By sachs on Aug 6, 2012 | In tennis
Many fans had given up on Andy Murray. The gifted player had shown time and again he had the game to disrupt tennis’ royalty, but he had as often demonstrated an inability to bring all that game, and the right attitude, to bear at the biggest moments.
But he was getting closer: he played brilliantly in a losing effort to Federer at Wimbledon last month, though even then he’d only had to face one, not two giants.
At the Olympics he faced two giants and felled them both, world #2 and recent world dominator NOvak Djokovic first in the semis, and Roger Federer in the finals.
Against Federer, Murray touched perfection. His game, his fitness, his attitude, his tactics, all peaked, all worked together. Federer was helpless in this match.
To start, Federer showed his own unmatchable form with several jaw dropping groundstrokes in the first games. Murray kept pace, and the two challenged each other with deuces and break points piling up in the first several games. Then Murray raised his game and it was Federer who cracked.
For the next 2 and a half sets, Murray played the match of his life. Federer did not rise to the challenge this time. He did not play badly; his effort would have been enough against any player outside the top ten, possibly a few of the weaker top tenners. But it was nowhere near enough for Andy Murray.
Critics have always wondered what Andy Murray could do with more aggressive tactics (as against Nadal in the Australian Open semifinal 2010). For himself he has bristled at the suggestion, often insisting he knows his game best and that he trusts his defense first. All that changed this month, first at Wimbledon, now here. At Olympian Wimbledon. The first match gave Murray the confidence that when he plays offensive minded tennis, good things happen. This Olympic Gold will sear in his mind that when he plays this way, he is more than a great player, he is a true contender for the best in the world.
This match, if it changes Andy’s attitude towards his own weapons, could change the power structure of tennis.
Federer is not going away. He still has the best season so far. He is a silver medalist and Wimbledon champ.
Novak will not go away, and I assure fans and haters, Rafa will come back with force and surprises. But now Murray may be an equal, and Juan Martin Del Potro has his fingers over the pedestal too.
The next question is, just how much can Andy Murray achieve with belief? Can he knock the others off that perch, or will he share it?
We’ve waited a long time for a more open game, as one dominant rivalry gave way to another. This year, the Trivalry became more than hype as Federer proved himself again. With his Double WImbledon success, Murray has to be given equal respect in the conversation.
By sachs on Jun 1, 2012 | In tennis
The second of the Slams is getting into the business end.
Aleksandra Wozniak and Another Game For Milos have made the third rounds, and Nestor and Myrni are playing their second round match today. If they win (and they're #1 seeds), would it be the first time Canadians have made the third round in three draws of a Slam? Yesterday was the first Maple Syrup Summit: AGFMilos against former Ottawan Jesse Levine. Milos won despite Levine's impeccable training while an Ottawa youth, supposedly inspired by the Gatineau Ninja community.
Wozniak gets world #1 Victoria Azarenka, so she's got a tough ask, but Milos has a very winnable match against Juan Monaco, the 13th seed. On paper Club Monaco is ahead of AGFMilos, but Raonic has shown much higher level competition against the top guys. Monaco is on a roll lately and is a good claycourter, so if Milos wins its a great sign for his progress on his worst surface. Then he should have it easy: Rafa. AGFMilos is Rafa's challenge in his draw, but its kind of a fantasy. Milos challenged Fed on the super fast blue clay of Madrid, but he's a bit shy of Rafa's credibility of red-ability. (like that?)
Rafa has a pretty clear run to the finals: possible semi opponents Andy Murray (weak on clay and struggling with back pain) or David "Baby killer" Ferrer (who plays Washington Generals to Rafa's Harlem Globetrotters on clay).
(sidebar: I frequent this tennis blog, Tennis-X. There's a commenter there named Humble Rafa who plays the part of His ROyal Humbleness King Rafa. Its a funny schtick, complete with personal-for-Rafa nicknames for his rival. His nickname for Novak, for example is the Egg Lover, a reference to Nole's supposedly-brief love affair with a Michael Jackson Oxygen Tube. Murray is Mr. Lady Forehand, which I think is pretty funny)
Fed's obstacle is a quarter match against the very hot Thomas Berdych, who really challenged Fed in the Madrid final. Berdych though, furst has to get by Del Potro. (Fed has this week surpassed Jimmy Connors or most match wins in Slam history.
The one who comes out of all that gets world #1, Novak Djokovic.
