Roland Garros: 2nd Week

We’re in the 2nd week at the French Open. Up-coming match-ups, predictions, and more perspective is what we’re focusing on.

First of all, rain. With today’s men’s R4 of the top half of the draw postponed due to rain, we have another storyline: the “brutal” schedule of that top half as those men will find themselves having to play some matches on consecutive days, potentially. Right now, the schedule seems a bit “up in the air” due to rain and how forgiving the organization wants to be towards the schedule of matches.

According to an AP article on the subject:

For the tournament to have the singles finals over the weekend as planned, players could be asked to play on consecutive days, as opposed to every two days, which is usual when conditions are ideal. That should not be a huge problem in women’s singles, which play best-of-three sets, but could be tougher on men if their singles matches go to five sets. [Guy] Forget didn’t rule out that the finals could also be postponed.

”We are not that far back on schedule,” Forget said. ”If they do have, eventually at one point, to play two matches, then I guess the fittest guy will be rewarded for it.”

Not sure what your view is on the matter. I think such issues are part of the competition, so players need to adjust, prepare and overcome. As Djokovic’s R4 vs. Agut is amongst those that will hopefully be played tomorrow (Tuesday), if the weather cooperates, his schedule is now, again, coming into question in terms of its difficulty.

You all know I certainly root for Novak to do well, but I do not buy into this concern. The talk of last year’s insanely difficult schedule where he faced Nadal in the QF, Murray in the SF and Stan in the F is hot air. The issue has a couple of layers for those making this claim. First, the quality of opponent is an excuse for his fatigue: Nadal/Murray/Wawrinka. On that, Nadal was not in form; he beat the Spaniard in three sets. Was it overly emotional? I don’t necessarily buy it.

In the SF he was up two sets to nil, 62 62. Then he shit the bed and had to finish the match the following day, thus extending his schedule, adding to his “difficulty.” On that, he did that to himself. Andy is not Bjorn Borg. Novak should have closed-out the Scot. Finally, Stanimal was too tough. What the hell? One match; seize the opportunity. The schedule was not unfair.

So, we may have a similar storyline to follow as the rain interrupts the men’s schedule, especially in that top half of the draw.

For instance, Djokovic v Agut (R4) goes early tomorrow and Murray v Gasquet (QF) play tomorrow in the afternoon, pending weather. One can see the discrepancy beginning to materialize.

What have we seen and what do we expect to happen during this 2nd week of play, as they grind-out this muddy 2016 FO?

In the comments of my last post, I touched-on the fact that I wanted to write a little more detailed account of the Gasquet v Kyrgios match. Two reasons: the 2nd set TB illustrated why I like Kyrgios to someday/somehow get his shit together (I am aghast at his incompetence, overall); the tennis was marvelous and Kyrgios actually had a set-point, which would have, probably, affected the match very much. Of course, Richard reversed the outcome with his brilliant play. That’s the 2nd reason I wanted to write about this. I wanted to say, wow, Gasquet looks very very good. We have all seen the Frenchman play many many matches over the years. He is, almost without exception, a second tier player, back half of the top 10 at best.

But this is a different Richard Gasquet. I intended, in this phantom post, to say he’d beat Nishikori. Not a terribly huge upset anyways, I bet most people had Kei winning that. Not me. Gasquet has Bruguera in his box and has a little more fire in his eyes. Have you seen it? He’s spotting his serves. He’s absolutely masterful from the BL with the best SHBH in the land (though Stan’s has a bit more up-side😉

Ladies and gentlemen, I am calling for the Gasquet upset of Murray. The Frenchman has made his first RG QF and he is poised to play well. The fact that he seems so animated, so driven to play well in front of his people helps with this prediction. His tennis is what really has me so wildly insane.

Having said that, if Murray beats him in three or four, his form seems to be much improved since his first two matches. It’s tough to pick Gasquet here on paper, and his serve is really nothing to write home about, but he’s got a different demeanor and his tennis is very sharp thus far. This should be a quality QF.

