Analysis of U.S. Open Draw

You know the draw is out and the fireworks in New York City are about to begin. Who is going to get hot and make this tennis tournament, the final major of the year, the fireworks it’s supposed to be?  Let’s go through the draw, quarter by quarter.

Djokovic’s Quarter

4R – Djokovic v Isner

4R – Tsonga v Cilic

Sock and Anderson possible darkhorse

Does Gasquet beat Isner? I wouldn’t take that bet. Djokovic is rolling through the early parts of this draw. I don’t see him getting Monte Carlo’ed by Vesely this time around. Tsonga v Anderson could be an interesting match, but I like Tsonga here and do not be shocked if the Frenchman makes a little noise. He can. A hot Stevie Johnson beat him in Cincy, but if Tsonga wins that R16, I bet he beats Dimitrov and so on. IF if if.  Either way, don’t overlook Jo-Wilfried.

Of course, Cilic is the one wearing the cape. He’s won NYC and just won his first 1000, on fast courts. Djokovic will probably get a tough QF, but who’s going to bet against him in said round against whomever.

Nadal (Raonic) Quarter

4R – Nadal v Agut/Pouille

4R – Monfils/Cuevas v Raonic

Most will probably take Raonic to emerge from this quarter given the surface, his serve and FH, his coaching, etc. I agree. He has to be the favorite. Nadal just doesn’t seem to have the health and firepower to deal, in my humble opinion.  A Nadal v Raonic QF would be very interesting, however. We’ll keep our eye on the graying bull for old-time sake.

Wawrinka Quarter

4R – Querrey v Del Potro/Johnson

4R – Wawrinka/Zverev v Tomic/Kyrgios

Is Wawrinka alive? My gut says Del Potro v Kyrgios is the QF we need to see from this bracket. How good would that be? D-Po in form should scare the crap out of everyone. But Kyrgios finally coming to grips with his potential would be scary, as well. I’ll stick with that for now. Zverev seems to have faded and Wawrinka and his awful outfits need to re-group.

Murray Quarter

4R – Nishikori v Goffin/Karlovic

4R – Murray v Coric/Lopez/Dimitrov

This is Murray Murray Murray. Can’t bring myself to give the nod to anyone else other than Nishikori if he’s in 2014 form. But Lendl will oversee this quarter like Darth Vader, guiding his apprentice towards the dark star of a second USO for the Brit. Leave it at that.

Except I’ll add that Murray’s coach (Vader), again, went to eight straight USO finals.

Tennis Channel is at it again: started watching the 2011 Federer v Djokovic SF today. Got through the first set (will finish later tonight with a couple of bevvies🙂

Two heavy-weights absolutely ripping the ball. The eye-test says that’s Djokovic peak and Federer just starting his descent. Federer in 2011 had some incredible tennis still – the 2011 Federer is superior in every way to the 2015 Federer for those somehow confused for whatever reason.

I say Djokovic peak because he was so strong then. Adding Becker and maturing a little since then has perhaps strengthened his mental fortitude, but 2011 Novak is a beast physically and mentally. He could trade with a still phenomenal Federer, go down two sets to the five-time champ and come back. Remember, the 2012 Aussie final was about four months away.

In the first set, Roger has 4 set points in the TB before finally converting. The shot-making is unreal. The only difference between then and now is Roger has dropped his level. They are so close then, playing such athletic, power tennis, great defense, serving, etc.

Djokovic’s serve is what stands out in that match. His serve is as effective as Roger’s. Roger has trouble closing, and it’s pointed-out that his first serve % on set-point, BP, etc., is pretty low. Signs of tightening at those bigger moments. Djokovic, on the other hand, rises on those points, in those games.

Roger’s BH is a thing of historical beauty. When people look back, tough to watch Roger play with that form (youth) and not say Wow. But at that same time, Novak’s inside-out FH, or his BH, or return are pretty awe-inspiring, too. Kinda like Pete’s serve and running FH.😉

Getting fired-up for some U.S. Open tennis!

