Monday, November 23, 2015

WTF Recap: Unflappable in the End

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Well, here we go again. Just one more piece after this and then 2015 is in the books and done apart from the wrapping. Like all good presents the wrap is coming soon, but we must finish the present first. So here we go.

In the doubles, the excitement fizzled out after a fiery finish in the group stage. At the beginning of this week Dodig/Melo had an opportunity to end as the year end doubles number ones. That soon disappeared and it would be another disappointing result for them in the semi-finals. The third seeds lost 6-4, 6-2 to surprise package Bopanna/Mergea. It was a very poor showing from a team that could have been the top ranked pair at year end.

In the other semi-final, the match should have been superb on paper. But tennis is not played on paper and the match did not live up to its billing. The winner would be ranked the top pair in the world for 2015. The Bryans capped off a forgettable year with a forgettable loss. They went down 6-4, 6-4 to Rojer/Tecau. The victorious pair sealed the top ranking and then went on to play the Cinderella pair in the final. Surely, however, it would not be as easy as it looked.

In the final, it really was that easy. It was never close as the upstarts' magic ran out. The pairs had met in Rome and Paris. Both were high quality three set wins for Rojer/Tecau. They met in the Wimbledon final where the same pair won, but this time in five sets, 13-11 in the fifth. With a 6-4, 6-3 win here they improve to 4-0 in the head to head. The new number ones rode seven aces to a 75% service point win ratio. They broke early in the first and held on for a 6-4 victory. The eighth seeds never broke. They only had two opportunities. In the next set once they were broken they slowly faded. It was a clinical performance by the world’s best players and defending Wimbledon champions.

In the first semi-final of the men’s event, Djokovic outclassed Nadal once again. Rafa just looked old and ineffective. He was never in the match and went down 6-3, 6-3. That match should really have been the late night match. Perhaps they were right. It was the marginally more boring match. It’s the end of the year and our last three matches were all dull. Well, if you count the Davis Cup as a separate entity. Djokovic broke Rafa three times while never being break point down himself. Their rivalry sits at 23 wins apiece now.

In the second semi-final, Federer edged out a tight set 7-5 before sweeping to a 7-5, 6-3 victory. There just isn’t much to say. Wawrinka had a fantastic victory over Murray in two sets. He was on form but lost his serve three times while only winning 59% of his serves. Federer continued his dominance of the Swiss number two. He won 64% of his second service points which helped him improve his record to 18-3. We’re in Sharapova/Serena territory here, which means embarrassment.

In the final of the men’s event, Federer was unable to summon much and fell 6-3, 6-4. He saved 6 break points but you can’t give the world number one nine chances. When he has that good a return you especially can’t give him any near that amount of chances. Federer was not particularly poor, Djokovic was just too strong and unflappable when it mattered. Federer is at 22-22 with Djokovic, while Djokovic is at 23-23 with Nadal. On that note I am done.

Please do go and visit WTA BACKSPIN . I will see soon for the Davis Cup. Perhaps that will give us some fireworks. I believe Great Britain scrapes through 3-2, with Murray carrying the team on his shoulders once more.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

WTF Day 5: Keeping the Dream Alive

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Well here we go again.

First of all, here is some required reading.

That really is not fair. Murray has about the same chance of beating Roger as he does Novak. What a ridiculous accusation.

ATP BACKSPIN just wants to remind readers it correctly predicted the result. Yes, sometimes it does get the call correct. Unbelievable, eh? Yes, the Italians won in three. It was a strange scoreline, too, the Italian’s prevailing 6-4, 1-6, 10-5. Honestly, though, let’s ignore the scoreline. The Italians finished a great and very entertaining year on a high. They ran everything down, swung from the hip and just had a ball. Seemingly for no reason, Fognini even pulled the umpire’s sock down. He didn’t get a warning or anything. They even finished with a flashy winner down the line, though it was Bolelli’s forehand. Thank you to the Italian 5th seeds for a wonderful year. They brightened up the ATP doubles world.

The Bryans keep their dream alive. With a 6-7[5], 7-6[5], 16-14 win over 4th seeds Murray/Peers they can still be the world number ones. This was the best doubles match this BACKSPINNER has seen in many a year. Murray/Peers had chances to take the first set up 5-3 and were utterly solid on serve until they had to serve for it. They outclassed the Bryans for the first set but then the Americans raised their level. The top seeds were twice down a mini-break in that second set breaker. They also had set points in the second set. The third set lasted 20 minutes and had all kinds of drama. This was an incredible match with every player giving everything. Botched smashes, long rallies, drop shots and exquisite lobs were all par for the course. Up 7-2 in the champions breaker, the 4th seeds choked away their lead and had at least four match points saved. They also saved a flurry of set points. Peers particularly missed a few sitters, including one you or I could have put away on match point. I can’t do this match justice but it was mind-blowing. The highlights package could be an hour long.

Friday in the singles, Ferrer will go set-less. Nadal is one of those moods where he’s tearing everything asunder. There is just no way to pick Ferrer here. He won’t mend his broken pride. He got placed in a group he was always going to struggle in. And struggle he has. Nadal takes it but maybe there will be a close set. Wawrinka is going to win. It will go three and I think Wawrinka is just starting to heat up. Murray will play all right but he looks a little out of sorts. It will be an all-Swiss clash to decide who faces the winner of the battle between the last two number ones.

...Up a set and 4-1, Roger Federer was cruising. But then disaster struck. Kei reeled off five games in a row to take it and send it into a 3rd. Federer, with his no-shave November contribution looks like a grizzled warrior. Here he was the real thing. Then Federer, after surviving a couple of break points, got 4-1 up in the third set. Again Kei dragged it back. But Federer knows better than anyone how to forget what just happened. It is a vitally important skill. Sharapova is one of the best in the business in that area. Federer clung on to record a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory. The win gave Berdych hope, though he would need to beat Djokovic in two. In the match some of the stats seemed strange. Federer ran 2397 metres whilst Kei ran just 2272. Kei hit 13 forehand winners to Fed’s nine and ten backhand winner to eight. In his semi-final Federer has to improve on the 12 break points he faced. Kei converted five of those. The Swiss star must also win more than 30 per cent of second serve points. His 6 of 6 on break points is fantastic. Repeat that and hit 9 aces like he did in this match and he should be fine. The 33-35 mark on winners to errors is poor. The other important thing is to put the match away, especially if you’re up 4-1 in back to back sets. Kei can head into the offseason proud of his efforts here. He will definitely be a factor in Australia where he has made some deep runs previously.
...Djokovic won 6-3, 7-5. He goes through to face Rafa. It’s so frustrating that Berdych does nothing when it really matters. He choked against Wawrinka in that semi-final in Melbourne. He couldn’t even push Djokovic to a breaker despite a big serve. Forget three sets whenever Berdych plays somebody else in the top ten. Yes, Djokovic played well but when Is Berdych going to get it together? It’s another awful performance from one of the world’s best players. This guy should have more slams than Cilic. Time and again he does the same stupid things that Kvitova does. So much wasted talent and firepower. It’s just maddening. He did nothing this whole group stage. One measly set off Nishikori. It’s unendingly poor. The only time he never beats anybody decent is when they’re broken like Nadal in Melbourne this year. And he almost blew that fourth set, too. He frequently talks about how he wants to beat the big guys. Well, then do it. Let’s see it.

Please do go and visit WTA BACKSPIN . See you tomorrow!

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

WTF Day 4: Murray Cuts Hair, Nadal Cuts Murray

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Well here we go again.

First of all, congratulations to the Czech Republic on winning the Fed Cup again. Russia blew it. With the players they have it really is unbelievable that they lost. Kvitova and Pliskova is a great combination, though. Pulling out the doubles win at the end was particularly impressive. When will Kvitova beat Sharapova? Congrats also to Safarova on winning the Fed Cup Heart award for her performance in the semi-finals.