In Stan’s QF, the defending champ should advance with out much drama. I did not see the Raonic v Ramos-Vinolas match. Pretty surprising really. And now we hear Raonic to add Johnny Mac to his WB preparation? Whatever the case may be, this bottom half of the draw is a beast.

Up top, all we can hope for is a Djokovic v Thiem SF. Sure Berdych/Ferrer might have something small to say about that first QF, but Novak should be fairly fresh, despite the scheduling, for the SF.

As for Thiem’s QF, Goffin and/or Gulbis could certainly be tough and actually upset the young Austrian. This quarter is more wide-open we’d have to say, but the reports of Thiem’s maturity and level suggest he should find his way to the SF.

Nadal Pulls Out at the French

A post about the news today might make it look like I see this is a staggering development at the 2016 FO, an event that changes the course of the tournament.

That’s not really the case with why I’m writing this post, nor do I think it really changes the course of the tournament much at all. Djokovic proved last year at RG and even in Rome two weeks ago that he can handle the king on his clay. Djokovic has certainly had the upper hand on Nadal; these stats have been thrown around a lot lately.

We saw Nadal probably surviving his quarter (if healthy) and playing Djokovic in that top SF. But most of us assumed Djokovic would win that match. . .Unless more French Open demons were to descend upon the clay, that day, and ruin the Serb’s march towards history. Even I, the grand Nadal skeptic, wanted to see that SF given both men’s histories at this championship.

This is similar to seeing the Warriors defend their home court last night to force a game six back in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have pretty much dominated the series, but we want to see that match-up either way. We’re competition junkies. Nadal v Djokovic SF at the FO would be a nice appetizer, or entrée, depending on what transpires in the bottom half.

But we are without this SF match-up. This has more macro consequences on the sport than, perhaps, the 2016 draw – though Nadal upsetting Djokovic in that SF would have been a possibility.

I have been calling Federer’s play for the past year plus his farewell tour (if you’ve been reading, even 2015 was dubbed said tour). No, he is/was not at his peak. That’s ignorant. Likewise, Nadal has stunk-up the court for really all of 2015 and even parts of 2016. Sure, he has found his form, but we have to qualify this statement and remember we’re on clay, which really is an idiosyncratic surface, and happens to suit the greatest clay court specialist of all-time.

Meaning today’s news of Nadal pulling-out of the French is not necessarily going to be felt much in the actual tennis, but symbolically this is part of a profound sequence of events, felt more historically. We are watching a major play-out without Rafa or Roger – a terrifying glimpse of the future.

Several times in the past year, especially while Rafa was playing very poorly, I asked who is a legitimate challenge to Djokovic at this point? Granted, the Serb has re-entered the atmosphere some, but there is no one, really, who has that same championship mettle as a younger and healthier Roger or Rafa.

Revisiting the 2015 FO final was a study, as I explained, in Stan’s great form and solid strategy, but also Novak’s pattern of not seizing the moment, which has followed him some throughout his career.

We want Stan and/or Andy to develop good enough form here to create a great final (or whoever comes out of that bottom half). Chances are we should be satisfied.

But do not miss the point here, May 27 2016: Djokovic is all alone on this tour.

For Djokovic and his fans’ sake, grab this year’s La Coupe des Mousquetaires and go about the rest of your amazing 2016. You have the fortune of being young and healthy enough to bridge this most recent golden age with whatever you want to call this next era.

But make no mistake: the absence of Nadal and Federer puts a whole new (and not so rich) tint on this tennis tournament and the near future.

As critical as I am of Nadal, I am truly saddened about today’s news. As one astute fan has said, these absences “should be treated as a warning.”

Tennis players and eras have their own character, their own definitions of greatness and tragedy. It’s best to see the sport as an evolving narrative, a great story full of significant players (and coaches), championships, developments and interpretations.

The 2016 French Open, more symbolically now for sure, is Novak’s to lose. Good luck consolidating this break (in the draw), Mr. Djokovic.

