Friday, June 01, 2018

French Open Day 5: A South African Spy, a Frenchman and the Oakland Raiders

Hi All. Galileo here.

Kevin Anderson would make an excellent spy. This guy is a top ten player. He is one of the best tennis players South Africa has ever produced, which is saying something, and he is the 6th seed here. He is seeded higher than Dominic Thiem. He has looked pretty good so far, eking out wins on backcourts and getting on with it. He is an easy going, quiet unassuming man who is very good at being efficient. He can also play a bit on the dirt. He and Richard Gasquet played an intoxicating four set thriller here three years ago. For a guy who relies on the serve as much as the South African does it is really impressive.

He just beat Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 3-6, 7-6[5], 6-4. He hit 21 aces. He will play Mischa Zverev next and then, most likely, Diego Schwartzman and Rafa Nadal in his next three matches. That’s a very tough slate but he does have the kind of game that Rafa hates. And the spin from Rafa may not bother him as much. Either way he is having a very good run here so far.

Now for some young gun news. Elias Ymer and Stefanos Tsitsipas are both up and coming young stars. They can both play on clay. They learned an important lesson on day five. Fabio Fognini saw off the Swede 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. The Italian has dropped three less games than Nadal so far. He is looking so dangerous but also so perfect it’s a little worrying. He must be due for an implosion. He plays Brit Kyle Edmund. That should be a great match but it really is all on the Italian’s racket. His 27-32 W/UE mark is astonishing for his usual level of play.

Meanwhile Thiem saw off the Greek 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. Sitsi [a new BACKSPIN nickname to preserve our sanity here at BACKSPIN HQ] gave the Austrian a taste of his own medicine, firing down backhand winners with ease. If there is anything better than a clash of styles it is two one-handers going at it. Sitsi looked a little like a cross between Juan Monaco and a Greek God, with his headband and long hair. There were eight breaks in the match and Thiem’s solid 45-39 W/UE mark might have been the difference- his opponent’s 36-41 was more than passable. If Thiem can keep winning 43 per cent of return points he will go far. It is also worth noting that to improve he has to stop standing fifty miles behind the baseline. He needs to step in and cut off the angles.

In one final piece of young gun news, Albert Ramos Vinolas dismissed Casper Ruud 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
There were no huge upsets in the doubles. The Spanish Lopez pair, or Marc and Feli to their friends, have won both their matches 6-3, 6-4. They play Mayer/Sousa next before a blockbuster matchup against Kontinen/Peers in the quarterfinals, if both pairs get there.

MS 1st Rd: Djokovic [20] d. [q] Dutra Silva {W}
MS 2nd Rd: Gasquet [27] d. Jaziri {W}
MS 3rd Rd: Carreno Busta [10] d. Cecchinato {L}
WS 1st Rd: Bertens [18] d. Sabalenka {W}
WS 2nd Rd: Keys [13] d. [Q] Dolehide {W}
WS 3RD Rd: Wozniacki [2] d. Parmentier [WC] {W}

…The average player these days plays about four-six five set matches a year at most. And they want to scrap it. For me that is ludicrous. This match, however, is a great example of why it needs to be kept around. Marin Cilic won the first two sets 6-2, 6-2. On the regular tour that would be it. You would have paid to see an hour of unsatisfactory entertainment. Here, however, it was different. The Croat tripped and dropped a set. Hubert Hurkacz broke back. He took the tiebreaker 7-3 and nearly took the second. Cilic edged it 7-5. With the five set rule in place we get more hours of entertainment. Cilic did his usual thing and went 48-52 on the winners ratio. His opponent was an awful 24-46. That is no way to win a match. Cilic actually won because of his consistency for once, triumphing in just short of three hours. If they want to make slam matches go quicker then they should have warmups before the match, be strict with the time between serves and have no break at 6-6. And they should have a 15 second limit on changeovers in the tiebreaker until you get to 6-6, 9-9 etc. Small changes add up. Leave five sets alone, powers that be.

