Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Wk.38- Teenager Snaps Stan’s Streak

Hey, all. Galileo here.

For eleven finals in a row, Wawrinka went undefeated. He beat Fedalovic, Berdych, Baghdatis and Cilic to name but a few. Each of the grand slams was won in four sets, but the rest he won in straights, for the most part. It has been an incredible run and one which no doubt seals his Hall of Fame place. But it was snapped by a little boy.

Alexander Zverev, the ATP’s first teenage titlist since Cilic in 2008, won at the third attempt. He had lost twice this year in three-setters to Thiem and Mayer. It is a maiden title for the German with the sparkling backhand. Along with Kyrgios and Fritz, this youngster is building the future of tennis. No player in the next generation has Kyrgios’ weapons, but then again none of them possess his flaws, either.

What we have seen this year is the emergence of the next generation, in a way that hasn’t been seen since Roddick and Ferrero began to rise fourteen years ago. That was the last ‘new generation.’ So smothered has been the talents of Gonzalez, Nalbandian, Ferrer and Roddick, too, that we have had precious few emergences.

Federer won Wimbledon in 2003 and then exploded in 2004. And then Rafa came followed by Novak and Andy. But now those four are looking beatable, looking frailer than they have in a great while. In fact, this BACKSPINNER doubts we’ll have another year where the slam finals are all contested by that quartet. No, the veneer is beginning to crack, to break.

Nishikori still has time, but that window, too, is shutting. Berdych is 31. Del Potro is playing the role of wild card, but that seems to be about it. Goffin is hanging around and so is Thiem. The Austrian has had another fantastic year. This is starting to feel like that period between 2007 and 2009 when the Williams had less power than they do now. There is going to be chaos on the ATP and it should be quite refreshing

But on with the show. There aren’t many weeks left of the ATP in 2016.

Top 32 - Klizan falling two places sees Ramos-Vinolos and Troicki both rise a place. Between 28th ranked Querrey and 32nd placed Troicki there are just 105 points.
Top 10 – Little change. Thiem, in particular, but also Cilic are edging closer to Berdych at 9.
Top 8 – Little change. With Federer likely due to fall, Monfils can move from eight to seven. His highest ranking is beckoning. Raonic and Nishikori are not just holding firm, they are inching toward Rafa.
Top 4 – The gap between Murray and Djokovic has widened while Wawrinka sits by himself, a little Swiss island. 3000 behind Murray but 1500 ahead of a declining Nadal.

S: Alexander Zverev def. Stan Wawrinka 6-2/3-6/7-5
D: Inglot/Kontinen d. Begemann/Paes

S: Lucas Pouille def. Dominic Thiem 7-6(5)/6-2
D: Peralta/Zeballos d. Pavic/Venus

...This is it. This title will kick-start the German revolution on tour. With Haas all but done, that German guy who took two sets off Rafa at Wimbledon and Kohlschreiber fading, this guy is the future of a tennis nation that badly needs one. Kiefer and Haas could not quite carry on the good work done by Becker and Stich. Schuettler proved to be too mercurial a talent. And Germany’s wait went on. But now with the established order crumbling and Kerber providing inspiration could Zverev drag Germany back into relevance? He is the next in a line of talented Germans with fearsome backhands. He can hit that shot so fluidly, so smoothly as to make it look almost as it water flows from his hands. It works well down the line, of course, but cross court it has a lethal bite to it. Otherwise steady, he is nobody’s idea of a power hitter. Comparisons to Nalbandian may be more apt. He has the weapons and he has a decent tennis IQ. In a world of monotone baseline hitters his variety should give him an advantage. Wild-carded Khachanov, Russia's great hope, hung tight, but Zverev eventually saw him off 7-6[3], 6-4. Zverev then knocked out another Russian, Medvedev, but this one was a qualifier. The German won 6-3, 7-5. Going up against his third Russian, Youzhny, who had upset the second seed, he turned it on and blew away the vet 6-2, 6-2. Berdych was another one put to the sword as he lost 6-4, 6-4. It took Wawrinka to take a set off the German and he still won the whole thing. This boy is special, this boy is one to keep watching.
...He stuffed his schedule full. He did not need to do that. Most probably he crammed thinking he would not win so many matches. But he should be thinking about the bigger picture, not just smaller tournaments. There will be another slam semi-final next year or the year after. There is going to be a slam even. So why rush it? He has refused to adjust his schedule even though he should have. He saw off tricky German Gojowczyk and Muller in straight sets, though both matches were tight. And he edged Simon though the Frenchman should have seen off the Austrian in two sets. It didn’t matter that he lost the final in the end. This final run should reaffirm people's faith in him. And he should now go rearrange his schedule.

...All year the Frenchie has been a nice change of pace. The physical strength and unpredictability are just further evidence of his Frenchness. He has made two slam quarters and looked the part of a contender, albeit a contender to make a semi, not win it all, while making players like Kyrgios look a bit useless. His victory over Nadal was one that should be long remembered. He was more than an underdog in that one, he was expected to lay down and let Rafa have his procession. But instead he took the fight to the Spaniard and won it, too. He escaped Herbert and Bennyman in three sets in the first two rounds in Moselle. But in the last two rounds he overwhelmed Goffin 7-6[6], 6-1 and dismissed Thiem 7-6[5], 6-2. It’s another great week from the young Frenchman.
...This guy turned 31 this month. And he is still in the top ten. It has been some six years of top-tennery from the powerful Czech. He has fit into a niche, in a way not dissimilar to the way Dementieva did. He has slotted into that top ten role as a player who could never trouble the big guys but who himself was always around, always contending. And another semi-final appearance here. This year he has gone 1-2 in slam quarterfinal appearances, a fairly solid mark. He just keeps putting himself in the right places, keeps himself in that top ten. This week he edged Kuznetsov 6-3, 2-6, 7-6[4]. He dismissed Lorenzi 6-4, 6-3. And the 6-4, 6-4 loss to Zverev may not have been his best but it was still a decent loss. It could have been worse. Can the Czech improve upon his very Berdych-like 12-17 mark in semi-finals?
...The seedings held firm in the singles this week, so how about some doubles? The South American pair saw off the 4th and 2nd seeds back to back in three sets before knocking out the third seeds in straights. The other match they should have played ended in a retirement. Still, knocking out 75 per cent of the seeds in any tournament is fantastic.

...It doesn’t matter that Youzhny is the player who has won the most in St. Petersburg. Up 5-2 in a breaker with that serve, you stamp on your opponent's throat. If I were the Canuck, with the loss of form and the injuries to contend with, I would withdraw from all tournaments except the Masters and one 500 level. That should be enough to see the Canuck into London. And at the WTF he can show his best off. But here he was disappointing especially considering his high seeding and the low field. Next year he will be back to his best from we can only hope. The ATP has to change the length of its season.
...Sure Paire has a tendency to explode. But to lose to a qualifier in straight sets? Millot beat Martin 6-4, 6-2. He beat Berrer 6-4, 6-2. And then he beat Paire 6-4, 6-3. Just for a change he lost that extra game. Sure, he went down in three in the next round, but his defeat of Paire was impressive. Though the complete inability of his compatriot to avoid the upset contributed.

Notes from the week...
1 – Happy 35th birthday to Serena Williams.
2 – The race for London heats up. At eighth in the race, can Nadal hold off Berdman? Will there be a shock entry?
3 – In the doubles, Kontinen/Peers are still clinging onto the eighth seed. Rojer/Tecau in 9th are just 30 points behind.
4 – Next week we have two 500 hundreds and then the second to last Masters. Our season is drawing to a close.
5 – Further on London - only our three slam winners this year have been guaranteed a place in London so far.

1. St.Petersburg Final - Zverev d. Wawrinka 6-2, 3-6, 7-5
...Up 3-0 in the third, Wawrinka should have had this one. And the Swiss had slowly been turning it on, playing points like this:

But sometimes the brashness of youth comes out in mysterious ways. Zverev held his ground and when he broke at 5-5 in the third he calmly served out to see off the three time grand slam champ.
2. Moselle SF - Thiem d. Simon 4-6, 7-5, 6-3
...Exciting flare took on steady defence. Nothing like a clash of styles, and in this affair it would be Thiem who came out the winner. Check out this point:

Simon served for it at 5-4 in the second. But he faltered and the match gradually fell away for the Frenchman.
3. St Petersburg R2 - Youzhny d. Raonic 2-6, 7-6[6], 6-4
...Down 5-2 in the breaker, the aging Russian somehow came back to take out one of the bigger upsets we’ve had this year.

