Roland Garros Men’s Preview Is Rafa Nadal a Definite for Undecima?

Roland Garros

Photo courtesy of wikicommons.

Roland Garros, the clay court slam, has been Rafa Nadal’s territory for ten of the last thirteen years. The Tennis Review looks at the Spaniard’s chances of holding on to the trophy and at the likelihood of his two main rivals, Sascha Zverev and Dominic Thiem, dethroning him.

Rafa Nadal (1)- Champion 2005-08, 2010-14, 2017

It’s been yet another dominant clay court season for defending champion Nadal with titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, and a last eight finish in Madrid.

Nadal’s Roland Garros draw of Simone Bolelli in the first round, Joao Sousa or Guido Pella in round 2, Richard Gasquet in round 3, Jack Sock in round 4 and Kevin Anderson, (watch out for Borna Coric or Diego Schwartzman in that section) in the last eight is about as good as it could have gotten for the ten time champion.

Nadal does not seem like he needs the luck of the draw to help his cause, but while he may look it at times, Nadal is not immortal, and on the verge of turning 32, he is going to be more prone to off days such as the one he suffered in the Madrid quarters, and he is going to struggle even more than he used to when conditions get unfavorable and his opponent gets wise exploiting that as happened in the Rome final.

While, to Nadal’s credit, he has produced the tennis needed to win, his few but telling less than convincing performances this Clay court lead in should encourage his rivals.

The question, however, is if Nadal, so close to even more history making with Undecima a very  winnable seven matches away, is going to give them that chance in the first place?

Nadal’s opponents can take a little more heart, courtesy of Mother Nature- the first week’s weather is forecast for cloud, showers, and thunderstorms, which means the energy saved on rain-dancing can be spent playing aggressive tennis and unsettling the Clay maestro in already uncomfortable low bouncing conditions. Rain delays may work in Nadal’s favor as they did in Rome, but if it’s a rainy night and morning followed by a damp and long enough period of play, the Undecima parade may not just get rained on, but it could be a washout.

Prediction: The world No.1, the defending champion,  the most in-form and experienced Clay court player- the Undecima looks , whatever the conditions, a definite for Nadal. Just as it’s one thing the forecast predicting rain, it’s another thing it actually raining, it’s also one thing having a chance to defeat Nadal in Paris and another thing to take that chance.

Alexander Zverev (2), 3rd round 2016.

All eyes may be on Nadal and his record going into Roland Garros, but Sascha Zverev has some impressive numbers, too. Zverev has just reached three clay court finals in three straight weeks, (Munich, Madrid, Rome) winning 13 of 14 matches and usurping Thiem as the Prince of Clay.

Zverev’s performance in the Rome final versus Nadal was a heartening showing and he can attempt to reach his first career slam quarter final with some confidence when he opens his campaign in Paris.

Zverev has had a nice draw, too. Ricardis Berankis in round 1, Damir Dzumhur in round 3, and Lucas Pouille in round 4.

Zverev, who had the misfortune to face Fernando Verdasco in last year’s French Open first round has the form to take advantage of that draw, and amend his less than stellar slam record. Zverev’s best slam finish was the Wimbledon fourth round last year. He has only entered 11 draws, however, and just turned 21 so while his lack of slam success may look like he has disappointed, all the signs point to his putting that behind him and breaking through sooner rather than later.

But that inexperience may still hurt him especially on the mental side. Zverev is still prone to temper tantrums and if he suffers another difficult draw like he has done in three of his last four slams (Verdasco in Paris round 1, Coric in US Open round 2, Chung in Australian Open round 3) and comes unstuck, his temper may stop him putting it all back together.

Can he dethrone Nadal?  His Rome final performance says he has the game to trouble Nadal. Dethroning him over five sets on Philippe Chatrier is an altogether different ball game, but if anyone is going to get to the final and give themselves a chance, Zverev, if his serve and backhand are on song,  is the man most likely.

Prediction: Zverev’s first slam final looks imminent.

Dominic Thiem (7)- Semi-finalist 2016, 2017.

Clay is Thiem’s best surface and after a lackluster injury hit last nine months, the Austrian showed us just why he was labeled the Prince of Clay last season in his win over Nadal in the Rome last eight.

Still, Thiem made one step forward, two steps back this Clay season. After defeating Nadal, in the Madrid quarters, Thiem never got a look in when playing the final versus Zverev, and in Rome he lost to Fabio Fognini in round 3.

If Thiem is still feeling his Madrid and Rome losses come the French Open, there is the chance he might end up over-hitting his way to another dispiriting loss, and at Roland Garros, the scene of his best triumphs, and Thiem  will need to know when to rein it in if he wants to reign in Paris.

Thiem did win the Lyon title this week, however beating Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Dusan Lajovic and Gilles Simon in consecutive three set matches, while ensuring Thiem is match fit going into Roland Garros, may tell on the Austrian if he does make it into the second week as his packed scheduled seemed to do the last two previous seasons.

Can he dethrone Nadal? If anyone can beat Nadal on Clay, it is Thiem.  But, he needs to be confident and mentally tough to do so, and in Rome he looked neither. If, however, Nadal is tired, having an off day, and it’s damp, Thiem is the last player he is going to want to face.

Prediction: Thiem managed to avoid Nadal’s quarter and landed in the opposite side of the draw, but he still has a tough path to the final- Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Thiem in Barcelona, could be his second round opponent, Kei Nishikori is his potential last 16 rival, and Sascha Zverev is lined up for the last eight. With the way things have been going for Thiem this year, an early upset seems on the cards.

Keep an eye on:

Novak Djokovic just made his first semi-final at an ATP 1000 since Rome last year.  Still far off his best, Djokovic has at least finally been showing some encouraging signs of the baseline prowess that made him such a force two seasons ago, which make a potential second round match with David Ferrer a very exciting early round prospect.

Borna Coric has had a less stellar clay court run than expected, but was not helped by tough draws and a neck injury in Rome.

Hard working, motivated, and mentally tough, Coric is going to give his rivals, and first up is Philipp Kohlschreiber (22), a tough time in Paris.

Marin Cilic is the 2005 Roland Garros Boy’s champion and just achieved his best result in a clay ATP 1000 reaching the semis in Rome. One of the few active slam champs in the draw, Cilic has an underrated defensive game and plays his best tennis in slams.

Kyle Edmund is having a breakout season and has had a nice European clay court swing. Armed with a weapon in his forehand and going somewhat under the radar, Edmund can do some damage in Paris.

Kei Nishikori‘s baseline tennis is a superior brand and works so well on Clay. The Monte Carlo finalist is match fit for Roland Garros, the question is how fit is his physical condition?

Stan Wawrinka is sorely missed as a factor in slams and while his recent form and injury comeback means he is difficult to name as a favorite, it does not feel right to omit one of only three active Roland Garros champions from the list.

In his last three Roland Garros appearances, Wawrinka is W-SF-RU, and in his upcoming first round match he will face the man who beat him before he went on that impressive run, in the 2014 first round, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, so we might not get to see too much of the best Swiss player in the draw, but what we do get to enjoy, we will savor.

 

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The Curious Case of the Madrid Open

Madrid Open

Photo courtesy of youtube.com

The Madrid Open is a curious member of the ATP 1000 circuit. A low speed surface that plays faster than your average clay court event, the only Clay ATP 1000 all the Big Four have won, and a red clay event once controversially decked out in blue. The Tennis Review looks at the curious case of the Madrid Open.

The Clay plays faster than your average clay court event.

Madrid’s altitude of 667 m (Rome and Monte Carlo are 21 m) means that the balls fly through the air quicker than at other big Clay court events taking away the advantage traditional clay courters have on the surface namely their ability to keep their more attacking minded opponents back behind the baseline, manoeuvre them with heavy top spin to open the court for a winner, force an error or surprise them with a drop shot.

Instead, the Madrid conditions give the edge to proficient clay courters with a more aggressive mind set. (The Madrid Open also favored attacking players in its previous incarnation as an ATP 1000 event held indoors in the latter part of the season.) The ATP revealed the average speeds of its courts last season and Madrid’s main court had a rating of 20.9, -1.6 on the previous year, making Madrid’s main court both, on average, the slowest speed surface of all the ATP 1000s and the closest in speed rating to Roland Garros’s main court average (21). But, with the high altitude the court surface needs to be that slow to compensate  and it’s that combination of slow clay surface and the ball flying off the racket quickly which make the Madrid Open the curious case it is.

Rafa Nadal, the game’s most dominant clay court player, has been, during his career, at his most vulnerable on the Madrid Clay. Since the event was first held on Clay in May in 2009, Nadal has lost five times there (beaten by Federer in ’09, Djokovic in ’11, Federer and Djokovic both beating him in straight sets, Verdasco in ’12, Nadal holding a 13-0 head to head lead over Verdasco going into that event, and twice by Murray, ’15 and ’16, both losses in straight sets) and won the trophy four times.

Nadal also struggled in the clay court Masters the Madrid Open replaced, Hamburg, winning there just once in his three appearances (2008), often competing in unfavorable damp and heavy conditions, negating his beloved top spin and causing the ball to bounce lower. In Hamburg 2007, Nadal suffered his first ever clay court loss to Roger Federer and then his second in Madrid two years later, the former defeat in three but with Nadal winning just two games in the last two sets and the latter defeat in straight sets. Coincidentally, Federer has never beaten Nadal in Monte Carlo, Rome or Roland Garros.

Compare Nadal’s title haul in Hamburg and Madrid- five in all- to his haul in Monte Carlo (11 titles) or Rome (7).

Nadal should be the favorite to improve those figures where this part of the Clay swing is concerned as he looks set to win the Madrid Open for a sixth time this season as he enters the event on the back of winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona without dropping  a set and playing even more aggressively than usual in order to shorten points.

