Rome

Djokovic v Thiem in Rome SF – Edit

This is the perfect match-up for Djokovic and Nadal fans. Ha ha. Djokovic gets a legitimate test on clay (against the guy who finally did beat the incomparable Rafa), but we still have the mystery of Djokovic’s game against the current French favorite. Note the use of “current” here to leave open the door that Djokovic could use to heighten his chances in Paris with a dominant win over Thiem and then Zverev in the final.

Here we are: the future vs. the present. This is Djokovic’s time, which makes 2017 Fedal so significant. This is not Murray’s time (he got there in the absence of Federer, Nadal TENNIS-FRA-ROLAND-GARROSand Djokovic, which I’ve pointed-out a million times. Andy is a pseudo #1. He was incredibly consistent and opportunistic last summer/fall, but his ascension wasn’t really certified by the powers-that-be).

Can Djokovic knock-off the two leaders of the next generation in today’s SF and tomorrow’s F? That is the second story-line, behind the one that revolves around the Serb finding that peak form he’ll need to win a major.

Djokovic celebrates his 30th birthday in two days, Monday, the day after the conclusion of the last warm-up to Roland Garros, which happens to be a Masters, so this would be a big win either way.

Looking at the Thiem SF that starts in 20 minutes, follow along on Twitter as we watch this match.

First, let’s go back to the QF vs Del Potro. This is a perfect match-up for Djokovic. The Serb’s pin-point BH can simply pin the ailing Argentinian. It’s not even a good watch. Del Potro has ONE weapon: his FH.

Compare this kind of one-trick pony to the likes of Federer who has a dangerous serve, BH and FH, net play mastery, solid defense (5 weapons). Or Nadal, who has the magic (intangible), along with a really balanced game, obviously, the under-appreciated net play, etc.

Thiem will certainly be a bigger challenge for the Serb.

Del Potro plays handicapped with that BH and the fact that he beat Dimitrov and Nishiouchi – not a good look for those lost boys (Grigor will find some rhythm on grass and HC, mind you).

Thiem’s ground stroke game should give Djokovic all he can handle. Both wings. Can’t pin the Austrian. I hope the Austrian can mix-in the volley to affect the Serb’s comfort-zone.

Watching Djokovic play Del Potro exposes the limits (style and longevity) of Djokovic’s game. Most players throwing the kitchen sink at Del Potro’s weak BH will come-in and finish at the net, since some of those weaker slices are like lush grapefruit at a glorious summer picnic. The Serb stays at the BL and finishes. That’s limited play. His accuracy and quickness will continue to diminish. He will have to rely on other weapons. Djokovic is still just a baseline tactician. Even Nadal is more and more coming to net.

We’ll see what happens here in this second SF. Djokovic is going to stay back and trade with Thiem. Let’s see how that plays-out.

Hopefully, both players are at their best.

Can’t you smell the French?

I could see this as a preview to a French SF, with Nadal in Murray’s half.
Just saying.

Edit:

That was cringe-worthy. I said a while ago that the smiling, “happy” Djokovic was not the one who would return to greatness. The “madman” is the Djokovic who can determine the outcome of matches with his aggressive, relentless defense-to-offense tennis. That’s what this was, but here’s the thing.

This match was troubling in that such a stark difference in tone manifested itself from the beginning. This includes his form, his level of play, but it’s the whole character change I’m talking about.

What in the hell was that? Is he really sending a message to Rafa?

The depth of his return (on the BL), the focus of his hitting, his serve. . . I don’t buy these drastic changes. Why play so angry now?

I love all of the talk of Roger doping. Ha ha. The only change we see in Roger is an improved BH, some better defense, perhaps.

But this kind of angry perfect tennis from out of the clouds is just bizarro. Good luck explaining that.

And good luck to Zverev. Angry Nole might eat him, his brother and his whole family.

The Madman is back. Oh where did he go in the first place?

I did follow the match on Twitter, identifying the flaws in the Thiem game: his predictability. If you go back and watch, it wasn’t until the 2nd game of the 2nd set, where Thiem started to add some variety, some loopy FH, more strategic slice. He needs to develop the DTL BH and FH. The cross-court weaponry is great but predictable. This kind of tennis plays right into Novak’s game. Predicting, court positioning, retrieving and hitting safe, defense-first ground-strokes. If he reads you well, the defense-first becomes defense-to-offense.

