And he just doesn’t seem to have the make-up to deal with the top 2-3 in the sport. He’s an outside chance at AO and maybe the hard courts? I just don’t see his level good enough to beat even a peaking 34 year-old Fed. Stan is coming, Nadal is probably hanging around and then there’s Nole. Even if Murray survives those early rounds, he’ll have to beat his old nemeses, which he’s been unable to do.”

Aha! I was dead wrong about Andy and dead-on right in that his coaching situation did stink. I did not account for a return from Lendl (aside from not considering a bigger lull from the Serb or, what will be called here and now, the Djokollapse). Lendl changed everything. Nadal circling the drain, Federer getting fitted for a cain, and Novak experiencing a lull. . . I should have seen a bit more of a chance, but you and I both know Lendl is a MASSIVE GAME CHANGER.

Nadal. “I know a lot of people see him coming. I don’t. Will he be better than he was early in 2015? Probably. His form and results at the WTF were laudable, but I still think he’s a shell of who he was. I may be proven wrong. If we wins the AO or the FO, I call for an investigation. Seriously. He’s done. Having said that, he will come hard for his 10th FO. This would be a nice way to wrap-up a great career. Nole probably prevents any of those theatrics.”

I nailed this. His withdraw from the FO as he was cleaning-up the bracket is bizarre. Any theories on that? He saves himself for more important tournament play? What? Makes no sense. Play for La Decima at the FO and then call it a year. Look at his results prior to the retirement. Suspicious. Or just dumb. That was his little window, closing.

I threw a few question marks around Stan‘s name. Which is usually the case.  His work at  the 2016 USO was marvelous and as we look now to 2017 and come-up with some precious little (wildly inaccurate) predictions, let’s start with Stan.

Tennis Channel has been, per this time of year’s typical programming, replaying some of the big matches from last year’s majors. I watched a bit here and there, but the USO final, especially the first three sets, really is must-watch. The Stanimal is something to behold, especially against the Djoker, given their little history at the majors (AO 2013 and 2014 and FO 2015, for example).

Take aways from that match that might be relevant for 2017:

First of all, Stan‘s strength is simply unmatched in terms of all-around power: from both wings, his serve and his endurance. If you watch that final, Stan’s imposing strength is predominant through-out, from ripping ground strokes to running off the court after a hold, which was used to contrast/intimidate the flagging Serb. Remember Stan’s draw, too. He faced MP vs the Brit Evans, and still had to play Del Potro and Nishikori. And in both of those last two matches he simply wore down his opponent. Against both Kei and Novak, he lost the first set, but then reeled-off the final three, with his opponent going away big-time in the fourth. Stan is a beast. You don’t want to play Bo5 agains that guy, especially if it’s a GS final.

We haven’t even discussed his shot-making. The forehand is more imposing than the BH, but the latter is the most beautiful shot in the sport, no question.

Watching Stan trade ground strokes with Novak was really fun to watch. And it reminds you, especially when you consider the affect of that OHBH, why Federer really has no shot at beating a top player in best-of-five, unless he serves his ass off and wins in straights I suppose.

Federer’s BH is not in the same book as Stan’s. The older Swiss’ vulnerability here ends any discussion of Fed’s relevance at the end of big tournaments unless, like I said, he serves and volleys his ass off.

Indeed, Stan’s got the kind of power and ascendant dominance to do a lot of damage on the tennis court, especially in those big matches. His mental game can be almost as devastating as his physical game.

Watch the first set of that USO final. Unreal how he sticks around at 0-3, 1-4, 2-5. Then he loses the TB pretty quickly, but comes back and spanks the Serb in Stan fashion.

But what I perhaps like the most about Stan that overcomes, in my book, many of the other players of today’s game (reminds me of Sampras): his glares, body language and almost verbal intimidation of his opponents. In the third set of the USO final, his “Come-on”s as he’s arresting control of that championship are just the tip of the ice-berg. His glares at Novak when the Serb starts to “nurse” the injury are all-time. The guy’s overall composure (fitness and fortitude) is a compelling watch. Throw-in the actual tennis and you have a master class in power tennis.

How old is Stan? For that matter, let’s look at the ages of the leaders.

