Monday, March 27, 2017

Miami: Meeting in the Middle

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Usually this BACKSPINNER just sticks to the ATP. And, in fact, Todd generally leaves the other side alone. He has even, to this BACKSPINNER'S dismay, stopped capping off the slams. Which puts more pressure on me.

Every now and then this BACKSPINNER feels the need to cross over. For example, after a slam, some comment on the WTA, normally involving the phrase Serena dominated or Serena choked, is needed. If Kuznetsova wins a match several saccharine paragraphs on her brilliance are absolutely warranted. But, for once, it is neither of those things.

My dark horse for player of the year is...

Spain’s Garbine Muguruza.

Now, stay with me here. She hasn’t looked brilliant at all. Normally when a player wins matches in an ugly fashion, what you say depends on how much you like them. Muguruza is a very likeable character and so you can look at her gutsiness, especially in the face of injuries, and say, gosh darn it, she just won’t die. [Ed.note: especially when you consider her sometimes-history of "just giving up" when the proverbial chips are down - tds]

In Brisbane, she beat Sam Stosur 7-5, 6-7[2], 7-5. To do that with a partisan crowd against you, in a three hour match, is extraordinary. Then she survives a match point and, again in three hours, beats Daria Kasatkina 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(7). In the next match she comes back from 1-4 down to beat Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-4. It takes just under two hours. Three matches took her eight hours. No wonder she retired in the semi-final.
Then in Australia she turns it on, not losing a set in the first four rounds. To cap it off she loses 6-4, 6-0 to Vandeweghe. No injury excuses there, it was pretty poor. But injuries do keep her from performing at Dubai and Doha.

She went 1-1 in Fed Cup play, but the Fed Cup is an entirely different entity to anything else, really. It has so little bearing on anything else [Ed: although, a good case can be made that Pliskova's rise has seemed to have been influenced by her FC prowess, and the Pastries -- Mladenovic and Garcia -- have benefited from the exposure to team play, and Captain Mauresmo, of course.]. Look at Kazakhstan in the Davis Cup as the perfect example of international competitions distorting things.
So she comes to the March swing with nought resting on her shoulders. No real pressure, no expectations and plenty of question marks. She looked superb in the 6-2, 6-3 dismissal of Kirsten Flipkens in Indian Wells. Her inside-out backhand is one of the best weapons on the WTA right now. If it hits it means trouble, but that is a big if.

In the third round match against rising star Kayla Day she goes down a set. She tightens it up in the second, hangs with the American and saves break points at 5-5. From there the match is hers, but boy did she have to dig deep into the well. And do you know how little water there is in California? She survives like the monster from a generic 70’s horror flick. Like, say, Alligator. Both BACKSPINNERS picked Svitolina to win the section, but Muguruza, in one of those bizarre results only the WTA can produce, won 7-6[5], 1-6, 6-0. It felt like an upset. It took Pliskova in two very tight breaker sets, 7-2 and 7-5, to finally, finally, put two bullets in the alligator’s head.

Now we’re in Miami. In her opening match, Christina McHale won the first eight games and led 6-0, 3-2. But again Muguruza comes back, using the rain as Goran Ivanisevic did, and wins that second set. She saves a match point in the breaker and takes it 7-6[6]. Then she falls a break behind but recovers and wins that set 6-4. I took her two days, but she got through to the third round. And there she struggled past Zhang Shuai 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. It was over two hours and more of a grind than your local coffee joint.

Forget Serena and Venus. Forget Wozniacki or Pliskova. This girl is the most impressive, or the least depending on if you like her, out there. And this BACKSPINNER is loving it. She just won’t die. And, strangely, I found myself thinking she’d beat the Woz, which was clearly absolute insanity and stupidity and foolishness and bloody idiotic. But I reckon you’re just the same.

And so does Todd and he knows it!!

[Ed.: of course, Galileo wrote this before the Dane advanced past Muguruza on Monday when she retired due to illness after dropping a 1st set tie-break. But the result came only after the Spaniard, following the pattern he just addressed, battled back from 4-1 down in the 1st set to force that tie-break.]

Right, let’s talk about the men...

