What is the Biggest Surprise of 2017?

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For starters, we might say there a few surprises to this tennis season, beginning with #2017 Fedal. That these ATP elder statesmen have, combined, won every major championship and every Masters level tournament, minus Rome (that’s 3 majors and 4 Masters tournaments between the two) is a bonafide trip down memory lane.

To round-off the 2017 “headlines,” Djokovic is still struggling since going-out in the 2016 WB 3R and Murray, after chasing-down the #1 ranking from the 2016 Djokollapse, has really failed to maintain that sparkling form since the start of 2017. Whereas a year ago we were talking about the Djokeray combat that would resume and reach perhaps new heights in 2017, Fedal have emerged as the new tour dons (“new” seems like an odd term to use here).

We’ll focus our discussion on these guys, the top of the tour, the “Big 4,” though I am happy to say that a few other developments that have probably not surprised too many of us, but have certainly been promising, concern the play of Thiem and Zverev (both brothers actually though Sascha’s first Masters is great news), the emergence of Khachanov and even a glimpse finally of Thanasi Kokkinakis; and speaking of young Aussies, Kyrgios’ play in February (Acapulco) and March (Miami) was quite fortuitous. The Brisbane/Melbourne of Dimitrov squared gave us all a bit of a thrill, as well.

Of course, there are other interesting stories being told on tour this year, but we’ll put that top-of-the-tour back on the table here and have another look.

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Federer

Let’s start and actually focus on the surprising rise of Federer, who sits currently at #3 in the world, but who, along with Nadal, looks to be battling for year-end #1.

You probably know where I’m going here:

Federer’s 2017 dominance is not very surprising.

If you disagree with this statement, please feel free to field an answer in the comments:  what is so surprising about his dominance?

Here’s a summary of his year and the “surprise”:

  1. Most people point to the injury of 2016, how coming-off a six-month leave of minor surgery, rehab and rebuild to win the first major of the year is unreal, supernatural, is suspicious and shocking – beating 4-5 top-ten players, all of those five-setters and beating Nadal in the final, down a break in the fifth, as a 17th seed.
  2. He then goes-on to win the Sunshine Double, beating Nadal two more times, both times in straights, decisively, including the Miami final.
  3. He sits-out all of clay and returns to win Halle for the ninth time and Wimbledon for the eighth time.  He has, meanwhile, returned to the top-three in the world rankings and along with Nadal, has his eyes set on world #1.

How did all of this happen? Why should we not be very surprised by this?

If you read my blog, the seeds of my disagreement with the TSQ (Tennis Status Quo) should be pretty apparent. I will generally be 2 to 3 steps ahead of the mainstream. I hope you’re starting to believe that, will spread the word, and keep reading.

Federer’s History

Melbourne 2017 has Federer in the draw, as a 17 seed. We’ve gone over this before, but what are out expectations of Federer at a major? Naturally, we go to recent history and see some pretty clear patterns.

Before the injury exit, he made the 2016 WB SF and lost a five-setter to Raonic, in which he was up 2 sets to 1. He missed the 2016 French because of the lingering injury he exacerbated at SW19; this was the first major he missed in his entire career. Did you get that? 2016 French was his first miss at a major tournament. He started the year at the 2016 Australian Open where he made the SF. Of course, he took his leave after WB in 2016, so he missed the USO. In 2016 he was 34 years of age.

Mid-post quiz: how many majors has Federer missed in his career as of today?

2015: AO-3R RG-QF WB-F USO-F (33 years of age)
2014: AO-SF RG-4R WB-F USO-SF (32 years of age)
2013: AO-SF RG-QF WB-2R USO-4R
2012: AO-SF RG-SF WB-W USO-QF

Looking at those results, all things being equal, does it surprise you that Federer made the final at 2017 AO? That he went so deep, is this a shocking development? The answer is no. He may not have been closing the deal in 2014-2016, but he was getting into the business-end of the draw, per usual.

As for the time-off, and people having trouble grasping his return at that level? Well, it’s new to the Federer program, this leave of absence. You nor I have experience watching Federer come-off an injury-leave like that. To say you’re shocked or this is somehow unbelievable, suspicious, etc., is an overreaction. You, I’m afraid, don’t have a clue how he comes-off injury.

