Monday, March 30, 2015

Miami Mid-way Report

Hey Y'all.

[ I apologize for just how badly I picked the tournament. I picked very badly and I can only offer my apologies. The French Open is going to be even worse. ]

It is eleven years since Federer and Nadal first played in Miami. It is ten years since Federer won in five. Fast forward and Federer is skipping the tournament whilst Nadal is getting hit off the court.

In eleven years, will any players playing Miami now still be playing?

SECTION 1: Djokovic
...Djokovic bested Klizan in three sets, although he only dropped seven games. The Serb defeated Darcis and next plays Dolgopolov. It's not a given. The chances of an upset are very slim, however. Dolgopolov beat Berankis and then Robredo in an epic three set war. Strangely he cruised against Bellucci. He won in two and was untroubled. Hopefully he can produce this kind of tennis.

SECTION 2: Ferrer
...Sometimes a player in a slump or in the October of their career can produce a vintage performance. Mauresmo did it against Safina in 2009 at Wimbledon. Ferrero pulled a few of those. Hewitt beat Raonic by tapping into the magic. Ferrer is having a good year and he beat Delbonis 6-1, 6-1. Rosol strung together a series of good results and he beat talented young star Zverev in two sets here, setting up a match with Ferrer. The Spaniard won in straight sets. Qualifier Falla, who has an interesting rivalry with Federer, set up a clash with Simon next. Simon beat Kukushkin, 6-0 in the third, to give himself a great shot at making the fourth round. Both Simon and Ferrer came through in two sets, though neither was completely straightforward. Please don't put that on a show court. No offence is intended to these wonderful athletes but show courts should be about shot-making. If Djokovic slips, Ferrer has a good shot to make the final. If Ferrer wins he would move even closer to the top five.
SECTION 3: Nishikori
...Nishikori 6-2, 6-1 Youzhny. Nishikori 6-2, 6-2 Troicki. Goffin 6-0, 6-4 Coric. Goffin 6-4, 6-3 Janowicz. Something's gotta give.

Goffin has been on a tear lately and has put together a fantastic past ten months or so. And if Nishikori had done nothing but still made the U.S. Open final it would also have been pretty impressive. As it is, both of them have been playing consistent top ten tennis. Seppi beat Baghdatis 6-2, 6-2. Remember how Sampras retired when he was still pretty good? Remember how Graf retired as the world number three? Henin, Roddick, Borg and even Navratilova retired whilst still pretty good. Baghdatis chose to go down the Nalbandian route instead. Bad call.
SECTION 4: Raonic

...Del Potro may never return to full strength but his star burned ever so brightly. Pospisil beat him in straight sets but then got beaten even more convincingly by Dimi 6-2, 6-2. Isner also moved through with no drama. Gabashvili beat Andujar 0-6, 7-6, 6-3. He couldn't reconjure the magic as he lost to Raonic in two. Chardy produced some proper tennis for the first time in ages and pushed Raonic all the way to a third set breaker. It will be the North American who plays Isner, who defeated Dimitrov on Monday. Del Potro's forehand is the second best forehand since the turn of the century. It's hard to say stuff like that but had Del Potro not been injured, the tennis landscape today would be different.
SECTION 5: Wawrinka
...This is the section which is in a handbasket. And the destination this basket is headed to is hot. Wawrinka edged Berlocq 6-7[9], 7-5, 6-1 but then lost to Mannarino in two breaker 7-4, 7-5. Berlocq on his return to the tour had beaten Kokki. Fognini tanked his match, losing to Sock 7-6[4], 6-1. Lopez kept his head but still lost to Thiem 7-6[4], 4-6, 6-3. With Thiem beating Sock, there will be a surprise in the quarterfinals. Americans in general do suffer from a lack of variety. Though Blake had variety and that variety really helped him. We've moved on from the days in which a Todd Martin can make several slam finals. The crazy thing is, if Murray just has a bad day [he has about two a month] and Anderson can take advantage, Thiem could have a great shot at a semi spot. Rafa is out and if Murray throws in a bad performance, then suddenly the bottom half is as wide open as the Republican candidate election.
SECTION 6: Murray
...Anderson beat Querrey in an epic, winning 6-7[5], 7-6[3], 6-4 but had less trouble in dismissing the Argentine Mayer. Nieminen disappointed here, failing to capitalize on a workable draw here. Anderson is one of the most consistent players in the top twenty. If he is seeded to get to a round, he will be there. Even on clay, Anderson will be there. You may not like the way he plays but you gotta respect the guy. Murray dismissed Young 6-4, 6-2 to open his campaign and then swept past Colombian number one Giraldo 6-3, 6-4. Kyle Edmund was also here but the young Brit lost 6-2, 6-2. Still, he is the great British hope. Murray has a great chance of making the final now but there are still some dangers lurking.
SECTION 7: Berdych
...Chung has had his first taste of the big leagues. In losing 6-3, 6-4 to Berdych, he received a Backspin grade of A-. Of course, Todd can still overrule me if he sees fit but Chung didn't go away. On a similar note I was impressed with Bellis, a 15 year old, avoiding the bagel against the frankly terrifying Serena Williams.

And people wonder why Sharapova hasn't beaten her since George Bush took office the second time. Tomic finally pushed Berdych but still lost 6-7[4], 7-6 [3], 6-1. Smyczek also impressed but it would be the Frenchies battling it out for a shot at Berdych. Monfils beat Tsonga 6-4, 7-6[4] to advance to the fourth round. France is a dying empire now, crippled by injuries and age. They will of course be back. With players like Garcia and Paire, France will still have talented tennis players. It seems to be that Garcia has the touch of Pierce about her and not just in looks. In style of play and verve. Mauresmo and Pierce star in one of my favourite points and pictures:

2000 Pierce Seles - Coup entre les jambes by rolandgarros

SECTION 8: Nadal
...Monaco dismissed Gulbis and GGL. It really was all too easy for him. Monaco has shown signs of rekindling his career. Argentina sure could use a hero. Argentina have so many slams in their history and it's surprising they don't have a bigger event there. Monaco was once in the top ten. Is a return out of the question? Verdasco got past Duckworth 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 to set up an interesting clash between two Spanish lefties. Rafa owns Verdasco but Verdasco has such raw firepower. Nadal had beaten another talented Spaniard, Almagro, handily in the previous round. Verdasco looked good early on, and carried that form on to a 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 victory. Verdasco can surely handle Monaco. With the clay swing coming up, Ferver is getting hot at the perfect moment to ruffle some feathers.

Casey Dellacqua lost both her first round matches. Bencic and the Rodionova sisters put paid to her chances. She has not yet committed to a tournament after this, but may yet take a wildcard.

*4th Round*
#1 Djokovic vs. Dolgopolov
#12 Simon vs. #7 Ferrer
#4 Nishikori vs. #19 Goffin
#18 Isner vs. #5 Raonic
#31 Mannarino vs. Thiem
#15 Anderson vs. #3 Murray
#8 Berdych vs. #16 Berdych
Monaco vs. #26 Verdasco

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Miami Preview: Men's Edition

Hey Y'all.

Having done the ladies, it is now time to do the rest. The ladies are the stars of the shows, after all.

Mirza lost to Hingis last year in the doubles. That won't happen this year -- they're partners. Hingis has had one of the most successful comebacks this side of Clijsters. A former doubles world number one, she is headed there again. Kops and Spears are on form. They reached two finals this year and a slam quarter. They are 1-1 in those finals and played Mirza both times. Stosur/Raymond came back and made the semi-finals in their first tournament back. I picked it and I'm going one further here. Makarova/Vesnina look good. Garcia/Srebotnik are definitely very talented but I like the Russians just that little bit more. Rankings are on the line here, too.

The final? Hingis/Mirza beat Stosmond 0 and 4 in the semi-finals last tournament out. It will be closer, perhaps three sets. The result will be the same.

The Bryans are the top seeds and Sock/Pospisil second seeds. North America is dominant here. The Bryans will make the final, getting past Djokovic/Tipsarevic en-route to a semi-final victory over Bopanna/Nestor. Mahut/Roger-Vasselin have a great tournament and make the semi-finals. Indian Wells finalists Bolelli/Fognini face Klaasen/Paes then Sock/Pospisil. It's too much to expect another run. The young North Americans go to the final and then win against the aging Bryans.

Here's a very bold prediction: after the next Olympics, Hewitt, Williams, Williams, Bryan, Bryan, Federer and Nadal all retire. There will be others, but those will be the big retirees. It will also be Djokovic and Murray's final Olympics.

Now finally the men's singles...

...Big lefties Klizan and Muller await Djokovic. Djokovic will play a breaker or two but neither of those can rally with Djokovic. Berankis, Dolgopolov, Hewitt and Bellucci. They will face off against seeds Cuevas and Robredo. And it just screams for a Cinderella story here.
...Falla qualified. Johnson and Kukushkin are also here with seeds Simon and Karlovic both looking to rebound from disappointing losses. Karlovic and Simon could not have more contrasting games, but the key will be the first serve of Simon. Ferrer may well start off with talented Vesely. Rosol then awaits the Spaniard. The upset is calling Ferrer's name. Ferrer should stand tall here.
...Nishikori commands a quarter of the draw. He is so good at rebounding and he will do it again. Troicki, Baghdatis and Youzhny are just some of the talented players here. Nishikori may drop a serve or two but a set is far more unlikely. Coric and Janowcicz are playing the role of the future in this part of the draw. Goffin and Agut are the seeds here and one of those four is sure to meet Nishikori. It's in the fourth round where Kei will face the big challenge.
Page Break=============================
...Seeded at five, this may be the highest Raonic has ever been seeded at a Masters. It's hard to think of anyone more humble or deserving. Del Potro plays Pospisil for the right to take on Dimitrov. That is hard to call. Chardy and Harrison are the big threats to Raonic here, but the things they can do well, and there are multiple things, Raonic does better. Raonic may have to play Dimitrov and Nishikori back to back.
...Kokkinakis will be dangerous, but does he have the energy to make another run? I think Vavsy is looking to bounce back and will. Mannarino is finally getting the seedings that he deserves and is here at 28. This is a nice little section for the other really good Swiss tennis guy.
If this goes the way the talent is indicating, we get Fognini against Sock playing the winner of Thiem vs. Lopez. It would be good to have that. When Feli gets on a roll, he really starts to roll. And with that bit of momentum, he should flow into the fourth round here.
...Querrey and Estrella lurk here. So does Mayer. But Kevin Anderson is unerringly consistent. He just doesn't ever seem to lose to people he shouldn’t. Kyle Edmund was a good junior and is showing promise. Young is also here and he has beaten Murray. Giraldo is just a time bomb who could detonate on anyone, including himself. Murray has the consistency but he needs to be careful.
...Chung was a very talented junior. The acid test of whether he has translated well to the big leagues is now. Does Tomic have enough left in the tank [no joke intended] to beat Berdych? No. Tomic struggles against Berdych. Krajimovic plays Lajovic in the rivalry henceforth known as the commentators bane. Smyczek is also here. He is the guy that should have beaten Rafa. Tsonga could play Monfils here.
...Monaco and Gulbis here. Oh look, Garcia-Lopez, too. Verdasco and Almagro are here. Federer had an easy section as the second seed last time. It's Nadal's turn.

