Monday, March 13, 2017

Indian Wells: Half-way Home

Hey, all. Galileo here.

So here is the ATP Backspin Indian Wells mid-way update. We like to mix it up here at BACKSPIN. Well, except when it comes with curses. Curses are a must. It makes BACKSPIN world go round.

...Well, it could be going better. First of all, last year’s quarter-finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga crashed out to Fognini. But then something even more disastrous happened. And it brought back memories. Do you remember back when there was a gap between the Belgians retiring, Sharapova going out and Serena coming back to full force? The WTA had a string of number ones from the 2008 U.S. Open to the 2011 U.S. Open who were utterly unreliable. Ivanovic is fine; she is not included in that, though she was erratic. She played like a number one. No qualms with that. That forehand was a huge weapon and she won a slam. But Jankovic, Safina and Wozniacki could never quite put it together. They all had foibles that ranged from being utterly crazy to total mental breakdowns to every now and then getting utterly blown out.

Well, we are now back in those times.

Andy Murray is having the worst year a number one has had in some time. Federer did not have a great 2008, making only three slam finals. His year then felt poor. This is something else. For no explicable reason Murray is seriously struggling with serve and volleyers. He lost to Pospisil 6-4, 7-6[5]. The key stat? 43-41. That, in percentage terms, is how much better Pospisil returned than Murray. Madness.

Now we have Goffin [11] and Bautista Agut [16] as our highest seeds left. Deliciano Lopez crashed out, too, losing in a third set breaker to Lajovic. All this means Goffin is likely to back up his semi-final from last year. Even better news is Wawrinka has been to two quarter-finals here in 11 years, neither of them recent. So this half is truly open.

If you want to put two dollars on some, put it on Fabio Fognini. He upset Tsonga in three sets, but he still gets you great odds.
...Wawrinka is notoriously shaky here at Indian Wells, but looked good in his 6-3, 6-4 win over Lorenzi. The Swiss can make up ground on the top two with a solid performance here. He has a tough match up next against Kohlschreiber, and that would be a great match to have on the night session. But it won’t be. It may look like there’s a chance for an upset, but the 4-0 head-to-head points to a Wawrinka win. The Swiss has dropped just one set to the German.

Berdych has just done what he needs to, as usual, but the Nishioka has had a great tournament so far. He lost in the final round of qualifying to Swede Elias Ymer, but drew him in the first round after he reached the main draw as a lucky loser. He lost 6-3, 6-1 to the youngster in their first match, but won the second 6-4, 6-1. Then he saw off Dr. Ivo 6-4, 6-3. How much does the third round run mean? $41,350. That’s enough to fund him for three months. And he rises 16 places to 70. That guarantees him a place at the French Open, as it stands. So what a superb tournament it has been for Japan’s number two.

Dominic Thiem versus Mischa Zverev will be a great match, too. Neither of them have dropped a set yet. And the winner gets either Isner or Monfils. So there is plenty to look forward to in the top half. The betting will be we get a surprise finalist. Not a Nishikori or Wawrinka level surprise. A Goffin or Berdych level surprise winner.
...Welcome to the bakery. Several bagels and baguettes on offer here. But first a game for the BACKSPINNERS. And this SPINNER will admit he struggled, especially on the WTA side. See, I couldn’t remember if Madison Keys was above Venus Williams or not.

List the current Top 5 Americans, in order, on both tours...

GALILEO: Sock & S.Williams
TODD: Sock & S.Williams
GALILEO: Isner & Keys
TODD: Isner & Keys
GALILEO: Querrey & V.Williams
TODD: Harrison & V.Williams
GALILEO: Johnson & Brengle
TODD: Querrey & Vandeweghe
GALILEO: Harrison & Bellis
TODD: Johnson & Rogers

(answers later)

Fritz is currently America’s thirteenth best player. That’s pretty much the population of Rhode Island. Right now he could shoot all the way up to 12th. If he wins a couple more matches he could be one of the ten best Americans at tennis. And he could cross over into that direct entry into slams cutoff. For Australia, it is 104 and above. That probably holds true elsewhere. The youngster is in the 120’s, so there is work to do. This week he beat Paire 6-3, 6-2 and then beat our 6th seed 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. Which sounds impressive until you remember that player is Marin Cilic. Now he takes on Jaziri. This the kind of gift horse you don’t look in the mouth.

Jack Sock beat Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen 6-3, 0-6, 6-4 to advance. Dimitrov has barely missed a beat this year and it has continued in the desert. He demolished Youzhny 6-4, 6-0. The winner of that will get Jaziri or Fritz. Looks easy on paper, but both those players will know what an opportunity this is. Dimitrov has a golden chance for a semi-final here, which would propel him towards the top ten. That Dimitrov Sock match could even be a slam final one day down the line. If you see a bet about that, take it. Put five dollars on it. One day you might reap quite the reward.

