US Open 2019 Men’s Preview Djokovic on Course for USO Trophy No.4

Canadian Open
Photo courtesy of www.artefak.org

By the time the U.S. Open comes around each season, everything—right from the Tours to player thinktanks and entourages, businesses of the sport, the partners involved, and of course the devoted followers—is at fever pitch.

And why not.

One: the host city, New York City.

Yes, the other cities to host a grand slam tournament have a unique charm all of their own, which is what brings us to point two.

The US Open marks the last major of the calendar year: so, that’s one last shot at glory for every professional tennis player.

It’s certainly not easy being a racquet-wielding athlete, and every single one of them will testify how much it would mean to win just one of the four majors, leave alone raking them all in by the plenty Djokovic style, and that holding aloft a Major trophy is what they all shoot for year-in, year-out.

Novak Djokovic, the top seed and World No. 1, comes in as defending champion.

Interestingly, this is the only non-Clay major tournament that the Serb has never successfully defended and that’s one box he will be seeking to check off by the end of the fortnight.

He enters Flushing Meadows having played a much lighter schedule following the epic victory at Wimbledon. Djokovic had opted out of the Canadian Open before making the semi-finals in Cincinnati (l. Daniil Medvedev).

Rafael Nadal, the reigning French Open champion, has also been managing his playing time. But more importantly, he secured the second seeding courtesy his first successful defense of a non-clay court title. Nadal’s triumph in Montréal (d. Medvedev) was his 35th at the Masters 1000 level. The Spaniard then withdrew from Cincinnati in order to prepare for the Open where he, like Djokovic, is seeking a fourth crown.

Roger Federer, meanwhile, seemed to make light of a soul-crushing defeat at Wimbledon. The Swiss spoke about a caravan trip that he enjoyed with his family in the aftermath of that final, while asserting the proverbial finish line wasn’t in sight just yet. The Swiss, who again overlooked Canada, saw his return to hard courts cut short by the fiery Andrey Rublev in Cincinnati. How much of an impact will that be, we will soon know.

The other name that has done rounds in this stretch of the season is the 6’6”, 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev. The powerful Russian hit a purple patch in an action-packed three-week stretch that culminated with the biggest title of his young career, in Cincinnati (d. David Goffin), besides runner-up finishes in Washington (l. Nick Kyrgios) and Montréal (l. Nadal). In so doing, he rose to number 5 in world, usurping compatriot Karen Khachanov as the country’s best player. It also marks the first time a Russian man is in the Top 5 since Nikolay Davydenko in 2010.

The draw ceremony took place August 22 and all eyes were on where the likes of Federer, Medvedev and the rest of the pack would fall.

The Tennis Review editor Christian Deverille and sports analyst Karthik Swaminathan dissect the men’s draw.

First quarter:

Djokovic will kick off proceedings against Roberto Carballes Baena and could face home-boy Sam Querrey in the second round, the American famously ousting Djokovic in Wimbledon 2016.

The Serb is seeded to face compatriot Dusan Lajovic (27) in the round-of-32 and either 16th seed Kevin Anderson (who has only played in Queens and Wimbledon since Miami) or 23rd seed Stan Wawrinka (who has also struggled since comeback from surgery) in the last 16.

The talented Pole Hubert Hurkacz, who is in Djokovic’s section for the fourth time this season, could meet Wawrinka in round 2, and it remains to be seen if he can cash in on the opportunity.

Awaiting our defending champion in the quarterfinal… could be Medvedev himself, who would by then be on an 11 match winning streak.

Other seeds in this section include Taylor Fritz (26), Nikoloz Basilashvili (17) and Fabio Fognini (11).

Christian’s pick: I’m going with Medvedev. He has the momentum and he’d face Djokovic in the quarters, which gives him a much better shot at getting the upset than if he were scheduled to meet the world No.1 in the semis or final.

This pick may be more wishful thinking than anything else, but sooner or later someone under 30 has to break through, and with Medvedev’s recent form, there’s no current stronger candidate.

Karthik’s pick: Hard to look past Djokovic. He has made the semi-final at Flushing Meadows every year since 2007, barring 2016 when he did not participate. While he could have his hands full with Medvedev (who even took a set when they played in Melbourne earlier this year) and a spirited Wawrinka or Hurkacz, it is almost customary to see him raise his game at majors—especially in the last few rounds.

Three-to-see first-round matches:

Hubert Hurkacz v. Jeremy Chardy

(11) Fabio Fognini v. Reilly Opelka

Marton Fucsovics v. (17) Nikoloz Basilashvili

Second quarter:

Roger Federer kicks off against a qualifier in round 1 and then either another qualifier or Damir Dzumhur in round 2.

His seed for round 3 is Lucas Pouille (25), but any one of Adrian Mannarino, Philipp Kohlschreiber or Dan Evans could make it through that section to meet the Swiss.

Goffin (15), Pella (19), or 2017 semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta, who Pella faces in round 1, could await in the fourth round.

Seventh seed Kei Nishikori looks to have a relatively straight forward path to meet Federer in the last 8, though his lackluster run into the event (early losses in Montreal and Cincy) could indicate a dicey first few rounds as he plays his way into form.

Nishikori’s section also feature his 2014 young Gun comrades in Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic, the unseeded Bulgarian and 21st seeded Canadian potentially playing each other in round 3.

Christian’s pick: Nishikori. He’s not coming in on the back of any form, match wise, but he has a strong record in New York and is a great best of five sets player. Federer really struggled with conditions in New York last year and Nishikori could exploit that should they meet.

Karthik’s pick: Federer really couldn’t have asked for a better draw following his truncated hard court warm-up post Wimbledon.

Nishikori and Coric have troubled him in the past, but over five sets, it is the Swiss who will still hold the competitive advantage.

Three-to-see first-round matches:

Philipp Kohlschreiber v. (25) Lucas Pouille

Nicolas Jarry v. (21) Milos Raonic

Cristian Garin v. Christopher Eubanks

Third quarter:

Rather than labelling this section the “group of death”, we’d say it is has ‘melee’ written all over it.

Dominic Thiem, the highest seed in this section, hasn’t found his rhythm yet. The 25-year-old will start his campaign against Thomas Fabbiano and could face Sascha Bublik, the 22-year-old Russian-born Kazakh, in the second round ahead of a possible third round against Kyle Edmund.

Gael Monfils or Felix Auger-Aliassime, the youngest player in the Top 100, could lie in wait in the fourth round.

Meanwhile, Stefanos Tsitsipas—the second-highest seed here—opens against the mercurial Andrey Rublev and could face Nick Kyrgios in the third round. A bruising last 16 clash against Roberto Bautista Agut is a realistic possibility. Who’d be the last one standing? We dare say even a crystal ball wouldn’t get this right!

Christian’s pick: Dominic Thiem. The US Open plays quite similarly to Roland Garros in how the ball grips on the court and then bounces high, exactly how the Austrian likes his bounce, giving him plenty of time to take huge cuts with those powerful strokes.

