Novak Djokovic

Essay on Social Media (Kinda)

Is that title effective SEO? I somewhat come-clean with my parenthetical disclosure. Yeah, I have a sentence or two about potential ills of said industry/tools, but I take aim here, again, at some of the participants/tools who use these global conversational mechanisms.

And good Thursday to you! A lot on tap today/night in Los Cabos and Washington D.C. (sorry to ignore the Austrian clay – but do comment on that if you’d like, for we are all ears tennis).

We’re yet to see the first ball in either HC venue today, so what a perfect opportunity to address some of that off-court crap that often interests us.

I just got done reminding my kid again how social media (especially of the snapchat kind of crap) are garbage. The kids (old man rhetoric pulling into the driveway) are obsessed with this online world; that I might be guilty of throwing shade at the entire population might amount to some ethnocentric swerve and if so, I apologize. Maybe this is more of an American culture issue, but it’s an issue.

I also understand that two things can be true: social media are potentially distracting and destructive, but can and do provide us with numerous advantages. A blog, after all, is part of this technological and social landscape. I assume you understand my concern as a parent or any sensible individual with concern for humanity, the planet, etc.

And so: there is my set-up (context) for what bit of social media I stumbled across today, via tennis writer Jon Wertheim and his world according to Twitter.

Here’s a fairly harmless tweet simply announcing his discussion on SI.com about a few things tennis and otherwise. His “column” is set-up in a kind of mailbag format, so he’s responding to readers, responding to their comments, answering their questions.

I will touch-on some of the actual points of discussion in a moment, but first we’re talking about the garbage truck that is (potentially) social media (in this case Twitter), where everyone has a voice and therefore a “meaningful” criticism or argument. Again, I understand the inherent democratic ethos of social media, much of this as part of a very convincing case for the proliferation of these social platforms to challenge authority, etc.

But you know where we’re going here: Tennis Fanland, where all the cute fanboys and fangirls get to scream their bloody heads off for the sake of their infallible tennis heroes! Weeeeeeeee!

You can click on that Wertheim tweet above and see the ensuing discussion, but let me help you out and post this next tweet from JW where he admits that he’s committing a cardinal sin by even acknowledging these fangirls/social media “trolls.”

You can follow that trail to see the misery of the Djokerfan in all her/their wild interpretation of anything that doesn’t don the Serb in lovely robe, jeweled crown and magnificent staff.

In other words, folks, as you’ve seen me (one who tries to maintain some balance and order over my and others’ ATP perspectives) get pulled into this fanclub bullshit: here’s a mainstream “nice guy” getting mugged on social media. For what?

I suppose the fangirls take issue with Wertheim suggesting that Djokovic’s troubles traverse beyond the bruised elbow. Thought on this? Do you think JW stepped in it here? Anyone who spends a bit of time on this consideration, acknowledges Djokollapse, etc., should probably come to a similar kind of harmless and concerned view of his recent decline.

I think the fangirls are insufferable and actually undermine their hero, who’s future, to JW’s point, is a bit uncertain – though, to JW’s point, Federer and Nadal’s break from the tour does show that such a hiatus is not necessarily “career suicide.” The SI writer/Tennis Channel voice seemed really to give more hope to Novak’s prognosis, but the paparazzi appear to be waiting on each and every potential syllable of disrespect.

I shouldn’t complain too much, to be fair: I get more material than I know what to do with from these vacuous trolls.
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To some of the actual points of discussion from Wertheim’s column, I have a few points to consider.

Actually, another trigger for the Djokerfan embedded in Jon’s response about Novak’s break is the comparison to Federer. Don’t you think this kind of association has to just boil that fan’s blood? We’re just guessing here, but I suspect this might have been the most “damaging” part of that response. Federer ruined the possibility of any unforeseen epic comeback following a big injury break (even though Nadal, actually, has made almost a career of such moves). I feel the pain of the Djokerfan here. RFRT, indeed.

