Where Do We Go from Here?

The WTF championship came and went, like a little bird flying overhead and dropping a little turd in our way.  The analogy suggests the match happened too fast and really wasn’t all that interesting, even left a bad taste in our mouths.  I’m not talking about the Federer perspective; I’m referring to fairly predictable, uninspired tennis — pretty anti-climactic. Sorry.


You already saw the final, saw the highlights, read about it, at least.  The score, if that’s all you saw, says it all. Djokovic did routine Federer. Never a doubt. Tough to make more out of the affair than that. I’ll certainly give you my thoughts on the match, some of its context and a few more thoughts on where do we go from here.  But it was a giant dud, a bit of déjà vu. If you’re a diehard Djokovic fan, you’re suffocating in the confetti commemorating an incredible year. Incredible. But the tennis wasn’t that epic in this final.  Not by the standards these players have set.  The match was routine.

I didn’t get to see the start of the 2015 U.S. Open final because of the rain delay that ended-up conflicting with my son’s soccer match. I remember sitting there, rooting-on my son while refreshing my phone, quickly discerning Djokovic’s early break at 2-1 in the first set.  Not a good sign for Roger. This overlooks that Roger had to save break points in his opening service game.

Same thing in the WTF final. Roger broken in the third game.  Like the US Open final, Roger had chances to break back. But he couldn’t.  Djokovic, I’m afraid, did not play his most incredible brand of tennis in the final Sunday.  He did enough to win, as he usually does.  His WTF SF win vs. Nadal was much more “ominous” (mat4), more inspiring, if you ask me. The similarities between the USO F and the WTF F are vast. Roger was brilliant in points, maybe even games, but he’s 2-3 steps behind the Serb. He converts a break and you never know, but this isn’t happening.  We don’t really expect it to happen either.

Those two early BP Roger had in this match were practically gifted.  He converted, I believe, 4 of 23 at the USO. Djokovic is not impenetrable, but Roger just can not accept such gifts.  What about the statistic of Roger on Djokovic’s second serve in Sunday’s final!?  Holy shit.  This is becoming a lasting characteristic of Roger’s tennis. Tennis with Turrets: bursts of genius but pretty incoherent.

Looking at these two matches, both against Djokovic, I want badly to blame Roger’s box, Stefan Edberg I guess.  This is silly on my part, but it seems so mental, so strategic and the coaching has to have a say on that.  Roger’s lackadaisical approach should be addressed.  I will never be able to overlook this aspect of his game, especially in big matches. Djokovic, Nadal and Sampras have much more committed approaches if you ask me.  Avoid the early break, Roger.  You have the tennis; you have the ability to convert.  The body language is awful.  You’re probably not going to reel off too many breaks of serve, so take care of yours early.  Stay in the match.  Astonishing.

If you look back at my USO posts, you’ll see I wrote about the mental game prior to that match. I realized this was the critical factor.  I have watched enough Roger Federer to know that his mental game is the absolute tipping point to his big matches, especially against his rivals, Djokovic and Nadal.

If I was coaching Roger, I would kick his ass.  Urgency, Roger.  Tighten the form, stay on point, do not give this opponent an inch.  Watch Rafa play.  There is so much exigency to his tennis argument, the audience (or his opponent) is moved to support on fear alone.  Djokovic has this same tonal dominance.  You might have to kill them to beat them.

Roger is of a different tribe, different mission.  I saw all of this play-out with such clarity on Sunday.

The match was called by Sky Sport. I enjoyed the perspective though they were a bit all over the place.  And this erratic call more or less defines Roger’s game.  In one breath, after an absolute brilliant shot from Roger, one which draws an applause from Novak, the announcers are beside themselves.  Oh, the artistry from the Maestro!  Then two games later you’re listening to them explain how Novak is probably the GOAT.  A bit of a mess, but I like the enthusiasm and the knowledge of the game.

But here’s the thing:  Roger is absolutely brilliant. His shotmaking is untouchable.  He can do things with the ball, from different positions, create absurd angles, on any surface that no one else has ever done. HOWEVER, tennis is a sport of games and sets, not just points.

In the final on Sunday, Roger hit some incredible SHBH DTL, or CC FH that drew drool from the announcers, erotic ovations from the crowd, and even applause from his esteemed opponent.  But the ledger reads 15-40, not in Roger’s favor.  He wins a lot of points, a lot of matches, has won a lot of majors, sure.  But against a guy like Djokovic, now, he’s not threatening the Serb.  His is a tennis exhibit, something we curate for alien life to show them our sport of tennis.  But he’s not the competitor Djokovic is.  His game is beauty and lots of it.  Ask Djokovic; he’ll agree.  But that insanely eloquent backhand, or S&V that garners a 15-15 has much less value than a sloppy hold to keep the set at 2-2 and add pressure to your opponent.

