Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wk.32- The Art of Saving a Match Point

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

In a tennis match you have several key components. You have the shots, the commentary, the tactics, the illicit coaching and the umpire. You'll also need a ball, a racket, a functioning court and, perhaps most importantly, a crowd. Tennis players may choose to use the crowd or not. The ones who do it well often gain points from it. The ones who the crowd dislike may struggle or use the hate. Tomas Berdych used the boos to see off Rafael Nadal in Madrid. That match is in our Hall of Shame. It's close to the 2004 U.S. Open match between Jennifer Capriati and Serena Williams. But that one had nothing to do with the crowd. And sometimes the crowd helps you even if you don't ask it to. See Williams in 2011 at the same venue.

Last week in Canada, the men's tournament was one of the best we have had in years. It was a handful of points away from being totally different and the crowd was heavily involved.

And how about Roger Federer having the nous to talk to them in French. He even tried to be funny. Well, I think he did.

The best crowds in tennis can be found at the majors. The worst tend to be in Asia. The huge stadiums and lack of spectators make the problem look even worse than it is. And with the U.S. Open coming up we are no doubt about to get another great week of crowd interaction and noise. Arthur Ashe is so big and the Americans so loud that the atmosphere in there is like being in a maelstrom. And again, some players can use it. Some can't. Would Monfils have been able to pull off his heroics without the loyal fans backing him?

Now, a quick update on the number one race. Andy Murray clings on. Roger Federer making the final has put a tonne of pressure on Rafa. If Roger wins Cincy for the billionth time he can be mediocre in New York and still take that top ranking. Well, that will not happen as he has just withdrawn. Nadal can take over the top spot with a win. But if Federer wins the U.S. Open he will be top dog. The Scot has 7,750 points. Rafa Nadal has 7,555. Roger has 7,145.

Before we go on it should be noted that this week marks the 18 year anniversary of the retirement of Steffi Graf. The only person to ever win each major four times, she was dominant in a way nobody was or will ever be again. She played like she was double parked. She was mentally tough, had the biggest weapon the game had ever seen [until Serena came along] and had several big career comebacks. She visited Monica Seles in the hospital, a surprise considering their relationship, and famously said during the 1999 Roland Garros, “Can we just play tennis, OK?”

The French crowd that day played a vital role in the match. Graf may have been known as icy, cold and occasionally emotionless, but what you saw was exactly what you got. Martina Navratilova has a reputation for being catty and for being overly critical. Graf was only ever a cold fish. She was a constant from 1987 to her retirement 12 years later. She even managed to do that with dignity. So today reflect upon a legend. Few women affect the very landscape of our sport. She did. And why there isn't a famous stadium named after her anywhere is anybody's guess. There should be.

But eough of the almighty Stefanie Graf. It is time for us to begin.

