Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Wk.42- Goodbye, WTA

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Angelique Kerber is the best player on the WTA. She has been the best this year. In fact, this is the closest to Steffi’s golden year you’re going to see for a long time, although Williams in 2012 got very close, too. A BACKSPIN Volley coming soon will discuss this more but this has been a career year for her.

But let’s talk once more about this BACKSPINNER'S "Ms. Backspin." Todd has Clijsters, but over here we like another U.S. Champion. And her run in Moscow was incredible. To go in with such pressure and edge Elina Svitolina after blowing a lead, following another long three-setter, was an incredible achievement. The victories over the fourth seed and over ninth seed Babos were demonstrations of her tenacity and her talent. And what a ridiculous talent it is.

It was ❤️ from first sight 🇷🇺 это любовь с первого взгляда , спасибо Москва 🇷🇺❤️️ @vtbkremlincup #sk27

A photo posted by Светлана Кузнецова/Kuznetsova (@svetlanak27) on

Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has shortened my life by ten years, then took Gavrilova to pieces in quite spectacular fashion in her maiden final to secure a place at the Championships. And how did the WTA reward her? By making her play on Monday. Against the brick wall known as Aga. Another dreadful scheduling decision, and we thought only the U.S. Open was capable of those.

But after that run in Moscow, which you can find more in depth details on in the main BACKSPIN section, she plays A-Rad and goes up 7-5 before clinging on for a 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 victory that left me with no nails and heart medicine. She saved match point and came back from 0-2 and 2-4. She blew a match point and then succeeded on her third to win in just ten minutes less than three hours. The points were long and filled with slices, dropshots and huge backhands from Kuznetsova. The points invariably lasted until either Radwanska put it just out of Sveta’s reach or the Russian got bored and took a huge swipe.

During the match, she was hard-done by with regards to the umpire’s decisions. She cried, cut her own hair and screamed every few games. She said at the end she was ready to “lie down and let them carry me off the court.” She had no idea how she won and neither do it. But she did. She won the most bizarre, spectacular match you will ever see. Probably one of the top ten matches of the year.

But she won. And the pain is worth it. Because Sveta and I have been through tougher matches than this. As she so rightly says, “the pain doesn’t kill me, I kill the pain.”

And now the men...

Top 32 - Johnson falls down seven, but sits at 31. And Busta rises four places to 32. Ramos-Vinolas had been hanging around here all year long, but he rose five places to 26.
Top 10 – Kyrgios ironically gets a career high of 13 this week. For his take, head over to his Facebook page. It won’t be promoted here. Cilic and Goffin swap. Goffin is now 11, just behind Berdych. Thiem is getting comfortable in 9th.
Top 8 – Federer and Monfils swap again. Federer is now number seven, one behind Nadal.
Top 4 – Little change. Raonic is still four, Wawrinka three. Murray has not yet taken Djokovic, but it is going to happen soon. Not even the Scot could blow it now. Surely?

S: Juan Martin del Potro def. Jack Sock 7-5/6-1
D: E.Ymer/M.Ymer d. Pavic/Venus

S: Richard Gasquet def. Diego Schwartzman 7-6(4)/6-1
D: Nestor/Roger-Vasselin d. Herbert/Mahut

MOSCOW, RUSSIA (Hard Indoor)
S: Pablo Carreno-Busta def. Fabio Fognini 4-6/6-3/6-2
D: Cabal/Farah d. Knowle/Melzer

...This is ATP tennis’ biggest what-if. In fact, this may be tennis’ biggest what-if. I know for a fact the Chief Backspinner has had this feature before. Forget Seles' stabbing and Iva Majoli partying too much. Put aside Monfils and Chang. Forget about Muster and Malisse. If this guy had not been injured who knows how the ATP would have been affected. He has better than a 70 per cent win mark. He is 19-8 in finals and has obviously won a grand slam. He has also performed well at the World Tour Finals and won several Olympic medals. This guy could have dominated, given full health. With that serve and forehand. He last won a title in Brisbane in 2014. He is now ranked 42, up 21 places (Ed.note: and that's without any points for his run in Rio, too. - tds). Could he finish the year in the top 30? Mathematically, yes. If he makes the quarters of the last two tournaments that could be enough. If he makes the semi-final of Paris, he could rise even higher. He won this week and did not drop a set. He beat Isner, seeded seven, 6-4, 7-6[6]. Then he saw off Almagro 6-4, 6-3, barely breaking a sweat. Third seed Karlovic was next and he saw his serve snapped in a 6-3, 6-4 loss. Dimitrov, the second seed, went down 6-4, 7-5 to the Tower of Tandil in the semi-final. And in the final it was 7-5, 6-1 against 6th seed Sock. During his run he saw off the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th seeds. That’s some run. Dimi broke him twice. Nobody else did. He faced no break points in his title run. The rest of the tour is praying he gets slam seeding. Would you want to run into him early?
...This BACKSPINNER called it. He knew Del Potro would get to the final and Gasquet win. Unfortunately, he did not have the chutzpah to go all the way on the Argentine pick. The Frenchman’s 27 finals is second all-time to only Noah when looking at French tennis players. Richard looks older, looks worn and just getting on the court these days is an achievement. But in the final he looked composed as he ran away with a 7-6[4], 6-1 victory. Up 5-4 in the breaker, he played out an epic rally with Schwartzy, where he was on the defensive the whole time, but he came up with a magical forehand pass. Yes, a forehand pass. And at 6-4 he flashed a series of angled backhands to close out a set he served for and should’ve already won. His refusal to choke and how he kept the momentum is so impressive. He opened the week by beating Cervantes and Struff 6-2, 6-4. He looked pretty smooth, too. Then he saw off Edmund 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 to reach the final. He is 7-3 in the last ten finals and 4-1 in his last five. If he can just get a quarterfinal in Australia he will have made the quarters at every grand slam event, but he is running out of time and his body is letting him down. What can the Frenchman produce?
..The future of British tennis made the top forty and a semi-final this week. Both were personal bests for the youngster. Wins over Seppi and Ferrer bode very well for his future prospects. In fact, the loss sends Ferrer spiraling down to 19th, his lowest ranking for some time. Edmund showed no fear and a lot of heart in these wins. Hopefully it continues. Unless you live in the UK he will have flown a bit under your radar. Believe me, he is very handy in the Davis Cup.
...Let’s watch this first:

That is Fognini, in case you were unaware. Absolutely mad. This BACKSPINNER once took a friend to see Fabio at Wimbledon. All they remember from the day was him imploding in the most beautiful, perfect way imaginable. Next time I shall be taking them to see somebody boring so they can focus on the brilliant Wimbledon atmosphere instead. This week he beat Berankis 6-2, 6-1 and second seeded Ramos-Vinolas 6-2, 6-2. He dismantled the Spaniard and blew him away in just 76 minutes. Bu against compatriot and 7th seeded Lorenzi he struggled to a three set win. Fognini was superb against Kohlschreiber and won 6-1, 7-6[2]. But in the final he meekly collapsed to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 loss. Just undefinable.

