Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Indian Wells First Week Recap

Hey, all. Galileo here.

NCAA has its March Madness. It is characterised by squeaky shoes, upsets and the Jayhawks doing really quite well. Commentators lose their minds, college kids put life on pause for weeks to watch and basketball fans come out of the woodwork. Even if you’re more of a hockey guy or girl, you tune in. It is a defining piece of American culture. It is like the World Series and the Super Bowl. Even your grandma knows what's going on.

And, as usual, it overshadows tennis. But we are used to it, we are accepting of it. We go unnoticed unless Wimbledon is on or the U.S. Open. Even in the Olympics, we operate on a low profile. But you know this, you are accustomed to this. This is one of the sport’s calling cards.

You know we’re in March when nobody’s socks are orange, when the weather is either blazing hot or flooding the courts but rarely anything in-between. You know we’re in March when the Spaniards are struggling and you can hear Robbie Koenig’s reassuring, lilting voice coming out of your television. You know it's March because the doubles competitions are utterly whacky and the women’s singles seeds are falling like dominoes. You know it’s March because there’s only one event on and the 32nd seed gets a bye.

This is one of our best months, one of our crowning glories. Whenever the calendar is called into question, it is never March that gets attacked. This month is special, sacred and all ours. All ours to savour, to enjoy and to revel in. We joyfully let it distract us with little care for the consequences and we wouldn’t have it any other way. This BACKSPINNER has even found himself forgetting about the election. God bless March.

But what actually happened this past week? Well let’s find out...

...Not ranked high enough to even qualify for slams, Bjorn has had a career defining tournament. The 22-year old rookie entered qualifying expecting to win a match or two. He dismissed Brit Milton and dropped just four games in that match. And then he faced off against Stepanek, a former world number 7, who is in the deepest twilight of his career. And he won, which in itself would be quite the upset. And then he entered the main draw, with nothing to lose and a home crowd behind him. He dismissed Gabashvili 6-4, 6-4 to move through to face Djokovic. He won his seventh set in a row against the world number one, a world number one who has not seen a match point go against him for the longest time. Sure Djokovic came back and Bjorn would win just three more games, but he has had a fantastic week. He rose 18 places to 131. A few more runs like that and the top 100 will be sitting at his feet. It could be the start of something big.
...Ousting Delpo 7-6[4], 6-2 and then Coric 6-1, 7-6[3] are two great results. Berdych of old may have choked in either of those matches. But today’s Tomas was too consistent and too measured to slip on that banana peel. But now comes another test. He must face Raonic. Raonic who is having a banner year and has barely dropped games. He is not the bigger server in that match and his ground game is not going to overpower the young Canuck, either. It will be interesting to see how he handles the Canadian. The good news is that the winner of that match plays Monfils or Delbonis for a spot in the semi-final. It is just like the Australian Open, except Raonic faced Wawrinka. It isn’t often Berdych shows consistency, but this week he has been.
...Dimitrov still has his believers. He can, and may well do, still win a slam. He can still do all that we thought him capable of. But he is not what he once was despite his magnificent trick shots. Thiem passing him is one thing. Kyrgios is excusable and the Australian is far more frustrating. But now Zverev is making the Bulgarian look washed up. And that is inexcusable. Dimitrov seems to be consigned to forever be a whisker short. He lost 7-5 in the fifth to the young usurper. He seems to always be making third and fourth rounds at the big events but never further. He no longer has big wins, he no longer strings together impressive win streaks or challenges the top ten. There is no reason for it, no meltdown, he has just collapsed. His magic seems to be limited to a few tricks and a penchant for the dramatic. He isn’t fiery or bad-tempered but perhaps that is what he lacks. Anyway, we saw Zverev at his best at Indian Wells. He is quickly becoming entrenched in the top 50. It is where the German belongs. Watch out for him at the U.S. Open. Wimbledon he will be dangerous, but in New York he may well be seeded.
...It is the first test of the Argentinian’s latest comeback. While he faded badly at the end, he lived with Berdych for most of the contest. The signs continue to be encouraging following a semi-final appearance at Delray Beach. The forehand was working well and he seemed to be tactically astute. The serve was a tad underpowered against a returner like Berdych, but it was a good performance none the less. There are signs that if he can just stay healthy, he could win matches at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He could also win a title. But it all depends on his health.
...In March, Wawrinka is just 22-15. He is 15-8 at Indian Wells and has never made a quarterfinal in Miami. He just doesn’t do well at these tournaments. Last year Haase bounced him in the second round in three sets. He had made quarterfinals here in ’08 and in ’11 but now he has a golden chance to go all the way. He just beat Kuznetsov 6-4, 7-6[5], sealing the match with some fantastic forehands in that breaker. But how will the Swiss handle Goffin and then Gasquet or Cilic?
...The veneer is beginning to crack. It is the smallest of cracks, but it is there and growing, too. Losing a set isn’t the worst result, but it is the way the Serb has been playing of late that is the cause for concern. Djokovic does not lose sets to players barely ranked inside the top 150. The loss of two sets to Kukushkin was the first warning sign, and could be dismissed as merely a one-off. But now this. With Murray gone, surely Djokovic should sweep to victory. But if he doesn’t win here, surely that’s a huge sign that something’s not quite right. He has very few chances left to get his grand slam and losing form before the clay swing is not a good sign. If he is denied in Paris this year, well then questions will have to be asked.
...He outlasted Murray on one of the Scot’s best courts. He was too consistent, too together and ultimately too good for the world number two. It is not often Murray finds himself out-ground but this is certainly one of those times. Delbonis won a title two years ago. He was world number 34 two years ago, as well. Then he fell away and simply disappeared. He looked done. But now this year he has begun to come back. Still only 25, he is on the rise once more. He cracked the top 50 again and this time it looks even better than it did the first time.

