Monday, October 19, 2015

Wk.41- Djokovic and the Ghost of Steffi

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

The Dolphins in 1972. Australia at its home Olympics. Steffi Graf in 1988. All did great things, things deemed impossible. And we look back particularly at those Dolphins and Graf. And we realize that what they did will likely never be achieved again. One day an NFL team will again go unbeaten and, frankly, those 2007 Patriots were far more impressive than those Dolphins. But what that girl from some German town nobody has ever heard of did rocked the world.

She won and won and won that year. She lost three times and only twice the next year. In 1989 she dropped 12 sets. Think about that. And it wasn’t just that she won and won. It was how she did. She demoralised opponents. She thrashed Sabatini 3 and 3 in the Olympic finals and let Zvereva win just 13 points in the French final. She barely lost sets and dominated everyone and everything.

And she paved the way for bigger hitters like Serena. Graf’s 1988-9 was the most dominant stretch of time in all of sports ever. Yes that’s a big call, but she dropped five matches in two years. She swept all before her. And she had incredible competition going against her. And what she did is barely recognized outside of the tennis community. And it really should be.

Nobody has come close on either side of the tour to matching that. Except Serena, but even she has never dominated like that for two whole years. Even she has her limits. She was in tears against Vinci. She couldn’t handle the pressure. Graf made Bjorn Borg look like Florida in contrast to her Alaska.

Federer came close three times when he made the finals of each and every slam. In 2006-7 and 2009 he went 3-1, 3-1 and 2-2. But Fed has never won the Olympics and Federer always had his Nadal. Nadal could stop Federer. And Swiss men played that role for Djokovic this year. Novak will not again make all four finals in a year and I truly believe he will not win the French. I think this year was his shot. Just as Federer had his against Soderling aged 28, Djokovic had his shot against Wawrinka when he was 28.

But Djokovic this year reminds me of that young German girl who blew everyone away. But he doesn’t do it with offense, he does it with sheer defence. Djokovic is going to win two more titles this year I think. He will enter Paris and the Tour Finals. He will win them both.

And I think he is the most dominant athlete in sports right now. And he deserves kudos for that. And BACKSPIN recognises that this was his most impressive year yet. But now we must get on and review the week.

QUESTION: In 2011 how many matches did Djokovic lose?

Top 32 - Kyrgios keeps rising and is at 30 now. Sock and Robredo move one place but stay in the top 32. Dimitrov at 26 could fall even farther.
Top 10 – Tsonga is up to ten. He holds off Anderson and Gasquet, though the points difference here is minute. Isner and Cilic could threaten but need to find form first.
Top 8 – Ferrer is increasingly out on his own in at eight. Nadal is inching towards number six Nishikori and getting further away from Ferrer.
Top 4 – No change. Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Wawrinka remain the top four but I would think in real terms Murray is probably the fourth best player in the world right now not the second.

S: Novak Djokovic def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2/6-4
D: Klaasen/Melo def. Bolelli/Fognini

...The problem is, as noted here last week, Novak leaves writers stuck. He is the player of the week, the year and the decade. But nothing interesting happened. There are few storylines and so one ends up having to clutch at the proverbial straws. Honestly, Djokovic is just in absolute control. If you have ever played a video game on easy mode then you will know how it is for Djokovic right now. He beat down Klizan 6-2, 6-1 to open up with before dismissing Lopez 6-2, 6-3 to make the quarters. Tomic should have stolen the first set of their match but once Djokovic stole it, the Australian seemed powerless to resist as he went down 7-6[6], 6-1. Murray was next to face the sword and he scraped together just four games. He is Djokovic’s play thing right now. And Tsonga went down in the final 6-2, 6-4. What more is there to add?
...Murray hasn’t had a mention for a while, but he is the world number two. And that is part of the reason he is here. Honestly he is really about the world number four or five but that’s not what the ATP rankings say. He beat Johnson 6-2, 6-4 and looked good in his return to the tour. Isner stole a set but he was never in the match. Murray needed only a couple of breaks to come through 6-7[4], 6-4, 6-4. After dispatching two of America’s finest he was faced with the dangerous and streaky Berdych. Once more Murray found his best and beat down the Czech 6-1, 6-3. Berdych is having a very sketchy season this year. But the 1 and 3 loss to Nole demonstrated Murray’s greatest flaw. He just goes away when he has to face Djokovic. Since the Australian Open, especially, Murray has been poor. After beating him in that U.S. Final he has had just two wins and is 9-20 all time. The Scot will never win another slam or rise above number two but it would be nice to see him challenge Djokovic a bit more. He is, after all, the world number two.
...What is it with the French and surprises? Tsonga impressed once more as he rose to ten in the world. France should really have dominated the Davis Cup this year. They have had multiple slam quarter-finalists this year, too. Simon, Tsonga and Gasquet all have vastly different games but all have impressed. What has sometimes been missing from Tsonga is mental toughness, but this week was all about resilience for the flashy showman. Seeded 16th he opened up by edging Robredo 6-7[5], 6-2, 6-2. But he handled Burgos 6-3, 6-2 and was barely troubled in that match. He beat upset specialist Ramos 6-7[5], 7-5, 6-4 and then edged Anderson 7-6[5], 5-7, 6-4 to make the semi-finals. Once there he edged Nadal in a very impressive three setter he probably should have lost. But in the final Djokovic was far too good. That he got six games is, in fact, very impressive.
...If Kokkinakis is the ice and Kyrgios the fire, then Tomic is the slush. Between the two in personality and game he is somehow forgotten. He is the world number 18 and that feels right. I love watching him play and watching him improve is also a joy. He has developed into a decent young man [mostly] and a very good tennis player. He tested Djokovic and he showed how you beat the world number one. He really is to be commended. But he won’t be because the press love failure and hate success. Still his run here was great and it would be fantastic if he could crack the top 16 so he can make a go of it in his beloved Australia. If he could just behave himself in the off-season, that would be the icing on an already very impressive cake. If he is going to behave, can it please be with just girls and not drugs. Because smaller steps are fine. Don’t forget he only just turned 23.
...Can you remember the last time the Ukrainian won a match? I sure can’t. Dolgopolov has some serious form to find lest he fall even further down the ranks. He isn’t young anymore and the kind of slide he is on is unforgivable at his age.
...Federer has that slam hangover hanging around. But he blew away some of the cobwebs and will dominate in Basel again. So that is why BACKSPIN holds off judgement. Ramos used his wiles and craft to beat Federer. He was just too solid for a rusty Federer having a bad day. The Spanish qualifier is a journeyman and his week here will fund his Christmas nicely. And the win over Federer is a great bonus for such a hard worker. It will be interesting to see if the talented Spaniard can improve his ranking at the tail end of this year and the beginning of the next.