Also never forget this happened:

SURPRISE: PABLO CARRENO BUSTA, ESP ...The smallest things change tournaments. The Spaniard, seeded sixth, edged Melzer 3-6, 6-3, 7-6[2] in the first round. He got lucky with Dzumhur retiring in the next round. He also escaped Bublik 6-4, 2-6, 7-6[1]. His fine performances in the next two rounds, against Robert and Fognini, may never have happened had he lost any of those tight breaker matches. Tennis is a game of fine margins.
...He should still get into the ATP Finals, but losing 7-6[1], 6-1 to Elias when chasing down a dream is inexcusable. It just shouldn’t happen. La Monf! has his shock losses and the good news for him is that Paris is coming up. That is his best tournament. If he can come up with some more magic there he may be able to take it with him to London. It’s really not far.
...What a way for the diminutive Argentine to show off his assets. And with the Davis Cup final edging ever closer, well, this is the best time to prove what you can do. To go and do it on the hard-courts, off your best surface, is pretty special. It was the way he so fearlessly beat Goffin when the Belgian had the crowd, the momentum and the match points. How Goffin failed to serve it out up 5-4 this BACKSPINNER will never know. Schwartzy also edged seventh seed Mahut 7-6[2], 7-5. Fritz failed to get a set, either. Cuevas hung tough for a while, but fell away in a 7-6[8], 6-3 victory. And then the semi-final upset over the top seed and top ten level player. Throw in a great first set against Gasquet and what a way to close out the year for Schwartzy.

Notes from the Week...
1 - I was going to call the Kuznetsova upset (over Radwanska) before it happened. She has an overwhelming head to head advantage. I think Sveta sneaks into the semi-finals, but loses to Kerber. In the top group, Halep will come second but lose to an inspired Pliskova in that semi. Keys is not quite ready to take the next leap, but Pliskova will finish with a trophy. And that is how it should be. Kerber is, as Todd rightly points out, running on fumes. But let’s have faith in the number one.
2 – In the doubles, I do think Hingis/Mirza triumph. I’d love to be able to pick our girls but, really, can you rule out a choke? Because, on the whole, the doubles has been fantastic, I will pick them to make the final but Mattek-Sands/Safarova are really dangerous here.
3 – How will the ATP Finals fare with no Federer or Nadal, and Djokovic a massive question mark? Is Murray alone enough to keep interest high? Say what you like about him, but Kyrgios keeps people interested.
4 – Herbert/Mahut cruised to the final, but lost to second seeds Nestor/Roger-Vasselin in straight sets in Antwerp. Still, getting positive results now will help them get momentum for the year-end champs.

1. Antwerp SF - Schwartzman d. Goffin 7-5, 2-6, 7-5
...If you’re thinking you want to see Cibulkova and Schwartzy play mixed doubles, you are not alone. He saved one match point with a passing shot and watched Goffin blow a simple backhand up the line on the other. He managed to hold on to beat not just his opponent, but the crowd, too. It was a pretty special performance from the little guy.
2. Stockholm SF - Sock d. Zverev 6-7[4], 7-6[4] 6-4
...Saving five-sixths of the break points he faced, Sock looked impressive as he made it two finals on the trot in Stockholm. A bit of an upset here as Zverev unusually failed to put away a lower seeded opponent. You know Zverev’s come far because he made a semi-final, but it is only enough for him to hold his ranking.
3. Antwerp SF - Gasquet d. Edmund 3-6, 7-5, 6-2
...Up a set and 4-2 in his first ever semi-final, Edmund did a Gasquet and choked. Except we can’t really use that anymore. Because Gasquet now comes back and holds on like he did here. Edmund will rise into the top four. So, Rusedski to Henman to Murray to...Edmund?

Murray [1] d. [3] Thiem
Agut [4] d. [2] Berdych
Murray [1] d. [4] Agut

...I like to pick home winners and Thiem could have the key to unlock Murray, but the Scot is on a vicious tear right now. Agut is good enough to set up a rematch, but that should be it. Do you trust Berdych? I thought not.

Wawrinka [1] d. [8] Sock
Del Potro d. [6] Dimitrov
Wawrinka [1] d. Del Potro

...In a home tournament Wawrinka should get his first title since the U.S. Open. And Delpo, who I picked to make the final last week, should make it back to back finals. Kei is too hurt and Dimitrov still a tad questionable. Sock, meanwhile, is finishing the year very strong.

Mladenovic and Garcia are in the tour finals. If Todd reminds me I don’t forget we will have a highlights section for her before the year ends, but this is the final regular update on the beautiful and mysterious Kiki. It has been fun.

Is there one last hurrah in store for our girls? There should be. There is no reason there couldn’t be a round robin format instead of this stupid knockout rubbish. So, next year fix that. But this year the Frenchies go in as favourites, considering the fractures in the top seeds' relationship.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What I Said Then, What I Say Now

Well, hello. Galileo here.

I guess it is this BACKSPINNER'S turn to look back at my predictions from before the start of the 2016 season. And boy did Todd set the bar high. Well, considering my awful guessing ability he did, anyway.

Let’s take this into pieces. It will be mainly WTA Choc Chip with a few ATP Ranking reflections sprinkles. So we’ll take some quotes from the Volley and then look at some hits and misses. There’ll be some whacky predictions and other ATP miscellaneous stuff, too. And my New Year's resolutions are to stop defending Tomic and Kyrgios because they’re talented, and also to respect Radwanska more. Monfils is talented and not a total you-know-what. And Radwanska has been number two.

Right, let's get started, shall we?

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Serena is a lock for number one until sometime in 2017.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Whoops. Didn’t get this one right, but it was the percentage pick and one we both called.

WHAT I SAID THEN:“Almost by default, Maria is a lock (for the Top 10). I think she is a slam threat everywhere except perhaps the U.S. Open.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Another one where I don’t think I can be blamed. Todd and I both played safe, but I mention she might be on the wane. We’ll see if that comes true.

WHAT I SAID THEN: Muguruza is a "Top 10 lock" for 2016." (Todd went with Halep, while we both has Serena and Sharapova in the same top-level group.) "I think of this as (Todd picking) a red apple and I have picked a green one. No wrong answer, just slightly different. It was a 50/50 for me, but I do believe Muguruza can win the slam."
WHAT I SAY NOW: I did go with Muguruza and it was one of my better picks, but next year there has to be slam consistency. Halep was also a good pick, obviously.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I do believe Muguruza can win the slam. I don’t buy Halep just yet. She's just missing something. I struggle to quantify it, but there’s just something missing.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Yep. Not doing quite as badly as I thought, though Halep is likely to finish the year more highly ranked.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “She may be missing something, but Halep is still a top five player. But she won’t win a slam yet.” (Todd responded, "maybe in 2017.") "I think a final, maybe even two, but a slam, well, not quite yet. Her problem is she doesn’t have a major like Li Na did. Like Kvitova or even Stosur does. That major where everything goes out the window because, hey, it’s Lisicki at Wimbledon. She needs that. It could be Roland Garros one day, but she’s only been to the fourth round twice and has a 1-1 record in those matches" "...Muguruza is a lock to at least stay within the top 10 parameters, though I don’t think she will fall below eight. She will make at least one slam semi-final and slowly bring Spanish tennis back into relevancy with help from Suarez-Navarro. Could a Fed Cup title be coming soon?“
WHAT I SAY NOW: Correct on all three singles. She went 4-0 in Davis Cup singles play, including wins over Jankovic, Vinci and Schiavone to bring Spain into the World Group with CSN’s help. She didn’t play much doubles because the Fed Cup structure is stupid. [Todd agrees.]

