Monte Carlo Rolex Masters Who Can Stop Rafa Nadal and La Decima Part 1?


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Rafa Nadal enters the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters on the back of a strong first quarter of the season as he attempts his first La Decima of 2017. The Tennis Review looks at why Nadal is the man to be stopped and at the rivals who have a chance to stall his striding towards a piece of tennis history.

Why Nadal is the player who needs to be stopped.

Had Roger Federer not been fairy-tailing it up this season, then the award for best comeback would most likely be going Nadal’s way.

In 2017, Nadal has been to a slam final, an ATP 1000 final, and an ATP 500 final, and all on hard courts. Three of his five losses have come at the hands of arguably the best hard courter in tennis history, Roger Federer, another one to Milos Raonic, in Brisbane where the Canadian was defending champion and at a career high ranking of 3, and the other one to a player with the big serve and first strike tennis that bothers Nadal on faster surfaces, Sam Querrey.

That run on hard courts means Nadal, who only came back from wrist injury last Summer, has the confidence he needs entering the Clay court swing, where last year he got off to a tremendous start winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona back to back,

Nadal, who has been practicing on clay since his Miami defeat, looks primed to put all that hard work into trophy winning action, and there is no better venue to start at than Monte Carlo where he has won a historic nine titles (Nadal has the record for most men’s singles titles won at an event at no less than three different tournaments- Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros) and where he could become the first man in ATP history to win ten singles titles at one tournament.

Who Can Stop Nadal?

Round 2
Kyle Edmund or Dan Evans (Nadal has never played either of them).

Edmund’s best surface is clay and the Brit has enough experience now to hang with the game’s best across all surfaces and it may not be long before the 22 year old ranked 47 starts beating them, whereas fellow Brit Dan Evans, aged 26 and ranked 44, is a better hard court player, but has the self belief and flair to beat the big guys with wins vs Nishikori, Thiem and Cilic on his resume.

If the two Brits could form a hybrid then they might stand a chance, but on their own, the chances of either stopping Nadal are slim.

Round 3
Sascha Zverev (Nadal leads h2h 2-0)

The draw could have been kinder to Nadal. Zverev likes clay courts and big matches and has pushed Nadal close on two previous occasions, holding match points against him in Indian Wells last year and taking him to five sets at this season’s Australian Open.

Zverev’s backhand is a big enough weapon to stand up to Nadal’s forehand in cross-court rallies and if Nadal is hitting at all short on that side, Zverev will be able to come in and really attack him.

Zverev, though, is still a little green to finish Nadal off, but a breakthrough is going to come his way at some point, the question is could it be this week on the red dirt in Monte Carlo?

Quarter Final
Grigor Dimitrov (8) (Nadal leads 8-1).

Nadal and Dimitrov have met at this stage of the tournament before, going three sets in ’13. Right now, after a great start to 2017, Dimitrov has lapsed a little, and will have to be playing well to get past his section of the draw with a potential second round clash with Casper Ruud and a possible third rounder with one of the dangerous quartet of Bernard Tomic, Diego Schwartzman, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Roberto Bautista Agut, none of whom will turn down a shot at upsetting Dimitrov.

If Dimitrov does make his scheduled last eight Nadal date, facing Nadal at an historic event like Monte Carlo might inspire the Bulgarian to pose the kind of challenge he did to Nadal in the Australian Open semis earlier this season, arguably the match of the year so far.

Roberto Bautista Agut (12) (Nadal leads 1-0).

Bautista Agut could be a more likely opponent from the Dimitrov section of the draw, but while Nadal’s fellow Spaniard has plenty of game, his flatter shots are more suited to hard courts, and he lacks the clay court guile needed to beat Nadal on the surface.

Semi- final

Novak Djokovic (2) (Djokovic leads 26-23)

If Roland Garros is the end of first semester final for 2017, then this is the mid term test for Nadal.

Djokovic has had Nadal’s number since losing to him in the 2014 Roland Garros final, but since the Serbian’s recent struggles post his Roland Garros ’16 win, the two have not met, and while Djokovic’s struggles worsen, Nadal has been getting stronger.

Right now, in a rivalry that has switched hands from one to the other numerous times over the last decade, this could be Nadal’s chance to grab the momentum at an all important moment, with Nadal primed to reassert himself back at the top of the game, in what would be their 50th meeting.

Dominic Thiem (6) (Nadal leads 2-1).

Djokovic will have to get that far, though, and in four tournament starts in 2017, he has been past the quarters once.

Thiem may be the one to take advantage of Djokovic’s struggles, if the second seed has not overcome them, and would also prove a strong test for Nadal should they meet in the semis. The Austrian loves clay, has beaten Nadal on it before, in Buenos Aires last season, and, according to his coach Gunter Bresnik, is playing better than ever. The Austrian is still a little unproven though at ATP 1000 level, having yet to make it past the last eight in four tries, however he looks ready to take the next step and Nadal will need to apply plenty of pressure to prevent himself getting trodden on in that process.

David Goffin (10) (Never met).

Goffin, though, may be the scene stealer from the bottom half. The Belgian has the clay court skills to beat Thiem in the last 16, Djokovic, if he is sub-par, in the last 8, and challenge Nadal in the semis. Goffin winning versus Nadal would be a long stretch- he has never made an ATP 1000 final- and he does have a history of choking leads versus top players.

Inexperience, problems closing out matches, Goffin’s weaknesses are, unfortunately for the Belgian, ones Nadal is as adept at exploiting as he is winning matches on clay.

Stan Wawrinka (3) (Nadal leads 15-3).

Former champion Stan Wawrinka (defeated Federer in ’14) is due a big title on arguably his best surface, has a nice Monte Carlo draw from the tennis Gods keen to see him do well, and is in the lighter top half with Andy Murray struggling on his serve, Marin Cilic in poor form, and seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who had a great early season but has been missing in action since becoming a father, a rival against whom he matches up well.

Wawrinka is a dangerous player in finals, and not one Nadal would choose to face from the top half of the Monte Carlo draw after losing all three finals he has played this year. Any hint of insecurity or vulnerability from Nadal and Wawrinka has the self-belief and weight of shot to send him stumbling across the red dirt rather than sliding through it.

If Nadal does makes it to the Monte Carlo final, though, and does so beating Djokovic on the way, he would be in pretty good physical, mental and technical form, and while the nine time Champion would face a rival who has proven he can beat him in big matches, on clay, Nadal has, if his forehand is working well and he can get his heavy top spin going, the upper hand in the match up.

Rafa Nadal

Nadal’s biggest opponent might prove to be none other than Nadal himself. The Spaniard has not won a title since Barcelona last season, has had to come back from yet another injury, and has not won his last three finals, including one in which he led by a break in the fifth set.

If Nadal’s 0-3 finals record or worries about his physical condition creep in, and his forehand falls short and his serve is vulnerable, his opponent will be able to exploit that, and another final loss, on clay, in Monte Carlo where Nadal has so many great memories, could seriously put a dent in Nadal’s chances of La Decima part 3 (the second is Barcelona) at Roland Garros.

But those kind of scenario’s are best left to be played out in Nadal’s nightmares. Nadal this season is all about living his dreams, and living in the now. The Spaniard was very positive after his Miami loss to Federer which he felt played out closer than the score-line, and very pragmatic about taking this season and his clay court chances step by step. So far, that approach has served him well, and Nadal, in his current upbeat, relaxed mood and mode, is unlikely to end up beating himself in a Monte Carlo final. Nadal will leave that responsibility, instead, to his rivals. Rivals who will have a much harder time staying in the now, and with Nadal, with all the nightmares the Spaniard will inflict on them, on one of his favorite courts.

A court on which Nadal has lived out plenty of dreams, a court on which whoever does beat the Spaniard will have to do so with a killer performance if they are going to stop Nadal becoming the first man to live a dream yet to be lived, the dream that is La Decima part One.

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Men’s Tennis European Clay Season 2017 7 Questions the Red Dirt Will Dig Up

Clay court season

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The 2017 European Clay Court season is underway and The Tennis Review could not be happier as we switch from blue and green to red and our favorite tennis players get sliding in the dirt. Here are seven questions we are going to enjoy seeing the answers to dug up on the red dirt over the next few months.

Can Juan Martin del Potro get lucky with a draw?

