Roland Garros 2019 Dark Horses

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

David Goffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cristian Garin

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

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

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

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

Felix Auger Aliassime

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

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

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

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

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

Guido Pella

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

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

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

Dusan Lajovic

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

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

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

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

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Roland Garros 2019 The Long shots

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They’re not quite favorites, struggling with form or health or lacking experience, and not quite dark horses, ranked too high or too well established. These are the long-shots, the Roland Garros competitors who could get their hands on the trophy if talent, hard work and a few strokes of luck collide.

Juan Martin del Potro

del Potro is a two time semi-finalist at the French (’09, ’18) and he just competed vs Djokovic in Rome in one of the best contests this Clay season.

That battle was even more impressive considering del Potro had been out of the game from Shanghai ’18 to Delray Beach ’19 with a patella fracture and had played in just 7 matches all season before forcing Djokovic to play like a world No.1 late into the Roman night.

del Potro’s reputation has always been as a big match player so if he is going into a slam and is healthy and match fit, and that Djokovic match has to be worth a few extra matches at least, he’s got a shot at making the business end of the tournament.

He’s seeded 8th, thanks to his run to last year’s semis and the US Open final. Slams is where del Potro really thrives and where he brings the crowd alive and neither of the top four seeds, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Thiem, are going to want to face him in the last eight.

Kei Nishikori

Nishikori had a great comeback in 2018 and is currently ranked No. 7 in the world.

He’s not had the best clay season (6-4), but he’s very capable on Clay (remember Madrid ’14?). He’s also consistent in slams (he’s 4R-QF-SF-QF) and he’s been to a slam final (US Open ’14).

Nishikori’s days as a favorite at a slam, and his name was often mentioned after that US Open run, may be done, but with his attacking baseline game and years of big match experience, he’s as perfect a long shot as it gets. Let’s see if the draw opens and where he lands.

Borna Coric

Coric’s best slam appearance is the Australian Open fourth round earlier this season.

He’s made the third round three times in his four Roland Garros appearances and he’ll be seeded 13 this time (he was unseeded in his previous visits) so a run to the last 16 for the consistent Croatian would be anything but a surprise.

That 13th seed is a touch unlucky though. In the last 16, he’ll meet either Djokovic, Nadal, Federer or Thiem.

Coric has the tactical acumen, the baseline consistency, and the fitness to excel on Clay and give a match to any of those four, and they better be on their games otherwise, if Coric senses his chances, he’s worked too hard to improve his game to let them pass.

Gael Monfils

Strange and spectacular things happen at slams, particularly Roland Garros, and Gael Monfils winning would be both of those.

Monfils won Rotterdam this season and since then, when he’s been beaten, it’s either been in a tight three setter (to Tsitsipas in the Dubai semis; to Davidovich Fokina in the Estoril quarters and to Federer in the Madrid last 16) or he’s withdrawn (to Thiem in the Indian Wells quarters with left achilles tendon trouble).

No half hearted efforts, no clowning; the new focused Monfils is ready to maximise his athletic and shot-making gifts. Roland Garros, before a home crowd and where’s he’s made a semi-final (‘08) and three quarters, his best group of results in a slam, is the place to do so.

Stan Wawrinka

You can’t discount a former champ on the road back and as good a big match player as Wawrinka.

Wawrinka is seeded 25 and has climbed up to being seeded in a slam from a world ranking of No. 66 at the start of the season thanks to his run to the Rotterdam final and 3 runs to tour quarter-finals.

His winning the title is a little far-fetched, but there are only four multi slam champs in the draw and he’s one of them. If he makes the second week, he can beat anyone in front of him, even Nadal, who looked good in Rome but is prone to defeats by fearless and brutal ball-strikers, and Wawrinka is one of those par excellence.

Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, please share it. Join me tomorrow where I’ll be looking at the dark horses at this year’s Roland Garros.

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Roland Garros 2019 The Favorites The Next in Line

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Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic may be the heavy favorites to win Roland Garros this season, but there is still a slam to be played and there are a few other players who could grab the title should their opportunities arise.

First up is Dominic Thiem. The Austrian made the final last year and a Grand slam title is the next step in his career- he’s been a runner up, reached a couple of semis and a quarter-final, beaten Nadal, Djokovic and Federer, and won an ATP 1000 title (Indian Wells ’19).

The Austrian started his European Clay season well with his seasonal Clay court victory over Nadal. But, after winning the Barcelona title with a convincing performance versus Daniil Medvedev, he went down to Djokovic in the Madrid semis and was then upset by Fernando Verdasco in his Rome opener. Still, losing to Djokovic in the latter stages of an ATP 1000 is anything but shameful and Verdasco is a name no top player wants to see in their opening draw.

That early Rome loss gives Thiem a little time to rest and recover from his busy start to 2019. He’s played 25 matches this season (17-8) and he’ll need all the prep time he can get if he wants to make it 24-8 come June 9th and win his breakthrough slam in the process.

After Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas is the next player most likely to break through.

The Greek adds a much needed dynamic into clay court tennis; the 20 year can play from the baseline with anyone, but steps inside the court and up to the net with the natural flow and touch of the very few.

Tsitsipas is as good a throwback as it gets to the del Potros, Gugas and Safins of the tennis world, young players who took the elite on and won the sport’s biggest prizes. He hasn’t quite done so yet, but the potential is there – Tsitsipas is fearless, confident and full of flair, and he’s got a slam semi, 2 ATP 1000 finals (Toronto ’18, Madrid ’19) and wins over Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to prove it.

Sascha Zverev should be higher up on this list considering his clay prowess and his run to the WTF ’18 trophy,but his career trajectory failed to keep rising. This year, he’s 15-10; at the same stage in ’18, he was 30-8 (including Davis Cup).

The German grabbed tennis headlines on Clay in the summer of ’14 and his best slam performance came at last year’s Roland Garros. It would be poetic if his under-performance in regular tour events was balanced out by his first run to a slam final. He’s certainly not in danger of having overplayed like Thiem and Tsitsipas. He also gets to go under the radar considering his recent form, which will be a breathe of fresh air for a young player suffocated at slams by the weight of expectation.

Ignoring one of the season’s ATP 1000 Clay trophy winners would be inconsiderate if not ignorant, but Fabio Fognini would not have made the list under any other circumstances. The talented and divisive Italian finally put it all together to win this season’s Monte Carlo trophy, beating Nadal for the third time on Clay no less. Since that win, Fognini has been consistent, reaching the fourth rounds of Madrid and Rome and losing to Thiem and Tsitsipas respectively. Winning tournaments few expected him to do so and reaching his seeded position in ATP 1000s are encouraging signs for the Italian going into Roland Garros where he’s had his sole quarter-final slam appearance (’11). It’s not likely he’ll win the title, but if he did, he’d have fooled us twice, and what a fun trick it would be to watch him pull off.

Finally, we come to Roger Federer. The Swiss’ return to Clay has been successful- a close loss to Thiem in the Madrid QFs and a battling victory over Coric in the Rome last sixteen before withdrawing from his quarter final with Tsitsipas. That rare withdrawal was precautionary, and wise. The Swiss is the second best Clay courter of his era, is in decent form after winning in Miami and having Clay court match play, and the best of five format at Roland Garros suits him more than it does the majority of the rest of the draw,. So, while he’s not an out and out favorite, if he finds himself in the business end of things and gets a bit of luck, we could end up with the entertaining spectacle that would be Federer winning slam no.21 in Paris.

Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, please share it. Also, come back tomorrow when I’ll be looking at some of the tournament long-shots to take the title.

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Roland Garros 2019 The Favorites A tale of two champions

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When it comes to the Roland Garros 2019 men’s singles title, ask most tennis fans who the favorites are and they will give you two well deserved names: Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

The Rome final will have only cemented these names on the tips of tennis fan’s tongues.

Rafa Nadal, going into Rome, had been beaten in three successive Clay court semi-finals- in Monte Carlo by Fabio Fognini, in Barcelona by Dominic Thiem and in Madrid by Stefanos Tsitsipas. In Rome, Nadal played like he had something to prove, which is most unnecessary for the 11 time Roland Garros champion. He thumped his way through the draw, beating Jeremy Chardy and Nikoloz Basilashvili, on the same day no less, for the loss of 1 game each, defeating Fernado Verdasco, Thiem’s conqueror, 6-0, 6-4, avenging his recent defeat to Tsitsipas 4 and 3, and then taking the first set versus Madrid Champion Novak Djokovic to love.

Djokovic hung in there in the second, got some fire going, and took the set 6-4, but Nadal regrouped, broke at the start of the third and then kept control of the match, winning the third set 6-1.

That Rome win should do wonders for Nadal going into the French Open. A loss would have hurt Nadal much more than it would Djokovic who had already won a clay title in Madrid and had played the second Rome semi versus Diego Schwartzman under the lights while Nadal was getting ready for bed. There is also the not so small matter of that recent Melbourne final to put to rest. The Rome win won’t have completely done so for Nadal- Rome and Melbourne are both impressive prey but altogether very different beasts- but it will have helped make it easier for Nadal to stare down Djokovic across from the baseline should they meet in the Roland Garros 2019 final, (for what would be their 8th meeting in a series Nadal leads 6-1), and should things get, as they did so in that 2013 nail biter, a little on the tense side.

While most of their Parisian meetings (’06, ’07, ’08, ’12, ’14, ’15) have left little to write about on a postcard home, this potential June 9th clash will have tension written all over it courtesy of all that will be at stake.

Going into Roland Garros, Novak Djokovic has a chance to do something neither Nadal or Roger Federer have managed just once in their careers for a second time- holding all four Grand slams at the same time.

