Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Wk.17- All About Almagro

Hey, all. Galileo here.

The name is Almagro. Nicolas Almagro.

The points don’t come so easy anymore. The matches aren’t so easily won. Everything is just that little bit harder, but the talent and the desire is still there. His most underrated asset is his variety. In his heyday it matched that of Federer. A perennial top ten player, he was renowned for getting all his points in February and in the European spring before disappearing, re-emerging here and there with a semi-final appearance.

His career moment came up two sets against Ferrer in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Australian Open. The former world number nine crumbled and after that so did his career. Thrice denied in the fourth round from ’10-’12, once by Berdych in a fiery encounter, it looked like his time had come. But he lost the last three sets and then his career collapsed. He has just won his first title since 2012, having lost five finals in a row. Owning a 13-10 record in finals, all on the same surface, the Spaniard has made the quarterfinals of the French three times. All three times he ran into Nadal. Like most Spaniards, Ferrer especially, he cannot beat Nadal unless Rafa is completely off his game.

There have been murmurs of a comeback from Almags as of late. He still has a good chunk of the clay season left and could prove to be a very dangerous mine in the draw. Like Dimitrov, he is ranked lower than his talent indicates he should be. There are others on the tour who will cause damage. Look out for Kyrgios and Tomic at Wimbledon.

And speaking of Kyrgios, we had some great young gun action this week. Coric, Kyrgios, Thiem and Zverev will all play a part in the fabric of the ATP in the future. But a generation ago, we marked out Federer, Nalbandian, Roddick and Malisse. Those four were the guys, the guys to make big moves. Federer aside, the other three combined won a single slam and had no finals at two of the slams. So be careful when tagging players for greatness. Nishikori has severely underperformed when compared to expectations.

But it would be accurate to imagine that one of those four will rise to greatness. Right now it looks like Thiem or Kyrgios could win multiple slams. Heck, Kyrgios could win a slam this year. Still, keep an eye on those four.

Well, let’s get on with it, shall we?....

Top 32 - Johnson holds at 32, Fognini and Karlovic swap to sit at 31 and 30, respectively. Dimitrov has risen to 28, and is safe from falling out of the top 32 barring disastrous appearances in the Masters.
Top 10 – Gasquet falls to 12 and could fall further. Cilic rises without having done anything, so nothing new there. Raonic is back in the top ten after a lengthy-ish absence from it.
Top 8 – No change. Ferrer at 9, below Tsonga and Berdych. Nishikori locked in at six.
Top 4 – Little change. Nadal is advancing on Wawrinka. To have a shot at defending the French he will need that fourth seed. Murray has massive points to defend. Crash out early and Fed rises to number two. Djokovic typically unassailable.

S: Nicolas Almagro def. Pablo Carreno Busta 6-7(6)/7-6(5)/6-3
D: Butorac/Lipsky d. Kubot/Matkowski

S: Diego Schwartzman def. Grigor Dimitrov 6-7(5)/7-6(4)/6-0
D: Cipolla/Sela d. Molteni/Schwartzman

S: Philipp Kohlschreiber def. Dominic Thiem 7-6(7)/4-6/7-6(4)
D: Kontinen/Peers d. Cabal/Farah

...He is a Munich, well Augsburg, native and that makes this particular tournament special, a one-off. Kohl will always turn up here, always play his best. Your home tournament is like a week of Davis Cup. Some, like my Evonne or Tsonga, thrive off the atmosphere. They can always go one round further because of the crowd. Yet it is still understandable why the likes of Stosur and Mauresmo struggle. For Kohl, however, winning his third title here was special. He opened with notoriously tricky compatriot Mayer but swept him aside in straight sets. He then breezed past Delpo 4 and 1 to make the semis. Having lost just five games in his two matches thus far, he rolled past Fognini 6-4, 6-1 to make the final. And there he edged Thiem in three hours in a third set breaker. He suffered heartbreak in a third set breaker in last year’s final, but this year he was the one doing the inflicting. Aside from two finals in New Zealand, all his finals have come in Germany, Austria or France. He has made four finals in Munich since 2012, going 2-2 which gives him a mark of 3-2 in Munich finals. He makes it three years in a row winning a title and the talented German also happens to have won a title across the three major court surfaces. It is a rare thing to have titled on all three surfaces and yet only go to one slam quarterfinal. How will Kohl do at the upcoming slams with so few points to defend and nothing to lose?
...The Spaniard has a love affair, an affinity if you will, with this surface. In the natural world some animals can only live in a really specific place. Almagro really only lives on outdoor clay. Sometimes he can win on indoor clay, but it is outdoor where he thrives, where he makes his living. It is on those dusty, open to the seasons courts where he is most dangerous. Almags lives just 900 km away. He is on the opposite coast. It helps if you think of Gibraltar as the mid-point. So close to home, comparatively, it is no wonder he won. He eased past Silva and then beat Silva’s compatriot Sousa in three to make it to the quarters. There he dismissed Mayer 6-4, 7-6[5]. In one of his most impressive displays this year he knocked off last year’s finalist and second seed Kyrgios 6-3, 7-5. He came back from the dead in the final to win in three hours and seal a very impressive result. Now it’s onto Madrid and real home soil. Luckily that is only 400 km away from home. Perhaps a visit on the way?
...With a straight sets win over top seeded Tomic and three successive come from behind wins, Diego Schwartzman has proved he is the real deal. Ranked 62, he is a mere five spots behind his highest ever ranking. A solid performance in Madrid would do it. Diego has never even won a doubles title, though he has made two finals, but he still managed to come back and take out Dimitrov. Aged just 23, there is still a lot of time for the diminutive grinder to make some real noise on clay. He already has wins at grand slam level. It’s good to see him make noise at this level now, too.

...Simon is old. It comes to us all eventually. Top seeded in Estoril, the warning signs were there in a three set win over Mathieu. But the tame 6-3, 6-4 loss to Busta was a little embarrassing. The Frenchman had such a workable draw and one more collapsed. Has that Australian Open defeat to Djokovic broken him?
...It was a pleasant kind of ‘oh yes’ kind of moment that greeted Karlovic’s little run. It is good he found some form - he will need to collect some points now as he made some big moves in the grass season. While it probably guarantees him Wimbledon seeding, Karlovic has a lot to defend. He also has points to defend in the summer and a fair few in the fall. Last year there was no pressure. Can he deal with plenty of it this year? In a straight sets win over Lajovic and a three set win over Granollers the forehand was working well. That is a good sign. In three matches he played six tiebreakers, going 3-3. Yep, he’s back.
...OK, enough is enough. There are no excuses for losing to Schwartzman 2 and 2. Successive defeats on clay mean Tomic is now in a rut, a dip. Luckily the grass season is coming next month, but four weeks on the ATP tour is a long time. The Aussie needs to get his act together and soon. If he can just grind out a couple of wins in Paris and achieve his seeding, it would be quite the success. He is capable of doing it but whether or not he does remains to be seen…
...Zverev has now lost to Kyrgios and Thiem, though both were in three sets. But the thing to focus on is the German’s reliability. He can now achieve his seeding and put runs together. The fluke is gone, and it’s happening more and more frequently. At one of the next three hard-court slams he will be seeded. Though he was born at the other end of the country, the home support spurred him on to one of the better results of his career. He opened with a gritty three set defeat of Jaziri which he followed up with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Rosol. Then he beat top seed Goffin 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. He finally succumbed in three sets to Thiem, but the just turned 19-year old had an impressive week nonetheless. Oh, also he wants to be called Sascha now apparently.