4. Moselle Final - Pouille d. Thiem 7-6[5], 6-2
...When you open with this you must be thinking to yourself, "this is going to be a great match."

And indeed it would prove to be for a set. But Pouille showed he is here to stay and is the future of French tennis with a tight victory in the final.

Thiem [1] d. [3] Dimitrov
Kyrgios [2] d. [7] Sousa
Kyrgios [2] d. [1] Thiem

...It’s a new event and Thiem must be feeling tired. Not the strongest field, the talent is still deep. But look for the explosiveness of Kyrgios to prove the difference. Lopez is also here, but the Aussie should be able to capitalise in a weaker field.

Berdych [1] d. [5] Zverev
Goffin [2] d. [3] Gasquet
Goffin [2] d. [1] Berdych

...Zverev will continue his form but find Berdych too much. Gasquet just winning a match would be achievement enough. Goffin will see off two rusty opponents on his way to the title. Berdych’s age and health are starting to come into question. Expect the hard-working Belgian to take it out.

Mladenovic was seeded fourth but lost to Sorribes-Tormo of Spain 1-6, 6-2, 6-4. She is in Wuhan in both disciplines. She opens against Vandeweghe, with the winner earning a shot at the current world number one. She is top seeded in the doubles with Garcia. Due to the bye their opponents are yet to be determined. Chan and Chan are the second seeds, with Mirza/Strycova and Hingis/CoCo taking 3 and 4.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Wk.37- One Man Band

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Ramos-Vinolos is clinging onto his ranking of 32. Ahead of him are Querrey, Kohlschreiber and Klizan. They are all within 60 points of one another. Not much change around the top ten. Thiem at ten is ahead of Cilic and Tsonga. With so few points to defend it is Kyrgios, ranked 15, who could make a move up the ladder.

The average age of the top four is 30. It just shows how the current era is trending more, on both sides of the tour, towards veteran dominance. Thiem, Raonic and Nishikori are the only three players under 30 in the top ten. Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka and Nadal are your top four. But expect Nadal to be overtaken by one or both of Nishikori and Raonic. Both are less than 200 behind him.

Now we can go into a more in-depth look at what happened in the Davis Cup semifinals...

*WEEK 37*
Argentaina def. Great Britain 3-2 [at Glasgow, Scotland]
Croatia def. France 3-2 [at Zadar, Croatia]

...Well, this does not happen very often. This tie was lost in the very first rubber when Murray lost in five hours to Del Potro. All of the Brit’s success depends on Murray winning his two rubbers and then teaming up with his brother to hang on and win the doubles. But if one can upset Murray, the most fallible of the big four, you crack the strategy. Ditto the doubles. And Del Potro defied the heavily partisan crowd on indoor hard to take the Argies through.

Despite hitting 35 aces Murray went down 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 [5], 6-3, 6-4 in the longest match of either man’s career. The rallies were long and arduous, the determination and will to win was plainly visible in their body language and the anger with which they hit the ball. The rallies invariably consisted of Murray going to the Delpo backhand until he mistakenly hit to the forehand. When he did that the point was over. The umpire had some bad calls and the crowd didn’t help - they cheered on set point when they thought a Delpo shot had crept long. But it was in and it threw the Argentine off.

And team Argentina doubled their lead later that day as Pella used his lefty serve and general trickiness to undo Evans. He won going away 6-7[5], 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. Going into the doubles the defending champions were on the ropes.

But the Murrays once again showed their class. Jamie Murray is one of the best volleyers in the world. Combine that with the familiarity of his partner and you have a great combination. Though they were tested, the Murrays came through 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. The Argentines pushed hard, but Delpo was exhausted. Emotionally drained from the Glaswegian crowd, the away team nevertheless pushed the favourites hard. Pell’s lefty serve barely troubled Murray. He played at a high level but backed by his home fans the Scot was not in the mood for trouble. He dismissed the player ranked forty places below him pretty quickly, winning 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. But it was far from easy. His opponent hung around and made things hard before Murray moved up a gear. Five breaks for the world number two and the fourth rubber.

It was not to be, however. Delpo was too exhausted to play, but swapped out for Mayer. You thought he was out of form? So did I. Well, he came back from a set down to record a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory and send the Brits home. In the end, Evans had not enough. And Delpo’s first victory proved the difference.

...The favourites, the nation with the most blown chances to win this Cup, choked once again. Individually the French are no strangers to mental collapse, shock upsets and somehow it translates into the Davis. It is a team competition and that means a team effort. But the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Mahut and Herbert.

Gasquet, who cannot seem to play more than three matches in a row without injury, pulled out a superb performance to see off Coric 6-2, 7-6[5], 6-1. He showed the vestiges of the top ten player that he still is. The backhand clicked and he kept his younger opponent frustrated all day long. He did his job, hitting just 13 errors on the day.

Cilic at home was always going to have a blinder. He was too good for Pouille, too consistent and too focused, in his 6-1, 7-6[4], 2-6, 6-2 victory. Up 6-5 and 40/0 in the second set he faltered, but it would not be a fatal slip. It gave his opponent a little momentum which saw the contest extended to four sets. Cilic kept breaking the Frenchman’s serve and soon saw off the future of French tennis.

Abysmal. The world’s best doubles pair and defending champions at Wimbledon, where the only five set doubles competition takes place, collapsed dramatically to a four set loss. They couldn’t even make it go five. Cilic and Dodig came through 7-6[5], 5-7, 7-6[6], 6-3. And despite the exertion Cilic went out the next day and dismissed Gasquet. But this doubles match was supposed to be Frances ace in the hole. But as soon as Mahut and Herbert choked it was all over.

Cilic routinely saw off Gasquet 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. Injuries came back to haunt France, sure, but the doubles rubber should never have been lost. So after back to back chokes from their opponents the Croats are in the finals. And with it being at home they have to be the favourites. Can Del Potro use his magic to get Argentina victory? The whole clash hinges on Del Potro facing off against Cilic.

In the other tier of the Davis Cup, Switzerland needed Antoine Bellier to secure a 3-2 victory to move into the World Group. Goffin kicked off Belgium’s battle with Brazil by beating Monteiro 6-2, 6-2, 6-0. It set the tone for a 4-0 victory. There really was no point playing the 5th rubber. Kyrgios and Tomic won in straight sets, before Groth and Peers clinched the tie against Slovakia by winning in four sets. Kyrgios and Tomic got on noticeably well and nobody misbehaved.

Jarry and Garin are Chile’s upcoming talent and they both lost in four but showed promise. Keep an eye on those names. Shapovalov played a dead rubber for Canada in their 5-0 route. Russia saw off Kazakhstan 3-1 in a mild upset. Kuznetsov continued his marvelous year. Spain rode Ferrer, Nadal, Lopez and Lopez to a thrash against India.

Germany edged Poland 3-2 while Japan, without Nishikori, saw off hapless Ukraine 5-0. Well, Kei did play the doubles.

In Moselle, defending champion Tsonga withdrew with a knee injury. He leaves behind a field headlined by Thiem. The top seed will defeat seventh seed Paire and then see off number two seed Goffin. Pouille may be on form, but losing the tie like that could have an effect on him.

Big event in St. Petersburg. Well it is for Wawrinka, anyway. We shall see how he goes from such a big title and three-fourths of his Career Slam dream. But this BACKSPINNER believes he will defeat 4th seeded Bautista Agut in one semi-final. In the other Raonic, seeded second, will beat third seeded Berdych. But Wawrinka will be victorious here.

Remember Kumkhum? She beat Kvitova in Melbourne a few years back. Well, she has qualified for the Korean Open and faces fourth seed Mladenovic in the opening round. Kiki has refused to do the doubles, as Garcia is not present.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

U.S. Open Late-Rounds: Stan the Man Stands Tall

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Well, here we go again. Stan Wawrinka is a slam away from being a greater player than Murray, Lendl, Sampras, Goolagong, Nastase, Borg and a host of others.