...Yes, the man who has beaten Federer, Wawrinka and Murray has shone once again. He has made a very nice to the fourth of round of Miami, and for players like Delbonis, floating around the top 50, this kind of run is better than a semi-final elsewhere. It gives you more money, gives you more fans and it also gives you confidence. And boy is that elusive. He opened with a 7-5, 7-6[4] win over compatriot Juan Monaco. Beating Pico, even now at the end of his career, is always a good victory. Against Carreno Busta, the tour’s breakout star this year, he was blasted off the court for the first hour, and found himself 6-1, 3-1 down. But he ground his way back into the match and eventually took the second set and the momentum. The Spaniard never recovered and lost the last set 6-2. Jan-Lennard Struff, who had beaten Simon 6-1, 6-1, was his next opponent. Again Delbo was clutch when it mattered, winning 7-6[5], 6-1. So now he has a maiden quarterfinal on the line. He has a stiff challenge to get past first: second seed Kei Nishikori. As it stands he will rise five or six places to land just out of the top 50. Win and he will be pushing the top 40. Beat either Fabio Fognini or Donald Young and he’ll be up near the top 35.
...Well firstly watch this delicious point.

Then enjoy this act of brutal violence.

Here’s a reference point for the above...

The thing about Coric, the key, really, is to hold your horses. At 18 he was world number 33. Now let’s be clear. Martini Hingis at 16. Jennifer Capriati at 14. Chang at 17. Even Hewitt at 20 being ranked number one. That doesn’t happen anymore. Nobody is saying that it can’t ever happen again but the odds are really slim. So now, at 20, his ranking of 62 is impressive in its own way. He has hung around, stayed relevant, and even won a few big matches. His 7-6[6], 4-6, 6-3 win over Granollers in the opening round is the kind of victory that's really good to see him producing. A tough one, the sort of win that doesn’t ever come easy. Then he beat Thiem 6-1, 7-5. He should have lost that second set but toughed it out. If he can beat Mannarino he will rise up the rankings into the top 50 again. Just a few places above him is Karen Khachenov. The Russian is the same age. What a pair those two are. Or, rather, will be.

We haven’t had an ASK-THE-BACKSPINNER featurette (different from a quiz featurette in so many ways) for a while. So...

There are going to be five 20 year olds in the top 100 when the rankings come out on Monday.

Khachenov is in at 52
Coric at 62
Hyeon Chung at 92
Jared Donaldson 95
Ernesto Escobedo should break into the top 100

Now, Todd, could you rank these guys in order of how you think they’ll be ranked by Wimbledon 2020?

[and I'm making my first pick based on how you talk about him, and that I figure you'll have him first...

Chung,Coric,Khachenov,Donaldson,Escobedo (though I don't really know anything about EE)... and I might rank 19-year old #101-ranked Frances Tiafoe ahead of them all, or in the third slot, at least... but maybe that's because he's a "local" for Backspin HQ - tds]