There’s not so much pressure this time, though. Unless of course you’re as high achieving and as much of a perfectionist as the world No.1 But this time, the Serb can afford to go a little easier on himself than he did when he was first trying to achieve the non year calendar slam, Djokovic having already succumbed to the pressure in 2012 and 2015 before that 2016 energy sapping but monkey from his back ridding run.

This time, that all slams at once feat which has remained out of reach for even trophy hoarding rivals such as Federer and Nadal, is just for bragging rights.

If Djokovic repeats that feat versus Nadal in the 2019 Roland Garros final, he’ll be able to tell that tale for years to come. Decades, even. Right now, Nadal is the two time defending champ, the Rome champ, and there is no more impressive a rival to defeat for the title.

Should Nadal beat Djokovic, however, he’ll be back on his feet after an injury hit 2018 and a patchy start to 2019. Melbourne will be a thing of the past and he can get on with doing what champs like him do- getting back up after falling, climbing even further than they’ve gone before. There would be just 2 slams between him and Federer, should Roland Garros title No.12 happen, and, a fortnight from turning 33, Nadal’s got a good few years to get there and beyond, though Federer may himself use the remainder of his career to further increase the distance.

Ask people who is the favorite at the French and they’ll say Nadal and Djokovic for good reason. These two are the current reigning slam champs and the best current players on Clay. There’s a Roland Garros title to play for, and who better than these two to give it their all.

Thanks for reading. Please share if you liked this article. And come back tomorrow when I’ll be looking at the second tier of favorites for Roland Garros 2019.

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Nadal searches for form and Federer returns to the clay in Madrid

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Calvin H Warner previews the Madrid Open for The Tennis Review- will Rafa Nadal find his form and how will Federer fare on his return to the Clay?N

For the past decade at least, there is no safer bet in tennis than Rafa on clay. He owns eleven titles each at Roland Garros, Monte Carlo and Barcelona (the latter of which has named its center court in his honor). Rafa is no slouch at other clay events – eight titles at the Rome Masters and five in Madrid. Each of these totals is an all-time record. Naturally, many fans and commentators believe that Nadal is the greatest clay court player ever.

But every Achilles has his heel – Rafa has always been more vulnerable on other surfaces. Compare his eleven RG trophies to only one in Melbourne, or his eleven Monte Carlo crowns to zero in Miami. The strongest criticism of a campaign to name Nadal the GOAT is surely the fact that he has leaned so heavily on this one-surface specialty, earning only 23 of his 80 titles on a surface other than clay.

This year has dealt Rafa some disappointing results: runover by Djokovic Down Under, match points squandered against Kyrgios in Mexico, a withdrawal from Indian Wells followed by skipping Miami completely. But none of this is particularly stunning; Rafa’s return to the clay swing is like a knight retreating into an impenetrable fortress. Here are two stats that blow my mind. 1) Nadal has only lost twice at the clay slam: in 2009 to Soderling and 2015 to Djokovic. 2) Nadal has never lost back-to-back matches on clay. If this doesn’t illustrate invincibility, I don’t know what does.

So…what the heck is going on in 2019? Nadal was knocked out in the semis in Monte Carlo by Italian Fabio Fognini. Rafa supporters will be quick to point out that Fognini is a clay veteran and more dangerous than his career hardware suggests, but the loss is an upset by any measure. Rafa followed up this defeat with a semifinals exit in Barcelona (yes, on the very court that bears his name) to Dominic Thiem. True, Thiem is the heir-apparent to the Roland Garros throne and has bested Nadal at least once on clay in four consecutive years. But the clay was supposed to be Nadal’s proud march to Roland Garros, not a series of early exits.  

The more interesting question is also the more enigmatic: will Roger Federer be a factor? The Swiss has forgone the French Open now for three straight years. He only holds one title there, from ’09 when he only had to go through Soderling. The longer rallies and physical requirements of clay aren’t well suited for Roger’s style of quick points nor for his advancing age.

This explains why Federer has opted to make his return to the dirt in Madrid, a tournament known for its high altitude. This should help the balls fly faster, which will be to Federer’s benefit. Roger has won three Madrid titles (although one of those years was played on hard courts), and should feel confident that he can do damage here. 

Nadal would still be a heavy favorite in a clay-court tussle, but more so than any rivalry in sports, Fed and Rafa are two halves of one whole. When they take the court, anything is possible. The two haven’t met on clay since Rome in 2013, where Rafa trounced the maestro in straights. Roger has only beat Rafa twice ever on the surface, but the most recent such win came a decade ago at this very tournament in Spain’s capital city.  

Fed and Nadal are the most interesting storylines going into this event, but they aren’t the only ones.

