Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Wk.16- Nasty

Hey, all. Galileo here.

This BACKSPINNER was all set to talk about Maria Sharapova. Did you know she’s returning? She opens against Roberta Vinci. She has Cibulkova and Radwanska in her section. This BACKSPINNER expects her to make the semi-finals. But from there all I can is that she won’t win.

And, boy, is that Svetlana Kuznetsova versus Karolina Pliskova quarterfinal matchup, if it happens, enticing.

But, frustratingly, this BACKSPINNER cannot. Because over the weekend something foul occurred.

Before the rant begins, I’d like to point out how much women’s tennis means to me. And why I am so personally insulted by Ilie Nastase’s comments. To highlight my love of women’s tennis I thought I’d write a list of 20 great matches in the tennis world that we have had this decade. No order, no scores looked up. No research. The first that come to mind.

Federer d. Murray - 2012 Wimbledon Final
Stosur d. Dementieva - 2010 US Open QF
Azarenka d. Stosur - 2012 US Open QF
Serena Williams d. Kuznetsova - 2013 RG QF
Djokovic d. Nadal - 2011 Miami Final (In a third set breaker. It was superb.)
Rosol d. Nadal - 2012 Wimbledon R2
Tomic d. Dolgopolov - 2012 Australian Open R3
Soderling d. Federer - 2010 Roland Garros QF
Clijsters d. Henin - 2010 Brisbane Final
Sharapova d. Li Na - 2012 Rome Final
Youzhny d. Gasquet - 2010 Australian Open R1
Gasquet d. Wawrinka - 2015 Wimbledon QF
McHale d. Wozniacki - 2011 Cincinnati R2
Serena d. Kvitova - Wimbledon. (Several times. 2010 in particular, SF
Djokovic d. Murray - 2012 Shanghai Final
Ka.Pliskova d. Williams - 2016 US Open SF
Wawrinka d. Djokovic - 2014 Australian Open QF
Wawrinka d. Djokovic - 2015 Roland Garros Final
Djokovic d. Wawrinka - 2013 Australian Open 4R
Keys d. Muguruza - 2016 Rome SF

You can see that I am slam obsessed. But also that I watch all kinds of tennis. All tennis fans should watch a wide array of styles. You do not have to like them all so long as you appreciate them.

In no other sport is the men and women’s game this equal. This BACKSPINNER could not name a single WNBA team, though he does know how good the UConn team is. He could not name a female golfer or soccer player. But, then, soccer isn’t my sport. Only swimming and tennis offer equality. But when you think of swimmers you think of Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps. You probably think about Katie Ledecky, who is insane. You possibly might think about Dawn Fraser, an Australian legend. Sadly, even swimming favours the men.

Tennis is the only sport that is truly equal. There is no, and nor will there ever be, a place for sexism. Since 1973, when Billie Jean King and her disciples set up the WTA, equality has grown and grown. Our sport, though frequently criticised for being archaic, is one of the few with actual equality. There are still golf courses that don’t allow women in.

It is shocking that a former number one, who has given so much to this sport, has been openly sexist and racist. He has abused women and shouted at reporters. He has ruined what should have been a friendly tie. Of course, it is a competition. But at the same time there’s a kind of camaraderie about the Fed Cup. And he has ruined that with his behaviour. It just...makes me SO ANGRY.

I thought I was on "Punk’d" or something when I read it. My first reaction was no way. Matches have been stopped for rain, for snow, for heat and for injury. I watched Venus Williams retire against Barbora Strycova in 2011 in Australia. But this, this is beyond stupid. They had to stop the match because KONTA WAS BLOODY CRYING. SHE WAS IN TEARS. ACTUAL TEARS. SHE COULDN’T CONTINUE. Because of what a former number one said to her. It’s cruel.

It is not enough to simply denounce this behaviour. No, this is the kind of behaviour you attack. Nick Kyrgios swearing at umpires is one thing. But this is disgusting. It overshadows, darkens and dirties Nadal’s umpteenth Monte Carlo title and Belarus’ first Fed Cup final. It blacks out Maria Sharapova starting her third career. It is disgusting. And if it doesn’t make you upset and angry, I am disappointed in you. Because it should.

Look, enough. Let’s please talk about the ATP. And leave the crusty old man alone. And send out well-wishes to Jo Konta. If tennis could only get out of its own way it could be the best sport in the world.

S: Rafael Nadal def. Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1/6-3
D: Bopanna/Cuevas d. F.Lopez/M.Lopez

...Nadal is the first man ever to win 10 titles at the same event. Nadal’s 50th clay court title finally sees him eclipse Guillermo Vilas’ previous record of 49. In 2013, Novak Djokovic beat him in a final, breaking his eight straight years of titling streak. The last two years he has won it, and handily. This event belongs to Nadal the same way Oregon belongs to the Democrats. In 2003 he beat reigning French Open champ Albert Costa as a 16-year old qualifier. Guillermo Coria beat im in the third round.

He lost to Djokovic in ‘13 and ‘15, and Ferrer in ’14. His 63-4 mark at Monte Carlo is a 94% win mark. At Rome he has a win rate of 91%. It is only 85% in Madrid. At the French it is 97 %. This guy, on this surface, is inhuman. And not in the way Ilie Nastase is. Yes, I’m still fuming, still seething about his behaviour. Anyway, Rafa doesn’t just win here, he tends to break the will of his opponents, then their game. He grinds them into the dust. It’s really quite impressive. It was an unusual first match for the former number one - he edged Edmund 6-0, 5-7, 6-3. But he was back on form in the next round, battering Zverev to a pulp. Do you know what it takes to win a point against him on this surface?

He had to scrap against Diego Schwartzman in the quarters, but came through 6-4, 6-4. That was a real battle. The Argentine won four games on the bounce in the second set, but when Rafa returned the favour that was the match, done and dusted. Oh, there was this too:

Yes, you’re right. The ATP have made that shot illegal. After that the going was easy. He dominated David Goffin 6-3, 6-1 and blew Albert Ramos-Vinolas away in the final, 6-1, 6-3. When Rafa really catches fire, especially on clay and especially here, you may as well pack your bags.

...This is turning into a breakout season for the young Spaniard. 7 quarterfinals, four semi-finals, two finals and a partridge in a pear tree. But a title eludes the Spaniard so far this year. He beat Verdasco in the Bastad final last July, but apart from that he has gone 0-4 in finals. And not all of them clay, either. A late bloomer, he has reached his highest ever ranking, 19, at the age of 29. He made his first final in 2012 but waited four years for another chance. The French are renowned for their late bloomers. Julian Benneteau didn’t become relevant until he was well into his 20’s. But the Spanish usually start young - David Ferrer, Carlos Moya and Rafael Nadal all started in their teenage years. The lefty, along with compatriot Carreno Busta, steadily climbed the rankings. He hasn’t done it with a big weapon or flashy shot. He has done it by being unerringly, and unnervingly, consistent. He is a superb counterpuncher, particularly on the dirt. His breakthrough came last year. He has never, this year’s slam included, got past the second round of a slam except for twice. Both came last year. He made the quarters of Roland Garros and backed it up by winning two matches at Wimbledon. Unseeded, he beat Sock in five sets. Then he beat Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-4, 6-4. Nevermind that in the next match Stan Wawrinka took him apart - that was a very impressive run. And at Wimbledon he led Gasquet 6-2 and a break before the Frenchman came back at him, and beat him. This guy has, after years of playing the role of journeyman, finally blossomed. This week his wins over Murray and Cilic were eye-opening. He beat them both in three. To beat players of their calibre in that kind of match is really tough. His dismantling of higher-ranked Pouille in the third set of their semi-final, which he won 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, was an almost perfect set. He even responded well against Nadal, though you always felt that one was beyond him. It is good to see new characters on the stage show we call tennis. If he could get the 16th seed going into Roland Garros, he would be a dark horse to make a very deep run indeed.