Pierre Hughes Herbert looks and sounds like a model. Six foot on and stunning he is French to the core. His opponent Zimonjic could, at 39 years old, be his father. The 24 year old is just French enough. He doesn’t overdo it like Monfils. His net play can be a little sketchy at times, but the flair is fantastic. His lob on set point set up the winning smash. Another lob on match point caused a miscue from the Serb. He is swiftly becoming one of ATP BACKSPIN’s favourite players to watch. The French pair won the match 5-7, 6-3, 10-8. They are a win away from the semi-finals. If they can top their eight aces from this match they should be well on their way.

In the other match, Melo lost for the first time in two months and his partnership is now out of the running to be the top ranked pair in the world. The second seeds have been on fire. They were up 6-4, 3-1 in a blink. They held on for a solid 6-4, 7-6[3] win over the world’s best doubles player. They have been on fire the whole tournament and their partnership prowess was on display for all to see. They were aggressive and every volley was perfect. It was a big serving, hard-hitting match. Just five break points seen the whole match, and only two of those were taken. Though I think the sudden death deuces are not taken into consideration by the stats guys. The second seeds are turning into the heavy favourites here.

Now for tomorrow. Bolelli/Fognini are out and the 8th seeds have sealed the group victory. And that is why I am picking the 5th seeds to inexplicably pick up a win. It makes no sense and there is no logic behind it. And that is the logic. It would be so Fognini to win this match and I think it happens. The 5th seeds take the dead rubber and leave with something to cheer about. A big fat wad of cash. There is no way I can pick against the Bryans, slamless though they are. If I did Todd would have stern words for me. So they beat the 4th seeded Murray/Peers in three nervous sets to advance.

In the singles, Federer continues to roll. He dismissed Kei and moves forward to the semi-finals, neatly avoiding Nadal. Right now Federer doesn’t look like he's losing a set. If Kei can push him to a breaker I will be impressed. If the Japanese man wins he could still go through. Djokovic is going to sweep Berdych aside as if he were the Cavaliers and the Czech was the Celtics. Yes, BACKSPIN acknowledges the fact it is NBA season.

McEnroe/Fleming : NADAL D.MURRAY
...Remember those days from 2008-10 when every tournament the semi-finals would be Federer versus Djokovic and Nadal versus Murray? Nadal would never have any trouble dealing with Murray. Djokovic could cause Federer problems occasionally. Nadal would usually lose fewer games than Federer. The scoreline here of 6-4, 6-1 and Federer’s of 7-5, 6-2 is eerily similar to how it used to be. Wawrinka beating Ferrer 7-5, 6-2 is also strange. With the WT Finals field feeling a bit weaker and the ATP being disappointing, the year is finishing like a damp firework. With a phizzle, ftt. Anyway, Nadal looked back to his old self. He did sometimes run a little gingerly on the knees but his forehand was vintage Rafa. He was broken to open with but once he took a fairly competitive first set Murray crumbled. The Spaniard remained in command and looked like the player we know and love. He moves to 15-6 against the Scot. Murray gave himself a haircut in the middle of that match. Becker did it at Wimbledon on Centre Court apparently according to the commentator. BACKSPIN has been thinking he needs to get a haircut for ages.
...I spoiled the result for you all I’m afraid. Wawrinka did indeed dismiss Ferrer 7-5, 6-2 today. He and Murray will play to see who goes through behind Nadal. Ferrer is the first player to be eliminated from the tournament with another disappointing loss. Rafa has been dominant so far but Wawrinka has shown here he can beat Murray and his ever so slightly shorter hair. I believe the reason Nadal is through and Federer is not is because Berdych lost in three. That has been our only three-setter so far, much to the lamentation of many, myself included. Wawrinka takes second off Murray with a strong performance here. Though Wawrinka won, in an hour and a half if you were interested, Ferrer maintains a 7-6 head-to-head lead. Wawrinka has won the last four including this one. One of them was two years ago at this event in round robin play. This was their first and last meeting this season. If Wawrinka beats Murray he will give Federer the opportunity to take the world number two ranking back. Federer cannot afford to lose a match if he wants the number two ranking. The key stat here is that Ferrer hit 3 doubles and no aces but Wawrinka hit three aces and no doubles. Ferrer is normally a great returner but he won just 29 per cent of returns to Wawrinka’s 44 per cent. Ferrer has been poor and up next is big bad Rafa.

Please do go and visit WTA BACKSPIN . See you tomorrow!

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

WTF Day 3: Federer in the Forefront

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Well, here we go again.

Bopanna/Mergea have gone through as top of their group after an emphatic 6-3, 7-6[5] victory over Murray/Peers. The 4th seeds now play a winner takes all match on Thursday. There were only three breaks in the match. There is always a Cinderella story in the doubles and it appears that this year it is the turn of Bopanna/Mergea. They are most likely to get the winner of the match tomorrow, though nothing is certain.

The Italians have had a miserable time. They lost in a very tight match last time and this time they were dispatched 6-3, 6-2 by the inspired Bryans. The match did not even last an hour with the Bryans never facing a break point. Taking 82 per cent of their serve points, the Bryans did not need to break the hour mark to see off the disappointing Italians.

Now for tomorrow. Herbert/Mahut have great momentum and I think that carries them through against 7th seeds Matkoswski/Zimonjic. They can still win the group despite a close loss on Sunday. Dodig/Melo have not lost in such a long time and Tecau/Rojer won’t be the pair that snaps the streak.

In the singles, Nadal will beat Murray. He will beat Murray because he has found form and also because Murray never beats Nadal. In the other match, Wawrinka avoids elimination and uses his unique mix of firepower and variety to oust the Spaniard.

McEnroe/Fleming: FEDERER d. DJOKOVIC
...Swashbuckling, aggressive and back to the usual. That was Federer. He was even aggressive on the backhand. The Swiss is once again ahead in his head to head with the world number one. On set point in the first set, he went big on two forehands then approached the net. Once there he pulled off a beautiful half-volley that barely kissed the line. In the next set he slowly took control, out-hitting Djokovic in the long rallies and the shorter ones. Djokovic has not lost as badly as the 7-5, 6-2 score-line in a long way. Of course this was closer than the numbers indicate but Federer seemed to have the victory once he won the second. Federer blasted 6 aces and broke 4 times. His serve was snapped just once. Clean and crisp from the outset, Federer put Djokovic’s passage through in doubt. Lose to Berdych and he could be in trouble. The Swiss goes through to another semi-final at the world tour finals.
...Nishikori ground out a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 victory at the expense of Berdych to keep himself in the group staged. With just five breaks the whole match, this was a match for bigger servers to enjoy. Berdych and Nishikori have long been on the fringe with few opportunities to rise up and take the ATP by storm. The forehand wings of both players were in particularly fine fettle. Berdych is now out of the WTF again despite some initial flashes of brilliance. Both players can also ascend in the rankings with a good show. The focus now is on Australia and both these men should get a strong seeding for Melbourne.

Please do go and visit WTA BACKSPIN . See you tomorrow!

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Monday, November 16, 2015

WTF Day 2: My Kingdom for a Good Match

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Well, here we go again.

"Jean Julien Rojer has never won a match at this event" is a sentence one could have correctly uttered yesterday. They could not do so today. He and Tecau have a chance to finish the year as the top-ranked pair, and they looked every bit the part as they dismissed 7th seeded Matkowski/Zimonjic 6-2, 6-4. At times, Zimonjic looked weary and aged. In the first set the 2nd seeds were fantastic but with the sudden death deuce, a set can turn on a dime. They won two of those points and that was enough. The next set was a little more of a struggle but the result never seemed in doubt. With four breaks to one, they took the match and control of the group.

In the second match in the McEnroe/Fleming group, there was quite the upset on the cards. Marcelo Melo has not lost in two months and he and Dodig can finish as the number one pair this year. The French pair of Herbert/ Mahut were up 6-3, 4-2 and on fire. They had two match points when their opponents served at 3-6, 4-5 but both were saved. Down 5-6 Dodig pulled off a fantastic ‘tweener to stay alive. Once the third seeds took the breaker 7-4, they rolled to a 10-7 victory in the final breaker.

