Friday, June 09, 2017

French Open QF Recap

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Now let's take a peek back at the men's quarterfinals...

...There's not much to say, really. Pablo Carreno Busta came in with an abdominal issue. And when he was down 2-6, 0-2 this happened:

The Spaniard has had a glorious run, but an injury is a sure-fire way to end it. The consolation is that Nadal would have likely won anyway. He rises in the rankings and a top 16 seed at Wimbledon is not out of the question. Whether or not he can take advantage of that is another thing. You can count the list of Spanish Wimbledon winners, or even finalists, on one hand. That's why Conchita Martinez is such a strange case - she was a classic dirtballer who just won Wimbledon. Seeing as there isn't much of this match we can talk about, have a picture of her.

Rafael Nadal now plays the only man who has troubled him on the clay - Dominic Thiem. Now the funny thing is, Nadal hasn't had a challenging match yet. He honestly has not had to face stiff opposition. And sometimes, when you're at four-all in a tiebreaker, say, you need that. Nadal should win this, but the Austrian is a major banana peel. And there's also the five set factor. If Rafa wins in five grueling sets and plays Stan Wawrinka next, he could struggle. But, really, this should be a Rafa cruise.
....The Scot has looked weak at times, error prone at others, and downright abysmal in parts, too. But he has reached the semi-finals of Roland Garros. He and Kei Nishikori played out an entertaining 2-6, 6-1, 7-6[0], 6-1 four setter in front of the French crowd. Kei started off on fire but deteriorated as the match wore on. While it was fun to watch, there were plenty of times the quality came into question. There were 12 breaks and Murray served for the third set at 6-5. It was a typical Murray match where he just could not put his opponent away. Had Nishikori taken the third set...well, who knows. 71 errors in four sets is also really poor. The Scot has not looked like a world number one during the tournament, and that continued for the two hours and forty minutes he was out there in the quarterfinals. Nishikori moves onto Wimbledon, where he will do terribly and Murray moves onto Wawrinka. Where he will also do terribly. Wawrinka is playing scary tennis right now. Out of this world, hit you off the court, off the continent, hit you into outer space good. He might even be making Rafa a bit nervous.
...Dominic Thiem was 0-5 against Novak Djokovic. But now he has his first win. And it was a belting, 7-6[5], 6-3, 6-0. It will send Novak Djokovic to world number three. And he could drop out of the top five altogether. If Stan wins he will be ranked fourth in the world come Wimbledon. He may not even be seeded in the top four. The alarming thing is the lack of chutzpah that Nole showed. He just went away as quietly as Jeb Bush has. In the two and a quarter hour match, Nole was broken six times and hit 35 errors. His opponent, however, was at his swashbuckling best, his backhand singing in the Paris breeze. With his trademark headband and big kicker the Austrian looked the real deal. And, though you might not admit it, you know you want a Wawrinka/Thiem final. You know that's the best of the finals left on the table. And, in fact, if you were offered that at the beginning you would have taken it. Against the best returner in the world, he won 53 per cent of second serves. Djokovic is finished. His career is now dead. He has been awful for months now and if Andre Agassi can't fix it, well who can?
...The Swiss won 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in an hour and forty minutes. The Swiss broke that big serve six times and won 73 per cent of second serves. He made Marin Cilic look absolutely ordinary. And he did it with total ease. This wasn't a match, it was more a confirmation of Wawrinka's mastery. And now the Swiss plays Murray. And he's going to win that. He is going to smack Murray's second serve about, attack off the Scot's soft forehand wing and use that inside-out backhand like a wrecking ball. He is looking frighteningly good. This BACKSPINNER would even go so far as to say the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double is not out of reach.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

French Open Day 10: A Rainy Day Interlude, Back in Time

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

It was washed out today at Roland Garros. So, in order to get you ready for the quarterfinals, we have a time machine we built at BACKSPIN HQ. It isn't very good, but what it does do is bring you back to any tennis match in the Open era. It's almost totally useless for real world events, but for the purposes of looking back, more useful than a spanner-hammer combination.

But before that, we do have a result. Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison have beaten 7th seeded Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers. A former finalist, the Spaniard has at least hit his seeding. The Croat won it in 2015. It also means the last seeds left standing are the 16th seeded Colombians, Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. But they will play Harrison/Venus, who have already beaten the 4th seeds [Kubot/Melo] and now the 7th seeds. Can they beat their third set of seeds?

So take my hand and let's go back. Our first match comes from the 1970s. And ABBA's Fernando was ruling the world. But we are concerned with a different Swede...

...Only one man has ever beaten Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros. Not Ivan Lendl. Not even Guillermo Vilas. No, it was the unassuming and, sadly, mostly forgotten Italian. Adriano Panatta made three semi-finals at the French Open. All of them between 1973-76. In 1973 he beat Borg in the fourth round of his first ever slam, 7-6, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6. That year, in the semi, he lost to Nikola Pilic. When he won his lone slam, in '76, he was seeded eighth again. Borg had beaten him in four in the previous year's semi, but the Italian responded by beating the top seeded Swede 6-3, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6. The two time defending champion had looked rustier during that tournament and would skip the next edition. But Panatta saved a match point against Pavel Hutka in the first round. Had he lost that point he would not even be a footnote in history. For the 3500 fans at Roland Garros and those at home, this was a classic match and one that they never forgot.

In a list of classic quarter-finals the only guy who ever beat The Great One should be recognised.
...This is one burnt into the tennis annals. Ivan Lendl, seeded third, had dropped just one set in his first four matches. But Yannick Noah, coming off consecutive quarter-final appearances, has dropped none. The result? A famous 7-6, 6-2, 5-7, 6-0 victory. This may have been before Lendl had that air of invulnerability about him, before he rose to the power he would become. But the fact someone who played, well, like Gael Monfils, could win a slam was amazing. It was an emotional run to the title, capped off by an excellent final. To beat Lendl and Mats Wilander in the latter stages of a slam is an exceptional feat, particularly at Roland Garros. It would be Noah's only run to a slam final but, supported by the crowd, he became the first Frenchman to win the slam in the Open era. He is also currently the last. And who could forget how happy he was to win?

...In 1996, Guga Kuerten and Wilander played at the 1996 French Open. For one of them it would be their first slam. For the other it would be their last. The next year Guga, unseeded, beat Jonas Bjokrman, Thomas Muster and Andrei Medvedev just to make the quarters. Against the last two he had won in five. The Russian defending champion had looked fairly good. And in the quarters he took a two sets to one lead against the Brazilian. But Guga, aged just 21, came back to win 6-2, 5-7, 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.

The Russian actually lead their head-to-head 7-5. But he lost from two sets to one up in 2000. And Guga beat him in four the next year, too. But there is something special about the original run of Guga's. He hit so freely and swung throughout that we all felt released, we all felt like we could hit the ball as he could. He showed a different kind of tennis then. His beautiful backhand and surprisingly big serve. His famous bandana and whippy forehand. He was a world number one you could get behind.
...When Nole beat Rafa Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 something inside this BACKSPINNER broke. Both of these guys has looked good in the actual tournament, though Rafa had not looked good during the clay court swing. At the end of match, as the Serb was closing it out, you just felt so sad for the Spaniard, so sorry for him. It was cruel watching the last ten minutes of that. Not a classic like the other matches, but memorable. It looked like the end of an era, like Rafa's time was finished. It is a match that will stick in the memory for a long time. A vanquished champion is one of the saddest sights in sport. And for Rafa to be back this year is incredible.