Since del Potro got his 2017 season started at Delray Beach, he has been hit by one bad draw after another- Milos Raonic in the Delray Beach semis, Novak Djokovic in the Acapulco round of 16 and the Indian Wells round of 32, and Roger Federer in the second round of Miami.

The Argentine is surely deserving of a break when it comes to draws, and the 2009 Roland Garros semi-finalist will take advantage if one comes along and get some momentum going on a surface which will give him time to run around his weaker backhand side and hit that match winning forehand, and in a season swing in which he has just 90 points to defend, providing del Potro with a great opportunity to climb up from 35 in the rankings and start working towards a top 16 seeding for the US Open, the slam where he made his name and where he has his best chances of really coming back again.

Will Stanimal be on the hunt or will he be hibernating?

The 2015 Roland Garros and 2014 Monte Carlo champion knows how to win big on clay versus the game’s biggest players, but Stan Wawrinka can also lose big, either suffering an upset or failing to deliver as he did for some of his 2016 Roland Garros semi-final versus Andy Murray last season.

So what will we get this season? The Stanimal who hunts- like he did so well versus Federer and Djokovic in those big clay finals- or the Stanimal who hibernates as he did versus Grigor Dimitrov twice last season and when he needed to be wide awake in last season’s RG semis?

This season, Wawrinka has been oddly consistent, making the Brisbane and Australian Open semis, and the Indian Wells final, and climbing back to world No.3. There have been the opening round shocks- he went out as Dubai defending champ in his opening round- and an upset in Miami in the last 16 to Sascha Zverev ( the #NextGenATP star proving to be a bad match up for Wawrinka), but Stan is delivering in the big events most of the time, and with the slow conditions of some European clay court events complimenting his big back-swing and heavy shots, the momentum seems to be building for another Stanimal pounce on a title, and the multiple slam champ, whose last title was the US Open back in September ’16, must be feeling a little, somewhat dangerously for his rivals, hungry right now.

Can big cats Murray and Djokovic chase the mice away?

The mice have been playing well while the tour’s biggest cats, world Nos 1 and 2 Murray and Djokovic, have been away, and the question is how quick of the mark will both men be to chase them back into their lower ranked holes?

They won’t have to deal with Federer until Roland Garros, but Rafa Nadal, Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios could be, after great starts to the season, too strong to send scurrying away.

Both men might look to Federer and take inspiration from his all conquering return from injury, and they will need such inspiration with both men having a lot of points to defend this clay season- Djokovic has Madrid title points, Rome finalist points and the RG title, Murray the Monte Carlo semis, Madrid finals, the Rome title, and the Roland Garros final, and both men have the small matter of the first quarter of the season racing by with neither player making an impact on the race to London with Murray in 12th place (840 points) and Djokovic in 22nd (475).

Djokovic will be getting to work earlier than Murray, at Monte Carlo, and has a great chance to gain some ground after his second round upset at the hands of Jiri Vesely last season. Murray, meanwhile, will not be appearing until Madrid, the tournament that most compliments his natural game.

With Federer out until Roland Garros, neither man can afford to be too rusty- at a time when Federer has the tennis world once again at his feet, neither Djokovic or Murray want to go into the Grass season and face the Swiss where his fandom is at its most frenzied on the back of a clay season which not only failed to cover up any relative rust, but loosened the wheels even further.

How will Rafa Nadal play and will it be La Decima worthy?

Nadal has been taking 2017 step by step and is not even, he says, looking at Roland Garros, but just focusing on practicing on clay.

No expectations and no pressure might be just what is needed for the Spaniard who will have two La Decima narratives going on this clay court season, the first in Monte Carlo, the second at Roland Garros, and while Nadal may not want to think about both those stories coming true, his fans certainly will.

For good reason, too. Nadal is looking like he has a genuine shot at achieving what no other male in tennis history has done- winning ten singles titles at one slam, or any event. The Spaniard is back, once and for all, reaching the finals of Melbourne and Miami, and with Roger Federer, who has beaten him three times this season, out of the picture for a couple of months, Nadal is the player going into the clay season with the most momentum and confidence behind him.

There are still some questions to be answered before we get too excited on Nadal’s behalf such as the Djokovic question- Nadal has not beaten him since Roland Garros 2014 and with the Serb coming back from injury and a less than stellar start to the season, Nadal has a good chance to end that drought- and the most important question, as Nadal pointed out in his post Miami final interview, just how good he will be on clay after a year away.

We may find out in a fortnight when Monte Carlo and La Decima part 1 gets underway, and the thing Nadal is not thinking about, Roland Garros, starts to become clearer on a horizon the Spaniard’s fans will not, except for when they are keeping an eye on their idol’s progress, take their eyes away from.

Will Dominic Thiem take the Next Step?

Thiem has been having a patchy year, but he has won a title (Rio), been to the last 16 of a slam, and made the quarters of an ATP 1000 (Indian Wells) and with his best part of the season coming up, he should have enough confidence and match play under his belt to make the next step, which for Thiem would be the Semis of an ATP 1000, Monte Carlo and Rome the most likely stages for a player who has been threatening the last two seasons to become his generation’s answer to Gustavo Kuerten to go from a cameo role, like he played at Rome ’16 (QF) and Roland Garros ’16 (SF) to starring center stage.

Which big names will fall at the hands of the #NextGenATP?

Zverev, Kyrgios, Chung, Coric, Rublev, Tiafoe and Medvedev are all names no more established ATP player is going to want to see next to theirs in any clay court draw this season.

None of the #NextGenATP will be expected to walk away with any of the big events like Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome or Roland Garros, but they will have a chance to lift ATP 250 trophies like Munich and Nice and be tipped to cause some upsets with the right match ups.

Still, the way 2017 is shaping up, it might not be wise to dismiss the #NextGenATP’s big title chances. We learned this year anything can happen once already, and a second lesson at the hands of the colorful, dynamic and feisty bunch the #NextGenATP have turned out to be would be warmly welcomed.

Will the Lost Generation find themselves?

Tennis fans are as lost with the Lost Generation as that generation are with themselves. Grigor Dimitrov looked like he was back on track down under only to vanish in the North American Spring Swing, Milos Raonic ended 2016 on a high (No.3 in the world, the highest ranking of his generation) only for injury to take its toll once more, while Kei Nishikori continues to struggle with both body and mind.

All three players are still on tennis’ front line, but the current #NextGenATP are chasing behind them, and getting stronger all the time. However, while time is, in some sense, running out, a tennis pro’s life at the top has an ever lengthening sell-by-date and all three can take heart from Roger Federer’s 2017 success as they dig deep within their own hearts, working out what makes them tick, and what they need to do to find their way back to where they were, and then, if they desire, to climb even higher.

The Tennis Review will be posting at least once a week in the Clay court season so check in with us now and then to read the latest posts about what is looking to be a great European clay court swing.

What do you think will be the answers to any of these questions this European Clay Court Season? Or do you have some questions of your own you would like answered? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Men’s Tennis European Clay Court Season 2017 Who Will Step Up? Five Faces

Thiem Zverev

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The 2017 men’s tennis European clay court season could see some of the tour’s most promising players take a step up to fulfilling their potential. The Tennis Review takes a look at Dominic Thiem, David Goffin, Alexander Zverev, Kei Nishikori, and Martin Klizan and what could help and hinder them taking that next step.

Dominic Thiem

Why he has a chance to take the next step:

Thiem has it all- aggression, defense, and that all important ability to transition between them on a surface which demands the peaks of both styles.

Thiem’s serve earns him short balls to feed off or a weak return on his formidable forehand or one-handed backhand side with which he can take control of the point, moving his opponent around the court, before forcing an error or hitting a winner off either side.

Thiem’s athleticism means he can defend, using his slice to keep the ball low on the forehand side and have them dig deep for the ball, and his slice and loopy forehands and angles buy him the time he needs to reset the point and get his groundies going again. Thiem not only can switch from defense to offence but also transitions well from the baseline to inside the court, moving forward once he has the right ball, and finishing off the point.

Thiem can play with the best of them on clay all day, too- his great fitness and stamina meaning he can go the distance, which on a slower surface like clay, can be pretty far.

Why he might slip up:

Thiem can struggle on the big points, especially on break points, (though this has improved a lot over the last year, he is 24th with 41.2% of break points converted on the ATP stats leaderboard)), when he tends to be more hesitant to come in and end points.

