2017 Grass in Progress

Stuttgart final four:

French connection of Pouille v Paire
and M.Zverev v Fel. Lopez

Zverev took-out the German sharp-shooter (Haas) 4 and 4 and Lopez took care of Berdych in three after losing the first set TB. Pouille, a WB QFinalist last year, got by Kohlshreiber in three today and Paire beat Jankowicz in straights.

Looking for some patterns to affect the draws at SW19 in about a couple of weeks, Pouille could be finding some rhyme and rhythm after his choppy clay. He has a nice offensivetennis that the grass suits. Zverev’s S&V will be fun to watch match-up with certain players who will struggle with that grass gas. Lopez’s game is a nice change-of-pace from a Spaniard – he’s a graceful grass player who can certainly make opponents earn a win or a loss. Paire is a mystery, decent ball-striker (solid BH) with a terrible temper, who can seek-out an upset.

Let’s look for a Pouille v Zverev final in Stuttgart (to raise the volume on the Zverev grass factor).

In s-Hertogenbosch, the SF:

Cilic v Karlovic
Mueller v A.Zverev

Ahhh, the serve is a factor again. Haven’t seen much of Karlovic this week, but Cilic continues to show some form; the 2016 Wimbledon Semi finalist should surgically impair the Dr., but I suppose he could ace the court right off the Croat 😉

Big serving Mueller shouldn’t have enough to beat Zverev, who continues to grow. We have to like the play of Zverev at WB this year (both of them, perhaps). He had a bad draw in Paris (Verdasco), but got his first Masters, of course, and is really mowing the lawn this week. He got beat last year in WB R32, I’m pretty sure, by Del Potro, so we’ll have to see his draw. But he’s different player this year.

We will continue to watch next week’s WB warm-ups to assess more form and possible contenders at The Championships.

These names jump-out as players to watch, some quite obvious.

Federer
Nadal
Murray
Djokovic
Wawrinka
Raonic
Zverev(s)
Pouille
Cilic
Berdych
Kyrgios
Dimitrov

We hear Djokovic is considering a warm-up in Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon.
Federer, Wawrinka and Murray should be in action next week, as well.
Another note on the Federer loss: he had, correct me if I’m wrong, 29 aces. Up 6-2 and MP in the 2nd set, with a gob of aces. . .no panic in the loss, but in the potential that he’s lost that edge that began the year in all-time fashion.
I might not be back to write untfederer-haas-stuttgart-2016-monday-2il next Tuesday (my son’s soccer team has a big weekend up the road a couple of hours). Then again, I have my phone and have been known to touch the keys from the discomfort of that awful Apple phone keyboard. 😦  I know, get a laptop, pal.
Of course, some of you might want me to take a break anyway. Good luck with that 😀
Wimbledon will be here before you can say “upset!”
Cheers.

The Palantír: Chaos, Chaos and Andy and More Chaos

A palantír (sometimes translated as “Seeing Stone” but literally meaning “Farsighted” or “One that Sees from Afar”; cf. English television) is a crystal ball, used for both communication and as a means of seeing events in other parts of the world or in the distant past (Encyclopedia).

You might recognize the reference from J. R. R. Tolkien, as well.

Are you following the transmogrification of the game? If you are not twisted and spun, or spinning-out-of-the-bowl, as we might say, listen-up.

Professional tennis is under siege. Such a series of events could drive any (wo)man crazy, but I assure you: we will survive. The civilized game will chart and lead us toward Big4_38f19160e1fbed1175906d2db43101a3greener pastures where our confusion will subside, though perhaps only temporarily. These are trying and concerning times on the tour; imbalance and epiphany fight for the throne while we can only wait and watch, calmly, and reasonably the struggle to understand the headless leadership whose stewardship repairs a system flawed beyond repair.

I confessed my church attendance following the Roland Garros massacre. Indeed, I sought council for the mess I had yet to fully comprehend.

Meditation and the blog, literature and great match replays have afforded me perspective and rest from the 2017 ATP chaos that we somehow must represent, explain, only to lessen the crazy and the crying. Even the shame.

The Federer loss today to Haas is not, by itself, a calamitous event. But there is commentary and foreshadow in the 2R Stuttgart result. I have plainly submitted that this is very much a result of his decision to skip the entirety of clay. Just a bad move that contradicts the fellowship’s ethos. To be clear, just a dumb move.

