Monday, November 21, 2016

Wk.46- WTF: Still Not Over...

Hey, all. Galileo here.

So here we are. The last stand of the 2016 ATP tour, bar the Davis Cup. So we’ll do an intro, breaking down both groups, then break down the knock-out stages, sort of player by player. Is that to your liking? This BACKSPINNER hopes so. Keep in mind how worn down this BACKSPINNER is and he only does half – if that - of the work the other BACKSPINNER does.

Well, we’ll start at the top, shall we? Now if you’re going to name a group, either go British because it is in London or go for the greatest ever. This BACKSPINNER likes the sound of Fred Perry and Bunny Austin group. The Bunny group. Now who wouldn’t want to play in that? Except for that girl from "Fatal Attraction," possibly. That’s a lot of therapy right there. You can’t call it the Federer group yet, but why not Laver and Sampras?

Anyway, in the John McEnroe Group there was the first truly significant British player since those two. Seventy years is a long time unless you’re a Cubs fan or your team plays in Fenway Park. But, yes, this group had Andy Murray and it also had the man closest to achieving the Career Grand Slam, Stan Wawrinka.
Here’s a superb fact for you: Connors, Borg, Federer and Wawrinka. All won their first three slam finals. Fed won his first seven, but Wawrinka could go second all-time if he wins a fourth.

Also here was the ever disappointing Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori. Both seem to disappoint in different ways. Nishikori always seems to falter at the moment when he is about to take charge, but Cilic is just abysmal 70 per cent of the time. But the 30 he is so good it makes the 70 look even worse.

Wawrinka crashed and burned, as did Cilic, but Murray looked supreme throughout. He dropped just a set. Nishikori was solid, but the way he lost to Cilic really wasn’t great. This group had some flashes of brilliant tennis but was mostly pretty average.

Now in the other group, the Ivan Lendl Group, we had injuries, drama and the future of the one-handed backhand. We had two future Hall-of-Famers - yes, two - and a lot of pretty good tennis. Gael Monfils withdrew, unfortunately, but Dominic Thiem and Milos Raonic combined with Novak Djokovic was enough to keep us intrigued.

Monfils and David Goffin (who replaced the Frenchman after two matches) seemed destined to fail, but Thiem almost made the semi-final on his debut. Raonic managed to prove that his calm temperament is sometimes the answer.


Top 32 - No change. Querrey is at 31, with Kohl clinging onto the 32nd spot. Busta finishes the year at 30.
Top 10 – Nadal down to 9th. Berdych at 10 could overtake the Spaniard.
Top 8 – Thiem is up to eighth, while Monfiils falls to seventh. Cilic, typically, did nothing but is up to sixth. Kei holds firm at five, his own little island.
Top 4 – Wawrinka is off the pace, Raonic having built a little lead against the Swiss. But 140 points or so are nothing. Murray is 900 points above Novak as it stands, but both the top guys have enormous points to defend next year. Either Rafa or Roger could make a move.

S: Andy Murray def. Novak Djokovic 6-3/6-4
D: Kontinen/Peers d. Klaasen/Ram

...Who else? The current world number one put the key in the padlock and locked it up for the year with a victory at the World Tour Finals. It was pretty good, but there is still a niggling feeling he won’t win in Melbourne. It’s going to be even more painful watching the world’s best player lose a sixth final there. But the kind of pain that’s almost grimly funny - like watching Sharapova taking on Serena. But the last few weeks he has taken advantage of a watered down ATP and, going the classic Dinara route, has ascended to the top using the Masters. But we finally saw evidence he can beat the cream of the crop as he saw off a lot of talent and survived the longest ever match at the Finals to come out triumphant. In the group stages, dismissals of Cilic and Wawrinka saw the Scot looking at his dazzling best. Nishikori put up some resistance, but in the end it was for nought. In the semi-finals we had one of the matches of the year. Muzza took it out 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (11-9) in three hours and 38 minutes against Canada’s Raonic. And the final was the cherry on top of the enormous cake - seeing off Nole. Truly a world number one, even if he doesn’t yet belong with the big three achievement-wise.
...He doesn’t do outside the box. He is very similar to Del Potro, just not with that level of ability. Not yet, anyway. He is due a slam, and he should have had it at Wimbledon. Here, despite this BACKSPINNER’s reservations, he showed off his simple game plan yet again. Pistol Pete won all those slams because he kept it simple and straightforward. Raonic should have beaten Murray in the semi-final. The Scot got away with one there - he wasn’t the better player and to win that is a sign he is number one. Raonic’s handling of Thiem and Monfils was the sign of just how good the new number three is. He could’ve done a tad better against Nole, but two breakers really isn’t so bad. It was a solid week that indicates a very good 2017. And that inside forehand is really devastating. He is turning into a complete player. Look for him to win a slam next year.
...He came in as an alternate, did his thing and looked okay. What more can you ask? It gives him a taste of the biggest stage and it means he can draw from this in those big match moments. Sure, Djokovic beat him 6-2, 6-2 but sometimes it is best to get the horrible first match out of the way. Now when he inevitably comes back he knows it will not be new. Plus, for 69 minutes work he gets 144k sterling. So not bad, eh?
...What do you even say about the Japanese man that has yet to be spoken? Perhaps the biggest underachiever on the tour, given that Tsonga and Gasquet at least made pretty good careers. Nishikori has more than those two, really. He should be number two with a couple of slams under his belt. The comparisons you can draw between him and Clijsters are easy, though her career far eclipsed his. And she had to deal with Henin and the Williams sisters. So if Kim can do that, Kei can win a slam. Anyway, he did enough this week, as always. A typically tight loss to one of the big guys followed by a win over Monfils. What is highly disappointing is the way he didn’t even try to beat Cilic. He knew he was through so went out there and, similar to Azarenka against Bartoli a few years ago, just sat back and let it happen. His 6-1, 6-1 loss in the semi-final wasn’t even really a shock. Next year he has to at least make a slam final. He’s the world number five. He should prove it.
...Delightful, and different. That is the Austrian. He is a breath of fresh air in this tournament and on the tour. He nicked a set off Djokovic. He played some lovely shots. He overcame Monfils in three and revived the spirit of Muster, the best Austrian since the mighty Thomas. Melzer being the second best, perhaps. He did this in the first set of his tournament, against Novak:

While we’re here, let us not forget this happened:

It doesn’t matter that he faded against Raonic in a 7-6[3], 6-3 loss. Just as it doesn’t matter that this entire final blog post is riddled with tangents - it’s the last one, so what has one got to lose? Thiem is certainly a future slam winner and this debut was proof it will not be his last time here. Don’t forget, his win against Monfils was pretty good, too.
...No, not as bad as Cilic, but his ceiling is so much higher. No reason to think one day he won’t win Wimbledon and have the quartet. He has more game, more weapons and is a lock for the Hall of Fame. He should have used this chance to take a shot at rising up the rankings. He should have designs on that number two ranking, honestly. But losses to Murray and Nishikori in straight sets sealed his fate. Even the victory over Cilic in two breakers wasn’t great. We expect better. Luckily, the next slam is his best.
...Djokovic did what was expected, but he led Murray in the head-to-head 24-10 and 3-1 this year before the match. He had just smashed Nishikori, who took a set off Muzza, 6-1, 6-1. And he goes into the final and was totally flat. Sure, he came back from a double break in the second and made Murray think twice when serving it out, but this was not the performance you expect from a dethroned king.

And Cilic was abysmal. Nothing new there. He performs at Wimbledon, so he can choke in the quarterfinals like usual, and at the U.S. Open for the most part. He’ll turn up to a couple of Masters, but for every good win there’s a loss to a journeyman on that player's worst surface where Cilic will hit 50 errors in two sets. How he stays in the top ten is beyond this BACKSPINNER.

