WB Eve of the Men’s Semi-finals

Roger I think covered it all here.

He’s been reading my blog. Sam is dangerous, so is Cilic and Berdych. I brought all of this to light in my QF preview and elsewhere. Also, Roger points-out, good luck to Novak and Andy getting healthy. In my Rant, I clarified how important player health is to the health of the tour, as well – the health of all players.

My preview underscored the questions surrounding Novak and Andy; they were favorites for most people because not much was made of the injuries. Novak, in an interview after his retirement, said the elbow has been bothering him for a year and a half. And he was seeking treatment, aggressively, from his and the ATP’s physio since the beginning of the tournament. Not sure if this violates the tour’s version of HIPPA, or some other privacy clause for locker-room competitive banter, but that information should have “leaked.” Novak looked unconvincing throughout his soft draw but I sill thought he would rise – just like I thought he would rebound at the French. I keep waiting for this guy to come around; and, at the same time, I keep charting the Djokollapse, which is an unreal decline of a great player; this is beyond a slump.

But if I’d been better aware of the extent of his injury, he’d have been written-off July 3.

Again, I think Roger did well to shed some light on what’s left at this tournament in the video; it’s pretty simple at his point.

Cilic v Querrey

Cilic is dangerous (this we’ve been on since Netherlands and Queen’s). Querrey, though that was an upset (Murray’s injury report was perhaps too quiet, as well), is also dangerous. The big serve of both makes them formidable and they have good feet on grass, can pummel ground strokes, etc. Cilic’s resume may seem bigger (it is, no doubt, given his Cincy and USO titles), but Querrey’s recent exploits can’t be overlooked. He beat Novak at WB last year and this year he beat a surging Nadal and rampant Kyrgios in February (along with the hometown boy here on CC).

The Kyrgios match was especially interesting because the Aussie had just straight-setted Novak, was playing dominant/confident tennis, but the American took care of business. I watched this live and everything from the American, including the body language back-and-forth with the antic-ridden Aussie was impressive. The Yankee then beat Nadal in the final in straight-sets. Sure this is February 2017 we’re talking about, and Acapulco; but that’s some firepower he handled pretty decisively.

Either way, good on Querrey for getting the job done against Andy, in emphatic bakery goods, 1 and 1 in-front of the home-crowd on Centre Court to advance to the WB SF. Pretty much a break-through match despite all of the big matches I’ve been referring to here in my case for Querrey. He’s in a semi-final match at the Championships.

Cilic is rolling. I might add that the 5-setter against Muller after Muller played a week-end holiday long R16 match against you-know-who probably isn’t ideal for the Croatian. You lean Marin here, based-on his potential form (he’s shown that kind of high level before on this stage), where the big serve and quick-strike tennis could dictate terms to Sam. But if Sam can find his feet, put pressure on Cilic’s serve, find rallies, we could be in to a long match, a kind of coin flip match. Sam can certainly go five. Can he get it to five?

That’s the real theme here: the read is a Cilic v Federer final, but some surprise and unexpected has taken a seat at our table, causing a bit of a scene.

PS Keep our eye on the Cilic FH that has been known to let him down.

Federer v Berdych

Federer should win this match. If Berdych wins, it’s an upset. What makes Berdych a little more, for me, than just a big hitter who has beaten Federer before is that match in March, in a Miami QF, where the Czech veteran held MP in the third set TB. That was 2017 Federer and Berdych played him even.

The run here has been solid, but Novak did retire due to injury; perhaps the most Tomas can say is that he’s rested and ready to give an old friend more than just an exhibition? Not sure if it’s the presence of Ivanišević, or Berdych’s maturity, but this career top-ten player with loads of game does seem just a bit more purposeful, has more character, etc.

Raonic and Berdych probably present similar kinds of obstacles for Roger: both big serves, and can put balls past the Swiss from the BL. Raonic, of course, does a little more at the net.

Looking back at the Raonic v Federer QF:

1st set: Federer 94% of first serve won, was 1/2 on BP, 14-2 (winner v UE) and hit more aces than Raonic (5 to 2). Raonic won 71 % of his second serve, which seemed pretty high, was 11-4 winner/UE and was 0/0 on BP.

Federer able to convert on that BP, a little more solid on serve, but the set pretty clean; Raonic did not play poorly.

2nd set: Federer breaks game 1. Big move here. More urgency, variety, passing shots that leave Raonic just shaking head.  Second break at 4-2 and serves out the set at love.
Federer 92% FS won and 2/4 on BP. Again, very clean in the winner v UE department – Federer just playing good Federer tennis.

Raonic down to 13% second serve won (huge drop from the first set). Again. 0/0 BP opportunities.

3rd set was a held-service convention though Raonic did see a BP in the 8th game. Raonic, again, looked good. Go watch his 2014 SF match with Federer a WB. He has built himself a nice little WB resume and could one day raise this trophy.