Now for tomorrow. Murray/Peers have form and momentum on their side. After surviving a tricky encounter they have giant slayers Bopanna/Mergea to contend with. This is their first match against each other. I think the seeding stays true here and the fourth seeds come through, again in three sets. In the other match in Ashe/Smith, the Italian 5th seeds play the Bryans. I have to go with the twins. How can I not? Yes, I have my reservations, but I think the Bryans can still salvage a little pride. And they will want to do that.

In the singles in the same group, I like Berdych’s firepower. He should be able to out-physical the Japanese man. Nishikori has pulled out surprises before, however. He can also play some great stuff on this surface. Still, the pick is Berdych in three. In the biggest match, I like Djokovic. Federer will challenge and probably play the better tennis but Novak is impenetrable right now. If they meet again in the final, however, I have a feeling the result could be reversed.

McEnroe/Fleming : MURRAY D. FERRER
...Ferrer makes you play. He has a little variety and is an under-rated volleyer. But, really, what he does is he sits back and tries to grind you down. He makes you play every ball and win each points once, twice or even thrice. For players with spark and creativity like Murray that’s fine. Ferrer’s struggles against the top four are well documented. In the first set this time, Murray combined luck with intelligent tennis to take the opener. The Spanish 7th seed surrendered the first set on a double fault to go down 4-6. In the next set Ferrer tried to hold on to an early break but to no avail. He and Murray played a great straight sets match but Murray had enough to see it off 6-4, 6-4. He moved into first with the win. Should he go through he will likely face either Federer or Djokovic in the semis.
...My kingdom, my kingdom for a good match here at the World Tour Finals. Please. Just something to get stuck into. Anything. I will give anything to have a good match. Wawrinka hit close to 40 errors in the embarrassing 6-3, 6-2 drubbing. Nadal hit just 12. Wawrinka had an early break in the first but Nadal just kept grinding until the Swiss star was nothing but dust. He took the first against an opponent who looked slightly injured. Then in the next Wawrinka had a break chance early but Nadal pulled a lob out of nowhere to remove it then took the game. From there on out there was only going to be one result. As Nadal got stronger, Wawrinka got progressively weaker.

Please do go and visit WTA BACKSPIN . See you tomorrow!

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WTF Day 1: Dominance, Anyone?

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

It’s been a long year, as has been written here a lot. Welcome to the Tour Finals. So ATP BACKSPIN will try to update every day. The doubles will be talked about here before the two matches are focused on. It’s simple, really. Shall we get started?

Before we do I just want to send out my condolences to the city of Paris. It makes me very sad to see a great city that I love on its knees.

Bopanna/Mergea have had a good year but not a stellar one. They snuck in the back door as the eighth seeds and were placed in the Ashe/Smith group. Playing the still-impressive Bryans they were surely out of their depth. The top seeds are 4-2 in their six finals at this event and are also defending champions. When they broke in the first set it looked as if the underdogs wouldn’t be around long. But they broke back, recovered and eventually took the set 6-4. In the next set they had momentum and belief. They broke once and held on until 5-3 where they took it on the sudden death deuce with a great passing shot winner. The underdogs had won, after going 5-2 on breaks against the top seeds.

In the first match, the forgotten Murray brother and Australian Peers took on fifth seeded Fognini/Bolelli. They are the first all-Italian pair in this era to win a slam. They backed up that Australian Open win with a semi at the French. Peers and Murray, of course, made back-to-back finals in London and New York. The fourth seeds won their first set of the tournament 7-6[5] but lost the second 6-3. It was a very entertaining match. Perhaps this is because Fognini’s crazy is mitigated a little by a partner and a bigger court to hit into. In the champion’s tiebreaker, the Italians were initially up with a mini-break but fell 11-9.

Now for tomorrow. Matkowski has a final here and Zimonjic has won it twice. The 7th seeds have split their two meetings with the 2nd seeds this year. Still, Roger/Tecau have been on form of late and I can’t really pick against the 2nd seeds so I’ll take them in a champions breaker. In the other match of the Fleming/McEnroe group the third seeds Dodig/Melo will take out 6th seeds Herbert/Mahut. They have the world number one. They should get it done in straights. Surely.

In the singles in the same group, Murray will beat Ferrer but Wawrinka should have Nadal. That is a real toss-up. However, I think Nadal will get it done. Something just says he will.

...Novak obliterated Nishikori. This was not just a win. This was a statement. Djokovic was supreme throughout and even finished the free lesson off by sweeping to the net and smoothly crunching a volley home. Nishikori won just 32 points in 14 games despite being healthy and not playing too badly. Djokovic was simply in no mood to hang around. He was in the mood to rip somebody apart. And that is what he did. He made the rest of the field sit up and take notice. Djokovic broke four times and never faced a break point himself. Throw in five aces and this was a perfect match. What else is there to add?
...Federer answered the Serb’s statement with one of his own. He beat Berdych down 6-4, 6-2. And that is almost as impressive as the dominant performance of the world’s best player. Almost. There is supposed to be a kind of parity at this event. That is a myth. The key to the Swiss man’s victory was the fact he won 48 per cent of return points. Berdych went 28 per cent. Federer broke the big server four times but did surrender his own serve once. Federer’s forehand was smooth and flowed beautifully throughout. Berdych was never at the races and this was over all too quickly. After day one there is little worth commenting on.

Please do go and visit WTA BACKSPIN . See you tomorrow!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Wk.44- That’s All, Folks

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Todd finished ages ago. Or at least that is what it feels like. Of course, he didn’t. He is still wrapping up the last couple of events. And, really, BACKSPIN is winding up and heading into the season review part of the year. So stick around for that.

Honestly, I get to this part and I feel done. I feel like it’s the end. I feel like Serena after she lost to Vinci, like Djokovic will when he inevitably wins the tour finals. I feel like Clarice Starling does when they caught Buffalo Bill. I feel like Bruce Springsteen after his Born in the U.S.A. tour. I feel finished, done. I have done all there is to be done this year.

So bear with me and pity me. To lack motivation is no small thing and right now I lack it. Djokovic is the heavy favourite going into the finals, but he could have a very stacked group. No doubt there will be a surprise player who does well and I think that will be Kei Nishikori. Look for Berdych to bomb. Where Rafa falls is key, as well. If Novak gets Federer and Nadal, that would be quite a group. I want to see Ferrer win a match, too, just to prove himself though there are players he never beats attending.

Venus Williams is having the season of her life. At some point expect some extra BACKSPIN coverage on her. She has had quite the year and she is proving age is no barrier. Massive kudos goes out to perhaps the most beloved of WTA players. Serena has people who dislike her, though all respect her, but nobody can dislike Venus. To be both popular and a great player is difficult to achieve.

Well, for the last time, let’s a-go exploring. What happened this week?

QUESTION: Which four other players have won as many or more World Tour Finals events as Djokovic?

Top 32 - Kyrgios stays the steady one at 30. Johnson and Chardy swap but still round out the top 32. Dimitrov goes up one to 28, ahead of 29 Seppi.
Top 10 – 400 points separates 9 from 13. Cilic drops two to 13 behind Anderson and Isner, who rose two. Gasquet and Tsonga round out the top ten, though Ritchie leads by over 200 points.
Top 8 – Kei is back down to eight, 300 behind Ferrer. He has barely played since the Open. Ferrer is on the rise and Berdych is falling, but the Czech remains in 6th and ahead by 300 points. Nadal up to five with a ten point lead over Tomas. Nadal is 2000 behind the top four.
Top 4 – Murray and Federer swap. Murray has a big lead now of 1100. Federer is only holding off Wawrinka by 900 points now. Djokovic, of course, stays on top.