  • World #1 Djokovic is playing
  • Del Potro is returning
  • Félix Auger-Aliassime received a wild card
  • David Ferrer will be bidding farewell to the tour in his final tournament
  • Alexander Zverev is the defending champion but appears to be a nonfactor
  • 2018 finalist Thiem is looking to take the next step
  • Stan Wawrinka is healthy and playing well

Madrid will be an interesting snapshot of the field on the way to Roland Garros. Despite the promising newcomers and weathered veterans in the field, I do expect Rafa to emerge victorious from La Caja Mágica just as he has done so many times before. 

                                                                                                    -Calvin H. Warner

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Fabio Fognini a Welcome Addition to the 2019 Champions Roll Call

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Fabio Fognini joined a few exclusive clubs winning the 2019 Monte Carlo Open, one of the most prestigious tennis clubs in the world.

He became one of only 28 men to win the title since 1968, one of only two Italians to do so (Nicola Pietrangeli ’68 the other) and he became one of only four men to beat Nadal three or more times on Clay, the others being Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Gaston Gaudio.

As well as all that, Fognini became the 22nd man to win an ATP event this season (of 23 events played).

So far this season, the following players have won their first titles:

Alex di Minaur (Sydney)

Tennys Sandgren (Auckland)

Juan Ignacio Londero (Cordoba)

Reilly Opelka (New York Open)

Laslo Djere (Rio Open)

Radu Albot (Delray Beach)

Guido Pella (Brasil Open)

Christian Garin (Houston)

Meanwhile, the follow players have added to their title collections:

Roberto Bautista Agut (Doha)

Kei Nishikori (Brisbane)

Kevin Anderson (Tata Open)

Novak Djokovic (Australian Open)

Jo-Wilfied Tsonga (Montpelier)

Daniil Medvedev (Sofia)

Gael Monfils (Rotterdam)

Marco Cecchinato (Argentina Open)

Stefanos Tsitsipas (Marseille)

Nick Kyrgios (Acapulco)

Dominic Thiem (Indian Wells)

Benoit Paire (Marrakech)

Fabio Fognini (Monte Carlo).

Standing out from them all, is one player who has managed to win two titles this season:

Roger Federer (Dubai, Miami)

This broad mix of champions- from veterans to NextGen to elite champs to overachievers to underachiever- is great for the game. Many fan bases have seen their favorite win a title, a wide variety of styles is represented, and the tournaments are becoming more unpredictable.

While seasons in which the all time greats dazzle us with their ability to win one title after another, as we have witnessed in tennis season after tennis season throughout the decades, are also good for the sport, showcasing tennis’ ability to produce athletic and record breaking champions to compete with any sport, seasons such as this one are vital to the game’s health, motivating those once left out of the winner’s circle by their rival’s brilliance with new opportunities and creating tournament fields of players all believing they can win and striving for that goal rather than the first round of an event sounding the gun shot to start off a march to the inevitable.

That this season has been such an open one makes the at once frustrating and charming Fognini’s surprise win all the more logical.

The Italian has charmed and infuriated in divisive measures since he turned pro in 2007, breaking into the top 100 with his flamboyant attacking baseline game.

Fognini, the oldest champion ever at Monte Carlo, had 80 starts in ATP 1000 events before he finally won one. During that time, he’d won 8 ATP 250s, been a Roland Garros quarter-finalist in 2011, and been to the semis in Miami and Monte Carlo (‘17, ’13).

The Monte Carlo title makes his resume more worthy of his talents as ATP 1000s/Masters have done for other talented underachievers such as Grigor Dimitrov (Cincy ’17); Tsonga (Paris ’08; Toronto ’14); David Nalbandian (Madrid and Paris ’07) and Marcelo Rios (a five time winner).

Now all we need is for Gael Monfils, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Richard Gasquet and Ernests Gulbis to come through and win big in 2019 and the crowning of the underachievers will be complete for now, and if this trend of unique champs week in week out continues, the tennis Gods might not need to play crowning catch up, for underachievers, overachievers and those somewhere in between, for a while.

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Men’s 2019 Clay Season Preview 5 Questions

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Is Rafa Nadal going to win Roland Garros No.12?

Nadal has been back practicing on Clay while everyone else was getting all hot and sweaty in Miami.

Clay is kinder to Nadal’s much troubled knees and its where his aggressive baseline game is most effective. He’s got an abbreviated serve to help with his ankles and he’s got a more efficient game to help with the ageing process and all those factors coupled with his natural affinity for the red dirt mean he’s got to be the favorite for every clay event he enters until his first worrying performance says otherwise.

Nadal did not play his best clay tennis last year and still managed to win Roland Garros. He will need to be a lot better this year with Djokovic, his greatest Clay Court rival, back to his Grand Slam best. That’s the kind of challenge players like Nadal live for and a dynamic that makes this Clay season a little spicier than it has been in recent years.

Is Novak Djokovic going to win the Djoker slam 2.0?

Tennis is clearly all about the slams right now for Djokovic. It’s also about politics and motivation and staying healthy, but somehow it’s at the slams where Djokovic gets focused, hungry and fights through whatever’s bothering him physically.

