Tuesday, June 05, 2018

French Open Day 9: Rafa's 900th Nirvana

Hi All. Galileo here.

It is with a sense of inevitability that Rafa Nadal reached 900 wins. Jimmy Connors leads with 1,256. Roger Federer is next with 1,149. Then it is Ivan Lendl on 1068. Guillermo Vilas has 929. Rafa is 5th all time.

This April Rafa registered his 400th win on clay. He now sits at 412. So that is about 45 per cent of his wins coming on clay. When he retires it will be over 50 per cent. Federer has 725 wins on hard court, which is well over 50 per cent. They are two sides of a coin, Rafa and Roger.
By the way, did you know that Roger has won 25 per cent of the tournaments he has entered? So if he goes into any tournament he has a one in four chance of winning it. It is probably one in two on grass.

Now Serena’s withdrawal was big news. She says it because of an injured pectoral muscle. The speed with which she has come back has been amazing, especially considering how close she is to 40. Rough births like the one she had can sometimes set a mother back from working in an office for years. Now imagine trying to do it in the most competitive environment you can. Men can’t get pregnant and there is no more competitive women’s sport in the world than tennis. It’s amazing. The other explanation you might hear is that she so badly does not want to lose to Maria Sharapova she opted to withdraw instead. Let’s just rain on this parade right now. That is rubbish. It simply is not true. She will be back and winning Wimbledon before you know it.

Now onto our epic doubles match. Herbert/Mahut had already gone onto the quarterfinals with a straight sets win. They beat Sock/Johnson 6-4, 6-3. On the other side of the draw the Spanish Lopez’s won an epic two hour, 21 minute three set contest. They won 6-4, 6-7[2], 7-6[3]. The Spaniards got up 6-4, 3-0 but crumbled, losing both their breaks. At 5-4, 40-30 in the third Kontinen/Peers had a chance to end it. But they lost their serves and a few minutes later the match. The Spanish pair won 105 points and their opponents just 104. The third seeds won 54 per cent of second serve return points while their opponents won 53 per cent. Break points taken in percentage- 44 for the Spaniards and 42 for the other team. The big difference, though, was that Kontinen/Peers only got 49 per cent of their first serves in. Their opponents got 71. Everything else was equal. If they had just been a shade more accurate they probably could have won.

CHATRIER: NADAL D. MARTERER
...Nadal took the first two sets against Maximilian Marter 6-3, 6-2. He broke four times to one. and hit 24 winners to 11. To the German’s credit the first set could be called competitive. He didn’t roll over and die. But forget those two sets because in the third the German made a go of it. Honestly, this has got to be the trickiest of Nadal’s winning Roland Garros without dropping a set runs so far. Two tiebreakers? Wow! Anyway, it was one break apiece. The German really went for it, his W/UE was 14-16, and played Rafa tough. But the Spaniard took out the tiebreaker 7-4. Now it gets hard. He will play Diego Schwartzman, Del Potro or Cilic and then Zverev, Djokovic or Thiem. He could drop a set yet. The German has had a lovely Cinderella run through to the fourth round. He had dropped just one set on his way to play Nadal and that in his upset win over Denis Shapovalov. He will go to 50 in the world, 17 spots higher than his previous best. He now has exactly 999 points. His 20 spot rise is tremendous and well deserved.

CHATRIER: CILIC D. FOGNINI
...Fabio Fognini could not produce the magic this time. Marin Cilic won 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 6-7[5], 6-3. Just when you think the Italian is going to go all the way to the semi-finals he crumbles. He is good enough to have done it too. He literally disappeared in the second set. The big problem is that the Italian went 38-68 on the W/UE mark. Cilc won the break battle 7 to 3. Cilic is no longer a joke waiting to be upset. He used to be a waste of top 16 seed. No longer. Much to this BACKSPINNER’s irritation he has turned himself into a real force on the tour. He is relevant everywhere. He can just contend anywhere. He could even take on Nadal and maybe get a set. His match with Del Potro is going to be a festival of thumping forehands and huge serves. Delpo's slice could be the deciding factor in that one. Fognini has had a good tournament but the way he went out was such classic Fognini that it’s irritating. He has such easy power and so much prowess on clay. He makes the tour better by being so irritating. But he needs to get the results to go along with his attitude. He keeps suffering from the same problems. How many times do we have to write the same thing about him? It’s like how Todd can just copy and paste everything he writes about Simona Halep from one slam to another. Fognini will never fix his problem and, honestly, this BACKSPINNER cannot see Halep holding a slam and the world number one position at the same time. Right now winning a slam is impossible for her.

LENGLEN: DEL POTRO D. ISNER
...John Isner has lost just one set. He has hit 95 aces, 20 more than his nearest competition, and has been a breath of fresh air in this tournament. His run has been the best of his career outside America. He has been brilliant. You have to think he will be able to cause some damage at Wimbledon now. The third most aces in the tournament is 45, from Alex Zverev. He is 50 aces better. But in this match he could only muster two break points. He took none, Delpo took three from seven and won 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Both guys got 64 per cent of first serves in, won well over 70 per cent of those points and played well with ball in hand. But Delpo won 62 per cent of his second deliveries while Isner only won 45 per cent. There is the difference. There were actually a number of very entertaining rallies in this match and some great passing shots. But Delpo moves through to face Cilic. He has only dropped one set so far and he is definitely a favourite in that. He must be feeling on top of the world. if he can make the final he could be a top four seed at Wimbledon. In fact the word number one spot is in his grasp if he can win the title here.

LENGLEN: SCHWARTZMAN D. ANDERSON
...Anderson served for the match at 6-1, 6-2, 5-3. He lost that set 7-5 to Diego Schwartzman. He served for it again at 5-3 in the fourth. He did not serve for it a third time. Incredibly he did not have a match point. Also incredibly this was a very fractious match.

They say it’s always the short ones.

This was a monumental choke job. How Anderson, who was playing beautifully, blew this one… well, Freud himself could not tell you. He had about eight chances to finally kill the match and he could not do it. He should have made the quarterfinals. He should be going up against Rafa Nadal tomorrow. It’s a total letdown. He hit twice the winners that Schwartzman did. He broke ten times to the Argentine’s nine. When has he ever lost his serve nine times? He won two more games and just four less points. In a funny twist they both served eight doubles. This was not a classic. It was a filthy bar brawl of a match. It was dirty and nasty. And somehow more epic for that. But now the diminutive 11th seed must take on the king of grind in his castle. The target for Schwartzman is 15 games. He needs to get 13 games against Rafa. That’s a passing grade. 13 games or a set and he will have passed. We all know he won’t actually beat him.



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Monday, June 04, 2018

French Open Days 7 & 8: Fernando Verdasco and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Hi All. Galileo here.

Gael Monfils. He is the enigma of our generation. He makes Hana Mandlikova look like Gilles Simon. Compared to him Fabio Fognini is David Ferrer.

We have seen every side of the Monfils, including taking a selfie on court. Today he got out the tennis stare. This is a powerful weapon. Serena Williams and her fourth round opponent (or not, as it turned out) both have it. So does a certain Serbian. Roger Federer has it. Monfils used it face to face with Goffin at 5-5 in the 4th set. It is one thing watching Fognini give a linesman the look after a third [or was it fourth?] foot fault. That is fine. But to do it to your opponent, one who is usually so mellow, well that is pretty appalling. The Frenchman really got up in his face. It was quite alarming. This was a match in three acts. Every match is a performance where Gael is involved and this was no different.

In Act One, Monfils took the first set 8-6 in the breaker only to lose the second 6-3. Up 3-2 in the second, with a break, Goffin was in charge. After two sets Monfils’ W/UE tally was at 26-32. Goffin’s was at 23-23. Of course darkness intervened and the Frenchman came back refreshed. In Act Two he turned that deficit into a 6-4 set because he is Monfils. He is Monfils playing at Roland Garros. He had four match points with Goffin at 4-5 in the fourth. He was also a break up but lost it. The minute he lost that game we went into Act Three. Goffin held, and dropped just four more games. He won the last two sets 7-5, 6-3. In the end Monfils losing his serve 11 times was probably the breaking point even if he did break eight times himself. Goffin hurt his elbow during the effort which significantly affected his next match. So nobody won. Except the crowds.

The doubles, meanwhile, had another steady day. The 6th and 5th seeds cruised in straight sets. The second seeds Marach/Pavic were tested but won 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in just under two hours. They beat Arevelo/Cerratini on Court Seven. You can tell that we’re getting further into the tournament because the men’s doubles court number is getting smaller. That is a sure sign. It was a tight match with just the one break in each set. Both pairs served exceptionally well and even won over 50 per cent of second serve points. On clay that’s pretty good. This was a standard, gritty clay court duel.

On a final note, the placing of Simona Halep on Court 18 has generated controversy. She is the top seed and she was playing Andrea Petkovic. But she hasn’t won a slam, she isn’t as popular as Rafa and she doesn’t play super exciting tennis. She isn’t a draw. When she wins a slam she can feel aggrieved then. If she ever does. This BACKSPINNER felt the same way about Jelena Jankovic being put on Court 18 at Wimbledon when she was world number two. That was the right decision. She was soundly thumped by Tamarine Tanasugarn. Plus she would have complained no matter what court she was on. If you want the right to complain, Halep, then go and win a slam. We’ve been waiting for five years, and 20 slams now.

*SUICIDE POOL PICS*
MS 1st Rd: Djokovic [20] d. [q] Dutra Silva {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Gasquet [27] d. Jaziri {W}
MS 3rd Rd: Carreno Busta [10] d. Cecchinato {L}
==
WS 1st Rd: Bertens [18] d. Sabalenka {W}
WS 2nd Rd: Keys [13] d. [Q] Dolehide {W}
WS 3RD Rd: Wozniacki [2] d. Parmentier [WC] {W}
WS 4TH Rd: Williams [PR] d. Sharapova [28]


CHATRIER: DJOKOVIC D. VERDASCO
…This match was over, with a scoreline of 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 officially in two and a half hours but it was actually over long before that. Fernando Verdasco could not handle the pressure. He lost the match when he walked onto court. If this match has been on the Bullring or even on Lenglen he may have had a chance. He does his best work on the back-courts usually. He hit 48 errors. He won just 56 per cent of his first serve points. He did not turn up. He had a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. The worst thing was that Novak Djokovic wasn’t very good. He was only 21-29 on the W/UE count. Verdasco gave away his serve five times. Nole is still a total question mark. We have not yet seen him properly tested. And now he will get an easy looking matchup. But look at these updated rankings and you will see another story.


