Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wk.7- King for a Day

Hey, all. Galileo here.

We had no shortage of heart-warming moments last week. Here is Darian King’s previous claim to fame:

Now the lefty has a moment of fame, not shame, to look back on. Tomic didn’t even seem to care. He wasn’t even down by a lot when he threw in the towel. What has happened to that Australian mantra of respect? Their sporting figures used to have a kind of holy attitude. For them sport was a gentleman’s pursuit. Now, it is a joke. Across all their sports, brashness and arrogance are the order of the day. The swimming team has suffered because they have lost their winning attitude.

Speaking of losses, let’s talk about America. At the start of tennis, France and Britain dominated, with America joining soon after. From 1950, Australia joined them as Britain collapsed. France have never reached those heights again, though they have always had a large contingency. America and Australia dominated through until 1980. America had a man in the top ten every week of the Open Era until this decade.

Maybe it was Europe getting its act together. Or the competition from other sports. But America went from Sampras to Agassi to Roddick to Blake to Fish to Isner. Then to Johnson. But we thought that the youths coming through would be America’s saviour. Harrison, Young and now Fritz. All these players look good, played well. Fritz is still looking good.

But Young had one of the best documented collapses of modern times. He had a double digit loss streak. He couldn’t string together five winning points in a row. Yet he still managed to beat Murray. He still showed promise. And so did Harrison. Athletic, big and powerful he played just like Americans always have - big forehand and serve. But these days you need consistency.

It is fitting that Young and Harrison met in a must-win match last week. Harrison dismissed his compatriot. But after all this time waiting for the next American heir, it would be great if one of those boys was it.

* – M. Zverev is still 33. Kohl, Tomic and Cuevas hang on to the last three seeded spots with Troicki and Verdasco hanging around 35.
* – Goffin moves up to tenth in the world while his conqueror Tsonga moves into 11th.
* – Cilic leads Thiem by 35. They are 7 and 8, ahead of Federer at 9.
* – No change in the top five. Murray, Djokovic, Wawrinka, Raonic and Nishikori. The number one ranking is safe.

S: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga def. David Goffin 4-6/6-4/6-1
D: Dodig/Granollers d. Koolhof/Middelkoop

MEMPHIS, USA (Hard Indoor)
S: Ryan Harrison def. Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1/6-4
D: Baker/Mektic d. Harrison/Johnson

S: Alexandr Dolgopolov def. Kei Nishikori 7-6(6)/6-4
D: Cabal/Farah d. S.Gonzalez/Marrero

...What do we write here? Is there anything left that hasn’t been said? He is a poor man’s Kyrgios. He is just as talented, perhaps more so, but is far less consistent. He at least behaves but, unlike the Australian, he cannot string together a good run anywhere. He certainly can’t put together a great season. Well, not yet, anyway. But he can win small titles when everything clicks together. When all those little nuances fit together like a jigsaw. He saw off Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-3 in the first round before knocking out Cuevas [this BACKSPINNER'S picked him to do well] in the second round 6-3, 7-6[4]. With the upset of the second seed under his belt, he began to roll. He beat Gerald Melzer 7-5, 6-4 next. Fourth seeded Spaniard Carreno-Busta was no match either - he collapsed to a 7-5, 6-2 defeat at the hands of Dolgopolov. And the Ukrainian completed his rout of the tournament by seeing off Nishikori in two straight sets. He was barely troubled in the 7-6[4], 6-4 win. He is one of the few players outside the top 15 who can play brilliantly on all four surfaces, who can beat anyone on all four surfaces. But he can also lose to anyone.

This BACKSPINNER still remember the first time he saw the Dog play. It was in this match

...This was a week for the inconsistency brigade. Tsonga is so close to being a Hall-of-Famer, especially looking at the standards you have to meet to be one. If he had won a couple of doubles slams or maybe another singles final at that level. If he had managed to stay in the top five consistently. He has certainly been one of the driving forces behind the French renaissance. Stefanos Tsitsipas is 18. He is one of the brightest young stars coming up. He and Tsonga had a tight two setter which the Frenchman won 6-4, 7-6[2]. He took Muller apart 6-4, 6-2. Then he had his big upset - edging Cilic 7-6[6], 7-6[5]. He rolled past Berdych 6-3, 6-4. To put a cherry on the cake he then beat Goffin 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. Once Goffin decided to hit to his forehand, Tsonga took full advantage and never looked back.

...It is rare to have a Barbados anything appear here on BACKSPIN. Todd could tell you if it has ever happened before. It is quite a rare occurrence, at the best of times, anyway. King beat an immensely talented player with multiple titles and a Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance. And he did it in straight sets. But there is an area he can improve in - he has to not lose his next match 6-3, 6-0. Kukushkin had no trouble in their second round clash. Backing up the big win is tricky. Can he do it next time?

...As has become our tradition when discussing the Argentinian, we must look back and remember this moment...

And the time he beat Berdych 0-6, 7-5, 6-1 in Estoril purely by hitting dropshots. He has been a stalwart in the Davis Cup for Argentina in doubles and singles. He has been a constant presence on the tour with his unique brand of tennis. He is not like Santoro. He likes to win too much. And he does win. He wins a lot. Including doubles, he has been to ten finals and won four. He is a frustrating guy to play. Nobody likes playing him, especially on the dirt. And in front of home crowds? Berlocq edged qualifier Kovalik 6-4, 6-4 in the opening round. Then the wildcard dismissed third seed David Ferrer 6-4, 6-2. Boy, is the Spaniard’s career on life support now. He edged Monteiro in three 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. It took top seeded Nishikori almost three hours to finally knock him out 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. That match gave new meaning to the phrase ‘daily grind’. This is the guy that doesn’t ever quit, and for someone who turned 34 this month that ain’t bad
...Harrison put on a master class. He dismissed Kravchuk 6-3, 7-5 in the first round. He beat Querrey 6-3, 6-1 in the second, which is amazing considering how big Querrey can serve. Dzumhur had beaten the 7th seed and denied Kevin Anderson in his comeback attempt. But Harrison eased past him 6-3, 6-4. Young did better in the semi-final, but it was to no avail. He was sent packing 6-4, 6-4. In the final, Basilashvili threw the kitchen sink at him. But not quite consistently. Double faulting on a crucial break point in the second. Missing routine forehands. Giving up winning positions in the rally. Not putting the American away. The Georgian was aggressive but could not put the ball in court consistently enough. Moments after Basha double faulted he blew a 0-40 lead in the next game. He never recovered from that. What won the final for the American was his defence. His backhand slice was fantastic and his forehand worked well, too. He scrambled around, not letting anything get past him. He’s shed some weight, improved his fitness and you can tell. He has earned this title.