In the 3rd set TB, Raonic off to a 3-0 start, but Federer comes roaring back, taking the next five points. He closes the Canadian out at 7-4.

To make a long story short, how many BP opportunities will Berdych get tomorrow Reader/commenter Incondite stole my thunder by brining-up the lack of ROS in Berdych (or Cilic/Querrey).

All four of these SFinalists have big serves, but who can put pressure on another’s serve? Who has the best ROS? Federer does.

Without a ROS, the chances to break become minimized. If Federer serves well tomorrow (in that 90% FS winning range), Berdych will have trouble finding cracks to weaken a surging Federer. Federer’s ROS, even against the huge Raonic delivery, proved effective enough to wear down the 6’5″ 26 year-old.

That just seems to be the crux here: serve and ROS. If Federer continues this form, in fact even improves some, he’ll be tough to beat.

I have enjoyed reading the comments. Thank you! Some one (I think “Jason Bourne” – wow, international spy intrigue at Mcshow Tennis) brought-up the point of Federer succeeding in a draw that’s been opened-up like this, with Murray/Djokovic/Nadal out. One such was that 2009 US Open – where he was up 2 sets to 1, seeking his 6th straight USO title. Did not happen.

Not sure if from this same commenter, but another point: at this age, has Federer left enough on the plate to raise his game for a SF and/or Final? To answer this, I would say his Lajovic and Zverev matches were solid though not necessarily balletic. He seems to have raised his level vs. Dimitrov (who did fade at the sound of another loss) and Raonic.

But all good points. Indeed, Federer has much work to do and Berdych, I suspect (and even hope) gives Federer and the viewing audience more reason to scoot to the edge of our seats and live or die on some dramatic major SF tennis.

Sorry for the late post, folks.

Enjoy the tennis and talk to you all tomorrow!

More SF Reaction and Final Preview

I wrote the “Roger Wilting” piece about ten minutes after the match, while at work. That post, then, was a quick reaction to the Raonic v Federer match: the image of Roger wilting was as vivid as Raonic rising. This image has almost obscured other images of Federer in our tennis imagination. Of course, even this is complicated by the former champion’s age and consistency; he has made at least the SF in the last four majors he’s played. Not bad for an old man.

After watching a bit more of the earlier part of the match, the “wilt” of Federer’s game was from the word “go,” losing serve so early in that first set, essentially handing the Canadian this huge advantage that really was the conclusion of the match. Sure, he seemed in control after the second set TB all the way into the fourth set late, but the die had been cast. Raonic had already established belief in his prospects for this match.

This is what has to really bother the people who pull for Federer. There is that nonchalance to his game. Raonic is really never troubled on serve in this first set; you will hear people say Fed got Raonic’s serve to deuce a couple of times, but this is not very dramatic or troubling. Raonic wins that first set without much of a sweat, thanks to Roger DF on BP and the rest of his odd less than pressing style. This has to be a clear sign in the first set that Roger is not in SF championship form. Is he content to come back again from two sets down? Is he so confident in his game at this point that he can spot these players a set or two and still come-out on top?

I wrote about this going into the 2015 USO final. Just a few words of wisdom for the Swiss great. Anyone familiar with his tennis has to acknowledge, especially when juxtaposed with the more grittier competition on the tour, his characteristic “flow” or “elegance” that I would argue is more a show of incredible confidence and even arrogance. This “class” remains a big part of his tennis legacy, but he has lost out, in my humble opinion, on a handful of other big wins (including major championships)  had he been a little more urgent, committed and even desperate. Granted, this amounts to inference and interpretation, but I have more than enough evidence to prove my point. The alternative to this read is that Roger is a massive choke.

Federer is right when he says he overachieved here at 2016 Wimbledon. We all know he had very little match play and consistent health to have much confidence in a deep run at the Championships. So, in that sense, this was more about Raonic.

Milos has earned this stage. He has been a monster on tour for a few years, just not quite able to break into that top 8 or top 5. I have written before about his 2015 IW QF win over Nadal; Federer beat him in the SF in tight straights. He has been around for a while and the guy’s professionalism, his intensity and inherent height and strength have made him a handful for anyone.

He has made the move to that next level. We talked about this in our SF preview. Sure Federer had history and all that jazz to play for, but Raonic was the more sensible pick if you were using your brain. I can go nuts thinking about what I would have told Federer in preparation to beat Raonic: “Make your first serve a weapon, be aggressive (come to net), use your slice to move the big, clumsy Canadian around – make him run! Oh, and don’t fuck around!” But Federer came-up short on all of that. His serve sucked, he came to the net about half the time that Raonic did, and he was pretty uninspiring in some of those rallies. Raonic had the form; Federer was lucky to be there both from a look at his season and from the sense we all got – including Federer  – about the Cilic match: he needed a little luck to get through that. Think of Federer’s UE count from the SF. Wasn’t it remarkably low? What does that tell you? He wasn’t really involved.

