Friday, November 21, 2014

2014 ATP Year in Review

There's no such thing as a "Mr.Backspin" award, but there are ATP lists. Lots and lots of lists.

Much like the WTA, where four woman won slam titles and eight reached major finals in 2014, the men spread around the silver hardware this past season. Four different men won slams, including two first-timers from OUTSIDE the Big 4 circle. Six men filled the eight slam final slots, including at the U.S. Open, which saw the tour's first major men's final in more than nine and a half years that didn't include a Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray. The situation even jumped disciplines to the doubles, as four teams claimed 2014's slam titles, with six different duos reaching the deciding matches.

But who had the BEST season?

1. Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan, USA/USA

[photo by Jen Pottheiser/USTA] the twins' remarkable doubles career most assuredly makes its way down the home stretch, the Bryans continued to carve out their own remarkable place in the ATP record book. Ten more titles were added to their haul this year, including their groundbreaking 100th singles crown. The win came at the U.S. Open, where they locked away their sixteenth slam title to fill the only unsightly gap in their '14 resume. They'd reached the Wimbledon final, but suffered early upsets in Melbourne and Paris. Along with the title in NYC, the Bryans picked up crowns six -- six! -- of the season's nine Masters Series (winning in Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Cincinnati, Shanghai & Paris) and the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London. In a year when no one entry from the three-headed monster of the "Fedalovic era" (thanks for that one, Galileo!) was quite the same sort of dominant force they'd been in the past, the twins were the most dependable presence in the ATP in 2014. Of course, this is nothing new -- they've now finished as the doubles co-#1's in eight of the last ten seasons.
2. Novak Djokovic, SRB
...for the third time in four years, Djokovic finishes the season at #1, winning in Wimbledon to pick up his seventh career slam title, going 61-8 on the season and leading the tour in winning percentage. But his quest for his first Roland Garros continues, as he was bested in Paris yet again by Rafa Nadal, losing a three and a half hour final and falling to the Spaniard for the third straight years at RG, twice in finals. The Serb's Masters wins in Indian Wells, Miami, Rome and Paris, plus his third consecutive (fourth career) ATP WTF title, rounds out his list of six 2014 titles, enough to outdistance all the other individual POY contenders. Now married and a father, Djokovic seems set for the back half of his career, seemingly well-positioned between two eras as Nadal and Federer's careers draw closer to a finish as the NextGen contenders jockey for position and make serious swipes at their first slam titles. The Djoker's success already assures that his career will rank him near the top of the list of ATP greats, but he'll need to complete his Career Slam with a Roland Garros title if he's going to hold up his end of conversation when it comes to continuing to "compete" against the memories of Federer and Nadal once all three have set aside their rackets.
3. Rafael Nadal, ESP
...stop me in you've heard this before, but Rafa won yet another Roland Garros title (his ninth in ten seasons, and his fifth in a row), but saw injuries (back, wrist and then a season-ending appendectomy) limit (it may have prevented him from winning his second Australian Open final) and cut short his campaign, as he ended '14 on a 4-4 slide as he battled against better judgment before finally pulling up stakes on his season. It's because of these annual injury discussions that one could never be totally surprised in they were to one day soon awake and hear reports that Rafa's career would suddenly end, as his physical style of play has never seemed to forecast a long stay on tour. But Nadal has managed to stick around for over a decade, and rarely (if ever) has a player maintained the sort of strangle-hold on an event that way he has at Roland Garros, where's a combined 66-1. Apparently set to undergo stem cell treatment on his back, Nadal seems set to attempt to stick around for as long as possible. He may never be able to put together another full, injury-free season, but it'd be difficult to not bow down to the Spaniard's ability to persevere if he continues pull himself together for his annual run in Paris. There aren't many truly "unbreakable" records in tennis, but Rafa's career number of Coupe des Mousquetaires chomps doesn't seem to be something that anyone will ever come close to being able to equal.