Karthik’s pick: Man, I’ve never been put in a spot like this before. But remember this is a glimpse of non-Big-3 tennis. I’m going to stick my neck out and say Agut. He has made immense strides this year and, among others, has had a decent post-Wimbledon showing: quarterfinals in Gstaad (albeit clay), Montréal and Cincinnati.

Three-to-see first-round matches:

Denis Shapovalov v. (18) Felix Auger-Aliassime

(8) Stefanos Tsitsipas v. Andrey Rublev

Steve Johnson v. (28) Nick Kyrgios

Fourth quarter:

Rafa Nadal has John Millman in round 1, a qualifier or Thanassi Kokkinakis in round 2, 32nd seed Fernando Verdasco in round 3, and John Isner (14), or 22nd seed Marin Cilic in round 4.

In the quarters, the second seed is projected to face Sascha Zverev (6), though Karen Khachanov or Diego Scwartzman might be safer bets to reach that stage.

It’s, for Nadal, a perfect draw- he matches up well against the opposition, but they’re all tough players who’ve played their fair share of big matches and gotten some upsets.

So, the three time champion will go into week 2 tested, but he won’t be run so ragged, as he was last year after that brutal last eight Thiem encounter, that his vulnerable body gives up on him in the semis.

Christian’s pick: Nadal. He has been so consistent this season- he’s leading the ATP Race to London- and with Montreal under his belt and the draw he’s been dealt, this quarter is his for the dissecting.

Karthik’s pick: Nadal, like his Big 3 colleagues, won’t be complaining with what the draw gods have dealt him. A seemingly straightforward route, as we’ve seen with Djokovic and Federer, with a potentially tricky quarterfinal against Khachanov. With the likes of Isner and Cilic yet to find their range, and the third quarter pretty much a free-for-all, the World No. 2 will look to ease his way in to business end of the fortnight.

Three-to-see first-round matches:

(6) Alexander Zverev v. Radu Albot

Vasek Pospisil v. (9) Karen Khachanov

Martin Klizan v. (22) Marin Cilic

Semi-final 1:

Christian’s pick:  Medvedev d. Nishikori.

These two have had some good contests and this one could be the best yet. Medvedev has the slight edge due to the confidence he’s picked up this Summer and the fact he still doesn’t have the Japanese’s big match scars.

Karthik’s pick: Djokovic d. Federer

Yes, the Swiss came within a hair’s breadth at SW19 but instead succumbed to the Serb for a fifth consecutive time. Their faceoff in Paris last year was close too.

Djokovic is a rock mentally and while conditions here will favour him more, the longer the match goes, the more the odds are stacked against Federer.

Semi-final 2:

Christian’s pick:  Nadal d. Thiem.

Thiem has come a long way this year, but Nadal is not going to let a US Open final versus a Djokovic or Federer coming in off a tough last few rounds run away from him. Especially not versus a man who has his number now and then on Clay, but who’s yet to beat him in three out of five at a Major.

Karthik’s pick: Nadal d. Bautista Agut

A doff of the hat to ‘RBA’ for the season he has had. And should this match materialise, expect him to give it his all like he did against Djokovic in London. But dislodging his famous countryman in a grand slam semi-final is among the tallest of orders. For the record, Nadal is a ridiculous 26–6 in the final four at majors and didn’t lose even one semi-final between French Open 2010 and French Open 2018. Trivia: can you recall whom he has lost to, and when?

Final:

Christian’s pick: Nadal d. Medevedev.

Asking Medvedev to beat the Big 3 back to back, and the final match to be in his first slam final is one ask too many.

Nadal has too much game where it can hurt Medvedev, notably from the back of the court- Medvedev won’t be going backhand to backhand cross court with Nadal, on the Russian’s best side in the safest pattern; he’ll be going to the Nadal forehand, a place where so many, Medvedev himself in Montreal a couple of weeks back, get burned.

Karthik’s pick: Djokovic d. Nadal

Yes, they haven’t met here since 2013. Yes, Nadal has beaten Djokovic twice in finals here (as opposed to one defeat). Yes, percentage-wise, Nadal has the better record in finals here (3–1 v. 3–5). Yes, Nadal seemed absolutely dialled in earlier this month. And yes, Nadal could benefit from being in the non-Big 3 half.

But there is a reason why he has not taken a set off Djokovic, leave alone beating him, on hard courts since that victory in 2013.

And their most recent face-off on hard court was at the Australian Open. In the final. And what an almighty thumping that was.

While the conditions here might give Rafa a better look-in, it will take a brave man to bet against Novak. And I am ok with not taking that punt. 

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Daniil Medvedev Caps off Great US Swing with Cincy trophy Win

Photo courtesy of wikipedia commons
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia commons

Daniil Medvedev won the Cincy title beating David Goffin 7-6, 6-4 in the final. The title is the Russian’s first ATP 1000 trophy, capped off a three week streak reaching finals in Washington, Montreal and Mason, Ohio, and sees him rise to No.5 in the world.

The Russian 9th seed got off to as good a start as he could hope for, leading 4-1 in the first set, but the Belgian 16th seed Goffin fought back to take it to a tiebreaker.

Medvedev, who after a tiring run in Monte Carlo, let a 5-1 first set lead in the semis to Dusan Lajovic slip, could have been forgiven, playing his 16th match in 3 weeks, for falling prey to fatigue and a strong opponent again, but Medvedev won the tiebreak with conviction.

Medvedev then broke Goffin early in the second set and held all the way to the end.

In the final game, he was finally troubled by Goffin on his serve, but he did not give in, coming back from 15-40 down to hit a second service winner and hit 3 aces in a row to win his fifth career title, second of the season, and 1st ATP 1000 title.

Medvedev joined Sascha Zverev (Rome ’17), Grigor Dimitrov (Cincy ’17), Jack Sock (Paris-Bercy ’17), Juan Martin del Potro (IW ’18), John Isner (Miami ’18), Karen Khachanov (Paris-Bercy ’18) Dominic Thiem (IW ’19) and Fabio Fognini (Monte Carlo ’19) as first time ATP titlists in the last 3 years.

Over that period of 21 ATP 1000 tournaments, there have been 12 different winners.

Before Zverev broke through in Rome two and a half years ago, the ATP 1000s were a closed shop winner wise for a good six years. From Indian Wells ’11 to Rome ’17, over the course of 58 ATP 1000 events, there were a grand total of 8 winners- Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Ferrer, Tsonga, Wawrinka and Cilic.

Djokovic looked set to add a 34th ATP 1000 title to his collection in Cincy last week, with Andrey Rublev knocking Roger Federer out in round 3, until, Medvedev, trailing 3-6, 2-3, decided to start serving big on his second delivery and going for his ground strokes a little more, making the most of the extra pace the Cincy courts offer.

The Russian has other assets faster hard courts favor- he’s a deceptively good mover for a man 198cm tall, and not only covers the court well but also maximizes the space open to him with his ball placement, moving his opponents around the court and opening it up for, usually, a back hand winner or a good enough back hand to force an error.