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Petra will be top ten in 2016, and will have ten ridiculous losses that are utterly unexplainable, inexplicable and enraging. You only get about 12 good days a year.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: At least predicting Petra’s unpredictably is, well, predictable. And she is ranked 11 right now, so I'm not wrong. Yet.
(Ed.note: The ten ridiculous losses is probably close to right - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Kerber just hangs around the bottom end of the top ten between 9 and 12 in the world. She wins two or three small titles every year and does solidly at two or three slams.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: She was very solid at three slams, winning two. She another smaller title, but I can only give myself a B-minus here, and that’s being generous.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I have Pliskova one group down (Todd had her in his "Good Bets for the Top 10" group), but I think she ends the year around the top eight. I believe she finishes well again. She will also make a couple of decent slam runs.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: A-minus for this prediction. World number five, but only one decent slam run. Though it was quite the run, wasn’t it Serena?

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I think Bencic flirts with the ranking of ten all year and ends up somewhere between number 9 to number 11. All these predictions are barring injury, of course.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Well, as Todd pointed out, both his and my Top 10 predictions got caned by Sharapova’s controversy and Bencic’s injury woes. Maybe past me had a vision of the future here.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Carla makes a lot of points on clay, but fades as the year goes on with a couple surprising results just when you had forgotten about them. She should stay in or around the top ten”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Well, I’m happy with this, but I don’t get many points for being bold. I really struggle predicting anything with this one. But that backhand. Here have a clip.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I’ve said this a lot, but I can’t look past the Williamses for the Olympic Gold.“

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I am going to argue for Venus being (in the '16 Top 10) because it is important to recognise how good she continues to be. She has remarkable staying power... I just think Venus is a top eight player on and off paper currently. That serve is still one of the best and she has excellent resilience.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: She was in the top ten for most of the year. She may not finish there but it’s a passing grade for this pick. Bonus points for guts.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I like Radwanska's style. I like how she has won the Shot of the Year award the last three years running. I’ve been waiting since 2012 for her to step up and establish herself as a genuine threat”
WHAT I SAY NOW: One of my greatest failings is failing to appreciate Aga’s Ferrer-like ability to maximise a game that lacks a major weapon. She will be top ten this year and if there was a slam held in Asia she’d probably win it.
(Ed.note: Bold statement, though I guess it could never be proven to be a correct one, unfortunately... at least not anytime soon, unless you "count" the WTA Finals, I guess. Which one can't. - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Keys is my final addition to the (Top 10) list. I can sum this one up quite succinctly, for once. I am riding her bandwagon. I am buying her stock. I am a believer. I think this year is her year to become the Williams’s successor. There are places she can pick up some serious points. I think she will stay top 20.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: I stuck with this even after the Davenport split. And I’m glad I did, but Stephens did win three more titles. However, Keys hit a 12-4 mark in slams while Sloane went just 4-3. Keys made three finals, too, but lost in Rome and Montreal. Two finals at the biggest events and a win in Birmingham is more impressive than Stephens three titles, but only just.
(Ed.note: I think for Keys, this was the year she needed, showing her mettle in the majors, even if she didn't win a handful of titles. Same for Sloane, who needed to just prove to herself that she could be consistent again, especially in the final match at ANY event, let alone three of them. - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Caro will have a small resurgence at some point.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Correct, but I also mentioned how she would turn into the new Ivanovic or Jankovic. Probably unfair. I did pick her as a wild card. Do I get points for that?

WHAT I SAID THEN: My top 10 picks, plus one, alphabetically:

Belinda Bencic, SUI
Simona Halep, ROU
Angelique Kerber, GER
Madison Keys, USA
Petra Kvitova, CZE
Garbine Muguruza, ESP
Karolina Pliskova, CZE
Maria Sharapova, RUS
Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
Serena Williams, USA
Venus Williams, USA

WHAT I SAY NOW: I'll probably get seven of my 11 in.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Garcia (as a possible top player): some fresh blood might be nice. I’m bored of waiting for A-Pavs to get it together and realize how good she is. How far up the rankings will the exotic and mysterious Garcia rise? I do think that the top fifteen is within reach.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Well, I blew this, but she did start the year at 35 and is now at 25.
(Ed.note: after reaching a career-best 24 in September, winning two titles after only having one previously -- in '14, reaching the Top 3 or 4 in doubles, and just being given the Fed Cup Heart Award, I'd say Garcia had a "career year." I think you get full credit on this one. - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “(On Ivanovic) Her forehand still works and her volley game is always better every time I watch her. Solid top twenty player next year. A slam quarter somewhere and two titles. Finishes at about number 12. Sound about right to you?
WHAT I SAY NOW: Big fat F-minus for this one. Currently at 61, this time her irrelevancy looks permanent.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I think A-Pavs finds her way back to the top fifteen. Her doubles skills will help her do that. When on form she is a force to be reckoned with. I think she will certainly reach at least one fourth round at slam level this year and win a couple titles, too. I want to see improvement at the big events, as well. I think we get that.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: No, not right on this, but she is trending up and she made a quarter at Wimbledon, the one slam I said she wouldn’t contend in. She did improve on the big stage and her trajectory feels positive. A C here for me, I think.
(Ed.note: she was in far better shape this year, and was more consistent, too, even if she didn't win as "big" as she sometimes has in the past. Her 2017 season results might give a better idea of how "successful" '16 ultimately was, I think. - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Azarenka (as a possible Top tenner): She had a fine season, but is still ranked too low. With her it is quite simple. Stay healthy and she can do whatever she wants. She is a top five player and this year I think she can get back to that.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Another for the ‘not my fault’ column.
(Ed.note: she did briefly return to the top 5 after winning Indian Wells and Miami, and she defeated Serena in a final. It's easy to forget that now, as it WAS seven months ago already. - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Kuznetsova: I think she will finish in the top twenty again, but retirement certainly beckons for the veteran. She could still make a run at a slam. Somewhere she could make a run. The French or the U.S. are a good bet.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Not quite, but very close. Lost to eventual champs at the French and at Wimbledon. That Serena loss, in particular, she had the racket taken out of her hands.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Martinez Sanchez has been back (in doubles in '15) and I think she will continue to come back this year. Perhaps she will continue to focus on doubles, as I would think she will want to give it one last shot.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: A title in Mallorca and a quarterfinal in Miami were highlights in the doubles. Singles is probably over for her, but she is still around next year. She will finish top forty in doubles.

As for the ATP...

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Djokovic is in a class of his own. But be warned. A time is coming soon, very soon, when Djokovic is going to start showing brief signs of mortality once more. Perhaps he’ll just lose a set here or there to opponents you wouldn’t expect. Then maybe he starts dropping tight three setters. After that he slowly loses his ability to dominate all. Maybe right at the very end of next year we might see the first very brief glimpses of weakness.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: I think I get an A for this. He will finish as number one.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Kyrgios is mad, bad and totally unstoppable. He can do anything.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: An embargo this week. He is in disgrace. I’ve spent all year defending him, sounding like a Trump supporter because the up-side is so good, but our sport is beginning to suffer. Here have some gifs.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I don’t want Dimitrov to win slams. I don’t want him to beat the big guys every time. I just want to see a pulse, a sign of life. A slam quarter or two, a decent performance at a couple of Masters events and maybe a 500 title. That kind of year would be good.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: 500 level final, fourth round in New York and two good performances at the Masters. It was a good comeback year that saw him finish at 18. I get an A-minus for this!