It’s ridiculous, sure, but the slams trump all. Despite Murray’s ten major finals, Wawrinka has the same amount from three and is a step closer to the Career Slam. Only four men have done that, and only five women have done it. Goolagong is the next closest.

Wawrinka made the kind of run that will be talked about, and dismissed Djokovic to boot. He saw off Del Potro, one of the form players in the world.

Murray’s mental frailties looked to be a thing of the past. Well, until they weren’t. Here is the moment Murray’s brain melted:

It’s just so Murray to make three slam finals and be really good in the one he lost and mediocre in the other two. That Australian Open final was utterly forgettable. And in SW19, he did enough to get the win without ever looking like a world beater. This BACKSPINNER admits that Murray had the potential to be a number one and even the consistency. On the WTA, with his good backhand and fiery temper, he would have been a solid number one. But he was always a notch behind the stars, the Colin Firth to Hugh Grant, the Gerard Butler to their Julia Roberts. Honestly, would any of the other three have missed a beat because of a sound? No, they would have gone out and broken Kei’s serve.

But in the end, in the most dramatic of fashions, and despite Murray winning the first set 6-1, it was the Scot for whom the bell would toll.

In the top semi-final, Novak Djokovic faced off against Gael Monfils and overcame questionable tactics from the Frenchman. Monfils, in true mystifying style, decided to sit there and block everything back. Chip after chip off the Monfils racket. He did take the third set, but Nole was in control for most of his 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory. Djokovic broke eight times as Monfils hit 52 errors. It was a car crash performance from the enigmatic Frenchman. It means another forgettable slam semi-final, too.

Wawrinka won going away as Kei Nishikori faded badly in a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 loss to the Swiss. His first truly positive major result in 24 months ended at the hands of the eventual champion. That’s a solid enough performance and he does have time to win a major, though his window is not as wide as it was. The key stat? He won 37 per cent of second serve points, just a notch above a third. His going 27-47 on the errors count certainly didn’t help matters. Kei looked a broken man after Wawrinka took the second. You could feel that the Swiss was over the hump. Wawrinka has shown this whole tournament he can close out matches. He so rarely allows his opponents back in. Sure, Marchenko broke him serving for it but the Swiss put together some sublime serving days.

In doubles, Herbert/Mahut were denied in the semi-finals by J.Murray/Soares. The Frenchies remain top ranked and will head into the fall swing and tour finals as favourites. Siegemund and Pavic took out the mixed and a big paycheck. They faced no seeds and dropped no sets. So, a successful tournament.

In the juniors, Félix Auger-Aliassime made a second slam final this year. After losing the French he took this one, though losing in the doubles final will slightly taint an excellent week. He and compatriot Sigouin lost to a South American pair.

Argentina at Great Britain
France at Croatia

...As for the Davis Cup semifinals, honestly, on clay this might be tight. But while Argentina are really good at punching above their weight this will be too much for them. Del Potro should pick up a win. In fact, Britain will win the doubles and Andy Murray’s matches. And that will be enough. Of course it depends how tired Murray is, but Jamie Murray has just won a slam. And they will be buoyed by that. Scotland will triumph again and by a score of 3-2.

In the other pre-tournament favourites for the Davis, well, here in BACKSPIN town anyway, France go to indoor hard courts in Zadar, Croatia. Herbert/Mahut will win one and, between Gasquet and Pouille, France can find two more somewhere. The depth of the French is mindboggling. No Tsonga or Monfils? Well how about a three time major semi-finalist and a guy who has been to back to back slam quarters this year? France go through 3-2. And they should win the final because they’ll beat Scotland in the doubles.

And now that that’s all clear, it’s time for the U.S. Open final.

...This was not a Federer-esque romp or a display of how to dominate the field. This was no cruise in the sun or a walk in the park. Wawrinka had to grind and work for this one. He lost six sets but did sweep through the penultimate three rounds, against premier opposition, and only lost three sets. And when was the last time Nole won the first set of a match but went on to lose? The way he took Delpo apart at the bottom end of a charged up night match and man-handled Nishikori was his way of sending out a message. And then coming back to beat Djokovic in a slam final. It was an extraordinary run, the likes of which should not be forgotten. And he is still stuck at number three. But here’s the thing - Wawrinka could take the number one ranking. He has so few points to defend through lots of next year. He needs to find consistency, but he is capable. His ground game is so hard to deal with, partially because it is so hard to predict. Nine aces and 46-51 on the winners. Wawrinka hit 15 on one side and 14 on the other. But Djokovic did not show up. After all those retirements he looked a tad out of it and struggled to really find his feet. He hit 46 errors, which is an anomaly. But beyond that he never looked like winning once Vavsy took out the third set. And he didn’t.

Now, finally a question for the boss. Where does Wawrinka stand in that greatest conversation? I think that he is a great example for journeymen. There is still time to rise up and win a major or three. No matter.

Ed.Response: Well, just ranking him in the conversation of his generation, he's still fifth-best, I think, though he'll always have his supporters because of his likability and big-match prowess. While his undefeated record in slam finals is impressive, Murray's longer period of great results -- plus two Olympic singles Golds -- keeps him ahead in that standings. That said, he's a sure-fire Hall of Famer now. And it's hard to believe anyone could have said that two years ago. His Olympic doubles Gold is a nice feather in his cap, too. Now, if he were to get a Career Slam, though, that'd make for a REALLY interesting debate between Murray & Wawrinka behind the real Big 3 of the generation, and probably spark some additional, half-hearted arguments vs. Djokovic if HE never wins Roland Garros.

Wawrinka's accomplishments remind me a bit of Hana Mandlikova. Her entire career took place in the Navratilova/Evert era, but she still managed to slip through and win four slam titles and get three-quarters (AO, RG & US) of the way to a Career Slam. In 1985, she even defeated both Martina and Chris en route to the title. Unlike Wawrinka, though, she appeared in two additional U.S. Open finals, as well as two at the only major she didn't win -- Wimbledon. Much like Murray, the presence of Navratilova and Evert prevented a much larger haul, as she was 2-4 against those two in slams finals, but 2-0 against anyone else. - tds

We will not see Kiki this week, but the Asian fall swing rapidly approaches and of course she will be playing at the WTA tour finals. The big goal now is to finish as the top ranked team. A very good final showing in New York will help. Of course, Mirza may well finish as the stand-alone number one; she leads Hingis by five points, but this team should finish top of the pile. They swapped in the rankings this week with Mladenovic leading her compatriot by 25 points in the number three ranking.

In the singles, she has dropped to 51. It’s a disaster and a massive fall from her top 30 ranking at the start of the year.

They dropped no sets in their final run, including dismissing Hingis and Mirza in back to back rounds. But they blew the final as they went down to Mattek-Sands/Safarova 2-6, 7-6[5], 6-4. They proved this whole tournament they are the best pair in the world by seeing off top two in the world and dropping no sets. The final result is not great, but it is forgivable. Bring on the fall swing.

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

U.S. Open: The Middle Rounds

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Before the U.S. Open, four women were in contention for the top ranking. I was two with the losses of Muguruza and Radwanska. For all her positive qualities, Radwanska should never be world number one. She is 0-5 in fourth round matches in New York and 1-4 at Roland Garros. Sure she has made a semi-final at Wimbledon [Ed.note: a final, actually, and two other SF - tds] or in Australia [And two more SF there, too] the last five years, but so what? She missed her shot, she missed the boat. She could have had so much, so many big wins, but she didn’t. Against Konjuh she hit nine winners. The world number four hit nine winners against the world number 92. Nine. That is atrocious. She would have lost to Konjuh at SW19 had she not fallen over, too [Well, Konjuh's three unconverted MP came BEFORE the fall, but that's splitting hairs, I guess.]. The Croat hit 36 winners. And only 27 errors while Radwanska hit 13. She hasn’t done anything this year, she hasn’t done anything for four years now. She has had four prove-it seasons and proved she can win a Premier [Two Premier 5's in Miami in '12 & Montreal in '14 and a little thing called the WTA Finals last year, actually]. Not good enough, not by a long shot.

