The ATP Future in St. Petersburg and Metz

We had a very interesting couple of finals in two ATP 250 tournaments last weekend. The reigning U.S. Open champ, call him the sport’s current champ, Stan Wawrinka, was on display along with three of the future of the men’s game. No question these three youngsters (Zverev, Thiem and Pouille) along with Kyrgios, seem fairly capable of making noise at almost any tournament. Raonic (25) and Nishikori (26) appear in age and experience to lead this younger generational charge that will, believe it or not, finally topple the Big guns we’re watching fade from the sport, slowly but surely. Witnessing the U.S. Open this past month and seeing the tennis in these two finals (Pouille v Thiem in Metz and Wawrinka v Zverev in St. Petersburg) consolidated the change that’s in the air.

Stan kept the power in play, representing the past, by making an uneventful run to the final where he took-on the German Zverev, who’s dad is a former Russian player. I really tuned-in as Stan took control of the second set, having dropped the first, so we had ourselves a nice decider in the third. zverevpouilleThe Tennis Channel call seemed eager to get aboard the Stanimal bandwagon as he jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third, and appeared to have that look; but his inconsistent play allowed Zverev to get back on serve and even break the Swiss again at 5-5 (Alexander was 4/5 on BP, efficient) . Zverev then served-out the match and won his first title on tour. Props to the big guy. His solid BL game and decent creativity at net proved too much for Stan to overcome, which is so Stan Wawrinka.

Tennis fans are used to the God-mode of Fed, Rafa or Djoker. When those guys find (found) their form, they’re virtually unbeatable. Stan is not that kind of animal, as we know. On the one hand, his inability to close-out Zverev in that third set is troubling. He had game points to extend to 4-1. But the future, hopefully, is here; this kind of win could continue to propel this youngster toward the top of the tour, which the sport needs. He’s only 19. Although I think 6’6″ is too tall to be that consistently top notch, this kid has been consistently climbing the ranks. I read somewhere he’ll be the first under-20 year-old to make the top-25 since Djokovic in 2006.

As I watched the Pouille v Thiem final I thought, too, about age. Funny I almost thought these guys are getting old. Ha. Pouille is only 22, however, so he’s pretty green, really only having been on tour since 2014. But again, that’s what makes Zverev and Kyrgios’ (who has two titles on tour) games so interesting. Kyrgios turned 21 recently, but has already made a bit of splash. That is some serious youth with big games to complicate the inexperience.

The Moselle Open final between Pouille and Thiem (23) was marvelous (Thiem has, I’m fairly certain, eight ATP titles, 4 coming in 2015 and another 4 this season). Indeed, Pouille won his first tour title, as well. Pouille’s game is smart and athletic. His ability to work the ball all over the court is a great watch – his angles, his craftiness with the racquet, his serve that had a ton of action; he seems a player wise beyond his years (or between the ears). Thiem, conversely, plays like a dangerous youngster who has and knows his weapons; he’s the stronger of the two, and a bit more temperamental.

This particular match had the genuine feel of the future of the sport. Although the Frenchman seems to have a bit more to work with – a couple of times he finished points with a flattened THBH that absolutely murdered whatever dreamy rally that had going – Thiem is certainly for real and more with his sheer determination to go along with that classic style.  As we know, the longer OHBH does not help on the faster surface. Stan is keeping that shot alive, but I think we tennis fans see the undeniable limitations of that shot. Clearly, this is the more beautiful (and potentially devastating) BH shot, but the safer THBH pays-off statistically. No question. That’s perhaps the biggest difference between these two future stars: Thiem’s game has to adapt to the faster court/game. Having said that, Thiem has played a lot of competitive tennis over the past few years and beaten good tour regulars, so his confidence is growing.

These are both great competitors and we should feel lucky to see them having this success with a chance to see some bigger H2Hs, bigger stakes, down-the-line. How about a few dramatic five-setters just to make the TSQ choke on its wheatgrass. By the way, watching Thiem fade in that second set reminds me, at least, how uneventful are some of these Bo3 matches (finals even). Sure, Pouille could have just raised his level, or Thiem perhaps feeling a niggle, a sore throat, etc. To the point: no question, Bo5 is the life-blood of championship men’s tennis.

