Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mid-Miami Recap

Hey, all. Galileo here.

The clay season beckons. Even spectators have their favourite surface. Personally, this BACKSPINNER likes grass best. Maybe it’s the white outfits, or the fact grass is just so classic. Perhaps it is the quick points or the feel of the summer. Maybe grass is simply more pure and it is where the one-hander flourishes. Perhaps it is the fact that we get so little of it. Still, you may prefer indoor hard, or those South American clay courts.

The European clay court, soaked to its core with history, is up next. Rome, Madrid, Monte Carlo and Paris await us all. The smell of the Mediterranean, of good coffee and exquisite salads await. No clean socks will there be until June. Upsets become more frequent, as do falls and drop shots. The Italians and the Spanish take centre stage. Nadal finally comes out of his hibernation and Federer makes us forget this is his worst surface.

Serena looks shakier than usual and Djokovic continues to be frustrated. On the clay the veterans like Schiavone look far better than they are. Big servers are less effective, while the softer servers find their opponent has time to move and attack their weak delivery. Clay does funny things, but it does guarantee long rallies. Rallies like this:

And watch out for the kick serve and the backhand slice. Yes, clay is the time for the slice and dice. Clay is the time for the grind, though big hitters have their place too. Gonzo, Soderling and Berdych have all had success on clay.

All this is yet to come. We are still in the hard-court season, though it clings on by a thread…

But what actually happened during the first week in Miami? Well,let’s find out....

...Again the phrase ‘lucky loser’ must come up, and it really is such an ugly phrase. This BACKSPINNER does not buy that our sport can’t come up with a better name than that. How about simply "replacement." Sure it’s clunky, but it’s more tactful. Regardless of that, Zeballos has had a great week down by the beach. The lefty is one of four players to beat Nadal in a clay final. The other three have all won slams and two have been number one. But since then Horacio has disappeared. He has slowly climbed back up to 113 in the world. He beat Harrison in qualies, but lost to Nishioka 6-1 in the third. But when Roger withdrew he was back. He had a bye but then opened with Del Potro, who had dismissed Pella 6-0, 7-6[4], and then he edged Verdasco. He came back to beat the Spaniard 1-6, 6-4, 7-6[4]. And now he has Goffin. Beyond Goffin is Pouille or Simon. If he should somehow get past the Belgian, he will have a great chance to win through to the semi-finals.
...After looking a little rusty in the last few weeks, Novak has once more caught fire. He is back to his old self as the top four crumble around him. He is now the clear favourite for the title and it is hard to see who could stop him in the upcoming clay swing. He eased past Edmund 6-3, 6-3 and was never troubled by Sousa in a 6-4, 6-1 victory. The Serb has found his form and his confidence. But now he has a litmus test. He has not had fierce opposition yet. Thiem has not yet dropped a set, and Djokovic has struggled against one-handers before. He lost to Dimitrov in Madrid a few years back in very similar circumstances. He should brush the Austrian aside but Thiem is a massive banana peel. It will be interesting to see what Djokovic does with his schedule. How much does he want to prioritise the French? Does he think he still has two or three good shots at winning it? All shall soon be revealed.
...A run to the fourth round in Australia, followed by his best performance ever in a Masters that he then improved on is the tale of the Russian’s year. He has never made the fourth round at this level before. And now he is getting results. He cruised past Wawrinka. He looks confident and has form. He even has a shot against Kyrgios in the fourth round, though he lacks in firepower. He will also crack the top fifty for the first time. Nobody is suggesting he will go on and be a top five player. To be a solid top 40-50 player is good work if you can find it. And he has found it. He will also win a title this year, or at least make a final.
...The Argentinian turns 32 today (Tuesday). Or did yesterday, depending on your time zone and reading habits. And he has had quite a good career, even if he has flown under the radar for most of it. He has been hampered by injury and an inability to beat the names, but he still has eight titles and he really has maximised his talent. He was born in the same town as Del Potro - Tandil. With a match win under his belt in Miami, could he find some of the old magic on the dirt? He has nothing to lose, which can be very freeing. With no pressure, are we about to see Pico return?
...The Frenchman is projected to rise to a ranking of 80 in the world and has a winnable match in Gilles Simon next. Should he win he will be well on his way to the top 50. He has had a great week on the beach, making sure France’s future legacy is intact. Notching a 7-5, 6-3 win over Gabashvili and then beating seeded Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 6-4, he rolled through to face a stern test in Ferrer. The Spaniard was under the cosh in the first but edged it 7-6[1]. Pouille bounced back to win the next two sets 7-6[4], 7-5 to claim an epic victory and his first top ten win. It’s the kind of match Ferrer always wins but not this time. Now Pouille must go and do it all again, against the gritty Simon. The 22-year old may not have as much potential as some of his compatriots, but his finesse and aggressive game will work on any court, anywhere.
...Kuznetsov went on a run last week, but Wawrinka was the one who ended it. This week he put the fourth seed to the sword 6-4, 6-3. Historically, Wawrinka has never had a happy time here, but the draw was kind and he managed to grind out a result or two in Indian Wells. He has never performed there either, so why can’t he do the same? He beat the Russian just last week and this week should have been no different. The French Open draws ever nearer and Wawrinka will get a boost from the clay, but he also faces pressure. The next eight weeks will be vital for Wawrinka’s season and perhaps his career, too.
...Isner went on a run last week but this week he crashed out to Smyczek. After coming through qualifying and then winning a long three setter in the previous round, Smyzczek outlasted Isner. He won through in a third set breaker 7-5. Isner needs to perform well on the American hard courts because he gets all his points on his home soil. His whole career has been based on the ability to maximise his potential with home crowd support.

