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: http://www.tennis.com/pro-game/2015/02/nadal-wants-have-kids-values-court-relationships/54198/#.VPMZrfmsXT9
* - 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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Monday, February 16, 2015

Wk.6- Vanni, Veni, Vidi, Vici

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Most people get fifteen minutes of fame. Fifteen minutes where they are known and renowned, albeit briefly. Perfect example? Monica Lewinsky. Famous for something I can't talk about here, her name is still relatively household only due to the fact Monica Lewinsky jokes are still made, though I can't tell any of them here. She had her brief moment of fame and she milked it dry. Ahem.

"That’s the end of my two minutes of glory" said Tathiana Garbin after she defeated Justine Henin in the 2004 French Open. Henin had won the Australian Open and was the defending champion, as well as the world number one. She was, however, recovering from an illness. Garbin lost to Jie Zheng in the next round.

I have gone through the WTA BACKSPIN archives and found some references to that improbable upset [second only to Soderlingate]:

2004 Roland Garros Mid-way Report: "C'est La Vie"
Decade's Best: Roland Garros 2000-09
Backspin Time Capsule: 2004 Athens Olympics

Stakhovsky had his moment, too. These fifteen minutes are fleeting at the time and one would be wise to take advantage of them. Since then the Ukrainian has done not much. A talented junior with one big upset is his career in a nutshell.

Now to Luca Vanni. This week we focus on a finalist. Why? Because it's a fantastic story. He had never won a tour match before this. He isn't up and coming, he's down and gone. He was 1-1 in ITF doubles finals. This guy was 0-2 coming into the event and he had to get through qualifying. He is 0-0 in ATP Doubles. Last week we had Estrella and now this week we have Vanni. The headlines are likely to be dominated by the big guns and what big guns they have.

That is Rafa about ten years ago. Scary.

The Italian men and Women have been a breath of fresh air with a different approach to tennis. The intriguing thing is they all seem to play a different style. Fognini plays like nobody else and Vinci plays like this is the 1970's. Swashbuckling is the perfect way to describe Vinci. And then there is Errani and Seppi, who both play a very solid form of tennis. If the Russian women and Spanish men have had a dynasty [though both are fading fast now] then the Italians have had a small empire the past five years.

Italy has been strong in both the Fed and Davis Cup. The latest loss to France [Errani/Vinci were well beaten] may, as Todd says, signal the end of an era. They have Quinzi and Giorgi coming up, too. Previous both gendered empires include Australia from 1955-1980 [when my Evonne won her last slam in London] and America from 1995-2003 [when Sampras and Agassi began their descent], though France has had a long history of nearly great players.

Well I have rambled for long enough, I've mentioned my Evonne and now it is time to see what actually happened last week.

S: Stan Wawrinka d. Tomas Berdych 4-6/6-3/6-4
D: Rojer/Tecau d. J.Murray/Peers

S: Kei Nishikori d. Kevin Anderson 6-4/6-4
D: Fyrstenberg/S.Gonzalez d. Sitak/Young

S: Pablo Cuevas d. Luca Vanni
D: Cabal/Farah d. Lorenzi/Schwartzman

...Would it be anyone else? Precious few times will the player who reached the final but didn't win get the PoW award, but this week the rules shall be bent. Seeded sixth in the qualies, Vanni advanced to the final round in the qualies by beating a pair of Brazilians. Gimeno-Traver awaited him. Traver is an actual name, don't forget. He has been in the top fifty in the last couple years. He has been to the third round of a slam. He has played with the big boys. I believe he has upset Gasquet before. Vanni dismissed him 4 and 4. No problem. Next up was the main draw. Vanni took the top seed's spot when Lopez withdrew and that gave him a precious bye. He scraped past De Bakker 7-6,3-6,6-3 to get his first ATP victory ever. He needed a pair of breakers to edge slowly past Lajovic, who is a rising star and future Serbian number one. Next was another Brazilian in Sousa, but Vanni wasn't phased and came through 6-4,6-7,6-4 to register another win. But the final proved a bridge too far, sadly. He probably gets one or two more chances to bag a title. He better be ready to capitalize. Vanni probably gets one Backspin post his entire career. If he ever gets a mention on WTA BACKSPIN it would be no mean feat.

They're talking about Clijsters over there. She beat Petkovic 5-3 in a "friendly" match. Rennae Stubbs cheekily tweeted she should come back. I'm with Rennae on that one. You do know about Clijsters and the mystery Backspin correspondence, don't you? It wasn't me. I was in the archives in the basement of the Backspin HQ looking up old Wimbledon finals with a coffee at the time. I was in the middle of 2005 [good finals on both sides that year] when news reached my ears via the rescuing of the letter. Still, for more background on Backspin's connection with Kim -- a certain Ms. Clijsters -- that is the link to follow. Allegedly. [I can use her name, apparently, unless given different legal instructions to the ones I currently have.]