In the end, great stuff both on the court and in the grander discussion of tennis’ big picture. Novak regroups, Stan keeps doing Stan, the rest of the top-10 is certainly sharpening their sticks, but these youngsters appear ready for battle.

Matt’s Blog Update

You might have seen that I have a Twitter account attached to the blog now (did this actually during the final of the USO); this shouldn’t be too surprising since such social media parings are quite natural and even smart if one aspires to grow and reach more readers.

The Twitter account is nice because I can now post thoughts during matches, or whenever, with regards to the play, news, etc., and this all gets connected, hopefully, to other tennis fans and/or readers of the blog. I have another Twitter account that I used primarily for news. As you know, opsb-tennis-tennisne gets news in real-time these days via media feeds like Twitter. If you follow interesting sources/contacts, you get interesting tweets (so long as you check the feed now and then). I really haven’t used Twitter in a while; that account has been pretty dormant. I thought with the blog purring right along, and the opportunity to talk more tennis, that I should start a new Twitter account for this blog.

Of course, I’ve been following, since activating the account, other tennis voices on Twitter; this has connected me to more of the tennis discourse. I actually wrote an article for the blog reacting to some of this discourse, to the anti-Best-of-Five contingent to be exact. Indeed, this ought to help me stay even more connected than I ever have been.

I got an email this morning notifying be that I had a comment on the blog, which was on the page What is Matt’s Blog. The comment was from the founder of Feedspot informing me that my blog is among the top 100 tennis blogs on the web. Either way, whether this is totally accurate or not, the guy seemed genuine, the list seems pretty solid (I’m actually #76), so I posted the badge there on the left side. If you click it, you’ll see the list.

I started this tennis focus around the 2015 French Open and have bwordpress-bloggingeen going pretty strong since. I do this for free, really haven’t developed any advertising angle, don’t “sell” anything, make anything, other than some good conversation with some of you; rather, I just like to watch, play and write about tennis, especially the men’s pro game (I definitely enjoy writing about tennis. Ha). To get any recognition like this is tremendous, for me, ALMOST as satisfying as seeing readers visit my blog each day. This small gesture from Feedspot, along with the feedback I get from other readers, certainly inspires me to write more, to invest more in Matt’s Tennis Blog. Getting psyched more and more, as I write this, about this final push toward some decent HC action, a few Masters and the WTF.

I do want to comment on the data-base hack and revelations of athlete “medications,” along with Novak’s burn-out. Stay-tuned

And let’s all see how St. Petersburg and Moselle reconcile. Clearly we have our eyes on Stan and the winner of the Zverev/Berdych match, along with the French fortunes of Lucas Pouille (needing three-setters to advance, though he’s still advancing) as he takes on Goffin in one SF and Simon v Thiem in the other. Looking good, gentlemen!

Thanks for reading, folks!

Follow-up to My “Novak is Doomed” Article

Did any of you think that I was saying in that article a few days ago that Novak would never win another major? That THAT was the end of Novak in Flushing Meadows at the hands of Stan the Man?

Well, that’s not exactly what I meant.

i really wanted to underscore how big of a loss that was for the Serb in his quest for all-time greatness. IMHO, he really needed that USO (for his count and his USO clout, which I also expounded upon).

Here’s where we are. . . (and we do have a lot of tennis history to refer to more or less as we make these inferences while taking into consideration that certain trends are being up-ended, certain spells broken, i.e., history being re-written by the very likes of guys like Stan Wawrinka, 31 years of age, from whom Novak received his latest USO beating). . .

Novak is essentially 30 years old; he turns 30 at the 2017 French Open.

On the one hand, 30 is a very symbolic age in the life a male professional tennis player. This we know as a quasi-tennis truth. If you have kids or turn 30, sayonara. That’s just what happens. The youth of the sport is coming for you, you’re maturing, having babies, celebrating big milestone birthdays (30), and the hangover is just too much (from the babies too, mind you) to maintain that highest level of tennis you had when you were collecting major trophies.

But we also know that tennis players with their 21st century nutrition and equipment have and will become exceptions to these trends.