*4th Round*
Djokovic d. Hewitt
Ferrer d. Karlovic
Nishikori d. Goffin
Raonic d. Dimitrov
Wawrinka d. Lopez
Murray d. Anderson
Berdych d. Monfils
Nadal d. Garcia-Lopez

Djokovic d. Ferrer
Nishikori d. Raonic
Murray d. Warinka
Nadal d. Berdych

Djokovic d. Nishikori
Nadal d. Murray

Djokovic d. Nadal

...really quite straightforward.

Don't forget to go over to WTA BACKSPIN!

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Miami Preview: Women's Edition

Hey Y'all.

The ladies draw is out, so I'll do a quick run down. I'll cover the doubles and the men's side later this week. The doubles draw isn't even out yet. So here we go. I think you can probably guess who the top seed is...

...The question is how injured is Serena. That's the only thing that stands in her way. She has the young guns in her section like Shelby Rogers and CiCi Bellis. Zarina Diyas also lies here just like in Indian Wells. Diyas may do a little better, but Serena on 40% would probably make the fourth round. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Heather Watson are both capable of making runs but Watson's fitness will make a difference here. Angelique Kerber has slipped to 15th in the world. When in a slump it's hard to get out of it. I'm going to stick with Sveta Kuznetsova here. She only has to turn up twice. Surely that's not too much to ask.
...Monica Puig lurks for Ana Ivanovic here. If Julie Goerges defeats Jane Cepelova then she gets Sabine Lisicki. That all-German match up should be good. I just don't know about Lisicki. I think Lisicki and Ivanovic will play in the third round. They've met five times since Stuttgart last year and Ana leads 4-1. The Serb also won 6-3, 6-0 in Dubai this year. Talented Lauren Davis is accompanied by Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Vera Zvonareva here. Sara Errani and Garbine Muguruza are the seeds. I like this draw for Muguruza.
SECTION 3: HALEP... err, Vaidisova
...Here in the Vaidisova section Simona Halep is the biggest seed, but who cares? I like Vaidisova to be the Cinderella here and win a match then get a set up on Halep before losing in three. Camila Giorgi is also here. She could upset Halep on her best day. Vika Azarenka vs. Jelena Jankovic and Tsvetana Pironkova vs. Flavia Pennetta looks likely here. I do like the diversity of games and careers in this section. It's like someone put the WTA on shuffle. Azarenka can beat Jankovic. She can beat anyone. And Pironkova? Sadly for the Bulgarian, she isn't playing on grass.
Page Break=============================
...Yaroslava Shvedova, Sloane Stephens and Yanina Wickmayer are here and they could all catch fire and win three matches in a row. Lucie Safarova and Madison Keys are starting to find consistency and I think they will almost certainly clash in the third round. Daniela Hantuchova, Belinda Bencic and Roberta Vinci are in the lower half. I liked Bencic's run in Indian Wells. Switzerland has enjoyed a rich vein of tennis form since about 1990, though without the sheer numbers of Russia or Spain. If only Bouchard and Sloane could pull a Freaky Friday at slams and on the tour. Both need what the other has. Casey Dellacqua is seen here, too, playing a spoiler role.
KEYS D. BOUCHARD [Never underestimate home support. It really helps unless your initials are S.S.]
...If Aga Radwanska just went back to Poland until Wimbledon would anyone notice? A former champion here, she is in dire straits. She struggles on clay and, after this tournament, it's a long time til we leave the dirt. Polona Hercog and Irina-Camelia Begu are also here. They could both go on runs. Hercog has been to finals before, but this isn't her best surface. Tereza Smitkova is also dangerous. CSN has a lovely draw. She is ranked 12, her highest ever ranking. Kirsten Flipkens could be her first match. After that she plays Elena Vesnina or Alize Cornet. To beat Cornet you need to be consistent. That is something the Spaniard can do.
...Sam Stosur and Venus Williams will play out a good match in the third round. Physically they will have too much for Coco Vandeweghe and Kiki Bertens. Stosur struggles against the Williams sisters. Still, Serena is 19-4 in slam finals. Who beat here? Venus, Maria, Venus and Sam. Stosur is the only one not to be number one at some point and the only one to do it outside of Wimbledon. Kaia Kanepi and Varvara Lepchenko lurk here. Both can trouble the Woz. Neither will. And if you think Sam struggles against the Williamses, well, then take a look at ATP BACKSPIN'S "Stat of the Day":

V.WILLIAMS D. WOZNIACKI [Woz is also 1-10 against the younger sister]
...Bojana Jovanovski plays Mona Barthel for the right to play 26th seed Elina Svitolina. One of those three -- they have an average age of 22 -- will make the third round. Svitolina is just 20 and is ranked 27. The other two are at 39 [Barthel] and 65. Does this mean that the 2012 batch of rising stars is already old news? Ekaterina Makarova is also here and she hasn't made a surprising run in about three weeks. Sorana Cirstea plays Christina Mchale whilst Klara Koukalova plays Kristina Mladenovic. BZS and Andrea Petkovic are here, too. This will be one of the most intriguing sections to watch. Petkovic could easily make the quarters or beyond and increase her ranking. She could cement a place in the top ten.
...Annika Beck should play Karolina Pliskova here. When I write the 2019 predictions for this event, they will both be seeded and probably fairly highly. And I'll write what an exciting quarterfinal clash. But we are in 2015. Petra Cetkovska and Peng Shuai are tricky customers. They have a different style of play. Maria Sharapova is 5-1 in semi-finals here, but 0-5 in finals. She has taken one set in a final and that was against Serena. She made the final 2011-13 and the semis last year. Ajla Tomljanovic and Caroline Garcia are in her section. Kurumi Nara, too. Sharapova could play left handed and probably scrape through.

*4th Round*
S. Williams d. Kuznetsova
Muguruza d. Ivanovic
Halep d. Pennetta
Keys d. Bouchard
CSN D. Radwanska
V. Williams d. Wozniacki
Makarova d. Petkovic
Sharapova d. Ka Pliskova

Serena d. Muguruza
Halep d. Keys
V. Williams d. CSN
Sharapova d. Makarova

Halep d. S. Williams [the knee injury has to affect her]
Sharapova d. V. Williams [5-1 in semi-finals]

Sharapova d. Halep

...Halep has struggled to solve Maria, but Maria has struggled to win in Miami. One of those hoodoos has to be broken. Maria can't go 0-6 in Miami finals. There isn't anything more un-Sharapova like.

Thanks all. See you soon!

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Wk.11- Novak Proves His Credentials Once Again

Hey Y'all.

After all these years, the drill is the same. The WTA BACKSPIN page run by Todd has a large and very interesting post which is generally WTA-themed. This side of Backspin will be focusing more on the ATP, but for the whole tournament overview, next door is the place.

This is the third/fourth post for Indian Wells and the last until next year. I think the top seeds at next year's events will be Williams and Nishikori. Yep. So, let us get down to it. And, yet again, it is a little unusual.

Fourth Round:
...Djokovic beat Isner 6-4, 7-6 in a fairly routine victory here. That gives him a 2-1 lead over Isner at Indian Wells. The two have developed a history there. Also in Djokovic's quarter, Tomic outlasted Kokkinakis 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. It was the best match of the round with both players bringing out all the stops. Tomic used his backhand down the line to great effect. Murray was untroubled in seeing off form player Mannarino 6-3, 6-3. Mannarino is not untalented, but the top ten have a base level of talent which most players just don't have. Or have too much of. Lopez upset Nishikori in routine fashion, 6-4, 7-6[2]. It was one of the upsets of the tournament, but Lopez was just too good and, really, in some ways it doesn't actually feel like an upset. Raonic beat Robredo 6-3, 6-2. It wasn't just the scoreline that impressed, it was the fact that Robredo should be able to disrupt Raonic. Robredo shouldn't be a good match-up for the young Canuck. Raonic had too much power in that match. He even returned well. It was a boring round, this one for the most part. But the most boring of them all? Rafa beating Simon 6-2, 6-4. That's quite dull. Rosol had a fantastic tournament and although he does not go up in the rankings he does not drop, either. Given a seed at the next two slams, he could find a gap and exploit it. In the last few editions of both Wimbledon and the French we have had runs by underdogs. Even if given a low seed, that could be Rosol. Berdych outlasted him 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. Rosol double faulted on match point. Another good run was that of Sock. He had been unseeded but won the doubles and made the fourth round in the singles. He rises 13 places to 45 in the rankings. Not bad. Still, Federer put him to the sword 6-3, 6-2.