Raonic has simply been playing solid tennis. His play in the AO was very threatening as an injury in that SF kept him from a place in the final. He made the final at IW, but looked a little injured and was smashed by Djokovic. We can go all the way back to Brisbane (sorry the chronology is a little whacked). The point is this guy has been playing good tennis all season (clay is its own peculiar season for specific styles). Bottom-line: Raonic looks good.

I did not say much about the Murray v Berdych SF because it was such an underwhelming match. Poor Berdych. There just isn’t much to say there. Murray is on a roll, it’s his tournament geographically, historically, and personally (not to mention the personnel perspective of Lendl being back in his box). So, many people see him as the favorite.

Murray’s defense seems hand-picked to match-up with Raonic. The Raonic serve vs the Murray defensive prowess. Given their match in the AO SF, we should have ourselves a bit of an epic, no?

I like the idea that Murray will not allow himself to lose this “at home,” with Djokovic out, Lendl in, and the time simply right for another major championship for this perennial bridesmaid. The stars have aligned.

But this might also be the next step for Milos Raonic. Federer was so bad yesterday I think it’s a tough gauge. But history says Milos might be ready for this. I’m sure Johnny McEnroe has a few words of advise for the 25 year-old. Ah yes: McEnroe v Lendl. This should be good. Lastly, we know that Milos has more than just the serve. His FH is great and his net game is improving. Murray better be on his passing shot.

And do know that I have much to explore with this coaching angle. This is the golden era of tennis, right? At least the last phase of that period of “greatness.” In the end, what affect will McEnroe, Lendl and, oh yeah, Becker have on this era?

Presentism is like fast food. It can kill you, if you know what I’m talking about.

Enjoy the final!

Wimbledon Semi-finals


Wow. What QF drama to wet our appetites for the next few rounds of this grand slam.

Let’s rehash yesterday and preview tomorrow.

I really only got to watch the Federer v Cilic match, but did see good portions of the Raonic v Querrey and a few highlights of Berdych v Pouille. The Murray v Tsonga looked like a great match, as well. You have to love that Frenchman’s fighting spirit.

Quarter-finals Re-cap

The Federer-Cilic match was epic, no question. I was able to see the first two sets before having to get to work, so I was pretty much expecting a pretty poor result from the Maestro, which we actually discussed earlier as a possibility given his season, and the fact that Cilic was playing at a pretty high level (from what little we had seen). Federer looked the part of what I expected: rusty, dusty and old. His inability to break at 2-2 in the first set was a bad sign early. He had 40-15 and two second serves with which to convert and take control early in that match. Otherwise, he was playing pretty well, more or less shot for shot with the 6’6″ Croat though a step or two behind the charging big man.

Indeed, Cilic looked, as many have said, like the 2014 USO version when he dismantled Federer straights. The excerpts from the Swiss of his description of that ’14 affair were pretty interesting: how Cilic hit him off the court. Period. Pretty remarkable and, as I have said, suspicious. Such a high level on that kind of stage, no hiccups, straights against one of the great hard courters in the world was pretty wild.

The first two sets yesterday looked like we were going that direction other than for the fact that Federer was actually in the match, especially in that first set. He just couldn’t rise to the occasion on those pivotal points in the fifth game, nor the TB.

The second set soundtrack included the hymn of the vultures as Roger looked ready to be taken and eaten.

To keep this shorter than I’d like (perhaps I return to this epic later), let’s just say I followed the match and watched the last three sets later in the day; and Roger pulled his ailing game from the ledge and changed the course of the match and perhaps the tournament. When Cilic wasn’t booming nonreturnable serves, Roger was hanging around in those rallies, trading some tremendous grass strokes with the giant despite the multiple examples of the Croat’s stellar BL power, hammering winners from both wings. The tennis was pretty impressive.

Indeed, Cilic did let some golden opportunities pass in the fourth set. He too had break points and second serves with which to regain control of the match and put this thing away, but Federer fought back. In the end, brilliant match. These are the kinds of surprises that we want to see. The unexpected makes the sport just as interesting as watching a great dominate. The huge battles of tennis and wills are always a great watch. Federer moves on.

The Raonic v Querrey match was a serve exhibition. The 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 victory for the Canadian is not a surprise outcome. I am very happy for the American that he won a set; the match was close throughout, which says a great deal about the American’s game at this point. He did not just shock the world and go away. He had belief even in this match.

Berdych v Pouille seemed pretty straightforward. I had not seen the Frenchman play much at all, but the highlights revealed some nice tennis from the 22 year old. I will look forward to seeing him in the future. Berdych likes the grass and has some history here to help steady his confidence.

