Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wk.42- Six Degrees of Davydenko

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

"He's very fast. He plays like PlayStation," Del Potro said. "He runs to everywhere. It's very difficult to make winners."

Yes I am talking about the mighty Davydenko. A four time semi-finalist [twice at the French and US] and a winner of the WTF, Davydenko cracked the Top 10 in 2005 and stayed there all the way until he was derailed by injury in 2010. He reached world number three in November of 2006 and won 21 titles overall, with several Masters thrown in there, too. Nikolay played for prize money but he also played because he enjoyed it, because he was the best.

He was the only player to have had a winning record over Nadal out of players who had played him at least twice. He beat Federer, Djokovic and Murray, too. Davydenko was always around and always dangerous. There was no way to defend against his game. Davydenko was a machine and, despite some controversies, he was a damn fine player. Yes, I don't curse on here but I figure I can say that word every now and then. Davydenko was able to trouble the big guns and he had some epic battles with some very good players.

The thing about our sport is that you can make the trail back using players. So Federer played Sampras who played Lendl who played Connors who played Rosewall who played Laver who played Hoad who played Kramer who played Perry who played Tilden who played R. Norris Williams who played Maurice E. McLoughlin who played William Larned who played Reginald Doherty and so on and so forth. One can link generations by players and go all the way back to the beginning. You can do it with the women, too.

Kafelnikov was the first successful Russian tennis player in a while and he handed the baton onto Safin and Davydenko. They had so much talent. They also had the addition of Youhzny just as Safin was fading. Now there are no strong Russians left at all. The Kafelnikov connection is surely about to break. Donskoy is up and coming, but Russia is no longer a powerhouse, Russia is starting to fade. Youzhny now stands alone as the best Russian. He was 2-4 against Davydenko but now he is the last talented Russian left.

The funny thing is Davydenko wasn't even born in Russia. Ours is such a funny sport. ..

Shall we wrap up the 2014 250's? I think so...

S: Marin Cilic d. Roberta Bautista-Agut 6-4/6-4
D: Cermak/Vesely d. Groth/Guccione

S: Tomas Berdych d. Grigor Dimitrov 5-7/6-4/6-4
D: Butorac/Klaasen d. Huey/Sock

S: Andy Murray d. David Ferrer 5-7/6-2/7-5
D: Melzer/Petzschner d. Begemann/Knowle

...Under the radar, Cilic had an excellent week. Others impressed and made a big noise but he quietly went about business and gave himself a very small job to do to make it to the WTF. Scratch that -- he is in. And that is why he is player of the week. He even won the U.S. Open quietly. He snuck into the WTF and will no doubt be followed by Nishikori and Berdych. Cilic did not have to play spectacularly to make it, he just had to do his job. Cilic has a big serve and a big forehand. Sometimes that is all you need. Cilic survived a test against Donskoy in his opener. Beating the Russian 'at home' in three sets saw him through, but he looked shaky. Cilic dismissed talented Robredo in the next match 6-3, 6-3 in an impressive performance against a tough opponent. Kukushkin is a tricky customer and a great Davis Cup player. He is almost solely responsible for making Kazahkstan into the strong Davis Cup team it is today. And he showed Cilic why for the first set and a half. But then Cilic showed the Kazakh why he is a slam champ in his 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory. Next up was the final and Cilic prevailed quite straightforwardly against late bloomer Bautista-Agut 6-4, 6-4. Cilic never looked in doubt as he sealed his place at the World Tour Finals. I never thought he would win a slam or debut at the WTF [they need to change the name] but I also never thought Wawrinka would do those things. We will next see Cilic in Paris. Can he finish at five in the world? If he does, I will have to start dusting off my Ivanisevic references. Cilic is the last Croatian since Goran to win a slam, but can he rise to world number two?
...The man who said he would fight back from his suspension has done it. Bureaucrats and officials ruin things for the rest of us. Rueben Carter is the big over the top example. Yes they are necessary and yes they keep order, but sometimes they keep order too well. They banned Troicki for a year but he returned in July after having it cut down from eighteen months. He has risen to #106 after this result. He was ranked #12 in 2011 but now he might finally be back. This semi may inspire him to move onto greater heights. This could be the new beginning. Troicki came through against both Petzschner and Bemelmens in qualifying though he needed three sets each time. Once in the main draw he beat Burgos 6-0, 6-3 and then let Rool get just six games. He struggled more against Bellucci but still edged through, only to run out of steam against Murray. It is a start and he will continue to rise. Look for Troicki to be seeded at an ATP event before April.
...Kuku is very surprising. He tends to do best when nobody is looking. And that is fair enough. He has risen to #84 as a result of this week but , really, he is a top fifty player if not higher. He is certainly of that caliber, and he proved it this week.
...Saketh has been consistently in the top three judged this year and won gold in the mixed doubles in the Asian Games. He partnered Mirza to win gold but everyone knows that. He has won his first challenger event and he has won it in style, too. Challengers are difficult events to win and they have some serious star power. Not so long ago Agassi played a couple. At the Indore Open ATP Challenger Saketh was unseeded but looked good in dismissing Udomchoke for the loss of just two games. Seventh seed Coppeljeans was up next and he would prove to be almost too much to handle as he took the first 6-1. Saketh edged back into and eventually came through to win 1-6, 6-3, 7-6. He then got past Singh 7-6, 6-3 in a tough straight sets encounter. He dropped just three games to Ramanathan in the semi-finals and he had the biggest match of his career up next. He played Nedovyesov in the final. The Kazakh is on the cusp of the Top 100 but the Indian had home advantage and was not over-awed by the occasion. He was too strong and won 6-3, 6-7, 6-3. Though Ramanathan is still about fifty places above him, Saketh rose 128 places to #283. He is India's number four and probably in Asia's top twenty.
...Berankis beat a Russian in straight sets in the first round of qualifying and looked good doing it but struggled against Philip Davydenko [nephew of that Davydenko] in the next round. He should have lost, he should have crumbled and given the young Davydeno a win. But, no. He came back to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. He dismissed Kravchuk 6-4, 6-1 and looked rather excellent in doing so. The talented youngster, whose surge had been slowed by injuries, had qualified. He landed another qualifier in Karatsev in the first round and had no troubles against him. And then he played Raonic. He broke multiple times in a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory. That was quite the upset.

1. STOCKHOLM FINAL – Berdych d. Dimitrov
A clash of styles is excellent and it happened here. The defending champion could not defend however, and lost in three very tight sets. An excellent week for Dimi ended with defeat to the world number six. With few breaks on this quick court, Berdych won the serving war. Remember when Dimitrov got his big win against Berdych in America?
Murray was down 5-3 in the third but still came back to win in the third set. It was a cagey affair, but important, as it affected the race. One of the two must run out of energy soon what with all the plane flights and the consecutive tournaments in a row. They will most likely met in three consecutive tournaments -- they are slated to meet in the semi-finals of Valencia. The winner of that is almost certain to be at the WTF. If one does badly and the other wins, Paris almost becomes irrelevant. If both do poorly, they may let Raonic or Dimitrov back in.
3. STOCKHOLM QF – Tomic d. Verdasco
Too good from Tomic in what was an epic match. He pretty much threw away the second but fought magnificently to take the second and third. He had a break in the third which he blew, but overall it was a mentally tough performance from him.

*Valencia, Spain*
Ferrer [1] d. [3] Murray
Berdych [2] d. [4] Lopez
Berdych [2] d. [1] Ferrer

...Berdych will seal his spot at the WTF, with Ferrer edging ahead of Murray here, as well.

*Basel, Switzerland*
Federer [1] d. [3] Wawrinka
Raonic [4] d. [6] Gulbis
Federer [1] d. [4] Raonic

...Despite reaching eighth consecutive finals here, Federer has lost the last two to Del Potro. It's Federer's turn to win Basel. Nadal should not even be playing. It's the wrong decision.

Thanx all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

As an aside, I am writing my WTA BACKSPIN year-end Top 10. Surprises await, as well as some expected players. And one big name is left out, someone who went very deep in a slam and won a couple of big titles. It is between Sharapova and Serena. The person I choose will solely depend on their performance at the WTA Finals. I make that clear now -- most of the top ten is decided, but not one and two.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wk.41- The Little Frenchman That Could

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

There are some books we all read as kids. One of these books was called "The Little Engine That Could" and it was written in the 1930's. The French tennis train has broken down. And all the various Frenchmen -- or trains -- are too busy or otherwise distracted to deal with it. But not Gilles Simon. Simon is the little train that could. He is that train that will push the other broken train over that mountain. He is the little train, the overlooked train, the forgotten train. He is the train that is left to its own devices, the train that may sometimes not work perfectly, the train which is left in the shadows of his more successful compatriots. I myself have written him off before. He is the little Frenchman that could.