The Madrid Open is the only Clay ATP 1000 all members of the Big Four have won.

Nadal and Djokovic have both won Monte Carlo and Rome, but the Madrid Open has been won by all members of the Big Four- Nadal (2010, 2013, 2014, 2017), Djokovic (2011, 2016), Federer (2009, 2012) and Murray (2015).

The Big Four have each excelled on clay at various and different stages of their careers and  Madrid’s conditions have played to all their strengths at one time or another- to Federer’s all court game, Murray’s speed, defense and counter-punching, Djokovic’s aggressive defensive baseline game and Nadal’s general clay court skills.

The Madrid Open’s courts were once painted blue.

As if the Madrid Open needed to stand out any more than it did with its faster playing conditions and ultra modern Caja Magica Cauldron of a stadium, in 2012, promoter and no stranger to controversy Ion Tiriac painted the Madrid Clay courts blue.

The decision brought plenty of attention to the tournament, but the change was not welcomed by everyone.

Big names such as Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal complained that the courts were hard to move on, even dangerous, threatening to boycott the event should the courts still be blue the following year and, the color of the courts clouding their moods, exiting an event they had each won in the last two seasons (Nadal ’10, Djokovic ’11) in the last 16 (Nadal lost to Verdasco) and the last eight (Djokovic lost to Tipsarevic).

Roger Federer had no issues with the courts, though. In fact his game looked very fetching in Clay Blue, the Swiss winning the title, defeating Thomas Berdych in the final in three sets.

Blue Clay caused a splash only to sink without trace, but just what would tennis fans give for something out of the blue to happen this Clay Court season?

They might possibly offer the tennis Gods a few digits if not a few limbs. With Nadal yet to drop a set and the field missing its world No.2 and those who are competing either too inexperienced or not healthy enough to really make a mark, we could be in for another victory parade from the world No.1 unless an upset happens to peak our curiosity.

The players faced with the task of beating Nadal? The top seed is expected to play Gael Monfils in round 2, and is scheduled to face Diego Schwartzman (seeded 13-though Pablo Andujar is the most inform player in that section), last year’s runner up Dominic Thiem (5) in the last eight (though Borna Coric or Pablo Carreno Busta could spoil that party), fourth seed Juan Martin del Potro in the last four, and Sascha Zverev (2) in the final, but no one will be too surprised if David Goffin makes it there instead.

None of those players or whoever ends up facing Nadal will be really expected to beat him and even one of them winning a set from him would be enough to peak the curiosity of tennis fans as to how the rest of the Clay season might unfold.

So this is where the clay tennis world has come to- Nadal losing a set as the peak of competitive tennis where the Spaniard is concerned. These are lean times indeed, competition wise, but a Nadal three setter at yet another peak of his Clay court career is a scenario we will gladly take. Let’s just see if the rest of the field can take it to him.

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Thirty30 Tennis What You Need to Know

Image courtesy of Mark Milne

Professional tennis is sports entertainment in 2018 and the sport’s governing bodies are not afraid to tinker with the rules to give us what they believe is a more exciting version of the game that will capture new fans. One idea put forward to the ITF that might play a role one day is Mark Milne’s Thirty30 tennis. Mark tells us about Thirty30 in the article below- read it and tell us what you think in the comments.

What is Thirty30 tennis?

Thirty30 tennis is the new and complementary scoring method that creates shorter, more exciting matches, and brings tennis into the 21st century.

Thirty30 tennis has been created to give both recreational and professional tennis players an alternative to the traditional scoring method and is to be used where appropriate.

In the same way Twenty20 (T20) cricket has revolutionised how cricket is played, Thirty30 (T30) tennis is a speedier form of the traditional game and can reinvigorate competition and grow tennis in the future.

There is an appetite within tennis for shorter format matches. Shorter format matches have been trialed recently at the ATP Next Gen finals in Milan and there have also been a series of Tie Break Tens “one-night winner-takes-all” exhibition events held over the last two years. Tennis Australia’s FAST4 format is also increasingly being used worldwide.

One set of Thirty30 tennis takes no longer than a ‘bite-size’ 20 minutes, a best-of-three sets match can be completed within an hour and best-of-5 sets matches don’t generally last any longer than 90 minutes.

What are the rules?

Everything is identical to the traditional scoring except:

(1) EVERY game played starts at “30-all” (30-30) and the score of “Thirty30” is called out at the start of every game.

(2) If a set reaches 6 games all, a ‘9-point tie-break’, i.e. first to 5 points, sudden death at 4-4, is played to decide the winner of the set by 7-6.

Order of serve is: A  B B A / change ends  / A B B A A (9 points maximum)

(3) During a set, players serve alternative games and change ends initially after 2 games, then after every 4 games and at the end of each set, i.e. after 2, 6 and 10 games.

There is no ‘deciding game’ played at 6 games all in the final set; the final set is won by leading by 2 clear games as per traditional scoring.

The “No Ad” rule is NOT used, i.e. ‘normal deuce’ is played as per traditional scoring.

The “No Let” rule is NOT used, i.e. as per traditional tennis.

How did the idea come about?

Thirty30 (30-all) starts are nothing new. Coaches have used Thirty30 starts for many years to give players experience of playing more “big points”, as warm-up drills, etc., but what is new is that we have taken it, tidied it up and ‘packaged’ it as a match format and branded it as “Thirty30” (“T30”) tennis in a similar way to cricket’s Twenty20 (T20).

In order to make their sports more exciting to both compete in and be a spectator at, numerous sports over recent years have experimented with their scoring systems. Squash, badminton, table tennis, cricket, darts, golf, netball, basketball, are to name but a few. All have had the same aim – to make their sport faster, more intense and more exciting. Cricket, being particularly successful with their introduction of the Twenty20 format, is currently being assessed to be selected as a sport to be included in the 2024 Olympic Games. This would have been unthinkable before the introduction of Twenty20.

Tennis is no different. It too has acknowledged that things have to change in order to maintain the interest in tennis at a high level and also to introduce a new younger generation to the sport. Standing still is not an option. Today’s generation are looking for something that is quicker and more exciting to both play and be a spectator at.

2018 ITF Rules of Tennis

Within the 2018 International Tennis Federation (ITF) Rules of Tennis – Appendix V – Alternative Procedures and Scoring Methods, there are 2 main alternative “shorter” formats listed:

1) Match Tie-Break (10 points) (Tie Break Tens (brand name))

A tie-break to 10 points is played, lead by 2 points.

This is used in the ATP doubles competitions as a 3rd set decider to decide a match when a best of 3 sets match is tied at 1 set all, thus shortening a match.

The Match Tie-Break has recently been marketed as ‘Tie Break Tens’ (TBT) where shortened matches of one tie-break to 10 points have been played.

TBT matches are over very quickly and do not give players much time to settle into a match. Get off to a bad start and the match is lost, i.e. they can be a ten-point lottery.

2) FAST4 (brand name)

This alternative format has been piloted by Tennis Australia over recent years and there has been a wide uptake of the FAST4 format in competitive tennis over recent years.

There are basically 4 changes to the traditional rules – sets are played to 4 games, a 9-point tie-break to 5 points is played at 3 games all, there are no advantage points played after deuce (i.e. sudden death deuce) and there are no service let’s played.

The FAST4 format was trialed at the 2017 Next Gen (under 21) ATP finals held in Milan in November and the ATP are currently producing a report on their findings during the tournament.

The FAST4 format produces truncated traditional matches. With no advantage points played and winning a set with only 4 games, FAST4 produces shorter matches but are far detracted from traditional matches. With no advantage points played there are even less “big points” played. One break of serve and the set can be lost.

The Thirty30 (T30) scoring method has been created as an additional alternative to the existing Match Tie-Break (10 points) (or Champion’s Tie-Break) and FAST4 (sets to 4 games, etc.) shorter formats.

The “Thirty30” brand name is easily recognizable as being identifiable with tennis and along with its very basic explanation of its rules “every game starts at “thirty30” (30-30), it becomes synonymous with the sport of tennis.

Thirty30 is the tennis equivalent of cricket’s extremely successful Twenty20 and can be instantly recognizable as the faster more intense and more exciting format of tennis.

The Thirty30 scoring method, with its change of ends after the first two games played, followed by every four games played during a set, halves the number of change of ends during a match, thus also reducing the overall duration, i.e. changing ends after 2, 6 and 10 games, ensures a maximum of 3 change of ends per set.

What are the advantages of  Thirty30?

  • produces faster, more “bite-size” intense periods of play, ideal for television.
  • retains the “no-tie-break / leading by 2 games” to win the final set unlike FAST4.
  • produces tennis matches that FEEL, LOOK and SOUND like traditional tennis matches, but are shorter in duration, are more exciting and intense – every second point played is a game point.
  • the transition from the traditional scoring method to the Thirty30 scoring method and back again is seamless for players, audiences and officials. The rules are extremely similar and very simple.
  • retains the advantage points after deuce thus maintaining the opportunity of producing the multi-deuce games that are long recognised as being part of the game of tennis, sadly missed using the FAST4 method.
  • a match can be won for example by 7-6, 2-6, 8-6, i.e. the match score looks identical to that produced using the traditional scoring method, unlike FAST4 (e.g. 4-1, 2-4, 4-3) or TBT (e.g. 10-6).
  • produces more unpredictable sets. It is easier to break serve – the receiver has to win only one out of the first two points played to take a game to deuce instead of three when using the traditional scoring.
  • full focus and concentration is required 100% of the time. There is no opportunity to switch off.
  • starting each game at “thirty30” (30-all) creates a set of tennis where the dynamics are changed – the sets’ game score ticks along more rapidly. There are more “big points” – every second point played is a game point – and there are less meaningless points and less dead periods during a match. End-of-set’s dramas are reached more quickly (and more often when playing best of 5 sets).
  • matches build in a similar fashion to traditional tennis.
  • can be used as a “3rd set match-decider”; a Thirty30 final set (lead by 2 games) provides a far better and fairer alternative to the currently used Match Tie-Break (10 points).
  • Thirty30 and FAST4 both produce shorter matches but Thirty30 retains the traditions of tennis far better.
  • more Thirty30 matches can be played in the same time, e.g. a “Session” will have more matches and spectators will see more players compete.
  • ideal for round-robin events, e.g. players will play matches against more opponents in the same time.
  • ideal for exhibition events.
  • maintains the traditions of tennis which is key to success in the future. Retaining “sets to 6 games” and playing “Ad-points” are critical to that success.
  • can be used when tournaments or events have suffered from rain delays and matches are required to be shortened in order to complete the event.
  • The Ultimate Tennis Rating (UTR) algorithm calculation is seamless using Thirty30.
  • Ladies can play best of 5 set tennis matches as well as the men.
  • A Thirty30 “Grand Slam” Tournament / Event playing best-of-5 set matches (maximum match length of 90 minutes) can be played.