Notes from the Week...
1 - Fedex returns in 2017 at the Hopman cup with Bencic. Go check out the opening week of next year, even though it is too soon by half.
2 – Absolutely dire performance from Herbert/Mahut and they don’t deserve their top ranking. They played like number twos. But Peers/Kontinen were superb and played the role of Cinderella perfectly. Peers rises three to nine, Kontinen from three to seven.
3 – Seems to me this season is too long. It’s definitely one of the causes for injury. It should stop when the WTA does. If there is equal prize money everything else should be. Next year they are slotting in an under-21’s year-end tournament. Why?
4 – First time in fourteen years no Roger Federer at the WTF. It really does feel like the end of an era. The world number 16 will have so few points to defend next season. That’s the silver lining.
5 - Del Potro will lead Argentina to Davis Cup victory and a 4-0 head to head mark over Croatia in their backyard. The Argentine deserves something for how good he has been this year. With two rubber wins combined with team success, he should rise to somewhere just outside the top 30. Argies take it 3-2.
6 - Hmmm.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Wk.44- Requiem

Hey, all. Galileo here.

[Galileo began to write this before the end of Tuesday's U.S. elections, so take that into account... - tds]

Andy Murray is the 22nd player to hold number one. He has won some 20 matches in a row, even if they were against inferior opposition. He has, especially with the presence of this era’s best, looked quite good for the most part. He has ended Novak Djokovic’s 122-week stay at #1. We have had three long-term classy number ones. Now we have one who never shaves properly, swears, has had numerous examples of quite poor sportsmanship and has been known to abuse his opponents. It’s like going back to the days of Hewitt. Except at least Hewitt was a kid. Murray is permanently grumpy.

It’s going to be awkward having someone so unapproachable as number one. Our number ones, especially these days, need to be ambassadors for the sport. I know I am biased, but it is not just me. Murray is polarising. He has no charm or charisma. He has quite poor people skills and he doesn’t inspire anyone. And then there’s all the ‘injury’ business and the way he plays certain matches. Against Gasquet in the French Open this year he hit over 50 drop shots. No, not an exaggeration. Just a horrible way to play.

So forget about him. Even worse than Murray is Trump. I sincerely hope America stands up to the Donald. To show how confident I was I put a hundred British pounds on Hillary to win because I believe in the American people that much. I know they can do it. But if he wins people across the world stand to lose a lot more than I do. [On behalf of everyone, I apologize for Tuesday... and whatever comes next.]

Enough of our world number ones and of the depressing current affairs facing us. This is the final week, bar one and the Davis Cup, so let’s finish this long, long, long season…

Top 32 - Big change everywhere. Querrey is at 31 despite dropping two spots, with Kohl clinging onto the 32nd spot. Tomic has gone down to 26th in what has been a steady decline.
Top 10 – Federer down to 16th. Berdych at 10 is a place above Goffin, who leads Tsonga at 12.
Top 8 – Nadal drops two to eight, but he will start to tumble badly. He won’t retire, but he will take the Mauresmo route out rather than the Henin. Somehow Cilic is up to 7th, though he has admittedly had a great fall.
Top 4 – Completely new top four. Murray leads Djokovic by some 400 points. Raonic is comfortably fourth and could take third from Wawrinka. He is only 70 away from taking the Swiss. Nishikori in 5th is his own island.

PARIS, FRANCE (Hard Indoor)
S: Andy Murray def. John Isner 6-3/6-7(4)/6-4
D: Kontinen/Peers d. Herbert/Mahut

...So Murray won another title.

Hillary just won Vermont! Trump leads 19-3. Yes it is going to be one of those posts. Sue me. [Hmmm, don't tempt you-know-who, G.]

The Scot has gone on a tear this past Autumn swing. Throw in Wimbledon and another Olympic Gold and there isn’t a doubt he deserves to be world number one. It is still a very Murray thing to do to triumph when the three best players of his generation are out of the way. There should be an asterisk on this run because he has not faced a truly difficult opponent. He is right now the best player in the world. When Federer comes back and Djokovic gets back on it he will go down to third best in the world. Muzza struggled past Fernando 6-3, 6-7[5], 7-5. It was on a knife-edge, but he showed Hewitt-esque grit to come through and then blew away Pouille 6-3, 6-0. Rolling into the quarterfinals he had momentum. He saw off Berdman, against whom he dominates the head-to-head, 7-6[9], 7-5. And when Raonic withdrew, again, he was through to the final. Isner had slipped through to the final, but Murray had too much in a 6-3, 6-7[4], 6-4 win. Avoiding the upset has been the buzzword and Murray has done that. Of course, he still does not match up to the big three, but he is probably in the top 15 or so of all time great male tennis players. His resume is quite impressive.
...If Isner literally rose how much more effective would his serve be? He overtook Karlovic at the last in this year's ace count, finishing 28 above the Croat.

And, oh boy is Clinton in trouble despite holding on to sneak VA.

Isner, from Republican Georgia, sometimes puts together a mystifyingly brilliant run, but never outside America. And this time he has. He also cracks the top 20 again with the run but, truthfully, he is a top 15 player. That 15-10 area in the rankings is so saturated with talent right now that it is hard to get in there and stay. In the opening round he edged Zverev the elder 7-6[8], 6-4. The 7-6[4], 7-6[4] result against Ferru would have been more impressive two years ago, but it is still a big one. It was a shaky win over another German next up, as the American got past Struff 6-4, 6-7[4], 6-3. Suddenly he was in a Masters quarter-final. And it was against Sock, his friend and compatriot. He played another breaker, his fifth of the tournament, and won it on the way to a 7-6[6], 4-6, 6-4. No breakers in his semi-final against Cilic; he blew away the Croat 6-4, 6-3. And he even pushed Murray in the final, including a tiebreaker.
...Sock and Monroe had a decent run in the dubs, making the quarters. They dismissed Evans/Matkowski and Rojer/Tecau the fourth seeds. It took Bopanna/Nestor to finally win 2-6, 6-3 1-0 [5]. And Sock combined that with a quarterfinal appearance in the singles. Wins over Kohl and Thiem in straight sets were plenty impressive. But it was the 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 win over Gasquet in his house that was the most noteworthy. Gasquet saved multiple Sock match points. Sock held his nerve and indeed his serve. But he could not live with Isner and that serve in the semi-final.
...A win, over Herbert, followed by a loss to Pouille seems to be the norm for Lopez. Just to be ranked in the top 30 so consistently at his age is quite the achievement. He even challenged Pouille before finally losing in three long sets. For the Spaniard, losing to a young and upcoming member of the next generation is no bad loss. Lopez is still one of the best players to watch anywhere on either tour.
...The Frenchman is always good for a run here. He managed to rally and end his season on a high note with a win or two. Beating Ramos-Vinolos in two sets is always good, even if it was on the Spaniard’s worst surface. But Tsonga had an even better trick left up his sleeve. He came back to see off Nishikori 0-6, 6-3, 7-6[3]. And to fall to Raonic and muster only eight games in the next round is so Tsonga it is unbelievable. He is mercurial to the point of frustration. And the next round the Canuck quit. If he could have forced it to go three what would have happened? Tsonga will end the season ranked second in France and in a decent position to make some more deep runs. He will go as far as his body will take him.
...He had everything on the line going up against a player he never loses to. In the U.S. Open last year he embarrassed Cilic in front of thousands. The Croat usually has nothing on the former world number one. But Nole never looked in it. His fall has not been gradual, it has been dramatic. At the risk of jinxing it, Nole just isn’t good anymore. Turning 30 next year, both he and Murray are going to continue to fade. The future number one is going to be Thiem, Nishikori or Kyrgios. You may disagree, but there are few candidates…
...He won 3-6, 7-6[6], 7-6[1]. How Wawrinka blew this, I will never know. But just when you think the Swiss will stand up, he falls down. Up 6-5 in the second set breaker, Wawrinka blew a match point and crumbled to a loss against the world number 91. Stan the Man has a shot to win the grand slam next year. Can he take it? Only if he can find some kind of consistency.

Notes from the Week...
1 - This BACKSPINNER'S prediction is Hillary to win and win comfortably. Nevada, Florida and Colorado will go to the Democrats. Penn was never in danger of falling. This is the Angry White Man’s final bastion. If the Republican’s lose this, what is next for them?
2 – When did Fed last fall out of the top twenty? This does not bode well for the Aussie Open slam draw. If he falls out of the top 16, Murray or Djokovic’s path could be Almagro, Del Potro, Federer, Nadal, Nishikori, Raonic and then the other. Oh boy.
3511 days since Trump declared he would run. Is it just this BACKSPINNER or is that far too long?
4 – First time ever each WTF entrant is from a different country. Including alternates, ten different nations are represented. Oh, you think it’s a world sport? Seven of the ten can be connected. Raonic and Nishikori are the odd ones out, not being European.
5 - Trump just won. Consider this the end of the post and the season. Leave BACKSPIN town a week to recover. ['Nuff said.]