One has to see, too, this move from the tennis gods as tempting the fates of this player and this championship.

Roland Garros R2

Round 3 match-ups are just about set. Before we look at some of those, what happened in R2?

Looking at the favorites, Djokovic and Nadal advanced easily; in fact, the Spaniard isn’t breaking a sweat. This was the case last year, as well, when his form (confidence) was suspect, so we shouldn’t read too much into this other than he’s on his favorite clay beating guys he should beat.

Murray followed-up his Stepanek marathon with another 5-set marathon v Frenchman Mathias Bourge, a wild card. I tuned-in with Bourge up 2 sets to 1. The fifth set was a bit dramatic as the wild card gave us everything he had to hang-on.

The most troubling point here, other than Murray fans must be a bit concerned with his difficulty to get by these early-round underdogs, is that this was Bourge’s second five set match and therefore the longest match of his career; he advanced in straight sets R1. In other words, he had no business pushing Murray like this. Carillo and Anacone had a field day with some of this trivia. At one of the change-overs, the kid awkwardly asked the chair if someone could bring him a Coke and a Mars bar. Good going, Andy.

Along the same lines, Stan doesn’t look very good. Sure he advanced into 3R in straight sets (improving upon his R1 5-setter), but he looks disinterested. the eighth game of the third set was bizarre. The Japanese kid, Daniel, is serving 4-3, up a break. Stan pretty much has to break here to avoid going to a fourth set. He limps his way to the break, failing on several BP, literally showing very little urgency or consistency. The outcome didn’t seem to matter to him at all.

I guess we could spin this a couple of ways. It looked bad. Or Stan looked stress-free. This did not have the look of Andy wearing himself out in a 5-setter, talking to himself, screaming, etc. Stan advanced, but he didn’t seem worried much at all. I feel like he needs to start picking-up the tennis a bit. At the same time, despite the inconsistency, one has to assume Daniel was playing his ass off just to hang around as Stan’s heavy ball was certainly apparent in their various exchanges.

To be clear, Andy and Stan need to tighten-up their execution, but I will suspend some of my concern for Stan – wait see how he fairs in the next match. Andy, however, looks vulnerable.

Other R2 highlights: Kyrgios wins easily, as do Verdasco, Kei and Gasquet. That, my friends, is a fun little 4 top. Verdasco v Nishikori and Kyrgios v Gasquet, the winners to face-off in R4, will add intrigue to that bottom quarter, the survivor playing the Isner v Murray winner in that QF. A lot of talent there. Does Nishikori continue to build his clay résumé? Does Kyrgios start a run right here in R3 and beat the professional tennis of Gasquet and come into the Nishikori match beaming with confidence? Or does Gasquet end that run? Maybe Fernando shocks the draw. I would like to see Kei v Nick.

Murray should be fine though Isner hopefully advances and makes the Scot work. This is a good test, obviously, for Murray. He certainly doesn’t look good and his behavior on-court is starting to crack a bit. He has a lot more work to do, for sure. Actually, beating Karlovic (I assume) is a nice warm-up for Isner. Andy needs to get through to that QF in much better fashion than he’s shown thus far.

Let’s assume Stan gets by Chardy and then he has Simon (who barely survived Pella, a guy who plays some gritty tennis) – he should advance to his QF. These are tougher tests, so let’s say 3 to 4 set victories should set-up the Swiss for a deep run. But who knows.

The other half of that third quarter has the likes of Sock and Ranoic. Stan should survive all of this, but, again, who knows. On paper, Stan, in form, should arrive at the SF awaiting a beat-up Murray et al. That bottom quarter is a monster.

In the top half, we should be on schedule for the grand Novak v Rafa SF. But some interesting R3 match-ups include another Thiem v Zverev. If Thiem gets through in straights, that R4 Thiem v Nadal could be delicious. Thiem beat Zverev in 3 at Nice, but bageled the German in the third. If he struggles with Zverev, not a good sign, imho.