Thirty30 Tennis – Trialing

Thirty30 is better than Tennis Australia’s FAST4 format and is also fairer than the Match Tie-Break (10 points) and Thirty30 are planning to prove this by trialing it all over the world.

Through successful trialing, Thirty30 are building a case to apply to the ITF to have this complementary scoring method “Thirty30” officially included in Appendix V (Alternative Scoring Methods) of the ITF Rules of Tennis.

Thirty30 tennis:

  • can be trialed during events by playing either singles or doubles.
  • is suitable for all ages (juniors, adults, seniors) and all levels of tennis.
  • is very simple, and the transition from playing traditional tennis to Thirty30 tennis and back again is seamless.

Thirty30 are looking for people to trial the Thirty30 scoring method.

If you are interested please see:

https://www.thirty30tennis.com/single-post/2017/12/22/An-Invitation-to-Trial-Thirty30-Tennis

Thirty30 Tennis – Testimonials

Thirty30 was rolled out for trialling at the end of 2017 and the latest very encouraging testimonials are listed at:

https://www.thirty30tennis.com/testimonials

Testimonial #91 (March 1st 2018) by Jim Baugh, President – Wilson Sporting Goods (1997-2003), President – Tennis Industry Association (2004-2006), Founder – PHIT America (2013-present), Jupiter, Florida, USA:

Every traditional sport needs to change and look for new ways to make the game more appealing to today’s players or potential players. Thirty30 looks like a system which will appeal to players and offers shorter and more intense matches. Alternative forms of tennis are needed for sure and Mark’s system seems to be a winner.

Thirty30 Tennis – Summary

Thirty30 tennis – FEELS, LOOKS and SOUNDS like traditional tennis!

Thirty30 tennis – EVERY Point REALLY Counts!

Thirty30 tennis – VERY marketable!

Thirty30 tennis – Have You Tried It Yet?

Website: https://www.thirty30tennis.com

Email: contact@thirty30tennis.com

Mark J. Milne (Tennis Player and Enthusiast, Creator of Thirty30 tennis)

Arbroath, Scotland, March 2018

Thirty30 tennis is a member of the Tennis Industry Association (TIA UK) – 2018

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2018 Clay Season Men’s Tennis Preview What Slides Ahead on the Red Dirt?

Clay court season

Photo courtesy of pxhere.com

The Clay season is already swinging and the first ATP 1000 starts this coming week in Monte Carlo so its time for The Tennis Review to get previewing the European clay court swing.

The Davis Cup suggests it might be another Clay season rout for Nadal

Nadal’s upper right leg injury that kept him out the game in Indian Wells and Miami may have given hope to his rivals and to neutral tennis fans that the recent wide open field we had in Miami might repeat itself this clay court season, but those hopes may have been crushed by Nadal’s recent Davis Cup appearance.

Last season, Nadal went into the clay season after having reached hard court finals in Melbourne, Acapulco and Miami and having played 24 matches, and went on to put together yet another dominating clay court run this time with a La Decima twist.

This year after injury and Marin Cilic got the better of him in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, Nadal has been off tour healing and his Davis Cup wins over Philipp Kohlschreiber and Alexander Zverev tells us he has done a great job of that. Nadal has made the best of his time off, recovering from his injury and getting himself in great condition for his best part of the season.

Another couple, or even a few, ATP 1000 titles, a Barcelona title and an 11th Roland Garros (La Onzieme may not be as catchy but it’ll be even more convincing in the history books) could all the on the cards for Nadal especially considering there is no one who looks fit enough to outlast him over five sets or with enough weapons to hurt him a la Soderling ’09.

Another Clay season rout may be just what the tennis doctor ordered for Nadal’s fans and for those who love to see history unfold, but for those for whom the most interesting question this clay season might be “Who is going to inflict Nadal’s sole clay court defeat on him and where?”, competitive tennis on the red dirt this year might be about as fun as watching the clay dry after a rainy Parisian afternoon.

There could be a vacancy for the role of the season’s second best Clay Courter

Last year we thought Dominic Thiem might be a serious challenger for the big clay court titles come 2018, but over playing has stalled his progress since his stellar 2017 run and a recent right ankle injury picked up in IW means he goes into the clay season with a big question mark hanging over him.

Scheduling choices for this Clay season won’t make the two time Roland Garros semi-finalist’s life any easier. Thiem, who should be the favorite to reach the Roland Garros final if everything goes well health wise and draw wise (to be specific- he lands in the other half to Nadal), has entered himself into the ATP 250 Lyon tournament the week before Paris. That’s not the scheduling of a confident player going into a slam they could win, but more of someone who expects to need some matches going into his best slam, and it could be the schedule which leaves us with someone who has the potential to inject some much needed competitiveness into the Clay season once again too empty to make a match of it when the time to do so comes around.

A telling time for Zverev

Hopes for a new player to break out in Roland Garros this year were also pinned on soon to be 21 year old Sascha Zverev, and considering his career wins over Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Marin Cilic, and Stan Wawrinka, we would have expected better than one career fourth round slam showing (Wimbledon ’17, lost to Raonic) and a first round Roland Garros exit last year.

However, the game is not as healthy as Zverev’s ATP 1000 titles, the first of which came on Clay last year in Rome, and top ten wins might suggest. The very best 20 year olds in the game should be winning ATP 1000s, even contesting for and winning slams, and the record books do not tell the entire story, but then again the record books of today belong to a very different game of the one played even a decade ago.

Zverev lacks superior fitness or mental strength needed to defeat his slam winning or even finals contesting rivals in the big matches and the two ATP 1000 finals Zverev did win were played against struggling opponents meaning that while he has experienced the big time, he did it, to some degree, the “easy” way (compared to say Djokovic who in ’07 had to beat a prime Federer in Canada).

Zverev’s progress has also not been helped along by the tour and its changes to the formats in which its biggest matches are played.He also has yet to win a big match over five sets, which had he competed pre 2007 in ATP 1000 finals, he would have done so. The final five set format of the Masters series finals gave players a taste of winning big matches over five sets, and the confidence to know they could come out on top in such a contest, a very different one to a three setter. Zverev has had that experience in the early rounds of slams and in Davis Cup, but it has not been enough to get him into the business end of slams.

Zverev seems to have weathered the inevitable slump after his best ever period of play (Rome ’17-Montreal ’17) by reaching the Miami final and that should help his cause in the coming  Clay season  which will be a pivotal crossroads at this young stage of his career- a disappointing run could mean his young career is temporarily derailed by a sophomore slump and allow his fellow NextGenATP rivals to stride past him; another ATP 1000 title and a last eight or greater finish at Roland Garros could mean he is very much on track.

Hyeon Chung and Borna Coric have plenty of momentum to build on

Chung and Coric really stepped it up in the North American Spring Swing- Coric made the SFs and QFs of IW and Miami and Chung made the quarters at both events.

These two highly touted NextGenATP players have the defensive skills and the depth, consistency and smart point construction from the baseline to excel on Clay, and the surface compensates for their weaknesses on the serve, both men able to work their way into every point on their service game if their first shot lets them down.

Zverve has overshadowed both men in terms of achievements, though not in terms of slam success in which category Chung has the bragging rights, but Chung and Coric’s progress has been steadier and more under the radar which may make things easier in the long run and seems to have worked out for them when facing Zverev himself with both players having winning head to heads over Zverev, (Coric 2-1, but Zverev won their last match, in Miami; Chung 2-0) and both men are partly accountable for Zverev’s poor slam record having beaten him at Melbourne ’18(Chung) and New York ’17(Coric).

Chung should be the favorite in every 250 he plays this clay season and a 500 final or an ATP 1000 QF or SF would not be a surprise. The Korean pulled out of Houston and will not be in the non-mandatory ATP 1000 Monte Carlo event, and that break should give him plenty of time to regroup and work on some of the technical aspects of his game like the serve which was much improved in Miami.

Coric has already won a Clay 250 (Casablanca ’17) and should be in the QFs or better at every clay court event he plays. Consistency was one important factor missing from the Croatian’s career and now he seems to have found it, clay could be where he shows us that he is not just a Djokovic or Murray on his best and worst days respectively but a player in his very own right.

Keep an eye out for Thanasi Kokkinakis 

Kokkinakis’ win over Roger Federer opened up that draw and the Australian could be tearing up a few more over the next couple of months. The 22 year old has had his best slam finish on Clay (3rd round of Roland Garros ’15) as a wildcard and will also be a wildcard in the Monte Carlo draw where he has been placed in Nadal’s section.

Other players to keep an eye on:

Pablo Cuevas- Strong as they come and with plenty of experience on clay.

Albert Ramos Vinolas- Last year’s Monte Carlo finalist with a forehand to make you think twice about going to it on the dirt.