Simon just never stops pushing. He is one of the world's best at pushing, at making opponents play. He is one of the best in the business at finding Federer's backhand. He has made a career out of pushing people to the limit and beyond. He wins by just never ever giving in and forcing his opponents to outhit him. He has become an expert in waiting for the best time to counterpunch. He has burned the very best using patience and counter punching.

Simon has always been the forgotten child of France, never having made a slam semi-final let alone a final, unlike his more well-known brethren Gasquet and Tsonga. They have stunned us with big shots, big wins and even bigger collapses. Tsonga ,in particular, has been a world beater with a forehand many would come to fear. Gasquet is perhaps the most incredible player to watch. You will not find more drama, more highs and lows and more entertainment from any other player across a season from tournament to tournament, match to match, set to set, game to game and even point to point.

And Simon does not win or excite as much as those two do. He does not inspire famous Davis Cup wins and he does not make people gasp. He makes people fall asleep. My namesake was inspired by the metronomic quality in clocks; he would have loved Simon. He has the ability to consistently put the ball in the same place umpteen times in a row before his opponent goes for a big shot and misses or goes for a big shot which Simon can counterpunch for a winner. If Simon is feeling adventurous he may roll the ball to a completely different area of the court. It really throws his opponent off. If that doesn't work, he chooses a new spot and repeats the steps.

No, he does not have Gasquet's backhand nor Tsonga's forehand. He does not even have Llodra's touch or Benneteau's serve. But they lack his consistency and patience.

Federer had too much variety in the Shanghai final, but then again we expected that. No player, not anymore, quite has the variety Federer has. Simon seriously struggled with that variety, with all the different weapons Federer had.

I have not many updates left to give you from the regular season and so we should get on it...

S: Roger Federer def. Gilles Simon 7-6(6)/7-6(2)
D: Bryan/Bryan d. Benneteau/Roger-Vasselin

...Here we are again. Could it be anyone else? Federer is headed for second place on the all-time title winners list. Federer will not be caught by Nadal with regards to titles nor finals. He will also not be caught by Nadal with regards to match wins. With 984 wins, Federer is going to surpass 1000 wins next year and he will probably do it at the Australian Open. He is going to out-do Lendl's 1071 match wins as well. Connors has well over 1200 but who says the Fed won't overhaul that record, as well. But enough of Federer's many, many achievements. When Fed eventually retires, I will do a week of tributes or something equally fitting. This week Fed should never have won. He saved five match points against Mayer , becoming one of the very few men to have won a Masters title after being down match point. The Argentine could not convert on any of them but he was half an inch away when he hit the very top of the tape on one of those match points. Federer came through that 7-5, 3-6 , 7-6 [7] and he had a seed up next. Fourteenth seed Agut should have posed more of a challenge, but Federer decided to simply be too good. Perhaps he was double parked. They used to say Fraulein Forehand played as if she was double parked. Benny was the next man up and they played a match of incredible quality which Federer won eventually 7-6, 6-0. Fed can keep up that level all day but Benny struggles to sustain it. Next we had a candidate for straight sets match of the year in which Federer played too much offense for the man of defense to handle. Federer was utterly dominant in the forecourt and volleyed as well as he ever has. He won 6-4, 6-4. It included a 47-second game where Djokovic got the edge of his racket on just one of Federer's serve. That is how you consolidate. He played four quality matches to get into the final. He played four tough opponents and then beat Simon 7-6, 7-6 despite not playing his absolute best. It was a master class of a tournament from the Fed.
...In 2007-2008 Ferrer was one of the world's best players, but he fell out of thee top ten and he fell out of form. It looked like he was a flash in the pan, like he was finished. He came back in 2010-2011 and had two very strong seasons. He made the WTF those two years. He looked elite. He rose to Spanish number one and world number three. He made a final of a slam in 2013 and he has made so many slam semi-finals. He has won a Masters and he has proven himself on the big stage. But then, alas and alack, he got old and he lost form. He no longer looked like Ferrer. He looked like he had lost everything, everything he had worked so hard for. But here he has had some redemption. Here he has proved he still has it. He got past an on fire Klizan without crumbling and then looked like a world beater in the final two sets of his match against Murray. He looked very strong indeed. Murray gave him a beating for the first hour but after that Ferrer turned it on and showed us why he is ranked higher than Murray even now. Ferrer was competitive in his loss to Djokovic. It looked less close than it was in reality. It looked like a thrash, but Ferrer played well in his 6-4, 6-2 loss to the world number one.
...Simon arrived on the scene in 2008-2009 and has had some big wins. Injury sidelined him for a while but he soon found his way back. He is the sort of player you can never discount. The 29-year old has lost only five finals and won more than double that. With 68.75% , Simon's win percentage is fourth best among active players. Simon nearly lost in the first round but managed to handle Garcia-Lopez with ease in the end. He won 3-6, 6-0, 6-1 to make the second round. He should have lost to Wawrinka, but in the clash of the Swiss residents Simon prevailed, though barely. He won 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 and claimed a huge upset. He dismissed Jaziri for the loss of only five games. Berdych is not used to getting bageled, but Simon laid one down on him. It just sort of fell away. Simon was just too consistent, just too unerring for Lopez in the semi-finals and was never troubled in his 6-2, 7-6 [1] victory. Simon has risen eleven places up to eighteenth in the rankings. If he can do well in one of those 500 tournaments and then finish strongly in Paris, a place the French usually thrive in, he will finish in the top sixteen you would think. Simon has already all but secured the French number two position at year.s end.
...He has lost a bit of from this year and he has looked not great for large portions of the season. If you have ever heard of Tiburon, California then you will be delighted to know that they have a challenger in their town of just 9000 inhabitants. Querrey, ranked 52, did what he was supposed to do and cruised through this tournament without dropping a set. Not once was he challenged and he capped it off by dismissing John Millman 6-4, 6-2 in the final. Querrey will gain confidence from this. Going into the challegers is the right call from Querrey.
...He gets my vote for beating Nadal in straight sets. It's very hard to beat a number two in straight sets and to do it so comfortably is impressive. Yes, Rafa was injured but, really, by now Nadal has had so many injuries they seem to affect him less.

1. SHANGHAI QF – Nishikori d. Raonic
Simon was a wall. Berdych could do nothing. The absolute collapse in the final set was very worrying though; Berdych needs to avoid those in the future. Simon didn't blow him off the court but he made Berdych think and Berdych doesn't usually have to think.
After being blown away in the first set, Ferrer came back and put Murray to the sword. They are both in the Austrian capital this week but this three-set decision has all but ended Murray's chances of making the finals. His fate is no longer in his hands. He does not deserve to make the tour finals and it does not look as if he will. Ferrer's inside out forehand was particularly effective here.
3. SHANGHAI 1st Rd. – Lopez d. Nadal
Nadal is off. If I were Nadal then I would be starting to look at retirement as a serious option. By all means win a tenth French Open, but maybe stop there. Every year at the French he looks a little less dominant or at least he has since 2010. Anyway, Lopez turned is on here and played the perfect match to come through.

*Moscow, Russia*
Raonic [1] d. [3] Gulbis
Cilic[2] d. [7] Youzhny
Cilic [2] d. [1] Raonic

*Stockholm, Sweden*
Berdych [1] d. [5] Mayer
Dimitrov[2] d. Tomic
Berdych [1] d. [2] Dimitrov

*Vienna, Austria*
Ferrer [1] d. [8] Thiem
Murray [2] d. [3] Lopez
Murray [2] d. [1] Ferrer

Thanx all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Wk.40- If at First You Don’t Succeed...

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Yes, Djokovic has won 26 matches -- or something equally ridiculous number -- in a row in Beijing, but spare a thought for poor Milos Raonic. He has made three consecutive finals in Tokyo and lost them all in three sets. He has lost two of them to the same man. That has got to sting.

