ATP Montréal Five Players Most Likely to Stop Novak Djokovic

Djokovic

Photo courtesy of novakdjokovic.com

Novak Djokovic will be going for his fifth ATP 1000 title of 2015 when he enters the ATP 1000 Canadian Open this week. The world No.1 will go into the event as the heavy favourite, but his path to the title will feature some big obstacles. The Tennis Review looks at the five players most likely to get in the way of Djokovic’s Montreal 2015 campaign.

1. Kevin Anderson.

Anderson gave Djokovic his toughest challenge at Wimbledon last month, forcing Djokovic to come back from two sets to love down to beat him, and the two could meet in the last eight if Anderson upsets Tomas Berdych in the round of 16.

Djokovic has some of his toughest matches against the game’s biggest servers, and one of his two defeats this season came against Ivo Karlovic in Doha, the other to Roger Federer in Dubai.

The three time Canada Open Champion is also short of  hard court match practice, and if his return is off and his own serve rusty, he could suffer an early defeat to the world No. 14.

2. John Isner

Speaking of big serves, John Isner has arguably the biggest on the tour and could, if he defeats Stan Wawrinka in the last 16 and Milos Raonic in the last eight, face Djokovic in the semis.

Isner has proven to be a nightmare match-up for Djokovic on North American hard courts, beating him  at Indian Wells ’12 and Montreal ’13. The recent Atlanta Champion also pushed Djokovic to two tight sets at Indian Wells and Miami this season.

Isner thrives on hard courts and the slower pace of some of the North American hard court help his mobility issues.  Against Djokovic, his huge serve negates Djokovic’s greatest weapon- his return- and his first strike tennis denies the Serbian any rhythm from the baseline. Those factors could once again combine to grab Isner another victory over the world No.1.

3. Stan Wawrinka

Wawrinka has gotten in the way of Djokovic at some important moments in the last couple of seasons- at the Australian Open ’14 quarters  and this year’s French  Open final.

Wawrinka has a 10-8 record in Canada and has not been past the last eight, but he had not been past that stage of either the French Open or the Australian Open when he won those tournaments, either.

Wawrinka is not afraid to beat Djokovic on the big stages, and if he can redline his game should they meet in the semis, he might grab another famous win.

4. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga

Tsonga upset Djokovic on his title run in Toronto last season and has the game and guts to beat him again should they meet in the final.

Tsonga is a streaky player and the defending champ has had some of his career best wins in Canada. If he makes the final this year he will be on one of those streaks and Djokovic will have to be at his aggressive best to defeat him.

5.Kei Nishikori

Nishikori stunned Djokovic in the US Open semi-finals last season and is in good form, reaching the Citi Open finals.

The world no.5 can match Djokovic stroke for stroke at the baseline and has a history of pushing him to the brink.

The 25 year old has been to an ATP 1000 final before, the 2014 Madrid Open, where he took it to Nadal, leading the Spaniard by a set and a break before injury got the better of him.

If Nishikori can stay healthy, and get inspired by the occasion, he could win his first ATP 1000 title at the expense of the world No.1 in Montreal and make his match up versus Djokovic one of the most exciting on the ATP tour.

Commentary by Christian Deverille.

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Who is Alexander Zverev?

Alexander Zverev’s great form in 2016 saw him break into the ATP Tour rankings top 20 (he finished the season ranked 24th), win his first title at the ATP 250 St Petersburg Open and brought him to the attention of tennis fans worldwide. The Tennis Review asks who is Alexander Zverev and gives you the lowdown on a #NextGen player making his mark in the pro ranks in 2016.

Zverev was thrown into the limelight at the start of 2016 when he was drawn against second seeded Andy Murray in the first round of the Australian Open. Not only was Zverev thrown into the limelight- he was also thrown to the lions, facing a multiple slam champ who had contested four finals in Melbourne. Perhaps, and understandably so, overwhelmed by the occasion,  Zverev did not perform to his best abilities and won just six games.

Playing Murray, who has all the tools to exploit your inexperience and weaknesses, was a tall order for the 198 cm Zverev, and though the experience must have been a little painful, the teen seemed to learn from it. In his next event, at the ATP 250 Montpellier Open, Zverev beat Marin Cilic, one of the tour’s few active slam champs, 7-6, 7-6 in what he said was his best ever performance. The German served big and was aggressive on his ground-strokes and return, an approach that he knew was necessary if he wanted to avoid another tough loss like the one he suffered in Melbourne.