Pablo Carreno Busta- The recent Miami semi-finalist has found his form again.

Kyle Edmund- That big forehand is a match winning shot on clay.

David Goffin- Has been out of the game with an unfortunate eye injury and was beaten soundly by Joao Sousa in Miami, but if if he is healthy and rested, watch out.

Juan Martin del Potro- Will not make an appearance until Madrid, but has the game to do well there and will be a player best avoided in Rome and Paris, too.

When it comes to Djokovic, write him off at your peril

Back with Marian Vajda as his main coach, Djokovic does not come into the clay season on the back of any form- opening round exits in IW and Miami, the last one versus Paire particularly concerning- but he may not have really been ready to play at all and not all comebacks can be Federeresque.

Vajda knows the heart of Djokovic’s game, and maybe even the man himself, better than any coach out there and might get his charge feeling good again and get that Djokovic muscle memory, both physically and mentally, in tune in time to capitalize on the fact there are few real clay courters out there, few men who know the surface as well as Djokovic, who has won every title that matters on the red dirt, and while expectations should still be low for the former No.1, should he get some form going and start sliding across the dirt with commitment, focus, and passion, those who have written Djokovic off might be eating their words in a couple of month’s time.

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Miami Open Review John Isner Solid With a Dash of the Spectacular

John Isner

Photo courtesy of Hindustantimes.com

The Miami Open looked like an ATP 1000 trophy up for grabs and it ended up being just that. Not just any player took the title though- champion John Isner was no ATP 1000 final debutante or a stranger to beating top ten players and his win, while a surprise considering his form going into the event was no real shock to those who know how solid the American can be on his regular days and how he is also capable of being, on his day, pretty spectacular.

John Isner was 2-6 before his Miami Open trophy run. In 2018, he had beaten 84th ranked Dusan Lajovic in the Davis Cup first round and  87th ranked Radu Albot in the first round of Delray Beach (he had lost to Albot in his very last match before to that win when the two played in the round of 16 at the New York Open).

Gael Monfils, Albot, Hyeon Chung, Matthew Ebden, Peter Gojowcyzk, and Ryan Harrison were the six men who beat Isner before Miami and all of them had to fight to do so- four of those matches went the distance, the one five setter Isner lost went to four, at the Australian Open to Ebden, and the one match he did lose in straights, to Harrison, the second set went to a tiebreaker.

Still, in the record books, a loss is a loss, and Isner was piling them up. Then, in Miami, everything came together for the home player. Isner went from that run of struggling form to beating:

Jiri Vesely, ranked 64 and a former top 35 player.

Mikhail Youzhny, ranked 102 but a former top ten player and US Open semifinalist.

Marin Cilic, current world No.3 and reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open finalist.

Hyeon Chung, who has broken into the top 20 on the back of his Miami run and is one of the tour’s hottest NextGenners.

Juan Martin del Potro, fresh off his Indian Wells win, but well burned out  by the time he met Isner.

Sascha Zvevev, holder of two ATP 1000s (Rome, Montreal) and just coming out of a seven month slump.

That’s 3 top ten players, the NextGenFinals champ, a promising and very capable Vesely (remember that Djokovic win in Monte Carlo) and a former top tenner and slam semi-finalist. An ATP 1000 trophy win is an ATP 1000 trophy win in the record books, but there will be no penciled in asterisks made by tennis fans perusing who champs beat on their way to the titles when their eyes scan Isner’s Miami ’18 title run.

Isner always had it in him to take a Masters should the opportunity arise. Isner is a solid player overall, but blessed with that little bit extra, alongside his 2.08 meter frame, to make him stand out from the majority of his rivals.

While Isner is not a spectacular all rounder, (in 39 slams, Isner had been to just one quarter-final, the best of five set format seeming to be where his weaknesses, namely movement and on the backhand and on the return, areas in which many elite player of recent times have excelled, are most exploited, that last  eight showing all the way back in 2011 at the US Open and he has a 61-39 record overall), he has one of the most spectacular shots in the game, that serve, and a pretty good forehand to say the least, and that potent mix of solid base- being able to hold serve, win baseline rallies with his forehand and come to the net to finish points- combined with a sound mind developed after contesting so many tight sets and tiebreaks, and being armed with a spectacular weapon or two has been most effective over his career over the three set format, and at the highest level of that format, too, at the ATP 1000s- Isner has reached four ATP 1000 finals now (Indian Wells ’12, Cincinnati ’13, Paris ’16, Miami ’18), and had made seven semis and three quarters.

There are men with less impressive ATP 1000 resumes with those very titles on their mantle pieces- Robredo, Portas, Pavel, Grosjean- but those men won theirs in a very different era, when the Big Four and all the confidence and intimidation that comes with being part of that group was not a force, while Isner contested for his ATP 1000 titles in the finals versus three of those Big Four members, facing Federer in the IW ’12 final (beating Djokovic on the way), Nadal in the Cincy ’13 final, (again beating Djokovic on his way) and Murray in the Paris ’16 showpiecer, in periods when they were close to their best.

In Miami that opportunity to finally add something a little special to his resume (other than of course the small achievement of winning the game’s longest match, at Wimbledon), an opportunity which was pretty much dead and buried to anyone outside the Big Four from 2009-2016, really did rise again for Isner- Federer was out in his opener as was Djokovic; Murray, Nadal and Wawrinka were missing from the draw; Thiem, who if healthy could have done some damage, was out, too; Cilic is still inconsistent; Nishikori and Raonic are on the come back from injuries; Dimitrov is still enigmatic; and The Next Gen, most of them anyway, are just not ready to step up.

Isner’s final opponent Zverev is the one NextGenner who really has stepped up, winning two ATP 1000s, beating  Djokovic and Federer in the finals. Both times, Zverev managed matches against struggling opponents with great maturity, and at times in the Miami final, Zverev looked like he might once again capitalize from his opponent having an off day. In the final, Isner had chances to take the first set, but ended up losing it 6-7 as his nerves got the better of him.  However, the American leveled the match in the second set 6-4 and then proved the tougher of the two finalists breaking Zverev at 4-4 in the third set for 5-4, the German smashing his racket and the American going on to serve out the match for his biggest career title.

Isner’s Miami trophy run, beating the players he did, and staying mentally tough in the final versus a player he had a 0-3 head to head deficit against, was the little dash of spectacular, title wise, missing from his career. There have been arguably easier runs to ATP 1000 titles, and there have been much tougher ones, but, however difficult the run, being the most spectacular player in every match is not what matters- it is being better when it matters which is decisive, and Isner in Miami was exactly that. In fact, at times Isner was both solid and spectacular. Isner’s solid game and nature- staying calm, focused, positive- was complimented by his game’s spectacular parts working at their full capacity-on the serve, he was not broken once in the final- on a trophy winning run in which Isner trumped the inexperienced, the burned out, the more limited, the past their prime, and in the final, the raw talent and temper of youth.

That raw talent and temper has been developed and tamed enough for Zverev to be ranked as high as 4 in the world and win 2 ATP 1000s, and Isner has had some influence in that taming. Isner talked of how far back he goes with Zverev, all the way to when Zverev was 14 and first arrived at Saddlebrook, Florida, when they would hit together, and Zverev himself paid tribute to the influence Isner has had on his game, influence which may continue into Zverev’s highly touted future.

At the age of 32, Isner might not be around on tour when Zverev starts seriously competing for slams, but when Isner does retire, he’ll have Masters champion mentioned in his ceremony, along with winning the game’s longest five setter, winning 13 titles in all, and counting, and the way things on the tour are going, and the way Isner is so motivated, relaxed, and inspired, there may be plenty more solid words, dashed with some spectacular ones, to be said.

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Miami Open An ATP 1000 Event There For the Taking?

Miami Open

Photo courtesy of youtube.com

The Miami Open still has a few top drawer names but with some question marks hanging over them, could we see a new name in the ATP 1000 winner’s circle for the second consecutive week?

Roger Federer, Juan Martin del Potro, and Novak Djokovic may all be heading up the Miami Open draw, but none of them are especially convincing favorites to take the win.

Federer did not look as impressive in this year’s Indian Wells as he did last year when he went on to complete the Sunshine Double and he has been promoting the Laver Cup in Chicago this week rather than resting up and preparing in Miami.

Federer will have the incentive that if he wins the tournament, his No.1 ranking will be that little bit safer as the clay season and Nadal’s return approaches. But all the incentive in the world may not protect him from Fernando Verdasco , the Swiss’ potential third round opponent, who may never have beaten Federer in six meetings and has taken just one set off him, but losing head to heads are there to be broken and Verdasco knows how to make an upset happen.

As for del Potro, the recent Indian Wells champ would not be blamed if he suffered a little bit of a letdown after his emotional win versus Federer. He has a tough draw, too, with a potential third rounder versus Kei Nishiori and a fourth rounder versus Djokovic. Those matches will not be the problem, though as he gets up for those kind of affairs. Instead, the problem could be the second round versus Robin Haase, Peter Gojowczyk or in the third round versus John Millman, if Millman defeats Nishikori, players with plenty of experience and skills who will have won a couple of rounds, have some form, and be ready to take a struggling del Potro out.

As for Novak Djokovic, he has said in his pre event interviews he feels physically fine, however just two weeks ago he also said he was not ready to play in Indian Wells and one wonders just how much progress he can have made in a week and a half. del Potro or Nishikori will be up for a contest with the Serbian and if he is still not ready, he won’t have any time to work his way into the tournament and get so.

A burned out Federer, a deflated del Potro, and an unpredictable Djokovic could mean that this Miami Open is an event for the taking. But who is going to step up?

Hyeon Chung and Borna Coric have the best form coming into the event. Coric made his first ATP 1000 semis in Indian Wells and played a great match versus Federer while Hyeon Chung reached the quarters where he played a decent first set versus the Swiss.

