Am I the Eye of Sauron?

My increased work-load along with a decrease in ATP action has meant the tennis chatter from my end has been pretty quiet.

Be that as it may, my eye continues to wonder the tennis landscape.

Since my last post there was an injury to Roger. Folks jumped all over that story. I hope my silence made a point. You know where I stand on that, right? I’m happy to explain.

I’ll also look around the tour for a few other tennis observations.

But let me start with a word or two on some tennis observations made by some of the “commentators” that fancy these lovely tennis discussions.

If I ever come across as critical of Djokovic, first call me on my contradiction. I have written extensively of his class and incredible tennis quality, his ascension and what he has meant for me and for tennis at this point in time (my archives will take you back to posts written last spring/summer for this appreciation of Novak that have continued to this day).

Secondly, though, and more to my point, blame tennis cheerleaders like certain fanboy clowns that blog about tennis. The fanaticism of tennis is a joke. There is so little sports knowledge or literacy, I want to call it, in these writings or images that are posted like little love or hate letters to their heroes/villains; it’s like a bunch of little 10 year-old girls excited to see their favorite movie star, or an episode of mean girls. If you want some grown-up analysis, come over here or other more objective tennis discussions. From what I gather, some of these bloggers have, in some instances, broken-up with Federer (the old #1) and now they’re “dating” Djokovic (the new #1). That’s how it appears. I’ve been told by readers and have made a few random visits to these sites only to see them trying to destroy Federer’s reputation in all matters with the vindictiveness of an ex-girlfriend. Meanwhile, they will have blog header images such as close-ups of Djokovic puckering-up. The sexual tension is incredible. Keep that stuff behind close doors, dopes.

That’s why I’ll continue to blog. I will, for example, be sure to temper some of this hysteria, the sloppy wet kisses for Nole, to remind everyone to slow-down, take a breath, suggest that Nole can make a claim for GOAT in four years, rather than four months (that was a comment made on a discussion board about the Nole GOAT discussion – which is absolutely right).

The tennis commentary I see around town is pretty much a bunch of hysterical disciples of certain players past or present. There is very little perspective. It’s embarrassing, really.

I don’t need any public confirmation. I know the tennis discourse needs my common sense. And thank you to all of you who read.

As for the tennis:

Roger’s injury is particularly newsworthy, for me, only because I am hoping to attend Indian Wells again this year and would love to see the Maestro play and these are our last opportunities to see Roger play good tennis. The injury is a bummer for him and all of his rabid fans, but this is part of the process of getting older and slowly fading from the sport. I loved that myth (past-tense because I’m pretty sure people making that claim have realized by now how wrong they are) of Roger playing better tennis now than he ever has. Do you see how foolish that is? This is a comment made by someone completely out-of-touch with sports, the human body, common sense. Unreal ineptitude. The injury is more evidence of Roger not nearly the physical force he was. Ha. I practically dignified that idiotic myth.

For the record: statistics can be half-truths. In this case of Roger, for sure. He hits his BH better now than when he was 26 years-old. Therefore, . . . . . . . . .

Roger is a year from bowing-out. I have been calling his tennis the Roger fare-well tour for almost a year now. And this is NOT insightful. This should be what anyone familiar with his tennis, the sport, or sports and life in general understands. His success on the court recently has been incredible, but he’s fading away. The injury is ONLY proof of this. That’s it. Make sure you appreciate Roger while you can. Again, he is on his fare-well tour.

In effect, I have been saying that Roger and Nadal are over-the-hill for months now. The TSQ has insisted that Roger is better than ever and Nadal is coming back. People, wake-up. Again, this is a kind of lack of sports literacy that must be the culprit here. How is either playing like they were in their prime? Roger has fooled us because of his sustained relevancy and Nadal has a lot of people fooled because of his roller-coaster consistency and his multiple primes ;)

But, folks, these guys are at the end of the rope, which is why the Djokovic era since 2014 has been pretty much without either providing much of a resistance to the Serb’s ascendant form. This does not take anything away from Djokovic. But it is what it is.

Oh, as for my argument about Nadal’s form, despite the TSQ’s wet-dream of the Spaniard returning to form, at least on clay:

Semi-Final (02:50:36)

Rafael Nadal (wc) 4 6 6
Dominic Thiem (5) 6 4 7

#1 seed goes down on clay. Start to come-to-grips with this reality, tennis world. This is 2016. Some of you have not seen this coming, been in denial, haven’t the wherewithal to see the writing on the wall. That’s too bad.

In other words, Nole is all alone.

One of the most interesting parts of the game now is to see what players might be able to find the form and confidence to play into the top 20 or 10 in the next year.

We can continue this narrative throughout the year. I will say that some excitement is with the young German Zverev and the young American Fritz.

Nice to see Zverev beat Cilic in Montpellier in a tournament won by Gasquet. Cilic’s suspect form in 2014 (and his subsequent “injury”) is one of my pet peeves. Happy to see the 18 year-old beat the one-hit-wonder Croat.

This week the Rotterdam #2 seed Cilic lost to Kohlschreiber in the QF. Keep-on trucking, Marin.

Fritz, a wildcard, is into the Memphis SF. Nice little run for another 18 year-old. He beat fellow American Johnson, #2 seed, in a couple of TBs. mordor-castle-jpgWould love to see the youngster advance and take-on Nishikori in the Final.