Actually, I take that back: prior to his 2017 return, he did come-off one missed major (some considerable time-off), which was 2016 Roland Garros. What happened after that? He proceeded to reach the WB SF where he was a set away from reaching the final to play his pal Andy Murray. In other words, Federer had come-off injury prior to 2017 AO and he did pretty damn well.

So, throughout the summer and fall/winter of 2016 he gets a real chance to reconfigure his game, rest, get healthy, scout and get prepared for Melbourne and what-do-you-know: he absolutely ruins the return of the tour in 2017.

But his deep run, itself, at Melbourne, should NOT be a surprise at all. That’s what he does at majors, what he’s always done.

Ivan Ljubičić

We’ve been over this a lot lately. The Revenge of Federer was not the title of that post, but that’s what the WB final amounted to: the latest installment of the Maestro’s deadly return (Nadal, Kyrgios, Zverev, Raonic and Cilic all got taxed big-time). This clutch professionalism is the result of some kind of renaissance. I and I am sure many others wondered why Federer seemed to take points, games or even sets off even while advancing to major final fours (really throughout much of his career). Of course, this lacksidaisical tennis seemed more apparent on the big stages against Djokovic or Nadal. With your skill, Federer, what in the world are you doing not serving 85-90%/70% 1st/2nd, converting that absolutely critical BP? Are you afraid? Are you a choke?

Tough to call a guy with 17 majors (at the time) a choke, but you all know what we’re talking about here.

Bits of 2016 ( two majors played, two SF appearances) and 2017 look like a revamped mental approach – and the common denominator is Ivan. He was a bad ass, a guy without a lot of talent, certainly a more blue-collar player, and what do you know: Federer is playing some blue-collar tennis (it doesn’t look blue-collar because he’s the one swinging the racquet, but you better believe it’s blue-collar).

The revenge is telling of this kind of ethos, as is his latest run at WB, which you know had to have been #1 on the 2017 agenda: and the plan worked. He didn’t drop a single set. That’s professional. He did not fuck around (I am going to find some footage of that 2010 Indian Wells run where the Croatian, as a 20-seed, beat Nadal and Djokovic on his way to beating Roddick in the final).

Federer is healthy; that’s a big factor. On top of that, this no-time-to-waste, blue-collar work ethic spells the run of 2017. The team has him primed; his serve (1st and 2nd), ground strokes (BH is exceptional) and closing-awareness are sharpened. SABR? That’s 2015, pre-Ljubičić. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that made the final cut for Ivan the terrible’s “Federer’s winning form.”

Even the clay abstinence is an Ivan innovation (we’ve detailed this several times). I was still critical of his 2017 implementation, but that was Ivan’s insistence, I suspect, since he said such a pattern would have benefitted Federer earlier in his career.

Nadal

Are we surprised that Nadal is playing so well? This is more surprising than Federer, actually, because he fell-off the face-of-the-earth in 2015. He looked gone, adios but given his injury-plauged career, this would not have been much of a surprise for him to make a kind of come-back (I wrote him off, admittedly. But I can’t deny the pattern. This is what Nadal does – so don’t be surprised).

Where Federer had missed two majors through 2016, Nadal had missed ten. He has done this throughout his career, taking time-off and coming back strong.

When they met in the AO final, I tried to clarify how, despite the one-sided H2H, Federer could very well win (this should be very close), given their recent form. Federer back through 2014 has been at the top of the tour, especially in the majors. Nadal has been MIA often and even coming into Melbourne this year he was one of the first to see the 2017 Djokollapse, not having to see him on that side of the draw. Nadal’s appearance in that AO final was much more surprising, but we have this kind of pattern from Nadal and we’ll have to ask Novak about his role in this, as well.

The point is Nadal’s 2017 hasn’t been that surprising other than we probably didn’t see the absolute maniacal form he found on the clay.

Djokovic

We have to attribute some of the Fedal re-emergence to the Djokollapse. This has been severe and tragic. I have documented this since 2016 USO (here and here, but there’s a lot more, as I hope you know).

I am surprised by the severity of this decline, but this is not out-of-touch with the Djokovic career arch. We’ve been over this, as well.

First major in 2008. Next major in 2011. 2011 is huge, but the 2012-14 period amounts to only 3 majors. 2015 is massive and he wins the first two majors in 2016, but it’s been a free-fall since. So, this fall, then, is not that surprising.

You get the pattern, the argument, folks?  There is NOTHING surprising about 2017 – though the Fedičić formula has been pretty stealth, pretty remarkable.

