Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Wk.19- Rafa's Storybook Story

Hey, all. Galileo here.

Novak Djokovic led Rafael Nadal 11-1 in their last twelve before they met in Madrid. Rafa had not won in three years. He has snapped an seven match losing streak. It comes at an interesting time.

Andy Murray, who just turned 30, is crashing and burning. Djokovic is imploding. Roger Federer has his eyes set on Wimbledon. But Nadal has ticked off all the boxes now. He has dominated the clay swing. He has gotten rid of the Novak hoodoo at last. He is so much the overwhelming favourite for the French the question is not if he will win but how many games me might lose.

During their match you could see that Djokovic's backhand had lost some of its bite. His best shot was not a factor. The match was always going to be tricky from the moment Nadal took a 4-0 first set lead. The Spaniard's backhand was on song throughout. Nadal is now hitting with such authority. He is attacking the return of serve. He is taking it to Novak. It is clear Nole has no idea how to deal with that. He looked lacklustre and, at certain points, outright panicked.

We have also seen the end of Grigor Dimitrov's good start to the year. He isn't done yet, but he has to fix the issues, stop the rot. We are coming up to Wimbledon, which is traditionally his best slam. He needs to come up with a strategy for winning the matches that are on a real knife-edge. You get that with wins, with match play. And when he had that hot streak to start the year the close matches never bothered him. He could cruise through them. But now it is getting harder.

The biggest player improvement this week came from the Austrian, Dominic Thiem. He has finally begun to move towards the top four. If he can defend the majority of his points from the French Open last year, he will be fine. What the Austrian is going through is the process where the hunters become the hunted. He can't just turn up and play spoiler like Alex Zverev still can. He is expected to win matches at every tournament. And that brings its own pressures and problems. The Austrian has struggled in the past six months to make that adjustment, but the signs are now pointing upwards.

He is back up to his highest ever ranking of seven, and he is playing himself into form at just the right time. He is no longer a teenager or a rising prospect. At the age of 23, Thiem has now arrived. If he is to win a slam soon it is going to be the French or U.S. Open. It is hard to win Wimbledon as a kid unless you're Boris Becker or the like. And he already has a history of runs at the slams in Paris and New York. Last year, he faded against Djokovic in the semi-final. He wasn't ready yet to cause the upset. But that valuable learning experience has helped him to become the player he is today. All his best wins have come on this surface. He beat Stan Wawrinka in Madrid in an epic night match a couple of years ago.

But Thiem is not the only one who had a good week. Let's get on with the show...

S: Rafael Nadal def. Dominic Thiem 7-6(8)/6-4
D: Kubot/Melo d. Mahut/Roger-Vasselin

...Are you a fan of fairytales? Well, you'll enjoy this one.

Let me set the scene.

This BACKSPINNER was out with Todd hiking along the Appalachian trail. Every year BACKSPIN has a fun day, week or month out and we reflect upon the year, share a bottle of aged whiskey and laugh at the antics of the tours. That one year we visited the Cliffs of Simona was a good one. And the year we spent a week in the Swiss Alps, spying on Federer and Hingis, was another classic. Anyway, on this particular occasion we ended up in a small town in the back of beyond. And there we came upon a wizened old man, full of the experiences of life. And he filled his pipe, lit a campfire, and began his tale from the days of yore. Gather round, said he, and I shall tell you a tale. And this is roughly how it went.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, before even your grandfather's time, there was a small kingdom on an island in a country where it never rained and the sea was always the deepest shade of blue. And this small kingdom was beloved by its citizens. The king and queen were fair and just. Her golden hair sparkled in the sun and his great booming laugh was famous throughout the land. Sadly, however, try as they might they could not come up with an heir.

Every day the queen would cry seven single tears and bottle them up because she believed that the sadness inside could be removed this way. The king would look on with grief etched into his every feature. Just as the good king and queen had begun to think of giving up, a passing fair set up near their glorious kingdom. Disguising themselves as common folk, their majesties went out and sought the help of a witch. She gave them the gift of a child, but at a price - whatever baby you have will never be happy staying put in your kingdom. She could tell who they really were because of her ungodly powers, of course. So the couple, in their desperation, agreed.

And they bore a child. Handsome and charming he never cried and only ever smiled. For a while, all was well. The royal couple truly believed that they could make the prince lose his wanderlust. But, alas and alack, the prince longed for the outside world. Every day he would wake up and spend all day staring outside the window, a look of longing all over his face. All he wanted was to be free and happy.

This went on for many, many months. But his father was a good man and soon noticed this. Worried, he talked to the queen and she said, “worry not my dear, I have a plan. Build him a tennis court and he will be free to go outside as much as he wishes and may never want to leave.” The king, agreeing with this, built a beautiful new clay court in the spacious palace gardens. And so,for a time, the young prince was happy - he would spend ten hours on the court every day. But soon even that was not enough. He had grown bored of his island, and wanted to explore the world beyond.

He wanted nothing more than to be out of the palace walls and away from the small kingdom. The king, who had grown ever more elderly throughout the years, enlisted his younger brother, Tonius, to look after young Raphael. And so they went out in the world to seek their fortune. Along the way Rafael would encounter such hardships as knee surgery, retirement in slam finals, and the U.S. Open. But all those stories are for another day.

That young man, born right-handed as legend has it, discovered himself in the world beyond. And when he returned he was ready to take up the throne, for he had become a king...of clay.

...We are back to the days of Nadal dominating every clay event and a different guy making a final every week. If Federer never plays another clay event again, this BACKSPINNER would not be surprised. Murray is unlikely to win another final again, or even make one. Djokovic has looked very poor this whole year. Wawrinka is inconsistent. So there's a gap in the market. Tomas Berdych, the French stars and Kei Nishikori have all had forgetable years. They won't plug that gap. It means that guys like Thiem, who have weapons, are left with the monumental task.

