By sachs on Jan 12, 2012 | In tennis
In the '90's, the Big Girl generation arrived: First The WIlliams Sisters, then Jeniffer Capriatti version II, Clijsters, Davenport. They dominated the WTA for years. For a time, Hingis seemed the rat dodging the elephants.
Less talked about is the arrival of Big Man tennis, which began with Soderling's defeat of Rafa at the French Open in 2009. That same year, Del Potro won the USOpen. Next, Berdych ran off a few wins over Federer and Djokovic, and a 2010 Wimbledon final, and this summer, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga returned to top tier tennis with two of the most impressive, and high level of tennis, wins over Federer.
And that about introduces the current crop of Big Men: Soderling, Tsonga, Del Potro and Berdych. There are other big men, for sure: And Murray, Bernard Tomic, Gael Monfils, Ivo Karlovic, John Isner, Sam Querrey. But they play small man tennis. The Huge Four, play eye-popping, jaw dropping big shots. When they are on form, they are devastating, and have between them the scalps of Federer, Rafa and Nole at various Slams. They are on to varying degrees at varying times. I would rate them like this:
Tsonga and Del Potro are the best, they move better than the others, and have better touch.
Soderling and Berdych also do not play as big as Tsonga and Del Potro. Tsonga and Del Potro go for broke on almost every stroke. They aim to smoke lines and opponents. Soderling and Berdych are slightly more timid. They can keep their Beast locked up for games at a time.
Watch out for the Big Men, they can provide some of the most exciting tennis and biggest upsets. Also, watch for Milos Raonic to join their ranks this year. His backhand is still pretty weak, but his weird quick loop forehand is devastating, and he seems fearless with it. He might also be the best natural net player of this group, and that will be a HUGE weapon with his serve.
This is also the year Milos has become the trendy prospect pick of all the commentators. He and Australian Bernard Tomic (still just 19) are the consensus break-out picks for 2012.
By sachs on Jan 25, 2010 | In tennis
Men's Oz Quarterfinal thoughts below, but first, to set the stage...
Welcome to a new year in tennis. If you've been following the Australian Open, you're probably wondering, Who the hell is Nikolai Davydenko? Why are they talking about this dude as a contender? WTF?
Show some respect. It's not just Davydenko, WTF? It's Davydenko, WTF CHAMPION.
As in, the World Tour Finals (formerly the Masters Championships), the year end round-robin of the world's top 8 players. And this fellow won it, beating Fed, Nadal and del Potro in the process.
So who is this guy?
Well you should ask. After all, he's only been a top ten mainstay for the last 8 years or so. They call him the Invisible Man (actually, he should be so lucky- if you see his face you'll know why he's also called Golum, but his wife is quite hot and she says she thinks he's beautiful, so what do I know?). Davydeko is one of those guys you look and see ranked in the Top Four and go, WTF?? (See Gilbert, Brad) Actually, Kolya (now that we know him well enough) has been as high as 3, though his best showings have been a couple Slam semis, years back. But he's always there in the quarters and plays well enough in the other tourneys to maintain a high ranking. The tourneys no one watches. Hence, the Invisible Man.
If you ever DID hear of Kolya, it was probably during the betting scandal a couple years back- a lot of money was made when Nikolai withdrew or retired or played gimply through a small match against a no-name (but a real no name, not like Beloved Kolya). So Davy was investigated and cleared and no one will ever know but likely someone in Kolya's camp blabbed about an injury to some bad guys..
Now, before WTF, Davydenko had never beaten Federer- and these guys are contemporaries, we're talking like 0-11 or something. He gained so much confidence from this match, that at the season opener, in Doha, HE DID IT AGAIN- beating Fed and Nadal in a row to take the small tourney.
So he comes in to Australia with a BIG head of steam, and, umm, no racquet or clothing sponsors. He's a small guy, superfast, plays good defense and offense, cuts huge angles like Djokovic and stays mostly at baseline.
And now you know.
What else is going on?
Serena and her naughty mouth...
So to sum up: At the US Open, Serena was getting her ass handed to her by BARP rep Kim Clijsters (more below) when a footfault call set her off. She ran up to the lineswoman, shook her racquet in her face and told her she'd be eating some mothrfckin tennis balls or something like that...
Anyhoo... match over. Serena gives a formal and very fake apology, soon begins joking about it and claiming "gender bias", and after lengthy review, gets... a fine and ZERO suspension. Which I thought was a joke, but whatever.
That's so 2009. Its January and I'm already sick of hearing about it every time Serena's name comes up- some folks, Pat MacEnroe and Mary Carillo especially, seem to take it as a personal insult to them if she doesn't lick their feet and beg for their own forgiveness. Carillo has always had a hard time giving any credit to the best woman's player of the last decade- but bleating out the other day that Serena had "threatened murder" to the lineswoman was a little much. But beside that, as a fan, I'm just bored with them bringing this up over and over.
She screwed up. She never properly owned up, but big deal. I wanna watch her play tennis, not marry her.