Should Djokovic win the French, he’ll have held all four slams at once twice in his career (Wimbledon ’15-Roland Garros ’16 the first time). Only Rod Laver has done that before in men’s tennis, doing it twice in calendar years in ’62 and ’69.

Djokovic has a high chance of achieving that Djokerslam again. He’s won the last three slams, he’s virtually unbeatable over five sets, and he’ll have his entire schedule built around peaking for the first week in June.

How is Roger Federer going to fare in his Clay comeback?

The 2009 Roland Garros champion hasn’t played on Clay since Rome ’16 when he lost in the round of 16 to Dominic Thiem in straights.

This year, Federer’s scheduled to play Madrid and one would expect to see him at Roland Garros. It’s no farewell tour either- the aim is to not go into the Grass season cold like he did last year.

Federer winning Madrid would not be entirely out of the question. He’s won it twice in its current Clay guise, in 2009 and 2012, he’s just won Miami in a positive and healthy mindset and physical condition, his serve and style are perfect for lower bouncing faster Clay and he’s going to get an amazing welcome back reception.

Is Thierev going to become a big thing this Clay season?

Dominic Thiem, 25 and Sascha Zverev, 21, are certainly of age to be winning grand slams and if these two are ever going to compete with each other for a Major title, it’ll most likely be on Court Philippe Chatrier than on Center Court, Rod Laver or Arthur Ashe.

Thierev have come a long way since they first met on Clay in their ’16 Munich semis. Thiem is a Grand slam finalist and an ATP 1000 champ and Zverev is a three time ATP 1000 champ, a WTF winner, and a Grand slam quarter-finalist (Roland Garros ’18).

Clay is the surface both men broke out on and where they’ve played five of their seven matches (Thiem leads the h2h 5-2, 4-1 on Clay). Zverev has won arguably their biggest match, in the Madrid final ’18, the German’s serve and ground strokes setting him apart from his good friend and rival that day.

These two seem destined to contest a Roland Garros final sooner or later. Ranked 3 and 5 respectively, with Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer the other names in the top five right now, when the changing of the guard does take place, these two should be leading that long awaited takeover.

A glimpse of two of what lies ahead Thierev wise this Clay season will be most welcome. While their last two matches have been a little disappointing, they can produce the goods as they did in Nice ’16 and Rotterdam ’17.

Are there any Clay loving pros we should be keeping an eye on?

The Clay season has become predictable the last 14 years to put it mildly, but sooner or later, once Nadal and Djokovic hang up their rackets, a whole new set of potential champs and storylines will come to the fore.

For now, pay attention to Felix Auger-Aliassime, who has had a great run since Rio, Gael Monfils who seems back on track and has played some of his best tennis at Roland Garros, Diego Schwarzman who will be bring his fierce competitive nature every match, David Goffin who is the lurker no one will want to see in last 32, and Pablo Carreno Busta, the Spaniard who got his heart broken in Melbourne in that fifth set tiebreak vs Nishikori and who will be looking to piece it back together again on the European red dirt.

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Roger Federer and his 101 Trophies #RF101

Rogers Cup
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History does and does not repeat itself depending on your history and how you play on the day. For Roger Federer at the age of 37, it’s harder to predict how those days are going to unfold, but when he has his day, the history you get is the kind of glittering, legendary, all conquering kind.

When Roger Federer was involved in a tussle in his opening round Miami Open match versus Radu Albot, it looked like his 2018 history of odd drop shot choices in tight spots in losing IW finals and opening round defeats to underdogs in Miami was possibly going to repeat itself.

But, Federer, who said in his Miami Open final ’19 presser he was feeling more positive this Miami Open than he was last season after his Indian Wells final loss to Juan Martin del Potro, dug deep into that positive mindset and won through that opener versus Albot, and went on to repeat a different and far more glittering and familiar history altogether, winning the title in Miami as he did in ’05, ’06’ and ’17.

I was more positive this
year after losing Indian Wells over last year, because
last year I was, I don’t want to say frustrated, but I think
I was down on myself. I think it cost me a little bit on
confidence because I was so down. I was so, so close.
I was a shot away from winning.
So maybe this year I didn’t feel that way. I was just
able to say, Okay. Team played well. Moving on, let’s
go to Miami and have a good tournament. And I did

  • Roger Federer, Miami Open ’19 presser.

When Federer won the Miami Open for the first time, he was in his pomp. Not in the first flourish, but more in the heart of it. Fans might have expected him to win Miami for the first time earlier than he did, in 2004, but Rafa Nadal had other ideas, giving Federer an indication of what a thorn in his side he would be by giving him the first cut, defeating the Swiss 6-3, 6-3.