Looking Back While Moving Forward

I have not written in a while. Obviously. Nor did I watch much tennis other than some Olympics matches and a couple of Toronto/Cincy contests I sniffed perhaps by accident. Between the crumbling nature of competitive excellence on tour and the Djokovic fanboy blowhards, I needed a nice little break.

My last post was a bit of a downer, right? The hardcourt season has the potential to showcase the best tennis of the year (and there’s still hope with NYC on the horizon). I just didn’t see much in order to get that excited and sure, to be honest, with Roger and Rafa going down, Djokovic plateauing, and Murray making a little run, this is the tour we know and love turned upside down! Not to mention that the rest of the men’s field seems to evidence a disturbing lack of maturity and competitive brilliance. Frankly, I’m not that interested.

Yet.

I will, like you, come to appreciate more the tennis of Nishikori, Raonic, Thiem and some of the rest of the boys, I guess or hope. I watched the first three sets of the Djokovic v Federer 2015 USO final last night. I’m not sure what the ATP has right now or in the near future that can find even the same continent as that kind of sport. As they see, we’ll have to wait and see.

The best way for this post to proceed is for me to go player by player, the ones that made my radar. In the end, although a big surprise or two might have encouraged me to move more quickly to the blog possessed again by the game’s athleticism and character drama, we instead had delivered course after course of mostly predictable and underwhelming tennis.

Andy Murray

Think about it: You owe Lendl for the top level right now, for any real consistent tennis excellence. Had the Czech stayed hibernated, and Murray trenched in his solid medium game, we would have had the rise of Raonic or Nishikori to calculate right now. Actually, if there was no Lendl, Murray’s form would be much less inspiring – no Wimbledon, no Olympic gold, so Djokovic probably never would have dipped. Indeed, Djokovic’s fall and Murray’s rise are conjoined. Murray via Lendl completely changed the complexion of this summer of tennis (along with the descent of Fedal).

Of course, this is a good development, no question. Can Murray beat Djokovic H2H? Probably not, but with Lendl on-board we have a completely different kind of player in Murray. You know I find this a little embarrassing for Murray. I have been very critical of him in the past, not so much his defensive-oriented game, but because he’s such an emotional mess. Lendl (the surrogate father-figure) demands better behavior. This translates into more focus, confidence and given Murray’s age and power, he can proceed fairly comfortably through the draws.

Still, Murray owes almost all of this success to Lendl. The association’s record doesn’t lie. Don’t fool yourself. This, like I have said, is a huge nod to that earlier golden-age of tennis about which millennials (and other poorly informed tennis fans) have little clue.

Milos Raonic

Since his Wimbledon finals run, he reached QF in Toronto and SF in Cincinnati. The loss to Monfils in the Roger’s QF is a pretty big upset if you buy stock in the Canadian’s game, in front of his home crowd. Indeed, Monfils looked a bit of a threat in that tournament though the SF vs. Djokovic (which I did watch) was over before the first or second toss. Monfils is the ATP. Lacks consistency and that other level we’ve grown accustomed to seeing late in the draw. Back to Raonic: nothing to write home about. McEnroe has his work cut-out for him.

Kei Nishikori

The first thing that has to be said about the Japanese star is he’s really a 500 level player. History doesn’t lie. He has had his moments, but he, like Raonic, will win mainly due to this depleted field. Like Monfils, he was tamed by Djokovic in Toronto. And his loss in Cincy, early, again makes the case for Kei. Not very durable.

He had a nice run in the Olympics, but couldn’t quite break through that top level. Although his win over Nadal in the bronze probably gets some people excited, not sure what those people are valuing here. Nadal is old, injured and playing for third on hard court. Huge advantage Nishikori.