0 and 1 is an outlier. Unless we have just a bad match-up here. But then again we have the angelic/demonic Djokovic dynamic. Compare the Madrid SF to the Rome SF. Ha ha.

Did he get a new batch of gluten-free tortillas? Did he hire Agassi? Are he and Jelena in a fight? Why you mad, bro?

Indeed, the madman is the Djokovic we know and love. But seeing “it” scare the crap out of Thiem and the Rome tennis faithful was quite the pageantry of tennis “quality.”

Rome (the city and the verb ;). . .Breaking: Federer is Out at the French

I know how to spell “roam,” ladies and gentlemen. The primitive emoji, as you can see, clarifies this play-on-words, being playfull (only to balance all the F-bombs and vitriol I lob at my opponents – stay on the good side of me, folks! 🙂

Let’s check-in with our Rome correspondent (glancing at TennisChannel and reading scores) and “rome” through some of the tennis discourse at this point in the season, given the absolute fireworks of 2017 where you have Fedal going absolutely blitzkrieg on the ATP, the history books and your uncle Doug; to steal a line from my post-AO 2017 commentary:

“For a second (or several), you might even have forgotten about Murray and Djokovic, the early favorites to make this final, two players who have dominated the tennis world as of late. However, the weight of Fedal is a heavy intoxicant; they crashed and trashed this 2017 Aussie Open like two warlords from time elapsed who’d returned to relive their glorious past.”

Hyperbole, sure. That’s the intoxicant of #2017Fedal (of the sport of tennis, 30+ years of advanced spectatorship 😉 and genuine fondness for the use of language, as a musical and analytical instrument .

But I digress. 2017 has been utterly wild. Let’s “rome” about those sorts of topics, as well.

I saw the score of Querrey over Pouille today in two TBs. Thought to myself this I want to see. TennisChannel is bit behind so I just caught a bit of the match where Querrey is up 7-6 4-2, and the tennis is pretty bad, actually. The announcers were mentioning that the Frenchman is giving away a lot of points. It’s just bad tennis, including what I saw. Guys can’t string together 2 points – this is clay in general, as  you know. Breaks of serve, double faults – happens anywhere but that’s my beef with clay. Just slow and choppy tennis. Just stepped away and watched the second set TB. Pouille got it to 4-1, had a few SPs later, but like the first set TB, Querrey from way back refuses to go away and beats the Frenchman. Pouille got the SF here in Rome last year.

Pouille is having a B- season, off the top of my head (not staring at any stats or video, but I watch a lot of tennis). I suspect he’ll play better on the grass and HC.

They call that an upset, but Sam is having a nice little 2017 himself. He spanked Kyrgios and Nadal in Acapulco to take that title. But even he didn’t look very impressive today in Rome.

Almagro continues to hit the ball hard, beating the local fellow Seppi in straights 😉 But that was my point with the Djokovic v Almagro Madrid match – this was watchable tennis because Almagro was going to make the Serb win most of that match. That’s what makes this Pouille Querrey exchange so disappointing. Both played with themselves.

Nice that Goffin came-back to beat Bellucci in three sets. Looked troubling for awhile, as if the Belgian’s tank was running low, perhaps, given his recent nice run on the red clay.

When I’m done with this post, I have Dimitrov v Del Potro starting-up.

Let’s “rome” on a few thoughts of this season some more.

NOTE: I was in the middle of writing this post, to make these comments on the Federer/Roland Garros proposition, when Federer announced (2 minutes ago, literally) that he is skipping the French.

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Let’s get this out of the way: Federer better play Roland Garros, or his 2017 is cut in half (in my eyes). Get your ass on the competitive court, Roger the dodger.