Thiem can also be impatient when faced with consistent opponents who can move him around and vary their shots to prevent him getting any rhythm, forcing him to go for too much power, often at the wrong time, and consequently producing too many unforced errors, a weakness Borna Coric exploited so opportunistically at the recent Miami Open.

Best clay results:

Roland Garros semis 2016, Rio Open title 2017, Buenos Aires 2016.

The Step-up:

The Roland Garros final, an ATP 1000 semi (Thiem has been to four ATP 1000 quarters including Rome ’16).

Thiem said after his Miami loss to Borna Coric he was happy to be looking ahead to the clay season, the surface on which he has given his best performance on in 2017, winning Rio. Some rest after an early exit in Miami and the confidence Rio and his quarter final match versus Stan Wawrinka in Indian Wells bodes well for his first appearance in an ATP 1000 semi-final which could happen somewhere like Monte Carlo with Djokovic returning from injury, Murray and Federer absent, Wawrinka so inconsistent, and Nadal unproven this clay court season, or Rome if Thiem gets some momentum going.

The Roland Garros final might be a little out of reach at this stage of his career, but Thiem is a hard worker and passionate about tennis and while it may not come in 2017, it will not be too far before he is playing for the Roland Garros title.

David Goffin

Why he has a chance to take the next step:

On clay, if you cannot overpower your rivals, then you need to be able to rally with them, and Goffin has some of the tour’s best rallying skills and variety of shot to surprise his opponents on a surface where the irregular bounce and at times fabric lines (the ones at Roland Garros, though, are painted) throw enough curve-balls at players as it is.

The Belgian can mix angles, spins, flat strokes, hit drop shots, lobs, change the direction of the ball, the speed of the ball, the depth of the ball, hit past his opponent, feed off his opponent’s pace, hit winners on the run, and the list goes on.

Goffin is also able to step inside the court and create pace on short balls and his great movement means he can transition up to the net where he showcases his flair, touch and reflexes.

If you are exhausted just reading that list, imagine how Goffin’s opponents feel after being on the receiving end of one of his winning rallies.

Why he might slip up:

Reading about Goffin, one might wonder why he has not won a slam or been No.1, however while his game has plenty of positives, he lacks a stand out shot, much needed in the modern game.

Mentally, Goffin is not one of the strongest players on tour either. His biggest loss in his career, to Dominic Thiem in the quarters of last year’s Roland Garros, still seems to bothers him. A loss Goffin is going to have to put behind him if he wants to take the next step anytime soon.

Best clay results:

Roland Garros quarter-finals ’17, Kitzbuhel title ’14.

The Step-up:

Goffin has been to a few ATP 1000 semi finals, so an ATP 1000 final would be the next logical step considering his all court success.

Given the right draw and some luck, Goffin competing in the 2017 Roland Garros semi-final would not be a surprise.

Zverev clay

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Alexander Zverev

Why he has a chance to take the next step:

Zverev’s double-handed backhand – think potential Safin, Djokovic or Nalbandian quality- has the power and the pace to dictate rallies, and he knows how to construct a rally and get himself into position to hit the winner.

The German also has a big serve for plenty of easy points, helpful at a time when the ATP tour is as ruled by the return of serve as it once was the serve.

Zverev’s fighting qualities and his flair for big matches against top players is also a trait that will do him well at a time when the older generations are dominating the tour.

Why he might slip up:

Inexperience. Zvevev may be up for the fight, but he still lacks the experience to know which punch could be the killer, a very exploitable weakness on the big points when you are facing the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer and tough competitors like Kyrgios and Thiem who know which blows to deliver.

However, Clay also covers up a lot of Zverev’s weaknesses, like his net game and his weaker forehand side- on clay he has plenty of time to get to the net on the right ball, and that aspect of his game is improving all the time, and the time to work the point round to his backhand side.

Best clay results:

Roland Garros ’16 third round, Munich ’16 final.

The Step-up:

Roland Garros last sixteen. Zverev has yet to make the last sixteen of a slam, and he has progressed enough recently to even perhaps skip a step with the right draw and make the last eight.

An ATP 500 title would be a step up, too, and Zverev has looked ready to win a title of that status, but the European clay season only has one of them, the Barcelona event, which is, with the likes of Nadal and Nishikori in the draw, one of the toughest clay court events going.

Kei Nishikori


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Why he has a chance to take the next step:

With an aggressive baseline game, and strong off both sides, Nishikori can dominate a point no problem, and knows when to move in and finish the point mid-court and at the net.

Nishikori has a lot of experience behind him now, too, which is going to make the difference at some point of his career when the current Big Five are returned and he is one of the tour’s veterans. Experience counts for a lot on clay, a surface on which long matches and grueling points demand match toughness and some hard earned memories, both mental and muscular, of past marathons competed, and Roland Garros has been won by plenty of players in later stages of their careers such as Andres Gomez, Andre Agassi, Alberto Costa and Roger Federer.

Why he might slip up:

Unfortunately for Nishikori, his weak areas are the two most important parts of the game- the mental and the physical. Nishikori too often underperforms in matches he is expected to win such as last year’s last 16 Roland Garros versus Richard Gasquet.

If Nishikori’s mind does not melt, then his body collapses like it did in the Madrid ’14 final.

Like all players, Nishikori needs both his mind and body to be in sync if he going to reach his potential, and he has been close, as seen from some of his career great performances at the US Open. The big question is whether or not he is too fragile in both aspects to ever realize what is deep inside him, a question which, from a player like Nishikori who has not often delivered when expected, will likely be answered when he is under the radar, which, with tennis eyes now on Thiem, Zverev and Kyrgios, is just about now.

Best clay results:

Barcelona ’14. ’15 title. Madrid ’14 runner up, Roland Garros Quarter-finals 2015.

The Step-up:

For someone who has been to three ATP 1000 finals and a Grand Slam final, the next step for Nishikori is the big titles and only a title in Madrid, Rome, Monte Carlo or Roland Garros will satisfy his fans and tennis pundits.

Klizan clay 2017

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Martin Klizan

Why he has a chance to take the next step:

Klizan has a classic aggressive baseline game. A great ball striker, not afraid to go for his shots, with a great rally ball who can get his rival out of position and hit the winner.

Klizan is one of the most mentally strong underdogs on the tour and is not afraid of the ball, himself, or his opponents, qualities which have made him one of the players most likely to cause an upset as he did defeating Kei Nishikori in the first round of Roland Garros ’14, and two years later dismissing defending champion Stan Wawrinka in his Philippe Chatrier opener.

Why he might slip up:

Injuries. Klizan is one of those players who can win from qualifying or can enter an ATP 500 after hardly playing and win the trophy, as he did in Rotterdam and Hamburg last season, only to then suffer injury from the exertion needed to perform such feats and lose valuable momentum and confidence as a result.

That up and down nature in Klizan’s results is also present in his mental game. As mentally strong as Klizan can be, he can have meltdowns, too, as he did versus Stan Wawrinka in the first round of this year’s Australian Open.

Best clay results:

Munich title ’14, Hamburg ’17.

The Step-up:

For a player who has won two ATP 500 trophies, Klizan has disappointed in bigger events, never going past the fourth round of a slam, (US Open ’12, upsetting Tsonga on the way), and then only once. Klizan has also never been past the second round of an ATP 1000 event, with a 24% success rate in 25 appearances, one of tennis’ mystifying stats.

Technically, then, the next step would be a Roland Garros last eight place, and an ATP 1000 last 32, both achievements long overdue for the 2006 French Open Boy’s champion.

Who do you think will take the next step in their careers this European Clay Court Season? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Roger Federer Defeats Rafa Nadal Wins Miami Open Prime Time Revival Rival

Federer Miami Open

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Roger Federer’s 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Rafa Nadal to win the Miami Open drew the curtain on a remarkable first quarter to 2017, a showstopping revival, even surprising himself as he won the title for the first time since 2006, the same year he also took the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, a revival so good it rivals those prime time day themselves. 