4. Roger Federer, SUI
...healed up from the back injury that caused him to finally show his age in '13, Federer at times looked like his former masterful self this season, lifting his ranking back up to #2 after finishing 2013 at #6, his lowest since '02. He played and won more often (going 72-11 heading into the Davis Cup final) than anyone on tour, reaching an ATP-leading eleven finals, winning five. He played in his record twenty-fifth career slam final at Wimbledon, and claimed a pair of Masters 1000 Series titles in Cincinnati (his sixth) and Shanghai (at this point in Fed's career, a rare first-time win). He also picked up his seventh title in Halle, sixth in Dubai, sixth in Basel, and had semifinal results at both the Australian and U.S. Open. Federer was a combined 6-3 vs. Djokovic, Nadal and Murray after going 0-7 against his fellow Big 4 members in '13. Unfortunately, Federer's back flared up again in the ATP World Tour Finals, forcing him to give Djokovic a walkover in the final after having looked as brilliant as in the "old days" during the week. Federer will end his '14 campaign by leading the Swiss team into the Davis Cup final, one of the few major titles (along with an Olympic singles Gold) that Federer has never won. Winning or losing won't really impact the Swiss Mister's legacy, but it would make his long career resume just a bit more tidy.

5. Stan Wawrinka, SUI
...for a while, Wawrinka was the best Swiss tennis player in the world in 2014. Not a feat for the faint-hearted or ill-prepared. He became the first player to defeat both Djokovic and Nadal in the same grand slam as he raced to a surprise slam win at the Australian Open, becoming just the second non-Big 4 major winner over a 36-slam stretch going back to 2005. The "other Swiss Mister" was 3-0 in finals in '14, but while he only won one of those titles after winning in Melbourne in January, he took out Federer in the Monte Carlo Masters final to get that win. After a 13-0 start, Stan the Man was 25-17 in his next forty-two heading into the Davis Cup final where, depending on the condition of Federer's back, might end up having to take over a leadership role in Switzerland's attempt to win a first DC title.

6. Marin Cilic, CRO: the Croat outlasted everyone in the upset-laden field (dominating Federer in the semis, the Kei Nishikori in the final) to win the U.S. Open, taking the first non-Big 4 slam final since Marat Safin defeated Lleyton Hewitt in the 2005 Australian Open
7. Kei Nishikori, JPN: with the Asian tennis boom, well, booming, the rise of Nishikori couldn't come at a better time. The 25-year old from Japan has been dogged by injuries throughout his career (by early April, he'd already exited three '14 events early with injuries), making it easy to question his ability to ever live up to the promise of his potential. Then suddenly he DID. Nishikori became the first Japanese to reach a slam singles final at the U.S. Open (upsetting '14 slam winners Wawrinka and Djokovic en route), then followed it up by winning back-to-back titles in his next two events. In all, Nishikori won four titles in '14 and finished at #5.
8. Swiss or Czech Davis Cup Team: the two nations will face off on the final weekend of the season, with the Swiss looking for their first DC title and the French going for #10 (but their first in thirteen years).
9. Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau, NED/ROU: the duo combined to win eight titles, second only to the Bryan twins
10. Grigor Dimitrov, BUL: sure, he started dating Maria Sharapova. But, more importantly, he also began to live up to his early career "baby Fed" label, winning three ATP titles and reaching the Wimbledon semifinals, finishing up just outside the Top 10 at #11.
11. Daniel Nestor/Nenad Zimonjic, CAN/SRB: the veteran pair won three titles, including Masters crowns in Madrid and Rome. Individually, Nestor won the AO Mixed with Kristina Mladenovic, while Zimonjic took the title at Wimbledon with Samantha Stosur to complete a Career Mixed Slam (and reached the RG final with Julia Goerges).
12. Milos Raonic, CAN: the big-serving Canadian was light on titles (just one), but claimed the U.S. Open Series, reached the Wimbledon semifinals and battled Genie Bouchard all season in the cross-tours race to become the highest-ranked singles player in their nation's history. Ultimately, Bouchard climbed as high as #5 in the WTA rankings, while Raonic topped out at #6.

1.Marin Cilic, CRO
2.Kei Nishikori, JPN
3.Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau, NED/ROU
4.Grigor Dimitrov, BUL
5.Milos Raonic, CAN
6.Tomas Berdych, CZE
7.Gael Monfils, FRA
8.Ivan Dodig/Marco Melo, CRO/BRA
9.Ernests Gulbis, LAT
10.Fabio Fognini, ITA
11.Vacek Pospisil/Jack Sock, CAN/USA
12.Alexandr Dolgopolov, UKR
13.Jerzy Janowicz, POL
14.Kevin Anderson, RSA
15.Alexander Peya/Bruno Soares, AUT/BRA
16.John Isner, USA
17.Lukasz Kubot/Robert Lindstedt, POL/SWE
18.Leonardo Mayer, ARG
19.Jeremy Chardy, FRA
20.Bernard Tomic, AUS
HM-Donald Young, USA

