By sachs on Jan 29, 2010 | In tennis
Although we just had the men's and women's semis, I want to talk briefly about the quarters.
First, Serena watched her sister piss away match points and her shot, flaming out in a blaze of shit tennis. In her own quarterfinal, Serena looked dead, down a set and 4-0. The vultures circled. Her leg was all taped up, her back seemed completely immobile. But she made a decision. She was going to win. She won 5 straight games, took the tiebreak, and, with minimal movement, took the deciding set.
Next came TMF against Davydenko. From the first shot, Davydenko was dominant. It wasn't that Fed looked bad- he had no air to breathe. Davydenko took all his time away, had answers for all his shots. Other than the legendary French Open final against Rafa, Fed has never been dominated like this. Down a set (two breaks), and then quickly down a break in the second, it looked like a match where one couldn't even imagine Fed coming back- there was just no time and space for him to play his game. Then Fed again faced break points to go down a second break. Fed fought hard, forced Davydenko into a rally and Kolya muffed a shot into the net. It was into that tiny crack that Federer jammed his racquet and heaved on it like a lever. Federer found a way to raise his game. On his next service game, he faced 0-40. He served five first serves (3 aces) and took the game. That is not a Davydenko collapse, that is a Fed aliya (aliya is the Hebrew word for rising up). Facing that, Davydenko did collapse, and Fed soared higher. He won that set, then took the third 6-0.
In that span, Fed went from being dominated to winning an incredible 13 STRAIGHT GAMES! He took the match in a fiercely contested fourth set, 7-5.
What happened there? What we saw is what separates Fed and other real champions from the mass of great players: under the heaviest pressure, almost every player on tour tends to play worse. Fed plays better. And given the chance to reverse that pressure, we see the stark difference as the opponent usually fails to do the same. Facing a foe Fed could not beat at the level he was playing, Fed patiently waited for an opening and the took his game to another level. Davydenko, facing the same, collapsed.
Serena and Fed have not dominated their eras solely because of skill, but will. They hate to lose more than their opponents, and they have the strength of will to stop it from happening.
By sachs on Jan 26, 2010 | In tennis
What did I say yesterday? What? Read it, and get back to me.
So there was Roddick: loses 2 sets playing defense. Gets hurt, decides to shorten points and play aggressive, and WINS 2 sets. A La Vagabond! Then fell apart and lost.
Then there's Murray.
First off, GREAT match. Watching the Roddick/Cilic snoozeathon and then this is like night and day. Murray and Nadal were both on today, and Murray came out on top. Why?
As I wrote yesterday, Murray has all the skills in the world, but… he might win 1 Slam with everything falling his way unless he learned to play aggressive. Murray has long insisted that his style will not change, but look at what he pulled yesterday- he was pulling the trigger on the kill shots, big time. If this is the new Murray, he can win multiple Slams. I’m not a fan of his by any means, but you have to give credit to someone who commits so fully to a game plan very different from his regular style, and pulls it off so expertly.
Now, I don’t think this was Nadal at his best. We haven’t seen that for a year now, but this was not WTF or USO 09 Nadal either. Nadal played great tennis. He said afterwards he was VERY happy with the level he played at, the best since his injury in May.
No, the knee had nothing to do with this victory, Murry took it. On the other hand, one would be fooling themselves to think this represented peak Nadal. The bigger question is whether peak Nadal is long gone.
Some have already noted that in the future, Nadal’s knees coud crap out at any time. Not only is this true, but Murray helped provide a recipe- the movement he forced on Nadal was incredible, especially vertically.
The next question in my mind, the one I’m sure is on FED’s mind, is whether this was a 1-off, or the new Murray. Fed has crowed about figuring Murray out and needing only to be aggressive against his passive, moonball style. That answer just got a LOT more complicated.
As for the retirement itself, any comparison to Henin/Mauresomo is ludicrous and insulting. Rafa NEVER retires. He did so only because his career was at risk. And he has NEVER used his injuries as an excuse- not against Murray today, or DelPo at the USO or Soderling at the French. Rafa admitted he got beat. There was no sense adding another year off to his loss.
So, congrats Murray and condolences to Rafa. Very much looking forward to tonight’s Fed/Kolya tilt! (and hopefully, an epic Fed/Murray final)
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.