We can see the future, barely.

I see Tomic, as the #1 seed, stunk the joint in Quito. The Aussies. . .

Just a couple of things that caught my eye. . .

GOAT Flaws

With Novak winning another major, his 11th, in such dominating fashion, again, people are all over the GOAT debate. On the one hand, this is a very flawed and, practically, meaningless discussion because of the obvious difficulty in comparing such productivity (rife with nuance and context); on the other hand, the GOAT discussion encourages people to follow and tally almost obsessively their player’s successes and so forth. The obsession advances heavy interest, an almost raw devotion to a fan’s side in the debate of, in this case, who is the greatest tennis player of all time. Haha ahaha. Sorry. But such a claim seems so absurd, even on the surface.

Right off the top: many of the current discussions seem to only include Roger, Rafa and Novak. If you don’t see this as an inherent problem, good luck.

Comparing players across eras, you and I both know, is very troubling. How people still manage to include Borg, and not other past greats, in their top 5 must have something to do with his stoicism and headband. McEnroe and Sampras, even Lendl and Becker or Edberg probably get a short stick, too, with out much explanation. You can’t seriously make these arguments about greatest players of all time and somehow arbitrarily eliminate some of these past players who showed considerable greatness, but don’t have the currency of “now” in our imaginations nor the clear advantage of current equipment, nutrition, training and coaching.

I’m going to acknowledge the incredible levels of tennis over the past 17 years or so, but still, I’m not terribly convinced. Too many questions. Too many unknowns. Total opinion and preference and argumentative skill. Good luck with whatever position you have established in this heated, yet terribly flawed GOAT debate.

The numbers are a good source of evidence for people in said debate. Majors are important, as are rankings, Masters, WTFs, H2Hs, etc. The numbers are there for us all to analyze. These can be very helpful in establishing a kind of quantitative analysis. In the end, this may be the best indicator since such analysis factors in wins, which often includes longevity, consistency, etc. Production is key. So we’re not too secluded in our tennis bubble, we use the same kind of standards for other sports. Why isn’t Messi considered the greatest futboler of all time? He needs a bloody World Cup. What makes MJ such a convincing GOAT? Six for six although the eye-test as well pretty much sealed that case, signed, sealed and delivered.

Before we do consider our three musketeers of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in this ridiculous GOAT debate, I want to reiterate how flawed the discussion is by leaving-out some of those past great players, having not even mentioned Laver, Emerson or the amazingly prolific Conners. These players were dominant under different circumstances with decidedly less developed sport protocol (tools, languages, standards and objectives). In other words, making this only a Fedalovic debate is flawed beyond repair for reasons I’ve mentioned and others. Think about it.

John McEnroe played the Australian Open only five times. Conners played that major only two times. Borg played it once. You see my point, I hope. Interesting point with Conners: he won the AO, USO and WB in 1974 but did not play the FO that year because of some kind of contractual conflict, I believe. He did not participate in the French during his peak years of ’74-’78.

You understand that this kind of micro analysis of the sport could go on-and-on to underscore some of the differences in eras, the flaws is these kinds of comparisons.

I do understand the value of the eye-test; I trust it whole-heartedly and, therefore, I can at least listen to the “Novak is playing the best tennis of all time” kind of claim. Indeed, I understand the value of the first-hand witness.

But do understand that the numbers across eras/generations are comparatively fucked-up. Different times, different values, different cultures. You understand this.

The three musketeers have been putting-on quite a show of late (at the majors), since 2003 to be exact. That’s when Federer won his first major. Nadal won his first in 2005 and Djokovic won his first in 2008. One can see that Federer has a big toe in that previous era; he’s an older player to be sure.

Fun fact: Federer had 12 majors before Djokovic won his first major at the Australian Open.

Not sure if that makes much of an impact on this discussion. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know where I stand on Roger. In my last post I advised, consistent with where I’ve been on Federer for. . . ever: this is his last year (2016) of major-competive tennis. Folks, Roger is on fumes at this point.

I think the fun fact above might help with that understanding.

Let’s do this: let’s look at the opponents each of these greats have beaten in their major wins.

Before we do this, let’s admit that the big perception floating around is Roger accumulated his majors during a weak era and Djokovic during, according to this popular perception, the golden era.

People might not find many flaws (none) in the Djoker’s tennis at this point, but I would argue that, like Federer and Nadal, he has flaws to his own GOAT case already, not to mention he still has a lot of work to do. His ’15 and ’16 form looks simply record-breaking. He will add a lot to his case for those making it for him; but it looks to be pretty inconclusive for the time being. And we probably wouldn’t want it any other way. For argument’s sake.