Still, here is the age of some of the recent greats when they won their last major:

Agassi actually is the current model of longevity (not Ken Rosewall who won his last AO at the age of 37 many many years ago). Agassi, who got very bald and very good late in his career, won his last AO when he was 32 years old. That’s pretty much, correct me if I’m wrong, the biggest major exception to the quasi truth (rule).

Pistol Pete, who quit tennis (only God knows what that guy could have hung-on and done if he was as motivated as an Agassi or Federer late in his career), won his last major when he was 31.

Roger, believe it or not, was 30 when he won his final major, 2012 Wimbledon. Sure he’s remained relevant and dangerous the last couple of years, but he was 30 when he grasped #17.

Stan, whom everyone wants to hold responsible for this new-age history-smashing longevity, won his 2014 AO when he was 28, his FO when he was 29, and because of his March birthday, 31 at this most recent USO. So Stan is in Sampras territory. The rules still apply, really.

What this means is Novak, who turned 29 at the French this year, where he pulled-off the Novak-slam, will be obviously 29 during his beloved AO, but then hit the big THREE OH at the French only to follow that up with WB and the USO as a 30 year-old tennis great.

I do these little hypotheticals in my head in my sleep. We are looking at Pete and Rafa (14 majors) and the Fed Express (17). Play this out with me. Novak really has to win the AO, imho. And asking him to win his 7th is big. He probably wins his 7th, will be the odds-on favorite to do this; BUT I would only say that he needs to win for him to continue to climb that mountain the way a lot of people assume he will.

After the 2017 AO he’s staring at 30 and the other three majors in which he’s been less than masterful unless you want to count reaching SF and F. He has six titles amongst those last three majors of the year. Of course that’s amazing, but remember the greatness context.

Rolling into the FO next late-spring, turning 30, and trying to repeat there will be anything but easy or a given. Will he be the favorite? Probably. This all assumes he’s healthy; no doubt that I’m picking him if he’s in form coming out of the European clay calendar.

But imagine the tour next spring. Folks, despite the lack of championship leadership on the ATP “leaderboard,” there are hungry professionals still looking to take what Novak has. That we can be assured of.

Bottomline: history says that the clock is ticking fairly loudly in the Novak camp. If you think I’m crazy, please do submit your remarks.

No surprises around here. That’s one of our mottos. Novak, like I said in that last post about his trajectory, has played a TON of big tennis. The guy has to be feeling this. Rafa is toast and Roger, despite his old (still) beautiful game, hasn’t won a major, we all know this number, in, essentially, five years. That’s half of a decade. Oh but, remember, just last year he was playing at his career peak according to some Novak Fanboys (LOL). Edit: the idea that because Roger said 2015 was better than ever, we therefore have enough evidence to believe this is like asking a New York Knicks fan if the Knicks are going to be good this (or any) year. Not a ton of objectivity. And in Roger’s case, the case of a great athlete, they think they can beat death.

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Elsewhere, on the Davis Cup front, Argentina and Juan Martin are probably the biggest news. Del Potro continues to shine in these 2016 high-stakes matches (Olympics, USO) after what was simply tennis tragedy; we all hope he continues this return to major championship relevancy. Taking-out Murray is perhaps surprising given Murray’s 2016, his ranking, etc., but we know Murray and we know Del-Po. Del Potro is a player with massive championship mettle. Murray is Murray. With Lendl he’s a threat, but even then we saw him stumble in both Cincy and in NYC where he seemed the obvious Novak substitute at the trophy ceremony. Lastly, on Del Potro, imagine if he gets that BH back, to compliment one of the games biggest and best FH. He’s just keeping the points alive, more or less, with that cut and the occasional weaker THBH that really doesn’t resemble his mid-to-late 2000’s artillery. Keep going, Gentle Giant. We’re all rooting for you.

The Cilic-led Croatian team vs. the Del Potro-led Argentines should be pretty nice big-boy tennis. Cilic is certainly showing his ability to rise-up. Big win over France.

