Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Week 15- Bon Voyage, Hard Courts

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

It is time for us to wave goodbye to America, to hard courts and to the lottery of big titles. We now cross the Atlantic over to Europe, to the clay and to a place where every big title has already been won for all intents and purposes, unless of course they have painted the courts a funny color.

Verdasco waved in the change with his first title since April 2010, in which he beat a player who no longer even plays [Barcelona over Soderling], and his first final since July 2013 where he lost to Berlocq in Bastad. After going 0-6 in his past six finals, and 2-8 in ten, he improved to 6-13 for his career. He and Petra Kvitova have similar game styles and what looks to be a similar career trajectory, except Ferver is as likely to win a slam as Kvitova is to win another. The seeds in both tournaments did not perform, it should be noted. None of the top two seeds made it past the second round whilst only five of sixteen matched their seeding.

S: Fernando Verdasco def. Nicolas Almagro 6-3/7-6(4)
D: Bryan/Bryan d. Marrero/Verdasco

S: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez def. Marcel Granollers 5-7/6-4/6-3
D: Rojer/Tecau d. Bednarek/Dlouhy

...The flashy, yet underrated, GGL won his third title and made his sixth final last week. The ninth-best Spaniard, ranked 38, had a tough draw but gritted it out and came through anyway. On form, he is playing just about the best out of the Spanish contingent. Spain have 14 players in the top 100, France 12 and the USA 9. Together they make up about a third of the players in the top 100. GGL needed two breakers to edge Kukishkin in his opener but had it easier against Berlocq in the second round. He beat out-of-form third seed Paire in two very tight sets to set up a final with qualifier supremo Baena. He was pushed to the limit, but not beyond it, as he finally prevailed 6-4 in the third. He then out-ground Granollers in three long sets. With the title win he moves up 15 spots to 38. I think the rest of the ATP tour would quite like him to be seeded for the upcoming big events. I would hate to land GGL in the opening round of the French. Nadal, of course, is the exception as he owns Spaniards.
...The varied Spaniard, fourth best in Spain and twentieth in the world, once again made a clay final. He has lost his last four in a row, but he has made a final every year since 2006. He has also made the French Open quarters in 2008, '10 and '12. That means he is due a quarter this year.
Anyway, this year he has made just one title, to add to his 21, all of which are on clay. Almagro faced three Americans before the final, which he lost to his compatriot in straight sets, and conceded just 11 games to them, though Querrey did withdraw with a pinched nerve or muscle in his back. Almagro has been like the invisible man all season long, but finally announced himself with this run. Now that the clay season is here, he will be less anonymous. I remember one match he played against Rafa at the French. He played out of his skin good. He served big and he spanked that forehand. He pummeled the ball on every shot. He could not have played a better match. He did not get a set. Rafa beat him in two breakers 7-2 and 7-3 before winning the last set 6-4. He gave Rafa the most trouble all tournament. If he could recapture that, he would be very dangerous.
...Yes it is a Spanish sweep this week. The 21 is the kind of player who -- as Robbie Koenig so perfectly put it -- never has clean socks. He has won a couple of futures tournaments, but this tournament gave him his first win on the ATP, then his second, then his third. But it would not give him his maiden final. He beat the talented but very wayward Belgian Goffin in the first round with surprising ease. Goffin is now a qualifier whereas before he was consistently in the top fifty. Goffin wasn't even the top seed in the qualies. He has fallen far. In fact, at age 23, he has had a career pretty much already. Anyway, Baena then beat talented #5 seed Sousa in three epic sets to advance to the quarterfinals, undefeated on the ATP tour. He then eased past Kuznetsov before finally being stopped by eventual winner GGL.
...see above.
...Monaco, ranked consistently in the top ten not two years go, is now down at 41 and has lost a lot of form and battled with injury, too. His first final was in Casablanca, though he played in Houston this year. Back in 2005, when he made that final, he wasn't to know just how good a career he would have and that seventeen more finals would follow. He has a slam quarterfinal and two Masters semifinals to go with his eight titles. He has even beat Nadal before. He has had quite the career. Unfortunately, he is not Venus Williams. He does not have that great fashion sense she has or that longevity. He turned thirty-three weeks ago and I fear he may have just started to walk down the hill. One title in the past year is not good enough.
...He did not organise and so, instead of being seeded tirid, had to go through qualies. He was pushed to three by players well below his standard then crashed out in the opening round. That is a poor week in my books.
...Kudos to the German for beating Isner and doing so by winning a tiebreak. Isner is god-like in tiebreaks.

The German-born ex-Jamaican with British roots scored his first win over a top tenner in the historic city of Houston. Even better, he did it by playing his brand of tennis. He hit a couple of... in fact, never mind. Just watch this.
It didn't last. Both Querrey and Isner are surprisingly competent on the clay. The games may not look it, but they sure work on the dirt. Querrey made his first semi of the year and things may finally be looking up for him.
.GGL slowly improved and wore down Granollers as the match wore on. The Spaniard with the one-handed backhand beat the Spaniard with two hands in a classic three-set clay duel. There were long rallies, longer rallies and very long rallies because it is important to have variety.
The Spanish qualifier just fell short but he had a great tournament nevertheless. He Had oppurtunities to scrape through, but he was denied by GGL.
. The retirement of Bagman seems an inevitability with every loss.

...Well, it's the first Clay Masters of the season. The sun is shining ,and my picking just became infinitely easier.

Nadal [1] d. [11] Robredo
Federer [4] d. [2] Djokovic
Nadal [1] d. [4] Federer [in straight sets- they will be mopping up the blood on the court afterward I'm afraid]

...The clay season is young and I dare to dream. Robredo is fab on the clay and I back him against Raonic and Wawrinka, too. Federer plays well here traditionally, as does Djokovic, but Fed is a better clay courter. Nadal will not drop a set here.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Cup Before the Clay

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

This week is like the warm-up. It is like the serves and the gentle rallies before a ball is hit in anger. You're sitting there impatiently with popcorn or nachos or cereal and waiting for the match to begin. I sit here waiting for that clay season to start swinging, to do the twist. Yes, watching them warm up is interesting, but until I see Nadal hit that forehand on that surface the clay court season hasn't started.

Before we look at that, though, the Davis Cup continued. Here are some fun numbers:

10 - Straight ties the Czechs have won
5 - Straight doubles matches Federinka have lost in the Davis Cup
1 - Ties Britain have won at World Group level since 2002
1 - Amount of Davis Cups in the past ten years where France weren't seeded. They made the final in 2010.
44093.75 - Amount of points the top-ranked Czechs have in the Davis Cup records
60 - Combined times Australia and USA have won the Cup
27 - Combined times everyone else has won it
1 - Combined amount of World Group matches won by Australia and America this year
4 - Kazakhstan's years in World Group
2 - Places Italy and Switzerland went up in the rankings after this round
1 - Country that doesn't border another semifinalist. France, Italy and Switzerland all border one another, but Austria sits betwixt Switzerland and the Czechs.

But enough of my talking [and my number crunching]. Stuff happened in the latest installment in one of tennis' most storied tournaments, and it went like this:

Oh, news flash -- Fed has taken a wild card into Monte Carlo. How exciting. Watch out Rafa. Federer is coming for you. The Federer-Nadal rivalry just gets more one-sided with every passing meeting.

*Davis Cup QF*
Czech Republic def. Japan 5-0
France def. Germany 3-2
Italy def. Great Britain 3-2
Switzerland d. Kazakhstan 3-2

...The only tie to conclude on Saturday ended 5-0 to the Europeans. There are just two seeds left in the competition and they meet in the semifinals. France will host the Czech Republic. Far be it for me to give advice, but I will anyway. If I were France, I would play it on indoor grass. Play to the strengths of Tsonga and Gasquet, with three Wimbledon semifinals between them and previous success in ATP grass tournaments, too. I think whatever the surface, and I'd bet my bottom dollar it's going to be clay, the French will win that tie.

Stepanek led the Czechs after Berdman elected not to play, possibly due to the fact Japan is far -- really, really far -- away. He lost the first set, but wouldn't lose another in the tie. Dropping the opening breaker to Ito 7-5, he won the next breaker 7-5. After that, he took control and won the next two sets 6-1, 7-5. Turning 36 this year, he knows this could be his last shot at winning the Davis Cup again..