Such a decision is quite questionable for three reasons:
1. It’s arrogant. I think clay is inferior and still I wouldn’t skip the entire schedule. He has to respect the venues and crowds and players enough to report and play even a few matches. He’s too good for clay? I have entertained the injury excuse long enough; he did mention his concern for the knee, the unsteady court, etc. But you have to compete even symbolically, remind the boys you’re still there, still in all of that glorious form with grass on the horizon, so actually this or that match doesn’t mean a whole lot, but I’m here to play and keep you guys honest, especially you, Rafa. How’s it going, pal?

Instead, Rafa can go take care of his La Decima, devour the clay and continue to build momentum? no worries?

Maybe he is that confident or indifferent. Who knows.

He could have played cautiously and as if he had nothing to lose. He could’ve developed his game, deepened his familiarity with the tour, stayed in-touch. Nope. Federer is off to train in the clouds with the seraphim and other angels. Very bold move.

When Ljubičić publicized the idea of a reduced clay schedule back in 2016, upon his hiring, I suggest that was in retrospect, certainly an idea to consider, but perhaps something that might have made a difference in your career in the past, Federer. Sitting-out so much tennis at this point is probably not advised. You missed two months of tennis, which is different from practice, as you know; this acknowledgement in your statement recently hinted at perhaps a tiny admission that you’ve been away for too long. As we age, what’s the most important thing we can do physically? Keep moving. Utterly paramount. Playing competitive tennis is “moving” for a player who wants to compete at the highest level.

You had so much form early, so much momentum. Why throw all of that away?

2. It’s inviting too much pressure. Federer: Forget about the clay and the French; I’m pinning all of my hopes and dreams on Wimbledon. You all can have that entire season of competition: I am going to focus all of my training and preparation on this fortnight in July.

That’s crazy.

3. It’s scared. Again, if Federer is injured, rest, take a break from the phenomenal first three months of the season (a major and sunshine double). But the complete abstinence is too drastic, almost telling in a way. Why not play one of the Masters, or one of the smaller events, just to stay fresh, add some points, keep it real. Nope. He wanted nothing to do with the clay. Nothing! He was a clay abolitionist.

This might be the greatest of all examples of the intimidation of Rafa.

At least you’re keeping us guessing, Federer. After the loss today, I argue Federer is anything but a sure bet for Wimbledon. He’s almost 36 years-old. His year is teetering, if you ask me.

Adding to the chaos is Nadal, who you watched destroy the 2017 clay, including his RG La Decima that I have already married and divorced several times on this blog: it was beautiful and disturbing. His form is monstrous, scary, and seemingly as dominant as he’s ever been. Go figure.

2017 Fedal has been just a bizarre development, splitting the first two majors and first four Masters. They’re pretty much #1 and #2 in the world based on 2017 projections – Nadal is currently #2 while Federer currently is #5. They’ve shaken the entire tennis planet.

But just to be clear about the current chaos: Nadal’s freak-mode coming out of Paris is ironically unstable (which is so surreal) and Federer, though dominant before the clay, suddenly has a bit of a concern with only one 500-level tournament to play before The Championships.

Questions abound concerning these two since Nadal’s apprehension of grass has reared it’s head by skipping the London warm-up this week (per “medical” advice), and people wondering if he can transfer his manic clay recipe to grass; and Federer is finally returning “home” like the prodigal son, who seems, naturally, disoriented.

The whereabouts of Djokovic are unbeknownst, especially after Paris. We’ve charted this ad nauseam. What are one’s expectations for the Serb?

Wawrinka might still be partying, trying to postpone his French final hangover. Grass is not his surface, but he did, apparently, hire the celebrated Paul Annacone to consult during the grass campaign. Still, questions and chaos surround Stan the Man.

murray_grin2_976Of the top 5 guys, Murray may be the eye of the storm. This is not a betting site though I have been propositioned by several sports betting entities. Here’s my own advice: bet Murray to emerge throughout the fortnight (still awaiting confirmation from Fedal).

One could say I’m tempting fate here, as many may see Federer, in the end, rising to stake claim to his most cherished prize. Others might see Nadal forcing his way into the business-end of the draw with a suitable grass attack.