Raonic has gone 14-5 in the tournament. In 2010 and 2011 he lost to Nadal in the second round but since then he has been one of the strongest performers. He lost to Nishikori in 2012, at love in the third set, Berdych the next year and now Nishikori again. He will try again next year, hopefully, and he will win. After all, if at first you don't succeed try try again.

Federer in Basel and Nadal in Barcelona are perfect example of players dominating in their home countries. They usually win those titles or at least make the finals unless, in Nadal's case, they are injured. Could Nishikori join them in dominating his home event? Nishikori has won the event twice already and does well there every year.

When the young guns started to come up, the ones with the best rivalries were not already apparent to us. Dimitrov has proven Harrison is no match for him. Dimitrov has also proven he is perhaps the best out of the four young guns. The most interesting rivalry, however, is that of Raonic and Nishikori's. Yes, Nishikori leads the head to head 4-1 but they split slam meetings this year. Raonic had match points at the US and took it in four at Wimbledon. Nishikori has won both times in Japan and this year in Madrid. Nishikori owns the head to head against Dimitrov as well [2-0], but Raonic is 1-2 against the Bulgarian. This is reflected in the rankings. Nishikori is ranked sixth, two places above Raonic and four above Dimitrov. And yet, despite that slam final appearance and the rankings, I still feel like Dimitrov is the most complete player and the player most likely to win a slam first.

The end of the season gets ever closer. We have Masters tournaments left and two pair of 500 level tournaments. Shall we go through one of those pairs?

S: Novak Djokovic d. Tomas Berdych
D: Rojer/Tecau d. Benneteau/Pospisil

S: Kei Nishikori d. Milos Raonic 7-6(5)/4-6/6-4
D: Herbert/Przysiezny d. Dodig/Melo

...We've been waiting. We have been wondering. We have three years of December the 24th, three years of the day before the presidential election result is declared. We have had three years of ordering something online and waiting. We have had three years of waiting for a letter from that special someone, that someone who makes you smile just to see their handwriting on your doormat. We have been waiting for Nishikori to catch on fire.

And now the Japanese, no the Asian number one has finally done so. He will finish the year inside the top five aided and abetted by Ferrer's quite epic collapse and his rise. He has backed up that maiden slam final beautifully. He won that title last week and he has carried that momentum forward. Kei has also answered all those questions the doubters asked about his fitness. He has answered them with his wins, with his titles. He has answered them on the field so to speak. He had a tough path through to win his second Tokyo title, but was too tough in his first two rounds. He beat Dodig 6-3, 6-4 before edging out Young 6-4, 7-6. Next he dismissed new veteran Chardy in two straight -- and straightforward -- sets before advancing to a semi-final clash against surprise package Benjamin "No-Relation" Becker. He needed a third set breaker to win a thrilling topsy-turvy match. And then in the final he barely got by Raonic. He might lead the head to head but each match goes down to the wire. If Raonic improved his return game by ten percent then he would start to win those matches. As it was, Nishikori triumphed 6-4 in the third set of an epic encounter. Nishikori has Shanghai to look forward to and then he heads to Valencia, not Basel. I personally would go to Basel but I like skiing. At the moment, Nishikori would be the second seed there but it might change.
...Djokovic had a questionable US Open. He cruised through most of it but was strangely out of form against Nishikori in the semi-finals. Nishikori was tired and was the underdog in that match. And Djokovic blew it, especially considering Federer went out in the same round. You can tell the strength of a player by how they react from a disappointing slam. When Graf crashed out of Wimbledon in 1994, she won San Diego weeks later and then made the final of the US Open. That is the perfect example of a champion and their attitude to a disappointing slam campaign. Djokovic has done just that. Djokovic decided to win Beijing, so he did. He blew away Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 6-1 in under an hour before dismantling Pospisil 6-3, 7-5. These are his courts and he makes sure everyone knows it. Dimitrov played decently but could do nothing as Djokovic swept past him 6-2, 6-4. It was the same story for Murray, who played well but lost 6-3, 6-4. Djokovic had had a tricky path to the final but had come through against some tough opposition. He had Berdych in the final and that would surely be a test. No. Djokovic was not in the mood for playing and handed Berdych a severe beating. He beat the world number six 6-0, 6-2. Enough said. Next up for Djokovic is Shanghai and that means indoor hard court. He is the best in the world on that playing field and there is only one who could perhaps stop him right now. Wouldn’t you know it, he is in the same half as the Serb. Yes, Federer has been drawn in Djokovic's half.
...Benjamin "No-Relation" Becker is a journeyman, but a consistent one. He has been German number one before and he has been to the fourth round of a slam. He is back in the top fifty once more after a deep run at a 500. Doing well at a 500 when one is a journeyman is huge. He benefited from the collapse of the top seeded Wawrinka. He beat Ito 6-3, 6-3 and moved through to the quarterfinals. He looked down against Sock but came back to win 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Once he had scraped through that he had to face a tougher test. He had to beat fourth seed Nishikori and he won the first set, too. But the Japanese was too strong, winning 6-0, 7-6. He was just seven points from the upset but went down to the eventual champion. Becker can now get direct entry to 250 and 500. In fact he may even be seeded at some of the smaller 250 tournaments. Even better for the German, he should get direct entry into slams. He may even finish the year inside the top forty.
...Nadal has had so many comebacks. The question is always asked of great sports players with injuries 'what if they had been fully fit?' and it is perhaps most relevant with Rafa. He and Federer have different approaches to the game and yet they are always mentioned together. If this was a cheesy movie I would say their destinies are intertwined. Putting a loss to Klizan aside, this week was a decent start to comeback #522. Nadal beat Gasquet, no stranger to the comeback himself, 6-4/6-0 and then beat that German Gojo 6-3, 6-4. He made the quarterfinals on his worst surface and looks to be back for good. Or at least until he hurts himself in Melbourne in three months time. Nadal is trying to cling onto the number two ranking but Federer will surely take it soon. Nadal has to defend Shanghai and Paris semi-final points. His failure to defend Beijing final points has already hurt him. Federer has nothing to defend in Shanghai and did not win Basel last year. Throw in a semi-final performance at Paris and two semi-finals and a win in Basel might be enough to take the number two ranking. If not then Nadal will be hard pressed to keep it beyond the WTF.
...the 23-year old beat Duckworth and Suzuki to make the main draw. He beat both in three sets before going down to American Steve Johnson. We remember Suzuki, don't we?

...Chardy is 27 and I find that strange. I still think of him as a young gun. I still think of him as the guy who burst onto the scene at the French in 2008 and did well at the 2009 Australian Open where he challenged eventual champion Djokovic for two sets. I still think of him as a young Frenchman who is perennially dangerous, with nothing to lose. Becoming a veteran seems to sneak up on players. It seems to come to them when nobody is paying attention, it seems to happen when they are in their prime. Really, what is a veteran? Is it Nieminen? Yes. Is it Federer? Yes. Is it Nadal? Yes. But players like Chardy don't seem to be as clear cut. Chardy has remained a solid top thirty to forty player for years now with solid wins over big players but has now become a veteran. This week he has made the quarterfinals by beating seventh seed Anderson, but his 4 and 2 loss to Nishikori is less acceptable.
...Ferrer losing to Granollers is bad but not quite as bad as Wawrinka losing in straights to a journeyman outside the top hundred. Ito won the first set 7-5 and cruised from there to take it in straight sets. He was dismissed by Becker in the next round, showing how shocking a performance it was from the world number four. Stan will be at the WTF as he just needs to make the quarterfinal at the next two tournaments to get there, but it remains to be seen whether he can make another semi-final.

1. TOKYO FINAL – Nishikori d. Raonic
Nishikori survived a very stern test in the final and is now the most successful Japanese player ever. Paes still shades it for all of Asia but Nishikori is coming up on him. Don't forget Paes won that Olympic medal. Nishikori can seal his place in the WTF next week. I think he is going to do that. He set it up with a great win over Raonic in his backyard.
After Klizan lost the opening set 9-7 on a breaker, it looked as if he would go away quietly in the last set. When he went a break down it looked as if Rafa, who had humiliated Gasquet 6-4/6-0, would sweep through. Martin had other ideas, however and took it 6-4 but soon dropped serve in the third set. He recovered once more, broke again and then clung on for victory. Klizan has risen to forty. That is not bad after coming through qualifying.
3. TOKYO 1st Rd. – Granollers d. Ferrer
Ferrer is probably going to cling on and make the WTF, but he has fallen on hard times. He should not be losing to players like Granollers, especially in three. Ferrer can seal his place by strong performances in Shanghai and Valencia, but he is slumping. Ferrer has finals in Valencia in 2005 and 2013 but has won it in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Surely a title there in 2014 is beckoning.