Before I went spectacularly off topic, I was talking about Vanni. It warms ones heart to see a player have a career week.
RISER: Stan Wawrinka, SUI
...Two titles and a slam semi-final already for Wawrinka, so why is he rising? That 6-0 set he lost to Djokovic. That was unacceptable. He has recovered well from that egg-laying and won a title in Rotterdam despite a difficult draw. I judge a true champion not by how brilliant they are when things are going smoothly, but how they fight when they are playing badly. I judge them on their conduct, too. Wawrinka refused to let a drop in the rankings and an awful end to his Australian Open campaign dampen his spirits. He beat Glang in the first round in three sets before edging past GGL 6-7,6-4,6-2. Wawrinka has a match-up issue with the Spaniard, though he doesn't lose to him all that often. He beat Muller [what a resurgent year he's having] 7-6,6-3 and then beat Raonic in two breakers (7-3 and 9-7) to make the final. A come from behind win in the final sealed the deal. That backhand is a thing of beauty. It really is deadly. Wawrinka has that rare mix of power but the ability to maintain poise. He can hit balls with such power, but in ways that don't force him to compromise court position. He has strong volleys, helped by his one handed backhand. There is no huge hitter in the top four ranked guys in the world. Even Federer is not a big hitter like, say, a Berdych or a Tsonga but Wawrinka can live with their power and then some. He can also maintain his stance and balance a lot more easily than they can. Murray has more points to defend than Wawrinka overall this year. The rankings race to watch may well be the fight for fourth in the rankings. Murray and Wawrinka are the big contenders, but wildcards like Kei and Berdman may yet sneak in as number four.
SURPRISE: Sam Querrey, USA
...In clichéd sports movies, a scout with a cool hat sees a pitcher, quarterback or guard from a poor background on his last shot. If he doesn't get chosen his life is essentially over. This is it. The big one. And I'm going to steal that one line that is always in those films: "When I first saw the kid I knew he had something special." It's true. Querrey came to my attention in 2008 and 2009. He was a big server but he also had this forehand. He had these big weapons and he knew how to use them. But he fell off the up escalator. He never broke that ceiling. He has had to start again. And here in America he has his best chance to win. He beat Becker in three sets, though the last two he cruised through. He beat up and coming Donaldson before beating Isner in two breakers 7-3 and 7-2. He was a better player than Kei, too. But, alas, this tournament was not to be the one. Querrey should do well in Miami and Indian Wells.
FRESH FACE: Michael Krajicek, USA
...It's time to fully turn the spotlight onto talented American youngster Krajicek [distantly related to that Krajicek] after giving him a mention last week. America is not in desperate need of young talent, as they have it in abundance. Indeed what they lack is talented youngsters with their heads screwed on the right way. Five Americans made the quarterfinals in Memphis this week. Nishikori beat three Americans in three very long sets each time just to make the final. Krajicek was born and still lives a twelve-hour drive away from Memphis, in the Tampa area of Florida. He still couldn't get a wild card. He didn't lose a set in qualifying and looked supreme throughout. In the main draw, Krajicek beat Kukushkin 6-2,6-7,7-6 and won it 10-8 in that last set breaker. Next he eliminated Karlovic 7-6,4-6,6-4. It took the U.S. Open finalist and top five player Nishikori to bring him down, though he battled Kei to the end, eventually losing 4-6,6-3,6-4. Looks like this kid is the real deal. He is headed to the top 100 for sure and that is an achievement.
DOWN: Andy Murray, GBR
...Murray never loses to Simon. He has beaten Muzza just the once. It's no Serena/Maria debacle, but Murray struggles against variety and power, especially on clay. Fernando Gonzalez once beat him in the French Open in the most one sided four setter ever 6-3,3-6,6-0,6-4. He mixed up his attack and he was aggressive. Roddick in 2009, the slam after that French Open, at Wimbledon is another example. He mixed up his tactics and won in four. Simon has no variety. He is a backboard. Murray hit a glut of errors and struggled to find his form throughout the loss. For a player who just lost a slam final, he is playing remarkably poorly. Simon was more aggressive than usual but a loss like that is still not a good sign or an acceptable defeat. Simon lost 6-2,6-1 to Berdman the next match. Ouch.
UPSET: Dominic Thiem, AUT
...It isn't the victory, it's the score line that's so shocking here. Thiem is very talented and it isn't just his game that’s pretty. Ahem. He is strong mentally and he knows how to construct points. He also has a very good backhand which shone in his U.S. Open run last year. He looks a bit funny when he hits that backhand, but not everybody is as smooth as Gasquet.

Thiem beat Gulbis 6-4,6-2. I can't remember the last time a recent slam semi-finalist was so outplayed by a player outside of the top thirty. Thiem is another face for the future. Federer's going to have competition at the 2020 Olympics. Gulbis is now 0-3 this year. Thiem could muster only four games against Stakhovsky, but this was still kind of an upset no matter how big an uber slump Gulbis is in.

*Five things I liked this week...*
* - Tomljanovic and Pliskova are for real now. They've both had blink-and-you-missed it rises.
* - The American young stars have finally got it together. Now the question is can they do it off American soil?
* - Rojer/Tecau are back in the top ten and can easily push into the French Open higher seeds.
* - I enjoyed reading the honor roll of Memphis. How many of these previous winners have you heard of? Connors, McEnroe, Kriek, Edberg, Agassi, Lendl, Courier, Sampras, Chang and Roddick.
* - Kei is 8-4 in finals, but five of his titles have come in Memphis or Japan. So yes, Memphis and Japan do have something in common with one another.

1. MEMPHIS SF – Nishikori d. Querrey 5-7, 7-6, 7-6
...Querrey served big and had chances here to claim a huge scalp. He even saved match points, showing a mental toughness we have rarely seen from him in recent time. Querrey can go into the big Masters events with confidence now. He'll be very dangerous. This match provided more evidence that Kei can be overpowered. He can be out-muscled.
2. ROTTERDAM Final - Wawrinka d. Berdych 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
...Wawrinka is the best player in the world right now. Most titles this year and a semi-final, too. His variety was too much for Berdman to handle. He couldn't continue his first set form and slowly crumbled. A break point early in the third went to Wawrinka thanks to a dead let cord. The Swiss hung on to see it out.
3. SAO PAULO Fina l - Cuevas d. Vanni 6-4, 3-6, 7-6
...Vanni finally went down, but it took an almighty effort from a proven dirt baller. The Italian served for it at 5-4 and though he says he is happy he may regret not taking that chance.