Miami might even be Federer’s most surprising run of 2017 yet. The Swiss had not been to the final since 2006, (whereas he had last won in Australian in 2010 and had made the semis in ’16, and had been to the finals of the last two Indian Wells he had played in), and at 35 few thought he would have the energy to continue from Indian Wells where he left off, holding aloft another ATP 1000 trophy, and beating Rafa Nadal on his way too, the Spaniard more at home in the slower Miami conditions, and pumped up to finally win the trophy after four runner up finishes.

Yet, despite a tough early draw of Frances Tiafoe (Federer is known to struggle in first matches versus young up and comers), Juan Martin del Potro, the Argentine an early round upset expert since coming back last season, and Roberto Bautista Agut who has the baseline skills to keep Federer’s attack at bay on a slow court and bother him, Federer rode the flow of momentum from California, not dropping a set until his quarter-final versus Berdych, who came back from match point down to beat Federer in Miami 2010, in which the Swiss dropped his first set in 9 matches, a change in the tide which turned Federer’s journey towards a third Miami Open title into the work out always looked like it would be, Miami’s medium slow court demanding the very best from Federer’s game, the kind of best he showed back in 2005 and 2006 when he won the title, when Men’s tennis was the Roger Federer Show on Prime Federer Time TV.

Since 2006, conditions changed the tennis channel, the athletic, stamina-driven baseline games of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray getting the better of Federer mid-court and at the net, forcing Federer to base himself back at the baseline where, with his forehand and one handed backhand, he was still formidable- he won three slams in 2007, one in 2008, two in 2009, one in 2010, one in 2012– but the baseline was not where he belonged. Federer belonged center stage, and when in 2014 he returned with a revamped aggressive game which sent him flying up there, and back up the rankings, back in slam finals and winning ATP 1000s, the crowds responded, cheering him on for an encore of another slam title, more ATP 1000s, and now, the next step, another stint at the top of the tennis rankings.

Never has crowd support for Federer been more passionately boisterous than at this year’s Miami Open as Federer fought past Tomas Berdych and then Nick Kyrgios in third set tiebreakers, the prospect of a complete sweep of the season’s first three big titles for the first time since 2006 a feat Federer supporters did not just have to imagine but could realistically expect. Against Kyrgios, the crowd were mean-spirited in their high spirits, cheering Kyrgios’ faults, heckling him, calling out mid rally in the final set tiebreaker. Kyrgios, so easily cast as the villian in the piece, could see the logic in the madness, though, saying Federer, after all he had done in the sport, earned such blind devotion in a match in which the Australian was arguably the better performer.

Yeah, the crowd was obviously on his side, but I think I have to win a little bit more to start getting them on my side

There was no doubt as to who played better in the Miami final, though. In 2017, Federer came full circle from when he last won in Key Biscayne versus current coach Ivan Ljubicic in 2006, his aggressive game executed so well his opponent’s defensive skills never had a chance of really getting under his skin, Federer’s serve, return and second ball of a quality Kyrgios said in his post semi match interview no other player on tour could match.

He’s just such a good — his serve and first shot is I think by far the best on tour. I’ve played all the Top 4, a lot of the top guys, and his first two shots, it’s so hard to do anything against. You feel like you’re making a return, and then he’s right on it and hits a winner.

Here was Federer doing what he should have always done versus Nadal, seeing the attacking plan out from start to finish, a Federer now playing that attacking game as well as he had when he won Miami in 2005 and 2006, with a confidence missing back in 2011 when Nadal beat him in Miami in straights. A Federer with Nadal no longer in his head because across the net is as different a Nadal as he is a different Federer, a Nadal compromised by age and injury while Federer has taken age and injury on, and won.

Federer won that fight by rebooting the game he first came onto the tour with, taking on the serve and the second ball with variety, technical mastery and trust in his instincts. Federer’s first serve went in 63% of the time (the same as Nadal’s), with Federer winning an impressive 87% of points behind that delivery (34/39, compare that to Nadal’s 27/41). Nadal just edged ahead in the second set battle 50-48%, but he did not get a look in at enough of those second serves, particularly in the second set which would have, once upon a time, been when the Spaniard would have carved out his chances and sanded them down.

Federer denied him that chance, getting better as the match went on. The Swiss was 58% on first serve in the first set, a little low to really ensure victory over Nadal, with 86% points won, and 38% on second serve, and faced four break points, but in the second set, he went 71-88-71, and did not have to save a single point threatening his service game. Raising his game in the second set was key for Federer- Nadal has come from a set down versus the Swiss in 6 of his 23 wins, slowly working his way into the Federer game and brain and then taking charge, but Federer being able to take the lead in the match and then dominate with effective, efficient and at times inspiring tennis on a surface which Nadal could have had the upper-hand on made the difference because while Nadal’s forehand was off and his serve was not as good as it needed to be, he is still the Rafa Nadal, and with tennis being such a mind game, if Federer had opened the door, Nadal would have stepped in and tried to take it off its hinges.

Not that Nadal getting back into the match would have meant a victory for the Spaniard- Federer had already seen off fight-backs from Berdych and Kyrgios, two other players who have shown they can beat him in big matches, and could have resisted a Nadal comeback in the same fashion. He did not need, to, though, Federer finally getting Nadal’s number, his win over Nadal his fourth in a row (Basel ’15, Australian Open ’17, Indian Wells ’17, Miami ’17), scene-stealing the final act of their rivalry, cutting the deficit to 14-23 and leading the hard court head to head 10-9.

Those numbers are part of what has been a season of catching up and putting right for Federer. Miami is his 26th ATP 1000 crown, (Nadal has 28, Djokovic 30) and the third time he has won the Sunshine double, putting him one behind Novak Djokovic (2011, 2014, 2015, 2016). It is his 91st title overall, putting him 3rd place on the list, three behind Lendl. 2017 is not just about catching up, but extending as well – his lead at most hard court titles won is now 63, 12 ahead of second best Novak Djokovic (51).

With three of those most recent hard titles big ones, too, and won in the last three months, the first quarter of 2017 has been a Federer run that has also seen him extend his lead in the race to London with 4, 045 points ( Nadal is second with 2, 235). A grueling start to the season, but one Federer played out more like the Spring lamb leaping in the fields than the Wintry Goat nestling in the stable. Now, after all that work and play, the Swiss has time to lie down, the long clay season to be fought out by his rivals while he enters just a few events, allowing him to rest up and prepare himself for when he graces the tennis stage goats would probably, if they played tennis, like most due to its feasting potential. A stage, with Federer’s revival such a success, he will be expected to perform like a Champion on- the Grass Season. Grass, the surface on which Federer’s game looks its brutal prettiest, on which his best performances have always been his very best, and which if this early season hard court lead in is anything to go by, could be, in 2017, 14 years after his first Wimbledon trophy, an encore to rival his prime time mid 2000 performances themselves.

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Miami Open Final Preview Roger Federer Versus Rafa Nadal

Federer Nadal

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The 2017 Miami Open final is the perfect venue for another Federer- Nadal final, the place where Fedal all started 13 years ago, the venue, 12 years ago, of their first ever championship match on the pro tour, and a place where both men have some unfinished business to attend to. The Tennis Review previews Fedal part 37 and predicts the winner.

Miami, a city rich in tennis history, is the perfect setting for Fedal part 37- Key Biscayne is where Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal first met in 2004 when a 17 year old Nadal notched his first win over Federer 6-3, 6-3 (back when 17 year old prodigies beat No.1s) and where the two contested their second match, in 2005, a five set final (back when ATP 1000s were Masters and finals were best of five), Federer coming back from two sets to love down to win his first Miami crown.

12 years on from that second meeting, and a lot has happened since, both men cementing their legendary status in the game, the other serving as a gauge for how far they have come and how far they have to go. Miami, though, has been one of the few locations neither man has made his own, Federer going on to win just one more title, in 2006, beating his current coach Ivan Ljubicic, (compare two Miami titles to Federer’s five Indian Wells crowns or six Madrid titles or seven Cincy trophies) and Nadal reaching three more finals, but, shockingly for arguably tennis’ greatest ever big match player, never taking the title.

Miami has also only been the setting of their rivalry on one other occasion, a 6-3, 6-2 win for Nadal in 2011, Nadal a season after completing the career Grand Slam, Federer a season before winning his first slam title for two and a half years and returning to No.1.