[Ramos V d. Raonic Roland Garros]

...This is a week of firsts and for the young Argentine it is a special one. It is a first ever 1000 level quarterfinal. For a 24-year old from Bueno Aires with three siblings to have had such a career really is something. To rise to a career high of 34 three years after his slam debut is quite exceptional. It has been a long journey for the diminutive South American. He opened up with a tricky encounter on paper, but handled Bernie Tomic in a 6-1, 7-6[3] victory. Next was Spaniard Bautista Agut, but that was a similar scoreline; Schwartzman won it 6-3, 7-6[3]. He spanked Struff 6-3, 6-0 to set up a clash with Rafael Nadal. And he was not cowed in that match. He stood up to the Spaniard. He traded with him and led 4-2 in the second set. But it was for nought. Nadal was too strong and bundled him out 6-4, 6-4. This is what we here at BACKSPIN call the clay effect. Some player’s seasons rest on different surfaces. Look at Isner. For the Argentinians and Spaniards, the clay is heaven.
...A household name in men’s doubles and a constant presence on tour, the Indian won a title this week with Pablo Cuevas. Ironically, the Uruguayan has won more slams than he has. Having not won a title since June 2015 at the beginning of this year, he has now won two out of three finals since January. He rose six spots to 18, which is still 15 places off his best ever. He also improves to 4-8 in Masters finals. He and Cuevas took out the 1st and 5th seeds.
...The greatest quote in tennis? Oh, well, that’s easy.

Goffin has finally had his first win over Djokovic. The Serb now leads the head to head by 5-1. A tiny margin, really. He won their last meeting, at the WTF, 6-1, 6-2. Goffin has only taken one set. But it was a Monte Carlo miracle for David as he edged Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. He was down 4-2 in the third but came back hard to win it, stringing together some incredible rallies on the way. Check this out.

That win, along with victories over Almagro and Thiem, has put him back at world number ten, his previous high. But in his match against Nadal, tragedy struck.

Gros clash lors du match David Goffin - Rafael... by Sport-Buzz

If not for that call we could have been talking about a very different result. When early calls go against you it can be really difficult to come back into a match. Still, it has been a good week for Goffin. His best slam is on the horizon and he could be looking at a new career high ranking soon, too.
...He was injured in Indian Wells. He just had a bad day at the Australian Open. He isn’t so good on clay. When are the excuses going to end? Murray is not a good world number one. He hasn’t been at the races this year. What the ATP has right now is the best player according to the rankings, and the best player according to form. Kyrgios, Federer, Nadal and Dimitrov. They have been the best players this year. Murray and Djokovic have looked vulnerable in a way we haven’t seen for years. Muzza won the first set against Ramos Vinolas 6-2. But he still lost. It is inexplicable. There should be a rule that if a world number one is playing at a certain level, a replacement should be found. It would have been handy for the Marcelo Rios year on the ATP. It would be handy now.
...There are just so many to choose from. Let’s take Cuevas beating Wawrinka 6-4, 6-4. Wawrinka is a former champion here but the Swiss is absolutely unpredictable. On his day, at his very best, I don’t think there’s a guy he couldn’t beat anywhere. Boris Becker on grass or Bjorn Borg on clay. But he is also the guy that when he loses to Pablo Cuevas in straight sets you aren’t really surprised. A nice win for the Uruguyan, but somehow it feels like it doesn’t quite count for as much as it should.

1. Monte Carlo F- Nadal d. Ramos Vinolas 6-1, 6-3
...It’s just what Rafa does. Nadal is 14-0 against Spaniards in finals. That includes a slam final, too. He won on a Ramos-Vinolas double fault, but when your opponent is doing this...

what can you do? It’s important to highlight utter dominance, it really is.
2. Monte Carlo R3 - Ramos Vinolas d. Murray 2-6, 6-2 7-5
...How does the Muzza keep blowing these matches? He led Vasek Pospisil 4-1 in Indian Wells but lost in straight sets. Here he was in the ascendancy, but lost the second set really badly. Then he had a 4-0 lead in the final set. He had his opponent bang to rights. You will always struggle to win a three set match if you lose your serve seven times like Murray did. It’s a poor start for the Scot, who has some serious points to defend coming up.

Carreno Busta [7] d. [10] Ramos Vinolas
Nadal [3] d. [5] Goffin
Nadal [3] d. [7] Carreno Busta

...Gasquet returns as Nishikori withdraws with -- surprise, surprise -- an injury. Murray is going nowhere. So let’s stick with Spaniards in Barcelona. Goffin will continue his form, but this clay swing already feels like every clay swing between 2008 and 2014. Nadal’s going to win a lot of titles. The body is, as ever, his biggest question, but now it’s an enormous one. He has to keep something back for the French.

Fognini [3] d. [1] Pouille
Verdasco [4] d. [2] Karlovic
Fognini [3] d [4] Verdasco

...This is a new event and it will almost certainly have a more competitive final than the other tournament. Anything could happen here, so let’s go for the most entertaining option.

So we finally have positive news, good tidings. She defeated Ivana Jorovic in the Fed Cup in her first match, then saw off Nina Stojanovic in the next. Ash Barty’s first rubber win over Aleksandra Krunic, a surprisingly comfortable 6-4, 6-3, was enough to give the visitors the tie. And still the Fed Cup will not move the doubles up. Why?

No sign of Gavrilova anywhere in Stuttgart, but how dangerous is the pairing of Stosur/Hlavackova in the ladies’ doubles?

There was this, handily supplemented by a CNN reference. Which is a good note on which to end.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Wk.15- Coric Borna 'gain

Hey, all. Galileo here.

It is not every week there is a first on BACKSPIN. No, we aren't talking about Marketa 'Please Make a Pun Out of My Name' Vondrousova. We are talking about our very own Borna Coric. But, hey, why don't we ask him. Did you know he can speak two languages? Or, for the more cynical amongst you, he is a very competent user of Google translate.

This is a kid we have been waiting for...oh for such an age, for so many years. We waited for Kei Nishikori and he turned out to be a dud. For all the hype he has only delivered a third of what he could have. We have waited, and are still waiting, for Grigor Dimitrov. We thought Bernie Tomic and Nicky Kyrgios were the answer. They still have time.

It feels like Coric has always been there, just not quite able to go from there to here. He has only two third round appearances at a slam, at the 2015 and '16 French Open. Reaching the third round of a slam aged eighteen is remarkable. As we've discussed this year, the Hingis', Nadals and Hewitts simply don't exist anymore.

Aged 19, he was the 33rd best player in the world. Everybody agreed this kid was going somewhere. But he regressed a little. He didn't give up, however. No, he came back and he has finally won his first title. It feels like he should be 25, not 20. Last year he helped Croatia get to the Davis Cup Final. He matured there, working with Cilic and the likes of Ivan Ljubicic. A heart-throb, in the way Nadal used to be, Borna is going to end up being very popular with the ladies. And some of the men, too. Yes, that is as risqué as Backspin gets. Did you enjoy that sudden raunch?

He made a final in 2016, his first. Wawrinka denied him in Chennai 6-3, 7-5. Delbonis and he met in the final of the Grand Prix Hassan last year. He lost badly, 6-4, 6-2. The shiniest moment in his career may have been in Cincinnati. He beat Benoit Paire in three, Nick Kyrgios in three and spanked Nadal 6-1, 6-3. Had he not retired injured against Cilic in the next round he could have gone all the way to the final.
But now he has won a title. So we can happily focus upon that.

