Friday, January 20, 2017

AO Day 5: All Hail the Second Coming of our Lord and Saviour

Hey Y'all. Galileo here

Welcome to Day Five. The last of the third rounds have been finished. In addition, after tonight’s action, all the chaff will have been sifted through.

"What about Zverev?," I hear you say. Well, what is a slam without surprises? It’s dull.

The first three rounds of a slam are the vetting process. The out of form players crash. It’s a good thing, too, because it just makes the fourth rounds and beyond even better, and makes the rest of the matches that much more important.

Bernard Tomic had the quarterfinals at his feet but, like last year with Lucas Pouille, he blew it. He looked lethargic and disinterested. It is a good thing Australia has new talent coming through. Moreover, that Thanasi Kokkinakis is no longer injured. Once more on the ATP, we realize there is such thing as too talented.

Daniel Evans won 7-5, 7-6[2], 7-6 [3]. Tomic played ok - he hit 50 winners. But he just seemed bored. And he didn’t want it enough. It has to improve and soon from the mercurial Australian. At least his fitness is finally improved.

And Roger Federer showed that age really is just a number with what was possibly the performance of the year. With Novak Djokovic out, could he win this slam? Bizarrely, his most difficult match wouldn’t even be in the final. It might not even be against Andy Murray, given his recent history against the Scot. The Swiss will surely lose to Kei Nishikori. He couldn’t do it, could he?

This BACKSPINNER told you to watch the Kuznetsova/Jankovic match. You just knew it would be a crazy one. And if you want to know more, drop into WTA BACKSPIN for a full blow-by-blow account of it. This BACKSPINNER was quite happy with the result. Her head to head with compatriot A-Pavs, which sits at 5-2, though she lost the last one, is a big reason why she is my suicide pick. After such a big win, expect a drubbing.

*Suicide Picks*
MS 1st Rd: Gasquet d. Mott {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Tomic d. Estrella Burgos {W}
MS 3rd Rd: Nishikori d. Lacko {W}
WS 1st Rd: Wozniacki d. Rodionova {W}
WS 2nd Rd: Konta d. Osaka {W}
WS 3rd Rd: Venus d. Duan {W}
WS 4th Rd: Kuznetsova d. Pavlyuchenkova

...In his first two matches, Troicki blew a two sets to none lead and a two sets to one lead. Yet here he is. He pushed Wawrinka all the way but could not snatch the fourth, going down 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6[7]. How the Serb managed to even push the fourth seed that far is anybody’s guess. But to live with the Swiss for most of a two and a half hour contest is something Djokovic struggles to do at times. For Stan, his 16 aces and 43 total winners were matched by 42 errors. Twelve breaks throughout the match really told the story. This was a grind, this was work, and Wawrinka had to earn his victory. But now he is into the fourth round. Typically, nobody is talking about Wawrinka. You know, the three-time grand slam champion. Seppi is next and then Evans or Tsonga. If Federer and Murray have a long match, could Wawrinka make the final? A semi-final has to be a given at this stage.
...Berdman lasted 90 minutes, as he was blasted off court 6-2, 6-4, 6-4. By the end, he was laughing. He barely clung on at 3-5 in the third. It was over 300 seconds later. And this was, from nowhere, at the level of 2007 Federer. Berdman had not a prayer. Try 40 winners to 17 errors. What about four breaks of the Berdych serve without having to face a break point. This was not Berdman playing badly, this was the Swiss flattening him. All hail the second coming of our lord and saviour.

Nishikori will be the next to face the sword of the Swiss. How many sets can he get? Could he possibly win? Can the Swiss reproduce the magic?
...The magic never really dies with some players. Tsonga prevailed 7-6[4], 7-5, 6-7[8], 6-4. In three hours and 33 minutes he had secured yet another fourth round at slam level. The Frenchie has always been a tricky customer and once more he has a shot at a slam semi-final. He is 6-8 in slam quarterfinals. And he has reached his 25th fourth round, too. You can never rule him out, especially here, at his best slam. Last year he managed to make two quarterfinals. He is still relevant and he could still win a slam, if he could only get a bit of luck in the draw. He has made the fourth round at least every year he has played since 2012. Federer and Nishikori have seen off him each time. But he was in good nick last night. 23 aces and 53 winners overall helped him to see off the error-strewn Sock. This was a really good four set match between two of the biggest hitters out there. The Frenchman will dispatch Evans in three, perhaps four, sets. And he will then lose to Wawrinka in five. He cannot beat the Swiss at slam level.
...This was never in doubt. Players like Lacko cannot upset a baseliner of the Japanese man’s calibre. Kei did need over two hours, but was never troubled in the 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 decision. Four breaks to one, 46 winners and a simple win. The viewers on court were probably a little bored by the end, but it does not have to be pretty. Kei did have to watch 12 aces go by him, but this was not even a test. Nishikori just gets on with it. Of course, he may have had half his mind on the next opponent. And could you blame him? Federer will be a totally different prospect, a huge obstacle. What can Kei do to halt him, to perhaps best him? We shall soon see.
...In 2008, Jankovic was the second seed at Wimbledon. On the second Monday, the busy one, she was put on Court 18, much to her dismay. Here is an excerpt from an article about her defeat:

Informed that she would face "a Thai girl" for a place in the last eight, Jelena Jankovic replied: "Tiger? Tiger who? Tiger Woods?"

Anyway the case is the same here. Murray is not a draw. Stick him on Hisense. This never would have happened when Nadal or Federer was top ranked. And it is a sign of a growing worry on the ATP - do we have enough to entice people in when the big guys leave? Apparently not. Well, not this time, anyway. It doesn’t matter who the ‘best’ guy is because Fedex is still here. Murray still won comfortably enough, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in a minute under an hour. Querrey only hit five aces, the same amount of times he was broken. Querrey was only ever playing a bit part in this drama. Murray is through to face another easy opponent. He gets Mischa Zverev.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

AO Day 4: Djown Goes Djokovic

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Welcome to Day Four. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one losing count.

And it is a day of big news. Novak Djokovic has collapsed to a five set defeat at the hands of Denis Istomin. Of course, you can focus on the match intricately, and we will, but the wider implications are more important. To lose at Wimbledon to Sam Querrey, who plays best on that surface, is one thing. That is understandable and borderline forgivable. But to lose on his best surface at an event he has won six times in nine years...well, that’s a poor loss.

His tenure at the top has not fallen slowly, it has crashed down around his ears. His career is in tatters right now. Harsh for a player still ranked number two, yes, but this does feel like a hammer blow to Nole. How does he recover from this?

This loss gives opportunities to Grigor Dimitrov and Richard Gasquet. The winner of that could go to the semi-finals. Raonic, too, should have the finals in his grasp. But this presents the biggest chance to Murray. If he blows it now and does not win this slam, well, that’s a shocking effort. He has to win. If he doesn’t win in these circumstances he shouldn’t be allowed into the HOF.

In other news, Gael Monfils continued his run with a 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-0 win over Alexandr Dolgopolov. He has been so consistent recently. He just looks really good. Alexander Zverev dealt Frances Tiafoe a stern setback, with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win on show Court Two. The match did not even last two hours.

After surviving Naomi Broady in three epic sets, Dasha Gavrilova has done it again. She ran out a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 winner over big-hitting Ana Konjuh. It was touch and go at times during the third set, but her eclectic mix of slices, spins and weird loopy shots worked excellently. And that forehand is an enormous weapon. She thrilled the crowd, with her dancing and spinning throughout. But in her mind there is always sunshine, so what do you expect?

She gets points for co-ordinating her purple nails to her dress, too.

Sadly, in the doubles the Dashas are gone. They lost 6-2, 6-4 to Errani/Flipkens. Really, it has not been a good tournament for Kasatkina. Or for my predictions. Todd always does better than I do in the predictions game, anyway. That’s why he’s the CEO of BACKSPIN productions, king of BACKSPIN HQ and lord of BACKSPIN Manor.