When Federer did finally win Miami, he had won 26 titles in a little over four years- he’s won 26 titles in the last seven years- and it was his 13th title in under a year- he’s won 13 titles in the last 2 and a half years. He had won titles such as Wimbledon, the US Open, the Australian Open, the WTF, Indian Wells, Canada and Hamburg. Still to come was Roland Garros, Cincinnati, Shanghai and Paris-Bercy.

In that first Miami winning final (his first Miami final was in ’02, losing to Andre Agassi), Federer avenged his shock Key Biscayne ’04 defeat to Nadal, coming back from two sets down to beat the player who would become his career nemesis in a match Federer would, in his post match 2019 Miami Open final presser, describe as ‘beautiful’.

This 2019 final was less so when it came to match play and competition, but there was still plenty of beauty to be found. There was the serving and the returning and the forehand and the backhand and the volleys and the shot making and the movement and the sight of a 37 year old tennis champion who has won 100 titles playing his heart out for no. 101.

Federer achieved his latest historic feat in a new Miami Open venue, at the Hard Rock stadium, which also plays home to the Miami Dolphins.

Conditions were said to be slightly faster than Miami has been known for, the main court, where Federer played all his matches as legends do, playing like a medium paced hard court rather than medium slow.

Like Federer has with his more aggressive game and focus on the serve over the last few years, Miami has had to make changes to its game to compete with the other tournaments, namely its biggest rival, Indian Wells.

This new look to the Miami Open may not be popular with those who like their tennis history well maintained, but the tournament had few options in light of its changing status in the tour schedule.

Miami is a tournament which has been in a state of flux the past decade or so. Back in the day, when Federer was first competing and in finals and winning it, Miami was in the final days of its reputation as the fifth slam. In the last ten years, Indian Wells with its shiny new venue, stellar entry list and successful Tennis Paradise branding has surpassed its East Coast rival status wise and Miami’s placing in the calendar, just after IW, a pit stop before the Clay season more than the Masters Grand Prix, has made it, while still a prestigious tournament in the grand scheme of things, no longer the fifth slam, or even the seventh or eighth, with Cincy, Shanghai, and Madrid all arguably more prized.

If the Miami Open is actively trying to get back to its former Golden days, this Federer win was some way to start. The new Miami Open home and court conditions suited the Swiss, who said post match he came to Miami to check the new venue out more than anything else, and tournament director James Blake, who Federer beat on his ’06 run, could not have hoped for a better champion popularity wise to get this new era underway.

Federer mirrored his 2006 run in its form set wise, the Swiss dropping a set in the opener and then running to the trophy podium in straight sets performances, though things were a little different back in ’06, Federer playing an extra set in the best of five ’06 final which he won in three tiebreaks versus his current coach Ivan Ljubicic no less, an architect of the game that has kept Federer still not just relevant but trend setting.

On this run, Federer defeated Radu Albot, then Filip Krajinovic, Daniil Medvedev, Kevin Anderson, Denis Shapovalov and John Isner.

Versus defending champion Isner, three tiebreak sets would not have been absurd considering Isner had made the final winning every set bar one on a breaker, but the American was injury inflicted – a stress fracture in his foot-and the best he could do was 1-6, 4-6 to a man he praised in the final as being just too good, and not just that day but throughout his career.

Federer holding a trophy on final’s day was history repeating itself for the 101st time. 28 times at ATP 1000 level, 20 times at slam level, 6 ATP Finals, (‘big titles’ making up 53.5% of his haul), 22 ATP 500 (9 of them Halle, which could arguably have been an ATP 1000 if the ATP calendar, which has a Grass slam but no Grass ATP 1000, made more, or any, sense) and 25 of them ATP 250s.

At 37, he’s still got a good chance of overtaking Jimmy Connor’s record of 109 titles. It would not be unfathomable for Federer to win 9 more titles before retiring, which would likely not be until 2021 or beyond.

Federer has attributed his longevity to many factors- the money that makes it more attractive to stay on tour a little while longer than the previous generations did; the governing bodies which have slowed down the courts meaning one style executed well can work week in week out; his own commitment and passion for the game, and, most vitally of all, the health that allows him to compete in lengthy phases such as the Indian Wells- Miami stretch.

But this is a good phase, a
good stretch for me right now. I really feel super
healthy. That’s why I have been able to play every day
for the last four weeks. That’s something that maybe
hasn’t always been the case for the last few years. So
you appreciate these moments.

  • Roger Federer, Miami Open final ’19 presser.

Not only is Federer keeping his game together with a little help from his health, but his opponents are offering a helping hand, too, struggling to stop their games and bodies falling apart or staying together for more than a couple of tournaments in a row- Djokovic is very on-off in ATP 1000s, Nadal has been injured and should be a factor only on Clay, and the Next Gen and the recent grads are still not ready to step up on a consistent basis.

If Federer keeps turning up, serving well, playing his aggressive game and staying positive and healthy, the history books are open for him to write whatever numbers he wishes in them.

Roll on #RF102.

