Federer and Lopez, Class of the Pre-Wimbledon Grass

Sorry for the delay, my friends.

You know at what season we’ve arrived, what these warmer months entail; friends and family distract unaware of the tennis genius the summer grass attracts, with the history and prestige of these European lawns, green though grooved with the wear and tear of the game’s gentler player, more skilled in the game’s finer truths.

You get my drift.

Indeed the tennis has been quite good. Watching these gents navigate the grass reminds me of my own attempts at finding time to blog in and amongst the various seasonal distractions. I am off to the mountains in a week, but not before I have some comments on Eastbourne’s play and, hopefully, if the information is available, the Wimbledon draw.

Roger Federer’s ninth Halle title is on a lot of people’s minds. I sure hope I can keep this short and sweet, which will enable me to finally get this off, and provide me with a few follow-up thoughts this week as we approach The Championships and all that is on-the-line this year at the oldest and probably most prestigious tennis tournament in the world.

Federer was indeed masterful vs. Zverev and by “masterful” we will assume I am talking about his physical mastery of the sport. However, I am even more impressed with Federer’s mental approach (we’ll call it) than with some of his tennis of this 2017 version of the Maestro, which many are going to say showed-up in the Halle final last Sunday. He did strike the ball more consistently, with equal parts depth and touch, was perhaps even more balletic than he’d been and showed everyone, again, how much skill and variety defines (or possesses) his tennis.

The way he’s mixing-up the points, moving his opponent at will, finding the baseline, the FH looking ever-so malignant, what’s not to like about where he is going at this point?

But just as much as his game mastery was a grass court master class, that final seemed quite similar to a Rafa-like beat-down. The poor kid didn’t have a chance. To be honest, I’m not even sure he had his best tennis on Sunday, and I’m speaking of Sascha. Then again I will agree with the throng of you who will say that Federer forced Zverev into those mistakes, that nervous almost scared form that left the Halle final an anti-climactic mugging. Federer’s brilliance overcame the German. Tough to refute such a claim. But I think the mental approach Roger took was just as damaging as was his tennis. They go hand-in-hand, right?

I have argued all of this on Roger’s behalf before. In the 2015 USO vs. Djokovic, we all pretty much knew what was going to happen before they began that match. So on the eve of the match, after my preview and all that jazz, I wrote Federer a little pep-talk only to encourage a more unpredictable outcome, to give Federer a push toward a more clutch, professionally polished execution that might try to close some of those doors, maintain a little more leverage during those heated negotiations. This is what I wrote. Here’s an excerpt:

Novak will probably have the edge in attitude and this aspect of this match will go a long way in determining the champion.  The images I posted in my previous post, for me, speak volumes.  Everything’s come pretty easy to Roger. He’s (in)famous for his relaxed (classy) style.  When that has translated to victories, this style has helped build the brand, that strong character argument that people use to worship his greatness.  However, those of us who really care and watch closely, we see this attitude or style as a potentially huge hinderance for Roger.  Some call it arrogance and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree.
At [2015] Wimbledon, Roger seemed to have this swagger in buckets.  I noticed it as the two made their way to the court.  Of course, Roger’s Wimbledon credentials are historic.  But that was then, this is now.  Get in the moment, Roger.  And when he made a u-turn in the first set (failing to consolidate that break), he crumbled.  The buckets of confidence and nonchalance brought this failed attitude to the ground and below.  Though we might see Roger as having a great poker face, a steadiness in his emotions during a match, this was not the case at Wimbledon and hasn’t been the case often for the Swiss in these big matches.  That’s his style.

This more execution-style (apply both definitions — carrying-out a plan and putting someone to death) seems inherent to the 2017 Federer, as much a part of this run as the BH, for instance. I will continue to study this, but this mental strength is a HUGE factor in this story, a story that has absolutely bedazzled everyone’s tennis imagination, forever.

I attribute so much of this kind of professionalism to Ivan the Terrible, which probably doesn’t make much sense, but it does. The way Federer ran through Melbourne, pulling-off that stunner down a break in the fifth to his nemesis was a plot twist most weren’t quite anticipating, especially in the fifth when things looked pretty grim. He consolidated this new direction in IW and Miami, marching right through the field and Nadal in the process. Sure, the two parts of this 2017 version are inseparable; sure, we need a more holistic view that considers the parts more complimentary, connected, etc. But Federer’s ability to keep his foot on the gas has been a remarkable change that I can’t overlook, or merely attribute this to his “form” or “confidence.” The difference between 2015 and 2017 Federer (other than age) is a more consistent return and BH and this mental capacity to finish.