Murray

Murray’s 2017 isn’t that surprising either as his career zenith was 2016 where he grabbed  #1 finally, in large part because of Nover-the-falls, but he hasn’t defended this honor much at all, nor has he been much of a #1 in our collective tennis imagination, either.

Folks, not very surprising. Don’t let the mainstream media fool you. “Oh my gosh, how did Roger do it? Incredible? Unreal?” Not really, actually. He’s continued to play pretty dominant tennis (as is the case with his massive variety and fluid form that does not beat him up), and there have been some other factors, too, such as the continual roller-coaster ride that is Novak’s tennis career.

Thoughts?

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The Blog

I am in the process of trying to revamp my blog, make it a lot more dynamic, efficient, brilliant, etc.

One of the first items on the agenda, for which I do need this upgrade, is to finish and package HRFRT. I am going to polish it, and sell it as an Ebook. Sure, this helps fund this blog and the work I want to do, but I think it will be a particular artifact that really speaks to the essence of this blog. I have other arguments/narratives too that I’d like to curate a bit more thoughtfully.

Many/most/all of you might tell me to go to hell on such a venture, but I’m willing to risk that. This will push me to polish and develop some of the commentary, which I think you gather is pretty much written on the spot, in a couple of hours at most, each. I have other ideas too for generating some revenue (random ads do not appeal to me, by the way).

I do know that this blog/venue is nothing without you all. The core group is brilliant (you know who you are). I encourage more of you to chime-in and give the tennis some chatter, give some of my long-windedness some feedback 😀

Continued thanks for reading and responding.

Cheers to you all.

Wimbledon QF Preview – (In Progress)

Quarter Finals

1. Murray (3 set) v Querrey (5 set)

2. Cilic (3) v Muller (5)

3. Fededer (3) v Raonic (5)

4. Djokovic/Mannarino v Berdych (5)

I will write this analysis tomorrow, but as you can see, based-on my sophisticated numerology, I can predict that Novak will win in 3 sets (follow the pattern there?).

Is there any pressure on Djokovic? You bet there is. He has to prove to someone, anyone (himself, his coaches, Pepe, his fans) that he is in major championship winning form. This isn’t Novak, #1 in the world, with a seasoned box including Wimbledon great Boris Becker on staff. This is Novak, clawing his way out from under the Djokollapse, who’s hired Agassi and Mario Ancic, a decent player back in the early to mid aughts, but left the game to go to law school and become a banker.

Brad Gilbert, referring to Djokovic’s R16 match today getting postponed (and finally moved to July 11), suggested that both Djokovic and Agassi must have been pacing back Agassi_Wimbledon-2017-player-Novak-Djokovic-988952and forth like Agassi used to do during his playing years, anticipating the start of his match (Gilbert coached the American for a time). These two have to be somewhat nervous since there’s a lot on the line – more so than for any other player (an argument I have been making all year, which I started in 2016). This is more important for him than it is for Fedal, Andy, Cilic, Mannarino, yo mama, etc.

Don’t be fooled.

And Agassi is not messing around. He’s doing this coaching gig pro bono. He’s going after people even somewhat critical of Novak, including John McEnroe; according to reports, McEnroe likened Djokovic’s fall to that of Tiger Woods’. Hmmm. We might have to consider the context here like was necessary with his comment about Serena’s relevance on the ATP. Agassi told Johnny Mac to shut-up.

So, from the nervous pacing to the mafia-like public relations, the Novak camp has to know that tomorrow had better be a smooth three-setter.

If you recall, I joked about the upset alert in my last post regarding Djokarino. Instead we got Muller Time (another t-shirt). I don’t think Novak has much difficulty tomorrow, but then again I don’t have much on which to base my confidence in Novak.

I will fill-out the QF preview tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

PS
Djokerfan is suggesting that there’s a conspiracy in putting Djokarino on Court 1 today, knowing full well that they would never get that match in, so moving the match to 7/11 is part of, again, some conspiracy to undermine Nole. Djokerfan is wrong again. The conspiracy, rather, is that this unrepentant mass needed something about which to hiss and piss; it’s not a meaningful tournament unless the Djokergirls and boys are crying. Alas, we have a complaint! Couldn’t cry about the draw. But they got something to piss on, after all. Only the Djokes on them. 😀

PPS
Good luck, Novak. Just play good tennis.
Berdych is waiting and playing like it’s 2010 😉

2017 Wimbledon Commentary Catch-up

You’re supposed to say, “do you want some chips with that ‘catch-up’?”