1.Nick Kyrgios, AUS
2.Jack Sock, USA
3.Ricardas Berankis, LTU
4.Benoit Paire, FRA
5.Dominic Thiem, AUT
6.Denis Kudla, USA
7.Luke Saville, AUS
8.Steve Johnson, USA
9.Thanasi Kokkinakis, AUS
10.James Duckworth, AUS
HM-Andrey Kuznetsov, RUS

1.Borna Coric, CRO
2.Andrey Rublev, RUS
3.Stefan Kozlov, USA
4.Alexander Zverev, GER
5.Christian Garin, CHI
6.Omar Jasika, AUS
7.Francis Tiafoe, USA
8.Rhyne Williams, USA
9.Quentin Halys, FRA
10.Orlando Luz, BRA
11.Marcos Garon, USA
12.Jiri Vesely, CZE
13.Noah Rubin, USA
14.Johan Sebastien Tatlot, FRA
15.Jaume Antoni Munar Clar, ESP
16.Kamil Majchrzak, POL
17.U.S. Junior Davis Cup Team
18.Taylor Fritz, USA
19.Bradley Mousley, AUS
20.Filippo Baldi, ITA
HM-Miloslav Mecir Jr., CZE

1.Roberto Bautista Agut, ESP
2.Joao Sousa, POR
3.Fabio Fognini, ITA
4.Eric Butorac/Raven Klaasen, USA/RSA
5.Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, ESP
6.Alejandro Falla, COL
7.Federico Delbonis, ARG
8.Lukas Rosol, CZE
9.Daniel Evans, GBR
10.Pablo Andujar-Alba, ESP
11.Santiago Giraldo, COL
12.Jan-Lennard Struff, GER
13.Matthew Edben, AUS
14.Yen-Hsun Lu, TPE
15.James Ward, GBR
16.Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah, COL/COL
17.Peter Gojowczyk, GER
18.Dusan Lajovic, SRB
19.Lucas Pouille, FRA
20.Pablo Carreno Busta, ESP
HM-Oleksandr Nedovyesov, UKR

1.Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan, USA/USA
2.Novak Djokovic, SRB
3.Rafael Nadal, ESP
4.Roger Federer, SUI
5.Stan Wawrinka, SUI
6.Daniel Nestor/Nenad Zimonjic, CAN/SRB
7.Andy Murray, GBR
8.Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, FRA
9.Fernando Verdasco, ESP
10.Julien Benneteau/Eduard Roger-Vasselin, FRA/FRA VET
11.Feliciano Lopez, ESP
12.Gilles Simon, FRA
13.David Goffin, BEL
14.David Ferrer, ESP
15.Tommy Robredo, ESP
16.Ivo Karlovic, CRO
17.Marcel Granollers/Marc Lopez, ESP/ESP
18.Philipp Kohlschreiber, GER
19.Radek Stepanek, CZE
20.Dudi Sela, ISR
HM-Marinko Matosevic, AUS

1.Juan Martin del Potro, ARG
2.Nicolas Almagro, ESP
3.Tommy Haas, GER
4.U.S. Davis Cup Team
5.Spanish Davis Cup Team
6.Canadian Davis Cup Team
7.David Ferrer, ESP
8.Richard Gasquet, FRA
9.Marcos Baghdatis, CYP
10.Sam Querrey, USA
HM-Juan Monaco, ARG

1.David Goffin, BEL
2.Andy Murray, GBR
3.Roger Federer, SUI
4.Ivo Karlovic, CRO
5.Sam Groth, AUS
6.Lleyton Hewitt, AUS
7,Gilles Muller, LUX
8.Benjamin Becker, GER
9.Robby Ginepri, USA
10.Viktor Troicki, SRB
HM-Wayne Odesnik, USA

1.Kei Nishikori, JPN
2.Roberto Bautista Agut, ESP
3.Ernests Gulbis, LAT
4.Alexandr Dolgopolov, UKR
5.Jack Sock, USA
HM-Leonardo Mayer, ARG