... Perhaps Julien Benneteau is just tired. He has been playing an awfully long time. Either way he wasn’t out on Chatrier for long. Del Potro’s injury concerns appear to have gone. He decimated the Frenchman 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, winning going away in five minutes shy of two hours. He has dropped just one set so far. He was a mindblowing 44-21 on the winners ratio and let his opponent have just two break points. He broke five times and won 46 per cent of his opponents service points. Over 60 per cent of his first serve points went in and of those he won more than 80 per cent of points. Even Rafa wouldn’t like to play the Argentine right now. Next up is Ramos Vinolas and that will be very interesting. The Spaniard has dropped not one set so far and is in fine fettle. Delpo’s performance there will be the best indicator of his form. If he wins there his path to a semi-final with Rafa looks pretty clear, unless Cilic suddenly develops a spectacular clay court game.

...The Brits are extremely excited. Remember how exciting it was to watch the Oakland Raiders do well after years of being awful? Well the Brits have had a fair amount of British success and in the men’s game they got a first-ballot hall of famer and Kyle Edmund too. Now, though, they are joined by Cam Norrie. As an aside Andy Murray has dropped 110 places to world number 157. He has just 360 points. Wawrinka is going to lose 1,190 points. He will fall 229 places to 259th in the world. He had just 210 points to his name. Anyway they are very excited about the prospects of Norrie. He put up a spirited fight against Lucas Pouille. The Frenchman wins the first two sets 6-2, 6-4. He looks very good. But Norrie knows that if the darkness comes he can delay his exit. So he scraps and grinds and he takes the third 7-5. He has unusual technique on his forehand, which is a big whippy lefty shot. His backhand is a little more regular. He has some nice shots, and hits with a lot of spin. Play is suspended at the end of the fourth, which Pouille gave away with an overcooked forehand. They come back the next day. He even has a point to take the fourth set. But the Frenchman saves it and then dominates the tiebreaker, winning 7-3. The 33-47 W/UE rate from Norrie was to be his undoing. Pouille’s solid 44-49 is a much better ratio. There were ten breaks in this enjoyable, if scrappy, encounter. It was a typical clay court match, with the crowd undoubtedly part of the reason their man won. If you can use the Parisian crowds well you are likely to win. Karen Khachanov saw off Wawrinka’s conqueror Garcia-Lopez in four. If he can beat the talented young Russian he will probably have to play Alex Zverev. So he has some tests coming up.

...Once you’ve seen one Rafa Nadal thrashing at Rolly G, well you’ve seen them all. He won in two hours 6-2, 6-1, 6-1. Seven breaks to none. 37 winners to 26 errors. Just 14 points conceded on serve out of 60. Guido Pella can be forgiven here. Rafa was probably still annoyed about the resistance of Simone Bolelli. It’s extraordinary to only win 26 per cent of points on your second serve unless your name is Elena Dementieva, but the Argentine did it. This BACKSPINNER thought the clay court nous of Pella might help him. What a stupid prediction that was. He walks away with 79 thousand Euros and 45 rankings points. So that’s alright. Nadal will play Richard Gasquet. Which is probably going to involved blood on the court at one point. Gasquet at least will win a few points and does know where Rafa’s weak spots are. He won’t get a set though.

...Isn’t life cruel? In a bitter twist of fate Gasquet is rewarded with his fine form by having to play Nadal. The last time he played two great back-to-back slam matches was...well it was a long time ago. He is on fine form and has even delivered two bagels. Now he has to face Rafa. He must endure the walk to the gallows. At least he knows he will hit the nicest shot of the day. He can take that small comfort. He won 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 against Malek Jaziri. He got 68 per cent of his first serves in which he will have to do again. He also won 46 per cent of his return points. He won’t be able to replicate that but getting around 35-40 per cent would be a start. He only lost his serve once. This was the best performance you’ll ever see in a four set match outside Wawrinka’s three slam finals. It also gives us at BACKSPIN a chance to dive into the HQ vaults.

Gasquet needs to just sit back and swing. He has to be the aggressor and pray that Nadal’s knees hamper him. No sportsman is that cynical, it’s just that that may be his best shot.

Thanks and visit WTA BACKSPIN.

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