...Well, yelling at Cilic worked. He made a quarterfinal and now it falls to Tomic. The Australian has been absent most of the year. It probably means he has found a new vice to try. Darian King qualified, winning over an injured Tatsuma Ito. He has barely played any ATP standard tennis. And Tomic, immensely talented Tomic, has lost to him. He has gone down in straight sets. This is a horrible result. The Australian has struggled all through this year. Something has to change. Last year he was comfortably top 20. Now he is struggling to stay in the top 35. It’s turning into a quite remarkable slump. Cilic is off the hook for now but Tomic is not.
...He opened up by beating Mannarino 3-6, 7-5, 7-6[4]. The French 6th seed led by a break in each of those last two sets. Young served for the match at 5-3 but blew it. He made up for it by winning the last six points of the match in a row. He has finally found some mental toughness. It is about time. That was only a warm-up for the big upset. He beat Isner in the third round 7-6[5], 3-6, 7-6 [6]. He didn’t even see a break point the whole match. He still did enough to get his first career win over his compatriot.

Abracadabra! #yimlife @memphisopen @tecnifibre

A post shared by Donald Young (@donaldyoungjr) on


Notes from the Week...
1 – Robredo won a match. He is probably the best Spaniard outside of Nadal since 2004. If not for injuries, just think.
2 – WTA number one on the line in Dubai. The ATP is not.
3 – For the first time in Memphis’ history none of the four semi-finalists are seeded. The last time it happened was at Nice in 2013.

1. Rotterdam QF – Goffin d. Dimitrov 6-4, 1-6, 6-3
...Dimitrov begins to look mortal again. He had looked tired at the start of the week, barely scraping past M.Zverev. Goffin avenged his loss in the final last week with a good win here. The three set match took a lot out of him but the win helped him on to a career high ranking of ten.
2. Rotterdam F – Tsonga d. Goffin 4-6, 6-4, 6-1
...It took five break points, but when Tsonga took the second set the match was all over. The Belgian had been so clever, maneuvering the Frenchie around. He had been putting the ball in awkward places and on his backhand. But, inexplicably, he decided to start hitting to the forehand. That was an error. The last set was barely a contest and Tsonga soon ran out the winner.
3. Memphis F – Harrison d. Basilashvili 6-1, 6-4
...This was actually quite a watchable final despite the lopsided score. Watching Harrison scrambling was pretty impressive, honestly. The American rises 19 places to world number 43. If he could only get a seed for Wimbledon.

4. Buenos Aires F - Dolgopolov d. Nishikori 7-6[4], 6-4
...No sympathy for Nishikori here. He did not have to gamble. He should have stayed in Memphis. The Ukrainian only needed on break to see off the world number five. When was the last time he beat a top five? Could this be the spark the Dog needs?
5. Rotterdam QF - Tsonga d. Cilic 7-6[8], 7-6[5]
...Tsonga led the first breaker 5-1, but ended up having to save two break points on his way to edging the first set. He had not beaten the Croat in over five years. So it was a great result for the Frenchie.

Nishikori [1] d. [6] Ferrer
Cuevas [3] d. [2] Thiem
Cuevas [3] d. [1] Nishikori

...Kei made a mistake last week. He should have stuck to Memphis. He didn’t and he paid the price. This week he will lose at the last again. Clay, especially in the Americas, seems to pose a bit of a problem for him. Thiem and Ferrer will both make good runs. And Cuevas usually pulls out a result in South America. Why not here? Again, Thiem’s scheduling decisions are whacko.

Monfils [1] d. [4] Pouille
Kyrgios [3] d. [2] Tsonga
Kyrgios [3] d. [1] Monfils

...Monfils Gasquet in the quarterfinals will be good. The French will do well here, but Kyrgios, well, he is the defending champion. Might that add a bit of extra motivation?

Raonic [1] d. [7] Del Potro
Karlovic [2] d. [3] Sock
Raonic [1] d [2] Karlovic

...Raonic makes his first appearance since Australia, Del Potro his first appearance this year. Del Potro is a former champion, in 2011. Karlovic has always done well here and this BACKSPINNER is not sold on Sock.

Perhaps this BACKSPINNER has missed it, but not a sign is to be found of Dasha. The Aussie has mysteriously disappeared over the past two weeks. We can only hope she is back in time for the March double bill.

NOTE: Found! (looks like in Indian Wells)

What is this reaction ??

A post shared by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Finally, More Federerisms

Roger Federer has returned to the grand slam winner's circle, so the Federerisms re-emerge from the shadows...

26. Roger Federer would never accept a position in the Trump White House
Where Roger Federer is concerned, there are no such thing as "alternative facts"
It is said that if you question whether Roger Federer is the G.O.A.T., you should simply taste his milk. It's apparently delicious, as well as being high in calcium and fatty acids but low in cholesterol.
When a Federer twin "has an accident" on Roger, they're simply personally venerating his greatness
Roger Federer doesn't "age," he accrues

For more: Federerisms, More Federerisms, Federerisms: Wimbledon Special Edition and Still More Federisms.

All for now. To be continued...

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Wk.6- The Terrific Tales of Grigor the Great and the Dominating Dominican

Hey, all. Galileo here.

What do we say about February? It really is the LaToya Jackson month of the season. One or two good moments, but mostly it is utterly forgettable. Most of this month is dry and stuck in a bad place. Just after Australia and before the March double bill. Apart from a couple of 500 tournaments, we spend most of the time praying for March. We also wonder how Dubai always gets so many top calibre players. This year it has Wawrinka, Federer and Murray. 24 slams right there.

That’s a pretty good stat, incidentally; combined, Wawrinka and Murray have a third of Federer’s slams.