Marco Cecchinato has had a meteoric rise. He has nothing to lose. He has game and momentum. He is riding high. To beat him Nole will have to focus on taking away his serve and he will have to use all his experience in big matches too.

CHATRIER: THIEM D. NISHIKORI
...Dominic Thiem played at the highest level he has played at for months. It may even be the best he has played ever. But he could only manage it for two sets. He won those 6-2, 6-0. He won 54 points to Kei Nishikori’s 23. He broke five times and never saw a break point himself. He served 32 times. He won 28 of those. That is seven points in eight, meaning Nishikori averaged a point a game. 25 of his 32 serves were first serves. Stats can only begin to describe the dominance. In the second set he won 68 per cent of return points. But Nishikori is canny. He knew if he waited the Austrian might drop his level a tad. And that is exactly what happened. He snatched the second set 7-5, converting on his first and only break point of the whole match. In the fourth set it was a very nervy affair, with Thiem desperate to close it out and struggling mightily to do so. He clung onto his break and finally ended it 6-4 in the fourth. He will face Alex Zverev soon. The German is on his ninth life and must be getting tired. To win Thiem needs to break down the forehand and keep the rallies long. The longer the rallies and the more dropshots he can execute the better his chances of winning get.

LENGLEN: ZVEREV D. KHACHANOV
...After the third set the German looked done. Karen Khachanov led 6-4, 6-7[4], 6-2. How many times can you avoid death, after all? But the German, for the third time in a row, came back to win from two sets to one down. He is like the girl from Scream, or the Xenomorph in Alien. He just will not go. In the three and a half hour contest both men had five breaks. But Zverev went 63-51 on the winners front. His opponent could only manage 45-51. The Russian has had quite the run. He is building into slam form very nicely. It would not be a stretch to say he should one day lift this trophy. And now Zverev must face a huge test- Thiem. To beat Thiem he will need to win points quickly. His backhand is the biggest weapon on the court. He needs to use it accordingly. Thiem sometimes returns far back so the serve-volley play is there too. The Austrian suffers from nerves. He has done so throughout the tournament. If Zverev can apply pressure he could win points that way. Overall, Thiem is who this BACKSPINNER would put 50p on. All the pressure is on the German and this is his first slam quarterfinal. Thiem is looking great too.

LENGLEN: CECCHINATO D. GOFFIN
...Hampered by an elbow injury Goffin nevertheless put up an admirable fight. The Italian took the match 7-5, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3. There isn’t much point talking about this match. The Belgian was hurt. He was not fit to play. You could tell that looking at him. And the Italian falling to the floor was pretty poor form. It was very Andy Murray. The rain has made recovery very difficult for those players who have to play back-to-back tough matches. He will have nothing to lose against Djokovic but what he needs to do is to go out there and play like he has nothing to lose, because he doesn’t. He will know how vulnerable Nole is currently. He will be aware that the Serb is there for the taking. He should mix it up and let Djokovic not get any rhythm. Deploying the dropshot frequently is a good idea. His defence and court coverage are fantastic. He has more natural clay ability than Djokovic. In spite of all this, you still look at this match and feel like he can’t really win. It would be a colossal upset.



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Saturday, June 02, 2018

French Open Day 6: German Wunderkind, or the ATP’s Elina Svitolina?

Hi All. Galileo here.

The lack of upsets in the men’s game has been rather suspicious. Day 6 rectified that a little bit.

Of course in the women’s game it has been business as usual. All of you who had Caroline Wozniacki losing early and Elina Svitolina winning do a forfeit. For falling into the same old WTA trap. This BACKSPINNER has already done his for picking last year’s champion to repeat. I may be throwing glass stones in my glass house but nobody would be foolish enough to pick Svitolina to win here AND that the Woz would go out early. Would they?

But this BACKSPINNER is not here to talk about the WTA. In the doubles the 1st, 3rd and 5th seeds all won without dropping a set. The men’s doubles at Roland Garros is one of the most notorious upset events. But there haven’t been any. Well no big ones. The top eight seeds of any given big doubles event you can usually count on to do well. Anybody seeded lower is a total lottery. The 7th seeds Qureshi/Rojer lost in the first round. The rest of the top eight have played a combined 12 matches and lost just a single set. The other three seeds left, 10,12 and 13, have not dropped any sets in two matches. And since when did we have 10 of our 16 seeds by round three? What kind of witchcraft is going on here? Last year all four top seeds were gone by round two. Five of the 16 seeds hit their seeding. The 16th seeds did the best by making the semi-finals. The year before the seeds did a bit better but the top four were still all out by round three.
This year is an anomaly and is rather a nice change.

Marco Cecchinato has scored the second big upset of the men’s tournament. And so far it is the biggest. Pablo Carrena Busta was up 6-2 and a break. He was cruising and the suicide pick was still alive. It was looking healthy. And then he lost serve. The Italian only had one break point the entire set but he took it. Busta only had two. He only managed to win one. The Spaniard lost that set 7-5 in the tiebreaker. After that he crumbled like the Toronto Raptors in the postseason [on that note, J.R Smith is an idiot] and lost the next two sets 6-3, 6-1. There was a spot in the fourth round with a winnable matchup on the line. And he blew it!

*SUICIDE POOL PICS*
MS 1st Rd: Djokovic [20] d. [q] Dutra Silva {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Gasquet [27] d. Jaziri {W}
MS 3rd Rd: Carreno Busta [10] d. Cecchinato {L}
==
WS 1st Rd: Bertens [18] d. Sabalenka {W}
WS 2nd Rd: Keys [13] d. [Q] Dolehide {W}
WS 3rd Rd: Wozniacki [2] d. Parmentier [WC] {W}


CHATRIER: ZVEREV D. DZUMHUR
…As was repeated frequently during the match, Alex Zverev has never beaten a top 50 player at a slam. It was like that great responsibility line from Spider-man. Well he has finally done it. He has beaten someone inside the top 50. Only just. And he was very lucky. But it still counts. The German wunderkind, or the ATP’s Elina Svitolina, won the first set 6-2 and looked very good. But Damir Dzumhur came back and took the next two sets 6-3, 6-4. Aided by gutsy play and a lot of dropshots he was running Zverev ragged. In the fourth the German served down 4-4, 0-40 but stole the set. He should have lost that set. In the fifth he got up a break. At 2-4 Dzumhur held at love and then broke the German’s serve. He made it three games in a row when he took a 5-4 lead. A seven minute service game ensued, which yielded a match point for Dzumhur. But he could not capitalise. After missing the match point he never got another game. There were 17 breaks in the match. While both guys hit 51 winners, Zverev hit 73 errors. This was an entertaining, tight and very scratchy match.
In a Herculean effort the German has broken his duck. He should now turn it on and come out firing for the rest of the slam. He will play either Karen Khachanov or Lucas Pouille next. Let us see if this is a turning point or not. Perhaps Zverev may take even longer than we ever could have anticipated to figure out how slams work.


CHATRIER: DJOKOVIC D. BAUTISTA AGUT
...Novak Djokovic dug out an incredibly tight match in almost four hours. He won the first set 6-4. But he couldn’t quite close out the next one. It went to a breaker and at 6-6 he missed a routine forehand and smashed his racket. Roberto Bautista Agut calmly closed it out. The Spaniard kept coming in the next set. Then, at 3-4 in the third, he got his chance. He got up 0-40. He got the break with a huge backhand return that he nailed down the line. If he had served it out properly he might well have won. But he didn’t even get a set point on his own serve. At 4-5 30 all there was a 31-shot rally won by Djokovic after the Spaniard put an easy passing shot right on Nole’s racket. The whole match Agut kept bringing Djokovic forward only to hit the ball right to him. He needed more killer instinct. Djokovic got up early in the breaker. A dead net cord gave him a 6-2 advantage. Agut got back to 4-6 but could not hold on in a lengthy rally on set point. Once the Djoker won that set it was easy. He rode his luck a bit but he does seem to be back. The Serb’s 51-43 winner ratio was superb. The key. though? Nole won 45 per cent of return points. That is nine more than his opponent. He edges through to face Verdasco. Right now this BACKSPINNER’S money is on the Spaniard.

COURT ONE: THIEM D. BERRETTINI
...Here we have another talented young Italian. Matteo Berrettini is 22 years old and is just inside the top 100. He was world number 96 before the tournament and he is now world number 79. That ranking will get you into pretty much every tournament. If he can get to 60 in the world then there won’t be any tournament he couldn’t get into automatically. He even acquitted himself well in defeat. Dominic Thiem was pushed by the Italian but won 6-3, 6-7[5], 6-3, 6-2. Faced with the big-time experience and heavy shots of the Austrian he was eventually worn down. He was an awesome 39-36 on W/UE. Thiem was a woeful 31-40. The Austrian broke six times and won 52 per cent of Berrettini’s second serve points. Still the youngster has some nice weapons and we can already see that Italy has produced another talented dirtballer. He gets to leave with 130,000 Euros, which is not bad at all. Thiem moves on to play Kei Nishikori. Nishikori blasted Simon 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 in the third round. Their clash will be fascinating. The winner will probably play Alex Zverev in the quarters. It is a golden opportunity for both men to make a slam final. Will Thiem regret playing before the slam?

COURT ONE: VERDASCO D. DIMITROV
...It only took two hours and 20 minutes to kill off Grigor Dimitrov’s dreams. The Bulgarian was put to the sword in a 7-6[4], 6-2, 6-4 loss. Ever since surviving a five set epic in round one, Fernando Verdasco has looked incredible. His forehand has been on song. This is his seventh foray into the fourth round here. He’s made it there from 2007-10, 2014 and 2017-18. He seems destined to make the semi-finals at least once. He was a very pedestrian 21-31 on the winners ratio, with Dimitrov a better 34-44. It was a reasonably tight match with a lot of grueling rallies. The Bulgarian has used up so much of his grit against Jared Donaldson in the last round he didn’t have much left here. Still, at least we have our first big upset. There is a hole in the draw now, which is excellent news for Djokovic. He plays Verdasco. If you go by seedings the winner would get either David Goffin or Gael Monfils in the quarters and a very wobbly Zverev in the semi-finals. Verdasco playing against Djokovic will be a tough match for the tired looking Serb. Verdasco will either implode or muscle the former champion off the court.