What’s probably happening is he’s practicing intelligently (would be really smart if he’s mixing-in some clay) under the guise of the new head of his Office of Strategic Services-like command: Ljubičić.Lubjicicafe7d5066b14fc3c4c373d1987245746c6f474cc-tc-img-previewThe last time Federer played RG he made it through to the QF where the eventual champ (Wawrinka) beat him. Federer is no slouch on clay (ha ha), so this tour desperately now needs him to show-up to Paris to play well in this thinly planted tennis landscape under siege of another Spanish Inquisition (note all of the war reference!).

Who has stepped-up on clay this season to really challenge Rafa at the French Open? Murray and Djokovic have this week to find any kind of momentum. Not looking good, but maybe history plays a role: since 2005, either Nadal or Djokovic have won this event (that’s twelve years) though Murray won this tournament last year. Can a title defense give the Scot a little inspiration? Didn’t help Djokovic last week. But we can hope.

Federer was in the Rome final two years ago. Federer, if healthy, should bring some very purposeful tennis to RG.

One of the little whispers this season has been the shock of Federer playing so well, coming-off such a long injury break; you know the rumors. There are conspiracy theorists that talk of the Fedal corruption (some kind of tennis capitalist corporatization). I guess anything is possible these days.

Problem with Roger’s case is this is the first big break he’s had.

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So much for that (that means I better end this post):

This is very disappointing about Federer. I have to wonder, based on his comments at the end of the AO, when he tells the crowd, if he isn’t back next year, to take care, or something like that. He got his 18th, so now he’s going to just roll the dice on grass and HC, see if he can pick-up another major here in 2017 before he really does hang-up the career?

That has to be his plan. Skipping the French (along with all of the clay) seems a bit of a tell because it’s a bit obnoxious. You’ve heard me say that Ljubičić has said publicly that roger-federer-announces-he-will-miss-the-french-openFederer should limit his clay schedule, was talking about this in early 2016. I supported the reasoning only in that the clay weighs so heavy to Nadal, that this affected that rivalry. I stand by that thinking, that rationalization.

But to skip the clay entirely? Including the French? I’m a fan of your thinking, Fed, but this is unfortunate. For the draw, for the audience, the history.

In Federer’s first 17 years on tour, he missed only two majors, that was last year. We were going to talk about how this come-back of his is unprecedented because it has never happened to him.

In Nadal’s 14 years on tour, he has missed 10 majors.

Novak, though he hasn’t missed any majors in his 13 years on tour, he has a bit of a pattern of highs and lows, like Nadal.

Djokovic won his first AO in 2008 and not another major until 2011. Wins a major and gets blanked the following two years. He wins three majors in 2011 and then three majors over the next three years! Three in one and then three in three. That’s dramatic. Then he won five majors in two years and here we are in slump city once again.

Indeed, Federer has been pretty consistent over the years, just had a big drought in his 30s. But he kept representing: WB final ’14-’15 and the SF in ’16; USO SF in ’14, F in ’15, AO SF in ’16, FO QF in ’15, etc.

Federer’s break and resurrection is unprecedented in his career. Up until last year, due to injury, following the AO SF loss to Djokovic, he never missed. The wheels are coming off now.

The point of this section of the post was that one can’t be that surprised that Federer’s is playing so well. He always does. Could Djokovic maintain his top form? That was the question. As the tennis went, if Djokovic wasn’t there, Fed would probably grab one of these majors here. Nadal and Murray have not been factors up until pretty recently.

Now, Federer is just getting greedy, ironically. He’s avoiding the French to do what I think is two final majors before he calls it quits. This pull from the 2017 French is a tell that says he’s folding. In a way, it’s weak and perhaps a bit depressing for fans. But the announcement and it’s meaning might be insightful to a competitive fire burning inside that he wants another WB and USO for his quiver: the two most prestigious majors of the grand slam.

Wow. Sorry about the oddity of this post. Began writing about Rome and wanted to throw some Djokerfan rumor-mill into the garbage. Then Federer pulls the plug on Paris. Wow.

Again: this reads true farewell tour. This is it, folks. London and NYC, WTF and that’s all she wrote. The only explanation.

I’ll be back.

Madrid Final and Rome Draw

Madrid 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2007 or 2012?

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

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

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

Or is it 2009?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source.

Rome (link)

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

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

Wawrinka and Cilic have their own little irrelevant quarter.

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

More to come as this plays-out.

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