However, Murray, who might have escaped real damage in Paris, is perhaps the cleanest, the clearest and safest bet to steady his nerves and game for a defense of his Wimbledon grass.

What’s missing from this discussion and from most “betting” prospects? The younger future. Dimitrov (not exactly green) began 2017 sharp, with a renewed confidence. He’s suffered some tough losses and seems to be in retreat. Thiem and Sascha Zverev continue to blossom, yet both have yet to convince us of their Bo5 credentials. Then there’s Kyrgios and Raonic who seem to have the kind of game for SW19. The sport needs them to rise and ignore these giants banging around and creating such a mess.

This we will continue to follow and analyze: the carnage of the tour, seen quite clearly now in the aftermath of the early HC and Euro clay. Of course, I see this as nothing more or less than HRFRT. That’s more or less what we continue to observe here on this blog concerning these courts throughout the tour, for instance with Fed winning #18 and then Nadal winning #15. You realize how absurd this is, right? The sport is, one could argue, getting so far out-of-reach we’re in the throes of a kind of crisis, a little pandemonium, perhaps.

Bring it on.

More to come, thanks for reading and cheerio.

French Open 2017 Aftermath Part II

To continue the thread from my previous post, Nadal has to be considered a favorite for The Championships. His form is too high and devastating to not be considered transferable to another surface, such as the homogenized grass, especially in the slower conditions during the first week or so. If one wants to certify the tennis we saw last week, especially in the final four, then one has to argue that such massive dominance can translate to the grass.

We should use the 2008 model – where he didn’t drop a set in Paris (destroyed the field, including Federer in the final) and then went on to beat Federer in the Wimbledon final, as we all know. Nadal had similar outcomes in 2010: didn’t drop a set in Paris and followed that with a championship at Wimbledon (Federer was spared in these two finals).

Rafael Nadal with 2017 French Open trophy, Eiffel Tower_7083367_ver1.0_640_360

The point is: this past week we saw a virtuoso performance, again, by the clay great. With my own eyes I saw an unplayable tennis of incredible strength and quickness with violent depth and accuracy to go along with his almost unrivaled tennis nous. What wasn’t working for the Spaniard?

To then offer some sort of excuse that the clay and grass are so different and therefore he could struggle undermines Nadal, fatally. This is not the hard and fast grass of the 90’s. The court homogenization has created the kind of tennis circumstances to cater to the baseline grinder like Nadal and Djokovic.

And, again, that kind of dominance on clay not only has transferred to grass, but it had better, in order to consolidate that kind of run with that kind of all-time, almost cartoon-like dominant form.

What about Federer? What about him?

Many of you know that I write from my gut. I warned of the Djokollapse extending through to the 2017 French and beyond back in September; I called bullshit on Djokovic’s Rome SF master class, among other reads (in 2015, to be fair, I argued Nadal had shrunk and disappeared like the threat of his ground strokes).

When Federer announced he was skipping RG (following his early clay abstinence), I thought “this isn’t good.” All I could use to rationalize the decision was his injury (he must not be 100%) and a bit of history (skipping the French to prepare for WB has been done many times by tennis greats). I discussed these propositions in a few posts. The only problem with this latter reason is this is a different tour, a different brand of tennis and these guys, especially Federer, don’t skip majors. Using this historical rationale is a stretch, a camouflage covering perhaps a more meaningful and accurate logic. My initial thought was he’s essentially preparing for retirement, wanting to give WB and the USO two final runs in the best possible condition he can manage at 35, turning 36 in September.

You’re telling me he’s going to play clay and RG next year, at 36 going on 37? He’ll be stronger next year? That’s practically an insult to our intelligence.

That means the decision had to be in consideration of his injury, his preservation.

And/or Ljubičić sat him down and told him, “No,” which turned-out to be a smart move perhaps.

Wilander even says as much in an article on Tennis.com: “[Nadal] has taken confidence away from [Stan] Wawrinka, from [Andy] Murray, even though he didn’t play him. And Roger Federer is a very happy man that he didn’t come to the French, because his confidence has not been dented.”