Right, let’s get on.

*Suicide Picks*
MS 1st Rd: Gasquet d. Mott {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Tomic d. Estrella Burgos {W}
MS 3rd Rd: Nishikori d. Lacko
WS 1st Rd: Wozniacki d. Rodionova {W}
WS 2nd Rd: Konta d. Osaka {W}
WS 3rd Rd: Venus d. Duan

...Just as Djokovic begins to look shaky, Nadal and Federer heat up. Rafa dismissed Bagman 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. At least the Cypriot managed to drag it out to last over two hours. 42 errors off the racket of his opponent helped Rafa in this ‘contest’ but, really, this was just a vintage Nadal performance. When those happen you don’t have a prayer. Rafa blasted 32 winners and broke six times to come through. Sure, he needs to cut out the 33 errors, but there is nowhere to find fault here. Up next is 24th seed Zverev, and he is on fire. How will Rafa do against the arsenal of the German? That one is still one to to put on the upset alert.
...Istomin came through 7-6[8], 5-7, 2-6, 7-6[5], 6-4. Wow. To come back from two sets to one down against the defending champion is something else, it really is. As much as this is worrying, it was more of a Rosol occurrence than anything else. Istomin was on fire, he was hitting the ball at an incredible clip. The winners were zinging off his racket. 63 of them. Five less than Djokovic, but the Serbian hit 72 errors. It may be the most he has ever hit in one match. He wasn’t feeling it today, but his opponent unfortunately found the zone. Djokovic won seven more points and two more games. He also broke two more times than his opponent. There is no explanation for this. It was a horrible fluke. But it is disastrous for Nole. He is in danger in falling out of the top two. And he stands a much better chance with a top two seed. It’s about that confidence.

But at least his humour is intact.

Question: "What do you take from that loss?
Djokovic: "My bags. And I go home"

And that is that. Istomin gets Busta. And a shot at a second career.
...Sometimes you can look at a player during a slam and realize suddenly that they’re really good. Flying totally under the radar, Raonic has proved to be just utterly competent. He has one of the top two or three mentalities on the tour. He is cooler than James Bond on ice. Nothing fazes him. It’s that simple game plan: big serve, big forehand. You just know he’s going to win multiple slams. Actually, I found a racket smash. But how does it compare to the masters?

Ahem. He looked every inch a champion in his 6-3, 6-4, 7-6[4] win over tricky customer Muller. The key stat - 21 aces to 7. Just 7 aces for Muller. That speaks volumes about how far Raonic has come. 2-0 on the breaks count to the Canuck. Sometimes 2 is all you need. At Flushing Meadows, you don’t need any. And how about Raonic going 56-15 on the winners to errors count. Now let’s see him do it against Gilles Simon.
...You have to admire the fight, the guts of some of these young guns. Thiem may have won 6-2, 6-1, 6-7[6], 6-4, but kudos goes to his challenger for extending it to two and three quarter hours. Thiem won in four in the first round. This time it was the same. That third set was as long as the first two combined. Thompson saved a match point serving at 5-6 and then took the breaker on his second set point. It was such a gutsy, "I’m taking this to four no matter what" attitude that only being impressed will do. Thiem’s headband was pretty good, though the jury is still out on the hair.

Australia is shaping up as the force to be reckoned with in future years. On both sides of the tour, the land down under is looking really impressive. Thiem would face the winner of Fognini and Paire. So no easy task up next.
...Blown away in the first set, Dimitrov responded superbly. He won 1-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. The stats were similar - both men broke five times. The Korean was 38 apiece on winners and errors, Dimitrov 41-43. The rallies were super, particularly crosscourt, and the difference maker was an interesting one. Somehow it was the experience Dimitrov had that helped him here. Imagine it - you’re on a show court and this kid, this 20-year-old ranked 105 in the world comes and kicks your behind. It’s kind of embarrassing. But what a response. Previously this might have been the kind of match Dimitrov would’ve crumbled in. But not this year. No, he steadied himself and slowly ground out a tricky match.
...If you put Paire into a grand slam final, he could win it. But string seven wins together? That will never happen. Yet he managed to outlast Fognini today 7-6[3], 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. 133 unforced errors throughout the contest did not mar an exciting match. Just two points separated the two after the three-and-a-half-hour contest. The last time he got this far was the 2015 U.S. Open, where he won that third round match. So this opportunity against Thiem is a big one. The Frenchie can’t afford to blow it. So expect him to lose and win about five games.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

AO Day 3: Sveta and JJ...and some men's tennis, too

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

This BACKSPINNER loves his role as head of the ATP Division of BACKSPIN. It’s like being the Veep. No real responsibility, a much lighter workload and some of the credit. Plus, every now and then I get to be on the same stage as the CEO of Backspin, President Spiker.

But sometimes, I can use my discretion and comment on the WTA. Especially if it concerns retirements, important events, the Volley or certain players. And for me the best match-up of the third round is not Zverev versus Rafa. It is not Berdych/Federer or even Gasquet/Dimitrov. Those will all be crackerjacks. They will be entertaining and explosive. Kristyna Pliskova playing for the first time against Angelique Kerber will be good. Genie Bouchard against CoCo Vandeweghe has promise.

But for this BACKSPINNER, there is one match worth staying up for.

It could be the last chapter in one of the WTA’s most exciting rivalries: (The) Kuznetsova (Curse) versus Queen Chaos. Sveta versus Jankovic. Oh, by the stars and skies, this BACKSPINNER could dedicate a week of posts to these two darlings of BACKSPIN HQ. The fiery, big-hitting Russian against the equally crazy, rock-solid baseline hugging Serbian. Two storied players. Both 31, they each have over 600 wins, Jankovic with 30 more, and Kuznetsova with just 3 million dollars more of prize money. Jankovic leads the head-to-head 7-6.

They have been playing since 2006. And they are part of that post-Serena narrative that crumbled when she came back. Clijsters, Henin, Ivanovic and Sharapova (at least until April) are all gone. So is Dementieva. No more Safina. These are the last two of that talented group. And while Kuznetsova had the higher ceiling, her floor was much lower than the Serbian’s. And they were both beloved. Simply because they were crazy. They’ve played across the world. From Russia to Qatar to Rome to New York to Tokyo. These two have defined a generation.

And they are the last, the Williamses, and Hingis in her way, aside.

And Jankovic is down at 54 in the world. She’s done. There is no more big run for her if she can’t do it here. There may be one or two for the Russian, but you could count those on one hand. Fitting that these two, who singlehandedly have accounted for 50,000 BACKSPIN words, and that’s a conservative estimate, should meet possibly for the last time in a Grand Slam.

So don’t ignore these two vets. Because the winner faces the next generation. Elina Svitolina lurks. These two were her a decade ago. And though they may be war-scarred and battle torn, with a history of extended slumps, why not tune in? You know there’ll be fireworks. Even if it turns out to be 6-1, 6-2 it will still be exciting. We thought after 2010 that both of these two were done. They looked it. But how Kuznetsova has come back and is a story that everyone should love. Her staying power, relevant since 2003, is something incredible. And against a foe she knows well, she faces quite the challenge.

This is going to be a big one. These two take to the court against each other, maybe for a final time. And it will be bittersweet. This is Jankovic’s last stand, her denouement. So tune in and, hey, thank me later.

2006 Stuttgart

2007 Zurich

2008 China

Right let’s get on.