1. Stan Wawrinka defeats Djokovic and Nadal at Australian Open to claim first career slam title
2. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeats Djokovic, Murray, Dimitrov and Federer in succession to win Montreal title
3. Rafael Nadal wins his ninth Roland Garros crown, taking his fifth straight title in Paris and fourteenth career slam
4. The Bryan brothers grab their sixteenth major as a duo at the U.S. Open, becoming the first team with 100 ATP doubles titles
5. Novak Djokovic sweeps Indian Wells (def. Federer in final) and Miami (def. Nadal in final) spring U.S. hard court titles
6. At the U.S. Open, Kei Nishikori becomes the first Japanese to reach a grand slam singles final
7. Novak Djokovic defeats Roger Federer in the final to claim his second Wimbledon
8. Marin Cilic serves his way to his first slam win at the U.S. Open
9. Novak Djokovic dominates again in Beijing, winning title #5 and running his career record at the event to 24-0
10. Lleyton Hewitt turns back the clock, defeating Federer in the final to take Brisbane

Milos Raonic defeats Vacek Pospisil in an all-Canadian final in Washington, D.C.

Andy Murray wins in Shenzhen. It's his first title in fifteen months, his first since back surgery and his first with coach Amelie Mauresmo. The Scot would go on to win two more late-season events and qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals.

The U.S.'s Noah Rubin wins the Wimbledon boys singles title as a qualifier

In Miami, for the first time since 1969 on the ATP tour, both men's singles semifinals in an event were decided via walkovers. Then, in an anticlimactic ATP season finale, Novak Djokovic claims the ATP WTF crown when Roger Federer's back injury causes him to withdraw from the final. Coincidentally, it was also Djokovic who benefited from the earlier situation, ultimately winning the Miami title, after having also gotten a walkover pass through the 3rd Round of that tournament.

Australian Open QF - Wawrinka d. Djokovic
In 4:02, Wawrinka outlasts the three-time defending AO champ, ending his 25-match streak in Melbourne (and 28-match overall run dating back to '13).
Barcelona QF - Almagro d. Nadal
Almagro dumps countryman Rafa, handing him his first loss in Barcelona in eleven years (he'd won 41 straight there) and his first since 2006 after having won the 1st set on clay.
Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - Kyrgios d. Gasquet
The 19-year old Aussie, ranked #144, comes back from 0-2 sets down, saving nine MP en route to taking out the 13th-seeded Frenchman.
ATP WTF SF - Federer d. Wawrinka
Federer saves four MP, but injures his back and has to withdraw from the following day's final.
Australian Open 1st Rd. - Seppi d. Hewitt
Veteran Hewitt battles back from 0-2 sets down and holds match point, but ultimately falls to Seppi in buzz-kill fashion in over five hours.
Wimbledon Final - Djokovic d. Federer
Federer's last chance for another slam title? Of course, we've wondered that before, haven't we?
Roland Garros Final - Nadal d. Djokovic
Djokovic's Parisian quest is extended yet another year. At least. This time, it took Rafa 3:30 to send the Serb off to the U.K. with lingering disappointment.

and, of course...

Basel QF - Coric d. Nadal
The match that finally ended Nadal's season, and sent him off to get that appendix removed. Then-17 year old Croat Coric (he turned 18 last week), ranked #124 at the time of his first huge victory, received the ATP's "Star of Tomorrow" award a few weeks later.

A rundown of the past Backspin ATP award (as well as a few pre-"Backspin") winners:

1997 Pete Sampras
1998 Pete Sampras
1999 Andre Agassi
2000 Marat Safin
2001 Lleyton Hewitt
2002 Lleyton Hewitt
2003 Andy Roddick
2004 Roger Federer
2005 Roger Federer
2006 Roger Federer
2007 Roger Federer
2008 Rafael Nadal
2009 Roger Federer
2010 Rafael Nadal
2011 Novak Djokovic
2012 Andy Murray
2013 Rafael Nadal
2014 Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan

1999 Gustavo Kuerten
2000 Marat Safin
2001 Lleyton Hewitt
2002 Paradorn Srichaphan
2003 Guillermo Coria
2004 Nicolas Massu
2005 Rafael Nadal
2006 James Blake
2007 Novak Djokovic
2008 Andy Murray
2009 Juan Martin del Potro
2010 Tomas Berdych
2011 Andy Murray
2012 John Isner
2013 Alexander Peya/Bruno Soares
2014 Marin Cilic