Now, in 2017, we come to another stage in these two great rival’s tennis lives – their resurgence. At a time, with Nadal aged 30 and Federer 35, which would have once been their twilight years, both men are still very much, after injuries and slumps, back in the limelight, Federer, ranked 6, and Nadal, 7, with both men about to re-enter the top five, and both men this season’s two slam finalists in Australia with Federer taking the title, coming back from 0-3 in the fifth versus a man who has had his number for most of their career.

Now, though, the numbers are stacking up in Federer’s favor and one of the few unfinished business matters Federer has had in his career- that head to head deficit to Nadal, the one some argue is a stain on his Greatest of all time status- is slowly beginning to be taken care of. For the first time since Miami 2004, Federer has beaten Nadal, three times in a row, in Basel ’15, Melbourne ’17, and just recently in Indian Wells, a streak that has cut the head to head deficit to a more respectable 13-23, and leveled their indoor and outdoor hard court head to head at 9-9. Streaks like those usually come to an end sooner or later, but the confidence it must give Federer- who has been at the end of three five match losing streaks to Nadal- and the hope it must install in him at a time he is strengthening his legacy, and getting more wins over Nadal is all part of that, are priceless.

Federer’s recent winning ways versus Nadal come at a time when neither player is who they used to be, but Federer, in his revamped attacking mode is the player he needs to be at 35 while Nadal has struggled with the tennis ageing process, and though he has found ways around the decline of the strength and speed which were his weapons, when, in Melbourne earlier this season, the biggest match of his last two and a half years went the distance, his loss of a step exposed him, his ground-strokes which needed to be deep plonked into the shallow end of the court, he, one of the game’s greatest drivers at the wheel, let his foot of the gas and dropped a lead in the fifth, and, in a rivalry which had seen him the dominant one in slam finals, he was now second best.


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Miami, though, however prestigious it may be in the history of ATP 1000s, is no Australian Open. Nadal had come off a grueling five setter versus Grigor Dimitrov in the semis, and the faster hard courts suited Federer more than they did him. Miami, meanwhile, has been kinder than Melbourne to Nadal who, after a patchy Florida first round versus Dudi Sela and a disastrous start versus Philipp Kohlschreiber defeated Nicholas Mahut and Jack Sock, both aggressive first strike players, in straights, and then dealt with the dangerous Fabio Fognini 6-1, 7-5.

The Spaniard has positively cruised through the draw compared to Federer who had to deal with the hype and emotion of facing good friend Juan Martin del Potro, needed two tiebreaks versus Roberto Bautista Agut, lost his first set since Dubai to Tomas Berdych in the quarters, saving match points in the final set tiebreak, and then needed to play three tiebreakers versus Nicholas Kyrgios in an emotionally draining encounter in the semis.

Luckily for Federer he has a day to rest, and those matches versus Berdych and Kyrgios will at least mean he is battle ready. He will need to be versus Nadal. The Spaniard was already back in the gym after beating Fognini and we only have to look as far as Nadal’s trophy cabinet to see why- the  Spaniard has unfinished business he has to attend to, the case of a missing trophy, the Miami Open. Miami, once known as tennis’ fifth slam, not featuring on his resume, must be a huge motivator for the Spaniard, and after four runner up finishes (Federer ’05, Davydenko ’08, Djokovic ’11, ’14), Nadal must be feeling it is finally his time to bite the Miami Open champion’s silverware.

Who wants the Miami Open 2017 trophy most could be the decider in this match if, like Federer’s last two matches, this one comes down to the wire. If Nadal is feeling fresh enough and can employ the heavy top spin game he needs over two hours, the game which will give Federer problems on these gritty slow courts, he could grit his way to a win, and only grit is going to get him past the attacking game of Federer which if on will render whatever strategy Nadal employs redundant, and only grit is what will get Nadal past what might feel at times like a crowd out to get him, though Nadal will have plenty of support with Spanish speakers aplenty in the stadium.

Nadal won’t worry about the crowd, though, he has lived his whole tennis life putting tennis’ darling to the sword, five times before the Roland Garros crowd who until Federer’s win over Kyrgios in the semis were once known as the most hostile in tennis. Nadal won’t be worried at all by what is going on court side in fact, he will instead be focusing on the court, on winning the title and putting himself in the position of favorite going into the clay court season where he has some history of his own to work on, the prospect of La Decima and becoming the first man to win ten Majors at one venue.

Federer will be in his own world, too, at a time when he is, in the past three months anyway, on top of the tennis world. The Swiss will not play as many events this season as his top five rivals, and another 1000 points which the Miami title would give him, when he already leads the Race to London by 1,410 points (Federer has 3,065 points to second place Nadal’s 1,365) would help him in his pursuit of the only number that matters to him rankings wise- No.1. A Miami trophy would also mean Federer had won every big title going into the clay season where Madrid might be the only trophy he lifts, and with Wimbledon his best chance for the second slam that would help his 2017 No.1 ambitions no end, all the big titles he can get will give him the confidence he needs to win Slam No.19. That’s the world Federer currently rules, and he will be locked in on the Miami courts, his eyes on the ball, his mind in the now, not looking up to enjoy what has become a bewitching sunset on the horizon until the final point is done.

Confidence, history, momentum in the rivalry, and some unfinished business, Federer and Nadal have everything to play for in the Miami Open final, and they have their greatest rival to battle for it, and no better place than the Miami Open, where it all started, where we first got an idea of how great some of their finals would be and a glimpse of what they would come to mean to each other, to play it out.

Prediction: The final will be played at 1pm in temperatures of 28 degrees and in 66% humidity, conditions which will help Federer’s serve  and aggressive shots fly through the court and potentially give him the chance to win this match in straights.

However, while the match will be played in faster conditions, the court is still a medium slow hard court and high bouncing, and the trajectory of Nadal’s shots are going to be very different than what Federer dealt with versus Berdych and Kyrgios. Nadal has the ability to keep Federer back and if he finds some depth of shot and plays aggressively, the Spaniard could take control of the match and win his first ATP 1000 hard court event since Indian Wells ’13.

The way 2017 is panning out, this just feels like Nadal’s title to win. He will have to do it the hard way, though, in three, but the Spaniard probably would not have it any other way.

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Miami Open Third Round Preview Roger Federer Vs Juan Martin del Potro

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Finally, the match Roger Federer (4) and Juan Martin del Potro (29) fans, the one we thought we were getting last year at Key Biscayne, is here, this time in the Miami Open third round. The Tennis Review previews the highly anticipated action and predicts the winner.

A year ago, both Federer and del Potro were on the comeback from injury and surgery, and what a difference a year has made to these great friends and rivals. Since last March, Federer took six months off the tour from late June only to come back to the tour in slam and ATP 1000 winning fashion, raising the Australian Open and Indian Wells trophies, and del Potro has climbed all the way back to being seeded for ATP 1000s, (he is 29 in Miami) beaten the likes of Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray, and won an Olympic Silver medal.

Coming into this Miami Open third round match, del Potro is the rustier of the two, having just played three events (Delray beach, Dubai, Indian Wells), and going 6-3, but those three losses have come to the game’s best, that kind of quality needed to defeat the Argentine, the first to Milos Raonic, and the last two to Novak Djokovic, both times in three sets, the Argentine bringing out the best in the struggling Serbian each time.

Federer, meanwhile is anything but rusty, a finely oiled hybrid, part machine, part living legend, on a roll, winning 7 matches in a row, including wins over Rafa Nadal, and Stan Wawrinka. However, despite his best start to a season since 2006, after his Australian Open win, the world No.6 did suffer a third round loss in Dubai to 117th ranked qualifier Evgeny Donskoy and since revamping his game in 2014 and getting back to the top of the game after an injury hit 2013, he has thrown in the odd shock loss now and then, and early on in tournaments (Ramos Vinolas in Shanghai ’14, Isner Paris ’15), a sign for del Potro that while Federer may not be the best draw the Argentine could have asked for from the tennis Gods so keen to reward their long suffering fans with a match up (this is the first since the WTF 2013 which Federer won in three tough sets), this early match up, with Federer just coming off a big win and del Potro relatively fresh, could be a blessing in disguise.