But, overall, you know who deserves to be number one. Angelique Kerber. [Although, before the '16 season, Radwanska had actually had the better 4-5 year stretch of the two, including a 5-4 head-to-head edge since 2011 it should be noted.] The most match wins, the best at the five major events and the most finals. She has been a model of consistency, she has been almost perfect. Not getting the win with the top ranking on the line is pretty much the only blemish. The loss to Bertens in the French is the other [And the Olympics final.], but Muguruza won a slam and was poor in the rest. Of course, Williams also deserves to be number one, but Kerber feels like the best in the world.

[And with Karolina Pliskova's win over Serena Williams on Thursday night, she IS the new #1, too. Congrats to her!]

And you know the funny thing? Here at BACKSPIN we had the Reverse Sveta Curse. This BACKSPINNER thought Kerber would just stay in the top ten, at about 9 because she always has done. If memory serves, that BACKSPINNER had no faith at all. So we both suck.

[Hmmm, you had Angie in your "Good Bets" for the Top 10, while I had her fighting to stay there... but I did say she'd have better slam results in '16 than '15 and would reach her first slam final, but not do as well on the "regular" tour... and for all she's done, Kerber has still only won one title other than at the Australian Open. So, I think you got her ranking closer to right, while I got the slam part. Close to a push for both of us, I think.]

Also, Murray. Back on form? Who knows?

Well, let’s dive into the middle rounds...

=MIDDLE-ROUND AWARDS - 3rd-QF (Days 5-10)=
1. Del Potro
...Forget the Wawrinka loss. Wawrinka has showing a return to the form he had previously. He is a former world number four and grand slam champion with a top five forehand. Not just right now, but of all time. It was better even than Sampras’ forehand. That forehand is a full stop. It says, right, point should be over. And then it is. He can be in a tight position or just bored and bang. Nobody can resist it. And it has that Gonzalez-like quality of surprise. You kind of forget, not to go there, because he can go a game without exploding off it. But when he does. Point is over. And he has not lost a set this whole week, The way he bludgeoned his way past Johnson and Ferrer in almost identical scorelines back to back had a kind of brutal beauty about it. But now he has more dimensions. The backhand is improved and there is more variety in his game. He will be a seed for the French, but this BACKSPINNER thinks he sneaks into Melbourne as a low seed, too. And when that happens, watch out.
2. Monfils
...What a beautiful tennis player and a lovely guy. So few players are genuinely funny, brilliant people but Monfils is the kind of guy you go on adventures with. He just does whatever he wants. He has managed to retain what makes him so magical dream-come-true fantabulous, but added just enough consistency to make it work. And it really does work. After heart-breaking losses to Federer and Raonic in the most recent hard-court slams he has finally got his dues. And it is good to see. Plus, he knows how to beat Djokovic. But more importantly he knows he can. So please tomorrow cheer, stamp and shout for Monfils. Because we could have our second final in three years without a member of the top four. And wouldn’t that be marvelous?
3. Nishikori
...The winner of the tournament is coming from this semi-final. This BACKSPINNER does not believe Djokovic has the fitness to win two longer matches. I also think Monfils is good enough to really push him. Can the wrist hold up? If Wawrinka goes on to win we may have to re-evaluate how we rank his career. Regardless of that, Nishikori finally has that career win. He finally has the signature win, one we can look back on. He has the form and momentum to take it all the way. Either the win over Murray has broken the curse or he will be too fatigued to fight on. Hopefully we get two classic semi-finals. You wouldn’t think it because it hasn’t felt like it, but Wawrinka’s had a fine year - a few titles and two slam semi-finals. Not bad, eh? And for Nishikori this is it. If he makes a decent fist of it from here he could save his year. If not he could be turning into the ATP’s equivalent of Radwanska. Well, except he has weapons.

ARTHUR ASHE: Pouille d. Nadal
...The Frenchman won 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6[6] in four hours and six minutes and fell to the ground before sticking his tongue out. On his fourth match point, given to him by Nadal’s 41st error, he finally took out the match. This was a gripping match of very different styles. The way Pouille plays is so effective - he is like Goffin but with firepower and less accuracy. Both players won 156 points and broke five times. This was a match for the ages. And it might well be only the second of many slam quarters for Pouille. If he can back this up by even making the fourth round in Melbourne that will be confirmation enough that he’s serious. Pouille moves on and makes it three Frenchies from four in the top of the draw’s quarterfinal bracket…
LOUIS ARMSTRONG: Wawrinka d. Evans
...The slice battles, the forehand battles and the mental jostling gave this match an edge. Neither man would budge, neither would give. This was a fierce battle played out at night. And it took some four hours, just over in fact, but Wawrinka won 4-6, 6-3, 6-7[6], 7-6[8], 6-2. But Wawrinka should’ve won the third and Evans the fourth. So it goes in swings and roundabouts. But the match was gripping from start to finish and Wawrinka’s grit showed through.
GRANDSTAND: Monfils d. Baghdatis
...We saw what Monfils could do here. We saw the sheer power, the sheer athleticism. We saw him dismiss his opponent roundly. And it was a side of Monfils we don’t see often at all. He was everywhere and he had all the answers. He was confident and knew exactly how to play. This was the perfect performance from Monfils, a performance to be remembered. His forehand, particularly, was on song. It didn’t even take him two hours to win 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Sure Baghdatis hit 43 errors, but Monfils broke 7 times. And that really tells the story.

1. Wawrinka
...In true presidential style, Wawrinka is proving it does not matter how you start but how you finish. A good finish for the Swiss, just like if he were Hillary or Donald, could be enough to see him take an improbable title here. He hasn’t lost in a final in over three years, going 10 and 0. So there’s that.
2. Pouille
...Perhaps the most impressive of the contenders in the top half. Is it a third deep run on the trot?

1. Monfils
...Nobody saw it coming. Neither did this BACKSPINNER. Well I called the fourth round loss to Raonic, which was an error clearly. But Monfils has finally put that talent to good use. It’s just so good to see him doing well. And can you imagine him at the WTF? Oh boy...
2. Nishikori
...Well, he was lurking and he has now ended Murray’s bid for a fourth slam final this year. Possibly the least talented of the remaining four he is nevertheless in a great position to finally become the bride and have someone else be the bridesmaid.

1. Nadal
...Might’ve picked the wrong guy, but Nadal got upset in the round of 16. Told you so. Pouille has had a superb tournament and his upset of Nadal in a 5th set breaker deserves credit, but is there anything as un-Rafa-like as losing in that way in a slam match? Retirement beckons now. He is doing nothing but harm to his body. He isn’t going to win another slam. So why is he still hanging around?
2. Tsonga
...It is a sad way the way his career is going now. The talent, the ability is still there, but it is let down by the body. Tsonga is on the way down sadly. But all the same the Australian Open is coming up and that is probably his last chance. We here at BACKSPIN hope he can take it.

Additional Notes from the Tournament...
1 - Viva la France. With the top seeds in both men’s and women’s doubles going great guns and making the semi-finals, three men’s quarterfinalists, France has had a superb tournament. Sure the ladies need work, but it is still not a bad outing for France.
2 – Top seeded Herbert/Mahut have dropped just one set, though they have faced no seeds so far. Until now - the fourth seeded Murray/Soares meet them in the loaded semi-final. In the other the big seeds will be the eight seeded Lopez’s (no relation). Only four of the 16 achieved their seeding.
3 – Kiki has had a marvelous ladies doubles tournament, dropping no sets even against Mirza/Strycova and top seeds Hingis/Vandeweghe. They haven’t looked flawless but have hit themselves into form lately. And after that will be Mattek-Sands/Safarova in the final.
4 – Sticking to French themes, who remembers Mauresmo winning the Australian Open via three retirements? Well, the U.S. Open is following that script for Nole. Three retirements now, all of them talented players. We’ve very little idea how good Novak is right now.
5 – And why not finish with the French number one. Monfils may be the most improved player and he could cap it off with a maiden slam final. If Djokovic is not fully fit and La Monf! can drag it out, who knows?

Go to WTA BACKSPIN every day during the U.S. Open.

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Friday, September 02, 2016

U.S. Open: The Early Rounds

Hey, all. Galileo here.

For this U.S. Open things will be a tad different. We’ll do the first two rounds, the middle section and final rounds altogether. There’s an excellent reason for that. The time difference makes it tricky for us Europeans. So let’s get on with it.