S: Novak Djokovic def. Andy Murray 6-2/6-4
D: Dodig/Melo def. Pospisil/Sock

...Novak takes six of the nine Masters events this year and heads into the WTF with a 22-match win streak. Djokovic has gone 78-5 and won 94% of his matches this year. He has been machine-like. It’s almost as if he has been sent from the future to stop Federer and Nadal from winning. He has whipped both this year and made Murray his toy-thing. He has lost to only Federer, Wawrinka, Karlovic and Murray. He has won his tenth title and he isn’t even done. Oh, boy. He started off in typical fashion in the French capital, edging Bellucci 7-5, 6-3 before putting in a fine display to see off Simon 6-3, 7-5. Berdych really pushed Djokovic for once but still lost 7-6[3], 7-6[8]. Berdych has actually started to put together a little consistency late in the year. In the semi-finals there was resistance. Wawrinka pushed Djokovic hard and even took the second set. With the scores poised at 6-3, 3-6, Djokovic turned on all the burners. He went to a level few have ever reached, and none now can reach, then proceeded to blow Wawrinka away 6-0 in the third. And in the final Murray was really no match for the Serb. An easy 6-2, 6-4 victory for Novak. He has obliterated all before him and he has had no challengers this year. He isn’t even done yet. He is far and away the favourite the win the finals event.
...Until Murray finds a way to consistently challenge Djokovic, he will always be a bit disappointing. He’s a bit like a carrot cake with chicken icing. Great all the way through until the last bite. It’s kind of in the job role of the number two in the world. They have to challenge the world number one. Federer did a great job of it. Wawrinka is our focus today. Murray will be the focus for two more weeks after the gap, of course. Let’s ignore the semi-final match. Djokovic bagels a lot of people. He did it to Wawrinka at the Australian this year. Stanimal has done a lot this year, including winning the French and putting together an extremely solid top four year where he has even breached the top three. Here in Paris he showed his rather French flare. Seeded four he beat Tomic 6-3 7-6[8]. Tomic had just dismissed Fognini 6-3, 6-2. Next the Swiss dismissed Troicki 6-4, 7-5. Two very solid wins over tricky opponents had given him confidence. He was blown out by Nadal recently, but in their quarterfinal he had the Spaniard’s measure. He won 7-6[8], 7-6[7] to beat Nadal, his long-time conqueror. Wawrinka now has confidence and form going into the WTF. Not only that, but he also has a set off Djokovic. A dark horse to win it? Certainly.
...Why not have some doubles, too? Possock beat Mathieu/Paire and their home support 6-3, 5-7, 10-7 to open their campaign. They have been an inconsistent but dangerous team all year and are going to London. It is as alternates, but it still kind of counts. Then they ousted 7th seeds Matkowski/Zimonjic 7-6[9], 7-6[2] to advance through to the quarters. The top seeded Bryans were never at the races and they went down 7-6[3], 6-3. The Bryans are falling and quickly. Possock had eliminated the 7th and 1st seeds to make the semi-finals. Inglot and Lindstedt fought hard in the first but went down 7-6[6], 6-1. Then they took the first set against 2nd seeds Dodig/Melo 6-2. But they fell 2-6, 6-3, and 10-5 in an extremely high quality final. Some of the rallies were mind-blowing. They should finish in the top ten this year and deservedly so.
...Noah Rubin beat Kozlov his good friend in the 2014 Wimbledon boys final. No, he is not related. Here is a video of him hitting.

He won that Wimbledon title as a qualifier and did so in Charlotte last week, also. Having qualified he beat Quigley 6-4 in the third from a set down. 6th seed Donaldson was next and again it went three. He won 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. Then he beat Kozlov -- yes, that Kozlov -- 6-4, 6-4. Having seen off his fellow young compatriots he then edged veteran Laaksonen 6-2, 7-5 to find himself in the final. Next up was alternate Tommy Paul. Paul is 1-1 in boy’s finals this year. He and Fritz swapped very similar three set scorelines at the French and U.S. Opens. Down two breaks in the second, Rubin came back to win in style 3-6, 7-6[7], 6-3. America’s future is bright. Could Rubin be the brightest light of all?
...It’s disappointing that Marin would go out like this. Sure, he is the 2nd alternate in London. That means nothing. With a week-long gap, Gasquet likely won’t play. Competing for the alternate spot in London he went out in straight sets in the first round. He lost to the even more disappointing Dimitrov 7-6[3], 7-6[2]. With a serve like that, only getting five points in those breakers is criminal. Cilic has had another poor year. The only reason he is going to London is because three other players didn’t want it. He doesn’t deserve to go there. He needs to improve and go back to how he was last year. Federer was also poor. Had Cilic won another match it would be Federer here.
...Federer should really be in the down section. But the benefit of the doubt goes to Isner. The top American played a great game to unseat the Swiss. The on song American needed two breakers to come through, but Federer struggles in Paris and the Yank could take advantage. Isner’s serve, as usual, proved to be the big weapon but this was something of a complete performance. Federer had his chances and he shouldn’t have lost to Isner in three, but in the lotteries of the breaker, Isner’s aggression paid off.

Notes from the week...
1 – Murray can finish number two for the first time
2 – Isner at 11 is about to have his highest ever finish
3 – Venus entered the top ten for the first time in 1998. She just rose to seven by beating Pliskova in the final of the WTA’s final event.
4 – Djokovic had a much harder path to victory than Murray and he swept all before him. Impressive, if you ask me.
5 – Llodra comes back, but this time to coach. He will be helping the Belgians. Could this be a ‘gateway’ role?
6 – Thank you, Nieminen. Jarko the flying Finn has entertained us for 15 years. Ah, well. All good things and that.
7 – Paire is taking on a small challenger event in France this week. Seeded 23, he is the top seed by a long way. It’s a great decision. Money, confidence and wins should all be his.

1. Paris QF - Muray d. Gasquet 7-6[7], 3-6, 6-3
...Murray faked a back injury throughout the whole match but still came through in three long sets. The clash of styles was watchable with both exchanging drop shots and backhands. Gasquet has been showing a lot of mental toughness as of late and he is a deserved world number nine.
2. Paris QF - Wawrinka d. Nadal 7-6[8, 7-6[7]
...Nadal comes back in the second set but cannot take it to three. Wawrinka was up 5-4 30-15 in the second but missed two sitters. Then he saved set points in the breaker before finally closing it out. This was a high quality match where Wawrinka finally showed his stuff.
3. Paris 3rd Rd. - Isner d. Federer 7-6[3], 6-3, 7-6[5]
...Federer disappoints as Isner serves up a storm. Isner held his nerve after Fed saved several match points. Isner gave us a good upset to close out his season. He will be as inconsistent as ever next season but he will also be dangerous in Melbourne.
4. Paris Final - Djokovic d. Murray 6-2, 6-4
...This was Murray’s year writ small. He beat a slew of talented but lesser players on the way to a final with Djokovic. Once there he got blown away. In this final, Murray was never in contention. He really is not the world number two, not really. He just does not have it against Djokovic…

ANSWER: Federer is the obvious one. You should have gotten Sampras and Lendl, too. The fourth player is Ille Nastase.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Wk.43- The Fedining Rafalry

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Welcome to 2012. Robin Williams is still alive. So is Whitney Houston. The Bryans are threatening to take the word number one back and Federer has beaten Nadal. Oh, and Djokovic won in Australia.

Really it is 2015 and all those tennis things have happened this year. If Federer was going to hand Nadal a loss it was going to happen in Basel, or at least on indoor hard. The crowd really helped their local boy win again. Ignore the statistics for a moment -- they will come later. This was revenge a long time in coming. This was Federer showing he can compete at the age of 34 with Nadal so long as it isn’t on clay.

This rivalry has defined tennis since 2004. Eleven years of storylines, of moments intertwined with our history as well as the ATP’s. This is the rivalry we love. It’s better even than Manning/Brady where terrific Tom is so utterly dominant. It’s better than the Sydney and Melbourne city rivalry, too. So what if Rafa leads it? If they had played more on hard courts it could very well have gone Federer’s way. One reason it is so skewed is because Nadal rarely made his seeding on hard courts. He was more vulnerable. Federer always made his seeding on clay in his prime years.