What I saw vs Zverev last Sunday was a guy with a specific plan against the German who’d beaten him in Halle last year (SF), who has WB on the horizon and the historians fiendishly flipping the pages of these record books as Fedal continues to almost demoralize the field.

The slight nervous energy of the Mischa Zverev match, turned to an urgency vs Mayer in the QF. He maintained and finished a tough, close match vs. the Russian teenager, Khachanov. This urgency, with the footsteps of confidence growing a little bit louder, evolved into a professionalism (assassin-like) in the final. That evolution, itself, was interesting to watch.

To be clear, the tennis, for me, was almost secondary to this attitude of breaking his opponent as much with a fanatical focus as with an improved BH return of serve.

He was 2/12 in BP vs. Mayer. Through the first three games of the first set of the final, he was 2/3. Remember that aforementioned 2015 USO final and Federer’s BP conversion %? It was in the neighborhood of 3/19. The tennis at this level is almost SECONDARY to a ballsy return game early in a big match that breaks serve and tells your opponent “this is going to be a nightmare for you, pal.”

Speaking of nightmares, Federer’s serve does continue to really give him an edge over almost anyone. That Stuttgart loss I criticized? He had 29 aces in that match. And MP. And he lost. So, it’s not the weapon alone, people (serve, BH, etc.). He has to “finish” these points, games, sets and so on.

The more I think about it, the more it’s true, I’m afraid: at this level, the mental game, the ability to rise in those heavier, more meaningful moments will define the match.

That’s what Federer showed me more than anything in the final. He was cleaner. He executed his game plan (which he prepared with his coach) and he executed Zverev the younger, smashingly. The camera work is quite good, going from Federer to Ljubičić throughout. The Croatian is a steadying force, if you ask me.

Both finals last Sunday were won by a . . . (no, I’m not going to say “35 year-old”) one-handed BH. The grass is just a more interesting game (though I am pretty partial to HC, too) that requires players to use more game. The serve is a factor, the entire court comes into play, foot work, touch, the slice, etc.

Really, tennis-wise, the Queen’s Club final was more interesting, other than it’s tough to be more interesting than a Federer run on grass at 35. But Cilic and Lopez put-on quite a show. I always enjoy watching Lopez, the Spanish outlier, a guy whose game is so measured, deliberate and full of S&V class. How does anyone not root for this guy. With Cilic surging  these last two weeks, then going up a set here in the final to the other 35 year-old, most probably wrote-off Feli. But the way he digs-in, plays each point with both guts and grace, on Sunday he completed his task of winning what has been one of his most treasured tournaments, especially after failing in 2014 to Dimitrov where the big lefty held a MP.

For Cilic, this has to burn. I have been writing about his form for a few weeks now. He even looked decent in RG where he made the QF. On grass, his first strike tennis has been very effective. His serve is intimidating and he knows his way around the grass pretty well. What we saw, however, is a clear issue with this FH and probably his confidence, in general. He has some bad spells out there, where his timing and pop on that shot seem to go away.

I was thinking his placement in the draw would be a huge factor at WB (what top seed gets to deal with him in a QF). I still think this revelation will be pretty interesting as the Croat has to feel close to form, he’s played well at SW19 in the past, and his coach Jonas Bjorkman is a WB grass aficionado (SF in singles ’06 and three doubles titles ’02-04).

One theme we often see develop on grass is the presence of a big serve. Cilic shouldn’t hang is head that much as he has weapons to make a deep run at the next major in about a week’s time.

Lopez’s serve will certainly make him relevant, as will this weapon play a big role in the Federer and Zverev WB campaigns.

The grass does this: polishes the game and champions the players “more skilled in the game’s finer truths.”

Some see another developing theme in signs of the sport’s ageism: the older one gets, the better he becomes. Tough to argue with some of the numbers, but I will add that many of those players that we see succeed late in their careers, who persevere, remain relevant, etc., often carry a big serve (Karlovic, Muller, Federer, Lopez, et al). As a matter of fact, those four fine gentlemen have quite a game of grass in their tennis bag to boot (are there 33 year-old baseline grinders out there reaching tournament finals, grand slam  quarters and semis?).