Nadal [1] d. [4] Fognini
Ferrer[2] d. [5] Mayer
Nadal [1] d. [2] Ferrer

...Nadal actually has a hard draw -- he opens with Bellucci, who will surely have the crowd on his side. Other big names lurk in his quarter like Almagro and Cuevas. I will justify this pick with four little words: it's Rafa on clay.

Anderson [1] d. [7] Johnson
Isner [2] d. [6] Querrey
Isner [2] d. [1] Isner

...Isner is in America. All else is irrelevant. I said this last week. I stick by it. It has to pay off eventually.

Raonic [1] d. [6] Goffin
Wawrinka [2] d. [5] Simon
Wawrinka [2] d. [1] Raonic

...I like the two hottest players on the tour to win through to the final, but Wawrinka is playing like he is in the top four. He should be too good. Also here is Vanni and Monfils.

Casey Dellacqua plays in Dubai. She already beat Siniaková in the first round and will play Safarova or Puig next. If she wins that she gets Venus. That is a tough draw, but just winning a couple matches would be huge. In the doubles, she plays with Stosur and they play Gronefield/Gorges in the second round after defeating Gajdosova/Lisicki.

Her rankings on the 16th are inside the top forty for both disciplines. She is 37 and 35 for doubles and singles, respectively.

Thanx all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wk.5- No Matter How Long It Takes

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

You can't hurry love
No, you'll just have to wait
Just trust in a good time
No matter how long it takes

I always preferred the Supremes version to the Phil Collins version, but then again I'm a sucker for Motown and most anything sung from that period. I see you there, Roy Orbison. Anyway, Phil sung that in the early eighties and it was at its biggest in January 1983. Collins was top of the charts the last time an all-New Zealand pair won a tournament and it was , rather fittingly, at Auckland. It was Chris Lewis/Russell Simpson [who lost in straight sets in the final] then.

Marcus Daniell and Artem Sitak overcame an in form pair in the doubles final, Inglot and Mergea, 3-6, 6-4, 16-14. They both won their second title here, with one of the previous ties coming at Auckland in 2010, though not together. 32 years is a long time. Really shows just how long it was between men's singles champions for the Brits. Over 80 years. A lifetime.

The women, of course, had the very talented Ann Haydon Jones and Virginia Wade. Jones recently celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary. A lefty, she rose to world number two, won three slams [including two at Wimbledon] and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985, before our world number two and two former world number ones were born. Wade got three quarters of the Grand Slam, the French eluding her, over the span of about ten years, winning Wimbledon in the twilight of her career. She made the Hall of Fame in 1989. That is before our world number three was born. But neither of them ever rose to number one like my Evonne did.

The big news the ATP is talking about, that doesn't involve going off on a tangent about '60s British female stars, is that Estrella Burgos is the oldest first time winner ever on the ATP at 34 years of age. I saw him at Queens last year. He looked good but not this good. He has shown desire and talent. And at the age of 34 that is no mean feat. The title reflects Burgos' career, too -- no matter how long you have to wait.

In lighter news, Sharapova has been caught smiling. She and Kuznetsova appear to get on well together.

Sharapova isn't playing because she wants to be in the Olympics next year, she is totally playing because she loves Russia. Kuznetsova is most definitely loyal and I am inclined to give Sharapova a pass here:

Also, guess who is back in Indian Wells? Todd will no doubt be talking about this plenty so I'll leave my special guest star Serena to talk you through it. No, really. Here she is: http://time.com/3694659/serena-williams-indian-wells/

Gasquet has compiled a 20-6 record at the Open Sud de France and has three titles here, as well as three consecutive finals since 2013, winning two. This tournament is a stone's throw from his home town and he has stated previously the reason he plays well here is due to the fact he lives so close.

And finally, have you ever wanted the tennis equivalent of a movie marathon? Well, you could watch the 2006-08 Wimbledon finals back to back to back. It features the greatest passing shot of all time bar none:

Well, let's see what happened this week.

S: Richard Gasquet/FRA d. Jerzy Janowicz/POL 3-0 ret.
D: Danniell/Sitak d. Inglot/Mergea

S: Victor Estrella Burgos/DOM d. Feliciano Lopez/ESP 6-2/6-7(5)/7-6(5)
D: Kretschmer/Satschko d. Estrella Burgos/Souza

S: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/ESP d. Andreas Seppi/ITA 7-6(4)/6-3
D: Draganja/Kontinen d. Martin/Raja