*Suicide Picks*
MS 1st Rd: Gasquet d. Mott {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Tomic d. Estrella Burgos {W}
WS 1st Rd: Wozniacki d. Rodionova {W}
WS 2nd Rd: Konta d. Osaka

...Federer was winning titles on the junior circuit before Rubin was out of nappies. But they met on Rod Laver Arena and the Swiss showed that he still has the magic at his fingertips. For two hours the pair kept Rod Laver Arena entertained in a 7-5, 6-3, 7-6[3] Swiss victory. Rubin doesn’t look unlike Jimmy Garoppolo. But that would not help him. Federer was crisp and collected despite the sweltering heat, hitting 17 aces and 48 winners total. The 41 errors are something you will have to get used to. He is swinging now. Quick points are the order of the day. He won 71 per cent of service points and lost his serve just once. Three breaks were enough to secure the match against a rising star. The problem for Rubin was he only hit 19 winners. It might cut it in a best of three match, but not at this level. Up next for the Fedex Express is Berdman. Look for Federer to go through in three or four, but then Berdman does know how to beat him. That one will be good, but not as good as Jankovic and Kuznetsova.
...There’s really not much to write about here. It was a 90 minute match that concluded 6-3, 6-0, 6-2. Maybe it was the 36 errors of the Russian’s racket or the fact he was several levels below Murray’s class. Perhaps Murray had to make up for his shoddy play in the first round. Either way, this was brutal. Murray had six breaks, while his opponent never saw a break point. This was a shellacking in which the Scot flexed his muscles. What more is there to say? Murray sees Querrey next and whether that goes four or not is entirely on the Scot’s racket. But this match between the Scot and the Russian was nothing compared to the Kuznetsova/Jankovic match coming up.
...The Swiss didn’t even need two hours to see off the American 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. He moved well, standing out in his excessively bright colours, and was striking the ball beautifully. It was in complete contrast to his gut it out win over Klizan. And in more great news for the Swiss star, the draw has opened up beautifully. Sometimes you don’t need that, but it is always nice to see it happen. His 46 winners should be cheery enough for him and his camp. Not getting broken is another. Troicki has had back-to-back five setters. There is no Kyrgios anymore. Cilic is gone. He defecated all over his mattress. One of Sock, Tsonga or Tomic surely awaits Wawrinka in the quarterfinal. He might get Seppi in the fourth. Pen Wawrinka in for another semi-final here. It would be number three. Use the same pen you used to write down a reminder to watch the Kuznetsova match.
...For 200 minutes exactly the boisterous crowd were more than entertained by these two. An epic point ended the second and third sets, which was met with raucous applause. The crowd wanted Bernie to win but loved the fight in his opponent. And the two hugged it out after the Australian’s emotional 7-5, 7-6[4], 4-6, 7-6[5] victory. He gets Cilic next. Yes, this particular edition of BACKSPIN is rather focused on a single quarter. Apologies, but this is where the action is. And, hey, this was a classic night match four setter. The match point was another long rally, but one that ended on a Hawkeye call. This was a match with an air of celebration about it, of joy. It encapsulated everything we love about the happy slam. Tomic hit 62 winners and 70 errors, his opponent going 46-42. This was a crowd-orientated match. It was the best kind of match. Evans is up next for Tomic, and then Sock or Tsonga. Could another slam quarterfinal beckon? This is his favourite slam. He really could do it. Just as you could really stay up for a certain ladies match on Friday, Australian time.
....Where does one start with this one? Seppi avenged himself, coming seemingly from nowhere, with a 1-6, 6-7[1], 6-4, 6-2, 10-8 victory. Somehow it only took three hours, but these days the points are so quick. It will be Darcis next for Seppi. So the good times just keep coming. He saved a match point despite blowing serving for it at 6-5. This whole match was just a totally bizarre mess. 28 aces from Nick were not enough this time. Both players hit 57 winners, but Kyrgios hit nearly 70 errors. His opponent hit half that. You just can’t lose your serve five times. For the Australian, it is back to the drawing board. But can Seppi use his forward momentum here? We shall soon see. Honestly, go look this match up. Go watch the highlights. It would be impossible to do it here. But it does sum up all the best and worst bits of Kyrgios.
...A shade shy of three hours and Cilic has gone crashing out, the first of the big seeds gone. The signs were there. He hit 69 errors. He couldn’t take advantage of his opponent’s 44, or his seven doubles. Evans did not play a great match, but did play a gritty one. The Brit gutted it out 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. 6-3. This is it. The final straw for Cilic in this BACKSPINNER’S book. He is not a top ten player. It is simply not good enough to do it really well SOME of the time. Somehow the things that make Kuznetsova and Jankovic endearing are irritating qualities in Cilic. What can I say? We’re fickle over here at BACKSPIN town.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

AO Day 2: Where's Rafa? Oh, There's Rafa.

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

We have completed Day Two. The chaff has been slightly sifted. We have had upsets on either side - Pouille, Halep and, I suppose, Stosur. No big seeds have fallen on the ATP, though the men’s top ten is currently a lot more steadfast than the ladies. The weather is beginning to really heat up and we’re only a day or two away from the third round. And that means we’ll have some truly cracking matches to get our teeth into!

But before that there is some sad news to impart. Tommy Haas, king of surgeries, has played his last match at Melbourne Park. It ended, perhaps fittingly, with a retirement. The German is now 38 and, while he is director of the BNP Paribas Open tournament, he still wants to play.

In better news our, WTA star of the year, Dasha Gavrilova, survived Naomi Broady 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. But now she must face Ana Konjuh. She’ll need that day's rest. Boy, will that match be one to tune into.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any crackers this early. Gael Monfils very quietly dispatched of the dangerous lefty Jiri Vesely. In 90 minutes the Frenchman cruised to a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory. He only lost serve once and blasted 32 winners. He looked extremely efficient.
Dominic Thiem, meanwhile, has also moved through. He got past Jan-Lennard Struff 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, but the 45 errors and nine doubles need to be improved on. Less of both from the Austrian, please.

*Suicide Picks*
MS 1st Rd: Gasquet d. Mott {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Tomic d. Estrella Burgos
WS 1st Rd: Wozniacki d. Rodionova {W}
WS 2nd Rd: Konta d. Osaka

Right, let’s see what happened to the biggest names...

...Mayer has beaten Rafa before in Shanghai. But here Rafa was inspired and his forehand was particularly lethal. The German lasted a shade over the two-hour mark but went down 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. He never even faced a break point and looked as good as he has for quite some time. If he could keep this going throughout the year, he could win some big titles. Mayer, of course, no longer presents a massive challenge but he is still a dangerous foe with weapons. Nadal had all the answers to the German’s volleys, to his craft and to his big booming backhand. For Rafa this is the perfect opening match - a tricky opponent, but a winnable match. Up next is Bagman, who Rafa does have an 8-1 record against. Boy, was it easier to find Rafa in the draw when he was a top two player.
...Verdasco was a little too explosive during this one. Nole won 6-1, 7-6[5], 6-2. But it lasted longer than Nadal’s match. Sadly, Ferver disappeared after losing the second set, he just gave up on the match. The Spaniard’s infamous temper was in attendance, however. At one point, when he blew a break lead he let out a huge roar of anger. Verdasco tried hard, and he hit some nice shots, but Nole is once more on a different plane. For Djokovic it was pretty simple - sit back as his opponent went 27-56 on the winners count. For a player with such good prospects, what has happened to Verdasco is quite shocking. He should still be a factor, especially with that forehand still working so well. But his days are long gone. And that’s sad. Istomin up next for Djokovic. And it only gets harder from there.
...There was scant resistance from the German in this one. Raonic has turned into a very consistent top four player who simply doesn’t lose these matches on the big stages. It’s a huge step forward. He needed just 90 minutes to come through 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. 18 aces, 46 total winners and only 25 errors from the third seed. And four breaks to none. The Canuck has come in here riding a serious wave of form. Dustin Brown probably played the shot of the match and got the most applause, but Raonic could walk away with a huge trophy. Up next is Muller, fresh off a title in Sydney. Expect breakers in that one and four sets. If Raonic can get through that without losing a set he really could win it.
...Do you like the new Dimitrov? This BACKSPINNER is a fan. Dimtirov hit 15 aces, won 46 of 47 first serve points and never faced a break point as he won 7-6[2], 6-3, 6-3. It only took him a shade over two hours. The Bulgarian was composed throughout, and won 29 more points than his opponent. It is quite astonishing that his opponent won just 17 per cent of receiving points. Dimitrov is having some career resurgence. And he gets a good look at the next generation now, with Hyeon Chung up next. That will be a great clash. The South Korean is a future top ten player. He is also likely to be a seed for most of next year’s slams. Can Dimi hold off the next generation coming through? He just needs to keep serving well. There is nothing your opponent can do if you are unbreakable. Dimitrov and Djokovic are on a collision course for the fourth round, if Dimitrov can find his way past Gasquet.
...Sometimes it’s just about surviving. Zverev was pushed here but responded magnificently. It took him some three hours, but the German came through, winning going away 6-2, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2. He turned it on the last two sets, going to a level Haase just doesn’t have. He double faulted to give up his serve in the fourth set. And he looked down and out, it looked like he would be the first major casualty of the draw. And down 2-0, 40-0 he looked to be in deeper trouble. But he would lose just three more games the whole way. Sometimes smashing your racket, which he did with aplomb after losing his serve in the fourth, is just the ticket. He used his anger constructively, and roared through to win a dramatic match in front of a baying crowd. He faces flashy Tiafoe next and then Nadal. Can he upset the Spaniard? Let’s hope he can get to the match at least. It’d be a fun match.
...Five and a quarter hours. In the Australian sun. How could they bear it? Dr. Ivo out-aced his opponent by 75 to 33 during the five set epic, which finished 6-7[6], 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 22-20. Karlovic broke four times to his opponent's once. This was an astonishing match. While Zeballos has gone overtime once, at the 2013 French Open, Karlovic is an expert at it. Somehow the Croat won 80 per cent of his first serve points. Karlovic now has the record for the most aces in a match at this tournament. The fifth set alone lasted two hours and 57 minutes. The final set of Isner Mahut lasted eight hours and ten minutes, so at least it wasn’t that bad. Up next for the 20th seed is wild card Whittington.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