Semi-finals Preview

Although the Murray v Tsonga match became a lot more interesting than we expected, especially after the Murray 2-0 start, Murray does move-on and I think the Murray v Berdych SF match could be a grand contest between two heavy-hitters. At the very least, Berdych should have plenty left in the tank, moving through his QF in straights while Murray had to expend a bit more than he would have liked. The Scot is still the favorite, for sure, but Berdych is anything but a new-berry; he has played in a Wimbledon final, been around this neck of the woods for years, as we know. In addition, his big hitting and decent net game will surely test Murray some.

This could and should be a quality match. The history at stake, the rankings, and the level of play all season says Murray moves-on to the final to seek his second WB with Lendl riding shot-gun. I agree, but anything can happen and Berdych is certainly prepared (or so we would think).

The Federer v Raonic SF should be very interesting, as well. To make this fairly brief, I like Federer’s chances mainly because he literally had a perfect tune-up for the big serving Canadian. Cilic was pounding his serve and we know Roger generally fairs pretty well against the big serve.

Federer commented yesterday that through the first two sets, he had trouble reading Cilic, so the ace machine was in high gear. But as the match wore-on, Roger began to pick-up the serve better and hence the advantage changed dramatically (Cilic ace count dropped pretty dramatically). Along with this practice against a huge serving big man, Cilic has better ground strokes than Raonic, probably moves better, as well. Cilic’s grand slam winning form is frightening, as we know, almost too good to be true. Federer saw that yesterday but was able to hang around long enough, catch a few breaks, and finish-off the Croat.

The serve will play a big role, obviously, in this SF. Roger needs to serve well, as he did yesterday, and the Canadian needs to serve out of his mind. A huge stat from the Querrey v Raonic match is the American’s success on Raonic’s 2nd serve. I believe it was below 50%, maybe much worse. I saw the number as was shocked. Roger will be much more successful against that 2nd serve, more opportunistic.

We see Raonic’s game plan: Serve big and come to the net. McEnroe seems to have really helped here. But I saw some misses yesterday that didn’t give me that sense that this guy’s S&V is world class. He will be tough and could win this match for sure. But Querrey even had some success against Raonic yesterday (the match was tight) and I suspect Federer will be much more successful trying to pass the inbound Canadian. Although I like Querrey’s run, I just think Roger’s playing better tennis, has more weapons, and a ton more experience. Compare the two semi-finalists’ QF opponents. I think Federer had a better test, especially when you consider the comparison between Cilic and Raonic.

Having said all of that, the Canadian is ready to take that next step. He’s been so consistent in the last year or so, steadily making progress with his game to go with these deeper runs in bigger tournaments. He just missed the AO final due to injury as he seemingly had Murray on the ropes in that SF. He beat Federer in Brisbane this year in that final. He shouldn’t fear the stage as he has Wimbledon great in his box to boot. The comments from Raonic about McEnroe’s influence have centered around his play at the net and better use of energy and attitude, trying to avoid “disappearing” in a match. He’s confident, consistent, has big weapons and he’s improving as we speak.

This match almost seems subject to celestial design. Does Federer have another trip to the final in him? Despite a pretty friendly draw, his work from QF on is very difficult. Can he take care of this kind of business in this twilight of his career? This too was part of my 2016 prediction. This is the only real opportunity Federer has at a major, the HC perhaps being too taxing for the older Federer vessel. Put on your seat belts, tennis fans.

Murray escapes a potential danger in Berdych and Federer, having passed his Cilic test, comes prepared to give the Canadian one last tennis lesson.

Here’s to a couple of great matches, either way.

At the Wimbledon QF

Down goes Djokovic.

Consequently, here we are at the great eight of the 2016 Wimbledon men’s draw. From my point of view, everything is still intact, as Djokovic’s drop in form was predicted and reiterated several times on this blog. This has less to do with insight than it does common sense. Watching his tennis last week only added to my prediction as his game and the genuine grass are not a perfect match. Furthermore, given the calendar (time between slams), events and his history in Paris, Djokovic couldn’t maintain his separation. Despite the fanboys declaring that he was the best ever, erase the history of the game, I couldn’t quite bring myself to champion the flavor of that tennis psychosis. 

Referring back to my previous post, I respectfully disagreed with Annacone, Courier and the rest of the TV pundits on Novak’s early form.

Even his first rounder was chalk full of awkward movement, sloppy hitting and remarkable runs of parody between the Englishman Ward and the world #1. I didn’t see his “cruising” as the great Courier called it, with that overly relaxed and condescending demeanor of his. In another sitting between commentators on the American dominated Tennis Channel, Bill Macatee was lobbing the Djokovic is under-appreciated topic around the bunch and he even added how such subdued recognition is really tough to explain given the extraordinary depth of the tour.