First off, a disclaimer. Apologies for the behaviours of this BACKSPINNER'S brethren. Tomic told a spectator to suck his tennis balls. Except without the tennis part. The umpire chastised him but seemed to see the funny side, telling him “it’s my job, not yours.” And Kyrgios refused to even shake hands with his umpire. But Kyrgios has yet to drop a set, while Tomic bombed out again. Both are at their highest ranking, so the underachiever tag doesn’t fit, but a seven letter word might do if you felt so inclined.

Apart from that, no massive news - all the big seeds held serve. Well, almost all of them. Raonic going out to Harrison is on the list of upsets of the year. Is it injury related or was Harrison genuinely too good? We shall soon see.

Well, let’s dive into the early rounds.

=EARLY-ROUND AWARDS - 1st/2nd Rounds (Days 1-4)=
1. Del Potro
...What a follow-up to the Olympics. Players like Djokovic we expect to do well. But Del Potro could have gone either way. He dismissed Schwartzman in straight sets and then saw off talented Johnson 7-6[5], 6-3, 6-2. The American is a top twenty player having a great year with his best slam performance coming at the last slam. The Argentine looks really good and with Ferrer grinding out an epic five set win over Ferru he could be in with a shot to get into the quarters. He should be in the top 50 by the end of the year, but this BACKSPINNER thinks he will crack the top forty and be seeded at the Australian Open next year. The forehand is working and the former champion is the stallion in the dark horse stable, though Nick Kyrgios is certainly fearsome, too.
2. Kuznetsov
...What a year. Career best in three slams and a highest ever ranking of 39. He has beaten Wawrinka and become Russia’s number one. He may not play fancy tennis or hit any exquisite shots, but he turns up at big events and he has an efficient game. He has even given Djokovic a run for his money. He saw off Bellucci in four and dismissed Ramos-Vinolos 7-5, 6-4, 7-6[5]. Up against Rafa tonight, his chances of an upset were small. Another fantastic result for the Russian.
3. Kyrgios
...Like with a vodka cocktail, you must take the good with the bad. Sure, he has issues, but those are never off court. He is polite and affable away from the tennis court. But on court lies the problem. Putting that aside, however, and you would see a string of remarkable results. And already this U.S. Open is looking like another one. Having dismissed Bedene and Zeballos for the loss of exactly zero sets, he now faces Marchenko, with the winner taking on Wawrinka. Well, if Wawrinka can beat Evans that is. Which he will. That match could have some serious bad blood, but under the lights on Ashe it will be superb. Especially if it goes five.
4. Anderson
...Also in this quarter Cilic has been extremely impressive, but Anderson so rarely gets the spotlight and he has been brilliant. He was too good for Nishioka, winning 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 and then he dismissed Pospisil 7-6[3], 6-4, 6-4. He went up against Tsonga and, as expected, the match had a breaker in it somewhere (in the final set, going to the Frenchman). But coming back from injury and loss of form to record two wins in a slam is an achievement.
5. Murray
...The Scot dismissed Rosol for the loss of seven games and then saw off Granollers 6-4, 6-1, 6-4. He has done what he needed to. Lorenzi is up next after he edged Simon 7-6[3] in the fifth. Murray will not lose his first set against the Italian, but a problem for him might be the lack of competition. Dimitrov could take him by surprise. Apart from that miniscule detail this has been perfect from the favourite so far.

ARTHUR ASHE: 1st Rd. - Djokovic d. Janowicz
...A midnight classic. Well, midnight over here, anyway. Nole won going away 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 to seal a memorable match. Now 20-1 in the night matches, Djokovic struggled through the match, possibly because he was dealing with an arm injury. Not his best performance, this nonetheless showed his grit is still intact. He will have tougher tests than this in the later rounds. His win via retirement, with opponent Vesely struggling with his own arm injury, gives him precious time to recover. But this match will give Murray confidence.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG: 1st Rd. - Sock d. Fritz
...He sprayed 73 errors and blew a two set lead but Sock still managed to edge his way through 7-6[3], 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, 6-4 in exactly 200 minutes. With 16 breaks, this match was a struggle and a fight. But Sock showed his experience and came through despite winning one less point and blowing 13 of his 20 break chances. This was a match Sock should have lost. It shows Fritz's time is coming, too. He was 41-42 on the winner to error count, a pretty good mark.
GRANDSTAND: 2nd Rd. - R.Harrison d. Raonic ...Upset of the Year after another American’s victory over Djokovic at Wimbledon. Despite winning in four sets this match was, at three hours and 37 minutes, longer than the all-American clash on Armstrong. It was a shootout and Harrison came up big from behind 6-7[4], 7-5, 7-5, 6-1. Harrison broke seven times to three and was totally confident throughout, dominating the Canadian on the big points and eventually claiming victory. He is set to rise some thirty places to 90 in the world.
COURT 13: 2nd Rd. - Ferrer d. Fognini
...Let’s just enjoy the Spaniard whilst we can. His 6-0, 4-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 epic victory over the Italian should be viewed with nostalgia. No longer will we be able to see a classic Ferru five-setter. This guy could have run marathons. It’s nice just to see him still hanging around.

...Perfect so far, but a Bulgarian banana skin could be waiting.
...Why does nobody ever talk about him?

...With Raonic gone, what an opportunity for the soon-to-be French number one. Can he resist that urge to look a gift horse in the mouth?
...Dropping two sets so far, he looks shaky. Sign of imminent failure or of mental toughness?

...He did not look himself in the five set victory he ground out over Fognini. Can he find any semblance of form?
3. Carreno Busta
...After a five set win over Tipsarevic, does he have any chance against Thiem?

Additional Notes from the Tournament...
1 - Cilic and Del Potro are both rampant. Good to see yesteryear's generation making a name for themselves.
2 – Nara/Osaka were Kiki’s first opponents in the doubles, and she and Garcia won 6-3/6-3. She lost in the singles, but in a third set breaker to A-Pavs. That’s forgivable.
3 – Federer is set to drop to seven in the world, Wawrinka fall to five. Nadal and Raonic will round out the top four. As it stands, Kerber will be our new world number one.
4 – The U.S. Open has actually handled the rain issues well.
5 – Ten years ago, Federer defeated Roddick while Sharapova defeated Henin for the title. None of the four are playing this year. A decade is a long time.

Go to WTA BACKSPIN every day during the U.S. Open.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

U.S. Open Predictions: Mulling Over the Last Slam

Hey, all. Galileo here.

No coverage this week of Winston-Salem, except to point out Carreno-Busta played exceptionally well in winning it, especially in his defeat of Bautista-Agut in the final. An excellent result for Millman, too, but Gasquet still has work to do.

No mixed draw, but we have the men’s and women’s doubles. For the men, Herbert/Mahut will see it through against fourth seeded Murray/Soares. The Bryans will have one last run, supported by the home crowd, and defeat Dodig/Melo before losing in the finals. In the ladies doubles, Mladenovic/Garcia will lose in the semi to Hingis/Vandeweghe. And in the other semi, we will see Mattek-Sands/Safarova oust the Chans before the world number one Hingis takes it out for another slam title.

Mladenovic avoided a seed and, in fact, got Hibino in the first round. Then she will face A-Pavs, which is manageable. Really, this is quite a decent draw for our Kiki. Can she take advantage of it? Actually let’s use her in the suicide picks.

*Suicide Picks*
MS 1st Rd: Del Potro d. Schwartzman
WS 1st Rd: Mladenovic d. Hibino

Now, finally on to the singles....