Coric may not be quite ready for an ATP 1000 trophy and will have his hands full with a potential third rounder versus 8th seed Jack Sock. The reigning Paris-Bercy champ has what it takes to win an open ATP 1000, and will have the home crowd advantage, and the winner of that clash would be in a strong position to make a run to the semis.

Chung, on the other hand, is ready and waiting when it comes to big titles. The surface suits him, he has a great draw, in the bottom half with the unpredictable Marin Cilic in his quarter and David Goffin, on the comeback from injury, in his sixteenth.

Kevin Anderson  is another player in good form who could take advantage of an open Miami Open draw. The South African had a decent IW run and is a solid bet for the quarters where he could face Roger Federer who struggles with big servers far more than he used to, and Anderson has the self confidence right now to punish Federer if he is feeling at all off.

Is Anderson a potential ATP 1000 champion, though? He is better than that- he is a Grand Slam finalist, and with that experience behind him, he could be the man most qualified to make this open draw work for him having already survived high pressure tennis situations and the wide open draw that was the US Open bottom half. This time, Anderson has one of the tougher parts of the draw- Karen Khachanov in round 3, and Tomas Berdych or Kyle Edmund in round 4. Berdych plays well in Miami and Edmund, hit by a hip injury in Australia and who has played and lost just one match since making the Australian Open semis, will be dangerous if he has his health back, but confidence is everything in tennis and Anderson has it in abundance.

Milos Raonic, on the road back from injury, also surprised us with a semi final run in the desert last week, and considering his draw and how strong he looks, he could go deep again. But his lack of big match play in recent times is likely to be exposed when he comes up against a player in good form at the business end of the event.

Other than those four, the other most qualified candidates have not been particularly convincing of late. Marin Cilic went all Cilic on us, going out early in IW, and could meet the big hitting and fearless Andrey Rublev in round 3. Grigor Dimitrov got bounced by Fernando Verdasco in his IW opener and has suffered back to back losses in his last two matches, and while the draw has been kind to him in the early rounds, Diego Schwartzman, who has a history of pressing his buttons, might do so again in round 4. Sascha Zverev was also an early casualty in IW and has a tough draw with Stefanos Tsitsipas or Dannii Medvedev in round 2, David Ferrer in round 3 and Nick Kyrgios in round 4.

All those players, however, are more than capable of recovering from less than stellar performances, dialing into their A games in their next events and going on a tear, and the Miami Open would be a good time to do so. There might be an ATP 1000 up for grabs, after all, and Cilic and Dimitrov have won one before, Zverev two, and along with some of their rivals in the draw, they will be ready to do so again should the draw open up and the chance they work so hard for be there for the taking.

 

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Indian Wells Final Juan Martin del Potro Defeats Roger Federer Where the Dark Side Thrives

del Potro

Photo courtesy of Scroll.in

Juan Martin del Potro’s 6-4, 6-7, 7-6 victory over Roger Federer in the BNP Paribas Open Final 2018 shed light on what both men are capable of in very challenging circumstances and gave us a glimpse into the darker side of two very popular champions. 

When you lift a heavy rock or stone, the kind only the strongest, most curious, and most determined dare attempt to pick up, and peer into the dark which lies beneath, even in the most beautiful of settings, spiders scurry out, snakes slide into the grass, maybe, even, somewhere deep inside you, a monster to break free. Juan Martin del Potro, when his wrists can take it, never shies away from lifting those rocks and turning them over. Rocks and stones of the tennis world, the size, stature and status of, in this year’s Indian Wells final, defending champion Roger Federer, and when they come for him, the spiders, snakes and monsters, del Potro does anything but jump back and let the rock crash down on his hands.

Marin Cilic in Melbourne had a peek under the Federer rock, and saw a spider or two. Borna Coric, in the Indian Wells semis, got his shoulders well under that rock and a snake snuck out. del Potro, though, went ahead and lifted that rock right up, sent the spiders and the snakes scurrying and sliding around his feet, and the monsters jumping all over him, and del Potro did not buckle. Instead, he threw the rock and left it thrown, the Argentine emboldened no doubt by having survived it all before versus Federer, most infamously in his celebrated come from behind five set win over Federer in the US Open 2009 final.

del Potro’s serve and forehand, two of the most monstrous shots out there, are two factors which have tipped Federer over the edge in their matches. Two shots which have themselves, when coming off the Swiss’ own racket, won Federer plenty of matches, but, shots, which when the Swiss comes up against them in the form of del Potro, particularly on the forehand side, the Swiss has to accept he is second best, the brutality and precision of del Potro’s shots reminding Federer he is, in relative terms at least, a little human, that the Tennis Gods blessed others equally, if not even more generously, with all time great shots, even allowing other players to out hit him on the game’s Olympus like settings such as the Arthur Ashe stadium at a time when the then top seeded Federer himself had a seat at the peak, and was on the verge of winning six trophies in a row.

That 2009 US Open breakout win for del Potro was nine and a half years ago now. Back then, in 2009, Federer and Nadal were, as they are now, the big guns on the tour, the future of Djokovic as an all time Great was in doubt, and Murray had not proven he was slam champ material yet, but del Potro announced himself as a player to pay attention to when he did what few dared and won, beating Nadal and Federer back to back to win a slam. Other men got one of them but could not do the double- Soderling at Roland Garros 2009, Murray in New York 2008- but del Potro was the man most equipped of all to do it, possessing not just the shots- the forehand and the serve- but the mind and the heart, too.

del Potro had everything in seemed. Except for one thing it turned out. The most important thing of them all, too: his health.

del Potro’s wrist injuries – and he has been unlucky enough to have both wrists come under the surgeon’s scalpel- have derailed his career not once but four times, forcing him off the tour in 2010 and to undergo surgery, only for him to climb back to the world top 10 in 2012 and then the top five in 2013.  If that were not enough of a mountain to climb for one professional athlete’s career, another wrist injury hit del Potro in 2014, keeping him off tour more or less permanently for another two seasons, the Argentine finally coming back, three more surgeries later at Delray Beach ’16 and going on to make the Olympic final a few months later, and this time, the Tennis Gods feeling kind, allowing del Potro to stay back and move up, really reestablishing himself again, back where it all began, when he beat Federer on the way to the 2017 US Open semis, and then keeping his form rolling all the way to his first ATP 1000 title seven months later.

The Lows and Highs of Juan Martin del Potro’s career:

Time/ event Career Low Career High
Oct 9th 2006 Breaks into the top 100.
Oct 6th 2008 Breaks into the top 10.
Sep 13th 2009 Won the US Open, reaches No. 5 in the world.
Jan 11th 2010 Reaches career high ranking of 4.
2010 A right wrist injury picked up in early January means del Potro pulls out of Indian Wells and misses all the ATP 1000s that season and 3 of the 4 slams. Has first wrist surgery.
31st January 2011 Ranking falls to 485.
Indian Wells 2011 Reaches SF and climbs back to 51
30th Jan 2012 Climbs back to No.10.
Wimbledon 2013 Reaches semi-final.
27th Jan 2014 Back to No.4 in the world.
2014 Injures his left wrist and forced to skip all slams and ATP 1000s. Undergoes second surgery.
16th February 2015 Falls to world no.621.
Miami 2015 Returns to the tour, but is absent for the rest of the season and undergoes third and fourth, and most recent, surgery.
8th February 2016 Falls to world ranking of 1045.
Delray Beach 2016 Returns to the tour.
US Open 2016 Reaches quarter finals.
Rio 2016 Reaches Final.
US Open 2017 Makes US Open semis.
Jan 15th 2018 Breaks back into the top ten.
March 19th 2018 Wins first ATP 1000 title.

In his up and down career, Indian Wells has been about as stable an event as it gets for del Potro and the season’s opening ATP 1000 tournament is, after this recent title win, del Potro’s best ATP 1000. He made four consecutive quarter final appearances there (’09, 11-13), his most consistent streak at an ATP 1000, and has a 77% winning percentage, his best of the 9 ATP 1000s, and has a 24-7 win-loss record.  (del Potro is 96-50 lifetime in ATP 1000s, has appeared in 52 events in total, and, since winning the US Open 2009, has competed in 35 tournament s and missed 40.)

Breathing a champion’s life in to a career in which the numbers don’t just not lie but break your heart with the truth, del Potro took the first set 6-4 versus an off key Federer, the Argentine leaving no stone unturned in his game, too, hitting not just his signature serve and forehands at their peak, but playing his backhand better than at any time in his comeback, a shot still not back to where it was, but the Argentine able to both slice and come over it, decisively and with conviction, and, as well as being strong off the serve and the ground, del Potro came to the net to finish off points, his aggression and control from the baseline making his forays look so easy as he took the match to Federer with all the authority and aplomb he would need if he was going to beat him in straights for the first time in his career.

For the Federer fans out there, and the stands were packed with them, there was still no real need to get a stiff drink to cool down in the desert heat just yet– as well as never having lost to del Potro in straights, Federer had lost the first sets in their last two matches in Basel and Shanghai and gone on to win the match, and he had shown in his run to the final he did not need to be at his best to win, just better than his rival when it mattered, and Federer managed that, again, when in the second set tiebreak, the defending champion held three set points at 6-3.

del Potro looked like he was the one who needed cooling down, now as he roared at the crowd for calling out between serves and points, and at the umpire for not calling them out on their less than genteel behavior, and it was not the first time del Potro has gotten upset with Federer fans making the tough task of beating the Swiss even more so. Not often does the famously mild mannered gentle giant of the sport bang his fists on the table and shout “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum”, but just as del Potro gets under Federer’s skin, the same is true vice versa, and the two seemed to set each other off with Federer then complaining about del Potro and his behavior.