So, Federer, serve in tow, appears to be finding that earlier 2017 form and confidence (the brutality of the BH still has room to grow, however). He himself was a little concerned earlier in the week: “I was doubting myself a little bit, I must admit, because losing [in the opening] round for the first time in 15 years on grass was always going to shake me a little bit and it did. So I’m happy to react right away and let that be forgotten and actually move on and remind myself I actually can play well on grass,” Federer said. “It’s a boost for me personally, with my confidence, knowing that my body is in good shape. Mentally, I’m fresh again and I’ve gotten used to match play” (ATP).

That was all I was talking about after Stuttgart. He needs matches.

Watching him evolve here through some tough matches (Mischa, Mayer, Khachanov) and then reach another level in the final has to be good news for the no. 3 seed at WB.

He appears to have a growing cargo of confidence as he pulls anchor and sets sail for London. So long, Halle (und die neun). Could Federer’s boat (das boot) have particular orders as Britain appears on the horizon?

Is London falling?

This is Still on the Djokovic Legacy

“This” is a reference to the state of the men’s game right now. His legacy took some massive growth nutrients in 2015-16, but has since shit the bed and I am utterly shocked to hear Djoker fans still talking about his GOATness.

This is an historical collapse. Any thoughts, Djokerfans?

You and I know exactly how 2017 has been going and how it will probably continue to trend.

I’m starting to see Murray finishing the year #1. That is on Djokovic.

Furthermore, Fedal have murdered the ATP this year (2 majors, 4 Masters) and the record books Djokovic is supposed to be rewriting himself at this point given his supposed control of the tour; this is his time if we’re talking GOATness. Not only has a three-major Murray taken-over the helm of the ATP, but Djokovic sat idly by while Fedal came back from the dead and conceivably could end the year #1 and #2.

This is ridiculous. I have written extensively of Djokovic’s brilliance and shot to make a serious claim to be on the sport’s proverbial Mount Rushmore. A slump happens, sure.

2015 Australian Open - Day 14

But this has A) become a bit of a pattern for the Serb (well documented on this blog and B) the worst kind of timing for such a decline. He should be seeing some better form at this point, gaining some confidence, but he seems to be continuing his dip.

I have said, too, that he will rise again. But this might be too little too late. Why? Because his style of tennis doesn’t preach longevity. Despite people calling him the most balanced game of all-time, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

He will have to find that 2017 Rome SF form on a daily basis. At 30+, this becomes much more difficult to do against younger, stronger and more agile players who use equipment that gets only better, whose games are becoming more and more confident against even the greats like Novak.

I’m just surprised there hasn’t been more of a discussion of how big of a disaster this has been, a Djokollapse that’s over a year old at this point for a player who was 29 years-old and in complete control of the tour and his sport’s record books.

I guess I should be okay with this lack of recognition and discussion by the tennis media, with the fact that I’ve been pretty much the only one charting this dumpster fire.

I’ll be back to smoke some grass discourse soon, people. Let’s get fired-up for some big time grass!

T-shirts will be in production, of course, soon. 😀
#Djokollpase #BeliemInThiem #BIT #2017Fedal #HRFRT #StayTuned, etc.


Djokollapse: the final chapter?

The announced split from Marian Vajda, fitness coach Gebhard Phil Gritsch, and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic seems to mark a final blast to the Djokovic camp, one that’s been crumbling, according to me and Novak, for about a year. He fired Boris boris-becker-and-marian-vajda-in-djokovics-camp-celinalafuentedelavothaBecker back in the fall and because of his continued struggles (despite what many Novak fans wanted to believe – “he’s fine, but has been the subject of rigged draws!”), he now let’s go of his coach of eleven years and other pieces of his tennis inner circle.

He has gutted the beast and stands alone now to figure-out how in world he can find that top-of-the-sport form that’s eluded him since the 2016 French Open.

He’s alone although Jelena and Pepe are probably still “in the house.”

If anything, this has to confirm what we’ve been arguing for about a year now. Finally, the Serb is on board himself. Who gave him the link to Mcshow Tennis? 🙂

Interesting timing as his FO preparations have a big test starting Sunday in Madrid, where Novak will look to defend his 2016 title.

Who does Novak turn to for a coach? Jelena, pregnant with their second child, will probably have input on these matters.