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French Open Day 9: Form (mostly) Holds, For Now

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Daria Gavrilova is out. She and partner A-Pavs have fallen by the wayside in the women’s doubles. Bested by her compatriots, Ash Barty and Casey Dellacqua, they lost 7-6[2], 6-4. So it is now onto the grass swing for Dasha.

Todd and I do a lot of work comparing eras for one project or another. It is easier to predict the future by looking back sometimes. Other times it is a fun thing to do. What is happening a lot these days that didn’t used to with such frequency is this.

Now these guys would play 100 matches a season. Air travel was not as good as it is today. They didn’t have physios or the attention to fitness that is around today. And injuries just weren’t an issue at all, really. Players didn’t get hurt. These days if you don’t have five retirements in any given event [women’s or men’s singles etc.] that’s a bit odd. This past tournament, David Goffin, Nico Almagro and now Kevin Anderson have all fallen a-foul of injuries. It is a sad sight to see a really good player limping around, looking like the walking wounded. And it is far too frequent. This BACKSPINNER cannot get the screams of Mary Pierce out of his head. Nor can he forget the look on Rafael Nadal’s face at the 2011 Australian Open.

More work needs to be done on safeguarding our players, more effort needs to be put in. It is not as bad as other professional sports, but that is no justification. One thing the ATP could do is to give a player a wildcard to a slam if they have been to the last eight there before. If Almagro wants to enter next year, he gets a wildcard. Just like that.

But enough of that. Let’s talk about tennis. In the men’s doubles, the only seeds left are the 7th and 16th.

Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares lost 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-4) to Santiago Gonzalez and Donald Young in the quarterfinals. It is in fact the first time the Scot has been this far at Roland Garros. Murray served for it at 6-3, 5-3. He couldn’t make it and so the highest seeds left, lost in agonizing circumstances. They won eight more points and another game but could not make their greater ranking and ability tell on the underdogs.

...What a journey for the kid. It took the world number one to finally see him off. After he beat 13th seed Tomas Berdych and 21st seed John Isner, dropping just one set, he looked set for a very deep run indeed. But Andy Murray has found himself some form. And on the day, he was too good for the youngster, dismissing him 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Murray broke five times in the two-hour contest, and was too robust in defence for his inexperienced opponent. He went 29-14 on the winners to errors ratio and managed to play a controlled match against a dangerous opponent. For Khachanov a seed at Wimbledon is in the cards. Slated to rise 14 places to 39 in the world, a final run next week on grass would probably see him in. Murray now gets Nishikori. He owns the head-to-head 8-2, but lost their last slam meeting, which was also at the quarterfinal stages. If Kei brings his "A"-game it could be close, but Murray currently looks inspired.
...Stan Wawrinka, Domi Thiem, Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic. None of them has dropped a set thus far. Not that either speaks a lot about them, or it reflects very poorly on the ATP tour. You would think, with the depth of quality around, the abundance of talent, and the physicality of the game today, one of these guys would have dropped a set so far. It is usual for one quarterfinalist to not have dropped a set. It is strange for four not to. And, speaking of anomalies, we have seven of the top eight seeds in the quarters. It happens more often than you might think. This nearly happened at the 2011 Australian Open. And, like back in 2011, the seed [or seeds, as it was six years ago] not to make it lost in the fourth round. Had Milos Raonic closed out his match we would have a perfect slate of quarterfinals. It was the same at the 2015 edition of Roland Garros. Had Tomas Berdych won his fourth round match...

Anyway, Gael Monfils was blunted out by a superb Wawrinka in a fantastic fourth round clash. The Swiss won 7-5, 7-6[7], 6-2. Six years after the last time, the third seeded Stan has played his friend again. And though it was not straightforward, he really broke the back of the match by winning that second set breaker. He broke five times to two and managed to win 62 per cent of his opponent's second serves, a huge amount. It has been controlled aggression throughout from Stan-the-Man and he could beat Rafa here. There is nobody else capable of it. This BACKSPINNER certainly believes that he is capable, and is probably the favourite, against Murray.

This one is for you Todd. We all know how much you like Gael.

[ED.NOTE: Ha! Although, I think that was more of an effort thing than a needless hot-dog sort of move. The clay, with the ability to slide, sort of levels out the needless riskiness of some of his moves on other surfaces. And, hey, I *did* speakingly admiringly of his hangtime on a smash on WTAB the other day. - tds]
...Nishikori lost the first 6-0 but won the last 6-0. How’s that for a turnaround? In two and a half hours he won 0-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0. It was a typical Verdasco performance - exciting and mystifying. This was not a good match, not a high-quality match. It was 62-89 on the winners to errors count. Kei was awful in the first and neither player was very impressive at all. The Japanese man got the win, yes, but it wasn’t very impressive. Had the Spaniard kept his head he would have won this quite easily. His forehand wing has found a new lease of life from somewhere. To win against Murray, Nishikori needs to improve his first serve percentage. He needs it to be above 53 per cent. The Scot will pick off his second serve in a way that Ferver just can’t. Ferver might be seeded at a slam again, and at Wimbledon. So watch out. But Kei has a daunting task now. He must go up against the world number one. This is his second quarter-final here at Roland Garros. Can he make the most of it this time? Last time Jo-W Tsonga bested him in five sets. This time it will be even harder.
...Cilic led 6-3, 3-0 when Kevin Anderson pulled the plug. No word yet on why, but it could be due to the ankle problem he has had. Marin Cilic must now face off against Stan Wawrinka. Good luck to him in that one. He will need it - Wawrinka leads the h-2-h 11-2 and has not lost to him since 2010. He has won their past seven matches. He has been to the semi-finals twice in a row and the Croat is making his first quarterfinal appearance. So the stage is set for a massive upset.

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Monday, June 05, 2017

French Open Day 8: Silence Please, Lesson in Progress

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

It is funny how things work, particularly in our sport. We expected the big names, the veterans, in the ladies to cruise through and the gentlemen to struggle. Instead we say goodbye to three former French Open finalists on the WTA side. And none of the big guns was troubled at all.

In Britain, the laws are archaic. For a time, a pregnant woman was allowed to pee in a policeman’s hat. That is no longer the case, but there are still plenty of strange rules. There is one street in London on which you can legally shepherd sheep, though only on Sundays. And the rules of succession to the crown are even more convoluted. The fact male heirs precede female has caused so many problems down the years. America might have been an entirely different country if a woman had been running England at the time.

Anyway, we must decide who will succeed Rafa as the King of Clay. Usually this crown, this office, is only held briefly. Bjorn Borg had it for a decade, though Guillermo Vilas did challenge him for it frequently, and Thomas Muster has waved that sceptre. Gustavo Kuerten, Guillermo Coria and even Sergi Bruguera have laid claim to that title. Did you know that the Spaniard never went beyond the fourth round at any other slam? And yet he was a three-time French Open finalist. How whacky is that?

Rafael Nadal has been the best clay courter in the world consistently for 12 years. But he will need a successor, will need someone he can trust to reign in his stead. Chung Hyeon’s time may come. But right now it is more likely to be Alexander Zverev or Dominic Thiem. Both of those two men are going to win an awful lot of clay court matches and titles. They should both win Roland Garros several times, too. Right now Nadal still holds the title of King, but he can sense the time of succession is soon. This could very well be Rafa’s final slam title. If he gets one more bad injury anywhere, that’s it.

This slam we have seen the difference between the two youngsters. Thiem is not fazed by anything, but Zverev could not handle the pressure of playing a talented opponent. He could not handle a bruising match straight off the bat. But the Austrian is a contender for player of the week. He had another great result on the second Sunday.