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Victor Estrella Burgos, DOM
...Sometimes stories are just too good not to tell. This guy is 34. He has broken so many Dominican Republic records and he has to be given kudos for that. My favorite Dominican Republic native is Big Papi, but even he doesn't quite have the amazing story Burgos does. Estrella could be the first seeded man from his country at a slam. He is lighting up the ATP tour with his Cinderella story, but unlike with other Cinderella stories, this one should be here to stay. Unlike the Royals. Burgos was seeded eighth, itself an achievement. He was playing with house money. He wins a couple matches, that's a success. The draw falls for him a little. That's fine, too. But the star from the unlikeliest of countries would not be denied his career defining moment. Well, so far anyway. If he wins a 500 or makes a big run at the French I would not be surprised. He beat Ghem 6-4, 6-4 and then Olivio 7-6, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals. If he was playing with house money before, it was nothing compared to the kind of free money he was playing with at this point. He sent Klizan packing with a decisive 6-2, 6-2 win. Next up was Bellucci and now he had something to lose, he had something that he didn’t want to miss. His maiden final was calling him. He answered the summons with a 7-6, 7-5 win over the Brazilian. Then he defeated the top seed in the final, which was surely a dream. He was up 4-1 in the third set, but got dragged back before finally winning 6-2, 6-7, 7-6. He kept his cool and he kept up the intensity throughout. It was an impressive display of nerves. In his career he has made $752,125. The average worker's salary in his home country is RD$12,441 (or about $278 U.S.) and that means the average worker has to work 60 months, or five years, to make that much. So Victor Estrella Burgos, we here at Backspin salute you.

RISER: Richard Gasquet, FRA
...Gasquet continues to hover solidly inside the top 25, though only just at 24, having been hurt by injuries and his inability to defend his semi-final points from the 2013 U.S. Open. He has fourth round points to defend in Miami [he lost to Federer and got just three games] but not much to defend in Indian Wells. He always plays well in France, including at the French Open, though he is yet to make the quarterfinals there.
This week he decided to win and he did so without dropping a set, though he did win via retirement in the final. No disgrace in that and it is nowhere near the record. I believe his compatriot Mauresmo benefited from three retirements at least on her way to the 2006 Australian Open title, including the semi-finals and final themselves. Gasquet started off by edging talented Pouille 6-3, 7-6 [6] in the second round after a bye. He was too good for Istomin and Monfils, beating them 6-3,6-4 and 6-4,6-3 respectively. When Gasquet gets going, watch out. After defeating his conqueror from the final last year in the semi-finals this year, he was three games into the final match of the tournament before his opponent, Jerzy Janowicz, said enough was enough. Gasquet remarked he could tell he was injured. Gasquet is hitting form again and looks to be at a good level of fitness, but a top sixteen ranking is imperative.
SURPRISE: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, ESP
...I think more people should be fans of GGL. He is quiet and unassuming but he plays a great game and he is quite nice to watch. He should get more credit. He recently eased his way into the Australian Open fourth round where he went down in four very tight sets to Wawrinka. He has seven finals on three different surfaces [Murray can't claim finals on clay] and he has won four of those seven finals. Being seeded inside the top four at a 250 guarantees the opportunity for success a lot of the time, especially after a slam. GGL was able to take this success. He spanked Dzumhur for the loss of just two games, but then struggled against Troicki. He still prevailed 6-1, 6-7, 7-5 but after that he seemed to gain a new lease on life. Bagman went down meekly 6-4, 6-4 in the semi but Seppi denied Granollers to present the Spaniard with what should have been his toughest test yet. The final went to a breaker where Seppi got 4-1 up. GGL won a 47-shot rally and then took five more points on the bounce. Once he had that first set he still had to battle his way through a lengthy second one, eventually winning 7-6, 6-3.
FRESH FACE: Horacio Zeballos, ARG
...I know what you're thinking -- this guy is one of only three people to ever beat Nadal in a clay final. The only lefty, only non slam winner, only man to not have been a world number one and only South American to have ever beaten Rafa in a clay court final. But since then, what has happened to him? When was the last time he actually won something? When was the last time he won a match? Unlike Rosol -- the pair are now inexorably linked for their exploits -- who has won in Bucharest and carved out a solid, if not stellar, career for himself, Zeballos has visibly struggled. Zeballos has not been seen playing well for some time. He beat talented American youngster Krajicek [distantly related to that Krajicek] in straight sets to get through to the next round before falling 8-6 in the third set breaker to Bellucci. It is an improvement and a move in the right direction -- upwards.
DOWN: Philipp Kohlschreiber, GER
...Outside of Germany, Kohl doesn't do much other than the odd run at a slam here and there, usually the French. He struggled past Mathieu, who choked, before losing tamely to Sousa in straight sets. The German is in a slump right now but still remains inside the top thirty. Kohl struggles to put together a run these days but is always dangerous. The German lost to Tomic in four sets in Australia, an acceptable loss but a loss nonetheless.
UPSET: Victor Estrella Burgos, DOM
...Fourth seeded Klizan was on strong form coming into the tournament and looked primed for a run in Quito. He is a handy clay courter, too, don't forget. The only guy in his section was some old guy with one ATP semi-final in his career. This guy was seeded eighth but he'd just lost in the first round of the Australian Open. It would be a pushover. It turned out to be so. Burgos beat Klizan 6-2, 6-2. No problems, no fuss.

*Five things I liked this week...*
1. Janowicz was ill all through this week and fought his way to the final. That shows grit that other young guns are missing.
2. Gasquet thanking the tournament for a good week in the region

3. Errani/Vincing getting hit off the court in the Fed Cup. Nothing like a good Fed Cupset.
4. Estrella won 21 futures and five challengers before finally getting his maiden ATP crown. That probably feels better than winning the Australian Open did for Serena.
5. The respect given and the way our community comes together when tragedy strikes. Violetta Degtiareva passed away recently and had been hailed as the new Anna Kournikova.