Federer Majors:

AO: ’04 Safin, ’06 Baghdatis, ’07 Gonzalez, ’10 Murray

FO: ’09 Soderling

WB: ’03 Philippoussis, ’04-’05 Roddick, ’06-’07 Nadal, ’09 Roddick, ’12 Murray

USO: ’04 Hewitt, ’05 Agassi, ’06 Roddick, ’07 Djokovic, ’08 Murray

Nadal Majors:

AO: ’09 Federer

FO: ’05 Puerta, ’06-’08 Federer, ’10 Soderling, ’11 Federer, ’12 Djokovic, ’13 Ferrer,                 ’14 Djokovic

WB: ’08 Federer, ’10 Berdych

USO: ’10 Djokovic, ’13 Djokovic

Djokovic Majors:

AO: ’08 Tsonga, ’11 Murray, ’12 Nadal, ’13 Murray, ’15-’16 Murray

WB: ’11 Nadal, ’14-’15 Federer

USO: ’11 Nadal, ’15 Federer

______________________________________________________

The flaws with each case:

Several of Federer’s wins, seemingly, came against players below the highest championship quality, whatever that means. Granted, Roddick was limited. Gonzalez did make a nice run that year at the AO, beating Del Po, Hewitt, Blake, Nadal and Hass before losing to Federer in the final. His Safin AO win and Hewitt win at USO are solid. But we aren’t overly impressed with that line-up. I’ll say this is the flaw in Roger’s case, not to mention his several missed opportunities. Good Lord.

Nadal’s case has massive flaws. Mainly the dependence upon clay and his inconsistency. Those are enough to really short-circuit his claim to be amongst the very top. Not enough of a well-rounded game to consistently compete like some of the other major works of the  tennis canon. His current form is not helping his case at all, either.

Finally, Djokovic. The big piece of fruit most are quick to pick on his behalf is that he won all of his majors against the big four. Here’s my reply to that: Murray is just not that impressive, at all. Djokovic gets a lot of credit for the Murray wins, but that’s no more impressive than some of Federer’s weak era wins. Murray, my friends, is an under-achieving klutz of a star. He may have snuck into some headlines, found his way into enough finals to be granted a shred of supremacy, but he’s a Roddick-type to be sure. Furthermore, Nole’s ’14 and ’15 wins against Federer are against an aging 33-34 year-old. I put those wins in with Roger’s win over Agassi in ’05. The opponent is past his prime.

To continue to mix it up with some of the Djokovic die-hards, another flaw in his case comes by way of his missed opportunities. His French SF losses to Federer ’11 and Nadal ’13 are big upsets (he was massively favored against Federer and against Nadal we recall the “net” incident). The other thing I hold against Novak (I’ve said this for years) are his losses to Murray. I held those against him because I have always felt that Murray is not the class of the Serb. Those are Murray’s two majors. The shame. Novak’s two losses to Nadal at the USO F are unfortunate, as well, but that’s tennis.

All three of the cases are less than super human. Each has its flaws. Ironically, Nadal has some of the biggest quality wins, over Roger at the AO, WB, and of course his FO run vs. the Swiss, and those two big wins vs. Novak at the USO are huge. How he dominated hardcourts like that is beyond me.

Novak’s win over Nadal at the AO ’12 was absolute beauty. I discount Federer’s and Djokovic’s wins over Nadal on grass because I just don’t see Nadal as the big grass threat though he was certainly a beast every other year for a stretch.

In the end, folks, none of these guys has a fool-proof case. And, again, in my humble opinion Djokovic beating Federer now is simply not that epic.

As we have said many times before, Roger is past his prime, yet he’s the only genuine threat to Novak right now. I have suggested that Novak hasn’t necessarily beaten world-beaters on his way to 11; now he’s really primed to take advantage of a weaker field. There is no reason he shouldn’t have is way for another couple of years.

Novak’s tennis is incredible at this point. We are lucky. Let us enjoy the moment and let history tell its sloppy story, one we all get to follow, picking-up the pieces, sometimes frantically, so we can tell our own story. The beauty and flaw of it all.

The 2016 Australian Open: Final Thoughts

The match went pretty much according to #1 from my previous post: If Federer stayed the course of his offensive style and strategy (tough to criticize Roger on anything tennis), he’d be summarily dismissed.

I stand by my “advice,” which I’ve been screaming from this blog, especially leading up to this semi-final. Why am I interested in this change of form to precipitate a change in result? Because it’s good for the game. Period. Besides, Roger’s brilliance at 34 years is unprecedented, for the most part. Any tennis fan wants historical achievement to help characterize the era. But, as I will argue shortly, this era is actually a little troubling in terms of the competitive nature at the top of the sport. Double-edged sword: Amazing “golden era” and too much of a good thing/too good to be true. But before I go there, a few thoughts on the match (and btw, Novak’s tennis is historical, so we shouldn’t be complaining that much either way).

Roger was steamrolled. To be fair, I don’t think a more defensive approach would have done anything in those first two sets. He might have been implementing such a “defensive” plan (Roger’s ability to “mix it up” does count, almost, as “defensive”), but had to abandon once he was run-over on the way to that first set bread-stick. Seriously, any and all strategy turned to survive-breath-take cover-endure-absorb-and-withstand, hoping for a drop in form from the Djoker.

Roger’s serve was awful. This is a good question: if Roger has been serving so well through-out a tournament, but then he plays Novak and doesn’t have his serve, couldn’t it have something to do with Novak? That is a fair question. However, Roger’s serve, when it’s on, is better than that. Granted, maybe because of Novak’s return of serve, Roger (and most players in general) are going for more on that first serve, so that’s going to explain the lower %; they have to take more of a risk against such a dangerous return.

I’m not buying that entirely. Roger’s serve out wide in the deuce court or his down the T is pretty much unhittable; even if Novak does get to some of those (and he does), Roger’s at the net for the easy put-away. So, Roger’s serve was shit. That’s the end of that. Moreover, Novak abused Federer’s second serve.