He’s had plenty of practice honing that game of late, reaching the Citi Open and Montreal finals, and that form and confidence was too much for Djokovic in the semis who had not played since that historic Wimbledon victory over a month ago before.

In the Cincy final, Medvedev managed to put behind him the disappointment of losing to Nick Kyrgios in two tiebreakers in the Citi Open final and going down in straights to Nadal, losing the second set to love, in the Montreal final.

Having done the hard work of upsetting Djokovic, Medvedev, who was 1-1 with his Cincy final opponent Goffin, beating him in straights in Melbourne this year, but losing 7-9 in the fifth at Wimbledon, kept his mind on the task in hand, beating one of the game’s most consistent, quickest and talented players, and his emotions, which have been know to get the better of him, in check.

While Medvedev became a new man in Cincy, Djokovic is not the beast he once was in ATP 1000s.A host of young players have matured enough to be able to take him out since he got back to his Slam winning ways at Wimbledon ’18- Tsitsipas in Canada ’18, Khachanov in Paris-Bercy, (Zverev in the WTF finals- not an ATP 1000, but a big non Grand slam event), and now Medvedev, twice, in Monte Carlo and now Cincy.

Medvedev’s big and ever improving serve is a tough one for Djokovic who likes to return on the baseline and has always struggled with big servers. Medvedev is also able to out do Djokovic at his best game with his great range on the backhand side, his consistency, and even, as he demonstrated in their final game in Cincy, on the return. Of all those features, it is the backhand, which as Zverev has done to Djokovic a couple of noteworthy times, has outdone the Serb and been the decisive shot.

Medvedev’s Cincy win is a welcome one to those fans itching to see new faces on tournament podiums come Sunday.

The final could have been better contested, but Goffin did all he could against an opponent who was 2018’s winningest hard courter and looks set to be so again in 2019.

The empty seats, some on offer for less than $20 yet still the stadium looked at best three quarters full, may suggest that casual fans are not going to travel out to Mason, Ohio unless one of the Big 3 is playing. But that comparative lack of interest in the final is, perhaps, as much down to the location of the tournament, the at times hard to deal with humidity, and the overall high price of tickets and the costs of attending these tournaments when purchased in advance.

Next up for the Russian is a tournament which won’t have any problems attracting fans, but which will pose more issues for Medvedev when it comes to holding the trophy- the US Open.

While winning an ATP 1000 was once a strong indicator of a young player winning a slam in the not too distant future, that is no longer the way, as Sascha Zverev is a case in point.

Players of Medvedev and Zverev’s generation have had, other than the Davis Cup, no exposure to five set matches outside of slams. While the ATP 1000 finals once gave them, outside of the Majors, a taste of a five setter with all its twists and turns, they now venture onto surfaces in Melbourne, Paris, London, and New York, no longer differentiated or fast enough to give their younger legs and less fearless heads an edge, ill equipped to deal with the pressures and demands of five sets at a slam.

Still, an ATP 1000 in the bag, Medvedev will have a little more experience and a lot more confidence, which could, if the tennis Gods are kind, make all the difference in New York. If those Gods are feeling a little cruel, as they have been to the young ones of late at the Majors, Medvedev will always have Cincy ’19, and, for now, aged just 23, plenty of hard court slams ahead of him.

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Kei Nishikori Versus Richard Gasquet Montreal R2

Gasquet Nishikori

Photo courtesy of sitesearch.asahi.com

Richard Gasquet and Kei Nishikori will play for the 11th time when they meet in the Montreal 2nd round on Wednesday. Gasquet leads the head to head 7-3.

The Richard Gasquet and Kei Nishikori rivalry goes all the way back to Tokyo 2008 on outdoor hard when Richard Gasquet defeated Nishikori for the loss of just three games.

Gasquet won the first six matches of the rivalry up to Paris-Bercy ’15, losing just one set, incidentally in Canada in ’13.

Nishikori then won two matches within a few weeks of each other, both in straights, on the Clay of Rome and Madrid, in 2016.

That added some spice to things when they met in Roland Garros last sixteen a few weeks later, but Gasquet resumed his domination, winning in four.

The last time they met was in Tokyo ’18 in the semis with Nishikori winning in straights.

Gasquet’s prevalence in this match up is much to do with his variety. Nishikori likes rhythm, which Gasquet does not give him.

The Frenchman also hits to the middle of the court when he plays aggressive baseliners like Nishikori, denying them pace and angle to elevate their groundstrokes.

Gasquet’s also able to defend well and put the Japanese under pressure which more often than not can result in Nishikori over hitting.

Gasquet has shown some nice form this week in Montreal defeating Benoit Paire in straights in the first round.

Could the 66th ranked Frenchman upset the 6th seeded Nishikori?

Nishikori is in one of his consistent best phases, he’s 27-11 this year, and his best surface is hard courts.

If he serves well and can find his range from the baseline early on, keeping Gasquet on the run and opening the court, and play with controlled aggression inside the baseline, he can win. But he will have to make things happen out there as Gasquet is not a baseliner who is going to play into his hands.

There have been no indications that Nishikori’s form has dropped off since reaching back to back quarter finals at the French Open and Wimbledon. But this is his first match back since SW19 and Gasquet is a tricky opponent for him so there’s always the chance  Gasquet will get some chances and take them. If Nishikori is a little off and Gasquet is inspired, then this a good match up for the French man to get his season going.

In all likelihood, though, Gasquet still needs more match practice before he starts beating top tenners again (in his 9 wins this year, only one of them has been versus a player ranked in the top 50) and Nishikori wins this match in straights, and very entertaining ones, too.

Irrespective of the predictability of this match, there will be plenty of fans tuning in who have followed both these player’s careers for the last decade and, in Gasquet’s case, 15 years.

Both men are shot-makers with some real flair to their games, both execute their respective backhands, one handed for the French, double for the Japanese, at elite levels, and both are former Canadian Open finalists (though both in Toronto); factors which gives this second rounder a little edge when it comes to choosing which match up to watch in this Montreal second round.

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Now the Chalk Dust has Settled

Roland Garros 2017
Photo courtesy of cet2581.com

Now that the Chalk dust has settled on Wimbledon 2019, I’ve started eating again. Washing, too. Today, I finally put out the rubbish.

Nearly a fortnight has passed since the 2019 Men’s Wimbledon final which saw Novak Djokovic defeat Roger Federer in five sets, the final one the first match in the men’s competition to go all the way to the recently implemented 12-12 tiebreaker.

When Federer served for the match at 8-7 and had 40-30, I started recording it on my phone for a friend in the US who could not see the match. When Djokovic’s passing shot on match point 2 got the game back to deuce, I stopped recording. The moment had passed and it did not look like it would come back, either. I have witnessed Federer lose from match points up before, and to Djokovic, too, and that impending doomish inevitability made itself know to me once more. Losing from championship point in a slam final, though, that was another story.

