Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Wk.41- The Empire Strikes Back

Hi All. Galileo here.

Usually this BACKSPINNER will ramble, go on tangents, and then call it an intro. But today we will do something different, something unusual. To celebrate Rafa and Roger playing, with the top ranking on the line for the Spaniard, we will do a sort of live text stream thing. The next exciting BACKSPIN experiment we know you love. We wouldn’t do this with any old match. No Milos Raonic versus Gilles Simon affair would warrant this.

The tone was set in the first game. Federer took an early 15-40 lead on the Rafa serve. He took the game in deuce off back-to-back booming backhands. The first clipped the line and the second was an ambitious pass, which Federer would not have made two years ago. He guessed right - how many times have they played?

And suddenly it’s 0-2, 30-30. If you’re prepping for a big match and then you go down a break immediately it is such a whiplash effect. Nadal clung on to his serve the second time, but to be down so early on is never encouraging.

An epic, brutal, exchange christens the fourth game. A gem from the commentator: “You know, I’ve come to the conclusion that this guy’s pretty good.”

Federer hits a few errant ones but hangs on, thanks to a huge booming serve down the tee. In the next game, the Swiss forehand is still singing while Nadal begins to find his serve a bit more. Indeed, he finished the game with an ace.

In the 6th game it is one of those minute-long affairs that seem to be a Swiss specialty. Two aces. No rallies. 50 seconds. Is that even possible? Nadal, predictably, does not seem phased. Commentator in with the “he has to weather the storm and hope his level drops” comment.
That one is a classic. We’ve been hearing it for years. With Federer you know his level may not drop.

Key moment now. 30-15, second serve. Nadal is totally on top of Federer, dominating the rally but great defence from the Swiss and Rafa errs on the booming forehand winner down the line. Now 30-30 and second serve. Rafa finds a bit of magic, handling a huge crosscourt backhand from the Swiss with aplomb. An ace seals the deal, but a shaky hold from the Spaniard.

Federer holds easily again in the eighth game. Spaniard races out to a 30-0 lead in the 9th. Federer wins another Hawkeye challenge, but Nadal is up 40-0. He wraps up a routine hold to love with a beautiful angled ace.

Federer takes the first set on an ace, winning 31 points to Rafa’s 23. 7 aces to 4. Federer is winning 83 per cent of his second serve. That’s insane. The winner of the first set in this rivalry wins over 60 per cent of the time. That’s reflective of the tour, you would imagine.
Federer is a set away from five wins in a row. Nadal did that from 2005-06. He also did it from 2008-09.

We open with a lovely rally, Federer forced into going big. He misses. On the next big shot he hits a crisp winner down the line. Another rocket for Federer down 40-15 on Rafa’s first service game. But he runs around the backhand on the next point. Rafa reads it and strikes.
More crisp volleying from Federer sees us to 1-1. Rafa has to change tactics. But he holds to love with ease.

Roger knows he will get a chance at the break. All he has to do is wait patiently. In the 4th game, Federer goes right back to Nadal and gets away with it. The smarmy sun of a gun. But a few sloppy errors and it’s 30-30. Is the door open a crack? No. It is emphatically shut by a serve-volley and then a big serve.

A shaky start to the game. From 0-15 to 15-30. Only a huge forehand saves him from 15-40. Federer hits another beautiful stroke down the line, on the backhand this time, to bring up deuce. A Rafa error gives up the first break point of the set. But a humongous canon down the line saves it. Federer finds a beautiful drop volley from nowhere to bring up another break point. No 36-year old should be this good. Pressure now as Rafa misses his first delivery.

And Rafa misses a routine backhand. Federer twelve points away. Fed hits a beautiful angled backhand. And he pressures him at the net. Rafa’s started to swing. Commentator unfairly says the Spaniard is getting "spanked." But at a set and 4-2 down it is almost over.

Nadal goes up 30-0, but he looks beaten. Federer has won 85% of his first serve points. But he blows the simplest of backhand putaways. It was a nasty bomb of a serve, too. But he seals the game with an exciting rally. He puts the Fed away with a gorgeous drop volley.