But here’s what happened in the third set: Roger showed, clearly, that he can beat Novak. Novak was still playing well, but Roger stayed in the match. Playing games of shoulda woulda coulda is pretty meaningless, but we all know that if Roger stays on serve in the fourth and gets to a TB, anything can happen and tying that match at 2-2 would’ve been for the ages. But Roger doesn’t have that level.

As for Roger’s style and level at this point, 2016: I continue to stand-by my insistence that Roger has to adopt a more defensive approach when he is getting pushed around by a younger, stronger athlete (this is happening more and more and will always happen against Djokovic).

Pat Mac and Cahill were saying the same thing through-out the match. Roger has to hit more backspin, has to take pace off the ball. This was a theme of the commentary. At one point, in the fourth actually, Roger was exchanging CC BH with Novak. It lasted about 6-7 shots before Roger committed the error. Roger can not hit BH with Novak. Although I am a huge fan of the flat/top-spin SHBH, Roger has no business trying to use that and out-hit Novak. That is a microcosm of how Roger’s offensive tennis fares versus Djokovic.

As you can imagine, I felt validated listening to the guys echo my analysis that Roger has to complicate the rallies with Djokovic by taking away the pace, cutting the ball, making Novak generate his own pace. Not sure how much more I can say this. Clearly, this rang true Thursday evening in their semi-final.

And, again, I think Roger can beat Djokovic. The first two sets were unsustainable from the Serb. That wasn’t realistic form. Sorry. Roger can handle the Serb, but he needs to serve more effectively and borrow a book from Simon on how to mix-in more defensive strategy. Of course, that wouldn’t be as fun to watch, nor would it be classic Federer. Remember those Murray v Djokovic matches of old? Pretty uninspiring.

2016 probably signifies Roger’s last real threat at these majors. If you don’t see this coming, wake-up. He has a shot at 2016 WB and USO, but everything pretty much has to fall into place. The talk of Roger saying he’s still in peak form and can play 5 sets, still run around with these youngsters, etc., is press-conference bullshit. He’s 35, in effect. He’s slower (how about the 10 minute delay after the third set. Ha. He was as stiff as a corpse). Folks, dream on about Roger’s fountain of youth. The end is near despite the results in these big ATP tournaments. The competition is just thin. Really really thin. Djokovic is a bridge to the next era. That’s pretty much all you got; no one, presumably, is going to challenge the Serb unless unforeseen drops in form occur, which will raise other questions, for sure.

As I alluded to above: Today’s top of the ATP is a double-edged sword: Amazing (end of a) “golden era” and too much of a good thing/too good to be true.

Djokovic’s current run is incredible. The numbers are adding-up, one of which is something like 17 straight finals? As I said in my preview of the Fed/Djok SF, to beat Novak, you will have to go five and have enough to separate at the end. He gets better as the tournament and the match develop. Pretty nasty trend. Not sure who can stay with him in these big matches. I’m grateful I get to see this man carry the sport, set the bar for the future players. His incredible run is good for the game. Or is it?

Players like Roger and Nole have been talking about the need to support the lower half of the tour.  Prize money needs to be more evenly distributed, support provided for these younger talents in order for them to develop, sustain on tour, find success. But the gap is huge. The top of the sport is so “developed.” The inequality that exists on tour is massively affecting the overall health of the game, I would argue. A seventeen year-old can not compete with these top pros. Apples and oranges.

The dominance of the big 4, big 5, whatever we call it, could be much more sinister than we want to believe. The match fixing is troubling. But I’m really just referring here to the inequality. The top players have access to certain coaching, nutrition and other fitness/recovery plans that separate them from the middle to lower class of the tour.

The Djokovic/Federer SF informed my concerns. For example, the depth and power of  Djoker’s shots were insane in the first two sets. He was pounding the ball, seeing the ball and the court in ways no one else could. Coming out like that in such a big match was like some kind of fantasy championship tennis. Almost surreal. If you initially said, “this is the greatest tennis I’ve ever seen,” you’re new to the sport or a Djoker fanboy. If you said something more along the lines of, “what the fuck is that?” you’re a tennis fan who has watched a lot of championship tennis. The first set or two (the first set was a joke) was almost not tennis. It was that bizarre, perfect, fast, deep, clean, powerful, etc. It was on such a completely different level.

Turned-out to be unsustainable. But it’s almost non-competitive. The Federer (who is really from a different era) – Nadal – Djokovic era has been so rampant in its drive for majors, along with the excessive wealth of the tour and its marketing/advertising partnerships, it’s created this almost non-accessible top. The “lost generation” is clearly a by-product of this incredible run of great players, all three seemingly vying for GOAT status. It’s insane, really. Guys like Dimitrov, Nishikori, Del Potro, et al., can’t compete with this frenzy of excellence. What does that mean? I’m not sure. Quite different from the tennis I grew-up on, and actually enjoyed more, to be honest.

The form now is almost surreal, unreal. Watching the first two sets the other night I’m sure were right out of Djokovic’s Doha form. He’s on another planet. I thought I’d almost seen this before.

Indeed, reminds me a bit of Nadal 2013. Watch highlights, of the first set especially, of the Nadal/Djokovic 2013 USO final below. Look at the depth of Nadal’s shots. He did to Djokovic what Nole did to Federer the other night. Similarities in the tennis and even the score –  almost identical.