Sorry, I don’t see the same game as these puppets. These are the people I called-out last year who said Serena is the GOAT. Sure, I was questioning her dominance at 34 years of age, but I was really wondering why NO ONE was wondering out loud about the banana land human anatomy lesson we were being given (or the complete disaster that is the WTA). It was all hyperbolic bullshit from this mainly American punditry.

Same thing here. The ATP field is not deep, nor did Novak look that good on the grass. I would argue that his game is not ideal for the grass, especially the lush grass, which is quite different from the dried-out, hardened courts that often grace the second week of the tournament, especially in recent years.

This is a shot-maker’s surface, a tennis that invites the fully developed arsenal of serve and volley, spin, nuance, tricky footing, etc. There is a reason why for most tennis fans (some of whom might have left the game or the planet by now) the best all time are Laver, Borg, Sampras and Federer. Why? Their grass mastery is a pretty telling criterion. Sure, Wimbledon has all the tennis history and aristocracy, but the grass game itself really lends itself to full fluency of the game. Djokovic is a tremendous grass courter, but I think his game is better suited for more of a harder-hitting baseline game.

Last year Anderson had him on the ropes, a big serving bloke a lot like Querrey. So, what is it? The big serve troubles the Serb? Like I’ve said many times before (the lunacy of this situation), Sampras might have given Novak a bit of trouble on this surface, among others 😉

So, I did see a dip in form from the Serb following an emotional FO, a major he had to have. And he finally got it (remember: clay might be his best surface).

He is out of this championship a few rounds before I suspected, but he’s gone. And to summarize what I just wrote, I think this will be a tough tournament for him moving forward. Becker, in my humble opinion, did a lot to help him secure the last two WB, and thanks too should be extended to an old, error prone Swiss.

This brings us back to the 2016 draw. Let’s take a look.

QF #1 Raonic v Querrey

I did not see much of Raonic’s tennis, but I did tune-in just as he lost the second set to Goffin. McEnroe and the rest of his box looked like him on the court – bewildered. Raonic’s serve was ineffective and even when he did land one and charge the net, Goffin was making him pay.

I watched as the Canadian began to find his game and go up an early break in the third before I departed. Not that surprised that he came back, only because I see his game as a great deal more lethal than the Belgian’s. Raonic should beat Querrey but we have to respect the American’s serve and his little run here where he knocks off Novak and actually consolidated that by beating Mahut in three. I remember the American playing well early in the year, landing that huge serve and making the SF at Memphis and winning the Delray Beach Open. Having said all of that, Raonic should advance.

QF #2 Federer v Cilic

You know what I think of Cilic, right? I have brought up this guy’s 2014 USO win several times on this blog as an utter joke. Go look at his career numbers. Really not much of a threat ever, then he wins the USO and is suddenly hurt, misses the 2015 AO and throw-in a drug suspension along the way. He has never backed-up this remarkable achievement, of winning in NYC like that.

Having said that, I would not be shocked if he beats Roger. I have seen literally about five points from Cilic in this tournament, but he seems to be hitting the ball really well, cruising, as we like to say. Granted, he hasn’t really played anyone and Nishikori retired early, but I still think the Croatian could be tough. Big serve helps a lot, as we know.

Likewise, Federer has not seen any real threat at all and what I have seen hasn’t been too impressive. I saw a little more confidence in his Evans match, but tough to make too much of that. I will add that I suspected Johnson to give Federer more trouble since he’s decent and recently won Nottingham. But Roger made quick work of him, which is good for the Federer camp, but still not the most telling development.

With our nod to the big picture, the history at stake, if Roger loses, he’s missed a grand opportunity to go deep here and even make a final without the Serb to contend with. There are many, I am sure, who see this as Andy or Roger’s tournament now. But it’s not that simple. Roger has a tough QF to deal with. We will look at the SF after this next round, but most likely a very confident Raonic will be awaiting the winner of this match. I will lean Roger in this match, but his 2016 grass resume isn’t a big boost of confidence.

I will add, in closing, that if the conditions continue to be tricky, Roger should have more of an advantage. His footwork has always been his snake in the grass, so to speak, against lesser opponents, and the cooler, damper conditions could raise the value of his balletic game. But we’re in our mid-thirties here, folks. Tough to expect too much from the old Maestro.

QF #3 Berdych v Pouille

I like Berdych here in that he has had success at this tournament and he looks pretty strong. I did see him break the will of Zverev. The two big hitters went toe-to-toe and Berdych turned the youngster away pretty emphatically. I know Pouille is playing well, and most likely I am overlooking this French youngster (good to see another youngster making noise here, backing-up his run at the FO last month), but I like the Czech to advance.

QF #4 Murray v Tsonga

Sure I said that Kyrgios could beat Murray but that’s something I should have kept to myself. Waiting for the Aussie to do something is just about overcooked, burnt, and discardable.