Roger’s numbers are absurd.  But what’s happening now (still playing, going on 35) is true to what I described months ago.  Roger is on a long farewell tour.  He’s pretty much done.  His lack of clutch to which I speak has, we all know, been around and has marked his shield, so to speak.  One has to acknowledge this sort of approach or style that I’m highlighting here.  His beautiful game is almost tainted by this lack of competitive edge.  Djokovic could have been had, at least forced to raise his level, but the consistency, the lack of vulnerability is easily overcoming Roger’s erratic brilliance.  I heard someone say recently that Novak just plays an 8 (on a scale of 1-10), non-stop.  Roger goes from 1-10 throughout the match.

Even Roger after the match made reference to some of the points, the fun of it all.  He knows he’s brilliant.  But that’s not enough.  And part of me does think it’s coaching.  Toughen the fuck up, pal.  If you’ve played competitive sports, you know how this works.  There are points in a competition where the opponent presses.  That has to be met.  Djokovic will press early.  I just illustrated such a strategy in two big recent matches between these two.  If you think Djokovic does this in every game, you haven’t competed.  Such an approach is unsustainable. You have to feel the flow of the match, seize opportunity, reinforce the defenses during a surge, etc. Djokovic wants to break early in the match, while it’s young, while his opponent is vulnerable.  Coach that, Edberg.  Or is Roger uncoachable?

This match was so routine, so uninspiring.  The bird overhead taking a shit analogy is perfect.  Take cover.


The Nole clan is on a good one.  They are deservedly quite excited about 2015.  2015 is better than 2006, he is in control of the tour, of Nadal and Federer, etc.  These are all pretty accurate statements.  Djokovic is unbelievably consistent at this point, playing such solid tennis, competing and playing so well, so smart.  His depth, his strength from both wings, his serve, his coaching, his family life.  The man is in control, representing the sport with a lot of class.  Men’s tennis is in good hands at this point.  The new Emirates/ATP deal is evidence of this.

At the same time, let’s keep things in perspective with Nole.  He is beating the crap out of an older, softened Roger Federer, and the Spaniard is cooked turkey at this point.  Whether it’s the biological passport, or just his own wear and tear, Nadal, imho, is done. He’ll continue to advance in draws because of his nature, but his tennis is absurdly inferior for such a “great” champion.

And the Roger age issue.  He is a great player.  He continues to find finals throughout the year, in big events.  Off the top of my head he lost to Novak in the final at Indian Wells, Rome, Wimby, USO, and WTF.  Could have been quite a year for the Swiss, indeed.  But this debate over his “greatness” at 34 is going to distract people from his actual age.  He is not playing better than ever at this age.  He’s #3 in the world.  You think he’d be flirting with Murray if he was in his peak form? No. Novak is dominating a washed-up Nadal, a clinically depressed Murray (or you come up with a diagnosis), an old(er) Federer, and a guy named Stan, who is tough but very inconsistent (I saw a comparison of Fed’s 2006 to Djok’s 2015 and the deciding factor on which was best kinda boiled down to Djok’s loss to Stan at FO.  That was pretty much a choke it argued.  Have to pretty much agree there).

There is so much hyperbole with sports fans.  Nole’s year has been absolutely dominant.  It puts him in that class of players who own the sport, dominate their eras.  But here’s the thing these Nole-is-the-GOAT proponents have to understand: he has to dominate for 2-3 more years.  Another 3-major year would be insane, and bring him even with Roger’s 3 3-major years.  But then he needs another year or two of that kind of quality to really move the mark.

Living in a little cave and saying what Nole has done through 2015 makes him GOAT is ridiculous (the whole GOAT discussion is pretty ridiculous).  Here’s how ridiculous this all is: the current guy who is dominating the sport, beating regularly Rafa and Roger, who are not the same players they were (and a pretty weak field beyond that), has 10 majors. Rafa, who is pretty much done at 29, has 14 majors, 2/3 of them on clay and some of his legacy is under suspicion. Roger has 17 majors, but has shown a ton of vulnerability playing big matches against Rafa and Nole.  Is anything definitive here?

Where do we go from here?

I’ll tell you where.  We enjoy the off-season and get ready for some January ATP 250-level tennis to preface the carnage of 2016 Melbourne.

London Final

Is the final surprising?  Afraid not.