AO Day 1: Welcome Back, Mister Roger Federer

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Welcome to the Australian Open!

They have a snazzy new scoreboard and a snazzy new look, which came about thanks to a very expensive facelift. You can read about it here and enjoy the awkward picture of Simona Halep. Why awkward? Because she crashed out and could only muster four games. It is now two years in a row of first round exits for the Romanian.

If you want to go and read about the peculiar Cliffs of Simona, well they know all about that on WTA BACKSPIN.

When it comes to developing and changing, Wimbledon moves ahead of the curve. It anticipates. But of the other three, Melbourne Park really needed the least development. Roland Garros is too small and Flushing Meadows is, well, flushed with problems. But it is still a bold move that will bring money back to the area. And it also gives the place a fresh look. You can really tell the difference between how it is now and how it was. But this slam is the one that really changes the most. And actually that’s a good thing.

A lot of cracking matches happened on Day One. Cilic escaped in a match that went five sets and featured 111 winners. Janowicz had a big advantage but crumbled to a 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 defeat. Cilic will have to contend with Evans. If he wins that it is likely Tomic next. The seventh seed is on the ropes.

Kyrgios came dressed in an outfit that is self-descriptive. He had big hair, loud clothes and a brazen attitude, of course. Everything about the 14th seed is shouty, exciting and new. Elias was totally overwhelmed - by the crowd, the opponent and the occasion. Kyrgios didn’t even need an hour and a half to win 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. It is a rematch with Seppi in the second round for the Australian.

Right, on with the action...

*Suicide Picks*
MS 1st Rd: Gasquet d. Mott
WS 1st Rd: Wozniacki d. Rodionova

...The Scot looked quite average throughout the 7-5, 7-6 [2], 6-2 win over Marchenko. He went 25-27 on errors throughout the nearly three hour contest. He was underwhelming. While he broke six times he also lost serve thrice. It was a nervy performance from a top seed who did not look ready to play the part. His opponent went for his shots the whole times, going 46-62 on his winners ratio. And, still, Murray could not counterpunch effectively. Rublev, a Russian qualifier, is his next opponent. That’s fine. But Querrey afterwards could cause problems. He can’t afford to lose early on. If he does he will not be world number one when this event concludes. There is much work to be done from the Scot. But surely if he's the world’s best player, he is up to it, right?
...Welcome back, Mister Roger Federer. It was tough going for the old man against, well, another old man. But the Swiss was out in the cool night air for only two hours as he got past Melzer 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. Up 4-2 in the first, the Austrian looked good. But Federer slowly began to come back and soon stamped his authority on the match. 19 aces hot from Roger’s racket, giving him a total of 46 winners overall. There are areas of improvement for the former number one, but against a tricky opponent this was a fine result. And he is quickly becoming, if he was not before, a player nobody will want to face. Perhaps most importantly, Federer was wearing a fabulous t-shirt. It is now 18 years straight for Roger making the second round. He also got his 800th career hard court victory. Young Noah Rubin, the qualifier, is up next. He has two total victories to his name. He is 20. When he was about one years old Fedex had his first ‘major’ title. He won it on the ITF junior circuit, somewhere in Italy. Prato, apparently.
...Well, this match promised so much. In reality it delivered little. How disappointing for the crowd who wanted, and expected, so much more. The Brazilian was absent from court as Tomic rolled to a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory in 100 minutes. 38 winners to 22 and five breaks to none. Tomic won two thirds of the points and never looked in danger of losing. Estrella Burgos will be the next opponent. This is a soft draw for the taking. Does Bernie want it enough?

...Watch that video first. Incredible that that should come in the final stages of an epic three and a half hour war. The Swiss outlasted his fiery opponent 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. He hit 60 winners to just 43 unforced errors, his opponent going 54-46. Wawrinka broke just one more time than his opponent and won five more points. This was a tight match with a lot of tremendous rallies. But when you have won a slam and you return there you always have a bit of an edge. And Klizan just lacked that little bit of extra consistency the one-hander has. No relaxing for Wawrinka in the next round. He faces Stevie Johnson. Ouch.
...These two have a storied history. At last year’s French Open Kei won through 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. This time it was harder. It took Kei three and a half hours to take it 5-7, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7[6], 6-2. The Russian going 35-62 on the winner’s ratio is pretty abysmal. It was one of the big reasons he could not quite get over the hump in this one. Another is Kei breaking nine times to Kuznetsov’s once. How the Russian managed to stay in this for so long is quite baffling. But Kei has always struggled with fitness. Going five in the first round in this heat could come back to bite him later on in the tournament. Chardy is up next. Kei will not want to go into the Federer matchup not feeling one hundred per cent. He needs to see off the Frenchman in straights. To do that he has to make the inconsistent Frenchman play a lot of balls.
...Just 17 years old, the Australian hotshot leant on the crowd and rode them to an epic five set victory over lefty Melzer. He roared, he panted and he screamed. And he wanted this one bad. He wanted it more than you or I wanted a car for Christmas. Over the course of some four hours he triumphed 5-7, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6[2], 6-1. He blasted 50 winners to 44 errors while his opponent sprayed 69 balls off the court. He won just eight more points than his opponent, and they each broke seven times. Demon moves quickly, and hits hard. Australia has waited a long time for this sort of talent on both tours. The nation went 3-2 and 2-1 in the men’s and women’s draws respectively. You have to remember how young the average age is, too. They could have five players left in either draw by the third round. And when did that last happen? For Demon, it is a massive challenge next: 31st seed Querrey.

A little late, but...

*Ladies Doubles*
Garcia/Mladenovic [1] d. Barty/Dellacqua
Makarova/Vesnina [3] d. [7] Gorges/Pliskova
Mirza/Strycova [3] d. [8] King/Shvedova
Williams/Williams [15] d. [6] Chan/Chan
Garcia/Mladenovic [1] d. [3] Mirza/Strycova

*Men’s Doubles*
Herbert/Mahut [1] d. [8] Nestor/Roger-Vasselin
Kontinen/Peers [4] d. [10] Huey/Mirnyi
Dodig/Granollers [9] d. [3] Bryan/Bryan
Lopez/Lopez [5] d. [2] Murray/Soares
Herbert/Mahut [1] d. [5] Lopez/Lopez


...It plays itself out. Kyrgios struggles against Murray and the Scot struggles against the defending champion. That result in Doha will have an affect.