At the same time, it’s Murray’s form we need to take more stock in. He is absolutely poised to win this tournament. Lendl, as he did to so many courts on which he played, is dictating the proceedings, this time from the box like it’s his pulpit. I, like many of you, see this as the Scot’s to lose. He’s in front of his home crowd, he’s payed his dues (oh my has he ever), he’s matured, seemingly, and he’s got Lendl (which means massive purpose) back in his box.

Tsonga could be tough, none the less. Two sets down and he comes back to beat Isner 19-17 in the fifth?  I did not watch this marathon, but have seen him come back from down two at WB before. We know the Frenchman can be focused, tough, can handle the grass, etc. Let’s hope for a good battle between this two for sure. But Murray should continue his march.

Until the SF preview, enjoy the tennis. And don’t let the conspiracy trolls affect your sobriety (let something more tasty do that). Such is the disposition of the fanboys: the establishment wanted Djokovic out. Lol.

Federer at the French and “Be Like Mike”

Djokovic’s loss

Wow, a lot of shit went down on the clay today, so I have to address that, but I had planned to write a little about the night in the NBA and my thoughts on Federer, having had a chance to see him play yesterday against Garcia-Lopez, his first match back from injury.

Don’t read too much into Djokovic’s first round loss. He was due, let’s say. One can only play so much good, invulnerable tennis for so long. The loss actually distracts us from the real issue of there being, really, no threat to Djokovic on the tour unless his form dips. That’s the narrative. Jiri Vesely, all 6’6″ of him, brought enough heat to bring down the Djoker on his home court. Can Vesely consolidate this result. Probably not. And so it goes on the ATP. Dominated by 1 or 2 players who might find a boogieman under his bed every blue moon.

Here’s what is worth mentioning about today’s loss, however. This does add some pressure to his play in about a month in Paris. He has to win that major, this year. Most observant tennis fans will acknowledge this. It’s a very tough tournament and he’s already had his trouble there. Sure, he could come back and win Madrid or Rome, but even winning one of those won’t lighten the RG load; Novak has to be feeling some level of burn-out, where he needs a break – which actually means losing today may have been the best thing that could have happened. 

The loss is also a tiny reminder to the church of Djokovic to calm the hell down. What if he doesn’t win RG? Imagine the possibility.

I wouldn’t worry about that at this point, but the loss is a loss. I think he needs the break.

The loss opens-up the tournament for sure.

I have always thought that life and sport at the highest levels are never easy. That’s what makes great runs, great dynasties so special – they overcome the odds, the insane difficulty of maintaining that dominance. Of course, Novak was going to lose at some point. His 2015 into 2016 run has been remarkable, historical. Do we have another 2012 on our hands, following his epic 2011? Probably not.

Funny that today only falls in-line a bit with what I saw yesterday, have seen over the years, and hope to see in a little over a month from now.

Federer at the French

The Federer match was very entertaining. First of all, what a treat to have him back in the draw. He looks like he didn’t miss a beat and Garcia-Lopez (#38) is not a piece of bubble-gum. The Spaniards are tough, especially on clay. I really enjoyed seeing the two men trade some brilliant OHBH. That’s close to being the best shot in the game. If you don’t have one, we’ll figure-out what to do with you when it’s all said and done. OHBH is the stuff of tennis royalty. No question.

Federer cruised but for a slight hiccup when he was up 5-1 in the second. Sure he struggled a bit closing, but the Spaniard hit some brilliant ground-strokes (OHBH) that made it tough on the Swiss. In the end, Roger advances. And this is certainly a better look than everyone’s clay dark horse Murray going three to get by P-H H.

So my thoughts wandered a bit on clay with Roger back in the mix, despite this being his final lap, so to speak, on his farewell tour.

Roger has had a brilliant career on clay. I have heard people say Djokovic is the second best clay courter of the era, or whatever. Go look at Roger’s numbers at RG. Sure, he hasn’t faired as well at the clay Masters (no Rome or MC, I believe), but he’s been to several RG finals and won one. Even Nadal has said Roger is perhaps the second greatest clay courter of all time (I could find the article if I had to). He made all of those finals during the Nadal heyday. And who can forget the “finger wave” 2011 SF between Djoker and Federer; that was a HUGE upset and a brilliant match. Anyone remember that?

All this to say, as I watched Roger look pretty comfortable on the clay yesterday, what are the chances?

Well (and this is before what happened today and I’m not even going to read too much into Djokovic’s loss), he has a tremendous game for the clay. History speaks for itself. Secondly, I think Ljubičić and he are developing a sound approach to the season, and although the injury has thrown things off a bit, playing a clay warm-up or two might be a blessing in disguise. Finally, the two-headed dragon: there really are no expectations for Roger on the clay (his only hope, as the expectations go, is the grass – WB). And the other edge: there’s really very few real contenders. Djokovic is the favorite and then who? Ha!