Thanks for the comments while I was gone; no internet service where I was, which is pretty primitive at this point in time and it wasn’t like I was in the bush. As I went into town, I could see and publish comments but really didn’t have time to read much, comment, etc. But thanks again for keeping the boat afloat.

I tried to respond to each of those comments having returned today.

I have caught scores throughout the first week and have since watched some highlights (which really just add to a pretty strong spring/grass tune-up narrative already in play). Needless to say, I am excited to see tomorrow’s 3R matches which include Federer and Djokovic, among others.

What is clearly present in this year’s tournament is that we have some pretty palpable drama at the top – one could make an argument (if s/he has the wherewithal 😉 . . . for all four (Murray, Djokovic, Federer and Nadal). Then, of course, there’s the Cilic-type who might be pretty dangerous.

But what is most interesting (perhaps remarkable) is that we have a richly loaded draw, amounting to massive contests late that will inform legacy and determine what could be a pretty epic final.

Murray appears to be returning somewhat, has a favorable draw and should go deep here (I am pulling for Querrey to make any sense of the other side of that QF). Pouille and Wawrinka, especially Stan, can go fetch me a pint. What the hell.

Murray is the defending champ and hometown boy, so he could be riding pretty high marching into a SF with . . .

Nadal. I saw the guy play and his FH is arguably the best in the tourney. The argument that one’s clay form can’t translate to grass is getting murdered by the bull. A big serve and bigger weapons are what it will take to keep him at bay. If he can come into the court  and run-around to the FH, he’s going to be very tough to finish (the BH is decisive, as well, as we know). He’s hungry as ever, he’s quite good at the net. . . the tennis intelligence works with this one, folks.

Nadal looks dangerous though he does have a dangerous draw, which I just addressed with a reader in the previous post. We suspect he’ll handle the lefty from Luxembourg, but Gilles is no grass slouch. That match follows a banger with Cilic. Cilic is angry and hungry and big. Nadal hasn’t an easy route.

A Murray SF could be anti-climactic if Nadal survives his next two matches, especially if the QF is Cilic.

The Federer Djokovic situation needs clarification with some viewership on my part, but I suspect Djokovic is going to be very tough in that SF. I received word from London this Day-Two-The-Championships-Wimbledon-2017evening that his next few matches have been waved so the Serb is awaiting his Swiss pal in the SF. Kidding aside, Novak looks confident. His groundstrokes look “back” from where ever they went and he’s coming to net, hitting lines, etc.

On the coaching front, he’s pretty dialed-in, too. Andre and Mario Ančić are captaining the Serb’s Wimbledon campaign. Andre’s confidence is quite interesting, calm and reassuring, which speaks volumes if the Serb is actually in the process of a peak for his showdown with Federer.

Federer, from the little I saw of his Lajović match, looks handsy with his FH (never a good sign). I need to see the BH (as does everyone) forcing the issue here to supplement the serve, net and FH. Running around the BH and trying to ping-pong the FH will not get the Maestro #8.

I wasn’t overly impressed with his tune-up, either: Halle seemed more of a Sascha dip, but Federer did take advantage, which is all one can ask. He did shut-down that final’s hype, but we do know the German gets another crack, most likely, in the WB QF.

First, however, Fed has to beat M.Zverev, Grigor and then Sascha, so long as the Younger survives Raonic or RBV. Tough draw for Federer.

A match-up with Djokovic could be incredible, but Roger had better have that AO/IW/Miami ambidexterity brilliance on display. Djokovic’s ROS and mental toughness, especially with the timing of a return and his coaching think-tank supporting this run could be a beast of an opponent.

There is no way I easily pencil Federer into the winner’s circle just yet. Seems terribly ill-advised aka fool-hardy to overlook his company here at The Championships.

Tomorrow will tell us more.

Seems way premature (and to be honest I hope I am wrong) but I see a Nadal v Djokovic final.

Remember, this is not a fanblog. I eat fanblogs.

Cheers.

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.