On the first match point, at 40-15, before picking up my phone, I was standing up, ready to jump and enjoy the Federer win I had predicted. It was a biased prediction, admittedly. After all, I am a tennis blogger and a little bit of bias is part of our make-up.

But there and then, with Federer holding championship point, my faith in him, built not just on his being Federer but on his improvement since that Australian Open loss to Tsitsipas, winning in Miami, his credible Clay court run and his Halle win, seemed grounded in actual fact.

I still could not really believe it was happening, that Federer, at this stage of his career and with all his history at Wimbledon, was about to win title No.9, and defeat Novak Djokovic, world No.1, and who had beaten him in the ’14 and ’15 finals.

That Federer did not close out the match was a huge blow to me and I lay back on the couch. I watched the rest of the match as neutral as I could be, like the impartial tennis journalist I aspire to be.

Djokovic and his ability to stay in the match and give himself a chance at title No.5 playing one of the greatest grass courts of all time, whatever the speed of the court, grabbed me now. Whatever you may feel about the world No,1, his game is about as good as a tennis game has ever been, and when you let it reel you in, its own fine qualities start to charm.

As the games in the fifth set progressed to the inevitable tiebreak, the third decider of the match, Djokovic winning the other two like a man who had really been in charge all along in a match he had spent four fifths looking second best, the world No.1’s simmering determination and line perfect answer to Federer’s excellent questions was nothing less than impressive as he won the match 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12.

Djokovic may not be tennis’s darling and his game is not the elegant yet crushing brilliance of Federer’s, but he’s a champion and his tennis wins Majors. If Federer was going to lose, if he was going to let two championships points slip away from his 37 year old service arm, it was going to be against Djokovic, no one else. Watching your favorites finish second best is painful when you know what it is like to see them be number one and the champion, but the sting of it is taken out when they finish second to the likes of Djokovic.

The house is tidy now and I’m functioning. Tennis, like Djokovic does his opponents, can really crush you. The sport can really raise the spirits, too, and with the US Open in full view, starting in a month’s time, there’s no time for moping. Time to get the biases buzzing again; slam No. 21 really could be round the corner, and if it is not, watching Federer still contesting for it to the bittersweet end against the sport’s very best is still better than not watching him being a contender at all.

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And Then There was Ugo

Ugo Humbert is into the Wimbledon last 16
Photo courtesy of kolimgat.pw

Men’s tennis’ search for the stars to replace the current Polaris’ of the game saw pundits and fans gaze and speculate at many familiar names on the Wimbledon 2019 draw sheet– Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovolov, Taylor Fritz, Miomir Kecmanovic, Frances Tiafoe and Felix-Auger Aliassime, to name the most high profile.

By the end of week 1, all were gone, as were Christian Garin, Andrey Rublev, Reilly Opelka, Casper Ruud, Alex di Minaur, Corentin Moutet, and Hubert Hurcakz.

One youngster is still in sight, though- Ugo Humbert, the recently turned 21 year old left hander from France (born June 26th), ranked 66 in the world and the 9th youngest player in the top 100.

Humbert has succeeded where his fellow ‘Next Gen’ failed for a number of reasons- draws, luck, fitness, form, pressure and style.

Primarily his success is because he has the attacking game, touch and net skills to succeed on the low bouncing grass courts. 

Perhaps, also, because he has not been studied under quite the same strength lens of a tennis world craving a meteor from the sky, every move and twinkle noted and analysed, as some of his peers have.

The man Humbert beat in the third round, Felix AA, so well known aged 18 he has his own moniker, admitted the pressure got to him after his 4-6, 5-7, 3-6 loss to Humbert on court 1.

No wonder- Felix’s name came up in matches he was not even playing and his interviews played between them. He was the third match on court 1 in the round of 32 playing in only his second slam and having never won a slam match before this Wimbledon.

The hype, while Felix AA’s earned it, the Canadian is the youngest player in the top 100, has made 3 finals and the Miami semis this season and was the tournament’s 19th seed, might end up being something he’d rather return.

Something FAA would also like to have well returned was Humbert’s serve. The Frenchman had a first serve percentage of 79 and a second delivery of 61 and faced just four break points the entire match with FAA breaking once. Humbert, meanwhile, broke FAA five times and held ten break points.

If FAA had been feeling pressure before the match, Humbert capitalized on it, applying plenty of his own.

That highly anticipated even taken for granted Felix AA fourth rounder versus Novak Djokovic is not happening now, the media denied its potential changing of the guard or young gun schooled by legend headlines.

Instead the focus will be on Humbert reaching his first Grand slam fourth rounder.

On his way there, he had to come from two sets to love down to beat Gael Monfils, one of his country’s most famous and loved players, who retired 0-3 down in the fifth with an ankle injury.

In the second round, Humbert beat experienced Marcel Granollers, playing his 12th Wimbledon. Granollers has never been past the second round at Wimbledon; Humbert is into the fourth round and on his SW19 debut and in his only his fourth main draw of a Major.

Not just any Major of course. But Wimbledon, with its practically extinct yet 21st century grass courts on which the ball bounces lowly rather slowly, though with the same old odd, unpredictable and frustrating angles.

That Zverev and Co did not not make it into the round of sixteen is not as surprising as the ball sometimes bounces in SW19.

The tennis played there is quite different to the one they often excel at the rest of the year- generally medium slow high bouncing Hard and Clay, surfaces on which the ball grips on the court and then rises right up into the optimum top spin crunching zone.

Humbert, likes to hit flat and go for his shots, a recipe which has been known to work well on Grass, and which has helped him become the youngest man in the fourth round.

At 21, the French man is nearly 9 years younger than the average age of this year’s men’s single last sixteeners at Wimbledon.

He’s not the only player in his early twenties, though, joined as he is by 23 year old Matteo Berrettini who defeated Diego Schwartzman in five gripping sets. But, there’s no one else under 26, and the third youngest player left in the draw is 27 year old Tennys Sandgren.

Humbert won’t be out of the spotlight for much longer though with a match against the world No.1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic on Court 1 on Wimbledon’s manic Monday.

While he won’t have experienced quite the attention he’ll get facing title favorite Djokovic on Monday, Humbert is no stranger to buzz after his deep run at the ATP 250 Marseille tournament, in which he beat Borna Coric on his way to the semis. There was also his run to the US Open second round last year, not deep main draw wise, but he came out of qualifying to reach the second round, a four match streak, before losing to Stan Wawrinka in four sets. Enough to get you talked about by fans and featured in the tennis press, but not quite enough to get you talked up as the next big thing with the likes of Zverev, Tsitispas and FAA around.

For now, the 21 one year old can enjoy being the youngest player in the Wimbledon fourth round, the sole representative of his peers, in a sport which has no active slam champ under 30 and at a tournament of which the surface is only played on for six weeks of a 46 week season.