2001 Andy Roddick
2002 Fernando Gonzalez
2003 Rafael Nadal
2004 Joachim Johansson
2005 Gael Monfils
2006 Novak Djokovic
2007 John Isner
2008 Gilles Simon
2009 Robin Soderling
2010 Thiemo de Bakker
2011 Aleksandr Dolgopolov
2012 Milos Raonic
2013 Grigor Dimitrov
2014 Nick Kyrgios

1999 Lleyton Hewitt
2000 Lleyton Hewitt
2001 Andy Roddick
2002 Fernando Gonzalez
2003 Taylor Dent
2004 Gael Monfils
2005 Richard Gasquet & Tomas Berdych
2006 Novak Djokovic & Marcos Baghdatis
2007 Juan Monaco
2008 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
2009 Marin Cilic
2010 John Isner & Sam Querrey
2011 Milos Raonic
2012 Filip Peliwo & Luke Saville
2013 Christian Garin
2014 Borna Coric

2002 Jiri Novak
2003 Martin Verkerk
2004 Gaston Gaudio
2005 Mariano Puerta
2006 Benjamin Becker
2007 Frank Dancevic
2008 Philip Petzschner
2009 Nikolay Davydenko
2010 Jurgen Melzer
2011 Pablo Andujar
2012 Nicolas Almagro
2013 Vacek Pospisil
2014 Roberto Bautista Agut

2002 Andre Agassi
2003 Andre Agassi
2004 Tim Henman
2005 Andre Agassi
2006 Jonas Bjorkman
2007 Mark Knowles/Daniel Nestor
2008 Daniel Nestor/Nenad Zimonjic
2009 Daniel Nestor/Nened Zimonjic
2010 Roger Federer
2011 Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
2012 Roger Federer
2013 Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
2014 Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan

2001 Goran Ivanisevic
2002 Carlos Moya
2003 Mark Philippoussis
2004 Lleyton Hewitt
2005 James Blake
2006 Andy Roddick
2007 Guillermo Canas
2008 Gilles Muller
2009 Tommy Haas
2010 Mardy Fish
2011 Juan Martin del Potro
2012 Tommy Haas
2013 Lleyton Hewitt
2014 David Goffin

2002 Gustavo Kuerten
2003 Lleyton Hewitt
2004 Juan Carlos Ferrero
2005 Tim Henman
2006 Guillermo Coria
2007 James Blake
2008 Ivan Ljubicic
2009 James Blake
2010 Juan Martin del Potro
2011 Andy Roddick
2012 Mardy Fish
2013 Roger Federer
2014 Juan Martin del Potro

2003 Mardy Fish
2004 Guillermo Canas
2005 Robby Ginepri
2006 Dmitry Tursunov
2007 Ivo Karlovic
2008 Ernests Gulbis
2009 Fernando Verdasco
2010 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
2011 Janko Tipsarevic
2012 Juan Monaco
2013 Jerzy Janowicz
2014 Kei Nishikori