Federer soon had plenty more to complain about, himself. The Swiss, serving at 6-5,  seemed to have won the second set with a service winner, and roared out in approval, but del Potro challenged the serve, in his usual leisurely way, meaning that by the time Hawk eye showed the ball was out, Federer was left to hit his second serve with fans moving around the stadium, line umpires, ball boys and his opponent settling back into position, and a little too much time, for someone of Federer’s speed, lapsing between serves, the match in disarray, a state which seeped into the Federer serve as he then double faulted for 6-6 , and the Swiss berated the umpire Fergus Murphy for letting the judges and del Potro proceed like a normal changeover when so much was on the line.

The tiebreak back on even footing,  a few firsts for del Potro were within striking distance- winning an ATP 1000, beating Federer in straights, and beating him in the first seven months of the season- as the Argentine saved another set point with a service winner, and then hit another service winner for championship point on the Federer serve.

del Potro could not have hoped for more than a second serve and a shot at hitting a forehand winner, and he got both. The court open on his inside out forehand, del Potro, his forehand now prone to the same stutters under pressure as the Federer serve, netted the shot. The forehand then stumbled again when after a ripping del Potro forehand return and one cross-court, the Argentine sent the forehand passing shot wide.

Set point down, del Potro’s forehand was working for him again setting up an approach to the net, but this time his volley, one shot which gave him an extra edge this match, let him down as it went wide and Federer leveled the match at a set all.

Those two missed forehands cast a cloud over del Potro, who admitted as much after the match, and Federer took control of the match at 4-4 in the third set, breaking del Potro, and the Swiss served for the championship, the match looking set to be written into the record books as another three set tussle with del Potro survived. But, somewhat inexplicably – Federer would himself ask in his press conference after the match “what the hell happened?”-  the Swiss’ serve deserted him when he held two championship points.

A calmer del Potro broke back with another one of those forehands doing the damage, and the two rivals held serve to contest a final set tiebreaker, one which del Potro, in another twist, dominated as Federer continued to implode on the serve, and del Potro did what del Potro does, hung in and hung tough, and then did what he usually does not- won an ATP 1000.

del Potro’s first ATP 1000 win shone a little light on, for those who like to play such games, what might have been if he had been able to compete in those 40 ATP 1000s missed since New York ’09.

The brightest light it shone, though, was on what creature lurks beneath both del Potro’s and Federer’s typically sunny dispositions, and what did we see creep out and bare its fangs?

What we saw was the two men’s raw competitive instinct and desire to compete and win in its darkest, most provoked, fang baring form; the muddy underbelly of what fuels our sport’s most popular champions to win 20 slams and compete as No.1 aged 36; the raw unbridled passion for the sport which drives our champions to keep coming back, from four wrist surgeries no less, and keep going when their bodies beg them not to, but their champion’s mind and heart, still with so much more to give, refuse to listen. What we saw was the dark side of champion’s hearts and minds thriving, and in the heat of it all, in the thick of it, as it merged with the beauty and the entertainment of the tennis and gave us as whole a match as we are likely to see, we thrived, too.

“I’m still shaking” said del Potro in the trophy ceremony, and no one was surprised considering the creatures he had just unearthed, set loose and then faced down. Spiders which had scurried all over the court. Snakes sliding in and out of his own intimidating, looming shadow as it boomed down serves and crushed forehands and came over on backhands. Monsters his victory sent hurrying away back under the rock now lodged firmly back in the ground, now glistening as del Potro and Federer congratulated one another with smiles while a new rock-like form took center stage alongside its new champion, this formation one of the tennis world’s more precious stones, and now lifted by one of its most deserving players, this one giving off plenty of light, the Indian Wells trophy, now in the arms of del Potro.

 

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Indian Wells Preview Who Will Win? The Five Most Likely Champs

Indian Wells

Photo courtesy of indianexpress.com

Indian Wells is the first ATP 1000 title of the season and while it may be missing a few big names, there are plenty of worthy champions in the wings. The Tennis Review gives you five of them, and a few honorable mentions.

Roger Federer (1)- Champion 2004-06, 2012, 2017

This draw could not have worked out better for Roger Federer and an upset in the early rounds (possible opponents: Round 2- Delbonis, Harrison; Round 3, Paire, qualifier, Krajinovic) would be nothing less than alarming.

Things look pretty good for the defending champ in the middle of the tournament, too, when Federer, who could make history with a record sixth title in Indian Wells, is scheduled to face Fabio Fognini in round four and then Dominic Thiem in the quarters.

Nick Kyrgios, a potential opponent in the last four could be the biggest test for Federer on his way to the final– the Australian is 1-1 versus the Swiss with both matches going three sets and every set to a tie-breaker.

Federer will have plenty of motivation to get through another close one versus the Australian- with Nadal out of the tournament, and out of Miami, too, there is room for Federer to put some distance between himself and his biggest rival at the top of the rankings before the clay season gets underway in just over a month.

Juan Martin del Potro (6)- Finalist 2013

The recent Acapulco champ and world No. 8 has a decent record in Indian Wells- he is a career 18-7 there and beat Murray and Djokovic on his way to the 2013 final- and is, after winning his first ATP 500 title, in Acapulco, since Basel 2013, on a confident run.

The best and healthiest big match player in the draw after Roger Federer and in the very open bottom half, del Potro has an intriguing clash with either Jan-Lennard Struff or Alex de Minaur in round 2, David Ferrer in round 3, Novak Djokovic or Kei Nishikori in round 4, Marin Cilic in the last eight and Sascha Zverev in the last four.

That draw is anything but easy, but del Potro has what it takes to battle his way through it to face Federer in the final, a championship match which, if it happens, will be a saving grace for a tour lacking Nadal, Murray and Wawrinka at its biggest ATP 1000 event.

Nick Kyrgios (17)- Quarter-final 2017

A wide open draw and few expectations, Indian Wells 2018 is the perfect opportunity for Nick Kyrgios to ride his explosive game to a semi versus Federer.

If Kyrgios wins that match and reaches the final, he may have learnt enough from his runner-up appearance in the Cincy ’17 final to take his first ATP 1000 trophy.

The Australian may give the impression he could care less, but anyone who saw his recent run in Australia (Brisbane title, Australian Open last 16) knows he wants to win big, and with a game which should allow him to do so and his temperament for the big occasion, it’s only a matter of time until we see just how much the game really means to Kyrgios.

Hyeon Chung (23)- First round 2016.

This is Chung’s 9th ATP 1000 main draw, his second in Indian Wells, and he has won five matches in all, and the furthest he has gone is the fourth round (Canada 2017, beat Feliciano Lopez and David Goffin).

Chung may seem like a long shot for an ATP 1000 trophy, and not just any one, but Indian Wells; however, if Federer is knocked out early, and while that is unlikely, stranger things have happened in this sport, this tournament is ripe for a young gun to come out and claim a big title, and Chung has the best momentum and temperament of the lot of them.

Chung may have to beat Federer himself if he wants the trophy, in the quarters, but first he would have to get past Lukas Lacko or Dusan Lajovic in round 2 and potentially Tomas Berdych in round 3 and Dominic Thiem in round 4, which is a slightly rocky but very doable road to the business end of an ATP 1000 for a 23rd seed, and a pretty attractive one, too, as far as draws go for an upcoming player with nothing to lose and plenty of spirit.

For the Next Gen Finals champ and the Australian Open semi- finalist, the Indian Wells title would be another big step, but Chung is not one for taking them baby style- for the South Korean, it’s big strides all the way.

Marin Cilic (2)- Quarter-final, 2016.

In a tournament hit with the absence of most of the sport’s active slam champs, Cilic is one of the few healthy ones playing good tennis, and not just good hard court tennis, but, when he is on form, some of the very best you are likely to see.

Cilic has never done as well in Indian Wells as you would expect of one of the current game’s highest achievers- his best result is a quarter final- but past form is no real indicator of what Cilic can achieve. The Croatian is unpredictable, and with another lesson learned in Melbourne, Indian Wells could be the place where the second seed shows us just how hard he has been hitting the tennis books in the gym and on the court.

Honorable mentions: These players have potential champion written all over them, but for one reason or another, that potential is likely to go unrealized.

Novak Djokovic (10): The five time champ is commited to coming back to the top, and Indian Wells would be a great place to do it, but the career grand slammer struggles with del Potro at the best of times and at a point in his career far from those he has drawn the Argentine in the fourth round.

Sascha Zverev (4): Zverev has made a young career out of winning very open ATP 1000s (Rome, Montreal 2017), but he has not been having a good time of it since winning Montreal and while he is in the open bottom half of the draw, a semi-final versus del Potro, as happened last week in Acapulco, looks to be about as good as it is going to get.

Grigor Dimitrov (3): With Nick Kyrgios in his quarter of the draw, and and with a possible opener versus Fernando Verdasco, Dimitrov, who has never been past the third round in Indian Wells in six appearances, looks unlikely to excel in the desert anytime soon.

 

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Roger Federer The Old Tennis Player and the No.1 Ranking.

Photo courtesy of news2read.com

By beating Robin Haase in the quarter-finals of the Rotterdam Open, Roger Federer, at the age of 36, became the oldest male player to be ranked No.1 in the world. The Tennis Review reviews how the Swiss got back to the pinnacle of the sport and wonders how long he could end up staying there.

Roger Federer has already been there and done that when it comes to getting back to the ATP world No.1 ranking- since first hitting the top spot on February 2nd 2004, the Swiss, before this most recent return to No.1, had already been knocked off the pinnacle and climbed his way back there twice.

But this comeback is not just “any old” comeback, the status all previous comebacks are now demoted to in light of this one. This comeback is arguably the greatest in any of Federer’s career, the Swiss, in the four years and 17 day gap between his third and fourth No.1 stints, falling to his lowest ranking, 17, (Jan 9th 2017) since no. 18 on the 28th March 2001 (he never fell out of the top four in his other periods away from No.1) and, remarkably in a near two decade career undergoing his first ever career surgery, two career setbacks which for any player would require serious work to bounce back from, but which for a player in their mid 30s could be setbacks too grave to dig themselves out of.