Juan Del Potro

Perhaps I should have led with this player as his run in Rio was pretty special. But we definitely have to wait and see how he does on the tour. He got into the U.S. Open (needed an invite), so let’s see how he does in that field. Watching him play Nadal in Rio, or Murray in the final, one could really sense the Davis Cup-like climate. Those players rise to the occasion because of country. No doubt, great to see the Argentinian beat Nadal in that epic SF. I watched much of this match. He is cold-blooded. His FH is ferocious.

What a reminder of how badly we’ve missed this tennis talent on tour! Very sad. I remember the 2009 USO final like it was yesterday. He was 20 years old then. Think about that. Look what he did to Nadal in the SF of that major: 2 2 and 2. Get out of here.

Any excitement I felt for the great tennis from D Po was qualified big-time by the sadness of his injuries. The entire history of this most recent golden-age could have been different. People forget how promising his game was back then.

Novak Djokovic

He’s plateaued for sure. Even he’s uninspired by the tennis, apparently. Getting bounced in the third round at WB seems to have lingered. His win in Toronto was pretty ho hum. His Olympics was a disaster. In short, he needs to get his greatness outfit on again and get back to work.

Listening to some tennis folk rattle-on about the history of the sport, I saw one particular point about how Roger is the grass GOAT, Nadal the clay GOAT and Djokovic the hardcourt GOAT.

LOL.

This is the best example of presentism I have seen, of some tennis “buff” figuring s/he knows the sport based on watching the sport since. . . 2008 or 2009?

The only part of that paradigm that can hold is the clay commentary. I’ll give the Nadal cheerleaders that, which is practically a different sport all together, at least according to Rafa. Borg was no slouch, played in a different time and this historical context is crucial as I tried to explain in my HRFRT series (which I still need to finish). But I’ll give the nod to Nadal here.

The grass GOAT? Pete in his prime vs. Roger at his would be quite a war. Pete’s serve was devastating. Not sure how Roger gets the definitive nod here. They both have 7 Wimbledons.

The HC GOAT? Djokovic? The U.S. Open is virtually the hard court championships. Not the Australian Open. Sorry. Nadal has as many USO as Djokovic. Pete and Roger have 5 of those EACH. I am using numbers, people. Not bias. The DecoTurf vs. the Plexichusion or Rebound Ace is a nuanced but important point.

Which brings me to an important point about Djokovic. He has to win the 2016 U.S. Open. He probably will given the level of tennis being played on tour right now. If Murray has his Lendl form, and isn’t too burned-out, we could have a nice final.

But Djokovic needs this for his USO resume (to help his fans make those claims). We can see how things turn in the life of an athlete. Father Time is undefeated. Djokovic needs to take care of business and the time is now.

Rafael Nadal

I still don’t quite get his withdraw from the French. Sure I’m suspicious. He was ROLLING. He had a Masters win under his belt, played Novak tough in Italy, was beating people in straights in Paris and then, adios. Then he’s back at the Olympics. Then Cincy? Pretty poor all the way around. His R16 beatdown by Coric in Cincy says it all.

The biggest Nadal news is he’s entered into Brisbane 2017?

Marin Cilic

You know how I feel about this guy. His 2014 run in NYC is bizarro. This year, he was rampant at WB, but lost to Federer. He lost early in Toronto, didn’t show very well in Rio, and won Cincy (first 1000). He’s inconsistent, to say the least. But he appears to like this surface. With a USO crown in his bag, let’s see how he handles the pressure in NYC. If he can become a regular, the tennis world (including me) might be more forgiving.🙂

With Andy’s return to Lendl, Jonas Bjorkman became available and Cilic has traded in Ivanisevic to work with the Swede. So far, so good it appears.

Stan Wawrinka

On holiday. Or should have been.

Nick Kyrgios

He won a 250 in Atlanta, but then lost to Coric early in Cincy. Show us anything, Nick.

American Tennis

Thumbs-up to Steve Johnson.

Thumbs-down to Taylor Fritz.

Let me know what I missed. I should be back on track with the blog. New York will help.