#1 Kerber d. #23 Kasatkina
#7 Muguruza d. #10 CSN
#4 Halep d. #13 V. Williams
#11 Svitolina d. #8 Kuznetsova
#5 Pliskova d. #22 Gavrilova
#3 Radwanska d. #18 Stosur
#9 Konta d. #6 Cibulkova
#2 Williams d. #21 Garcia
#1 Kerber d. #7 Muguruza
#11 Svitolina d. #4 Halep
#5 Pliskova d. #3 Radwanska
#2 Williams d. #9 Konta
#1 Kerber d. #11 Svitolina
#5 Pliskova d. #2 Williams
#5 Pliskova d. #1 Kerber

...It has to be the Czech’s big breakthrough. She is more than due a slam. The big serve will be key, as well as keeping the rallies short.

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Wk.2- You Can't Keep a Good Muller Down Forever

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Welcome to a slightly shorter Week 2 post. You'll be hearing so much from this BACKSPINNER over the next two weeks, so why start with a big long post? Why not lighten my work-load and your read-load?

It was our first week of hitting the ball in anger everywhere. We also got the draw for our first slam, so it was a good week. Of course, we also saw a twice-defending champion vanquished and Dominic Thiem have a bit of a meltdown.

"If I don't see myself, and if I don't believe that I can be competitive, and when I mean 'competitive', it is fighting for the things that I fight for during the last 10 years, I will be probably be playing golf or fishing at home. I am being honest with this. If I am here it is because I believe."

That’s Rafa Nadal, discussing his chances in Australia.

The Spaniard is always dangerous, but if, and it is a huge if, he’s going to win another slam it is only going to come in one place. You wonder if Nadal is going to go into retirement or be pushed. In fact, this is a field packed with former champions - Federer, Nadal, Wawrinka and Djokovic. You can probably discount Federer and Nadal. And don’t forget the five-time finalist Murray. But if he were to lose final number six that would be an awful result. Evonne Goolagong losing four in a row in the 1970’s was poor, but to lose six? It would certainly raise questions.

But we will get to the Australian Open soon. For now, we need to look back, not forward.

S: Gilles Muller def. Daniel Evans 7-6(5)/6-2
D: Koolhof/Middelkoop d. J.Murray/Soares

S: Jack Sock def. Joao Sousa 6-3/5-7/6-3
D: Matkowski/Qureshi d. Erlich/Lipsky

...It’s hard to know where to put Muller, which box he belongs in. He has a lot of touch for a big server, a lot of dimensions for someone who relies on breakers so much. He is now at his highest ever ranking of 28. Plus, he finally has his first title. He improved to 1-5. For such a good volleyer, his final last week in doubles was surprisingly only his second. He is 0-2 in ATP doubles finals. Last year he made finals in back to back weeks on grass, but lost both. One of them was in three breakers to Karlovic. Given that he made his first final in 2004, the fact he won his first title this year might give him an ATP Tour record - longest time between first final and first title. The sixth seed opened with a win over Dolgopolov, hanging on to win 7-5 in the third. Then he saw off Matthew Barton 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. To start the year with a quarterfinal in the first two weeks is a big result. Then an upset. He saw off second seeded Cuevas 7-6[4], 6-4. More breakers in the semi-finals, as he put the two-time defending champion Troicki to the sword 6-3, 7-6[6]. Viktor had beaten him in that round previously, winning 6-4, 6-2 in 2015. So revenge for the Luxembourgian player. The big serving lefty hung on in the final to see off Evans 7-6[4], 6-2. By the end, Evans wasn’t just cracking from the pressure, he was imploding.
...This guy is a total wildcard. A very talented, top 20 talent at times, he can beat anybody on his day. He has a strong game off the baseline and has a serious array of shots at his disposal. Throw in a serious amount of guts and you have a seriously dangerous player. Which is what he is. And you will see that at the Australian Open. He opens with Australian Thompson, but is likely to face eighth seeded Thiem in the second round. And we should all be on upset alert for that. In the first round of Auckland he dismissed 6th seed Ramos-Vinolos 6-1, 7-5. Brydon Klein, a former Aussie now playing for Britain, had qualified but his run ended at the hands of the Portuguese 6-3, 6-4. Next was Haase, who managed to win just five games. Sousa had hit a purple patch which continued when he saw off Baghdatis 6-1, 7-5. Having knocked out two seeds and not dropped a set he was coming into the final on form. But he couldn’t hang on against Sock and went down in three tight sets. His highest ranking was 27, but he has stayed around the top 40 for some time. He had a personal best result at all four slams last year. Keep watching the Portugese vet. Upsets tend to happen around him. The only negative? His 2-6 mark in finals. That has to improve.
...Who? Well, exactly. But they have both won their first title of any kind on the ATP World Tour. Well that’s what this BACKSPINNER thought. But no. Matwe Middlekoop and Wesley Koolhof are 2-0 in finals. They won in Kitzbuhel and Sofia last year. And they are 6-2 in challenger doubles finals. They have won exactly one doubles match at slam level, but are in a manageable area of the draw for this year’s edition of the Australian Open. During their run in Sydney they beat the fourth seeds and the top seeds, in the final. So watch out for them in Melbourne.
...He does feel like a late bloomer. But the American is still only 24. And he has a slam trophy in mixed with Oudin and in men’s with Pospisil. He has won those on two different surfaces. This guy is probably the future of American tennis, though Harry Taylor Fritz may have something to say about that. He has improved to 2-4 in finals and, more than that, he finally has a great chance to have a breakout slam. He is in a very nice section of the draw. Now he has a chance for a big result. But he didn’t face a murderer’s row in Auckland, with Johnson the best he faced. Will he be able to get up for tougher competition?
...Living in Britain means hearing about this guy who, admittedly, does have talent. But the British press aren’t happy about having Konta, Watson, Robson and the Murrays. So they continue to wax lyrical about Evans. And they made that guy who Federer thrashed at Wimbledon last year, Marcus Willis, a cult hero. Anyway, Evans was in Sydney last week. And he had a great tournament and sunburn by the end of the week. The edgy win over Monteiro was hardly impressive, but beating two seeds back to back was. To come back against a player of Thiem’s stature is also noteworthy. Next time he has to win that final. You can’t blow opportunities in this sport.
...All throughout last year Thiem scheduled poorly. He went into far too many tournaments. He has not learned from his errors. Last week he should’ve given a pitiful excuse and withdrawn. He has top eight seeding. Why not rest and try to make a run? His loss in three to Evans was all his own fault and should have been avoided. He needs to pace himself better throughout the year. He could be world number one if he just picked his tournaments a little better.
...Years ago Haase led Nadal at Wimbledon. He was up two sets to one but crumbled and won just three more games. Nadal, however, won the whole thing. He has played Murray at three of the slams and pushed him close at the U.S. twice. Once he led by two sets to none but lost the last three 6-2, 6-0, 6-4. Last week he defeated the delightfully named Kiwi Finn Tearney in straight sets. But, more importantly, he defeated the three time champion David Ferrer. And he did it the Ferrer way. He gritted out a tough 2-6, 6-4, 7-6[4] victory. Sure, Ferrer’s stock is falling, but that is still a remarkable result. He is ready to make some noise in Melbourne. Or not, because he drew Zverev. If he could cause the upset it be quite a splash.

Notes from the Week...
1 – This from Stuart Fraser

2 – Ten years ago the Australian Open played on that funny green surface for the last time. Of the 32 seeds in that year, a third are seeded this week, about a third have retired and the rest have faded badly. Ours can be a cruel sport.
3 – In Sydney, the women's main-draw ranking cut-off was 29, making it the highest cut-off of any WTA tournament in the world in the past year. Imagine that - being ranked 30 and having to qualify.