1. QUITO FINAL – Burgos d. Lopez 6-2, 6-7, 7-6
...A good week for Lopez was an even better one for the greatest Dominican tennis player ever to grace the ATP tour. Burgos won by keeping his cool in the fiery heat of South America. The veteran, if he can be called that, was on rare form in this final and he broke the big serving Spaniard multiple times.
2. ZAGREB QF - GGL d. TROICKI 6-2, 6-7, 7-5
...When players get banned for whatever reason they actually improve a bit. They essentially have a holiday which furthers their career. I think doping needs to be more heavily punished than just time away to get fitter and train more. Sure the ranking goes down, but these are good players. Is a ban really the answer?
3. ZAGREB 1st RD. - Baghdatis d. Karlovic 3-6, 7-6, 7-6
...Hey, he's still got it!

Muray [1] d. [3] Berdych
Wawrinka [4] d. [2] Raonic
Murray [1] d. [4] Wawrinka

Isner [3] d. [1] Nishikori
Anderson [2] d. Tomic
Isner [3] d. [2] Anderson

...Isner is in America. All else is irrelevant.

Lopez [1] d. [4] Mayer
Fognini [3] d. Almagro
Lopez [1] d. [3] Fognini

...I like Almagro to do well here, as he usually does, especially with an injured Robredo his only challenger. Fognini does well here, too. But Lopez is too consistent. Look at the control here, especially with the rackets they had back then: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZZMuXBr_Hk

Fognini has nice stroke work, but not patience. He needs to have the level of patience Vilas had.

Casey Dellacqua lost 6-7, 7-6, 10-6 in the doubles rubber of the Fed Cup with the tie already gone. Petkovic was the hero during the tie, going 12-10 and 8-6 in deciding sets. Dellacqua has not started the year strongly, but it is only February. The next tournament she may play is in Dubai.

Thanx all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Australian Open: Closing Ceremony

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

We're almost at a close. Melbourne is becoming to Djokovic what Paris is to Nadal, but Nadal might lose two sets in a tournament. Also, if you combine Djokovic's total slam haul with Murray's they just overtake Nadal's French Open total. Yeah -- that fact is scarier than Stephen King in a clown mask holding a big scary knife on the Kingda Ka, the tallest rollercoaster in the world.

Now the mixed doubles has been decided. It took Hingis and Paes an hour and 120 seconds to come through against third seeded Mladenovic/Nestor, the Wimbledon winners from 2013 and defending champions here. The Hingis team won 40% of receiving points and broke five times. 1998 was the last time we had back-to-back mixed doubles champions. Venus and Gimelstob won in Australia and France. Serena and Mirnyi [they were a fantastic partnership] took out the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles following that. That's part of the reason mixed doubles is sometimes seen as the complement to the big four, the same way Murray is with the big three but also kind of not.

Serena made four mixed finals in a row, from losing with Luis Lobo to Venus in the 1998 French Open through to the 1999 Australian Open.
Yep, I found a way to end the Australian on Luis Lobo.

=Suicide Pick=
Round 1: Venus Williams [D. Torro Flor]; Jerzy Janowicz [d. Moriya]
Round 2: Ka Plíšková [D. Dodin]; Lleyton Hewitt [d. Becker]
Round 3: Agnieszka Radwanska [D. Lepchenko]
Round 4: Eugenie Bouchard [D. Begu]
QF: Simona Halep [D. Makaraova]
Mixed Round 1: Hingis/Paes [D Jovanovic/Thompson]
Mixed Round 2: Dellacqua/Peers [D.Klepac/Guccione]
Mixed QF: Mirza/Soares [D. Dellacqua/Peers]
Mixed SF: Hsieh/Cuevas [D. Hingis/Paes]

And I am done at the semi-final stage. Expect this feature to return, accompanied by one or two new ones, bigger and better for the French Open.

...In the wake of one of the best Super Bowls ever, we can reflect back and think of the bad ones. I had several heart attacks and two minor strokes during that last quarter alone. My heart was palpitating. I couldn't believe that flukey catch. The Seahawks have a very lucky, flukey, gimmicky offense. It was the Giants all over again, all over again. I was not happy. And then that call. Oh, boy. And it's the same with tennis. Becker defeating Chang was a classic, though it is not always remembered. Laver had a couple of classic matches. Graf and Seles played a few, the Williams sisters, Federer, Hewitt, Sampras, Agassi, Rafa and Djokovic, too, have played in a classic in their time. My Evonne played in a few. She made eighteen singles finals and Serena has now nineteen slams. But she played nicer tennis. Nobody ever looked as graceful and talented as Cawley did in a 6-1, 6-0 loss. Anyway this final was not a classic, far from it. Both players looked sluggish, especially Djokovic who didn't grunt and moan as much as he normally does. Also he looks really uncomfortable when hitting that backhand slice. He normally does and it looked especially suspect in the final. It's effective but painful to watch. This was a slow final with no zip, no zing. Djokovic hit 50 winners and 43 errors whilst Murray could only go 41-49. The first two sets where the pair exchanged breakers lasted over two and a half hours. The next two combined were just 67. The mixed doubles was shorter than both of those first two sets. There were fourteen breaks in this match and it just lacked quality throughout. Let us all hope, for the sake of our sport, this match gets left in the history books and forgotten about. The French Open final will probably be a bit of a dud, but Wimbledon usually saves us. Let's just try not to think about what New York has in store for us yet. Instead of watching highlights of that, watch this instead:

And if you watched all that final I can only apologize and the above video highlights should help you recover. A truly underrated final awaits your viewing pleasure. Since winning in New York two and a half years ago, an age in tennis, Murray has beaten Novak just once. I think we all remember that match, though. Djokovic leads the head to 16-8 and it doesn't look as if the Scot is going to reduce the arrears.