Granted, Stan has beaten Roger before; we saw quite the demonstration of this at the FO QF 2015.  Straight sets. Staminal was on a sort of mission then, mission impossible, mission cannibal, baseline missile mission, what-have-you. But beating Roger Stan has not done very frequently, at all.  Trivia time:

  1. What’s their H2H?
  2. What’s significant about Stan’s wins vs. Roger (other than they were glorious moments for the younger Swiss, beating his mentor)?

Answer to #1: 18-3
Answer to #2: all of Stan’s wins over Roger have been on clay (Monte Carlo twice along with the RG win).

All of this to say: we’re not very surprised.  Did we yearn for the Stanimal to carry us on one of his great tourney runs?  For sure.  Even I hinted at the possibility.  But I wasn’t even convinced of his win over Murray to reach the SF.  Murray, as I said, handed him that 1st set TB.  Murray’s error-prone tennis was no match for even an above average Stan.  But we might have been blinded still by the Stanimal “potential.”

This fierce being never materialized today.  Roger came to net from the word “go” and pretty much hand-cuffed Wawrinka.  He breezed through early serves though when Roger was forced to stay back on the baseline, one could see the problems Roger would have with Stan.  Surely, Federer was tasked with keeping the points short, play to Stan’s FH, etc.  Roger looked either a bit lethargic, or quite determined not to find too many BL exchanges with Stan, perhaps wake the monster.  Though Stan got an early break, Roger was able to break back and ride it out.

Roger’s serve was clearly not that good.  A few DF and Stan having little trouble generally getting those back kept this close.  Tight 1st set, but that was about it.  Roger simply outsmarted Stan (Stefan out-coached

Switzerland's Roger Federer arrives on court for a men's singles group stage match against Japan's Kei Nishikori on day five of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament in London on November 19, 2015.GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images

Getty Images

Magnus).  Whatever the case may be, this was not (nor has this really ever been) a very competitive match-up.  The Maestro advances.

I just watched the 2nd set of the first SF.  I said in my previous post that I would be surprised if Novak thrashed Nadal.  But in my comments I wrote too that I had written that post having only seen the score of the Nadal/Ferrer match.  I watched that match late last night, long after I had written my little preview.  Nadal looked terrible vs. Ferrer.  Simple as that.

I got a little light-hearted in my suggestion that Nadal might challenge Novak and common sense, but after having watched the Ferrer match and then today’s SF, my goodness Nadal looks quite the trespasser. Djokovic destroyed him. Wow. Several points stand-out where you see the Spaniard scrambling along the baseline to return a shot, get there and hit just the most absurdly short little top-spin loop, only to get absolutely flattened by the Serb. Djokovic was deep and flat(ter); Nadal was short and up high in Novak’s wheelhouse.


The Guardian

I might not have articulated that very well, but the point is they were playing two different games.  Nadal did not, quite frankly, belong on the court with Novak.  I think I heard a stat that Nadal never got beyond 30 on Novak’s serve?  Not sure if that’s right, but it sounds right.  Pretty dramatic.  Nadal looked awful.  Novak looked focused, almost tired, a little irritated, wanting to finish his job.

Tomorrow’s match should be fun.  Should be.  If I was a betting man, of limited funds, betting with my brain, I like Novak, whose tennis is quite sharp these days, efficient beyond efficient.  Really fun to watch.

But Roger comes in the wily old veteran, who might just have a chance.  Tough to think Roger will beat Novak twice in a week, and in a final.  But this format has been his cup of Earl Grey tea.  Novak, I am sure, is more than happy to share this three set refreshment with Roger.  Perhaps he has a little payback on his mind, perhaps a 5th WTF and historical year of tennis to take and define as his own in this, his own, era.


A little side note: I was watching the Rafa/Novak match with a friend, and we both remarked how gaunt Novak looks. Nadal looks pretty sickly himself, but Novak looks so unbelievably thin, his visage seemingly a piece of skin stretched across his skeletal face.  The man needs a break?  Anyone notice that?

London SF

We could not have asked for a better final four.

I just finished the Stan v Murray match; Stan moving-on has to be what most non-Brits/Scots would like to see.  Stan, on form, can be pretty breath-taking.  That’s more or less what we saw in the Murray match, but a few questionable stretches and some odd strategy makes one wonder a bit.