Humbert’s arrival in the second week of Wimbledon may not herald him as the next big thing with the upcoming US hard court swing a more welcoming stomping ground for his fellow ATP Next Genners and recent grads and one in which they will once again hit the headlines and for the right reasons.

Not anointing Humbert is OK, though. More than OK in fact. Heralding the other youngsters is not doing them much good that often- only Tsitsipas has reached a slam semi-final- and it probably won’t do great things for Humbert, either. Hype makes money, not players.

The search for the next young star will still go on, and it’s one we should probably call off. Like Humbert did at Wimbledon, the next youngsters ready to contend for slams will make themselves known to us no matter how much we focus our lens and how much time we spend predicting their paths.

The stars will shoot nonetheless, so let’s just pull up a seat, put up our feet and enjoy a good gape as their games shoot off before us, whoever they are.

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Wimbledon 2019 Men’s Singles Draw Breakdown

Djokovic Wimbledon
Photo courtesy of http://trendsindia.net

Westward Ho! Wimbledon, here we go!

Starting this coming Monday, the immaculately manicured grass courts at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club host the oldest tennis major for the 133rd time.

The curiously scheduled tennis tour jumps from Melbourne to Roland Garros, a gap of four and a half months for players to make the journey from hard to the red dirt’s ultimate stop the first Sunday of June, and then leaps to SW19, with just five weeks for players to readjust from the higher bouncing Clay to the lower bouncing Grass in time to lift the trophy mid July.

Although the transition to the slower Wimbledon Grass we see the pros ply their trade on in the 21st Century does not pose quite the same challenges conditions wise as it once did, the historic lawns still require a different skill-set, footwork and shot preparation wise, while those more aggressive minded players with bigger and smarter serves who are not afraid to slice are still more favored to prevail than those who like to help make that baseline nice and muddy for week 2.

The one time Summer Garden party is still, despite the competition the other Majors pose as they grow in size and stature, not just tennis’ most renowned event, but one of sport’s, and, in a crowded Summer sporting field featuring women’s football and the Cricket world cup also taking center stage, it will need to produce the same drama it did last year- those semis are still talked about nearly a year on– to grab the headlines.

Tennis’ Center Court has already been hit by some headline grabbing controversy with Wimbledon’s formula again affecting the seedings, leading to critical comments from Rafael Nadal, demoted from world No.2 to SW19’s third seed, and high profile coaches such as Darren Cahill and Magnus Norman.

This is how the top 32 looks:

1 Novak Djokovic2 Roger Federer3 Rafael Nadal4 Kevin Anderson
5 Dominic Thiem6 Alexander Zverev7 Stefanos Tsitsipas8 Kei Nishikori
9 John Isner10 Karen Khachanov11 Daniil Medvedev12 Fabio Fognini
13 Marin Cilic14 Borna Coric (Withdrawn)15 Milos Raonic16 Gael Monfils
17 Matteo Berrettini18 Nikoloz Basilashvili19 Felix Auger-Aliassime20 Gilles Simon
21 David Goffin22 Stan Wawrinka 23 Roberto Bautista Agut24 Diego Schwartzman
25 Alex de Minaur26 Guido Pella27 Lucas Pouille28 Benoit Paire
29 Denis Shapovalov30 Kyle Edmund31 Laslo Djere32 Dusan Lajovic

History will also vie with committee decisions for tennis column inches with this year’s tournament marking the tenth anniversary of Federer breaking Pete Sampras’ Major haul record and also potentially serving up yet another note-worthy chapter in the sport’s ever expanding record books with the following narratives all possible upcoming entries:

  • Can Wimbledon’s most decorated gentlemen’s singles champion extend his record to #RF21?
  • Will his bête-noire, Nadal, who, were it not for a couple of points and playing condition decisions here and there in ’18, could have been this year’s defending champ, narrow the gap to one?
  • Will the man, Novak Djokovic, who has winning records against them both have the last laugh, as he has had in three of the last four slams?
  • Practically less likely, yet theoretically still possible, will a new face finally break the Big Four dominance at SW19, which now (ridiculously) dates back to 2003…

The Tennis Review editor Christian Deverille and tennis analyst Karthik Swaminathan break down the ATP draw.

First quarter:

Top seed and World No. 1 Djokovic headlines this section and commences his title defence against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber. The Serb leads their head-to-head 10–2. Kohlschreiber did inflict a shock defeat on Djokovic in Indian Wells back in March, his first win over the world No.1 in over a decade, which makes this first rounder even more one to watch.

In the second round, Djokovic could face Malek Jaziri of Tunisia (Djokovic leads 1–0) or America’s Denis Kudla (yet to meet).

In the third round, the defending champ could come up against compatriot and 32nd seed Dusan Lajovic (Djokovic leads 2–0).

Lajovic, though, has a tricky opener himself against the talented 22-year-old Hubert Hurkacz of Poland (Djokovic leads 1–0).

If not his compatriot, Djokovic could also face the mercurial Ernests Gulbis (Djokovic leads 7–1); the Latvian reached the fourth round here last year and the third round the year before.

Possibly lying in wait in the fourth round, 16th seed Gael Monfils of France (Djokovic leads 15–0) or the fast-rising Félix Auger-Aliassime (yet to meet).

The 18-year-old Canadian has reached three finals this year, most recently at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart earlier this month (l. Matteo Berrettini).

7th seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece (head-to-head level 1–1) or 11th seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia (Djokovic leads 3–1), a much touted next-generation duo, are potential quarterfinal opponents.

Also lurking in this quarter are 30th seed Kyle Edmund, the home hope, and the unseeded pair of Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and Croatian ace-machine Ivo Karlovic.

Three-to-see first-round matches:

(1) Novak Djokovic v. Philipp Kohlschreiber

Ernests Gulbis v. Leonardo Mayer

(19) Félix Auger-Aliassime v. Vasek Pospisil

Karthik’s semi-finalist pick: (1) Novak Djokovic

Christian’s semi-finalist pick: (1) Novak Djokovic

Second quarter:

South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, last year’s runner-up (l. Djokovic), is seeded fourth thanks to Wimbledon’s formula despite missing action since Miami (l. Federer) due to injury and is the highest seed in this section.

The gentle giant opens against Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France (Anderson leads 1–0) before a second round against either Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic (head-to-head level 1–1) or Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka (Anderson leads 1–0).

26th seed Argentine Guido Pella (yet to meet) is a potential third round opponent while 15th seed Milos Raonic (head-to-head level 1–1) of Canada or 22nd seed Stanislas Wawrinka (Anderson trails 4–5) could pose a threat in the fourth.

6th seeded German Alexander Zverev (Anderson trails 0–5) or 10th seeded Russian Karen Khachanov (Anderson leads 1–0), another next-generation pair, could lie in wait in the quarterfinals.

Anderson’s form is suspect and Zverev, who has an interesting opener in Czech southpaw Jiri Vesely, is yet to make a grand slam semifinal means this section is waiting to throw a surprise. Can the ‘other Swiss’ or someone else make the most of this chance? Or will the defending runner-up find his gear again?