There are other exciting players left in the last 32: Richard Gasquet, Tsonga, Simon, Wawrinka, Old Man Tommy Haas. Haas, one of the Last of the New Balls Generation (along with Roddick, Fed, Ferrero and Hewitt) gets RIchard Gasquet tomorrow which should be a great match. The truth is, Novak, Rafa and ROger have lifted themselves far from the pack on clay. It would be a shock to see someone other than 2 of these 3 in the finals, and that will very likely be Novak and Rafa. Not to spoil the fun and reveal the ending, but it would be a huge shock for anything else to happen.
But accidents happen!
1997, a nobody Brazilian with GREAT hair, Gustavo Kuerten, came from nowhere and won the French over one of the greatest rosters ever assembled of clay court champs near the top of their game: Muster, Courier, Chang, Kafelnikov, Brugera, Costa, Rios...
Could Milos be this years Guga?
A legend is born:
A bit of context
We came into the clay season with Djokovic and Federer in the ascendancy, and Rafa eclipsed. But the clay again coursed through Rafa's veins, and he stopped the 7 match losing streak to Novak in Monte Carlo. He lost early on the blue ice of Madrid, as did Novak (allowing champ Federer to briefly retake #2), but then Rafa came away with the trophy, again over Novak, in Rome. Novak had beaten Fed in the semis. So Rafa is again the undisputed master of this domain, and Novak has taken a role of True Challenger that Fed could never credibly take himself. Still, accidents happen!
These three though, have proven they are far above the field. Ferrer is always there on clay, but he just can't beat the Big Three. Berdych, who can be hot and cold, and is weak in the head, is the only really credible dark horse.
Back to the tournament.
On the women's side, the most compelling story coming in must have been Serena mowing through the top women in the last month: Sharapova, Wozniacki, Azarenka. She has won the French onec, in 2002, but she was probably one of the favourites going in. And then she lost to a Frenchwoman I've never heard of in the first round, her first first round loss in a slam in her career.
Left are Azarenka, Sharapova, Kvitova, Wozniaki, Na Li and Gorgeous Goerges. Kuznetsova knocked out Radwanska. I like Kuznetsova.
Apparently there's been discussion about the top 3 women sniping at each other on the court and in the media. Keep it up girls!
Today's match of the Day: Del Potro/ Cilic or Simon/ Wawrinka. Tomorrow I'd go with Milos/Monaco or Haas/Gasquet. Also today: a BLOCKBUSTER!! of guys you never heard of: Lukasz Kubot, of Poland, against David Goffin of Belgium. Kubot is the headliner here: ranked 49 in the world, I have heard his name in a few mainstream draws before. Goffin on the other hand, I have literally never seen that name. He's ranked 109, which I suspect is a recent rise, and he's here with the best 32 in the world right now. I admit it, I'm a Goffin-Head!
By sachs on Jan 8, 2012 | In tennis
That is to say, a new tennis season is upon us, rising in the East, and where the year to unfold may already be read in the sky.
The first tourneys are under way, scattered across Asia Pacific as the players swarm hemispherically 'round Australia in preparation for the year's first Slam in a week's time. ANd those tourneys are telling us what to expect for this year.
If I had written a week ago of the prospects for this year, I would have rated Nole as the likely year end #1 with Roger and Rafa each contending at the Slams. I put Roger back up with Rafa because he tore through the nobody-cares fall calendar, including demolishing Rafa in the World Tour FInals.
But I also would have said I see room for breakthroughs this year, and I would have pegged Tsonga, Murray, and Del Potro as the most likely. I also would have bet on Milos Raonic and Alex Dolgopolov breaking into the top ten.
Fate has reached out through this first week of tennis to confirm her intentions: At the Doha tournament, Gael Monfils took out Rafa, and then Jo Wilfred Tsonga took out Gael in the finals.
In Brisbane, Andy Murray knocked out Dolgoplov in the final. And in Chennai, Milos Raonic took out top tenners Almagro and Tipsarevic en route to the title.
Expect it: big years are coming for Tsonga and Murray in terms of contending at Slams, and from Milos and Dolgopolov in terms of breaking into the top tier.
As for The Great Oz: I just don't know. I think perhaps the only player who can take out Djokovic there might be Murray- the only man who really doesn't fear him. I would say, I expect Nole, Murray or Roger to win. Would not be shocked to see Rafa or Tsonga in the finals, but don't think they'll win.