Notes from the week...
1 - Federer withdraws again. Is he alright? He could be world number two next week but he still has major injury concerns. Perhaps he is just being careful in an Olympic year.
2 – Djokovic has not won a match here in Madrid since 2012. Will that affect him?
3 – As usual, both the top seeds in the women’s event crumble. The finalist from last year has gone, too. The WTA always seems to descend into chaos. But then that’s what you get for seeding Aga first on clay.
4 – Where is Serena?
5 – Can Mahut/Herbert win their fourth Masters in a row? If they do they will surely lock up the top seed for the French. Can Mahut finally win his home slam?
6 - Wawrinka needs to find some form before the second major of the year. As defending champion it is important he finds some magic from somewhere.
7 - Zverev’s backhand is a weapon. He can slice, dropshot and hit angles. It is not unlike the vicious one Nalbandian had, though it is not fully developed. Yet...

1. Istanbul Final - Schwartzman d. Dimitrov 6-7[5], 7-6[4], 6-0
...Schwartzman won his third successive three-setter, all of which involved a tie-breaker, and in doing so rose 25 places to 62 in the world. He took out the contest in three hours, and became the second first-time winner on the tour after Kyrgios. Dimitrov was up a set and 5-2 yet could not put the diminutive Argentine away. The match, full of breaks, ended in bizarre and fiery circumstances, as you can see here:

I like the Roddick method myself...

2. Estoril Final - Almagro d. Busta 6-7[6], 7-6[5], 6-3
...Very similar to the other final. Almagro, down but not out, came back in three hours to convert on his third match point and take his 13th title. He is now 13-10 in finals. Can you guess what surface they all came on? Up 23 places to 48, could a French Open seed be in play for the vet?
3. Munich Final - Kohlschreiber d. Thiem 7-6[7],4-6,7-6[4]
...Three superb finals this week and all as good as each other. This one saw a third title in Munich for Kohl and a sweaty hug at the end of the three hour tussle. It took the German multiple match points to finally spring the upset. He rises to 25 in the world and locks up a seed in Paris.

4. Munich SF - Thiem d. Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
Estoril QF - Kyrgios d. Coric 6-4, 6-4

...The ATP is calling these guys #nextgen and in the first clash between the pairs, it was the higher ranked who triumphed. The rivalries these four have with one another could well define the next decade on tour. Kyrgios was calm and composed while Thiem showed fortitude. These set the benchmarks for further clashes with both showing potential.


Wawrinka [4] d. [1] Djokovic
Nadal [5] d. [8] Berdych
Nadal [5] d. Wawrinka [4]

...I don’t trust Murray or Djokovic here. Wawrinka has had some great results in Madrid and the Serb has not played here since 2013. Federer, as usual, gets Nadal while Murray is bound to choke despite his easy draw. Regardless of the top two seeds, Nadal is on fire right now.

Mladenovic has already gone. Lucic-Baroni comfortably defeated her 6-2, 6-3. Seeded 5th in the doubles, the Frenchies drew Gronefield/Vandeweghe in the first round. They won and now face Xu/Zheng.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ramon Osa: "Tennis Injuries - How to Come Back Stronger Than Ever"

A little about me: I'm a tennis Coach/lover. I put the fun in fundamentals! Check out my website for HD video lessons at http://osatennis360.com, follow me @osatennis, email me at ramon@ramonosatennis.com or through the U.S. mail at Ramon Osa Tennis, 6210 Woodman Ave #201, Van Nuys, CA 91401

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Wk.16- Long Live the King, Again

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Shall we take a moment to appreciate that? Rafa Nadal is going to be the first player to win 70 clay court titles. It’s another impressive achievement from the Spaniard.

Last week we had an anomaly. Nadal and Fernando Verdasco won titles whilst Roberto Bautista Agut was poor. This is a rare thing. Spain right now has depth and talent across four disciplines. It has long been the power, with only France matching its depth. But even the French had nothing on the talent across the board.

David Ferrer dropped to 9th this week and Nadal hasn’t won a hard court title in ages. Nicolas Almagro and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez struggle to maintain a high level for long periods of time. Agut is starting to show signs of weakness and Marcel Granollers is on the comeback trail. With past players like Sergi Bruguera, Carlos Moya and even Albert Costa, why aren’t Spain developing more promising juniors?

Even Feliciano Lopez is getting old, even if he doesn’t age like the rest of us. The problem the Spanish have isn’t that they don’t have numbers now, it’s that they won’t next year. Next year Nadal turns 31. Ferrer will be 35 and Agut 29. Lopez will be 36 and Garcia-Lopez will be 34. Pablo Carreno Busta is the sixth and youngest Spaniard in the top fifty. He will be 26 next year. It’s not good. Age isn’t everything, but when players hit 30 they begin to crack. It’s important to separate Andre Agassi and Roger Federer. They aren’t normal.

So enjoy the Spanish style while it is still here. It will come back, but it’s going to take a while. As soon as the Masters roll back around, we’ll have something to talk about again.

But I think it is time to look at what has gone on this weekend...

Top 32 - Karlovic drops a couple places to 31 while Johnson stays at 32. Dolgopolov rises two to send Dimitrov to 29th.
Top 10 – No change. Gasquet is barely holding off Raonic at 11. Mystifyingly Cilic is at 12.
Top 8 – Ferrer falls to nine, Berdych replacing him at eight. Tsonga is slowly carving himself an island at seven.
Top 4 – Little change. Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Wawrinka are the top four.

S: Rafael Nadal def. Kei Nishikori 6-4/7-5
D: Bryan/Bryan d. Cuevas/Granollers

S: Fernando Verdasco def. Lucas Pouille 6-3/6-2
D: Mergea/Tecau d. Guccione/Sa

...Well it is April. Next week is an outlier because Nadal won’t be the POTW on BACKSPIN. There’s just not much more to add. The spinning serve, the iron defence, unerring positivity, unnerving ability to win points from nowhere and that Lleyton Hewitt attitude are all Nadal trademarks. And we’ve seen them all before. That’s without even mentioning the forehand that even the Terminator fears. That forehand could smash down brick walls and throw down empires. This week he did the classic Nadal thing of not letting the opponents get games. Granollers was dismissed 6-3, 6-2 and then Montanes went down 2 and 2. Two clay-court specialists, two compatriots who know Nadal’s game and nine games dropped. Sure, three years ago they would’ve got five but the point is Rafa is coming back. Fognini hung with Nadal for a while, but eventually lost 6-2, 7-6[1]. It was a spirited, determined performance from the Italian. In the semi, Kohl went down 6-3, 6-3. And Nishikori could not overpower Nadal on the baseline, going down 6-4, 7-5. The Japanese man got the full force of Rafa’s wrath in the final. He didn’t seem to have a plan regarding how to deal with Rafa’s forehand. He also failed to be aggressive on the Spaniard’s serve. But Nadal is finding his fire again. Now he has to beat Djokovic.
...He did his job. As the defending champion he reached the final again and lost to Nadal on Spanish clay. There’s no disrespect in that. At the start of his career we all thought he would rise to the top, win slams and become a solid top three player. We were all wrong. He has instead become the successor to Ferrer but with a worse serve and more powerful groundies. He does have more variety than Ferru but he has settled into that sixth spot behind the big boys nicely. Never at their level but always close to it. The gateway to the top five. A grand slam final or two and wasted potential. We saw that in Barcelona and in Madrid a few tournaments ago; he cannot live with the big boys. He could not even find a set against Rafa. He beat De Bakker 4 and 2, edged out Chardy 6-3, 7-5 and defeated the Dog 7-5, 6-0. It was too easy for the Asian number one, just like it was for Ferru. He dispatched tricky Frenchman Paire 6-3, 6-2. Paire has bested Kei recently, too, don’t forget. But in the final he was lacking. If he wants to make another slam final he has to find a way to make his wins over the top ten routine not flukey.
...The Frenchie rose 16 places to 56. With recent wins over Gasquet and Ferrer, the Frenchman is moving up in the world. He is turning into one of the better players the next generation of Frenchies have on offer. And now he has his first final and that means his first title is going to come soon. Perhaps during the packed schedule he can sneak one. Unseeded, he beat Lajovic 6-3, 6-4 then eliminated second seed Karlovic by the same scoreline. He had to go all the way to see off Lorenzi but he showed real guts to win 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. He had three match points when up 5-2 but he eventually closed it out in two and a half hours. He was impressive in his dismissal of Delbonis 7-6[4], 6-3. Sure he lost in the final, but Verdasco is horribly awkward to play against.
...Ferver rises 35 places to 51. But what was he doing down in the 80’s anyway? He is a man who can do this:

But Ferver is starting to come back. He is always a joy to watch and his forehand is a wrecking ball when it is on-song. He should have made a slam final or two, but that loss to Nadal way back when seemed to prematurely end his career. Always a liability between the ears, Verdasco showed mental toughness a-plenty this week. Unseeded, he opened with eighth seed Mathieu and saw him off 7-6[0], 2-6, 6-1. Then he eased past Albot 6-3, 6-1 before beating Haase in two and GGL in three. In the final he was outstanding against greenhorn Pouille, dominating from start to finish. With a few good runs he could once more crack the top fifty.
...Consistently inconsistent, his sudden run when it matters really should not be a surprise. But that’s the reason it is. We would all love to know how Paire can blow out Cuevas, edge Jaziri and then get dismissed by Nishikori. We would love to see how the cogs in his head spin. But as we can’t we just have to make our peace with his enigmatic ways. He is going to be an extremely dangerous seed at the Masters and in Paris. He could maybe even trip up Murray.
...You can expect Tomic to have a few shockers, especially on clay. But for Agut to lose in three sets to Khachanov is pretty poor. He won the second set 7-6[4] but could take no momentum from that. Seeded 5th in an injury-hit tournament he should have been able to make some kind of run. But no, he can’t out-grind a Russian qualifier on clay. He should have dispatched the qualie in two sets. Worrying signs for the normally solid Spaniard.
...Haase hangs on to see off Tomic 7-6[4], 5-7, 6-3. The Aussie faded towards the end, but the Dutch man was still impressive, especially in that third set. He could have gone away quietly, but he didn’t. He stuck around and eventually saw off the top seed. Of course, he went out and lost to Verdasco the very next match, but small steps and all that.

Notes from the week...
1 - This is the calm before the storm. With three 250 events this week and no top ten stars at any of them, it’s a breath. Next week the fun begins.
2 - Rested and with two clay titles in April, will Nadal be able to beat Djokovic in Rome?
3 - Kerber defends her Stuttgart title. Could she make a run at the French, which is traditionally her worst slam?
4 - What is Serena playing like? Off form, with no match play recently and on her worst surface is she there for the taking?
5 - The Bryans in 2007 went from November to April title-less. That was the last time until this month. They had not won a title since August of last year, but won two this month.
6 - Will Djokovic get his first win on clay in Rome? He needs one just to settle his nerves.
7 - Coming up to this year’s French Open, we have three former champions in the men’s event, and four in the women’s. It seems rather low, especially compared with other years.

1. Bucarest QF - GGL d. Pella 7-6[5], 4-6, 7-6[6]
...After three hours of grinding on the dirt, the Argentine finally succumbed. Pella had match point but could not quite put away the defending champion. Garcia-Lopez has so much experience in three set wars, particularly on clay and that previous experience really helped him.
2. Barcelona QF - Nadal d. Fognini 6-2, 7-6[1]
...Nadal exorcized his demons here. Fognini has long troubled the Spaniard, and has been his foil everywhere. But in Barcelona Nadal finally got a little bit of revenge. And oh how sweet it must have been.
3. Bucarest SF - Verdasco d. Garcia-Lopez 6-3, 3-6, 6-2
...Ferver outlasted GGL, though it definitely had something to do with the Spaniard's previous match. Verdasco has not been to a final for some time so this was a momentous run. Could he be finding that forehand again? The Spaniard will be a dangerous floater in the upcoming Masters.
4. Barceona Final - Nadal d. Nishikori 6-4 7-5
...Nadal broke Nishikori early in the first set and went up 3-1. From there he never looked back and cruised to a 6-4, 7-5 victory. It was meant to be a clay-swing defining match but ended up being more like the Ferrer and Nadal clashes of old. Have a look-see at this for the story of the match.

Simon [1] d. [5] Garcia-Lopez
Kyrgios [2] d. [7] Mayer
Kyrgios [2] d. Simon [1]

...Nobody here is better than Kyrgios. Without Gasquet defending the title, it is an open field. Kyrgios was a finalist here last year and seeded second he should make it that far again. The Aussie plays Coric in the quarters which should be interesting. Almagro also lurks, but Mayer should continue his resurgence.

Thiem [3] d. [1] Goffin
Monfils [2] d. Del Potro
Thiem [3] d. Monfils [2]

...Let’s go with form here. Both men are rolling this year, but Monfils is notoriously abysmal in finals. Del Potro will make his first clay semi-final in a long while here. This is a great chance for Goffin to win his first clay title off the year. Zverev lurks in Goffin's quarter.

Delbonis [4] d. [1] Tomic
Dimitrov [2] d. [5] Granollers
Dimitrov [2] d. Delbonis [4]

...Berlocq is unseeded and dangerous, but I like Dimitrov to win his first title in what feels like eons. Tomic should make the semi, but Delbonis is too hot right now. And Granollers should make another run. It’s a weaker field and Granollers can definitely take advantage of that.

Could our Frenchies be establishing themselves as one of the best pairs in the world? In the first round the Pastries escaped Konta/Siegemund 3-6, 6-3, 10-7. But after that they got a bit of luck. Friedsam/Petkovic pulled out, handing them a semi-final berth. There they edged Gronefield/Peschke 7-5, 5-7, 10-4 to make the final. Top seeded Hingis/Mirza had dropped just 15 games in three matches and were on top form. They dominated the Frenchies in the opening set and took it out 6-2. But somehow Garcia/Mladenovic took the next 6-1 before rolling through the breaker 10-6 to claim their second title in a month. They also took Charleston and are 2-2 in finals this year, but Kiki is 14-9 overall for hre career. At the French Open they have to prove they can win on the biggest stage. She lost to Petkovic here 6-2, 6-4 but that’s excusable. Petko excels in Germany, which is where Stuttgart is these days, and Kiki was settling into the clay. We will see her again in Rome, guys.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Wk.15- Long Live the King

Hey, all. Galileo here.

There are so many things you can compare the big three and Murray to. Like the Fantastic Four. Federer is Mr. Fantastic, the leader and the inventor. Nadal is the Human Torch with all that fire. With that massive strength and impregnable rock like defence Djokovic is The Thing. And Murray is the other one. We all admired Federer, we all respected Nadal and we are in awe of Djokovic. Each has their own story, each of their fates seemed intertwined with the other. Each have their own surface. And each has their own rabid fan base. They all have their annoying fans and they all have their annoying personality flaw. Nadal with his bottles, Federer with his seemingly accidental arrogance and Djokovic with his gamesmanship and arrogance.

But Nadal’s way of doing things has always looked the hardest. He works for every point. He runs and he sweats. He grunts, he works the ball and he never backs down. Intimidatingly physical, the Spaniard plays a game-style the likes of which was new, was exciting. It was revolutionary. The way he could sit on the right hand side and just smack that forehand all day long. And he has come back after another slump, and after all those injuries. He has once more shown he is never finished, only resting. So the bruised warrior must make a decision. Where does he make his last stand?