I’ve talked about that strategy already, completing Ljubičić‘s thought-experiment on Federer’s career and rivalry with Nadal: if Federer had skipped more clay in the past, his H2H with Nadal and probably his tennis in general post-French Open and over-all would have resonated more confidence.

Either way, here we are:

“A rejuvenated Roger Federer is committing to a full schedule in the second half of the season, saying that he’s had enough of practice and is hoping to quickly recapture his stunning early-season form. Fresh off a two-month break to rest his 35-year-old body, Federer returns to the ATP World Tour this week at the grass-court MercedesCup in Stuttgart.

‘There are no more breaks now,’ Federer told ATPWorldTour.com Monday. ‘I’ve had enough breaks. I’m a practice world champion now and that’s not who I want to be. I want to be a champ on the match courts. So I’m going to be playing a regular schedule for the second part of the season… And this is the beginning here at the MercedesCup in Stuttgart.'”

You don’t say; you’re done with “breaks” now? You missed a shit ton of tennis, Roger. No shit you’re done with breaks. This statement is troubling if you ask me. He seems to have come to the realization, especially after last week’s macabre tennis theater, that the situation has gotten a little more intense, a little more apprehensive.

Granted, he came off an eight month break last year only to win Melbourne. Certainly, this smaller two month break can result in a quick return to that kind of form, only he’s even more refreshed, right? Sounds perfect!

I’ll believe it when I see it.

The build-up to SW19 is short. Nadal is taking this week off but will be back in action in London next week at the Aegon International.

The Championships begin a week after that.

My eyes will be tuned to these next couple of weeks, to the form these two greats manifest for the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

Federer has some interesting competition at the Mercedes Cup this week with the likes of his buddy Haas in his opening match, followed by some S&V with M.Zverev, perhaps Berdych, Pouille and if we’re lucky a final vs. baby Fed.

Indeed, the clay interrupted some interesting tennis from some interesting players; hopefully we can see these gents find enough rhythm and confidence to prepare for some big results on the grass.

Nadal only has to maintain that fire-breathing form of his. Again, who would bet against that kind of relentless, rampant form at this point? Borg, Nadal and Federer have all completed the FO/WB double. When was the last time you saw Nadal so ruthless? He has to consolidate that, or he’ll continue to be plagued as a virtual one-trick pony.

To counter my impression, hell, back to Wilander at Tennis.com:

“As for the remaining Grand Slams on the 2017 calendar, Nadal is a two-time champion at Wimbledon (2008 and 2010) and a two-time champion at the U.S. Open (2010 and 2013). He hasn’t won at the All England Club in seven years, and has made it to the fourth round just once since 2012. Nadal reached the final in Melbourne this past January, and in 2014 and 2012, but has only hoisted the trophy there once, in 2009.

Still, Wilander believes that, the way he’s playing, Nadal has the ability to hold all four majors, just as Novak Djokovic did this past year.

‘Rafa could arrive here next year, in May, with 18 [majors],’ the Hall of Famer told the news agency.”

Perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but in defense of the Swede’s Nadal-hype, this is what I am actually talking about.

In the aftermath of the French Open 2017, concerning Nadal’s incredible tennis exhibition, one has to either buy-in and sound like an idiot (or genius, Mr. Wilander), or almost call into question this kind of level, so insanely dominant that it renders the tournament irrelevant, the draw practically meaningless and the tennis likely unsustainable (what was that about the highest level of tennis ever played?).

If Nadal crumbles on the slowed grass and can’t consolidate Paris, we have more questions. That kind of dominance should transfer; a non-transfer brings into question the player (inferiority) and continue our denigration of the clay. We are beyond the days of Costa, Ferrero, or Gaudio winning the French in the days of clay specialization. We got a once-in-a-generation player who can dominate that surface, as well as achieve huge results on other surfaces, in other majors (allegedly due to the fact that those surfaces have been slowed). Is he different, a more complete player, or is he a manic dirt baller whose form contradicts the tennis imagination?

As we slowly tip-toe to the end here of this exploration and really come to the question of style sustainability (that’s really what this is all about, folks; can Nadal sustain this? And I’m saying he better), we reach a philosophical intersection.