Novak 29 (5/22)

Andy 29 (5/15)

Rafa 30 (6/3)

Stan 31 (3/28)

Roger 35 (8/8)

We’ve talked about age many times on this blog and the sport’s audience should have some context for this factor. Let’s talk for a second about Stan.

He turns 32 in March, as we can see. So what about that? That’s old in tennis years, as you know. We’ve been reminding everyone of the Serb’s big birthday in May that puts him in the dark, in tennis years. But we know this calculus is anything but absolute; history, none the less, has a big say here and age, in the end, is undefeated.

But recall our discussion of Novak’s age, how he turns 30 in May. I have made the argument, pretty emphatically, that he’s an old 29 (soon to be 30). Think of the wars this guy has fought. He has a lot of mileage on that body and his style is anything but Federer-like. Novak is tired. Nadal’s 30 might look fairly young, too; but he’s quite old in terms of tennis years. Those guys have played their baseline-loving asses off for a long time.

The look of a 31 year-old Stan at Arthur Ashe last September did not look that old. He’s had quite a different tennis life from that of the 29 year-olds Novak and Andy, and the 30 year-old Rafa, for that matter. Stan looks like he can play well for another couple of years. And when I mean well, I mean as the guy who can take the racquet out of anyone’s hand.

Last word on Stan: as we know, he only needs a WB for the career GS. That’s probably a bit much to ask, but we can look forward to that build-up and we know he’s good for one big surge at at major per year, a surge that no opponent can handle. That’s really the only thing to say about Stan. He’s tough to call, until perhaps late in a tourney.

The point here however is that he is very relevant for 2017; he’s won a major each of the last three years. Does this late-blooming tennis genius have a grand plan for the almost Agassi-like career GS? Look for him to make some noise, hopefully a lot of it. The more Stan and Magnus we get. . . the better.

By the way, the career GS has only recently become a huge deal and with the homogeneity of the surfaces (they’re all about the same actually, speed-wise), it’s an over-inflated stat. I’ll carry-on that discussion in the future: the true mark of greatness is consistency and longevity and, most importantly, dominance at the most prestigious tournaments. Period. Winning at all four is tremendous but it’s really just another part of that argument I have yet to finish: How Roger Federer Ruined Tennis. 😉

Back to our predictions:

Novak Djokovic‘s 2017 should be fairly productive. You might think I’ll say he’s going to get skunked at the majors. Sure I have made pretty clear that his 2016 drop in form shouldn’t be very shocking given his age, mileage and style, but he’s still up at the top of the sport, more or less. The personal and family issues could be brought-in to play here, but everyone has those and they’re too tough to calculate, not knowing exactly what’s going on. Certainly no Becker will be an interesting new paint-job to watch roll down the 2017 road; but, again, Novak has 2011 and some intermittent brilliance in ’12 and ’13 to remind himself that he’s succeeded without the German before.

The Australian Open in two weeks is huge for the Serb. If he wins in Melbourne he’s right back in control of the tour and of history. His collapse at the end of 2016 is still very costly, but if he wins his 13th major in about a month, regains #1 and all of his intimidating form, he’ll be in pretty good shape for 2017.

I will go-out-on-a-limb here (not really) and say that 2017 is Novak’s last really good chance to “dominate” tennis. Forget the burn-out or exhale or whatever you want to call what happened after Roland Garros – he’s tired, folks. Again, he’s played a lot of tennis.

One of the reasons I say AO is so important is that the FO, WB and the USO are going to be more and more difficult for him. They always have been, but we know these will only get more difficult. Grass is not his ideal surface (venue) though as the best in the game and really with no other immovable force to contend with, he snagged the back-to-back in 14-15 to give him three WBs. Roger’s inability to win in 2014, especially, is a tough pill for Fedfans to swallow although they do have seven of those to boast.

But there was no one to challenge Novak on the grass then. Now Murray is rolling and has two WBs, Lendl is going to be in-charge, still, and the likes of Raonic, Cilic, perhaps Stan, and even Pouille will be difficult, not to mention anyone with a big serve (like Querrey). WB is going to be tough especially only a few weeks after RG.

The French has been tough for Novak to win, as well, of course. He got it done in 2016, completing his incredible Novak Slam, but that’s certainly a tough major. It follows the early hard-courts and the spring clay.