A sad note, before we start, to touch upon. In a match held on from the previous day, Richard Gasquet retired in the eighth game of the third set. He had a thigh injury. This BACKSPINNER honestly expects retirement to be forthcoming from the aged and broken veteran.

In other news, Kei Nishikori retained his number one in Asia ranking, by beating Chung 7-5, 6-4, 6-7[4], 0-6, 6-4. He won just four more points, and fewer games. But a win is a win. One youngster did make it through. Karen Khachanov beat Isner in exactly three hours, 7-6[1], 6-3, 6-7[5], 7-6[3]. Want to guess how many breaks there were in that one? Yep. One.

...It is so difficult to make back-to-back quarterfinals at a slam, especially if it is the first time you get that far. And ARV had a shot at the repeat, he really had a chance. Novak did not look that good, he looked there for the taking. The Spaniard led 4-2 in the first set. The opening set lasted 73 minutes and was not one for the aficionado. But the Serb, of course, clawed his way back and then led in the tiebreaker 4-0. But he lost 4 points in a row. A combined 41 errors in that first set and neither player looked that good. But once he had a set under his belt, Novak was able to turn it on. It is vitally, crucially, important to take the first set against the world number one. Once the Spaniard came up short, and by millimetres, the match was all over. Indeed, the last two sets only lasted an hour and a quarter, the Serb winning 7-6[5], 6-1, 6-3. Yes, the Spaniard came back in the third set, and played some wonderful shots, but he doesn’t have the weaponry. And you need to have it to beat the best. Next up for Djokovic is Thiem, and he has owned the Austrian so far. Why should this be any different?
...One hour and fifty minutes. 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Nadal has taken one of the tour's best and most consistent players, and ripped him a new one. Agut is a great returner, hits good balls and is tactically astute. He has never been able to handle playing the bug guys, however, and so Nadal on clay was always going to be impossible. It isn’t like he didn’t try, but his attack is rather toothless. He hit just 12 winners and lost his serve 12 times. He was brutally manhandled. There is no analysis, no way of spinning it to make it sound like it was alright. I’d love to tell you that Bautista Agut fought the good fight and he got more than five games, but The ATP tour is no fairytale world. And now Rafa has another Spaniard. He gets to play Pablo Carreno Busta. And that one is going to be over very quickly. Busta, a maiden slam quarterfinalist, is going to be in for a rude awakening. Players think they can prepare for Rafa, but they as may well be preparing for cheese rolling the amount of good it’ll do them.
...Thiem defeated the Argentinian 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 in one hour and 40 minutes. He has now conceded 30 games. For context, Nadal conceded 34 games in his 2010 run to the title through his first four matches. So Thiem has thus far surpassed the master. But now he has a real challenge. He is 0-5 against Novak Djokovic. In their last two clay court meetings he has been trounced, smacked about and made to look very silly. Beating Zeballos comfortably is a great result, yes, but that is unimportant. It is expected. Now comes the real test. If he loses here, with all the momentum, with a tired and patchy Djokovic down the other end, well, then it will start to become like the Sharapova/Serena dynamic. And, boy, can both of us tell you all about that. Todd has written several tomes on the matter. Thiem has to forget the head-to-head and he has to attack the Djokovic serve. He needs to also break down that forehand wing. The inside-out backhand into the Djokovic forehand is a play that could reap dividends. Regardless of the result, it should prove to be very watchable. Horacio Zeballos rises 20 places to world number 45. His career high is 39. If he doesn’t bust that wide open, then my name is Bob Dylan.
...We finish with an absolute barn-stormer, a classic for the ages. Pablo Carreno Busta has defeated Milos Raonic, the 5th seed, 4-6, 7-6[2], 6-7[6], 6-4, 8-6. It took over four and a quarter hours and it spanned an entire afternoon of play. 193 points to 189. 31 games to 29. 13 breaks of service. It was an amazing match. The Canadian’s winner ratio was 92-84. The Spaniard only hit 28 errors during the match, but only hit half [exactly half] of Raonic’s winners. This was offense versus defence. This was grind versus short points. And we have a maiden quarterfinalist at the end of it. The Spaniard will rise to a new career high of 17, after he rose four places. He also improves to 1-16 against the top ten, having lost all of them before now. This had everything - long rallies, bad misses and a lot of drama. Serving for it at 5-4, the Spaniard had three match points... and lost his serve. It took him another four games to finally, finally close it out. For Raonic this was a good result, in a way. He is now ready to defend all those Wimbledon points from last year. Busta gets Nadal. Well, it was nice while it lasted.

I shall leave you simply with this...

and this, too...

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Sunday, June 04, 2017

French Open Day 7: "I only wanted to see you underneath the Paris rain... [Paris rain, Paris rain]"

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

The top eight seeds are all, as play stands, still in. Seeds 15, 17, 19-21 and 24 are still around.

Let’s have some more predictions, shall we? Due to the rain, we are a match short. Karen Khachanov, predicted to rise five places to 48, could beat his previous best ranking of 42. He has taken the first set off John Isner 7-6[1]. This BACKSPINNER is going to call that a Russian victory, but in four sets. [ED.NOTE: ding-ding-ding-ding. - tds] The Russian may even show some emotion with that win.

[Ummm, well... he *does* at least seem to like bananas. Maybe.]

In the battle for rightful ruler of all Asia, the score is delicately poised at 5-7, 4-6, 7-6(4), 3-0, with Hyeon Chung in ascendancy. Tomorrow, Kei Nishikori will take a while to find his feet. Once he does he is going to win in five. [After dropping the 4th at love, he won in five.] The South Korean will come a cropper to the experience of the Asian number one.

And in the Gasquet/Monfils duel, it is Gael Monfils with the 6-5 advantage. But it is on serve and their head-to-head is only 7-6 in the favour of Monfils. This will be a four set Monfils win. Neither are in great form, or are fully healthy. But can Gasquet hit through the wall that is Gael? [It ended with a 3rd set retirement. But -- shocker - it wasn't from Monfils, but Gasquet!]

...The Argentine led in the first set with a break, but once it started to go it went very quickly. Delpo’s first appearance here in five years was ended in three hours by the Scot, 7-6[8], 7-5, 6-0. In it Muzza had to dig extremely deep, and come up with magic from nowhere to take it. He held four set points in the first set but could not close it out. After that it just got tougher and tougher. Murray was lucky to get away with the first set but, once he did, he didn’t really look back.

Del Potro took the loss of the first set very hard indeed. But he can use this experience. Last year he made the third round of Wimbledon, beating Stan Wawrinka in the process. The time before that he made the semi-finals. Good things happen to the giant on the grass. Murray has played his best match of the year and it isn’t even close. His winner ratio of 44-28 was extraordinary. And breaking the big server six times? Superb. He has rounded into form and now plays Khachanov or, maybe, John Isner.
...Well, you must simply tip your hat to the brilliance of Marin Cilic. He has been dismal the whole year.