I am reminded of the way Sampras approached tennis as a junior when he was figuring-out his game, switching from a two-handed BH to the one-hander, watching his results reflect this change, short-term, but knowing he would benefit in the long-run, trusting his mentors. He clarifies: “To us, it was always about playing the right way, trying to develop a game that would hold up throughout my career. It was a calculated risk [. . .] On the other hand, some of those juniors were like starving guys, eating everything on the table while the eating was good. They didn’t think long term, they lived and died by their daily results. . .” (A Champion’s Mind).

Consistency is the quintessential element of class and greatness.

You know me: these two posts (Aftermath Parts 1 and 2) are explorations of this brilliant and unplayable and awkward and disturbing tennis that Nadal delivered at Roland Garros. It was humbling and unappetizing, if that makes sense (and I will continue to make sense of all of this).

This Nadal puzzle has been missing pieces for almost a decade; we’ll call the puzzle la década del misterio.

This grass season we’re stepping into will answer, for me, many questions concerning 2017 Fedal and other players, of course (are you awake Kyrgios?).  My tennis calculus and calibrations will be working overtime to locate these missing pieces.

I say Nadal’s form has to carry him to Wimbledon as a tournament favorite. The eyes don’t lie; that transcends clay (it’s more Borg or Federer or Djokovic than it is Gaudio, et al.)

Who else you got at Wimbledon? Raonic? Djokovic? If you said Murray, I agree with you; he found his game in Paris, along with some confidence, missed facing the wood-chipper in the final, will be the homeboy in-front of andy-murray-i-hope-that-in-2017-federer-and-nadal-will-be-injuryfree-his home-crowd and he’s the defending champ. Good call. Of course, with Nadal #2 in the world now, he won’t have to see Murray until the final.

Federer? He has some quick make-up work to do and I still think he rolled-the-dice on skipping all of that tennis, while his rival found the fountain of youth and some Parisian absinthe that empowered him to La Decima and could inspire him to become, perhaps, the werewolf of London.

Time will tell, folks.

Final Thoughts on WTF

There are a few more thoughts on London and 2016. We could talk about 2016 in light of the return of Del Potro, Roger and Rafa’s difficulties, the Stanimal, Pouille, Zverev, et al., and we will! But we’re focusing here on the tour’s top two, the guys that just played that whale of a final in London (not) and have for us, consequently, a pretty enticing 2017, as in What The Fuck is going to happen? The WTF result is resonating right now, so we’ll stay in these parts before venturing again into the future and beyond.

Did you hear Becker’s thoughts on the wane of the Djoker? Here’s what I would say to Becker about all of this: sshhhh. Although I have to admit that I’m not politicking to keep my job as Novak’s coach, the German’s dismissal of Murray is a boomerang, no?  Such ill-advised commentary has to feed the Scot’s desire just a bit, no? Lendl, too. I can only imagine the Lendl-Murray campaign loves this rhetoric and builds on this blind strategy being formulated by Djokerville. Boris seems pretty out-of-touch. Nole misses Roger and Rafa, so he’s not really trying? Hey, Boris, good luck campaigning to keep your job.

The old I’m-losing-because-I-don’t-respect-my-competition excuse is almost a white flag. And even if it is true to a degree (McEnroe losing the Borg rivalry – as the Swede retired in his mid 20’s – probably did enhance the demise of the American), don’t talk about it. You’re just giving Murray and Lendl more reason and desire to change the course this era of men’s tennis.

What I thought about after seeing Novak go 2-0 on Nishikori in that first set of their SF was completely contradicted in the final. I was fooled. I thought Novak had form and was going to be very difficult to beat. Sure, I made the argument that Murray’s strength of character could get to the Serb; but the Serb looked like he’d found his stroke, so we were going to see the logical return of the king.

Novak’s serve in the final was solid early, so what this Murray-win amounted to was what I had hoped would happen: Andy just had to stay in the match. Hold your serve. Stick around for after-dinner drinks, etc.

What happened at the WTF was similar to what transpired at the U.S. Open back in September, if you ask me. Here was Novak’s USO draw: he beat Jerzy Janowicz in four, got a w/o against Jiří Veselý in 2R, a Youzhny retirement in the 3R (up 4-2 in the first), an easy straight-set win over the young Brit Edmund in the 4R 2 1 and 4, and then a retirement from Tsonga in the QF, an absolute shitshow from the easily conquerable Monfils in the SF and a loss to Stan in the F.