Nadal looks good destroying his veteran countryman, Granollers. All eyes on Thiem in R3 in anticipation of the Spaniard and Austrian R4 tilt.

The bottom part of that quarter has actually a bit of interest: Gulbis v Tsonga and Goffin v Almagro. There is talent there. I have been championing Gulbis for a while, but his 2015-16 is pretty piss-poor. However, he has a FO SF appearance (2014). This guy’s awkward style can impose on other players. If he beats Tsonga, he could be fun to watch.

At the top in Djokovic’s quarter, he might have some competition in 4R vs. Agut and then his QF is shaping-up to see Berdych, Cuevas or Ferrer (if the Spaniard finishes against Monaco). He has a cupcake draw on paper.

In sum, the bottom half is wide-open due to Stan and Andy’s less than stellar form along with a few dark horse threats that linger (Raonic, Nishikori, Kyrgios, Gasquet, etc.).

The top half is on schedule, but I see the Tsonga v Gulbis as having some interest along with the Thiem v Nadal if Thiem takes care of business in 3R.

Onward.

Lebron James and the NBA Playoffs

Lebron is an interesting guy, to say the least, seemingly craving popularity on the grandest scale while really not having the championship mettle to make that dream a reality. In the end, he seems to lack self-awareness, which are two different things, I suppose. Consequently (1 knowing he desperately wants everyone to love his “brand” while 2 at the same time looking pretty unpolished “at work”), he more or less looks like a dope.

In the video below he is providing some kind of excuse for why or how Toronto has tied the Eastern Conference Finals series at 2-2 when Cleveland should be sweeping these guys, perhaps a five game series at worst. The plot of this difficulty reads pretty much the way all of his championship tribulations read: he does not assert himself at the end in order to win a critical game; he lacks the finishing/clutch DNA of some of the great players of that sport, of any sport. It’s awkward. There are many examples of this kind of underwhelming play from Lebron.

What’s particularly awkward is the way he throws his coaches or teammates under the bus when the media comes calling.  After game three he came-up with a Jay-Z quote, I think, something practically incoherent that probably he hoped would grant him some sort of depth and/or cultural relevance, or just deflect the loss.

Is he a great player? Will Cleveland win this series? Yes and yes. They have a good chance, perhaps, to win it all. But these glimpses of his character are certainly interesting to watch and file-away for the legacy discourse. Or just for entertainment. Here he is referencing how special he is despite Cleveland losing game four, looking very vulnerable in the process against the incredibly over-matched Raptors:

Here’s a great example of this guy’s massive lack of self-awareness.

In the Western Conference Finals, there is a huge game tonight between Golden State and Oklahoma City. The world champs are down 1-2, on the road in a very hostile environment. The Thunder, now under the direction of Billy Donovan, are finding a very potent approach to the game; just ask the San Antonio Spurs. How the Warriors respond tonight, following a near 30-point beatdown in game 3, should be good TV.

Roland Garros R1

Not sure I’ll be updating every single round, but if I have time and actually get to watch a little tennis, get to listen to people talk about what’s going on in different matches, discussing form, etc., why not, right?

What I started to watch yesterday and finished watching this morning at around 5:00am PST was the Murray v Stepanek match. I tuned in yesterday as the Czech veteran closed-out the second set to establish the pretty surprising 2-0 lead. The third set, however, took about 15 minutes, no kidding, as Murray bageled him and then raced-out to another lead in the fourth before the match was suspended for darkness.

Picking-up today, Murray of course won the fourth, but the fifth and deciding was a great watch. Stepanek somehow was able to hold serve to put just that little bit of pressure on the Scot, who had very little trouble on his serve. However, at 4-5, Murray’s serve got challenged big time. Pretty exciting as the game went to deuce twice: if Stepanek had gotten just one match point. . . holy shit. Murray survived (although not having to face that MP was critical) and then broke serve for the match. I know we see early round scares like the Stan v Rosol, but this Murray match got very interesting in that fifth set.