Should I put a poll up? My last post looks more and more silly bringing such spotlight to Wawrinka. I can’t see past is pretty outfits. This guys’s knees look fat. Does that make sense? He looks almost indifferent. What a shame. Granted, he could turn into the Stanimal, but I have more and more doubt. And don’t get me started on Murray. You think Murray beats Nadal or Stan to reach the final in MC?

My point is we could be overlooking Roger at RG. Yesterday’s match reminded me of this. If he can stay healthy and catch a few breaks, which everyone needs now and again, voila!

What happened today (Djokovic down, Berdych soils his shorts again) only supports my essay of Roger’s chances on clay. Again, I wanted to share these thoughts from watching yesterday’s match. Today is only gravy on the Fed Express I saw pull into Monte Carlo, fresh off injury.

Be Like Mike

What happened to Djokovic today adds balance to the tennis universe. It shouldn’t be that easy. I thought the same of the Golden State Warriors in their march toward history this season. The game has been too easy for them. This speaks to the mediocrity of the league at this point, but the success they’ve had couldn’t, I thought to myself, not be challenged. Something has to give. Too much of a good thing. This train has to come off the tracks at some point.

Until a week a ago, I thought almost for sure they will not win the championship. This kind of lack of resistance, lack of adversity can not go on as they run unchallenged to hoist the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

About a week or two ago we found adversity. Suddenly they were struggling. Surpassing the Bulls’ regular season record was in jeopardy. Down the stretch they battled, having to raise their game these last four games of the season with history on the line.  Tonight, in fact, they are in position to break the record against a beat-up Memphis Grizzlies team, in Oakland (it’s 90-74 late in the third).

They still have to march through the playoffs and hoist that trophy to consolidate the record, but it looks like they will. They’ll overcome Jordan’s Bulls’ regular season mark along the way. What I like even more about their chances in the post-season is that they beat the #2 team in the land at home and on the road down the stretch – snapping the Spurs’ home unbeaten mark in the process. Stay tuned. The NBA playoffs, especially in the West, should be interesting as we get late and see the 2-4 teams that have any significance go head-to-head. The Warriors facing that adversity was key, in my book.

The other big event tonight is Kobe Bryant’s last game as a professional. Do you have any thoughts on that, on him and his career? I have a million. Always have.

Here’s my point in this entire post (Djokovic’s loss interrupted my train of thought). I am a long-time MJ fan. I watched him win in college, leave and play for the Bulls, watched in awe his entire career. I could go for days on MJ, folks. But here we are, April 13, 2016 and this is reality: his shadow still hangs so relevantly and ominously over the sport it’s as mind-bogglin as is his career on the court. The Warriors are trying to eclipse one of his many marks and Kobe, who tried with all of his flawed basketball soul to play like Mike, retires after tonight. I love it.

Everyone, still, wants to be like Mike.

Federer v Berdych AO QF

The first QF is underway. Looks like another live blog here at Matt’s blog. I watched the first two sets closely and they’re in the third now, on serve, Federer about to even it at 4-4. The first set was very solid, both players trading breaks of serve and Federer taking firm command in the TB to win 7-4. Berdych did save a set point earlier at 4-5, but Roger was able to win the TB in convincing fashion and create some momentum he rode into the second where he won pretty easily. The second set, especially early-on where he secured control, consolidated an early break, was a tremendous Federer exhibit, or should we say master class.

Roger just broke Berdych at 4-4 in a very tight game and has served-out the match. Federer is on to the SF where he awaits the winner of the next match between Djokovic and Nishikori, world #1 vs #7. I have to work tomorrow, but I think I’ll get a little work done now, after this short post, and watch the first ball toss at midnight California time. I am quite interested to see how Djokovic responds after that strange five-setter against Simon. I suspect he will make fairly easy work of Kei, just to prove a point, but when was the last time you saw Djokovic struggle through five sets like that? And Kei seems to have some form though I’m not sure how quality that win over Tsonga is. Either way, should be good, of course with the winner to play Mr. Federer in the SF.

So, how about the Fed/Berdych match in light of my post yesterday regarding Federer’s strategy at certain points in the match, mainly concerning a more defensive stance? Quite fun to watch the match unfold with terrific commentary from the younger McEnroe and Brad Gilbert (easily one of the best) in the booth, along with Cahill sitting court-side.

My post yesterday speaks to a long-shot strategy since Federer’s tennis is so naturally offensive. I mentioned that, but think he might be terribly tougher to beat if he played a little more cat and mouse. Again, these players already employ these kinds of adjustments of which I speak, so I am not talking about something that Roger never does. But after watching Simon drive Djokovic and much of the tennis audience crazy with that safe/defensive tennis, I was reminded of something I’ve thought Roger should try for years.