This is great tennis. Sure. But it’s almost unreal, unsustainable. Too good to be true.

Looks like Murray outlasted Raonic, who succumbed to injury. He’s just a bit too big, too awkward really to have a real shot at winning extensively on tour, especially with Novak around. Yet he has really developed a game.

Novak should destroy Murray, per usual. Then again, Murray’s two majors did come at Novak’s expense: 2012 USO and 2013 WB. This seems a different version of Nole, I’m afraid. Murray breadsticked is probably not out of the question.

Compare Nadal’s form to Djokovic’s 2016 form. The power and athleticism are quite the spectacle.

 

 

Djokovic v Federer Australian Open SF 2016

We have what we all want: Djokovic v Federer. They are tied in their H2H at 22, but I think you know how I feel about those H2H arguments. This one is especially irrelevant as one guy is still playing in his 35th year.

To reiterate, Federer has to come-up with a slightly different game plan if both men are in typical top form. We have seen this same match-up played-out a lot recently, different venues, different formats (Bo3, Bo5). Djokovic has the upper-hand, no doubt. If one of the two is off, has a bad match, throw everything out the window. On form, both men approaching the match as they have in the past, Djokovic triumphs. There is really no alternative.

Ultimately, here’s why: to beat Djokovic, you will have to go five sets and provide enough of a final “kick” to separate at the end. I do not have stats in-front of me, but Djokovic in five sets is a nightmare for anyone. You will have to outlast him. You will have to match his consistency for 4+ hours and then come-up with enough brilliant tennis at the end to pull away. Very very difficult. Quite impossible really, especially if we are talking about Roger, at his age.

That’s why I just don’t see a Federer victory tonight. Would it be special if it happens? Would be unreal. But that’s just it: probably unreal, as in not going to happen.

As I said at the release of the draw, being in the same half as Djokovic will be an advantage for Roger because the stakes are not as high. I used the Djokovic v Nadal 2015 FO QF as an example. That would have been a slightly different match, perhaps, if that was a final.

I would rather play Djokovic in a SF than a F. His recent tournament play clearly supports this view.

The other whisper of hope Roger has is the unknown. I am talking about this version of Roger, with Ivan the Terrible at the helm (okay, he’s been sitting in the second row of the box, so we can assume he’s second – or third – in command).  Who knows.

But this is what I am going to infer, partially because I have been talking about this for months, and even more in the last few days. Roger is going to adopt a more patient tennis demeanor vs Djokovic. What he did at 2-1, 15-30 in the second set vs. Berdych is a microcosm of what he is going to do through-out this match. Djokovic is a backboard (he has the best baseline and return of serve in the sport) who will gladly go five sets. If you try to assert some kind of offensive assault on the Serb, he will destroy you, quickly. Guys like Djokovic and Nadal (at his peak) demoralize the offensive minded.

But if Roger can keep the ball in the middle of the court, play more conservatively (strategically) ala Simon, he can keep Djokovic at bay. Djokovic is reactive; he feeds off of his opponent’s pace. Having said that, his offense has become very very efficient, even deadly. But primarily he’s defensive.

Roger has to play WITH that, NOT AGAINST that. Roger is always ready to pounce. The best footwork of all-time is always ready to separate and sniper his opponent. But sloppy offense will not get it done.

Rumor has it: Ivan told Roger to put SABR in the proverbial attic. This suggests Ivan is thinking what I am thinking. The Federer offense has become bloated, fat, predictable and soft.

Federer has to contradict himself tonight from the baseline. It’s that simple. There will be opportunities to strike, to come to net, etc. But he has to hit with Nole. Federer has to relax, have fun. Enjoy a rally. Let Nole take some chances. When that happens, knock yourself out.

Federer has to let play develop; that point vs. Berdych was a prototype.

The new Roger (1st major of the Ljubičić era) has a slim chance – and still he will have to go 4+ hours to collect.

The old Roger (he’s really pretty old either way ;) will be defeated in 3 or 4 sets.

I can not tell you how certain I am of this. Again, here are the conditions:

  1. Be attack oriented and be summarily dismissed      OR
  2. Be more patient and defensive and have a chance

Of course, Roger’s first serve must be +70%.  That’s it. Not too much to ask :)

All that other stuff (unforced errors, break point conversion) will be controlled by #1 and #2.

12:30am start here in Cali. Either I’m in bed by 1:30 (#1), or I’m calling in sick tomorrow (#2).

Enjoy.

 

Federer v Berdych AO QF

The first QF is underway. Looks like another live blog here at Matt’s blog. I watched the first two sets closely and they’re in the third now, on serve, Federer about to even it at 4-4. The first set was very solid, both players trading breaks of serve and Federer taking firm command in the TB to win 7-4. Berdych did save a set point earlier at 4-5, but Roger was able to win the TB in convincing fashion and create some momentum he rode into the second where he won pretty easily. The second set, especially early-on where he secured control, consolidated an early break, was a tremendous Federer exhibit, or should we say master class.