Three-to-see first-round matches:

Andreas Seppi v. Nicolas Jarry

(22) Stanislas Wawrinka v. Ruben Bemelmans

Jiri Vesely v. (6) Alexander Zverev

Karthik’s semi-finalist pick: (10) Karen Khachanov

Christian’s semi-finalist pick: (6) Sascha Zverev

Third quarter:

Two-time Wimbledon champion and World No. 2 Nadal was not impressed with being demoted to a number-three seeding. And while we know the Spaniard keeps expectations low ahead of matches, he could be excused for not liking how the draw turned out, at least on paper, as his potential path to a third title at SW19 seems laden with banana skins.

Up first for Rafa is someone he hasn’t faced before—Japan’s Yuichi Sugita—but his second-round adversary is someone he knows only too well, the highly volatile Nick Kyrgios (head-to-head level 3–3). The Aussie famously ended Nadal’s hopes on these very grounds back in 2014 and the two had a particularly fiery meeting in Acapulco earlier this season.

Kyrgios, however, could have his hands full against compatriot Jordan Thompson in his opening round.

It only gets warmer for Nadal as he could face either 29th seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada (head-to-head level 1–1) or the unseeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Nadal leads 8–4) in the third round before a possible fourth round against 13th seed and 2017 runner-up Marin Cilic.

The Croat himself has France’s Adrian Mannarino to deal with first. The other end of this quarter is headlined by fifth seed Dominic Thiem of Austria who starts his campaign against big-serving American Sam Querrey.

There is no doubt that this section can tease and throw a lot of questions but as the saying goes, ‘Fortune favors the brave’ and whoever emerges from this section will need plenty of pluck.

Three-to-see first-round matches:

(5) Dominic Thiem v. Sam Querrey 

Frances Tiafoe v. (12) Fabio Fognini 

Bernard Tomic v. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Karthik’s semi-finalist pick: (3) Rafael Nadal

Christian’s semi-finalist pick: (13) Marin Cilic

Fourth quarter:

Federer returns to his most successful grand slam on the back of a tenth title in Halle (d. David Goffin).

In what will be a first-time meeting, the 20-time grand slam champion will face South African 22-year-old Lloyd Harris in the opening round before a second round against either 20-year old local Jay Clarke (yet to meet) or 23-year-old Noah Rubin (Federer leads 1–0).

27th seeded Frenchman Lucas Pouille is a likely third round opponent.

In the fourth round, the 14th seed Borna Coric’s late withdrawal with injury means Federer could end up meeting 17th seed Matteo Berrettini who is no fool on grass, winning the title in Stuttgart (d. Auger-Allisiame) and reaching the Halle semis (L to Goffin).

In the last eight, 8th seed Kei Nishikori of Japan (Federer leads 7–3) or 9th seed John Isner (Federer leads 7–2) are potential opponents.

Former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis, who is scheduled to play Jan-Lennard Struff in the first round, announced this year’s Championships would be his last event in professional-level competition. Expect that match on a show court and to be the match of the first round.

Three-to-see first-round matches:

Taylor Fritz v. Tomas Berdych

Jan-Lennard Struff v. Marcos Baghdatis

(27) Lucas Pouille v. Richard Gasquet

Karthik’s semi-finalist pick: (2) Roger Federer

Christian’s semi-finalist pick: (2) Roger Federer

Semi-final 1 predictions:

Karthik: (1) Novak Djokovic d. (10) Karen Khachanov 

Christian: (1) Novak Djokovic d. (6) Sascha Zverev

Semi-final 2 predictions:

Karthik: (2) Roger Federer d. (3) Rafael Nadal 

Christian: (2) Roger Federer d (13) Marin Cilic


Final predictions:

Karthik: (1) Novak Djokovic d. (2) Roger Federer for a 5th Wimbledon title and a 16th grand slam crown

Christian: (2) Roger Federer d. (1) Novak Djokovic. This is as good an opportunity the 37 year old all time Great is going to get to make #RF21 a trending hashtag and to reassert himself as the No.1 name mentioned in the never-ending G.O.A.T debate.

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Wimbledon 2019 Men’s Singles The Favorites

Wimbledon
Photo courtesy of wiki commons.

Novak Djokovic

The defending champion and four time title holder (’11, ’14, ’15, ’18) had a tumultuous end to his Roland Garros ’18 and has not played an ATP Grass warm up tournament, but if he comes to Wimbledon focused and prepared, the trophy is likely his.

Djokovic sits on top of the rankings with 12,415 points, 4,470 points more than second ranked Rafa Nadal. That haul comes mostly courtesy of 3 slams, 3 ATP 1000 titles, an RG semi, and runner up finishes in Paris-Bercy, Rome and the WTF finals.

Over the last 12 months, Djokovic is the man to beat on the ATP tour, a status he re-earned for himself back at SW19 a year ago and which he is favorite to reaffirm the second Sunday of July.

On Grass, Djokovic is too consistent and smart on serve, too good on the return and from the baseline, and his point construction means he can move forward and make the most of the lower bounce. That all round consistency if he can bring it to the championships is what will separate him from the pack.

If he can’t bring it, then it will be game on, and things could get dirtier than a muddy baseline come the second week. But just as Djokovic plays slam level tennis better than anyone, he also wins uglier more unattractively than anyone, and that mix of beauty and the beastly has been the narrative of many a slam of late, and there’s little to suggest he won’t be retelling that story over the next two weeks in SW19.

Roger Federer

A 10th Halle title and all that match fitness that comes with his playing the tour all season are encouraging signs for Federer.

The 37 year old has a realistic chance of winning a ninth Wimbledon title, and the only player who can stop him seems to be Novak Djokovic.

With Federer seeded 2nd, the two will be at opposite ends of the draw so Federer should, at the very least, make the final. Last year’s self-confessed disaster versus Kevin Anderson will certainly keep him in check if he feels for even one second he’s starting to take his eye off the prize.

Once he’s a match away from it, and if Djokovic also makes it to the championship match, that match will be a tough one to call. The edge will go to the Serb, but the Swiss, the greatest active grass courter in the draw bar none, certainly won’t be written off should he get in sight of title No.9.

Marin Cilic

Cilic, hit with a knee injury last season, is not having a good 2019- he’s 10-9- and went out in the second round of Queens to Diego Schwartzman.

If Cilic is healthy, he could go on one of his runs. There are few players better at best of five or better on Grass.

Rafa Nadal

The Roland Garros champ and world No.2 won’t be seeded second due to Wimbledon’s seeding method and so he’ll have to potentially get through both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to win the title.

However, they will also have to get through him, and if you ask Djokovic, who won arguably 2018’s match of the year versus Nadal in last year’s semis, that is anything but a stroll on the grass.

Kevin Anderson

Last year’s finalist is on the road back from injury so it might be a lot to ask him to repeat last year’s run. Still, if he’s healthy, few will be more motivated to clinch their first slam than Anderson.