We all know how it goes. Rafa pounds away at the Federer backhand and eventually Federer comes up with magic or he breaks down. The thump of Nadal’s backhand, the swish and flick of Federer’s backhand.

And then Federer dances, glides around and strikes a forehand out to Rafa’s backhand. He bullies the backhand then hits the winner to Rafa’s forehand. Sometimes Rafa can do something extraordinary with what should be a winning shot from Federer and sometimes not. But they give us a waltz so easy on the eyes we can’t look away.

And the record of 23-11, while not close, is no worse than the Graf/Seles 10-5 record. And it is far better than the Sharapova/Serena, whatever that is. Furthermore, Nadal leads just 10-9 off clay. They’ve played 34 matches and 15 have come on clay. That’s a huge chunk of them right there. And what if Federer had won that Rome final? Federer and Nadal are 3-3 in non-clay finals, with Federer having a great chance to win two of those.

Enough words to write War and Peace have been written about that final. That Wimbledon final, the greatest match there ever was or ever will be. Who else but these two could have played such a match?

Ignore the stupid music and watch this clip:

And then watch this one:

The two greatest passing shots of the tournament without doubt have taken place on the last two points. So said the commentator and it has stuck with me. That match was so beyond epic, beyond thunder dome the commentary is memorable.

Sure the other rivalries and the big four were nice, but this was THE rivalry. This was the one we’ll still be talking about. You might mention in passing that Australian Open final in 2012, but these two are the ones you’ll talk about with reverence.

But enough of that. The season is almost over and we have but another two weeks or so. Let’s get stuck into some tennis...

QUESTION: What day does the Australian Open start?

Top 32 - Kyrgios is the steady one. He stays at 30. Dimitrov has fallen a place to 29, which is disgraceful. He’s too good for that. Johnson and Chardy round out the top 32. Kohl has the same points as Chardy but is number 33.
Top 10 – Big servers abound at 11-14 with Tsonga ahead of Cilic, Anderson, Isner and Raonic. The Canuck drops five places. With the Canadian falling, Gasquet goes up two places to 9 in the world. His highest ever was 7. Tsonga sits at 10 but is over 100 behind his compatriot. Cilic is up two spots to 11 and is just 60 points adrift of the top ten. That top ten race will be fascinating to watch next year.
Top 8 – Ferrer is 500 behind Kei at 7 but 1200 above Gasquet. Less than 300 points separate Berdych, Nadal and Nishikori. Could Nadal get back in that top five?
Top 4 – Murray and Federer swap. Djokovic is so far ahead though, it almost seems like he duped the system. Wawrinka stays where he has been for a long time, at number three. The gap between 2 and 3 is 180. If Federer makes the Paris final he would almost certainly clinch the number two ranking.

S: Roger Federer def. Rafael Nadal 6-3/5-7/6-3
D: Peya/Soares def. J.Murray/Peers

S: Joao Sousa def. Roberto Bautista Agut 3-6/6-3/6-4
D: Butorac/Lipsky d. F.Lopez/Mirnyi

...Just two events this week and the winner of the 500 was always going to get this award unless something funky happened. Rafa is 5th all-time with titles. He has 67. Federer is 3rd with 88 but is just six behind Lendl. Could he catch Connors on 109? In finals he is again third. He has made 134. Let that sink in for a moment. Lendl at 146 and Connors at 164 aren’t unassailable. Federer just keeps going and 100 titles might just be attainable. If he can win a title in the last two weeks of the season and then it is even more achievable. In Basel, he showed his age and his fight. Fed opened with a tricky encounter against Kukushkin. The Kazakh was not at his best and may have had a nagging injury. At this point in the season who doesn’t have a nagging injury or two? Todd and I even have a nagging injury. After the 1 and 2 drubbing Rog moved onto tricky German Kohlschreiber and he got out of hot water winning 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Philipp was on form and was inches from the upset. Federer was cool in dismissing Goffin 6-1 in the third. He was no match for Sock in a 6-3, 6-4 victory for the Swiss. And then he beat Rafa 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 to close out the win. Federer has been inside the top ten for 13 years now since October 2002. 682 consecutive weeks and 692 overall. Ten finals this season and he has won six. He is also 7-5 in Basel finals, having competed every year since 2000 except 2002-05. Twelve finals is the most by one player at any event. Right, enough of Federer.
...Formulaic and statistical is the theme here on BACKSPIN this week. The winner of the larger event gets an award and so does the winner of the smaller. Sousa is an impressive player, a consistent dark horse in every event. Even in the slams he is a dark horse in the sections he is placed in. He made a run at the 2013 U.S. Open to the third round before being routed by Djokovic. This year he got to the third round of the Australian Open before being stopped by Murray. At the French he took a set off Murray in the second. Consistently in the Top 40, this guy is in the upper echelons of the journeymen. The seven-time ATP finalist hit his highest ranking of 34 this week. So what if he’s 2-5 in those finals. Benneteau is 0-14 or so in finals. Sousa improves to 1-3 in finals this year. He edged Muller 7-6[9], 6-3 after taking the first set in a tight breaker. Winning the first set gave him momentum he never lost. On form fifth seed Paire was next but this time it went three. The Portuguese went through 6-3, 2-6, 6-3. Next up was Cuevas, probably the favourite in their match, but he too fell to Sousa. He went through 6-4, 6-4. The same scoreline occurred in the next match against Pospisil. In the final against the seventh seed, Sousa scored perhaps his biggest upset. He beat Agut from a set down 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. His forehand, the key shot, was on shot all match and he finally fell to his knees after coming from 4-2 down in the second to win in over two hours. He is well in the mix for a seeding in Australia.
...Johnson keeps up the form. Everything about him is a pleasant surprise. It isn’t like that surprise one gets when one misses the last step on the stairs. It’s like finding out your exam is next Monday not this, or a dollar in a pair of jeans. Steve isn’t losing form. He is keeping it up. It took Agut in a third set breaker in the semi to stop him. He just keeps going, keeps plugging away. Here in the bottom half of the top fifty hard work and consistent results are the currency. He beat Klizan 6-3, 6-4 and Lopez the second seed 6-4, 7-6[3] to make the quarters. That was a surprise. Beating the 6th seed Garcia-Lopez 7-5, 6-4 to make the semi-final was a nice breath of fresh air, too. It’s nice to have hard-working likable Johnson in and around the Top 30. He has earned it, after all.
...In singles Sock has made his first ever 500 level semi-final. He is 1-1 in finals this year. They were his first two and both were at 250 level. But with his run this week he rises to his highest ever ranking of 25. Sock is the future of American tennis. He is the same age as Tomic, but Tomic feels older. But then he did make the Wimbledon quarterfinals aged just 19. Sock’s run had a very stars and stripes feel to it. He beat Kudla 6-4, 6-2 to set up a second round clash with John Isner, the 6th seed and top ranked American. He won 7-6[5], 6-3. Interestingly it was Young who most challenged Sock. Yet he crumbled, too, going down 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. Sock is the best American now and definitely a solid pick to go far next year.
...It’s not a bad loss but momentum is critical at this time of the year. And a loss to Karlovic after leading is poor. It’s not like he can surprise you with his weapons. He can do two or three things well but apart from that he can’t hurt you. The flaws in his game are exploitable. Yet still the world number four lost 3-6, 7-6[3], 6-4. Wawrinka needs to tighten up his game. The WTF are not forgiving. I say that but both Radwanska and Kvitova were mediocre in group player. They both won just a single match and yet still made the final. Go figure.
...Feliciano Lopez has had a torrid season in parts, highlighted by some stunning moments and great streaks of form. Look no further than the U.S. Open where he almost took Djokovic to five. He does this every year, however, so what else is new? But Johnson stepped up and beat him in his back yard. He beat a big server who gives you no rhythm and can literally be playable. Again, the theme of the ATP seems to be talent is not all. If it were the mercurial Lopez, and every French player in the top twenty, would be top five players. Johnson knocked out Feli 6-4, 7-6[3] to advance to the next round.