Moving-on, how about this next question from a Wertheim reader:

Couldn’t you still make the argument that Pete Sampras is GOAT? Why? Simply because shouldn’t the number of Grand Slam titles be compared relatively to the players’ peers rather than across generations. Sampras won 14 titles, Agassi the next on that list won eight. Sampras won a whopping 75% more titles. Shouldn’t that tell you that it was more difficult to win Grand Slam titles in that era? Shouldn’t we also take into account that the game has changed (Technology, training, court speed etc.) since the 90s and made it possible to have far more consistent results? 
Rahul, Brooklyn

This is HRFRT. Rahul, here, is onto something, but he needs me to take the argument from where he says: “Agassi the next on that list won eight.” Not only that, Rahul: Borg’s and Laver’s 11, and Emerson’s 12 had been eclipsed, which seemed perhaps insurmountable when you consider all of the greats of the 80s and 90’s who came-up well short. The best analysis here drives a deeper wedge into the bigger narrative, the historical context that surrounds theses players: who came before them, what motivates them, etc.

The point here concerns historical expectation. Sampras climbed tennis Everest and the stretch of history he dominated seemed truly remarkable. But it wasn’t as much, in the end, given what was just around the corner.

I can’t wait to finish that book. 😀

Wertheim responds well to the way Rahul worded his inquiry. The flaw is in comparing the player (Sampras or Federer) to his contemporaries. Sampras and Federer, a point I will certainly clarify in my piece, are the real trailblazers given the historical sequence of events, the timeline, if you will. Federer responded more to Sampras (I will explain and complicate that) and Nadal and Djokovic have responded to Federer. Given where we are now numbers-wise, someone certainly needs to explain HRFRT. You dig?

I will add that JW’s point about Serena is absurd. Sorry, Jon. Swing and a miss.

Here’s this question from another reader:

Just in the last few days, Rublev won a 250 event at age 19, Opelka blew at least six match points. Tiafoe, Fritz stumbling. Players changing coaches…

there is nobody I can find writing about this. Where do you get info online about this stuff? Any discussion sites, blogs you’d suggest? Could you write on emerging Americans, how they vary in balancing tournament scheduling/practice, long-term vs. short-term goals, and what their projected ceilings are (expected best ranking by expert consensus)? Also: What is the effect of having young kids on performance? (Murray, Djokovic, Fritz—injuries don’t heal if you don’t sleep/are carrying babies.)
Andy F.

Andy, come to Mcshow Blog! I will continue to cover the youngsters, as I have, and not just the Americans. I have tried to maintain a somewhat steady eye on that class as it’s health and success are paramount to the future of this sport.

But Andy F. reminds me that I need to do more.

One of the reasons I want to generate any revenue from this blog is so I can establish more and more access to the game, to actual tournament play, players, etc. Nothing motivates me (other than the act of writing and conversing with readers, which are both very inspiring) more than the chance to attend more live (bigger) tennis tournaments!

Have pen and paper, will travel. 😀

Finally, one error from yesterday’s post, in setting-up anticipation for the Fritz v Kokkinakis match today in Los Cabos, was that I called this a R16 encounter. This is a QF match, my friend. Big moment, imho, for the American. Between the two, the Aussie is in a better place with his game, having some success to speak of in 2017. Mainly, he and Jordan Thompson’s doubles title in Brisbane was a big surprise (and accomplishment), but his win over Raonic in straights at Queen’s even bigger and more relevant here.

Enjoy the tennis and Join the Conversation (yeah, I mean comment after reading and follow the blog via email – see top right on blog). Seriously. 🙂

Djokovic’s Highest Form Ever (DHFE)

The summer is a glorious time of year on the ATP since we get a chance to see the year’s strongest athletes outlast those weakened by the long and arduous season that began in early January (or the ones who’s games just tend to wilt on this most even and rigorous surface). The firm quickness becomes more unforgiving, speed presses the point, each exchange more a test of skill and weaponry than of one’s fluency toward the idiosyncracies of a particular surface; and the air temperature rises along with its seasonal bosom buddy, the humidity. Indeed, the North American summer hard courts offer us a candid look at the tour’s best playing on the surface that showcases the best and exposes the rest, I’m afraid.