In 2014, aged 20, he entered the U.S. Open for the first time. He beat Ernests Gulbis, on the cusp of the top ten, and Feli Lopez, a top 20 seed, on the way to the fourth round. Sure, he was manhandled by Berdman when he got there, but that first run, that first glimpse of what he could do, was exciting. Ever since then he has been one of the most exciting players on the tour. That big kick serve is ludicrously effective, especially combined with the angles he can hit. This week he beat lucky loser Jared Donaldson 6-3, 6-4 to open his campaign. Next he edged Dimi in an epic, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6[9]. That one was the match of the clay court swing so far. He beat another lucky loser, Borna Coric, in the quarterfinals, dispatching him 6-1, 6-4. It was a straightforward 6-4, 6-4 win over Pablo Cuevas in the semi-finals. With no sets lost the Austrian had made his first ever Masters 1000 final. It is his second final of this swing, and he lost to Nadal then, too. But he did better than he did in Barcelona. He got two more games. Rafa still won 7-6[8], 6-4. With his ranking and Federer's withdrawal from Paris, Thiem is going to have a really good shot at making his first slam final in the coming weeks. If he draws Murray in the draw he will probably make another semi-final.
...Feli has played in every single edition of this event. Nobody else has done that. In 2002, he was 19. He beat Arnaud Clement in three sets in the first round of the Madrid Masters. That was his first match here. He won a couple of matches in that opening tournament. and now here he is, aged 48 (or 35), still winning matches and still just as Felicious as ever.

...Cuevas had a great tournament. So did Zverev. The Uruguayan, in fact, made the semi-finals as an unseeded player, but did not face a single seed himself. But Nishikori is really the surprise. Struggling with an injury, he pulled out of Barcelona. But he enters Madrid? Now is it just me or does that make no sense to you? He won two matches and then withdrew. A slam is upon us. Now why would the Japanese star make such a basic scheduling error? If there's a slam coming up, especially one at which you have realistic title expectations, why not sit out the three weeks before? Health comes before form. Besides, he had no form. He had nothing to lose and so much to gain. It's a mystifying situation. Take a leaf out of Federer's book. The Swiss is happy to skip the clay swing and aim for Wimbledon. He is assured a semi-final at SW19. He knows he has an excellent chance of title number eight there. Why doesn't Kei try and make a semi-final outside of Flushing Meadows?
...We have been harping on about how poor the Scot has been here at BACKSPIN. But a loss to Coric is the latest low in a series of disappointing results. How can the world number one lose 6-3, 6-3 to a 20 year old? A kid who is a qualifier and outside the top 40 just spanked the guy who is supposed to be our best player. In the next six weeks Murray has 5000 points to defend. If he doesn't defend it he will be in big trouble. His position in the rankings is looking more and more dangerous.
...Marin Cilic has struck again. The Croat has gone from winning a title last week to crashing out this. Zverev won 6-7[3], 6-3, 6-4. The German also beat Berdych, 6-4, 6-4, and almost scraped by Cuevas. But it is his win over Cilic, a top-ten player, apparently, that was really impressive. When a big server like that takes the first set it can be so hard to come back into a match.


1. Madrid R3 – Thiem d. Dimitrov 4-6, 6-4, 7-6[9]
...Thiem saves five match points, finally takes it on his second match point, and comes back from 3-6 down in the breaker to win. It was quite extraordinary. The best stat of all, though? Both men won 112 points. They have two of the best backhands in the business, which just added to the fantastic display. The crosscourt rallies on display in this kind of match are mind-blowing.
2. Madrid R2 – Djokovic d. Almagro 6-1, 4-6, 7-5
...We briefly saw the very best of Nicolas Almagro return. While you got the feeling the Serb was inevitably going to win, it was still a great contest. The Spaniard's backhand worked an absolute treat, but he couldn't find a way past Djokovic's defenses when it really mattered.

3. Madrid F – Nadal d. Thiem 7-6[8], 6-4
...Yet more evidence that Thiem is going to be a top three player in the near future. Do you know how hard it is to live with Rafa on clay? The Austrian even managed to save three match points. But he did blow his chances. Up a break early in the first, he couldn't hang onto it.
3. Estoril QF – Anderson D. Gasquet 6-2, 3-6, 7-6[3]
...In his last four meetings with the Frenchman, Anderson has lost just once. Every single one of their eight previous meetings were in the round of 32. Anderson rises 74 spots to 121 in the world. With a solid clay swing, he may not need to qualify for the French Open.

Wawrinka [3] d. [16] A. Zverev
Nadal [4] d. Del Potro
Nadal [4] d. [3] Wawrinka

...Rafael Nadal is tearing it up. Djokovic and Murray both look very poor right now. So there isn't a great option anywhere. But if we did have this set of semi-finals it would be very enjoyable.

In Madrid, our girl lost to CiCi Bellis 7-5, 5-7, 6-2. In the doubles, she paired up with A-Pavs, but they lost 7-6[5], 6-2.

In Rome, top seeded in the qualifiers (she was there because she forgot to enter the tournament!), Gavrilova beat Sasnovich 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. Then she defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-4, 6-2. Her reward? A clash with tenth seeded Madison Keys. So, this happened...

In doubles, she's with the same partner. They open with an all-Spanish pair of Arruabarrena/Parra-Santonja. She is defending third round points from last year.

Currently ranked 33, she can't afford to keep falling in the rankings. If she can't get some kind of seeding for the slams she will be in trouble.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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