Looking ahead, Novak’s foil (whose name is not spelled A-G-E) will be those boys we call Murray, Del Potro (with continued health and progress),Wawrinka, Cilic, Raonic, Nishikori and the handful of youngsters who on the rare occasions in the past have seemed somewhat poised to crash this party (Thiem, Kyrgios ((not really but I’ll still say his name because of the weight of some of those FHs, especially)), Pouille ((now)), various teenagers, etc.).

That’s the theme of this Asian swing and pre-WTF tennis we have before us. I’m not buying that it’s the Murray chasing #1 story; give me a break.

Someone pass a little espresso through the ATP “peloton.” Let’s get crazy!

Behold the Madness

Matt’s Blog exists to counter some of the madness in the tennis universe by which vulnerable community members might become startled, confused, led astray, and disillusioned. Or worse.

The sport seems to be under some sort of attack from tennis spokespeople who somehow think they know what the sport needs. In most of these cases, for almost any relevant discussion of the sport, I generally suggest that one ask former players, coaches and/or other leaders of significance. Look to that kind of insight for starters.

That’s a teaser. I’ll return to that particular discussion (tennis under attack) in a moment.

First, back quickly to the Djokovic-is-HC-GOAT wet-rag of a debate. Your and my favorite Djokovic Fanboy has been ferrying that argument to his dwindling readership that I can only imagine think he’s come completely unglued in the last year. He blames Federer and Fedfans’ bias for the lack of discussion there now, where there used to be really throngs of contributions to some decent tennis discourse. To be fair, I met him online and actually remember fondly some of the conversations, with him, his readers, etc. He was generous enough to link my blog, for a while, for which I am grateful. But as he went all-in on the Serb, toward the end of 2015, the lights over there seem to have dimmed and fashion now, I gather, a pretty consistent flicker.

He’s chiming in hard on Djokovic is or will be the HC Goat. This is madness. I discussed this yesterday. If Nadal has as many USO titles as you have, you are not the HC GOAT. Period. I suppose if Djokovic wins 10 AO and 18 or 19 majors, you might get away with saying anything. But the 2-5 at the USO is pretty tough in the company he shares. Roger is 5-2. Pete is 5-3. Ivan is 3-5, I think, having made eight straight finals in NYC. Those three guys right there are HC masters. The AO just doesn’t carry the same weight. Tell me I’m wrong. Either way, 2-5 compared to some other greats is a weak brew; and the Nadal comparison seals the deal.

I’ll add that the USO HC should be faster, and was so for sure back in the day, requiring an even sharper style of play. Lendl and Sampras played under those conditions, and Federer as well.

Now? Check-out this little insight Jon Wertheim stumbled upon:

“I always enjoy speaking with Craig O’Shannessy of Brain Game Tennis, who does some next level statistical work. He claims that the most common length of points is rallies lasting 0-4 shots. No surprise, right? But get this: At Wimbledon, 71% of rallies in men’s matches fell into this category. At the Australian and the U.S. Open? 69%. At the French Open? 67%. That’s some serious evidence of homogenizing surfaces.”

This is an unfortunate development of the surface play in majors. If you’re new to the sport, Masters and slower grass and HC are the name of the game. This sport is under serious attack, or however you want to describe it.

What’s even worse concerns the point I started this post with. We’re talking about people, including Wertheim, who want to make extinct the best-of-five format in majors and I suppose anywhere else that advocates for such a “difficult and brutal” version of tennis.

I listened to a podcast today from two uber fans (one guy freelances for NY Times and really loves Twitter; the other is a WTA “insider”). For the record, I do not listen to podcasts. I should since there are many, I’m sure, pretty interesting people probably talking about interesting topics and arguments on all of the many podcasts out there. In fact, I started a podcast with a friend about ultra running a few years ago. Never even listened that. But that seems to be a good format to share your ideas and people do listen to those things. And yes, I’m kinda sorta leaning a little to the idea of doing some podcasting on this blog. But I digress big time😉

These two uber fans started in on doing-away-with the Bo5 format. Right off the top, folks, that’s just lunacy, right?  Doesn’t such a proposal pretty much atomic bomb his or her credibility right then and there? What the fuck would happen then? Majors are best-of-three? WTF?