Notes from the week...
1 – What do you think is the better rival -- Federer/Nadal or Rafa/Novak? I think it depends on the kind of mood you happen to be in. There is no wrong answer.
2 – Karlovic is 0-9 deciding tiebreakers. He has less than a 43 pct. win ratio in breakers this year.
3 – Astonishing that the ATP WTF is wrapped up so early. It was effectively over by Shanghai, though it is now officially over.
4 – Congratulations to Agnieszka Radwanska. She won the WTA tour finals. Which I suppose means she is the best female player in the world. But is she going to win a slam? Based on recent evidence it is unlikely.
5 – Lleyton Hewitt is the 2016 Australian Davis Cup captain. Good luck to him. He will do a fine job.
6 – Congratulations also to Melo who is the first doubles world number one not named Bryan since 2012.
7 – Djokovic has 181 weeks at number one, surpassing John McEnroe. My prediction is that he won’t pass Federer. But he could be number two all time. If he never wins the French Open that would be a shame.
8 – Have a look around this interesting website if you have not done so already: Tennis Abstract

1. Basel Final - Federer d. Nadal 6-3, 5-7, 6-3
...Federer finally slew the beast. For the first time since Indian Wells 2012, Federer has danced with the bull and won. His backhand was patchy but he had mettle and the home crowd behind him. It was enough to see him through. But Nadal showed signs that his former self is coming back. The clay swing is going to be very interesting.
2. Valencia SF - Agut d. Johnson 4-6, 6-3, 7-6[8]
...a heartbreaker for Johnson. So close to making another final, the consistent Agut came back to beat the American. Perhaps the home crowd pulled the plucky Spaniard through in the end. Seeded 7th, Agut beat unseeded but on form Johnson to reach yet another final.
3. Basel QF - Gasquet d. Karlovic 6-4, 6-7[2], 7-6[6]
...Karlovic pushed the 5th seed all the way despite an arm injury. He even had a match point. Gasquet was aggressive on all the big points instead of being his usual passive self. Karlovic had a great match and should have won. But he, like the rest of us, was not expecting the Frenchman to be mentally tough.
4. Valencia Final - Sousa d. Agut 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
...will Agut regain his magic in finals? He is now 2-4 in the marquee match and 0-2 in 2015. He has lost two in the last three weeks, as well. He sits at 24 in the world but he is a good slam player. It was Sousa’s day on Sunday but Agut’s will come soon enough.

Djokovic [1] d. [7] Nadal
Federer [3] d. [2] Murray
Djokovic [1] d. [3] Federer

...Djokovic should be too good for the rest of the field again, but Nadal and Gasquet could play spoiler in the top and bottom halves, respectively. Murray is the percentage pick and his clash with Goffin is interesting for Davis Cup reasons. Federer can end the year ranked world number two if he does well here.

Thank you for the year, Casey. The doubles run to the U.S. Open final was a joy. But we move on to Kristina ‘Kiki’ Mladenovic in 2016.

ANSWER: Monday the 18th of January is when the 2016 Australian Open, Grand Slam of Asia Pacific, starts.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wk.42- Are We There Yet?

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Like the end of September hanging onto summer, so our season comes to a close.

Next week will be more of this, but as the season comes to close so do most of the storylines. Our questions have been answered, our wishes have been fulfilled. Welcome to the fourth quarter or third quarter for you hockey fans. Welcome to the bottom of the ninth. Welcome to October on the ATP. The WTA has finished. And our turn is coming soon.

It’s funny how despite being exhausted and a little sick of tennis now, we will miss it after just two weeks in the off-season. It is always the way. We still have about four weeks left, all told, but the schedule has become longer and longer as the years have gone by. The Australian Open moved. It is time the ATP looked at perhaps reducing the schedule. Do we really need such a long fall swing?

Regardless of the schedule we had our final week of three events and we are now down to a 250, a 500, a 1000 and a partridge in a pear tree. It’s nice symmetry to have one of each left. And the partridge can come later.

This week Vienna was upgraded to a 500 at the expense of Valencia. It made its debut. So I guess it qualifies as a Fresh Face, too. But this BACKSPINNER will miss that lovely Valencia stadium. Unusually, the 500 event was accompanied by a pair of 250 events. And it was Ferrer who prevailed in Vienna. It had just two top ten players and the field was overall a weaker one. It’s not often a 500 is such a ‘gimme,’ but this time it was.

And the 250’s gave some players a chance to move up the pecking order for the WTF. On that note it’s probably time to get stuck in.

Enough of my mostly mindless rambling. Let’s get stuck into some tennis...

QUESTION: Who had won more 500 titles, Federer or Nadal? If you can give the numbers then you can have extra credit.

Top 32 - Johnson rises a massive 14 places to 33, but Kohlschreiber rises two and holds him out of the top 32. Chardy falls a little but still sits pretty at 31. Kyrgios stays still in at 30.
Top 10 – Cilic and Isner swap at 13 and 14. Cilic leads by 70 points. Gasquet usurps Anderson in at 11 to leave the South African number one at 12. Gasquet is 60 behind Tsonga and just 15 ahead of Kevin. Number nine Raonic isn’t out of sight and is less than 200 ahead. It’s tight there on the brink of the top ten.
Top 8 – Ferrer is leaving Raonic for dust and is slowly reeling Nadal back in. He could also overtake Kei. But how much is left in his tank?
Top 4 – Little change. Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Wawrinka remain the top four but Murray is extending his lead at number two, though only by a little bit.

S: David Ferrer def. Steve Johnson 4-6/6-4/7-5
D: Kubot/Melo def. J.Murray/Peers

S: Marin Cilic def. Roberta Bautista Agut 6-4/6-4
D: Rublev/Tursunov def. Albot/Cermak

S: Tomas Berdych def. Jack Sock 7-6(1)/6-2
D: Monroe/Sock def. Pavic/Venus

...Ferrer goes to 26-25 in career finals. It’s incredible that he has reached 51 finals. For the record, that’s the same as Murray. He doesn’t have as good a record in those finals but he truly feels like a Hall of Fame player. He is also 10-9 in 500 finals. Ferrer just keeps going -- he is the little Spaniard that could. He has stayed in the top ten and consistently won titles for such a long time. The comparisons between him and Dementieva are numerous. Ah, Dementieva. Now there was a player who was great to watch. Possibly the best player off the baseline the WTA has seen in many a year. Both she and Ferrer would have achieved so much more if their respective serves had been just 5 per cent better. This week Ferrer pulled a Serena. The conventional wisdom is that you have to get Williams early. Ferrer ousted Ramos, the Federer conqueror, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 and once he got past that match he just went on a roll. Garcia-Lopez was put to the sword and lost 6-1, 6-1. Fognini went down 6-4, 6-2 in the quarters and Ferrer was looking increasingly ominous. Monfils was consistent but didn’t have enough as he was out-ground by Ferrer 7-6[5], 7-5. Somehow the final wasn’t a thrash. Johnson competed well but ultimately lost 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. Even when Ferrer is playing badly he can still win. Ferrer could still finish in the top five, though it is unlikely. On the strength of this comeback he would deserve it, too.
...Berdych should be renamed the yo-yo. So his rising isn’t necessarily worthy of reward, though it does necessitate a mention. Cilic has been, as he usually is, awful outside of the slams. Well, he’s not even that great in them, Wimbledon and the US Open aside. But Cilic picked up not just a 250 but some confidence. And perhaps the thinnest of lifelines in his battle to qualify for the WTF again. Though perhaps the only race still alive is the one for the alternates. Like Ferrer, his hardest match was the first. And he beat Istomin 7-6[3], 3-6, 6-3 to edge him into the second round. There he unleashed his full wrath and dismantled Kuznetsov 6-2, 6-1. Then he routed Donskoy 3 and 1. In the final, Agut couldn’t handle Cilic though he fought hard. Cilic ran out the winner 6-4, 6-4. Marin is now 14-9 in finals and is 8-2 in his last ten finals. He has won four finals in a row including that U.S. Open. His last final before this was in Moscow at the same event. He beat Agut in the final 6-4, 6-4. Spooky.
...Every player Johnson played had at some point been a top 15 player. He was the favourite in none of his matches but he impressed and he has shown his ability. He has come from nowhere and is ranked above Young and Harrison. Johnson edged Dolgopolov in three 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 to set up a match with unseeded and out of form Janowicz. It was even tighter, but Johnson prevailed once again 6-4, 6-7[7], 6-4. The American is a good clutch player. The evidence suggests that is the case at least. Next he escaped Anderson’s clutches 5-7, 7-6[5], 6-4. Anderson should have won that in two comfortable sets. But he could not find his top ten form when he needed it and Johnson was again clutch. Then he faced Gulbis and he should never have won that. It was a golden chance for Gulbis to make a final and regain his confidence. Perhaps most impressive of all is his three set loss to Ferrer. He should have been exhausted but he found a fresh vein of energy from somewhere and almost beat the Spaniard.
...Maximilian Marterer has a fantastic name. He also has a lot of talent in his tricky lefty game. He made a Wimbledon junior slam semi-final and reached a junior doubles final, too. The 20-year old German had a great week in Stockholm. He beat Guccione 7-6[0], 6-4. Then he beat compatriot Torebko 6-3, 6-4. But most impressive is how he defeated Almagro 6-3, 6-4 to qualify. And a 6-7[4], 6-2, 6-2 loss to Mayer is perfectly responsible. So, do we think is this the start of a wonderful career?
…I suppose Gasquet and Simon disappointed, but nobody was really awful this week. It’s a pity -- BACKSPIN does love to celebrate the good and the bad. Not to mention the ugly.