Stan and this court, as many have already said, is a perfect match.  He has no problem moon balling with the likes of Murray or Nadal.  He has time to find his shots; the court suits his athleticism (or lack thereof) and his swing.  Today’s match looked a little like the FO Stan, bludgeoning Murray all over the court, hitting the SHBH better than anyone in the WawrinkaWTF.aspxgame CC or DTL.  Pleasure to watch Stan play like this, on courts that match his style of play.  In addition, his serve, when on, was equally as powerful, intimidating.  The call on the court was he hit a couple up around 130mph.  If he can maintain this form, he will be tough to beat.  And Murray played well (with his “box” in the nose-bleeds, seriously, up in the rafters so he could, apparently refrain from yelling at them).  Murray had this match. Absolutely goofed the first set TB up 4-2.  Unreal.  Literally handed it to the Stanimal there.

Some worry is a few lapses in focus, from Stan.  Handing service games to his opponent, not finding his big serve, unforced errors. . . the kinds of things all players deal with.  But the serve and volley from Stan seems a bit odd, even unwise.  Implementing at 40-30 (or the like) seems especially questionable.  40-0?  Perhaps.  Need less to say, it’s not his most effective game plan.  Roger S&V?  Even Novak or Nadal?  Sure.  Stan against Murray?  No.

Stay back and bludgeon, my friend.  If the Stanimal I saw today (for the majority of the match) hangs around The O2 this weekend, could be fun.

Nadal is playing well.  His form now versus the first half of 2015 is a puzzle for the greatest scientists in the world.  No other top player, of his caliber, plays so inconsistently.  That’s a killer for those Nadal fans who want to make more out of him than there is to make.  It’s flimsy, unpredictable and inferior tennis.

Having said that, his game strategy is, perhaps, the best (ever) when he’s playing well.  He’s a killer.  He reminds me of an athlete in a different sport, soccer/futbol, for instance.  A monster midfielder who absolutely demoralizes his opponent. And this heart and warrior-like demeanor is really sport intelligence disguised.  We’ve seen him out work and out smart NadalWTFmany players (who should beat him) who are probably both a bit intimidated and caught off-guard.  Before they know it, they’re done.

I’d be surprised if Novak spanks him, but Novak should win.  Of course, we’ve all seen Nadal bounce back no problem from previous extended workouts and defy logic many times before.  He’s a machine.  He’s a lot smarter than he looks.  And this court suits his spin, high bounce game a ton.  He’s right at home on these courts.  God save us if he advances to the final.

Federer is simply the Maestro.  He’s Roger Federer.  Granted he’s 3-0, he beat Novak in the round-robin, and he’s on the verge of winning his 7th WTF.  But now he’ll need every ounce of Federer tennis genius to survive.

I don’t think he wins this tournament.  It’s that simple.  The other 3 players, in my humble opinion, make better cases for the crown (see below for the big intangible in Nadal’s case*).  Even if he beats Wawrinka, he has to comeback and beat, most likely, Novak, a second time in a week.  Even seeing him face a Nadal who has just beaten Novak would be pretty unsettling for the Swiss king.

If he happens to win, and obviously this could be the case, anyone with any interest at all in the sport of tennis needs to Federer-Berdych-London-WTF-2015bow and give thanks.  He shouldn’t win this tournament.  It’s that simple. Partly because of his age, partly because of the three musketeers hunting him down.

The long farewell tour continues.  You think catching 17 majors or any whiff of his other numbers will be difficult?  What about his play as a 33 or 34 year-old.  With 4 kids.  If any 34 year-old can do it, Roger can.  But I’m being realistic.  Despite cheering-on the old man, I’m keeping the champagne in the cellar until further notice.

Novak Djokovic should win this tournament.  He’s the best player in the world.  He looked pretty mediocre in the round-robin, but I see him beating Nadal tomorrow and overcoming either one of the Swiss in the final.  That’s the safe pick, but probably the right one.

If, indeed, he has lost his impenetrable form, he will be beaten soundly by anyone of the rest of the final four.

I like Novak here, especially if I’m having to pick a winner. Novak2WTF

I like Stan if he finds that locomotive-like play and demeanor.  If he pushes Roger aside, convincingly, look-out.  He has the power and the “balls” to prevail in the end.

I like Federer if the magic continues.  He demoralized Stan at the USO. He’s recently beaten both Djokovic and Nadal.  He’s the man.  The racquet change and newer tactics look to extend his dominance.

*I like Nadal for the simple fact that life’s irony can be especially cruel.  Look at the year he’s had.  Look at his legacy with a big 0 next to WTF.  Recall his recent suggestion that they play the WTF on clay, for his sake.

A Nadal win here but be epic irony; if anyone ever asks you what irony is, here’s your example.

Which means, BEWARE: “From even the greatest of horrors, irony is seldom absent.”  H.P. Lovecraft, American horror fiction author.