*Shanghai, China*
Djokovic[1] d. [3] Federer
Raonic [8] d. [6] Berdych
Djokovic [1] d. [8] Raonic

...Djokovic continues that form and whizzes through the field, but Raonic has a very strong tournament.

Thanx all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Wk.39- Older Faces Make for Newer Looks

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Tina did it and so did Elvis. The mighty Red Sox did it in the most famous of AL Championship Series back in 2004. The Colts did from forty points down in last year's NFL, and Grover Cleveland did it, too. The Belgian women did it in tennis just five years ago. Goolagong-Cawley, possibly the most graceful tennis player ever, also did it. Oh Evonne, the Sunshine Supergirl. Yes, I am talking about the good old fashioned comeback. We are gong to encounter some older faces this week, faces we have not seen for a while.

What inspires a comeback? Love for the game, perhaps, or maybe lack of funds, or that one thing missing from your resume. Isn't that right Justine? Comebacks are not always successful, but when they are they make for a great storyline. Cilic came back successfully, following in the footsteps of Nalbandian and Agassi. There may be no big comeback this week on the ATP, but watch out for some names that have been big. It is hard to bounce back from that breakout performance in this sport. It is hard to maintain that level after one has "made it," so to speak. Nishikori has rebounded from the disappointment and has reacted well to the pressure, as well. He has proven just how ready he is to take on the big leagues.

We have arrived in Asia. Let's go.

S: Andy Murray d. Tommy Robredo 5-7/7-6(9)/6-1
D: Rojer/Tecau d. Groth/Guccione

S: Kei Nishikori d. Julien Benneteau
D: Matkowski/Paes d. J.Murray/Peers

...No, not Murray. Nishikori had a far better week and he showed he is made of the right material. He showed that he can just get up and move on from that huge disappointment. It is so difficult to respond in tennis. He managed to keep the form and remain mentally strong. It is a great performance from him. A remarkable one. Nishikori was top seed, something he does not experience often. One feels that he will experience this a lot more as the days and weeks go by. It is hard to know how far he will ascend but being top-seeded at tournaments, especially smaller ones, is going to start to become the norm for him. He opened by dismissing Ram 6-2, 6-3 before showing Matosevic very little mercy in a 6-3, 6-0 drubbing. When a player of that caliber catches fire every other player is in trouble. But sometimes there is a match-up or an aspect of a player's game which can throw off any player of any level. Nishikori needed to go three sets to finally get past the Finnish number one. He had to overcome the stiff challenge of Jarko. And he did so, getting through comfortably in the end despite losing that second set. He had defeated the sneaky lefty and he now had the title in his sights. And he was too tough for Benny in the final, winning 7-6, 6-4. Beating Benneteau in a final is not noteworthy, but making a slam final and then doing this in your next tournament is very impressive.
...Slumping is expected in tennis. My Sveta has been in a slump for five years. I'm used to it now. Nadal has had slumps before, though never for long as has Federer. Tennis players get ten years to make an impact, perhaps a little more. So slumping for anything longer than six months means losing a serious chunk out of one's playing career. All Murray ever wanted was to win Wimbledon. Never mind those three Australian Open finals he lost, or that U.S. Open. The one he wanted was Wimbledon. Well, that and the number one ranking. He won't reach number one now but he has won the one he wanted. He wanted to end that British weight so bad and the relief he felt must have been enormous. And then he won it. Much like Novotna, the relief must have been blissful. After so many years of heartbreak and pain the one they wanted so bad was finally, finally theirs. Novotna wanted it so badly she famously tried to steal the trophy off of Hingis.

But it seemed Murray lacked drive and focus after that big win. He had no direction. He had achieved what he wanted. That loss of direction, coupled with injury, effectively derailed him for fourteen months. No finals since that big win, though he has had a decent slam year this year. But he may just have found his path again. Is it too late to push for the WTF? He opened against Devvarman and wasn't troubled in the 6-3, 6-3 decision. Next he was too strong for Lacko, getting through 6-3, 7-5. He was looking good, but a test was waiting. Monaco had upset Gasquet to make the semi-finals and he had nothing to lose. Murray was outclassed in the first but proved his credentials with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory. And he took the tournament with another come from behind victory in a match he deserved to lose.
...Three straight finals Benny has lost here in Malaysia. The locals must be getting pretty sick of him by now. He is also now 0-10 in finals. It takes some serious effort to do that. I'm a little disappointed in you.
...The promising junior just won his first challenger and he has snuck up in the rankings to just outside the 150 mark. He has made the semi-finals of Wimbledon before. I watched him lose to Liam Broady, in fact, so I am certain he made the semi-final. He has just won his first challenger and he has won it in Sibiu. Coming in unseeded, he defeated second seeded Montanes in straight sets and then moved through effortlessly to the semi-finals. There he mounted a serious comeback to unseat seventh seed Starace. He won 2-6, 7-6, 6-0, though the dirtballer battled all the way. Romanian Albot was playing with a home crowd but he was no match for Kubler. The Aussie is starting to make a career. He should finish the year ranked within 130, a serious achievement.
...A former top ten player who is now down on his luck and looking to get back to the top is what we have here. Now that sounds like the premise for an excellent movie. Christian Bale is Juan Monaco and he rises back to the top, finally winning a 500 before retirement. Sadly, reality must interject here. Monaco suffered injuries and loss of form. He suffered it to an alarming extent, as well. Monaco is no longer the player he was but he is still a player who can wreak havoc, who can play the role of bracket breaker perfectly. This week he beat Pospisil and Gasquet, eliminating two big players before they could achieve their respective seedings. Does one more shining moment of glory -- a Goolagong 1980 Wimbledon title type victory perhaps -- lie in the future of Juan Monaco?
...Ferrer is on the downward slope of his career now; there were hints in that direction before but they are now big pointers. A loss to Troicki, only just back from suspension, too, is unacceptable. Ferrer no longer looks like a top five player and that is definitely a cause for concern for the Spaniard. Ferrer needs to get back to doing what he does well. He needs to find some form before it is too late. But can he?
...This was a week of returning faces. Troicki is back from his ban and he announced it in style. He smothered Ferrer and never let him get in the match. The Serbian cruised through 6-3, 6-4 and never let Ferrer get into the match. It was an impressive return to form from the Serbian, but can he keep it up?

Matches can turn on dimes, but this match turned on a dollar. Despite being outplayed for two sets, Murray nicked the second breaker 11-9 and was never troubled from there. Murray scraped through and took his first title since Wimbledon last year in his first final since Wimbledon. He proved to have too much grit for the plucky Spaniard.
A contrast in styles is usually interesting. Watching Lopez play Simon is a classic example of two polar opposites doing battle. Here the funky game of Nieminen came up against Nishikori's relentless offence. Despite taking the second set, Nieminen was never able to fully disrupt the Asian number one's game.
... 6-3/6-7/6-1.
Does that name appear familiar? It should. Hhe was up two sets to one on Nadal at Wimbledon in 2010 but he could not cling on. He has even made two grass court finals not to mention had a short-lived, but none the less excellent, doubles partnership with Melzer where he went 2-0 in slam finals and even a hard court title, as well. The former world number 35 temporarily had Gulbis on the ropes before the Latvian showed his class and took it in three.

Djokovic [1] d. [4] Cilic
Berdych [3] d. [2] Nadal
Djokovic[1] d. [3] Berdych

...Nadal opens with Gasquet and that is nasty. I have no idea of how well Rafa is playing.

Wawrinka [1] d. [4] Nishikori
Raonic [3] d. [6] Bautista-Agut
Wawrinka [1] d. [3] Raonic

...Nishikori finally runs out of steam but, hey, I did say he would do badly at the U.S. Open due to running out of steam.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wk.38- Downloading New Goffin Update, version 2.0

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

There are some famous terms in sports, recognizable by many, even those outside of that sport or those who do not follow sport at all. Touchdown, strike, goal, hole-in-one, ace, backstroke are all terms which can be made relevant to one particular sport or even sports. There are more obscure terms such as foot fault, eagle and the like which are less well known. Tennis can, I think, lay claim to one of the most insulting terms in sport. Not a one off, sometimes referred to insult such as "Fail Mary" but a commonly used standardized term. The term lucky loser. It says to people, "Yes, you suck, but hey some guy got injured so you're lucky enough to get another go. You're not good, you're lucky." It is insulting but it has been around for time immemorial, so we leave it. But the term Lucky Loser contains a standard insult in its name.