I actually thought Djokovic would rise to the occasion and beat Stan, that another run from Stan the Man was out of this world. Djokovic simply wasn’t tested, nor did he probably have any form in the first place (no shit, sherlock). This is an actual reality: karma. People have complained about Rafa’s draws in the past, that he was always gifted an easier route to the final, Djokovic and Federer getting placed in the same half, etc. Well, this just goes to show: you can’t escape the legacy gods. You can’t get gifted a favorable draw time and time again. The USO and the WTF both illustrated how the favorable draw does little, in the end, for the fortunate one. Tennis (and life) don’t work that way. Rafa didn’t benefit from those draws and neither is Novak.

Or Nole just had no form in both tourneys and his soft brackets were coincidental. 😀

Speaking of soft: Nishikori. I’m still blown-away at how shity heKei Nishikori was in that SF. And it threw everyone off. People at the O2 said very few had Murray winning that match. Why? Had to be because Djokovic drowned Kei in the shallow end. That was a leaky diaper in kindergarten. Nishikori chased his balloon into the street and fell through a manhole. 

As I said in regards to the Wimbledon SF and F where Raonic looked so good against Roger and got man-handled against Murray: Murray was so much stronger than the rest of the field. He pushed Milos around the court in that WB final, never felt a threat what-so-ever. There was such a stark difference between Andy and everyone else. That’s at least how it looked.

Very similar case here. Nishikori let us down. Djokovic, however you want to look at it, beat a far inferior player in the SF, which gave people little insight into the final; per usual there is a big gap between the top and the rest of the field. Raonic is the only “field” representative who is making a viable push toward the top. The Nishikori, Monfils and Cilic’s of the world are a step behind (despite Marin’s glorious 2014 shock-the-world).

Aside from this more macro look at the top vs. the field, Nishikori’s play just seemed really bewildering. Play so well vs Murry in the RR and have nothing left? Or was Djokovic just off in the final? That theory doesn’t work. The drop in form (or whatever you want to call it) is on Kei.  And yes the parallel to WB means this: Ranoic, like Djokovic, played a weaker opponent in the SF, only to get drilled by the much stronger Scot in the final.

One of my readers made the comment that Murray might have become Nadal-like with Lendl’s mental toughness clearly strengthening his composure and perhaps his ability to pressure his opponents with consistency rather than offensive brilliance.

You might have noticed an edit here at the end of this post. I mistakenly combined the weakness of the “field” point with the sometimes corrupt ATP draws. Really two different points of discussion. Either way. . .

Happy Thanksgiving.

PS Enjoy the Davis Cup, Cilic v Del Potro showdown.

Impressions of Wimbledon

First of all, congratulations to Andy Murray. Getting that third major does back-up his two odd-ball majors in 2012 (USO) and 2013 (WB) when Djokovic’s form took a long-term dive, Nadal was typically erratic and Federer was in the midst of his steady decline.

I watched as much of the match (taped) as I could, but, frankly, since I had seen the result (I checked my phone while away hoping to see Raonic grab an early set and make this interesting, having a pretty good feeling like everyone else that Murray was going to take care of business here), I watched the first set and a half or so and saw the diagnosis. Plain and simple: Murray was playing on a much higher level than Raonic. Raonic looked terrible, to be honest, but Murray’s return of serve and his general baseline strength were just too sharp, too imposing for Raonic.

Tough to say if Raonic was simply worn-out from playing Federer (emotionally, five-setter, etc.) or if Murray is just that much better than either one of these guys. Perhaps a bit of both.

Murray’s serve was unthreatened and he was all over the Canadian’s serve which statistically was just not as good as it was in the semi-final. The SF had what amounts to one of the greatest big serve displays of all time, where he had something like 14+ serves of over 140mph.

So, his level appeared to have dropped coming off his big SF win, but no question Murray is playing very well. My biggest take-away, other than Raonic seemed a bit out of sorts, was Murray seemed very determined, and the win was never in doubt. McEnroe et al, seemed to find this surprising at first since they had mentioned in the intro that there had to be so much pressure on Murray for this match. As the match began, Raonic looked to be the one overcome by the weight of the moment. The match lacked drama, but nice to see Murray play so confidently and capture that third major and his second Wimbledon.