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Fedal part 39 to take place at Roland Garros 2019

Federer
Photo courtesy of www.wsj.blog

Roger Federer has had many a fine run at Roland Garros and one truly great one, that 2009 title win.

Those fine runs- to the semis in 2005 and 2012, and the finals in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011, have all, bar one (2012, lost to Djokovic), ended at the hands of Rafa Nadal.

That pattern is likely to repeat itself in this year’s semi-finals when Federer and Nadal meet at Roland Garros for the 6th time, their 39th career meeting. (Nadal leads 23-15).

A lot has happened since their last Roland Garros meeting in the 2011 final, a four set Nadal win. This time round, Federer has the hold on their rivalry, winning the last six meetings (the last one a walkover in Indian Wells), and this time he will be playing all out attack tennis. There will be no seeing if he can size up to Nadal from the baseline this time.

Still, an awful lot is still the same. Nadal is, other than in his third round match versus David Goffin, romping through the draw.

Goffin, much like Federer is, was in fine form, the kind that takes a set of Nadal in Paris, and it would not be out of the question to imagine Federer riding a wave of Parisian support, his own good form, and his clay court gifts to claim a set versus Nadal. He has, after all, taken Nadal to four sets in four of their five Roland Garros meetings.

But a Federer win? How out of the question is that?

As Federer himself said this event, fans come to the stadium to see who will win; they would stay at home if it was a foregone conclusion.

There is wisdom in that truism and Federer, who has been the victim of many an upset over his career, a few at the hands of Nadal, is a worthy sage.

Nadal is unlikely to have a bad day in the Roland Garros semis- he’s 11-0 at that stage- and he’s winning the match ups which favor him rather comfortably. Yet, upsets do happen, and what better an upset than Federer, aged 37, finally getting that Roland Garros Nadal win?

Still, it seems the stuff of dreams. Upsets do happen, yes, but they usually have some underlying factors surging them on- an off form or injured higher ranked player, a fundamentally unsound match up in favor of the upsetter, or an underdog in the form of their life.

Nadal is plagued by injuries but clay is kinder to his joints than hard courts and he seems to have his body in healthy enough shape. As for form, Kei Nishikori could testify as to how in form the defending champion is. While this match up has in the last few years swung in favor of Federer, all those matches have been on hard, and Nadal is unquestionably the favorite when they meet on Clay. Federer is in very good form, but the form of his life? So far, he’s beaten the players he should beat and has yet to come up against anyone who would really push him such as Stefanos Tsitsipas might have. That poor break point conversion- 2-18 versus Wawrinka in the quarters- does not suggest he’s having the return game of his life, either.

The signs point to a Nadal four set win and we should not lose all heart in that sense of inevitability. Indeed many a fan will be watching this match not overly in doubt as to the outcome. Instead, they will be watching it to see Fedal part 39, their sixth meeting at Roland Garros. The clock is ticking on this one, and while the match might be too quick for some, the historical spectacle of these two meeting will make every second one to keep an eye on, ever hoping it may not just be about history after all, but more about that unknown conclusion Federer himself has spoken of.

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Roland Garros 2019 Men’s Draw Breakdown

Djokovic
Photo courtesy of http://www1.folha.uol.com.br

Two days. Two whole days until Roland Garros. With plenty of players breaking through this season and a whole host of different champions on the tour, and some old favorites, players and narratives, at the fore, this Roland Garros has the potential to be one of the most historically significant and downright entertaining for a while.

Top half

First quarter

Heading the draw is world No.1 Novak Djokovic who is 1 slam away from holding all four slams at once for the second time in his career. Yes, Roger and Rafa fans, you read that right.

Djokovic has a fairly tricky opener as openers go for top seeds- he’s drawn the improving youngster Hubert Hurkacz.

Gilles Simon in round 3 would give Djokovic something to think about and Borna Coric in round 4 won’t let him get away with putting in one of his customary early round stinkers.

Zverev or Lajovic in the quarters would also be a challenge, but neither are known quantities at slams and the man currently holding three of them is likely to go through a little ruffled but with his hair neatly back in its place for the semis.

Winner of this quarter: Novak Djokovic

Second quarter

Dominic Thiem is the top ranked player in this section. He did not have as great a Clay season as we expected, but his unexpected Indian Wells triumph balances that out.

The tournament will really start for Thiem in the fourth round where Fernando Verdasco could be lying in wait to repeat his Rome upset of the Austrian.

In the quarters, Thiem could face Juan Martin del Potro who contested that match of the season versus Djokovic in Rome and who comes to life at slams, except when they are in Melbourne that is.

Winner of this quarter: Thiem. He’s really come into his own since reaching the Roland Garros final last season. That US Open quarter final loss to Nadal and the Indian Wells win show that far from being just a clay courter, he is a great player whose baseline power and sheer will could take him back into the Paris semis to give himself another shot at playing for the title.

Bottom half

Third quarter

Third seed Roger Federer leads this section of the draw which by default makes this the most open section of the draw.

Federer performed well in Madrid and Rome, reaching two quarters, but his withdrawal from his Rome quarter final against Stefanos Tsitsipas suggests that if he has a few tricky matches to get going the going might come to a halt before he reaches his seeded position in the semis.

Lorenzo Sonego in round 1, Malek Jaziri in round 2, and possibly Hungarian Open champion Matteo Berrettini in round 3 will be challenging for the Swiss, though his versatility and clay court experience- he is a former champion in Paris no less- should see him through.

Last year’s surprise semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato or the recent Rome last four competitor Diego Schwartzman in round 4 may be a little too much for the Swiss and leave him a little spent, if he survives, for a Tsitsipas Slam rematch in the last eight.

Winner of this quarter: Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Tsitsipas is a likely contender for an upset- a young talented and high-achieving player for his age with a lot of hype behind him- but he’s got a decent draw ( a raw Tiafoe in round 3 and Wawrinka and Cilic in round 4 are as good as it gets to be honest) and the hype is justified- he really is that good.

Fourth quarter

Second seed Nadal may be at the bottom of the draw but he’s top of the pile at Roland Garros as the 11 time champion.

Having the likes of David Goffin, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Guido Pella in his section should have fans worrying for him, but his Rome run put any concerns about his form to rest. As Nadal himself said, what happened in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid happened. In Paris, everytime Nadal steps on the court is a new day even if it seems like a groundhog one for those wishing for a little more unpredictability in their professional tennis.

Winner of this quarter: Nadal. He’s going to be vulnerable early on, and there’ll be some tense moments, but he’s Nadal and this is Roland Garros and history tells us only a Soderling like performance, a huge drop in form, or an injury end his Roland Garros campaigns before the semis.

Semi-final predictions:

Top half: Djokovic defeats Thiem.

Bottom half: Nadal defeats Tsitsipas.

Unfortunately for Thiem and Tsitsipas, though they will give their all in the semis, they may have overplayed by then and it may not be enough.