* - Is Djokovic the new Azarenka? Multiple Australian Open championships, top ten in the Open era in terms of holding the world number one spot, no grand slam, back-to-back U.S. Open finals, great backhands, bad smashing and volleying abilities, a forehand that can be a complete liability, persistent injury worries, a fiery temper and being overshone by their more talented peers, both of which do have the Grand Slam, are all the things they have in common. All the Djoker needs is to have some kind of timeout related scandal in a late round of a slam, preferably at the Australian. Oh wait...

* - Todd pointed out that Murray could have won the same three slams as Becker and Sampras (Ed.Note: and Djokovic, too) did, though his achievements are nothing compared to that of theirs.

* - And speaking of Azarenka, Murray was grunting like a wounded cow. Perhaps that cow on ice Maria keeps talking about. Grunting is very off-putting, and especially the ridiculous noises Murray was making. It looks as if I am on a vendetta against him. That is not the case.

* - Navratilova calls grunting cheating plain and simple. She also once called Schiavone up on it. King, the queen of our sports, has said she disagrees with it. I blame Seles. Yep, I said it. This video is rather excellent. I know it's an older issue, but Murray sounded in pain.

Related to that note: I think Stacey Allaster is fantastic, I really do. She is an unsung hero. She's an all-star in my books.

* - If the Big Four played for ten years at their absolute peaks I think Murray wins no slams but makes a bunch of finals. I think Djokovic wins about 12 but none at the French and none at Wimbledon. "Fedal" will both take all the French and Wimbledon, respectively. I think the other two slams are split between the three and I don't know which way they would fall, though I think Nadal would struggle and I think Djokovic would win a lot of the Australian Open titles.

* - Last two times Djokovic won here he won no slams the rest of the year. Since completing his historic 2011, Nole has won just four slams. One slam a year? Seems more than that, right?

* - The ATP rankings are Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Murray and right now that is a very accurate top four. Watch out if Nadal slips at three or even slips to five. Everyone wants him seeded as high as possible.

And we are done. And I get five days of sleep-filled rest. Then I am back. I called Gasquet to beat Janowicz in the Open Sud de France. Karlovic will win Zagreb by beating another big server, Muller, in the final. I also like Lopez to beat Klizan in Ecuador. These are low key events, so my predictions are low key.

Thanks, Galileo.

WTA BACKSPIN is next door. See the big cool house with loads of stuff going on? That's WTA BACKSPIN. Todd's having a rest after a slam, which is the best rest ever. That's coming from me, who only has to look after the tiny cottage to the left of the house. So yes, go join him.

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Sunday, February 01, 2015

Australian Open Final: Score One for the Numbers Guy

Novak Djokovic is a sneaky Serb.

Even as he's been relegated to playing in the same era as two ultra-famous players who have simultaneously vied for all sorts of ATP all-time records and "best ever" pronouncements, Djokovic has managed to carve out a career for himself that will ultimately put him in the same conversation as Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal when the "greatest players ever" are discussed. He'll just be the guy mentioned by the numbers-loving stats-geek type who speaks with the certainty of a mathmatician, who may or may not have ever actually seen the Serb play but will look back on his career accomplishments a generation or two from now and point out that he pulled off some amazing things WHILE PLAYING IN THE ROGER/RAFA ERA.

"So, imagine what he would have done if one, or both, of those guys hadn't been around," the Numbers Guy will surely say. "HE would be the one everyone was talking about as maybe the best ever. HE would be the all-time slam title leader. HE would be the King, not just a Serbian Prince forever fated to live in the shadow cast by the brightness of the other two."

Everyone involved in that future conversation will listen to the Numbers Guy, and agree with it all, and a few who actually might have watched Djokovic play will note how he evolved into a stone-cold competitor who was maybe the best big point player on tour for the majority of his career. But they'll still rank him behind Federer and Nadal when they have a secret vote to determine the "best" player. Djokovic will get a list-topping vote or two in that tally, though... even if they're only cast by a few spare voters who tend to side with the iconoclasts of history, often overlooked and underated by mainstream opinion simply because they didn't adhere to "the party line." They'll feel good about their vote, content with the fact that they at least gave Djokovic his due. Well, a little bit of his due, at least. The Numbers Guy won't won't stop stating his case, either. He'll speak up at the next meeting, too. Even if, deep inside, he knows it will always be, ultimately, an argument made in vain.

(We could all do worse than to have a Numbers Guy on our side, I say.)

It wouldn't be a bad legacy to have. Eventually. But, in 2015, Djokovic's career is still about making that Number Guy's future case. Today in the Australian Open men's final, the Serb gave him another talking point.

Seeking a record fifth AO title in the Open era, Djokovic faced off with an even more "off-brand" opponent in the "Big (whatever number you wish)" argument of the day, Andy Murray. The Scot, all the way back now from back surgery in '14, was making his appearance in his fourth final in Melbourne and was still seeking his first title. Having reached his first slam final since picking up Amelie Mauresmo as his coach, though, Murray was in position to make a statement. Not just about the it-shouldn't-be-an-anomaly fact that he has a female coach, but to raise his OWN legacy a bit by picking up a title in his third different slam, having already won at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open (and won Olympic singles Gold in '12).

The many Djokovic/Murray match-ups have never been aesthetic pleasures of contrasting styles. Their six previous slam meetings, four of them in finals, had mostly all highlighted the same thing -- that there's a lot of "same" doing on there, with both being masterful defenders who play long rallies filled with remarkable gets in exchanges that cause the two men to remind you of world level table tennis champions facing off, showing incredible accuracy on a court that, because of their ability to cover its entire expanse, looks a bit the size of a postage stamp. Thing is, Djokovic has almost always been better at all the similar things that he and Murray do. It's why he entered the final with a 15-8 head-to-head edge over the Scot, including going 4-2 in slams.