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Friday, June 01, 2018

French Open Day 5: A South African Spy, a Frenchman and the Oakland Raiders

Hi All. Galileo here.

Kevin Anderson would make an excellent spy. This guy is a top ten player. He is one of the best tennis players South Africa has ever produced, which is saying something, and he is the 6th seed here. He is seeded higher than Dominic Thiem. He has looked pretty good so far, eking out wins on backcourts and getting on with it. He is an easy going, quiet unassuming man who is very good at being efficient. He can also play a bit on the dirt. He and Richard Gasquet played an intoxicating four set thriller here three years ago. For a guy who relies on the serve as much as the South African does it is really impressive.



He just beat Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 3-6, 7-6[5], 6-4. He hit 21 aces. He will play Mischa Zverev next and then, most likely, Diego Schwartzman and Rafa Nadal in his next three matches. That’s a very tough slate but he does have the kind of game that Rafa hates. And the spin from Rafa may not bother him as much. Either way he is having a very good run here so far.

Now for some young gun news. Elias Ymer and Stefanos Tsitsipas are both up and coming young stars. They can both play on clay. They learned an important lesson on day five. Fabio Fognini saw off the Swede 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. The Italian has dropped three less games than Nadal so far. He is looking so dangerous but also so perfect it’s a little worrying. He must be due for an implosion. He plays Brit Kyle Edmund. That should be a great match but it really is all on the Italian’s racket. His 27-32 W/UE mark is astonishing for his usual level of play.

Meanwhile Thiem saw off the Greek 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. Sitsi [a new BACKSPIN nickname to preserve our sanity here at BACKSPIN HQ] gave the Austrian a taste of his own medicine, firing down backhand winners with ease. If there is anything better than a clash of styles it is two one-handers going at it. Sitsi looked a little like a cross between Juan Monaco and a Greek God, with his headband and long hair. There were eight breaks in the match and Thiem’s solid 45-39 W/UE mark might have been the difference- his opponent’s 36-41 was more than passable. If Thiem can keep winning 43 per cent of return points he will go far. It is also worth noting that to improve he has to stop standing fifty miles behind the baseline. He needs to step in and cut off the angles.

In one final piece of young gun news, Albert Ramos Vinolas dismissed Casper Ruud 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
There were no huge upsets in the doubles. The Spanish Lopez pair, or Marc and Feli to their friends, have won both their matches 6-3, 6-4. They play Mayer/Sousa next before a blockbuster matchup against Kontinen/Peers in the quarterfinals, if both pairs get there.

*SUICIDE POOL PICS*
MS 1st Rd: Djokovic [20] d. [q] Dutra Silva {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Gasquet [27] d. Jaziri {W}
MS 3rd Rd: Carreno Busta [10] d. Cecchinato {L}
==
WS 1st Rd: Bertens [18] d. Sabalenka {W}
WS 2nd Rd: Keys [13] d. [Q] Dolehide {W}
WS 3RD Rd: Wozniacki [2] d. Parmentier [WC] {W}


CHATRIER: CILIC D. HURKACZ
…The average player these days plays about four-six five set matches a year at most. And they want to scrap it. For me that is ludicrous. This match, however, is a great example of why it needs to be kept around. Marin Cilic won the first two sets 6-2, 6-2. On the regular tour that would be it. You would have paid to see an hour of unsatisfactory entertainment. Here, however, it was different. The Croat tripped and dropped a set. Hubert Hurkacz broke back. He took the tiebreaker 7-3 and nearly took the second. Cilic edged it 7-5. With the five set rule in place we get more hours of entertainment. Cilic did his usual thing and went 48-52 on the winners ratio. His opponent was an awful 24-46. That is no way to win a match. Cilic actually won because of his consistency for once, triumphing in just short of three hours. If they want to make slam matches go quicker then they should have warmups before the match, be strict with the time between serves and have no break at 6-6. And they should have a 15 second limit on changeovers in the tiebreaker until you get to 6-6, 9-9 etc. Small changes add up. Leave five sets alone, powers that be.

CHATRIER: DEL POTRO D. BENNETEAU
... Perhaps Julien Benneteau is just tired. He has been playing an awfully long time. Either way he wasn’t out on Chatrier for long. Del Potro’s injury concerns appear to have gone. He decimated the Frenchman 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, winning going away in five minutes shy of two hours. He has dropped just one set so far. He was a mindblowing 44-21 on the winners ratio and let his opponent have just two break points. He broke five times and won 46 per cent of his opponents service points. Over 60 per cent of his first serve points went in and of those he won more than 80 per cent of points. Even Rafa wouldn’t like to play the Argentine right now. Next up is Ramos Vinolas and that will be very interesting. The Spaniard has dropped not one set so far and is in fine fettle. Delpo’s performance there will be the best indicator of his form. If he wins there his path to a semi-final with Rafa looks pretty clear, unless Cilic suddenly develops a spectacular clay court game.

LENGLEN: POUILLE D. NORRIE
...The Brits are extremely excited. Remember how exciting it was to watch the Oakland Raiders do well after years of being awful? Well the Brits have had a fair amount of British success and in the men’s game they got a first-ballot hall of famer and Kyle Edmund too. Now, though, they are joined by Cam Norrie. As an aside Andy Murray has dropped 110 places to world number 157. He has just 360 points. Wawrinka is going to lose 1,190 points. He will fall 229 places to 259th in the world. He had just 210 points to his name. Anyway they are very excited about the prospects of Norrie. He put up a spirited fight against Lucas Pouille. The Frenchman wins the first two sets 6-2, 6-4. He looks very good. But Norrie knows that if the darkness comes he can delay his exit. So he scraps and grinds and he takes the third 7-5. He has unusual technique on his forehand, which is a big whippy lefty shot. His backhand is a little more regular. He has some nice shots, and hits with a lot of spin. Play is suspended at the end of the fourth, which Pouille gave away with an overcooked forehand. They come back the next day. He even has a point to take the fourth set. But the Frenchman saves it and then dominates the tiebreaker, winning 7-3. The 33-47 W/UE rate from Norrie was to be his undoing. Pouille’s solid 44-49 is a much better ratio. There were ten breaks in this enjoyable, if scrappy, encounter. It was a typical clay court match, with the crowd undoubtedly part of the reason their man won. If you can use the Parisian crowds well you are likely to win. Karen Khachanov saw off Wawrinka’s conqueror Garcia-Lopez in four. If he can beat the talented young Russian he will probably have to play Alex Zverev. So he has some tests coming up.

LENGLEN: NADAL D. PELLA
...Once you’ve seen one Rafa Nadal thrashing at Rolly G, well you’ve seen them all. He won in two hours 6-2, 6-1, 6-1. Seven breaks to none. 37 winners to 26 errors. Just 14 points conceded on serve out of 60. Guido Pella can be forgiven here. Rafa was probably still annoyed about the resistance of Simone Bolelli. It’s extraordinary to only win 26 per cent of points on your second serve unless your name is Elena Dementieva, but the Argentine did it. This BACKSPINNER thought the clay court nous of Pella might help him. What a stupid prediction that was. He walks away with 79 thousand Euros and 45 rankings points. So that’s alright. Nadal will play Richard Gasquet. Which is probably going to involved blood on the court at one point. Gasquet at least will win a few points and does know where Rafa’s weak spots are. He won’t get a set though.

LENGLEN: GASQUET D. JAZIRI
...Isn’t life cruel? In a bitter twist of fate Gasquet is rewarded with his fine form by having to play Nadal. The last time he played two great back-to-back slam matches was...well it was a long time ago. He is on fine form and has even delivered two bagels. Now he has to face Rafa. He must endure the walk to the gallows. At least he knows he will hit the nicest shot of the day. He can take that small comfort. He won 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 against Malek Jaziri. He got 68 per cent of his first serves in which he will have to do again. He also won 46 per cent of his return points. He won’t be able to replicate that but getting around 35-40 per cent would be a start. He only lost his serve once. This was the best performance you’ll ever see in a four set match outside Wawrinka’s three slam finals. It also gives us at BACKSPIN a chance to dive into the HQ vaults.

Gasquet needs to just sit back and swing. He has to be the aggressor and pray that Nadal’s knees hamper him. No sportsman is that cynical, it’s just that that may be his best shot.



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Thursday, May 31, 2018

French Open Day 4: A French Festival of Tennis

Hi All. Galileo here.

Mixed doubles is the most underrated Olympic sport there is. Synchronised swimming is rubbish- perfectly rated. Diving is overrated but still fun. The sprints are great and are again perfectly rated as the cream of the crop. Mixed doubles is so special because no other sport views gender as equally as tennis. Nobody watches softball. Nobody can name more than about two WNBA players. Women’s soccer is kind of popular. Women’s tennis *is.*

Everyone has heard of the William sisters, Sharapova and even Steffi Graf. They know about Caroline Wozniacki, even if it as “the Danish chick who dated the golfer dude.” And yet we only get four events a year, occasionally five. You have the Hopman Cup, too, but that is a borderline exhibition event. So rejoice in this year’s mixed event.

It’s an exciting time now- the first four days of a slam are the best. There is so much going on. Your favourite players are probably still in. All the fun players with no mental staying power are still around and wreaking havoc. You don’t have to watch the boring matches. There’s early round doubles, which means funky partnerships. It’s a celebration, a festival of tennis.

Marach/Pavic, the second seeds, have breezed through 6-2, 6-2 in just 59 minutes. They defeated Arends/Shamasdin. The top seeds, Kubot/Melo, edged a tight two-set affair 6-4, 7-5. Sixth seeds Herbert/Mahut edged a very tight match 6-4, 3-6, 7-6[6] against Lindstedt/Matkowski. The big upset of the day came on court 16. In two and a half hours Donskoy/Reyes-Varela saw off Qureshi/Rojer [7] 6-7[2], 7-6[5], 6-4. Going any longer than two hours in a three set men’s doubles match is unusual in itself, rarely do they go beyond two and a half.