Djokovic and Nadal have also played plenty of tennis and are older so this rule might seem like it works for them, too, but it’s the mental toll of overplaying that will likely do for the younger pair who still lack the big match experience that has made Nadal and Djokovic the mentally tough players they have become even when playing their seventh match of a slam and going into the fourth set.

Final:

Djokovic defeats Nadal.

It is hard to pick between these two, but it is what is on the line here that could swing it the way of Djokovic.

Holding all four slams at once twice in your career- to be a match away from that feat, to be the Madrid champion and Rome runner up, to be the best player in five setters on the tour right now, and to have the edge those Wimbledon and Australian Open wins give you over your potential Roland Garros final opponent, all those factors combined are overwhelmingly in favor of Djokovic.

Between these two, though, history often goes out the window when they are both in form, as we saw just last year in the Wimbledon semis, and in many ways, considering how they’ll be continuing their recent good form if they make the final, then the championship match will be a fresh start.

Still, in the difficult business of predicting winners before the tournament starts, and in a rivalry so balanced but with so many twists and turns, you have to go with the factor that is the biggest clincher in tennis- what’s between the ears, and right now no one has a tennis brain as tuned in to Grand Slam tennis than Novak Djokovic.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this preview please share it. Also, come back during Roland Garros- I’ll be trying to post everyday and would love to share the RG experience with you. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts, too.

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Roland Garros 2019 Dark Horses

Goffin
Photo courtesy of www.treizecizero.ro

A dark horse has not won Roland Garros in some time- Gaston Gaudio, ranked 44 at the time, was the last man to do so in 2004. That was before the Rafa Nadal reign in Paris began, and with the Spaniard still in slam winning form, it’s hard to see another dark horse making a bolt for it and crossing the line. Still, if anyone is going to get our heads spinning a la Gaudio, Kuerten or Chang, it could be one of these five.

David Goffin

Goffin is a little high profile for a dark horse, but he’s not expected to win the event, is not a top 16 seed (he’s seeded 28), and he’s underachieved for someone of his skill, talent and promise. But, while Goffin has all those attributes in his favor when it comes to his Roland Garros chances, he is, unfortunately, this year, in Rafa Nadal’s last 32 section.

Still, that may be the best stage for Goffin to meet the defending champion and get the win. Nadal has only exited that stage of the tournament in 2016 when he had to withdraw with a left wrist injury, but a couple of weeks shy of his 33rd birthday, the Spaniard is going to suffer more and more random bad days here and there, as we have seen this Clay season in which he did not win an event until Rome, and those days are more likely to be at the start of the event, where last year Nadal was not playing his best tennis, than in the later stages of the draw.

In 2018, Nadal did not meet anyone who could take advantage of his less than stellar early round performances, but Goffin won’t let him get away with anything less than his best.

If a dark horse is going to make a run for it then a win versus the tournament favorite is the best way to get things going, as Chang did when he beat Ivan Lendl in the fourth round on his jaunt to the 1989 title.

Such a victory would give Goffin all the confidence he needed to finally realize all that potential he has shown us over the years which peaked when he reached the ATP WTF ’17 finals.

One unlucky injury after another – from falling on tarp at Roland Garros ’17 to hitting his eye with his racket at Rotterdam ’18- has gotten in the way of Goffin delivering on the promise he showed on his run to the ’12 Roland Garros fourth round.

However, if you believe in tennis Gods and balance then Goffin is certainly due a little good fortune, and catching Nadal on a bad day at Roland Garros would definitely even matters out for him if not swing the pendulum of fate overwhelmingly in his favor.

Cristian Garin

22 year old Garin has won Clay titles in Houston and Munich this season and is the 2013 Roland Garros junior champ. The Chilean has future men’s singles French Open champ written all over him.

He’s drawn the improving Reilly Opelka in round 1 and the vulnerable and unpredictable 24th seed Stan Wawrinka in round 2.

If the draw had not been kind enough to him, he’s then potentially got Marin Cilic (11) in round 3. Cilic on his day could send Garin packing in straights, but Cilic has more off days than good recently, and is as good a former slam champ and Roland Garros quarter finalist an up and comer could hope to meet.

Tsitsipas in the round of 16 is a tough proposition, but the Greek is still raw and Garin won’t be intimidated. This section of the draw is the Federer one, and the Swiss’ presence in the quarters is anything but a certainty. Schwartzman, Cecchinato and Berrettini are all lurking in Federer’s section, and a Garin match versus one of that trio would be like Roland Garros of the 90s- unpredictable and prowling with Clay courters looking to make the tournament their own.

Felix Auger Aliassime

Felix Auger Aliassime is the 25th seed, the Rio champ and is in Juan Martin del Potro’s section of the draw.

del Potro is a player no one wants to see opposite the net in a big event, but he’s also only played 8 matches all season while FAA is on an escalating career trajectory, going 17-11 for the year and rising from 108 at the start of the year to his current ranking of 28.

Karen Khachanov and Lucas Pouille could await in the last 16 and neither are consistent enough to be sure they will make it there or deliver if they do.

Thiem in the quarters could be where FAA falls, but Thiem might have the very tricky Fernando Verdasco on his hands in his last 16. The Spaniard conquered Thiem in Rome and gets up for potential upsets early on in Slams. The Spaniard, however, is not so strong following up on those shock wins, so FAA could find the draw opening up and the semis of a slam at his feet.

The tennis world would be at his feet, too, if he could break through and win a slam aged 18 and seeded 25.

Guido Pella

The Argentinian made Rafa Nadal looked very shaky indeed when he took him to a first set tiebreak in their Monte Carlo last eight match.

Pella comes into the French Open ranked 22 in the world (he was 66 starting the year) and having won his first ever title at the age of 28 in Sao Paulo (he’s since turned 29).

Pella is 9-5 in the European Clay season and that performance vs Nadal in Monte Carlo was the peak, but he’ll go into the event match fit and fairly fresh which could see him into the second week of a slam for the first time in his career (he’s 3-4 lifetime at the French).

Dusan Lajovic

The Monte Carlo finalist has, at 28, hit his prime. He won’t be going under the radar if he meets Nick Kyrgios in round 2, and in round 3 he could be hitting the headlines beating Sascha Zverev, who he had on the ropes in last year’s event, in round 3.

Fognini, Lajovic’s Monte Carlo conqueror, could be his last 16 opponent, and five sets would give the Serb a little more time to settle his nerves and capitalize on any of the Italian’s lapses in a match.

Djokovic in the quarters could be a match too far. But, if Lajovic is going to write his name alongside Chang, Kuerten and Gaudio, he’ll have to topple one of the favorites along the way, and you’d rather meet Djokovic before the semis in a slam than after which is when the world No.1 starts going up the gears as each set goes by.

Beating Djokovic at that stage would be the stuff of dark horse dreams, but strange things happen at Grand Slams and consistent clay courters strong off both wings and with years of experience have had strange and wonderful experiences at Roland Garros and Lajovic should call Gaston Gaudio for a chat should he find himself on the verge of experiencing them.

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