My concerns for him after the USO included the tennis calendar, which has generally favored Novak early – success at the AO, perhaps the FO (though this is a difficult major for all, other than Nadal). His WB success came as he peaked in ’11 and then under the masterful guise of Becker, who knows The Championships better than most. All this to say, I don’t see Novak having a very easy time on the grass.

The USO has always been a struggle for the Serb where he’s 2-5 in finals (has as many USO crowns as Nadal).

In other words, again Novak has been reading this blog and seen enough to proclaim “panic.” I actually like to see a player make such moves if the going is not going well. If this isn’t panic, it’s drastic.

Novak has been with Vajda since 2006. So, it’s like Novak is doing a little time-travel to where it all began.

Interesting to note who was at the top of the sport back in 2006. The Fed Express moved on all cylinders and a Spanish monster was looking to win his second French Open.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Remarkable stuff.

2017. What a story.

Djokeray Can’t Catch a Break

With the build to Roland Garros officially underway, the sport’s pundits (I assume they follow tennis and are more than just Fed, Rafa or Djoker fans) are all excited and really want to start talking about Paris. I suppose they became swept-up in this perfect storm of a slow news day: Roger is off, Djokovic is waiting for Madrid, Barcelona lacks the jazz in the early rounds, so Tennis.com came-up with a doozy, as in a huge turd they can’t flush down the toilet, so we all (if one visits the interwebs in and around such publications) get to smell it.

Indeed, said website has this flashing across their homepage and it surely has readers and even “writers” all excited, I suspect:


I believe they provide a “panel of experts” to weigh-in.

This is profoundly naive (I suppose is a nice way of putting it).

I wrote a post after AO and asked a similar question. But I wasn’t asking readers for their opinions (of course, one could certainly comment and offer one). I was continuing to track the Djokollapse, arguing that his loss at 2017 AO (like the collapse in 2016, the loss of #1 and the WTF to Murray) was pretty much dismal for the Serb, catastrophic (I’m happy to elaborate again if you’d like). Djokovic’s AO disaster, my post went, was much worse than Murray’s loss to Zverev in Melbourne. No debate.

This is all much much more about Djokovic.

I’ve shared the run-in I had with the South African spaz who claimed the 2015 USO final was more important to Federer than it was to Djokovic. Wrong again. Folks, see the history. Be the history. This is Djokovic’s time to define. He and Becker getting the silky base-liner to 12 majors has been insane, as in historical. He’s still on the clock.

I am having a hard time believing serious pundits are actually weighing-in on for whom the FO next month is more important.

This article on Tennis.com does seem to suggest (read between the lines here, folks), adding to other parts of these players’ parallel lives (the real rivalry dating back to 2012 – two of Murray’s three majors are wins against the Serb) that Djokovic’s legacy may be aligning more and more with Andy Murray.

And the irony of Fedal reemerging in 2017, cementing their conjoined legacies.

I wrote about the Murray and Djokovic narrative back in November, as well.

I’ve been tracking this and Tennis.com and others are, from my point-of-view, only adding another layer to this headstone.

There I go again. . .

Not to change the subject, but join me in fancying a big run from Dominic Thiem in Barcelona this week. Watching some of these guys hit the ball with such vicious intent (only the ball bounces short, and is easily tracked), is quite the spectacle that is clay.

Thiem is murdering the ball and his match today with Edmund showcased some of this go-for-broke tennis.


Federer is Ruining Tennis

I wrote a series of posts last year arguing that Federer’s role in this golden era, in the history of tennis for that matter, has been very consequential.

Introduction. . .Tour Structure and Numbers. . . Federera. . . Roger Created a Monster (or Two).

I left-off needing to deal with the Djokovic effect, his role in this era (again, Roger being the cause of the Serbian serpent of lithe lethality).

federersmoke1My plan now is to figure-out exactly what more I need to write to finish and package this short E-book of sorts. This could be extended into a longer, more traditional book format, as well. Do I want to sell it? Sure. But for now, I am just writing, watching, writing, watching and reading this glorious game.

But what I want to touch-on briefly here are some of the ideas people have about Roger playing his greatest tennis now, at 35.

Let’s say I concede this point and say Roger is playing his greatest tennis at 35.

Ha ha ha.