A player born during Bill Clinton’s presidency (January 1993-January 2001) wins a slam, whilst a player born in the Bush administration (January '01 and later) wins a match. [Thank you Potapova.]
Serena wins two slams, but has a year of regression compared to this past one. She will win more then five titles, though. [Five finals and three slam finals, darn it.]
Of 2016's sixteen slam semi-finalists, at least two will be first-timers [One at each: Konta, Bertens, Vesnina and Pliskova.]
I picked Wawrinka to defeat Federer at Wimbledon and got given by Todd “wrong slam but close enough.” That was in conjunction with my pick that Wawrinka would win a slam.
[Ed.note: you were on Stan all year, and he finally came through in NYC. Faith is sometimes rewarded, I guess. :) - tds)

And misses...

Switzerland wins the Olympics from a tennis point of view. Federer, Wawrinka, Hingis, Bacs, Bencic should be enough.
(Ed.note: though, Bacsinszky/Hingis winning a WD medal at least bailed you out on some level on this one. - tds)
Bouchard wins a title and makes a slam quarter. Cracks the top 25 again.
Look for a high profile retirement after the Olympics. Zvonareva?
The defending Davis Cup champion Brits crash and burn in the first round

Here are some reflections on my outrageous predictions. Please enjoy.

WHAT I SAID THEN:Nadal retires after the U.S. Open.
(Ed.note: I almost get the feeling he'll have to be carried off on his shield. - tds)
WHAT I SAY NOW: I am going to stop picking this to happen. Nadal has turned into 2015 Peyton Manning, though.

WHAT I SAID THEN:Djokovic wins only four Masters titles. He also does not make four slam finals.
WHAT I SAY NOW: I am right on both counts! Please Paris, spring an upset on Djokovic.

WHAT I SAID THEN:Mahut/Herbert win a doubles slam title
WHAT I SAY NOW: They won Wimbledon! Another A grade.

WHAT I SAID THEN:Federer/Hingis do not lose a set on the way to the Gold at the Olympics in the mixed. They defeat Wawrinka/Bencic in the final.
WHAT I SAY NOW: Did any of them even play? Big fat F.
(Ed.note: sends flowers to Timea & Martina... maybe the Swiss Miss will remember you from your Wimbledon encounter. :) - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN:Murray makes no slam finals and only two semi-finals
WHAT I SAY NOW: Two big finals, two in a row. Letting my Murray dislike cloud my judgement.

WHAT I SAID THEN:Wawrinka wins another slam
WHAT I SAY NOW: Give me a high five and an A-plus please, Todd.
(Ed.note: Done. As for the high five, will...


do for now? - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN:They move the WTF somewhere totally unexpected, perhaps in Asia
WHAT I SAY NOW: Wait for it...


Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wk.41- And Here is Another One

Hey, all. Galileo here.

No, I won’t discuss a certain top player who has finally gone too far, and nor will I discuss the world number one who should know better.

Rafa and Roger are out of the top four for the first time since dinosaurs walked this earth, and we’re talking millions of years ago, not Isla Nubar. Rafa’s demise has had more words written about it than the fact Trump is a racist. Both are true, but both are disputed. Yes, one could talk about Andy Murray, but what he did this week is what he did last week.

No, let’s talk about Roberto Bautista Agut and then go into the matches. Now that the WTA is coming to a close this BACKSPINNER is thinking longingly of the lovely box Todd puts me in where I can shut down for six weeks before booting back up again in January. But for the next few weeks it is nose to the grindstone time. Did you know we’re just nine Mondays from Christmas. If you have not heard it yet, the Christmas music is coming. It is coming for me and for you.

But tennis, tennis is still to be played. Forget just for a second the likes of Moya, Ferrero and Nadal. Leave Bruguera to one side. Apart from their big guns, Spain has had some fantastic bit role players over the years. Lopez and Robredo dazzled for different reasons. Robredo made, what, six French Open quarterfinals? And in the last one he won three matches in a row down two sets to love. Lopez is just beautiful in every way and Verdasco’s forehand could knock down buildings. Even Garcia-Lopez has had some superb moments. Ferrer needs his own BACKSPIN post, and that’s just for his clay achievements. Almagro at the height of his powers was pretty fearsome. To say nothing of Granollers, and even Montanes.

And here is another one.

Bautista Agut has had the kind of career that is sneaky good. Fourth round twice at every slam except Wimbledon. Four finals this year, two won, which gives him a 4-6 mark overall. He is at a career high of 13 and has three top ten wins already this year. He also has back to back finals at the Kremlin Cup and is going for a third consecutive final there this week. He lost the last two to Cilic 6-4, 6-4.

That’s the background, and after rankings updates we’ll look at his week.

Top 32 - Kohl falls two but stays at 32. At 31, it is Ramos-Vinolas who dropped four places. Lopez clings onto thirty despite also falling two.
Top 10 – RBA up six places to 13th, as mentioned above. With a good finish to the year the top ten may be in play. Cilic is at 11, but is some 400 points adrift of Thiem and has not done much recently.
Top 8 – Federer and Monfils swap. Monfils should overtake Nadal, too, and end up at six.
Top 4 – Huge change for once. Raonic up two places with points totalling 4,690. Nishikori is 4,650. Wawrinka leads them by 1100, but the number one ranking is now in play. Murray has to win out while Nole takes a break until Paris. Of course any early loss and Murray will have to wait until next year. At this point, it is a certainty Murray will be number one. The question is when.

S: Andy Murray def. Roberto Bautista 7-6(1)/6-1
D: Isner/Sock d. Kontinen/Peers

...What he does -- and don’t worry this BACKSPINNER is not the one who can get technical -- is he pins you in places. He hits not just deep, but consistent deep and in a different way than Simon does. He just puts you under constant pressure, which grows exponentially as the rally goes on. He has a deep slice, though not in the same league as Federer or even Lopez, it is still plenty good. He can also volley more than sufficiently and is clever. He works points over and serves pretty well. But all this gives him a Halep-esque quality. I frequently watch her matches and frequently wonder how she won 6-2, 6-2. What he does doesn’t feel dominant, it feels measured. The problem for him is when he comes up against a really creative player who can mix it up, well, like Thiem or some of the Frenchies. Tomic, who has pretty much disappeared down the back-half of the year, retired down 6-3, 6-0 with a wounded pride. The Spaniard had a good 6-4, 6-4 win over qualifier Fritz in the second round before taking on Troicki. The Serb had beaten, no it’s not an upset, Nadal the round before, but went down tamely 6-3, 6-3. In the next round Tsonga was the favourite but never got it together in a 6-3, 6-4 loss. Agut was turning it on.

When he has confidence everything is just 20 per cent improved, it seems. In the semi-final, Djokovic imploded, but Agut was calm and saw his way through in two straight sets. He also did this on match point.

Of course, in the final Murray had too much, especially after winning the opening set. But it was still a superb week from the world number 13. Here’s another reason to like him. He does not fear the net.