Of course, other players to keep an eye on, as always, include David Ferrer (the invisible man), Thomas Berdych, Gael Monfils, and youngster Australian Bernard Tomic. And yesterday Del potro gave an interview claiming he is at his peak preparation and condition for the Slam this year. So lots of cool stuff going on.
Don't look behind the curtain.
UPDATE: Murray hired Lendl as his new coach. How cool is that? Their games are nothing alike, but they have one thing in common: each broke into Slam finals and stalled, losing several in a row. Lendl went on to win MANY (7?) as a late bloomer. Can Andy?
UPDATER: Murray is often called the best player never to have won a Slam. I always thought that couldn't be true. Surely in the history of tennis there were better players that had never won Slams. Nope. By just about any standard I could think to check, mainly, number of tournaments won, number of Masters won, number of Slam finals and semis, Murray is easily the best player never to have won a Slam. Cedric Pioline, David Nalbandian and Todd Martin won far fewer tournaments, for example. Vitas Gerulitis won a Slam (who knew?) Give that Murray has an amazing record in finals outside of Slams, and a pretty good record against the Big Three outside of Slams, you have to think he's going to win one.
Jumping on the Vagabond Zeitgeist Bandwagon, here's SI's look at best retired non-Slam winners:
By sachs on Aug 29, 2011 | In tennis
This year began with 3 storylines worth watching, but after 3 of the 4 majors have played out, two fizzled and one grew to epic proportions. The diminishing stories were the return of Del Potro and emergence of young guns, Raonic, Harrison, Tomic and Dolgopolov.
But the story of the year, without a doubt, is Novak Djokovic who has turned in one of the great seasons in tennis history, complete with 5 straight championship match wins over Rafael Nadal, on hard courts, clay and grass. Nole has only lost twice this season, once in possibly the match of the year in the French semis to Federer, and once last week when he quit in the Cincinnati finals to Andy Murray citing a shoulder injury.
He is, possibly flirting with Johnny Mac's 1984 campaign, which went something like 80-odd wins and 3 or 4 losses (sorry, no easy internet connection at the cottage, so stats are from memory). If he wins the USO, compiling 3 Slams in a season, it will be up there in the list of great seasons in post-Laver times (Fed had 3 Slams, a 4th Slam Final, a Year End Championship and about 5 losses in 2005 or 2006. Fed has actually hit the 3 Slams and a Final mark 3 times! Last year, Rafa won 3 Slams but had somewhere close to 10 losses).
By the way, I always liked Novak and found his antics pretty funny. The more exposure that he gets, the more sick I am of seeing him take his shirt off and flex.
your favourite for this years US Open, hands down, Novak Djokovic.
Then you have Rafa. What to make of the bumpicking baseliner? After shocking clay court beatdowns to Novak in two straight Masters tournaments in the spring, he resumed his traditional place in the French Open's champion spot, only to lose convincingly to Novak at WImbledon. THere is no doubt Novak is in Rafa's head much as Rafa has been for so long in Federer's (one interesting difference: Rafa admits it, Fed continues to pretend not to notice).
Rafa has had a shitty hardcore summer so far. But he's clearly changing his tactics again, looking to regain the aggressive, offensive form that he took to the USOpen trophy last year. Its so hard to count Rafa out in a Slam, but right now he does not go into this tournament with the other players shaking as he has for the last few years. That alone will cost him a few points here and there.
Newly demoted #3 Roger Federer keeps telling everyone he's happy with his game, and after over a year with his new coach (former Sampras aide) Paul Anacone, he does look good. Except when he doesn't. And it only has to happen once a tournament. As long as Federer doesn't run into someone having a career day, he's winning, but he seems to be running into players-at-their-best a LOT lately. Like to Soderling at the French last year, then Berdych at Wimbledon. After a very tight French Open loss to Rafa this year, Fed lost to a sizzling Tsonga at Wimbledon, then AGAIN to Tsonga playing one of the greatest matches I've ever seen in Montreal, and AGAIN to a hot Berdych in Cincinnati. There are seven matches to a Slam trophy and it seems to me that somewhere in there Fed will face someone having a great day. Fed is having a hard time finding that level.
Still, he's doing better than Andy Murray. After getting blown out in Novak's Oz coming out party, Murray has been showing up at the Slams, making decent semifinals runs, then disappearing for all other tournaments. We were ready to forget about MAndy altogether until… he won Cincinnati, knocking out the unbeatable Novak in the finals just last week.