Five notes from the week...
1 – After Backspin spent a lot of time saying it was over for him, Nadal has bounced back again. Go figure. The question now is whether this is General Custer’s last stand or is this Rafa down but not out?
2 – The year is coming to a close and suddenly it feels like that more and more. Hey, you won’t have to put up with me much more. Of course, once it closes there are still wrap-ups and 2016 previews.
3 – Venus continues to impress. She will be so dangerous at the slams next year. Kerber is once again hanging around despite the lack of fanfare.
4 – It’s incredible to think Boris Becker and the serve was dominant 30 years ago. A long time ago when one thinks about it. Nobody saw the return becoming this dominant.
5 – Djokovic must have his eye on that Gold medal and French Open double next year.

1. Shanghai SF - Tsonga d. Nadal 6-4, 0-6, 7-5
...Tsonga drops 15 games but still comes through. Tsonga was at his athletic best but we also saw the best Nadal had to offer. And Nadal’s best is certainly impressive. Mixed in with the good for Nadal was the poor. It was a streaky performance from the Spaniard. But Tsonga has bounced back nicely and his forehand was on song in this match. But that middle set needs to be addressed.
2. Beijing 2nd Rd. - Ramos d. Federer 76[4], 2-6, 6-3
...Federer was poor as he lost to a journeyman on his worst surface. Ramos played well and toughed it out but the Swiss star should have turned in a much better performance than the one he did. Federer seems to be just coasting out the year. He is trying to maximise his performance at the tour finals and in the slams coming next year…
3. Shanghai 2nd Rd. - Nishikori d. Kyrgios 1-6, 6-4, 6-4
...After he got dealt a similar scoreline by Paire, Kei came back and ousted the big hitting Aussie star. Nishikori couldn’t handle the power in the first but eventually round his way to a victory over the now world number 30. But for Kyrgios the signs are ever more encouraging.
4. Shanghai QF - Nadal d. Wawrinka 6-2, 6-1
...This was a blowout. Nadal ran riot against the Swiss number two. It’s rarely the fourth best team, country or player in the world gets such a beat down. Wawrinka had no answer for the firepower and top form the Spaniard displayed.

Ferrer [1] d. [6] Monfils
Thiem [5] d. [7] Karlovic
Ferrer [1] d. [5] Thiem

...Home advantage can make or break a player. Here I think it gives Thiem a nice edge. But Ferrer will have too much in the end for Thiem. There are lots of out of form players who could make a decent run here.

Cilic [1] d. [3] Troicki
Agut [2] d. [4] Kohlschreiber
Ferrer [1] d. [5] Thiem

...This is one of those that picks itself. The seeds should be good enough here to hold firm. Pressure is on Cilic to try and make the tour finals.

Tomic [4] d. [1] Berdych
Gasquet [2] d. [3] Simon
Gasquet [2] d. [4] Tomic

...Tomic is on form right now and will have too much for Berdych. Gasquet is under pressure to make the tour finals. He needs to pick up a couple of titles and here is one place he could do it. If he goes in at number nine he may still get matches.

Shvedova won a title this weekend but that isn’t important as she wasn’t playing with Casey. No Casey next week as she and Yaroslava prepare for the doubles world tour finals. They are definitely in and so rest time is fine. They’re all but guaranteed a top four seeding, which is important but is not essential.

ANSWER: The record says six and if you answered that you would be correct. Federer beat him in Paris and Nishikori in Basel. One was a withdrawal, which doesn’t count, and two were retirements. Two losses to Ferrer and Tipsarevic count but Djokovic had hurt himself.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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