Remember Rosol? He did a Gasquet. Go two sets up to love up and then inexplicably decide to switch off. Rosol led 6-4, 6-4 against Daniel but then crumbled quite magnificently and lost the next two sets 6-3, 6-4. He then decided that actually going 2-0 up would be helpful in the long run and he won the last set comfortably 6-2. I don't understand either, but it worked.

Stepanek and Rosol then combined together to ease past Ito/Uchiyama 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. I always thought Berdman was the key ingredient of the success, but maybe Stepanek is the man behind the magic.

Rosol and Vesey won their rubbers in three sets and two sets, respectively.

Against a stronger team, the Czechs may have been punished for lacking The Berdman, but Japan were without their Kei man.
…No Haas, no Kohl. Not even Mayer was present. France, meanwhile, had Benny, Llodra, Monfils and they were even led by Tsonga. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, France played Benny first, not Monfils. Kamke put him to the sword, winning 7-6, 6-3, 6-2. Why they refused to play Monfils I will never know. Kamke played a great match but Benny was never at the races, once he lost that 4-0 lead he had in the first set. Next, Tsonga blew it. He really blew it big time. Leading two sets to one, he couldn't close despite having two match points in the fourth set. It was a poor performance from the Frenchman. Had he taken either of those, the tie would have panned out very differently.

Llodra's calming influence [yes, I know what I just said] helped as he and Benny came through in four sets 6-1, 7-6 [5], 4-6, 7-5. Llodra is always excellent at doubles, and always makes his partners feel stronger. Once France secured the doubles, nothing was going to stop the comeback. Tsonga dismissed Kamke 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to make it 2-2. Then Monfils finally played and eased past Gojowczyk 6-1, 7-6, 6-2. He even won that breaker to love. I will never understand the French methods, but, hey, they're fun to watch.
...The underdogs, led by Fognini, had their work cut out for them. The same can be said for their next tie in Switzerland. I ,again, think that if the Swiss play on grass they will easily win. Anyway, Fognini started off by dropping a set to Ward in a four-set victory. Despite winning comfortably in the end 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, the Italian looked off-form and it looked as if the Brits would simply sweep the next three rubbers. Murray ground out Seppi in three sets, though the match was postponed overnight. There had been bad weather all tie. Perhaps playing three days in a row on heavy clay against old-school dirtballers was what did it for Murray. Anyway, after completing a 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 decision at 11 in the morning, Murray had to go and play in the afternoon. He and his partner Fleming were too strong for Bolelli/Fognini and cruised for most of the match, winning 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. All Murray had to do was dispatch an out of form Fognini. BUT something happened the British did not foresee.

Flavia Pennetta turned up.

Suddenly, Fognini decided he would, too. This combined with the fact Murray reaches new levels of abysmal on clay meant that the upset was on. And Fognini never looked like losing. He was calm, cool and collected in winning in three straight -and straightforward- sets. That rubber would always be the decider. Once it was decided, Seppi duly sent Ward packing.

The British game plan is simple. Murray wins his singles and they nick the doubles. It didn't work this time as Murray wasn't good enough and when the vital component doesn't work, the game plan is messed up.
...The Kazahks may have been the underdogs, but they showed that they are a great Davis Cup team with a big opening win. Golubev beat a slam champ. A current slam champ, no less. Golubev won two breakers, both by 7-5 scorelines in his upset victory.

Federer always restores balance. He dismissed Kukushkin for the loss of just eight games in the second rubber. He has been playing some amazing stuff of late. The loss to Kei was an outlier. He is still dragging Switzerland along with him.

Federer and Wawrinka dropped the doubles again but surely it would be alright. Well, no. Vavsy lost the opening set, before rebounding to grind out a very tight four-setter 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. He started a little slowly, but got better and better as the match wore on. He passed the baton to Federer to complete the victory. And Fed did so in style, winning an opening set breaker to love before winning the next two sets 6-2, 6-3.

Well the Swiss move on to an all-unseeded semifinal. Tell me again, why do the Davis Cup seed teams?

1. SUI/KAZ #4 - WAWRINKA d. KUKUSHKIN 6-7/6-4/6-4/6-4.
...Despite losing a very tight opening set in a breaker [7-4], Wawrinka recovered. Whilst Kuki stayed at a solid level, Wawrinka just got better and better as the match went on. He started to dominate, to win the rallies. Behold -- the screw was turning and, with one last epic effort to win an epic deuce, Wawrinka hammered the screw in and claimed victory.
2. GER/FRA #2 - GOJOWCZYK d. TSONGA 6-7/7-6/3-6/7-6/7-6.
...Giving the Germans a precious two to nothing lead in the process, Gojo caused a mighty upset. He survived a fourth set 10-8 breaker and then won the final set by the same score. The man who nearly beat Nadal in January, nearly claimed another scalp.
3. KAZ/SUI #3 - GOL/NED d. WAW/FED 6-4/7-6/4-6/7-6.
...Winning the final breaker 8-6 was enough to win the tie and give the underdogs, the big big underdogs, a precious 2-1 lead. With the best player in Switzerland losing his opening rubber, it fell to some guy. I think, I think, his name was Robert... Richard... Roger something. Anyway that guy won and the Swiss are through to a home tie against Italy. They will win that.
4. ITA/GBR #4 - FOGNINI d. MURRAY 6-3/6-3/6-4.
...Fabulously fruity Fabio Fognini found form, finally. He dropped a set to Ward but then bounced back to dismiss, yes dismiss, Murray. Consider the big four officially disbanded. The last remnants of that order are being swept away. They are the big four in name only. Murray showed his inability to play on clay once more and that, coupled with his inability to figure out Fognini led to Britain's demise. The fifth rubber was a dead rubber either way. Murray had to win and he couldn't.
5. KAZ/SUI #1 - GOLUBEV d. WAWRINKA 6-7/6-2/3-6/7-6.
...What would have happened has Vavsy won that fourth set breaker? We shall never know. What we do know is that he has lost a little bit of form since he won the Aussie. Take nothing away from Golubev, though. I have to say the Kazahks are a great Davis Cup team. It doesn't make sense, but every year they do well. Golubev single-handedly nearly knocked out Switzerland and that was very impressive.

Anderson [1] d. [7] Haase
Monfils [2] d. [3] Paire
Monfils [1] d. [1] Anderson

...I think that Monfils will be able to return well, especially on the clay. If he can lessen the damage of the Anderson serve, he will be at an advantage.

Isner [1] d. Sock
Robredo [2] d. [4] Verdascp
Isner [1] d. [2] Robredo

...Isner is really good on clay, except at the French, of course. But that's a slam, so what can you expect?

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A Quarter For Your Thoughts: 1Q Awards

The ATP season is one quarter over. So, who's three-quarters full?

**2014 PLAYERS-OF-THE-1Q**
1. Stanislas Wawrinka, SUI

...suddenly, Stan really WAS the man in Melbourne. His stunning run to the Australian Open title -- complete with wins over Nadal & Djokovic -- made him the new Swiss #1 and the third-highest ranked player in the world. Sure, his results have been pretty disappointing ever since January. But, really, his 2014 season is already made no matter what happens the rest of the way.
2. Novak Djokovic, SRB
...his slow start included losses to both Wawrinka and Federer, but he's more than made up for it with his second career sweep of the Indian Wells and Miami titles. With Rafa's failure to win the AO, Djokovic can still set his sights on a Player of the Year sort of season.
3. Bob & Mike Bryan, USA
...they started even slower than Djokovic, and there really was reason to believe it might be o-v-e-r. But then the twins came back to the U.S. and won a tour-best three titles, including a sweep of Indian Wells and Miami. Yes, reports of the Bryans' tennis "death" was greatly exaggerated.
4. Rafael Nadal, ESP
...he's reached more finals (4) than anyone, but his wins in Doha and Rio (the latter after saving a MP) are overshadowed by losses in shocking fashion in Melbourne to Wawrinka, after suffering a still lingering back injury, and in dominating fashion to Djokovic in Miami. Will his body hold up well enough for a ninth Roland Garros title in ten years?
5. Roger Federer, SUI
...his back issues over and with a new racket in his hand (and Stefan Edberg in his ear), Federer has managed to wake up a few echoes of his past glory this season. A win over Djokovic en route to the Dubai title and an I.W. final run has gotten him back to (at least) where he belongs -- in the Top 5 -- and once again in the conversation for a possible slam run this summer.
6. Tomas Berdych, CZE
...is the big Czech finally starting to reach his potential? He reached his first slam semi in four seasons in the AO, and climbed to a career high of #5.
7. Marin Cilic, CRO
...speaking of finally beginning to reach his potential. The Croat reached three straight finals, winning back-to-back titles.
8. Lukasz Kubot/Robert Lindstedt, POL/SWE
...who won the Australian Open doubles crown? These two did, of course. Forgetting is more than forgiven.
9. Alexandr Dolgopolov, UKR
...the exciting Ukrainian has a win over Nadal, an Indian Wells semi and runner-up in Rio.
10. Fabio Fognini, ITA
...reached back-to-back finals, winning one... and gets extra credit for "assistant coaching" Pennetta to a title in Indian Wells.
HM- Eric Butorac/Raven Klaasen, USA/DEN
...earlier this season, they twice knocked off the Bryans (including in the 3rd Rd. in Melbourne), reached the AO final, won in Memphis and looked like the doubles story of the year. They still could be, but since then the Bryans have wrestled away the spotlight.