*SUICIDE POOL PICS*
MS 1st Rd: Djokovic [20] d. [q] Dutra Silva {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Gasquet [27] d. Jaziri {W}
==
WS 1st Rd: Bertens [18] d. Sabalenka {W}
WS 2nd Rd: Keys [13] d. [Q] Dolehide {W}
WS 3RD Rd: Wozniacki [2] d. Parmentier [WC]


CHATRIER: CHARDY D. BERDYCH
…This BACKSPINNER believed in the impossible but alas for ‘twas in vain. Over the course of two days the Frenchman outlasted Tomas Berdych 7-6[5], 7-6[8], 1-6, 5-7, 6-2. It took him four and a quarter hours. Berdman won more games, more points and broke more times. He went a fantastic 75-53 on the W/UE count and saved an incredible 16 break points but still could not get over the line. The fourth set was key. Berdych served for it at 5-4 He lost his serve, broke again and then closed it out. But in losing his way at 5-4 he lost the momentum. An early break in the fifth set the tone and the Czech never really recovered. Jeremy Chardy is one of the worst names to draw in the first round. He is never seeded, or if he is it’s usually around the 32 mark. He is a floating bomb. Chardy won 78 per cent of his first serve points, Berdych won 81. But second serve? 37 and 38 per cent, respectively. If Berdie had a reliable second serve, mental toughness and was just a shade better at closing out matches he would have a good case for the hall of fame. Pierre-Hugues is up next for Chardy. The big seed lurking is Isner and both Frenchies will fancy their chances if they play Isner, so that will be a very tightly fought match indeed.

CHATRIER: NISHIKORI D. PAIRE
...Kei Nishikori owns the head to head 3-2 but Benoit Paire won their last five setter. It was in New York. Nishikori had won their previous Roland Garros encounter. This was always going to be a beautiful clash of styles, like wearing Daphne Blake’s outfit but with a kilt instead of a miniskirt. There were 12 breaks and both men won around 40 per cent of receiving points. Kei won 6-3, 2-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, in a minute shy of three hours. This was every Paire match ever. He went 49-63 on the winners ratio and lived by the sword. Which meant that was how he died. This is no different to all the other five setters he has lost. It was very entertaining and utterly random. All Nishikori had to do was be consistent. And that’s the one thing he can do. Paire has top ten talent and club level smarts. But at least he puts on a good show. And, hey, there’s a reason we don’t put artificial intelligence in fireworks. Nishikori is through to face another Frenchie. Except this one is very different- it’s Gilles Simon. It will be his third in a row. Here’s a tip- don’t watch that unless you want help sleeping. This BACKSPINNER predicts at least one 50-shot rally and at least 8 20-shot rallies.

LENGLEN: DJOKOVIC D. MUNAR
...Jaume Munar plays with a lot of spin. He has nice movement and a little bit of deft touch. The backhand technique is pretty whacko but there’s nothing wrong with that. He is pretty handy. He has guts too. Novak Djokovic got up an early break but Jaume came back and forced a tiebreaker. Unfortunately he lost it 7-1. If there was ever going to be an upset he had to take the first set. After Nole got a set up he controlled the match. It is worth pointing out, however, that Nole has never looked so unconvincing. He has not dropped a set yet but it is hard to remember a worse way to win six sets. He looks uncomfortable out there, lacking in motivation and generally upset. He hit 39 winners to 33 errors, which is good, but losing serve three times and hitting five double faults isn’t like him at all. He pays Roberto Bautista Agut next and unless he pulls a rabbit out of his hat how does he win that? After that he plays the winner of Fernando Verdasco and Grigor Dimitrov. He is going to struggle.

LENGLEN: ZVEREV D. LAJOVIC
...Dusan Lajovic is a pretty capable player. He has a bit of talent and some good shots. But Alex Zverev should not be needing three and a half hours to beat him. He should not be down two sets to one. In fact he should have been down two sets to none but Lajovic blew it. The Serb showed great fortitude to come back and take the third. Zverev survives 2-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. At least he dominated the last two sets. This BACKSPINNER is sick of it. He can win Masters tournaments and beat Rafa, and Roger Federer too, but it comes to a slam and he chokes. It is ridiculous. He needs to dominate. He should be wrecking guys like Lajovic. His backhand is too good and too vicious a weapon for someone like the Serb to handle. He plays Damir Dzumhur in the next round. He has a chance to make a huge statement, and against a top 30 guy. How good your result is against the first seed you play is so important. It sets the tone for your slam run. He will have confidence and believe he can cause an upset. Let’s see how the young star does. He can’t have a 42-53 winner ratio. It’s so poor.

COURT SEVEN: DIMITROV D. DONALDSON
...There was a point where Dimitrov, Zverev and Nishikori were all in a 5th set and facing an early exit. Again. At least in the case of Nishikori it would have been acceptable. Dimitrov is the fourth seed. And a favourite for the title. It is time he justified his talent by making a final. Aided by the American getting cramps, he won 6-7, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 10-8. The American actually served for the first set at 5-4. There were only ten breaks in the four hour, 20 minute match. It was a clay court epic. Donaldson incredibly went 39-47 on the W/UE count. Dimitrov was a masterful 67-49. That is excellent. This match was on all day it seemed and this BACKSPINNER kept checking in and out of it. It really was a spectacle. This is why the five set match is so special. There should be a tiebreaker at 10 all. If there was a champions tiebreaker at ten all in the fifth that would solve it all. Yoshihito Nishioka was 5-3 up against Verdasco in the 5th set of their first round match. He also had Verdasco when the Spaniard was serving at 4-5 40-40. But he couldn’t put him away. Now Verdasco is through to the third round and is very dangerous, especially if Dimitrov is a little tired from his round two efforts. Here is a reminder of what Ferver can do:




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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

French Open Day 3: SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST

Hi All. Galileo here.

n the early 1950s, possibly 1951 if we’re being exact, Disney released the film “Alice in Wonderland.” It’s a cult classic and a fun watch. It is one of those films everybody has seen. What it wasn’t was accurate to the book, at least not totally. Alice in Wonderland, the 2010 adaptation with an all-star cast, was a lot more true to the novel. On a purely personal note, this BACKSPINNER likes the book best. And in the 2010 film and in the book there is phrase oft repeated. Here it is:



Through the course of today’s wanderings this BACKSPINNER is going to note six impossible things. It is worth mention that Lewis Carroll was whacked out on opioids and all kinds of drugs at the time, which this BACKSPINNER is not.

The lack of a roof at Roland Garros, and the smaller size of the venue, have been a problem for what feels like an era. It has helped at Wimbledon and at Melbourne, though for different weather related reasons, of course. The torrential rain and storms have caused floods in the UK and difficulties in Paris too. But some tennis players are grateful for the change. Look no further than Tomas Berdych. He is down 7-6[5], 7-6[8] 1-1. But Berdych is 5-0 all time against the Frenchman and the last three matches have all had tiebreakers. It sounds impossible but this BACKSPINNER believes Berdman can make the comeback happen- I believe in it because I’ve seen it.

Before we begin let’s just take a moment to appreciate Serena Williams. Almost 37. Just had an apparently difficult pregnancy. What she is doing is impossible but I believe in it because I’ve seen it.

One of our three former champions is gone. Let’s see what happened.

*SUICIDE POOL PICS*
MS 1st Rd: Djokovic [20] d. [q] Dutra Silva {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Gasquet [27] d. Jaziri
==
WS 1st Rd: Bertens [18] d. Sabalenka WS {W}
2nd Rd: Keys [13] d. [Q] Dolehide {W}


CHATRIER: CILIC D. DUCKWORTH
…James Duckworth is a very handy player, and he will make a career at his current level. He’ll pick up a title or two and make a few third rounds at slam level. There could even be a quarterfinal somewhere for him. Duckworth is going to make a nice living and should retire as a millionaire with a great body and global experience. It’s days like this, however, where you see his limitations. The recipe to beat Cilic is simple- take away the rhythm. It works doubly as well on clay. Cilic hits beautiful, big, flat shots and uses his height well. It only took him eight years to realize how to do it. He also has a surprisingly nifty little dropper, as well.The Aussie got progressively stronger throughout the match but went down 6-3, 7-5, 7-6[4]. Cilic hit 47 winners, broke thrice and looked pretty good from start to finish. The Polish qualifier Hubert Hurkacz, who is 21 and hit his career high last month, is up next and that won’t be so easy. He is an unknown quantity. He was a fairly handy junior player. He is 6’5 and looks 11. The good news for Cilic is he won’t face a seed until round four.

CHATRIER: NADAL D. BOLELLI
...Nadal is going to win his 11th title here in about ten days but did you know he has only been the top seed four times. And one of those times he didn’t even make the second week. So it turns out the greatest clay courter of all time [bar perhaps Chrissie Evert] is rubbish at Roland Garros. Now the first half of his match with Simone Bolelli went just fine. He was up 6-4, 6-3. He was looking good. But then the Italian began to really get at him, began to hit out. Then the rain came. He was 3-0 down and delayed. This is Nadal and so, as we all knew he would, he came back and won the third set 7-6[8]. At 8-8 he hit one of the best passing shots of the tournament. The Italian shouldn’t have come in against the forehand but it was still a mindblowing passing shot. Mathematically, and from a physics point of view, it was impossible but I believe in it because I’ve seen it. Nada hit 30 winners and broke four times. He could cut down on the 25 errors and his first serve percentage should be higher than 57. Aside from those two little niggles it was a perfect match. Up next is Guido Pella, who has been to two clay court finals and is at home on the dirt. He has also been in the top 40 and is now a top 100 mainstay. He beat Joao Sousa in the first round for the loss of just nine games. He will give Nadal a contest for at least a set and a half. Nadal is still going to win, don’t worry. It just might be a little tighter than usual in the first set.

LENGLEN: SHAPOVALOV D. MILLMAN
...Credit the tournament director for putting entertainment before seedings. Denis Shapovalov was born in Tel Aviv in April 1999. He plays for Canada and he is the nicest guy to ever hit a tennis ball in an umpire’s face. He also looks a little like Jana Novotna. Especially if he puts a headband on. He faced a tight match against John Millman and he edged it 7-5, 6-4, 6-2. The Aussie, who is quite a handy player, served for the first set at 5-3 and went up an early break in the second but the Canadian was just too strong. His backhand technique is impossible but I believe in it because I’ve seen it. He doesn’t really use slice and instead opts for huge topspin most of the time. It’s a remarkable style to behold. He still went 32-41 on the winners to errors count, but he did win 58 per cent of his second serves. Anything around the 60 mark is great. In that famous Novak Djokovic versus Nadal semi-final, the one that went to 9-7 in the 5th that was one of the differences. Nole won 48 per cent of his second serve points, while Nadal won 63. So for every four second serves Nadal would win about three, while Nole would only win two. That makes an enormous difference over the course of a match. Shapovalov now plays Maximilian Marterer. The German hit a career high of 67 this month. He will not face a seed until the fourth round. Unfortunately that will probably be Nadal.