He has barely been able to string match wins together, let alone make a run anywhere. But here he is at his worst slam and, somehow, he is looking superb. He beat Lopez, playing in his millionth straight RG, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3. It only lasted an hour and a quarter. Cilic broke six times, won 74% of second serve return points, and made a very talented player look like an amateur. His forehand is now in gear, and if he can replicate this at Wimbledon, he should do very well. He must now face Kevin Anderson. It would be the most Cilic thing ever if he were to somehow lose that match. Both men have a golden chance to make a deep run here in Paris. It is a golden gift they have been handed, but the winner does have to play Wawrinka.
...Fabio Fognini served for the first set at 5-4. He had played well, had kept the Stanimal at bay, and might have been on course for an upset. Fabio didn’t even get a set point before he was broken. He got three set point chances at 6-5 but was broken then, too. After that he won two more games. His spirit was broken. He didn’t even misbehave. He was very limp as he lost 7-6[2], 6-0, 6-2. It didn’t even last two hours. And if there is anyone in the draw who could best Nadal it is Wawrinka. He is looking very good right now. His next opponent will have played three days in a row. He knew both of his potential opponents (Monfils/Gasquet) quite well. I just don’t see how he can lose. And then in the quarters he gets to face off against Cilic or Anderson. He hasn’t dropped a set. He may not drop one on the way to his third semi-final in a row here.
...The run continues. The match-up between Africa’s number one and Britain’s Kyle Edmund had massive repercussions attached to it. Earlier in the tournament the Kevin had beaten Malek Jaziri. So, regardless of the rankings, he is right now the best player on his continent. Should the big server win it he would be in with a chance of taking a seed at Wimbledon and his comeback would be almost complete. But if the Brit won he would be able to make his second fourth round appearance at a slam in the last three. And he, too, would have had a shot at that elusive grand slam seed. The stakes were high for the boys from Johannesburg. In two hours and 58 minutes, Anderson came back from two sets to one down to win, 6-7[8], 7-6[4], 5-7, 6-1, 6-4. He blasted 65 winners and broke three times to Edmund’s once. The key was on second serve returns. Anderson managed to win 63 per cent of his, but Edmund could only win 55 per cent. Both those numbers are great, but in matches like this it is that eight per cent which can turn things. There is a fallacy that big servers struggle on clay. Some do. But if they are intelligent big-servers, like Kevin, they do just fine. They use angles, kick and slice. All of those things are quite unpleasant on the dirt. And Kevin has a wonderful forehand. It makes a great second shot. If he can beat Cilic, the 11 time ATP finalist would have a new lease on life. Cilic leads the head-to-head 5-1, but it is only 1-1 on clay. If the South African lost that he would still be seeded at Wimbledon if he won or had a good result on the grass swing. A quarterfinal at Queens would do it.
...If the Spaniard can ever get all his game working he is very deadly. The conqueror of Alex Zverev took out another seed. The 22nd, from Uruguay, was dispatched in an hour and a half. Just 93 minutes to utterly wreck another player. And at a slam no less. Ferver saw off his opponent 6-2, 6-1, 6-3. He broke eight times to his opponent’s two and hit 31 winners to ten. He is one of a number who are rising, who are finding form at this year’s Roland Garros. That forehand is one of the biggest weapons we have in our sport today. And, apart from Nadal, nobody is immune to it. He has knocked out two seeds personally. With Nishikori in a long battle and Nadal miles away in the draw he could get to the semi-finals. Even if Muzza has looked good recently that forehand is still going to be a concern for him.

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Saturday, June 03, 2017

French Open Day 6: A Tale of Two Cities

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

In Dasha news, the Australian has gone through in the doubles with partner A-Pavs after Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Andrea Petkovic retired after winning the first set 6-2. Nowhere can this BACKSPINNER find the reason behind the retirement, not even on the German's twitter. Any idea Todd? [Ed.Note: MLB came in with some sort of injury after retiring vs. Sharapova in Rome, and it was her this time, as well. Not sure what it is, though.]

Perhaps more by luck than actual brilliance, the two have found themselves in the third round. They are almost certain to face Ash Barty and Casey Dellacqua next, in what would be a very Australian feeling clash.

In the men's doubles we have the 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 16th seeds left. On Day 6, the 4th seeds Melo/Kubot lost in three. The Bryans [3] lost in straight sets.

But wait because it gets better. The last two seeds left in the bottom half play each other. In the third round. 5th seeds Murray/Soares play 9th seeded Cuevas/Bopanna. On Day 7, 7th seeded Granollers/Dodig face off against the 11th Rojer/Tecau. By the middle Sunday we could have two seeds left. That's mind-blowing.

When it comes to mixed doubles, Todd and I have a sort of loose agreement. He handles most of it and sometimes my two cents gets added in. Now how is it that the defending champions are not seeded, as well as the only other defending slam champions? How is it that two of the few pairs of actual champions do not get rewarded with a seed? It is beyond ridiculous.

In fact, it goes beyond that. The scheduling, the wild cards, the seeding and the treatment of some of the players is ridiculous. The slam, so far from an organization point of view, gets an F-. And it is not any lower because Svetlana Kuznetsova is still in the draw. But she had better be on Chatrier at some point. The drama, the quality, the big names, those have all been really good. The slam is doing well in spite of itself. It needs to improve next year. This FFT guy has been put on the BACKSPIN wall of shame. The wall goes in increments. The further to the right, the more shame. So Guenter Parche goes at one end. Pam Shriver is quite far along, too.

An oldie but still a goodie:

Bernard Giudicelli has been placed upon the wall in a mutual BACKSPIN decision. He'll start on the left, but we're keeping an eye on him. Interestingly, the 'hand incident' from 2003 also features on the wall. It's quite a long wall and every so often Todd and I meet in the rhombus room to discuss it further. I still insist the original Dementieva serve be placed there, alongside the 2007 U.S. Open semi-final between Sveta and Chakvetadze. But I digress...

It was a tale of two cities today. Rafael Nadal made a very good opponent look like, well, me. And Novak Djokovic looked a shadow of his former self. He complained to the line judge, and to the umpire, and he looked brittle. He and Murray both look like even the quarterfinals are a bridge too far. This is not a slam, this is a coronation. And not to jinx it, but if Nadal were to pose in his champions photo next to a former women's singles finalist, who's home country hosts another slam, well, this BACKSPINNER wouldn't be surprised.

...It took Nikoloz Basilashvili 37 minutes to hit his first winner. He would go on to hit four more, to record a 5-34 mark on the winners count. But the thing is he didn't play badly. Yes, Rafa beat him 6-0, 6-1, 6-0. But it did at least last 90 minutes. And he stuck to his game plan. He hit out at the Spaniard. He was aggressive and kept knocking on Rafa's door. Nadal ground him down with sheer defense. Nadal saw him off with dogged determination from the back of the court. The Georgian is a natural shotmaker but was powerless here. Nadal conceded just 36 points during the 'contest'. It is remarkable watching a Nadal match. No other player in history has ever demoralised people in the way he does so regularly. It is Roberto Bautista Agut up next. And that is a challenge. Or as close as we are likely to get.
...It took him over three and a quarter hours to get past the pocket-size Argentine. Novak Djokovic hit 55 unforced errors and was pretty woeful for most of the match, but he won 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1. The last two sets he really showed his class, he proved that he still has the guts and the fortitude that the world number one should have. But with 12 breaks and over 110 combined misses in the match, this was not one for the spectators. There is no silver lining, no positive in this for Djokovic. Except, possibly, the embrace at the end of the match. He just looks vulnerable, just looks weak. It also proves that the Denis Istomin loss in Melbourne was not a one off. Two years ago when he beat Rafael Nadal, who was the defending champion, in the quarterfinals in straight sets, Nadal looked done. His career looked to be in its death throes. Now it is the other way around. If Nole does somehow make the semi-final date with Rafa he is going to be embarrassed. The hiring of Andre Agassi smacks of desperation. The former world number one looks panicked, lifeless and there for the taking. His next opponent, Albert Ramos Vinolas would have beaten him today. The Spaniard is more than just a tricky customer, he could be the straw that breaks the world number two's back. Should Novak lose that and Rafa win the tournament he will drop out of the top two. When was the last time that happened?
...What a way to go out on the suicide. Just yesterday we were talking about injury, now this. David Goffin was serving for the first set at 5-4 when this happened.