He can either go out on his terms or have his hand forced by an inevitable career ending injury. Roland Garros this year or next, the Olympics or even Wimbledon are all good stopping points for the Spanish great. He can’t play until he is 34 like Federer. He can barely play until he is 29. But until he is forced out, and that time is rapidly approaching, stop and watch. Enjoy. Savour the twilight of one of our greatest heroes, really focus on just how good he is. Look at the footwork, the forehand and the grit. We are in single digits of slams with Nadal in them now. If he is playing in 2018 BACKSPIN would be astounded. And yet, at the same time we wouldn’t be. We expect to be amazed, to be blown away.

But we are a world tour and we happened to be in Monte Carlo. So let’s take a peek.

Top 32 - No change. But Dimitrov drops two to 28. Imagine if he was unseeded at the French. He has showed flashes of a return to form this year, but not enough to convince many.
Top 10 – Raonic goes up one at the expense of Cilic. He sits at 11, just 100 points behind Gasquet. But Gasquet is within striking distance of number nine Berdych.
Top 8 – Ferrer stays at eight but Tsonga rises two to number seven.
Top 4 – Little change. Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Wawrinka. Federer drops a little back from Murray, but the Scot had to grind out wins in Monte Carlo. If he drops early in Madrid he could fall two places.

S: Rafael Nadal def. Gael Monfils 7-5/5-7/6-0
D: Herbert/Mahut d. J.Murray/Soares

...The winner of eight previous editions of the Monte Carlo event added a ninth to his collection. The second greatest clay-courter ever won through a tough field to reassert his dominance. He may just be a favourite for the French if he can prove it against the Djoker. Or if he can rig the draw at RG so Vesely lands in Djokovic’s path. Either way Nadal is going to win 20 matches on clay this spring. April is his best month traditionally and it will be again. He started off well in MC, dismissing Bedene 6-3, 6-3. Then he knocked out 12th seed Thiem 7-5, 6-3. Then he dismissed 4th seed Wawrinka 6-1, 6-4, before winning going away against Murray 2-6, 6-4, 6-2. It was vintage Rafa. He was laughing at those bozos who dared seed him 5th. Then in the final he was too consistent for Monfils, as he ran away with the match 7-5, 5-7, 6-0. That last set Monfils didn’t have it anymore but Rafa was way too good. So Rafa’s back and so is Roger. Bring on Rome and Madrid.

Oh and hot shots. Rafa collects those on clay. Against Wawrinka he did this:

Against Murray he did this:
...How does one look at Tsonga? Is he talented but inconsistent? Is he not that good unless he’s on? He really is an enigma. After edging Federer in three, he capitulated against Monfils. He always has trouble backing up the big win. He should have advanced to the finals of the French multiple times but he never has. He has failed to do so because he lacks the mental ability, the fortitude to get ready for that next match. He isn’t the only one. France has three players in the top 15. That is not because any of them are the next Iceman. No, it is because they all have raw talent. But they will never be anything more than a very good top fifteen player. Gasquet, surprisingly, is the most consistent though Tsonga’s results are better. Pouille in fact defeated Richard and then had a go at Tsonga, who was too good. Tsonga has been to just two finals since August 2014 so it is bizarre to see him ranked so high in one way. In another he has been impressive at Masters and slam level. The key for Tsonga is to defend all those points this year, particularly at the French. This week he was impressive and showed good signs. He won all the matches he was supposed to and even knocked off Federer.
...His first clay 1000 final and his third in a French speaking country. Let’s look past Monfils’ abysmal 5-18 record in finals and look instead at how he has freshened up the ATP this year. He has made runs in Australia, in Rotterdam, in Indian Wells and Miami and now in Monte Carlo. Only once has he made two slam quarters in a year and never back to back, but he could do it now. Monfils has simply been on fire this whole year. At first this BACKSPINNER thought the draws falling for him was the reason, but now it is clear that isn’t necessarily the case. No, Monfils has been putting together a crazily good year. Now he needs to win a title. BACKSPIN believes he can do it, but does Monfils?
...Loss of form, lack of titles and bad results at slams. He will be turning 32 this year and his window is closing. He needs to get back to winning ways. The way Wawrinka dismissed him 1 and 2 was a little embarrassing and he needs to focus on the French Open now. He can get a good result there; he has done it before. But it gets harder every year that goes on and his ranking is slowly falling. What can he produce with his back against the wall?
...What an up and down career the Spaniard has had. Now back up to 50 in singles, he was once ranked 19th. He was ranked 4th in doubles once upon a time, though he now sits just inside the top 30. 4-3 in singles finals, all on clay or in Valencia. He won one of those 500 level finals, too. Few players have won a 500 level tournament but never cracked the top ten at some point. He is 10-15 in doubles finals, again most of those come on clay. He lost to Gimeno-Traver in qualies 6-3, 6-0. With the withdrawal of Kei he was able to gain a spot. He beat Zverev in three and then Goffin in straight sets. Sure Monfils spanked him but he still had a fantastic run and it isn’t often you leap 17 places and crack the top 50.
...Going down a set to Dzumhur in your first clay match is fine. Even though you made a deep run in Monte Carlo last year an opening round tussle is to be expected. Then you do what Berdych did and win the second set. He even won the breaker 7-1. But he didn’t ride his momentum and lost 6-3 in the third. Now what is that all about? Being out-fought by an opponent way out of your weight class is embarrassing. Dropping to nine, Berdych is in danger of falling out of the top ten. Who can remember the last time he wasn’t in the top ten?
...A semi-final last weekend, and a winner over the world number one this week. When we look back we can look at this as the start. Of course, the more eagle-eyed of you will have seen him before this, but now he is in plain sight. But how long before the hunter becomes the hunted? He was pretty good last year, too, doing stuff like this:

Notes from the week...
1 - Herbert/Mahut became the first all-French team to win in Monte Carlo in thirty years. They have swept the first three masters events of the year. Mahut rises two places to 3rd in the world, a 100 points behind Melo. Herbert rises four places to fourth in the world. It is a career high for both. There’s no question they are the best team in the world right now. This BACKSPINNER said they were the ones to watch last year.
2 – Strange to think Nadal went two years with no Masters title.
3 – Fed Cup semis both went to the doubles rubber to decide it. Can’t remember the last time the semi-finals were so even. Could France sweep the Davis and Fed Cup?
4 – Bryans are ranked 9th and 10th. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
5 – In a weaker than usual Stuttgart field, who will come up trumps?
6 - Djokovic starting the clay court with a loss feels ominous.
7 - Pulling out with an ankle issue, Wozniacki won’t be at Madrid or Rome. She is unlikely to play at the French, either. So she’ll have the same impact on clay as she usually does.

1. Monte Carlo SF - Nadal d. Murray 2-6, 6-4, 6-2
...The Spanish bull roared and bucked here. Down against Murray, Nadal came back and sent the Scot packing. We saw why the Scot has spent his whole career in the shadow of greater players. We saw why he does not play his best on this surface. He never could put away these matches. It proved to be a fatal weakness this time.
2. Monte Carlo R2 - Vesely d. Djokovic 6-4, 2-6, 6-4
...Vesely gave us a signature win as he defeated the world’s most dominant player. Most players would have gone away after losing that second set 6-2, but not Vesely. He recovered and ground out a memorable win. The forehand was very impressive, though he definitely caught the Djoker on an off day.
3. Monte Carlo QF - Tsonga d. Federer 3-6, 6-2, 7-5
...A passable comeback tournament ended with defeat at the hands of Tsonga. The flair and forehand were too good for the Swiss star. Still, a quarter-final appearance is encouraging and Tsonga looked impressive. So everyone won in their own way, though Tsonga fell victim to the Federer curse.
4. Monte Carlo R3 - Murray d. Paire 2-6, 7-5, 7-5
...Paire was a set and two breaks up. He served for the match in the third. He was the better player but he still lost in to and a half hours. Once again, like so many time during his career, Murray escaped despite playing poorly. Of course, Paire needs to put the Scot away next time.