* – David Ferrer rises a spot to 33. That is a sentence this BACKSPINNER never thought he would write. Simon is at 32 but is continuing to fall. Verdasco is at 31, while Kohl rises two places to 30.
* – Monfils falls five places. This means Dimitrov, Berdych and Goffin all rise a place. They are ranked 11-13. In 14th is Sock, who went up two places.
* – Monte Carlo was last week last year. So Nadal drops two places. He is in 7th. He is 400 above Cilic and Thiem, but 400 behind Raonic. Nishikori in 5th is only just above Raonic.
* – Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka and Federer round out the top four. Murray's ranking could be in danger if he has a bad eight weeks. Federer should move into the top three at some point. Also, put money on him playing either Rome or Madrid.

S: Borna Coric def. Phillip Kohlschreiber 5-7/7-6(3)/7-5
D: Inglot/Pavic d. Granollers/M.Lopez

S: Steve Johnson def. Thomaz Bellucci 6-4/4-6/7-6(5)
D: Peralta/Zeballos d. Brown/Tiafoe

...Coric, who beat Nadal in straight sets in Basel aged 17, has a very interesting rivalry with the Spaniard. He leads it 2-1, though Rafa won their only slam meeting; at the 2015 U.S. Open. This is the kind of rally they play:

Now you need to keep in your head that head-to-head while you read along. You shall see why soon. Coric opened with 7th seeded Schwartzman and won 6-3, 6-2. He beat El Amrani in a third set breaker in the next match. The Moroccan had won against defending champion Delbonis, via retirement, the round before. Next came the upset - the Croat beat Ramos-Vinolas 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. With the two and a half hour win he made his first semi-final since the year before. This is turning into his pet event. He handled Vesely 6-4, 6-4 in the semi to make it back-to-back finals at the event.

So there he is, in the final. But he blows the first set on a woeful error. He looked despondent. Kohlschreiber, having won the first 7-5, rose to a higher level in the second. It is rare in a match to be up a set and 3-1 and lose. From that position, in a three set match, you would win 70-75 per cent of the time. Especially if you are serving for 4-1. From there it is almost certain. Unless you are Jana Novotna. Because if you are, blowing 4-1 leads is your specialty.

Anyway, the German could not quite hold on. Fortunately, he had a chance to end the comeback at 5-7, 5-6, advantage Kohlschreiber. The youngster held firm, as the German's defensive shot went way long. He saved another with a stunning low volley. Coric rebounded and took the second set 7-3 in the breaker. The German had a break again in the third set but, like the previous times, lost it. This was turning into the match Kohl could not put away. When it came to it, however, the Croat could. And did. The man who has beaten Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal finally has his title. And now for my bold prediction. The next time he faces Rafa on clay he will take a set.

...Much like the Spanish inquisition, nobody saw Stevie-J a-coming. Seeded fourth, he opened his campaign against the delightfully ridiculous Dustin Brown. Everything about that man is either polite or insane. Or both. The British tennis organization, the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association), could have had him, but Germany won the bidding war. Anyway, Johnson beat him 7-6[12], 6-2. Now that may not be the 1980 Wimbledon final or that breaker Federer and Safin played, but 26 points is more than you need to win a set. Fortunately for the American it got a bit easier after that. He eased past Ferver 6-2, 6-4. Then a real test: top seeded Jack Sock. Sock took the first set 6-4. But when his serve crumbled at the tail end of the second set, it was clear the stress of three three-setters in three days was beginning to tell. Still, he managed to get out to a 3-1 lead in the final set. Johnson responded by ripping off five in a row to take it. In the final, he was crippled with cramps but held on to win 6-4, 4-6, 7-6[5]. So Stevie Johnson is up to 25 in the rankings, four places off his career best.
...The American is at a career high of 73. He has made one of his first -- this BACKSPINNER is reluctant to actually call it his first -- runs to the semi-final at any ATP event. He beat Tennys Sandgren, who you and I have never heard of, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round. He edged past Monteiro next, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Next he beat Isner in three breakers and you can read about that downstairs. In the semi-final he took the first set 7-5, but struggled to get a rhythm going on his serve and crumbled to a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 loss. But with every week a new career high, the future looks bright.

...Lopez is Federer's age, but with a backhand weaker than Trump's cabinet. He is still in the top 40. Do you know how incredible that is? The fact he is still out there winning matches, hitting those lovely shots, is a testament to longevity and the talent that some individuals in our sport have. He beat Bjorn Fratangelo 7-5, 6-4. He dispatched Chung 4-6, 6-2, 6-1. He gave Jack Sock everything he could handle in a 7-6[6], 1-6, 6-4 victory. Now that scoreline rings a bell...

The Spaniard and his compatriot Robredo are two sides of a coin. If they could only have combined their flair and consistency. Spain has, the last ten years, had an army the likes of which even Russian women could not compete with. But this is what happens when, after Bruguera, Berasategui, Costa, Moya, Corretja, Mantilla, Nadal, Verdasco, Ferrer, Robredo and Lopez there isn't a contingency plan. You read that list and it gets weaker as it goes on. What is Spain going to do now?
...Vesely's semi-final showing here is a very positive sign. It means his year is about to take off. Wins over Zverev and Lorenzi, the latter in three long sets, shows his lack of form and injuries may soon be a thing of the past.

...Enough is enough. There are no excuses for Isner to lose on American soil. That's where he is supposed to excel. In 1-7 years, only 13 times has there not been an American in the final of this event. Isner made back-back finals here in 2012-13. So there is not one good reason he shouldn't have made a run. He should have eased past Escobedo. The American now has to go to Europe. So there'll be nothing from him until July.

...The Spaniard roars again. Somehow you knew that Dimitrov was in trouble when he drew Tommy Robredo. As we know, the Spaniard is a former top five player. Top-five at the height of his powers, sure. But now? He still plays like it. The clay gives him a sort of special power that other surfaces don't. Using his protected ranking, he beat Stakhovsky 6-4, 6-4. He upset Dimitrov 6-4, 1-6, 6-1. And boy has the Bulgarian faded badly since the beginning of the year. His luck ran out against Paire, as he lost 6-2, 6-4. But this is still an encouraging run.

1. Marrakech Final – Coric d. Kohlschreiber 5-7, 7-6[3], 7-5
...Kohl's first final in a year ends in heartbreak. But how can you lead 7-5, 3-1 and lose? The German's whole career has always been just a shade off superb. He could have had a similar career to Youzhny's. He has the same set-up. But we were shwon here why he never carved out an awesome career.
2. Houston Final – Johnson d. Bellucci 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(5)
...The drama of a tiebreak. Breakers are a tennis match writ small. The difference is that being more aggressive is actually helpful in breakers. If you have to bet, put your money on Kuznetsova and Federer in breakers, not Wozniacki and Ferrer. The Brazilian led 1-0 but lost that advantage on a passing shot. Down 3-6, he hit two fabulous winners to erase them. Johnson made it three winners in a row on match point, however. The American was lucky it wasn't a five-setter. The cramps he had were vicious.
3. Houston QF - Escobedo d. Isner 7-6[6], 6-7[8], 7-6[5]
...Isner broke a tournament record by serving 35 aces in this match. It took an ace on the youngster's 7th match point to finally bring this match home. They both won under 30 per cent of return points and both went 7/8 on break points. This was a mental match. It took three hours and three minutes. On clay. In Houston. Sounds like hell. But, oh boy, is Isner in trouble.