RISER: Kei Nishikori, JPN
NEW FACE: Grigor Dimitrov, BUL
SURPRISES: Dan Evans, GBR & James Ward, GBR
VETERAN: Lleyton Hewitt, AUS
COMEBACK: Gael Monfils, FRA
TEAM: Swiss Davis Cup Team
JUNIOR STAR: Alexander Zverev, GER
DOWN: David Ferrer, ESP

1. Wawrinka wins Australian Open
2. Djokovic sweeps Indian Wells & Miami
3. Federer def. Djokovic, wins Dubai
4. Bryan twins sweep Indian Wells & Miami
5. Hewitt def. Federer, wins Brisbane

AO QF - Wawrinka d. Djokovic 2-6/6-4/6-2/3-6/9-7
in a Melbourne classic, Wawrinka ends Djokovic's 28-match win streak, string of 25 straight AO victories, three-year reign as Aussie champion and nearly-epic (for anyone not named Roger, at least) 14-slam run of consecutive semifinals.

Rio SF - Nadal d. Andujar 2-6/6-3/7-6(10)
Rafa saves two match points against his fellow Spaniard, winning on his own MP #4. He went on to win the title.

*MARATHON MEN...just not Isner & Mahut*
AO 1st Rd. - Seppi d. Hewitt 7-6(4)/6-3/5-7/5-7/7-5
Hewitt comes back from 0-2 sets down and holds a match point, only to fall in this 5+ hour battle.

Davis Cup 1st Rd. - Ward/GBR d. Querrey/USA 1-6/7-6/3-6/6-4/6-1
you lose on home soil (San Diego) to a Brit who's not named Andy. Pity the poor U.S. Davis Cup team. Or maybe not.

"Star Wars: Legends by Proxy": Djokovic joins forces with Boris Becker, while Roger Federer brings Stefan Edberg aboard
"Star Wars: Legend Says, 'G'day (again), Mate'": HOFer Patrick Rafter plays doubles with Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open
"Star Wars: Legend Says C'mon!": Hewitt picks up his 600th career match win
"Star Wars: Legendary Inactivity": both Miami semifinals are decided via walkovers, the first time that's happened on the ATP tour since 1969
"Star Wars: Legend No More?": Andy Murray parts ways with Ivan Lendl. Nice knowin' you, "Andy Murray: Slam Champion?"

4...Rafael Nadal, ESP (2-2)
3...Marin Cilic, CRO (2-1)
3...Roger Federer, SUI (1-2)
2...Kevin Anderson, RSA (2-0)
2...Novak Djokovic, SRB (2-0)
2...Stanislas Wawrinka, SUI (2-0)
2...Tomas Berdych, CZE (1-1)
2...Fabio Fognini, ITA (1-1)
2...Gael Monfils, FRA (1-1)

Czech Republic vs. France
Italy vs. Switzerland

All for now.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Wk.13- Novak is No Djoke in Miami

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Well, March is behind us. I had to wait for the Davis Cup draw before posting so that is why this is being posted late. So Djokovic won the double (IW & Miami) again after winning both back in 2011. Only Federer has won the double twice and he did it back to back. Djokovic is once more the world's best player, having dispatched an on song Nadal 6-3, 6-3 pretty handily. Is it a coincidence his resurgence occurred when his co-coach Becker went to go and have his hips replaced? I think that Becker is getting a bit of a bad rep actually. Perhaps he is showing Djokovic how to improve certain aspects of his game and we will see the fruits of his labour come the grass season. We will find ourselves on the green stuff in about two months. Less, in fact.

Djokovic, yes I know he won it, has struggled on grass previously. I always thought Wimbledon would be the one he would find toughest to win because he CAN beat Nadal on clay, seemingly at will. But then again I thought Wozniacki would excel on the clay. So what do I know?

Speaking of dominance, the Bryans have been that and then some. They decided they wanted to win Miami without losing a set. So they did but they were taken to a breaker three times. The Bryans are what it would it have been like had Nadal not played and so stopped Federer running amok. There is nobody who can consistently challenge the Bryans.

The Federer curse struck again. Federer was poor during that match. He had Nishikori several times but he was bested by the determination of the Japanese man and the condition.

But enough of my talking, stuff happened in the final week of our March madness.

S: Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal 6-3/6-3
D: Bryan/Bryan d. Cabal/Farrah 7-6/6-4

...Djokovic is the best player in the world. Nadal has had a good year, winning two titles and making the finals of two others, and for Djokovic to dispatch him with little trouble was very impressive. Putting aside the walkover [CURSE!] and Djokovic has had a very impressive tournament. Actually, Mayer withdrew in the third round, too. So, really he only faced four opponents. He dispatched Chardy and Robredo in straight sets to advance to the quarters. After that he edged Murray in a tight two setter 7-5, 6-3 and then benefited from another withdrawal to reach the final where he was too strong for the Spaniard. Djokovic's run puts me in mind of the 2006 AO where Mauresmo had at least three opponents retire in her title run, including Henin-Hardenne in the final. But it was Mauresmo and she deserved some luck by that point. Anyway, Djokovic showed again that he knows how to do what Nadal did to Federer, except better. It's an ironic twist or perhaps poetic justice -- the conqueror of legends becomes legend and is then conquered. History repeats itself. Djokovic has yet to become a legend -- he's missing the French Open -- but if he does will he be conquered? We will see the Djoker in Monte Carlo next. He is the second seed behind Rafa. I hope for a rematch personally. It would be a cracker.
…He nearly won against a world number one for the first time. He was a set up before Nadal figured out his game. Nadal beat the future number one in three epic sets. He needs to play his best tennis to win. Raonic forced Nadal's hand and Nadal responded in true champion-esque style. We get to see Raonic in Monte Carlo next. He is now in the top ten, though he was seeded 12 in Miami. Sampras was seeded twelfth when he won his maiden slam at the Open way back in 1990, when Tupac was still alive and Bush was President. Could baby Sampras do the same?
...This pairing had a fantastic tournament. They knocked out Granollers/ Lopez in the first round, the former world number twos. They very nearly lost that match, needing to go to 12-10 in the breaker to edge it. Then they beat seventh seeded Bopanna/Qureshi in two before beating current world number twos Peya/Soares in straight sets. Back to back impressive wins against seeds is very impressive. They were pushed again to the limit by Harrison/Sock but still won through against the favoured Americans 2-6, 6-4, 11-9. The Bryans proved too strong for the upset kings and put them away in two straight sets. They couldn't win a third tight set as the Bryans won the opening set 10-8 in a breaker and then held their nerve in the second set for a 7-6, 6-4 victory.
...This is Nishikori's first proper 1000 level semifinal. He made one in Beijing in 2011, but it was one of the weakest fields I have ever seen at a Masters tournament. This one he actually had a hard pathway to the semi. Nothing wrong with a gift-wrapped draw -- Nadal always walks through his French Open draw. Hmmm, perhaps that's more to do with Nadal than his opponents. Anyway, Nishikori out-ground Federer after out-grinding Ferrer, but then the curse struck him. Perhaps he saw a mirror crack'd from side to side the night before? If Radwanska ever played Fed and won, would the curse be able to overcome The Radwanska? I'm sure Todd will tell me. He is the expert when it comes to Radwanska lore. But I go off topic. The current crop of young talent has arrived. How long before Dimikorinic is in the top ten? Soon. Nishikori has pulled out of Davis Cup and so that means Japan are in trouble, though they could still upset a weakened Czech side.
...Here is a scary thought - Berdman turns 29 this year. He is the classic late bloomer. He is playing the best tennis of his career but, at his age, a serious injury and it could be all over. If he gets an injury that puts him out for 6 months or he loses form and drops out of the top echelon, he will find it hard to get back in to that top four. He won his first title in 2005 in Palermo ten years ago. Once you won your first title at least ten years ago you are usually officially a veteran at that point with some exceptions -- Santoro, Federer, Hingis, Nadal, Serena, Graf et al. Anyway, Berdych will know time is no longer on his side. His chance to win a grand slam is coming soon and if he does not take that chance he knows he will not get a better one. The window is being closed by Father Time. Mind you, that didn't stop Serena at all. If anything it seemed to motivate her further.
...It is fortunate Murray knows how to grind. He can't seem to win matches any other way these days. He was out of his depth in that loss to Djokovic. If he continues like this, he will drop out of the top ten. It is poor form Murray at the moment and it won't get much better as he has to fly to Italy and play several long matches on heavy clay. Against Seppi and Fognini. Not my idea of fun.
...for beating a resurgent Fed.

