Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Wk.33- Rafa Resurgent, Back in Fashion

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

Have you ever put an item of clothing in the attic and then forgot about it? Well, if you did then you might have also experienced the lovely feeling of seeing it come back into fashion. After all these years, our gorgeous Spanish number is back in. As an ardent, and unrepentant, fan of Roger Federer, you might expect this BACKSPINNER to be bitter. Not so.

Since 2008, only respect. This BACKSPINNER may not love Rafa, but a respect born of familiarity has evolved into liking the Spaniard. And that is a common feeling among tennis fans. The Spaniard is the successor to Lleyton Hewitt, with all the grit and grind that was so synonymous with the Aussie. In fact, the rising to number one means this BACKSPINNER can relate another BACKSPIN fairytale.

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Once upon a time there was a kingdom with a very fierce army. It was renowned throughout the land as being the toughest, the most brutal and the most muscle-y. Fair maidens would swoon whenever one of Rafael's soldiers walked by. A neighbouring kingdom, seeing this, got very jealous. This kingdom had been around for some time, you see. And in this kingdom the king, Novak, wanted his own share of maidens and precious metals. But he knew he did not have the strength to take on Rafael's powerful army. So he changed conditions in his barracks. He invented new food plans, new exercise regimes and he drew up clever battle plans. He reviewed Rafael's tactics and got in some clever generals to help run his campaigns.

And finally he was ready.

And, when nobody was expecting it, he began to engage the Spanish king in skirmishes. He lost the first two or three, but that was all part of his master plan. He surprised Rafael for the first time on the fields of California. It was the first of seven successive victories. He had humbled the land's toughest army in a way not seen since the elder days.

But Rafael was not stupid. He backed off and defended what he had. He kept his strongholds safe. He was unbeatable on dirt fields, where his mens' tactics were too difficult to overcome. They were dirt specialists. On harder ground, or on actual fields of grass, they were known to struggle. And so there was a pattern. On the dirt, King Novak could not find a way. Anywhere else, he would. Until one summer he prevailed on his worst surface. He even came an inch from smashing the Spanish king's fortress to bits, but made a crucial error at the last and blew his chance. And from the people of his mighty kingdom there rose a massive groan.

But after that, poor health, like scurvy and dysentery, began to plague the Spanish army. And with him incapacitated it was easy for the Serbian overlord to take control of everything. And he did. And for years he was unopposed. But Rafael was not dead. He was not finished. He grew angry after being eclipsed by his rival.

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All his famous victories were forgotten. All his excellent battle records and his time at the top were washed away. And so he began to plot and to ruminate. And he came up with an idea, a scheme. He began to train, and he talked to former kings. He traveled far and wide and gained much knowledge. And, just recently, he routed his former rival on the way to becoming the dominant force in the land. But, in a deeply ironic twist, an even older rival has suddenly returned. But that is a different story for another time.

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Well, Rafa has risen to the top once more. He has 73 titles to Novak's 68. But he is unlikely to catch up in the weeks at number one stat. He deserves to finally get to number one. He has been the second best player in the world this year consistently.

His quarterfinal appearance in Cincinnati is a funny result - it's too good for him to be recognized in a negative way, but it is not enough to be recognized as a positive result. So we'll celebrate his rise to number one by... not talking about him at all.

Let's find out who has done well.

S: Grigor Dimitrov def. Nick Kyrgios 6-3/7-5
D: Herbert/Mahut d. J.Murray/Soares

...We have one of the longest seasons in sport. Nobody else plays week in, week out from January to November. At BACKSPIN HQ we have a consistent complaint cupboard. The rule is we have to jointly agree something needs to change. In it we have things that include, but are not limited to...

The Fed Cup doubles tie being the decider
The length of the ATP Tour in particular
The U.S. Open being unable to ever run itself correctly and yet being proud of that fact
The men being on more show courts than women at mixed events

The main one for this BACKSPINNER is the second one. The reason we have more injuries than ever, more players like Bernie Tomic, fewer spectators and so many surprise winners is because it is unpleasantly long. Since 1997, it has always roughly been the first of January through to November the 30th. The ATP has done good work and cut that down by ten days. The Davis Cup final is going to happen on the 20th.
But here are two solutions:

The first is to cut out the week after the Australian and U.S. Opens. Nobody plays the two weeks after those slams anyway. September is a month utterly devoid of stars. Move events around. Rotterdam is good, so keep it there but get rid of the week in front of it. Move it up. If you could get rid of two weeks in September, in particular, we could finish by November the first. Then we give our stars 6-8 weeks off.


Have two 'bye-weeks'. Have a bye-week before Miami and one after the U.S. Open. And after each bye-week have some Davis Cup action. That way you're really getting two weeks off. Playing one or two matches in two weeks is perfect.