Nadal [1] d. [3] Ferrer
Nishikori [2] d. [4] Gasquet
Nadal [1] d. Nishikori [2]

...Fognini defeated Nadal here last year and he is the nearest seed. This time, however, I like Nadal to roll through to the semi-finals. Ferrer has few opponents who can trouble him in his quarter so we should get the umpteenth matchup between these two. Chung, Zverev, Paire and Almagro all ended up in the third quarter. Gasquet and Cuevas will meet in the quarters, their consistency proving too much. Agut and Dolgopolov in the third round is going to be good, but Nishikori has nothing to fear from this section.

Tomic [1] d. [6] Pella
Delbonis [3] d. [2] Karlovic
Tomic [1] d. Delbonis [53]

...These Argentinians are on a tear and this is a weaker field. But Tomic has a knack for winning tournaments like this, even on his worst surface. He is the best player in the draw and he can play on clay. He has had a solid year and is the only player in this tournament who is a consistent top twenty player.

Kiki Bertens won five sets in a row against France, but it was not enough. She dismissed the French youngsters in straight sets, though Kiki [Mladenovic] won more game than Garcia.

But Kiki and Garcia swept aside Hogenkamp and Rus respectively. And then in the doubles Mladenovic/Garcia came through against Bertens/Hogenkamp 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. It was an engaging, thrilling, semi. Down 2-1, they dug themselves out of a hole with some sparkling tennis and a lot of guts. Kiki fell to the ground when she finally hit that last winner.

Kiki now enters Stuttgart and can lock up a singles seeding at the French this week. She has Petkovic and then Radwanska coming up. In the doubles the second seeds open with Konta/Siegemund. The only other dangerous pair here are top seeded Mirza/Hingis. No change in her singles ranking of 27 or her doubles ranking of 9.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Wk.14- Viva la Revolucion

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Have you ever thought about the question of who the greatest ever world number two is? Well, it has to be Guillermo Vilas. He won two slams in 1977, at the French and U.S. Open. He won 8 of 12 slam semi-finals in total and split his eight finals. At one final he lost just three games. In 1977 he won titles on five different continents and took home 16 titles in all. Considering the tennis season is 40-42 weeks long, that’s a title every two and a half weeks. He went 60-42 in his finals overall and is beloved throughout South America. Canas and Coria were both named after him.

He also won the WTF finals, or the version they had of it back then. He is one of the greatest clay-courters ever, save only Borg, Nadal and Evert. And from him Argentinian tennis was born. He played a beautiful, fluid style of tennis that won many fans.

But when he retired there was a gap. A massive gap. The next South American slam winner was Gomez in 1990 and then Kuerten. But in the late 90’s, Puerta, Coria, Gaudio and Nalbandian began to rise. And by 2004 Argentina was a superpower though it somehow never won a Davis Cup. Chile has had its successes, but Argentina has pedigree. It fell as Nalbandian waned, but suddenly Del Potro arrived and won the U.S. Open in sensational style. And now it is rebuilding once more, though Delpo is an unknown quantity.

Of course, Spain is also falling to pieces. Nadal and Ferrer are going and suddenly we realize Spain does need its superstars. Where is Spain’s next slam winner going to come from? Will it go the way of Sweden? We shall soon see.

But what else happened this past week? Well let’s find out...

Top 32 - Klizan drops nine places to 37, meaning Fognini and Johnson both rise a place to 31 and 32 respectively. Karlovic, at 30, can get win number 300 this week.
Top 10 – No change. Goffin at 13. Gasquet at is still ahead of Raonic and Cilic. Tsonga and Ferrer both rise in the seedings in Monte Carlo due to Nishikori pulling out. The top ten will get all shook up in the coming weeks.
Top 8 – Little change. Ferru and Berdych are far behind Nishikori. Kei is going to catch Rafa at some point.
Top 4 – No change. Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Wawrinka. Federer will pass Murray this week or next. And if Murray fails to defend all those Madrid points he is in danger of falling to four.

S: Juan Monaco def. Jack Sock 3-6/6-3/7-5
D: Bryan/Bryan d. Estrella Burgos/S.Gonzalez

S: Federico Delbonis def. Borna Coric 6-2/6-4
D: Duran/M.Gonzalez d. Draganja/Qureshi

...It’s been coming. After wins against Murray and a run to the fourth round in Indian Wells followed by a win in Miami, he has finally won a title this year. Two quarters on the South American golden swing were a strong indicator he would win a title. He had not been to a final for some two years and his last title was 25 months ago, but he has finally claimed one this year. He has risen to 36, just two away from his highest ever ranking and he is almost certainly a lock to be seeded at the French. With all his finals coming on clay, he could be a dark horse in Paris. He made the third round in Melbourne with no seeding protection, so think what he could do if he had some. Seeded fourth, he started by eliminating De Bakker 6-4, 6-4 and then dismissing 7th seeded Carreno Busta 7-5, 6-2. Back from the dead Montanes never got into the semi-final, going down 6-4, 6-3. He capped it off with a 6-2, 6-4 master class against Coric. Every clay skill he has was on display here. This is another run for a player who is 8th on the win list and in the top 20 in the race. Look for another title before the French, possibly in Nice. He has been a finalist there before.
...The Argentinian theme continues with Monaco. He is up 62 places to 82 in the world. It is so rare for anyone to go up 20 places. Even more incredibly this is not after a slam, it is after a 250. He has a real shot at a seeding in Paris. He needs about 700 points to get one and with nothing to defend that is possible. A couple of decent runs in the next three Masters and a solid performance at a 500, with another 250 and he’s in there. It’s a lot, but when one is in form anything is possible. At the very least a seeding at the U.S. Open is definitely plausible. He escaped G. Melzer in the opening round 6-2, 6-7[3], 6-4. Then he knocked out second seed Paire 6-3, 7-5 though the Frenchman definitely aided and abetted his own downfall. After that he caught fire, knocking down Querrey 6-4, 6-4 and then dismantling Lopez 6-4, 6-2. Having knocked out the 2nd seed, 5th seed and 3rd seed back to back to back, he moved on to the final to face fourth seeded Sock. Both are former champions, but Pico came through against a tiring Sock 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. Looks like the wrist surgery was succesful.
...Kicker is a young Argentinian who is finally starting to taste success. He beat Giovanni Lapentti, brother of the successful one, in three long sets to set up a clash with Donaldson. He edged the American 4-6, 6-1, 7-6[5] to make the main draw. He lost to Smyczek in three epic sets, but he did win his first ATP tour matches. He has won ten futures tournaments and all of them were on Argentinian clay. It is still a positive sign.

...The turning point in Almagro’s career was that loss to Ferrer in Melbourne after being two sets up. He just never recovered after that. Now he plays the role of an also-ran. He is not finished, per se, but he is certainly down on his luck right now. He has a run every now and then, and kudos to him for sticking it out, but where is he going? What are his goals? He just lost to Gasquet 4 and 0. Almagro needs to find something before the French Open starts.
...He should have lost in the second round but instead he rolled all the way to the semi-finals. Blowing Cervantes away 6-1, 6-3 is only mildly impressive. Nearly losing to qualifier Nikola Mektic is worse. He edged the Croat 6-7[4], 6-3, 7-6[5] but had to go out and face top seed Garcia-Lopez. He won 6-4, 7-6[2] in a result that makes no sense. It more than makes up for a tight straight sets loss to Coric in the next round. In fact Vesely is turning into a very dependable player. His ranking of 55 belies how good he really is.
...Being inconsistent in this sport is practically encouraged and most players have wasted their potential. The thing is some people are just better at it than others. And Paire is one of those players with immeasurable talent who can beat anyone. How can somebody with his weapons lose to Monaco in straight sets? With that serve and forehand he couldn’t even nick a set? He was seeded second in a winnable tournament and blew it. Again. It’s getting old quickly and Paire has to find form before his home slam. The pressure on him there will be immense.
...No form to speak of and nowhere near the talent level of Sousa. Neither of these things fazed the Argentinian as he dismissed second seed Sousa 6-2, 6-4 on his best surface. It was an embarrassing loss for the man on a comeback trail, especially considering the relative weakness of the event. The next round Bagnis won no sets, going out 6-1, 7-5 to Montanes. The win propelled Bagnis to 89, a career high. He is close to getting an automatic spot in the slams now.