At least we have a few good storylines coming up. Estrella Burgos won his third on the trot in Quito. No other player has won three titles in one place but has failed to win a title anywhere else. It is such a great Cinderella story, that a man like the Dominican can have a career starting so late. He was well into his 30s when he began to win and he has stayed relevant the last four years.

This is it, this is the moment.

His career started then. And what a celebration it was. He knew then, he knew that it was the start of something. He has since been around the world. We have talked before on BACKSPIN, around this time of year, about the average wage of the Dominican. It adds another dimension to just how beautiful this success story is.

More on Burgos in a minute, lot’s more. But let’s talk about the ATP’s best. Dimitrov is 14-1 on the year. This guy is playing out of his skin good. His serve is a cannon, his forehand is a vicious, spitting weapon and his backhand is one of the best defensive shots on tour. He moves dynamically and can transition from defence to offence beautifully.

His match against Gasquet in Australia was where it really showed. The Frenchman played fine, but barely got ten games and was utterly routed. Dimitrov would have lost that match last year. This year he ripped him apart.

And now he has a title at home. He lost one set this whole tournament, to Janowicz. This year he has barely lost sets, let alone matches.

* – Kohlschreiber drops five places to 33. Tomic is sitting in at 32, having been in a slump. Querrey, Johnson and Feli round out spots 29-31.
* – Dimitrov being ranked 12 is madness. He was 13th last week. He has few points to defend, so expect him to be in the top ten soon. Goffin holds at 11, Monfils falls to 10.
* – Cilic leads Thiem by 65. They are 7 and 8, ahead of Federer at 9.
* – No change in the top five. Muray, Djokovic, Wawrinka, Raonic and Nishikori. The number one ranking is safe.

Now, it’s time to look at the tournaments we had this week...

S: Alexander Zverev def. Richard Gasquet 7-6(4)/6-3
D: Zverev/Zverev d. F.Martin/Nestor

S: Grigor Dimitrov def. David Goffin 7-5/6-4
D: Troicki/Zimonjic d. Elgin/Kuznetsov

S: Victor Estrella Burgos def. Paulo Lorenzi 6-7(2)/7-5/7-6(6)
D: Cerretani/Oswald d. Peralta/H.Zeballos

...Why don’t we expect this by now? Burgos is now 15-0 in the Ecuadorian capital city. He has not lost there and he has still has years left on the tour. Couldn’t you see it now? Five titles in Quito, none anywhere else. He just plays perfectly at this tournament. He always does. He always seems able to find his forehand, always seems to have time. He gets every bounce of the ball, every single thing goes for him. He even wins the majority of breakers here, and he plays a lot of them. The first time it was a shock, the second time it was a surprise and now it is expected. This BACKSPINNER thought he would do well, but wasn’t sure how well. He has risen 63 places to 93. He is six places behind Youzhny but one ahead of Tipsarevic. It is the place where forgotten players end up, mixed in with up-and-comers. This year he avoided losing in his first match, edging Martin 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Then came an epic against the big serving Karlovic. And he took it in three epic breakers. It was only two hours and 11 minutes, which is surprisingly short for a clay court match like this. Karlovic won the aces battle by 39-3. Three match points saved. What a match. Italian qualifier Gaio didn’t put up much resistance, losing 6-4, 6-4. A dull match by the Dominican’s standards. Bellucci was up next. Both men broke twice in the 7-6[3], 7-6[4] decision. The Brazilian, who Burgos beat last year in the final, couldn’t quite drag it out into a third. And, of course, like the last two years, he won in a three set final. This time it was another Italian - Lorenzi. Burgos dominating here in Quito is unusual. This isn’t Nadal not dropping sets at Roland Garros. This is just him always finding a way to win no matter what. His record here is quite extraordinary. And we’ll be here again next year.
...Have you ever had a delay on a train or a bus? This BACKSPINNER has sat in Hartford’s gorgeous bus station waiting an extra half an hour for a connection through to Springfield. How about a train delay? Over here in England it is a shock if the train is on time. Or airport delays. We’ve all been in Dallas/Fort Worth waiting for a plane. This BACKSPINNER has watched a football game in that airport. It was the Chiefs losing at New England in the 2015-16 playoffs. Dimitrov is that plane. We’ve waited. Since he beat Djokovic at Madrid in three epic sets we have expected it. When he spanked Murray at Wimbledon we thought that was the next step. Sure, we can talk about this week. How he only lost one set and gave Goffin a lesson in the final. But this is the regular. He’s going to do this again and again throughout 2017. You don’t start 14-1 with a grand slam semi-final and end up having a rubbish year unless you get injured. Still, lifting the trophy...