The real power in this quarter lies at the bottom. Kei Nishikori has dismissed Britain’s Dan Evans already. He has 25th seed Gilles Muller up next, but that isn’t the kind of match which will trouble him; he is too strong off the ground. Pouille looked good in his 6-3, 6-2 romp over Struff while Donald Young’s purple patch has stayed purple. This is a talented quartet we have in the sixth section of the draw. This BACKSPINNER hopes they put Young and Pouille on a match court. It would be a memorable match.

Nishikori has a beautifully carved path through to the semi-final here. Dimitrov is looking likely to be his quarter-final opponent. That will be another classic. This bottom half is really the one to watch.
...First watch this, the shot of the tournament. And it comes from this quarter.

It’s a lovely point, the dropshot well executed and the tweener lob superb.

But above that section is the Spanish section. Nadal and Verdasco will meet for the 19th time. And it is 15-3 to Nadal. He won the last match and it was in 2016, here in Indian Wells 6-0, 7-6[9]. But in the last five matches? 3-2 to Ferver. Yes, this is one of those bizarre rivalries that only seems to happen in our sport. Serena/Sharapova anyone?

Anyway, the winner of that gets American Steve Johnson, the 24th seed. He faces the 9th seed, but home advantage will get him past that old Swiss bloke. If somehow, that Ronal Ferdet guy gets past him, well, then he gets to face a lefty Spaniard. Are you ready for deju vu? Because it’s coming.

Props to Kevin Anderson for continuing the comeback. The South African beat Gaio 6-1, 6-4. Johnson beat him 6-4, 3-6, 7-6[4].

It’s big news as well in the bottom half - the first time Alexander Zverev plays Nick Kyrgios on the ATP. You can obviously expect fireworks. And Del Potro versus Djokovic. Recently it’s 1-1 between those two. What a brilliant quarter that is. Djokovic looked very nervy against Edmund. His opponent served for the second set at 5-3. The Serb only just escaped. But Delpo has looked good. He is moving well. The serve is working and that forehand is still hot enough to blister opponents.

The better match does not involve Djokovic. The best match is Del Potro versus Nick Kyrgios.

1. IW R2 – Fognini d. Tsonga 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4
...An astonishing match. Does anyone play spoiler better than the Italian? The last set had so many breaks. 12 break points apiece, but Tsonga could only take three, while the Italian took four chances. Tsonga could not find any rhythm and the Italian punished him for it. This BACKSPINNER does love a clash of styles and this has that attribute in spades. Tsonga was making so much progress, but now he needs a result in Key Biscayne. But it is excusable. The Frenchie's wife is expecting. Entering here was a last minute decision. He will go home now, most likely, and godspeed.
2. IW R2 – Pospisil d. Murray 6-4, 7-6[5]
...The data for tennis records is sadly incomplete. But ranked 129, this is certainly up there with the lowest ranked players to beat a world number one. The WTA records for that are Zhang Shuai [228] d. Dinara Safina in 2009 at Tokyo. Julie Coin [188] did it against Ivanovic at Flushing Meadows in 2008, in the second round. Zheng Jie did it to Ana [Again!] at Wimbledon in that same year, but in the third round. She was ranked 133rd as, bizarrely, was Clijsters when she did it to Lindsay Davenport in 2005 at Indian Wells. Chang Kai-Chen was 132 when she knocked out Safina in Beijing in 2009.

Those were all pretty poor except the Clijsters loss. Pospisil is right in that 130 area. This is the kind of loss that leaves a mark. Murray is struggling right now, really struggling mightily. He led 4-2 but lost four games in a row to lose the first set. No world number one should have that happen to them. Really, this BACKSPINNER is speechless. It has to be better.

Seeded 21st, it was going quite well for our girl. She beat Wickmayer 6-2, 7-6[5]. She was seeded 21st and Svitolina had only just scraped past qualifier Wang Qiang of China. But last night she imploded, crashing to a 6-2, 6-1 loss.

But at least we had this.

No doubles for Dasha, but she rises a place in singles. Go figure. And hey, if Todd and I played together against Svitolina we would struggle to get two games.

And, finally... the answers:
1.Jack Sock (#18)
2.John Isner (#22)
3.Sam Querrey (#26)
4.Steve Johnson (#27)
5.Ryan Harrison (#45)
1.Serena Williams (#1)
2.Madison Keys (#9)
3.Venus Williams (#13)
4.CoCo Vandeweghe (#22)
5.Lauren Davis (#38)
6.Alison Riske (#39)
7.Christina McHale (#44)
8.CiCi Bellis (#55)
9.Shelby Rogers (#59)

Thanks all. See you soon! And visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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