Really it’s almost as if Novak would be best built to conserve until spring clay so he can be in much better shape to perform at the FO and at WB. I know this may sound lunatic, but he will have a tough spring summer if he’s all-in at the AO and looks to defend IW and MI and then play well on the clay.

But he has a lot of points to defend, too. That’s what makes AO so additionally important. He has those 2,000 points and many more to defend early in the tennis calendar. To be clear, he has to get his 9th AO.

Lastly, the late summer is always tough on him, historically. He has yet to win Cincy and his USO record (although he has been to several SF and F) is over par. Nothing new here in terms of the history or commentary. Novak has a lot of work to do, really. A lot of points to defend, a lot of confidence to build and the clock is working against him.

Andy seems a tough and easy one to pick. He will be battling for #1 all year. He established himself pretty definitively at WB (he was in the AO and FO finals as well) and through out the summer and fall.  Hell, he’s #1. AO has to be big for him, as well. He has a one-on-one with Novak going at this point. Unless someone else steps-up, this is all about Novak and Andy in 2017.

I have heard Andy wants the FO badly. Interesting. Suffice it to say, Andy will be amongst the favorites at every tournament he plays, especially every major. His strength at this point, just his ability to defend and return serve, his solid movement and good overall game are a tough match for anyone. Would have been interesting to see Roger play Andy late in 2016 because of Roger’s solid H2H with him. Roger seems to have his number a bit, but the Brit is just going to be a tough out on every surface.

Andy and Novak have really very similar outlooks for 2017, but I think the Serb has a little more urgency (perhaps a bit of desperation) given the history he’s playing against and his recent Djokollapse.

Would be safe to say that these two split the four majors, but I see another one or even two players sneaking in.

I want to say Andy wins AO and Novak finally finds some form at the FO, defends his title there. They’re the favorites early, but I think we’re all wondering how Novak comes out here, hopefully not at all like Ronda Rousey’s return to the UFC last night. :O

As for Rafa, I see a similar year to last. I see that he’s brought-on former #1 Carlos Moya who actually should be credited some for helping Raonic move-up the ranks and develop his game. I have a hard time thinking this will do much to change the outlook or the prospects of Rafa since Moya is not a magician who can turn back time. Besides, I think it was Moya, who at the near height of his game, who also hails from Mallorca, was getting his ass kicked by a 12-13 year-old Rafa on the practice courts. With Toni still around and Carlos not a Lendl or McEnroe presence, Rafa will still be Rafa though a bump in his performance and results would be a nice addition to the drama of the 2017 tour.

Roger is going to be 36 years old in August. He is all rejuvenated, playing with impressive form in Dubai, etc., blah blah blah. Roger won’t win #18 only because the tennis gods won’t allow it; besides, Roger doesn’t have the game anymore.

Like I said earlier: while watching the USO final between Stan and Novak, you could just see where Roger doesn’t have the game to stay with Novak. Roger’s BH is so suspect, especially for a Bo5.

As we look back and say wow he was so close at WB in 2016, I said then what I’ll say now: his ability to beat Cilic was pretty remarkable, maybe brilliant, but his inability to beat Raonic, choking here and there, only to see Murray just play with Raonic, the verdict was clear: Andy’s more youthful and potent form, despite the lack of style, is too much for a 35 year-old Roger. Roger’s style, though immense and legendary, is almost a dog and pony show at this point. Instead of being just a solid old guy like Karlovic, he’s Roger, so the cameras and everyone and their third cousin flock to see the guy perform. And there’s a few fist pumps and “come on!”s, but as far as collecting hardware, it ain’t happening.

I would love to be wrong here, wrong about his aging process, that last year’s extended down-time preserved some of that winning formula, but I’m probably not wrong.

For what it’s worth, AO might be a good time for him to sneak-up and catch some people sleeping.

Either way, good to have him back. He begins play at the Hopman Cup tomorrow.

The post is too long at this point. We’ll have to catch-up on some other ideas for 2017 a little later.

In closing, players were very interested in watching develop in 2017: Pouille (lots of pedigree, meaning already some big matches under his belt), Thiem, Alexander Zverev, and some of the rest of #nextgen (Coric, Fritz, Tiafoe, Donaldson, Khachanov, Chung, Rublev, Halys, et al.). Of course, there are others.

We have to say that Cilic and Raonic have certainly emerged as the best threats to Novak and Andy (other than Stan). Nishikori is here to stay, but I just can’t take his sustained form seriously. He’ll play a great QF and knock-off a favorite before laying an egg.