...Oh, how we miss the Bagman. And he returned this week. We thought he was close to retirement but he seems to be hanging on. He ousted Tomic in straight sets. Then he beat Muller, the eighth seed, in three long sets. After winning three matches and knocking out two seeds, he lost to Berdych 6-1, retired. It doesn’t get much more Baghdatis than that.

Five notes from the week...
1 – It’s time to start thinking about next year. We’re just 65 days from Brisbane. It sounds a lot but it will be here before you know it. Savor the dying weeks of this year, but have an eye on next year, too.
2 – We have just the three regular events left. The field for the WTF [that name has to go] is all but set. All that’s left is to decide who will be the main alternate. Is it going to be Gasquet or Tsonga?
3 – Eugenie Bouchard is fining the USTA and, from what I can glean from the reports, she has a strong case.
4 – With Johnson winning and Sock impressing, are America’s men finally beginning to improve?
5 – WTA Finals have begun and, honestly, it just isn’t that interesting. There’s no hype and the field isn’t all that great. If I’m not a fan of tennis I’m probably not tuning in. A lack of star power can be blamed.

1. Vienna Final - Ferrer d. Johnson 4-6, 6-4, 7-5
...Ferrer edged the talented American in three long sets. And Ferrer has come back and started winning again. It’s like he never left and that is the sign of a truly remarkable player. He has been on fire the last few weeks and I think he should at the least be nominated for the Hall of Fame. But here he won another 500 and he won it by being Ferrer. Nobody does it better.
2. Moscow 2nd Rd. - Gabashvili d. Troicki 6-2, 6-3
...This week’s big win came in the second round of the Kremlin Cup. Third seeded Troicki was blown away in no time by the inspired Gabashvili, who then got just five games in the next round. Every week there seems to be an unanticipated blow-out. This was it.
3. Stockholm QF - Berdych d. Dimitrov 7-5, 6-4
...Admittedly he is off form but Dimitrov is still talented, still dangerous and still a great player. He can still play world class tennis. And he pulled out some good stuff against Berdych, but the Czech was completely professional and never panicked. Beating Dimi in straight sets is a good result any day of the week.
4. Vienna 1st Rd. - Tsonga d. Haas 6-3, 6-7[3], 6-3
...Well it was good to see that Tommy still has the stamina to go at it for three sets with the likes of Tsonga bearing down on him. Haas played a strong match against the French number one, but ultimately did not prevail. Haas has shown he is back and he can play spoiler again.

Federer [1] d. [6] Isner
Nadal [3] d. [5] Gasquet
Ferrer [1] d. [5] Thiem

...Federer doesn’t lose a set on his way to another title. Anderson is running out of steam. Gasquet is under pressure to make the WTF and that shows as he makes it to the semi-finals. But Nadal is too good and he plays Federer for what could be the last time.

Ferrer [1] d. [3] Tomic
Lopez [2] d. [7] Agut
Ferrer [1] d. [2] Lopez

...Valencia finds itself demoted to a 250 event. The Spaniards always impress here and only an on-fire Tomic will disrupt. But Ferrer should be too good. And Agut in Spain at 250 level is guaranteed to turn up.

This week on Casey Corner I enclose simply a link.

And it’s time to say goodbye to Casey. Next season I will be focusing on another WTA player. She’s the French number one in two disciplines, ranked 9tth and 27th. She’s a fiery up and comer with a long blonde mane. Having focused on a vet, it’s time to focus on a young star. It’s time to focus on Kristina Mladenovic. I figure the two sides of this blog should stay connected and it is interesting to follow one player throughout the season. So, unless Todd overrules me, you’ll be seeing a lot of Kristina. [Ed.Note: sounds good to me... I think Kiki might just have a true breakout year in '16. - tds]

ANSWER: This was a trick question. The answer is neither. Federer is 16-4 in 500 finals and Nadal 16-6. Both Federer and Nadal play in Basel. Will one of them win number 17?

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Wk.41- Djokovic and the Ghost of Steffi

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

The Dolphins in 1972. Australia at its home Olympics. Steffi Graf in 1988. All did great things, things deemed impossible. And we look back particularly at those Dolphins and Graf. And we realize that what they did will likely never be achieved again. One day an NFL team will again go unbeaten and, frankly, those 2007 Patriots were far more impressive than those Dolphins. But what that girl from some German town nobody has ever heard of did rocked the world.

She won and won and won that year. She lost three times and only twice the next year. In 1989 she dropped 12 sets. Think about that. And it wasn’t just that she won and won. It was how she did. She demoralised opponents. She thrashed Sabatini 3 and 3 in the Olympic finals and let Zvereva win just 13 points in the French final. She barely lost sets and dominated everyone and everything.

And she paved the way for bigger hitters like Serena. Graf’s 1988-9 was the most dominant stretch of time in all of sports ever. Yes that’s a big call, but she dropped five matches in two years. She swept all before her. And she had incredible competition going against her. And what she did is barely recognized outside of the tennis community. And it really should be.

Nobody has come close on either side of the tour to matching that. Except Serena, but even she has never dominated like that for two whole years. Even she has her limits. She was in tears against Vinci. She couldn’t handle the pressure. Graf made Bjorn Borg look like Florida in contrast to her Alaska.

Federer came close three times when he made the finals of each and every slam. In 2006-7 and 2009 he went 3-1, 3-1 and 2-2. But Fed has never won the Olympics and Federer always had his Nadal. Nadal could stop Federer. And Swiss men played that role for Djokovic this year. Novak will not again make all four finals in a year and I truly believe he will not win the French. I think this year was his shot. Just as Federer had his against Soderling aged 28, Djokovic had his shot against Wawrinka when he was 28.

But Djokovic this year reminds me of that young German girl who blew everyone away. But he doesn’t do it with offense, he does it with sheer defence. Djokovic is going to win two more titles this year I think. He will enter Paris and the Tour Finals. He will win them both.

And I think he is the most dominant athlete in sports right now. And he deserves kudos for that. And BACKSPIN recognises that this was his most impressive year yet. But now we must get on and review the week.

QUESTION: In 2011 how many matches did Djokovic lose?