So, we now have our quarterfinals. Would there be more drama to come? Yes. Would it match the ladies' drama? Never.
...First things first. Tomic withdrew after a successful week that saw him get back in the top 30 for the first time since 2012. He was number 27 then. A career high ranking surely beckons for him now. At age 22, Tomic has already had a whole career, it feels like. Deliciano Lopez is hot. And so is his form. Deli is at 12, his highest ever ranking, and he consolidated his position there this week. He made a quarterfinal run here but he lost to Murray again. He struggles to beat the Scot but usually puts in a spirited performance. Murray won 6-3, 6-4. The match of the tournament was Raonic/Nadal. Raonic showed his muscles in this encounter. Nadal was in control of the match, having taking the first set 6-4 and showing little fear when faced with the cannon. Rafa was not being blown off the court by a big server like he has been before. Ljubicic, the coach of Raonic, did it to Rafa here in recent memory in a semi-final. Roddick always proved difficult opposition for Rafa, too. Raonic dragged the second set into a breaker and then saved three match points on his way to a 12-10 victory. One highlight included a smash from the ground that clipped the line. It showed great ball control. It was Agassi-like in its execution. Rafa never goes away and so it proved to be. He and Raonic went all the way to 5-5 in the final set. Then Raonic broke in an epic rally before serving it out to claim his biggest ever win.
Federer showed his own muscles in a simple win. Berdych had beaten the people he had to beat in order to reach the quarterfinals and had not had to go through Wawrinka. It is nice when a draw falls ones way even if it draws questions about deserving it and such. Berdych was competitive for the first 40 minutes, but the gulf in class was soon apparent. Federer claimed the first 6-4 and never looked back as he cruised through 6-4, 6-0.

The semi-finals were now set. And it would not be the big four again this time. No, this time they had a young, fresher feel.
...Murray/Djokovic was the marquee match. Murray should have won that final in Australia but he choked just a little. Not enough to hand it to Novak, but enough to allow Djokovic a way back into the match. It would prove to be enough. Usually the recent slam final would indicate this to be a good match. It wasn't. Murray couldn’t serve. We've all had those days where the serve just won't work. Lots of times for the professionals, it's the serve which is the cornerstone of their game. If the serve works, everything just clicks together nicely. For me, it's the forehand and for Todd I think it may be the volley. Every player has a shot that has to work for their game to click. It's usually that shot that works when the rest of the game falls apart. Murray has served his way to wins when the rest of his game is crumbling. Djokovic won 6-2, 6-3 and it felt that one-sided. Murray could never seem to find any momentum. Murray was poor throughout and nothing worked. Djokovic has been superb this whole week. Murray could not find any rhythm on his service games and he paid the price. Murray, Nadal and Nishikori will be swapping around for the rest of the year in the rankings, although the top four is the main goal. Raonic is no longer a Cinderella story. To qualify, you must be on a comeback, [see Bryan's wife or Mardy Fish] a young unproven star [Oudin, Kyrgios] or old and thought to be past it with no seeding or a very low one [Jankovic or Youzhny]. Raonic is about to hit his prime and this week he has already beaten Nadal. He will have to wait to wear glass slippers once more. Raonic hit nine aces and the ace count is usually a good indicator of how he is playing. Federer was aced nine times in his 7-5, 6-4 victory. Yes, it was tight but it was comfortable. Like at Wimbledon, Federer was not troubled too much. Raonic played fine but he could not raise his level adequately enough to live with the world number two. Federer had too much variety for Raonic, using the slice as a weapon. Federer has the world's best slice backhand right now and he knows how to use it as a weapon. It can be really horrible to deal wiith a proper slice backhand. It proved to be one of the differences.

Federer and Djokovic would play each other in another semi...
Final: Djokovic d. Federer
...Have you ever thought about the number one position before? Djokovic is the best player on the planet. 7,303,228,053 people on this planet. Djokovic is better than every single one of them. The German soccer team is the world's best. America is the best country in the world at sport in general. The Giants are the best baseball team in the world, the Patriots are the best. The Spurs too. The Kings rule all in hockey. The number one isn't just a number, it's a thing a team or player or horse has earned. Nadal has 141 weeks, Djokovic 139 and Murray 0. Federer has spent 302 weeks at number one or 5.8 years. His 237 consecutive weeks is equal to a presidential term plus half a year. Steffi Graf was, out of some 6 billion people, the best in the world for 377 weeks: 7.2 YEARS. Graf also had 186 consecutive weeks in the top spot. Chris Evert was number one for 260 weeks and Serena has 233. One serious injury probably ends Williams' career and her body is breaking. Can she hang on and overtake Chris? In consecutive weeks, Evert is 113, Williams 110. Williams should step into third, but in all these rankings Graf and Navratilova are way ahead. Djokovic, world number one right now, had lost to Federer in Dubai recently. Federer's schedule hints that he is making a run at number one, with him skipping Miami to focus on the clay swing. It's feasible Federer could be playing for the top position at the French. Djokovic was too strong in the first hour of the contest. He got to a 6-3, 4-3 lead before Federer broke using some of the old magic. He outlasted Djokovic in the lengthier rallies and forced a breaker. In the breaker, he twice came back from a mini-break down to win the set 7-5 in the breaker. Djokovic was plagued by double faults throughout the match. The Serb once again turned it on in the final set and took the match 6-3, 6-7, 6-2. Federer fought but Djokovic proved his credentials once again. It wasn't a classic, but it was a good quality final filled with drama. It showed that this era is drawing to a close. It may sound foolish to say that, but the signs are there that the big four are starting to crack. Here's how Djokovic felt....

Thanks all. See you soon!

Go to WTA BACKSPIN, too. They have the first barbecue of spring coming up this week. No, really, the weather is warming up where Backspin HQ is. HQ has quite the outdoor area, especially the one slam wonder statue garden.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Indian Wells Mid-way Report

Hey Y'all.

So here is the ATP Backspin Indian Wells mid-way point post. There is a much larger and shinier post on WTA BACKSPIN. This post is just to keep the ATP ticking over. It'll be done in sections because it's less awkward and it makes everyone's life easier.

First off, it's a drug scandal for Tomic. The official stance of Backspin is not guilty yet, but also that Tomic seems to attract bad luck whether or not he deserves it. Some of Tomic's off court highlights include wearing a hat, and that pink clothing item thing.

And yet, Tomic is still in the draw (and def. Ferrer on Monday night).

A section-by-section recap of week one in the desert:

...Djokovic has avoided any upset in his first match here, and it was against Baghdatis. Djokovic swept past Bagman 6-1,6-3, furthering the status of Bagman as a journeyman with a successful history. Ramos-Vinolas eased past Benneteau but Djokovic would have eased past whoever made it to him. The Spaniard would be able to push Djokovic on a slow clay court on a damp day. Not here. Isner defeated Anderson Monday night, after both got past their respective opponents, Melzer and Delbonis, in two straight sets. Both have been serving and returning well, and either one of them could have had hope to cause an upset against the Serb in the next round. It'll be unlikely, however, as they lack the multidimensional games needed to beat the world number one. Djokovic, who plays late Monday night, can look ahead to a possible quarterfinal with a dangerously talented Aussie.
...Cilic is gone. He lost to Monaco 6-4,6-4 but it was, in a way, quite expected. Monaco played Kokkinakis Monday evening and was being outclassed early on, but it took winning a third set tie-breaker (after not having a challenge to overturn what would have been a converted match point earlier in the set) to do it after over two and a half hours. This section was always up for grabs in a way. Thanasi has shown he is a top 100 player and the rankings will soon reflect that. Direct entry into a slam this year will happen for him. He beat Struff and Garcia-Lopez just to make the third round. This kid has got something. Meanwhile, Ferrer has struggled. He scraped past Dodig 4-6,6-1,7-6[6]. He looked poor during the two and three quarter hour battle. The Spaniard looked ripe for the upset and Tomic was the last person he wanted to face. Ferrer has shown excellent form all through this year, but he has lost here early before and did again as the Aussie won 7-5/6-4.
...Murray has been given a fairly easy draw and that strangely generates it own pressure. There is a pressure on when you're the best player in a tournament, a section, a city, a Backspin HQ or a planet. One feels like one has to win and that makes it tough. It's easier to be the underdog. Murray dismissed Pospisil and then beat Kohl 6-1,3-6,6-1. Mannarino has made a big run here. The ever improving Frenchman beat talented youngster Zverev 6-4,6-4. He then got past Fognini in an upset on paper, 7-6[8],6-3. The lefty has a very awkward game that seems to work very well on grass. He beat Gulbis 6-4,6-4 to set up a fourth round clash with Murray. He could push the Scot but he won't win. Mind you, Murray did lose to Bogomolov jr. In straight sets. Murray now has a dilemma -- there is a huge step up in quality from the likes of Kohl and Mannarino to the likes of Nishikori. Is he fully prepared for a fight?
...Lots is happening here but nobody is watching. Lopez beat Vasselin 6-7[3],6-4,6-4. In an equally engaging match, Cuevas beat Nieminen 4-6,7-5,6-0. It looked like there may have been a possibility of an all-Spanish clash, but Kei avoided the upset. Verdasco beat Duckworth, whilst Nishikori dealt with Harrison. It's funny how Nishikori is already having to deal with the next generation. Two years ago he was the new generation. Ten years ago, to the year, Nadal was the new generation.