Essentially, the key when Djokovic and Murray clash is what goes on between the ears and inside the chest. Murray often carves out advantages for himself, but usually doesn't make full use of them... and never lets himself forget it. Even as he's learned to win major titles, he is almost always a game away from believing he's closer to losing than winning. Meanwhile, Djokovic has made a career out of taking advantage of even the smallest edges given him, usually leading to huge comebacks or keys moments when he's reached deep inside to held off an opponent's tide of momentum just long enough to turn it back in his favor. You get the feeling that he never believes that losing a match is a foregone conclusion... not when winning just one more big point might make all the difference. Unlike Murray, frustration never gets the best of Djokovic.

In this final, it was more of the same. The rallies were long, and Murray had his chances as he found himself with an advantage in multiple games and sets. But as those advantages were only partially utitilized or quickly given back, his frustration grew, and Djokovic seized the moment to rise in Melbourne yet again.

In the opening set, Murray grabbed a 40/love lead on Djokovic's serve, only to see the Serb save a break point with a slice volley to the corner and a volley put away of a Murray forehand up the line to end a 27-shot rally. A Murray return error followed, then a Djokovic ace up the "T." Djokovic's backhand volley winner held serve for 2-1. He then extended the momentum into the next game, leaning in anticipation of Murray's serve and then whacking a crosscourt forehand return winner to break for 3-1. Murray broke back a game later, finally converting his first of six BP chances, but then gave it right back on his own service game when Djokovic broke for 5-3 despite throwing in a few errors and often pausing to shake out his right hand after injuring his thumb while falling on his racket when he extended his reach for a ball in the mid-court.

The set went to a tie-break, and Murray once again got an early edge as Djokovic double-faulted on the first point. But the Scot handed the advantage back six points later by double-faulting himself to bring the TB back on serve at 4-3. Djokovic's great defense and Murray's long volley gave the Serb his first lead at 6-5, then a Murray backhand return error gave Djokovic the tie-break at 7-5.

The 2nd set saw Djokovic stumbling and shaking out his leg as Murray went up 2-0. But with Djokovic looking to end points quickly, he regained his balance and got the break back, then went up by breaking Murray again for 3-2, reeling off a total of thirteen consecutive points. The string finally ended with the Serb up 4-2, as Murray held serve. After a wait while several fans jumped onto the court and a protest group was ejected from the stands, Murray came out and broke Djokovic's serve to take a 5-4 lead. Despite going up 40/love on serve a game later, Djokovic was forced to save a set point in game #10, a four-deuce affair in which he held on his sixth game point after using his defense to extend and then win a long rally to even things at 5-5. Murray saved three break points a game later, and again the two went to a tie-break.

There, finally, Murray didn't give back his lead. He went up a mini-break early at 2-0, then raced to a 6-2 advantage. He nearly squandered it, but eventually put away the set on his third set point in the TB (and fourth of the 2nd set) to win 7-4 and knot the match at one set all.

The final two sets highlighted the major difference between Djokovic and Murray. Both long ago erased early questions about their fitness in long matches, so it now comes down to the mental side of the game when they meet. Djokovic's nerves of steel can now convince himself that no disadvantage is deadly, so no deficit can't soon become a lead. No game's momentum turning against him can't be soon used as a psychological lethal weapon against an opponent. It didn't take long for Murray to take the brunt of all that as the Serb turned the Scot's 2nd set victory, which should have sent him into the 3rd on an emotional high, into the very weapon that allowed Djokovic to ran away with the title.

After having knotted the match by winning the hard-fought 2nd set, Murray went up an early break in the 3rd. The Scot led 2-0, but saw the Serb break back and the set tied up at 2-2. In game #7, Murray held a break point on Djokovic's serve, but failed to convert. Djokovic held for a 4-3 lead, and that was enough to push Murray's frustration over his missed opportunities over the edge. Djokovic never lost another game.

Murray's double-fault handed a break and a 5-3 lead to Djokovic, who held for 6-3 and then broke to take a 1-0 lead in the 4th. From there, his game took full flight as Murray's sank. You needn't see the scoreboard to know who was winning, or losing. It was written all over the gaits -- confident, or quite the opposite -- of the two men as they walked across the court. Djokovic coasted down the runway in the end, making a soft and triumphant landing when he served out a love set, winning on his second match point when he followed up his wide serve with a short ball get that Murray netted to end the match. Djokovic claimed his Open era record fifth Australian Open crown with a 7-6(5)/6-7(4)/6-3/6-0 victory, winning the final nine games and twelve of the last thirteen.

The win moves the #1-ranked Serb into some pretty high-rent territory when it comes to ATP history. Aside from the record "one for the thumb" AO win (hey, a little Super Bowl reference on Super Sunday -- why not?), Djokovic is tied with the likes of Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl and Ken Rosewall with eight career slam titles, is 32-1 in his last thirty-three matches in Melbourne and his fifty career AO wins put him third in the Open era, behind only Roger Federer (75) and Stefan Edberg (56), with Novak being just one more title-run Down Under from passing by, oddly enough, Federer's current coach on that list.