Wawrinka [3] d. [1] Murray
Nadal [4] d. [13] Carreno Busta
Nadal [4] d. [3] Wawrinka

...Right now in the NBA playoffs the Celtics are the top seed. But somehow you just don't trust them and a bit of you is always waiting for the upset. It is like that with Murray and Djokovic right now. That problem is only exacerbated on clay. Oh, Nadal is here, too. Which makes it easier.

So, up next for our Dasha is the Fed Cup. Australia play Serbia for the right to stay in the World Grouping rather than fall back to their regional competition. It's in Serbia but, fortunately for our girl, Serbia are not the strength they used to be. The lineups are not confirmed yet.

After that the likely bet is Stuttgart. The other Dasha is playing there. So is Maria Sharapova.


Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Davis Cup QF – Advance Australia Fair

Hey, all. Galileo here.

The leading candidate for BACKSPIN’s "Nation of the Year" on this side, with America and Russia in their usual battle on the other side, could well be Australia. Switzerland look impressive, but they don’t have the doubles covered. And where are they in the Davis Cup?

Yes, this decade has become the decade of resuscitation for fallen empires. Britain has had a singles, doubles and Davis Cup top ranking. They have won slams in both disciplines and the silver salad bowl. Honestly, however, the seeding for the Davis Cup matters little. The three seeds left are 6-8. The fourth spot is taken by an unseeded team, none other than Australia.

Australia have had a top five doubles talent this year and a slew of girls and boys rising up. Ash Barty, our own Dasha Gavrilova, Luke Saville and Nick Kyrgios are just a few of the names we have seen post decent results.

Sadly, while those nations flourish, again the Davis Cup withers. It is no longer a draw, no longer attractive. Why should Federer and Nadal play it? They have won it before. Djokovic, who has also previously won, turned up for it. It would have been good to see them clash. But, as usual, the full quota of players declined to attend.

Perhaps this Rod Laver Cup idea is going to work. Perhaps the Davis Cup can fix it by making it an Olympic style event, which takes place two years between each Olympics. Perhaps it could be more like a World Cup event, again played every four years.

The Fed Cup has also experienced problems, though not on this scale. The Fed Cup needs to change the doubles rubber. That’s it.

In related Davis Cup news, Brazil beat Eduador 5-0. Thomaz Bellucci along with Melo/Soares is a fearsome combination. Despite a spirited effort from Nicolas Jarry and Christian Garin, Chile’s rising stars, Colombia saw off their rivals 3-1. This BACKSPINNER wants to remind you that those two exist. They’re very good and are only getting better.

Meanwhile Kazakhstan spanked China 4-1, while India inflicted the same scoreline onto Uzbekistan.

Those four sides along with Hungary, the Netherlands, Belarus and Portugal all go through.

*WEEK 14*
Belgium(H) def. Italy 3-2
Australia(H) def. United States 3-2
France(H) def. Great Britain 4-1
Serbia(H) def. Spain 3-2

Well, let's look at our four quarterfinal ties...

...This was a torrid week of Davis Cup action. Look at Steve Darcis’ 6-7[3], 6-1, 6-1, 7-6[4] win over Paolo Lorenzi. The Italian went 16-30 on errors. His serve was broken six times. It was a very disappointing match that lasted nearly three and a half hours. On slow clay. Oh boy. Sometimes our sport is quite unwatchable. Do you remember that Nadal beatdown of David Ferrer in the Roland Garros final? That was a slam final and it was awful. In the next match David Goffin doubled the home side’s advantages. The tie, played in Charleroi near Brussels, was looking precarious for the Italians going into the doubles rubber. By some miracle of the gods they held on for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6[6] win. Bolelli and Seppi, former slam champions, defeated Bemelmans/De Loore. Goffin then put Lorenzi to the sword 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 to give his side the win. The kid, Joris De Loore, won the dead rubber against Alessandro Giannessi. He is one to look out for in future. Belgium move on and will host Australia. It should be clay again, though there’s not a surface Kyrgios can’t play on.
...No ties needed their 5th rubber. Two didn’t need their fourth. A lacklustre week for the Davis Cup. The star of the show for Australia was freshly shaven and haircutted Jordan Thompson.

In the opening rubber there was drama a-plenty. For once, however, Lleyton Hewitt attacked the umpire with good reason -
she made a mistake. Thompson, playing a tie he was supposed to lose, used the home crowd to win the match 6-3, 3-6, 7-6[4], 6-4. Thompson played inspired baseline tennis against the tricky American, and when he won the breaker he won the match. The Americans never really recovered from the loss. Kyrgios out-served Isner in the next match, winning 7-5, 7-6[5], 7-6[5]. He won the aces duel by just 20-15. Down 0-3 in the first he recovered and went 7-2 in the next nine games to take it. Isner struggled to climb back into the match afterwards. Kyrgios is playing some of the best tennis on the planet right now, so it may not have mattered. For the doubles, Australia fielded the world number two Peers with Sam Groth, while the USA put out Jack Sock and Steve Johnson. Somehow the Americans won 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. It took the Yanks two and a half hours and five breaks to get it done, but the tie was leveled. Fortunately for the Brisbane faithful, Nick Kyrgios wanted to finish it quickly. He beat late replacement Sam Querrey 7-6[4], 6-3, 6-4. He even ended it with an ace. The Aussies are the slight favourites against the Belgians, but nothing about this competition is predictable.
...No Richard Gasquet? No Gael Monfils? No Jo-W Tsonga? No Gilles Simon? No Herbert? No problem. France’s strength in depth is extraordinary. They stuck Lucas Pouille and Jeremy Chardy out there and won 3-0. in the opening rubber in Rouen, France, Pouille edged the first set 7-5 against Edmund. Despite serving for a two sets to none lead he found himself in a breaker. Down 5-2 he came back to win it 7-6[6]. The key point was at 5-2 on Edmund’s serve. Pouille hit the most ridiculous dropshot ever. But it worked, and beautifully. Watching it live was pretty incredible. He won the third set 6-3 and France had a 1-0 lead. Next Chardy spanked Dan Evans 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. The Frenchman broke six times and won just under 50 per cent of his return points. So it fell to the doubles on Saturday. Benneteau’s first doubles title came in Metz in 2003. Nicholas Mahut helped him to that title. In the final, they beat Llodra/Santoro. It was a topsy turvy affair but the home side took it 7-6[7], 5-7, 7-5, 7-5.

...The major problem with these ties is that there’s no angle, no storyline. What can you say about ties where one team only wins a set or two? Novak Djokovic beat Ramos-Vinolas in less than two hours 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. He faced just one break point. It resembled the first round match of a grand slam. Next Viktor Troicki beat Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. Despite having three chances to do so the Spaniard failed to break, leaving Serbia unbroken through the first two rubbers. Out of 67 return points, Busta won just 17. 40 year-old playing captain Nenad Zimonjic, who has not missed a tie in a decade, paired up with Troicki. They were looking to put the thing to bed against Carreno-Busta/Mark Lopez. Despite spirited opposition they edged through in a 4-6, 7-6[4], 6-0, 4-6, 6-2 victory in well over three hours. They only dropped four points on their second serve. For the semi-finals they will travel to France. The French should play that one on grass. They would certainly win it then.


Well, after catching a break and nabbing the second seeded Konta’s spot in the draw you might have thought Dasha would do well. Except that she lost to close friend Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 4-6, 6-0. Which is not so bad when you realize that the Russian went on to win the title.

When Agassi was going through a tough time he went and played in minor tournaments. In 1997 he entered and won an ITF tournament. He used those to play his way back up.

Read this beautiful article.