Anyways, this is a serious topic, apparently, involving at least these two uber fans/journalists and Wertheim, who’s a pretty reputable scribe/commentator himself.

The podcasters worked themselves into a sweat over the duration-of-match complaint/argument. For the fan it’s cumbersome, for the television executive it’s an unnecessary evil that undermines programming and, I suspect, advertising. They compared tennis to soccer, how its 90 minute format is perfect for fans, television, etc.

They were worried about the health of the game now and in the near future.  The sport is rich, still, from this last era of big time brilliance and celebrity. But will that always be the case? Tennis may need to evolve.

I am not throwing dirt on those questions. The sport is on its knees hoping for some young blood and rivalries to keep this engine running. I do hear and share some of those concerns. But this change in format is madness.

Of course, they brought-up the players, as well. Best-of-five is too much for the players. The WTA-er of the conversation started to use Djokovic’s toes in the USO final as an example but then, I suppose, realized she was not making any sense and shut-it-down. The conversation really just sputtered and they sounded like young college students who want more “safe spaces.”

This is unreal, folks. This game is practically held hostage by the numbers. Majors, Masters, consecutive SF/QF appearances, etc. Someone try (and fail) to explain how the entire history of the sport would work with all men’s majors going to best-of-three. Is this what people call the “pussification” of the world/sport/culture/etc? I can see Ivan Lendl or Ilie Năstase scouring at the numb-nut who starts to make a serious push for such an incredibly fundamental change to men’s tennis.

I really do think that this is the gender equality core trying to come through the backdoor on the very, for me, awkward comparison of men’s and women’s professional tennis. The talk of equal pay made the headlines more this year with even Djokovic, rightly, wondering about this equality of the sports. That it’s so taboo, so off limits to talk about that is a joke. Let’s talk about it.

I’ve wondered about this, obviously. I actually thought about the possibility of having women’s majors play a best-of-five final or final four. Getting upset about the pay I am not. But my solution is give women an opportunity to show their skills in a more grueling format with the stakes so high. That is a real gender-equality discussion (not the entire tournament, but perhaps the SF or the F).

That’s terrible of me to suggest? Am I being insensitive? How? If anyone feels that way, then the argument is pretty much settled, no? What the men do is clearly so much more taxing, requiring far more fitness and mental toughness.

So, let’s make the men’s game best-of-three. That’ll make everyone happy.

Wrong.

Please, chime-in if you have some thoughts, even counter arguments. This is not just click-bate on a blog. Real personalities in the sport are advocating for this kind of change.

In sum, some fanatics are simply bat-crazy about their super hero, and the sport is moving to homogenize all surfaces and make all matches, regardless of gender or event, best-of-three.

I can’t wait for some solid indoor men’s draws to distract me from this. This madness.

Where Does Novak Go from Here?

That was certainly an interesting U.S. Open with plenty of let-downs like all of the defaults, or the first men’s SF and plenty of highlights like Wawrinka’s run or the witness to some younger games like that of Evans and Pouille (let me add Donaldson, the other American teen no one talks about who reached R3).

You might have sensed my lifted spirit after the final, the tone of the article fairly upbeat and waxing a bit. I apologize if that was too out of character. Who doesn’t enjoy a great match? The result was healthy for the game. If you don’t see that, I’m sorry for your loss (of vision and objectivity).

Let’s get back to our insightful conjecture and argumentative discourse.

The U.S. Open was a massive loss for Djokovic. I made clear before last year’s final that Djokovic had to win that match, in that he was 1-4 in USO finals; indeed, I was concerned about that number (1) and the other number that loomed fairly large at the time: 9. Before the 2015 USO final, Novak was certainly rolling, but he was at only 9 majors (still a long climb to the Mt. Rushmore of tennis, where so many of us cast our gaze) and talk surrounding the Serb had reached a fever pitch (“This is the greatest single season of all time,” “He’s the GOAT,” yada yada). Most of us realized he was playing great tennis, his season was historical, but we hesitated getting on that bandwagon of delirious fanboys who worship at the church of presentism. Nine is marvelous, but the mountain he and his fans climb goes way the fuck up there.