And two games later it was over.

S: Roger Federer def. Rafael Nadal 6-4/6-3
D: Kontinen/Peers d. Kubot/Melo

...He didn’t drop a set. It’s a vintage week from Federer. He is 94-49 in finals and 64-24 in hard court finals. He is now equal with Lendl with 94 career titles, too. But by 190 to 189 he has more semi-finals. The Czech does have three more finals, though. Federer has only made three finals in Shanghai, but has won twice. We could talk about Fed all day, but in the end why bother? It’s all the same things. We have had 17 years of winning. We have had seventeen years of magic. What else is there to say?

...That Wimbledon final loss is enough to mentally debilitate a player for years, but the Croat has recovered so quickly. He strung together wins in New York and now wins on this streak. He achieved his seeding here and sometimes that is all you have to do. He didn’t lose a set until Rafa stopped him, and the serve has been working brilliantly. He has decent results in Paris but the big test is what he can do at the tour finals. He needs to win a small title somewhere to really boost his confidence again and to find form before he has to take on the world’s best, but this nice run will be encouraging. He could win the WTF. There are so many injuries and Thiem is bound to disappoint. Aside from Federer, he really could beat anyone.
...This is the kid who won singles and doubles at NCAA level in 2016. He has just won the Fairfield challenger, his maiden title. He beat Kozlov, King and Sandgren for the loss of just one set. He beat another riser, Chris O’Connell, in the semi-finals, 6-4, 7-5. In the final he beat Bradley Klahn 6-4, 6-2. It’s so hard to keep track of all the up and coming players, but this American is one to watch out for. It is so hard to win the NCAA. And now to win a challenger in the year he turns pro, well, he just looks to be the real thing. So keep an eye out for the name McDonald. You’ll be seeing him on centre court soon, no doubt.

...Dimitrov is probably ten wins against the biggest players away from a potential Hall of Fame career. You have that Wimbledon semi-final against Djokovic and one this year against Nadal. If he had won just ten of those matches he might be a top three player with higher aspirations like enshrinement in Newport. If he had beaten Nadal every time they had played this year, well, can you imagine the results? But for Baby Gasquet it has always been a bit disappointing, just like the player he resembles. He might be the most underachieving player around. He needed over two and a half hours to win his first round match, against Ryan Harrison. He won 3-6, 6-3, 7-6[6]. He had to save three match points.
...Before the summer swing in the U.S. this BACKSPINNER thought Rafa would choke and capitulate on the brutal hard courts. Instead he has been imperious. He has risen to the challenge and dominated the tour. Only Roger has been able to stop him all season long. His form and the way he has been hitting the ball have been reminiscent of 2008 Nadal. The final this run saw him escape Dimitrov [again!] and dismantle Fognini. He will be finishing as the number one and it is his best achievement to date. This is the comeback to top off all comebacks. After all the injuries, all the pain, all the tears, he is back. It is a pleasant surprise.
...The Austrian always fades down the stretch. How many times must we talk about his lack of scheduling nous? There are some sports stories that get boring - ask Todd about the inability of Washington’s teams to turn amazing regular season form into actual results. [Sad, but true. The Nationals losing Game 5 of a five-game 1st Round series at home in excruciatingly -- and, in this case, truly weird -- fashion is getting old... though the Capitals have a few decades on them on that front, so there's that. Go Skins and Wizards. Please. - tds]