RG 2017: QF Wrap and SF Preview

Djokovic

Hopefully you read my reaction to Thiem crushing Djokovic’s dream of a return to the kind of championship tennis we saw from Novak back in 2016. To be clear, not that any of you are not aware of my general concern for all things men’s tennis, this slump/collapse/decline of Novak is fairly troubling. Though I am not a big GOAT guy (although I am more than happy to chime-in), I do look at the top of the tour in that

djokovic-madrid-2017-player-party

2017 Djokovic. . .

grand historical context. What has happened to Novak, such as losing control of his reign mid-year 2016, losing the USO final, the WTF and his #1 ranking at that point was practically careless. Big picture tennis says you have to close the deal on 2016 there, at least win the WTF and maintain #1. If that wasn’t bad enough, the slide has continued (gotten worse) in 2017: the tennis, the health of his tennis family, etc. What a disaster.

This, as I have been arguing throughout, affects massively his prized tennis legacy. Hearing his fans come forward with all of these claims of most rigged draws, best results overall on all surfaces, etc., is too little, too late (and too lame). If he doesn’t lose his way in 2016 and continue that decline in 2017, he’s in an entirely different place.

We have wanted to give Novak the benefit of the doubt, suggesting he would have enough perhaps to get by Thiem in Bo5, for instance, rely at the very least on your fight to survive and advance in that great Djoker fashion. But he’s, clearly, in so such place.

The slide continues and no one knows what will happen to this tennis great moving forward. No one. He is searching, wandering almost aimlessly it seems.

His tank of the third set was startling and definitive of this lost cause that is Novak Djokovic. Agassi gave him a bump in form, motivation, but to battle deep into these draws and withstand the kind of competitive savagery that is a Stanimal, Nadal or Thiem, not to mention a Kyrgios or a Federer this summerer (ha!), Djokovic needs stability and confidence. Where in the hell did that go?

We have discussed these slumps that are characteristic of Novak’s career. He won his first major in 2008 and the next one in 2011. Following the 2011 masterpiece, he struggled to get to 2015-16. So this is not necessarily an unprecedented drop in form from the Serb; but, at the same time, this is different.

Glance about the court during that QF with Thiem. Djokovic’s box is barren, but for his seemingly perpetually disgruntled parents, the well-behaved younger brother, the sinister wife (sorry, calling it like I see it) and the odd, creepy or dopey (depending upon your view) character that is Pepe, a caricature of some kind of new age spiritual leader, meaning Djokovic is on some kind of spiritual pilgrimage?

Move your eyes to the court and there you have Novak gifting the match to Thiem once he’s fully realized that his dream is crushed, which is probably a good move here in the QF with Rafa and Stanimal (maybe Andy) waiting in two future octagons.

This is sad, folks. I’d welcome the task of resurrecting Djokovic: firing his parents, the wife and her pet Pepe, and putting together a solid coaching and support staff (that he probably shouldn’t have fired in the first place).

Unfortunately, I’m not in that position. Good luck, Novak. Watching you tank the match like that was pretty piss poor. The last impressions I have of the Serb are informed by those two images above.

Semi-finals

Did you see the Wawrinka v Cilic QF? I thought Marin might put forth a bit of a fight, despite the brutal H2H with Stan and the Man’s recent run here at RG. But this was a man playing a child. Everything about this had mismatch written all over it.

Stan’s huge serve (closing-out the first set with a booming ace, for instance) and FH right now are the bread and butter of his dominance and always have been. The problem for his opponents, especially those unlucky to play him in a major final, concerns his adding the BH (blooping and assaulting CC and unplayable DTL) to this hearty fare of bread and butter. Stan keeps things pretty simple and it’s a devastating brand of tennis.

But again: when he’s got both wings going, hitting lines and serving well, he is a mature, potentially angry and punitive sort of opponent.

Nice to see Andy get through the beatable Nishikori; dropping the first set and coming back to win definitively has to bode well for the Scottish no. 1 seed.

So who do we have here? At this end of the draw, we’re in near coin-flip mode. Never the less, Stan just seems so stable and destructive right now. He hasn’t had to work very hard in these wins, meaning he hasn’t dropped a set. However, this is a guy who’s pretty comfortable going 5. He’s fit, which has generally been the case under Norman, who was always one of the fitter guys on tour.

The ball striking seems so pure and powerful – and he wants to avenge last year’s SF loss to Andy. We’ve come to know this version of Stan and believe he’s probably the one to advance from that top half of the draw.