Coming back from a break down too many times, the talented Japanese baseliner edged out the goat in three epic sets. Surely it won't be too long before he gets into Fed's head.
Nadal here showing that even if you have a big serve, he's not scared of you....
Somehow Berdych used consistency to win here. No, I don't know how either. I do know it isn't hard to be more consistent than Dolgopolov, though.
.The young American duo were not good enough on this occasion, try as they might. How many opportunities does Harrison need? Apparently one more.
You wanna know how to beat Rafa? Watch this match. Crosscourt lefty forehand? Useless. Spinning serve out wide or down the T? Ineffective. Backhand up the line? Attackable. Djokovic always has all the answers.

Czech Republic 3-2 Japan
...No Nishikori means Japan will lose, but I expect them to lose with dignity at least. Stepanek should be enough to steer the Czechs through.

France 4-1 Germany
...Gasquet is out with a back injury, a minor one, but he couldn't have picked a better tie to miss. Tsonga and Benny should have too much for Kamke and Gojowczyk.

Italy 3-2 Great Britain
...This was the hardest one to choose. On heavy clay, you have to back the Italians. Fognini and Seppi should be too strong. I think that either Fognini will upset Muzza or the Italians will win the doubles and that will be that. Britain cannot afford to lose the doubles here.

Switzerland 3-2 Kazakhstan
...Federinka will win three and then led Lammer and friends play the rest.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wk.12- Mid-Miami Moments

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Sorry for my belated update. Usually my social life is nothing, but sometimes people actually require my time and my talents [I don't have many], which usually never ends well for either party to be honest.

Miami is deep in the second week, and I can see the clay season on the horizon, moving ever closer. Fognini continues to impress as does Federer and Raonic. Nadal and Djokovic have really started to turn up, too. The French are still nowhere, outside of the Davis Cup. Also, what odds on Sharapova to beat Williams? They are the only two active players with the grand slam currently, so surely it should be close. I kid, but seriously one day Pova has to be able to beat Serena. As I write this, I predict a Li Na/Serena final because I am boring and I will stick to my Raonic/Federer prediction despite the fact Nadal is playing the scary tennis. The tennis which makes you want to run and hide but also simultaneously makes you want to play tennis immediately.

But enough of my talking, stuff happened in the first week of Miami and it went like this:

...No competition. Opponents played- three. Games lost- 9. It's even more impressive because the calibre of his opponents was decent. Hewitt, a titlist this year, Istomin, consistently in the top sixty, and Fognini, having a banner year, all tried and failed to make any impact. Nadal has been hitting that forehand almost perfectly this whole week. He devastated Hewitt with it and then followed that up by humbling the Uzbeki 6-1, 6-0. That forehand single handedly put a question mark on Federer's claim to GOATness, if only a small one. Fognini is a top fifteen player. He isn't someone who fluked their way into the top fifteen by getting a big result. He is someone who has been consistently making ground on multiple surfaces. He just made back-to-back fourth rounds at Masters. Nadal dominated him in about an hour, winning 6-2, 6-2. It was a statement of intent from the world number one. I thought he looked injured or not fully recovered in Indian Wells. I was wrong.
….Kei has been quiet this year. One rarely sees his big runs coming, but you know they will come. He beat Aussie Matosevic comfortably 6-4, 6-1 in the second round, his first match. Next, he very impressively beat Dimmitrov in straight sets 7-6, 7-5. It was 7-1 in that breaker. He then saved four matches and beat Ferrer 7-6, 2-6, 7-6 in the match of the tournament. He plays Federer in about an hour and a half or so. I cannot see him beating Federer, though he knows how to do so. There will be a lot of changes in the top twenty, and Nishi should be one of the risers. [Editor's note: Nishikori DID beat Federer! Wow! - tds]
...Benjamin no-relation Becker is a solid player. He is a journeyman who keeps on traveling. He has a title in Hertogenbosch, has spent a bit of time in the top forty, and made about 3 million in prize money. He has even been to the fourth round of a slam at the US in 2008. He made the fourth round in Miami in 2010, his best showing in a Masters. He was down to Ljubicic in that tournament before the Croat retired. This time round he stepped in for Delpo as a lucky loser [gee, I hate that term] and beat Harrison 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 [2]. He then beat talented youngster Bedene in straight sets to make the fourth round. Raonic proved to be too strong, winning 6-3, 6-4. For a journeyman such as himself, a result like this is a great one and a pleasant surprise. I would be happy if I were him. He just added to his career highlights.
...Karen Khachanov made his Masters debut this past week. It would have been a crime[a] for him not to come away with something. He won a set against Gimeno-Traver before falling 6-7, 6-1, 6-1 in the end. To take a set from an experienced ATP player is indeed an achievement. He was the twelfth seed at the Boys Singles at the US Open last fall. He really is a newcomer, but the early signs are not discouraging.
...We've been here before. It has been another solid week for the Spaniard, set to rise to 14 or so in the world, as he beat talented youngster Thiem and tough vet Benneteau in the first two rounds before falling to Djokovic in the end. He gave Djokovic a match, too, but the Serb was too good and won 6-3, 7-5. He is nearly old enough to be Khachanov's father. A scary thought.
...For ages I have been defending Harrison, deep South born and bred. He has had horror draw after horror draw after horror draw. He consistently gets Fedalovic early on, who he challenges but never beats. He can't really get anywhere. I said, as many did, that when he gets a decent draw he will make the most of it. Just watch out. Well, he got one and he went and blew it. It was maddening and now I look a fool. He lost to Becker in a third set breaker. Afterwards he would have faced Bedene and then Raonic. That, for me, is a winnable draw. Harrison promised a lot but did not deliver. He had his moment and he blew it. Badly. I am not impressed by this.
...Back-to-back upset awards. It is Wawrinka this time, who Dolgo beat in three sets. Impressively, it was 6-1 in the third set.

Saving four match points, the Japanese man upset the fourth seeded Ferrer. He sets up a clash with Federer. He played clutch tennis during those breakers, winning them 9-7 and 11-9. He will need everything he has to beat Federer.
A free master class from Federer. It is called "How to return big severs." Fed does it like no one else. He has been dealing with big serves for a while now. He did so with style and aplomb against the biggest server out there.
Standing in for Haas, Lajovic acquitted himself well. He served for the match as a matter of fact, at 5-4 in the third. Dolgopolov was not to be denied, however ands came through 7-6 in the final breaker.
The young American duo prevailed in a doubles upset. Harrison had a shot at some redemption and he took it. He and Sock beat the Aussie Open finalists in some style. They play Cabal/Farah of Colombia next in what is a winnable match.
5. MIAMI 2nd Rd. - ISNER d. YOUNG
.Young is still around and he even won a set against the tenth seed. Good effort Young!

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wk.11- Fed Wins Despite Losing

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Miami is upon us. The tournament which signals both the end of the hard court swing and the beginning of the clay court swing. The tournament which is the second half of tennis' very own March Madness. With players out injured, favourites in poor form and old hands resurgent anything could happen. This is already very long as an update, so I will try to cut it down a little.