He still had a long way to go pre USO 2105. I remember getting crossed-up with another tennis blogger, who thought Roger needed the title more than Djokovic in 2015. His rationale was that Roger needed to maintain relevance. Pretty funny, right? Can you imagine if Novak had lost that title to Roger? Holy shit.

Anyways, Novak got the win and won the next two, of course, an in doing so he established the triumphant Nole Slam. Tremendous stuff. Bravo, standing O, really really great tennis from the Serb.

But here we are again. He needed this win, as well. First of all, he’s still climbing that mountain and the summer had been a difficult stretch, mainly losing WB like he did and just not looking himself. Shouldn’t we give the guy a break? That stretch he had through the FO was, again, insanely high level week-in-and-week-out (don’t forget IW and Miami, Rome, etc.).  Just a beast. But he’d dipped and a burn-out was certainly in the cards. I called this almost to a T in my 2016 Predictions article. How could you not? He’s going to defy physiology and history? Nope. He dipped. He had lackluster performances at WB, the Olympics, which seemed to really devastate the guy, and then Toronto was a little underwhelming as the field was pretty thin. He didn’t attend Cincy and got ready to rumble in NYC.

Not only did he need NYC for his chase for 14, 17 or 18; he needs to win NYC, period. Remember my  chuckle a few weeks ago at the comment that Novak will be regarded as the HC GOAT? Folks, 2-5 at the USO is not a good argument for that debate. The USO is HC Taj Mahal. Too much great tennis history emanates from the USO not to look at Novak’s 2-5 with a bit of skepticism. That’s too harsh? Remember the context of this discussion: We’re on the foothills of the Mt. Rushmore of tennis. Let’s call it like we see it.

Again, he needed this USO. For Djokovic, the USO is a tough place for him to play. He has as many USO titles as Nadal. Should I repeat that? Federer and Sampras each have 5. The USO is a very prestigious major and I’m not just being ethnocentric. The AO wasn’t even attended by most players until 1988 when the tournament moved to Melbourne. 1988. And still it just wasn’t nearly the prestige of WB and the USO. Those are the facts that supersede the fact that a major is a major is a major. History plays a huge role in this discussion, one I have made over and over on this blog.

His six AO is incredible, but this alone will certainly not make him king of the HC. Sure you can look at Masters and all of the rest of the subordinate HC tournaments combined, but the USO reigns supreme in the discussion of HC. That’s both purist and tennis common sense. The Masters has, in fact, only more recently become such a tell-tale of tennis greatness. That’s a Fedalovic imprint.

He needed that major for that climb, folks. People are pointing at the 12-9 major finals record, as well. Indeed, that’s another tough pill to swallow for the Djoker-for-GOAT tribe. He is making a valiant effort and personally some of his highest form is truly some of the greatest tennis I’ve ever seen. But we’re talking about a body of work; and those big tournament numbers, where men play best-of-5, define a player’s legacy. That’s just the way it is.

He has 12 majors, still out-of-this-world stuff from a guy who had to dig his way out of the Fedal era. Djokovic has landed on top in many ways and he has more time for sure. He will do more work, for sure.

But I think the majors will be difficult, especially running off another 3 or 4. The only thing that could shut me up is an extended twilight ala Federer, but even then the old man has had an impossible time winning majors.

Now Djokovic looks to the AO to win his seventh and thirteenth. Must win? The French and WB will be tough, for sure. I think all of these will become tougher and tougher. You can see it in his play. He made an incredible run in 2015 and through to the first half of 2016. Is there a cost to that level and consistency? Perhaps.

I mentioned I watched the 2011 USO SF with Roger and Novak. 2011 was Novak’s peak. For me it’s no question and I know there are some out there that say it was earlier than 2011. His tennis then is more athletic, not as flexible, which I think he’s developed, but athletic and relentless. Maybe AO 2012, virtually 2011, is the peak. That final was insanely physical.

Some of my explanation of 2011 > 2015 revolves around the tour. Nadal and Federer, even Del Potro were stronger. That was more of a tennis hey day, imho. On the other hand, 2015 was a down year. Nadal crashed and burned, DelPo gone, and Roger was the ONLY one standing between Novak and major titles, at the tender age of 34 (in at least two cases) and the old man just couldn’t quite contend. A year later and Roger is practically done.