Ask this BACKSPINNER and his fellow New England fans about Deflategate. And this Thiem nonsense is the latest in tradition. He is brilliant until July before he steadily gets worse and worse. But will he change his scheduling? Of course not. Every season the same. It gets irritating after a while. He could have made a run at the top ranking if he’d wanted to.
...Viktor Troicki (or tricky Troicki) rode his luck in a few breakers this week to record some big wins. He has been a part of Serbia’s impressive tennis empire. Djokovic needed a deputy and he got two. Alongside a strong women’s team, Serbia was one of the best countries in the world for a spell. Now, with no Ivanovic or Jankovic, and the other young talent not showing up as expected, with Nole injured and Tipsarevic on the cusp of retirement, it’s all gone. But three or four tournaments a year Troicki puts in a huge result. This tournament was one of them. He beat Denis Shapovalov in the first round 6-7[3], 6-3, 6-0. In the next round he sprung a surprise on Domi Thiem, taking out the 5th seed 6-3, 3-6, 7-6[5]. With his first top ten win of the season under his belt [0-4 previously] he grew in confidence. He beat Isner 6-4, 7-6[4] to make the quarters. He almost made the semi-final, winning the first set against Delpo 6-4. But the Argentine won the next two sets to escape 4-6, 1-6, 6-4. A good week for Troicki and one that will see him back into the top 50.

1. Shanghai R2 – Dimitrov d. Harrison 3-6, 6-3, 7-6[6]
...Down 4-2 in the final set he bounced back from 3-6 in the breaker to win. This was a high quality contest between two players we thought would be top 10 mainstays. The Harrison forehand going into the Dimi backhand combined with their awesome athleticism is always something good to see. But tell me this, if you lead a breaker 5-2 with two serves to come how do you lose? Harrison missed a volley and a forehand. And that was the match.
2. Shanghai R3 – Del Potro d. Zverev 3-6, 7-6[5], 6-4
...Zverev came out firing in this match. He made Delpo look a bit silly for the first 40 minutes. But the Argentine, like he did against Thiem in New York, slowly fought his way back. He took the second set and looked as if he would roll to a win. But instead Zverev found another gear and didn’t let himself lose any momentum. The forehand of Delpo found top gear and after that it was always going to be an uphill battle for the German. He still had a good match, hitting 22 aces and doing more off the forehand wing than expected.

3. Shanghai F – Federer d. Nadal 6-3, 6-4


Carreno Busta [1] d. [4] Kohlschreiber
Mannarino [3] d. [2] Ramos-Vinolas
Mannarino [3] d. [1] Carreno Busta

...The player that you can trust the most is the third seed. Busta will do fine, as will Ramos-Vinolas, but Mannarino has the form. Seppi is also here and has done well here previously. But he is way past it.

Goffin [1] d. [5] Ferrer
Kyrgios [3] d. [2] Tsonga
Goffin [1] d. [3] Kyrgios

...Yes, the European Open. What a name for the tournament. It is going to be in Antwerp. Surely it should be in Berlin or Paris. There is a lack of uninjured talent here. Goffin is in great form and at home. Ferrer should do well in this weak draw. And Kyrgios has weapons.

Dimitrov [1] d. [6] Fognini
Del Potro [4] d. [2] Anderson
Dimitrov [1] d. [4] Del Potro

...It’s more fun when Fognini does well. Dimi and Delpo are in fine form, of course. Anderson will have confidence from his run at the U.S. Open. This is the tournament with the most depth and best storylines.

Not playing the doubles in Hong Kong has paid dividends for Dasha. She beat Japanese qualifier Kato in her first match and then saw off Shelby Rogers in three. Lizette Cabrera was up next for the 7th seed and that was a tricky encounter, with Dasha edging through 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. Todd can tell you all about her. In the semi, she spanked Jenny Brady 6-0, 7-5.

But in the final she couldn’t get over the line. She took the first set but lost 7-5, 3-6, 6-7[5]. The match, played through a typhoon, saw 16 breaks of serve [taking away the breaker, that is roughly half the games] and A-Pavs served for it only to blow two match points and get broken. But in the breaker she managed to win one of the longest matches, including interruptions, that we’ve had this year.

Will skipping the doubles help out in Russia, too? At an event without a defending champion (Sveta withdrew) the defending finalist can step up. So far, she's defeated Kristyna Pliskova to reach the 2nd Round.

Currently on WTA Backspin...

As a follow-up to the original Court of Appeals, The Best Player Never to be Number One: The Men.... it's time for The Best Player Never to be Number One: The Women.

Thanks all.

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