Murray 2-1
Wawrinka 2-1
Nishikori 1-2
Cilic 1-2

Djokovic 3-0
Raonic 0-3
Monfils 2-1
Thiem 1-2

Murray [1] d. [6] Monfils
Djokovic [2] d. [3] Wawrinka
Djokovic [2] d. [1] Murray

...Murray has always done poorly at this tournament. But a year where he has been breaking the records he will make the final. But can he beat Novak? It is doubtful. No, Djokovic will rightfully finish as the world number one. He always delivers when it matters. If he cannot sweep the tournament, it will be a huge sign his time is coming to an end…

There is a look back at Kiki coming, but this BACKSPINNER will find it easier to concentrate when the U.S. elections have concluded.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Wk.43- Is Murray's Best Truly Enough?

Hey, all. Galileo here.

What an unbelievable WTA Finals. The White Group in particular was superb. And Svetlana Kuznetsova was no doubt the player of the tournament. [Ed.Note: Hmmm, just off the top of my head, I can think of another. - tds]

But Dominika Cibulkova is in this BACKSPINNER'S bad books because of her lack of sportsmanship. To hit a totally fluky let cord on match point is one thing. To not apologize and then to fall to your knees as if you just hit an incredible winner is another. Disgraceful. [I think someone is placing too big of a burden on an excited player... and this is coming from someone who has been occasionally irked by Cibulkova over the years.]

No wonder she got a shadow of a handshake from Sveta. Imagine your season ending on that note, on your opponent hitting a let cord and then not apologizing. [Personally, I think it's humorous when any player apologizes for that, as if they had any control over the matter. Truthfully, it they COULD control such things, I'd suggest trying to hit a ball off the net on EVERY point. But that's just me. Also, there were apparently a few possible reasons for the handshake...]

Dominika has always been fiery and has had issues with this before, particularly fist-pumping on opponent’s errors. It’s what Hewitt did, what Murray does. And it isn’t alright. You apologize and you do not fall to your knees. [I'm about 60% with you on most of that, except for the not falling to your knees when you win to reach a major final, though Cibulkova DID go a BIT far for winning a SEMI, considering she's played in a slam final. But sometimes emotions are just emotions. Of course, Cibulkova cut Sharapova zero slack earlier this year because she hasn't been "friendly" enough in the locker room during her career.... so I won't argue TOO hard in defense of Domi's "sensible (or not) sportswomanship."]

And it builds. A few incidents like this from Domi and the reputation in your mind of her builds. It may be a subconscious thing, but it’s there. Look at Vika Azarenka. When you think of her you think of her as a grunter, a cheater and a world number one. [Again, I raise my hand in disagreement, at least on the second one, which was always an absurd charge brewed up mostly by the Aussie sports media a few years ago.] Only one of those things is good. And that is wrong. But at the same time it is her fault, her folly.

Anyway, this BACKSPINNER was plenty impressed with Kuznetsova. But the other player was Madison Keys. One of only two players to beat Cibulkova in the tournament -- yes, two years in a row a two-loss player wins -- she showed game and gumption in the big moments. She didn’t show up consistently enough, but to get a win in her first finals was exceptional. [One should note that this was also Cibulkova's first Finals. I'm just sayin'.] Building a career is just that. You build. Next time, and there will be a next time, she will know she can win. Which means she will likely do so again.

Look out for Keys next season. A slam final -- Wimbledon, if I had to put a quarter on it -- must surely await the young American. And you know it won’t be long before she is America’s number one. And you know the pressure that will come along with that.

Halep was really unimpressive. Crumbling to Kerber like that was quite poor. She just didn’t turn up at all. No reports on her being injured, she was just poor. [Sorry, one more interruption. Actually, she did have a reported knee injury in her following match vs. Cibulkova, so it might have been an issue vs. Kerber, as well. But Halep DID almost revert to old form after losing the 1st set to the German, and that was a step back in a season in which she's made good progress with that sort of thing.] And in the big moment, in the breaker against Cibulkova, she did nothing. She lost it 7-5. That’s why she doesn’t feel like a slam winner to me. Stosur, Venus and Pliskova are all far less consistent, but all far more likely to win slams. Consistency will only get one so far. Has she hit her ceiling? She showed little to prove she is capable of winning a slam next year. Of course, she could turn it on, but it just doesn’t feel or look likely at the moment.

We’ll see the WTA in full force again real soon, but for us it is the ATP we turn to.

Top 32 - Muller is up three to 34 in a week that sees a lot of flux. Johnson falls out of the magic 32. Busta and Kohl rise as a result of the American’s fall.
Top 10 – So much change. Cilic goes from 12 to 10, which moves Berdych and Goffin down. When was Berdie last out of the top ten? Fedex is barely clinging to the top ten at ninth.
Top 8 – Monfils moves up to 7th, equaling his career high. Thiem is up to 8th. Nadal is at 6th, but will be falling.
Top 4 – Nishikori pips Raonic to fourth in the world. Wawrinka still comfortable at world number three, Murray inches ever closer to Djokovic.

S: Andy Murray def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3/7-6(6)
D: Kubot/Melo d. Marach/F.Martin

S: Marin Cilic def. Kei Nishikori 6-1/7-6(5)
D: Granollers/Sock d. Lindstedt/Venus

...This guy is the best in the world. He has won a ton of matches in a row. He is barely losing. But still this year there are suspect losses, there are funny moments. When my Evonne made four consecutive U.S. Open finals and lost them all, we all wondered how. But Muzza is 0-5 in Aussie Open finals. Now how is that possible? He has barely won sets. Despite making the final in 2010, '11, '13, '14, '15 and '16 he has failed to even take it five sets. He has lost several of those in straights. Murray’s career can be observed this week in Vienna. In the absence of any big players, he does just fine. But as soon as the big matches come calling, as soon as it really matters, he crumbles. Luckily, this week there were no big guns waiting. He looked edgy in a 6-3, 6-7[5], 6-0 victory over Klizan and then struggled past Simon 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. There was no question he did not look himself. But a 6-1, 6-3 dismissal of Isner and a retirement from Ferrer saw the Scot into another final. He is now in double digits (11) on the year. In the final, he got past Tsonga 6-3, 7-6[6], but it was not the confident, smooth run you might expect from a world number one.
...Well, Cilic has now gone 2-2 in finals this year and also won eight indoors and eight outside. Strangely he lost the two 250 level tournaments, but has picked up a 500 and 1000 level tournament. Delightfully unpredictable, the Croat had another productive week. Despite having a winning percent overall of less than 65% he has put in a very solid career. A 6-4, 6-2 win over Youzhny and 6-0, 7-6[4] rout of recent titlist Busta was a good way to get his week going. A straight sets win over Granollers and come from behind win against Zverev saw him into the final. He had yet to face a seed, but he now faced the prospect of a U.S. Open final rematch. And during the final he did this. He won 6-1, 7-6[5] to seal the deal and take title number 16. The Croat is probably going to go to London. How will he cope in such a pressurized environment?
...From the people who brought you Bacsinszky, comes this dude. But his name is actually fairly easy to spell, so there you go. A really good junior, he won the Wimbledon Boy’s Doubles this year and made back to back singles semi-finals, too, in London and New York. His one-hander gives him loads of options, like droppers and angles, both of which he uses. And this week he won a qualifier. He beat Rajeev Ram 4-6, 7-6[3], 6-2. And then went down to Haase in a tight two-setter, 7-6[2], 6-4. He has made three finals this month, winning a futures event and losing in two challengers. So watch out for that name in the future. Along with Shapovalov. Geez, what’s wrong with calling your kid Nick Smith?
...Consistently Luxembourg’s best player, Muller has been around for ten years now. Three set wins over Dimitrov and Delbonis were impressive. Even the defeat to Kei lost him no respect. The moment this guy burst onto the scene was here:

And he has stuck to that style of play. He has made it his own. And that’s something to be admired. He can still make things work even after all these years. That serve is still one of the best in the business, and it has helped him become the latest veteran to have a banner year.
...The old journeyman is having a very good year, and it is another semi-final for him. He is only eight spots from his career high of 45. The ATP Tour is really becoming a rich hunting ground for the more experienced guys these days. He beat Pospisil 6-4, 7-6[3] in qualifying, which is a great results by itself. But then to go and back it up by seeing off Harrison 7-6[4], 6-3 is something else. He beat Fritz 7-6[4], 6-0, but seemed to get better in the next round, dismissing Pella 6-4, 6-2. A 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 victory over defending U.S. Open champion Wawrinka was next. He had the final in his grasp, but agonisingly let it slip in a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 loss to Cilic. But this week is a great way to cap off the season for the German. Perhaps he is like a fine wines.
...He is not the only player whose career is in decline, but his is one of the most noticeable. Berdych has finished at six or seven the last six seasons in a row. In today’s tennis that is a noteworthy feat. He has done it by being consistent, by having only one weakness, his brain, and by challenging for the bigger titles. He has also mastered the art of a consistent high level of results, but never achieving so much he cannot defend his points. He has even done alright at the World Tour Finals. But this loss to Bashilashvili is just the latest in a string of small things. In qualifying, he dropped a set to Albot 6-0. And then he goes out and beats Berdych? Incredible. The surgery back in September is no excuse.
...Raonic is a paper tiger right now. Except even on paper he is beginning to look more and more like a kitten. Last week he was the world number four, but played like the world number 400. Is he injured? Is he just out of form? There is a bigger underlying problem there. Berankis dropped just eight games in qualies, and he continued that form. But how did he beat Raonic 3-6, 6-3, 6-3? How did he break three times? How did Raonic hit 30 errors in the 1 hour, 50 minute contest? The Canuck completely unraveled. He has qualified for London, but why bother turning up?

Notes from the Week...
1 - Cilic and Thiem will likely take up the final spaces in the World Tour Finals. They need to win just a couple of matches and that will see them through. For the other five contenders, only the semi-finals or better will do.
2 – In Ferrer’s 1024-match career, he has retired twice. The second time was against Murray this past week. The other was 2009 in Valencia.
3 – Karlovic could claim his sixth leading aces season. He would tie Ivanisevic. He has a 50 ace lead over Isner, so he should be safe.
4 – Six years. That’s how long Berdman has been in the top ten. Since before the French in 2010. It has come to an end today.

1. Vienna SF - Tsonga d. Karlovic 5-7, 7-5, 7-6[6]
...The Frenchman saved a match point in this serving duel. But this was more than just serves. After all, there was a Frenchman playing.

The Frenchman, who had not beat his opponent in nine years, came back from a break down in the second, and from early breaker, struggled to win through.
2. Basel SF - Cilic d. M.Zverev 4-6, 7-5, 6-3
...What a way to all but ensure qualification for the Croat. A comeback win against a determined opponent. With so much on the line it was almost a shock to see Cilic pull it off. The German is not the younger German, but the older. And Mischa has had a sneakily good year.
3. Basel SF - Nishikori d. Muller 4-6, 7-6[3], 6-3
...This BACKSPINNER does love a contrast in styles. And this is precisely that. Muller is not interested in rallies lasting more than four shots. Nishikori loves it when they go over six. Kei has now won 56 matches, a career high. Impressive considering he was twice just a point away from staying on 55. But when he is not injured, he is tenacious to the last.

Djokovic [1] d. [12] Gasquet
Tsonga [11] d. [2] Murray
Djokovic [1] d. [11] Tsonga

...Frenchies have a kind of magic here. And Tsonga will take advantage to upset the odds, while Gasquet will also make a decent run here. It's Paris, anything can happen, and Murray looked to be running out of steam a little in patches last week. But Djokovic always comes up big and Murray has not faced a murderer's row the last few weeks.

Mladenovic and Garcia finish the year by blowing set points in a straight sets WTA Finals semi-final loss to Mattek-Sands/Safarova and crashing out of the race for world number one. Had they taken any of those points they could now be atop the summit. But in a fitting way to close out the season, that now won’t happen. But they will surely take it at some point in 2017.

The Fed Cup is just around the corner. Well, it is coming in two weeks. If they could win that then that would definitely push Kiki’s season into the B+ area.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Wk.42- Goodbye, WTA

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Angelique Kerber is the best player on the WTA. She has been the best this year. In fact, this is the closest to Steffi’s golden year you’re going to see for a long time, although Williams in 2012 got very close, too. A BACKSPIN Volley coming soon will discuss this more but this has been a career year for her.

But let’s talk once more about this BACKSPINNER'S "Ms. Backspin." Todd has Clijsters, but over here we like another U.S. Champion. And her run in Moscow was incredible. To go in with such pressure and edge Elina Svitolina after blowing a lead, following another long three-setter, was an incredible achievement. The victories over the fourth seed and over ninth seed Babos were demonstrations of her tenacity and her talent. And what a ridiculous talent it is.

It was ❤️ from first sight 🇷🇺 это любовь с первого взгляда , спасибо Москва 🇷🇺❤️️ @vtbkremlincup #sk27

A photo posted by Светлана Кузнецова/Kuznetsova (@svetlanak27) on

Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has shortened my life by ten years, then took Gavrilova to pieces in quite spectacular fashion in her maiden final to secure a place at the Championships. And how did the WTA reward her? By making her play on Monday. Against the brick wall known as Aga. Another dreadful scheduling decision, and we thought only the U.S. Open was capable of those.

But after that run in Moscow, which you can find more in depth details on in the main BACKSPIN section, she plays A-Rad and goes up 7-5 before clinging on for a 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 victory that left me with no nails and heart medicine. She saved match point and came back from 0-2 and 2-4. She blew a match point and then succeeded on her third to win in just ten minutes less than three hours. The points were long and filled with slices, dropshots and huge backhands from Kuznetsova. The points invariably lasted until either Radwanska put it just out of Sveta’s reach or the Russian got bored and took a huge swipe.

During the match, she was hard-done by with regards to the umpire’s decisions. She cried, cut her own hair and screamed every few games. She said at the end she was ready to “lie down and let them carry me off the court.” She had no idea how she won and neither do it. But she did. She won the most bizarre, spectacular match you will ever see. Probably one of the top ten matches of the year.

But she won. And the pain is worth it. Because Sveta and I have been through tougher matches than this. As she so rightly says, “the pain doesn’t kill me, I kill the pain.”

And now the men...

Top 32 - Johnson falls down seven, but sits at 31. And Busta rises four places to 32. Ramos-Vinolas had been hanging around here all year long, but he rose five places to 26.
Top 10 – Kyrgios ironically gets a career high of 13 this week. For his take, head over to his Facebook page. It won’t be promoted here. Cilic and Goffin swap. Goffin is now 11, just behind Berdych. Thiem is getting comfortable in 9th.
Top 8 – Federer and Monfils swap again. Federer is now number seven, one behind Nadal.
Top 4 – Little change. Raonic is still four, Wawrinka three. Murray has not yet taken Djokovic, but it is going to happen soon. Not even the Scot could blow it now. Surely?