When you are playing these tennis backboards (the defense-first player), who feast on players trying to break the backboard, you have to rethink the approach every once in a while. Moreover, when a player is putting you under pressure, you have to think survival first, encourage them to keep attacking, defend the attack, put pressure on their offense, facilitate their error.

The Dimitrov/Federer 3R match was an example of Federer not making the adjustment and paying the price, losing a set. Roger tried to counter attack Dimitrov’s raised level. Roger was under too much pressure to play offensively. Therefore, he looked terrible trying to force his style, losing his timing, looking lost, in general.

Listening to the commentary tonight in the Fed/Berdych match was insightful on this concern. First of all, Cahill said he recalls Verdasco talking about playing Roger compared to playing almost anyone else on tour. You play one set against Roger and you feel like you’ve played three sets. Because of the constant pressure from Roger (short ball gets obliterated, chip and charge, BHDTL, etc.) players have to work so much harder on practically every shot. That’s my point. He’s almost entirely offensive. One can see why Nadal, Djokovic and Murray emerged the way they did and have stayed on top of tennis for so long. At the same time, one should see how impressive this makes Roger’s run. He’s from a different era, I would argue (I have argued).

Tonight’s commentators were underscoring Federer’s massively offensive game. Speaking to Verdasco’s comment, Cahill mentioned that Berdych looked worse down 0-2 (sets) to Fed than he looked after his five-setter with Agut.

Roger’s offense took, as Gilbert might say, full flight in today’s match. This is vintage Federer. The serve was working (~70% first) and he was pushing Berdych around the court, a player with a big game who has beaten Federer at majors in 2010 (WB) and 2012 (USO). He also has wins against Roger at Dubai (2013) and Cincy (2011). Roger really lifted his form in the TB and the second set, especially. Berdych is not a push-over. Roger is showing pretty damn good form. For now.

But I want to focus on the first four games of the second set. Federer has won the TB and getting ready to put some pressure on Berdych early in this second. He breaks Berdych, consolidates, Berdych holds, and Roger is serving at 2-1. Berdych absolutely nukes two winners to go 0-30. Roger makes it 15-30.

Then the point that made my point and Patrick Mac was all over it. Roger serving 15-30, needing to hold and maintain the break, knowing he’s got Berdych, more or less, on the ropes. Watch the rally. Roger goes defensive, hits 4-5 more conservative shots up the middle, lets Berdych control the point a bit, but Roger is staying in the point – this is the most important part of this, something I think he abandons on occasion. The rally continues, nothing fancy, until Berdych tries to hit a nice CC FH, upon which Roger chases it down, he’s past the doubles alley, and he rips a beautiful CC FH winner – pure attack tennis. BUT he waited for the opportunity. He maintained the rally, knowing the importance of the point. The attack came, sure. BUT he waited. He was more patient. Smarter.

McEnroe was all over it. Roger was conservative and though such a point doesn’t show-up on the sheet, never really gets recalled, it was critical. He held for 3-1 and went on to break again and take the second 6-2.

Though this was just a small window into the mind of the Maestro, I wish he’d employ this strategy more. He can hit with anyone. Can you imagine a strategy in which Roger, at specific points in a match, chooses to just hit with his opponent and wait for the opportunity to kill him? Roger’s brain doesn’t really work this way: he is going to kill on practically every shot.

Fun to follow this odd avenue of investigation. The match within the match.

By the way, no signs of SABR. Gilbert thinks Roger was instructed to shelve that “weapon” for the time being. Bravo, Ivan. Keep working.

An hour until Nole v Kei. Good luck, gentlemen.

Update: sticking with my theme here, did you watch any of this 2nd QF? Watch it with my defensive tennis discussion in mind. This match was over four games into the first set. I watched, literally, five games and then went to bed. Nishikori tried to end every point on every shot. His strategy was to finish this tennis match as quickly as he could. Did he realize he was playing the #1 in the world, a guy who relishes going five and practically dying in the process? Look at the first four games of the set. Nishikori looks good, even has a break-point, but then he completely comes off the rails. You won’t exactly hit Novak off the court. That strategy blew-up in his face.

To even have a chance against Novak, you have to be able to defend. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s not. The Simon match was not a fluke.

If Roger tries to hit winners on every shot, or even every other shot, Novak will straight-set Roger (as good as Roger is playing). If Roger can adopt a more conservative approach, we have ourselves a match. We’re talking about rallies. Roger needs to serve like a monster and be strategic from the baseline.

Just contrast the Simon and Nishikori matches. The weather/time of day did not have that much of an influence. The strategy made all the difference.

Let’s see if Roger understands this difference.

Update II: Is Tignor at Tennis.com reading my blog? He ripped-off my argument, almost verbatim. Ha ha. Thanks for reading, pal.