1. Auckland R2- Baghdatis d. Brown 4-6, 7-6[4]. 6-4
...Brown blew another one. The German was up and had the match in his palm, but the Cypriot fought back for the win. He will be dangerous in Melbourne if he can stay fit and motivated. He is a classic spoiler pick. Beware if he ends up near a big seed. This match also featured a clash of styles, always a plus.
2. Auckland F - Sock d. Sousa 6-3, 5-7, 6-3
...Sock's big heavy forehands bought him another title. Having not dropped a set the whole way the Portugese man was in form. But when he was a point away from 3-1 in the third, he faltered, lost his serve and Sock never looked back. Still, it was a great battling effort to take the second set and force a third. Watch out for Sousa in Melbourne.
3. Sydney QF – Evans d. Thiem 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
...It took over two hours for Evans to get his first ever top ten win. The worrying thing was hot Thiem literally just faded, collapsed down the stretch. He won't win his first slam until he corrects his approach to schedules and puts matches away.

Dasha, seeded 22nd, got no easy draw in the first slam of the year. Naomi Broady is no pushover and then she has to face either Mladenovic or Konjuh. After that is Bacs or possibly Giorgi. If she wins those, and she is fully capable of it, Pliskova almost certainly awaits in the next round. And it's the scary one. Her ace in the hole is the crowd and the fact she has a great support network. No doubt Kyrgios will watch some of her matches if he doesn't have clashes. No doubles draw yet, but she should be pairing with Kasatkina.

In Sydney, the Dashas beat Huber/Sanchez 1-6, 6-4, 1-0 [10-7]. But they withdrew in the next round. After beating Vekic, Gavrilova got just four games against eventual champion Konta. Konta then eliminated the other Dasha, before rolling to the title. Her dismissal of Aga in the final was impressive.

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Monday, January 09, 2017

Wk.1- The New Nole, Same as the Old Nole

Hey, all. Galileo here.

The Hopman Cup is something this BACKSPINNER looks forward to annually. The talent it has had in its years, especially recently, is fantastic. It is a modern, fun event where players can play points that are serious, but also have an exhibition feel. Remember Fish/Williams from 2008? What a pairing that was.

This year, Roger Federer paired with Belinda Bencic. And the backhands on display. Amazing. The France versus Switzerland clash was the best in the group stage, with Federer and Richard Gasquet exchanging backhands crosscourt in a display that had the crowd on their feet.

Australia disappointed, with Dasha Gavrilova unable to give Nick Kyrgios quite enough support, though she had her moments. The Americans played the role of dark horses perfectly, rolling to the final and coming within an inch of taking it. Gasquet dominated the opening set of the final, winning it 6-3, and then continued to roll. But Jack Sock slowed his momentum, then nicked the second set 7-5. Gasquet was set for a classic French collapse. But it never came. In fact, he came back from 4-1 down in the breaker to win it and give France a 1-0 lead. It was a beautiful clash of different styles, with the heavy topspin of Sock going up against the wily defense of Gasquet. The Frenchman covered so much of the court.

Kiki won a crucial rubber against Bencic in her last round robin singles match, but was manhandled 6-4, 7-5 by CoCo Vandeweghe in the final. But Gasquet, winner of the French Open with Tatiana Golovin and a Bronze medalist in doubles, is a superb dubs player.

And Mladenovic is the world's best doubles player right now. At worst, she is in that discussion. As the final rubber wore on France got better and better. Mladenovic was the X-factor once again. She and Gasquet worked beautifully together. Ritchie's backhand did in CoCo at the net. The Bannerette never figured out how to deal with its versatility.

Andrea Petkovic is back and playing decently. Alexander Zverev had a great tournament and even unseated Federer in three breakers. So, for Germany it was a good tournament.

* – We start the year with Kohl, Querrey and Busta at spots 32-30
* – Nadal, Berdman and Goffin sit at 9, 10 and 11
* – Cilic leads Thiem by less than 200. They are at seven and eight.
* – Monfils just swapped with Cilic for sixth place. Wawrinka could lose his top four ranking to Kei. He leads by around 100. Djokovic and Murray will be fighting for the top spot all year. Raonic is not safe in third.

Seeing as this is the first post, we should ease ourselves in. The Player of the Week should be a familiar name to you all...

S: Novak Djokovic def. Andy Murray 6-3/5-7/6-4
D: Chardy/F.Martin d. Pospisil/Stepanek

S: Grigor Dimitrov def. Kei Nishikori 6-2/2-6/6-3
D: Kokkinakis/Thompson d. Muller/Querrey

S: Roberto Bautista Agut def. Daniil Medvedev 6-3/6-4
D: Bopanna/Nedunchezhiyan d. Raja/Sharan

HOPMAN CUP (Perth, AUS/Exhibition)
France def. United States 2-1

...Look, I know. Not original. But he is the world's best player. Nole had his usual early season escape, blew out a couple of players and finally faced off against Murray. This was a crucial match-up. It sets the tone for how the early part of the year will go. And it turned out to be almost a reverse of their famous Shanghai final. But Djokovic led the winners count by 26-16, up 5-3 in the third. It was a scratchy kind of match, low on quality and high on drama. Muzza, apparently the world's best player, down break point at 3-4 in the third, double faulted. And the Djoker should have been called for multiple time violations. He took outrageous amounts of time to serve, so much so that the commentators started to make funnies at his expense.

As with most of the important points, on Nole's first match point he missed the first serve. A long rally ensued with Nole finally missing when he stopped playing the percentages. Really, the serving throughout the match was mediocre. Murray saved the next match point with two big forehands, hitting back to back corners. After putting away a smash, Djokovic had another. But he blew it with a wild slice. And Murray, getting away with a couple of sloppy smashes at deuce, finally broke back. At 30-30 a long, tense point ensued. And when he lost it he slammed his racket down, getting a point penalty. Suddenly, Murray led 6-5. Could Djokovic handle the pressure? Not quite. Djokovic saved the first set point at 15-40, but then he faulted on the next point. A crushing return down 30-40 sealed the break and the set for Murray. The Scot opened the third with another double, his fourth. Down 2-3, Djokovic held on from 0-30, even saving a break point. Finally, on his advantage Djokovic, hit three incredible inside out forehands which only Murray could have gotten back. But finally the Scot could defend no more. Back to back long rallies, both ended by a huge Djoker forehand, saw him get to 0-40 on the Muzza serve. Nole took a 5-3 lead. And he held on for a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory. This rivalry is turning into a Federer/Nadal situation. Djokovic has the Scot's number. How he got away with this title after being down to Verdasco and trying his best to choke in the final, is beyond this BACKSPINNER.
...Yes, it is about time. Dimitrov has evolved, he has shed his cocoon. He has arrived again. Re-arrived, if you will. He looks, once more, as if he could make slam finals and break up the top four. His defence is better, taking on the mantra, literally, of bend but don't break. But there are other areas he has improved in. His forehand is vicious. It bites and snarls. It claws. And he broke down Nishikori with it in the final. His backhand has always been solid, but now that forehand is a big weapon. And his return of serve has improved leaps and bounds. But, also, the serve.

He has these big weapons, these cannons. He can win cheap points. And with these has come confidence. One of Todd's favourite WTA BACKSPIN followers said that Maria Sharapova breaking up with Dimitrov, while he was quite young, may have had an effect. This is not my theory, but this BACKSPINNER thinks it makes a lot of sense. Anyway, he was back in full force this week. The Bulgarian dismissed Johnson 6-2, 6-3 and allowed Mahut just one more game in the next round. The 7th seed had hit his stride. He beat Austrian Thiem 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 in the quarters. It was a fine match, showing off the best that one-handers have to offer. In the semi, he added another chapter to the engaging rivalry he and Raonic share. Since the Canuck won their first clash in Stockholm in 2011, Dimi has won three in a row. All of those have been in Australia. This time he won 7-6[6], 6-2, when his opponent collapsed. And in the final he and Nishikori played out what was, aesthetically, the best final of the week. Level at 6-2, 2-6, 3-3 Nishikori's game disintegrated. In fact, in that opening set Dimitrov played out of his skin. The rallies the two of them constructed were elaborate, elegant pieces of art. Who knew Nishikori had finesse? Dimi had a bit of that Safin quality during the match, where he was unplayable when he was on but he struggled mightily to stay 'on'.