The only qualification would be Andy’s most brilliant defensive tennis showing-up to go along with some flatter ground-strokes that can hurt Stan. If Murray is going to sit back there and lob short balls at the Swiss, he’ll get pummeled. But if Murray can play backboarFrench-Open-2017-results-Andy-Murray-Stan-Wawrinka-813140d and frustrate with some deft use of the drop, effective serve, etc., who knows. I think we’d have to see, in other words, a bit of a drop from Stan. I feel like I’m wasting words here a bit. Wawrinka looks finals-bound.

Think about how this tournament has unfolded:

SF #1 Murray v Wawrinka. (1 vs 3)

SF #2 Nadal v Thiem. (4 vs 6)

All four of these players call clay home (Murray’s welcome mat is only somewhat newer). This is the most ideal final four we could think of, perhaps with Goffin replacing Thiem for those fans of the Belgian out there. But Thiem’s rise has been more dramatic, as he’s younger, has a fantastic style (old school, brash), a tremendously gifted game, especially for this surface. Murray has risen to defend his ranking, finally. Wawrinka finally shows us the goods, which usually does occur when the stakes are highest.

And in this year’s version of the French Open, we get what has to amount to the glorious swan song of Rafa, at his favorite venue, coming at the close of a throw-back and amazing clay court season. Seems like old times, right?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is called — as I would hope you know by now — 2017 Fedal.

Rafa’s run has been obscene. The scorelines are scary. We know this. He’s marching toward La Decima. We know this, as well.

What we do not know is how this SF vs. Thiem is going to play-out. Lets’s cut to the chase.

Nadal is favored and should be. His magic around this court, his experience and incredible mastery of the competitive landscape is legendary. In other words, for all the brilliance and youth that Dominic will bring to this battle, Nadal will probably find a way.

He will need to use the entire court, which is fine since he’s become one of the better all-court players, to be fair. He will need to come to net, actually, vs. Thiem. These will be Dominic-Thiemopportunistic attacks. Watch how this plays-out. Djokovic was dead in the water sitting back there trying to predict and counter the Austrian’s big artillery. Nadal will move.  I am almost certain of this. He has to come to net, keep Dominic off-balance and finish points earlier. Federer will find much pleasure in watching his friendly rival battle this young clay master, using this more mature style. This has been part of my criticism of the Serb: his game, wait for it, is limited. Tough to age in this sport sitting back and retrieving all day.

On the other hand, the Austrian has a bit going for him. He has now, attribution here goes to one of the TV commentators, scalped all 4 of the big 4. He fears no one. He beat the Spanish King in Rome a few weeks ago, in straight sets. This came from a series of matches with Nadal in which he made small adjustments that enabled him to close the gap and finally break-through.

You have seen my take on his use of the DTL. This is CRITICAL to Thiem’s outcome. If he can successfully employ this variety in his monstrous baseline attack, Rafa is in for a long and bumpy ride.

What is the most devastating aspects of Stan’s one-hander? DTL. Roger’s? DTL. The CC shot is obviously effective. But Thiem has to mix-in the DTL, which only finishes most points since he’s probably pushed his opponent off the court wide on the deuce side (speaking of his BH DTL). This is true of his FH DTL. CC is great, and necessary, but he has to use the DTL to wear-out Nadal. Keep your eye on this dynamic.

I don’t have the stats in front of me here, but Thiem is hitting the ball and spinning the ball harder than anyone else at this point, even Rafa.

To summarize, Rafa needs to employ the variety of a more full-court game-plan. Dominic needs to employ the variety of his groNadalGettyImages-692153554_1920x1080_959987267790und-strokes DTL.

Sure there are many many more factors. The serve will be critical. The ROS could be a deciding factor, especially if Rafa can get into Dom’s service confidence. A break of serve here and there could decide this.

And of course many of you are probably saying Rafa will just pound Thiem’s one-hander. Could be. But they’ve played recently. Adjustments have been made. Still, that will be something to watch.

Lastly, although this has been implied throughout this post, the mental framework of this match between Nadal and Thiem will be interesting. Thiem caught a break in the QF because Djokovic is broken and the Serb quit in that match (this is quite disturbing for many out there – that he would tank like that); Nadal will not resort to such a thing. No way. The Spaniard will be a nightmare, mentally, I suspect.

Can Thiem keep maturing before our very eyes? For instance, he has to pick the right times to hit DTL. Not when he’s getting pushed back and trying to stay in the point. He has to be smart in how he employs this variety and his approach in general.

The mental strength of these players, all four, will be on display in these next two matches.