LENGLEN: DEL POTRO D. MAHUT
...Juan Martin Del Potro has 80 slam wins and that’s quite impressive. Lleyton Hewitt retired with 148. Cilic has 102. 80 is good but he could probably be double that by now if Delpo had been fit and healthy all these years. The man has had four wrist surgeries, including three on his left wrist. It is impossible that he could be back, seeded fifth here, and looking so good. But I believe it because I’ve seen it. The Argentine saw off Nico Mahut 1-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Mahut plays a tricky style and he has a lot of finesse but you can outlast him from the baseline. The match turned early in the second set. Delpo held in a lengthy first service game and from there he cruised. Mahut actually went 34-33 on the winners front, but Delpo’s masterful 38-23 mark combined with Mahut failing to break in any of the last three sets soon saw the Argentinian cruise to the win. It’s a perfect opening match actually. You want a little bit of a challenge but nothing too testing. The injury doesn’t look too bad either. Delpo gets either compatriot Leo Mayer or Julien Benneteau next. Neither of them will be an easy match.

COURT SEVEN: FOGNINI D. ANDUJAR
...Fabio Fognini has just beaten Pablo Andujar 6-4, 6-2, 6-1. In the two hours long contest he blasted 38 winners and broke eight times. Andujar is a former world number 32 with eight clay court finals under his belt [he went 4-4] and his latest title came this spring. The rest of the draw should be very worried about the Italian finding form. Fognini plays Elias Ymer next. The Swedish qualifier is one of those guys casually referred to as the next big thing. That will be a very entertaining, swashbuckling match. Fognini should get through that. The Italian is impossible but I believe in him because I’ve seen it. The temperament, the shots he hits, the way he players. It’s a beautiful mess.



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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

French Open Day 2: To Rain on Rafa, or For Rafa to Reign?

Hi All. Galileo here.

Six years ago Rafa Nadal dismissed Simone Bolelli for the loss of just five games. Well this time it was a different story.

He took a 6-4, 6-3 lead but the Italian fought back to take a 3-0 lead in the third before rain intervened. It was bad timing in one way as the best path to beating Rafa is momentum, but the rain might just extend the Italian’s stay. If there was any year that Rafa’s fitness was an issue it is this year. If he gets taken to four or gets delayed until late today because of the rain he could feel it down the road. Of course, the most likely outcome is a straight sits win, even being down 3-0. It is only one break after all. Still, the rain is definitely not good news for the Spaniard.

In one of the better matches of the day, Bernard Tomic lost in four. But it is an achievement nevertheless. He actually played through qualifiers and he made a real, noticeable effort in the first round. Given that clay isn’t his best surface, it really isn’t a bad result. And he can now join Gilles Muller on a plane straight to the nearest grass court. Now if he can qualify for Wimbledon and get a friendly draw there he could make a decent showing of himself. He has time on his side. He can still fix up his career.

His opponent, lucky loser Marco Trungelliti, had to literally drag his grandma out of the shower in Barcelona and drove from there to Paris. He has the result of his career so it was probably worth the ten hour drive. The link here is a great read.

*SUICIDE POOL PICS*
MS 1st Rd: Djokovic [20] d. [q] Dutra Silva {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Gasquet [27] d. Jaziri {W}
==
WS 1st Rd: Bertens [8] d. Sabalenka WS 2nd Rd:



One of our three former champions is gone. Let’s see what happened.

CHATRIER: DJOKOVIC D. DUTRA SILVA
…Roland Garros is the least forgiving and gentle of the slams. The crowd gets after you and the scheduling can err towards the crazy. But they have shown faith here. They know Novak Djokovic will draw a crowd and even if it’s financially motivated it still shows they have confidence in him. Here he looked good, albeit against inferior opposition. If you had to play Silva anywhere you wouldn’t pick the clay, though he is unlikely to cause you trouble there, either. It took him just over two hours to come through 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. While an upset never looked like it was on the cards, the Brazilian still managed to cause trouble- he went up a break in the second and Djokovic really struggled to get the set under his belt. Once he had that 2-0 cushion, however, he was absolutely fine. Still, a 37-36 mark on winners to errors needs to be improved on and at times he looked tired. He could not handle Nadal here but he might be able to handle someone like David Goffin. Next up he plays Jaume Munar who came back from two sets down to beat David Ferrer. He is 21 and is part of the bright future of Spanish tennis. It will be a fascinating matchup of the old and new. Munar won Roland Garros in 2015 in the junior doubles. He lost in the singles finals to Andrey Rublev the year before so it could be a test
Also there might be a racket smash:



LENGLEN: GARCIA-LOPEZ D. WAWRINKA
...So, history does repeat itself. The match was delicately balanced in the fourth set breaker. Both guys were playing great tennis. Wawrinka was up 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. The Swiss had so many chances in that breaker. He even had two serves to win it. He was in inches away. But a wild swing on the forehand landed a metre clear of the baseline. From there he faded. The 6-3 final set scoreline indicates it was close. It didn’t feel that way. It would be so easy to jump to conclusions here and say that Wawrinka is done. He couldn’t move properly by the 5th set. He looked spent. He gave up a little bit at the end. But he can still hit. He has three or four years left while he is still relevant. And you don’t need to move well to win Wimbledon, the only slam he has yet to take. Look at Andy Roddick and Lindsay Davenport. They were very successful at Wimbledon and they didn’t move. If Wawrinka can learn to play a little better on the surface he could win it. Fedalovic will be gone in two years. Andy Murray is finished. Wawrinka has a chance at SW19 if he can get that knee back into working order. Or at least resembling working order. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez was brilliant. Karen Khachanov is up next and that could be another classic five setter.

LENGLEN: GASQUET D. SEPPI
...This was supposed to be a gritty, four—set duel on dirt with the crowd propelling Richard Gasquet to an entertaining victory. Instead the Frenchman needed just 90 minutes to win 6-0, 6-2, 6-2.He won 88 points and dropped just 45. He won over 60 per cent of return points. Throw in eight breaks and this was really brutal. Gasquet looked phenomenal. He moves on and will play Malek Jaziri next, and on this evidence he is a great choice for the suicide pick.

COURT ONE: THIEM D. IVASHKA
...The Belarusian has been around the fringes of the challenger tour for a while now, since 2013 in fact. Finally, aged 24, he has emerged onto the tour and holds and 11-7 record. This month he hit his highest ever ranking of 111. That is pretty remarkable. Playing against Domi Thiem in Paris was always going to prove to be a sterner test however. He was dressed in a white outfit covered in black stars and on the back was the number 17 so at least he stood out. He lost 6-2, 6-4, 6-1. So if people remember him it will be for his dress sense not his tennis because it wasn’t close at all. Thiem controlled the match from start to finish in what was a consummate performance. Next up for Thiem will be a real test; Stefanos Tsitsipas. If you don’t know about the Greek now you will soon.

COURT THREE: BAUTISTA AGUT D. ISTOMIN
...This one was always going to be tight but when it comes to making their seed nobody is better than Bautista Agut. He is machine-like. He really had his back up against the wall but came back to win 6-2, 6-7[3], 1-6, 6-4, 6-4. Beating the Spaniard across five is notoriously difficult. He may be a classic case of beats-everyone-he’s-supposed-to-and-nobody-he-isn’t but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Istomin was plus five on the winner to error count, while Agut was -3. In fact the Spaniard only won four more points. But that can be all it takes. Colombian qualifier Santiago Giraldo is up next. That will not be easy. And he can’t really afford to go five because Djokovic will almost certainly be waiting for him in the third round.



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Monday, May 28, 2018

The French Open Day 0.5: A Triumvirate of Tennis Matches

Hi All. Galileo here.

The French need to fix this Sunday thing. The idea is good but why not start at one in the afternoon and pick three big names from the men’s and women’s draws, have them play and then have good doubles matches on the outer courts. And then you could call it Super Sunday.

Anyway we must start with an apology. This BACKSPINNER said that Daniil Medvedev’s match against Lucas Pouille would be one to watch. That was erroneous. It didn’t even take the Frenchman two hours to win 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. He broke five times and only lost his serve once. It was as dominant a performance as you’re going to see from someone not named Rafa Nadal. Pouille has been practising with the great one so maybe it has rubbed off.

In women’s doubles news the Williams sisters are playing and they are likely to play until beaten. Venus is out and can now focus on it and Serena will want the practice. In the men’s doubles Herbert/Mahut will take on Lindstedt/Matkowski. Matkowski is the blonde Polish dude who looks a bit like Wawrinka but 100 pounds heavier.

*SUICIDE POOL PICKS*
MS 1st Rd: Djokovic [20] d. [q] Dutra Silva
==
WS 1st Rd: Bertens [8] d. Sabalenka


Now let’s dive into the three matches:

CHATRIER: DIMITROV D. SAFWAT
…Mohamed Safwat has helped to bring Egyptian tennis back into repute. Well, in the Davis Cup at least. He took a set off Gael Monfils in Dubai last year. He is a solid player. But unless you have been in or around the top thirty and have since slipped a bit, if you are a unseeded player trying to defeat a big favourite for a title across five sets you really have no chance. The gap between a solid 150-170 player and the fourth seed is oceans. This is not Kim Clijsters winning 2005 Indian Wells or the 2009 US Open, this is the ultimate journeyman. So with that in mind the 6-1, 6-4, 7-6[1] scoreline is pretty good. Usually the lower ranked player contends for a set before disappearing. But this time it took a set and a half for the challenger to find their game. And if Safwat has never played in a stadium of that size it is no wonder. He has a big forehand, which is quite a weapon when it’s on song and some variety. He hit 19 winners. But Dimitrov has a bigger forehand and his entire game is variety. The Bulgarian took all 24 of the net points he played too. Still it was an entertaining match and a good warmup for the 4th seed.