Novak has played a lot of physical tennis. Think about it. Going on 9 years of physical BL tennis. Some say the S &V is a more physical game, hence some of those careers were shorter (Rafter?), but this is incorrect. The BL defensive-to-offensive game of Nadal and Djokovic (and even Wawrinka – he’s been around longer than you may realize) produces more wear-and-tear. Are there obvious similarities between Nole, Rafa, Stan and Andy? Hmmm. Another piece of straw for another bale of hay.

But again my point: Djokovic is going to have a more difficult time winning majors than I think some people think. He’s been so brilliant for so long. 12-9 speaks to that. Not having his A-game in NYC speaks to that, or he just struggles on those courts (still hasn’t won Cincy).

Either way, the end of 2016 hopefully is charmed with Stan, Kei, Milos and Andy joining Novak for some brilliant indoor tennis. Sure, bring Marin, Tomas and Dominic along, too. And what about a Pouille who looks like a top-15, or a #16 Kyrgios making a little noise? Can Gael redeem himself?

Talk to you soon.

2016 U.S. Open Final: Serbia v Switzerland II

When Stan Wawrinka is in that form we’ve come to expect once or twice a year over the last 3-4 years, look out. That’s the advice we should give players in his way. For those of us who get to watch, the advice is don’t miss any of it.

I watched part of the Evans match (when I thought wow he’s deep behind that BL) where he was in all kinds of trouble and this kid Evans (Kyrgios’ doubles partner) was showing tons of great ball striking ability (he’s a former squash player). Stan survived match point and made it the the next round.

The Del Potro match pit probably the two biggest ball strikers head to head. This was fantastic for about three sets when Stan finally wrested control of the match from a player with very little five-set experience of recent months.

Stan took care of Nishikori in a very tight 2-3 sets, again establishing his advantage late as he continued to press and pound, and the player who upset the world #2 faded into the NYC night. Kei is a wonderful player, but Stan, in this form, is way too much over five sets. This rare form that Stan finds is really unforgiving and unmanageable.

Last year Stan had a run to the USO SF, but Roger’s form was too good. Stan is a solid player at majors, has been for a few years now. Three times it’s happened where this solid major performance turns-out to be what we call Stanimstanal (Roger apparently coined the term), and, indeed, it’s undefeated at the majors.

How much of this is psychological? Stan pointing to his head became the resonating image in this year’s tournament. This is perhaps a discussion for another day where we try to answer that question about how a player finds “the zone”, etc. When Stan finds it, everyone benefits but the group of fans that drink, smoke and snort his opponents’ refuse. Too bad everyone can’t appreciate this type of player/form. He’s a force of nature displaying a brand of tennis that even the game’s greats celebrate with very very high praise.

I watched the match on ESPN with the McEnroe brothers and Brad Gilbert calling the shots and later on a replay with Courier and Carillo doing the call. John says the OHBH is the greatest shot in tennis and Courier couldn’t stop saying “genius” as Stan tracked a ball into the doubles alley, racket already cocked before he smashed the ball DTL for a convincing winner. The Stanimal is a special player, that rare version of Wawrinka we get about once a year, since 2013 or so.

Djokovic really was unable to deal with Stan in this form. He looked pretty good early, that first set being seemingly pivotal in the match’s destiny. Had Djokovic won that 6-2 or so, he might have been able to play a lot more confidently in the 2nd, at least. But Stan turned that first set from a 23 minute Djokovic clinic into a 58 minute fist fight in an alley. That was critical, I think. Stan, despite saying after that he was in pain throughout much of the match, feeling all of matches he’d played throughout the draw, looked like he could go five long sets. Extending that first set, for me, sent the message that Novak had better put his work-boots on and had better have packed a healthy snack.

The match was a clinic after that first set, very much like the 2015 FO final. We know this. Stan’s heavy GS were just incredible to watch. And to Novak’s credit, he played some great crafty tennis, as well. This was the final we wanted. Even if Novak had pushed to a fifth and won, this is what we wanted to see. Novak’s ability to extend points continues to bewilder us all. This is what makes Stanimal so remarkable, in this time and place: he can hit through Djokovic. We’ve seen it now twice in a major final. It’s not that Djokovic plays poorly. Stan is just too good and too good means too big, too strong, and too determined to win.