The reason this BACKSPINNER is rambling on and on about this is because of players like Grigor Dimitrov. For four weeks he was the best player in the world. And then Rafa edged him in five epic sets. And he sort of collapsed. But some of it is due to the sheer length of time you have to stay hot. He finally recaptured his form, seven months after he last had it. He beat Feli Lopez 7-6[5], 6-4. He was just too solid for the aging Spanish vet. His backhand, in particular, was sizzling. He saw off Delpo next, with a comfortable 6-3, 7-5 scoreline. He was down 4-1 in the second but recovered to improve his total in the head-to-head to 1-5. Next he routed Yuichi Sugita 6-2, 6-1. The only interesting thing occuring in that match was this:

A 7-6[4], 7-6[12] victory over the enormous John Isner pushed him into his first final since February. The American blew three set points, Dimitrov winning the match on his fourth match point. The other semi-final was also a double breaker affair. In the final the magic of Nick Kyrgios ran out. Dimi ran out the winner 6-3, 7-5. After 42 straight 1000 events where one of the big four made the final the streak has been broken. And not one of them even reached the semi-final. It is the end of an era. It is also the first time we could ever have four multiple Masters level winners. Federer, Nadal and Zverev all have two. If Dimitrov wins one more it will be four.

One more note. 7,645, the points Nadal has, are the lowest a number one has ever held in the new system.
...Who knows with Nick Kyrgios? Last year this happened...

So only throwing one racket to the ground in his semi-final seems like good behaviour. The thing about the Australian is that we need him. Without him we cannot live. We cannot live with or without him, to paraphrase a U2 song. That is not condoning how he acts. He is a massive rear-end a lot of the time. He hits unnecessary tweeners. But look at how archaic golf looks. Sometimes the MLB just looks so old. Tennis cannot fall into that trap. He is a fresh outlook on the sport. He makes us look exciting. He gets tempers rising and the subject of the Australian divides us. Plus, he plays the most dynamic and ridiculous tennis of any of the #newgen. It feels like his tennis is so powerful he struggles to reign it in. If he is even five degrees off he can be a total wreck on court. But when he is in tune it is so hard to find your own rhythm. We should be grateful one of our stars is outgoing. Alex Zverev is gorgeous and charming, but so shy. Dominic Thiem is the same. We need more brash youngsters.

People who see a 105 second serve and do this to it:

Kyrgios opened with a 6-2, 6-3 demolition of out of form Goffin. He edged qualifier Alex Dolgopolov 6-3, 7-6[6]. And then he outmuscled Dr. Ivo 4-6, 7-6[6], 6-3. His first of two matches on one day, because of rain, he blew a 5-2 lead in the breaker but hung on to make the quarterfinals. Imagine playing Ivo Karlovic and Rafa Nadal in one day. You'd probably need resuscitation. If Todd and I played together against Karlovic, rested for four hours and went out to face Rafa I would still struggle. Not Kyrgios. He battered Nadal into submission for a set and a half before closing it out 6-2, 7-5. He brutalized the Spaniard's serve. That is the key to doing it. In the semi-final he used dropshots to throw Ferrer off. It is an insane tactic. And yet it sort of worked. He won that in two breakers and moved on to his first ever Masters final. The kid who celebrates amazing shots in the same way NFL stars celebrate touchdowns is crafting a hall-of-fame career already. If not for injury problems who knows how good he could have been? In his first final this year he lost to Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 7-5. But with a ranking of 18 he could be seeded to reach the fourth round in New York. Is another run on the cards?
...We had two first time Masters quarter-finalists. It's been a big week for the man from America's smallest state. Given a wildcard he scored a huge upset first off by beating RBA 7-6[5], 6-3. Next was Ramkumar Ramanathan. He defeated the Indian 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. He played his third long name in a row - Niko Basilashvili - in the third round and won that one, too, 6-4, 7-6[4]. He is up nine places to 51. He is also America's 5th best player. Ranked 257 in January 2015, and 105 at the start of this year, it has been a slow burn. But he is only 20 years old. To have risen so far and so consistently with no titles and, it feels like, no breakthrough win, is pretty impressive. He has to show off at the U.S Open coming up. He has to prove that he can beat big names at the slams. But this week was still definitely a success. It should be a springboard.
...Every champion deserves one last ride. And this is Ferrer's. If he is going to make another run at a slam it is now. The top four are a mess. Murray and Wawrinka are non-factors. Federer is hobbled. Nadal on hardcourts? And the next gen? They all have issues. Over five sets the Spaniard is going to be very hard to beat. A decade ago he made his first ever semi-final at slam level. That was in New York. He has risen six places to 25th in the world. But if he gets a workable draw he will know he can do very well indeed. If he were to draw David Goffin or John Isner he could do extremely well. He has found form recently and with the pressure of time on his shoulders he will be hard to beat. He beat Janko Tipsarevic in three sets in the first round before clearing out Carreno Busta and Domi Thiem without losing a set. He is beating the players he needs to in New York. The loss to Kyrgios 7-6[3], 7-6[4] wasn't a bad one. He could, and maybe should, have won that. In 2012, seeded fourth, he faced off against Janko Tipsarevic, seeded 8th, in a match that was laughed at. If you were to say it was the best U.S. Open match on the men's side this decade neither I nor Todd would disagree. Because it was sensational.