LENGLEN: ZVEREV D. BERANKIS
...When a big gun plays a challenger in the first couple of rounds they fall into one of two categories. Either they are dangerous or they are a pushover. If they’re dangerous that’s when it gets tricky. Fortunately for the big guys the pushover is the far more common type. Ricardas Berankis has a bit of game but not against Alex Zverev on clay. The German’s thumping 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 victory was more than just another win. It was a statement. It was a direct message to Rafa to say I’m here. And I am no joke. 11 aces, 29 winners, 7 breaks to none [and no break points conceded either] and an hour out of the German’s day. Then it was off home. The German is looking supreme right now. Federer’s absence is a Christmas present. And Zverev is taking full advantage of the gift.

COURT ONE: GOFFIN D. HAASE
...Here we see the rarer of the two kinds of challengers- the talented, driven guys. Robin Haase has taken two sets off Rafa at Wimbledon. He has been around the block and been around the top 30. His forehand is fearsome and when he hits a purple patch he can go off. And so it proved against David Goffin. He took out the first two sets 6-4, 6-4 but the Belgian edged the third and ran out the winner in the last three sets by a scoreline of 6-4, 6-1, 6-0. In the first two sets the Dutchman broke five times to his opponent’s three and won just under 50 per cent of his return points. In the third set he had his opponent under the cosh and has four break points. But he couldn’t get any of them. Conversely, Goffin had just two break chances but he won one. And so the match turned, turned on a dime, as they say. He didn’t look back and he should roll into the quarterfinals. Little margins separate two players in a best of five set match. He has a French wildcard up next, Corentin Moutet. If he loses that I’m Steffi Graf.



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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Roland Garros Predictions: Rafa’s Procession

Hi All. Galileo here.

Welcome to the men’s preview of Roland Garros. We already have some news. Marin Cilic had nobody, that’s right-zero, people turn up to his press conference. The other piece of news is the forecast. You can expect some warm rain throughout the first week of competition. Plus, we have the scariest quarter of women’s tennis ever to stumble through.

In other recent news, Petra Kvitova’s attacker has been caught.

=LADIES DOUBLES=
As of this writing, the draw hasn't been released yet but you should watch out for the following four pairs in particular:

Babos/Mladenovic [1]- They’re top seeds and they will also have the home crowd behind them. Mladenovic has won this title before don’t forget.
Safarova/Kuznetsova – The defending champion (Lucie) comes in unseeded. Her Russian partner has been to a final here before and made the semi-finals in 2016. They could land anywhere and that will mean fun and possibly an upset or two along the way.
Klepac/Martinez-Sanchez [3]- The Spanish lady is a fantastic doubles player and her best surface is on clay. Klepac isn’t quite as good but they could definitely make a run.
Chan/Mattek-Sands [4]- BMS is the defending champion and she could complete her comeback here with the defense of her title. Chan is something of a rising star in the doubles world. Under the guidance of BMS she should keep improving.

=MEN'S DOUBLES=
Marach/Pavic [1] – They just won in Geneva. Mate Pavis is, at 24, the best player in the world in doubles. Oliver Marach is a late bloomer. They have made two finals in the last three slams. Plus they’re 4-2 in finals this year.
Herbert/Mahut [6] – Recent results don’t matter to French players. Flair, home-court advantage and an incredible amount of talent will mean either a deep run or crashing out in embarrassing fashion in the first round
Lopez/Lopez [12] – Their last two titles were at Roland Garros in 2016 and in Barcelona this year. Feli has a 4-11 record in finals, dating back to the 2001 Majorca Open, but he’ll be fun to watch and this doubles team is so dangerous.
Mike Bryan/Sam Querrey [16]- Yes, you read that right. The partnership, which has been going strong since the 1999 Australian Open, has been disrupted due to injury.

=NADAL QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*
1. RAFA NADAL ESP...In this draw he fears Novak Djokovic, Fabio Fognini and Alex Zverev, That’s it. And none of them are near him. He is going to whip Simon Bolelli and Richard Gasquet on his way to the fourth round. On paper Jack Sock could possibly force a breaker or maybe take a set, but the American has been M.I.A. Frankly it’s pretty difficult to see him losing any more than about five games in any of his matches, let alone a set.
=================================================
2. RICHARD GASQUET FRA...The Frenchman has the clay court nous and can ride the home crowd to a semi-final. He has the slam experience and the soft draw to do it. If Nadal knees go or he has some other injury then Gasquet is in place. Otherwise his slam is going to end in round three.
=================================================
3. KEVIN ANDERSON RSA...The South African is also here and he isn’t totally useless on clay. And with such a weak draw a quarterfinal probably beckons.
=================================================
DARK HORSE: DIEGO SCHWARTZMAN ARG...Another pocket sized South American dirtballer who just gets how to play on clay, the diminutive Argentine has a great seed and a manageable draw. He won a 500 level clay tournament in Rio this February. He didn’t even drop a set either. He is very dangerous. He is also, if you wanted to know, the best Jewish player in the world right now.
*************************************
WILD HORSE: PHILIPP KOHLSCHREIBER GER...Who knows with the German? He is so talented and he upset Novak Djokovic in Paris back in 2009. He could be the most underrated player of the last twenty years and he has a workable draw here.
*************************************
DONKEY: JACK SOCK USA...The American is big on talent and small on delivery of said talent. He fares better on US hardcourts and certain select clay courts.
*************************************
R1 MATCH TO WATCH: Richard Gasquet [27] vs. Andreas Seppi

=In the End...=
...Nadal is here. If he gets injured chaos will ensue. If he stays fit he won’t face a challenge until the end of the tournament.

4th: NADAL D. SHAPOVALOV
4th: SCHWARTZMAN D. ANDERSON
-
QF: NADAL D. SCHWARTZMAN

=CILIC QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*
1. JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO ARG...Juan Martin, if fit, is the only player in the draw who could beat Rafa. It won’t be easy. He opens with Nicolas Mahut and will probably have to play Albert Ramos Vinolas. But after that his route to the semi-finals is probably clear. He has a serious injury to contend with. If he can get clear of that he should be in with a chance. He is one of many players who should have won this title but have not been able to because of the Spaniard.
=================================================
2. TOMAS BERDYCH CZE...He was once a handful of points away from the final. He has made three quarterfinals here and is very hard to beat on the dirt. He has huge weapons, veteran savvy, and a quarter that doesn’t look too intimidating. He has not won a title in two years but his last final [’17 Lyon] was on clay. John Isner and a hurt Delpo are all that stands between him and the quarterfinals. and possibly more.
=================================================
3. FABIO FOGNINI ITA...He might not have consistency but he does have a lot of talent, history at this event and the ability to beat anybody. Opening against Pablo Andujar is hard but Kyle Edmund is his nearest seed and he should win that comfortably. He only needs to find his game for two or three hours and he can just keep getting through his matches.
=================================================
DARK HORSE: MARIN CILIC CRO...He is the third seed and made the final last year. He can do damage if he can find his rhythm but this BACKSPINNER has never had great faith in the Croat.
*************************************
WILD HORSE: CASPER RUUD NOR...This kid probably won’t make the quarterfinals but he has already had a great result in just qualifying. He wasn’t seeded in the qualies but didn’t drop a set in three best of three set matches. He only lost 14 games. This 19 year old is 170 lbs. of pure potential. He has a versatile forehand, which can produce everything from a forehand dropshot to a big swinging inside out strike.
*************************************
DONKEY: KYLE EDMUND GBR...At Wimbledon he might do a bit better but the draw isn’t kind and is he ready to backup that Australian Open performance?
*************************************
R1 MATCH TO WATCH FABIO FOGNINI ITA VS. PABLO ANDUJAR ESP

=In the End...=
...Berdych and Fognini surprise, taking advantage of Del Potro’s groin injury. The following prediction is based on the Argentine being hurt.

4th: BERDYCH D. DEL POTRO
4th: FOGNINI D. CILIC
-
QF: BERDYCH D. FOGNINI

=DIMITROV QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*
1. GRIGOR DIMITROV BUL...He starts on Sunday and that should give him extra rest later on. He has had some good results but not this year and not on this surface. He is 1-1 in clay finals. And he has yet to go beyond the third round here. But it has to happen eventually. He has too much finesse, too much big-time experience and too much talent to just fold early again. He will face a tough second round match if Nicolas Jarry gets through. A match against Roberto Bautista Agut or Novak Djokovic beckons in the fourth round and Fernando Verdasco in the third. But this BACKSPINNER trusts in the purity of the one-hander.
=================================================
2. NOVAK DJOKOVIC SRB...He comes in seeded 20th and there is no reason to believe in him. Except this- there are three former winners of this tournament in the draw. There is one person in the draw who has beaten Rafa here. Djokovic has been to three finals. He may be waning but look beyond him at your peril.
=================================================
3. DAVID GOFFIN BEL...How will he be mentally affected by his injury from last year? Even if the slam results are not there, everything else is. He has great game and a lot of ability, especially on this surface. He is like David Ferrer but with less consistency and more firepower. He opens with Robin Haase, Ivo Karlovic and then Gael Monfils. On clay that’s probably not much to worry about. Playing Pablo Carreno Busta in the fourth round is probably a lot more of a worry. That will probably be a five set epic.
=================================================
DARK HORSE: PABLO CARRENO BUSTA ESP...Nick Kyrgios has just pulled out of the French Open. If he is prepping for Wimbledon, which he will do much better in than here, he has made a wise decision. It means Federico Delbonis is probably who PCB will end up playing in the third round. It means you can lock up the Spaniard in the fourth round.
*************************************
WILD HORSE: GAEL MONFILS FRA...As If this needs any explanation.
*************************************
DONKEY: NICK KYRGIOS AUS...He has gone early. And part of you wonders if that’s tactical or legitimate. He has done this before and will probably do so again. What is amazing is that Bernard Tomic has actually put in the effort and qualified.
*************************************
R1 MATCH TO WATCH: MARCOS BAGHDATIS CYP VS. SANTIAGO GIRALDO [Q]

=In the End...=
...We see a revival from Djokovic, though not a long-lived one. Nole edges out Roberto Bautista Agut in five epic sets but has nothing left for his match with Dimitrov. Goffin takes care of business but does get pushed by Busta. In the quarterfinals it is Dimitrov who triumphs, turning his 7-1 h2h advantage into an 8-1 lead.