Miami is not one of Federer’s best platforms to showcase his legendary best, either. Though Federer won the title in 2005 and 2006 and has compiled a 44-13 record, he has not played there since suffering a three set loss to Kei Nishikori in 2014, suffered a rare loss to Andy Roddick in 2012, and has not been past the semis since 2006. Back in that final, he beat now coach Ivan Ljubicic, back when he was at his best, and with his game currently the best in the business, this might be the year to strut his stuff in Key Biscayne once again.

miami open

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Still, Federer would have likely wished for an easier third round opponent that del Potro, who may be a little out of match practice since winning Stockholm late last season, but has the big match experience and champion’s mentality to draw upon his formidable skills whenever inspired, and he will surely be so in Miami’s humid conditions where he has a career record of 14-8, and made the semis in 2009. The Argentine is also likely to get a lot of support and love from the Latin Americans attending the event, but against Roger Federer, the sport’s darling right now, that will just about be an equalizer rather than an advantage.

del Potro will need some advantages in Miami’s medium slow conditions, his five wins over Roger Federer from twenty matches have come on faster, lower bouncing courts such as the 2009 US Open final, and indoors at Basel (2012, 2013) and the perfect indoor conditions of  the ATP WTF (2009, 2012). The Swiss, meanwhile, dominates the head to head, winning 15 matches in faster conditions like Dubai and Rotterdam, and slower conditions like Roland Garros.

That dominance is down to Federer’s superior all court game, and his ability to match del Potro on all his strengths, the serve and the forehand, and better him in movement and at the net. When it comes to the backhand, the shot which might make the difference in this encounter, the two have always been world’s apart style-wise, but neighbors in strength, with Federer’s one handed shot-maker, (on fire in recent weeks), and del Potro’s steady and at times explosive double hander a sweet contrast, but nowadays universes distance them on the backhand side, with the Argentine’s backhand compromised since wrist surgery, the Argentine relying more on the slice in defensive positions, leaving del Potro vulnerable to Federer exploiting that wing.

One positive for del Potro, however, is that the slow Miami conditions mean he has more time to run around his backhand and hit his inside out forehand, which could, if he gets rhythm on that side, be both devastating on the big points, and in the bigger picture, a match winner. However, the slow conditions also benefit Federer, who, perhaps a little tired after winning in IW and traveling to Miami, has a bit more time to set up his own shots, and has the attacking game to take the time away that del Potro will need to cover up his backhand.

How this match plays out depends largely on when in the day it happens, the court surface slowing down in the humid evenings, and whether or not the rain that has been afflicting the event holds off. The later in the evening and more humid things get, and the heavier the balls, the grittier the grip, and the slower the bounce, the more the match could swing del Potro’s way, and the deeper Federer will have to dig. The match, however, has been scheduled for the day, the first match on after two women’s matches, which means Federer and del Potro could be battling it out around 3pm with the temperature at 26 degrees with 52 percent humidity, conditions which means we should be treated to plenty of winners, sets decided on tiebreakers and some risky shot making on the big points.

If that latter scenario is directed by the tennis Gods up high, we lucky fans will have a match on our hands, the kind that would justify both the enormous respect these two have for each other and their individual fan bases have for them and their rivalry, and the expectations that are always going to come with two of tennis’ biggest names meeting so early at one of its biggest events, a tough draw for both men, but a great one for fans who, whatever happens in this Miami third round match, are guaranteed, with the winner progressing to the last sixteen, plenty of great tennis to come.

Prediction: Federer to win in three sets- del Potro to play his best in spells, but lacking the match toughness over recent months to take some of his chances, finally succumbing to Federer’s magic.

The Tennis Review

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Miami Open Preview Big Chance for ATP 1000 Trophy Nishikori Nadal Wawrinka

Miami Open Nishikori

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The Miami Open is underway and the withdrawals of top seeds Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who have won 8 of the last ten trophies between them, opens up the way for a new Miami Champion to be crowned. The Tennis Review previews the players most likely to take advantage.

Kei Nishikori (seeded 2)

Why he could win: 

Nishikori’s big breakthrough has to come at some time or another, and after ten years on tour, and three years after his one and only trip to a slam final, an ATP 1000 trophy seems already too long overdue.

Nishikori has been to three ATP 1000 finals, and was on the verge of winning one before injury got the better of him versus Rafa Nadal in Madrid ’14, and lost the other two to Novak Djokovic (Miami ’16, Toronto ’16). Those losses were typical of Nishikori in big matches versus the game’s biggest players- in the first, his body letting him down, in the second and third, the Japanese putting in an underwhelming performance allowing him to be overwhelmed by his rival.

Nishikori does have his moments, though- see his win over Murray in the ’16 US Open last eight- and with Djokovic and Murray out of the draw, while there are still some big players in the draw like Federer, Nadal, and Wawrinka, none are as consistent as the world’s top two, and Nishikori has proven he is capable of beating all of them in big matches (Federer in Miami and Madrid, Nadal in Canada and the Olympics, Wawrinka at the US Open.)

This is not the first time in recent weeks Nishikori has been faced with a promising ATP 1000 chance- Japanese looked like he had a shot to contend for the title last week in Indian Wells, but was defeated by Jack Sock in the quarters. That Sock loss might actually be good for Nishikori in terms of Miami where has been to the final and the conditions suit his aggressive baseline game. The loss to Sock gives him time to work on what let him down- mainly his mentality- and motivate him for what is easily the best chance he will ever have to win his first ATP 1000 title and get tennis’ lost generation in the right direction again.

Why he might not: 

Rewatch the Sock match in Indian Wells or his WTF semi final versus Djokovic last season. If Nishikori’s mind does not get the better of him, his body might.

The Japanese also has a tough potential third round match with Fernando Verdasco, and the Spaniard will be ready to take advantage if Nishikori feels the pressure of being the second seed and one of the biggest favorites at an ATP 1000 for the first time.

However, if Nishikori can make it past the third round, he has a pretty favorable draw with Pablo Carreno Busta in round four, the struggling Marin Cilic lined up for the last eight, and Rafa Nadal in the semis, an opponent who may lead him 9-2 in their head to head but who Nishikori defeated in a tough three setter back in Rio and against whom, if his aggressive baseline game is in good shape, he can, as he also showed in Madrid ’14, push to the limits.

Rafa Nadal (seeded 5)

Why he could win: 

Nadal is a four time finalist, going all the way back to 2005 when he lost to Roger Federer in five sets after leading two sets to love, and there are not many big events like Miami where Nadal has played so well, from earning his first ever win over Federer in 2004 to compiling a 35-11 career record, but has only been at the losing end in the biggest match.

Still going strong, and stronger than he has been for some time with his recent Australian Open final appearance, Nadal enters the Miami Open at a good time- Federer just won Indian Wells and it would be a lot to ask of a 35 year old fresh off a tournament win to win back to back titles, and Djokovic and Murray are out of the draw.

If Nadal, himself, is fit, he has the experience, a game which suits the Miami courts, and the top spin to get the better of both his tricky opponents and the sometimes windy conditions.

Nadal will have his work cut out to defeat Philipp Kohlschreiber in round three, Grigor Dimitrov in round four, Milos Raonic in the last eight, Kei Nishikori in the semis, and Stan Wawrinka in the final, but few players have worked harder than Nadal over the last thirteen years in Miami and the time seems right, with the recent resurgence of the Spaniard’s great career rival Roger Federer and his own comeback to form, for Nadal to win his first Miami trophy.

Why he might not:

Federer said Nadal was not fully fit after his straight sets win over him in Indian Wells, and Nadal will need to be in tip top shape to get through a draw that could see him have to beat, from the fourth round, Dimitrov, Raonic, Nishikori and Wawrinka or Federer in the final,

Stan Wawrinka (seeded 1)

Why he could win: 

Stan Wawrinka can win practically anything he has his heart on, he just has to get deep in the draw to get the heart wanting.

Wawrinka has never gone deep in Miami- in 8 appearance, he has been to the last sixteen twice (‘09, ’14) and has a 7-8 record. But past form at an event means little for Wawrinka who had never been past the quarters of the Australian Open or Roland Garros before winning those events- what matters for the Swiss No.1 is the here and now

Wawrinka is coming in match fit, coming off a finals appearance in Indian Wells where he won two three set tiebreakers back to back, and with a point to prove after being beaten in the final by Roger Federer.

The Miami conditions should suit Wawrinka, the medium slow hard courts complimenting his big back-swing and the Swiss capable of the necessary power to hit through the courts, and if the Swiss can get to the final, through a draw which schedules him versus Alexander Zverev in round four, David Goffin in the last eight, and Roger Federer in the last four, he will be the favorite to win.