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Miami Open Preview Five Questions

Miami Open
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The Miami Open will take place in the new Hard Rock stadium this season with shiny new blue hard courts and improved facilities. The tournament comes hot, quite literally, on the heels of the BNP Paribas Open but it’s more an extension of the party than a hangover and the move from the Californian desert to the south Floridian beach side has left a few intriguing questions to be answered.

Is Novak Djokovic going to get back to ATP 1000 Championship winning form?

In Novak Djokovic’s previous heydays he not only won slams, but he won ATP 1000s left, right and center, too.

This time around, in what we could argue is his third prime (AO 2011- Miami 2012, the first; Wimbledon 2014-Roland Garros 2016 the second), he’s been a little flat on the ATP 1000 front of late.

Things started off well after Djokovic won Wimbledon and got his career back on track, winning in Cincinnati and Shanghai, but there was that Paris-Bercy final loss to Karen Khachanov, the London WTF loss to Sascha Zverev (not technically an ATP 1000 but closer to one than it is to a slam), and the recent last 16 Indian Wells loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber.

In all of those losses, fans watched on as the world No.1 looked listless and stuck for answers, a shadow of the player who during his career has won big title after big title looking pumped and asking all the right questions.

Part of the problem for Djkokovic is he often plays his early matches a little on the reactive side rather than imposing his offensive baseline style from the get go and tearing through the draw.

Waiting out the early stages of a match to see how his opponent is playing has worked for him more often than not as he is so skilled at exposing his rival’s weaknesses as well as breaking down their strengths. However, when he comes up against a player in form and whose weapons are finely tuned, he comes up short, often out of rhythm and unable to find his mark when he does decide its time to start playing to win.

In slams, Djokovic has longer to work his way into matches and the tournament, and the way slam draws play out and how the seedings are done, he’s not likely to meet anyone who can really pose a threat until the later stages by which stage he’s in the groove.

But in ATP 1000s, 2 sets can go by very quickly, and Djokovic is getting caught out.

In Miami, the top seed and 6 time former champ needs to come out with intent and make a statement before a 5 week break from the tour and embarking on completing the Djokoslam for the second time.

The Serb does not need to worry about peaking too soon with that break ahead of him, but he does need to worry about one of his Roland Garros threats getting too confident going into the European Clay stretch of the season, and that little bit of fear might be just what he needs in Miami for him to remind us how good he can be at ATP 1000s.

How will Roger Federer respond to the Indian Wells final loss?

Federer said he felt relaxed after his Indian Wells loss, that he felt his body and game were still there.

It’s not hard to see why that would take away some of the pain of defeat for Federer who saw the second half of his season fall apart in 2018 as his ground game deserted him.

For the Swiss, it’s most likely all about Wimbledon now. #RF21 is still a possibility as long as he’s healthy and playing well. For him, Miami is a good place to get match practice before his limited Clay season and his Wimbledon campaign gets underway. That lack of pressure and that abundance of freedom means Federer could end up losing in round 2 like he did last year or winning the title, and whatever happens, be it one of those scenarios or something in between, he’s got the experience to mold it so it fits into the bigger picture of his ambitions.

Can Dominic Thiem perform the sunshine double?

The sunshine double is a feat not often accomplished by players the first time they win in Indian Wells. Federer had to wait for another year, 2005, and Djokovic first won Indian Wells in ’08 before finally winning the double in ’11.

Pete Sampras did it his first time, winning both titles in ’94, but he was a no.1 by then and a multiple slam champ.

Agassi accomplished it in 2001, on the back of winning the Australian Open, 11 years after his first trip to a slam final (Roland Garros ’90).

Thiem is different to all those players status wise- they were all well established while although he’s been a top ten player a few years, he has only just really broken out by winning his biggest ever title.

Still, the sunshine double has been completed by one surprise act and that was Marcelo Rios in ’98. Rios had won in Monte Carlo the year before, signalling his potential much like Thiem’s clay court endeavors have his the last couple of seasons.

Thiem grabbing the Sunshine Double, like Rios did that year, would have seemed even more far fetched a couple of weeks ago, but the image of him holding the trophy in Indian Wells had that surprise factor sport lives by and was not entirely improbable thanks to hindsight. Novak Djokovic is struggling in ATP 1000s, Nadal is absent, Federer is Federer but 37 years old and focused most likely on Wimbledon. The rest of the field is either too inconsistent or suffering mentally or physically.

The courts will play in Thiem’s favor, too- even slower than in Indian Wells. So, it would appear that the setting is there for someone in form, feeling healthy, and loving their tennis, all of which Thiem seems to be, to make a run and grab the Sunshine Double in the Floridian sun.

Will the tournament be marred by injuries?

The withdrawals of Monfils and Nadal in Indian Wells did cast a shadow over proceedings. Monfils in particular was in inspirational form and though the media tried not to hype Fedal part 39, pre-match excitement on that front tends to take care of itself.