Chung, Coric, Khachenov, Donaldson, Escobedo. There you go that’s my list. [Hmmm, well, that was sort of anticlimactic, wasn't it? - tds]
...For Nicolas Mahut the fourth round is a funny one. Never in a major doubles tournament has he exited at that stage. At a major singles tournament only once has he reached that stage. That would be Wimbledon, where he lost to Djokovic-conqueror Querrey, last year. Well, until now that is. The world’s best doubles player is lighting it up in singles now, too. The Frenchie overwhelmed Mmoh 6-3, 6-2 in his opener but then came the upset. He beat Johnson, our 23rd seed, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. With no Dimitrov he has cruised through to the fourth, beating Pella 6-4, 6-3 on the way. It will get harder, however. He has to face Nadal. Well, he always has the doubles.
...Berdie has been playing here since 2005. It really is a long time. Agassi was still playing then. In fact, the American made the semi-finals of the event, losing to Federer. Anyway, Berdman’s career can be summed up in two beautiful stats. The first: from 2007 to 2013 he lost in the first round of at least one slam. Every year for seven years without fail. The other stat? For six straight years he qualified for the World Tour Finals, from 2010-2015. He made it through the round robin just once. Miami is one of his best tournaments. He is 4-3 in quarterfinals, but 1-3 in semi-finals. This year he needs a big result to kick start his season. It has been a damp squib so far. The thing about the Czech is that it does not take much to get him lit up. A 6-2, 6-2 win over Andrey Rublev is a good start. If he can beat Muller he will face either Mannarino or Coric. The quarter-finals beckon once more for Berdman here in Miami.
...We have a way of doing things here at BACKSPIN. Todd is very sensible, picks accurately what is going to happen, keeps a firm hand on the steering wheel of the good ship BACKSPIN. I come along, make stupid picks, make crazy calls and do a poor job analytically. The good thing about this is when he gets it right nobody is that impressed. But when I do, oh the bells ring out. And calling Fognini to make a quarterfinal at this tournament? Well it’s totally mad. It is utterly without defense. Except that, well, it happened. [Applause.] Or rather it could. [Whoops... well, keep it in mind.] Fabio has won three matches and made the fourth round. As this BACKSPINNER types he is up 5-3 in the third against Chardy. If he does make the fourth well that justifies the pick. He beat Harrison 7-5, 6-4 in the first round, which these days counts as a great win. In the next he decided to be all Fognini and he beat Sousa 7-6[8], 2-6, 6-3. And, wow, Fognini just hit the best shot you’ve ever seen to go up 15-0 while serving for it. He sat back the whole point and, at the last, unleashed a rocket. In the entire third set the Frenchman won just four points on the Italian’s serve. So to recap, serving for the match, Fognini fell over to go down 15-30 then played a blinder of a point to level it. Now it is 40-30 after the Frenchman missed a volley and-oh lord - he missed a sitter. Now we’re in a tense deuce. This final game is incredible. Now a racket smash from the Frenchie. And it’s over. A nice handshake and Fabio’s done it. [Applause.]
...There should be some kind of rule that if you lose in your first match at a certain amount of tournaments you fall out of the top ten. Why is it this U.S. Open champion with two huge weapons can’t even beat journeymen? Why can’t he ever produce it consistently? Why he is still a top ten player? It actually makes this BACKSPINNER angry. Not in the way the ‘hand incident’ or certain ATP tour players sexist comments do, but still irritated. Blegh, get it together. Even Stosur is more consistent.
...Dimitrov is gone. Yes, the Bulgarian went down tamely to Guido Pella. It now means BACKSPIN town has to cool down on Dimi. His hot start to the year is gone but not forgotten. He was due a couple of poor results and he just ran out of steam. The South American triumphed 6-3, 7-6(4). He saved several set points in that second set. The worst stat for Grigor? 38 unforced errors. It’s just so much. Clay is coming up where Dimi can regroup. As for the Argentinian, well he had a great chance to make a run here and go up in the rankings. But he lost to Mahut in straight sets. He does rise 15 places to 143 in the world, but he should have done better. Never mind, for he too can look forward to the dirt.

1. MIAMI R3 – Nadal d. Kohlschreiber 0-6, 6-2, 6-3
...What a crazy match. In the first set the German returned every serve perfectly, served superbly and played the perfect match. Aggressive but measured, he mixed it up, too. And Nadal had no answer. But Kohl is a rhythm player. Once Rafa had his claws in the match it was always going to go only one way. Nadal knows how to deal with being hit off the court. He came back in the second and then broke in the third. It wasn’t easy, but he has made it through. Now he has to play Mahut. He should win that comfortably, but this is not the ultimate version of Nadal we are seeing this year.
2. MIAMI R3 – Nishikori D. Verdasco 7-6[2], 6-7[5], 6-1
...Verdasco just gets rotten draws. He had a good win over Escobedo 7-6[9], 7-5. And he gets Kei. He always draws Rafa or Novak, so at least he got a break from them. Going up against the Japanese he knew he was overmatched, but he really pushed him hard. Down 3-0 in the first set the Spaniard gamely fought back before collapsing in the first set breaker. He still didn’t fold, however. He got back up, came back and took the second despite being down 3-1. In the third, he just couldn’t live with his opponent, however. He eventually collapsed to a loss. But two and three quarter hours in the heat versus Nishikori is nothing to be sniffed at. Plus he did this so that’s something...


Dasha lost badly in the singles. She did poorly in the doubles. Yes, it hurts. She is in Charleston next. She can catch the Hornets in a game. Oh, and the Hurricanes, too. Did you know they have the lowest average attendance in the league? Well, it serves them right for stealing the Whalers from Hartford. How dare they? The bast-.

Anyway, we can only wish Dasha the best of luck. Actually, she and Nick would probably enjoy watching the Hornets play, on a serious note. They’re sort of in playoff contention. Though they’re definitely riding Kemba Walker.

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

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