Nishikori beat the big hitting lefty 6-7[6],6-1,6-4. He just keeps going from strength to strength. Nishikori needs to prove one again he belongs in the top ten. Has he beaten two top five players back to back? At the U.S. Open, yes. Can he do it again? He is playing for a spot in the top four.
...Welcome to the bottom half of the tournament. This is Raonic's particular bit of it and, thus far, he has kept it tidy. He beat Bolelli 6-3,6-4. He won't be happy with Dolgopolov beating Giraldo. Dolgopolov is ultra-multidimensional. Unfortunately, he is so ultra-multidimensional not even Dolgopolov himself can harness it. Robredo ,the invisible man, struggled past Golubev 6-4,6-7[5],6-4. Kyrgios served for the match against Dimitrov but lost 7-6,6-3,7-6. It wasn't his fault. He went for a ball and fell, twisting his ankle, on the final rally of Dimitrov's game. Dimitrov couldn't put the ball into the court and so lost his serve. Kyrgios couldn’t put any weight on the ankle and so failed to close (he'll now miss two to four weeks). Dimitrov now plays another one-
hander. The winner gets a big server. How far can the serve carry the Canadian? If the serve fails, so does he. So long as it keeps booming, his game stays intact. He could serve his way to the final. Or he could throw in a performance like the one against Djokovic in Australia where he struggled to compete for portions of the match.
...These days one never knows how Rafa is playing. He barely broke a sweat in beating Sjisling 6-4,6-2 but he could just lose inexplicably on any given day. His partner, Busta, was beaten by Donald Young. Young won in straight sets and then beat Chardy by the same score line Rafa beat the Dutchman. Rafa has Young and then Simon, probably, up next. They can both trouble Rafa or even cause the upset. Simon beat Jaziri in three long sets. Becker got through because Gasquet withdrew. Something is not right in the Gasquet camp. In any case, Simon has a good chance to make the semi-finals now. Any genuine chance to make the semi-finals of an event such as this is a good chance. Rafa struggles against big servers. This has been documented many times. Backspin HQ has a special folder, in the Weaknesses filing cabinet, on Rafa and big servers. John Isner at the French is a good example. Beforehand, Bollettieri said Isner, for one, needs to "put a firecracker up his a--,". Isner did and it was quite a match.
...The first big seed is gone. You wouldn't have called it beforehand. You would've called Ferrer or, perhaps if you were feeling brave, Nishikori. Wawrinka is one of the form players. He could probably carry me to a doubles title on the form he had been in. But his loss to Haase was really bad. The Dutchman won 6-3,3-6,6-3 and now plays Rosol. The Czech beat Klizan in three, including a bagel. Berdych has a great opportunity now. He was too strong for Stakhovsky and now has a gilt-edged chance to make the quarterfinals. Johnson beat Karlovic in two and now Berdych doesn't have to face that serve. Johnson is on form and Berdych will be wary of the upset. Tomas has to take his chance. Querrey disappointed here. He needed to do well here to up his ranking. The American men need all they can get right now.
...The comforting presence of the man with many nicknames. One commentator said this week, "When you've won 17 grand slams, umpires call you by your first name." Against Schwartzman, Fedex messed around, hitting drop shots and chip-charging before he finally got bored and took it 6-4,6-2. How many sections and halves of draws has Federer commanded over the years? Sock beat Lu 6-7[4],6-2,7-5. Then he beat Muller 3-6,6-3,7-6 [7] but he still has work to do. He must beat Agut, who easily dismissed Istomin. Then he has to beat Roger Federer. Sock would love a chance to play Roger but, despite having already earned it, he must win one more match to make it happen. With Stan out, Berdych looms after Seppi and Agut. None of those matches is a given but Federer will want revenge against Seppi. The bigger question is will Federer ever get a better chance at beating Rafa again if they meet in the semi?

Thanks all. See you soon!

Go to WTA BACKSPIN, too, don't forget.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Indian Wells Preview (Men's Edition)

Hey Y'all.

Happy World tennis day! The highlights included Sabatini's backhand and Federer losing a point to a kid.

Full highlights here:

This is one of the better matches of the 2015 WTA...

Murray has hired Bjorkman. Serena has said that Steffi's record is on her "to do" list. Still, it's unlikely she will be able to win every slam at least four times like Graf did.

The men's draw and both doubles draws are out. Peers/Zvonareva, Stephens/Townsend, Lisicki/Petkovic, Ivanovic/Kerber and, best of all, Stosur/Raymond are just some of the very exciting doubles pairings we have. I like Hingis/Mirza to beat Raymond/Stosur and then beat Makarova/Vesnina. The Russians will beat Hsieh/Pennetta.

Anderson/Melzer play the Bryans. Del Potro returns [he made the final here in '13] with Cilic. Kokkinakis plays with Andy Murray and Federer will take on Sock/Pospsil with Lammer. Nadal is with Busta. Qureshi/Raonic play Klaasen/Paes. Dimitrov/Fish is another pairing. Yes, that Fish. His comeback had been noted on Backspin. So many comebacks in these doubles. Fish/Dimitrov play Ferrer/Verdasco. I like Benneteau/Roger-Vasselin to make the semis but lose to Dodig/Melo. The Bryans will beat Peya/Soares and then win the final. Doubles is very difficult to pick, but there it is.

Qualifying this year is very strong. It could be a legitimate field at a 250:

Now, finally, onto singles action.

...Djokovic is defending huge points in this month. If he slips he loses the world number one ranking to some old guy. He could play Baghdatis, Benneteau and Anderson or Isner. He can't afford to slip up, and that is an unpleasant draw. They can all irritate him, but can they beat him? Isner/Anderson will be on centre/center court, possibly at night. Expect the Isner in America factor to come into play. Delbonis and Lajovic are also here as are two, probably very talented qualifiers.
...Tomic is in Ferrer's section as the 32nd seed. He can cause an upset there. I think Ferrer eases past Dodig or Haider-Maurer before dealing with Tomic. Tomic will rise to around 33 in the world whilst Ferrer will also rise. Kokkinakis will rise to about 105 if he makes the fourth round. A shaky, returning from injury Cilic and Garcia-Lopez are here. I think this the time for the young Aussie. He should beat Struff and then he should beat GGL. Can he beat Cilic, if Cilic makes it? I'm willing to gamble.
...Nadal would fall into Federer's half. Of course he would. The Tennis Gods are having a chuckle up there. Murray plays Pospisil or Kukushin first up. He won't lose but he will be pushed. It's a good first match. Kohlschreiber likely awaits next. Murray should again be fine there if the German even makes it. Fognini and Gulbis lie here, accompanied by qualifiers, Groth and Mannarino. Gulbis has played well here before. Nobody is expecting him to do well. So for that reason and the fact he isn't utterly mentally outmatched for once he gets the nod.
Page Break=============================
...This section is a bit strange. Lopez will beat Muller and Cuevas -- or Nieminen -- and look good doing it, too. This half of the section is fairly straightforward, which makes for a refreshing change. Verdasco plays Thiem or a qualifier. Nishikori plays Harrison or Fish. Imagine a night match with a raucous, perhaps even slightly tipsy, crowd. Imagine one of the Americans finds the zone, that magical place where everything goes their way. Could there be an upset? Yes. But really...
4th Rd.: NISHIKORI D. F.LOPEZ [or D for Deliciano if you prefer]
...Mines! Mines everywhere! Luckily Raonic has bombs of his own. He should navigate Bellucci/Bolelli fairly easy, but Dolgopolov or Giraldo are a lot more unpredictable. Milos likes rhythm. He won't get it in this section. Dimitrov likely gets Kyrgios, a fresh but rusty Kyrgios. Kyrgios plays a little like Tsonga, but is a slightly worse mover. He could overpower the Bulgarian. Still, the Bulgarian should beat the Aussie and Robredo, too.
4th Rd.: RAONIC D. DIMITROV [This has classic written all over it, but Raonic is higher ranked. I use that as a deciding factor sometimes like here]
...In this, the French section, Nadal should cruise. He should open with Sisjling and then Chardy. On this court both can delay him and attack him but not for more than a set, let alone three. Gasquet is better than Simon. He leads the head to head comfortably 4-1. Estrella Burgos is also here and he is ready to cause trouble. The French have the numbers and it looks like Spain beats France twice in a row here.
...Funny, funny Gods. Putting Wawrinka between the two players he can never beat. He at least does better than Ferrer against Fedal. He plays Haase or a qualifier first. Andujar versus Klizan is a toss up and, with the winner playing Rosol, Wawrinka has an unpredictable route to the quarters. Querrey, Johnson, Karlovic and Berdych are all here. Expect breakers. If you like big servers, I have the section for you. Karlovic is the wild deuce here. He has payed so well of late whilst Berdych has just slipped. Querrey will likely play Berdych, too. I haven't called an upset in a while.
...Nearly finished taking up your time, till Sunday at least. Fed gets Janowicz first up in all likelihood. Afterwards he gets Seppi or Youzhny, and expect revenge here although avenging such a tough loss doesn't make it feel any less painful. Agut, Istomin, Mayer, Sock. Enough said.

*Round of 16*
Djokovic d. Isner
Ferrer d. Kokkinakis
Murray d. Gulbis
Nishikori d. Lopez
Raonic d. Dimitrov
Nadal d. Gasquet
Wawrinka d. Karlovic
Federer d. Mayer
Djokovic d. Ferrer
Nishikori d. Murray
Raonic d. Nadal
Federer d. Wawrinka
Djokovic d. Nishikori
Federer d. Raonic
Federer d. Djokovic

...Going on form, that seems to be fairly accurate. Federer is playing very well, Djokovic less so and Murray even less so. Kei has picked it up since Australia whilst Raonic has stayed in the zone.

Thanks all. Casey Dellacqua is sadly not in Indian Wells this year, meaning she will be losing a lot of ranking points. Don't forget to go over to WTA BACKSPIN!

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Indian Wells Preview (Women's Edition)

Hey, Y'all.

The ladies draw is out so I'll do a quick run down...