In terms of some of the actual tennis and strategy, the call (probably Pat McEnore) pointed-out how Lendl and co. wanted Murray to actually go to Raonic’s FH, but push him out wide and open the court. It was brilliant strategy, leaving the Canadian to scramble for his weaker BH. Murray passed well and, again, served well. Just outplayed the younger player thoroughly.

Where most players might want to play to Raonic’s weaker BH, Murray perhaps surprised him and, in addition, pushed him out wide, which enabled the Scot to come to net and finish points easily. This was a huge part of that win. Murray dictated points, pushed Raonic around the BL and kept his serve very professional and unthreatened.

So this take-away of Murray’s form, a player peaking, in his prime, was a vivid contrast to Federer who, despite not being very match-fit because of his weak 2016, looked erratic and ineffective. How many times would Raonic come to net on Roger, and the “Maestro” would hit a soft elevated ball back, only to be put-away easily. Roger, on several occasions, made futile attempts at driving a winner past the big S&V machine. Murray and that great THBH had to have Raonic a little nervous coming to net. This contrast between Roger and Andy was a huge tell-tale that Federer is in over his head at this point. We’ll get a match or two perhaps where he plays very well, but the consistency of Federer is long-gone.

So, Andy’s determination and continued solid 2016 form is my first impression of Wimbledon (the match more about the Scot than the Canadian or anyone else – I thought Novak would drop in this tournament).

My second impression is that Andy’s play made quite obvious how impotent Federer’s tennis is at this point. Those were my first two impressions of the Championships.

But there were other impressions.

Firstly, how about that coaching trend.

Lendl’s presence in Andy’s camp is unquestionably beneficial. One could practically make the argument that this is almost as much Ivan’s title as it is Murray’s. Murray’s form was dominant throughout, and included his best behavior during and between points. Totally different Murray from the petulance and insane immaturity that’s plagued the player in the absence of the tennis great. Lendl never stands in the box, practically never smiles. Murray would look to his box through out the final gesturing for them to stand and fire-up. Darth Lendl would just sit there, emotionless. If you never saw Lendl play, you probably think the Big 4 are the greatest thing to ever put foot on a tennis court. First of all, it’s the Big 3 with out Lendl, if you know what I mean. Lendl’s influence in that camp is so massive it’s quite astonishing. Murray is a completely different level of talent with the Czech in the box. Like they do in other circumstances, Lendl should be given an honorary Wimbledon championship. There, you have another career GSlammer.

This Fedalovicay golden era argument makes me laugh when you look back at some of the greats who played a much tougher brand of tennis, who must laugh at some of the softness of this era. These current champions at the very least have a much cushier tennis existence. The money, the celebrity, the equipment, the nutrition and camp resources. . . it’s a different game today.

There’s evidence of my claim in some of the very success of the Big 4. We just discussed the mind-boggling affect that Lendl’s tennis genius has on Murray. Murray has zero majors without Lendl. You think that’s a coincidence? Murray should be giving the eight major coach of the century a blank check and follow his master’s commands like a dog. How is this latest Wimbledon (and Murray’s legacy in general) not more of a nod to how great tennis used to be. Does Lendl stay with Murray for the rest of the year? I would love to see Murray with Lendl in NYC. Lendl went to eight straight USO finals. Wrap your brain around that statistic. This would be a tremendous development for the final major. It’s all about Lendl.

What about Becker’s influence with Djokovic? Yes, Becker is a great from that forgotten age of tennis, long before the so-called golden era that’s erased the past. Lol.

Look at Djokovic’s career arch and you can see the affect of Becker (unless this is just strange coincidence ;). Djokovic became pretty relevant in the greatness discussion in 2011 when he was actually only being coached by his long-term ally Marian Vajda. The following two years, coming-off that 3 major explosion of 2011, he won two AO, which he wins every year. He basically went away for two years. Pretty remarkable, actually. Boris was brought on in December of 2013, so he’s really been at the helm since the beginning of 2014. Since then, Novak has 6 majors. Yeah, he went from six to twelve, under the leadership of Boris Becker. That’s more impressive than Lendl’s magic. The game is so mental, it doesn’t take much to see how these old school greats might have helped. The game was brutal back in the day with the depth, the lack of resources, match formats, etc. Bringing that kind of tennis toughness and leadership to these players’ games clearly has had a huge impact.