But enough of my talking, stuff happened the last week of 'Wells and it went like this:

S: Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer 3-6/6-3/7-6(3)
D: Bryan/Bryan d. Peya/Soares

...Yes, you're right. He didn't win but he still gets my player of the week award. That is because he was the best player. Were the Patriots the best team in the NFL in 2007? Yes. Were the Capitals the best team in 2010? Yes. Were the Dallas Mavericks the best team in the NBA in 2007? Yes. 9 times out of ten, those teams would have won the title and the same goes for Federer. Faced with tougher opponents than Djokovic up to the final, Federer did not drop a set. He outclassed the likes of Tursunov, Haas, Anderson and a flaming hot Dolgopolov. He looked almost like 2007 Federer. Almost. He lost to Djokovic, but like the 2012 WTF, he lost to Djokovic despite being the better player. Djokovic is a counter-puncher and a defender and he spent most of the match on the back foot. If not for Federer's error and a misplaced drop shot at 3-3 in the second, it would have been a straight sets victory for Federer. And that says a lot about Djokovic, too. It shows his resilience. It shows us yet again just why he is the second best player in the world. However the match also showed us how close Fed is to getting back to the top.
...All you need is a serve apparently. Isner has built his career around that shot and last week he used it to great effect. However, it was not his serve which really made his run, it was ,amazingly, his return game. Djokovic served for the match twice in their match in the second set, but Isner broke twice. The American with the best breaker record in history proved again he can take on the best anytime. If not for an injury, who knows what would have happened?
...Who else? The Ukrainian -and the most unpredictable, annoying, frustrating, marvelous and talented player on the ATP- found his Mojo in 'Wells. When he finds his Mojo, you better hope he isn't in your half of the draw. If he is, then you're in trouble. He faced a tricky test against Fognini in the fourth round. Often after beating big players, the upset causers crash and burn. Not this time apparently. Fognini is exactly the kind of opponent who can disrupt and confuse anyone. Not Dolgopolov, though, not this time at least. The Ukrainian won with relative ease 6-2, 6-4. Afterwards, he disabled Raonic's serve in the quarterfinals in a surprisingly efficient display. He was too good and had too much variety, like all those slicey things he does, for the Canadian. His run came to an abrupt end at the hands of Fed, but it was still a great run. If he keeps this up, expect him to start and then keep on hitting career highs.
...Bautista-Agut made his maiden 1000 level fourth round. He beat Berdych, who is always ranked about five spots higher than I think he is, in the first round. This is particularly impressive considering Berdman won the opening set. Bautista-Agut came back to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. It shows great mental toughness, too. He followed this up with a 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 win over Nieminen. He won that break 8-6. In the fourth round he lost the opening set to Gulbis 7-0 in the tiebreaker but still managed to make it go three by nicking the second set 6-4. He has arrived fully now.
...He was a late bloomer, arriving in his mid to late twenties and that means he is only about half way through his career now. He turns 33 this year, however. He played well this week till he got smashed 6-1, 6-3 by Djokovic. He beat La Nava 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 and then beat Tsonga 6-4, 6-4 in Tsonga's opener before beating Thiem, with that dashing one-hander, 7-6, 6-3 and then Lopez in the fourth round 6-3, 7-6. He played that consistent aggressive tennis he is so well known for.
...Cilic is second in the aces count behind Karlovic so far this year. Ivo has 287 whilst Cilic has 272. Cilic has played 25 matches, eight more than his compatriot Karlovic. Cilic hits about 11 aces a match, which is very handy. He gets about three free games a match, though Karlovic hits an average of about 19, which is almost a whole game more than Cilic. But anyway, Cilic was again playing great tennis last week. He dismissed Lorenzi 6-2, 6-2 and then beat Robredo 6-4, 6-3 with little trouble. He even took the opener against Djokovic 6-1 before crumbling to a 1-6, 6-2, 6-3. It is very impressive from the Croat and being ranked 22 or so belies how good he really is.
...Wawrinka was so strong in the first few rounds that it came as a shock to me when he lost to Anderson. Actually, it was more the manner in which he lost. He lost 6-1 in the third to Anderson. The South African has a great serve, but he doesn't break all that often. Wawrinka usually serves well.
...Yes, he wins two awards. He really deserves them, too.

1. IW 4th Rd. - RAONIC d.MURRAY
Raonic returned well and beat Murray in the mental game. Combine those factors with that serve and the young Canuck was always going to win in the end. He played tennis rather than ice hockey because he preferred the individuality of tennis. I think it is fair to say he made the right choice.
2. IW QF - FEDERER d. ANDERSON 7-5/6-1
An absolute master class from Federer. It took Fed ten games to break down Anderson's serve, and once that happened, it was one-way traffic. Fed had too much game for Anderson. The low slice to the Anderson backhand did a lot of damage, as did Fed's new and improved return of service. Dolgopolov tried to out-hit Fed. Didn't work. Tried to be more cunning and tricky. Didn't work. And so on and so forth. His inability to solve the Federer puzzle, as well as the wind, did for the Ukrainian.
The second seeds only faced a single seed in this tournament, but that did not mean they didn't have a tough time of it. The British/Filipino pairing was not strong enough to win, but they did push them all the way in this tough match, which came down to the wire.
The young American duo fought hard, but in the end were undone by the experienced Bryans who also only faced one seed on the way to the title. I find it surprising they dropped a set as Isner is fifth and Querrey eighth on the ATP aces board. They have a combined 372 aces in just 27 matches.
Federer and Djokovic played out a tight match which was brilliant in parts and of questionable quality in other parts. It was Federer's errors and Djokovic's grit which eventually swung the match in favour of the world number two.

Nadal [1] d. [14] Fognini
Raonic [12] d. Harrison
Wawrinka [3] d. [22] Dolgopolov
Isner [10] d. [7] Berdych
Federer [5] d. [9] Gasquet
Dimitrov [15] d. [4] Ferrer
Kohlschreiber [24] d. [6] Murray
Djokovic [2] d. [21] Gulbis

...the ATP is very unpredictable right now, but form is obvious at least.

Raonic [12] d. Nadal [1]
[3] Wawrinka d. [10] Isner
Federer [5] d. Dimitrov [15]
Djokovic [2] d. [24] Kohlschreiber

...Nadal looks injured to me, or at least not playing at all well currently. He can struggle against the big servers and I think Raonic is on top form at the moment.

Raonic [12] d. [3] Wawrinka
Federer [5] d. [2] Djokovic

Federer [5] d. [12] Raonic

...Yes, I am going picking riskily. If I'm going to be wrong anyway, and I will be, I may as well be wrong in style. Raonic has a workable draw and I don't know if Djokovic can win back-to-back. I think Federer will get the better of Djokovic in the semifinal and in the final he will win because there is no better returner of big servers anywhere.

Williams [1] d. [23] Makarova
Sharapova [4] d. [20] Pennetta
Bouchard [18] d. [29] Williams (V.Williams)
Jankovic [7] d. [2] Li Na

Williams [1] d. [4] Sharapova
Bouchard [18] d. [7] Jankovic

Williams [1] d. [18] Bouchard

...I like Bouchard's draw here. And I am picking Williams because that pick is solid. It cannot go wrong. As we welcome back Williams, I thought I would share with yall a classic Williams moment:

In the ladies doubles, I believe Pen/Hsieh will beat Black/Mirza in the first semifinal. Makarova/Vesnina will beat Huber/Raymond in the other semi but lose the final. I think the Bryans beat Llodra/Mahut in one semifinal and Peya/Soares beat Nestor/Zimonjic in the other, but the Bryans win the 'Wells and Miami doubles like Peng and Hsieh will on the ladies side.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Indian Wells Halfway-ish Update

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Before I say anything just watch this point. C'est incroyable!


Federinka have excelled in both the singles and doubles. They are currently in the quarters of the doubles, where they play Paes/Stepanek, and also the fourth round, too. Federer plays Haas, whilst Wawrinka has Anderson. The Swiss duo are looking better and better as the year goes on.

There have been a few upsets this week. Del Potro withdrew from the tournament with a wrist injury. Gasquet and Tsonga continued their dismal form. They were quite poor. In fact, despite having four seeds in the draw, there are no Frenchman left. Berdych crashed out to Agut, with Nadal following a few days later in a loss to Dolgopolov. We are set to lose another top tenner as Raonic plays Murray and Raonic could win that very easily.