Having watched the Tennis Channel’s replay of the 2015 men’s final last night, I’m pumped for NY and disappointed, as well. Like most of us, hoping for some drama.

The way that match played-out, as we recall, great first three sets. The pivotal couple of games in the third.

As I watched the end of the second (where I picked it up), Roger finally breaks and takes that second set 7-5.  Now the pivotal third. They trade breaks to even the set.

At 4-3 Federer, Novak serving. He goes 40-0 but let’s Fed back to BP. Fed then gets a look at his 14th and 15th BP. On the first, FH UE that makes Annacone almost cry (he’s calling the replay). I mean, that was the match. Roger converts that neutral FH, he’s been playing well, he serves for third set. Unreal. On the second BP Roger gets a second serve even, but doesn’t do enough, mis-hit, and Djoker buries it. Roger is clearly outplaying Djokovic here in the third set, it’s pretty clear, but Roger just chokes away BP after BP.

4-4. Fed gets to 30-0, then 40-15. Then deuce (choke). He goes 120mph on the T to go Ad-In. Then back to deuce on crazy BH from the Serb. Deuce. Then BP Djokovic. Game over.

Djokovic serving for set. Fed gets 2 more BP. Ha ha. But Novak finds deuce, then Ad In, set point. Done.

Pretty wild to revisit that critical couple of games in that match. Perfect example of Djokovic dominating under pressure. Dominating. Under. Pressure. And Fed mastering the choke. Wow.

Thanks for reading. It’s good to be back.

N.A. HC Season!

Tell me if I’m wrong: a catchy, energetic title is SEO 101, right? Might not even matter since I probably skipped another step or two in delivering on effective SEO with this or other blogs. The point, however, is that I had a choice here as far as the energy goes: use that energy in the title or in the article.

Hence, the enthusiastic title.

And, indeed, the title stinks despite whatever “energy” I’m referring to.

Tough to get too excited about tennis right now. Granted, I am excited about watching some competitive matches (always), but the transitional nature of the men’s game is not the most interesting story, unless you’re into following how many titles Djokovic can accumulate (which we’ll all be subject to either way). He has another couple of years to add to his trophy case and the environment couldn’t be more conducive for him. Many fans will relish in this time and space, the Djokovic era, heaping scorn on the rest of the history of the sport. I do not understand this element of tennis.

In fact, I am not sure what drains my enthusiasm more: waiting for the next crop of contenders to emerge on the tour, or listening to all of these Djokovic diehards claim dominance over Nadal, Federer and the rest of the history of this great sport. Sounds a bit flawed when you put it that way, no?

Well, be prepared to have to endure those two storylines: the slow, sad development of the next generation of tennis greats (seems almost ludicrous to say that when you know it’s so far far away) and the loud and obnoxious lack of perspective that accompanies the mouth-breathing Djokovic diehards.

Remember, in case you’re new here and/or have forgotten: I have spent much energy already celebrating his greatness. But there’s a difference between what I write and what a bunch of discussion board honks, or fanboys blare.

As for the rest of the sport, we have NO IDEA what is happening with the field at this point.

What are we predicting? Who do we see emerging at the business-end along with Djokovic? (that’s if he’s still motivated to win this title).

Wawrinka, Nishikori, Raonic, Berdych, Thiem, Goffin or Cilic? That appears to be A) the top eight seeds, including Djokovic, in Toronto and B) your WTF field, more or less, with the obvious inclusion of Murray.

Kyrgios and Zverev have already been sent packing in Toronto and there isn’t really much more one can hope for, other than Djokovic bouncing back from his grassaster and maybe one of those top eight men, Stan and/or Milos seem the most interesting from my perspective, raising his form to actually challenge the Serb.

I don’t believe there’s much to say about the Federer news/announcement. Maybe I’ll take time to wish him a happy 35th birthday in a few weeks.

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.

Wimbledon Semi-finals

Greetings!

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

Let’s rehash yesterday and preview tomorrow.

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

Quarter-finals Re-cap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semi-finals Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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