Todd sometimes does "What If" posts. They are excellent and worth checking out. And he has talked about in those the fact that some players never got their big break. And he talks about how some players had their big break here. And if they hadn't would it be different. Here is what he said:

"While the 'path to greatness' is made up of a series of connective actions and decisions, often there iS ONE moment that stands out from the rest. One career-defining instant when everything "clicked" and after which the player was never the same. One timeless victory that simultaneously allowed the benefits of all the hard work to come to fruition, and whetted the appetite for more of the same."

At the 2012 Frech Open, David Goffin did not deserve his moment, though he got it anyhow. Seeded ninth in qualifying, he choked in his final match and lost to Sousa [yes, the man he beat to win his Week 38 title] in two straights. Somehow he got moved to the main tournament through an injury or withdrawal from another player. He came back twice from two sets to one down to beat Stepanek and Clement back to back. After dismissing Kubot he had his shot at Federer. Watching that game was simply incredible, simply amazing. Federer was playing some lucky loser in the fourth round of a slam. And he was outclassed for two sets but, somehow, managed to sneak the second. Despite losing the first set in what was then a huge upset, Federer came back to take it in four tight sets 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4. That was Goffin's moment. Those first two sets.

Despite following it up with successes, he slowly slipped and was ranked below nowhere at the start of this year. He had no form, no ranking and nothing going for him. But he has turned it round and had a second career after the big breakthrough like Tomic has. He has done well on the challenger circuit and finally has come up to the big leagues. He has arrived. He has successfully downloaded.

Funnily enough, it's just one event this week. Shall we have a look at it?

Also, I want to extend my wishes for luck in the future to Li Na. I wish her all the best in the coming years. Her expected retirement is nevertheless a loss to the sport. She will be brilliant in whatever she chooses to do. Todd has written a perfect piece on her on WTA Backspin. And it is a great read. You shall be missed, Li Na.

S: David Goffin d. Joao Sousa 6-4/6-3
D: Fyrstenberg/Matkowski d. Draganja/Kontinen

...Sometimes players hit that purple patch and they just rip through all in their path. Players can simply catch fire and be too good. Tsonga has periods where everything clicks and so does Cilic. Hitting a patch like that is always a great feeling. It makes one feel like they can't miss, like the world belongs to them. Confidence is so important to players. From July to August, Goffin won four consecutive tournaments. The first three of which were challengers, but he did win the Austrian Open (def. Thiem) at the end, as well, to complement those first three. He took his form into the U.S. Open, bageling Dimitrov before losing out eventually. And here, apart from Tsonga, he was barely troubled by the field. He dropped just one set and was utterly impressive throughout. He dismissed Serra and Kamke for the loss of just eight games in his first two rounds. Despite Tsonga mashing him for two sets, he won that, as well, with a 1-6, 7-6, 7-5 decision going his way. He was simply too strong for surprise package Struff, too, and he made his second final of the year. Sunday was the last day of the summer, so he has made two finals this summer and won both if them. He sealed the second by cruising past Sousa. He was never troubled. Ranked at 32, his highest ever ranking, he needs to now retain this seeding until January. Not being seeded at slams has burned him in the past and if he can just cling onto a seed at the Australian Open he has a real chance of breaking the top twenty next year. He can pick up points at some of the Masters tournaments coming up. I think he will finish the year in the top thirty, but only time can tell.
...Sousa is 5-2 in challenger finals, but only 1-2 in ATP finals. It is not a Hall of fame career but it is definitely a solid one. It is definitely already one to look back on with some pride. He is till only 25, too. The first Portuguese man to enter the top fifty went into this tournament seeded sixth but looked unlikely to have much impact. He dismissed Dodig 6-2, 6-2 in his opener. This was impressive considering that was a test on paper. Sousa barely scraped past Sijsling next as he came through 3-6, 6-3, 7-6. In a similar scoreline, he edged Mathieu 3-6, 6-3, 7-6. Strangely he had a far easier time against second seed Monfils and won that fairly comfortably. Goffin was far too strong in the final but that semifinal run was a big one. Sousa moves on and there is a whole bunch, a slew if you will, of 250's and even some 500's with a weaker field. We have not heard the last of the Portuguese man just yet and I think he will finish around thirty in the world. It would be deserved too.
...Jay-Lennard has made eight challenger finals in his career. Eight times he has had a chance at a big win. How many has he won? Well, it rhymes with "won" but there isn't much else won about it. He lost his first final, in 2011, to Sousa, funnily enough. He lost a final last week, though it was to Dustin Brown. After that final in Poland he moved to France and made a semifinal. Struff was never going to win this event, but in a weaker event like this, anything could happen. Struff edged Lajovic 6-7, 6-3, 6-3. It was a tight match against a talented youngster and he had a tough test next. He lost another first set breaker to Chardy but still won, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4. Kohl retired 5-0 down to Struff to leave the German in the semifinals and the German with an injury. He would lose the first set in a breaker to Goffin but this time there would be no three set win. It ended a great week for the German.
...The twenty year old [twenty from next month] was someone we saw at the French -- he went two sets to none up against Steve Johnson. It eventually proved to be futile as he'd go on to lose in five but it showed his immense talent. He looks a little like Tsonga but he did not win a match in this tournament, unlike Tsonga. Lokoli would go on to lose 6-2, 6-4 to Lorenzi but the encouraging signs are there. Barty, another youngster, has announced she is stepping away from tennis for awhile. I hope she will be back soon.
...In 2008 Muller announced his arrival properly by beating Haas, Almagro and fifth seeded Davydenko at the U.S. Open to reach the quarterfinals. He had made a couple of hard-court finals but nothing like that run. He was just 25 then and looked to have a bright future. Since then he has made a single final, on hard-court and two years ago. He blew a lead against Andy Roddick in the final of a tournament which would prove to be the last Andy Roddick won. Muller is now in his thirties and looks to be on the way out. He is now just a name, a name that makes one stoop and pause for a second before moving on. His clash against Tsonga looked interesting on paper but it did not prove to be so with Tsonga being barely troubled in the match.
...After being outclassed by the Swiss he had a chance to outclass a weak field. There were few players of any note in his small section of the draw, few players he couldn't outhit and yet he blew it. He had a big chance to win this tournament but could not take it. Rosol is such an inconsistent and mystifying player that he is hard to predict. Right now he is floundering a little and I don't think his form is that good.
...Sousa upsetting a top twenty player in straight sets is a big upset for me. He was simply too good for Monfils from start to finish. Sousa has already made a good career for himself out of upsets and being strong at this level. He has achieved something rare for this sport -- he is a consistent top forty player and he is still only twenty-five.

The French. When the tennis gods were giving out talent and mental fortitude to each country they must have used France as a test subject. What happens if I do this? What you get are fantastically talented players incapable of closing matches. Tsonga dominated for two sets but ultimately choked and lost a tournament he should have won.
Sousa has made a career out of the unexpected. He did it again here, surprising Monfils. The Portuguese number one was not able to take it all the way but he did have a great week here and is up to number thirty-six.
Could Janowicz be back? He had a solid QF result this week, though he failed to trouble Monfils once he reached that stage. Janowicz would probably be a top ten mainstay were it not for injuries and complications that have risen from those injuries. He scraped past Mannarino but that doesn't matter because on the ATP the ends justifies the means.

Ferrer [1] d. [4] Robredo
Murray [2] d. [3] Gasquet
Ferrer[1] d. [2] Murrray

...I have no idea of Murray's form.

*KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia*
Nishikori [1] d. [7] Andujar
Gulbis [2] d. [4] Benneteau
Nishikori [1] d. [2] Gulbis

...I can't go against a recent slam finalist in a weakened field.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Davis Cup Semifinals Recap

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

France and Switzerland are nations with a proud history. France especially have a proud sporting history, having hosted the Olympics, both summer and winter, won the soccer World Cup and also been finalists in the rugby World Cup. America’s sports are usually only played in America. It has always confused me why the MLB calls its finals the World Series. Anyway. France have also had relative success in the world of tennis with recent Davis and Fed Cup victories and finals. They have also had some of the greats of our sports from Lenglen to Mauresmo [world number one and two slams alone is enough to be a Hall of Fame career for me] to Noah to Pierce. Yes, they have all been so talented and so fickle but they have been entertaining. I cannot remember the last time I watched a Frenchie play a tennis match and gone away not entertained. Confused, yes. Mystified, yes. Disappointed, yes. But not entertained? Never.