By sachs on Sep 24, 2009 | In tennis
A look at the men's race, and what to expect till end-of-year:
First, here is where they stand. Their points are the 1st number, points to next-man-up 2nd, and points to defend from this point to end of year is 3rd (ie how many points they won last year from the US Open to end of year)
1) Rog: 11240; ---; 1400
2) Nadal: 8845; 2400 (to catch Rog); 700
3) Murray: 8390; 250 (to catch Rafa); 2350
4) Djoker: 7480; 900 (to catch Murray); 1840
5) DelPo: 6825; 550 (to catch Murray); 1170
Now, between here and Christmas, there are a few small tourneys, but also two Masters 1000s, and the year end championship. So 3 chances for big points. Looking above we see that Murray and Djoker have WHACKS of points to defend, while Rog, DelPo and Rafa have fewer.
*Rog is virtually untouchable at #1, and having relatively few points to defend from last year, he should enter Australia with an even firmer grip on the top spot.
*Andy SEEMS close to Rafa, but in reality, Andy has the most to lose here, while Rafa has the least to lose. So, although Rafa is injured and just pulled out of a small event, he has some healing time before the next big one. So unless Murray dominates this part of the year, as he did last year, Rafa will increase his hold on #2.
*DelPo is positioned very well to make a run at Djoker, and even Murray. Djoker also did well last year, winning the Year-End. If he doesn't duplicate that success, and DelPo goes on a roll, look for a new number 4 by Christmas. And if Murray really slumps, we could have DelPo enter Australia at #3!
Which puts Andy and Nole up for year end spankings!
By sachs on Sep 17, 2009 | In tennis
Definitely shaping up to be an exciting year next year. I think people are writing off Andy Murray to quickly, probably in part because he’s so unlikeable that people WANT him to go away. But just because DelPo has added himself to the contenders mix doesn’t mean that Murray’s been dropped out of it. Murray is nothing if not ambitious, and I think he’s going to work hard as ever to get to the top of that mountain.
Personally, I think if anyone is dropping out of the contenders mix its Djokovic. I would love to be wrong, but with Rog handling him so easily in their last two contests, we know how that match-up will go. So the question will be: can Djoke stand up to Nadal, Murray and DelPo? That will be one of the big questions in 2010.
I also don’t think DelPo’s defeat of ROger makes him a favourite against ROg next time. Roger is going to, again, be VERY strong at the Slams next year. One thing I’ve noticed going wrong for Rog lately is that he is tending to lose his offensive game as the match wears on. If you noticed, in the finals and his over-long win against Soderling, Rog started gangbusters, but his style was very aggressive- coming to the net and going for winners in the first set. In both cases, Rog then moved into baseline, defensive mode in the 2nd, and from there things became much tougher. When Rog was first dominating, he was one of the great thinkers on court, adapting as he tested out his opponents. I think he has really lost this trait.
I expect Nadal to be a dominant force again in 2010, but I do think DelPo is his kryptonite. 3-0 in 2009 against Nadal, DelPo is just perfectly built to defeat Nadal’s strengths. The same high bouncing shots to the backhand that make Nadal tough for Fed make him easy pickings for DelPo. So there’s a matchup problem there.
Conversely, I was disappointed that Rog didn't play more to DelPo's weaknesses. One of Roger's strengths has always been his ability to wrong-foot players, especially less nimble ones, with camouflage and spin. He really didn't use that against DelPo, and I think this opens a little hope into what more he can do. He only used his drop shot a couple times, and from bad positions. Sometimes, as with Murray, it can take Rog a while to figure an opponent out, but he often does. I think he's really made up his mind on how to play Rafa as well (ie offense, offense, offense)
Aside from these guys, I believe Roddick can contend on the fast courts still, but I personally believe Tsonga has reached his upper limit. I just don’t see that much more upside there. On the other hand, Monfils MAY yet be the next one to challenge the elite.
IS there anyone else coming up that we can imagine challenging the top four or five? Maybe Soderling. I don’t really see anyone else. So the field is certainly not open wide yet, despite the crack that DelPo has put in it. But one thing we’ve seen this year is that storylines change fast!
The fact remains that, as the 1 and 2 seeds, we may very well see a few more Fedal finals next year.