It’s already common knowledge the tour is too long, that hard courts impact the body more than other surfaces, and that they play too slow thus exacerbating that impact. That knowledge does not mean power in this situation, however. Instead, with another match on the schedule and another tournament on the next week’s horizon, the casualties can mount up and while spectators might find themselves gawping at the crash, an upcoming distracting and satiating view is sure to catch the eye.

Until, of course, it doesn’t. One of the dangers of having two ATP 1000s more or less back to back is that if one does end up being marred by withdrawals late in the event and the next event a similar situation occurs, the tennis community may not be left praising the tennis that took place on the court, but be left, instead, lamenting the tennis that never happened.

Are we going to get any breakout performances?

Thiem showed the Next-in-Line how to break out on the big stage with his win in Indian Wells.

For those who may have plans to step up come Miami, this is what a breakout might constitute:

Borna Coric winning the title- he already has an ATP 1000 final to his name, competing in last season’s Shanghai final. He’s got form on medium slow hard courts (Indian Wells SF ’18) and his early BNP Paribas Open exit has left him plenty of time to acclimatize to the Miami humidity and get some much needed preparation time after his busy Davis Cup winning end to 2018, illness hit off season, and globetrotting start to 2019 (he’s been to Australia- France-Dubai and now the US in the past 2 months).

Daniil Medvedev making the quarters. His best performance in an ATP 1000 has been a last 16 showing in Canada in 2018. A quarters is surely within reach soon, though the tall Russian might make an even greater stride into the semis or beyond considering how well he has been performing on hard courts. He might like conditions a little faster, though.

Stefanos Tsitsipas winning his first ATP 1000. Stefanos is already very accomplished- slam semi, ATP 1000 final- so a title would be the next step. He went out early in Miami, too, so he’ll be motivated and keen to get his momentum back on track.

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Dominic Thiem Defeats Roger Federer to Win the BNP Paribas Open

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Dominic Thiem has had a lot of expectation put on him over the years and while he has delivered now and then- beating Novak Djokovic in the 2016 Roland Garros quarters and Rafa Nadal in Madrid last season- when it has come to the biggest moments, he has not lived up to those expectations he did not exactly ask for, but which he gets thanks to being 25, possessing a potentially Grand Slam winning game and having beaten Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Last season, when he reached the Roland Garros final, he was expected to pose a real challenge to Rafa Nadal only to go down in straights. In the Madrid final last season, he was expected to have a good go at winning his first ATP 1000 title on his best surface only to lose to Sascha Zverev 4-6, 4-6.

What Dominic Thiem was not expected to do was win his first ATP 1000 title in Indian Wells and beat Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to do so.

Hindsight is everything and looking back the signs Thiem’s big breakthrough might come on blue hard courts was at the US Open last season when he took Rafa Nadal to five gripping sets only losing in a final set tiebreaker.

Thiem has never been touted as a hardcourter but he has a much improved serve and hits the ball with great spin and power from both wings, a recipe for success on any surface.

Especially one like Indian Wells where the ball grips onto the court before bouncing high and stays in the air long enough to really let rip on it.

Those conditions have played into Federer’s hands over the recent years. Since 2014, he’s gone F-F-DNP-W-F-F. The extra time works for his fall in foot speed and his style of play means he keeps the ball lower than most which can be tricky for his opponents. Plus, he’s Roger Federer, master of not just his own game, but the elements, too, brushing off the wind like his racket does over the cover of the ball.

But as Federer’s record suggests, those high bouncing slow conditions can work against him when push comes to shove- each of the four finals in the past six years he has lost have come in three sets and to players with the skills needed to excel in the desert- Novak Djokovic and his offensive defense and range, Juan Martin del Potro and that forehand, and now Dominic Thiem with his powerful spin-laden strokes.

The player Federer did beat in the final he won in ’17 was Stan Wawrinka, a player with whom, due to their one handed backhands and powerful strokes, Thiem is often compared to. And, like in that win vs his Swiss compatriot during that fine ’17 flurry of form, Federer proved to have the edge versus Thiem in serving and hard court prowess, taking the set 6-3.

Thiem did not panic or drop his head like one might expect of someone building something of a reputation for not turning up in big matches. Instead, he kept fighting, staving off break point early in the third game of the second set, and he worked his way into the match, outhitting a Federer playing within himself and free from the error-ridden baseline performances that have plagued him this last 12 months, and as the match went on finding the form that has led to such high expectations of him all along.

At times, Thiem’s brutal hitting had you gasping for air like someone unused to high altitude finding themselves taking in the view from the top of the mountain. From the heart of the third set, it was some view, too, with the blood covered Thiem, who had fallen and grazed his elbow, fighting from a set down to have a say in a match which he started off in the role of supporting act and finished in the lead role, on a stage few expected, but which he has learned his lines on and delivered in booming and captivating style.

Posted in BNP Paribas Open, Dominic Thiem, Review | Comments closed