Watch out for defending champion Juan Monaco and the evergreen Tommy Haas in Houston this week. Jack Sock, the top seed, should be too good to look past, however. He will beat 5th seed Fernando Verdasco. Donald Young will go all the way to the semi-final but lose to Thomaz Belucci. Tired from the Davis Cup, the Brazilian will go out to Sock in the final.

Dimitrov opens with Tommy Robredo in Morocco. He will go all the way to the final, seeing off Philipp Kohlschreiber, too. Paolo Lorenzi will win a couple but lose to Ramos-Vinolas, seeded second, in the semi-final. Ramos-Vinolas is going to win it all.

P.S.- Congratulations to Pavlyuchenkova on winning her fourth title at Monterrey. It’s an extremely impressive record.

And, finally...

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Wk.13- Life, Death, Taxes, Time... and Federer

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Every three years, like clockwork, Rafa Nadal makes the final of Miami. He also loses. But he is not the only one who cannot get over that hill. Let us set the scene...

The year is 2005. Serena and Venus Williams are sort of in a slump. Justine Henin is not at her eventual level of greatness yet. Kim Clijsters has not retired yet nor won a slam. Amelie Mauresmo is also slamless, but in Miami she is the top seed. In the men’s, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin round out the top three. All have won at least one slam. Roddick has not yet put on that extra 20 pounds that limited his career.
Guillermo Coria is the fourth seed, but by next year he will be done, burned out.

In the ladies draw, second seed Maria Sharapova dismisses Eleni Daniilidou 6-0, 6-4. In the next round, she smacks Marissa Irvin, who beat 31st seed Dinara Safina the round before, 6-2, 6-0. She beat Shinobu Asagoe for the loss of three games to make the quarters. Sharapova then struggles past former number one Henin-Hardenne in three laborious sets, before dismissing Venus 6-4, 6-3 to make the finals. But Clijsters denies her 6-3, 7-5.

Nevermind. She still has time to win it, right?

Nadal, seeded #29, gets a break when Roddick retires in the first round. He beats Rainer Schuettler and Fernando Verdasco in straight sets to make the fourth round. He escapes Ivan Ljubicic in three to win his section. He eases past Thomas Johansson and David Ferrer without losing a set to make the final. He has only played two seeds to get there. In the final it is the mighty Federer he must face. He wins the first two sets, but fades down the stretch.

Nevermind. He still has time to win it, right?

In 2006, Mauresmo is again the top seed. But good news for fourth seeded Sharapova -- second seeded Clijsters, the defending champion, has crashed out to Jill Craybas in her first match. The Backspin-dubbed "Supernova" capitalises by getting past Li Na and Maria Elena Camerin without losing a set. She scrapes past Maria Kirilenko next, winning 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. In the quarters, Anastasia Myskina is never at the races. In the semi-finals, she is struggling against Tatiana Golovin before the Frenchwoman retires. She will edge past her in the U.S. Open quarters the same year. In the final it is not Mauresmo or even Henin. It is Svetlana [My Sveta] Kuznetsova, fallen from grace. It is surely destined to be for Sharapova. But...

Nevermind. She still has time to win it, right?

In 2008, and you can see where this going now, Nadal is the established world number two. Federer is on the ropes. Nadal, in his role as the favourite, dismisses Benjamin Becker and Nicolas Kiefer without dropping a set. He does drop Paul-Henri Mathieu in the next round, however. James Blake gives him his first lost set, but Nadal wins a classic 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. In the semi-finals, tenth seeded Tomas Berdych is out of his depth and goes down 7-6[6], 6-2. In the final, Niko Davydenko spanks him 6-4, 6-2.

Nevermind. He still has time to win it, right?

Three long years go by. It is 2011. Sharapova’s comeback is almost complete. Nadal is the top seed. A lot is expected of both. ‘Pova sees off Petra Martic 6-3, 6-2 before giving Sabine Lisicki the treatment in a 0 and 2 smack-down. They will meet in the Wimbledon quarters later that year. She sees off fourth seeded Sam Stosur, who is months away from her biggest triumph, 6-4, 6-1. She somehow survives Alexandra Dulgheru 3-6, 7-6[6], 7-6[5] in a match this BACKSPINNER still remembers even now.

A little recap? (from "To Live and (Not) Die in (F)LA" - WTA Backspin; April 4, 2011)

“In a 3:28 drama-filled contest that lasted past midnight, Sharapova put on maybe the gutsiest performance she's had in three years. Dulgheru broke her serve four times in the 1st set, and TPFKATS (The Player Formerly Known as the Supernova) double-faulted on set point. Eleven games in, she'd already exceeded thirty errors. Dulgheru couldn't take the match, but she extended the Russian and forced her to find ways to overcome herself AND the Romanian. Of the eighteen breaks of serve in the match, ten of them came in Sharapova's service games. She had over 75 unforced errors, and nastily turned her ankle after taking a bad step following a serve at 5-5 in the deciding set. Down 6-1 in the tie-break, Dulgheru still refused to give up. Sharapova ended up winning the TB 8-6, and maybe BOTH players' seasons were turned around over the course of a single match.”

In the semi-finals, Andrea Petkovic, fresh off an upset of Caro Woz, this BACKSPINNER also remembers, couldn’t quite finish her off. Sharapova was through 3-6, 6-0, 6-2. In the final, Vika Azarenka, who ‘Pova still struggles with, denied her 6-1, 6-4.

Nevermind. She still has time to win it, right?

Nadal, meanwhile, dismisses Nishikori 6-4, 6-4 and Feli Lopez 6-3, 6-3. Alex Dolgopolov, seeded 21st, does even worse, winning just three games. Nadal struggled past Berdie in three but creams Federer 6-3, 6-2 in the semi. It is one of Federer’s worst ever matches. In the final it is heartbreak. Novak Djokovic’s winning streak continues with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6[4] win. If you were to rank their matches that one is right up there...

Six years after the first time, he and Sharapova are once more the losers in the Miami final. The Tennis Gods have a cruel sense of humour.

Nevermind. He still has time to win it, right?

Now it is 2012. Sharapova, seeded second, survives Shahar Peer’s challenge in three sets in her opener. She gets by Sloane Stephens and Ekaterina Makarova, not easily but in straight sets. It is struggling Li in the quarterfinals. She batters her to a pulp in a 6-3, 6-0 demolition job. Next she sees off the Woz in three sets. It ends controversially, though Maria isn’t really to blame... or is she?

In the final, you guessed it, Aga Radwanska comes from nowhere and defies a 0-6 h-2-h stat to win 6-4, 7-5. Their head to head is now 13-2 to the Russian. Sharapova still has not won a set in a Miami final.

Nevermind. She still has time to win it, right?

Now it is 2013. Don’t worry, we’re almost through. Sharapova, seeded third, beats Eugenie Bouchard 6-0, 6-2 to open up. Next, she dismisses Elena Vesnina 6-4, 6-2. Klara Zakapalova, no longer Koukalova (though she would be again later), is seeded 21st but only wins four games. In what is a quite awful match, Maria wins again, beating Sara Errani 7-5, 7-5. She then routs Jankovic 6-2, 6-1 for her third consecutive final. She even takes the first set against Serena in the match. When was the last time she did that? But she wins just three more games, going down 4-6, 6-3, 6-0. At least she won a set in a final. But no trophy, sadly.

Nevermind. She still has time to win it, right?