What a week from a star who is back on the rise. On a more personal note, Maria Sharapova broke up with this guy?

...Now sitting pretty at 75 in the world, Thompson has been to his first quarterfinal and final on the ATP tour. And he did it with a newly resurgent Kokkinakis, who is still contemplating whether or not to enter the Australian Open. His 6-3, 6-2 beatdown of Ymer is impressive in itself, given how many pundits are predicting big things for the Swede already. But to go out and edge Ferrer in front of a baying home crowd, with all that pressure, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 is quite incredible. It took the Aussie two hours and 40 minutes to finally get it done. And it ended like this:

Unfortunately, Nishikori crushed the American 6-1, 6-1 in the quarters. But sometimes it's all about the journey. In the doubles, he opened with a confidence boosting 6-2, 2-6, 1-0 [11-9] win over Wawrinka/Pouille. And then they beat the world's best, Mahut and Herbert, 1-6, 6-4, 1-0 [10-7]. They spanked Nestor/Roger-Vasselin 6-3, 6-1 and then capped it off with a straight sets win over Querrey/Muller. Weeks really don't get much better than that.
...As a child did you read that book about the little engine that could? It struggled to mount a hill, but then it willed itself to and suddenly it was fine. He mounted the hill. Bautista Agut is the little Spaniard that could. He just chugs along, always hitting his seeding. He makes fourth rounds at slams, makes finals and is always in the Top 15. It's almost disconcerting just how consistent he is when it comes to it. He is like a metronome. The one thing he is not, however, is good in finals. He is a solid Top 15 player and a surprisingly big hitting player. But he was 4-6 in finals before this week. His last win was in February 2016. If he can win next week he will successfully defend a title for the first time in his career. Forget the easy win over Dutra Silva, it was his three set win over Youzhny 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 which was really impressive. It's that ability to avoid the upset and gut out the tough matches. That's what you need to succeed on the ATP Tour. Against first time finalist Medvedev and flashy Paire he gave up just thirteen games combined. Once more sheer depth of shot proves to be the winner. Expect at least eight more wins this month.

...Meet 20-year old Daniil Medvedev. He has won five small ITF events. He is 5-5 on the tour. And he is now world number 65. Even before that he was world number 99. At Chennai, he beat Monteiro, Lu and Kovalik, all without dropping a set. But in the semi-finals Dudi Sela was ready. He served for it at 6-4, 6-5. He even had a match point. But the Russian broke and then took the breaker 7-2. He won 4-6, 7-6[2], 6-2. Quite impressive from the Russian, in the end. Even the predictable straight sets loss to Agut is more than understandable.

...Does he ever change? It's not just the losses, it is the way they happen and to whom. Jozef Kovalik is now 2-0 on the ATP Tour. He is 109 in the world. He is barely a journeyman. He has only two ITF Challenger titles. How, then, did he defeat Cilic 7-6[5], 5-7, 7-5? Cilic is a slam champion. Cilic should have barely lost games. His opponent was 259 at the start of last year and has been steadily rising. But in a match lasting three hours how did the Croat not outlast his opponent?
...Like some kind of ghost, this guy just keeps randomly appearing. He outclassed Goffin 6-1, 7-6[6] in Qatar and then also dealt with 6th seed Karlovic 6-2, 7-5. It was a confident performance from that Spaniard, who has all of a sudden found that forehand once again. The loss to Djokovic after having match points is the kind that can really haunt a player, though. Like last year, Verdasco is one player you don't want to see in your quarter of the draw.

Notes from the Week...
1 – No big rises or falls in the rankings this week. As it stands no Roger in the top sixteen seeds. Delpo is not seeded at all. Nadal and Berdych are not in the top eight. Ready for fireworks?
2 – What is up with the Williams? It's the first time in a while Serena isn't a huge favourite to go in and dominate a slam. However shall I pick the upcoming Aussie Open?
3 – Tipsarevic isn't done quite yet. He won a challenger in Thailand this week. One more challenger than you or I will ever win.

1. Qatar SF - Djokovic d. Verdasco 4-6, 7-6[7], 6-3
...It is always good to see Ferver firing on all those cylinders he has. He really hit out during this match, really played well. But he crumbled, choking on multiple match points. And Djokovic escaped again. You do wonder how different his career would have been if he had been able to see off Nadal at the 2009 Aussie Open. He was the better player on that day.
2. Brisbane Final - Dimitrov d. Nishikori 6-2, 2-6, 6-3
...The scoreline does not do the game justice. The first set, Dimitrov played the purest form of tennis you've ever seen outside of a Federer/Nadal match. He flowed, he struck, he moved like water. He was poised. And when he struck - oh, boy. But Kei gave no quarter. He fought back, and he really took it to Dimi. Watch the extended highlights of this one. Quite the match.

3. Chennai 1st Rd. - Chung d. Coric 6-3, 7-5
...Just watch out for the Korean. He and Coric may develop a good rivalry. But the qualifier will not have to qualify for events much longer. He is coming up quickly. Top seeded in qualies, he dropped just ten games total.
4. Brisbane QF - Raonic d. Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
...Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Raonic has slowly morphed into a very consistent top three player. But now he has to back up that big performance from Melbourne last year. As for Rada, well, he will only retire when he is totally broken.
5. Chennai Final - Bautista Agut d. Medvedev 6-3, 6-4
...An upstart took on the steady Spaniard but could not prevail. It was a match with a surprising amount of finesse, with plenty of deft touches. The forehand in particular, but both groundies of the Russian has a funny technique, but he is still a talented player. Watch out for him in future events. Russia is due another star.

Thiem [1] d. [7] Klizan
Troicki [3] d. [2] Cuevas
Thiem [1] d. [3] Troicki

...Thiem has learned nothing from last year. He still insists on stuffing his schedule. But this field is weaker than Trump's foreign policy. So there you go. Kokkinakis could make a run. Enjoy the Trump gags while you can folks. He's watching.

Bautista Agut [1] d. [3] Ferrer
Isner [2] d. [6] Lopez
Agut [1] d. [2] Isner

...The American has a good history here. And he usually does well in English-speaking countries for whatever reason. And Agut will just do Agut things. And so defend his title. Watch out for Sock here, however.

Sadly, Dasha had a few bad losses this last week. Arruabarrena put her away 7-5, 6-1. She should be winning that match always. And losing to Hradecka in three? She was unfortunately the weak link in the Aussie team this time. Her 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 win over Vandeweghe was still quite impressive. But she needs to work on winning those matches and on mixed doubles, too. Still, not the worst start possible.

The Dasha's are in Sydney this week. They open with Huber/Sanchez. Yes, Liezel Huber. In the singles Dasha, our Dasha, has already won her first match. She saw off Vekic 6-3, 7-6[1]. Sixth seeded Konta is next and then it will be Kasatkina or Kerber. So an interesting week for the Aussie now.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

2017 ATP Predictions

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Happy Christmas, Happy New year, and we here at BACKSPIN hope you aren't too saddened by the tennis break. Here we'll be having a little look at next year.S o an alphabetical look into this BACKSPINNER'S ATP predictions for next year, rankings rise, then some more names to think about. And then some out there predictions, too.

First, though, massive call out to Petra Kvitova to get well soon, and to come back stronger than ever. We're just grateful it was not a premeditated attack on the tennis star and that she will be back. It is unfortunate that it would be on the left hand. She and Madison Keys (wrist surgery) will both miss time. Juan Martin del Potro will be out in Australia, as well, to name just one more of many.

So raise a glass to absent friends!