There are three or four players right now that could be outsider shots at a USO title, or at least finals: Jo-Willy Tsonga, who is finally getting some consistent health and showing that when he's on, he can match up with anyone in the world. He has a flat out beautiful game, his victory over Fed at Wimbledon was stellar, but his performance in Montreal was just magic.
Then there's DelPotro. DelPotro won the 2009 USOpen, beating both Rafa and Fed, then took a year off with wrist problems. His return this year was a terrific story, a constantly upwards trajectory, beating several top tenners convincingly, then taking a set off the (then undefeated in 2011) Novak at the French and fighting Rafa to what was essentially a draw at Wimbledon (losing out by the barest of margins in tiebreaks). Most of the tennis world expected the summer hardcourts to be where he'd take the next step, alas, its been a step backwards. He's had a few straight lacklustre losses, not great prep for New York. But he is a champion, and one with more effortless power and natural offense than anyone on tour.
Our third dark horse is Mardy Fish. The stoner underachiever from the Fed-Roddick generation finally got off the munchies, dropped about twenty pounds, and rose for the first time into the top ten. This summer, he's been playing the best tennis of his life. He's never made it past a Slam quarters, but he's never played like this before. His serve is lights out and he may be the best volleyer on tour right now.
If I were to force one more contender out it would be Berdych, who has shown some signs of life this summer after a major let down following last years Wimbledon finals.
The Draw and Matches
Semifinals line up as Novak v Fed and Murray v Rafa. Remember that Fed knocked Novak out of the French, and Murray has twice beaten Rafa at hardcourt Slams.
Fed has by far the toughest draw overall, Rafa's is a cakewalk.
Quarterfinals line up as
Novak vs Berdych
Fed vs Tsonga or Fish
Rafa vs David Ferrer
Murray vs Robin Soderling.
Great match-ups, real and potential:
Ryan Harrison, the very promising young American against the formerly very promising young Croat Marin Cilic.
Nikolay Davydenko vs recent Rafa-slayer Ivan Dodig
Grigor Dmitrov vs Gael Monfils
Mikhail Youzhny vs Ernest "Hooker Lover" Gulbis
After that, we look forward to:
Federer vs Brazillian Boy Ball Basher Bellucci in the 2nd rnd
Australia's Future Top Tenner Bernard Tomic vs American Future Top Tenner Harrison in the 2nd
Gilles Simon vs Del Potro (3rd)
Murray vs The Other Swiss Stan Wawrinka in the 3rd
Gasquet vs Dolgopolov in the 3rd
Then we get some doozies the best of the 4th round include:
Tsonga/ FIsh (MATCH OF THE FIRST WEEK!)
Ernest Gulbis or Jurgen Melzer vs Rafa in the 4th
For whats its worth: I have Tsonga over Fish, and Fed over Tsonga.
I have DelPo over Simon, SOderling, Murray and Rafa. Crazy, no? Yeah, I'm nuts that way.
I have Fed over Nole, and a Fed/DelPotro 2009 rematch.
WHAT SAY YOU??
Kim Clijsters is out with an injury. Everybody else sucks except Serena Williams. Caroline "I Can't Believe She's #1" Wozniaki has been playing awful. Maria Sharapova has been alright, but she's got a bad shoulder and bad serve that will be murdered if she faces Serena. Serena is ranked, like 30th, since her injury layoff, but that is just bad news for the upper seeds who have to face her early.
By sachs on May 17, 2011 | In tennis
To all those lamenting the new Novak/Rafa dominance, and the fear of a tennis landscape devoid of creativity, all-court play, and offense, I say fear not! For each zig has within itself the seeds of its own zag, as sure as Borg gave way to McEnroe who gave way to Lendl and Wilander who gave way to Becker, Edberg and Sampras...
I've heard the baseliner lament over and over, and it never sticks. But if you're impatient next time Rafa and Novak are locked in a 40-stroke rally, check out some of this action, featuring three of the greatest serve and volleyers of all time. Its really a lost art right now; we always hear that serve and volleyers can't survive in today's slowed down surfaces, but I don't buy it. First of all, the racquet and strings today generate so much power that it more than compensates for a slower Wimbledon. Secondly, just look at these guys! No one today can volley anywhere near this level. Even Fed, the best volleyer in the top 20, or Rafa who would probably be second, have nowhere near the skills of these guys who pull off incredibly aggressive, deep pin-point shots against amazing pressure.
Enjoy! French Open preview coming soon!