By sachs on Mar 22, 2011 | In tennis
our sport has had this kind of competition, with this many high quality players truly in the hunt for the grand slams and the #1 ranking.
As you may have heard, this weekend, one Nole Djokovik beat down a healthy Rafa in the finals of the Masters tournament at Indian Wells. Nole had similarly taken out Federer in a 3-set yet one-sided semifinal (and which secured #2 for Nole and dropped Rog to #3!). In fact, the finals were worse. Nole bitchslapped Rafa in the third set like Rafa has never been bitchslapped.
Rafa has waited year after year to take the #1 spot from Fed. He finally took it in 08, only to have Rog take it back with a dominating 09 while Rafa languished with injuries. In '10 Rafa had his best season ever, winning 3 Slams. This time, he took #1 running away from the field and seemed ready to establish the kind of year after year reign Fed had enjoyed.
Then, Nole happened.
Nole has not lost in 2011 yet. Its the end of March already! He's somewhere around 20 straight wins, including 3 over Fed, 1 over Murray and 1 over Rafa. Everyone is now writing off ROg (since most people's brains can't handle more than 2 competitors at a time- this is what made the Transformers such a great cartoon, since there were all kinds of rival factions. GI Joe also. Anyway...)
Rog has lost 3 times this year, and all to Nole. So its hard to argue Rog has dropped out of competition.
Rafa, Rog and Nole all have a legitimate shot at each Slam and at the year end #1. I don't think there are any more contenders for the #1 spot, but there sure are for the Slams. Del Potro is improving massively with each tournament; Andy Murray is listing, but he WILL right his ship this year and he's shown he can beat any of these guys on hard court. Soderling will be a threat on clay and hard courts, and Ferrer as well. Then there's ROddic who will have a shot at Wimbledon (or at least a shot at knocking off one of the contenders), and to top it off we have the Young Guns, Raonic, Harrison, Tigger...
Back in 2003, Andy Roddick held #1 and the media assumed the future was his. Ferrero was #2 and Fed was #3. We had Sampras' vanquishing Hewitt and Safin looking as locks for multiple Slams, and Agassi still refused to stop contending. Plus, Guga was the King of Clay (I still believe Guga could have been the best ever on clay had his hips not given way). Coming into the Year End Championships there was a 3 way battle for #1. Fed took the YEC and never looked back, taking the Australian Open and #1 crown next, a crown he held until 2008.
Which shows how precarious these multi-contender moments can be... cherish this year people. Cherish it!
Maybe I should have said, 1988 all over again? Ah, yes, Becker, Edberg, Lendl... with Sampras and Agassi on the horizon...
So whats next, Vagabond?
Next is Key Biscayne (Miami) Masters, aka the Bacon O'Rourke Championship. Why does this Masters matter? because this year, we could very well get 4 Slam holders, or have Nole win the two hard courts and Rafa the two naturals. Which means the Masters will decide the year end #1. Miami should be a doozy. Then... off to clay for two months!
The Draw Is Out!
In an example of the wild world we have entered, with Rog dropping to #3 and Murray behind Soderling at #5, we have the amazing potential of a Rafa/Rog semifinal on one side, and a Nole/Murray quartefinal on the other!
My picks: Roger over Rafa on one side, Murray over Djokovic in the quarters and then beating DelPo in the semis, with ROg taking the crown over Murray in the finals.
I just figure, Murray has to bounce back eventually, and ROg is due...
By sachs on Jun 29, 2009 | In tennis
This year, the first week had a shadow over it; not a shadow exactly, a dark hole cut out of it.
Rafael Nadal, world number 1, reigning champ, the everpresent boulder in Federer's path, was missing. For the first time in a Slam in 2 or 3 years, we did not go in expecting another Fed/Nadal final
It made the first week seem quiet, like we'd just come from a funeral.
But this is the strange way first weeks are at the Slams. With 132 players entered in each singles draws, there are so many unfamiliar faces in a first week. For the most part, the first week is a warm-up for the fans, as we are slowly drawn in by the tennis, by the emerging storylines.
Its like a fans' 'combine'- the physical testing that sports leagues run for prospects before their drafts. In the first week, the fans watch the stars testing out their game, and over the middle weekend, we set the odds in our minds. Who is for real?
For players, all know that nothing is won in the first week. The goal in those days is just to make the second half.
And now, appetites whetted, the real tournament begins.
Their are always a few great matches and great stories to come out of that first week. With the mens and womens fields now down to 16, I like seeing the older players making unexpected runs: Leyton Hewitt, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Tommy Haas: did anyone expect any of them to be here? Amelie Mauresmo on the women's side. My old girlfriend, a Wimbledon champ once, I didn't even know she was entered in the tournament and here she is. Then there's Melanie Oudin, the 17 year old Georgian mini-babe, winning her first three matches ever in a main draw tournament- including a big upset over Jelena "Tampax" Jancovic. Israeli journeyman Dudi Sela, whom I cannot recall ever landing in a second week.
The first week gives us nice stories. The second week gives us a champion.
Now, there are no boring matches when we look at the draw. It is all tension. Hewitt, Roddick, Murray all make a run on one side; Federer, Djokovic, Dr. Ivo on the other. Hewitt has been playing great tennis, beating down pretend-contender Juan Martin del Potro. On the other side, Federer has been Fed of Old. The man who makes little miracles out of his shots, who shows us balls we've never seen hit like that on a court before. I'm loving this Federer this week.
I still like Roddick in his Round of 16 match against the surging Thomas Berdych, but I no longer expect him to lead his half of the draw into the finals. Murray is playing great, smart tennis. I just expect Roddick, with the big holes in his game, will find himself exposed by as sharp a tactician as Murray. If we do get a Fed/Murray finale, how different will that be from the big bomb rock throwing 90's of Goran vs Pete? We might actually see some tennis played on the lawn.
And now, to those about to second week, WE SALUTE YOU!
GO! And bring us a championship!