Monday, June 05, 2017

French Open Day 8: Silence Please, Lesson in Progress

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

It is funny how things work, particularly in our sport. We expected the big names, the veterans, in the ladies to cruise through and the gentlemen to struggle. Instead we say goodbye to three former French Open finalists on the WTA side. And none of the big guns was troubled at all.

In Britain, the laws are archaic. For a time, a pregnant woman was allowed to pee in a policeman’s hat. That is no longer the case, but there are still plenty of strange rules. There is one street in London on which you can legally shepherd sheep, though only on Sundays. And the rules of succession to the crown are even more convoluted. The fact male heirs precede female has caused so many problems down the years. America might have been an entirely different country if a woman had been running England at the time.

Anyway, we must decide who will succeed Rafa as the King of Clay. Usually this crown, this office, is only held briefly. Bjorn Borg had it for a decade, though Guillermo Vilas did challenge him for it frequently, and Thomas Muster has waved that sceptre. Gustavo Kuerten, Guillermo Coria and even Sergi Bruguera have laid claim to that title. Did you know that the Spaniard never went beyond the fourth round at any other slam? And yet he was a three-time French Open finalist. How whacky is that?

Rafael Nadal has been the best clay courter in the world consistently for 12 years. But he will need a successor, will need someone he can trust to reign in his stead. Chung Hyeon’s time may come. But right now it is more likely to be Alexander Zverev or Dominic Thiem. Both of those two men are going to win an awful lot of clay court matches and titles. They should both win Roland Garros several times, too. Right now Nadal still holds the title of King, but he can sense the time of succession is soon. This could very well be Rafa’s final slam title. If he gets one more bad injury anywhere, that’s it.

This slam we have seen the difference between the two youngsters. Thiem is not fazed by anything, but Zverev could not handle the pressure of playing a talented opponent. He could not handle a bruising match straight off the bat. But the Austrian is a contender for player of the week. He had another great result on the second Sunday.

A sad note, before we start, to touch upon. In a match held on from the previous day, Richard Gasquet retired in the eighth game of the third set. He had a thigh injury. This BACKSPINNER honestly expects retirement to be forthcoming from the aged and broken veteran.

In other news, Kei Nishikori retained his number one in Asia ranking, by beating Chung 7-5, 6-4, 6-7[4], 0-6, 6-4. He won just four more points, and fewer games. But a win is a win. One youngster did make it through. Karen Khachanov beat Isner in exactly three hours, 7-6[1], 6-3, 6-7[5], 7-6[3]. Want to guess how many breaks there were in that one? Yep. One.

...It is so difficult to make back-to-back quarterfinals at a slam, especially if it is the first time you get that far. And ARV had a shot at the repeat, he really had a chance. Novak did not look that good, he looked there for the taking. The Spaniard led 4-2 in the first set. The opening set lasted 73 minutes and was not one for the aficionado. But the Serb, of course, clawed his way back and then led in the tiebreaker 4-0. But he lost 4 points in a row. A combined 41 errors in that first set and neither player looked that good. But once he had a set under his belt, Novak was able to turn it on. It is vitally, crucially, important to take the first set against the world number one. Once the Spaniard came up short, and by millimetres, the match was all over. Indeed, the last two sets only lasted an hour and a quarter, the Serb winning 7-6[5], 6-1, 6-3. Yes, the Spaniard came back in the third set, and played some wonderful shots, but he doesn’t have the weaponry. And you need to have it to beat the best. Next up for Djokovic is Thiem, and he has owned the Austrian so far. Why should this be any different?
...One hour and fifty minutes. 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Nadal has taken one of the tour's best and most consistent players, and ripped him a new one. Agut is a great returner, hits good balls and is tactically astute. He has never been able to handle playing the bug guys, however, and so Nadal on clay was always going to be impossible. It isn’t like he didn’t try, but his attack is rather toothless. He hit just 12 winners and lost his serve 12 times. He was brutally manhandled. There is no analysis, no way of spinning it to make it sound like it was alright. I’d love to tell you that Bautista Agut fought the good fight and he got more than five games, but The ATP tour is no fairytale world. And now Rafa has another Spaniard. He gets to play Pablo Carreno Busta. And that one is going to be over very quickly. Busta, a maiden slam quarterfinalist, is going to be in for a rude awakening. Players think they can prepare for Rafa, but they as may well be preparing for cheese rolling the amount of good it’ll do them.
...Thiem defeated the Argentinian 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 in one hour and 40 minutes. He has now conceded 30 games. For context, Nadal conceded 34 games in his 2010 run to the title through his first four matches. So Thiem has thus far surpassed the master. But now he has a real challenge. He is 0-5 against Novak Djokovic. In their last two clay court meetings he has been trounced, smacked about and made to look very silly. Beating Zeballos comfortably is a great result, yes, but that is unimportant. It is expected. Now comes the real test. If he loses here, with all the momentum, with a tired and patchy Djokovic down the other end, well, then it will start to become like the Sharapova/Serena dynamic. And, boy, can both of us tell you all about that. Todd has written several tomes on the matter. Thiem has to forget the head-to-head and he has to attack the Djokovic serve. He needs to also break down that forehand wing. The inside-out backhand into the Djokovic forehand is a play that could reap dividends. Regardless of the result, it should prove to be very watchable. Horacio Zeballos rises 20 places to world number 45. His career high is 39. If he doesn’t bust that wide open, then my name is Bob Dylan.
...We finish with an absolute barn-stormer, a classic for the ages. Pablo Carreno Busta has defeated Milos Raonic, the 5th seed, 4-6, 7-6[2], 6-7[6], 6-4, 8-6. It took over four and a quarter hours and it spanned an entire afternoon of play. 193 points to 189. 31 games to 29. 13 breaks of service. It was an amazing match. The Canadian’s winner ratio was 92-84. The Spaniard only hit 28 errors during the match, but only hit half [exactly half] of Raonic’s winners. This was offense versus defence. This was grind versus short points. And we have a maiden quarterfinalist at the end of it. The Spaniard will rise to a new career high of 17, after he rose four places. He also improves to 1-16 against the top ten, having lost all of them before now. This had everything - long rallies, bad misses and a lot of drama. Serving for it at 5-4, the Spaniard had three match points... and lost his serve. It took him another four games to finally, finally close it out. For Raonic this was a good result, in a way. He is now ready to defend all those Wimbledon points from last year. Busta gets Nadal. Well, it was nice while it lasted.

I shall leave you simply with this...

and this, too...

Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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