Murray beat former top junior Vesely in three sets in close to three hours 6-7, 6-4, 6-4. It was the worst match of the year by far, yet it was still utterly compelling. There were many breaks and many errors, too. I remember, off the top of my head, only two matches in recent memory that were worse than this and they were both on the WTA. Kuznetsova beating Chakvetadze at the '07'US 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 was one of them.
The other match was Venus playing Wozniak in 2012 in Miami. There was a really good match featuring Nishikori on, too, but I just couldn't look away. Venus had just come back from injury and the match was so bad, so impressively, consistently awful, I had to keep watching. I lost three hours of my life that day but it was just the most amazing match. I remember almost weeping in frustration several times. The Murray match was slightly worse than that because there were actually parts of the Venus match that were watchable.

Also, Anderson continued his good form, as did Cilic. Verdasco and Haas turned up for the party, as well. But enough of my talking, stuff happened this past week or so in 'Wells and it went like this:

...Vavsy has been the strongest player thus far. He beat Karlovic 6-3, 7-5 without too much difficulty and then utterly dismissed a hapless Seppi. He has had a tricky draw, though few have had it easy, and he has dealt with that draw perfectly. If I had told you in January that Wawrinka would win the Aussie and be the second highest seed left in Indian Wells by the second round, you would have called me crazy and rightfully so. Not only has he excelled in the singles but he and some guy called Federer have taken out the sixth seeds in the doubles and now play the fourth seeds in the third round. Wawrinka has gone from strength to strength this season and I think he could win this thing. He plays big powerful Anderson next, but after that he faces what is likely to be a much sterner test -- against Haas or his doubles partner.
.The Canuck has been silent this season, for the most part. He ground out a big win against Vasselin winning 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 in the end. He was too good for Falla, however, winning 6-4, 6-3. Now he has a very out of sorts Murray up next. Raonic has really started to get his serve rolling and that means everyone else needs to get out his way if they can.
...Yeah, he won this last week. He wins it again this week for, well, winning the tournament. He very nearly fell in the second round to Agut. He triumphed in three long sets 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. He then got past a tricky opponent in the form of Mahut with little difficulty 6-3, 7-6. After that, he had to play top seed Gasquet and, luckily for the young star, Ritchie decided that would be a good day to just not turn up. It isn't like Gasquet is playing badly. It's almost more like he can play well for two or three matches here and there but can come down like a house of cards without warning. In any case, Gulbis rose to 18th in the rankings, his highest ever. The talented Latvian will probably win Indian Wells before losing to Nieminen with a broken leg in a third set breaker in the first match of the Miami Masters. Why? Just because he can. As for Gasquet, well, he will give me a severe headache when I have to predict what will happen in the upcoming Masters.
...Thiem has made his first Masters 1000 third round and he could still go a while, especially considering the draw has really opened up for him. He can beat Benny and Lopez. It's what comes after that, that becomes tricky.
...The rather attractive Spaniard has started to play well once more. He sent a very disappointing Gasquet packing with a 7-6, 6-1 decision. He is thirty now, although that is hard to believe. Verdasco has an incredible record in finals. He has been to 18 finals but won just five. It feels like he has been around for a long time, but it was just 6 years ago he really started to make an impact. The vet still wants to prove himself but he is ranked down at thirty.
...The talented lefty, now ranked outside of the top thirty, has had a pretty good tournament so far. He beat Sela in two straightforward sets in his opener. Ward of GBR took the opening set in his second match and looked good for the upset. However, Lopez came back strongly and took the next two sets 6-2, 6-4. He faced surprise package Kukishkin next, who had beaten Pospisil 6-0, 6-2 in commanding fashion. Kuki's form continued, as he rolled through Lopez 6-1 in the first. Yet again, though, Lopez came back and eventually stole the match as he took the final sets 6-3, 6-4 to advance to a quarterfinal with either Benny or Thiem.
...After making a 500 final, Berman crashes out to Agut. It is a big down after a big up. The worst part of it is that the Czech had a really soft section, including an out of form Djokovic. The final was there for him, but he couldn't seem to navigate the upset. Disappointing.
UPSET: We have no singles defending champs left. Dolgo has had a renaissance this year and it continued as he won his first set ever against Nadal. Despite serving for it at 5-3 and not making it, he showed impressive mental fortitude to recover anyway. Nadal is scheduled to appear in Miami but that may still change. I don't know if Murray is playing well enough to take advantage of the gap, so I think one of Federer or Wawrinka will make the final, though Raonic definitely has a shot, too.

He was a break up in the third but Nadal fought back. Then Nadal took a 4-2 lead in the breaker, but this time the dog came back and Nadal would only end up getting one more point in the match.
2. IW 3rd Rd. - GULBIS d. DIMITROV
Another great match, but can we not have these two play again for a while please, tennis gods? Three times in the past month these two have played. Actually, Isner and Mahut haven't played in a while so perhaps, if you're listening tennis gods, you could make that happen.
A very entertaining match. If it comes to it, will Federer and Wawrinka feel up to playing with one another after they play a quarterfinal singles match with one another.
.Doubles is so open nowadays, and there are a lot of great matches to be had, too. The Bryans are very slowly starting to fade. When they go, chaos will ensue. So many good teams are unseeded as the Frenchman are.
5. IW 3rd Rd. - WAWRINKA d. SEPPI
Wawrinka is red-hot. It took him less than 50 minutes to dismiss Seppi. Wawrinka won 8 of 14 break points whilst giving his opponent none. He is every bit the world number three.

All my predictions have gone wrong. Dolgopolov could win it. Only Federer and Wawrinka are actually playing well now, out of the favourites.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Wk.9- Federer Wins #78, Dimitrov Wins #2

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

We have finished in Asia and signed off in Latin America, so now we look to the States for Indian Wells and Miami, which together comprise the fifth slam, or what I think of as the fifth slam. Since 1990, a few have won the Miami/Indian Wells double. Courier did in 1991, Chang in 1992, Sampras in 1994, Rios in 1998, Agassi in 2001, Federer in 2005-6 and Djokovic in 2011.

Federer has made eight finals in Halle, Dubai, Wimbledon, the Tour Finals and Basel. No other player in history has reached eight or more finals at a single tournament at as many different tournaments. If Federer gets to the final in Basel this year, that will be eleven finals, the most at any tournament by any player ever. He has also won Halle, the WTF, Wimbledon and Dubai at least six times. If Fed wins Cincy, he will be the only player ever to win five different titles at least six times. Nadal has won four titles at least seven times -- the same four clay events he wins pretty much every year. Also, Fed has now won 78 titles, third all time. He bypassed McEnroe. Next up is Lendl with 94 titles and I think that may be unassailable for the mighty Fed.

Anyway, this week in Dubai, Federer looked back to his old self, with perhaps one or two exceptions. He was playing that graceful gorgeous tennis that it seems only he is capable of playing. He played classy, vintage stuff and he brought back the old to defeat the new. That sounds like it shouldn't work, but it did. Federer could be primed for a deep run in both halves of the fifth slam.

Delbonis won his first titl,e which pushed him up to #44 in the world. He is now ranked higher than Harrison and Tomic. The lefty dirtballer had a fantastic week, though of course he had his share of luck. I think he may well pick up another title in the spring clay swing, but in any case he is definitely one to watch out for in the future. Argentinian tennis has been very strong and it retains a lot of depth, led by Del Potro and Monaco. Zeballos had his moment last year, so which lefty Argentine will win next year?

Oh and Dimitrov won, which was fun especially for those of us who like flashy tennis. He literally showed us why he will win a slam one day. I could talk all day about his very attractive one-handed backhand but I will resist the temptation.