1.Pete Sampras
2.Patrick Rafter
3.Carlos Moya
1.Andre Agassi
2.Pete Sampras
3.Yevgeny Kafelnikov
1.Marat Safin
2.Pete Sampras
3.Gustavo Kuerten
4.Magnus Norman
5.Lleyton Hewitt
1.Lleyton Hewitt
2.Gustavo Kuerten
3.Andre Agassi
4.Goran Ivanisevic
5.Patrick Rafter
6.Sebastien Grosjean
7.Juan Carlos Ferrero
8.Yevgeny Kafelnikov
9.Andy Roddick
10.Tommy Haas
1.Lleyton Hewitt
2.Andre Agassi
3.Carlos Moya
4.Marat Safin
5.Juan Carlos Ferrero
6.Andy Roddick
7.Roger Federer
8t.Pete Sampras
8t.Albert Costa
8t.Thomas Johansson
9.Younes El Aynaoui
10.Guillermo Canas
1.Andy Roddick
2.Juan Carlos Ferrero
3.Andre Agassi
4.Roger Federer
5.Guillermo Coria
6.Rainer Schuettler
7.Mark Philippoussis
8.Carlos Moya
9.Nicolas Massu
10.David Nalbandian
1.Roger Federer
2.Lleyton Hewitt
3.Marat Safin
4.Andy Roddick
5.Gaston Gaudio
6.Guillermo Coria
7.Tim Henman
8.Nicolas Massu
9.Carlos Moya
10.Andre Agassi
1.Roger Federer
2.Rafael Nadal
3.Andy Roddick
4.Ivan Ljubicic
5.Andre Agassi
6.Lleyton Hewitt
7.Marat Safin
8.Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
9.David Nalbandian
10.Nikolay Davydenko
1.Roger Federer
2.Rafael Nadal
3.Nikolay Davydenko
4.Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
5.Ivan Ljubicic
6.James Blake
7.Marcos Baghdatis
8.Russian Davis Cup Team
9.Tommy Robredo
10.Novak Djokovic
1.Roger Federer
2.Rafael Nadal
3.Novak Djokovic
4.Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
5.Andy Roddick
6.David Ferrer
7.Juan Monaco
8.James Blake
9.Guillermo Canas
10.Fernando Gonzalez
1.Rafael Nadal
2.Roger Federer
3.Novak Djokovic
4.Andy Murray
5.Daniel Nestor/Nenad Zimonjic
6.Spanish Davis Cup Team
7.Gilles Simon
8.Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
9.Juan Martin del Potro
10.Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
1.Roger Federer
2.Juan Martin del Potro
3.Rafael Nadal
4.Andy Murray
5.Novak Djokovic
1.Rafael Nadal
2.Roger Federer
3.Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
4.Andy Murray
1.Novak Djokovic
2.Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
3.Rafael Nadal
4.Andy Murray
5.Roger Federer
1.Andy Murray
2.Roger Federer
3.Novak Djokovic
4.Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
5.Rafael Nadal
6.David Ferrer
7.Juan Martin del Potro
8.Czech Davis Cup Team
9.Max Mirnyi/Daniel Nestor
10.Leander Paes/Radek Stepanek
1.Rafael Nadal
2.Novak Djokovic
3.Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
4.Andy Murray
5.David Ferrer
6.Juan Martin del Potro
7.Alexander Peya/Bruno Soares
8.Stan Wawrinka
9.Tommy Haas
10.Roger Federer

All for now.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

WTA Special: 2014 Players of the Year

Galileo is currently on the "injured reserve" list and has a difficult time typing out his thoughts, so he'll have to forgo his weekly recaps for the remainder of the season. But he was quite the dedicated lot and managed to fight through the pain to deliver his WTA Players-of-the-Year list.


1. Serena Williams
...Williams had not had the top ranking since 2009 but in February of last year she took it off Vika Azarenka. Vika ,incidentally, is now ranked #32. She has already had a whole career with ups and downs and she's only 25. Mind you by the time Williams got to 25 she had already had about five careers. By the way, Williams is 64-18 in finals. That blows my mind. No, this was not quite like 2013 which was her best year ever. She didn't win eleven titles this time, she only won seven. Williams just beat Halep 6-3/6-0 in the WTA Finals after the Romanian beat HER 6-2/6-0 four days earlier, only to get handed the beat down of her life in return. Williams had an awful year at the slams. She lost to Ivanovic, Muguruza and Cornet at the first three slams. Those are all players she should be outclassing. She won the U.S. Open, but here is the list of players she beat: Townsend, King, Lepchenko, Kanepi, Pennetta, Makarova and Wozniacki. So a poor year at the slams. But she has unquestionably been the world's best player throughout the year. She has won a title just about every month on the tour and that is very impressive. She has been the best in the world in almost every area. She may be starting to fade slightly, but she is still utterly dominant. She is still the favourite to win everything she enters. I think she will finish at number one next year, though she'll lose it several times over the course of the season.

W: U.S. Open, WTA Finals, Miami, Rome, Cincinnati, Brisbane, Stanford
2. Maria Sharapova
...Halep has not won a slam yet, and so it would be rather difficult to put her above any actual slam winners. Sharapova did not end the year well, as she played poorly during the WTA Finals. She had a chance at number one but could not take it. With only fourth round points to defend in Australia and not much else until the clay swing she has put herself in a great position to take the top spot. Sharapova was solid ,if not spectacular, at slam level and made the fourth round all four times but only won the French. Losses to Cibulkova, Kerber and Wozniacki were all surprising, but she did feel like the world number two for the second half of the year. She really stepped it up. She went 4-0 in finals and also made a lot of semi-finals. She was unable to crack the Williams enigma but she did well in other regards. She took time off to focus on Sochi but returned and continued to win. By now Maria must just be praying for Williams to retire. Sharapova is the best player in the world on clay and one of the best on any surface. This is especially the case if Williams isn't around.