A post shared by Grigor Dimitrov (@grigordimitrov) on

in one’s hometown is special. Imagine if Mauresmo or Gasquet had ever won Paris. Or think about the look when the Russian women win Moscow. It’s important. This year Dimitrov is going to make another slam semi-final and win two more titles, at least. But winning in front of your people? That’s big, that’s amazing. Every sports person should experience that at one point or another. So when we conclude the year and look back, the Bulgarian will almost certainly have secured this spot. He has risen and it really does feel like we are done waiting. Of course, you never know - we’re still waiting for Monfils.
...Doesn’t James Cerretani just sound like a ‘masshole’? One of those Massachusetts politicians, whose signs you see all over town. Well, he has won his fourth ever doubles title. Six years after his last one, the 35 year old has won another. He and Oswald won, via a retirement. The American is in the top 100 in doubles. He lost in the first round of the Australian Open this year but has been to back-to-back Wimbledon quarterfinals. He and Oswald drew the top seeds, Marrero/Gonzalez, in round one. That’s a great team, particularly on clay. But they beat the best team in the draw 6-4, 7-5. Then they beat Giannessi/Lorenzi 4-6, 6-1, 1-0[10-8]. In the semi-finals, they saw off third seeds Monroe/Sitak 6-3, 5-7, 1-0 [10-3]. To complete the hat-trick they beat the top seeds 6-3, 2-1 retired. Peralta/Zeballos were unable to continue when Zeballos’ neck injury became too much. It is not often you get to your first final in six years and then see off the top three seeds to win the title. So props to the American. Can he ride the momentum and win some more titles this year?
...The Frenchman is now 30. This week he made another quarterfinal. He beat 7th seed Granollers 6-0, 3-6, 6-3. He saw off Mathieu 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. Then he tested Zverev but ultimately fell 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. The Frenchman has cracked the world’s top 25. He has made the fourth round at every slam. He has a slam quarterfinal, too. He turned 30 yesterday, on Sunday. He is now old. But looking at his career, with his title and great slam record, it makes you realize that so many tennis players have a very good career but somehow go unrecognised. He has a great forehand and does produce superb results. It’s another impressive player France have produced. Boy do they have tremendous strength in depth.
...Nobody is in more need of a nickname than the Georgian. Nikoloz -- Niko for short let’s say -- has defeated Feliciano Lopez at Wimbledon. He has big wins under his belt. He beat Mannarino 7-6[7], 7-6[3] to open his account in Sofia. Then an upset - he saw off Thiem 6-4, 6-4. Thiem always schedules badly, but it was still an excellent result. Klizan bageled Niko but faded badly and lost 0-6, 6-3, 6-3. Of course, it was always going to have to end at some point - and Dimitrov spanked him 6-1, 6-3. But a good run for the new world number 67. It’s his highest ever ranking.
...”Does he ever change? It's not just the losses, it is the way they happen and to whom.” Those words were written on this blog in January. Cilic lost 6-4, 6-4 to Brown. Dustin Brown was injured and retired in the next match. So Cilic lost to a player who was hurt and who he massively outranks. Cilic is the worst top ten player of the last decade, bar none. Slam or no slam when he finally falls out of the top ten it will be a happy day for all tennis fans. He is not even top twenty. He is truly abysmal as a tennis player. He can’t even beat an injured player out of the top 50. Enough is enough. This is now permanently reserved for Cilic until he makes a quarterfinal or, at a Masters, a fourth round.
...Props to Paire here. Every now and then he pops up and just makes a run. Last week he edged Lopez 6-4, 7-6[5]. It was not a huge upset, but big enough to be noteworthy. Paire is still one to watch, always. Of course it usually comes to an end fairly quickly. Indeed, Gasquet put Paire to the sword and won 6-2, 6-2.

Notes from the Week...
1 – Tommy Robredo is playing in Argentina. Yes, that one. He opens with Fognini. He could play Estrella Burgos in the next round. Their combined age would be 70. Robredo has won this before. Surely he couldn’t put together a run?
2 – We’ll say it once again; Dimitrov is 14-1 on the season. Just think about that for a second.
3 – When will the Fed Cup change its format? It needs to go. It has to incorporate doubles more.

1. Quito Final – Estrella Burgos d. Lorenzi 6-7[2], 7-5, 7-6[7]
...This BACKSPINNER erred. He was watching this match but, at a set and 3-1, it felt over. Burgos was fading, Lorenzi was in the ascendancy. In the opening set, Burgos had just had so much time on the ball. Now he didn’t. So he stopped watching and did other things. Mistake. Burgos came back, forced a third and then won another final in a third set beaker. He even saved a match point down 5-6 in the breaker. He won the last three points of the match to win his third career title. He’s 3-0 in final, all of which came here in Quito.
2. Sofia SF – Goffin d. Bautista Agut 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(3)
...It took three hours and the Belgian had to come back from 1-3 down in the third, but Goffin earned his place in the final. When he won his opponent in the final, Dimitrov, said “David’s looking for revenge.” This was a battle of backhands, especially crosscourt. Neither man was impressive on the second serve, with Goffin’s 43% five percent higher than his opponents. Serve-volleying is no more. This baseline battle is here to stay.
3. Montpellier Final – A.Zverev d. Gasquet 7-6[4], 6-3
...Gasquet escaped at the Hopman Cup, but not here. The German was too physical, too strong. He won the backhand battle, and found a way to get through the Frenchman’s defence. The home crowd was vocal, but the German was far too good. Zverev took control after winning a tight first set. He’s on his way to number one.

4. Quito 2nd Rd. - Estrella Burgos d. Karlovic 6-7[7], 7-6[5], 7-6[8].
...Burgos does it again. He loves his tiebreakers. Not a single break point was had by either. The Dominican loves playing breakers here in Quito. And Karlovic is no stranger to them himself.
5. Sofia QF - Basilashvili d. Klizan 0-6, 6-3, 6-3
...The Georgian won a funny match. Klizan’s inconsistency did him in. It was a bizarre match. 12 games each, but sometimes it’s just how the games fall.

Berdych [4] d. [1] Cilic
Dimitrov [3] d. [2] Thiem
Dimitrov [3] d. [4] Berdych

...Dimitrov is the best player in the world right now. Only against Federer on grass right now would he lose. This BACKSPINNER would pick him to win against anyone. He has lost once all year. To Nadal, and we all know what it took to do it. Cilic is utterly unreliable and Berdman can be expected to do something here. And Thiem is too good not to make the semi-final.

Nishikori [1] d. [3] Ferrer
Cuevas [2] d. [4] Busta
Nishikori [1] d. [2] Cuevas

...The four-time defending champion is not going for a fifth in Memphis. Bizarre. He’ll still be fine. Spaniards always do well here and Cuevas can ride the ‘home crowd’. Nishikori will have too much, even on clay, for the Uruguayan.

Tomic [5] d. [1] Karlovic
Isner [2] d. [3] Querrey
Isner [2] d [5] Tomic

...Isner on American soil is a different story than regular Isner, don’t forget. If Tomic can motivate himself he might get quite far. Karlovic and Querrey have those huge serves which really come in handy.

At least Gavrilova was consistent. In a Fed Cup World Group II clash against an absurdly talented Ukraine team, she faltered. She lost to Tsurenko 6-2, 6-3. She then lost to Svitolina 6-3, 6-2 to give Ukraine the tie 3-0. She is not appearing in Qatar, but may well do in Dubai. So we have a week to mull over her poor Fed Cup performance.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Wk.5- Shapovalov, umm, Makes His Mark

Hey, all. Galileo here.