Dimitrov plays floating court tennis with Genie Bouchard in Acapulco

But enough of my talking, stuff happened this week and it went like this:

S: Roger Federer d. Tomas Berdych 3-6/6-4/6-3
D: Bopanna/Qureshi d. Nestor/Zimonjic

S: Grigor Dimitrov d. Kevin Anderson 7-6/3-6/7-6
D: Anderson/Ebden d. F.Lopez/Mirnyi

S: Federico Delbonis d. Paolo Lorenzi 4-6/6-3/6-4
D: Garcia-Lopez/Oswald d. Cabal/Farah

...Well, well, well. Dimitrov wins his second title and his first 500 with a great week in Acupulco. Typically, Fed overshadows him by winning Dubai and beating the world number two, but Dimi showed us he has arrived. He had a horrible draw, as well. He was very strong in his opening two rounds, beating Matosevic and Baghdatis in straight sets back-to-back. That is the mark of a great player -- one who can navigate potentially tricky matches with ease. He would face a sterner test in the shape of seventh seeded Latvian Gulbis, who had beaten Goffin in the the second round. Dimitrov fell behind early and could not recover as Gulbis took the first set 6-4. The strong-willed Dimitrov found his feet in the next two sets, however, as he fought back and ground his way into the next round with an epic 4-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory. Next up was Murray and the youngster played some epic tennis to cause an "upset,"although really the way Murray has been playing, it seemed less of an upset. Surely the youngster had earned an easy match. He didn't get it. He had to play South African number one Anderson and it turned out to be a titanic struggle. After winning the opening breaker 7-1, he surrendered the second set 6-3. However, he was too strong in the end, winning the final set breaker 7-5. I think the Bulgarian is poised for a big run in Indian Wells and Miami, especially if he lands in a soft quarter like Murray's or Gasquet's.
….This is why Federer is the greatest, or part of it. Yes, the numbers, the facts, the stats prove that. Yes, the way he plays prove that, but the thing that impresses me is his sheer longevity that only Connors, Lendl and McEnroe really seemed to have. He has spent 595 weeks in the top ten, consecutively. That, for me, is just ridiculous. He showed this past week that he still has a slam left in him, so long as Nadal lands in the other half of the draw. In the past three slams, he has been in Nadal's half. I was most impressed by the Swiss backhand this week. He used his slice well and he actually used it as a weapon, a really effective weapon. The forehand was swinging like the Fed forehand of old that we know and love. The forehand that terrorized all before it. Combine the fact that he served extremely well and his volleys were again crisp and clean, as well, and it was a complete performance He was too strong for Becker in the opening round, but ran into trouble against Stepsy in the third round. Down two-love in the third, Radek had a point for 3-0 but couldn't take it and Fed came back to win 6-3, 6-7 [4], 6-3. It was a classy, high quality match, which Federer may have lost last year. Federer used his forehand and serve to decimate Rosol in the quarters to set up a meeting with Djokovic. An off-form Djokovic would prove to be no match for the G.O.A.T, who came back to win 6-2 in the third. After that, Fed was yet again in trouble in the final but pulled it out of the bag as he recovered from a set and a break down to win in three against the Czech. With quarterfinal points all he has to defend, look for the Swiss to rise up the rankings.
...I have lost count of how many times this perennial dark horse has been my surprise of the week. This week he was up to his usual tricks. He seems able to play stunning tennis in any and every match, but the important ones. If he had one consistent shot, I feel like he would improve vastly. He also needs to really improve mentally, so he can win those big matches. He is 2-4 in finals, though all but one were winnable. Anyway, this week he smashed sixth seeded Pospisil 6-2, 6-2 to open his campaign. When he plays his best, he is truly frustrating and impossible to play, too. He was too good for talented Frenchman Chardy, as well, winning 6-3, 6-4. After beating Karlovic 6-4, 7-6, he just had to beat 5th seed Anderson to advance to the final. However, he crumbled and crashed out, losing 6-1, 5-7, 6-4. Despite taking that second set, he could not take the momentum and Anderson slowly took control back before closing it out. He is seeded 28th in Indian Wells, but he will not be getting far.
...The Italian just made his maiden final aged 32. He is a classic journeyman dirtballer. He is 14-12 in futures and challengers, however. Lorenzi is always on the fringes and he finally got his moment in the spotlight. Well, kind of. Incredibly, he won his only ATP doubles title against Monaco/Nadal on clay, last year in Chile. He has had a decent career for a journeyman but nothing to write home about. I think I could see him making a good coach, however.
...There was no comeback this week unfortunately. [Editor's note: well, maybe Federer. :) - tds]
...The Spaniard has offered little so far on the early Americas clay swing. On another surface, in another place this would be acceptable, but not here, not where Almagro plays his best. This is where he earns his money, where he best plies his trade. Almags has to improve and quickly, lest he face a hefty drop in the rankings. If he cannot win here, well then where can he win? I don't know why he is not playing his best, but the last final he reached was last year in Barcelona and his last title was May 2012 in Nice. It is a big drought, but I do expect him to snap it soon.

1. DUBAI SF - FEDERER d. DJOKOVIC 3-6/6-3/6-2
Guess who's back! Federer turned back the clock to beat Djokovic in an enthralling quarterfinal match. The Swiss dominated on serve throughout, to put the pressure on Djokovic. Both Djokovic and Murray have looked beatable this year and with Federer only 500 points off Ferrer ranked four, we could see Federer rise to the top three once more. He played liked a top three player here, with fluid groundstrokes off both sides, fantastic volleys and a complete aggressive gameplan. He showed his mettle again, against Berdych. Down a set and a break, with Berdych on fire, Fed staged a comeback and forcefully stole the second set off the Czech before taking control in the third. It was a demonstration of mental toughness. It showed that Fed still has it.
The world number sixteen, his highest ranking, had a very tricky draw. In the quarterfinals he played Gulbis in what was a titanic clash. He edged the very talented Lativian in an epic encounter, turning the momentum in his favour by taking the breaker 7-2. He then claimed the third 7-5 to advance. The pair played an extraordinary amount of quality rallies and this must surely be a top ten clash soon. After that, he had to play Murray and he played so well for long periods of this match that Murray had no answer. He claimed the second in the breaker 7-5 after trailing Murray in that set. Some of the shots he played were wizard-like. The backhand slice worked well and the forehand was excellent. The serve, though, was of a very high standard pretty much throughout.

Here is Gulbis' career in a nutshell. Brilliance, then wackiness followed by destroying a racket:

In a fiery encounter, Almagro was ousted by tricky lefty Delbonis, an Argentinian dirtballer. The 23-year old makes his top 50 debut with this win, in at 44. The lefty played the match exactly as you would expect -- lots of balls to the backhand of Almagro, and he also returned well. He followed it up by going on to win the title, though the withdrawal of Haas may have had something to do with that.

Nadal [1] d. [23] Monfils
Raonic [10] d. [5] Murray
Wawrinka [3] d. [17] Anderson
Federer [7] d. [11] Haas
Gasquet [8] d. [22] Kohlschreiber
Dimitrov [15] d. [4] Berdych
Del Potro [6] d. [9] Tsonga
Djokovic [2] d. [24] Cilic
Nadal [1] d. [10] Raonic
Federer [7] d. [3] Wawrinka
Dimitrov [15] d. [8] Gasquet
Djokovic [2] d. [6] Del Potro
Nadal [1] d. [7] Federer
Djokovic [2] d. [15] Dimitrov
Djokovic [2] d. [1] Nadal

...Yes, I am going out on a limb here. I think Dimitrov is going to have an excellent tournament and Nadal will once more stop Federer. I think Berdych and Murray look most likely to crash and burn.

Li [1] d. [12] Cibulkova
Sharapova [4] d. [5] Kerber
Halep [6] d. [3] Azarenka
Jankovic [7] d. [2] Radwanska
Sharapova [4] d. [1] Li
Halep [6] d. [7] Jankovic
Sharapova [4] d. [6] Halep

...Yeah I know, it doesn't make much sense. I just think that someone has to step up and Vika has been in a cast recently. Really, I just don't know so I apologize for how badly wrong my guesses will go.

In the ladies doubles, I think Hsieh/Peng will beat Hlavackova/ Strycova in the semis. Makarova/ Vesnina will beat Peschke/Srebotnik in the other semi but lose in the final to the new world number ones. There is no men's doubles draw yet, but I pick the Bryans.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Wk.8- Nadal wins again...surprise!

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

he Americas clay swing just keeps on swinging. This week we are in Rio, whilst the European hard courts are also visited and the Asia odyssey continues. It was not a good week for top seeds. Gasquet was poor, losing to Gulbis in the semifinals of the Open 13. He could only get 5 games against the Latvian star, whilst compatriot Tsonga also fell in straight sets. Gulbis is now 5-0 in finals, which shows remarkable consistency, though all of them are at 250 level. He has beaten Karlovic, Fish and now Tsonga in finals. Perhaps he really is not a slam player and his forte is more the ATP tour itself. Anyway, he has risen to a career high of 18 in the world. He has no points to defend in Miami, but he does have points to defend in Indian Wells; he made the fourth round there and very nearly beat Nadal. Gasquet has fourth round and semifinal points to defend, and with his form, that's a pretty big ask.