S: Juan Martin del Potro def. Jack Sock 7-5/6-1
D: E.Ymer/M.Ymer d. Pavic/Venus

S: Richard Gasquet def. Diego Schwartzman 7-6(4)/6-1
D: Nestor/Roger-Vasselin d. Herbert/Mahut

MOSCOW, RUSSIA (Hard Indoor)
S: Pablo Carreno-Busta def. Fabio Fognini 4-6/6-3/6-2
D: Cabal/Farah d. Knowle/Melzer

...This is ATP tennis’ biggest what-if. In fact, this may be tennis’ biggest what-if. I know for a fact the Chief Backspinner has had this feature before. Forget Seles' stabbing and Iva Majoli partying too much. Put aside Monfils and Chang. Forget about Muster and Malisse. If this guy had not been injured who knows how the ATP would have been affected. He has better than a 70 per cent win mark. He is 19-8 in finals and has obviously won a grand slam. He has also performed well at the World Tour Finals and won several Olympic medals. This guy could have dominated, given full health. With that serve and forehand. He last won a title in Brisbane in 2014. He is now ranked 42, up 21 places (Ed.note: and that's without any points for his run in Rio, too. - tds). Could he finish the year in the top 30? Mathematically, yes. If he makes the quarters of the last two tournaments that could be enough. If he makes the semi-final of Paris, he could rise even higher. He won this week and did not drop a set. He beat Isner, seeded seven, 6-4, 7-6[6]. Then he saw off Almagro 6-4, 6-3, barely breaking a sweat. Third seed Karlovic was next and he saw his serve snapped in a 6-3, 6-4 loss. Dimitrov, the second seed, went down 6-4, 7-5 to the Tower of Tandil in the semi-final. And in the final it was 7-5, 6-1 against 6th seed Sock. During his run he saw off the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th seeds. That’s some run. Dimi broke him twice. Nobody else did. He faced no break points in his title run. The rest of the tour is praying he gets slam seeding. Would you want to run into him early?
...This BACKSPINNER called it. He knew Del Potro would get to the final and Gasquet win. Unfortunately, he did not have the chutzpah to go all the way on the Argentine pick. The Frenchman’s 27 finals is second all-time to only Noah when looking at French tennis players. Richard looks older, looks worn and just getting on the court these days is an achievement. But in the final he looked composed as he ran away with a 7-6[4], 6-1 victory. Up 5-4 in the breaker, he played out an epic rally with Schwartzy, where he was on the defensive the whole time, but he came up with a magical forehand pass. Yes, a forehand pass. And at 6-4 he flashed a series of angled backhands to close out a set he served for and should’ve already won. His refusal to choke and how he kept the momentum is so impressive. He opened the week by beating Cervantes and Struff 6-2, 6-4. He looked pretty smooth, too. Then he saw off Edmund 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 to reach the final. He is 7-3 in the last ten finals and 4-1 in his last five. If he can just get a quarterfinal in Australia he will have made the quarters at every grand slam event, but he is running out of time and his body is letting him down. What can the Frenchman produce?
..The future of British tennis made the top forty and a semi-final this week. Both were personal bests for the youngster. Wins over Seppi and Ferrer bode very well for his future prospects. In fact, the loss sends Ferrer spiraling down to 19th, his lowest ranking for some time. Edmund showed no fear and a lot of heart in these wins. Hopefully it continues. Unless you live in the UK he will have flown a bit under your radar. Believe me, he is very handy in the Davis Cup.
...Let’s watch this first:

That is Fognini, in case you were unaware. Absolutely mad. This BACKSPINNER once took a friend to see Fabio at Wimbledon. All they remember from the day was him imploding in the most beautiful, perfect way imaginable. Next time I shall be taking them to see somebody boring so they can focus on the brilliant Wimbledon atmosphere instead. This week he beat Berankis 6-2, 6-1 and second seeded Ramos-Vinolas 6-2, 6-2. He dismantled the Spaniard and blew him away in just 76 minutes. Bu against compatriot and 7th seeded Lorenzi he struggled to a three set win. Fognini was superb against Kohlschreiber and won 6-1, 7-6[2]. But in the final he meekly collapsed to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 loss. Just undefinable.

Also never forget this happened:

SURPRISE: PABLO CARRENO BUSTA, ESP ...The smallest things change tournaments. The Spaniard, seeded sixth, edged Melzer 3-6, 6-3, 7-6[2] in the first round. He got lucky with Dzumhur retiring in the next round. He also escaped Bublik 6-4, 2-6, 7-6[1]. His fine performances in the next two rounds, against Robert and Fognini, may never have happened had he lost any of those tight breaker matches. Tennis is a game of fine margins.
...He should still get into the ATP Finals, but losing 7-6[1], 6-1 to Elias when chasing down a dream is inexcusable. It just shouldn’t happen. La Monf! has his shock losses and the good news for him is that Paris is coming up. That is his best tournament. If he can come up with some more magic there he may be able to take it with him to London. It’s really not far.
...What a way for the diminutive Argentine to show off his assets. And with the Davis Cup final edging ever closer, well, this is the best time to prove what you can do. To go and do it on the hard-courts, off your best surface, is pretty special. It was the way he so fearlessly beat Goffin when the Belgian had the crowd, the momentum and the match points. How Goffin failed to serve it out up 5-4 this BACKSPINNER will never know. Schwartzy also edged seventh seed Mahut 7-6[2], 7-5. Fritz failed to get a set, either. Cuevas hung tough for a while, but fell away in a 7-6[8], 6-3 victory. And then the semi-final upset over the top seed and top ten level player. Throw in a great first set against Gasquet and what a way to close out the year for Schwartzy.

Notes from the Week...
1 - I was going to call the Kuznetsova upset (over Radwanska) before it happened. She has an overwhelming head to head advantage. I think Sveta sneaks into the semi-finals, but loses to Kerber. In the top group, Halep will come second but lose to an inspired Pliskova in that semi. Keys is not quite ready to take the next leap, but Pliskova will finish with a trophy. And that is how it should be. Kerber is, as Todd rightly points out, running on fumes. But let’s have faith in the number one.
2 – In the doubles, I do think Hingis/Mirza triumph. I’d love to be able to pick our girls but, really, can you rule out a choke? Because, on the whole, the doubles has been fantastic, I will pick them to make the final but Mattek-Sands/Safarova are really dangerous here.
3 – How will the ATP Finals fare with no Federer or Nadal, and Djokovic a massive question mark? Is Murray alone enough to keep interest high? Say what you like about him, but Kyrgios keeps people interested.
4 – Herbert/Mahut cruised to the final, but lost to second seeds Nestor/Roger-Vasselin in straight sets in Antwerp. Still, getting positive results now will help them get momentum for the year-end champs.

1. Antwerp SF - Schwartzman d. Goffin 7-5, 2-6, 7-5
...If you’re thinking you want to see Cibulkova and Schwartzy play mixed doubles, you are not alone. He saved one match point with a passing shot and watched Goffin blow a simple backhand up the line on the other. He managed to hold on to beat not just his opponent, but the crowd, too. It was a pretty special performance from the little guy.
2. Stockholm SF - Sock d. Zverev 6-7[4], 7-6[4] 6-4
...Saving five-sixths of the break points he faced, Sock looked impressive as he made it two finals on the trot in Stockholm. A bit of an upset here as Zverev unusually failed to put away a lower seeded opponent. You know Zverev’s come far because he made a semi-final, but it is only enough for him to hold his ranking.
3. Antwerp SF - Gasquet d. Edmund 3-6, 7-5, 6-2
...Up a set and 4-2 in his first ever semi-final, Edmund did a Gasquet and choked. Except we can’t really use that anymore. Because Gasquet now comes back and holds on like he did here. Edmund will rise into the top four. So, Rusedski to Henman to Murray to...Edmund?

Murray [1] d. [3] Thiem
Agut [4] d. [2] Berdych
Murray [1] d. [4] Agut

...I like to pick home winners and Thiem could have the key to unlock Murray, but the Scot is on a vicious tear right now. Agut is good enough to set up a rematch, but that should be it. Do you trust Berdych? I thought not.

Wawrinka [1] d. [8] Sock
Del Potro d. [6] Dimitrov
Wawrinka [1] d. Del Potro

...In a home tournament Wawrinka should get his first title since the U.S. Open. And Delpo, who I picked to make the final last week, should make it back to back finals. Kei is too hurt and Dimitrov still a tad questionable. Sock, meanwhile, is finishing the year very strong.

Mladenovic and Garcia are in the tour finals. If Todd reminds me I don’t forget we will have a highlights section for her before the year ends, but this is the final regular update on the beautiful and mysterious Kiki. It has been fun.

Is there one last hurrah in store for our girls? There should be. There is no reason there couldn’t be a round robin format instead of this stupid knockout rubbish. So, next year fix that. But this year the Frenchies go in as favourites, considering the fractures in the top seeds' relationship.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What I Said Then, What I Say Now

Well, hello. Galileo here.

I guess it is this BACKSPINNER'S turn to look back at my predictions from before the start of the 2016 season. And boy did Todd set the bar high. Well, considering my awful guessing ability he did, anyway.