Roger just broke Berdych at 4-4 in a very tight game and has served-out the match. Federer is on to the SF where he awaits the winner of the next match between Djokovic and Nishikori, world #1 vs #7. I have to work tomorrow, but I think I’ll get a little work done now, after this short post, and watch the first ball toss at midnight California time. I am quite interested to see how Djokovic responds after that strange five-setter against Simon. I suspect he will make fairly easy work of Kei, just to prove a point, but when was the last time you saw Djokovic struggle through five sets like that? And Kei seems to have some form though I’m not sure how quality that win over Tsonga is. Either way, should be good, of course with the winner to play Mr. Federer in the SF.

So, how about the Fed/Berdych match in light of my post yesterday regarding Federer’s strategy at certain points in the match, mainly concerning a more defensive stance? Quite fun to watch the match unfold with terrific commentary from the younger McEnroe and Brad Gilbert (easily one of the best) in the booth, along with Cahill sitting court-side.

My post yesterday speaks to a long-shot strategy since Federer’s tennis is so naturally offensive. I mentioned that, but think he might be terribly tougher to beat if he played a little more cat and mouse. Again, these players already employ these kinds of adjustments of which I speak, so I am not talking about something that Roger never does. But after watching Simon drive Djokovic and much of the tennis audience crazy with that safe/defensive tennis, I was reminded of something I’ve thought Roger should try for years.

When you are playing these tennis backboards (the defense-first player), who feast on players trying to break the backboard, you have to rethink the approach every once in a while. Moreover, when a player is putting you under pressure, you have to think survival first, encourage them to keep attacking, defend the attack, put pressure on their offense, facilitate their error.

The Dimitrov/Federer 3R match was an example of Federer not making the adjustment and paying the price, losing a set. Roger tried to counter attack Dimitrov’s raised level. Roger was under too much pressure to play offensively. Therefore, he looked terrible trying to force his style, losing his timing, looking lost, in general.

Listening to the commentary tonight in the Fed/Berdych match was insightful on this concern. First of all, Cahill said he recalls Verdasco talking about playing Roger compared to playing almost anyone else on tour. You play one set against Roger and you feel like you’ve played three sets. Because of the constant pressure from Roger (short ball gets obliterated, chip and charge, BHDTL, etc.) players have to work so much harder on practically every shot. That’s my point. He’s almost entirely offensive. One can see why Nadal, Djokovic and Murray emerged the way they did and have stayed on top of tennis for so long. At the same time, one should see how impressive this makes Roger’s run. He’s from a different era, I would argue (I have argued).

Tonight’s commentators were underscoring Federer’s massively offensive game. Speaking to Verdasco’s comment, Cahill mentioned that Berdych looked worse down 0-2 (sets) to Fed than he looked after his five-setter with Agut.

Roger’s offense took, as Gilbert might say, full flight in today’s match. This is vintage Federer. The serve was working (~70% first) and he was pushing Berdych around the court, a player with a big game who has beaten Federer at majors in 2010 (WB) and 2012 (USO). He also has wins against Roger at Dubai (2013) and Cincy (2011). Roger really lifted his form in the TB and the second set, especially. Berdych is not a push-over. Roger is showing pretty damn good form. For now.

But I want to focus on the first four games of the second set. Federer has won the TB and getting ready to put some pressure on Berdych early in this second. He breaks Berdych, consolidates, Berdych holds, and Roger is serving at 2-1. Berdych absolutely nukes two winners to go 0-30. Roger makes it 15-30.

Then the point that made my point and Patrick Mac was all over it. Roger serving 15-30, needing to hold and maintain the break, knowing he’s got Berdych, more or less, on the ropes. Watch the rally. Roger goes defensive, hits 4-5 more conservative shots up the middle, lets Berdych control the point a bit, but Roger is staying in the point – this is the most important part of this, something I think he abandons on occasion. The rally continues, nothing fancy, until Berdych tries to hit a nice CC FH, upon which Roger chases it down, he’s past the doubles alley, and he rips a beautiful CC FH winner – pure attack tennis. BUT he waited for the opportunity. He maintained the rally, knowing the importance of the point. The attack came, sure. BUT he waited. He was more patient. Smarter.

McEnroe was all over it. Roger was conservative and though such a point doesn’t show-up on the sheet, never really gets recalled, it was critical. He held for 3-1 and went on to break again and take the second 6-2.

Though this was just a small window into the mind of the Maestro, I wish he’d employ this strategy more. He can hit with anyone. Can you imagine a strategy in which Roger, at specific points in a match, chooses to just hit with his opponent and wait for the opportunity to kill him? Roger’s brain doesn’t really work this way: he is going to kill on practically every shot.

Fun to follow this odd avenue of investigation. The match within the match.

By the way, no signs of SABR. Gilbert thinks Roger was instructed to shelve that “weapon” for the time being. Bravo, Ivan. Keep working.

An hour until Nole v Kei. Good luck, gentlemen.

Update: sticking with my theme here, did you watch any of this 2nd QF? Watch it with my defensive tennis discussion in mind. This match was over four games into the first set. I watched, literally, five games and then went to bed. Nishikori tried to end every point on every shot. His strategy was to finish this tennis match as quickly as he could. Did he realize he was playing the #1 in the world, a guy who relishes going five and practically dying in the process? Look at the first four games of the set. Nishikori looks good, even has a break-point, but then he completely comes off the rails. You won’t exactly hit Novak off the court. That strategy blew-up in his face.