4th: GOFFIN D. BUSTA
4th: DIMITROV D. DJOKOVIC
-
QF: DIMITROV D. GOFFIN

=ZVEREV QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*
1. ALEX ZVEREV GER...He has three Masters titles and is the world number three. He also has a 14-11 mark in slams. It is woeful. It is embarrassing. It needs to be amended. And he is going to do it here. He has a tricky fourth round with either Stan Wawrinka or Lucas Pouille. Before that he has three matches to fine tune the backhand and get it fully operational. In this draw his backhand is the biggest weapon. He can do anything with it. It is a lot more fluid than Djokovic’s and more versatile too. He wrecks people with it. He just stands at the baseline and dictates play. He will be the next new world number one. If he can win here that day may come sooner than we think.
=================================================
2. DOMINIC THIEM AUT...Imagine how good he could be if he actually scheduled his season properly. Instead of playing the week before a slam he could actually, I don’t know, chill out and prepare properly. It is mind-boggling how he schedules. It screams early retirement. It stinks of burnout. Fortunately he has a weak draw. But to make it three semi-finals in a row he will need to most likely get past Zverev. That could be the match of the tournament.
=================================================
3. STAN WAWRINKA SUI...This entire quarter is destined to come down to Thiem vs Zverev. It may as well have been written in the stars. But if anyone can break up that duopoly it is this Man. The most dangerous Man in any draw, he opens with Guillermo Garcia Lopez. The Spaniard has beaten him before in the first round of the French. It was the year he won in Australia. He has a tricky run ahead of him- Pouille is not going to be an easy matchup, especially in Paris. But the Swiss man should still make the fourth round.
=================================================
DARK HORSE: ERNESTS GULBIS LAT...Does this need any explanation?
*************************************
WILD HORSE: BENOIT PAIRE FRA...See above. This is as self-explanatory as it gets.
*************************************
DONKEY: SAM QUERREY USA...An American on clay. We’ve seen how this one goes.
*************************************
R1 MATCH TO WATCH: DANIIL MEDVEDEV RUS VS. LUCAS POUILLE FRA

=In the End...=
...Alex Zverev breaks Thiem’s streak and his duck.

4th: THIEM D. NISHIKORI
4th: ZVEREV D. WAWRINKA
-
QF: ZVEREV D. THIEM

=SEMIFINAL=
#1 NADAL D. #17 BERDYCH
#2 ZVEREV D. #4 DIMITROV

=FINAL=
#1 NADAL D. #2 ZVEREV

...Nadal owns Berdman. And Dimitrov isn’t going to beat Zverev over five. That is the same reason the German wont beat Rafa.


** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **


*WOMEN*
=ROUND OF 16 PREDICTIONS=
#1 Halep d. #16 Mertens
#7 Garcia d. #12 Kerber
Stosur d. Bencic
S. Williams d. #28 Sharapova
#5 Ostapenko d. #9 V. Williams
#4 Svitolina d. #21 Osaka
#10 Stephens d. #8 Kvitova
#23 Saurez-Navarro d. #32 Cornet

...Expect to read the sentence ‘Elise Mertens is the first Belgian since Clijsters/Henin to do XYZ’ a lot in the coming years. She made the semi-finals of the year’s first grand slam and did it without dropping a set. She even spanked Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-0 in the quarters. She came within a whisker of forcing Caro Wozniacki into a third set. In fact, if she had managed to nick the second set she may have gone onto the final. Regardless, apart from Gavrilova there isn’t much here. Halep choking in the French Open final is an annual occurrence; why pick against it? There is no slam Angie Kerber can’t play at but if there is one she doesn’t do as well at, it is here. It seems to be nothing to do with the surface, either, which is strange. All the dangerous floaters ended up in one quarter of the draw so again it’ll be the big seeds duking it out. Shuai Peng is also here.

Garbine Muguruza is the best player here. But she’s been off lately. And she feels ripe for the upset. She has only ever lost once to Svetlana Kuznetsova. Against Sam Stosur she’s 2-1 and 1-1 on clay. This BACKSPINNER gets the feeling that one of them will take her out. Muguruza playing Kuznetsova is the opening match of the tournament on either side. There is a lot of young talent on the other half of this section but Belinda Bencic has to go on a run soon. Laura Siegemund is a handy player but can you trust her? This BACKSPINNER refuses to pick a woman about to turn 37 who has just given birth to win a slam. That would be insane. But to make it to a quarterfinal? Sure. Ordinarily Ash Barty would be the pick here but is she ready to take on Serena? Julia Goerges is another who drew the short straw. This feels like Maria Sharapova’s last shot to make a deep run. Let’s see if it happens.

Kateryna Kozlova is not a bad player but she won’t beat the defending champion and 5th seed. Barbora Stryocoa and Vika Azarenka lurk here but you would think Azarenka is building up to the US Open and summer hard-court swing. Jo Konta taking on the insane Yulia Putintseva will be interesting. The Kazakh could lose the crowd and that always makes it more interesting. The fact Venus is even here is fantastic. Seeded 9th she should make the fourth round. Naomi Osaka is going to back up her Indian Wells performance here. There isn’t anybody in her section she can’t handle and she has been to the third round here before. The really fascinating match here is going to be in the second round when Fran Schiavone takes on the Ukrainian. Elina Svitolina will probably win a slam before Halep at this rate but she doesn’t look close at the moment. Still this is by far her best slam.

This BACKSPINNER buys Petra Kvitova on clay. She has had some great results and she is probably going to win Wimbledon. But Sloane Stephens best slam was Roland Garros traditionally. And that will continue this year. Anett Kontaveit and Ana Sevastova are both here, as is Camila Giorgi. Also here is the most boring tennis player on the planet, Madison Brengle. If you see her match on the TV go and watch paint dry instead. There’s a great first round match to watch here- Kaia Kanepi against Daria Kasatkina. But forget them and forget Maria Sakkari. Why? Because this BACKSPINNER loves Carla Suarez Navarro here. Wozniacki is a sitting duck and will have zero impact. If she even gets out of the first round she’ll struggle to get past Miss Ooh La La. [Alize Cornet]

=QUARTERFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#1 Halep d. #7 Garcia
Stosur d. S. Williams
#5 Ostapenko d. #4 Svitolina
#23 Suarez-Navarro d. #10 Stephens

...Garcia will one day make a final at her home tournament. This BACKSPINNER really believes that. But she needs a kinder draw. Halep is desperate for her first slam. Stosur knows how to beat Williams and especially how to do it here. Serena has to run out of puff eventually. Ostapenko is 2-0 against Svitolina and has not dropped a set yet. Expect CSN to drag out her match and grind her opponent into the red dust with her metronomic style of play. And, yes, it is insane to predict her to get that far.

=SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#1 Halep d. Stosur
#5 Ostapenko d. #23 Suarez-Navarro

...This BACKSPINNER cannot think of how Stosur would beat Halep. She has a real hoodoo with the semi-final stage does the Australian. Meanwhile the Spaniard will implode.

=FINAL PREDICTION=
#5 Ostapenko d. #1 Halep

...Until Halep actually wins a slam final it is impossible to pick her to do so. She hasn’t shown she can do that yet. Ostapenko has…..

Go to WTABACKSPIN, they have rice-a-roni.

I'll be seeing you all soon and far too frequently for your liking.

Galileo.

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Australian Open Preview

Hi All. Galileo here.

Let’s get into some predictions. As you know the WTA rankings are totally random right now. There could be a new number one every week. In the ATP things are hardly any better. There are a lot of big names missing in both games. No Andy Murray or Kei Nishikori. No Serena Williams or Vika Azarenka. It is shaping up to be a fascinating tournament.


*MEN*
=Doubles SF=
Herbert/Mahut [4] d. [9] Lopez/Lopez
Kontinen/Peers [2] d. [5] Murray/Soares
=Doubles Final=
Kontinen/Peers [2] d. [4] Lopez/Lopez


=NADAL QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*
1. RAFA NADAL ESP...The opponents don’t matter. The tactics don’t matter. It’s all in how hurt Nadal is. We know he is on borrowed time with those knees. But we don’t know how much time he has. We have no idea if he has weeks or years left. And if he gets another bad knee injury does he pull the plug on his career? He is the best player in this quarter by far but the injury surrounds him with question marks. Victor Estrella Burgos is a horrible opening round match-up for the Spaniard. The Dominican is going to move him round the place. He is going to make Nadal work. Damir Dzumhur and John Isner shouldn’t trouble Nadal too much, but rising stars Casper Ruud and Nicolas Jarry are looking for a breakout performance. He also has to make the quarterfinals to stay as number one in the world.
2. MARIN CILIC CRO...The Croat seems to have recovered from the mental trauma of that Wimbledon final. If Nadal falters or withdraws he has a very easy path to the semi-finals. He has not performed here since he made the semi-finals in 2010. But he has a huge serve and forehand. He has won a slam before. You count him out at your peril.
3. PABLO CARRENO BUSTA ESP...It is going to be Cilic or Nadal who makes the semi-finals from this group but the Spaniard is well placed to make a deep run if the stars align.
DARK HORSE: JOHN ISNER USA...He has weapons. He has played well here before. He knows he can beat Nadal. He has a beautifully easy path to the fourth round. But he is not in America. And that will always impact upon his chances.
WILD HORSE: GILLES MULLER LUX...He has some seeding protection and a simple gamestyle. He is a savvy veteran with a knowledge of how to win. He has a workable draw and could knock off some pre-tournament favourites. And Nadal certainly does not want to see him.
DONKEY: PABLO CUEVAS URU...This BACKSPINNER had forgotten he was even a seed. Even making his seed would be a surprise. He is better on clay and that is also where he makes all his points and his living.
R1 MATCH TO WATCH: Quentin Halys [Q] vs. [Q] Casper Ruud
=In the End...=
Nadal’s injury woes come back to hurt him. He is clearly struggling and his lack of warm up tournaments should prove problematic. Look for Muller to go on a nice run and then for Cilic to capitalize on an opportunity.