It is another black mark on this French Open. A top ten player has been taken out of the tournament not by Dominic Thiem or another player, as he was seeded to do, but by a freak accident that could have been easily avoided. Zeballos goes through to the fourth round in his stead, and will face off against Thiem. For Goffin, the tragedy is that he might now lose his whole season. He has been denied by bad luck in his best slam. But how is he going to be able to fully compete at Wimbledon? There are no torn ligaments and none of the bones were broken. So the news is at least somewhat positive. But until further tests come through we really won't know any more.
...Despite the ranking difference, the home crowd and the form, Pouille was defeated in a five set war by improved player of the year candidate Ramos-Vinolas. The Frenchman's flashy shots, big serve and reckless power hit a brick wall. A brick wall in the shape of the Spanish number three. He is a place behind Busta according to the projected rankings. ARV won 6-2, 3-6, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1. He broke twice as many [8-4] times and won 43 per cent of his opponent's service points. The rallies were long and grueling and by the 5th set the Frenchie had run out of gas. Roland Garros is one of the hardest slams to win because of how physically fit you have to be. And Pouille just didn't have the legs in the end.
...Meet the new Spanish number two. Some very illustrious players have previously held that distinction. They include Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco. Oh, and David Ferrer. On paper this looks an upset. But, really, it isn't. The Spaniard is the better dirtballer and has more form right now. It would have been one of Dimitrov's better moments had he managed to beat the wily Spaniard. Busta got better as the match wore on, winning it 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. He hit 28 winners in the two hour, twenty minute match and was just metronomic, in true Tommy Robredo fashion. Dimitrov could not break down the wall, or find a way to think his way out of the bind. But can Busta apply that same tactic to Milos Raonic? Can he pile the pressure onto the top ten stalwart? With all the injuries and loss of form that the Canadian has suffered, the odds look good. It feels like the upset is on. Unless Thiem has something to say about it, we are headed for an all-Spanish clash in the semi-finals in the bottom half.
...On a backcourt, promising young gun Jiri Vesely was taken to the woodshed. And we all know what happens there. You get a spanking. In two hours he taught the youngster what 'clay-court specialist' really means. He broke six times on the way to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory. He was 21-20 in the winners department, while his opponent sprayed 40 errors. Agut can always be counted on to 'consistent' his way to the fourth round of a slam. He is like the plot of an action film. No thrills, just a get the job done attitude. He plays Nadal next and, sadly for him, he does not have anywhere near the weaponry to defeat the soon to be ten time champion. But he will get at least 10 games against Nadal. How's that for a bold prediction? Meanwhile, for Vesely, this tournament has been a big positive. Two wins on his worst surface. He will be on the cusp of the top 50 going into his best slam. The French Open has got him into the right place to make a run in London.

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Friday, June 02, 2017

French Open Day 5: The Stanish Inquisition

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

The seeds still just keep tumbling in the men's doubles. Seeds 3-5, 7, 9, 11 and 16 are all that remain. We haven't even finished the second round there. It is a disaster. It also means that Marcelo Melo can retake the number one ranking.

But put that aside because we have our moment of the championship. It has been an emotional one. We have had the Petra Kvitova story, which almost had me in tears. The hug she shared with her American conqueror tugged at the heart-strings. To watch Bethanie Mattek-Sands throw aside her racket to give Kvitova a big, really big, hug...

Well, it makes one want to well up. This is the best defence against Margaret Court's vitriol. It is pure love and the very best our sport has to offer. Our sport is riddled with good sportsmanship, Ivan Lendl and Martina Hingis aside.

We all remember this:

Yes, we've been in headlines for not so good reasons over the years, but on the whole there is a respect and admiration in the sport between the players that few other sports have. In modern times Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Grigor Dimitrov and JMDP have all been some of the best. Not for nothing is the Argentine called the gentle giant.

On Day 5 he played Nico Almagro. We all know how hard he has worked to get back. We all know the difficulties he has faced with the injuries, the grinding on clay. With the score split at 6-3, 3-6, 1-1, Almagro went down and hurt his leg.

He had to retire and Delpo comforted him. And if you have a friend who is good enough to have held you while you cried you will know why what the Argentine did is so special. Because comforting your opponent at their lowest low, when you know exactly what they are going through, is a beautiful, special thing.

Here's the video:

And it is reminiscent of this:


Today we celebrate tennis. We celebrate how beautiful our sport is. And how injury, at the end of it all, is the ultimate enemy. It has claimed the careers of Del Potro, Robin Soderling, Pat Cash, Mary Pierce, Monica Seles and so many others. If, as it looks, that is the last time we see the Spaniard on court, it will be a sad end to a remarkable career. We can only hope he has another title run in him.

The mood may be heavy, but we still have matches to talk about...

MS 1st Rd: Lopez d. [q] Fratangelo {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Albert Ramos Vinolas d. Benjamin Bonzi {W}
MS 3rd Rd: David Goffin d. Horacio Zeballos {L}
WS 1st Rd: Jankovic d. Hogenkamp {L}

...The Stanish inquisition kept on rolling. Seriously, when do you ever see him coming? The press never talk about him. You don't. For Goolagong's sake, not even I talk about Wawrinka. The guy who has won three [THREE] slams. The guy who makes semi-finals consistently. The Swiss number one. It's like when a pickpocket takes your wallet. You don't notice until it's too late. How many times have you been watching a slam semi with Wawrinka and not have any clue how he got there? He played Alex Dolgopolov and was in total control throughout. He won 6-4, 7-6[5], 7-5. It took just two and a half hours to get rid of the most dangerous floater in the draw. And you wonder how he did that. He only won 14 more points - he hit 16 aces to Dolgopolov's six. If he hadn't had such a good serving day they would have won an almost identical amount of points. It's about playing and winning the right points. There may not be a better slam player right now. Now you can watch him make me look stupid - he plays Fabio Fognini next.
...Yes, Gael Monfils won 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 but it was still a match. Thiago Monteiro threw the kitchen sink, several cupboards, a sack of flour, Donna Reed and Gordon Ramsay at La Monf! Sadly it was all in vain, all for nought. He hit just 14 winners. And that was all down to the solid defense of Monfils. His bend-don't-break philosophy, yes that does work on two levels, frustrated his opponent into submission. By the time set three rolled around his opponent had had enough. Gael goes through in 91 minutes. It is typical Monfils to turn up to a slam with no form and several previous injuries and then go on a run. Can Gasquet pose more of a problem in the third round?
....More weird scheduling. The world number one playing a flashy player is a draw card. And Martin Klizan actually turned up. He played superb tennis. Muzza won in the end, 6-7[3], 6-2, 6-2, 7-6[3]. In that first set, Klizan came out all guns blazing, and knocked Murray for six. He got an early break but could not close out the set when he served for it at 5-4. He clung on and won in the breaker, hitting 20 winners and 20 errors during the set. But Muzza slowly took control and broke early in the next set, with a couple of fortunate shots, including one shank that turned into a ludicrously short angle. Once he won the second, Klizan threw both sets to reserve energy for the 4th . And he nearly had the Scot in the fourth, but he couldn't quite get over the hump. So our world number one scraped through in three and a half hours. Had he gone five he would have won the tournament. As it stands, it is looking shaky. He plays Del Potro next. That's got classic written all over it. Can Murray improve his shaky form?
...They used to say that Steffi Graf played like she was double parked. Well, Ritchie Gasquet didn't hang around as he dispatched the Dominican 6-1, 6-0, 6-4. It took him an hour and forty minutes, but he is looking good, peaking at the right time. He broke six times and won 70 per cent of his opponent's second serves. Quito is the one tournament that Burgos always wins. This may be the same surface, but it is 5811.88 miles away from Burgos' favourite capital. Richard Gasquet is playing top ten tennis and his clash with compatriot Gael Monfils is a must-watch. Neither came in with any kind of expectations, but it seems like that match is destined to go five. And they must know each other's games by now.
...When Nick Kyrgios' mind goes, it doesn't just go a little bit. It completely shatters. That is the sole reason Kevin Anderson won 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. We have been here before and discussed it. Here is the video.