A couple of interesting points from the match:

Not really from the match, but in general, Magnus Norman is a genius and I need to write more about him.

Onto the match.

I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but the longer the rallies went, the more successful was Stan. This is usually Novak’s advantage, as a guy who will wear-out his opponent, pushing them all over the court or at least from side to side. But Stan was brilliant in those longer rallies, punishing the Serb’s fleet-of-foot BL style. His big game accompanies a very capable defense, ability to cut the ball back, hit defensive lobs, etc. One critical difference between the first set and the adjustment he made toward the final three was being more patient before hitting the kill switch; taking a little off the ball to bring down the error count, keep the point alive, find his opportunity and pull trigger. Of course, taking a little off the ball still meant Novak was often chasing and defending himself.

How about the inability of Novak to break Stan’s serve. This should be an easy stat to find, but I don’t have it. What I do have is the awareness that Novak’s failure rate is in the same ballpark as Roger’s in last year’s final. Roger was something like 3 for 17 in BP against the Serb. Stan saved a ton of BP. This was a huge difference in the match. This is something that Novak feeds on, helping to devour his opponent’s will to fight.

We had a discussion on this blog a while back  where someone asked something along the lines of how will anyone beat Novak. Novak’s 2015 and early 2016 have been, as we know, historically dominant. Hence, the question.

I responded that I believe his brilliant play in those pivotal games and points would come back to earth. Much of his dominance is simply being better when it matters. Sure, this answer is pretty obvious, but I think it’s huge. Once he loses that clutch in those huge points, he’ll become a lot more vulnerable. This clutch gene really helps define him, in my humble opinion. He’s embarrassed Roger and Rafa with it, being simply better at those critical stages of a match.

He didn’t have it yesterday. Granted, he seemed to go away physically in the final set or so, but he was worn-out from failing to break Stan so many times, or win those big rallies, big points. Stan out-played Novak in all aspects of the game. No question. Even the first set I said was a Stan win because he made that a match. Roger or Andy (anyone) loses that first set in 25-30 minutes. Stan began making adjustments and stayed with his plan: hit this guy in the mouth.

How about that irony I talked about. Novak was ridiculed for his draw. I simply said it was bizarre, but it’s not his fault. You can not pin the streak of “injuries” on Novak. I did, however, say that the tennis gods hopefully consider all of this evidence when determining the winner. Most people think, I think, that Stan deserved and EARNED the championship with his resilient form and tremendous class and character (he has, I think, some of the highest character because he calls-out gamesmanship and other squirrelly antics from opposing players. He did it a bit with Nishikori, yesterday with Novak’s toe boo-boo, against Rafa at the 2014 AO, etc.). Stan is the Man.

But the irony is that Novak succumbed partly to injury (you know I’m not taking anything away from Stan, who definitively stuffed Novak in a locker, took his lunch money and gave it to charity). Novak’s 2016 USO was ironically a harvest of injury.

Much more will be written, for sure. Here’s one teaser: As I turn to finish finally my HRFRT piece with the exploration of Novak, I have another article that’s emerged that I need to think more about, that fits into this narrative. This is called, something along the lines of, How Roger Federer Saved Tennis. Do you know who stars in this piece? I’ll let you guess.😀

Put It To Rest: Let’s Go!

We all see a lot of interesting “takes” or thoughts on this and every other big, meaningful tennis match.

What blew me away today and yesterday is seeing a Djokovic fan (the very nature of this phenomenon is extraterrestrial or delayed or turd-like) actually say that he was pleased that Murray was out and went on to say he’d wished that Djokovic was playing Nishikori rather than Stan.

Folks, this is not tennis; this is mental illness.

And I mean that.

And I think you know what I’m talking about.

Everyone, cheer for a good match, perhaps even a great match.

And ignore these low life bottom feeders that substitute idolatry for objective commentary.

Now you definitely know who and what I’m talking about.

Djokovic and Wawrinka, allez!