...Well, here we go again. Djokovic is the top seed in any section in the world right now, particularly this one. But a few suspect losses have dogged him lately. Can he put those right in his second best slam? In the loss to Del Potro he looked out of ideas and out of sync like Serena did. He was looking for a draw which he could ease himself into. But, alas, he did not get the luck. He opens with Janowicz and then Vesely before running into Klizan, most likely. It is a horror draw for the world number one. It’s just an awkward start, against players with genuine weapons - Klizan’s forehand, Janowicz’s dropper and the serve of Vesely. Nole should be fine to come through those and he has always dominated Gasquet, his most likely fourth round opponent.
...If ever there was a chance for a repeat (one year removed) this is it. With Sock and Tsonga neither here nor there, Djokovic looking mortal and the Croat’s serve working, this is it. He has confidence and the weaponry. He knows he can do it. Silva, Stakhovsky, Sock or Fritz and then Tsonga. No murderer's row for the 7th seed. If he can win another U.S. Open title or even make a decent run here again then we will have to re-evaluate him. Of course, the key phrase for Cilic is ‘avoiding the upset’. If he collapses here we could have a totally random quarterfinalist.
...Who knows with the Frenchie? He could easily roll to the semi-final or lose to unheralded Andreozzi in the first round. His fitness, form and desire have all looked shaky this year, but he does have several things going in his favour - he is Tsonga and can produce at any moment. He has an easy draw. Duckworth, Anderson and Cilic following the first round is not a difficult path. Tsonga on form can do it…
...Should Djokovic choke, Gasquet is ready to step in, dismiss Klizan or Vesely and then roll to the semi-final. If not for injury he would have had a smashing year, but now he is relegated to dark horse position. How much have the injuries taken out of him? Despite the loss to Millman, the quarter-final run in Winston-Salem is a pretty decent result. Can he pull off a miracle?
...That serve is enormous and can punch holes in courts, bring down empires and make kings question their heirs. He combines it with a vicious forehand and brute strength on everything. Having seen him live, in a Wimbledon mixed, this BACKSPINNER can attest to his strengths. If he beats Djokovic he can go all the way to the final, though his big breakthrough will not be for a while.
...It’s always something, even on home soil. Even if he achieves his seeding it will still feel disappointing. Even worse, a loss to Tiafoe in the opening round wouldn’t be a total shock. Isner is inconsistent and has rarely performed well here. Now with even a slightly broken Gasquet lurking he could be in big trouble.
...That serve, fiery temper and dropshot go against the icy cool of Novak. With the winner taking it all, how will Jerzy be under pressure?
=In the End...=

...By now you are aware this BACKSPINNER likes a good risky prediction. But this feels safe. How the Canadian, and North America’s clear number one, has never been beyond the fourth here feels mindboggling. He has the serve, the forehand and a great previous grand slam result behind him. So this should be a cinch. Nadal is nowhere and, hey, how about you try and predict Monfils. So solid, dependable, robotic [in a good way], Raonic takes the favourite here. Opening with Brown and Harrison makes it trickier, but he should be far too solid for either of them. Paire or Baghdatis awaits next, probably the Cypriot, and that could be a lengthy one. But the big one is the Canadian versus the Frenchman. And the winner of that goes to the semi-final. This section really comes down to those two, though Cuevas and Almagro could both spoil a little. And he should blow away a broken Nadal at the end of his career.
...He has had a quite exceptional year, with great performances in Monte Carlo, and at the slams. He has stepped up and deserves to finish the year in the top ten already without even looking at the last of the year’s events. But he still has question marks over his consistency and his mental toughness. His abysmal record in finals is still a black mark on his otherwise good record. But can the clown have the last laugh here? Muller, a journeyman of some description, Cuevas and Raonic is his path. And, honestly, who knows which player will come out of Rafa’s quarter. So should Monfils be able to cause an upset, or if Raonic crumbles, La Monf! will step in.
...Here simply for old time’s sakes and by default, Rafa will do nothing. And we should not be surprised. The one thing saving Nadal’s Spanish bacon is his draw. It’s not exactly challenging. Istomin and Seppi lurk, but neither should be able to handle Rafa. Benneteau or Bellucci might feasibly do it, as might Ramos-Vinolos. But the real danger is lurking in the fourth round - Bautista Agut has found form. And even if Rafa wins that, Raonic or Monfils will have too much. No semi-final for Rafa.
...There will be no trumpets, fanfare or media coverage for the pint-sized Spaniard. When he defeats Garcia-Lopez in four sets nobody will care, nobody will notice. When he takes out Baker in three convincing sets and dismisses Pouille, perhaps then people will sit up and take notice. But it is unlikely. And then he will beat Rafael Nadal and the world shall go mad. But you and I will know.
...If he makes it past Lajovic that will be impressive enough, never mind the rest. But then he must face Baghdatis. The catch here is if he wins those matches and comes into the match against Raonic with form and confidence, he could up-end the 5th seed here. But don’t count on it.
...the 14-time slam champion has won this event twice. Yes, twice. But the legend is being brought back to earth along with his old mate Roger. So while he has a workable draw, the form isn’t there and, arguably, perhaps some of his desire has deserted him. If he is going to win one more slam it will not be here, but in Paris.
...Total clash of styles here. Steady power against unpredictable slicing and dicing. Of course, Brown is capable of power himself, but this match will be all about how Raonic reacts to the challenge of the German.
=In the End...=

...A two-time slam champion and world number three in a weaker section of the draw has to take the mantle of favourite. Every time. Verdasco is dangerous first up, but Wawrinka will be up to the challenge, particularly across five sets. Kudla and Zverev are dangerous, and lurking. In fact, if they meet, Wawrinka versus Zverev would be a fantastic match. The backhand to backhand, in particular, would be excellent. But still Wawrinka has to be the pick. And then an Aussie, Tomic or Kyrgios, and neither will be a walkover. But Kyrgios really could beat the Swiss. He has the weapons, the game and the brashness. He has found form this summer and is headed for the top ten. But Tomic could certainly wind up Wawrinka and drag him into a long match.
...With Ferrer pretty much finished and winding down, Thiem has a clear shot at the quarterfinals. But can he finally beat one of the big guys on a big stage? If Wawrinka struggles through and looks sluggish, he is there for the taking. But Wawrinka gets better and better as tournaments go on. Thiem will have no problem with Millman, Berankis or even Querrey. Querrey could have a decent go, but Thiem will honestly have a bit too much. The kick serve out to the backhand of the American is a big difference maker. Can Thiem back up an excellent French performance with one here? He has made inroads here before and has the form.
...Wild, untameable and all over the place. And that’s just his hair. He’ll blow past Bedene, Mayer and then run into Tomic. He should win that; he has more weapons. But then the question is can he beat Wawrinka? With all that bad blood between them and a lot at stake, who will wilt in the oppressive New York heat? Kyrgios has to serve well during the tournament. That’s one of his most effective weapons.
...With the rapid rise in rankings, finals under his belt and a backhand you’ll want to watch again and again, this guy is the guy to put all your chips on the table for. Affordable still, the German could follow in Kerber’s footsteps and give us another German number one. Here in New York he should win two matches and it looks as if he will be seeded at the next few slams, too. Greatness lies in his path, but not yet.
...He should get to the third round fairly easily. Dzumhur and Dodig or Marchenko will not trouble the Aussie. But then you have to wonder how far he really can go from there. He could beat Kyrgios and Wawrinka or bomb out to his compatriot pathetically and get lambasted again. We shall soon see.
...This one needs no explanation. Dolgopolov or Fognini could do it. But watch out for Del Potro. He could make a very deep run here.
...Looking forward to the crosscourt battle here. Key for Ferver is to send that forehand up the line enough to disrupt Wawrinka. If he can get that forehand working, it could be trouble for the Swiss star. Expect Vavsy to win in four.
=In the End...=

...Janowicz, Verdasco, Rosol and Istomin. None of the top four got a break when it came to the draw, honestly. Even Istomin for Nadal is going to be harder than it looks on paper. This is no gimme, not at all. Murray is fresh off another Gold, has Lendl back and is probably the best player in the world right now. This is his title to lose and this BACKSPINNER thinks that is what will happen. Monaco or Granollers next, then a totally random third rounder. Could be Stepanek. Could be Simon. Murray has a beautiful draw through to the quarter-finals. Even Dimitrov or Lopez in the fourth are unlikely to do much to the Scot. So for him it is about control and about keeping it to within four sets. Letting Rosol or even Monaco take a set isn’t great, but they are tricky players. He will also have to put opponents to the sword, to send a message. Murray has a title to win. Now let’s see him do it.
...An easy draw combined with a good Olympics, a very good Olympics, should see Kei through here. That quarterfinal with Andy Murray could be career-defining. Win that and he could make the final again. Becker, a qualifier and then probably Kohlschreiber await him. If he is on form and feeling it he should see off Goffin fairly easily in the fourth round. While Goffin has very effective ways of hanging in there, that is a match he should win and win well. And if he can take out Murray he could be in the final. The wheels have got to come off the Scot eventually. Will that be here?
...See above, really. If Nishikori falters or the Belgian beats him he has a quarterfinal with Murray locked up. Donaldson, Troicki and Karlovic are his first three most likely matches. He will win them all, make another slam fourth round and then run out of power against Nishikori or Murray. That’s his biggest problem. He can be under-powered at times.
...This one is pretty straightforward. Cervantes, Chardy and Lopez sit in his way. Why can’t he cruise to the fourth round? If the Dimi who has been consistently showing up and been playing a very high level lately makes an appearance we have ourselves a dangerous entity on our hands. He should beat Lopez, but he has shown no signs he can beat Murray when it matters, lately. The big guys have been too much for him.
...This one needs no explanation. With that serve and forehand he will always have a shot at messing up a draw. And despite the appearance of Coric, he should be good enough to set up an eye-opening Dimitrov/Lopez clash.
...He’s been abysmal the whole year, but a soft draw here might have saved him. Instead he got Stepanek. Unlucky.
...That big serve swinging into a vicious backhand is one reason to tune in. Another is the slice duels and the old versus young story.
=In the End...=