The South African will rise 11 places to 45. With a solid result at Wimbledon he could be seed in New York. Next up, he plays Kyle Edmund. He should win that. So opportunity beckons. Honestly, though, this BACKSPINNER is so sick of talking about matches where Kyrgios misbehaves. You know who was good for the tour - Andy Roddick. Man, BACKSPIN misses that guy. He wasn't around quite long enough for him to become a BACKSPIN favourite, but he really made the tour a more positive place. He and Lleyton Hewitt played the role of elder statesman so well. He was just a funny guy who made things more light-hearted without being a total idiot. In a similar way to how TODD INSERT WTA PLAYER HERE [Hmmm, JJ, maybe? Though some may disagree. Vinci?] did. Anyway, Kyrgios is a synonym for a mule and Anderson is playing for his career in the next round.
...BACKSPIN has been proved correct. Karen Khachenov is going to be an essential piece, a keystone, of the future. On a sadder note, Berdman's career is deep into its twilight. The Russian was too good everywhere for the 2010 semi-finalist. The Czech looked tired while the youthful Russian was invigorated. It only took him just over two hours to dispatch Berdych 7-5, 6-4, 6-4. 51 winners to 27 and three breaks. He never faced a single break point himself. The only area he needs to work on is his first serve. If you only get 47 per cent in against Murray or Djokovic, you will be toast. The Russian now plays John Isner. It is a huge opportunity for him. If he gets to the fourth round the top 40 would beckon. For a 21 year old, that is an impressive ranking.

If I may just leave you with this:

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Thursday, June 01, 2017

French Open Day 4: A Good Day

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

The seeds just keep tumbling in the men's draw. Herbert/Mahut lost to Nick Kyrgios and Jordan Thompson 7-6[8], 4-6, 6-3. Abigail Spears and Juan Sebastian Cabal just won the Australian Open mixed. They didn't lose a set. Did they get a seed here? No. They landed the top seeded Peers/Y.Chan and beat them 6-4, 6-2. The mixed doubles seeding system needs a revamp.

And we have big news in Dasha Gavrilova's corner of the world. She and A-Pavs beat out 4th seeded Sania Mirza and Yaroslava Shvedova. They won 7-6[5], 1-6, 6-2. It is a remarkable victory against a great team. [Ed.note: individually, yes... but together they've gone 2-4 this spring, and have lost three straight. I'm just sayin'. - tds]

The day started with a lot of raw emotion. Renzo Olivo had already served for the match the evening before, against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. But he couldn't get over the line and, for no good reason, the umpire called the match in with the Frenchman on the brink. Tsonga comes out to serve down 4-5. And he makes three errors. Down 0-40, he strings together three immaculate points, all a combination of defense and offense. He saves them all, the last one with a swashbuckling smash. At deuce, he makes it four points in a row. But on game point Olivo stops the point...and the ball is out. Another Tsonga error. And then a spectacular match point is concluded with a flurry of blows which eventually see one last Olivo winner decide the match.

When a day starts like that you know it's going to be good.

Then we had the Stevie Johnson match. On match point, against Borna Coric he missed a volley and hit the ball in mild frustration. Totally innocent, nothing aggressive or malicious about it. But this is Roland Garros and a very poor piece of umpiring saw him docked a point. Eventually he got into a fourth set breaker. And, after saving several set points, he finally won it on a big forehand.

Whereupon he burst into tears at the net, as he mourned the death of his father. While he was having a Pete Sampras movement, Coric was smashing rackets and water bottles all over the place. It was the most incredible match.

And that isn't all. More seeds tumbled. There was more drama. Let's see what else happened. How did the big names fare?

Match to look forward to tomorrow: Andy Murray versus Martin Klizan. Klizan has already had a handshake incident, in the first round.

And I'm just going to leave this here. I agree with Martina.

MS 1st Rd: Lopez d. [q] Fratangelo {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Albert Ramos Vinolas d. Benjamin Bonzi {W}
MS 3rd Rd:
WS 1st Rd: Jankovic d. Hogenkamp {L}

...Rafa beat Haase 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. It wasn't even that close. Throughout the whole match the Netherlands star decided to sit back and refuse to be aggressive. This tactic never works against Nadal, not on any surface. And on clay? Well, then you're just asking for trouble. He gave Nadal an opportunity to dominate, to take control of the match. And Rafa was only too happy to do so. The tactics were all wrong and it crumbled from there on out. His forehand was effective but he was never able to use it consistently and effectively. He never even got to see a break point. But Nadal did break him five times. Impressive, no? Nadal hit 33 winners in the hour and 49 minute contest, and looked nigh on unstoppable. If he and Novak Djokovic do meet in the semi-final that could, and should, be the match of the year. Nadal is looking ominously good. It won't be long before he and a certain Russia lady are posing together. [Ed.note: watch it, now, you don't want to invoke The Curse.]
...Sousa had lost six matches in a row before Roland Garros. Another fun fact is that Andre Agassi's middle name is Kirk. Oh, and Ivo Karlovic's dad is a weatherman. Well, in today's whine and moan about the schedule, why was one defending champion on Chatrier, but not the other? The defending champions should both be on the top court. Every time. Especially if they're a top four seed. Anyway, this looked tougher on paper than it ever turned out to be, though it wasn't for want of trying. The Portuguese man pushed it over two hours, but apart from that it was a whitewash. The 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 scoreline is honestly generous. Nole was broken. He hit 24 errors and he won only 49 per cent of his second serve. Those are three areas upon which he can improve.
...Credit has to go to the Italian here. Despite losing in two and a half hours 7-5, 6-1, 6-3, he played hard the whole time. He led by a break in the first. He didn't even go away in the third set. No, Simone Bolelli hung on for as long as possible, denying Thiem the break for as long as he could. But the Austrian would not be denied and sealed it with an ace, called good on an overrule. It was not challenged by the Italian. He'd had enough. If you'd lost the winners battle by 42-18, well, you would probably give up, too. The rallies were good in this match, with Bolelli's forehand an absolute weapon. But the Austrian has about a thousand weapons. And he just rolled them out. The Italian doesn't have those upper gears. Thiem moves on to play his first seed, number 25 Stevie Johnson. The American is good enough to take a set but Domi Thiem is looking imperious right now, having dropped just 15 games in two matches.
...You're correct, the courts are in a funny order today. Well, blame the French. It's always worth checking in with David Goffin. Well, the Belgian has defeated Serg Stakhovsky 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Two and a half hours. Four breaks to one. It was really very straightforward. Goffin is as dependable as a pendulum. But Domi Thiem has to be on his mind, at least a little bit.
...It was a tight first set, but once that was over so was the match. Pouille uppsed his game and won going away 7-6[5], 6-1, 6-2. In the two hour contest there were a remarkable 15 double faults. It was the kind of match the crowd could really get into, with a Frenchman playing and the array of fabulous shot-making that both of them can produce. And you know why that match is down here? Because it deserves to be. Dominika Cibulkova, who has never been to a final here, was on a show court. These guys were on Chatrier. But former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, with the best set of weapons in the whole draw, who has been to seven quarterfinals here and won it before, and who was playing a Frenchwoman was relegated to the bottom slot of court one. The whole Roland Garros scheduling matrix is totally whacko. Anyway, Bellucci, much like in his career, faded badly down the stretch here. He showed so much promise in his younger days, but that's all gone now. You just can't hit 39 errors in three sets. The Frenchie now plays Albert Ramos-Vinolas. That has five written all over it and the Frenchman may not be the favourite.
...The Spaniard just keeps on going at slams. Never noticed, never appreciated, but always there. The Spaniard managed to bore another victim to death yesterday. He ground out the Kazakhstani in just short of three hours, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6[3]. The 17th seed is really a top 12 guy. He has regressed a tad this year, but you can still expect good things from him this slam. The win over a tricky opponent is more evidence that he is ready to make a splash at the slam. His third round clash with Jiri Vesely will be one to watch. And the winner gets Rafa. That is some prize.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

French Open Days 2-3: Down Goes Zverev!