Notes from the week...
1 We won’t see American soil for a long time now. The next time we do we will have an Olympic champion, I think. Well, I suppose there is that tournament in Newport, RI.
2 – Argentine tennis is back on the rise. With competent doubles pairings and a solid youth coming through, there is a positive future on its way. Monaco and Delpo are coming back, too. And now it is the clay swing so they will be out in full force. It may not be the glory days of the seventies or even the renaissance they had in the late 90’s through to 2006, but they are coming back.
3 – Fed Cup is definitely worth watching this weekend even if they refuse to fix the format. France and Switzerland are heavy favourites but our sport is infamous for its choke jobs.
4 – Federer is back.
5 – Since 1990 only once has a doubles pair swept the first three Masters. Could Herbert/Mahut change that? There is no doubt they are the best team in the world right now.
6 - Baghdatis beat Schwartzman 0 and 0. It is a rarity that happens.

1. Houston Final - Monaco d. Sock 3-6, 6-3, 7-5
...Monaco is on the comeback trail and, with no points to defend for a while, could be making a surge back into the top fifty. He had a great week in Houston, rolling to the final where he defeated the defending champion in three clinical sets. He was one of four Argentine champions this week, though two were doubles partners.
2. Marrakech 2nd Rd. - Garcia-Lopez d. Almagro 1-6, 6-3, 6-4
...GGL came back from a deep hole to defeat his compatriot in three engaging sets. Despite being outclassed during the first set he ground his way into it before handing Almagro another loss on the year. The Spaniard would crash out in the next round, however.
3. Houston SF - Sock d. Isner 7-6[4], 6-3
...With this calm dismissal of Isner, is Sock America’s finest? Form and ability to play in Europe would say so. It will be interesting to see when Sock officially takes over. Something tells this BACKSPINNER Isner will hold on this year, but next year will be a different story.
4. Marrakech SF - Coric d. Vesely 7-6[5], 7-6[5]
...This is the first meeting in what will be a gripping rivalry. It is good it started like this, and not with a bad match. Their stroke-work is extraordinarily smooth and the match was a delight. But Coric won in two hours as he made his second final on the year. It is unlikely to be his last.

Djokovic [1] d. [3] Federer
Nadal [5] d. [6] Berdych
Djokovic [1] d. Nadal [5]

...With Monfils and Goffin near him, Djokovic has a tough quarter. Federer’s biggest challenge will come from the winner of the Tsonga versus Gasquet clash. How will Nadal handle Thiem and Wawrinka back to back? Can Raonic cause a stir and disrupt the bottom quarter? I think Rafa rebounds on clay and Muzza sinks. Federer will take back the number two ranking here. But Djokovic can’t be beat right now. I just hope the final against Nadal isn’t too brutal.

No faulting Mladenovic here. She dismissed Maria 6-4, 6-3 and then faced tricky vet Lucic-Baroni. Losing to the Croat 15-13 in a third set breaker is respectable enough. In the doubles, she and Caroline Garcia were triumphant. They opened with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Stosur/Dellacqua and then defeated Vesnina/Kasatkina 2-6, 6-4, 10-8. Groenfield/Siegemund were beaten handily 4 and 3 to see them into the final. In the final they faced top seeded Safarova/Mattek-Sands and cruised to a 6-2, 7-5 victory. It was a consummate performance that capped off a brilliant week. It is her first title of the year. In doubles, Mladenovic is up to 9 from ten. She also goes from 29 to 28 in the singles. Her highest doubles rank is five while her singles ranking has never been above 27. Don’t be surprised if she cracks both this season. Next up is indoor red clay against the Netherlands in the Fed Cup semi. They are overwhelming favourites to win in a part of France nobody has ever heard of. It’s near Nantes in a place called Angers. It will be staged in a basketball arena.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Wk.13- It’s Baseball Season Not Rabbit Season

Hey, all. Galileo here.

The mystery as to whether or not it is duck or rabbit season was never solved. It is currently irrelevant, however, as it is baseball season.

The green monster, the Yankees disappointing, the Mariners never quite maximising their talent. The St. Louis Cardinals will compete once more, the Cubs will look great but crumble and the Giants will win it all because it is an even year. Baseball is tradition, is storied and it is history in the making. Before football there was baseball. Baseball is forever America’s sport, the sport of the working class, of the common man. Not for nothing is it beloved and celebrated. Not for nothing is the Yankees logo synonymous with New York.

This BACKSPINNER would love to see Big Papi in the postseason one last time. But for twenty teams there will be no September baseball. For two thirds of Americans there will be no joy. Getting into the MLB World series is such a difficult thing and it is the reason there are so few true dynasties. Winning a slam is harder in some ways but easier in others. In the MLB there is margin for error, but in slams there is not. If you double fault at the wrong time, or your opponent hits a dead let cord on break point, you could be done. In the MLB you can afford to lose up to 70 games. That’s a lot of losses.

If the ATP were a baseball team, you’d have Rafa as a tricky lefty pitcher and Djokovic your closer. Kyrgios would be the precocious Bryce Harper type. Federer would be the DH because he’s clutch just like Ortiz. Isner would be great in the outfield, and Monfils would be in early on the batting line-up, too. You’d need to ask somebody more versed in baseball than this BACKSPINNER for the whole team sheet, of course.

And now we go onto clay. And that is a whole other kettle of fish to the hard courts we’ve been hanging out on lately.

But what else happened this past week? Well, let’s find out...

Top 32 - Chardy drops 3, while Johnson rises 3. They are at 34 and 33. Fognini stays at 32. Karlovic and Dolgopolov stay just out of the top 30.
Top 10 – No change. Goffin up two places to 13. Gasquet at ten must be getting nervous - Raonic and Cilic are both close to catching him. He had a solid March but lost to Cilic and Berdych in the fourth round matches. But Tsonga and Ferrer aren’t far above the Frenchie, either. Gasquet only has points at Estoril and Wimbledon to defend.
Top 8 – Little change. Ferru and Berdych are far behind Nishikori. Kei is going to catch Rafa at some point. It’s when, not if.
Top 4 – No change. Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Wawrinka. But Federer is very close to taking the number two ranking from Murray. And that’s the seeding you want when it comes to the French. It is not unfeasible that both Swiss men pass Muzza.