...The 2007 Australian Open. The 2012-14 U.S. Open. Serena had a point to prove. Serena won those tournaments. I can't remember the last time she went into a tournament and wasn't the favorite. Perhaps on slow clay there may be a question mark. That's it. I think Serena will be nervous , but she'll also be angry. She will play Niculescu or Krunic in her first match. I think she looks nervy and struggles a bit but wins 7-5,6-2 or something close to that score. Then she just rolls and never looks back. Vekic and Diyas could play each other, which would be interesting. Stephens is also here, as is 13th seed Kerber. But I pick Sveta, seeded #23, to avenge her recent loss to the German. Kerber has not been in form whilst Sveta is a former winner.
4th Rd.: #1 SERENA D. #23 KUZNETSOVA
...Naming the sections after their biggest seed is just easiest and I'm surprised Makarova has her own. She is no longer the perennial dark horse. She should beat Vesnina or the qualifier who the Russian plays. Bacsinszky, seeded #27, lies here and is on form, but Makarova will be fine. Safarova will get past the young guns of Svitolina, Mladenovic and Nara before falling to the more solid Makarova in the fourth round. That will be a match to watch.
4th Rd.: #8 MAKAROVA d. #10 SAFAROVA
...Halep will beat Lepchenko in the third round and advance to the fourth to meet a rising star. A lot of rising stars in attendance.
Tomljanovic can only represent Australia in ITF events. Pliskova and Muguruza play here -- it's the match the WTA has been waiting for. I think Pliskova edges it [literally a toss-up] but it will be an incredible watch. The winners goes down tamely to Halep.
4th Rd.: #3 HALEP D. #14 KA.PLISKOVA
...Radwanska has been quiet of late. That makes us here at Backspin very nervous. Lucic-Baroni is here. Goerges and Watson play one another. Gibbs and Pavlyuchenkova are in this section, too. Puig is also hanging around. Giorgi beats Radwanska, who is in a big slump and so puts on her glass slippers. Suarez Navarro outlasts the catty BZS in three long sets. Giorgi improbably beats Navarro and Todd has his story for the first week. Unless ,you know, Sharapova double bagels Azarenka or Serena implodes.
...Look who has her own section. She and Raonic really are an incredible pair. If only there was a big mixed doubles event that only happens rarely coming up in the next year or two. They'd do well, in that. [#Rio2016] Eugenie has Cepelova and Pironkova around here, not to mention thirtieth seed Vandeweghe. Bouchard advances. Petkovic has Cetkovska, Cornet, McHale and Beck around her. Talented women, but the German ninth seed comes through no problems. Lacking in form, the Canadian will lose to the German. Sadly for Eugenie, in the real world this doesn't work:

...Wozniacki is again rising without winning a slam. Up to number five now, I struggle to think of what the Dane has actually done in the past few months aside from the odd final and losing to Serena in NY. To be honest, that NY final was six months ago now. The Dane hasn't done a lot. She should beat Kanepi or the qualifier, but 31st seed Bencic poses a bit more of a problem. I still like the Dane to advance. Schmiedlova and Davis play in the young match, whilst Koukalova takes on Hantuchova in the veterans. Hantuchova has won this before. At #16, Keys is two spots higher than Jankovic but both are on different trajectories now. If Jankovic makes it there Keys will dismiss her.
4th Rd.: #16 KEYS D. #4 WOZNIACKI [Oh, why not]
...Do I trust Ivanovic? With my keys, yes. To be solid and not lose to someone she shouldn't? No. She will beat the winner of Zvonareva and Garcia and then the rest of this section is, first, Italian and, secondly, a mess. Apart from Gajdosova -- she isn't Italian -- Vince, Schiavone and Errani are here, but Gajdosova beats them all. The Aussie is on form and could make the quarterfinals if she finds her groove. Jarmila is back in the top 50. Oh yes, Lisicki is here, too. I forgot about her. It isn't grass.
...What a nasty draw. Knapp or Wickamyer then Azarenka followed by Pennetta before having to face Ivanovic. That stinks. Rogers and Flipkens play for the right to face Vika. Vika wins but loses to Sharapova. I know I'm wrong, but the percentage play is to pick Maria. I am not throwing the ball on the one yard line here. Brengle or Zheng [not that Zheng -- Saisai] will get through and play Pennetta. Flavia is 4-4. It's March. She loses to one of those two or to Stosur despite the match up problem the Aussie has. Stosur just kicks and spins her way into the fourth round. Mattek against Townsend is interesting, especially as the winner plays Sam. Poor Sam never beats Vika or Maria.
4th Rd.: #2 SHARAPOVA D. #21 STOSUR

Serena d. Kuznetsova
Makarova d. Safarova
Halep d. Pliskova
Giorgi d. Suarez Navarro
Petkovic d. Bouchard
Keys d. Wozniacki
Ivanovic d. Gajdosova
Sharapova d. Stosur
Serena d. Makarova
Halep d. Giorgi
Petkovic d. Keys
Sharapova d. Ivanovic
Serena d. Halep
Sharapova d. Petkovic
Serena d. Sharapova

...This for me is the big one. Not the match, that won't be a contest. Serena will win easily, but it will be the one she has wanted for so long. She puts her demons to bed here.

Thanks all. See you soon!

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Davis Cup, Part 1: A New Hope

Due to the USTA being as organized as Bush's administration the draw for Indian Wells is not currently out. It starts on the 12th, with qualifiers starting now. It would be strange to release ATP BACKSPIN on a Thursday and quite unprofessional.

On the men's side, since the turn of the century just twice has a player won the tournament who has never been world number one. Alex Corretja in 2000 and Ljubicic in 2010 are the exceptions, though they rose to 2 and 3. Corretja made two slam finals. So once every ten years, basically, someone who was not at one point a world number one wins it.

On the women's side, the I.W. winners roll since 1990 is equally star-studded, but this year we get Serena Williams back. Expect fireworks.

This week you get double the Backspin fun. So you get cheered up on Monday and Thursday.

Let's get this shorter ATP BACKSPIN under way. Of course, this won't return to normal until we're on the dirty stuff. And then there are Masters, which are always a bit different. Then we have the French Open, and then it returns to normal. So for a while, everything is up in the air and the normal becomes the abnormal. But then you already knew that.

Clay court picks are on the horizon -- the bane of Backspin. We have half a floor at Backspin HQ dedicated to picking clay events. There's a big poster of La Petit Taureau on one wall, Rafa on the other, a signed photo of Guga and a lovely [not to mention frankly enormous] framed photo of Chrissie Evert. But I digress. It would take far too long to describe all of Backspin HQ. And, honestly, there is only man who can give you the full tour. I don't have the authority to go above floor five. It's a seven story building. I think.

So on we go....

FRA d. GER 3-2
...Not a big surprise here, but it was closer than expected. Spain aren't here, so France should be default favorites. It all depends on the fitness of the big guns they will have to rely on as we go deeper into this tournament. If they go into every tie with Simon, Monfils, Tsonga, Gasquet and Roger-Vasselin, Mahut or Benny they will win. On any surface. Simon beat Struff 7-6,2-6,6-7,6-2,10-8 in an epic to give France a nice lead. Monfils had no troubles and played a very sensible match that lacked any drama [that sentence will never again be written, typed or communicated via smoke signal on Backspin ever again] to give France a 2-0 lead. Monfils won 6-4,7-5,7-6, sealing it with an ace. The doubles pair cleaned up, dropping only nine games against Becker/Begeman. The French cruise through in the end. The Germans picked up the dead rubbers, to make it 3-2 in favor of the French. France play Great Britain next, the week after Wimbledon. The rumor is that the Brits may try grass. That would play into the hands of the French. Sure, Murray should win both of his but is that a certainty and can Britain win one of the remaining three?
GBR d. USA 3-2
...Isner melts under pressure, like Ice Cream in Alabama. It's hard to crumble as dramatically as Isner did. He pulled a Coria.
Murray beat Young 6-1,6-1,4-6,6-2 in a strangely close tie. Young actually pushed the Scot, though it was not enough. Ward defeated Isner 6-7[4],5-7,6-3,7-6[3],15-13. It is mind-blowingly bad from Isner. Your opponent is dead. He is finished. Ward was down and out for the count. Inexplicably, Isner decided to just give him a chance. Why? Who knows. Ward took it and won. Inglot/Murray [Jamie] pushed the Bryans but lost as the Americans won 6-3,6-2,3-6,6-7[8],9-7. The Americans were very poor. They had this tie all wrapped up. They had Marshawn Lynch on the one yard line. Murray killed the tie by beating Isner 7-6,6-3,7-6 in a flat match. No such thing as a flat match in the Davis Cupt, but that was.
America must now face the World Group Playoffs. Sad to say this, but the winners of this event umpteen times over are relegated. And what if the Bryans retire? America needs to look at itself.
AUS d. CZE 3-2
...A new era? Hewitt loses, but Australia wins tie. This surely means the end of the world is nigh. These young guns are a new hope. These young guns really are astonishing and impressive. Kokkinakis got a wild card into the "fifth slam" and he was one of the only non-Americans to do so. He earned it by winning through qualifying in so many tournaments this year. Kyrgios gets direct entry. Tomic is seeded. Yes, seeded. A New Hope indeed. Kokkinakis came back from the dead as he triumphed over Rosol 4-6,2-6,7-5,7-5,6-3. He gave Australia momentum and the lead. Tomic had no problems dismissing Vesely 6-4,6-3,7-6[5] and up 2-0 the tie was looking already won. 1-6,7-6,3-6,7-6,6-2 was the scoreline on which Hewitt was on the wrong side, as he and Groth could not close it out. Tomic finally put it to bed with a 7-6 [4],6-3,7-6 [5] decision. The Czech team took the dead rubber to make it 3-2 Australia. Next up the Australian team is dragging the Kazakhs down under. On grass, the three Kazakhs in singles action are 0-2, 1-10 and 3-9. Australia have a Wimbledon champion, two recent Wimbledon quarterfinalists and the winner of the boys doubles the year before last. Play that tie on grass, Rafter. Here is an example, but with most off the ugliness cut out:

KAZ d. ITA 3-2
...This is the forgotten tie. Italy are a dying dynasty on both tours, whilst the Kazakhs are upset kings and queens renowned for their ability to disrupt and cause the very best very big problems. The Kazakhs have a solid core and that really helps. It also helps that the Italians struggle for consistency. After a tight first set, Kukushkin took control against Seppi on the indoor hard courts and eventually won through 7-6[6],6-1,6-2. Seppi sat on the baseline and out-ground his opponent in a gritty match 6-3,6-3,6-7[5],6-2. With the tie delicately poised at 1-1, the Italians took the doubles in four long sets. The fourth set breaker was won 15-13 and that swung the momentum to the Italians. They won the fourth 6-4. The Kazakhs never just go away. Kukushkin won another breaker in his match against Seppi and then rolled through to a 7-6[8],6-0,6-4 victory. It fell to Nedovyesov to defeat Fognini. The guy who just beat Nadal on clay lost 7-5 in the fifth. There is nothing more to say.
Italy are so talented and yet they always fail to deliver. They must lick their wounds whilst the Kazakhs have to pray the Aussies do not select grass.
ARG d. BRA 3-2
...Possibly the best tie of the weekend despite promising so little means this tie is given the "Ferrer Award" for promising so little yet delivering so much. Del Potro was in attendance and he got a treat -- A record breaking rubber for the team sorely missing Del Potro and Nalbandian. Juan Martin did practice with them. If Nalbandian had had this Mayer in his team, he could probably have guided Argentina to at least one victory. Sousa beat Berlocq 6-4,3-6,5-7,6-3,6-2. It set the tone. Mayer leveled the tie with a comparatively straightforward 6-4,6-3,1-6,6-3 victory against youngster-turned-battle-scarred-veteran Bellucci. Melo/Soares are world class in doubles and the were untroubled. They won 7-5,6-3,6-4. After the epic match which I cannot do justice, the tie was level. Up stepped Delbonis to face Bellucci. Bellucci laid an egg this entire tie. One giant egg. Delbonis 6-3,3-6,6-2,7-5.
Argentina now face Serbia somewhere, and that place is yet to be confirmed.
SRB d. CRO 5-0
...Ah, yes, the "Steffi Graf tie of the first round." There's always one. They always said she played like she was doubled parked. If you have half an hour you could watch this match and then you'll understand perfectly why this tie was the "Steffi Graf tie."

Djokovic cruised in the singles and the doubles [with Zimonjic, the defending Wimbledon mixed champion] and Serbia also dominated the dead rubbers. Coric led by two sets and a break against Troicki but fell to the Serbian number two in five long sets. He is the bright star in the Croatian team. He is a new hope. Croatia are struggling for players right now but if Cilic agrees to play they can easily win their playoff tie. He was injured here but if is fit the Croats will have no problems.
CAN d. JPN 3-2
...Raonic sets it up, and Pospisil spikes the winner. Raonic sent a message with a 6-2,6-1,6-2 dismissal of Ito. Ito traveled all the way from Japan to Canada to get spanked. Poor guy. Pospisil did not disgrace himself as he lost 6-4,7-6[5],6-3. Pospisil and Nestor [one of the greatest doubles players this side of the Woodies] put away a determined Soeda/Uchiyama in five long sets to give the home team the advantage. Nishikori leveled with a long five set win over the world number six. Kei is, of course, now the world number four. They grow up so fast.

Growing up fast:

Pospisil against Soeda is a bad match up for Japan at first glance and so it proved to be. Canada would prove triumphant as they won the final rubber 7-5,6-3,6-4. Canada next travel to Belgium. It is actually quite an underrated country to tourist in. It does not get the attention it deserves and warrants. It really is a fantastic place. Belgium has its own cupboard in the archives basement of HQ, too. It's pretty big, though not, as you can surely guess, equally weighted between the ATP and WTA. Bryan's wife features prominently.
BEL d. SUI 3-2
...That was one of the worst title defenses ever. It’s a struggle for the Davis Cup to attract big players these days, and there seems to be no good reason why. Federer described it as a burden and one he decided he could do without. Without Federinka [when will that be heard on Backspin again? It's in our nickname filing cabinet just before Fedexpress. I believe it can also be found in the Federer annex] the Swiss were woefully outmatched. They surprisingly took the opening rubber as Laaksonen came back from two sets down to win 1-6,6-7,6-4,6-0,6-2. They would get only one more set in a live rubber. The two dead rubbers were split. Whew. Switzerland will have a long wait for their Davis Cup team to be relevant again. On the WTA side, Switzerland have...

They have aged -- well, one of them has anyway - since then.

Casey sadly lost in the first round to Hsieh, a former world number 23 and a number one in doubles. She won this event in 2012 and has won two titles in Asia. This loss is no disgrace, especially as she lost in three sets. It took the Woz ,a former world number one, to beat the talented Hsieh.

Dellacqua remains in the top 40 for both singles and doubles, but does not have a seeding for the next two big Masters. That means little, especially if she is given a decent draw.

Thanks all. Don't forget to visit WTA BACKSPIN. See you real soon [not if I see you first] -- and that goes for both Todd and I.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Wk.8- It's Bonjour, Hello, Ahoj, Сәлем, Hola, Здраво, Hello and Bonjour to the Davis Cup

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Roger Federer will not be competing in the Davis this year, calling it a burden. He said he won it for the boys and now he has "ticked it off" and he no longer feels the need. With Stan Wawrinka also not in attendance, the outlook for the Swiss is poor. They could do with the Swiss star who hit his 9000th ace this week.

Roddick (9074 aces), Karlovic (9322) and Ivanisevic (10183) lead the Swiss supermegastar. Federer will take Roddick but he won't catch either of the other two. Federer also becomes the only man to make at least nine finals in five different events. Nobody else is even close.

Rafa Nadal has won three events at least eight times, including being the only man to win a tournament nine times. It just happens to be a slam, too. But the key thing is that Rafa doesn't dominate on any other surface. Almost all his records are clay based. Federer has dominated in different continents on different surfaces, not just on European clay.

Nadal has had a busy week. He said this.

Federer is 2-13 against Nadal on clay, but off clay he is 8-10 and, really, some of those matches could have gone either way. The big thing he and Nadal have in common? They're champions at heart. Both had a bad loss to start the year and yet both have responded to that emphatically. These are the sportsmen and sportswomen you should look to: Federer, Nadal, Graf, Navratilova. They have sportsmanship and they have guts, but they also have dignity and composure. They know how to respond. They are the role models. One should not look up to those who beat their wives or murder people just because they can run the football or make a big sack in the fourth quarter. No, these true champions are the ones to look up to.

In Acupulco, David Ferrer held off the younger force coming through, beating Tomic, Harrison and Nishikori to win yet another title. Ferrer has forever been in the shadows of Nadal and it's quite unfortunate. Had he not played in this era, he would most definitely have sneaked a couple of slams. Sanchez Vicario was fairly fortunate in that regard, too -- she knew how to beat Graf. She could do it and if she did then she was the favorite, especially on clay. Todd wrote a post a while back on what would have happened had Seles not been stabbed. He considered the effect on Graf, but not on Hingis, Novotna and, most importantly, Sanchez Vicario.

Kei Nishikori is up to world number four, but expect him to keep on rising. He and Nadal are separated by less than 200 points and he does well at hard court Masters. Australia bring four top hundred players into the Davis Cup for the first time in a very long time. Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic are at 36 and 38, respectively. A seed for Tomic at a slam this year beckons. With injuries, withdrawals and the like, a seeding is a very likely occurrence if Bernard can hit the top 35 or so. Kyrgios needs only to rise four places to be guaranteed a seed. The future of Australian tennis is bright. Could it be a return to the old days of Court, Cawley, Laver, Newcombe and their compatriots?

Well, it is time to see what happened this week.

S: Roger Federer d. Novak Djokovic 6-3/7-5
D: Bopanna/Nestor d. Qureshi/Zimonjic

S: Rafael Nadal d. Juan Monaco 6-4/6-1
D: Nieminen/Sa d. Andujar-Alba d. Marach

S: David Ferrer d. Kei Nishikori 6-3/7-5
D: Dodig/Melo d. Fyrstenburg/S.Gonzalez

...Federer is the greatest of all time. He is the greatest because Djokovic is about six years younger than him, the world number one, defending champion at two slam events and the most on form player right now. But yet Federer just beat him fairly handily. Federer has dominated on two surfaces for 12 years. Federer has been a force on two surfaces for that long. Nadal has dominated on one surface for ten years but has dominated only when he hasn't been injured. He does not possess the longevity of Federer. Federer swept aside not just Djokovic but the field, too. He opened by losing just four games to Youhzny. He was down against Verdasco but won twenty [yes, twenty] points on the bounce to recover before cruising through to a 6-4,6-3 victory. Beating an injured Gasquet is nothing to sound the trumpets for, but it put him through to semi number 169. He is third all time and should catch Lendl on 188. Coric was up next for the Swiss man and, like Agassi did to Federer in the 1990's, Federer gave him a lesson. Yet the talent of Coric shone through here. It was apparent that he had something. Federer beat the lucky loser [that is and always will be an awful term] 2 and 1. Novak did his best to halt the momentum of the world number two in the final but he was unable to. He gets some well deserved rest before doing the March Indian Wells/Miami double in America. In 2014, Federer made the final of one and the quarters of the other, while Rafa reached the final and a third round, but Djokovic won both. Federer could be the oldest ever world number one at age 33 and 207 days, ahead of Agassi who was aged 33 years and 131 days. Now wouldn't that be some story.
RISER: Rafael Nadal, ESP
...Was there any doubt he would be back? He won his first title since last year's French Open. He last won a hard court title in Qatar in 2014. And his last grass title? 2010 at Wimbledon. Rafa has just reverted to playing only on clay courts and sparing his bruised body from further harm. It's clever and it's working. Nadal opened up against Arguello and the warning signs were there. He won 6-4,6-0 and sent a message the only way he knows how. He let Delbonis get two games, one in each set, before deciding it should be over. Berlocq proved more able to hold Rafa back. He delayed the Spaniard admirably before finally folding under the unrelenting pressure. He lost 7-6[7],6-2. Had he taken the breaker, things may well have gone differently. You need to see for yourself the head to head between Rafa and his opponent Monaco. Here it is:

Yep. At least Monaco took Rafa to 6-4 for the first time ever. Silver linings and all that. Nadal is back. He is usually a force from March to August before dramatically imploding in a cloud of obscure broken knee bones and injuries, the names of which make you wince like severe back dislocation. [That's not a real one, I just pulled one of of thin air.] No Davis Cup for Rafa, so I suspect he is in America at the moment, although a vacation would do him good. If you were looking for him, try California. While you're there drop into a hockey game and maybe some b-ball. I hear the L.A teams are doing well. Well most of them anyway. Yes I'm looking at you, Lakers. Perhaps Rafa secretly loves ice hockey? He has risen back up to world number three in more relevant matters.
SURPRISE: Juan Monaco, ARG
...Well, look who's back in the top fifty. He reached the top ten in July of 2012, after impressive displays in the Masters, such as a semi-final at Miami. He was born in the exact same town as Delpo -- Tandil. In a very Latin feeling tournament, Monaco got through two of his compatriots, Gonzalez and Mayer, in straightforward two set affairs. He edged past third seed Cuevas 7-6[1],6-7[4],6-4 to make his first semi in what feels like a while. If he can stay injury free I like him to work back into the top thirty. He has been to the fourth round twice at the French and U.S.. In 2007 he lost to Canas in the French in round four 6-0,6-4,6-2. In the U.S. Open that same year he lost to Djokovic in a very tight four setter. At the 2011 U.S. Open he lost to Fed 6-1,6-2,6-0. At the 2012 French Open he lost to Rafa 6-2,6-0,6-0. These losses are somewhat excusable, but perhaps for him it will be fifth time lucky?
FRESH FACE: Borna Coric, CRO
...Do you remember Basel last year? Well, Borna has made his second 500 level semi. I still think of him as a fresh face, but then again Pliskova is comfortably in the top 15 and I still think of her as fresh faced. How long before Coric and Pliskova could potentially be in a photo like this:

or this

It is funny how much the sport has changed in some ways and in others not all. Forty years between those two photos. What a set of backhands too, especially Chrissie's. But returning to topic [hey if it's tennis, it's at least partially relevant], Coric has proved time and time again he is ready for the big stage, to challenge the top guys day in and day out. He lost to Fabrice Martin 6-3,6-7,7-6 in the final round of qualifying, losing that last set 7-5 in the breaker. In the first round Martin lost in straights but Coric beat Jaziri 5-7,6-3,6-3. Bizarre circumstances abruptly ended his second round match. He dominated an absolutely abysmal Murray 6-1,6-3 to make his second 500 level semi-final. Murray was very poor but Coric turned up. He showed up to play and play he did. Sadly, he did not play his best against Federer. Coric plays Djokovic in the Davis Cup as the world number 61, after rising 23 spots. For the Croats to win he has to win that match. Even if he does, it's no guarantee they win. If he doesn't they definitely don't win.
DOWN: Alexandr Dolgopolov, UKR
...Alexandr is now at 40. That should never have happened. Never. Worse still, he has points to defend at the coming Masters. He made the quarters but lost 4 and 4 to Nishikori. No fight. No determination. He just went away. He is not the player he was. He needs a solid year to get back to the top twenty again, but he may not even be able to produce that. Ukraine is not in the Davis Cup till July so Dolgopolov can take a week to get himself sorted out. He'll need more than a week though.
UPSET: David Ferrer, ESP (def. Nishikori)
...Not just rankings based, but on the head to head, too, this was an upset. This guy is the fourth best player in the world and genuinely belongs there. Nishikori can beat anyone on his day and has. Aside from grass [that serve, like Dementieva's, is going to cause him serious trouble throughout his career] he can beat anyone on any surface. He isn't even afraid of Nadal on clay and that guy has lost 25 matches in 12 years on that surface. Ferrer was on form but still the underdog in his match against the Asian number one [the best tennis player out of 4.427 BILLION PEOPLE], but triumphed in a gritty error strewn break-fest. Ferru wins another title here, showing he can win on clay and hard. But then we already knew that. Ferrer rises to eight, but Spain is no longer in the Davis Cup World Group somehow so he has a free week as they have a bye in the playoffs.

*Five things I liked this week...*
* - We need more Nadal's in this world. For those of you who agree, good news:
* - Classy from Venus. She said to BZS, "do you have a problem with me?" after BZS' catty handshake. It wasn't aggressive and it defused the situation. Still, I think it's bad from Barbora, especially considering that it was Venus on the other side of the net. Not another fiery character like a Wickmayer or an intense person like a Serena or a Sharapova. Everyone likes Venus. I mean, how can you not?
* - Federer and Ferrer continuing to prove in this day and age of racket technology, sheer physical fitness and injuries, that age is no barrier to success. It should perhaps feel stale, but it just doesn't.
* - We've had our dips and our first glass of wine. It's time for our fish course. We've seen it before.
* - Safarova turned 28 this month and also rose to number 11 in the world after winning in Doha and making a quarter in Dubai. She also beat a former number one in the final. That's a pretty good month. All she needed to do was find five bucks in an old jacket pocket and that's got to be the best month ever.

1. DUBAI FINAL – Federer d. Djokovic 6-3,7-5.
...A match of incredible quality, the score line deceives. Federer was just awesome. Djokovic put up stern resistance. The problem for Djokovic was he couldn't live with Federer because his defense just could not handle Federer's sheer power and aggressiveness. Sometimes it does not matter how strong a defense is if the offense is too powerful.
2. BUENOS AIRES SF - Monaco d. Almagro 6-3,6-7,6-4
...Just like old times. On clay, Almagro leads the head to head 6-3. These two have duked it out many times on dusty red courts the world over. Their latest duel did not disappoint, with both dirtballers pulling out all the stops. Bucking the trend, Monaco triumphed over his old foil but was always outmatched against the king, emperor, lord, god, baron, supreme commander, count, duke and anything else of clay.
3. DUBAI SF - Djokovic d. Berdych 6-0,5-7,6-4
...Berdych showed real mettle here in his comeback, but failed to push the Serb over the brink. Djokovic proved why he is the world number one by mentally recovering, but the fact an old guy is still proving hard to beat is still an issue.

*DAVIS CUP 1st Round*
ITA 3-2 KAZ [Although the Kazahks are really good in this competition]

Casey Dellacqua lost in the semi-final of the doubles with Chan to Hsieh/Mirza. As the third seed in the 2015 Malaysian Open, she opens against Hsieh. She lost in the second round of Doha to Venus in three tight sets, but as the third seed has a good chance to make the final. She hasn't entered the doubles, indicating her intent to win the singles.

Her rankings on the 2nd are once more inside the top forty for both disciplines. She is 36 and 35 for doubles and singles, respectively. If she does well in the doubles and singles in March she could join that elite club of players in the top thirty for both disciplines. She has one of the best topspin lobs in the business. Another plus -- she's a lot of fun to watch even if she doesn't always win.

Thanx all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wk.7- Empires Inevitably Fall

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Empires inevitably fall, and when they do, history judges them for the legacies they leave behind. So said Noah Feldman. Rafa has several things in common with the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire existed for an impossibly long time, ruling over a huge number of people and civilizations such as the Egyptians and Greeks. Rafa has dominated his own clay empire since 2005, which is also an impossibly long time.

* - He has won 99 per cent of French Open matches
* - He won 81 clay matches in a row
* - He is 45-7 in clay finals.
* - Djokovic and Federer [representing Egypt and Greece in this analogy] have victories over him in finals just like the Romans sometimes lost.
* - He has won 92.77 per cent of matches on clay. That is the best ever.
* - He is 55-3 in clay semi-finals and had won 52 semis in a row over 12 years until he lost to Fognini.
* - 321-25 all time on clay since 2002.
* - Nine French Open titles.
* - Eight Barcelona titles.
* - Eight Monte Carlo titles.
* - Seven Rome titles.
* - Three Madrid titles.
* - A pair in Stuttgart and Acapulco.

Nadal, like the Romans, has dominated for what feels like an age with an occasional loss here and there. But empires must fall. The smallest crack appeared when Soderling beat an injured Rafa in an epic four setter. He still dominated, but there was a question or two. A very quiet, whispered question, but a question nonetheless.

In Paris, Rafa's ancient Rome. He has remained untouchable. But Novak has beaten him at his Masters, at his equivalent of Milan, Pisa and Pompeii. The questions were getting louder but still the empire held firm. Still the empire remained. Yet the aura was not what it was. Shock losses to Zeballos [yes, after a seven month layoff] and Ferrer increased the volume of the questions. No matter where Djokovic [or the Greeks] beat Rafa he held firm in Paris. Nobody beats a fully fit Rafa over five on clay. Federer [Egypt] should have once, but Rafa escaped. It may have been different had Federer taken that Rome final.

Paris remains Nadal's last bastion. He still invades and conquers but the further reaches of his empire remain shaky. Watching him beat Cuevas was troubling. Rafa was in deep trouble but one knew he would come through. The questions grew louder in my mind. He beat him 6-0 in the third, but he could have lost.

And then Fognini beat him.

Fognini beat him in the semi-final of a clay event. The semi-final of a clay event. That doesn't happen. It simply does not happen. Rome is weak. Rome is showing the strain. The empire is not what it was.

Chris Evert won 125 matches in a row [including dominating wins and love sets over players like Goolagong, Austin, Navratilova and Wade] and that was an age. Rafa may only have won 81 in a row [and their opponents were of equal caliber] but he has had as big an empire as Chrissie ever had.
But his empire is slowly collapsing and Paris remains his final bastion. His Rome.

So, what kind of legacy will he leave behind?