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

First things first. Kissing anyone when they don't want it is only acceptable in bedroom situations agreed upon by both parties beforehand. Apart from that, just try to avoid it. Tennis needs to quit it with these headlines now. First Margaret Court, who Andy Murray ironically criticised, and now this. Even the French are pretty shocked.

In the men's doubles the top seeds, Henri Kontinen and John Peers lost to David Marrero and Tommy Robredo 7-6[3], 6-3. In that same quarter, Julio Peralta and Horacio Zeballos beat the defending champions, the Lopez's, 6-2, 6-3. There are going to be more shocks along the way. Men's doubles used to be fairly consistent. Even ten years ago it was fairly reliable. Now it is a mess. The talent is there, the personalities are there and so are the storylines. But a lack of raw star power, popularity in general, and lack of consistency is causing problems.

Mixed doubles is one of my favourite 'sports' in the world and it too does not get the attention it deserves. Tennis really needs to sell doubles better. But it is difficult when the stars crash out in the first round.

In other news, Nick Kyrgios survived his many injuries and looked good in his straight sets win over Philipp Kohlschreiber. He fired 20 aces in the 6-3, 7-6[3], 6-3 win. Tomas Berdych and Gael Monfils also went through.

And a BACKSPIN favourite did, as well. Hyeon Chung caused an 'upset' by beating Sam Querrey, seeded 27th, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. He broke the American six times and won in two and a quarter hours. With an ailing Kei Nishikori in his section and some other big upsets in round one, the quarterfinals could beckon for the South Korean. If he can keep it together physically and mentally.

Well, let's see what else happened. How did the big names fare?...

MS 1st Rd: Lopez d. [q] Fratangelo {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Ramos Vinolas d. Benjamin Bonzi
WS 1st Rd: Jankovic d. Hogenkamp {L}

...There it is. The big upset. The German has learned a tough lesson. Sometimes you just get a landmine early in a slam. He played well. He had a decent match. Perhaps the interruption, the break in play, affected him more than was immediately apparent. Maybe Verdasco was too good. The Spaniard's forehand was particularly venomous. In a way, Alex Zverev didn't really see it coming. He went down 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in ten minutes under three hours. No aces for Ferver in the match, which is extraordinary. He also won just 60 per cent of his first serve points. Combined the pair of them were 50-99 on the winners count. Ouch. It had a lot of good rallies, with both peppering the baseline. Zverev's positioning was all over the place for much of it. Had he just taken three steps forward he might have gotten past him. So one of my picks is a bust. Easy come, easy go. The win gives the Spaniard a path through to the quarters, maybe even further. He plays P-H Herbert next. But with Nishikori and Murray the biggest seeds in his quarter a semi-final is on the cards. If he can maintain his current level.
...Sometimes matches look on paper as if they will be closer than they really are. This was one of them. Marcel Granollers could not muster much resistance, though he did drag it out to two and a half hours. In the end, Novak was too strong in a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 rout. No it wasn't perfect. It was a bit rusty. The winners ratio was only 30-29. Nole struggled to find his feet, but being the defending champ seemed to give him a real boost. But the best players always find a way to win. They just know how. Nole moves on, while Granollers goes onto the men's
...The world number one has had better days. Andrey Kuznetsov has improved massively. He had a very good under the radar year in 2016. He is a tricky player who can nick nets off even the very best. But Muzza didn't look good at all in the 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 win. He lost his serve four times and hit only 29 winners during the four set match. He relied on his defence, which his opponent was unable to break through. Considering the second set was a bit of a blip, the Scot actually had a very good match. He has other challenges coming up, like Klizan and the 2009 U.S. Open Champion. That third round match has to happen. It has classic potential. Fueled, of course, by the testy relationship and how much is on the line. The Russian had an unfortunate draw. He can now look to Wimbledon.
...Roland Garros does not like Rafael Nadal. The crowd boo him. The organisers have always tried to mess with him. For his first round clash, with FRENCHMAN Benoit Paire, the NINE TIME CHAMPION was put on Suzanne Lenglen. What a rubbish decision. What a terrible, stupid, decision. The same guy who refused Maria Sharapova a wild card no doubt had a hand in this. With all of Paire's prodigious skill and Frenchness... and you put this on the second court. Boo hiss! Anyway, Rafa didn't even need two hours to win 6-1, 6-4, 6-1. Nadal didn't even play out of skin, hitting 18 errors and losing serve twice, but if that match is Rafa not quite at his best, well, it's going to be easy work for Rafa coming up. Paire tried his best to play spoiler.
..At his third best slam, the Swiss man kicked off his camapign with a very straightforward 6-2, 7-6[6], 6-3 win. His opponent, playing with nothing to lose, threw the kitchen sink at our third seed, but it was in vain. The former champion, and slam guru, knew how to handle the situtation though. He went 38-33 on the winners to errors ratio. He battened down the hatches and when he won a very tight second set the match was all over. Stan, resplendent in an eyecatching blue shirt, was able to see off the almighty ponytail. His next two opponents are going to be Alex Dolgopolov and then Andreas Seppi or Fabio Fognini. So it's about to get a lot harder. That Dolgopolov clash has to be on Chatrier.
...Faced with a tough first round, Kei Nishikori responded well. You get the feeling he's always on borrowed time at a slam because he can't keep healthy. If he can actually get onto the court and playing, he is very effective. He showed it in round one against Kokkinakis, winning 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4. Koko went 41-41 on the winners count and showed off his immense talent. If his recent results and play are anything to go by, his comeback could yield some very juice fruit. Kei Nishikori looks good and, if he can keep his body from breaking, could go very far here. If he can survive Jeremy Chardy in round two he will face Hyeon Chung for the first time. The winner will be the king of Asia.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Wk.21- The Lost Week is Found

Hey, all. Galileo here.

We're going to have a lightning run through the past week, a half-pint really, and see what happened on the continent.

Tennis is in an interesting place right now. Of the top four players, in only one of them does anyone have any kind of faith. The best player in the world right now played Pete Sampras before he won his last major.

And Margaret Court has stepped in it again. A product of her time and of devoutness, while her comments are not welcome in our sport, she is not evil. She has said unfortunate things. She has attacked Casey Dellacqua and many others. She has caused upset. This BACKSPINNER, for one, supports the boycott, like Sam Stosur, but whether Todd feels the same is up to him. [Ed.Note: hmmm, I support the notion, but whether it can be pulled off within the bounds of a slam schedule might be tricky. It would have to take a unified effort before the event with the players themselves, and possibly cooperation with Tennis Australia regarding the schedule, too. And we've seen over the past year how well players and organizations support each other in the sport... not all that well most of the time. The 2018 AO is a long way off, and I wouldn't be surprised if, by then, some sort of protest might take on a more subtle form, much like Laura Robson's rainbow headband when she played on MCA in 2012. - tds]

We condemn her actions. And we're moving on.