Switzerland has distinguished itself in winter sports. It has held two Winter Olympics and has a proud history in football, too. It is eighth on the all-time list of Winter Olympic medals just behind Sweden. They both have fifty gold and forty silvers. The Swiss are nineteenth overall with ninety-seven medals across both. France are sixth with 233 but fourth in the summer games with 202. Switzerland also has a good tennis history with strong performances in the Fed and Davis Cup. Rosset signaled the beginning of a period of Swiss dominance.

Wawrinka and this French team have both come of age at last. Federer was always waiting on a second man to help him win the Davis Cup and it looks like he has have found it. Wawrinka needs to just win one of his rubbers and Switzerland will win. Federer is usually going to win two and if Wawrinka is on form there are few who can stop them. It has long been baffling how this French side hasn’t dominated this competition of late. I think it is clear now they are starting to live up their potential. It is good to see Gasquet and Tsonga leading the way and showing the nation how to do it. The Davis Cup is great for inspiring younger generations to join in the tennis movement.

Right. Let’s get on with the two ties.

S: France d. Czech Republic 4-1
D: Switzerland d. Italy 3-2

...Roland Garros is a fine venue. And it played host to a fine win. The French crowd are a factor like no other slam crowd is. You can win with the crowds against you in all the other slams, even in New York, but go against the French crowd at your peril. Hingis found out to her cost what happens if they don’t like you. Djokovic, too. They are fickle in their tastes. They respect Nadal but do not love the nine time champion. They prefer Federer and his class. They also cheer raucously for their own no matter what.

That crowd and the surface was the combination needed to see off the Czech challenge. Gasquet opened by dismissing Berdych in a display of brutal power and soft finesse we have not seen him play in many a month. The French now had the ‘break’ but they had to hold serve. Tsonga eased past Rosol in a similar scoreline to Gasquet’s 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 decision to leave the Czechs hanging on by a thread. Stepanek and Berdych have proved themselves to be a dangerous doubles duo in the past. Tsonga and Ritchie usually take a while to warm up before really clicking. They were slow starters in their win against Australia last time out before coming through fairly easily in the end. And this time would be no different. They lost the opening set in a breaker but took the second before coming to a second breaker in the third set. And from there they cruised, winning the breaker before dropping just one game in the fourth.

They face the Swiss next. Both teams are equally good on each surface, but I think the Swiss will choose either fast hard or fast hard indoors. I’m still surprised grass is so rarely chosen.
...Sounds close, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t. Federer and Wawrinka looked world class against a determined Italian side. It happens, sometimes, in Davis Cup matches where there is such a gulf in ability, even on a basic level, that it only looks like one team is ever going to win. Italy had upset Great Britain in the previous round with great tactics and crafty play, but against two of the world’s best four players they never had a chance. Federer and Wawrinka won their three singles rubbers and that was enough to progress. Stan pushing the Italians to five in the doubles was a bonus. Federer was initially pushed in his match against Bolelli with the Italian using his forehand to push the Fed around, but the Swiss soon started to take control. After a close first set, Federer smoothly slipped into first gear and was never troubled after that. Wawrinka dropped less than ten games against Fognini and was never in any danger of losing. Despite the Italians eventually running away with the doubles, Federer was less dismissive but equally untroubled in dealing with Fognini. The Italian almost threatened to look like he might take the third set but Federer snuffed out whatever threat there was.

If I was the Swiss I would put this tie on very quick grass. Yes, the French are strong there but it would throw them off, and Federer and Wawrinka are so strong on that surface. Indoor clay with the home support would be too much for France to handle. Gasquet and Tsonga were both disappointing at Wimbledon this year.

1. Davis Cup Rubber 1 - GASQUET d. BERDYCH
That score line doesn’t happen in Davis Cup at this stage when the top player of one country plays the second ranked in another. Gasquet looked a complete player, he looked like the player he was for most of last year. Berdych was not able to match that level and Gasquet cruised through. The one handed backhand and volleying skill was all there in a vintage Gasquet display.
The Italians pulled out a win from their hat to keep the tie alive. The problem the Italians had was that they did not have enough quality to upset the Swiss. They won the doubles tie and pushed it to one more but had to come back from two sets to one down to do so.
3. Davis Cup Rubber 3 - FEDERER d. FOGNINI
The surface proved to be the right call. It was unlikely that the Swiss would lose on any surface except, perhaps, extremely slow clay or ice. But the quick surface complemented the power of the Swiss stars and it helped them to get through to the next round.

Tsonga [1] d. [3] Kohlschreiber
Monfils [2] d. Seppi
Monfils [2] d. [1] Tsonga
Going on form I can only pick one winner here

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Big Four No More: What Caused Andy Murray’s Disastrous 2014 Season?

[ ATP Backspin guest blogger ]

In maritime law it is a criminal offense for a captain to abandon his ship no matter how dire the circumstances. His job is to stay with his vessel, even if it is sure to go down, and ensure that all passengers and crew members safely, and quite literally, jump ship. It goes without saying, it doesn't usually end well for the captain. This dichotomy exists in many facets of life where responsibility falls squarely on someone’s shoulders while the others “jump ship” in hopes of saving face. Whether one can do it in time is another matter. In the case of Ivan Lendl, he seems to have perfected the art of knowing exactly when to abandon a sinking ship.

Andy Murray, Lendl’s former employer, was last seen dumping a tired cross court backhand into the net gifting Novak Djokovic a quarterfinal victory at the US Open. It was the final act of, to put it lightly, yet another disappointing showing at a Grand Slam for Murray. As he walked off the court and the unapologetic camera panned to his new coach Amelie Mauresmo in the stands, it was impossible not wonder if and when Lendl knew it was going to be a rough 2014 for Murray.

Slightly over a year ago Murray was on top of the tennis world having just won Wimbledon on home soil, his 2nd Grand Slam title in four tries, and was pushing for the world #1 ranking. Today Murray sits outside the top 10 at #11 and could only muster a single semi final appearance in all Grand Slams this season. Is it possible to pinpoint a turning point or has it been a succession of setbacks that have held back Murray this year?

It must be said that dating back to the 2013 French Open Murray has been dealing with lower back problem. Many forget that his status for Wimbledon that year was very much in the air after having to withdraw from the French Open. Later that year, shortly after he had been named 2013 BBC Sport Personality of the Year, he opted to have surgery on his nagging lower back problem. Murray was seemingly ready to go for the start of the 2014 season but his form on the court suggested otherwise. He lost to two players outside the top 40 to kick off his first two tournaments and failed to make the semi-finals of the Australian Open for the first time since 2009. From there he never really recovered.

There’s no reason to beat a dead horse and recount each tournament setback. His struggles through the remainder of the season (he failed to even make it to a single final let alone win a tournament) are well documented and are reflected in his #11 world ranking. In between disappointing results at Indian Wells and the Miami Masters, he parted ways with his coach Ivan Lendl, who was instrumental in getting Murray over that Grand Slam hump. Considering all of Murray’s success over the year and a half prior it was a surprising announcement to say the least.

Lendl finally spoke up concerning their parting of ways after Murray announced he would be working with Amelie Mauresmo until after at least the conclusion of the US Open. Lendl cited family time, passion projects and excessive travel as reasons for his departure, but his answer to a particular question was quite telling. When asked if part of the reason he decided to step down as coach was because of the difficulty that came with of matching the high and intensity of a Grand Slam victory he responded, “Yeah, and that too. Everyone is different, and when you win a big tournament like Wimbledon, it’s not easy sometimes. Some people find it more difficult than others, and I’m glad Andy found Amélie [Mauresmo] who can give him the time he needs.” Did Lendl believe that Murray was no longer committed to becoming the best after tasting the victory he’d been working towards all those years?