Let’s take this into pieces. It will be mainly WTA Choc Chip with a few ATP Ranking reflections sprinkles. So we’ll take some quotes from the Volley and then look at some hits and misses. There’ll be some whacky predictions and other ATP miscellaneous stuff, too. And my New Year's resolutions are to stop defending Tomic and Kyrgios because they’re talented, and also to respect Radwanska more. Monfils is talented and not a total you-know-what. And Radwanska has been number two.

Right, let's get started, shall we?

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Serena is a lock for number one until sometime in 2017.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Whoops. Didn’t get this one right, but it was the percentage pick and one we both called.

WHAT I SAID THEN:“Almost by default, Maria is a lock (for the Top 10). I think she is a slam threat everywhere except perhaps the U.S. Open.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Another one where I don’t think I can be blamed. Todd and I both played safe, but I mention she might be on the wane. We’ll see if that comes true.

WHAT I SAID THEN: Muguruza is a "Top 10 lock" for 2016." (Todd went with Halep, while we both has Serena and Sharapova in the same top-level group.) "I think of this as (Todd picking) a red apple and I have picked a green one. No wrong answer, just slightly different. It was a 50/50 for me, but I do believe Muguruza can win the slam."
WHAT I SAY NOW: I did go with Muguruza and it was one of my better picks, but next year there has to be slam consistency. Halep was also a good pick, obviously.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I do believe Muguruza can win the slam. I don’t buy Halep just yet. She's just missing something. I struggle to quantify it, but there’s just something missing.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Yep. Not doing quite as badly as I thought, though Halep is likely to finish the year more highly ranked.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “She may be missing something, but Halep is still a top five player. But she won’t win a slam yet.” (Todd responded, "maybe in 2017.") "I think a final, maybe even two, but a slam, well, not quite yet. Her problem is she doesn’t have a major like Li Na did. Like Kvitova or even Stosur does. That major where everything goes out the window because, hey, it’s Lisicki at Wimbledon. She needs that. It could be Roland Garros one day, but she’s only been to the fourth round twice and has a 1-1 record in those matches" "...Muguruza is a lock to at least stay within the top 10 parameters, though I don’t think she will fall below eight. She will make at least one slam semi-final and slowly bring Spanish tennis back into relevancy with help from Suarez-Navarro. Could a Fed Cup title be coming soon?“
WHAT I SAY NOW: Correct on all three singles. She went 4-0 in Davis Cup singles play, including wins over Jankovic, Vinci and Schiavone to bring Spain into the World Group with CSN’s help. She didn’t play much doubles because the Fed Cup structure is stupid. [Todd agrees.]

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Petra will be top ten in 2016, and will have ten ridiculous losses that are utterly unexplainable, inexplicable and enraging. You only get about 12 good days a year.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: At least predicting Petra’s unpredictably is, well, predictable. And she is ranked 11 right now, so I'm not wrong. Yet.
(Ed.note: The ten ridiculous losses is probably close to right - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Kerber just hangs around the bottom end of the top ten between 9 and 12 in the world. She wins two or three small titles every year and does solidly at two or three slams.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: She was very solid at three slams, winning two. She another smaller title, but I can only give myself a B-minus here, and that’s being generous.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I have Pliskova one group down (Todd had her in his "Good Bets for the Top 10" group), but I think she ends the year around the top eight. I believe she finishes well again. She will also make a couple of decent slam runs.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: A-minus for this prediction. World number five, but only one decent slam run. Though it was quite the run, wasn’t it Serena?

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I think Bencic flirts with the ranking of ten all year and ends up somewhere between number 9 to number 11. All these predictions are barring injury, of course.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Well, as Todd pointed out, both his and my Top 10 predictions got caned by Sharapova’s controversy and Bencic’s injury woes. Maybe past me had a vision of the future here.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Carla makes a lot of points on clay, but fades as the year goes on with a couple surprising results just when you had forgotten about them. She should stay in or around the top ten”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Well, I’m happy with this, but I don’t get many points for being bold. I really struggle predicting anything with this one. But that backhand. Here have a clip.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I’ve said this a lot, but I can’t look past the Williamses for the Olympic Gold.“

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I am going to argue for Venus being (in the '16 Top 10) because it is important to recognise how good she continues to be. She has remarkable staying power... I just think Venus is a top eight player on and off paper currently. That serve is still one of the best and she has excellent resilience.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: She was in the top ten for most of the year. She may not finish there but it’s a passing grade for this pick. Bonus points for guts.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I like Radwanska's style. I like how she has won the Shot of the Year award the last three years running. I’ve been waiting since 2012 for her to step up and establish herself as a genuine threat”
WHAT I SAY NOW: One of my greatest failings is failing to appreciate Aga’s Ferrer-like ability to maximise a game that lacks a major weapon. She will be top ten this year and if there was a slam held in Asia she’d probably win it.
(Ed.note: Bold statement, though I guess it could never be proven to be a correct one, unfortunately... at least not anytime soon, unless you "count" the WTA Finals, I guess. Which one can't. - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Keys is my final addition to the (Top 10) list. I can sum this one up quite succinctly, for once. I am riding her bandwagon. I am buying her stock. I am a believer. I think this year is her year to become the Williams’s successor. There are places she can pick up some serious points. I think she will stay top 20.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: I stuck with this even after the Davenport split. And I’m glad I did, but Stephens did win three more titles. However, Keys hit a 12-4 mark in slams while Sloane went just 4-3. Keys made three finals, too, but lost in Rome and Montreal. Two finals at the biggest events and a win in Birmingham is more impressive than Stephens three titles, but only just.
(Ed.note: I think for Keys, this was the year she needed, showing her mettle in the majors, even if she didn't win a handful of titles. Same for Sloane, who needed to just prove to herself that she could be consistent again, especially in the final match at ANY event, let alone three of them. - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Caro will have a small resurgence at some point.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Correct, but I also mentioned how she would turn into the new Ivanovic or Jankovic. Probably unfair. I did pick her as a wild card. Do I get points for that?

WHAT I SAID THEN: My top 10 picks, plus one, alphabetically:

Belinda Bencic, SUI
Simona Halep, ROU
Angelique Kerber, GER
Madison Keys, USA
Petra Kvitova, CZE
Garbine Muguruza, ESP
Karolina Pliskova, CZE
Maria Sharapova, RUS
Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
Serena Williams, USA
Venus Williams, USA

WHAT I SAY NOW: I'll probably get seven of my 11 in.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Garcia (as a possible top player): some fresh blood might be nice. I’m bored of waiting for A-Pavs to get it together and realize how good she is. How far up the rankings will the exotic and mysterious Garcia rise? I do think that the top fifteen is within reach.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Well, I blew this, but she did start the year at 35 and is now at 25.
(Ed.note: after reaching a career-best 24 in September, winning two titles after only having one previously -- in '14, reaching the Top 3 or 4 in doubles, and just being given the Fed Cup Heart Award, I'd say Garcia had a "career year." I think you get full credit on this one. - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “(On Ivanovic) Her forehand still works and her volley game is always better every time I watch her. Solid top twenty player next year. A slam quarter somewhere and two titles. Finishes at about number 12. Sound about right to you?
WHAT I SAY NOW: Big fat F-minus for this one. Currently at 61, this time her irrelevancy looks permanent.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I think A-Pavs finds her way back to the top fifteen. Her doubles skills will help her do that. When on form she is a force to be reckoned with. I think she will certainly reach at least one fourth round at slam level this year and win a couple titles, too. I want to see improvement at the big events, as well. I think we get that.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: No, not right on this, but she is trending up and she made a quarter at Wimbledon, the one slam I said she wouldn’t contend in. She did improve on the big stage and her trajectory feels positive. A C here for me, I think.
(Ed.note: she was in far better shape this year, and was more consistent, too, even if she didn't win as "big" as she sometimes has in the past. Her 2017 season results might give a better idea of how "successful" '16 ultimately was, I think. - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Azarenka (as a possible Top tenner): She had a fine season, but is still ranked too low. With her it is quite simple. Stay healthy and she can do whatever she wants. She is a top five player and this year I think she can get back to that.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Another for the ‘not my fault’ column.
(Ed.note: she did briefly return to the top 5 after winning Indian Wells and Miami, and she defeated Serena in a final. It's easy to forget that now, as it WAS seven months ago already. - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Kuznetsova: I think she will finish in the top twenty again, but retirement certainly beckons for the veteran. She could still make a run at a slam. Somewhere she could make a run. The French or the U.S. are a good bet.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: Not quite, but very close. Lost to eventual champs at the French and at Wimbledon. That Serena loss, in particular, she had the racket taken out of her hands.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Martinez Sanchez has been back (in doubles in '15) and I think she will continue to come back this year. Perhaps she will continue to focus on doubles, as I would think she will want to give it one last shot.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: A title in Mallorca and a quarterfinal in Miami were highlights in the doubles. Singles is probably over for her, but she is still around next year. She will finish top forty in doubles.