To even have a chance against Novak, you have to be able to defend. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s not. The Simon match was not a fluke.

If Roger tries to hit winners on every shot, or even every other shot, Novak will straight-set Roger (as good as Roger is playing). If Roger can adopt a more conservative approach, we have ourselves a match. We’re talking about rallies. Roger needs to serve like a monster and be strategic from the baseline.

Just contrast the Simon and Nishikori matches. The weather/time of day did not have that much of an influence. The strategy made all the difference.

Let’s see if Roger understands this difference.

Update II: Is Tignor at Tennis.com reading my blog? He ripped-off my argument, almost verbatim. Ha ha. Thanks for reading, pal.

Australian Open at the QF

Stan Wawrinka is down two sets to Raonic as I begin this post. Raonic has confidence for sure. He beat Roger in the Brisbane final though I have said it wasn’t a great match, mainly because both men’s serve was mediocre and Roger was under the weather. Having said that, he pretty much hit Roger off the court. It reminded me of Raonic last year at IW where he beat Nadal in the QF, but got beat by Federer in three in the SF. When his inside-out FH is going strong, along with that serve, as well as his burgeoning net game, he’s a beast. We’ll see if Stan can pull-off this third set, he’s serving 4-5 to stay in the match.

Nothing too remarkable has happened so far other than for many of you Nadal lost 1R. Sorry, I had to bring that up again. I’ve heard the apologists say Verdasco is his worst match-up, Verdasco can beat anyone when he’s on form, etc. Some of these folks are the type to then turn and say Roger’s form is crumbling, looks shaky, he lost a set to Dimitrov  blah blah blah. Roger is preparing for QF play. Enough said.

I want to make a few quick points about Fed’s R3 and Novak’s R4. These are the best players in the tournament. Other than Stanimal or some crazy streak from a guy like Kyrgios or Raonic, we’re not that far removed from 2015. Remember that? Novak’s reign with Roger as his only credible foe? Right. That’s also why the Nadal early exit is not a surprise. Remember 2015?

Roger and Novak.

Maybe a new feature of my blog is a “live blog” during a live match. Stan just broke Raonic at 5-5, now serving for the third set.

Roger R3. Here’s what we can observe about Roger’s game at this point: when an opponent pressures the 34 year-old Swiss, his game gets pretty shaky, he tightens-up, and commits lots of errors. Sure, this sounds pretty obvious, as in this happens to most players.

Stan 7-5 in the third – we go to the fourth set, Raonic 2-1. Well done, Stan. . . imal?

Novak does this to Roger when they play. Roger actually matches-up pretty well with Novak – yes, it’s competitive. But Novak is able to apply steady pressure and Roger usually succumbs to this, can’t handle the consistency, especially when you add Novak’s depth. We saw this in Brisbane with Raonic. And we saw this with Dimitrov in the second set of their AO R3 match a couple of days ago.

Roger controlled most of that match, but in the second set, Grigor sharpened his game, and started to attack more. He out hit Roger. What was so clear to me about Roger’s subsequent hardship (in trying to deal with this surge from the Bulgarian) was his impatience, his lack of a coping mechanism, which would be a more defensive tennis strategy. He tried to stay cleverer ;) He continued to try to out hit and out maneuver Grigor as he’s always been able to do against most players. But his timing suffered as he tried to do things with the ball that his still-attacking game-plan dictated. He looked uncomfortable. Errors came in bunches. He didn’t find ways to put pressure back on Dimitrov.

This is Federer’s flaw. Roger can look so out of sorts when he’s under pressure. Players can see this more and more. Roger can’t snap his fingers and pirouette some kind of brilliant escape. He plays right into his opponents’ hands. Errors. More errors. Dimitrov rested control from the champ.

Of course, Roger went on to win, but this abrupt fall from grace during a match doesn’t have to happen like that. If you get outplayed, you get outplayed. But Roger’s problem is he doesn’t have a  solid strategy for these periods in a match where he needs to be defensive, especially against certain players.

What should that strategy be? We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face, but I saw it modeled for the tennis world in Djokovic’s R4 match with Simon.

Stan just broke Raonic in the fourth at 2-2, consolidated and now the Canadian serves 2-4.

The Djokovic v Simon match will be remembered for Djokovic’s 8,452 unforced errors (I know it was an even 100). This is very un-Djokovic-like. We agree. But Simon’s strategy was brilliant. He kept balls in the middle of the court. He retrieved and made Djokovic hit another shot. He kept the pace down. He played Djokovic like the counter-puncher Djokovic himself is. Djokovic is the best counter puncher in the sport. He has the best defensive game, better than Ferrer, better than Murray. Simon simply played a safe, defensive style of tennis, which enhanced the bad day that Novak was having. Indeed, he gave Djokovic a five-setter of his own medicine.

Granted, this might be more of Simon’s style, but Roger can use this kind of approach. Roger is always going for winners. Roger’s SHBH is attack. His forehand is one of the greatest attacking shots of all time. His S&V can be quite effective, quite good at putting pressure on opponents.

But sometimes Roger needs to back-off. Sure he might employ this from time to time, shot to shot, but it behooves him now to play this way when he gets on his heels, when he’s not controlling the tennis.