I might be unfair to make such a sweeping generalization, but I wrote about the possibility of complacency in Murray’s corner leading up to Wimbledon. It seems as though the claim was not unfounded considering Lendl publicly voiced similar worries. I think a combination of that 2013 season high and his inability to practice a 100% for the majority of the year held him back but it still doesn’t hide the fact that Murray’s struggles have coincided with Lendl’s leaving. Even with a full month of training leading up to US Open Murray looked visibly fatigued at times during the tournament. In his first round match with Robin Haase it looked as though he would have to withdraw after he hobbled through a cramp-filled third set yet he managed to pull through. He looked sharp at times during his aforementioned quarterfinal match-up with Djokovic but it became clear in the fourth set that Murray did not have enough in the tank to take down Djokovic. Once the most fit player on tour, he seemed to labor through the latter end of the match. It wasn’t easy to watch.

With the surge from the rest of the field, in the form of Slam wins from both Wawrinka and Cilic, Murray could not have picked a worse time to tank a season. Whether complacency really is the reason for his decline he’ll have to find a way to pump himself up to get back into the top five, let alone the top 10. The tennis landscape has changed with the blink of the eye and the “Big Four” is firmly a thing of the past. Lendl may have been aware of a leak in the ship long before the rest of us noticed it sinking, but don’t expect Murray to go under without a fight.

John Hayes is a blogger and entrepreneur who helped launched MyTennisLessons.com in Austin TX. His mission is to help people stay active by making tennis a more accessible and affordable option for beginners and enthusiasts alike.

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

US Open: Look Behind You

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

The U.S. Open quarterfinals are special. There have been so many classics on both sides, but since men’s tennis is the focus here, it is time to look behind you. Yes, there and there and also over there.

The year is 1974 and the month is September. The number one is "(You're) Having My Baby" by Paul Anka. And Arthur Ashe was due to play John Newcombe, the Australian great. In those days talent was rife, in a way it simply isn’t these days. After a four set classic in 1970 they played each other once more. Newcombe would triumph in the most dramatic of styles in a classic match full of great tennis. Ashe took the first set before exchanging a pair of 6-3 sets with the Aussie. Up two sets to one, Ashe played a great fourth set but lost it in the tiebreaker. And that would prove to be the hammer blow as Newcombe took the momentum with him and closed it out 6-4 in the fifth.

The year is 1992. Disappointingly Boyz II Men were atop the charts with their song "End of the Road," but there was a big match on between two great players. Ninth seeded Ivan Lendl had struggled throughout but had beaten seventh seeded Boris Becker in five epic sets in the fourth round. His reward was that he got to face off with second seeded Stefaf Edberg. Edberg has been on shaky form all year, losing his number one ranking in April. He re-found form on the American hard courts and he took it with him into the U.S. Open. He dismissed an exhausted Lendl 6-3, 6-3 in the first two sets. Lendl managed to win the third 6-3 and ignite some hope. But Edberg, one of the greatest closers, served for it at 5-4 in the third. Lendl survived four match points and won the set 7-5. The next day, after the rain interruption, Lendl lost the shootout in a breaker with all of New York seemingly on his side.

Andre Agassi was a quarterfinalist back in 1992 with long hair and a great amount of ‘tude, too. In 2005, he was again a quarterfinalist. This time he faced James Blake, but back then he had lost to top seed Jim Courier in four tight sets. In a month where "We Belong Together" by Mariah Carey was at number one he was seeded second. Blake was a wild card who had beaten Greg Rusedski [28], Rafael Nadal [2] and Tommy Robredo [19] to make the quarters. Blake then rolled through Agassi 6-3, 6-3 to go up two sets to none. I remember watching a replay of this a few years later during a rain delay. The standard and quality was incredible. Agassi looked out of his depth. But then Agassi used his champion qualities to fight back, and fight back he did. He took the next two sets by the exact same score. In the fifth set James had his chance and took it. He served for it at 5-4 but could not hold on. Agassi came back and into the final set breaker they went. He reached match point but, no, Blake saved that. On his second, however, there would only be one outcome.
I just picked three matches from different eras. I can always talk about more if you want. Right, let’s get on with it then...

...This might well go down as the best half a match in the tournament. In fact, it probably was the best two sets of the entire tournament. Murray and Djokovic both knew the importance and they both showed it. There was intent from both men from the first ball struck. Djokovic came out on top in four long sets, 7-6 [1], 6-7 [1], 6-2, 6-4. You can see there the difference between the two. Djokovic is the perennial contender, Murray the perennial pretender. Murray could not find a consistent level as high as the Djoker’s. It would prove costly. The first two sets took two hours and thirteen minutes and the match lasting three hours and thirty-two minutes. Djokovic went 46-48 with the winners whilst Murray went 47-65. Those errors would prove too costly to undo for the Scot. Djokovic broke seven times but did lose serve four times. As we thought, Murray served bigger [nine aces to eight and a higher top speed on serve] but struggled to consistently serve bigger. Murray played well and hit the right shots but was, eventually, outclassed by Djokovic. Djokovic has Nishikori is the next semifinal. Nishikori wasn’t even born before two of those classic matches. Djokovic has to be more physically in shape than Kei. Djokovic has to extend the rallies and force Kei to go for more. Djokovic will need to make Kei play out of his comfort zone. Djokovic can also punish the weaker serve of the Japanese. What is also important is that Djokovic raises the second serve point win percentage.
...Well I was wrong. I thought there was absolutely no way Wawrinka could lose. He was in better shape physically and he had a lot to play for. It almost looked like a foregone conclusion. Nishikori has far exceeded what I expected of him. He has already had an excellent U.S. Open by anyone’s standards and that makes him dangerous. This match would turn into a modern classic. In four and a quarter hours, Nishikori overcame the Swiss star 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 [7], 6-7 [5], 6-4. He was done 3-0 in that third set. Wawrinka broke just twice but Nishikori broke thrice. Wawrinka also threw down eighteen aces and 68 winners overall. The 78 errors were forgivable. Nishikori went just 41-51 with the errors to winner ratio. Kei must hit more winners against Djokovic. Nishikori had an average first serve speed of just 109. That is not going to cut it in his next match either. Wawrinka had opportunities to wrap this up in three sets but could not seem to shake the Japanese man despite having an advantage in both the power and variety department. Nishikori comes through despite winning fewer points than his opponent. Nishikori has to win points quickly, although going for it will play into Djokovic’s hands. Kei cannot outlast Djokovic in those long rallies, so he must try to play one-strike tennis. He has got to out-return Djokovic, as well. Also, try to avoid letting Djokovic get an opportunity on that backhand wing.
...This was the least exciting of the quarterfinals. Cilic is having a banner year and Berdych is always there. Berdych has mastered the art of staying in the top ten -- achieve positive results but nothing too stellar which will cost points if he fails to defend those points. So he is always around in the quarterfinals or semifinals. Cilic simply overpowered Berdych. Cilic hit 19 aces and 46 winners overall. He won 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 in two and a bit hours. It was a routine match for Cilic. Berdych provided little resistance for two and a half sets. Cilic broke five times but did somehow lose service twice. Berdych it 29 errors but, more worryingly, he hit just 21 winners. For a powerhouse like Berdych 21 winners is unacceptable. There were only 24 combined net approaches with 15 of those being converted. Apart from the occasional drop-shot there was no variety here. It was two ball strikers sitting behind the baseline serving big and exchanging very similar shots. Cilic has Federer next. For Cilic it is simple. He must serve huge and hit bigger than Federer. That is Cilic’s entire game plan. And if I were the Croat I would cut out that drop-shot. It is a smart tactic against Berdych but Federer will snap that up.
...Where do I even begin? I don’t quite know. Monfils has yet again shown his brilliance, talent and his flakiness. He has advertised the very best and very worst he has to offer. I think there is a chance this match may break or make his career. He lost, but either it will give him new confidence or it will break his spirit utterly. Some players never quite recover from heartache -- Coria can attest to this. Federer came through in an absolute epic 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 but it did take him exactly 200 minutes. Federer was down two sets to love and playing very badly. He clawed his way back into it by taking the third set. In the fourth he was in trouble again. He was barely clinging on but Monfils could not quite finish him. Federer’s race looked to be run when he was down 4-5, 15-40 but he played two brilliant, all or nothing points to get to five all. From there it was all Federer to the end. Monfils hit 43 winners and 49 errors. Federer had similar stats of 48 winners and 44 errors. Monfils hit ten double faults and they were a thorn in his side. Federer also broke six times but was broken six times .That is not sustainable against either Djokovic or Cilic. Federer did win 40 per cent of receiving points, which he needs to keep doing. Federer needs to return well against Cilic but he has been the master of defusing bombs over his career. He has a great return especially because most servers are not varied but readable. It doesn’t help when they are 145 out wide but by getting a read on them one does get an advantage. Federer will have few troubles on his own serve but he needs to cut out his errors. Another useful thing for Fed to do would be to use lots of different shots. He needs variety like slices, chip and charges and different spins and paces. Luckily nobody in history has mastered this art with as much competency as the Fed.