Sure, that’s a bit much.  Most likely we have Novak finishing his long, inspiring journey towards tennis history.  Then again, anything can happen, especially in this company.



Group Nasty

Even a mere tennis fan knows the kind of free pass Nadal got from the WTF administration.  Getting put into a group with two of the most inconsistent “heavy weights” on the tennis planet is, well, a way to get Nadal into matches with higher stakes.

Stan is down 1-4 in the first to Ferrer, who just consolidated his break as I write this sentence.  Is Stan going to mount some kind of resistance to this Spanish inquisition?  Ridiculous.

Here’s what someone caught the world #2 doing vs. Nadal.  Group Nastase is something else.  Bravo.

Thank God for Roger and Novak.  There is beauty in the world of a SHBH and DHBH variety.

Update: Did not see the match, but Stan returns from a 2-5 deficit and cruises to the finish in just over 1:30.  We have some order restored in the WTF round-robin action.  Well done, Stan.

Nadal appears to have officially won Group Nastase.  Looks like the Wawrinka v Murray match will be fairly consequential.


London QF

What a shame that Stan could not play a more leading role in his sequel with the Spaniard.  Who knows what was on Stan’s mind, with the Paris terror, etc.  The surface, conditions and recent beating he put on Nadal gave credence to the idea that Stan would be a win away from the SF and Nadal a loss away from a trip to some mysterious Mediterranean beach for his “off season” program.  We were wrong.  The 2 & 3 was especially bad with game totals maybe coming into play.


The Guardian

Now we have to watch more short top-spin scowls from the muscular top-spinner, scowling around the court.  Nadal will probably beat Murray for his SF ticket.  Stan can still advance, but that deplorable score line will probably come-back to haunt him.

On the other side, Roger looks absolutely splendid.  I watched both matches.  His match v Berdych included great variety from the Swiss that kept Berdych off balance.  Other than the early trouble in the first, Roger showed tremendous form.

Novak looked solid v Nishkori, of course.  I heard some claim that Djokovic’s breadsticking of Kei was more impressive than Roger’s win over Berdych because . . . well, there was no rationale – just fanboy garbage.  In fact, Kei retired in the R16 in Paris, so he’s probably not in his best form at the moment.  Berdych gave Novak a bit of a challenge with two TB in Paris.  In the end, both Roger and Novak looked great in their opening matches.

Today’s tilt was pretty vintage Roger, though Novak looked a bit on the outs.  He was due for a let-down, but Roger might have had a lot to do with that.  Roger’s serve was solid (67% 1st, 75% 1st service points won, 67% 2nd service points won) compared to Novak (72%, 51%, 67%).


The Guardian

One of the best parts of the match concerned some long baseline slug-fests that showed these players’ tennis genius.  Roger was on the better end of a lot of these exchanges.  Good stuff from these two blokes.

And isn’t this how the game works.  Roger getting back at Novak here at the WTF with so much on the line, historically.  The little debate going on about Roger’s ’06 v Novak’s ’15, etc.  Roger showed-up today with a little vintage high-level quality to end the Serb’s streak (didn’t he have about 5 different streaks going?).

This reminded me a bit of that 2011 French SF, with Nole a heavy heavy favorite coming in, but Roger playing just brilliant clay court tennis to register the upset.  Not sure if anyone remembers that. ;)


Stan v Rafa

I’m going to try and shorten my posts, and quadruple my production!

5062862-3x2-940x627I meant to write this after I watched the replay of this a day after it played live.  Paris QF.  Brilliant stuff.  Stan is like a super hero. Stan is a monster.

Stan the man the ball
One-handed backhand
Leaves fall in a park

I watched a bit of this match.  The best part is Stan bullying Rafa.  Watch it happen, just like AO 2014.
Nice to see Magnus sitting front row, knowing.

Favorite part: Stan gets frustrated with Rafa moon-ball, so he, after gesturing and grunting eloquently, trades moon-balls with him.  Before finding a spot to flatten one out.  Loved the body language, the ability to outlast Nadal.

He sells the SHBH/OHBH pretty well.

Go Stanimal.

In the end, Stan needs to estanblish himself in Group Nastase.

Now I’ve Heard it All. . .


This says everything you need to know about that guy’s game, everything about everything.
I rest my case.

Surprised he’s getting so hammered for this. I thought everyone loved that guy.
It’s a scandal.

Last thing: if Nadal wins the WTF, I’m going to stop drinking beer.
If Roger wins, I’m going to double my beer consumption.
If Novak wins, I will applaud and try to be a better person.