This week we had the Davis Cup. And full of drama it was. Before we get started check this out:

Two different commentators, one horrific incident. This kid is 17. He is in front of a home crowd during the Davis Cup. He is down two sets. He loses it and accidentally hits the umpire. You cannot legitimately hate on the kid. If he attacks the umpire, fine. But he has to relieve the stress somehow. So he intends to thwack a ball into the stands, but miscues. It’s all very well making excuses for Kyrgios and not meaning them. But this is a guy who wouldn’t even be in college. Are you going to get annoyed with a high schooler? No. Of course not. Is what he did any worse than this?

We should get on with it. First, we have the clay experts...

MVP: Andreas Seppi, ITA

There was almost a rout in Argentina. The defending champions, who were admittedly missing Del Potro, nearly went down in ugly fashion to upstarts Italy. In the first rubber Lorenzi broke six times on the way to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory. Seppi was next, and he won 6-1, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6[6]. Argentina were looking at a loss on home soil as the defending champions. Luckily they managed to avoid the embarrassment of going out in ‘straight rubbers.’ Berlocq/Mayer clung on, despite letting their opponents come back from the dead, to win 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6[7]. The Italians, Fognini and Bolelli, outhit their opponents in winners by 43-42. From a mundane start this had become something wild, dramatic and entertaining. Despite starting at 11 a.m., the fourth rubber finished past seven, with several long rain delays disrupting the match. Berlocq extended the tie at the expense of Lorenzi, winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 5-6, 6-3. The rallies were long and grueling. And it wasn’t pretty - 156 errors in the match. In a tie that was extended to Monday, Fognini came back from the dead in a fashion similar to Argentina’s. Pella looked good for the first two sets but wilted and watched Italy come back and triumph 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Four and a quarter hours and 190 errors later, the match was over. Italy go on to play...
MVP: Steve Darcis, BEL

There’s always one upset tie. Belgium went into Germany and won, comfortably even. The signs should have been there when Kohl collapsed. The German had so many chances to finish the match, but never quite managed it. Darcis took the rubber 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 7-6[2], 7-6[5]. In the not-quite four hour contest the Belgian won 94 per cent of his second serves. The German won even more - 98 per cent. The German also won more points [10 more] and more games, too. Yet still he lost. Zverev responded, dismissing De Greef 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. But you can’t rely on a teenager, even one as good as the young German is. They run out of steam, like you saw against Nadal. De Loore and Bemelmans outlasted the Zverev brothers 6-3, 7-6[4], 4-6, 4-6, 6-3. In a year where the very existence of this competition is in doubt, the level of competition right now is fantastic. It’s great for the sport and the event. In the doubles match, which contained 100 winners, it felt like the tie would turn on it. It so often does. Zverev looked good, efficient, in the fourth rubber, but slowly faded to a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6[6] loss. Darcis thought he had won on his first match point, at 6-4 in the fourth set breaker. He celebrated the victory, but it was premature. When he failed to win on the next match point things started to look dicey. But he held on for a nervy win. Mischa Zverev lost the final rubber 7-5, 6-1. Belgium go to Italy next. They’ll be wanting Goffin for that one.
MVP: Jordan Thompson, AUS

Australia hosted a Czech team without Berdman. So have fun pronouncing some of these names. No, sorry, that’s their Fed Cup team. Todd how do you spell Hradecka’s partner's name? It might rhyme with Baklava? [Hlavackova, although they've moved on to new partners for the second time in the last few years] Well, anyway, in the opening rubber Jordan Thompson continued his impressive string of results, as he beat Vesely 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. In the two hour contest the Aussie went 36-22 on the winners ratio. And he capitalised on his opponent's 46 errors. ‘Thommo’ is another one of the enormously talented juniors the Aussies have. They’re in for another golden era. And when was the last decade they failed to have a male slam champ? This BACKSPINNER might guess the 1930s or 1940s. Kyrgios beat Satral next and it was quite unusual - he behaved, he didn’t hit many funky shots and he was perfect throughout. He won 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in 90 minutes and broke five times, never losing his own serve. Vesely/Satral won no sets. Groth/Peers dismissed them 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 and they did it quicker than Kyrgios did. Six breaks to one and double their points. The Australians host the Americans next and, boy, what’s the betting it’s on grass, too. The Aussies always do well at home and you have to think they have an excellent shot at the title this year.
MVP: Jack Sock, USA

In the Davis Cup for every close match, every classic, there’s one blowout, one truly abysmal match. It can be a gap in quality or players having a bad day. Switzerland’s problem is they won the DC in 2014. Now neither of their two best players have any interest. Anyway, Sock opened with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 drubbing of Chuidinelli. It was an ugly match. In the next rubber, Isner lost a set to Bossel and actually struggled for parts of the match. He still won 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6[1]. 28 aces for Isner and four breaks in the two and three quarter hour long contest. Johnson/Sock put the Swiss out of their misery 7-6[3], 6-3, 7-6[4]. Bossel/Laaksonen really were no match. The Aussies split the dead rubbers. The Yanks didn’t even have the good grace to do that. The America versus Australia match coming up is going to be a crackerjack. If Kyrgios turns up and they win the doubles, it could come down to Isner turning up consistently. Oh boy.
MVP: Richard Gasquet, FRA

With no Nishikori another blowout was on the cards. France could have played their third string team here. Benneteau, Roger-Vasselin and Llodra could have won this. Heck, Leconte — no, even better, bring Philipe Chatrier back from the dead. The French did not spend six hours on court. You’d have to include the dead rubbers, where they went 1-1, to get to six hours play time. Gasquet opened with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win over Daniel. 23 winners to four. Fifteen break points. The fact the Japanese denied him on eight of those chances is quite extraordinary. In the next round, Simon wasn’t much kinder. He won 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 against Yoshihita Nishioka. And, hey, 34-14 on the winners count is almost close. Japan were being humiliated at home. Herbert/Mahut never left third gear in their dismissal of Sugita/Uchiama. This is why the Davis Cup is dying. No big players are playing. Not anymore. They host Britain next. Heavy clay must be the surface.
MVP: Philipp Kohlschreiber, GER