S: Alexander Zverev def. Roger Federer 6-3/6-4
D: Herbert/Mahut d. Bopanna/Dodig

...If you were to say Alex Zverev has been the third best player all year you'd be dead on. It is so rare to ever win a Masters title during your career. To do it twice in a year is insane. Especially when you have the Big Four sharing your career arc. But this year the German has been something else. That backhand is a wrecking ball of Bruce Springsteen-like proportions. He has been measured, consistent yet aggressive and he has even played some excellent doubles at times. Fitting that on Graf's anniversary Germany finally has a new hero. But there is a Caroline Wozniacki style twist. He has a rubbish record at the slams. He is only 11-9. Granted, he has run into Nadal, Verdasco and Raonic at the last three, but he should still be doing better than that. But how many players go 2-0 in their first two Masters finals? How many do it on different surfaces? In the last 14 months he has made nine finals and lost just three. He and his brother have also gone 1-3 in doubles finals. He won two titles at this year's Open Sud de France. This month he has not lost a match. He has gone 10-0, and beat Kevin Anderson twice. The serve is working nicely, the backhand is well oiled and he has variety for days. In his three-set match against Gasquet, where he cruised for the first hour but was taken to a third-set breaker, he looked a world-beater in patches and a nothing in other parts of the match. But he turned out a memorable performance against Kyrgios, who has had his number the last couple of times they've played, defeating him 6-4, 6-3. He eased past Anderson 7-5, 6-4. Denis Shapovalov was next, with both men playing for a spot in the final. But the youngster looked tired and the German's heavy weaponry proved too much. He beat Shapo 7-5, 6-4. In the final he rolled past an injured Roger Federer 6-3, 6-4. But can he now convert this into a slam win? Or at least can he convert this into a slam result?
...We have talked so much about Roger Federer. We have gone over his forehand, described once as a great liquid whip. We have pored over his SABR and been awestruck by his aggressive backhand. This week was just so standard. He beat Peter Polansky in the second round, David Ferrer in the third and Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarters. It is so bog standard. It is just what Roger Federer does for work. He wasn't perfect, but he was efficient. He was measured. And he managed to get past banana peel Robin Haase in the semi-finals. There are so many names we never talk about. We can, and will, talk about the GOAT at length. This week he tied Ivan Lendl by making his 189th semi-final. That is second all time. His 142 finals are third all time. Had he won it would have been title number 94, the same amount won by Ivan Lendl. History beckons for Roger as usual. But this week he was denied. And that really isn't usual at all. If his back is ok he will be more than fine at the U.S. Open.

....Not many players announce their arrival on the world stage by assaulting an umpire. Few are then forgiven after that. But the swashbuckling youngster, who so resembles Jana Novotna, who has never won a main draw slam match, is already a recognizable figure. He plays a fast, exciting brand of tennis with a big one-handed backhand and a devil-may-care attitude. But his epic run in his homeland almost wasn't. Check this out...

The quality of match points this week has been sensational. The volley on that second one is not possible. It is freakish. You cannot do that shot. It defies physics. It goes against nature itself. After winning that one he dismissed Delpo 6-3, 7-6[4]. He saw off Nadal in a dramatic third set breaker. And he came back from a set down to edge Adrian Mannarino 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. It took Alex Zverev playing lights out to finally end his run. But for a kid with no senior slam experience, or very little, he's being talked about an awful lot. Maybe all the upcoming juniors should consider hitting an umpire in the face.
...Nobody thought the Spaniard would go quietly, though going he most definitely is. He taught some youngsters valuable lessons this week. He beat Kyle Edmund 6-7 [5], 6-4, 6-3. Then he beat Jack Sock 7-6[7], 3-6, 6-1. His usual level of grit and determination were present and correct. He even managed to push Roger Federer around for a bit, as he went down fighting 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. He knows that this U.S. Open and next year's French are his last shots for deep runs. He first made the semi-final here in 2007. He beat David Nalbandian in five sets in the third round, Rafa Nadal in four in the fourth round and JI Chela in the quarters. It has always been one of his favourite venues. Could there be one last happy memory there for him? This BACKSPINNER's heart says yes, but the head says no.
...Haase does this about four times a year. This time it was at a Masters. He beat 7th seeded Dimitrov but no other seeded players. He knows how to take advantage of a weakened draw. Haase even put up a decent fight against Roger Federer, recovering from 0-2 in the second set breaker. But even in this day and age of a weaker ATP journeyman can only go so far. He will have chances in New York to do some damage. With a bit of luck multiple wins are on the cards.
...This BACKSPINNER doesn't get it. Rafa is playing for the top ranking. Rafa Nadal -- the toughest, tightest player ever. He never blows a chance. He smacked Borna Coric 6-1, 6-2. But he is out-gritted by Denis Shapovalov? A little kid beat Nadal? After he was dominated for a set and a half the Canuck came back to take the second. But with the sets at 3-6, 6-4, he kept going. And the third set went to a breaker. Once there Rafa took a 3-0 lead. He would win just one more point in the whole match. He was taken apart. It just isn't Nadal. If he wins the title this week he will take the top spot. But it just doesn't even feel on the cards. Oh, there was also this...