...Back to back titles for Murray in his career year. Boy, does he have some major points to defend next year. He just keeps getting better and better. He could take the world number one ranking this year, but this BACKSPINNER says he wins it in February of next year. Of course, Murray really is putting all his eggs into one basket. With his injury history, any long period of absence next year could see him plummet. He has won 23 sets in a row, but he hasn’t played anyone. It’s all very well going on the streak, but the players he has beaten have not been at his level. It shows how far he has come. He is looking the clear cut world’s best player. But he has to win slams. He has to prove he can consistently win slams rather than capitalise on weak opposition in slam finals. His record in slam finals is pretty abysmal. He has been amazing this year, but there are still areas in which he could improve. This week it was another easy ride. 6-3, 6-2 over Johnson, 6-1, 6-3 over Pouille and then 6-2, 6-2 over Goffin. Of course, these are all good players and all have had hot streaks this year. They can all challenge on their day, but none is in the top ten, none is at the level of even Berdych. In the final, he was tested but finally saw off Agut 7-6[1], 6-1. Another impressive win from Murray. How long can he hang onto that top ranking? Still, going into Valencia, Murray is red hot. Can anybody stop the Scot?
...What a week Sock has had. Not only did he make a Masters quarterfinal, he also rode Isner’s serve to a doubles title. Beating Gong/Zhang was a solid enough start, but then coming back to beat seventh seeded Huey/Mirnyi 1-6, 7-6[6], 1-0[10-5] was even better. And they proved it was no fluke in the next round by seeing off the Lopez’s 6-7[4], 6-4, 10[10-7]. After the win against the fourth seeds they then faced the second seeds - the Bryans. But they have looked distracted for a while and went down quietly 6-2, 7-6[2]. Isner and Sock had proved to be surprisingly good at the net during the run and it helped them win in the final against Peers/Kontinen. They won 6-4, 6-4 to cap a sparkling week.
...Long a BACKSPIN villain, for no good reason, like most of the villains, Simon posted another good result in Shanghai. He made the finals two years ago and this year. Wins over Sock, in a third set breaker, and Wawrinka, in straights, no less, were highlights of another solid win. Simon used to have the best record in tennis finals, percentage wise, among active players, but has since let that slip. That year, 2014, he beat Wawrinka, too. And Berdman. Since becoming a factor some ten years ago, Simon has slowly built his points and his legacy. It’s another solid run for a grizzled vet. The "Villains of BACKSPIN" is a decent feature idea, actually. Wonder if chief BACKSPINNER would buy into it? I can think of several candidates on the ATP and a couple on the WTA tour, too.

Ed.NOTE: I actually did something similar to that a few years ago called my "Anti-Backspin" Team. Of course, "villains" do fill important roles, and even sometimes evolve into, at least, "anti-heroes." The funny thing about that list is that the top spot on the "Anti-" First Team was filled by the same player who was named my "All-Time MVP" four months later, and the only other player who was in consideration for MVP honors, as well as a few who'd later become favorites, had at one time been "villains," only to ultimately be elevated to "beloved" status. - tds
...No, not that one. Mischa Zverev had his turn this week. He rolled through to the quarters and had Djokovic, but finally collapsed to 3-6, 7-6[5], 6-3 loss. Up a set and 2-0, this had been a Rosol-like performance. There were no nerves and no hesitations from the German. But Djokovic, as he always does, found a way back. He began to hammer the slice backhand and from there eventually came back. But wins over Zhang, 6-1, 6-2, and a certain Aussie were big for the qualifier. He also beat Granollers 6-7[4], 6-4, 6-1. Plus, he had two tight three setters against Khachanov and Harrison in the qualies. It was an impressive week.
...Tearing his shirt open, smashing his racket and looking ill-tempered. Sure, a certain Aussie should be here, but we expect this from him. Not from our best player. Never from Nole. It needs to stop. If the world number one is going to have a Ferrero-esque collapse he could at least do it with dignity. Hopefully Djokovic can sort it out before next season.
...Sure, Granollers beat Berdman and Nadal lost to Troicki, but those felt different. Berdych is still coming back and he went down in a couple of breakers. Nadal is a non-factor and has been for a while now. Sock seeing off Raonic 0-6, 6-4, 7-6[8] was a different category altogether. Despite the dramatic collapse, Raonic is now our number four. With rest and improved fitness he will be a huge factor at the Australian Open. But this week it is Sock who came up with possibly the most dramatic upset.

Notes from the Week...
1 - When it comes to a certain Australian player, this BACKSPINNER;S official stance is finally one of rejection. He has rightly been banned. He could have cut it short with a visit to the psychologist, but he refused. Says it all, really.
2 – On that topic, no more will this BACKSPINNER defend Kyrgios. No, I refuse to sound like a Trump supporter. That’s my new season’s resolution. Resolution number two is to respect Radwanska more. (Ed.Note: Oh, my. - tds) Yep. Perhaps one day this BACKSPINNER will even get to like Murray.
3 – Not all bad for Nole. He has 179 weeks at number one, passing Seles. I won’t list the four men or five women still ahead of him but he is in the top ten now at number ten. Hingis at 209 is next on the list. He should crack that, but the top five will be trickier.
4 – With Serena withdrawing from the WTA Finals either Kuznetsova or Suarez Navarro could sneak in with a win in Moscow. Game on.

1. Shanghai QF - Simon d. Sock 4-6, 6-4, 7-6[5]
...In this eye-catching clash of styles, Simon pulls out another one. How does he continue to pull out these tight matches?
2. Shanghai SF - Bautista Agut d. Djokovic 6-4, 6-4
...A performance of this calibre cannot go unremarked upon. It was the coolness and calmness the Spaniard had that was perhaps the most impressive.
3. Shanghai R2 - Zverev d. Cilic 3-6, 6-3, 6-2
…An early gem here ad yet another feather in the German’s cap. Just how good is this guy? …

Agut [1] d. [4] Troicki
Kohl [3] d. [2] Ramos-Vinolas
Agut [1] d. [3] Kohl

...Third final lucky for the Spaniard. Kohl is kind of close to Germany which bodes well. Seeds look strong in all this week's events.

Goffin [1] d. [4] Cuevas
Gasquet [3] d. [2] Ferrer
Gasquet [3] d. [1] Goffin

...It is a home tournament for Goffin. It is late enough both in the year and at night that I don’t have any qualms about picking Gasquet. He usually picks up a tournament in February and one late in the year. For once not in Moscow, could the answer lie closer to home?

Monfils [1] d. [4] Zverev
Del Potro d. [2] Dimitrov
Monfils [1] d. Del Potro

...Lots of boring going with the seedings this week. Could La Monf, the 2011 Stockholm champ, still qualify for the WTF? Del Potro is due a run, so why not end his year on a high note?

Mladenovic does well for once in the singles and it isn’t previewed here. No mention of her in Hong Kong. But it is because she and Garcia did not play the doubles. For what reason is unclear. Perhaps fatigue? So, yes I missed her appearance in that draw. She made the final and rose from 54 to 42 in the rankings.

She escaped against Jakupovic 7-6[6], 6-1. It was similar against Hibino, Stosur’s conqueror, as she won 7-6[5], 6-2. And against Mattek-Sands it was again incredibly close, as she scraped through 3-6, 6-3, 7-6[3]. In the semis, she dismissed Gavrilova 7-5, 6-3 before going down to the Woz in three. She at least won the second set breaker to push the Dane all the way. So the queen of breakers had quite the week.

Mladenovic is in Moscow while her partner is in Luxembourg. Really makes no sense to this BACKSPINNER. Had they entered Moscow and won it would’ve put big pressures on the top ranked women in the doubles. But who am I to question the Frenchies' motives? She opens with Kalinskaya.

ALSO THIS WEEK: A look back at my preseason predictions!

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Wk.40- Kyrgios: Admired, But Still Disliked?

Hey, all. Galileo here.