Without Raonic, and with their two top fifty players, Britain would surely stroll to victory. Nope. Talented junior Shapovalov stood in their way. In the first rubber, the 200 place gap in rankings showed as Evans dismissed the youngster 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. No problems, no issues and not even one loss of serve. But then in comes Pospisil and he showed Britain strength on serve in the two hour contest. He won 6-4, 6-1, 7-6[3] against Kyle Edmund.. He blasted 20 aces and won about 90 per cent of service points. Inglot/Murray then outlasted Nestor/Pospisil 7-6[1], 6-7[3], 7-6[3], 6-3 in over three hours to give the Brits a vital advantage. Pospisil again came up big on serve. He beat Evans 7-6[3], 6-4, 3-6, 7-6[5]. Pospisil served 152 times. 25 were aces. 25 times he lost the point. Canada were kept in this tie purely because this kid served lights out. Sadly, well, you know what happened. But what a tie it turned out to be. It’s a shame we never got to see that one played out. But Britain move on to France.
MVP: Viktor Troicki, SRB

Karen Khachanov’s future is beyond bright, it is dazzling. But the future is not’s now. That sentence is in the past and, hey, so is this one. But with every sentence that passes that Russian kid gets better and better. He was a point away from beating Troicki but lost 6-4, 6-7[2], 6-3, 1-6,7-6[6]. In the four and a half hour contest, Khachenov won 201 points, 27 of them aces, winning one more than his opponent. Djokovic looked in trouble but still won 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 1-0 against Medvedev. The youngster retired with cramps after having Nole on the ropes. This really looks like the end for the former number one. He went 21-37 on the winners ratio. That’s really poor. Troicki/Zimonjic were on hand to put the finishing touches on the match. They won 6-3, 7-6[3], 6-7[5], 6-4. Now Serbia host Spain. Who else is hoping for Novak versus Rafa?
MVP: Roberta Bautista Agut, ESP

So, is this an upset? Carreno Busta lost the opening rubber to Skugor 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6[6]. Both men hit 50 winners in a nervy match. It was filled with lengthy rallies with neither able to establish dominance. Bautista Agut was having none of it - he beat Pavic 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Draganja/Metkic proved to be surprisingly good in the doubles. They beat the Lopez’s 6-7[6], 7-6[7], 7-6[5], 2-6, 6-4. 11 breaks and 150 errors tell the story of this one. This whole tie looks good on paper, but the quality was lacking. Again RBA rescued his home country. This time he put Skugor to the sword 6-1, 6-7[4], 6-3, 7-6[6]. He just keeps going, keeps chugging away. He is so dependable and in Davis Cup sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Busta needed only two and a quarter hours to see off Metkiv 7-6[4], 6-1, 6-4 and with it the tie.

Right, next week’s tournaments. In the Open Sud De France, Gasquet won last year despite being injured and out of form. This year he gets past top seed Cilic in one semi-final before seeing off Tsonga in the final. In the other semi, Tsonga will edge [A] Zverev.

In Sofia, Dimitrov rides the home crowd, to victories over top seeded Thiem and fourth seed Bautista Agut. The Spaniard will beat Goffin in the bottom half bracket. It isn’t an upset.

In Ecuador, Estrella Burgos makes it three finals in a row as he gets past Giraldo in the top half. Ramos-Vinolas will beat third seed Lorenzi, but surely Burgos will win this title for a third year on the trot.

Going 1-1 in singles in St. Petersburg is fine for Dasha. She beat a player who could not legally buy a beer three months ago, Anna Kalinskaya, 6-4, 7-5. Then Sveta smacked her 6-1, 6-3, but she did at least make the doubles semi-final with Mladenovic. They lost to third seeds Jurak/Knoll 6-3, 6-4.

Eugenie Bouchard agreed to go on a date. She wagered that if Brady came back she would go out with one of her Twitter followers. And, of course, the predictable happened.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

All Good Australian Opens...

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

This BACKSPINNER has been remiss at the end of recent slams. But no more, no way, no how. In the future, as well as adding to Todd’s WTA wrap up with some thoughts on the final, this BACKSPINNER shall provide some sense of closure. So, today you shall have it.

But before that, it's Davis Cup time. Now, it is tricky to gauge who is in and who is not. But this BACKSPINNER will try his best.

- Italy and Argentina go to war on outdoor clay in Buenos Aires. Not the strongest team for the Argies, but can Fognini and Seppi pull another magic trick out of their hat? No logic to this decision, but Argentina take it 3-2.

- Germany host Belgium on indoor hard in Frankfurt. Zverev, Kohlschreiber and Zverev will ease the home side past a Belgium with no Goffin. 4-1 to the Zverev brothers and company.

- Kooyong hosts another Davis Cup weekend. Kyrgios and Thompson go against Vesely and Stepanek. Australia, on grass, should cruise through 4-1. They also have Peers in the doubles. Could this be the year, with Groth and Peers, that they win it all? Berdman being out is a big minus for the Czechs.

- America host Switzerland in Birmingham. No Wawrinka. No Federer. No contest. 5-0 to the home team. Give Harrison a shot here, why not? Since when did America have four guys in the top 32? What a pleasant surprise. Just a pity none of them did anything in Melbourne.

- It might be in Tokyo, but for Japan, without Nishikori, it really won’t matter. Gasquet, Simon and the world’s best doubles team will sweep through here 5-0. If they can just keep it together and not choke, France would have won this competition so many times. Perhaps they can win it this year?

- No Murray or Raonic in Ottawa. Evans, Edmund and the other Murray will guide Britain to a 4-1 win away from home. Look out for Edmund. He is a rising star. And Evans is in the form of his career.

- In Nis, Serbia the Russians are coming to town. At first this BACKSPINNER thought they didn’t have their full strength squad. Turns out they do. And it isn’t enough to deal with Djokovic. Serbia win 4-1. Since Davydenko left, and Youzhny’s collapse, Russia has had nobody on the ATP. Could Karen Khachanov be the one to save them?

- No Cilic. And that means Spain, with Carreno Busta and the Lopez’s, will go into Croatia and win comfortably. They also have Bautista Agut. Look for Spain to win 5-0. This won’t be pretty.

- Finally, it is with sad news that the Bryans have announced their retirement from the Davis Cup. They finished with a 22-5 and, ironically, a loss.

...What more is there to say? Aged 35, Roger won two tight five setters, one of them against Nadal, and blew Berdych up. Who says he cannot win another slam this year? At Wimbledon, on a quick surface, another semi-final seems more than probable.