Simon played a safe, defensive style of tennis made quite popular by guys like Djokovic and Nadal. That’s a fact. This style has been the ruin of Roger Federer. His burden can be lifted by employing a more defensive, safer style of tennis when players make these kinds of runs against him, which is happening more and more. Just hit with them. Stay in the middle of the court. Play it safe sometimes. Be patient.

Guys like Djokovic love pace, thrive on attacking brands of tennis. Simon’s consistent, defensive game plan against Novak was irony. Novak wasn’t sure what to do with many of those softer struck balls. Of course, Novak had a bad day and of course Simon played some brilliant passes and attacked some, as well. But this was simply Simon coming-in with a good game-plan.

Is this defensive style a lesser brand of tennis, an inferior style? That’s up for debate. Either way, it’s a safe bet that Roger’s farewell tour might benefit from a few cans of a more defensive – survival-mode – style of tennis.

Tremendous match between Simon and Djokovic. Despite the moderate temperatures, Novak seems to struggle in those sunny mid-day matches. Reminded me of early Novak really struggling in that Melbourne heat.  But, again, the temps are mild this year. Pretty interesting match to say the least. Good win for the Djoker. This is typical Nole. He’ll probably start peaking now for the final. Hopefully we see him clash with Mr. Federer this next week.

Stan and Raonic are two sets apiece.

Berdych looks good, but I’m taking Fed in the QF and I have to assume Novak takes care of Kei though he seems to be playing quite well. That top-half looks good.

Murray v Stan/Raonic winner, right? With Tomic as a possible threat?

Lastly, a shout-out to John Isner. Great match vs. the always tough Lopez. Fun match to watch. Down a set (TB), winning the second set TB and cruising to the finish. Solid work, Big John. He’ll have to play really well to beat Ferrer.

Raonic with the break, serving 4-2 in the fifth. Wow.

 

AO Tennis Update

Wow. A lot of tennis and I’ve been too busy to see much of it at all. Looking forward to tonight’s Federer v Dimitrov, Thiem v Goffin, and I’m interested in Tsonga’s form. Of course, if Kei straight-sets Garcia-Lopez, that’s better than nothing.

I have seen Federer and Djokovic play on replay and both look strong. The caveat to that statement is Federer was playing Dolgopolov, who, despite some rare streaks of efficient tennis, is not much of a test while Djokovic looked sensational playing a young Frenchman, Halys, who seems to have heart and a big game to boot. Roger probably won’t be able to run around that BH later in the tournament, but he looked quite good doing so. The FH and serve look really sharp. He needs easy points, no errors on that FH and play it safe and solid with that BH. Roger is alive and breathing, for sure.

Djokovic’s backhand is simply unreal. This is what separates him, truly. His service return and his baseline BH are probably the best ever.  I simply marvel at how smooth and consistently deep (fluent) he is with that stroke. He would need a big off-day for anyone to have a chance though Federer, Tsonga, maybe a Kyrgios if he finds flight v Berdych could all be tough.  But those opponents have to be incredibly inspired and Djokovic has to become distracted, error-prone. . . perhaps by this terrible rumor of match fixing.  Talk about unreal.

We know that stuff happens on the regular (players tanking games, sets, even matches) though the idea that this is tied to organized crime makes this pretty unnerving. There was an article recently about how a young player had to decide whether to play deep into his pre-AO Challenger tournament and miss qualifying for the AO. The article weighed which tournament (the Challenger or the AO) would be more beneficial to the player, a struggling pro. He would receive more points if he were to advance and win the Challenger, but the possibility of winning a match or two in the AO would mean a lot more money. So there’s that kind of tanking/fixing on the regular, among other examples. Whatever the case may be, hopefully the authorities can eradicate this kind of big time gambling and integrity-destroying activity.

I see Federer beating Dimitrov and winner of Thiem/Goffin. Indeed, I did not see the bracket as troubling as some. The big test will be the QF, winner of Kyrgios/Berdych/Cilic. Roger, if he survives, gets only one of those. Roger should find the QF. His opponent is the mystery we need to solve!

No one is touching Djokovic, imho, with his form.

Elsewhere, Murray seems to be in great shape though the winner of Raonic v Wawrinka should make Murray curse and toss his equipment around.

Did anyone see the Lopez v Pella match? That was very entertaining. Lopez’s old-school style of smooth and athletic S&V is a great watch and this Pella fought valiantly. Four TBs. Pretty suspenseful, and a good win for the Spaniard.

American Stevie Johnson looks quite good. He is perhaps the greatest U.S. collegiate player of all time. He had a remarkable career at USC. He’s been pretty mediocre on tour, but he looks fit, his serve and FH are really strong and he’s still alive in that odd-ball half of the draw.

In the aftermath of Nadal’s 1R exit, did you hear people say that Verdasco is that good? I did. Really? The apologists are like locust. He should beat a 32 year-old Verdasco in 1R.

And this 5’9″ Sela does not seem very imposing. I saw the end of that match and witnessed some awful tennis. Verdasco had a let down? Sure. I guess.

Monfils looks to benefit in that part of the draw. By the way, the Troiki/Raonic match should be good. Troiki is playing well and I just remember that Raonic won Brisbane with less than stellar form. Certainly, Roger was not the man he used to be. ;)  Don’t overlook that match.

Tournament is looking to stay on form, in the big picture. Top four guys still alive and looking good to make it deep into this tournament.

Enjoy!