The ATP World Tour Finals are coming up. Want to get excited? Here are some of this BACKSPINNER'S favourite recent moments:

* - Nadal defeated Murray in 2010 7-6[5], 3-6, 7-6[6]. At the end of the first set the commentator said, “It’s not enough to be perfect, you have to be immaculate.” And he was correct. The standard of play was exquisite, the rallies perfect and the clash of styles delicious. Broken while serving for it, it took him three attempts to finally win it. Watched live on the tele-vision by this BACKSPINNER, the arm of the sofa never recovered, so hard was it gripped. Nadal’s grit and Murray’s not quite maturity proved the slight difference.

* - Davydenko finally wins a big event. He beat Del Potro 6-3, 6-4 and raised his arms aloft, reminiscent of Dementieva winning the Olympics. Neither Russian ever got that grand slam they so deserved. Both were top five players for a ridiculously long period of time, but neither ever got over the hump. Perhaps Dementieva’s biggest blown chance was that Roland Garros semi-final in 2010. She almost certainly would have beaten Stosur. Davydenko always seemed to run into Federer. But that 2010 Australian Open, he had Roger on the ropes.

* - And speaking of Roger, he has had so many sparkling moments. But the two that blew this BACKSPINNER away the most were in 2005 and ’07. He beat Gaudio 6-0, 6-0 in the semi-finals in 2005 and the scoreline was generous. To do it like he did on that stage was ridiculous. And he did it to Ferrer two years later, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. It was brutal. If you’d seen a guy get beat up on the street by a gentleman in an immaculate suit and then seen his wallet get taken and the very polite thief apologize, you would remember.

So tune in next month, even though only one of the above mentioned players will actually be there and be relevant. Could Wawrinka seal the deal on the Hall of Fame case? Will Raonic blast his way into the history books?

Top 32 - Simon drops two spots, leaving Troicki and Kohl to each rise a spot. Just 35 spots separate the three. Spots 24-26 and 29 are all taken up by Americans.
Top 10 – Ferrer and Kyrgios swap, with the Aussie taking the fourteenth spot, a career high. Goffin is up two places to 12. Thiem and Cilic are fairly comfortable at 10 and 11.
Top 8 – Little change. Raonic still comfortably leads Federer and Monfils. Monfils is just five points off Federer. Will the Swiss fall out of the top ten?
Top 4 – The gap between Murray and Djokovic has been cut to just under 4000. It hasn’t been that close for a while. Wawrinka sits by himself, a little Swiss island. 4000 behind Murray, but he is increasing his lead over Nishikori with every week that passes. Nadal is behind Kei by 10 points, but that lead should only get bigger.

S: Andy Murray def. Grigor Dimitrov 6-4/7-6(2)
D: Carreno Busta/Nadal d. Sock/Tomic

S: Nick Kyrgios def. David Goffin 4-6/6-3/7-5
D: Granollers/Matkowski d. Klaasen/Ram

...Talking to a friend -- yes, BACKSPINNERS have friends -- he said he admired Kyrgios' shot-making ability, but still disliked him. Now is that really fair? It is understandable to dislike his character and his on-court demeanour, but off-court he is well behaved and a fairly pleasant guy. Off-court he had put nary a foot wrong. He has been villainised by people, in not dissimilar a way NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has demonised Tom Brady, for a series of, admittedly, very poor choices. But he brings a freshness to the tour and marketability. He is bringing mustard to a fairly stale loaf of bread. He has that quality that Clijsters, and also Kuznetsova, have - he can hit any shot. Not even Williams has that, though she doesn’t need it. Federer has it, too. That way of hitting any conceivable shot brilliantly. Kyrgios brings so many different looks and shots to a court that it can be an educational experience to watch him play. Anyway, in the first round match this week he did this:

He has added that shot to his repertoire. He, like Tomic with that silly dropper, physically added the tweener into his basket of weapons. And he brings it out, sometimes when totally unnecessary. Anyway, he dismissed Harrison 7-5, 6-2. Stepsy withdrew, but that didn’t faze Kyrgios as he dismissed Muller 6-4, 6-2. And in that match he hit this in the first set:

No, this BACKSPINNER has no clue what it is supposed to be, either. But it does work brilliantly, no? Kyrgios forehand and backhand are somehow impossible to deal with. He has a kind of consistent power from the baseline that is hard to stop. In the second set, he did this:

It was unnecessary - the ball was going out. In the semi-final, an engaging affair between two mercurial talents that he won 6-4,6-4, he did this:

And in the final it was this (in that match he came back to win 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, beating an exceptionally good Goffin):

I mean, really. What a way to win a title. Now, onto Murray...
...No, he will never be as exciting as the Australian. Murray is the computer hacker in Die Hard and Kyrgios is John McLane. The Scot had a very easy draw and dispatched it just as one would expect him to. He has slotted perfectly into the role of the world’s second best player. Since a disappointing U.S. Open, Murray has taken time out but has lost none of his form. His window is closing and it remains unclear how many slams he will win, but the Grand Slam is almost certainly gone. He had to win the French this year. Of course, he and Novak will no doubt play out several dull finals next year, none of which will be remembered even by the fans who paid to see them. Muzza won his fifth title of the year, going 5-4. He also won his 40th title in his 61st final. Federer won title 40 in his 53rd final ten years ago. Nadal did it six years ago from 52 finals. Novak did it three years ago and was identical to Murray, in it taking him 61 finals. Sampras, by comparison, did it in 53, the same as Roger. And Pete did it in Tokyo, which takes me back to Asia very neatly. Murray saw off Seppi and Kuznetsov very easily before edging Edmund 7-6[9], 6-2. Edmund should have taken the first set but could not. After that it was all Murray. He dismissed Ferrer 6-2, 6-3 and Dimitrov went down 6-4, 7-6[2]. So that was Murray’s 40th title. Will he make it to sixty?
...The former Aussie saw off Brit Dan Evans 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in the first round of qualifying before losing to Stepanek in three sets. Santillan was the runner up at the junior doubles edition of the 2014 French Open and last year’s Wimbledon. He paired up with Opelka for the Wimbledon loss and is now ranked 226, up nine places from last week. Due to Tennis Australia mucking up [for the cynics who said again, behave yourselves!] the Brisbane native made the short trip to Japan. He could amount to a solid journeyman or he could rise higher. Either way, he should be on your radar now.
...The grizzled Spaniard really is winding down now and seemingly just playing out the string. When he and Rafa go Spain will be in big trouble. Still clinging on to the top 15, Ferru is a ghost of what he once was, though few players ever had a better talent to conversion rate. Ferru never had any major gifts except sheer athleticism and graft. And boy has he used those, and is still using them. A thoroughly nice guy who has given it his all, he will be missed when he finally puts away the rackets in the closet. Forget his straight sets wins over Cuevas and Fognini, as impressive as those were, for the Spaniard had a far more important victory. He gave Zverev a lesson, a lesson in how to win. He edged Zverev 6-7[4], 6-1, 7-5 and he was everywhere. He just built that wall like he always has. It was sad to see Murray put him away so easily, but then Murray always has.
...This was the week Dimitrov escaped. He was up a set and a break but blew four match points in the second set breaker of a 7-5, 6-7[9], 6-4 victory. It took him two hours and forty-four minutes, but he eventually came through. And in his break from the upper echelons it seems he has found some kind of inner steel. He would have collapsed to a shocking three set loss earlier, but now he knows how to win in a Ferrer-like fashion. And to put the cherry on the cake, he dismissed Nadal 6-2, 6-4 on his way to the final. Raonic withdrew with yet another injury in the semi-final, unfortunately.
...It is always something with the Japanese man. If not injuries then a shock loss. That win at the U.S. Open has to be the start of something, a change hopefully, not just a one-off. This week it was the left glute. But he’ll be fine next week, before the right wrist feels funny. Kei should have two slams and be a solid top three player right now. It’s more than injuries, it’s something else. And it needs to be sorted out soon.
...Both Nishikori and Berdych had troubles with their left glutes. Berdych lost the breaker to Muller 7-6[7], 6-1. A weary Berdych finally collapsed. Props to him for working at it, especially after having his appendix out. Muller still needed to actually pull off the upset, which he did. It does make Shanghai crucial for Berdman. Muller has been one of the tour's most improved and consistent players throughout the year. It was another quarterfinal here, and at 500 level, too.