Notes from the week...
1 - Doubles here is second to only Wimbledon. Verdasco/Nadal pushed the Bryans to the limits and there are so many funky pairs on both sides.
2 – The men’s seeds are predictably holding up just fine. As usual, the WTA is unmitigated chaos. Being a seed is a curse on the ladies side unless your initials are S.W.
3 - The standard of play is high. There are watchable matches everywhere. Even Tomic versus Ram was enjoyable.
4 - With Djokovic looking shaken and Murray gone does Wawrinka have a great shot to take out the title? It would be one of the biggest of his career.
5 - The coverage on television, etc. has improved since last year. It is especially good online. Kudos to the powers that be for making it happen.

1. IW R3 - Delbonis d. Murray 6-4 4-6, 7-6[3]
...The lefty has been making strides as of late, and took another one. He was too solid on the baseline through the first two sets though Murray managed to grind out the second set. At 4-4 in the second, Murray survived a lengthy deuce before edging the first. The Argentinian managed to come back from a break down in the third, and even controlled the tiebreaker. With the loss, Murray could find himself at risk of losing the number two ranking.
2. IW R2 - Djokovic d. Fratangelo 2-6, 6-1, 6-2
...It is not often Djokovic looks average, but during that first set he looked panicked. He was facing a greenhorn who should have been nervous under the lights. He should have put him to the sword. But he didn’t. But not only that, he also struggled through the first half of the third set, and the upset was on. Not for nothing is Djoker the world number one and he came through eventually.
3. IW R2 - Zverev d. Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 7-5
...The match had this:

Rallies like this one:

Not to mention some of Dimitrov’s patented magic:


Mladenovic was seeded 27th in the singles but lost to Putintseva in straight sets. It only serves to affirm the doubts people have about her. She and Garcia withdrew in the doubles because of her compatriot’s back issue. So, all in all, it has been a tournament to forget for the rising Pastry (Editor's Note: in more ways than one.). She will be back in Miami and hopefully Garcia will be, too.

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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