Notes from the week...
1 - Nadal pulled out citing dizziness. His opponent Dzumhur was himself considering pulling out in tricky conditions. After the match Rafa had this to say.
2 – Djokovic made a bit of a gaffe when talking about the delicate issue of women’s pay. Of course there are arguments that the men should be paid more, but tennis is one of the few sports that has always had a great balance of men’s and women’s matches. No other sport in the world is as good as tennis is.
3 – Querrey was knocked out in a bizarre fashion.
4 – Azarenka is looking very much like a world number one and not just in the way she’s playing. She has a mental edge, too.
5 – Britain has its first number one since 1973. It was Wade then and a Murray now. Still, Jamie Murray doesn’t feel like the best player in the world. But the rankings aren’t wrong, right?
6- Tennis is a global sport, but has Europe ever been this dominant?

1. MIAMI 3rd Rd. - Dimitrov d. Murray 6-7[1], 6-4, 6-3
...Another loss for Murray. He and Dimitrov have a very exciting rivalry, though Murray leads it, of course. The Bulgarian played another excellent match here to upset the world number two. The forehand, the slice backhand and the first serve were all switched up to max. The first set, especially, had flashes of brilliance from both. Dimitrov has made the race for world number two interesting.
2. IW 3rd Rd. - Pouille d. Ferrer 6-7[1], 7-6[4], 7-5
...I feel it is important to acknowledge just how big a victory this was for the French youngster. He out-ground Ferru in three in humidity. He never stopped going for his shots, never backed down. And he stayed with a top ten player for over two hours. He never panicked, either. It was a perfect performance from the Frenchie.
3. IW 2nd Rd. - Kyrgios d. Baghdatis 6-2, 6-1
...These matches are rare. It is not often players can blitz somebody like Baghdatis. In under an hour Kyrgios blasted 14 aces. It’s about two per service game. This is what Kyrgios is capable of, what he can do when he plays his best. It’s why he has been touted as a future slam winner. And the controversies have been few in the last two weeks. Sounds like progress to me.

Mladenovic lost to Gibbs 6-2, 6-4. The American got just one game against Muguruza in the next round, so it is an even poorer result for our resident Pastry. It’s the lack of resistance that is so worrying. Of course, her form will pick up when we least expect it so everybody needs to look the other way. In the doubles, she and Garcia went down to Bondarenko/Savchuk in three sets. On the funky green clay of Charleston Mladenovic will return. Seeded in the singles at 11, she is likely to enter the doubles, as well. How will she adjust to the clay?

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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