W: French Open, Beijing, Madrid, Stuttgart
3. Li Na
...she started the season 21-3, but injuries prevented her from taking the world number one ranking which she surely would have taken at some point. She achieved her highest ranking [#2] in the year of her retirement. She inspired a nation of two billion. She brought tennis to China. She became the highest-ranking Asian singles player ever. Titles are irrelevant. She was the best player in the world in all but name for four months. She dominated the tour early on and became a deserved world number two. She pulled a Novotna and finally won her favorite slam [the grand slam of Asia Pacific] on the third attempt. Li Na was often perplexing and always mystifying. She was an enigma but in the end she had a Hall of Fame career. She has done more for China than perhaps they realize. And she did it by disobeying one of the strictest regimes in the world. How can you not love that?

W: Australian Open, Shenzhen
4. Petra Kvitova
...I said last year she would win another Wimbledon. I have been proved correct, but much sooner than I expected. Todd has devoted a lot of writing about Petra. I don't know if you've noticed, but she tends to be inconsistent. At the slams she went out in the first round once, the third round twice and she won Wimbledon. To illustrate her perfectly I'll list the round she reached in her tournaments:
SF, 1st, QF,2nd, QF, 4th, 2nd, SF, 2nd, 3rd, QF, W, 3rd, 2nd, W, 3rd, W, RU.
Look at that. How am I meant to dissect her season? Let's say overall it was good and leave it there.

W: Wimbledon, Wuhan, New Haven
5. Simona Halep
...I know I put all four slam champs in the top four. Can you blame me? I can see her simply dominating in Bucharest through the years and then they will call a stadium Halep and the other Simona. I watch Halep play and at the end of the match I always, no matter how comprehensive the victory, look back and wonder how she won. She just wins and that is part of her beauty -- you can watch one of her matches and not understand how she wins. But she does. Oh, boy, does she. Halep went 43-14 this year. She ascended to the second spot. She managed to make Williams blink occasionally, too. Halep dominated the rest of the top ten in this past WTA Finals. Halep is looking better and better as her career goes on. That U.S. Open upset aside, she was flawless this year at the slams. She became the slam player everyone knew she could be. At barely 23, she has the world at her feet. One of my favorite Billie Jean King quotes: “Ladies, here's a hint; if you're playing against a friend who has big boobs, bring her to the net and make her hit backhand volleys. That's the hardest shot for the well-endowed.” Halep heeded her advice reduced her breast size. That could be the key to all this winning she is doing. I've never really talked about boobs before on here. It never seems to come up on the ATP Tour.

W: Doha, Bucharest
6. Eugenie Bouchard
...she isn't here because of the amount of titles she won. She won her maiden title this year in Nurnberg, whilst Kvitova stopped her in Wuhan and at Wimbledon. She went 19-4 in slams. She made three semi-finals. Nobody else got close to that apart from Halep. She made quality opponents look like they were the inexperienced ones. She made fans all over the world. She was the best slam player this year because she won when playing well and badly. At the U.S. Open, she ground her way into the fourth round. She knows how to win in the major leagues. Next year I see her making eight finals. She looks set, after doing so well this year and rising to number five, to rise further and perhaps hit the top four. She has a lot of points too defend but I think she is fully capable.

W: Nurnberg
7. Ana Ivanovic
...I thought Ivanovic was done. I thought that slump was permanent. I thought Ana was finished and I wasn't the only one. She fell to outside the top fifty and it looked to be over for her. She has proven me and others wrong. Finals in Cincy and Stuttgart compliment that quartet of titles. It was a strong year for the world number eight. That forehand was back to where it had been before. She and Sharapova had a great rivalry throughout the year. Her year was kick-started by her beating Williams and making just her second slam quarterfinal since, what, 2009? She really took it to Williams and the American struggled to handle it, though Serena helped by having a bad day. Ivanovic will not win another slam, but another final is a possibility. She has shown us what she can do throughout this year.

W: Tokyo, Birmingham, Monterrey, Auckland
8. Caroline Wozniacki
...I can't really leave out a slam finalist. Well, I'm leaving out Cibulkova, but she would have been number eleven or so on this list. It feels as if the Woz had a better year than the stats suggest. Wozniacki has always had two major problems: she struggles to be aggressive and she lets her father be a little too controlling. She has solved those problems to an extent. It remains to be seen if she has the level needed to win a slam but she made another final this year. Not only that but she also managed to come back from being close to falling out of the top 20 or so to making the WTA Finals field and beating Sharapova. She has taken control of her destiny and has upped the tempo of her game. She is now primed for a strong 2015. Another slam semi or two surely beckon for the girl who came back from the wilderness.