I think a good place to start with this DHFE is recalling when we tackled that quasi-related claim that Federer won 2017 AO because Melbourne played significantly faster this year (part of the grand conspiracy) and (get ready, I’m warning you, this is an argument advanced by Djokerfans) Novak doesn’t play as well on such a fast surface? Why would one ever make such a claim about their hero? That’s undermining Super Novak, novak_djokovic4_1359023691_540x540pointing-out a flaw in his game (a big flaw if you ask me). Novak’s 2-5 USO finals record and his inability to win Cincinnati (the one Masters he hasn’t won) speaks to this difficulty on the quicker courts; and making this shortcoming into some kind of strength doesn’t bode well; or arguing that his hard court record overall is the best-of-all-time, where the fanclub refers to him as HC GOAT. These we might suggest are Red herrings, squandered on the breach.

As we turn here to the summer N.A. HC swing, all of this bluster about Novak’s HC greatness takes quite a hit. And if you’re going to argue that he has shown the HFE on a tennis court, personally, I would start my argument with NYC HCs to support such a statement, then probably WB, before any sort of legitimate argument about HFE is made. Looking at the competition would be the other factor, or even the people who are making this claim. Many of these Djoker “representatives” are belligerent, of course, but I even heard mainstream media mouth-pieces get a little carried-away, as well, especially back in 2015-16.

I was fairly frank about Novak’s dominance at the time. I had no problem saying that this was an historical run, and that I didn’t quite see the end of it, with Fedal sailing out to sea, Muzzard typically muzzled, etc., yes, thought the competition was pretty poor (argued that Roger – at 34 – gave some of the Serb’s majors added/needed weight since beyond the Maestro, and perhaps Murray, what was really left?). Never did I step into that pile of HFE, however. Too much evidence to the contrary, especially if you’ve been watching the men battle for decades now and you’re not afraid to watch and re-read the history of this great sport.

Before we go any further, might I bring to everyone’s attention that articles like this  aren’t composed, perhaps, if such vehement (and vitriolic) subjectivity toward our fair sport isn’t strewn all over the place like debris after an ill-advised engagement or wedding has occurred. DHFE is a rival faction against all sensible tennis fans.

And how apropos that we’re here, on the eve of the run toward NYC.

The NYC HC, I would argue, is where the best pure tennis is played. NYC has gobs of evidence of this kind of greatness, more so, I will argue, then the other HC major – AO. Part of this is the AO snub from a few greats (Borg, Connors, McEnroe, et al.). Plus, the USO is simply an older tournament; age, location and history all play into suggesting that the USO determines a more significant title that, by the way, builds a more significant legacy than an arbitrary claim about form. One should play best where the best is played.

Indeed, I am saying that one’s form at the USO should be a big part of any argument for HFE (which is so subjective). Saying the USO is more prestigious than the AO because of its history and speed is not arbitrary.

Why haven’t FO champions, before Nadal, ever sniffed the upper echelon of such arguments (careful with Borg as he never won the USO and went away too early)?

Speed kills. The USO has that relentless call for a highest level of fortitude and execution on the tennis court. Quite a cocktail when you have all that history, those brightest lights, the concrete jungle and the lethal speed and precision of the razor’s edge.

As we undermine this DHFE claim, we have made a bit of a suggestion, then, that the USO (even Roger’s Cup and Cincy) should be a part of any discussion of HFE since this is the surface and the venue where such a boisterous and preposterous claim might find its footing.

Fans have been claiming the DHFE since he began his 2015 run (or even before that most likely) and the 2016 Doha final v Nadal gave them a little added lift. Here’s Nadal’s analysis of Djokovic’s form in that final – the Serb pummeled the Spaniard 6-1 6-2.