We’ll have to wait and see with John McEnroe, whether or not he can take Raonic’s game to that next level. He already has, but let’s see if the Canadian can grab a major in the next year or so. I think the Canadian will struggle against the likes of Murray and Djokovic at the very top. Their games are built specifically to trouble a guy like Raonic. Time will tell.

Indeed, the tennis genius of the past helping elevate this era’s game is classic irony for all those people popping their proverbial bottles of bubbly, celebrating the greatest level of tennis of all time blah blah blah.

On the other hand, Federer’s coaching experiment is quite inconsequential at this point. His game plan vs. Raonic was awful, but I suspect Roger’s form had a little to do with that dumpster fire.

One final impression of Wimbledon is the look of the game heading into the next few years. We might not think much has changed since Roger made the final four. Djokovic was upset, but that will certainly happen from time to time. Aside from those kinds of unusual developments (I would argue Roger’s success has as much to do with the draw/the field), this is a glance at the tour of 2016-17 and on. Djokovic will continue to dominate, and Murray (depending on his coaching situation) should be able to contend; that kind of focus (from the box) will certainly challenge Djokovic, I suspect. Should. That’s the men’s game in a nutshell. We’ve already talked about the tour without Fedal; that’s already a reality at the very top. Will Raonic progress? Presumably. The USO should be interesting if everyone is healthy and not too burned-out from Rio.

Looking ahead to the hard courts and NYC (I can’t get that excited about Rio), I think Djokovic absolutely needs to win this last major to have a good chance at reaching 17. Not that I put much stock in that conversation, but the reality is that Djokovic is aiming for that specific number, which, admittedly, has a lot of historical significance.

We will continue this discussion heading into the NA HC season. Plus, stay-tuned for my final installment(s) of How Roger Federer Ruined Tennis.

 

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!

Roger Wilting

Well, he looked to be in control of that match heading to the fourth set and even through-out much of the fourth. But a couple of double faults at 40-0 at 5-6? This was a bit of a disaster for Roger. I thought the match was over once he handed that set to Raonic. You have to get to a  TB there. Even if Federer rallies in the fifth, another five setter?

There’s not much more to say, although I will certainly have a few things to say – you can count on that. Federer had another WB finals appearance in hand. I think getting to a TB in the fourth would have put even more pressure on the Canadian who started to look pretty vulnerable. Instead, Federer appeared to feel the pressure. Again, two double faults?

This fourth set choke along with the fifth set break of serve by Raonic initiated a reading lesson for my twelve-year-old son who was watching with me. Roger, in either case, would save a BP (or SP in the 4th) and let loose his standard “Come on!” The crowd would get excited, my son would feel the energy, move forward on the couch cushion. I would interrupt this nonsensical exuberance by pointing out that he is still in massive trouble, barely hanging-on despite the brilliance of that one point.

One of my astute readers characterized the big 3 once in a comment, months ago now –  sorry to have forgotten who it was. But the characterizations were solid, the one of Federer focusing on his brilliance about the point, playing the perfect shot, the artistry of the game exhibited in that momentary flash of genius. But it’s just one point. That has been, in my humble opinion, part of the problem with Federer’s game – the aesthetics sometimes supersede the competition. The crowd, my son, many tennis fans (even me on occasion) can get caught-up in this artistry. I heard Courier talk about it the other day calling a match, and Cahill brought it up in today’s call. I was not interested in those flashes of tennis intelligence. Roger needed to bear-down, get to a TB, put more pressure on Raonic. Or in the fifth, hold serve. Don’t blink. Roger blinked.

Nadal and Djokovic have become famous by acknowledging that they can’t match Federer’s shot arsenal and athleticism. Instead, they have adopted the more practical game of creating pressure and rising to those moments when one has a break opportunity, has to hold serve, has to jump on the opponent early here, all in order to win the competition.

Sure, Federer is competitive. But this image of Roger wilting in a big match has become a somewhat familiar sight. Solid run from the 34 year-old, but congratulations to the Canadian.

Murray is up a set in the second SF, as we speak. Lendl is licking his chops.