The Belgian Association of Retired People is coming strong. First Kim- a few weeks back on tour and BAM, the woman who was famous for blowing championship matches wins her first big one back. Now Justine, a legit champ, is back, and she's tearing a path through the seeded "stars".
What does it say? It says if you don't follow women's tennis, you're in a good place. It's a joke. This era is Serena and the Nobodies.
The Quarterfinal Field
Dream field here. Outside of Del Potro, this represents the putative (that means, supposed to be) elite of 2010. If you want to know what this year looks like, this is it:
Roddick v Cilic
First, A-Rod, since we can deal with him quick: Watching him play, I'm impressed and depressed at the same time. I'm impressed because he is playing HARD and executing. Depressed because his game just looks so unimaginative right now. He's serving huge, his defense is awesome, but what else is there? Last year he showed some real ability to come to the net, he had some variety in his backhand, and he was bringing the heat on his forehand. This year, he's serving huge and his defense is awesome. That's it. That's quarterfinal level right now. Unless he cuts down the topspin and goes for some bombs and starts mixing things up, he is not going to threaten Fed, Nadal, DelPo. He just isn't.
But Cilic... maybe.
If you don't know yet who Marin Cilic is, you will. Put short: he is DelPo before the Slam win. He's the same age, same giant height, same MASSIVE groundstrokes, plus facility to come to the net. This is it: If Cilic wins, this is his coming out. If Roddick wins, don't think his game is A-OK: Cilic has been slogging 5 setters last 2 rounds (yeah, yeah, A-Rod has a 5 setter last round, but I got a feel Cilic is worn down).
Anywhoo, should be a slobberknocker!
Give this an A-
A-Rod in 5
Nadal v Murray
Rafa ended last season looking RAGGED. He hasn't won a tournament, or BEATEN A TOP 8 OPPONENT since MAY! I'd say that again, but I don't have time, so read it again.
At the USO, Rafa got rag-dolled by DelPo in the semifinals. At the year end WTF, Rafa got knocked out in the first round. But so what? This happens to varying degrees every year. So the off-season chatter has been, is this year different? Is this the year Rafa's physically gruelling game takes its toll? Or will the New Years Pixie Dust see him through another 6, 7 months like every year? Incredibly, it looks like the Pixie Dust may be working. Rafa has been slicing through the draw so far, and has begun coming in and playing more aggressive tennis- this is actually less taxing on his body due to the decreased topspin and running.
Murray is in a way similar to Roddick- he is executing Murray-tennis to a T. But is it enough? Last year, the big critique on Murray was that he is a gimmick defensive specialist with no weapons- all moonballs and spins as likely to bore you to death as hit a winner. Against lesser opponents it works great- but against the guys who beat him last year- DelPo, Verdasco, Federer, guys with WEAPONS, it doesn't cut it. Right now, it looks same-o, same-o for Murray. I predict that Murray may win a Slam with things falling just his way, but unless he alters his game and adds in some kill shots, he will NEVER be one of the greats. That said, what a great match-up this should be. I should also point out that Murray is still very ugly.
Give this a Hopeful A+
Rafa in 5
Djokovic v Tsonga
Two guys with great games and weak heads: whereas Nole has a great all-round game without a killer weapon, Tsonga is all-killer-forehand and, you know...
Djoker is looking good right now. Very good. But against one of the easiest Slam draws I've ever seen. Nole also finished the year strong in '09. Believe it or not, a championship here, couple with a QF loss by Fed, would leapfrog him to #1. I think Nole faces a chicken and egg thing: until he beats Fed and Nadal on a big stage and wins another Slam, he will continue to lack confidence and... not be able to beat Fed and Nadal on a big stage and win another Slam. Tsonga is just a question mark- he can put together a brilliant match, no question. But he can't seem to put 2 or 3 together in a row. Which is a problem. Cause these are tournaments. Tsonga just squeked by Almagro, no world beater in the last round.
Give this a B.
Nolel in 4
Federer v Davydenko
The Hottest Player on tour against the GOAT. After back to back tourneys beating down Fed and Nadal, the only critique of Kolya was whether he could do it in 5-setters (the smaller tourneys are all 3-set matches). Even Kolya said before the tourney he didn't think so. But then... Davy has TORN his way through the field, serving up more BAGELS than having his serve broken! Until last round. Against a very game Fernando Hot Sauce Verdasco, Kolya was stretched to 5. So he IS still human.
TMF is dead-set on revenge after his 2 losses against a foe he has OWNED for 8 years. Fed is looking GOOD. He demolished Hewitt last night, showing every aspect of his enormous arsenal to be on. And not a hair out of place! As always, the year started with the doubters proclaiming the Age of Fed over. TMF on the other hand has won all their is to win, including GOAT status. He is , in other words, playing with house money. Motivation? Never a problem. Fed LOVES tennis. He loves each challenge. And having the revenge aspect here means he won't be lulled into complacency. This one should be pure gold, an on-fire player against the best of all time.
Give this an A+
TMF in 5.
Ahh, I got nothing. Enjoy these Quarters! We couldn't have asked for better! 'Ceptin the loss of DelPo.