Stepanek, as we know, has been around a while as a wily veteran with solid fundamental racquet skills, underrated footwork, solid net game (great doubles player). His serve and volley mix was effective against Murray as was his drop-shot, which Murray is usually very adept at handling. Stepanek impressed. Period.

Worth mentioning that the Czech Republic won the Davis Cup in 2012 and 2013, Stepanek and (obviously) Berdych really carrying those squads. Although Radek wasn’t beating Djokovic in those contests, he and Berdych took care of doubles play and Radek, I’m pretty sure, won the decisive singles matches to clinch. In other words, the guy knows how to compete and that doubles pedigree (he’s won a couple of majors in doubles: AO ’12 and USO ’13) really showed with his savvy net play vs. Murray today and yesterday. Not a bad R1 match.

Other than that, Nadal went 1 1 and 1 v Groth. Shortest match in his FO history. I suspect that Toni and the boys are commanding quick, efficient play from their player. His usual bloody long style of play will not be very beneficial given his draw. Take care of business, Rafa.

One of his possible stumbling blocks, Fognini, is out thanks to Granollers.

The announcers said the first set of Djokovic (I watched casually) was awkward as he struggled, but even more they said the crowd was off, like his tennis.

In my last post, I did talk about Novak’s awkwardness or stage-fright (whatever it is) in some of those big matches (finals). But I refuse to take any serious stock in this discussion at this point, even though we heard people talking about it at Rome, etc. His match v Nadal at Rome, for me, was a kind of litmus test for his big match composure. And I thought he passed with flying colors. The Rome final was not as important for me, nor for him:)

As we get to his 4R match with Agut or Tomic, his QF against perhaps a fluid and confident Berdych or Ferrer, or that SF, then we can take serious any flaws in his form or demeanor. I suspect he will be just fine.

How about my boy Cilic! If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I think his USO win is one of the worst things to have ever happened on tour. Granted this is clay, but he’s garbage. He lost to a guy on the Challenger tour. Perfect.

I did not see the Fritz v Coric match, but my goodness the American needs to go home and do his chores. He is not ready for the big league. Coric (19) is only a year older than Fritz (18), but that score line is pretty humbling. Although I was pleased to see Fritz reach the Memphis final earlier this year (lost to Nishikori 4 and 4), he has looked pretty out of place since, needing polish with his footwork especially, as his lanky frame has trouble staying with these stronger players.

Speaking of Americans, I saw Jack Sock get booed off the court after he finally won that R1 match. A lot of tennis people like him as a dark horse here to make a little run. I’d rather go Kyrgios (who I know is an absolute mess out there emotionally) or Thiem as a #nextgen threat to make some noise.

Let me also go on record to say Gasquet could be a quiet end to Kyrgios if they meet in 3R. And the winner there plays the winner of Verdasco v Nishikori (possible 3R). A a couple of nice matches to look forward to.

Another 1R battle of #nextgen “stars” had Halys v Chung and the Frenchman went through easily 1 4 and 4. This I’ll juxtapose with seeing an interview with the head of the ATP, Chris Kermode, who (of course) spoke glowingly of the future of the tour, referring to these #nextgen “stars” (they used this hashtag, which is why I’m obnoxiously copying it here). We tennis fans need a little more proof for such enthusiastic optimism.

The next few days and weeks ought to provide us with some useful evidence.

Career Earnings

Has Djokovic “earned,” finally, his French Open championship? Do his career accomplishments thus far warrant a FO, at last as a gift from the tennis gods?

The draw is unbelievably favorable for the world’s #1. We previewed it earlier and clarified his fortune, but we need to reiterate how incredibly soft is his top half of the draw. Worst case scenario is a Ferrer or Berdych QF or maybe a good mudder gets through like Cuevas, but this is baby-pillow soft. Last we heard from Berdych he was double bageled by the tweener Goffin in Rome. Who knows what that all means, but unless he makes like Murray and sets sail on a nice little run sans coach (Berdych recently split from his), Berdych is a dead man, with a tough R1 vs. Pospisil to boot. Ferrer made an effort in Geneva getting to the SF, losing to Cilic. The point is this quarter has Djokovic pretty much into the SF untouched.