NADAL D. ISNER
CILIC D. MULLER
-
CILIC D. NADAL

=DIMITROV QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*
1. GRIGOR DIMITROV BUL...He is the third best player in the world. You could argue it is because of injuries to other players if you like. But the truth is the form he has displayed and the shots he is hitting are world class. With Rafa Nadal’s injury he should go on a run here, but the quarter he is in is very difficult. He has J-W Tsonga, Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock around him. It makes for a very difficult path to the latter stages. The key match-up is Dimitrov versus Kyrgios in the fourth round. The winners going to the finals.
2. NICK KYRGIOS AUS...He plays his best tennis here and at SW19. He is healthy and coming off a title. He is playing the best tennis we have seen him play for some time. The forehand and serve are really clicking and we know how well he can ride the crowd. It all comes down to his matchup with Dimitrov who he has already beaten this year. I think he is going to attack the Bulgarian’s second serve and bully his forehand wing. It is going to be a night match classic that.
3. JACK SOCK USA...We need consistent slam results from the young American. And we aren’t getting them at the moment. But he has the eighth seed. So let’s see what he has. Kohl does lurk nearby and he knows how to beat favored Americans in Melbourne.
DARK HORSE: JO-WILFRIED TSONGA FRA...A former finalist with nothing to lose and limited time left in the game makes him very dangerous indeed. He has to beat Kyrgios and Dimitrov in back-to-back matches to go on a run here, but why isn’t that possible?
WILD HORSE: ANDREY RUBLEV RUS...The young Russian has an amazing game and immense promise. Is this when he makes his run? He has Ferrer and Baghdatis in his path before he has to face the third seeded Bulgarian. It won’t be easy.
DONKEY: DAVID FERRER ESP...No, I don’t have any faith in the Spaniard. He had a good result in Auckland but a long run here is out of the question.
R1 MATCH TO WATCH: KEVIN ANDERSON RSA VS. KYLE EDMUND GBR
=In the End...=
Dimitrov has a great shot at the title. There isn’t anybody too scary in his part of the draw and he can handle Rafa Nadal. But he will be undone by a crowd-backed Nick Kyrgios.

KYRGIOS D. DIMITROV
SOCK D. ANDERSON
-
KYRGIOS D. SOCK

=ZVEREV QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*
1. ALEX ZVEREV GER...He has earned the benefit of the doubt. And he should go all the way to the semi-finals but he could end up having to play former champions back-to-back-to-back. He has Nole in his section and Stan Wawrinka in his quarter. His brother and Hyeon Chung loom large in the third round but aside from that the opening three rounds shouldn’t worry him. The big questions lie with Djokovic and Wawrinka. Zverev is going to be solid, predictable and dependable. He will hit great backhands. And he will not knock himself out.
2. NOVAK DJOKOVIC SRB...He comes into this as the 14th seed and six time champion. But he hasn’t won a slam since the 2016 edition of Roland Garros. He has not looked himself in ages. And it remains to be seen if 14 actually is where his ranking should be. But this is his slam and he could win number seven. He has to deal with Donald Young right out of the gate. He has Albert Ramos Vinolas and Zverev near him. He is 30. How many shots left does he have at winning a slam?
3. STAN WAWRINKA SUI....There is no pressure on the ninth seed. He can win three rounds and look good. He could win the whole thing and we wouldn’t be surprised. He has a really nice path to the quarterfinals. If he can make it there who knows how far he can go?
DARK HORSE: HYEON CHUNG KOR...He is due a breakout run at some point. Taking out Zverev on the way to the quarters would do it.
WILD HORSE: DONALD YOUNG USA...He has a chance to upset Djokovic. He has the weapons and talent to do it. He has had the big wins before. He could take advantage of an aging Djoker.
DONKEY: DOMINIC THIEM AUT...I don’t see any red clay and that means in week two we won’t see any Domi Thiem.
R1 MATCH TO WATCH: NOVAK DJOKOVIC SRB VS. DONALD YOUNG USA
=In the End...=
Novak Djokovic does well and sees off Zverev in round four but cannot do it twice. It seems we are destined for another Djokovic/Wawrinka classic. And it will live up to the billing.

WAWRINKA D. VESELY
DJOKOVIC D. ZVEREV
-
WAWRINKA D. DJOKOVIC

=FEDERER QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*
1. ROGER FEDERER SUI...Is there any point writing anything here? The only seed near Federer is Ritchie Gasquet and we all know how that match will go. He has Milos Raonic in his section but the Canuck is hurt. His body cannot hold up over the course of a tournament. Federer should ease to the quarterfinals.
2. JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO ARG...David Goffin deserves to be a top eight player. And he is hard to beat but he lacks the weapons to spar with the giant Argentine. Delpo is going to bully him when and if they end up playing. But to get there he has to face Frances Tiafoe, Tomas Berdych or Alex De Minaur. Oh, and Benoit Paire is in there, too. So there are a lot of mines. But the serve and forehand are tremendous. Plus he is in seriously good form and was in slam winning form for some of last year.
3. DAVID GOFFIN BEL...He should play Fabio Fognini in the third round. And that will be entertaining. He could make a run to the quarters, but can he really handle Delpo? Goffin’s best chance of a big slam result will come France.
DARK HORSE: JORDAN THOMPSON AUS...Sam Querrey’s form is a mystery. Raonic’s health is a mystery. So why couldn’t "Thommo" make a go of it?
WILD HORSE: FABIO FOGNINI ITA...For as long as there is breath left in my body and his career...
DONKEY: SAM QUERREY USA...Every now and then the American just throws in a funny loss.
R1 MATCH TO WATCH: JM DEL POTRO ARG VS. FRANCES TIAFOE USA
=In the End...=
We get another Federer and Del Potro quarterfinal classic.

DEL POTRO D. GOFFIN
FEDERER D. THOMPSON
-
FEDERER D. DEL POTRO

=SEMIFINAL=
#17 KYRGIOS D. #6 CILIC
#1 FEDERER D. #9 WAWRINKA

=FINAL=
#1 FEDERER D. #17 KYRGIOS

...Why not? We’re due a big Kyrgios run somewhere, and Federer will want the top ranking.




*WOMEN*
=Doubles SF=
Safarova/Strycova [4] d. [5] Babos/Mladenovic
Barty/Dellacqua [3] d. [16] Krejcikova/Siniakova
=Doubles Final=
Barty/Dellacqua [3] d. [4] Safarova/Strycova

=ROUND OF 16 PREDICTIONS=
#18 Barty d. #1 Halep
#6 Ka. Pliskova d. #9 Konta
#3 Muguruza d. #21 Kerber
#8 Garcia d. #17 Keys
#5 V. Williams d. #23 Gavrilova
#13 Stephens d. #4 Svitolina
#7 Ostapenko d. #10 Vandeweghe
#2 Wozniacki d. #16 Pavlyuchenkova

...Simona Halep has made 7 singles appearances in Melbourne. Four of them ended in the first round, including the last two. At the three other slams her win percentage is 67-68 per cent. Here it is 58 per cent. She faces Destanee Aiava. It will be under the lights and her opponent will have nothing to lose. That is a trap game. That is the kind of game she could lose. Petra Kvitova is also here, but she hasn’t done anything here recently. No, the biggest threat here is Ash Barty. Ajla Tomljanovic is in the second quarter and she is a dark horse to do quite well. You can’t trust Lucie Safarova here. And this is Jo Konta’s best slam. But Ka.Pliskova has made the quarterfinals at the last four non-grass slams. And she is due a big result.

Garbine Muguruza is the best player on the planet and must be eyeing the Grand Slam. She made the quarters last time and is too good not to get there this time. As usual, she comes in with a couple of injury concerns, but that’s no reason to count her out. Her nearest seed is A-Rad, but she is a spent force. In the third round we get a clash between Ana Sevastova and Angie Kerber. That should be a great match. Kerber has looked better and a fourth round [or further] run is the next step. In the end, Mugu has a workable draw and she’ll take advantage.

In quarter four we have a great third round match on the horizon: Mladenovic versus Keys. And I’ll take Keys because she has a 3-1 h2h advantage, with all the matches played on hard courts, and she has been here before. In 2015 she made the semi-finals and I think the crowds will barrack for her. But I have a sneaky feeling this year is going to be the year of Caroline Garcia. And the last of Lucic-Baroni’s career.
Venus Williams has nothing to lose. She can just do whatever she wants. She is so dangerous at a slam she has never won. She won’t win the French but she has another shot or two to win the Aussie. She will use her final appearance from last year and go on another big run. She opens with Belinda Bencic but I think she coasts to the quarters. Dasha Gavrilova has to play a revitalized Julia Goerges in the third round, but she is a different player at home. She will make it three fourth round appearances in a row. Do watch out for Elise Mertens, though.

Belgian women have done well in Australia in the last 15 years. It is very hard to buy Elina Svitolina anywhere except on clay. On the dirt she is fantastic, there’s no questioning her. But off it at slam level she has to prove it. Sloane Stephens loves this slam. And she’s won one now so she will be extremely dangerous.

There’s nobody in Jelena Ostapenko’s way who could beat her. Anett Kontaveit is likely to giver her a stiff challenge in the third round and that will be quite the match between two rising stars. Sam Stosur, Carla Suarez-Navarro and Monica Puig are all here and unseeded. But we should give CoCo Vandeweghe the benefit of the doubt. I like Taylor Townsend’s draw here. But A-Pavs has good seeding and a nice path through to the round of 16. But she has a 1-7 record against the Dane.

=QUARTERFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#6 Ka. Pliskova d. #18 Barty
#3 Muguruza d. #8 Garcia
#5 V. Williams d. #13 Stephens
#7 Ostapenko d. #2 Wozniacki

...Pliskova’s experience and huge serve will prove too much for Barty. Muguruza has more consistency than Garcia and is a lot more mentally stable. Williams should get revenge here. Stephens should be hit by the maiden slam hangover. It is nigh on impossible to win two slams in a row if you have never won one in the past. And Ostapenko goes from 4-0 to 5-0 against Wozniacki in the h2h. We know Woz doesn’t win slams and she’ll lose in the quarters here.

=SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#3 Muguruza d. #6 Ka. Pliskova
#5 Williams d. #7 Ostapenko

...Muguruza adds another chapter to a thrilling rivalry and takes charge of the battle for the top spot. Williams edges out Ostapenko in a gritty semi-final.

=FINAL PREDICTION=
#3 Muguruza d. #5 Williams

...Muguruza again denies Williams in the final.


Go to WTA Backspin. They have tater tots.

I'll be seeing you all soon and far too frequently for your liking.

Galileo.

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