So this BACKSPINNER hopes for a Ferrer resurgence.
...What a year for the 28-year old Japanese man. The journeyman's journeyman has now won a tournament, Antalya in July, at 250 level and made the quarters of a Masters event. Since turning pro in 2006 he has led a very dull career. He has played in the Davis Cup a couple of times. From 2010 until February of this year his ranking was between 100-220. Then this year, in May, it leapt from 99 to the mid 70s. Now it is just above 40. It is an extraordinary story. Not only did he beat Sock in straight sets, but he also out-ground Khachanov in three. It was an amazing run.

If he wins two matches in New York he will become possibly only the 3rd or 4th Japanese man to make the top 35 in the world. How many Asian men and women in general have been that high? It can't be more than 20. So he is making history and, even better, further expanding our tour.
...Francis Tiafoe has beaten the world's best player, ladies and gentlemen. Right now that is what the German is. In fact, he is looking so good you kind of just know he's going to bomb out in New York. Zverev ran out of puff after winning for two weeks in a row. He just couldn't hang on against the athletic American. Tiafoe is a kind of wunder-kid. And sometimes players of that ilk are just too difficult to play against. So it proved to be.
...Why aren't these guys ranked higher? They are 6th in the doubles race. They are 2-0 in finals with a slam win and a quarterfinal. They have bombed out in some of the bigger tournaments this year, but this is a dangerous partnership. This week they beat Johnson/Nestor 6-2, 6-3 in the first round. They came back to beat Pavic/Marach 4-6, 7-6[2], 12-10. Then they outlasted the top seeds, Kontinen/Peers 7-6[3], 3-6, 12-10. Even the loss to Herbert/Mahut in the semi-finals was a good one. The Frenchies won 6-4, 7-6[11] on their way to a third consecutive Masters victory and 4th final on the trot. The Frenchies won three in a row last year and now the same this season. They need Madrid, Shanghai and Paris.

1. Cincy QF – Kyrgios d. Nadal 6-3, 7-5
...The Spaniard falls into the number one ranking for the first time since 2014, but Kyrgios finds the big win.
2. Cincy F – Dimitrov d. Kyrgios 6-3, 7-5
...Surprising that the court could hold the weight of all that talent. Dimitrov ousts Kyrgios 6-3, 7-5 and now looks one of the favourites to win the U.S. Open. Who else is there?
3. Cincy R3 – Sugita d. Khachanov 6-7[0]. 6-3, 6-3
...A big blow struck for Japanese tennis. The Russian has blown a golden chance to get a top 16 seed in Flushing Meadows. Wins over Sugita, Dimitrov, and Isner, all beatable, would have seen him make the final. If he had, he could have done it. But he blew it.

Bautista Agut [1] d. [3] Isner
Chung [13] d. [15] Medvedev
Bautista Agut [4] d. [13] Chung

...This BACKSPINNER would like to point out this is a bizarre tournament. No, really. It's a 250 before a slam that has 16 seeds. The third seed is ranked 19. The bottom eight seeds are ranked from 46-54, with only 53 absent. It's odd. Withdrawals and 'retirements' are a certainty. It just makes no sense. But whatever. Chung is due a big breakthrough. Maybe it comes here. And when Medvedev does well we get fireworks. So let's have them.

Dasha beat Kiki Mladenovic 6-0, 7-6 [6]. We already knew that. In the next round she crashed out to Camila Giorgi, a qualifier. The Italian won 7-6[1], 5-7, 6-3. The Dashas defeated Rodionova/Kichenok, winning 10-8 in the champion's breaker. Fellow Aussies Barty/Dellacqua dispatched them in the next round 7-3. 7-6[4].

In Connecticut, Dasha saw four match points but only just scraped home 7-5, 6-4, 7-5 against the other Pliskova. Interestingly, this tournament saw Vera Zvonareva win a match.

No doubles for her. But she could go and cheer on Ash Barty if she wanted. Barty is doing the opposite - doubles but no singles.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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