S: Novak Djokovic def. Kei Nishikori 6-3/6-3
D: Herbert/Mahut d. Klaasen/Ram

...He may not play a brand of tennis as exciting as certain Russian tennis players, but he is certainly very efficient. But while he wins it feels like something is missing from the counter-puncher. There’s no pizzazz or flair. Even the drop shot seems too cold, too technical. Really, it’s very robotic, very dull. Kuznetsova can hit every shot is what the commentators say. But what they should add is that she will hit any shot. And as Nole continues to notch these victories with such ease, the rumours of doping will continue. Already there are whispers. Even Federer was not quite this smooth. He was tested, he had Rafa. When is Djokovic going to have his inevitable fall? Murray is going through a drop right now. But Djokovic, like some long, dull, Dylanesque ballad about nothing in particular keeps going. This week he dispatched Edmund 3 and 3, Sousa 4 and 1 and Thiem 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the quarters. He wasn’t troubled by Berdych, either, sweeping by him 6-3, 6-3. Goffin gave him everything but still lost 7-6[5], 6-4. He dismissed Nishikori 6-3, 6-3 in another forgettable final. That’s another thing - so few of Djokovic’s slam finals have been true classics. Federer and Nadal had so many. But most of Djokovic’s have been boring, baseline bashing affairs. And if they go five sets they’re usually unpleasantly brutal. But now we’re onto clay where he loses just a little bit of his aura.
...Are we finally seeing the best of Kei? He may not have won any slams, unlike certain Russian tennis players one could mention, but he did have a great week just as another ‘K’ tennis player did. And he has that slam run experience. He has played well at Madrid before and he is a player who tends to repeat at the same time. At Barcelona, too, he will be dangerous. And at the French he is a lock for the quarters. He needs to prove this year his U.S. Open run was no fluke. We know it wasn’t but we need proof. Just as we know humans caused global warming but can’t categorically prove it, we know Kei can do it. This week he showed us again, which just makes it more infuriating that he couldn’t even make the final close. He edged Herbert 6-2, 7-6[4] and then routed Dolgopolov 6-2, 6-2. Agut could do little better, falling 2 and to the Asian number one. Monfils had five match points but crumbled to a three set loss. Kei was like a rock on the baseline against Kyrgios. The Australian lived and died by the sword, losing 6-3, 7-5. And then another disappointing loss to a higher ranked player ensued. Some things never change.
...There are few who can match the flair and watchability of Kyrgios, though a certain WTA star does come to mind, and his talent was on full display. Just like that WTA star he can hit any shot and does. Both were promising youngsters and both work hard at it. They each can trouble any and every one. But she has a pleasant temperament, is well-liked and people want to cheer for her. She does not alienate, does not aggravate. He does. If he could simply sort out the off-court stuff we could all sit back and watch his victories guilt free.
...Quietly having a decent year, the Czech is going to keep achieving his seeding all year long. That’s pretty good, but soon he will need to step it up. Surely he can take inspiration from the fact Serena lost in Miami and use that to beat Djokovic. He’s no Sveta but then who is? He has settled himself, Dementieva like, into that top ten rut. Never has a bad result, just consistent quarterfinals and semi-finals, snapping up the odd title here and there. Always wins three matches at slams and every few months has a spectacularly bad loss. May take a set off a bigger name or threaten to make another final, but he has his niche and he’ll stay there. Yes, the parallels between him and Dementieva write themselves.
...Back to back semi-finals for Goffin. He had never been in a 1000 level semi before this and had only been to one quarter. To compare him to Ferrer, as some are doing, is accurate. He is squeezing every drop of talent he has into the game. He is maximising everything. He may not be the most talented guy, but look where talent got Monfils and Gasquet. Combined Ferrer has more slam finals and more slam semi-finals. Goffin this week has been so impressive from his 6-4, 6-4 defeat of Granollers in his first match to his brave defeat to Djokovic. His shining moment was the 6-1, 6-1 walloping of 19th seeded Troicki. Come the French he will be the dark horse of choice for pundits everywhere.
...Another disappointing loss for the Scot. Yes, Wawrinka was poor but he has never played well here. He is not a former champion. The Brit does sometimes struggle against Dimi but he should not be losing to the rising star in a three set war. He should be able to out-grit the Bulgarian. It follows a really poor loss in Indian Wells and it all but guarantees Federer the world number two position if he wants it. Is Murray just experiencing a little dip or is this the start of a slump? Jankovic and Ivanovic started off in a dip and, well, you saw what happened there.
...He didn’t take out the world number one, like a certain former world number two did, but he did have another good week results wise. Sure he called our sport ‘biased’, but he has a reputation to uphold. His straight sets defeat of Raonic in the quarters was impressive. He attacked the net, used slices and never gave Raonic any rhythm. His 6-4, 7-6[4] performance was perfect. Measured and calculated, his game plan was absolutely right.

Notes from the week...
1 Here is Nick talking about our sport:
2– Herbert/Mahut and Mattek-Sands swept the events. Massive kudos to them. Also a huge month for Azarenka who has been untouchable from the baseline. She could well finish as world number one this year.
3 – Big question marks over Roger and Rafa still. How will clay affect the Fedal dynamic?
4 – If only tennis could get out of its own way we’d have a great sport. Would it be possible to run it out ourselves without outside influence? We do not need that whole gender debate firing up again.
5 – Somebody is going to beat Djokovic on clay this swing but who? And will he return to Madrid?
6 - It was a great run from Kuznetsova to make the final. A strong season this year with a run at the French and that locks up her Hall of Fame ‘argument,’ although her Fed Cup and doubles prestige should already have done that.

1. Miami QF - Nishikori d. Monfils 4-6, 6-3, 7-6[3]
...Make no mistake, Kei did not deserve to win this. He escaped with the help of some audacious play and a lot of luck. Monfils was the better player but could not convert on any of the five match points he had. The Frenchman has been putting some seriously good results down this year, but he has also had luck in the draws, too. Can he keep it up going into his best slam?
2. Miami QF - Goffin d. Simon 3-6, 6-2, 6-1
...The Belgian was in a tight spot against Simon but rebounded brilliantly to sweep him aside in three. Down a set, the Belgian would lose just three more games as he bullied Simon into submission. It is a sign of the Belgian’s steady rise in the ATP landscape.
3. Miami 4th Rd. - Berdych d. Gasquet 6-4, 3-6, 7-5
...It took Berdych two and half very sweaty hours, but he leveled the head-to-head with Gasquet at 7-7 with his three set victory. Like Cilic last week, Gasquet came up just short.
4. Miami Final - Djokovic d. Nishikori 6-3, 6-3
...When Nadal and Federer dominated they at least played interesting tennis with watchable points. Djokovic is boring and it’s sad that the ATP’s best player doesn’t excite. He’s very talented but he is just a wall. Nothing happened in this match.

Sock [4] d. [1] Isner
Paire [2] d. [3] Lopez
Sock [4] d. Paire [2]

...No reason why Sock can’t defend his title. Isner is unreliable on the dirt and there is no big name here. Well, except Estrella Burgos. That’s a big name. Paire is good enough to make a run here or anywhere. Remember things are always a little funky after the March double.

Coric [3] d. [1] Garcia-Lopez
Sousa [2] d. [4] Delbonis
Coric [3] d. [2] Sousa

...Just have a feeling Coric will have good results this clay swing. GGL is a former champion here and the top seed. Sousa and Delbonis round out our big seeds. All four have a shot at the crown. Watch out for Vesely, though. He is rapidly moving through the rankings and is even seeded here.

Garcia and Mladenovic are in Charleston. Seeded 11th Kiki is slated to run into 11th seed Keys in the third round. In the doubles the Frenchies are seeded third in what is a packed field. Hingis/Mirza are looking wobbly right now and that means these events are wide open. They open with the dangerous pairing of Dellacqua/Stosur. Can the French ladies take advantage? In total at the March events Mladenovic won a set. Sure, some of that bad form can be attributed to the back issue of Garcia, but we expect better. Kiki has a good chance now to improve and come back stronger. Whether or not that will happen is anybody’s guess.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mid-Miami Recap

Hey, all. Galileo here.

The clay season beckons. Even spectators have their favourite surface. Personally, this BACKSPINNER likes grass best. Maybe it’s the white outfits, or the fact grass is just so classic. Perhaps it is the quick points or the feel of the summer. Maybe grass is simply more pure and it is where the one-hander flourishes. Perhaps it is the fact that we get so little of it. Still, you may prefer indoor hard, or those South American clay courts.