It is now 2014. This BACKSPINNER is finally integrated into the system. Top-seeded Nadal dismisses Lleyton Hewitt 6-1, 6-3. He lets Denis Istomin have just one game in the next round. 14th seed Fabio Fognini manages four games. Nadal is finally tested in the quarter but beats Milos Raonic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. When Berdman withdraws, Rafa is in the final. But all his momentum is gone. It’s Djokovic again. He wins 6-3, 6-3. It is easy. Djokovic, Davydenko and now Federer. Only those three have ever beaten Rafa four times in a row. Again, it is no title for Nadal.

Nevermind. He still has time to win it, right?

Finally we are back to the present. Seeded fifth in 2017, there is little pressure on Nadal’s shoulders. He eases past Dudi Sela 6-3, 6-4 to open up. He almost loses to Philipp Kohlschreiber but escapes 0-6, 6-2, 6-3. Nicolas Mahut does better than expected, but does not win a set. Rafa does not falter against Jack Sock or Fognini and is into the final having lost just one set. Like twelve years ago, though, Federer denies him. For the fifth time, just like Maria, he goes home with nothing.

Nevermind. He still has time to win it, right? Right?

S: Roger Federer def. Rafael Nadal 6-4/6-3
D: Kubot/Melo d. Monroe/Sock

...Federer is having a season akin to David Ortiz’s final hurrah. He has not been to a final here in eleven [!] years. But now he has his third title and a 3-0 record in Miami finals to boot. He has beaten Rafa in two and Ljubicic, in three breakers, in the other. This is the kind of thing he used to do.

But this year is different. Federer is looking exquisite. He may be playing inferior opposition - if I say it about Murray and Djokovic it must be said about the Swiss, too - but the opponents he saw off in the last three matches all should have beaten him. They all could have, too. This year is all about Federer’s resilience. He has literally ‘outlived’ the big three. He is the best player in the world five years after last being so. His wins against Kyrgios and Berdych were so impressive. He was pushed all the way. Normally there is no defence for Kyrgios’ smashing of rackets, but here there is. That was a heartbreaker for the Australian. And Federer playing that return match point down against Berdman is extraordinary. He has slayed so many demons - Del Potro, Rafa in Miami, Berdych in tiebreakers and his relatively poor record in Miami itself. Federer now leads Nadal 10-9 on hard-courts. He leads the head to head on two surfaces. He also leads off clay 12-10. Do you want a reminder of all of their matches? I thought so.

...This edition of ATP BACKSPIN is very Federer & Nadal-centric, with a sprinkling of Supernova. No apologies for that. This BACKSPINNER loves Federer. That is obvious. But once again here he reiterates how much respect he has for Rafa. The Spaniard is, for my money, the toughest guy in sports. Not Big Ben Roethlisberger. Not Mike Tyson. I will not even hear you talk about Jaromír Jágr. No, it is the bullfighter from the Balearic Islands. You’ve already had to trawl through twelve years of pain, shared at least with another, so there is no point accounting how he did at this tournament. We are back to the days of 2006-10. No Djokovic or Murray around, except to make up the numbers in the semi-finals. Del Potro is dangerous again. Tsonga is hanging around the top ten. The best two players in the world are Rafa and Roger. We’ve come full circle in a way. And it is comforting in its own way. To have these two back is nice. Fedex is back in the top four and Rafa is ranked 5th. Both rose two places today. The Swiss could challenge for the top two. So instead of making progress, well, we’ve gone backwards.

A funny note to leave you with...

...His first ever Masters hard court semi-final. Only his second semi-final ever at this level. Yes, you were expecting Kyrgios to win this. But he is hardly fresh. Besides, he can win any one of the awards on offer. Well, all the positive ones anyway. Fabio has had a banner week and, for the first time on record, he was unpredictable. But because this BACKSPINNER picked him to go one round less than he did, the irony of that, well, it hurts. His win over Jeremy Chardy was entertaining and inspired. His dismissal of Donald Young 6-0, 6-4 was totally professional. He even made Rafa work for it in the 6-1, 7-5 decision. So top marks for Fabio. Now he will lose ten in a row before making the semi-finals in Roland Garros.

...It is the same thing every week. He turns 29 this year. Time is running out. With his body the way it is and his history of injuries, is there any chance he is still here when he is Nadal’s age? What about Federer’s? Exactly. Time is running out.
...Forget the semi-final. Forget that he made another semi-final here. Forget that he is developing into a consistent top 15 player. The most surprising thing of all is that he made Roger Federer sweat. The Aussie is becoming, to paraphrase a certain Batman film, the hero the ATP tour needs. He is brash, bold and loud. He has spiky hair and can pull off awful neon green outfits. He demands attention. He is what is needed. People need to watch our sport; we need to branch out. Boring number ones won’t do it, they just don’t sell. When he smashed his racket it was human. We need a world number one like Safin, like Hewitt. It goes in cycles. After Sampras and Agassi retired we had human number ones. Now that the immortals of our age are quitting we need the humans to come back.
...It was a rare thing this tournament - in both doubles events the top ranking was right there for the taking. Like candy in the hands of an infant. But the Bryans, much like Bartolo Colon, seem to be on borrowed time. Time was they would have snatched up the prize on offer as their less illustrious peers fell by the wayside. But they lost to Nicholas Monroe and Jack Sock. That loss coupled with their lack of slam wins and the retirement from the Davis Cup. Well, is the ATP ready for a post-Bryans era?
....It is a rare thing to beat a top seed anywhere, but a three-time slam champion at this level? It just does not happen. Ever. So we have to call out the German for such a fantastic win. And the last two sets? Superb.


1. Miami SF – Federer d. Kyrgios 7-6[9], 6-7[9], 7-6 [5]
...I am going to call it now. This will be the match of the year, not at a grand slam. Federer was broken just once the whole tournament. This match had less breaks than that. The last time these two played there were breakers. This was rock and roll, rip-roaring. Big shots, exquisite slices and huge booming serves. The two most in-form players in the draw playing the highest quality calibre of tennis you or I have seen in a long while. There was more quality in this than in those Murray/Djokovic Australian Open finals. And that is no joke. Words cannot do this advertisement for the glory our sport can achieve justice.

Just watch this...

2. Miami R4 – Zverev d. Wawrinka 4-6, 6-2 6-1
...Any other tournament and this would be the match people remember. Or one of them anyway. But this coronation of Zverev has sadly been forgotten. It is a seriously good match and a tactical masterpiece from the German. He kept plugging away knowing he was doing the right thing. Eventually it paid off. His backhand is one of the very best there is.

1990 Stefan Edberg (L-W-L)
1994 Pete Sampras (W-W-W)
1995 Pete Sampras (L-W-L)
1998 Marcelo Rios (L-W-W)
2001 Andre Agassi (W-W-W)
2006 Roger Federer (W-W-W)
2011 Novak Djokovic (W-W-W)
2015 Novak Djokovic (W-W-W)
2016 Novak Djokovic (W-W-W)
2017 Roger Federer (W-W-W)

1991 Jim Courier
1992 Michael Chang
1994 Pete Sampras
1998 Marcelo Rios
2001 Andre Agassi
2005 Roger Federer
2006 Roger Federer
2011 Novak Djokovic
2014 Novak Djokovic
2015 Novak Djokovic
2016 Novak Djokovic
2017 Roger Federer

49 - Djokovic vs. Nadal (active)
45 - Djokovic vs. Federer (active)
37 - Federer vs. Nadal (active)
36 - Djokovic vs. Murray (active)
36 - Lendl vs. McEnroe
35 - Connors vs. Lendl
35 - Becker vs. Edberg
35 - Connors vs. McEnroe
34 - Agassi vs. Sampras

24 - Djokovic vs. Nadal (active)
23 - Federer vs. Nadal (active)
20 - Lendl vs. McEnroe
19 - Djokovic vs. Murray (active)
16 - Djokovic vs. Federer (active)
16 - Agassi vs. Sampras
16 - Becker vs. Edberg
15 - Connors vs. McEnroe

Italy d. [7] Belgium 3-2
...Yes, Beligum are home and, yes, it is on indoor hard courts. But look at Italy’s strength in depth. Fognini can beat anyone, anywhere. If he beats Goffin it is game over. After beating the top seeds in the last rounds, they will win here, too.