As for the ATP...

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Djokovic is in a class of his own. But be warned. A time is coming soon, very soon, when Djokovic is going to start showing brief signs of mortality once more. Perhaps he’ll just lose a set here or there to opponents you wouldn’t expect. Then maybe he starts dropping tight three setters. After that he slowly loses his ability to dominate all. Maybe right at the very end of next year we might see the first very brief glimpses of weakness.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: I think I get an A for this. He will finish as number one.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “Kyrgios is mad, bad and totally unstoppable. He can do anything.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: An embargo this week. He is in disgrace. I’ve spent all year defending him, sounding like a Trump supporter because the up-side is so good, but our sport is beginning to suffer. Here have some gifs.

WHAT I SAID THEN: “I don’t want Dimitrov to win slams. I don’t want him to beat the big guys every time. I just want to see a pulse, a sign of life. A slam quarter or two, a decent performance at a couple of Masters events and maybe a 500 title. That kind of year would be good.”
WHAT I SAY NOW: 500 level final, fourth round in New York and two good performances at the Masters. It was a good comeback year that saw him finish at 18. I get an A-minus for this!


A player born during Bill Clinton’s presidency (January 1993-January 2001) wins a slam, whilst a player born in the Bush administration (January '01 and later) wins a match. [Thank you Potapova.]
Serena wins two slams, but has a year of regression compared to this past one. She will win more then five titles, though. [Five finals and three slam finals, darn it.]
Of 2016's sixteen slam semi-finalists, at least two will be first-timers [One at each: Konta, Bertens, Vesnina and Pliskova.]
I picked Wawrinka to defeat Federer at Wimbledon and got given by Todd “wrong slam but close enough.” That was in conjunction with my pick that Wawrinka would win a slam.
[Ed.note: you were on Stan all year, and he finally came through in NYC. Faith is sometimes rewarded, I guess. :) - tds)

And misses...

Switzerland wins the Olympics from a tennis point of view. Federer, Wawrinka, Hingis, Bacs, Bencic should be enough.
(Ed.note: though, Bacsinszky/Hingis winning a WD medal at least bailed you out on some level on this one. - tds)
Bouchard wins a title and makes a slam quarter. Cracks the top 25 again.
Look for a high profile retirement after the Olympics. Zvonareva?
The defending Davis Cup champion Brits crash and burn in the first round

Here are some reflections on my outrageous predictions. Please enjoy.

WHAT I SAID THEN:Nadal retires after the U.S. Open.
(Ed.note: I almost get the feeling he'll have to be carried off on his shield. - tds)
WHAT I SAY NOW: I am going to stop picking this to happen. Nadal has turned into 2015 Peyton Manning, though.

WHAT I SAID THEN:Djokovic wins only four Masters titles. He also does not make four slam finals.
WHAT I SAY NOW: I am right on both counts! Please Paris, spring an upset on Djokovic.

WHAT I SAID THEN:Mahut/Herbert win a doubles slam title
WHAT I SAY NOW: They won Wimbledon! Another A grade.

WHAT I SAID THEN:Federer/Hingis do not lose a set on the way to the Gold at the Olympics in the mixed. They defeat Wawrinka/Bencic in the final.
WHAT I SAY NOW: Did any of them even play? Big fat F.
(Ed.note: sends flowers to Timea & Martina... maybe the Swiss Miss will remember you from your Wimbledon encounter. :) - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN:Murray makes no slam finals and only two semi-finals
WHAT I SAY NOW: Two big finals, two in a row. Letting my Murray dislike cloud my judgement.

WHAT I SAID THEN:Wawrinka wins another slam
WHAT I SAY NOW: Give me a high five and an A-plus please, Todd.
(Ed.note: Done. As for the high five, will...


do for now? - tds)

WHAT I SAID THEN:They move the WTF somewhere totally unexpected, perhaps in Asia
WHAT I SAY NOW: Wait for it...


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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wk.41- And Here is Another One

Hey, all. Galileo here.

No, I won’t discuss a certain top player who has finally gone too far, and nor will I discuss the world number one who should know better.

Rafa and Roger are out of the top four for the first time since dinosaurs walked this earth, and we’re talking millions of years ago, not Isla Nubar. Rafa’s demise has had more words written about it than the fact Trump is a racist. Both are true, but both are disputed. Yes, one could talk about Andy Murray, but what he did this week is what he did last week.

No, let’s talk about Roberto Bautista Agut and then go into the matches. Now that the WTA is coming to a close this BACKSPINNER is thinking longingly of the lovely box Todd puts me in where I can shut down for six weeks before booting back up again in January. But for the next few weeks it is nose to the grindstone time. Did you know we’re just nine Mondays from Christmas. If you have not heard it yet, the Christmas music is coming. It is coming for me and for you.

But tennis, tennis is still to be played. Forget just for a second the likes of Moya, Ferrero and Nadal. Leave Bruguera to one side. Apart from their big guns, Spain has had some fantastic bit role players over the years. Lopez and Robredo dazzled for different reasons. Robredo made, what, six French Open quarterfinals? And in the last one he won three matches in a row down two sets to love. Lopez is just beautiful in every way and Verdasco’s forehand could knock down buildings. Even Garcia-Lopez has had some superb moments. Ferrer needs his own BACKSPIN post, and that’s just for his clay achievements. Almagro at the height of his powers was pretty fearsome. To say nothing of Granollers, and even Montanes.

And here is another one.

Bautista Agut has had the kind of career that is sneaky good. Fourth round twice at every slam except Wimbledon. Four finals this year, two won, which gives him a 4-6 mark overall. He is at a career high of 13 and has three top ten wins already this year. He also has back to back finals at the Kremlin Cup and is going for a third consecutive final there this week. He lost the last two to Cilic 6-4, 6-4.

That’s the background, and after rankings updates we’ll look at his week.

Top 32 - Kohl falls two but stays at 32. At 31, it is Ramos-Vinolas who dropped four places. Lopez clings onto thirty despite also falling two.
Top 10 – RBA up six places to 13th, as mentioned above. With a good finish to the year the top ten may be in play. Cilic is at 11, but is some 400 points adrift of Thiem and has not done much recently.
Top 8 – Federer and Monfils swap. Monfils should overtake Nadal, too, and end up at six.
Top 4 – Huge change for once. Raonic up two places with points totalling 4,690. Nishikori is 4,650. Wawrinka leads them by 1100, but the number one ranking is now in play. Murray has to win out while Nole takes a break until Paris. Of course any early loss and Murray will have to wait until next year. At this point, it is a certainty Murray will be number one. The question is when.

S: Andy Murray def. Roberto Bautista 7-6(1)/6-1
D: Isner/Sock d. Kontinen/Peers

...What he does -- and don’t worry this BACKSPINNER is not the one who can get technical -- is he pins you in places. He hits not just deep, but consistent deep and in a different way than Simon does. He just puts you under constant pressure, which grows exponentially as the rally goes on. He has a deep slice, though not in the same league as Federer or even Lopez, it is still plenty good. He can also volley more than sufficiently and is clever. He works points over and serves pretty well. But all this gives him a Halep-esque quality. I frequently watch her matches and frequently wonder how she won 6-2, 6-2. What he does doesn’t feel dominant, it feels measured. The problem for him is when he comes up against a really creative player who can mix it up, well, like Thiem or some of the Frenchies. Tomic, who has pretty much disappeared down the back-half of the year, retired down 6-3, 6-0 with a wounded pride. The Spaniard had a good 6-4, 6-4 win over qualifier Fritz in the second round before taking on Troicki. The Serb had beaten, no it’s not an upset, Nadal the round before, but went down tamely 6-3, 6-3. In the next round Tsonga was the favourite but never got it together in a 6-3, 6-4 loss. Agut was turning it on.