Two things: This was a tune-up for Melbourne, a minor tournament in early January, a 250; and Nadal wasn’t exactly playing very well. Do we need to recall Nadal’s 2016 results? He was still shaken from his absolutely dreadful 2015. He shows-up at Doha as Novak is still screaming from his 2015 – two players in completely different career points.

Nadal went-on to lose in 1R at Melbourne. All this to say, don’t use this eye-witness (who probably has more credibility than anyone making such a claim) as evidence for DHFE.

To be fair, the Djoker went-on to win 2016 AO, the Sunshine Double, Madrid and then the FO before the wheels came off and he spun into the Djokollapse.

We actually see here the culmination of the case for DHFE. He wins 2015 AO (Murray), WB (Federer), USO (Federer), 2016 AO (Murray) and 2016 FO (Murray).

The sheer amount of success (Novak Slam) in which he’s pretty much unfazed by his competition anywhere (his majors won by beating the perennial ATP bridesmaid and a 34-35 year-old Federer) concocts the rumor that this is the HFE. Many arguments were made about Djokovic’s 2015 being the greatest season of all-time. His numbers that year were staggering, for sure. Therefore, he played the HFE?

But based on what exactly? His W-L record?  This article shows the greatest seasons ever based on W-L:

1. John McEnroe — 1984 — 82-3 (.965)
2. Jimmy Connors — 1974 — 93-4 (.959)
3. Roger Federer — 2005 — 81-4 (.953)
4. Roger Federer — 2006 — 92-5 (.948)
5. Bjorn Borg — 1979 — 84-6 (.933)
6. Novak Djokovic — 2015 — 82-6 (.932)

If we’re basing the HFE on W-L, then DHFE is a stretch. Remember though: the Djokerfan will levy the level of competition tax on our ears. Djokovic was unbelievable, the argument goes, against top-10, top-5, etc. His case here with W-L becomes more formidable.

So then we’re into the level of competition factor of this equation. Which the Djokerfan doesn’t want any part of, I’m afraid. Spanking a trained Murray and a waning Federer doesn’t crack the whip. Throwing around seeds and top-5 opponents, etc., needs more context since this can be quite misleading.

So, is it the play he manufactured on the court? Along the lines of what Nadal said after Doha, a Nadal who had little leg on which to stand?

Ahhh, the 2015-PF argument (2015 Peak Federer). If we can argue that Federer was at his peak in 2015, with Djokovic handling him fairly easily in two major finals (WB and USO mind you!), and Federer is, by many, considered the GOAT, then by simple logic, if we’re beating the greatest at his peak, we’re the greatest!

Doesn’t that sound absurd, especially the use of that pronoun?

How about some 2005 Federer, folks (this is probably two years before his absolute peak when, in fact, he beat Djokovic in straights in a USO final).

This is Federer v Agassi 2005 USO final we’re going to see. Look at the depth and disaster on Federer’s racquet. This is complete bedlam. Agassi is playing well here, even though he’s at the end. I would say this helps us see my point about this surface showcasing the greatest tennis, the purity and cleanliness of the shot, the athleticism, etc.

Look at Federer’s FH and BH. And listen to some of the commentary. Early in the video, McEnroe (at 1:05) points-out that Agassi has the “greatest ROS in the history of the sport.” I remember explaining this truth to a big Djokerfan who didn’t grasp Agassi’s ROS prowess (which undermines much of this “tennis expert’s” understanding of the sport). And remember: Federer wasn’t exactly hitting Andre off the court since the American great had done years of battle with the GREATEST SERVE IN THE HISTORY OF THE SPORT. As I’ve said a million times, give me Novak on Pete’s serve; granted, Novak is supreme in the ROS department, but don’t overlook the rest of the history of the sport, folks. Andre could hold his own, which he does in this match, a bit.