Why he might not:

Wawrinka has a poor record in ATP 1000s for someone who has won three grand slams. In 93 main draw appearances, he has won just one title (Monte Carlo ’14), reached three other finals (Rome ’05, Madrid ’13, BNPPO ’17), and been to five other semis and 12 quarter finals.

Getting up for early matches in ATP events seems to be a struggle for the big match loving Stanimal, and it will be interesting to see how he handles being the top seed in an ATP 1000 event for the first time- will it motivate him to jump out of the right side of the bed from the get-go, or will the pressure wear him out and have him hiding under the covers in his opening rounds?

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Roger Federer Indian Wells Victory The Time Is Now Once Again


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Roger Federer’s BNP Paribas Open trophy win was his fifth win in the Californian desert and came 13 years after his first win in Indian Wells, his then first ever ATP 1000 trophy. The Tennis Review looks back at the ninth seed’s run to the title which showcased a timeless game making the time right now his once again.

Roger Federer- tennis’ biggest name is engraved on 90 tennis trophies now after his 6-4, 7-5 defeat of third seed Stan Wawrinka in the 2017 BNP Paribas Open final, this latest addition to tennis’ most cramped trophy cabinet Federer’s 25 th ATP 1000 title.

Back in 2016, a year in which Federer’s silverware breathed a sigh of relief not to have another addition, a rare sound in the tennis world, the prospect of Federer beginning the 2017 season with the game’s two biggest trophies seemed as distant as his last slam win in 2012, but the time seems to be now, once again, for Federer as everything seems to be clicking into place- his own game, his rival’s struggles, and his tournament draws.

Timing is everything in tennis, and Federer’s timeless game and perfect timing on the ball is the main reason for his success right now. An aggressive, efficient, and positive game, so classic and easy in its execution, so easy on the eye one could be watching tennis, if the eyes stay on Federer and not on the slow high bouncing hard courts, in any time since the game began, the Swiss’ game shaped by Federer and Stefan Edberg, and now Federer and Ivan Ljubicic, to transcend Federer’s 35 years and slip in step and step inside and hit through as slow a court on which a tennis ball can bounce high before him.

Anyone looking to win Indian Wells will have to be a master of dealing with high bouncing balls and difficult conditions on court, the Californian desert venue famous for its conditions, venue and hospitality wise, and as infamous for its court conditions, medium slow courts sometimes cursed by wind that can make high bouncing spinning balls even more awkward .

When Federer first won in Indian Wells in 2004,  he was in his prime, all that mattered was his game, the courts and conditions came second, he was faster anyway, the courts were, too, and that state of play was the same again in 2005, 2006. When Federer’s prime was over, he was losing before the finals to Guillermo Canas, Mardy Fish, Andy Murray, Marcos Baghdatis, and Novak Djokovic. The Swiss did not win the title again until 2012 when he made another charge to the No.1 spot only for an injury hit 2013 seeing him lose to Rafa Nadal. A year later, however, a revamped Federer made the finals again, losing to Djokovic in three sets each time, the Serbian able to chase down one more ball and keep Federer on court long enough to see the first service percentage drop and the errors creep in, the Swiss’ attacking mindset undone by Djokovic’s staying powers.

If Djokovic has staying powers over a course of a match, Federer has shown he has them over a career. 17 years ago he played his first Indian Wells, losing Nicholas Kiefer in his opening match, and 13 years ago he took his first title. Having already put together arguably the greatest career in tennis history, Federer is still adding to his legacy, coming back, aged 35, from six months off after a first career surgery.

After winning the Australian Open, Federer’s loss to qualifier Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai suggested he might be back to slam winning ways but not to No.1 consistency, however the Swiss did suffer an injury in Melbourne, and the rest after Dubai served him well- Federer had taken care of himself, and so it seemed, did his early round draw in IW, serving up Stephane Robert who lacks any weapons to hurt a fit Federer, and Steve Johnson, the kind of big serving first striker Federer feasts upon.

A fourth round match up which looked ominous with old rival Rafa Nadal waiting, was one Federer took care of in a stylish exhibition of attacking tennis done in 68 minutes– the Swiss’ backhand, the shot Nadal so often exploited on high bouncing hard courts, in top shape, the Federer serve strong enough (76% first serves won, 75% on the second), to dictate points so Nadal could not take advantage of the conditions, the Nadal serve crumbling under the pressure of a confident Federer, aware his opponent was a touch below his best and with the tennis IQ to take full advantage and win three matches in a row versus the rival who has posed the sternest questions regarding his Greatest Of All Time status.

Federer emerged from the so-called Quarter of death facing Nick Kyrgios, the #NextGen player defeating Novak Djokovic for the second time in two events, and found the quarter literally lifeless with Kyrgios withdrawing with food poisoning, and one wonders if Federer sent Kyrgios a thank you box of chocolates for when the Australian had recovered, the removal of Djokovic from his path a bonus for Federer. The Serbian may be struggling, and suffering from an elbow injury which has forced him out of Miami, but seeing Federer across the net may have, as it did with del Potro in the third round, revived the second seed somewhat and brought out the best in him, the kind of best that has seen him go 3-0 versus Federer at Indian Wells.

The walkover over Kyrgios did not interrupt Federer’s rhythm, the Swiss defeating surprise semi-finalist Jack Sock 6-1, 7-6, and entering his 8th Indian Wells final where he would face the Swiss No.1 Stan Wawrinka who was making his BNP Paribas Open Championship match debut.

Federer had Wawrinka’s number on hard courts, defeating him in every one of their 14 hard court matches, most recently in the Australian Open semis, his greater overall consistency making the difference in a match up of attacking games.

In their 15th hard court match, Federer held serve to 5-4 in the first set, and with Wawrinka serving to stay in it, Federer involved him in some longer rallies, forcing the errors to take the set.

In the second set, Wawrinka broke back straight away for 1-0, but at 2-1, Federer got the break back, and held serve all the way to 6-5, and with the Swiss No.1 serving to stay in the match, Federer once again got into his service game, taking it to deuce, and then out played Wawrinka to take the match and the title.

Federer helped wipe away his rival’s tears in the presentation ceremony and referred to another Fairy tale run and the 17 years he had been visiting Indian Wells and looked forward to an 18th. With the perfect timing Federer has when it comes to his schedule, his game, and the decline of some of his rivals, the Swiss’s time seems now once again, and, currently ranked No.6, he could come into the 2018 BNP Paribas Open not just performing the twilight encore some expected at this stage of his career, but playing out the Federer No.1 Symphony instead.

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BNP Paribas Open Final Preview Roger Federer Vs Stan Wawrinka

BNP Paribas Open

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The BNP Paribas Open final will serve up one of tennis’ most striking rivalries of the past few seasons- Roger Federer versus Stan Wawrinka. The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winner.

Men’s tennis 2017 has delivered plenty of surprises (Federer Vs Nadal in the AO final, Tsonga winning back to back titles, Dimitrov’s resurgence) and the BNP Paribas final is no exception. Roger Federer, recently defeated in Dubai by qualifier Evgeny Donskoy, was not the favorite to make the final from a quarter of death featuring Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro, and Stan Wawrinka had never been past the last eight and was looking in anything but ATP 1000 trophy winning form, having to win two final set tiebreakers back to back.

Look a little deeper though, and like all surprises, this one could have been guessed. In four time champion Federer’s last two appearances he has made the final (2014, 2015) only to be stopped by Novak Djokovic, so considering his recent return to the slam winning circle, another BNP Paribas Open final showing was always likely, and Wawrinka, a master of tennis disguise, has made a slam winning career of overturning a poor record at an event to become the champion.

Wawrinka’s presence in the final makes proceedings even harder to predict. The Swiss has struggled- needing final set breakers to beat Dominic Thiem and lucky loser Yoshihito Nishioka- but the fight he has shown, his clinical semi-final win over Pablo Carreno Busta and his record in finals (11-1 since losing the ’13 s-Hertogenbosch final) suggest the Indian Wells 2017 final is within his reach despite his back being up against the wall, and an old foe who has had his number for most of their rivalry pushing him up against it.