A bit more food for thought:

With wins at seven of seventeen slams played since 2011, it's hard to avoid thinking that Djokovic has the chance to make the "Big 3" from the current era also the Top 3 when it comes to career slam titles. Nadal will likely win at least one more Roland Garros crown, moving him into sole possession of second place behind Federer on the all-time list. Six major titles out in front, Pete Sampras' fourteen slams is still a ways ahead of Djokovic's eight, but if he wins two more by the time the 2016 Australian Open has concluded he'll be in double-digits, and that "14" number won't loom so large. Since he's been running on a 1-win-in-4-slams pace for a few seasons now, winning two seems at least a semi-decent bet. While the "Big 4" of men's tennis will now re-assume the Top 4 rankings (w/ Murray moving up) for the first time in eighty-eight weeks, soon, Djokovic will be the last legitimate line of defense by the "old guard" -- aside from Rafa in Paris, since he could probably ONLY play clay court events down the line and still contend there -- against the NextGen of champions rising through the ATP ranks. His slam-winning pace might actually pick up a tad as he remains standing the tallest from the group of four men who have now won thirty-seven of the last forty slams, and thirty-nine of forty-three.

He still has some work to do on his legacy, mind you. Finally wresting away one Roland Garros title from Nadal's grasp would complete a Career Grand Slam, and that combined with next year's Olympic tournament in Rio -- where he'll likely be the favorite, in what might be his last best shot at Gold -- would give him the chance to join even more rarified air by achieving the "Career Six Pack" in singles by having won all the major singles titles available in the sport: the four slams, the year-end championships and Olympic Gold. Only Agassi, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams have accomplished the feat in professional tennis history. Not even Federer (he's won doubles Gold, but not singles) or Rafa (no year-end tourney title) lists that on his resume of accomplishments.

After Federer's career fades to black, and maybe Rafa's, too, as he loosens his grip on Paris, and Djokovic becomes his generation's last sentry, just where will the memory of his career leave him in the pecking order of the greats? Based on the popularity of the aforementioned two, his ceiling has probably already been set in the eyes of the public. But he still has time -- more than either Roger or Nadal -- at the top of his form (that period is already in the past for other two) to at least make the numbers very, very close.

For sure, the Numbers Guy will still need a bit more.

But, hey, if Djokovic ends up going down as the the most "underrated and underappreciated" 12-time (or more) grand slam champion with between 200-300 weeks at #1, then I suppose he can live with that.

But I'm just guessing there. I figure, in his mind, he's already won the lottery.

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB def. #6 Andy Murray/GBR 7-6(5)/6-7(4)/6-3/6-0

#1 Serena Williams/USA def. #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS 6-3/7-6(5)

Bolelli/Fognini (ITA/ITA) def. Herbert/Mahut (FRA/FRA) 6-4/6-4

Mattek-Sands/Safarova (USA/CZE) def. #14 YJ.Chan/J.Zheng (TPE/CHN) 6-4/7-6(5)

#7 Hingis/Paes (SUI/IND) def. #3 Mladenovic/Nestor (FRA/CAN) 6-4/6-3

#1 Roman Safiullin/RUS def. #7 Seong-chan Hong/KOR 7-5/7-6(2)

Tereza Mihalikova/SVK def. #14 Katie Swan/GBR 6-1/6-4

Delaney/Polmans (AUS/AUS) def. #8 Hurkacz/Molcan (POL/SVK) 0-6/6-2 [10-8]

#2 Kolodziejova/Vondrousova (CZE/CZE) def. Hobnarski/Minnen (GER/BEL) 7-5/6-4

#1 Shingo Kunieda/JPN def. #2 Stephane Houdet/FRA 6-2/6-2

Jiske Griffioen/NED def. #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN 6-3/7-5

#1 Shingo Kunieda/Stephane Houdet (JPN/FRA) def. Gordon Reid/Gustavo Fernandez (GBR/ARG) 6-2/6-1

#1 Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley (JPN/GBR) def. #2 Jiske Griffioen/Aniek Van Koot (NED/NED) 4-6/6-4/7-5

4...Andre Agassi
4...Roger Federer
3...Mats Wilander

2011 Australian - Novak Djokovic 6-4,6-2,6-3
2012 U.S. Open - Andy Murray 7-6,7-5,2-6,3-6,6-2
2013 Australian - Novak Djokovic 6-7,7-6,6-3,6-2
2013 Wimbledon - Andy Murray 6-4,7-5,6-4
2015 Australian - Novak Djokovic 7-6(5)/6-7(4)/6-3/6-0

25...Roger Federer, SUI (17-8)
20...Rafael Nadal, ESP (14-6)
8...ANDY MURRAY, GBR (2-6)
4...Lleyton Hewitt, AUS (2-2)

25 Roger Federer (17-8)
20 Rafael Nadal (14-6)
19 Ivan Lendl (8-11)
18 Pete Sampras (14-4)
17 Rod Laver (11-6)
16 Bjorn Borg (11-5)
16 Ken Rosewall (8-8)

8 - Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal
7 - Rafael Nadal/Novak Djokovic
5 - Andre Agassi/Pete Sampras
5 - Ivan Lendl/Mats Wilander
4 - Bjorn Borg/Jimmy Connors
4 - Bjorn Borg/John McEnroe
4 - Roger Federer/Andy Roddick

**ACTIVE SLAM TITLES LEADERS - singles/doubles/mixed**
23 - Bob Bryan
19 - Mike Bryan
17 - Roger Federer
14 - Rafael Nadal
12 - Mahesh Bhupathi
12 - Daniel Nestor
10 - Max Mirnyi
8 - Nenad Zimonjic

All for now.

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