I have long said Petra will retire with five Wimbledon titles. At this time I do not recant that prediction. But this saddens me. A genuinely lovely player and person, her cries of "Podj!" Will be missed greatly.

Right, let's check out the Top Ten.

...Cilic is really not that good. He is a top twenty player at best. He made his usual quarterfinal at Wimbledon but did not pass the third round at any other slam. He won just two titles, though they were big ones. He was pretty poor for large swathes of the year. He is not the sixth best player in the world. But he has so few points to defend and he really doesn't have to do much. He'll stick around, have four decent results, lose a shocking amount of matches and choke in a Wimbledon quarterfinal.

His ceiling is five. His floor is 15.
...Djokovic won another slam, again in Melbourne, finally got his French Open title and then made the final in New York. It was the first of Wawrinka's slam wins one saw coming. It was also during that U.S. Open that all of his opponents mysteriously withdrew injured. Expect another slam, but also expect him to go downhill. He has so many points to defend and his body, and also the motivation, isn't there as much as it has been in the past. Still, look for him to take back control of the Murray rivalry. If he can get healthy that's half the battle. Although the losses to the likes of Agut and Querrey will become more common. Worst of all was his lack of interest in that Querrey match. If he does hit his floor it is hard to see which three men rise above him.

His ceiling is one. His floor is four.
...This one is hard to call. Really hard. We all know how good he can be and he made two semi-finals last year at slam level. He has zero points to defend through most of the year and, if he was minded to, he could make a run at the top spot. It is easy to compare him to Andre Agassi. He will win three or four titles and climb back into the top ten. And it is strange that he has outlasted Rafa's career. Isn't tennis a funny thing? If he can keep his serve good he should be fine. If it starts to drop he could be in trouble.

His ceiling is one. His floor is eight.
...Now, this is not a commentary on his personality, which needs work. This is about his talent, which is the most exciting in the top fifty. And you can't deny it. He makes Kvitova look like a documentary on watching people watch paint dry. And she can do this.

Petra Kvitova's 222 Winners (Wimbledon 2011) by ShiftyFella

A solid year, going 3-0 in finals and doing well at Miami, Kyrgios looked really good and unnaturally calm for being just 21 years old. He does need a big slam result, like a final. He has room to make up points in the slams and at the Masters level. If he can keep the crazy reigned in he will do well.

His ceiling is four. His floor is 16.
...Why not a hunch, a gamble? He has been a consistent presence, a consistent member of the top ten the last year and he could be building up into a huge year. He managed to make the finals of Monte Carlo. He improved to 15-10 in finals, going 2-1 in 2016, and had career best results at two slams. He made his second ever slam semi-final and first for eight years. He showed tactical nous and it will continue. He has lost none of his charm but gained a bucket load of experience and confidence. Still, predicting Monfils is notoriously difficult. Repeating last year's effort of 1-1 in slam quarterfinals is more than achievable.

His ceiling is five. His floor is twelve.
...Three slam finals, a defense of his Gold medal and a losing record to Djokovic. That was Murray's year. Oh, and a massive win streak. He has it all going on. And he does deserve to be the world number one. But he has to prove it by going out and winning the Australian Open. If he loses a sixth final that might break his career. Either way, expect him to slowly fade from the end of 2017. He will win another slam but won't make three finals. Still, can you see him falling to three, let alone four? Only if both Fed and the Djoker turn it on.

His ceiling is one. His floor is three.
...He finished at five but was utterly invisibly for most of the year. He won't collapse, but he does not look likely to move up, either. A Bronze, a slam semi-final and two hardcourt Masters finals were great building blocks, but he can do better. Going 1-4 in finals is not an enviable mark at all. A quarterfinal in Australia followed by two fourth round runs is fine. The health has to improve and so does the firepower. He is not a future number one, but a solid top three mainstay is achievable.

His ceiling is two. His floor is seven.
...How is he world number three? He has been brilliant when he could actually, you know, get on the court. That serve and forehand, combined with his ice-cool demeanor, make him a great outside bet to rise to the pedestal. A slam semi and final were fantastic, particularly his run in Australia. But to go 1-3 in finals is poor. He reached the quarters or better at every Masters but two. He will find it hard to increase his points. But if he can find his health, this BACKSPINNER could see his rise to the top. Isn't it about time someone new properly announced themselves?

His ceiling is one. His floor is five.
...He played so much this last year he ran out of gas towards the end. He didn't expect to win so much, but never altered his schedule. It’s the mark of an inexperienced player. His run to the French semi-finals, even with Djokovic thrashing him, was magical. His one-handed backhand and vicious kick serve are both awesome weapons. His movement is superb, though, like Radwanska, the blonde hair is a mistake. In 2018 he will have a big year, but not quite yet. Only Murray and Nole won more titles. He went 4-2 in finals this year and overall is 7-3. There is room for improvement in the Masters and at the slams. The ace in his hole is that if he merely achieves his seeding at each slam and Masters he will have a big jump in the rankings. In a year and a half a top two position is feasible but, like Halep, just wait a year.

His ceiling is five. His floor is eight.
...From January 2014 to September of this year he won eleven finals in a row. Zverev snapped the streak in St. Petersburg. Stan always makes the semi-finals of a slam when he is defending champion. So pencil him in for the U.S. Open semi-finals again. He will be able to make up points in Melbourne and at Wimbledon. He also has points available to him at the Masters. Every year we expect a drop. It won't happen in 2017. His 4-1 mark in finals is superb. Look for him to win Chennai again early next year. It'll be another confusing and surprisingly good year from the Swiss.

His ceiling is two. His floor is five.

Kuznetsov was 134th ranked in 2013. #92 the next and then #79. Now he is #46 but has been as high as #39. For a journeyman to go 29-21 is pretty mind-blowing, too. Kuznetsov just won matches all over the place. He even made a run to the fourth round in the Australian Open. No reason to think he'll stop.

Djokovic in four twice, Berdych in five and Tomic at Wimbledon. Those were Roberto Bautista Agut's four slam losses. He still managed a 10-4 mark, which is pretty good. He may struggle to defend some of his points, but he can repeat the 2-2 mark in finals he had this year. Never flashy, but always there. Keep your eyes out for him.

Del Potro and Wawrinka are the only two players who have consistently challenged the top four. Fat Dave [Nalbandian] never had the fitness or longevity. Cilic and Soderling never managed it. Gonzalez, Roddick and even Ferrer have all failed to disrupt them. Forget about Davydenko and Berdman. Sure some of those players have had Murray's number, but only Delpo and Wawrinka have ever truly put fear into their hearts. So keep watching the Argentine. It may be his swansong.

Zverev is about to have the year Thiem just did. Honestly if you've watched much tennis recently this one will be obvious. The backhand belongs in an art gallery.

That belongs in a museum

It will one day be the best backhand on the tour. He can just do anything with it. It's like a fluid version of Nalbandian's. Also, his hair. It's interesting. It stands out.

1) Nadal retires. Eventually I shall be correct with this one. Other retirement candidates include fellow Spaniards Ferrer, Verdasco and Robredo. Youzhny could also go.
2) Two of the men's singles slam winners are from Switzerland. Wawrinka completes his Career Slam.
3) A player born after 1990 wins a slam. It might be the first time. How old is Del Potro? 28. So for the first time a player born in the 1990's wins a slam.
4) Under pressure from fans, players and the powers that be the ATP shortens the season. At last.
5) Zverev becomes the first German to make the top ten since Haas. Haas wins a match.
6) Watch out for the Australian Davis Cup team. At least a semi-final awaits, and more if they can get their head right.
7) France finishes the year atop the doubles rankings. Herbert/Mahut take another slam and make two finals.
8) Nobody makes it to all four semi-finals.
9) A kid born in this century wins two matches.
10) Looking at the city each slam winner was born in, none will be more than three hours flight away from any other city. All will be from Europe.

That's it, folks. Thanks all and don't forget to have a very Happy New Year.

Oh, and guess who's back...

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