The European clay court, soaked to its core with history, is up next. Rome, Madrid, Monte Carlo and Paris await us all. The smell of the Mediterranean, of good coffee and exquisite salads await. No clean socks will there be until June. Upsets become more frequent, as do falls and drop shots. The Italians and the Spanish take centre stage. Nadal finally comes out of his hibernation and Federer makes us forget this is his worst surface.

Serena looks shakier than usual and Djokovic continues to be frustrated. On the clay the veterans like Schiavone look far better than they are. Big servers are less effective, while the softer servers find their opponent has time to move and attack their weak delivery. Clay does funny things, but it does guarantee long rallies. Rallies like this:

And watch out for the kick serve and the backhand slice. Yes, clay is the time for the slice and dice. Clay is the time for the grind, though big hitters have their place too. Gonzo, Soderling and Berdych have all had success on clay.

All this is yet to come. We are still in the hard-court season, though it clings on by a thread…

But what actually happened during the first week in Miami? Well,let’s find out....

...Again the phrase ‘lucky loser’ must come up, and it really is such an ugly phrase. This BACKSPINNER does not buy that our sport can’t come up with a better name than that. How about simply "replacement." Sure it’s clunky, but it’s more tactful. Regardless of that, Zeballos has had a great week down by the beach. The lefty is one of four players to beat Nadal in a clay final. The other three have all won slams and two have been number one. But since then Horacio has disappeared. He has slowly climbed back up to 113 in the world. He beat Harrison in qualies, but lost to Nishioka 6-1 in the third. But when Roger withdrew he was back. He had a bye but then opened with Del Potro, who had dismissed Pella 6-0, 7-6[4], and then he edged Verdasco. He came back to beat the Spaniard 1-6, 6-4, 7-6[4]. And now he has Goffin. Beyond Goffin is Pouille or Simon. If he should somehow get past the Belgian, he will have a great chance to win through to the semi-finals.
...After looking a little rusty in the last few weeks, Novak has once more caught fire. He is back to his old self as the top four crumble around him. He is now the clear favourite for the title and it is hard to see who could stop him in the upcoming clay swing. He eased past Edmund 6-3, 6-3 and was never troubled by Sousa in a 6-4, 6-1 victory. The Serb has found his form and his confidence. But now he has a litmus test. He has not had fierce opposition yet. Thiem has not yet dropped a set, and Djokovic has struggled against one-handers before. He lost to Dimitrov in Madrid a few years back in very similar circumstances. He should brush the Austrian aside but Thiem is a massive banana peel. It will be interesting to see what Djokovic does with his schedule. How much does he want to prioritise the French? Does he think he still has two or three good shots at winning it? All shall soon be revealed.
...A run to the fourth round in Australia, followed by his best performance ever in a Masters that he then improved on is the tale of the Russian’s year. He has never made the fourth round at this level before. And now he is getting results. He cruised past Wawrinka. He looks confident and has form. He even has a shot against Kyrgios in the fourth round, though he lacks in firepower. He will also crack the top fifty for the first time. Nobody is suggesting he will go on and be a top five player. To be a solid top 40-50 player is good work if you can find it. And he has found it. He will also win a title this year, or at least make a final.
...The Argentinian turns 32 today (Tuesday). Or did yesterday, depending on your time zone and reading habits. And he has had quite a good career, even if he has flown under the radar for most of it. He has been hampered by injury and an inability to beat the names, but he still has eight titles and he really has maximised his talent. He was born in the same town as Del Potro - Tandil. With a match win under his belt in Miami, could he find some of the old magic on the dirt? He has nothing to lose, which can be very freeing. With no pressure, are we about to see Pico return?
...The Frenchman is projected to rise to a ranking of 80 in the world and has a winnable match in Gilles Simon next. Should he win he will be well on his way to the top 50. He has had a great week on the beach, making sure France’s future legacy is intact. Notching a 7-5, 6-3 win over Gabashvili and then beating seeded Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 6-4, he rolled through to face a stern test in Ferrer. The Spaniard was under the cosh in the first but edged it 7-6[1]. Pouille bounced back to win the next two sets 7-6[4], 7-5 to claim an epic victory and his first top ten win. It’s the kind of match Ferrer always wins but not this time. Now Pouille must go and do it all again, against the gritty Simon. The 22-year old may not have as much potential as some of his compatriots, but his finesse and aggressive game will work on any court, anywhere.
...Kuznetsov went on a run last week, but Wawrinka was the one who ended it. This week he put the fourth seed to the sword 6-4, 6-3. Historically, Wawrinka has never had a happy time here, but the draw was kind and he managed to grind out a result or two in Indian Wells. He has never performed there either, so why can’t he do the same? He beat the Russian just last week and this week should have been no different. The French Open draws ever nearer and Wawrinka will get a boost from the clay, but he also faces pressure. The next eight weeks will be vital for Wawrinka’s season and perhaps his career, too.
...Isner went on a run last week but this week he crashed out to Smyczek. After coming through qualifying and then winning a long three setter in the previous round, Smyzczek outlasted Isner. He won through in a third set breaker 7-5. Isner needs to perform well on the American hard courts because he gets all his points on his home soil. His whole career has been based on the ability to maximise his potential with home crowd support.

Notes from the week...
1 - Nadal pulled out citing dizziness. His opponent Dzumhur was himself considering pulling out in tricky conditions. After the match Rafa had this to say.
2 – Djokovic made a bit of a gaffe when talking about the delicate issue of women’s pay. Of course there are arguments that the men should be paid more, but tennis is one of the few sports that has always had a great balance of men’s and women’s matches. No other sport in the world is as good as tennis is.
3 – Querrey was knocked out in a bizarre fashion.
4 – Azarenka is looking very much like a world number one and not just in the way she’s playing. She has a mental edge, too.
5 – Britain has its first number one since 1973. It was Wade then and a Murray now. Still, Jamie Murray doesn’t feel like the best player in the world. But the rankings aren’t wrong, right?
6- Tennis is a global sport, but has Europe ever been this dominant?

1. MIAMI 3rd Rd. - Dimitrov d. Murray 6-7[1], 6-4, 6-3
...Another loss for Murray. He and Dimitrov have a very exciting rivalry, though Murray leads it, of course. The Bulgarian played another excellent match here to upset the world number two. The forehand, the slice backhand and the first serve were all switched up to max. The first set, especially, had flashes of brilliance from both. Dimitrov has made the race for world number two interesting.
2. IW 3rd Rd. - Pouille d. Ferrer 6-7[1], 7-6[4], 7-5
...I feel it is important to acknowledge just how big a victory this was for the French youngster. He out-ground Ferru in three in humidity. He never stopped going for his shots, never backed down. And he stayed with a top ten player for over two hours. He never panicked, either. It was a perfect performance from the Frenchie.
3. IW 2nd Rd. - Kyrgios d. Baghdatis 6-2, 6-1
...These matches are rare. It is not often players can blitz somebody like Baghdatis. In under an hour Kyrgios blasted 14 aces. It’s about two per service game. This is what Kyrgios is capable of, what he can do when he plays his best. It’s why he has been touted as a future slam winner. And the controversies have been few in the last two weeks. Sounds like progress to me.

Mladenovic lost to Gibbs 6-2, 6-4. The American got just one game against Muguruza in the next round, so it is an even poorer result for our resident Pastry. It’s the lack of resistance that is so worrying. Of course, her form will pick up when we least expect it so everybody needs to look the other way. In the doubles, she and Garcia went down to Bondarenko/Savchuk in three sets. On the funky green clay of Charleston Mladenovic will return. Seeded in the singles at 11, she is likely to enter the doubles, as well. How will she adjust to the clay?

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