Australia d. USA 3-2
...We are going back to Brisbane. Kyrgios does turn up for the Davis Cup. Isner is notoriously inconsistent in this tournament and Jordan Thompson has shown how well he plays in his home country. But the big difference? John Peers. With the Bryans retired from the Davis the U.S. have no safety net.

France [6] d. [3] GBR 5-0
...This BACKSPINNER will never pick against the French in this competition. The percentages are too good. At home on indoor clay against a Britain without Murray, this is a lock.

Serbia [8] d. Spain
It is at home. They have Djokovic. Spain do not have Nadal. Is there anything else left to add?

At this point, Gavrilova’s season is not going well. We could swap her with Ash Barty and pretend nothing happened. But that would be cheating. If she has a dreadful season, well, we predicted it wrong. I predicted it wrong. We must live with it.

She is playing in Charleston. Jo Konta withdrew because, as the cynic would say, she didn’t expect to even make the final in Miami let alone win it. So now she needs a rest. Dasha is seeded ninth and takes the spot in the draw of the 2nd seed. Sam Stosur and Venus Williams are the major threats here, particularly her compatriot, who won it seven years ago.

She and her fellow Dasha go up against the second seeded Hlavackova/Mirza. It is a new surface and a fresh chance for Gavrilova to change the trajectory of her season.

NOTE:: Todd and I were laughing about this the other day in the BACKSPIN HQ coffee room. He said he couldn’t believe that I had not picked Federer to do so well, winning the Australian, Indian Wells AND Miami. He was speaking a tad ironically, of course. Honestly, though, I would have looked ridiculous and like I was playing favourites. I try not to do that. There is only one player I’ll break the rules for and that’s because she breaks all the rules, too. Even picking him as I have in the tournaments he has played in, this year is coming from bias.

[Ed.: And, hey, if either of us HAD predicted such a start for Federer then, well, it surely wouldn't have happened at all, right? I mean, look what we did to poor Pliskova in Miami and Indian Wells. - tds]

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Miami: Meeting in the Middle

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Usually this BACKSPINNER just sticks to the ATP. And, in fact, Todd generally leaves the other side alone. He has even, to this BACKSPINNER'S dismay, stopped capping off the slams. Which puts more pressure on me.

Every now and then this BACKSPINNER feels the need to cross over. For example, after a slam, some comment on the WTA, normally involving the phrase Serena dominated or Serena choked, is needed. If Kuznetsova wins a match several saccharine paragraphs on her brilliance are absolutely warranted. But, for once, it is neither of those things.

My dark horse for player of the year is...

Spain’s Garbine Muguruza.

Now, stay with me here. She hasn’t looked brilliant at all. Normally when a player wins matches in an ugly fashion, what you say depends on how much you like them. Muguruza is a very likeable character and so you can look at her gutsiness, especially in the face of injuries, and say, gosh darn it, she just won’t die. [Ed.note: especially when you consider her sometimes-history of "just giving up" when the proverbial chips are down - tds]

In Brisbane, she beat Sam Stosur 7-5, 6-7[2], 7-5. To do that with a partisan crowd against you, in a three hour match, is extraordinary. Then she survives a match point and, again in three hours, beats Daria Kasatkina 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(7). In the next match she comes back from 1-4 down to beat Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-4. It takes just under two hours. Three matches took her eight hours. No wonder she retired in the semi-final.
Then in Australia she turns it on, not losing a set in the first four rounds. To cap it off she loses 6-4, 6-0 to Vandeweghe. No injury excuses there, it was pretty poor. But injuries do keep her from performing at Dubai and Doha.

She went 1-1 in Fed Cup play, but the Fed Cup is an entirely different entity to anything else, really. It has so little bearing on anything else [Ed: although, a good case can be made that Pliskova's rise has seemed to have been influenced by her FC prowess, and the Pastries -- Mladenovic and Garcia -- have benefited from the exposure to team play, and Captain Mauresmo, of course.]. Look at Kazakhstan in the Davis Cup as the perfect example of international competitions distorting things.
So she comes to the March swing with nought resting on her shoulders. No real pressure, no expectations and plenty of question marks. She looked superb in the 6-2, 6-3 dismissal of Kirsten Flipkens in Indian Wells. Her inside-out backhand is one of the best weapons on the WTA right now. If it hits it means trouble, but that is a big if.

In the third round match against rising star Kayla Day she goes down a set. She tightens it up in the second, hangs with the American and saves break points at 5-5. From there the match is hers, but boy did she have to dig deep into the well. And do you know how little water there is in California? She survives like the monster from a generic 70’s horror flick. Like, say, Alligator. Both BACKSPINNERS picked Svitolina to win the section, but Muguruza, in one of those bizarre results only the WTA can produce, won 7-6[5], 1-6, 6-0. It felt like an upset. It took Pliskova in two very tight breaker sets, 7-2 and 7-5, to finally, finally, put two bullets in the alligator’s head.

Now we’re in Miami. In her opening match, Christina McHale won the first eight games and led 6-0, 3-2. But again Muguruza comes back, using the rain as Goran Ivanisevic did, and wins that second set. She saves a match point in the breaker and takes it 7-6[6]. Then she falls a break behind but recovers and wins that set 6-4. I took her two days, but she got through to the third round. And there she struggled past Zhang Shuai 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. It was over two hours and more of a grind than your local coffee joint.

Forget Serena and Venus. Forget Wozniacki or Pliskova. This girl is the most impressive, or the least depending on if you like her, out there. And this BACKSPINNER is loving it. She just won’t die. And, strangely, I found myself thinking she’d beat the Woz, which was clearly absolute insanity and stupidity and foolishness and bloody idiotic. But I reckon you’re just the same.

And so does Todd and he knows it!!

[Ed.: of course, Galileo wrote this before the Dane advanced past Muguruza on Monday when she retired due to illness after dropping a 1st set tie-break. But the result came only after the Spaniard, following the pattern he just addressed, battled back from 4-1 down in the 1st set to force that tie-break.]

Right, let’s talk about the men...

...Yes, the man who has beaten Federer, Wawrinka and Murray has shone once again. He has made a very nice to the fourth of round of Miami, and for players like Delbonis, floating around the top 50, this kind of run is better than a semi-final elsewhere. It gives you more money, gives you more fans and it also gives you confidence. And boy is that elusive. He opened with a 7-5, 7-6[4] win over compatriot Juan Monaco. Beating Pico, even now at the end of his career, is always a good victory. Against Carreno Busta, the tour’s breakout star this year, he was blasted off the court for the first hour, and found himself 6-1, 3-1 down. But he ground his way back into the match and eventually took the second set and the momentum. The Spaniard never recovered and lost the last set 6-2. Jan-Lennard Struff, who had beaten Simon 6-1, 6-1, was his next opponent. Again Delbo was clutch when it mattered, winning 7-6[5], 6-1. So now he has a maiden quarterfinal on the line. He has a stiff challenge to get past first: second seed Kei Nishikori. As it stands he will rise five or six places to land just out of the top 50. Win and he will be pushing the top 40. Beat either Fabio Fognini or Donald Young and he’ll be up near the top 35.
...Well firstly watch this delicious point.

Then enjoy this act of brutal violence.