But Federer is simply unplayable, from both wings, on serve, etc. Watch.

Here’s some of the Djokovic v Nadal 2016 Doha final

Ladies and gentlemen, if one goes to the HFE argument, we need convincing evidence, narrative, numbers, etc. 2016 Doha is not getting it done, a 250 in January against a morbid Nadal.

We’re on the eve of the big run-up to the last major, what some would argue is the grandest of the grand slams. I think it’s fitting to approach any talk of HFE by referring to the USO.

Djokovic can play tennis with the best of them; he has a great case as one of the best players of all time. No question. But the HFE argument is just ignorant, lacks context, evidence and is, like many of these GOAT powwows, another instance where one’s bias has him by his ass.

Some of the esteemed readers of this blog have made some great points in the previous post’s comments. Some of this entails the massively flawed 2015-PF claim. If you look at that 2005 footage, search some 2006-10, you’ll probably see a pretty strong game from Federer that subordinates anything from 2013-16, a time in which the man was reaching his mid thirties, playing a brutal schedule and not really adding much to his game.

You know what I think of the Ljubičić hire, how this breathed confidence and execution back into the Swiss’ game plan, along with a very real sense of revenge (which probably best illustrates this fresh breath, this deliverance of Roger Federer in 2017). He had the injury break and the time to tweak his game for this specific run in 2017.

But, but, but. Go back to the 2005 USO final video above. The reason it’s probably easier to say that Federer has a better case for HFE than does Djokovic revolves around the simple eye-test. Ljubičić has been instrumental, but Federer already had some decent tools to work with.

Federer has so many weapons. His BH in 2005, in that video, is so offensive it’s silly. The confidence and execution there make for an insanely formidable day at the office for his opponent; and it’s more fearsome than the 2017 version. The FH is then THE most deadly weapon in the gamd. He’s CC and DTL at will, deep, his athleticism organizing each shot. His serve is, as we know, a massive weapon.

At 4-2 in the first set he delivers two aces in particular here. One is 112mph down the T; the other is 124 out-wide, both from the ad side, both unreadable from one of the best “readers” the game has ever seen from the ROS.

Of course, he finishes points at the net (almost) as well as anyone. Agassi, like so many of his non-clay opponents of this era, has very little chance. That’s four point-ending weapons.

Federer’s real peak has all of this in full view with a much more youthful, threatening persona that few could deal with.

This DHFE pertains to the masterful baseliner, with a brilliant ROS, great court-movement to buttress his great FH and BH. His serve got better under Becker, but it was never in that Federer class, let alone other greats.

I am going to close and say that if you are going to make this HFE claim, you better include in your calculations the prospects of longevity, of one being able to sustain it since “highest” or “best” is only so if one can sustain such form.

And that will be the final chapter here with Djokovic, with DHFE, Djokollapse (and his legacy in general, something I will deal with in the HRFRT eBook).

His is a form that will be tough to sustain, imho. Watching Nishikori today in D.C., I thought about Djokovic. This is such a physical style of tennis, one that requires a long,  defensive stance.

Finishing points becomes even more critical as a player ages.

How does Djokovic finish points? This will be most telling. Nadal, as we saw throughout clay this year, was very aggressive, the FH ending points before anyone could even figure-out what was happening. And Nadal has a great net game, as we’ve mentioned many times before.

But the argument with Nadal has been longevity, as well. Does he have enough for the HC this summer? We shall see.

We’re bound to carry this conversation on throughout the comments and in several subsequent posts.

As I’ve made quite clear, the tour needs a healthy Djokovic and we wish him the best, deepest and quickest recovery. But his fanatics need to clean-up after themselves with regards to much of this unnecessary and unrealistic zoology (GOAT experiments in particular).

This stream-of-consciousness DHFE discourse ought to have woken me from slumber. Thanks for reading.

Looking forward to talking about some of the tennis tomorrow. D.C. is in full tilt.

Cheers.

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!