...And these late tournament picks write themselves. Like at Wimbledon, against Murray, Raonic will find his weapons blunted out. Djokovic will strangle him. And there’s no reason behind it, but Wawrinka doesn’t feel as safe a bet as Murray. And then it’s Djokovic/Murray in a major final. Yawnfest, and Djokovic victory.

#1 Williams d. #14 Stosur
#5 Halep d. #11 Suarez-Navarro
#4 Radwanska d. #15 Bacsinszky
#6 Williams d. #10 Pliskova
#9 Kuznetsova d. #8 Keys
#3 Muguruza d. #13 Konta
#12 Cibulkova d. Lisicki
#2 Kerber d. #14 Ka. Pliskova

...Williams has Makarova, King and Ivanovic in her way. That’s not easy, particularly in her form. Then she has to deal with Stosur, who does have a manageable draw, Kasatkina aside. The former U.S. Open champion looks good and has had a solid year, but Williams has to be the pick to safely make her way through to the quarters. That match could be a belter. Beck, Vesnina and Babos are all playing spoiler here. Halep has to play Flipkens and then the winner of Safarova versus Gavrilova. We could have a surprise quarterfinalist here, but this BACKSPINNER backs the 5th seed. Suarez-Navarro has been given a gift here and a fourth round run would be a good one for her. Watch out for Jankovic, though.

Laura Robson has won eight matches in a row and could make it nine. If she comes at Radwanska on a roll with confidence it could be an upset. She also has to deal with either Bouchard or Garcia. But, for once, I’ll place my trust in the fourth seed. Bertens will do fine, but Timea has the history here and the game to come through. Right now there is no challenger to Venus in this quarter. With Mladenovic playing spoiler, the big match here is Pavlyuchenkova taking on Pliskova. But Venus knows this could be her last legitimate U.S. Open shot. The key will be the Venus serve. If that holds up, she should be fine.

Now for the crazy. Schiavone and Kuznetsova play for the right to play the winner of Townsend and Wozniacki. But I think Sveta comes through that somehow, sees off Strycova and comes into the match against Keys with momentum. Vandeweghe lurks here, as does Brengle, but every slam needs a crazy pick. And Sveta has my vote. What a loaded section this is with two top tenners and three top twenty players. It will be carnage. Konta has to deal with Mattek-Sands and Pironkova. She also had Petkovic and Bencic nearby. But how many of them are any real threat? None.
Pretty much by default, Konta will ease through. Muguruza has Puig in her section, along with players like Bondarenko and Sevastova. Not exactly terrifying. Really, Muguruza could cruise to the quarters and not drop a set. Bencic is the wild card here, but she hasn’t done anything.

Cibulkova has an easy draw despite the presence of Van Uytvanck and Begu. Even Tsurenko barely qualifies as a threat. She is in fine form and will make a big run here because Vinci is playing poorly right now. The Italian is nowhere making this the Slovak’s section to lose. Lisicki is the best of a bad bunch, but McHale has a great opportunity.

Kvitova is totally unreliable, but will it be Svitolina or a surprise who makes a run here? Only Davis has any shot of stopping the Ukrainian, but this is a beauty of a draw for Elina. And with Errani being her usual abysmal self, Kerber will roll to the quarters practically unopposed. Rogers and Cornet threaten, but the second seed is far too good. If she can win five matches she likely seals the top ranking.

#1 Williams d. #5 Halep
#6 Williams d. #4 Radwanska
#3 Muguruza d. #9 Kuznetsova
#2 Kerber d. #12 Cibulkova

...Serena has a 7-1 head to head record against the Romanian and is better than her at hitting every shot. She doesn’t move as well and on the backhand Simona can live with her, but this matchup is horrible for the Romanian. She lacks Azarenka’s screw-you attitude and Stosur’s physicality. Why not back to back semi-finals? Venus has won three on the bounce and leads 8-4, plus she has the form and confidence. She’ll want to move on from her disappointing Olympic campaign [the mixed aside] and do well here. No backing Kuznetsova here, as the power of the Spaniard is telling on the Russian veteran. Is fitness an issue for Sveta? And Kerber should be good enough to see off Cibulkova, she has really turned up in the big events and looked infallible. Her forehand and wall-like abilities will frustrate the Slovak.

#1 Williams d. #6 Williams
#2 Kerber d. #3 Muguruza

...Venus runs out of gas here. Serena will put her to the sword, but sometimes when sisters play funny results happen. But while Serena will lose the number one ranking, she will make another final here. Of course, she has a history of meltdowns in New York. Could that affect her? Muguruza has not the history in New York Kerber does. The German is in top form this year and has won the most matches of anyone. She will make grand slam final number two.

#1 Serena d. #2 Kerber

...Yep, no pick against Serena here. Should be a response to a poor Olympic campaign. And the motivation to overtake Graf is still there. She keeps obliterating those records one by one. Though the Golden Grand Slam will be forever out of her reach now.

Go to WTA BACKSPIN. They’ve just got the ice cream machine going! Ask for the butterscotch!

I'll be seeing you all soon and far too frequently for your liking.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Wk.33- A Week for Comebacks

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Well, we have some serious questions for the U.S. Open to answer. Some of them, like, "Can it run a successful tournament just once?," we already know the answer to. Some, like who will take the women’s world number one ranking, are yet to be determined. And the question of the winner is obvious now, but may leave us looking foolish come September.

Murray had his 22-match win streak snapped, but has looked very good recently, especially with his victory at Wimbledon. But can he beat Djokovic? Wawrinka has looked poor for months, but he could easily snatch the U.S. Open. Djokovic looks fatigued and Murray does not look infallible. In fact, his run in Rio had plenty of tight matches, with the Scot almost going down to Fognini. Djokovic is the favourite, but this BACKSPINNER would take the field over our world number one.

And then we have the drop-outs. Federer and Berdych dropping out moves all the seeds up. Thiem, Kyrgios and Goffin are all playing the role of dark horse, but Dimitrov or even Tomic could make a run. This slam is a great chance for a couple of surprise semi-finalists. Nadal is winding down his career. In Rio, we saw everything he had left. He isn’t even a paper tiger, he’s a paper tiger moth.

So, plenty of questions. And then we have Cilic.

He’s just won a first Masters title. He is seeded 7th, the withdrawal of Federer and Berdych putting him over. Well, he and Thiem over into that top eight seed bracket. With all this form and his history at the U.S. Open, where he has won twelve matches out of fourteen the last two years. Could he make it nineteen out of twenty-one? His serve and forehand are clicking, and he will not meet an opponent out of his comfort zone until the quarters. He just beat one of the favourites.

Is Cilic, and it pains this BACKSPINNER to have to even think about it, a contender and not a dark horse? This is the tournament he does best in. Is another run so far fetched? No. He has been abysmal all year and should not be seeded 7th, but if he can get cooking early and ride the form through, he could make a serious impact on the field. The problem is if he runs into, say, Karlovic and Gasquet back to back he could have some problems. He has to have a kind draw, but if he gets one who knows how far he can go.

And now we must delve into yet another Masters 1000 tournament. Not many to go now, in fact our year is almost up.