Obviously, there is so much more to consider, but I’ll leave it there for now. Let me know what you think of the matches. I’m afraid to say that my gut tends to side with the tennis great here, so I see Nadal surviving . . . and playing Stan in the final. Holy shit that could be good.

Then again, we have a phenomenal final four (Thiem could be defining his rise to that stature this weekend). The tennis stoke is strong with these four, and with this tournament, which I hope you’re feeling with the help of Mcshow Tennis.

Let’s get it on!

Dominic Thiem Ends Djokovic’s French Dream

This was an historical match as the 2017 tennis continues to chart the catastrophic Djokollapse. Yes, we have been charting said collapse since the summer of 2016. Yes, there have been signs of recovery; and yes the future looks pretty dim for Novak as the tennis continues to lack championship quality and consistency.

Like I said after the 2016 U.S. Open, where does he go from here?

Many of you know the foresight of this blog, some of which must be attributed to his majesty (one of many brilliant readers/commenters over here at Mcshow Tennis), the comic genius who goes by Caligula. Read his first comment on my QF preview. Sure the tone might distract you, sound somewhat hyperbolic, sarcastic, etc.; but you’d be wrong, even before the match not to take him seriously, which is true genius – coating the insight (and supplementary disgust) in a more palatable humor. Bravo.

We have been seizing the opportunities to identify trouble in Djokovic despite his slow improvement throughout the clay season, which had continued seemingly at Roland Garros. Be that as it may, Caligula’s reference to a “revenge” from the Austrian speaks to the depth of his read on the Serb (which I have written about at length as well); Novak’s antics have continued to evidence trouble in Djokoland with a real sense that his ship is capsized and there’s a tale of karmic and cosmic storm to explain Novak’s tennis miscarriage.

The match seemed very much destined for revenge. I woke from my nap at 3:30am here on the U.S. west coast to catch the match at 4-4 in the first. I missed the early theatrics of the first set, which I will watch later, but I watched the duration with eyes-wide-open.

See the point at 4-4, 15-30, Thiem serving. Novak wins the point to purchase two break-Thiem_581615-dominic-thiem-french-open-2017-reuterspoints which we know would have amounted to set points. He let’s go a defiant roar reminiscent of his Rome SF antics that were accurately described as “every opportunity to inflate his declining ego against a young player who looked petrified and yet was polite not to point out the blatant frivolous indulgence that Chokovic (see Rome finale) was harnessing at his expense.” Again, well said, my lord.

Thiem reversed those breakpoints, held serve and the two players moved to settle this critical set in a TB. The TB saw Djokovic get tighter and less committed to this match and sport. He looks like half the man of 2016. What does that tell us? Either he is having massive marital problems or he was on some kind of performance enhancing drug. Some will say his win at the French last year, fulfilling a life-long goal, along with the Novak slam left him without much desire to continue on, as if he’d conquered the sport, ala his fangirls and boys’ favorite flavor ice cream. What a difference a year makes.

He is a mess. Throughout the Djokollapse, I have tried to bring people’s attention to the crisis of this tennis great, throughout several posts. Going into the 2017 season, I essentially argued: Djokovic better win the AO because the road gets more narrow, and the titles more difficult partly because of the real No. 1 seed: father time.

I will just make a quick reference here to some of my preview, which played-out to perfection. Most agree, other than Caligula, that the Serb was a relative favorite. There’s too much on the line, he has too much at stake (along with his familiarity of Thiem) not to see him as a guy massively motivated to face Nadal and defend his French Open crown.

But there was this caveat, along with my “Beliem in Thiem” t-shirts that are on order for the faithful and fashion-conscious readers of Mcshow Tennis:

“But if Thiem can continue to murder the ball from the baseline, with his added dimension of more DTL, Djokovic could be in for a long brutal match. Look at the highlights of Thiem’s Zeballos match, for instance. I am sure that his camp worked on more DTL from both wings. The inside-out FH, and the more unpredictable direction of the shot, along with his big serve and decent mobility all add-up to a player on the rise in this sport.

I beliem in Thiem, but he needs a bit of that Chokovic to show-up, become angry and errant to advance to a date with Nadal in the SF.”

Thiem was a bit reckless in this match, errors coming from some of those huge ground strokes, some of which were too much, too soon. But his change in strategy to set-up closer to the baseline, keep that more offensive court position as much as he could, and implement more down-the-line BH and FH assaults kept Djokovic totally off-balance, on the run and more and more desperate.