The one problem with the Sunday start at Roland Garros is that it is hard to focus on the week before. It is kind of left behind. We had some great action and a title defense. But it feels so long ago because a new and exciting slam has started. We had tournaments in France and Switzerland. Yes it is usually folly to play the week before a slam, but if you can get momentum, get some match wins under your belt, suddenly it seems smart. Stan Wawrinka decided to defend the title he won last year in his home country.

Before we do talk about the exciting developments in Switzerland, here is a little gem from Paris:

Let's read on and find out more about Geneva amongst other things...

S: Stan Wawrinka def. Mischa Zverev 4-6/6-3/6-3
D: Rojer/Tecau d. Cabal/Farah

S: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga def. Tomas Berdych 7-6(2)/7-5
D: Molteni/Shamasdin d. Daniell/Demoliner

...In the inaugural Lyon tournament, the top seeded Frenchman has triumphed. Yes, this tournament has replaced the one in Nice. Jo-W opened his campaign against wily veteran Carlos Berlocq. Never an easy customer to deal with, the Argentine made life difficult early on. Jo's level rose throughout the match, eventually winning going away 6-7[2], 6-2, 6-3. He blew up talented Russian Karen Khachanov next, winning that one 6-0, 6-4. Nikoloz Basilashvili couldn't live with Tsonga for three sets, and went down 2-6, 6-3, 1-6. But he bounced back in fine style this week and ousted Gilles Simon in the first round of the French Open. Tsonga, helped by 14 aces, rolled through to the next round. In his first ever clay court final, he was fantastic. He manhandled Tomas Berdych in a 7-6[5], 7-5 win. Tsonga has won two of their three meetings this year, though the Czech leads the head-to-head 8-5. It was a third win from three finals this year for the joyous native. Serving at 4-5 and 15-40, it looked like the Frenchie was in trouble. But he won four points in a row and slowly took control of the set. A 4-0 lead in the breaker proved unassailable. In the second set, it was serve that ruled the roost. Finally, in the 12th game, Berdie's serve faltered. He double-faulted on match point to hand the match away. Can you believe it? What a wimpy whisper to go out on.

So, two extraordinary stats: 42 of 46 service games held from Tsonga and, at age 32, a maiden final and victory in a final played on the dirt. Can he carry that momentum into a slam where he has made the semis before?
...Wawrinka is the ATP's biggest quandary. He is unplayable at his very best but he can never seem to get there. Every year he makes two slam semi-finals, wins three titles and has a handful of shocking losses. It always feels like he has had a bum year, but what he has actually done is build a Hall-of-Fame worthy career. Nikolay Davydenko. David Nalbandian. Juan Martin Del Potro. Lleyton Hewitt. Andy Roddick. Ivan Ljubicic. All these players failed to consistently break open the top four. Only one of them ever won a slam during the height of the quad-opoly's empire. They were all top four mainstays and they all had victories along the way. But the manner in which Wawrinka has been able to dispatch them at slams and other big events is mind-blowing. He is 3-0 in slam finals. Three different arenas. He has never lost more than a set in a final. His four set come from behind victory against Djokovic two years ago in Roland Garros is one of the most extraordinary matches of the century so far. He was a huge underdog. Djokovic was going for the grand slam. And the Swiss took him apart, shot by shot, point by point, game by game. And Djokovic played well. He played a good match. It is important to remind our selves of what he can do, seeing as we are on the cusp of a slam. In true Wawrinka style, it did not all go to plan the week before. Defending his title in Geneva, he won his first match via retirement, Rogerio Dutra Silva pulling out down 5-2. He came back to beat Querrey 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the quarters. He beat Andrey Kuznetsov 6-3, 7-6[4] to make his second final of the year. In the finals he got the better of qualifier Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. He is now 12-2 in his last 14 tour finals. …..
...I get it. You're thinking, "Who?" Well, the whole point of this award is to bring to your attention those who you might not otherwise notice. At last week's Venice challenger he won one of the bigest titles of his career. With the win he has risen to 176 in the world, a career high. He is 23 and has absolutely bizarre strokes. No, really. He nearly beat Kevin Anderson earlier in the year.

Look at the backhand in particular. Whether or not being that unorthodox will actually help is yet to be seen. But he is an interesting prospect and could be very effective on clay. During his run in Venice he beat Matteo Viola and fellow up-and-comer Blake Mott.
...One of the ATP's more low-key comebacks, the South African has carved out a very solid career. The former world number ten made another quarterfinal in Geneva this past week. He beat Lorenzi in the first round 7-5, 7-6[1]. He recovered from losing a lengthy tiebreaker to beat Jared Donaldson in the next round, 6-3, 6-7[7], 6-2. He even had three match points against second seed Nishikori, but lost 6-2, 4-6, 6-7[7]. It was another encouraging week for the now world number 56. His most successful slams have been the two in the back-half of the year, so he is rounding into form at the right time.
...A great run from Nikoloz here. He beat Borna Coric 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. He knocked off Seppi 6-4, 6-4. He brushed aside qualifier Nicolas Kicker 6-3, 6-1. His run was finally ended by Tsonga, but a quarterfinal run, especially against opposition of that calibre, is impressive nonetheless.
...A quarterfinal result as the top seed is always a little disappointing. Why was Raonic, with his history of injuries, playing at all? The French Open was beckoning. He had some good results under his belt already. He was looking alright and had a great seed. It was pointless. Poor decision, poor result. If he loses in Paris he can only blame himself.
...It is harder to tell which of the ATP's German brothers has inspired the other more. Certainly Alex's rise to the top has helped his older brother. His slow ascension to the pinnacle of the tennis world is a great story that should be admired by all. And it is clearly being taken to heart by journeyman Mischa Zverev. His quarterfinal run has shown us the art of volleying is not dead, not yet. After qualifying, where he was the top seed, he beat Haase 5-7, 7-6[6], 6-3 in the first round. Having been a point away from losing he beat 4th seeded John Isner 6-4, 6-7[5], 6-3. Then he beat Stevie Johnson 6-4, 7-5. He was rolling and his momentum was enough to take him past 2nd seed Nishikori 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. It's an astonishing result to make the final when you play four of the top five seeds at an event.

Big news from the world of Daria Gavrilova. She entered the singles in Strasbourg as the 7th seed. She defeated Louisa Chirico 6-2, 6-3 in the opening round. She edged past Elizaveta Kulichkova 6-3, 6-7[4], 6-4. In the quarterfinals she struggled past Ash Barty, winning 6-4, 6-7[3], 7-6[5]. In the semi, she was spectacular and gave Caroline Garcia a memorable beat down. Everything fell for her on that day. Her drop shots were accurate, her movement good and the ground game strong. With her run to the final she rose back to her highest ever ranking of 24. She even took the first set against compatriot Sam Stosur in the final. But Sam came back at her, coming through 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 to hold onto her top Aussie singles ranking for a 451st and 452nd week (Dasha would have overtaken her with a win). She had momentum going into Roland Garros...

But it didn't matter as she crashed out in the first round to Elise Mertens 7-6[4], 1-6, 6-4. She had a great opportunity to make a run, but that has all gone up in smoke.

She and A-Pavs open against fourth seeded Mirza/Shvedova in doubles. If they win that it will be a monumental upset. So stay tuned.

She is not scheduled to appear in any grass court tournaments the week after Roland Garros, though that may change.

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