Okay, I’ve gathered myself. We hear the point being made that players’ careers are being extended into their 30s, that there is a kind of late blooming in the men’s game. Wawrinka, Lopez, Karlovic, et al, are proof positive that this trend is rampant and the arch of a player’s career will extend beyond the “wall” that has been the late 20s and early 30s. Using, then, just a bit of playground logic, this means that other players like Djokovic and Murray (tough to say Nadal’s tennis is on the ascent) could/should/might play dominant tennis in 3 or 4 years? That would still keep them shy of Federer’s 35 going on 36, but I’m willing to play along here. 😀

Djokovic will be vying for #1 in the world, winning a major or two, Masters tournaments, etc., in four years?

Where’s Andy in 3-4 years? Dominant?

First of all, I don’t need to argue here that Federer is NOT playing the best tennis of his career right now, in 2017. Just on the surface that’s ridiculous. But we’ll look at this with more depth in the coming weeks (as I find time to delve in given our week-to-week coverage of ATP fireworks).

No, that argument can be clarified later, and needs to be since bloggers and even guys like Brad Gilbert are under this spell of Federer’s ruination.

Instead, just think about what you’re comparing, making a huge leap to this vague notion that players are peaking later in their careers. Djokovic in 4 years (which only puts him at 34, by the way) is having a similar kind of significance on tour that Federer is now?

Or the likes of Dimitrov, for instance. In 10 years he will be 35. You think Dimitrov might be part of this rampant late-bloom of professional tennis talent?

Folks, this is some seriously flawed reasoning: because Roger is dominant at 35, and players do seem to be playing with more relevance later into their 30s, we can expect this trend to continue and argue, in fact, that father time has massively reconsidered his identity and meaning in life? Ah, that’s a great title for some of this discussion/argument: The Identity Crisis of Father Time (or Mother Time, either way). 😉

The point, of course, is Federer is ruining tennis! I use the exclamation point not to soften that statement with some kind of sarcastic tone, but to emphasize, announce with more force, the point of this phenomenon.

As I think to finish that series of articles (HRFRT), think of what 2016-17 will do to this argument?

Today’s post is a brief reminder, as you begin your weekend, that this 2017 Federer is not as much about the men’s game (as many will have you believe – that today’s nutrition and technology and science will have players peaking into their 30s). No no no. This is about Federer. He is a singular talent.

What bothers me is how his success (because of his talent and love for the sport) wasn’t able to affect other players. Like Sampras. Sampras was burned-out by 31. He’d climbed the Mt. Everest of tennis by then. Federer would have changed that (Federer created monsters). Federer changed the entire narrative and expectations of the sport.

But now we have a possible epidemic on our hands of unrealistic expectations. Thank Federer for that.

We’ll eventually move to a more specific comparative analysis of the younger and older Federer, the athlete.

Happy Friday.

Follow Miami Fedal Live – Here!

We’ll be following the match live here if you want to comment on the blog or follow the action on Twitter. My Twitter feed is on the left-side of the blog and here’s a link as well.

Does Federer have enough left in the tank to go three sets with Nadal? Several signs point to a Nadal win and this shouldn’t be hard to fathom. One, he’s almost always played Federer well (ha ha – understatement of the era). Two, Nadal has to be as hungry for a win as ever – he’s NEVER won Miami, he’s playing his 13 year hitting partner, and this is his third final of 2017 (AO – lost, Acapulco – lost). He’s due. Not to mention the last three matches vs. Federer. So, a Nadal win here is certainly in the read of this match.

On top of all of that, Federer has had a brutal draw here in Miami, his last two virtually taking him to a last breath – near death. Berdych and Kyrgios both gave Federer almost more than he could handle. The SF went over three hours. Nadal’s Fognini affair was a Cuba Libre next to the pool by comparison.

We know how good Federer has been playing. If he is a step slow (would seem only natural given the circumstances – age and draw), he needs that serve to keep him in the match.

The one thing that could be a critical element is Federer’s ROS vs the Nadal serve. Let’s keep our eye on that exchange.

Talk to you during or on the other side. Enjoy the match, folks.


6-3 6-4. Well, that was anti-climactic, which I called in my post yesterday, referring mainly to the QF and SF matches Federer played. But Rafa does make the match stand-out. This was not very compelling, from a point-by-point perspective. I will explain all of this and more in my post later tonight. Need to get outside and smell some sunshine.