When he has confidence everything is just 20 per cent improved, it seems. In the semi-final, Djokovic imploded, but Agut was calm and saw his way through in two straight sets. He also did this on match point.

Of course, in the final Murray had too much, especially after winning the opening set. But it was still a superb week from the world number 13. Here’s another reason to like him. He does not fear the net.

...Back to back titles for Murray in his career year. Boy, does he have some major points to defend next year. He just keeps getting better and better. He could take the world number one ranking this year, but this BACKSPINNER says he wins it in February of next year. Of course, Murray really is putting all his eggs into one basket. With his injury history, any long period of absence next year could see him plummet. He has won 23 sets in a row, but he hasn’t played anyone. It’s all very well going on the streak, but the players he has beaten have not been at his level. It shows how far he has come. He is looking the clear cut world’s best player. But he has to win slams. He has to prove he can consistently win slams rather than capitalise on weak opposition in slam finals. His record in slam finals is pretty abysmal. He has been amazing this year, but there are still areas in which he could improve. This week it was another easy ride. 6-3, 6-2 over Johnson, 6-1, 6-3 over Pouille and then 6-2, 6-2 over Goffin. Of course, these are all good players and all have had hot streaks this year. They can all challenge on their day, but none is in the top ten, none is at the level of even Berdych. In the final, he was tested but finally saw off Agut 7-6[1], 6-1. Another impressive win from Murray. How long can he hang onto that top ranking? Still, going into Valencia, Murray is red hot. Can anybody stop the Scot?
...What a week Sock has had. Not only did he make a Masters quarterfinal, he also rode Isner’s serve to a doubles title. Beating Gong/Zhang was a solid enough start, but then coming back to beat seventh seeded Huey/Mirnyi 1-6, 7-6[6], 1-0[10-5] was even better. And they proved it was no fluke in the next round by seeing off the Lopez’s 6-7[4], 6-4, 10[10-7]. After the win against the fourth seeds they then faced the second seeds - the Bryans. But they have looked distracted for a while and went down quietly 6-2, 7-6[2]. Isner and Sock had proved to be surprisingly good at the net during the run and it helped them win in the final against Peers/Kontinen. They won 6-4, 6-4 to cap a sparkling week.
...Long a BACKSPIN villain, for no good reason, like most of the villains, Simon posted another good result in Shanghai. He made the finals two years ago and this year. Wins over Sock, in a third set breaker, and Wawrinka, in straights, no less, were highlights of another solid win. Simon used to have the best record in tennis finals, percentage wise, among active players, but has since let that slip. That year, 2014, he beat Wawrinka, too. And Berdman. Since becoming a factor some ten years ago, Simon has slowly built his points and his legacy. It’s another solid run for a grizzled vet. The "Villains of BACKSPIN" is a decent feature idea, actually. Wonder if chief BACKSPINNER would buy into it? I can think of several candidates on the ATP and a couple on the WTA tour, too.

Ed.NOTE: I actually did something similar to that a few years ago called my "Anti-Backspin" Team. Of course, "villains" do fill important roles, and even sometimes evolve into, at least, "anti-heroes." The funny thing about that list is that the top spot on the "Anti-" First Team was filled by the same player who was named my "All-Time MVP" four months later, and the only other player who was in consideration for MVP honors, as well as a few who'd later become favorites, had at one time been "villains," only to ultimately be elevated to "beloved" status. - tds
...No, not that one. Mischa Zverev had his turn this week. He rolled through to the quarters and had Djokovic, but finally collapsed to 3-6, 7-6[5], 6-3 loss. Up a set and 2-0, this had been a Rosol-like performance. There were no nerves and no hesitations from the German. But Djokovic, as he always does, found a way back. He began to hammer the slice backhand and from there eventually came back. But wins over Zhang, 6-1, 6-2, and a certain Aussie were big for the qualifier. He also beat Granollers 6-7[4], 6-4, 6-1. Plus, he had two tight three setters against Khachanov and Harrison in the qualies. It was an impressive week.
...Tearing his shirt open, smashing his racket and looking ill-tempered. Sure, a certain Aussie should be here, but we expect this from him. Not from our best player. Never from Nole. It needs to stop. If the world number one is going to have a Ferrero-esque collapse he could at least do it with dignity. Hopefully Djokovic can sort it out before next season.
...Sure, Granollers beat Berdman and Nadal lost to Troicki, but those felt different. Berdych is still coming back and he went down in a couple of breakers. Nadal is a non-factor and has been for a while now. Sock seeing off Raonic 0-6, 6-4, 7-6[8] was a different category altogether. Despite the dramatic collapse, Raonic is now our number four. With rest and improved fitness he will be a huge factor at the Australian Open. But this week it is Sock who came up with possibly the most dramatic upset.

Notes from the Week...
1 - When it comes to a certain Australian player, this BACKSPINNER;S official stance is finally one of rejection. He has rightly been banned. He could have cut it short with a visit to the psychologist, but he refused. Says it all, really.
2 – On that topic, no more will this BACKSPINNER defend Kyrgios. No, I refuse to sound like a Trump supporter. That’s my new season’s resolution. Resolution number two is to respect Radwanska more. (Ed.Note: Oh, my. - tds) Yep. Perhaps one day this BACKSPINNER will even get to like Murray.
3 – Not all bad for Nole. He has 179 weeks at number one, passing Seles. I won’t list the four men or five women still ahead of him but he is in the top ten now at number ten. Hingis at 209 is next on the list. He should crack that, but the top five will be trickier.
4 – With Serena withdrawing from the WTA Finals either Kuznetsova or Suarez Navarro could sneak in with a win in Moscow. Game on.

1. Shanghai QF - Simon d. Sock 4-6, 6-4, 7-6[5]
...In this eye-catching clash of styles, Simon pulls out another one. How does he continue to pull out these tight matches?
2. Shanghai SF - Bautista Agut d. Djokovic 6-4, 6-4
...A performance of this calibre cannot go unremarked upon. It was the coolness and calmness the Spaniard had that was perhaps the most impressive.
3. Shanghai R2 - Zverev d. Cilic 3-6, 6-3, 6-2
…An early gem here ad yet another feather in the German’s cap. Just how good is this guy? …

Agut [1] d. [4] Troicki
Kohl [3] d. [2] Ramos-Vinolas
Agut [1] d. [3] Kohl

...Third final lucky for the Spaniard. Kohl is kind of close to Germany which bodes well. Seeds look strong in all this week's events.

Goffin [1] d. [4] Cuevas
Gasquet [3] d. [2] Ferrer
Gasquet [3] d. [1] Goffin

...It is a home tournament for Goffin. It is late enough both in the year and at night that I don’t have any qualms about picking Gasquet. He usually picks up a tournament in February and one late in the year. For once not in Moscow, could the answer lie closer to home?

Monfils [1] d. [4] Zverev
Del Potro d. [2] Dimitrov
Monfils [1] d. Del Potro

...Lots of boring going with the seedings this week. Could La Monf, the 2011 Stockholm champ, still qualify for the WTF? Del Potro is due a run, so why not end his year on a high note?

Mladenovic does well for once in the singles and it isn’t previewed here. No mention of her in Hong Kong. But it is because she and Garcia did not play the doubles. For what reason is unclear. Perhaps fatigue? So, yes I missed her appearance in that draw. She made the final and rose from 54 to 42 in the rankings.

She escaped against Jakupovic 7-6[6], 6-1. It was similar against Hibino, Stosur’s conqueror, as she won 7-6[5], 6-2. And against Mattek-Sands it was again incredibly close, as she scraped through 3-6, 6-3, 7-6[3]. In the semis, she dismissed Gavrilova 7-5, 6-3 before going down to the Woz in three. She at least won the second set breaker to push the Dane all the way. So the queen of breakers had quite the week.

Mladenovic is in Moscow while her partner is in Luxembourg. Really makes no sense to this BACKSPINNER. Had they entered Moscow and won it would’ve put big pressures on the top ranked women in the doubles. But who am I to question the Frenchies' motives? She opens with Kalinskaya.

ALSO THIS WEEK: A look back at my preseason predictions!

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