An old foe playing particularly well, too. Federer has not dropped a set this Indian Wells, a 6-3, 6-2 win over Rafa Nadal in round four the highlight, and he is fresher than Wawrinka, too, helped out by his quarter-final opponent Nick Kyrgios withdrawing with food poisoning.

Wawrinka will really have to bring his usual finals A game to Indian Wells to defeat Federer and cut the deficit of his 3-19 head to head, a stat which looks ominous, but means little in this match. Since Wawrinka’s entry into men’s tennis’ slam winning circle at the Australian Open 2014, he has beaten Federer twice, in the 2014 Monte Carlo final and in the 2015 French Open last eight, and he has taken him the distance in semi-finals at the ’14 WTF and the ’17 Australian Open. There have also been three straight set losses at the hands of Federer, a reflection of Federer’s overall better consistency.

But if there is one area where Federer has been consistent, and for all the wrong reasons, since 2014 when he revamped his game and became a contender again, it is in big finals and losing them. Since 2014, he may be 12-12 in finals, but he is 4-10 in the big ones (Slams, WTF, ATP 1000s). Taking recent history into account, though, Federer has, like Wawrinka has done so often, proven that stat means little, and what matters is how you play on the day.

A difficult final to predict, but there are some things we can count on in this match- some beautiful one handed backhands (a shot Federer has received many compliments on this week especially), two go for broke styles providing plenty of winners (even if this match is dominated by one player, it will be a performance worth watching) and two players with plenty to play for, and plenty of heart to give with an opportunity for one of them to have the two biggest titles of the season on his resume, and the other the chance to win a second ATP 1000 title and strengthen his reputation as tennis’ big match man.

Prediction: Federer to win in two sets. The Swiss No.2 has great rhythm and plenty of experience in IW finals, and is a bad match up for Wawrinka on hard courts.

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BNP Paribas Open What The Title Would Mean Federer Nadal Djokovic del Potro

Nadal Indian Wells

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The BNP Paribas Open, aka Indian Wells, has made a name for itself as arguably the ATP’s premier and most prestigious event. The Tennis Review looks at what such a valuable piece of silverware would mean to some of men’s tennis’ title contenders. 

Rafa Nadal

Nadal is back, his Australian Open final appearance testified to that, but an Indian Wells title would be the star witness as to his return to the top of the game since his comeback.

The BNP Paribas Open is arguably the most important ATP 1000 trophy and with top seed Andy Murray out, a struggling Novak Djokovic, and an unpredictable Roger Federer, Nadal, a three time champ (’07, ’09, ’13) in the Desert, may be the Big Four member most likely to take the title.

Nadal’s game is well suited to the conditions-slow and high bouncing, especially at night-and coming off his first Grand slam final for a while (Roland Garros ’14 was his previous final to this year’s Melbourne), and with the the fifth seed having the best return stats over the past 12 months left in the draw now Murray is gone, the stars seem to be aligning for Nadal to win his first hard court title since Doha ’14.

Could that potential Indian Wells title open the door to another first since 2014? Another Roland Garros title? And not just any old one, but La Decima. Ten slams at one major tournament is an achievement no tennis player has earned yet, and if Nadal can win Indian Wells just before the European clay swing gets underway and prove he is back to not just contesting for the game’s big titles, but winning them, too, La Decima and all the history that come with it would be another step into a forehand down the line closer.

Novak Djokovic 

Three time defending champion Djokovic is struggling this season, suffering shock defeats at the Australian Open and in Dubai.

The world No.2 says he is in a better place than he was a few months ago, and returning to a venue where he has had so much success, winning five titles, may account for that.

Djokovic will need to be in a better place with a draw that could see him have to defeat del Potro, Kyrgios or Zverev, Nadal or Federer, Nishikori, and then Wawrinka.

del Potro and Kyrgios would be two hurdles the Serbian would like to clear with the two players having brought him down to places he would prefer not to return to, the Argentine defeating him in the opening round of Rio, the Australian beating him in the Dubai quarters. If Djokovic can avenge those defeats in a big event like Indian Wells and then go on to win the title, a sixth BNP Paribas title win would be quite a statement for Djokovic after so many recent losses and slipping to world No.2.

Defending his 1000 points from last season would also put a halt to the Serbian’s drop down the rankings and the taste of victory may re-ignite his passion for the game, though with the draw the second seed potentially faces, he would need to have the gas turned on, ready to be lit, and after stating recently he has lost his love for the game, whether or not that gas is on, only Djokovic knows deep down, and he will need to dig deep to win in the desert.

Such a re-ignition could not come at a much better time. Djokovic is not the only top ranked player in a slump right now- his top ranked rival Andy Murray just suffered a second round Indian Wells loss- and there would be no better time for Djokovic to announce his return to winning ATP 1000s than when the current No.1 is bowing out in his opening match.

Few players have better timing on the court than Djokovic or a better sense of when to strike and seize their chances, the question is whether or not Djokovic is dialed in to showcase those talents.

Roger Federer

Roger Federer has only been stopped in Indian Wells in his past two appearances by Novak Djokovic in the final and the Swiss, who showed in Australia he can still bring his best game to the biggest events, will have plenty of motivation in Indian Wells, where he has won four titles (’04, ’05, ’06, ’12), to once again showcase his legendary game.

If Federer did take the title, the prospect of his winning another slam at Wimbledon would increase. The confidence the Swiss would get from coming through a draw that could see him have to defeat Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka, three of whom he beat on his way to the Australian Open title, would stand him in good stead before the clay season gets going, a swing in which he is unlikely to win a trophy, but one he can continue to fine tune his game and match toughness for when the Grass Swing comes round.

Federer would need to be at his aggressive best to win the title, the slower conditions allowing the likes of Nadal and Djokovic to keep him at the baseline and pass him at the net when he gets there, but if the Federer serve and net game clicks, he has everything necessary to earn a popular fifth BNP Paribas Open title and get his fans thinking about slam No. 19.

Stan Wawrinka

Wawrinka has shown he has the heart to win big, winning three of the game’s four Grand Slams, and the belief to win at events where he has had poor records, so a title at Indian Wells, where he has never gone beyond the quarter-finals in nine attempts, is not out of the question and would nicely round out his resume where his three slams stand out among one ATP 1000 trophy, three ATP 500 titles, and eight ATP 250 crowns.

Wawrinka has a good chance this year with Murray’s defeat leaving the top half nice and open for someone like the Swiss to charge through and take advantage of both an open draw and a potential finalist who might be more worn out than he is after making their way through the top heavy bottom half.

Wawrinka is very capable of taking such opportunities, blessed with the brute strength to power through in the slow Californian conditions against a weary rival, a feat which, if he achieves, will strengthen his legacy as one of the rare players to rival the Big Four, an effort so successful some might argue, if Wawrinka wins in Indian Wells, we are now living in the age of another tennis rock group- the Fab Five.

Juan Martin del Potro

A win in Indian Wells would be del Potro’s first ATP 1000 title, after three final appearances (Canada ’09, Indian Wells, Shanghai ’13), and one of the ATP 1000 venues the 2013 finalist would most likely be champion, the medium slow hard surface giving him plenty of time to wind up that slam winning forehand  and run around that compromised backhand.

Since coming back to the ATP tour last year, del Potro has proven what a big match player he is, beating Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal, and reaching the Rio final and the US Open quarters, and his big game and big heart seem destined to earn him a big title again, and a first ATP 1000 title, an achievement he could not reach in his peak years, would mean he was not just back, but he might be on the way to being better than ever.

Kei Nishikori

An ATP 1000 title would be a big breakthrough at the very top of the game for the Japanese after 3 ATP 1000 finals and a slam final.

Nishikori has a good chance this year at a tournament he has only managed to make the last eight at once in 8 visits. He has a tough draw- the fourth seed could have a match on his hands in the last sixteen versus Lucas Pouille, and would have to play his best versus Grigor Dimitrov in the last eight- but if he can get his aggressive baseline game in sync with the slow conditions, he could face a tired Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or del Potro in the last four, exploit their own slow conditions after their tough draws, and be match tough for a possible final versus Stan Wawrinka, against whom he matches up well.

With that kind of potential draw ahead of him, a long road lies ahead for Nishikori to win that difficult first big trophy, but Nishikori has been on the road for a while now in the quest for his big breakthrough, and if anyone has the game and experience to make it to the end it is him.

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