...He survived two heavy five set matches and almost won a third. He made Raonic’s serve look utterly ordinary and, hey, has that forehand ever looked as vicious? Rafa is back and if Federer seems set to do well at Wimbledon, couldn’t Rafa win another French Open?
...What’s in this season? Dimitrov combining an even better serve with a delicious new forehand. This look is all the rage this year. Until Nadal saw him off, he had dropped just four sets. Four sets all year. Who is this guy and where has he been?
...Going 0-2 in slam finals is tough. Horia Tecau made the Wimbledon final from 2010-2012. He blew a two sets to love lead and went out in the third round in 2013. Finally, he won it in 2015. Peers has had nowhere near that long a wait, but it must still have been a relief for him to get the monkey off his back. Kontinen has also broken Finnish records. So, a historic tournament for both men.
...Sasha had Nadal, he had a winning tactic. He just ran out of gas at the end. If he’d had anything left in the tank he would’ve had the upset. People expected that to happen but not for him to be outshone by his elder brother. Mischa had one of the biggest upsets on the tour in years when he edged Murray in four in the 4th round. Plus, he beat Isner 9-7 in the 5th set two rounds earlier.
...We expect players like Busta/Garcia-Lopez to have the occasional deep doubles run. We do not expect players with barely any singles experience to put together a run that saw them beat the top seeds, eighth seeds and recent Wimbledon champions, too. It’s an A* from the BACKSPIN exam markers.
...Bundled out in the fourth round, he had the tournament of his life. He blasted Djokovic off the court in five lengthy sets, survived a fiery encounter with Carreno Busta and gave Dimitrov all he could handle for two sets. Now we see if he can put it together on a permanent basis.
...Belichick would be proud - Stan did his job. He even came back, albeit in vain, from two sets down against the greatest player ever. But for one loose service game this BACKSPINNER does truly believe Stan would be our champion.
...The Belgian survived Opelka in five sets in the opening round before upsetting Thiem three rounds later. He has now been to a quarterfinal at half the slams. A good tournament for him but he needs to be more competitive at that stage. Dimitrov never broke sweat in beating him.
...One of those players that ran into Roger too early. He had a fine tournament and he was rounding into form before the Swiss star edged him. He would have had a chance at the final, too. He didn’t lose, he was beaten.

1. The semi-finals of the men’s singles
2. The organization level of this slam
3. No rain delays. Well, not on the same level as other slams.
4.The old guys. Average age of the semi-finalists? 30. Without Dimitrov it was 32.
5. The Bryans. 14 years of consistency - a slam final every year since 2003. They have not, however, won one since 2014.
6. Australia’s next generation. On both sides and in doubles, too. Their 2020 mixed doubles Olympics team has great potential. This BACKSPINNER wants to see Stosur play with Kyrgios. You know it’d be hilarious. Demon [De Minaur] belongs here, too.
7. Former stars of the game. Mary Pierce, Rod Laver and Jim Courier. They all added something.
8. The coverage of the event
9. The topspin lob is not dead. Not yet. Ditto the one-handed backhand.
10. The city of Melbourne.

1. The big seeds, Serena aside. They all collapsed. In the mixed, both singles events and, to a lesser extent, in the women’s doubles.
2. France. What has happened to France?
3. Hingis. Is it finally the end? Ditto Paes.
4. That weird black and white pattern that seemed to be on everyone. It really did not work. Still better than when Nike tried to do the blazer look.
5. The ATP top ten. Two made their seeding. If you’re feeling generous you could include Raonic.

*and THE UGLY*
Bernard Tomic and his attitude.

**Other Notes & By-the-Numbers**
1. I think this year is make or break for Kyrgios. He never practises. He doesn’t seem to care. How will his career end up?
2. Forty years it has been since the Australian Open held the event twice in one year. It is 30 years since it moved to January. Prize money in that year, 1987? A$103,875. How about in 2007? A$1,281,000. Now? 3.7 million in Australian dollars. The total prize money of 50m AUD is a record high.
3. Attendance figures anyone?

2017: 728,763
2016: 720,363
2015: 703,899
2014: 643,280
2013: 684,457
4. The Bryans have five straight losses in slam finals. One of them came at Roland Garros in 2012. The rest came here. Every single final they’ve lost here has been in straight sets. Don’t feel too sorry for them, however. They are 6-4 in finals.
5. Federer has been to more Wimbledon finals [10] than Nadal has at the French Open [9]. Doesn’t feel like it, does it? Probably because 9-0 is better than 7-3.

The final chapter, it feels like, in an extraordinary book. Stat of the year, of the decade, of the gosh darn century. Federer ten, Nadal ten. Matches off clay. The quality, the rallies and the camaraderie between the two was beautiful. No bitterness, no animosity. This had none of the crassness of Murray’s matches against Djokovic. But Federer/Nadal is a lightsabre matchup, rather than a matchup of blaster calibre.

Demon came of age in this classic match. It really set the tone for the rest of the slam, too. He’ll be back next year and he may win more than just the one match.
This BACKSPINNER has talked about this match endlessly, but it had to be included. Zverev gets to his career high of 35. What is the betting, says our inner cynic, he never makes it this far again?
How ridiculous is it that the defending champion gets his behind handed to him and he doesn’t even drop in the rankings. He is still 4000 clear of Stan. Of course, there is a bit more pressure now. He has not been under 10,000 points in the rankings for some time.
...22-20 in the fifth.
Who’s honestly got time to write out such a long scoreline? This BACKSPINNER acknowledges this match, yet another one that added fuel to the ‘should we shorten matches?’ debate. None the less, a quirky scoreline is always a fun one.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

AO Men's Final: To Fed is Divine

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

First, let’s open with some spoilers, some teasers.

And Federer’s reaction:

And what happened to be the turning point of the match.

The final point...

But, before more on all that, congratulations are in order. Henri Kontinen/John Peers have triumphed against the Bryans, winning a crisp match, 7-5,7-5. Kontinen becomes the first Finnish slam champion since himself at Wimbledon last year. He and Heather Watson won against Farah/Groenefeld in straight sets. There have been no other slam champions from Finland. If Todd wants to correct that fact, he should do so now. Perhaps with an alternative one.