Notes from the Week...
1 – Isner leads our aces count with mere weeks left. He has 977, with Karlovic on 961. Last season, Dr. Ivo had almost 1500 while Isner had only cleared 1200. Anderson also cracked the thousand mark. Muller looks good for the bronze on 782, holding off Raonic and Kyrgios on 741 and 716, respectively.
2 – The picture for the WTF will become much clearer after Shanghai, when we find out what’s what. Pretenders like Kyrgios and Cilic will either make or break their campaigns here.
3 – The WTA doubles finals field is already set, but the Mirza/Hingis split has put a spanner in the works to an extent. [Ed.note: though they've said they'll play together, which should be... interesting. - tds]
4 – 60 years ago, Althea Gibson won her maiden slam. Please go and research her. She was an incredible figure in our sport and in the fight for equality.
5 – Djokovic is beginning to put together a seriously impressive run when it comes to consistency at number one.

1. Tokyo F - Kyrgios d. Goffin 4-6, 6-3, 7-5
...Down a set, Kyrgios was put under pressure at 1-1. He faced a multitude of break points, but somehow held and then broke his opponent the next game. After that he rolled through the set and clung on in the third for a crucial victory.
2. Tokyo R2 - Cilic d. Verdasco 4-6, 7-5, 7-5
...Verdasco really can’t win these matches, can he? If you’re a big fan of flashy forehands, this is the match for you. Verdasco played a great match, but lacked the control in the end.
3. China F = Murray d. Dimitrov 6-4, 7-6[2]
...A great capper to a very good week from the Scot, but could this also be the run that re-ignites Dimitrov and his career? If he could find form, is any result off the table?

Djokovic [1] d. [9] Tsonga
Murray [2] d. [3] Wawrinka
Djokovic [1] d. [2] Murray

...In the twenty years since this tournament was first started there has never been a lefty winner. And there is unlikely to be one now. Djokovic is going to cruise, though Kyrgios plays the role of a very dangerous wild card. This BACKSPINNER has not bought Nadal on hard courts for three years, and not on any surface for six months. In the other half, Murray is the kind of number two Rafa was ten years ago - really good, but not quite as good as the world number one. And why not have some faith in Vavsy? Don’t bother watching the final if the seeds hold. It’ll be dull.

Mladenovic was again seeded first in the doubles. But she and partner Garcia lost at the final hurdle, though they are likely to stay the top seeded pair for the foreseeable future unless Hingis and Mirza reunite. They had several funky scorelines this tournament, starting with seeing off Krunic and Siniakova 6-0, 2-6, 1-0 [10-7]. Bacsinszky and Ostapenko went down 6-4, 6-3, but the Chans put up a real fight, going down 0-6, 6-1, 1-0 [10-6]. Mattek-Sands and Safarova continued their tear in the final, winning 6-4, 6-4. But it’s another encouraging performance, though they aren’t dominant number ones.

She defeated Jankovic in the first round of the China Open, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6[4]. We knew that. But then she lost to Keys 7-5, 6-4. That loss brings with it no shame. It is not embarrassing to lose to a top ten player with that many weapons, but Kiki has to maximise her performances in smaller events so she can avoid players like Keys. Or she has to learn how to beat them.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Monday, October 03, 2016

Wk.39- October, a Time for Rising from the Dead

Hey, all. Galileo here.

October is a funny month in the tennis calendar; the women go home and the men have to go big. There is a race to get to the finals. The WTA is going to conclude soon and have a nice long holiday. The ATP, meanwhile, will slog on. Honestly, the season is too long. By the time it’s all concluded it’s six weeks until January. There really is no break, not like there used to be.

And in the month of ghosts and ghouls we have some old faces we thought were long gone. Richard Gasquet, a BACKSPIN favourite, has looked alright given his struggles with injury. He even pushed Tomas Berdych hard. It’s ironic, in fact, that his mind, which let him down before, is now the part of him that works really well. It’s like if the Red Sox suddenly started to be awful on offense but excellent on pitching.

And another face we’d forgotten, Janko Tipsarevic. A former top ten player made a run before retiring, as well. He has been derailed by his broken body, too. The Serb was once seeded eighth at the U.S. Open in 2012, and he played David Ferrer in the quarterfinals. It seemed impossible that could be the seedings, but they were and in a delicious twist of fate it turned out to be one of the matches of the tournament.

And that was just one of the points. That match should be far more celebrated. More happened in that match than in some of our recent grand slam finals.

Three years ago Tipsarevic was relevant. In three years’ time, who amongst the current crop will be? In five years none of the current top ten will be around, bar Thiem. It’s funny to think of tennis as being a quick changing sport, but it does change really quickly and at the same time imperceptibly. Ana Ivanovic has taken four years to fall apart again. There are cases of the decline happening quickly -- Amelie Mauresmo and Pete Sampras went downhill pretty quickly. Bbut this is a sport that changes it’s best quickly.

Thomaz Bellucci and Viktor Troicki also made decent runs this week. Viktor is one of those tennis players, like Jeff Tarango, who is more famous for being angry than being a good tennis player.

But, on with the show. The race is on to make the finals...

Top 32 - Ramos-Vinolas rose four places from 31 to 27. He sent Lopez, Querrey, Simon and Kohl down a spot. If he wins a 250 or does very well at the 500 level tournaments coming up he could crack the top twenty.
Top 10 – Little change. Tsonga goes up from 13 to 12 at the expense of Ferrer.
Top 8 – Little change. Raonic still comfortably leads Federer and Monfils.
Top 4 – The gap between Murray and Djokovic has settled into a consistent and steady 5000 point gap. Wawrinka sits by himself, a little Swiss island. 3000 behind Murray, but he is increasing his lead over Nadal with every week that passes. Nadal will soon fall out of the top four. He will be replaced by Nishikori.

S: Karen Khachanov def. Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-7(4)/7-6(3)/6-3
D: Klaasen/Ram d. Carreno Busta/Fyrstenberg

S: Tomas Berdych def. Richard Gasquet 7-6(5)/6-7(2)/6-3
D: Fognini/Lindstedt d. Marach/F.Martin

...He fired fourteen aces to take the title. The 20-year old has arrived. He has been a long time coming. In the ITF tournament finals he has gone 7-1, so the precedent has been there. The Russian is just what his home nation needs after losing Davydenko and Youzhny. Rublev and Saffiullin have both won junior slams recently, as well. They have fantastic potential, as well, though junior success means little.

Daniel Elsner won three slams in a row. Who? Exactly.

FUN FACT: in Wimbledon 1998, Federer and Rochus defeated Llodra/Ram in the boys doubles. Andy Ram of Israel, not the American Ram.