This Austrian’s offensive game is fearless and violent. By adding more DTL, he became almost unplayable.

And the Djoker’s errors started adding-up. I believe he had close to 35 UE.

Add to that Thiem’s big serve, the big kicking serve to the ad court, or the 130+ up the T, and his mobility – he embarrassed Djokovic at the net – and you have a very unfriendly and maybe unplayable opponent in Thiem.

I don’t think Nadal wants to play Thiem at all – Mary was right, perhaps, in her back-and-forth with McEnroe a few days ago. But one has to still favor Nadal. Like in this QF match with Djokovic, Thiem has to prove he can knock-off (on this stage) these tennis giants.

In other words, how much do you beliem in Thiem?

What this match today tells about Thiem is he does make adjustments. But we should have known this from the last month of clay. In Barcelona, Nadal pretty much dismissed Thiem 64 61. A few weeks later in Madrid, the difference was less, Nadal prevailing 76(8) 64. Only a week after that the Austrian overcame his clay master, winning their Rome QF 64 63.

We all remember the Djokovic v Thiem Rome SF. It was embarrassing for Thiem because of his annihilation 16 06 (and embarrassing for Novak because of the way he mishandled that lopsided scoreline – underscored by his retreat in the final against Zverev). Thiem made adjustments following Rome and this Roland Garros QF goes down in history as another big step forward for the 23 year-old Austrian; and another part of this bizarre decline of the Serb.

I will have much more. . .

Roland Garros QF Preview

Let’s keep this party bus rolling into the business-end of the tournament. We have big-time top-seeded match-ups as we’ve reached the final eight.

Murray v Nishikori

This leans Murray because he’s gaining confidence, having survived his draw. I would call his a decent draw with the Klizan FH, the gentle giant DPo and a rising talent in Khachanov who we love to see make a R16 in a major at 21. Murray’s isn’t the most compelling argument, but he’s here.

Nishikori has to be feeling the wear-and-tear of the clay. He survived a five-setter in R3 with the help of a rain-delay, but was able to bounce-back and beat the dangerous Verdasco in R16. If Nishikori has all of his weapons in tow, can find the energy and Chang’s winning words of wisdom, we might have a classic. Nishikori, as we know, has potential; his tennis can be lethal.

But we’ll go with the more reliable Brit who appears to have found that bridesmaid outfit (make me eat those words, Murray!).

Wawrinka v Cilic

The easy pick here is Stan, because of his game (though he looked a little troubled by Monfils), his history deep into major draws, his history on clay (a Masters and a major) and his H2H v Cilic: 11-2. Stan seems the obvious pick.

However, Cilic looks fit, getting up well to the too-common drop-shot and defending better (ROS). We know of Cilic’s unplayable, rampant form. Could this be another case of that rare bird?

The problem with this match-up is if Stan, at worst, just stays in the match, he has the fortitude to go long and nasty. Marin’s best chance is probably to hit the Swiss off the court. A tall order. Both seem to have a lot in the tank, so this should be entertaining with Stan continuing to fulfill our dreams.

Nadal v Carreno Busta

Pablo has beaten Dimitrov and Raonic along the way, but this should be a clay clinic from Nadal_hi-res-f6b9bb876bc995a1b88e9fefc63185eb_crop_northhis countryman, a raging bull who seems to have his eyes on a much bigger prize than even La Decima. Nadal is aiming to get off the court, to destroy and bury the evidence. He’s probably respecting his opponent here as he says he respects them all, but even the clay king is susceptible to a little peak behind the curtain (at the looming semi-final).

Djokovic v Thiem

The smart pick based on experience and legacy, on H2H and recent play is Djokovic. I would call this a bigger upset if Thiem wins than if Djokovic beat Nadal. Djokovic is going to be a very difficult out especially if he’s hitting the ball well. If his unforced error numbers are down, look-out.

But if Thiem can continue to murder the ball from the baseline, with his added dimension of more DTL, Djokovic could be in for a long brutal match. Look at the highlights of Thiem’s Zeballos match, for instance. I am sure that his camp worked on more DTL from both wings. The inside-out FH, and the more unpredictable direction of the shot, along with his big serve and decent mobility all add-up to a player on the rise in this sport.

I beliem in Thiem, but he needs a bit of that Chokovic to show-up, become angry and errant to advance to a date with Nadal in the SF.

Bottom-line is this could be a whale of a match. Let’s hope so.

Stay-tuned!