Federer’s stints at No.1:

Period Weeks Took Over From Replaced by
Feb 2 2004- August 17 2008 237 Andy Roddick Rafa Nadal
July 6 2009-June 06 2010 48 Rafa Nadal Rafa Nadal
July 09 2012-November 4 2012 17 Novak Djokovic Novak Djokovic
Feb 19th 2018- ? 1 and counting Rafa Nadal ?

That effort to get back to the top was on Federer’s mind, when, after sealing the No.1 ranking again in the Rotterdam quarters, an emotional Federer said:

I think reaching No.1 is one of the, if not the, ultimate achievement in our sport so sometimes at the beginning you just all of a sudden get there just because you are playing so well. Later,  you sometimes try and fight it back, you wrestle it back from somebody else who deserved to be there, and when you’re older, you know, you feel like you have to put maybe sometimes double the work in , so this one maybe means the most to me throughout my career, getting to No.1 and enjoying it right here, at 36, almost 37 years old, is an absolute dream come true, I can’t believe it.

If it was not Roger Federer who was achieving this feat, then it would be pretty unbelievable. After falling from the top ranking in November 2012, and just seven months later crashing out of the Wimbledon second round, getting back to the top was going to take some serious work for the then close to 32 year old Swiss suffering with back problems. A little later in the season, in the North American Summer Swing, struggling to adjust to a larger racket frame, a return to the good old days of just 13 months before looked even more far reaching when Federer was beaten in the Cincy quarters and US Open last 16, that latter loss marking the first year he had not reached a slam final since 2002.

Federer faced up to the challenge, as champions tend to do, and went about pursuing his dream in both a brave and a pragmatic fashion, making changes to his team in hiring Stefan Edberg and going ahead with and adapting to a larger racket head of 97 square inches.

The larger racket head helped make up for the loss in foot speed all mortal tennis players suffer as they age, even Federer, and the hiring of the Swede, Federer’s childhood hero, helped Federer commit to an aggressive game maximizing his strengths: the serve, forehand, playing mid court and at the net, footwork and shot-making.

Those strengths were what propelled Federer to the No.1 spot in the first place on February 4th 2004 and, ten years later, in 2014, hitting his mid 30s, Federer was executing them as well as he ever had and was back to where he was so often seen in the mid to late 2000s, in the Wimbledon final, though this time not winning the title as he did in six of seven finals in that period, but losing to Novak Djokovic in five sets, when his service percentage dropped late in the fifth set.

That return to slam finals really got the ball rolling for the Swiss who went on to challenge the Serbian for the No.1 ranking that season. Had Marin Cilic not peaked in his US Open semi-final versus Federer, the Swiss may have reached No.1 for a fourth stint even sooner.

In 2015, Federer was looking as close to his best on occasions as he reached both the Wimbledon and the US Open finals, losing to Djokovic, the epitome of the modern game, each time, in four sets. Djokovic, having one of the greatest peak periods of any player in the Open era, was playing pitch perfect baseline tennis, and with the Serbian’s key weapon his return, Federer’s serve had to be at its best- any dip and Djokovic took advantage, and unfortunately for Federer, Djokovic has the stamina and consistency to extend matches so that inevitably there would be a lull and the Serbian would be ready to pounce.

When Federer was serving well, he was able to beat Djokovic, beating him six times in 2014 and 2015, the only player able to impose his game on a fairly regular basis on the Serbian in that time period, and it seemed only a matter of time as Federer grew more confident with his commitment to an aggressive game and playing with a larger racket head that he would finally put all the pieces together in a slam final.

That was until, following his split from Edberg and hiring Ivan Ljubicic, one of the harshest realities of sport, injury, one Federer had mostly managed to avoid, bit Federer hard when in early 2016, after a four set loss to Djokovic in the Australian Open semis, Federer was bathing his children and slipped, injuring his knee. He did come back to the tour shortly after, but it was a very different Federer, one whose movement was hampered and who was unable to repeat his 2014-2015 feats, losing to Thiem and Zverev on grass in Germany and coming second best in the Wimbledon semis in a tough five setter to Milos Raonic.

Faced with another setback, Federer had his first ever career surgery and took six months out of the game, that rest and recovery from the injury paying dividends for Federer, as did a career changing adjustment to the Federer game encouraged by Ivan Ljubicic, the coach slotting in the missing piece of the puzzle, the backhand as a weapon not a flaw to be attacked, by having Federer attack more with it, taking advantage of the higher margin for error his larger racket head allowed him, and resulting in the Swiss avoiding the rallies baseline maestros like Djokovic were entangling him in their bid to draw errors.

The backhand now employed as a weapon to rival his forehand, the Swiss’ rivals now went less to that side and the Swiss himself became more likely to hit a stunning winner off that wing, often on big points, a shot to turn matches around, showing an opponent who might be feeling on top of him that the Swiss is not afraid to go down swinging, and reminding them his game is even more complete than it has been at anytime of his career, a scary little memo when you are facing the greatest player the game has ever known.

When Federer returned to Grand Slam tennis at the Australian Open 2017, Djokovic was not such a big factor anymore, the Serbian having lost his No.1 ranking to Andy Murray and losing in the second round of the Australian Open. Still, Federer had a tough draw to his first slam since Wimbledon 2012, most notably Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Rafa Nadal, all of whom had wins over him, some of them pretty big ones, and all capable of beating Federer if he was struggling physically or mentally. At times, Federer did both- he had a foot issue, and he fell 1-3 behind in the fifth set versus Rafa Nadal in the final- but a low bouncing fast surface and a great will to win meant Federer won his 18th slam title and with the dream of another slam realized, the prospect of  Federer getting back the No.1 ranking also became a serious talking point.

Federer made that talk somewhat weightier when he went on to win Indian Wells, Miami, skipped Roland Garros in another smart scheduling move, won Halle, and then took slam No. 19 at Wimbledon, amassing 4,500 points, and the No.1 ranking really came into view on the horizon.

However, there was one rival chasing him for that spot, Rafa Nadal, and with Nadal also picking up his career, and winning Monte Carlo, Madrid and Roland Garros, on top of reaching the Australian Open and the Miami final, the Spaniard was making his own challenge for No.1, and Federer was going to have to keep winning big if he wanted to get there first.

Unfortunately, the Swiss got injured in Montreal, and went on to contest the final, which he lost and in which he was visibly hampered and which with hindsight he might have been better off not playing. That decision to step on the court and compete, one reminding us how human Federer is, meant the Swiss pulled out of Cincy, where a confident and healthy Federer would have been expected to win the title, and the second seed at the US Open then lost in the quarters to del Potro, a tough draw as the Argentine is one of the few players on the tour who has the natural instincts to exploit the top players on an off day.

Federer bounced back though to keep himself in the race for No.1. winning Shanghai and Basel and reaching the ATP Finals semis, but those runs were not enough and the race to No.1 was sealed by Nadal in Paris when he reached the last eight and withdrew with injury. Nevertheless, with Nadal only winning 1280 points, and Federer 2100, from the US Open to the end of the season, Federer had caught up on some valuable points.

But while Federer may have been gaining valuable points, he also had some pretty big ones to defend, and with his 2017 ending on a flat note, and his not having defended a slam since the US Open 2008, the chances of Federer defending all 2000 AO points seemed, at the age of 36, a little, to those who had not learned just how normal rules of science and probability do not apply to the Swiss (his having two sets of twins and winning 19 slams not being enough to teach us), far-fetched.

Federer, though, getting used to being the game’s trend setter when it comes to what you can achieve at an age most former greats were long retired, strode to slam #RF20 in dominating fashion, and with Nadal going out in the quarters, and dropping 840 points after failing to defend his finalist ranking points (1200), and Federer defending his 2000 points, the gap was just 155 points.

With Nadal recovering and not competing in any tournaments after the AO, Roger Federer, who had always said one day he hoped to return to world No.1 and now seeing that day not so far away, saw his opportunity and accepted an invitation from tournament director Richard Krajicek to compete in Rotterdam, the ATP 500 event luring Federer with its fast indoor low bouncing conditions, and a tournament at which Federer had a 23-6 record at, had won two trophies at, and had never lost before the quarter-finals, the stage he would have to reach once again and advance from if he was to earn the 165 plus points needed to return to No.1.

The player most likely to stand between top seed Federer and No.1 was fifth seed Stan Wawrinka, who had reached the semis in Sofia the week before, but the Swiss lost in his opener to 259th ranked wildcard Tallon Griekspoor, and Federer, after beating Rubens Bemelmans and Philipp Kohlschreiber in rounds 1 and 2, faced home player Robin Haase at the pivotal last eight stage and came back from a set down to defeat the Dutchman 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 to reclaim the No.1 ranking and break 2 records in the process- the oldest man to win, aged 36, beating Andre Agassi’s 33, and the longest gap between No.1 stints, 4 years and 17 days, also beating Agassi.

Federer then went on to defeat lucky loser Andreas Seppi in straight sets and then defeated Grigor Dimitrov in the final 6-2, 6-2 to win his 97th career title.

That Rotterdam title means Federer’s lead over Nadal at the top of the rankings is currently 345 points, a small margin, and the ranking is likely to change hands between the two quite a few times between now and the end of the year.

In the coming weeks, Nadal is expected to play Acapulco and Federer may play Dubai, both ATP 500 events, with Nadal defending finalist points (300), and Federer last 16 points (45).  Federer then has 2000 points to defend in Indian Wells and Miami (Nadal has 690), and then comes the clay season, in which Nadal has 4680 points to defend and Federer has none. If Nadal is injured, that defence is unlikely, but if he gets back to full health, he could even exceed those points.