And what about Del Potro!  Taking the AO off, but he’ll be back.

Wildly inaccurate predictions:

AO – Andy

FO – Novak

WB – Stan (lol) or another Swiss player or Cilic or Andy or who the fuck knows

USO – Andy

No need to request comments since you’re all just strictly readers at this point (other than Caligula, Nambi or RJ – thanks fellas!).

Some thoughts on Brisbane, Doha and Chennai next. The tennis starts tomorrow, so I better get busy!

Vienna: the Calm Before the Storm

Just a quick look at this 500-level event with some interesting match-ups and rankings ramifications.

We have all seen or heard the scenarios for Andy’s ascension or Novak’s drop, depending on how one looks at this. Novak, because of burn-out, etc., is off until Paris. Andy goes this week in Vienna.

I listened to a podcast a few weeks ago, something I rarely do (my 2017 goal will be to get my own tennis/sports podcast in the works since I love to talk, especially about sports. 😀

I enjoyed these two with their frank assessments of Kyrgios, Sharapova and the USO men’s final. They actually laid out the path Murray can take to #1 starting here in Vienna: if he wins Vienna and Paris and Novak does not make the Paris final, Murray is #1. This scenario has since been given more detail and such, but that’s pretty much the long and short of it.  Murray has to win just about everything and Novak has to continue to stay off the court and when he does resume play, continue to struggle. David Law, one of the podcasters (Catherine Whitaker the other) pointed-out, as I’m sure others have as well, that despite the possibility of grabbing #1, Andy could lose it after London even, by the mere subtraction of his 275 (?) points he earned by winning the Davis Cup. In other words, a bunch of technicalities play into this quest for #1 at the end of

Parks und Gaerten

Vienna

2016. What we do know is that the players can more or less decide things this week in Vienna and next in Paris and, finally at the WTF in London. We also know that with all things being equal, advantage Djokovic. Murray has already won the Asian double-header and presently plans to win this 500 in Vienna with two HUGE tournaments still to come, which he has to win, as well. Unless, of course, Novak continues to crash and burn.

What is more interesting, as we have already discussed, is what happens in 2017. Murray most likely continues to charge, knowing this is his last opportunity (2017) to add to his legacy; and with Lendl in tow, there is much hope in the Murray camp.

Murray has an interesting draw in Vienna:

He opens with Martin Klizan, winner of two titles in 2016 (Rotterdam and Hamburg).

Murray then faces Simon, who’s a bit of a trouble maker and the winner there gets the winner of Isner/F.Lopez. Lopez outlasted Pouille in three sets. Indeed, Pouille’s stock has dropped since his run in NYC and his maiden title in Metz. I wrote pre the Murray v Pouille R16 match in Shanghai that I did not see Pouille posing much of a threat to the Scot though I did not quite anticipate the bread-stick, straight-set spanking. Too bad the young Frenchman is not finishing stronger. He’s out here, early, but perhaps he has some redemption in mind for Paris next week in more comfortable settings.

That first SF will have the survivor of this four-top face the likes of Thiem (who plays Troicki) or Ferrer (who plays Sousa). The Serb beat Nadal at Shanghai so he hopes to keep up-beat, but Thiem, trying to secure a spot in London, should make the SF.

Murray v Thiem SF if the tennis goes according to plan.

The bottom bracket is wide-open. Berdych and Bautista Agut are out, but Tsonga lurks with the likes of young Khachanov, Karlovic, Kohlshchreiber and Fognini.

Murray appears to have some work in that top half.

In Basel, the top half should consist of the survival of battle amongst top-seed Wawrinka (survived a three-setter with countryman Chiudinelli), Gasquet (winner last week in Belgium), Cilic and Sock.

The bottom half has the likes of Nishikori, Del Potro and Goffin (who has to be stinging from his SF loss to Schwartzman in Belgium last week). Dimitrov and Raonic are out after opening round flame-outs. What has happened to Raonic?

Monfils and Thiem I suspect will fill-out the WTF field. Monfils is off this week and Thiem charging in Vienna.

But all eyes, more or less, are on Murray, and perhaps his autumnal shadow, harvesting ATP points, growing and casting a glance at the future, at the storm on the horizon.