Top 32 - Kyrgios keeps rising and is at 30 now. Sock and Robredo move one place but stay in the top 32. Dimitrov at 26 could fall even farther.
Top 10 – Tsonga is up to ten. He holds off Anderson and Gasquet, though the points difference here is minute. Isner and Cilic could threaten but need to find form first.
Top 8 – Ferrer is increasingly out on his own in at eight. Nadal is inching towards number six Nishikori and getting further away from Ferrer.
Top 4 – No change. Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Wawrinka remain the top four but I would think in real terms Murray is probably the fourth best player in the world right now not the second.

S: Novak Djokovic def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2/6-4
D: Klaasen/Melo def. Bolelli/Fognini

...The problem is, as noted here last week, Novak leaves writers stuck. He is the player of the week, the year and the decade. But nothing interesting happened. There are few storylines and so one ends up having to clutch at the proverbial straws. Honestly, Djokovic is just in absolute control. If you have ever played a video game on easy mode then you will know how it is for Djokovic right now. He beat down Klizan 6-2, 6-1 to open up with before dismissing Lopez 6-2, 6-3 to make the quarters. Tomic should have stolen the first set of their match but once Djokovic stole it, the Australian seemed powerless to resist as he went down 7-6[6], 6-1. Murray was next to face the sword and he scraped together just four games. He is Djokovic’s play thing right now. And Tsonga went down in the final 6-2, 6-4. What more is there to add?
...Murray hasn’t had a mention for a while, but he is the world number two. And that is part of the reason he is here. Honestly he is really about the world number four or five but that’s not what the ATP rankings say. He beat Johnson 6-2, 6-4 and looked good in his return to the tour. Isner stole a set but he was never in the match. Murray needed only a couple of breaks to come through 6-7[4], 6-4, 6-4. After dispatching two of America’s finest he was faced with the dangerous and streaky Berdych. Once more Murray found his best and beat down the Czech 6-1, 6-3. Berdych is having a very sketchy season this year. But the 1 and 3 loss to Nole demonstrated Murray’s greatest flaw. He just goes away when he has to face Djokovic. Since the Australian Open, especially, Murray has been poor. After beating him in that U.S. Final he has had just two wins and is 9-20 all time. The Scot will never win another slam or rise above number two but it would be nice to see him challenge Djokovic a bit more. He is, after all, the world number two.
...What is it with the French and surprises? Tsonga impressed once more as he rose to ten in the world. France should really have dominated the Davis Cup this year. They have had multiple slam quarter-finalists this year, too. Simon, Tsonga and Gasquet all have vastly different games but all have impressed. What has sometimes been missing from Tsonga is mental toughness, but this week was all about resilience for the flashy showman. Seeded 16th he opened up by edging Robredo 6-7[5], 6-2, 6-2. But he handled Burgos 6-3, 6-2 and was barely troubled in that match. He beat upset specialist Ramos 6-7[5], 7-5, 6-4 and then edged Anderson 7-6[5], 5-7, 6-4 to make the semi-finals. Once there he edged Nadal in a very impressive three setter he probably should have lost. But in the final Djokovic was far too good. That he got six games is, in fact, very impressive.
...If Kokkinakis is the ice and Kyrgios the fire, then Tomic is the slush. Between the two in personality and game he is somehow forgotten. He is the world number 18 and that feels right. I love watching him play and watching him improve is also a joy. He has developed into a decent young man [mostly] and a very good tennis player. He tested Djokovic and he showed how you beat the world number one. He really is to be commended. But he won’t be because the press love failure and hate success. Still his run here was great and it would be fantastic if he could crack the top 16 so he can make a go of it in his beloved Australia. If he could just behave himself in the off-season, that would be the icing on an already very impressive cake. If he is going to behave, can it please be with just girls and not drugs. Because smaller steps are fine. Don’t forget he only just turned 23.
...Can you remember the last time the Ukrainian won a match? I sure can’t. Dolgopolov has some serious form to find lest he fall even further down the ranks. He isn’t young anymore and the kind of slide he is on is unforgivable at his age.
...Federer has that slam hangover hanging around. But he blew away some of the cobwebs and will dominate in Basel again. So that is why BACKSPIN holds off judgement. Ramos used his wiles and craft to beat Federer. He was just too solid for a rusty Federer having a bad day. The Spanish qualifier is a journeyman and his week here will fund his Christmas nicely. And the win over Federer is a great bonus for such a hard worker. It will be interesting to see if the talented Spaniard can improve his ranking at the tail end of this year and the beginning of the next.

Five notes from the week...
1 – After Backspin spent a lot of time saying it was over for him, Nadal has bounced back again. Go figure. The question now is whether this is General Custer’s last stand or is this Rafa down but not out?
2 – The year is coming to a close and suddenly it feels like that more and more. Hey, you won’t have to put up with me much more. Of course, once it closes there are still wrap-ups and 2016 previews.
3 – Venus continues to impress. She will be so dangerous at the slams next year. Kerber is once again hanging around despite the lack of fanfare.
4 – It’s incredible to think Boris Becker and the serve was dominant 30 years ago. A long time ago when one thinks about it. Nobody saw the return becoming this dominant.
5 – Djokovic must have his eye on that Gold medal and French Open double next year.

1. Shanghai SF - Tsonga d. Nadal 6-4, 0-6, 7-5
...Tsonga drops 15 games but still comes through. Tsonga was at his athletic best but we also saw the best Nadal had to offer. And Nadal’s best is certainly impressive. Mixed in with the good for Nadal was the poor. It was a streaky performance from the Spaniard. But Tsonga has bounced back nicely and his forehand was on song in this match. But that middle set needs to be addressed.
2. Beijing 2nd Rd. - Ramos d. Federer 76[4], 2-6, 6-3
...Federer was poor as he lost to a journeyman on his worst surface. Ramos played well and toughed it out but the Swiss star should have turned in a much better performance than the one he did. Federer seems to be just coasting out the year. He is trying to maximise his performance at the tour finals and in the slams coming next year…
3. Shanghai 2nd Rd. - Nishikori d. Kyrgios 1-6, 6-4, 6-4
...After he got dealt a similar scoreline by Paire, Kei came back and ousted the big hitting Aussie star. Nishikori couldn’t handle the power in the first but eventually round his way to a victory over the now world number 30. But for Kyrgios the signs are ever more encouraging.
4. Shanghai QF - Nadal d. Wawrinka 6-2, 6-1
...This was a blowout. Nadal ran riot against the Swiss number two. It’s rarely the fourth best team, country or player in the world gets such a beat down. Wawrinka had no answer for the firepower and top form the Spaniard displayed.

Ferrer [1] d. [6] Monfils
Thiem [5] d. [7] Karlovic
Ferrer [1] d. [5] Thiem

...Home advantage can make or break a player. Here I think it gives Thiem a nice edge. But Ferrer will have too much in the end for Thiem. There are lots of out of form players who could make a decent run here.

Cilic [1] d. [3] Troicki
Agut [2] d. [4] Kohlschreiber
Ferrer [1] d. [5] Thiem

...This is one of those that picks itself. The seeds should be good enough here to hold firm. Pressure is on Cilic to try and make the tour finals.

Tomic [4] d. [1] Berdych
Gasquet [2] d. [3] Simon
Gasquet [2] d. [4] Tomic

...Tomic is on form right now and will have too much for Berdych. Gasquet is under pressure to make the tour finals. He needs to pick up a couple of titles and here is one place he could do it. If he goes in at number nine he may still get matches.

Shvedova won a title this weekend but that isn’t important as she wasn’t playing with Casey. No Casey next week as she and Yaroslava prepare for the doubles world tour finals. They are definitely in and so rest time is fine. They’re all but guaranteed a top four seeding, which is important but is not essential.

ANSWER: The record says six and if you answered that you would be correct. Federer beat him in Paris and Nishikori in Basel. One was a withdrawal, which doesn’t count, and two were retirements. Two losses to Ferrer and Tipsarevic count but Djokovic had hurt himself.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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