Federer, if he is No.1 going into the clay season, has nothing to lose and would be expected, considering his status as the game’s official leader, to enter at least Madrid and Roland Garros, two events at which he has achieved great success and which would greatly benefit from his presence. At those events, if Federer plays his game and sees what happens, he is likely to collect at least Madrid semis points and RG last sixteen, if not more, depending on the draw where he will be more vulnerable than in his preferred conditions.

After that, with Wimbledon, Cincy and the US Open coming up, Federer could, if healthy, be reasonably expected to hang on to the top ranking and even end the year as Year end No.1 for the sixth time, tieing and holding the record with Pete Sampras.

Who would be surprised if Federer went on to make that end of year No.1 record his own at some point, considering how he continues to defy expectations of what is possible for a player heading into his late 30s, and also taking into account the conditions that have enabled Federer to be the first man of this age to achieve success which used to be common among players in their prime of 24-28?

Greats who came up in the game from the late 90s through to the early and mid 2000s can have a second or third prime now, as Federer is doing, thanks to advances in nutrition, sports science, technology, and increases in prize money (Federer won A$4,000,000 at this year’s Australian Open compared to A$915, 960 when he first won it in 2004). Another factor keeping these second winds blowing is an increasingly demanding tour, media wise and travel wise with the tour expanding into Asia in the post US Open stretch, one played on slower surfaces, contributing to younger players failing to break through at an age the game’s next big things used to, 20-23, leaving older players, wealthier ones who can afford the very best in coaching teams and experts, and who have much greater experience in big pressure matches, to extend their careers into their mid 30s and meaning that the next big things stay that way until their mid to late 30s when they finally reach their first primes, and those that do will have to keep playing into their late 30s if they want to experiences the very different highs that come with a second.

Right now, the likes of Dimitrov, Zverev, Thiem and Goffin still seem a couple of years away from winning their first slams and with the Australian Open increasing the court speed, and grass favoring first class serves and attacking tennis played at its optimum, and enough big tournaments on favorable surfaces for the Swiss, there is no reason why, barring injury, Federer cannot hold on to the No.1 ranking, or trade it with Rafa Nadal until Tokyo 2020 when many people feel Federer may, if he wins Gold, hang up his racket.

Still, many people felt Federer should have retired in 2009 or 2013, and with the Swiss one of the reasons there is so much interest in tennis from the public and such great prize money on offer and seeming to love the game even more than he ever has, where better to celebrate that love for tennis than Paris in the Summer of 2024?

 

 

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There Are Legends, There Are Other Legends, And Then There Is Roger Federer

Roger Federer Australian Open 2018

Photo courtesy of misionescuatro.com

Roger Federer (2) defeated Marin Cilic (6)  6-2, 6-7 (5),  6-3, 3-6, 6-1. 

Roger Federer’s five set win over Marin Cilic in the 2018 Australian Open men’s singles final on the Rod Laver Arena played under the admiring eyes of the legend himself was the Swiss’ record tying 6th AO title, his record 20th slam, becoming the first man to reach that number, and his first defense of a slam since the 2008 US Open. 

These milestones were achieved in Federer’s favorite conditions, indoors, after the AO made the controversial decision to close the roof for the final. While it made sense to some degrees, namely the mid 30s the court thermometers read, it was disappointing, even baffling, for some Open tennis fans who wanted to see the players not just deal with each other, arguably the toughest medium fast court opponent they could meet in the final, but with the wind and the heat, too, as they had done all fortnight, to test in the final match their championship mettle versus the very best which tennis and nature had to throw at them.

Cilic was a little thrown by the roof closure, himself. The first time AO finalist later revealed in his post match press conference that he was not asked about the roof closing:

 Well, no, they didn’t ask me. They just came to me to tell me that they are thinking about decision, and they going to make the final decision just around 7 p.m., just slightly before the match. I didn’t mind to have roof closed, but it was a huge difference in temperature from having outside 38, then when you came in, it was like 23, 4, I don’t know. It was way cooler than I expected.

Cilic would have been more favored by indoor conditions if he had, as Federer did, practiced in them before the match, but the sixth seed, not expecting to play the final indoors, decided instead to practice outside on his usual court. That decision backfired, along with another one, not bringing on court rackets strung at the right tension for such cooler conditions, and an uncomfortable and vulnerable Cilic was trailing the greatest player indoors ever 1-4 in just short of 20 minutes.

Federer, who said he would not have minded playing outside, that the heat, which he had no problem with, might have slowed down Cilic, seemed as cool as ever in his 30th slam final, his seventh on Rod Laver, everything falling into place for him, taking the first set 6-2.

Fears of a fourth slam final blowout in a row, Cilic’s loss to Federer at Wimbledon one of them, were soon allayed as Cilic fought back to win a long service game in the third game of the second and then went on to take the set to a tiebreak, won 7 points to 5, one which Cilic edged with some typically aggressive and risky tennis, the only kind that was going to win him the match, the indoor conditions now playing into his hands, helping him to keep the ball low over the net and hitting the lines.

A match on his hands, Federer got a grip on his nerves, and his serve, serving at 81%, up from 57 in the 2nd , to take the third set 6-3.

Federer broke Cilic and led 3-2 in the fourth set, and a four set win which always looked on the cards was now just three service holds away. But it is not everyday you get to play for your 20th slam, and neither is it everyday you get to play your first Australian Open final, the chance to redeem yourself for the disappointment of losing your last slam final, and as fast as Cilic could swing at a forehand, Federer’s nerves and Cilic’s desire collided- Federer’s service percentage dropped to 36 and his already shaky ground game was now a tremor, while Cilic’s all round performance peaked and the sixth seed went on a tear to win  four games in a row to win the fourth set 6-3 and force a decider.

In the opening game of the fifth, Cilic, who had never won a close match in a big final before, looked like he might be about to put himself in a position to break through when he held two break points in the opening Federer service game. The Croatian had his chances, too, but lacked the experience to quite know what to do with them, the huge forehand that had gotten him into this position now proving to be his undoing when he went for too much on the return on the first break point, but there was little he could do on the second, a service winner from Federer shutting him out, and the Swiss went on to hold serve with an angled backhand cross court winner that painted the line.

Federer then completed his escape from what could have been another collapse on Rod Laver with the man himself looking on, and did not drop another game, the serve the shot that got Federer through this one, Federer getting it back up to familiar territory, first serve percentage wise, of 61 %, one percent below his 12 month and career average, and while it was 10 % lower than Cilic’s, Federer had the higher winning percentages on both his first and second serve, with 71 and 73 respectively compared to Cilic’s 50 and 40, and a match that looked set to be about small margins now become about large ones as Federer put some distance between himself and his rival. There had been some shot making of the highest order here and there, one Federer forehand pickup while running backwards especially awe-inspiring, but on a medium fast court indoors, between two aggressive players struggling for consistency, the serve is going to be the decider and Federer’s held firm in the fifth while Cilic held just once and was broken twice.

Serving at 5-1, Federer closed out the match, hitting a service winner on championship point, but his #RF20 moment had to wait while Cilic challenged, and Federer who had already waited enough that day to win slam 20 had to wait just a little bit longer, a wait Hawkeye brought to an end when it revealed the Swiss had won championship point, and Federer could finally celebrate, raising his arms, and the eyes welling up, the dam that would eventually flood letting flow its first trickles.

In the trophy ceremony, the Swiss said he was glad “it” was all over, “it” no doubt the achievement of winning 20 slams, becoming the first man to do so. In his post match conference, the champion said:

All day I was thinking, How would I feel if I won it, how would I feel if I lost it? I’m so close, yet so far. I think I was going through the whole match like this.

It did not help that he faced an at times zoning rival like Cilic whose great play late in the fourth set and early in the fifth had Federer thinking history, which he had chased to within three service holds, may have to wait, which it might not, with time on its back, do. But though Cilic’s threatening play provided no end of stress for Federer and his fans, it did deliver the kind of drama which may have been tough on the nails but which made such a historic win the nail-biter we deserved.

With so much on the line and that line now crossed, all the tension finally relieved itself in Federer’ trophy speech. Federer thanked Cilic, the crowd, everyone from the volunteers to the fans to the legends who were present to his team, all before a Rod Laver filming the Champion on his smart phone:

Rocket, Rod Laver, nice to see you again, Ashley Cooper, thanks for presenting the trophy, it’s an absolute honor to be here again, and all the other legends, in the commentary booth, and around the stadium. It’s always a celebration of tennis when the tournament comes to an end, I just want to thank all the people who made this night so special for both players and all the fans out here tonight. You guys, you fill the stadiums, you make me nervous, you make me go out and practice, and I’d just like to thank you for everything. It wouldn’t be the same without you guys, thank you. Marin’s team, as well, you work hard, all the best. This is hard. And my team, I love you guys, thank you.

The tears poured and not just from Federer but from many a spectator, too. What sports lover would not be moved by a man who could have walked away years back a legend, could have been commentating, presenting the trophy himself to a new champion or snapping pics on the other side of the smartphone, but is, instead, with all the nerves eating away inside of him, still out there giving us everything, his gifts, his blood, his sweat, his tears, his love of the game, and taking us with him along for the ride, deeper into tennis history which he has now written into a fairy tale, winning his 20th slam, his 6th Australian Open title, a win which saw him defending his first slam since the US Open 2008, nearly a decade ago.

Federer has spent some of his time since that New York victory in the tennis legend wilderness, some of it in limbo, some back scaling the heights, some in the Hades of injury and surgery, and now, his 20th slam trophy won, his third in a year, he is back, seated in the most ornate throne on Olympus, with legends, indeed, tennis Gods even, and all the other legends, too, gazing up his way at the legend himself, him, Roger Federer, holding dear his 20th slam, and counting.

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