Madrid Masters

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.

Madrid and the Clay Maze

Nadal, Federer (actually), Djokovic (generally), Murray (hopefully), Thiem and Goffin (stylistically), Stan (if and when), and perhaps a few others make up a short list of guys whose games translate to clay.

Otherwise the analysis of a draw like Madrid is witchcraft. Clay is witchcraft, at best. Otherwise, as I and many before me have argued, it’s a kind of dumbed-down tennis. No question.

That translates to odd-ball tennis.

Your Monte-Carlo and Barcelona villain/superstar Ramos-Vinolas is out to another clay maker Schwartzman. Been watching Murray struggle a bit with this Marius Copil, nice one-hander out of Romania (though Murray appears to be headed toward 5-2 in the second – took the first 6-4).

I enjoyed the end of Cuevas v Bellucci. I swear. Cuevas, like the Romanian, has a nice one-hander to give the tennis a bit more than the clay generally makes available. Thanks, boys. The erratic Brazilian served for match in the third of a typical clay adventure, but Cuevas broke back to go to a TB. Which was another adventure, the Uruguayan going up 6-2 and finally closing-out the set and match 8-6.

Guys like Dimitrov, Kyrgios and Tsonga are fighting for their lives (and our tennis enjoyment) to get through to the next round. Pouille is about to get whacked by fellow young Frenchman, Herbert, a #88 over #13 – standard clay foray.

Sock is out, the Brit Evans is out (not a huge loss but again just the nature of the beast here where the everyman/journeyman/etc is in tremendous “form” on clay).

The sky is blue, the air we breathe, and the clay is uneven.

The draw looks quite similar to MC, as I’m sure others have noticed.

Some interesting match-ups take place in the next few days, so long as any semblance of talent can survive.

Djokovic has a French/Spanish omelette in the next few matches involving Almagro tomorrow and then winner of Lopez v Simon. Djokovic, I suspect, will get a little boost from this mental retreat, the novelty of a fresh start, a lightening of the load, so to speak. But he should be challenged on the Madrid clay here early. Those left at the top of that quarter can pose a threat on clay, as well.

But Djokovic has to go deep, at least show his wares in a SF v Nadal. Djokovic can’t just djokovic-madrid-2017-player-partyshow-up in Rome and/or Paris and dominate the world. He has to start now. We’ll give him a pass on the team turmoil, but he needs to get some work done, now. Good luck to the Serb. As we’ve said, we need him deep in these draws. More on that in a minute.

In the next quarter, we have an ailing Nadal (ear?) ready to go with Fognini, then probably Kyrgios, which leads to a survivor here playing the survivor of all kinds of trouble in Raonic (who showed-up in Istanbul last week in the final), Goffin, and Muller (finalist last week in Portugal).

Top half looks pretty interesting with a power patch in the Cilic/Verdasco/A.Zverev/Berdych part of a quarter to settle things with the likes of Stan and Cuevas (but you can’t, because this is clay, count out Paire and Mahut either. Ha.).

The top of that half has some nice one-handed tennis with hopefully Thiem and Dimitrov finding their showdown in R16. Murray should find his SF, but we never know these days.

The struggles of the top two ranked players continue until we’re notified.

I alluded to the fact that Djokovic could get a little boost from this skin-shedding of sorts, a newness perhaps washing over his box and his tennis. Madrid and the rest of us are all on watch here. How does Djokovic fare in Madrid? Critical.

Please remember: as far as minimizing Djokovic’s concern here in 2017 based-on the logic that he has many years to accumulate trophies and titles, etc., such a flaw is donning a dunce cap.

He turns 30 this month. We have been over the age factor in the men’s game. To summarize, though there are exceptions, and one could try to argue that the game is seeing older players thrive in the advance of technology (and nutrition and motivation) that characterizes this era (with the likes of Karlovic, Lopez, and others having almost second acts in their careers), don’t be fooled.

In the last several years, Agassi proved to be the biggest exception, winning the Australian Open when he was 32 and making a USO final when he was 35.

Of course, Federer has shocked the trend with his AO win this year at 35. But these are exceptions and all-time greats, especially Federer. One might (and should) point to Wawrinka. For sure he’s a late bloomer. He won his third major (2016 USO) as a 31 year-old. He turned 32 in March, so we’ll see if he continues to be a bit of an outlier.

Novak has time not on his side. He could win WB this year and the USO. Granted. But as I have argued, his game is not ideal on these surfaces, especially if the grass turns-out to be “fast.” All kidding aside, there are a lot athletes and games that will come into play on the grass, not to mention the rejuvenated Federer will be lying in wait.

Novak can win the USO, but this has historically been tough from him to do.

So then we’re 30.5 coming around to AO 2018, and FO 2018 when he’s going to turn 31.

The difficulty only increases.

Djokovic, with his Agassi super-coach or not, needs to get to work.

We’ll have more on that story as the details surface and filter.

Speaking of surface, enjoy the tennis!

Madrid Masters 2017 Draw

Analysis coming: stay tuned.

Don’t miss my post earlier today: Djokollapse: the final chapter?

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One final note here.  This is the news today.

I have a post titled “Where Does Novak Go From Here” dated September 14, 2016. We’ve been analyzing and predicting this for a looooooong time at Mcshow Tennis.

Maybe follow along?

Cheers.

P.S.

You know how I’m often touting our analysis over here vs. the mainstream slow-poke media, right? Above I pointed-out how the Tennis.com article reporting Novak’s massive lay-off of longtime supporters/insiders and suddenly wondering where he goes from here is about 9 months late. Come-on, people. Get your tennis brains in order.

But on top of that there is a detail from the article that probably helps explain how lazy and overcome with incapacity are these “commentors:”

The author, guy named Kallet, is recounting the year leading-up to this massive firing-squad lay-off of Vajda, et al. He gets to 2017 and one can see the writer trying to add to this “shocking” decline narrative (that’s a complete misread). Here’s what he says about Doha:

“Beginning the season as the world No. 2 for the first time in what seemed like forever, Djokovic appeared to be back in full form. He took the title in Doha—just his second trophy since winning the French Open—defeating Murray in straight sets in the final.”

Wrong. He did NOT appear to be back in full form, as we argued (probably) eloquently. He AND Murray looked less than sharp. But the real kicker is this guy Kallet thinks (to support his flawed theory) that Novak won in straight sets. He did NOT win in straight sets. He had that result on his racquet, but the Scot broke and forced a decider, which was critical to our analysis . . . which apparently these fanboys (or worse: imposters) missed, because it didn’t fit their little tennis universe. Or whatever.

You get my point. Pretty soft, if you ask me.