Top 32 - Simon falls again, but only one place. He will sit at 32, behind Querrey, who dropped two places. Klizan and Zverev, who dropped two places, as well, are at 30 and 29, respectively. Dimitrov is up to 24, a ten place jump. He has guaranteed himself a seed in New York.
Top 10 – Cilic moves up five spots, consequently everyone else falls a spot. Thiem is a solid 10th, and could rise two places at the U.S. Open.
Top 8 – Little change. Raonic putting daylight between him and Nishikori. Berdych is only just holding onto the eighth spot. Cilic will take it in New York, barring a disaster, being only 55 points behind.
Top 4 – The gap between Murray and Djokovic is getting slimmer, while Wawrinka nips ahead of Federer. He is establishing himself as the world number three.

S: Marin Cilic d. Andy Murray 6-4/7-5
D: Dodig/Melo d. Rojer/Tecau

...For Cilic, our resident grumpy Croat, the issue has always been consistency. Forget tournament to tournament and match to match, his consistency wavers game to game. The power has never been questioned, with that serve and forehand being paragons of brutal power, similar weapons to that of Soderling. He has struggled with the harnessing of those enormous weapons, the actual application of them. When he can do it, the results begin to flow like in Melbourne in 2010, where he should have had Murray and moved onto the final, but choked. Another familiar occurrence. During that tournament we got a taste, a hint of what he could produce and it was exhilarating. We saw glimpses in his three successive runs to the Wimbledon quarters. And, of course, the memorable 2014 run to his first major title, in which his dismissal of Nishikori still strikes this BACKSPINNER as maybe his best victory of the whole campaign. And he followed it up with an admirable attempt at a defence of his crown, though that Djokovic loss was quite embarrassing. It turned into a blowout very quickly. But now he comes into his best slam with form and confidence. His weapons are working and it looks like he believes. Now watch him crash and burn. His straight sets victories over Troicki and Verdasco were a great start. Edging Berdych in three and getting a retirement victory from Coric saw him through the semi-finals. After escaping Dimitrov, though just barely, he took out Murray in straight sets in the final. What a week from Cilic. No, he really is grumpy.
...Raonic is back. But did he ever really leave? Apart from Rome, he has made the quarters or better at every Masters tournament. He has beaten Federer in a final and lost several tight ones to Murray and Djokovic at Wimbledon, Queens and Indian Wells. He has been an ace machine and also found a high level of consistency. The Canuck may never have been past the fourth round of the U.S. Open, but he has gotten personal bests at two of the three slams so far and also made the fourth round of the French. Not a bad result. He has the benefit of seeing how Nishikori responded after losing his first major final, though at least Raonic wasn’t the favourite, means he can avoid the motivation issues that have at times affected the Asian number one. Indeed, it seems at times that Kei has settled comfortably, and happily, into the role of an also-ran. But with the simplicity and explosiveness in the Canadian’s game, surely he can respond better than Kei did to the ultimate disappointment. With so many of the big names out of the U.S. Open or irrelevant [Nadal], anything less than a semi-final showing will be a disappointment. The relative ease of his run here will give him confidence; knocking out Isner in two breakers and seeing off Thiem in straight sets were both impressive victories. Even in the 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Sugita he looked fairly good. The Murray result was poor, but this run will have given him a boost. Are we going to have a North American winner of the American major for the first time in thirteen years?
...When Roddick began to fade, we had an Open era first. No American male tennis player resided in the top ten. It had never happened before, but now it is the norm. But now there is a slew of promising young talented Americans coming through. The sad truth is, however, that most of these U.S. juniors fizzle out. The Harrison brothers, or worse, Donald Young, are all examples of how it can go very wrong very quickly. But players like Taylor Harry Fritz could start their own trend, their own way of doing things. Tiafoe is another who could go either way. This result is only the latest in a long, long list of good results throughout Opelka’s short career. He edged Chardy 3-6, 7-5, 7-6[11] and then pushed Tsonga hard, but ultimately fell 7-6[5], 7-6[3]. It’s encouraging for the youngster, who is ranked 291. That’s a career high.
...The signs were there that Dimitrov might be making a recovery, a return to form. But it can be hard to tell if they are genuine or if they are more like when Ana Ivanovic wins two matches in a row. Fortunately, the semi-final run here has shown that if it is only temporary, it is a fairly lengthy temporary rise in form. He rose ten places in the rankings, which is pretty good. One day the kid who saw off Murray in Acapulco could return. But we love him for another reason. Sure, dismissing Simon 1 and 3 is impressive. And edging past Lopez 5-7, 6-3, 7-6[6] is a fantastic result. Knocking out the second seed in straight sets and then rolling past Johnson 7-6[8], 6-2 are all noteworthy results. But he also did this:

And because he can always be relied upon to pull those out we can forgive him being a tad inconsistent.
...Forget the retirement. He beat Paire 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. He edged Kyrgios 7-6[2], 4-6, 7-6[8] and then dismissed Rafa for the loss of just four games. He served for it at 5-3 in the third against the Aussie and then had to save a match point in the breaker, but he came through in two and a half hours. All three of those results are outstanding and they see him deservedly rise back up to 40. Coric was a breath of fresh air this past week.
...Where has the Swiss been all year? Despite being a double major winner, his ranking of #3 deceives one. He is not the third best player in the world. On his day he is the best, but if he isn’t on top form he is fallible. The way he tamely folded in a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Dimitrov was poor. It is another shocking result in a long list of them. He will be a contender for the U.S. Open crown, but not a favourite. He only just got past Donaldson 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. The silver linings are that he is going into a tournament he always does fairly well in and the losses have not been utterly awful. They have been winnable, they have been matches that could have gone either way. Honestly, this could have gone to Ferrer, but we expect him to do poorly. Wawrinka can, and should, be doing better than this.
...Murray led the head-to-head 11-2 and had lost just once in seven years. But now he must bow down to the superiority of Cilic. For once. The Croat moves to 3-11 in that head-to-head, but don’t expect him to beat the Scot in New York if they meet. He breaks the 22-win streak Murray had and he looked good doing it. A turning point for Cilic?

Notes from the week...
1 - Mahut and Herbert have to respond after an abysmal Olympics campaign.
2 – The Davis Cup is right after our last slam. How bad will attendance be?
3 – Can Nishikori ride his Bronze and turn it into another positive result in New York?
4 – If Djokovic crashes early and Murray wins it all, could the Scot take the top ranking this year?
5 – Serena is going to tie (at least) Graf's consecutive weeks at #1 record of 186 weeks (she has 184). As Kerber pointed out, she is a woman not a machine.

1. Cincinnati SF - Cilic d. Dimitrov 4-6, 6-3, 7-5
...Up 4-2 in the third, Dimi could not quite hang on and fell to the determined Croatian in controversial style. A crowd member declared a ball out, but play continued and it led to Cilic breaking. It would be the crucial break of serve.
2. Cincinnati QF - Tomic d. Nishikori 7-6[1], 7-6[5]
...Good use of backhand here from the Aussie. He saw off the Bronze medalist in two tight sets. Against Kei the most important thing is to shut him out. Do not give him even a sniff. He is too hard to put away.
3. Cincinnati R3 - Coric d. Nadal 6-1, 6-3
...Look at the scoreline. Is there anything else to add?
4. Cincinnati Final - Cilic d. Murray 6-4, 7-5
...This was a scrappy match highlighted by flashes of brilliance. Cilic missing an open court with an easy forehand and Murray scrambling everywhere on several points were the highlights. Murray just couldn’t quite crack the enigma that was Cilic this time. Despite a late, or possibly early, finish, Cilic came out blazing and won his maiden Masters title.

Gasquet [1] d. [5] Anderson
Johnson [4] d. [2] Agut
Gasquet [1] d. [4] Johnson

...Defending champion Anderson should be able to make a run here. Gasquet is the best player here by a long way, but his form is questionable. And Johnson is playing on home soil with good form of late. Can any big names find form before the U.S. Open?

Mladenovic beat Bondarenko in the first round in straight sets, but then fell to Kerber 6-0, 7-5. And in Connecticut she just fell to Rogers 6-1, 6-1. And top seeded duo in the doubles last week, she and Garcia lost to King/Niculescu 3-6, 6-2, 1-0 [10-4]. It’s pretty poor from the world’s top seeded pair. That French Open title will not always be their saving grace.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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