They only gave up one break point, which the Bryans took, but broke three times themselves. They moved and communicated well as a team. Three years ago, the Bryans would have won this kind of match, forcing a third set which they would have dominated. But Kontinen/Peers rode the crowd and were ready for them.

Kontinen rises two to fifth in the world, Peers three places to sixth. J.Murray and Soares are set to fall four places to eight. Bob and Mike move up a couple to three and four, respectively. The quarterfinal appearance for Herbert/Mahut keeps them up in one and two. Mahut is 600 points above number two.

Farah’s compatriot and partner since 2013, Juan Sebastien Cabal, has won his maiden slam title. He and Abigail Spears saw off the second seeds Mirza/Dodig 6-2,6-4. He made the French Open final in 2011. They had seen off the seventh seeds in the first round and won in the final from a 2-4 deficit in the third. The match lasted 63 minutes. It was Spears first slam, too, though she had lost in two U.S. Open mixed finals from 2013-14.

With his 100th win in Melbourne, Federer won title number five. No player has ever won at least five times at three different slams. Nobody has ever made five finals at all four different slams except Federer.

The key stat now in the Federer/Nadal rivalry: 10-10 in matches not on clay, 13-2 on it. Federer is 22-23 versus Djokovic and 14-11 against Murray. The big mismatch has always been on clay. If you were to rank Federer, he would be a top ten all time clay court player. But Nadal always stopped him until he lost that edge he had when he was younger. He has made five French Open finals and 26 clay finals. Borg and Nadal made more finals. Wilander and Lendl also made five. Federer has been to more French Open finals than Kuerten. Nadal is just the greatest male player on that surface.

This match was similar to the way Peyton Manning won his last match against Tom Brady. Brady dominated the head-to-head, but Peyton had the last laugh. These two have, like the Williams sisters, been the backbone of a whole generation. Thirteen years of playing each other and they aren’t done. The match ebbed and flowed like their rivalry.

Nadal’s legacy is fantastic. He is still two slams ahead of Novak, though both are on 21 finals. His 24 semi-finals are sixth-best all-time. You think about that - 21-3 in semi-finals. The big problem for Nadal is that, like Margaret Court and Pete Sampras, his slam totals are utterly skewed. He dominated at the French but was ‘merely’ very good elsewhere. Like Federer and Novak, he had that one tricky slam where something always went wrong. Each of them struggled at a particular slam. Nadal single-handedly stopped either man winning the French Open for a long time.

This fourth final at the Australian Open adds to his legacy. The two of them, Federer and Nadal, are the twin pillars, the highest echelon of achievement. And when Djokovic got in there too, well, it was just a pity the three of them were never at their peak at the same time. And the role of joker, of Loki, played by Murray was fantastic. Never in the other gods league, he none-the-less knew how to pull pranks, too.
But what actually happened during the match? Well, let us delve a little deeper shall we?

Todd isn't covering the men's final this year, but he's not as voracious a Federer fan as I am. That is because he is a heathen. We have a good working relationship despite it.

[Ed.note: Haha! But I've got the office with the better view at HQ... seniority. Oh, and here's a little classic Backspin, with the collection of Federerisms compiled back in 2006-07 - tds]:

Federerims (April 12, 2006)
More Federerisms (May 1, 2006)
Federerisms: Wimbledon Special Edition (June 29,2006)
Still More Federerisms (February 13, 2007)

RLA: FEDERER DEF. NADAL 6-4/3-6/6-1/3-6/6-3
6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7. Certain scorelines burn themselves into one’s memory. Nadal famously edged Federer in The Greatest Match Ever Played by that scoreline nine years ago. Some though, Kuznetsova def. Safina 6-4, 6-2, seem lodged in there. Sure, Sveta played well, but after a while, it was painful to watch. That match broke Safina’s career. Her face when she double faulted on match point is something this BACKSPINNER can’t ever forget. Maybe that is why the scoreline has stayed with me. I sincerely hope you never make this face:

Getting back to this final, Federer’s 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory will stay with this BACKSPINNER because it was a funky final score and it was a really good match despite the ten breaks of serve. Nadal had the early runnings, hitting Federer’s backhand hard, but the Swiss star clung on and broke at 3-3 on his first break point of the match. He held firm and closed it out.

But Nadal hit back. He took advantage of the 15 errors off the Swiss’ racket. He also took away Federer’s serve, breaking twice. Throughout the match Federer’s serve was a weapon, not a liability. But the shot that surprised Nadal the most was the backhand, particularly crosscourt. Now imagine the match at one set all, poised delicately. Then in Federer’s first service game, at 0-0, he falls to 0/40. He serves three aces in the same spot, at roughly the same speed, then goes on to hold. From there he took charge and took the third set at a canter. He looked good, he looked in charge. Surely it would be over in four.

But Federer and Nadal seemed destined to go five. It had to go five. All their classic finals have. Federer served aces on four break points throughout the match. In the fourth, Federer played one, just one, loose service game. Most of them he was rock solid, with only the occasional whiff. But one loose service game was all Rafa needed. Then, in the 5th, he broke Federer to 30 and survived a huge assault on his serve. Federer held lightning quick, Rafa again survived an assault on his service game to lead 3-1. But Federer held again, losing just one point.

Another lengthy Nadal service game ensued, the Spaniard saving a ton of break points. In that last set, Federer was 2-11 on break points. Federer, after receiving treatment on a quad, finally somehow put the last set back on serve. And a second serve ace sealed the seventh game at love for Fedex. Another long Nadal service game and a hold and Federer, on his second match point, was the oldest man since Ken Rosewall (on the left, in 1972, AO champ at age 37), to win a slam.

The win by Federer put this BACKSPINNER in mind of the almighty Joe Buck (and the Red Sox) in 2004.

He moves back up to tenth in the world, Rafa moves to six. So, Roland Garros for Rafa and Wimbledon for Fed? One each seems fair to me.

"Tennis is a tough sport, there are no draws, but if there was I'd be happy to share it with Rafa tonight."
- Roger Federer
"Congrats to Roger, just amazing the way he's playing after so long away from the tour."
- Rafa Nadal

And, finally, here’s a little something for you Rafa fans:

Coming up is a little slam recap and some Davis Cup action, too.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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