Any other notes?

* = The U.S. Open scheduling always confuses me. I wanted to write before the semifinals. I think I have succeeded.

* = The WTA, ladies and gentlemen. Yes, it is always like this.

* = Is this as good as Japanese tennis has ever been? I think it might well be. A seed in men’s and women’s events is pretty impressive.

* = Nadal will be twenty-nine at next year’s Wimbledon. I believe his birthday is during the clay swing if not the French Open. Tied with Sampras at fourteen majors but riddled with injuries, can he catch Federer’s slam total? Not if Federer wins one more.

* = The best Spaniard at this year’s U.S. Open? Bautista-Agut, of course. Silly question.

* = Can we have Jim Courier commenting more please? I miss that guy.

* = Did you know Sveta and a certain Miss Backspin [an ex-Miss Backspin] used to dine together?"

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

US Open: Knocking at the Door of Djokovic/Murray

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Murray and Djokovic have a rivalry -- a good one -- though they are very good friends and occasional doubles partners. Born just a week apart, the two have similar games. Djokovic leads the head-to-head by about two matches but it really doesn’t matter in a match like the one on Wednesday night. It is not important in a rivalry like this what has happened before. In the big matches it has gone either way. Murray has not had the stellar career his opponent has. Murray does not quite have the champion’s factor that Djokovic has. He is also more susceptible to upsets and can struggle when not on his best. Djokovic is better at winning ugly but, really, both have had great careers though I cannot see Murray getting into the Hall of Fame as things stand.

Mentally Djokovic has a big advantage. He is so so tough mentally. He just never goes away. I think this is the area where there is a huge gulf between Djokovic and Murray. Djokovic can come back from two sets down. No problems. Djokovic is never out till you win on match point. You can bet he won’t miss match point down. The area Murray has the big advantage is in the serve. He just has a much beefier serve, though his second is a weaker delivery. He never had a problem with his serve like Djokovic did. Murray is harder to break.

The forehand and backhand are very similar, though I think Murray’s forehand on top form just shades it. He has worked so hard on that wing. Neither of them is particularly distinguished at the net, but I like the way Murray volleys more. Djokovic has struggled in that department previously. They both have good areas and not so good areas, but the basic model of their games is the same. They have built them on great defense and great movement. This is always the problem when two great counter-punchers play. They have nothing to counter-punch. Murray has the tendency to be both more aggressive and more passive. He seems to slip in and out of passages playing both ways. Going in, I thought there would be long rallies in this match, and plenty of them. First strike tennis will have no place here. This is purely about physicality. This is all about endurance and physicality.

I can’t pick this, but the winner is going to the final.

I am going to be focusing on the two main courts from here on in. I will be looking at the four big matches on yesterday. There were several good matches and one exhibition. I have attempted an analysis so now I will get on with the rest of my report.

...Monfils won in straights back in 2011 here in New York. It was a very entertaining match. Dimitrov has never beaten the Frenchman before and it is interesting that Monfils seems to do well against those with a one-handed backhand. Monfils, I guess, just has that kind of style that can make one-handers think twice. Dimitrov was unable to find a way through or past him. Monfils won 7-5, 7-6 [6], 7-5 in 145 minutes. It was a tight match from start to finish with some breathtaking rallies. Like this one. Dimitrov hit 31 winners and 38 errors but Monfils managed to be more solid. He went 29-30 with fourteen aces thrown in. Dimitrov broke just once, but his opponent broke three times. Neither of them won more than 35 per cent of receiving points. Incredibly Monfils approached the net just ten times. For Dimitrov and Monfils the second serve win percentage is too low. Both were just under 60 per cent. You want to be winning 65-70 per cent of second serves, ideally. Neither of them was performing on first serves either. Monfils is going to have to step his returning game. His next opponent will exploit any weakness, especially one that glaring. Monfils has Federer. That is going to be entertaining, but how close depends on how consistent Monfils can be.
...Agut has never been more out of his depth. He has had a career year this year. He has been one of the breakout players. He showed why for some of this match but he was completely out-matched. He longer the match went on, the more apparent that was. Federer played so well. He played like he was teaching somehow how to play tennis. He used his forehand to rip the Spaniard apart. Roger Federer makes his 43rd quarterfinal. He has also been to 35 semifinals. I do not see anybody breaking either of those records. If Federer retired now, Djokovic could only overtake him on both counts in three years. Nadal is further behind because of injury. Really, Federer has achieved some crazy things. Federer won 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in less than two hours. He blasted 36 winners with eight aces thrown in, too. He was broken just once and broke his opponent six times. Federer was majestic throughout. The Spaniard was never given a look in. Federer moved onto a higher plane. Federer headed into the stratosphere those last two sets. Agut kept trying new things because he had to but each time Federer would just trump him. It was as dominant a display as you are likely to see all year on hard courts. That Nadal/Murray semifinal made for painful viewing. Fedex gets Monfils next and if he can cut down those errors by five or ten but keep those other stats then I can only see one winner. I can forgive the five double faults, but Federer does need to not give Monfy any free points.
...Ouch. This was also pretty devastating, with Thiem managing to win just seven games. Even Agut managed to get nine. Berdych literally ripped right through Thiem as if he was nothing more than smoke and air. Ten aces and 24 winners were somewhat blighted by the 23 errors Berdych hit. He needed just an hour and a half to progress, breaking five times and holding in every single one of his service games. Berdych also won 44 percent of receiving points and made Thiem go for everything. Thiem could not make everything and ended up with 35 errors. He got put through a trial of fire and next time he will be prepared. Next time he will be wary of what lies in wait. Berdych needs to get rid of the errors, but otherwise it was a clean match. Berdych gets Cilic next. Expect a similar match to the one they had at Wimbledon: big serving and big shots in abundance. Berdych and Cilic are going to knock seven bells out of one another. They are both looking for a chance at Federer, one they will both feel they can take.
...Simon is steady. He is steady to a point of being boring. I am sure he cannot be French as he plays in such an un-French manner. Simon has somehow developed a big serve somewhere down the line. It seems to not fit with his steady game. Gilles is the ultimate pusher and remains as one of the few players who can really find Federer’s backhand. He is one of those players who just grinds you down with sheer consistency. Robredo does it with style and class. Robredo does it with pizzazz. Simon does it with solidness. Simon does it by being consistent. And that is the most frustrating thing of all. Simon and Cilic played a long, and nigh on unwatchable, match on Armstrong Stadium. In a little under four and a half hours Cilic prevailed 5-7, 7-6 [3], 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 Cilic hit 23 aces to the Frenchman’s 16. Incredibly they each had just three breaks and neither of them returned particularly well. Cilic has to win a few more second serve points if he wants to go further in the tournament. Cilic hit 70 winners but did make 76 errors. Simon opted for the steady approach and hit 45 winners to just 31 errors. In the end, firepower proved to be too much for steadiness. Cilic gets to play Berdman next and I think he has a chance there. Berdych has not yet been properly tested and I don’t know if he is ready to go five long sets. Cilic has got a good chance but he needs o be mentally tough too.

Any other notes?

* = We’re starting to get to that point in a slam where my sleeping pattern looks like it was knitted by Ray Charles.

* = Federer volleys like a god. McEnroe may say that Nadal has the best volley, but if he had watched the match last night he would agree with me. When Federer volleys he makes angels smile.

* = Djokovic is going to choke. I’m not saying this as a Federer fan. I frankly don’t think Fed will get past Berdych. I just have a feeling Djokovic will choke. He won’t be beaten, but he will lose.

* = The Bryans are back. They surely have the slam now. They are on great form with crowd support.

* = German tennis is finally at ebb. After consistent success it finally looks to be having a recess, though it is likely a temporary one.
I think it would be a full turning of the circle if Britain and Australia both returned to prominence, though Britain has been waiting so much longer.

* = Sveta's first title, in Helsinki, Finland in 2002.

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