...Last week it was Medvedev. Now Adrian Mannarino has usurped him. He defeated him 6-3, 6-1 in the first round. After that he beat Milos Raonic and his home crowd 6-4, 6-4. Hyeon Chung was next and the Frenchman won through 6-3, 6-3. Equipped with good mental stability and a whippy forehand, nobody wants to play Mannarino. Even the top guys, like Djokovic, do not enjoy playing against him. He is slippery and tricky and hits awkward shots. He doesn't miss often and yet still has firepower. So for youngsters like the Russian and Korean this is a nightmare. He even took the first set against Denis Shapovalov 6-2 before fading to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 loss. But it is a good week for the veteran. He is now ranked 36th. It might be enough for a seed. Two more wins should secure it.

1. Montreal R3 – Schwartzman d. Donaldson 0-6, 7-5, 7-5
...The American got up 6-0, 2-0. Then he blew it. He had the mental strength to come back in the third set, but still lost. In American tennis most of it has to be mental. Because there's no problem with their tennis, just their brains. Don't be like Novotna, unless you are at the net. The most wonderful thing about our sport is the scoring system. It is never over. That is both a blessing and a curse.
2. Montreal QF – Monfils d. Nishikori 6-7[4], 7-5, 7-6[8]
...We've all seen it by now. It is insanity.

Monfils does it again. He comes from nowhere to save a point. Then from nowhere to win the match. And in his round three clash with Bautista Agut he lost from match point up. This is why Todd cannot watch a Monfils match without bursting into tears or flames. [Flames. - tds] Because all this talent, all this ability, all these amazing shots are being wasted. We wish there was a way to give another player these attributes. If you could combine Nalbandian and Monfils. Oh boy. Unbeatable.
3. Montreal R2 – A.Zverev d. Gasquet 6-3, 4-6, 7-6,[3]
/..The German was cruising for two sets against the Frenchman. Gasquet could barely move at times. His back is troubling him deeply and you can tell he's at the end of a successful career now. But at 4-5 Zverev made a couple of errors and suddenly it was a set all. Gasquet's backhand suddenly came alive. And the upset was on. And at 5-6 Gasquet had his chance.

Words are useless. You will never see such good defence. It is the point of the year. And the Frenchy did that with a bad back.

Thiem [3] d. [1] Nadal
Zverev [4] d. Khachanov
Zverev [4] d. [3] Thiem

...This BACKSPINNER doesn't trust Rafa right now. All the big names are injured because the season is just too gosh darn long, and that means there will be a surprise winner. Karen Khachanov should benefit. Thiem should do well. But how can you look past the German? David Nalbandian used to get hot and win three tournaments in a row and he had a similar game style to the German. Yes, he'll be tired but he is just playing too well.

Well, she beat Lara Arruabarrena 6-3, 6-3 last week, in her first round match. She appears to be on song, her ground game strong. But she blew a lead against Barbora Strycova in the next round, going down 4-6, 7-6[5], 6-3. The Czech promptly lost to Simona Halep 6-1, 6-0.

In the singles in Cincinnati she just beat Kiki Mladenovic 6-0, 7-6 [6]. She will now play fellow qualifier Camila Giorgi. The winner may play the world number one. But on the WTA right now how much does that really mean? All it means is you're unlikely to win the next slam. He said in a catty manner. Secretly Todd agrees. [Waiting for Ostapenko to reach #1 ;) - tds]

Big news! The Dashas are back. They open against An.Rodionova and Nadia Kichenok. They should win that. If they do then they will most likely get to face off against Aussies Barty/Dellacqua. In fact, she and Raquel Atawo lost to Rodionova/Kichenok in the second round last week.

Something else to keep an eye on- Ash Barty is coming for her number one Australian ranking.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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