S: David Ferrer d. Fabio Fognini 6-2/6-3
D: Klizan/Oswald d. Andujar-Alba/Marach

S: Ivo Karlovic d. Donald Young 6-3/6-3
D: Bryan/Bryan d. Klaasen/Paes

S: Gilles Simon d. Gael Monfils 6-4/1-6/7-6(4)
D: Draganja/Kontinen d. Fleming/Marray

...The 35-year old became the oldest winner since 1989 in Tel Aviv (and that winner was some guy called Jimmy Connors -- perhaps you have heard of him?). Karlovic never lost serve and he hit 91 aces. That 91 is a tournament record. Sadly for Karlovic, he had his 2010 Delray Beach ace record broken.

Haas and Hewitt are a surprise. It's worth noting that aces list does not cover all of Sampras' career. Still, it is an interesting arms race to watch. I think Ivanisevic will be caught eventually. Seeded fourth, Karlovic looked like he'd go deep in this tournament despite the fact it traditionally has a good field. There have been 250's where a top five seed is not seeded at 500 level. Delray Beach is popular. Anyway, Karlovic landed the very dangerous Dustin Brown in the first round but avoided the upset with a 6-3,6-7,6-2 decision. He rarely loses breakers but did so then, losing it 7-3. He beat Aussie star Thanasi Kokkinakis 7-6(4),7-6(2) next. He dismissed Steve Johnson, who is improving all the time, 6-2, 7-6(4) to reach another ATP semi-final. Adrian Mannarino was competitive in a 6-3,6-4 score line that doesn't tell the story at all. Adrian pushed the fourth seed all the way before finally folding. In the final, Donald Young had no chance against an inspired Ivo and could not exploit the weaknesses of Karlovic in the Croat's straight sets victory. With the 6-3,6-3 win, Karlovic became the second straight Croat to win this event after Marin Cilic took this event last year. Karlovic made his first final of the year and won his second title since 2008. Like Gilles Simon he has not won more than one a year for a long time. Ivo went 0-4 in finals last year and is now 7-8 overall. Karlovic is up six spots to 23 in the rankings whilst Andy Murray and Grigor Dimitrov both moved up at the expense of Nadal and Cilic, respectively. Frankly, I think the French Open should just award Nadal the top seed. I don't think anybody would object.
RISER: David Ferrer, ESP
...Look at this beautiful animal:

Now that, that is a gift horse. The first rule when one receives such a handsome gift? Never ever look it in the mouth. Just don't. What are you even looking for back there? Well, this time Fognini was the gift stallion. In defeating Nadal, Fognini effectively handed the event to Ferrer. It would have been hard for the Italian to win again after such a huge win against anyone, but to follow it up with a win over a top ten player in a final was surely too much to ask. Ferrer and Nadal frequently play in the same tournaments and they usually occupy the top two or three seeds. The script is always the same: ruthlessly consistent Ferrer eases through the draw and makes the final whilst ruthless Rafa obliterates everyone and gets to the final. The final is then overhyped. Nadal dominates said final and Ferrer smiles on the outside during the trophy ceremony. I am not allowed to repeat what we all knows goes on in Ferrer's head every bloody time he loses to Nadal, but luckily Spanish is his first language, so it's probably something like, "Joder. ¿Por qué está siempre ganar? Yo quiero ganar. Una vez que quiero ganar."

(If you were to translate the above, you do so at your own discretion and risk.)

Ferrer defeated qualifiers Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Thiemo De Bakker in the first two rounds, although De Bakker retired down a set and a break. Ferrer got past Juan Monaco in three before manhandling Andreas Haider-Maurer in the semi-final. In the final he cruised, barely breaking a sweat. But this time Ferrer does not need to translate the above [which may or may not contain Spanish swearing]. He can instead say, "Por fin." Ferrer rises to nine in the world. Every player ranked from 3-9 is within 1300 ranking points. Federer is 4000 points up from that, but 4000 behind Novak Djokovic.
SURPRISE: Gilles Simon, FRA
...Simon has his second title since April 2012. He is 2-3 in finals since then, with his last coming in September 2013 in Metz. The French usually do well in France. Actually, it's funny how the Aussies, French, British and Americans usually do really well in their home countries. Home advantage really does seem to apply. Except to you, Sam, funny anomaly that you are. You are my lovely exception that proves the rule.
With the win, Simon goes to 340-236, a winning percentage of almost exactly 59%. Makes Haas' 561-315 [almost exactly 64%] look exceptional, which it really is. Haas had originally planned to come back in mid-March, but realistically had hoped to do so for the Munich Open, his hometown event that he won back in 2013. It will be the hundredth anniversary this year.">

Yep, I decided to spruce up the Simon bit by talking about a player you actually want to watch. Watching Gilles Simon make me really excited, said no one ever. Anyways, Simon claimed another title and got up to 12-5 in finals. He faced no seeds but did play Borna Coric and Sergiy Stakhovsky on his way to the final where he defeated Gael Monfils to give himself a 5-1 advantage in their head-to-head. Simon is now second only to Juan Martin del Potro in win percentage in ATP finals for active players. Yes, Delpo is active. Kind of. Simon takes his boring effective game onto Frankfurt [for the Davis Cup] or to Indian Wells. Perhaps he can find a cure for his Arantxaphobia [fear of hitting the ball out] in Miami. After all, they have cures for everything there.
FRESH FACE: Yoshihito Nishioka, JPN
...Ladies, gentleman and everything in between, I give you Yoshihito Nishioka. He is a talented lefty who has won one challenger:

Here is a match against Ilhan:

He has risen to 145 in the world, his best but surely not his best ever. That is yet to come.
DOWN: John Isner, USA
...This is America. The country that celebrates the fourth of July [as an Aussie living in Britain, I say hooray for the fourth of July and the country that always hosts the Super Bowl]. Isner has a record here that is top ten in caliber. If he can't win here, he is seriously out of form.
He lost to Marinko Matosevic in straight sets. He didn't even take a set in America against a player who lost in under an hour to Nishioka, a Japanese qualifier. That is the definition of an inexcusable loss.
UPSET: Fabio Fognini, ITA
...Fognini is like the weather. Predictably unpredictable. He has big weapons and a game that can make any and everybody who faces him struggle to win. He has a serve that snarls and bites, a forehand that he can change up as he is hitting the stroke and a backhand that looks ineffective but that tears chunks through his opponents. Of course this is Fabio on a good day. Fabio on a bad day is, well, think back to the Wall Street crash, then imagine an earthquake on Wall Street while a giant bird takes a dump all over the place. Think of that. That is Fabio on a bad day, but much more entertaining. He beat Nadal in three epic sets by being aggressive but creative with drop shots, serve-volleying and making Nadal run all over the place. Nadal had no clue where half the balls Fognini hit were going.



=Five things I liked this week...=
1. A 155th doubles final for the Bryan Brothers, and they won their 104th. These are Navratilova numbers.
2. Donald Young and Bernard Tomic are slowly, consistently getting into the groove and entrenching themselves in the top 50.
3. Ivo Karlovic is this year's Haas -- he remembers the 70s and he is one of the top thirty best players in the world. Nobody wants him in their section of Indian Wells or Miami. Right now he could feasibly beat anyone on his day.
4. I think we got a glimpse of a future slam final in Pliskova against Halep in Dubai. Unless it's at the French, my money is on Pliskova.
Tennis TV is a godsend. I watched the Fognini/Nadal match live and this was my reward:

1. RIO SF – Fognini d. Nadal 1-6,6-2,7-5
...A point from defeat in the first round, Fognini came back and beat Nadal in the semis. He was blitzed for the first half an hour, but slowly put his awkward game into gear. Fognini slowly ground Nadal down until the Spaniard didn't know if he was coming or going. Fognini got just four games in the final. Oh, Fabio.
2. DELRAY SF - Young d. Tomic 4-6,6-4,6-2
...In the battle of the most underrated young guns, Tomic could not hang on and fell to Young. They have a similar career arc. Both overhyped when young, both capitulating after promising junior careers and good early results, then both have slowly returning to prominence. Young may have lost in the final but he is rising for sure. This is still one of my favorite 2015 moments.
3. MARSEILLE FINAL - Simon d. Monfils 6-4,1-6,7-6
...Monfils choked and Simon capitalized on the failings of the exciting Frenchman. There really is no boring Monfils match, but Simon wins more for that exact reason.

Djokovic [1] d. [4] Berdych
Federer[2] d. [3] Murray
Djokovic [1] d. [2] Federer

...I think Fed rebounds here, but I can't pick against Djokovic just yet.

Anderson [4] d. [1] Nishikori
Ferrer [2] d. [3] Diimitrov
Ferrer [2] d. [4] Anderson

...Something seems off with Kei. Anderson could just muscle his way through most of the field. I like Ferrer to just stay in the zone.
Nadal [1] d. [4] Fognini
Robredo [2] d. [3] Cuevas
Nadal [1] d. [2] Robredo

...I don't care if Rafa is injured. He is still too good for this weaker field.

Casey Dellacqua lost in the second round of the doubles with Sam Stosur. She lost to Safarova 6-7,7-6,7-5. There is no shame in that, especially as she accepted a late wild card into the event. She drew seventh seed Venus in Qatar in the first round of Doha. Venus just lost 6-4,6-2 to Safarova in Dubai but she beat Dellacqua in three 3-6,6-2,6-1. Dellacqua plays with Chan against Pennetta/Hingis in the doubles. Her rankings on the 23rd are inside the top forty for both disciplines. She is 38 and 34 for doubles and singles, respectively. Still, that is quite an achievement. To be a top forty mainstay in two disciplines is quite respectable.

Side Note: I forgot to add in up there: Kokkinakis is slowly rising. He is consistently qualifying and consistently winning a match here and there. Automatic entry into slams is not far off.

There he is, inside the top ten at number seven. That is the top fifteen and, with direct entry into slams at 104, there is a good chance the top seven all get direct entry if results keep going their way. Kokkinakis plays in a 500 tournament this week and he has already qualified for the main draw. He wins his first match, he is at 124. He wins two and he is at 110. He will make it into the French Open directly if he keeps this up.

Thanx all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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