But Khachanov has looked good this year. A quarterfinal in Kitzbuhel hinted at what was to come. The Russian may not have Davydenko’s speed or Safin's sheer physicality and talent. He does not even have the evil that Kafelnikov seemed to have. But he does have a steadiness and an ability to rally and trade. He can sit on the baseline, particularly on the backhand, and force you to miss. Plus, he has a sense of humour.

This week he had a tricky path but answered every question put to him. He beat 7th seed Sousa 7-6[3], 6-3. He put Mannarino away in a comeback win 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. Lopez, seeded fourth, went down 6-3, 6-4. Sixth seeded Troicki lost 6-3, 7-5. And in the final he beat another seed - he escaped 5th seeded Ramos-Vinolas in three tight sets to become champion. He became the first Russian titlist on the tour since October 2013.

...Lying in a hospital bed recovering from appendicitis, Berdych must’ve been thinking about the tour like school children do in detention. Everyone else is out there having a ball while I’m in here writing out, ‘I must not question the powers that be’ 500 times. Berdman had time to get back and find his footing. But he decided to push for the WTF, where he is just behind Nadal. And for somebody coming back from the hospital the Czech looked pretty good. He made the semi-finals last week and has won a tournament this week. It’s been a good month from him. He may only have a few slams left in his window, but if he could make just one more final that would be awesome. He never really had a shot with such a difficult era but the career he has eked out has been pretty good. Not many players make six slam semi-finals. He had some impressive wins this week, taking out Kukushkin in two breakers and seeing off the future of Czech tennis, Vesely. He sent Bellucci home with a 6-3, 7-5 victory and then toughed out a tight match against Gasquet to prevail. And with that win he goes 13-17 in finals. It also means he has won his last three finals, all in October. In fact he has won seven titles in October and made eight finals. He is the two-time defending champion in Stockholm, where he has won the title three times, so expect him to add to his October total.
...Just 21, the Italian is already 5-3 in ITF finals. It can be so hard to make an accurate guess, but this guy could be turning into quite a decent player. He made the Wimbledon boys final in the doubles but lost to Kyrgios/Harris. This week he was dismissed by Kudla 6-1, 6-3 but before that he routed Suhao of China 6-0, 6-1. Not much to report yet but keep your eyes on this young man. He will keep popping up over the next few years.
...Sometimes it’s just nice to see an old face again. If Jankovic made the quarterfinals, heck, won a match, at a slam we could look back and remember. Tipsarevic was around during the last year Federer won a slam, the year Nole really took control. Even though he has fought hard against injuries he still looks like the player he was. He helped Serbia to the Davis Cup, too. Will he hang around? Is 2017 going to be his swan song?
...Perhaps he could be described as a poor man’s Verdasco, but he is more than that to him. He has a different make-up to that, a slightly less fiery one, if you will. He is capable of doing this:

and this:

But he lacks the dizzying heights that the Spaniard could climb to. The Brazilian has just hung around as a kind of perennial banana skin. He occasionally puts it together at the 250 events like now. Three wins for the loss of no sets, including a 6-2, 6-2 beat down of Tomic, saw him through to the semi-finals. He should have done better against Berdych, but the run is good enough.
...He needs to take a break. Losing to Ramos-Vinolas in the second match is not a horrible result even if mustering just five games is poor. What’s horrible is his schedule. He designed it all wrong. He didn’t know he would be this successful, but now he is winning so much he has to cut down on the commitments. He must cancel and withdraw from some. He could play one more 250, 500 and the Masters tournaments. He could then be fresh for the WTF. The gap between that and the regular season is a week, but being really fresh would be a massive bonus. Can Thiem find his groove again? We shall soon find out.
...defeating Goffin was a bit of a shock. The Belgian has been on a tear this year. The Davis Cup last year has proved to be a springboard for his success. Kyrgios losing in three tight sets to Anderson is one thing, Goffin losing to Jaziri 7-6[2], 3-6, 6-2 is another altogether. The Tunisian was able to find the momentum again after losing that second set. Goffin has had an up and down year. Career best in three slams and two semi-finals in March, a feat few on the tour replicated. A bunch of quarterfinals, too, but no title. So a good stepping stone, but more is needed now. Losses like this need to be cut out.

Notes from the Week...
1 – No meltdown yet for Angie Kerber. She did alright in her first tournament as number one, a three set loss to Kvitova being totally acceptable, of course.
2 – Wawrinka apparently had a massive panic attack five minutes before he went out. Didn’t seem to stop him, though.
3 - Ten years ago today our slam winners were Federer and Nadal. This year they are Wawrinka, Djokovic and Murray.
4 – Agassi had positive advice for Kyrgios this past week. Perhaps McEnroe could try that? The Aussie could technically get into the top ten this year, but most likely that’ll come during the first few months of next year.
5 – Kohl has the most 500 level wins at 12-4, but he has no titles.

1. Shenzhen Final - Berdych d. Gasquet 7-6[5], 6-7[2], 6-3
...Down a set and 3-5, Gasquet came up with aces on both of the Czech’s match points and took him to a breaker. He won it but could not keep hold of the momentum as Tomas broke his serve and then clung on for the win. Berdman moves closer to the ATP Finals. He also looks really good for a guy who was in the hospital mere weeks ago.
2. Chengdu Final - Khachanov d. Ramos-Vinolas 6-7[4], 7-6[3], 6-3
...A comeback from a rising star. He will rise 50 spots to world number 55 with this comeback win. Really this is how the other final should have gone. But the talented Russian junior has risen through the ranks. And bating a vet like the Spaniard is a big tick.
3. Chengdu SF - Ramos-Vinolas d. Dimitrov 7-6[6], 1-6, 7-6[3]
...What a set of matches on display this week. The quality and parity of the contests was refreshing, but Dimitrov should have done better. The Bulgarian should be winning these matches.
4. Shenzhen R1 - Tipsarevic d. Paire 6-0, 6-7[5], 7-5
...What is going on? It’s this kind of scoreline only Paire could produce. The Frenchman had an improbable comeback and then a very probable choke.

Murray [1] d. [4] Thiem
Pouille [6] d. [3] Raonic
Murray [1] d. [6] Pouille

...Nadal, Murray and Raonic all usually play in Tokyo. With Djokovic out, this is a great chance to pick up points and close the gap for the Scot. Thiem must be exhausted by now. Does he have enough left in the rank for a run here? Nadal is going to be useless on this surface, which means a surprise finalist. Pouille, anyone? Can we really trust Raonic?

Nishikori [1] d. [4] Cilic
Monfils [2] d. [3] Berdych
Nishikori [1] d. [2[ Monfils

...This is Kei Nishikori in Japan. Are you willing to bet against him? This BACKSPINNER is not. Kyrgios should pick up a few wins here but Berdych is on a roll. And Monfils should continue his excellent year. Cilic is in a weak section.

Mladenovic was seeded first in the Wuhan doubles. But she and partner Garcia lost to Peng/McHale 3-6, 6-2, 10-2 in the 2nd Round. How the world’s best players lost a deciding breaker 10-2 is anybody’s guess. She beat Vandeweghe 7-6[5], 6-3 in singles, and against Kerber she took the first set 7-6[4] but lost the last two 6-1, 6-4. It was a spirited performance from our favourite Frenchie. But when is she going to start winning those matches?

She defeated Jankovic in the first round of the China Open 6-3, 5-7, 7-6[4] this weekend. What’s more shocking? The fact Jankovic is stuck around forty in the world or that she was ever the world’s best player? It is eighth seed Keys up next for Kiki. Krunic/Siniakova are up first in the doubles.

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