As I said earlier, this could work against Novak, not able to be tested, lacking that sharpness he’ll most likely need in the SF. But that’s a weak point as almost anyone would take the soft-ball draw over one with difficult tests throughout.

So, does this mean that the organizers are granting the Serb a virtual free pass to the final four to play the celebrated nine-time FO champion Nadal, who has a lot of work to do just to get there?

If there is such a case of one “earning” his reward via so much past difficulty and high achievement, this would seem to be the case.

Is that what happened with Roger in 2009? Not exactly. He had a healthy and dangerous Del Potro and Djokovic in his half. He needed five sets to get through the Argentinian in the SF. As “luck” would have it, Soderling knocked off Nadal, but as far as the draw was concerned, it wouldn’t be described as soft.

This speaks some to the current level of talent on the tour. At best, we call this the Serb’s reign and a transitional period where guys like Thiem, Zverev and maybe Kyrgios can establish some kind of championship character. In other words, there isn’t much in terms of take-it-to-the-bank depth on tour. Andy looks solid, Stan can-do, and Nadal seems to be revisiting his clay heyday, but all three are not sure bets regardless of where your bias has dragged you off to and clunked you over the head. Murray v Djokovic is one-sided in a best-of-five, as is Djokovic v Nadal, at this point. No question on both of those match-ups.

On the other hand, there is the history of Djokovic failing to grab his opportunity in these majors. He is 11-8 in finals. If you look at the all-time men’s records, that stands-out a bit in terms of opportunities. He’s going to go 17 or 18-8? Seems like a very difficult set of circumstances, especially when we have seen him struggle at times in these majors when it’s time to close the deal.

I’m sure some of you have seen the 2015 FO final recently as Tennis Channel has aired it among other highlights from the past. What a remarkable match. Whether Djokovic is tired at that point from his tough draw, tough to say. But listening to Gimelstob and Annacone call it brought back to life that amazing match.

A couple of things jump-out from that final. Stan’s power and his BH go hand-in-hand. He pushed the Serb deeper behind the BL than anyone is used to seeing. We could attribute that to Novak’s fatigue, but I think most sensible folk see that as Stan just hitting him off the court. There were some great rallies and in several cases, either player might attempt to step forward to take a ball early and badly miss hit the shot. A lot of pace on that court, that day. Stan was just a little bigger, a little more relentless.

Another part of that match that stands-out is Stan’s effective BH slice that often put Djokovic in an uncomfortable position. Sure his big attacking BH DTL, CC, finding angles, depth, etc., was very impressive. But watching Novak come in to play this sort of low cut BH makes you realize how much more he prefers to stay on the BL and hit from either side. Stan was able to mix it up pretty well.

As Gimelstob points-out at some point (it takes these commentators a while to realize they’re seeing Stanimal burn-down the house), Stan did such a good job of re-setting after each point. He might miss terribly, get beaten by Novak on any given point. On to the next point. This was KEY to that match. The mental game, as we know, at that level is the difference. Nadal has been so successful because of his optimistic approach to the game. After each point, re-set. Keep bringing it. Stan was able to do this through those first couple of sets when each tried to establish control.

On the other hand, Djokovic’s body language failed him. He started to talk. A lot. Reminded me of Murray some when he’s unraveling during a match even when the result is far from decided.

Mental fortitude. If Stan has it, he’s a beast. His win in Geneva and surviving that R1 match vs. Rosol today could help. We’ll see. His tennis was more patient today compared to that final in 2015. Which makes sense. It’s early. He was certainly in a bit of trouble today but the BH showed-up in time to rectify the order and get him through the 2R. In that final, he was relentless. I hope he can find that form to add insanity to that bottom half of the draw.

So, that’s the question then: How relentless will Djokovic be in securing his first FO? He has shown the inability to seize the moment in some of these big matches despite his insane run over the last year and a half. Is he feeling the pressure? Can he elevate through that?