W: Istanbul
9. Flavia Pennetta
...last year I had a surprising Italian in these as well -- Vinci. Will it be Giorgi next year? Flavia made a semi-final last year at the U.S. Open, her first. The first Italian lady to make the top ten was in form but nobody expected the consistent high level of play she delivered. She won her first Premier Mandatory in Indian Wells, the "fifth slam," if you will. She also featured in a pair of slam quarterfinals. It was an up and down year but she is the Italian number one in form and, surely, soon in ranking, too. A fairly strong year from her with a few big highlights. It's impressive. Oh and there was this too:

W: Indian Wells
10. Venus Williams
...let's talk about Williams again. A different Williams this time. She won her 45th title. She also made the final of Toronto and two other smaller tournaments. She has put together a solid year. She has beaten the world number one and she has also looked good. Losses to Makarova [in three tight sets] Kvitova [she should have won and was the better player] and Errani are understandable. The bottom line is that it felt like Venus was back and healthy. Also, in 46 matches she hit 222 aces. That puts her tenth on the list. Not bad at all.

W: Dubai
HM- Casey Dellacqua
...Casey has made two fourth rounds at slams [the same as Aga] this year and has gone from finishing at #130 last year to finishing inside the top thirty this year. No, she hasn't won anything but she has been consistently playing above her usual level. She has stepped it up this year and, hey, she's now a better player than Vika is. The rankings don't lie right. Right?
Fallen from Grace: Aga Radwanska, Aga will not be in the top ten list. What has she done? For her ability and talent she should be making slam finals. She has been touted as the next Hingis and one can see that. She has a lot of craft and uses angles very well, but Henin and Hingis had that, too. She needs power nad she needs more than just soft hands. She was playing Barrois at Stuttgart a few years back and the commentator said, "she lacks a big shot to break down Barois' backhand" and she was right. Radwanska has still not added that. After that Wimbledon final I thought she would move on and up. Since then she has won a couple of small titles and the Rogers Cup. She has made just two slam semi-finals. I think we have seen her limitations now. She looks set to simply be a solid top ten player for the next few years, but no more. She can easily be out-hit and is always ripe for an upset. She hasn't even made a U.S. Open quarterfinal yet. And that is why she is not on the list, regardless of how well she did at the WTA Finals

I did a link through history on one of my recent ATP posts. You can do it with the Women, too.

In the beginning, there was two-time Wimbledon champion Maud Watson, and the first Wimbledon title she won was the first Ladies Wimbledon. That was in that historic year of 1884. The same year, John McCain went to college. Lottie Dodd played Maud Watson, and she also played Blanche Bingley Hillyard, who went 7-6 in Wimbledon finals. Blanche played Dorothea Lambert Chambers, who in turn played the as-great-as-she-was-star-crossed Lenglen. Lenglen played the rather brilliant Helen Wills Moody but just once. Helen Wills, who won everything, played Helen Jacobs, though the war halted their careers.

Helen Jacobs played Alice Marble, who played Pauline Betz Addie, who played an all-time great in Margaret Osborne DuPont. Margaret won 25 U.S. Open crowns in various disciplines. She passed recently, in 2012, and was a great loss to the tennis world. DuPont played another great in Maureen Connolly, who played against Louis Brough Clapp. Clapp played against Gibson, and Gibson played against the excellent Darlene Hard. Hard played against so many good players, and one of those was Maria Bueno, who still visits Wimbledon most years. Bueno played Billie Jean King, who had a stunning rivalry with Court.

Court had a great rivalry with Evert, too, but the rivalry of them all was Navratilova's with Evert. They played 80 times, the most any two have ever played one another on the WTA. That record will not be broken. Navratilova went on to play the best Grand Slam Player of the modern era in singles, Steffi Graf. The German played Martina Hingis a lot and the Swiss played Venus, who played Henin, who played Serena, who played Azarenka , who played... well, we'll see who the next great will be.

The WTA story continues and, as you can see, even abridged it is still fairly lengthy.

Thanx all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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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.

Thanx all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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