There were five retirements in the tennis tournament down in picturesque Delray Beach. Two of those were seeds- Nishikori and Hewitt. Cilic considered his impressive run by winning another title in Februrary and making his third final. Isner needed three-setters in the first three rounds before finally getting ousted by Cilic in the semi. There are positive signs there for the enormous American. He has traditionally done well at the two big tournaments coming up and, should his form hold, he is definitely capable of a run in both Miami and Indian Wells.

And Nadal won, too. But really we knew that was going to happen, didn't we? He is, if it had escaped your notice, quite good on clay. Well, insanely ridiculously nigh on unbeatable on clay, unless your name is Djokovic. And even if your name is Djokovic, you're not guaranteed victory. Apart from one speed bump, Nadal was in cruise control this week.

But enough of my talking, stuff happened this week and it went like this:

S: Ernests Gulbis def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6/6-4
D: Benneteau/Roger-Vasselin d. Hanley/Marray

S: Rafael Nadal def. Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3/7-6
D: Cabal/Farrah d. Marrero/Melo

S: Marin Cilic def. Kevin Anderson 7-6(6)/6-7(7)/6-4
D: Bryan/Bryan d. Cermak/Elgin

...Nadal won his 43rd title on clay, and 62nd overall -- seventh in the Open era, with his win in Rio. Only Vilas has more with 46. Nadal has now won 298 matches on clay, but Vilas had won 644 matches. I don't think I've been on a tennis court of any kind 644 times. That is an extraordinary amount of matches.

But anyway, Rafa consolidated his lead at the top of the rankings. He has spent 133 weeks there and will be there till May 5th at the very least. This week he was the top seed in a talented Rio field. He played Gimeno-Traver in the opener and beat him 6-3, 7-5. Traver is a talented dirtballer but Nadal is pretty much the most talented of them all, well, certainly at the moment. Next, Rafa cantered past Montanes 6-1, 6-2 before allowing Sousa just a single game. Next up was Andujar and he played quite a match, nearly beating Nadal in a fifteen minute tiebreaker. I have actually played a set in about 15 minutes, which I lost to love but I did get a couple of points.

I would love to see Nadal play Borg, or Vilas, in a five-set match on clay. My money would actually be on Borg to beat Nadal. He may be the only player in history who is mentally tougher than Nadal. I think if and when it went to five, he might actually have the advantage mentally, though definitely not physically. I think there would be a lot of good matches to be had between modern players and players way back when. This is of course ignoring technological changes and the changes in the sport which do make it difficult to compare between different eras. I would like to see Serena/Navratilova on grass myself and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.

Anyway, having just gone off a huge tangent or two, we will get back to the world's best player. We will see Rafa next at Indian Wells, a tournament he has won thrice and is the current defending champion. Becker, Sampras, Chang, Hewitt and Federer have all defended their titles. Can Rafa?
...I have written a lot on this subject over the past few weeks. I think he really is back now. He seemed to have such a small game for such a big man in his 'first career' but now perhaps he really has fulfilled his potential. This week he made his third final this year and won his second title, too. And yes, the draw did fall nicely for him but that happens to lots of people. Just ask Errani and Murray. Entire slam draws fall nicely for them with regularity. In fact if I recall rightly, Errani got three easy draws in 2012. But I digress. Marin rolled past Becker in the first round, was too good for Harrison in the second and then dismissed Gabshvili in the quarters. Isner has been rusty as of late, which is understandable. He looked to have regained some form but Cilic was still too good, needing just the one break in a 7-6, 6-3 victory. Next up was Anderson who he edged in a long match where breaks were few and far between and the serve dominated.
...Yeah, he won this last week. He wins it again this week for, well, winning the tournament. He very nearly fell in the second round to Agut. He triumphed in three long sets 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. He then got past a tricky opponent in the form of Mahut with little difficulty 6-3, 7-6. After that, he had to play top seed Gasquet and, luckily for the young star, Ritchie decided that it would be a good day to just not turn up. It isn't like Gasquet is playing badly. It's almost more like he can play well for two or three matches here and there but can come down like a house of cards without warning. In any case, Gulbis rose to 18th in the rankings, his highest ever. The talented Latvian will probably win Indian Wells before losing to Nieminen with a broken leg in a third set breaker in the first match of the Miami Masters. Why? Just because he can. As for Gasquet, well, he will give me a severe headache when I have to predict what will happen in the upcoming Masters.
...Incredibly, Robredo is now 31. Named after the opera 'Tommy', this clay courter with the gorgeous game still has it. Well, kind of. Seeded fourth here, he beat Busta and Lajovic without losing a set. Then, mystifyingly, he lost to Andujar 6-1, 6-1. The Spaniard has been to 16 clay finals winning 12 and three hard court finals of which he has won 1. He has made and won titles at three levels- 250, 500 and 1000. He may be flying under the radar at the moment, but he is one of the most dangerous players out there. A quarterfinal may not be his best result, but he has started to turn it on especially now the clay court swing has begun. He also made the fourth round of the Aussie, beating Gasquet in the third round.
...There was no comeback this week, unfortunately.
...I have seen very little of what Seppi is capable of this season. Clay really is his thing, it is where he dances his dance best. However, he is not playing there but playing on indoor hard courts instead. He lost to Llodra in straight sets this week. He should have gone out to Latin America. He hasn't and that is a bad move. Not only were the tactics wrong but the execution hasn't been great either to be honest.

1. RIO SF - NADAL d. ANDUJAR 2-6/6-3/7-6
Andujar deserved to win this, but deserving something and actually winning it are different things in sport. Nadal spanked his compatriot 0 and 4 in the Madrid semifinals last year. He had to survive a pair of match points, but he still came through 10-8 in that breaker. It was an incredible match full of long rallies and impossible shots. Nadal improves to 70-5 against Spaniards all time.
2. MEMPHIS Final - CILIC d. ANDERSON 7-6/6-7/6-4
This was always going to be tiebreaktastic. With the surface and the game styles of the two finalists, and the fact that Anderson's past four finals before this have had a tiebreaker in them. He won here in 2012 but he could not quite win it this time. He lost the first breaker 8-6 but won the next 9-7. This was a tightly contested match between two big hitters. This is Cilic's third final of February 2014. He won his second title on Sunday and his rise up the rankings is steady.
3. Rio QF - FERRER d. BELLUCCI 4-6/6-3/6-3
Is Bellucci back? 'Tis hard to tell, but clay was always his bag. The talented lefty actually showed up here, beating Giraldo and Monaco en route to the quarterfinals. Despite being down on his luck recently, the talented Brazilian is capable of beating anyone, anywhere or at least taking a set off them.

109...Jimmy Connors, USA
94...Ivan Lendl, CZE
77...Roger Federer, SUI
77...John McEnroe USA
64...Bjorn Borg, SWE
64...Pete Sampras, USA
62...Guillermo Vilas, ARG
60...Andre Agassi, USA

Djokovic [1] d. [4] Federer
Berdych [3] d. [7] Del Potro
Djokovic [1] d. [3] Berdych

...I call a repeat of last year's final. In fact, we have an identical set of top four seeds, but with Federer and Delpo swapping seeds. The semifinals will swap, but the final result will remain the same.

Ferrer [1] d. [3] Isner
Dimitrov [4] d. [2] Murray
Ferrer [1] d. [4] Dimitrov

...We're going Loco down in Acupulco this week! Ferrer has been to four consecutive finals here and I think that will continue. He will win his fourth title here. I can't pick Murray to do anything on clay, especially not in the form he has been in this year. He starts against Andujar and has Simon in his section, too. Even if he grinds through those matches, I can't see him beating Dimi on clay.

Haas [1] d. [6] Garcia-Lopez
Almagro [2] d. Bellucci
Haas [1] d. [2] Almagro

...I think this is a fairly weak field and I think that Haas is the strongest player here by a mile, even if his current form has been a little scratchy. Bellucci has shown signs he is getting it together, but picking him is still a little risky. Almagro always does well here, and look for that to continue.

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