The draw suits his pursuit. Then again, is irony lurking late in the draw where a toughened and tested Nadal has a level to upset the Serb? Will Novak perhaps find some early tests as he’s want to do, seemingly playing to the level of his opponent?

We’ll have to wait and see. Enjoy.

Clarification and More FO Conjecture

I actually already clarified my hyperbolic enthusiasm for the Rome QF between Novak and Rafa in a post in which I broke down that first set leading unto the 12th game; that’s where the level became more classic; the second set saw better overall tennis then did those first 11 games of the first set. I’ll go even further and say, over all, the match wasn’t necessarily classic in the usual sense – a common sense that most people would recognize.

But as I said in the intro to that Rome QF post, the context played a big role here. Of this chapter of Rafa’s career, that match could/will go down as an important point in the narrative. Djokovic (regardless of actually winning Rome) confirmed his dominance of the Spaniard. You don’t see the “classic” nature of this match? Good luck “reading” the game.

In short, what was most appealing for me about that match was Djokovic’s incredible clutch in those 2-3 huge moments, surviving BP or MP or converting his own, when it absolutely mattered. I suppose I have so much mental tape of Nadal out-clutching his opponent, being dead, down a break, but finding a way to even the score, get back on serve and overcome his shell-shocked opponent. I have yards of mental tape showcasing Nadal performing such tricks.

In this Rome QF, Djokovic was playing this role. Indeed, the worm had turned.

Sure, Nadal’s game has been on the slide; I have documented this decline, which, again, has been a pattern throughout his career, only to see him “rediscover his confidence.”

And this too was part of the contextual analysis of that QF. Nadal was coming back. The clay returned his mojo and he was winning Masters tournaments, scaring the women and children (and the ATP).

Djokovic in that QF had every opportunity to succumb to this clay master’s mind tricks and defensive tennis genius. But the Djoker pulled the ole Houdini more than once and somehow escaped. That was the brilliance. It was a study in clutch and this is just another element of Novak’s game that makes him so difficult to beat. He can win on the biggest stage (and that QF in Rome was a BIG stage, mind you – given the context) even when he’s not at his best.

Is Nadal at his best? Hell no. If you’re critical of my “take” on that match because that’s an older, slower and worn-out Nadal, so be it. But I was studying the Djoker’s magic act against the former great necromancer. There was enough there for us to satisfy our tennis palette. And, again, I clarified my initial “excitement” in that account of the first set.

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Back to the FO beginning tomorrow.

Both Stan and Dominic won their respective finals today (Geneva and Nice), which hopefully enhances their preparation and confidence for tennis in Paris. Stan looks like he had a tough little 2nd set TB to finish-off Cilic. Thiem needed 3 sets but bageling Zverev in the third has to feel pretty good.

So, to reiterate: the RG proceedings will be much more interesting if a 4th or 5th party raises his level to join the big 3 at the business-end of the draw. We mentioned yesterday that Wawrinka and/or Kyrgios fits this outfit, but we have to mention Thiem, as well (obviously). Is Cilic now suddenly back on the radar, ready to shake his major contending feathers? Probably not. I know Nishikori is on a lot of people’s cards, but I’m still hesitant. Even his SF with Novak in Rome seemed, for me, more about Novak’s form. But certainly Nishikori is playing well. Adding Kyrgios to that quarter makes the Murray/Nishikori dynamic a lot more interesting as the Aussie could ruin that little tea party.

In closing this post (I will continue to update my blog as I have a break from work!!! And the anticipation for this major is coming-on strong!), I will say that I hope the French are rewarded with some strong play from one or two of their countrymen. As we know, Monfils is out, unfortunately. I really want to see Tsonga continue a fairly legitimate FO legacy, having found the SF twice (’13, ’15). That, too, would make the Nadal quarter that much more interesting. Chardy, Gasquet and Simon, who have all been to the 4R, perhaps can find the home-cooking and benevolent crowds tennis friendly, as well.

Talk to you soon.