Here’s a reference point for the above...

The thing about Coric, the key, really, is to hold your horses. At 18 he was world number 33. Now let’s be clear. Martini Hingis at 16. Jennifer Capriati at 14. Chang at 17. Even Hewitt at 20 being ranked number one. That doesn’t happen anymore. Nobody is saying that it can’t ever happen again but the odds are really slim. So now, at 20, his ranking of 62 is impressive in its own way. He has hung around, stayed relevant, and even won a few big matches. His 7-6[6], 4-6, 6-3 win over Granollers in the opening round is the kind of victory that's really good to see him producing. A tough one, the sort of win that doesn’t ever come easy. Then he beat Thiem 6-1, 7-5. He should have lost that second set but toughed it out. If he can beat Mannarino he will rise up the rankings into the top 50 again. Just a few places above him is Karen Khachenov. The Russian is the same age. What a pair those two are. Or, rather, will be.

We haven’t had an ASK-THE-BACKSPINNER featurette (different from a quiz featurette in so many ways) for a while. So...

There are going to be five 20 year olds in the top 100 when the rankings come out on Monday.

Khachenov is in at 52
Coric at 62
Hyeon Chung at 92
Jared Donaldson 95
Ernesto Escobedo should break into the top 100

Now, Todd, could you rank these guys in order of how you think they’ll be ranked by Wimbledon 2020?

[and I'm making my first pick based on how you talk about him, and that I figure you'll have him first...

Chung,Coric,Khachenov,Donaldson,Escobedo (though I don't really know anything about EE)... and I might rank 19-year old #101-ranked Frances Tiafoe ahead of them all, or in the third slot, at least... but maybe that's because he's a "local" for Backspin HQ - tds]


Chung, Coric, Khachenov, Donaldson, Escobedo. There you go that’s my list. [Hmmm, well, that was sort of anticlimactic, wasn't it? - tds]
...For Nicolas Mahut the fourth round is a funny one. Never in a major doubles tournament has he exited at that stage. At a major singles tournament only once has he reached that stage. That would be Wimbledon, where he lost to Djokovic-conqueror Querrey, last year. Well, until now that is. The world’s best doubles player is lighting it up in singles now, too. The Frenchie overwhelmed Mmoh 6-3, 6-2 in his opener but then came the upset. He beat Johnson, our 23rd seed, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. With no Dimitrov he has cruised through to the fourth, beating Pella 6-4, 6-3 on the way. It will get harder, however. He has to face Nadal. Well, he always has the doubles.
...Berdie has been playing here since 2005. It really is a long time. Agassi was still playing then. In fact, the American made the semi-finals of the event, losing to Federer. Anyway, Berdman’s career can be summed up in two beautiful stats. The first: from 2007 to 2013 he lost in the first round of at least one slam. Every year for seven years without fail. The other stat? For six straight years he qualified for the World Tour Finals, from 2010-2015. He made it through the round robin just once. Miami is one of his best tournaments. He is 4-3 in quarterfinals, but 1-3 in semi-finals. This year he needs a big result to kick start his season. It has been a damp squib so far. The thing about the Czech is that it does not take much to get him lit up. A 6-2, 6-2 win over Andrey Rublev is a good start. If he can beat Muller he will face either Mannarino or Coric. The quarter-finals beckon once more for Berdman here in Miami.
...We have a way of doing things here at BACKSPIN. Todd is very sensible, picks accurately what is going to happen, keeps a firm hand on the steering wheel of the good ship BACKSPIN. I come along, make stupid picks, make crazy calls and do a poor job analytically. The good thing about this is when he gets it right nobody is that impressed. But when I do, oh the bells ring out. And calling Fognini to make a quarterfinal at this tournament? Well it’s totally mad. It is utterly without defense. Except that, well, it happened. [Applause.] Or rather it could. [Whoops... well, keep it in mind.] Fabio has won three matches and made the fourth round. As this BACKSPINNER types he is up 5-3 in the third against Chardy. If he does make the fourth well that justifies the pick. He beat Harrison 7-5, 6-4 in the first round, which these days counts as a great win. In the next he decided to be all Fognini and he beat Sousa 7-6[8], 2-6, 6-3. And, wow, Fognini just hit the best shot you’ve ever seen to go up 15-0 while serving for it. He sat back the whole point and, at the last, unleashed a rocket. In the entire third set the Frenchman won just four points on the Italian’s serve. So to recap, serving for the match, Fognini fell over to go down 15-30 then played a blinder of a point to level it. Now it is 40-30 after the Frenchman missed a volley and-oh lord - he missed a sitter. Now we’re in a tense deuce. This final game is incredible. Now a racket smash from the Frenchie. And it’s over. A nice handshake and Fabio’s done it. [Applause.]
...There should be some kind of rule that if you lose in your first match at a certain amount of tournaments you fall out of the top ten. Why is it this U.S. Open champion with two huge weapons can’t even beat journeymen? Why can’t he ever produce it consistently? Why he is still a top ten player? It actually makes this BACKSPINNER angry. Not in the way the ‘hand incident’ or certain ATP tour players sexist comments do, but still irritated. Blegh, get it together. Even Stosur is more consistent.
...Dimitrov is gone. Yes, the Bulgarian went down tamely to Guido Pella. It now means BACKSPIN town has to cool down on Dimi. His hot start to the year is gone but not forgotten. He was due a couple of poor results and he just ran out of steam. The South American triumphed 6-3, 7-6(4). He saved several set points in that second set. The worst stat for Grigor? 38 unforced errors. It’s just so much. Clay is coming up where Dimi can regroup. As for the Argentinian, well he had a great chance to make a run here and go up in the rankings. But he lost to Mahut in straight sets. He does rise 15 places to 143 in the world, but he should have done better. Never mind, for he too can look forward to the dirt.

1. MIAMI R3 – Nadal d. Kohlschreiber 0-6, 6-2, 6-3
...What a crazy match. In the first set the German returned every serve perfectly, served superbly and played the perfect match. Aggressive but measured, he mixed it up, too. And Nadal had no answer. But Kohl is a rhythm player. Once Rafa had his claws in the match it was always going to go only one way. Nadal knows how to deal with being hit off the court. He came back in the second and then broke in the third. It wasn’t easy, but he has made it through. Now he has to play Mahut. He should win that comfortably, but this is not the ultimate version of Nadal we are seeing this year.
2. MIAMI R3 – Nishikori D. Verdasco 7-6[2], 6-7[5], 6-1
...Verdasco just gets rotten draws. He had a good win over Escobedo 7-6[9], 7-5. And he gets Kei. He always draws Rafa or Novak, so at least he got a break from them. Going up against the Japanese he knew he was overmatched, but he really pushed him hard. Down 3-0 in the first set the Spaniard gamely fought back before collapsing in the first set breaker. He still didn’t fold, however. He got back up, came back and took the second despite being down 3-1. In the third, he just couldn’t live with his opponent, however. He eventually collapsed to a loss. But two and three quarter hours in the heat versus Nishikori is nothing to be sniffed at. Plus he did this so that’s something...


Dasha lost badly in the singles. She did poorly in the doubles. Yes, it hurts. She is in Charleston next. She can catch the Hornets in a game. Oh, and the Hurricanes, too. Did you know they have the lowest average attendance in the league? Well, it serves them right for stealing the Whalers from Hartford. How dare they? The bast-.

Anyway, we can only wish Dasha the best of luck. Actually, she and Nick would probably enjoy watching the Hornets play, on a serious note. They’re sort of in playoff contention. Though they’re definitely riding Kemba Walker.

Thanks all. See you soon! And visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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