Zverev exited the tournament in the next round to the experienced Paul-Henri Mathieu in a tight match, and would carry over his great form into the ATP 500 Rotterdam tournament where he beat the veteran Gilles Simon in a match that went all the way to a third set tiebreaker. Zverev fought off cramps and falling behind a break in the third to grab what might not have been his biggest win prestige wise, but was certainly a huge one when it came to character. The German went down in the quarters to Monfils, but went up in the estimation of tennis fans worldwide.

His 2016 has gone from strength to strength since then- Zverev made the Nice Open final, the Roland Garros third round, and before a home crowd in Halle, Zverev beat Roger Federer on his way to his first ATP 500 final. He then reached the Wimbledon third round, and the semis of the Citi Open.

Zverev defeats Federer

Photo courtesy of www.kridangan.com

Zverev finished the year winning the St Petersburg title, his first trophy, beating the recently crowned US Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the final.

Zverev’s fine form and ability to upset highly ranked players has been evident on the ATP for a while now. Last season, Zverev’s 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 upset of fifth seed Kevin Anderson at the ATP 500 Citi Open was another in a long line of impressive achievements for the 19 year old then ranked 96 on the ATP tour.

Earlier in the 2015 season, Zverev reached another career milestone, this time at at the Miami Open where Zverev qualified for his first ATP 1000 event beating Thiemo de Bakker 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4. Zverev went on to defeat Australia’s 69th ranked Sam Groth in the his opening match before losing to Lukas Rosol in the next round.

That was the second time the youngster had qualified for an ATP main draw this year- his first was in Marseilles where he lost in the opening round to Gael Monfils.  He went 10-11 in ATP main draws in 2015 including an appearance in the Bastad Semi-finals, a second round finish at Wimbledon, and a visit to the last 16 of the Aegon Championships.

Alexander Zverev served up notice of his arrival among the senior ranks in July 2014 when he made a run to the last four of the Hamburg Open clay event. The 17 year old followed in the footsteps of fellow teen Nick Kyrgios in making a big entrance on the big stages of the Senior ranks, and is also now joined by Thanasi Kokkinakis and Borna Coric as teenagers doing well on the ATP Tour.

In Hamburg 2014, the 17 year old beat 51st ranked Robin Hasse in the first round for the loss of two games. He followed that up with a 7-5, 7-5 win over defending champion and world No.19 Mikhail Youzhny. That win was the first one for a 17 year old over a top twenty player at an ATP 500 event since 2004 . In the last sixteen the Hamburg born teen  beat 32nd ranked Santiago Giraldo 6-4, 7-6 and then scored a 0-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over 83rd ranked countryman Tobias Kamke.

That achievement made him the first 17 year old in an ATP semi-final since Marin Cilic in 2006. And as if he were not making enough records, he became the youngest ever player to make the last four on the tour, beating Rafael Nadal at the 2005 Barcelona Open.

Zverev US Open

Photo courtesy of Steven Pisano at flickr.com

That famous Hamburg run did not go any further however as Zverev’s inexperience got the better of him. In the last four, he came up against David Ferrer, the 2013 French Open finalist and world No.7 and was beaten soundly 0 and 1.

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So, who is Alexandr Zverev, the latest in a batch of teens making noise on an otherwise Veteran run ATP Tour?

Zverev, nicknamed Sasha, appears to be most at home on clay, winning a challenger event on the surface at the end of June 2014 in Braunshweig, Germany, beating veteran Paul-Henri Matthieu in the final.

The Russian born Zverev was also runner-up at the French Open Juniors 2013. Zverev, however, is no one surface pony- his game translates well to all surfaces- he was a former world No.1 in the junior rankings and this year won the boy’s singles title at the Australian Open, and won his first pro title on indoor hard.

Zverev’s rise up the rankings is no surprise- he has a strong tennis- loving team behind him. His father is a former pro and his mother is a tennis coach. His brother, Mischa, is also a professional player. Zverev trains at home in Hamburg and at Saddlebrook, Florida, the renowned tennis academy. Perhaps most importantly, he has one of the best fitness trainers around, Jez Green, who helped transform Andy Murray into one of the fittest players on the ATP.

Zverev is a basketball fan, and cites Lebron Jamesa as his favorite player. In tennis, though, his role model is none other than Roger Federer, but he has quite a different playing style more in keeping with the modern game. Zverev is an aggressive base-liner with a fierce backhand, a style that dominates on the homogenized surfaces of the modern game and has served him well in the juniors and appears to be working out for him in the seniors.

Making the kind of splash onto the tour previously seen from the likes of Nadal, Gasquet and Cilic, the future looks bright for the 19 year old. If he can keep his eye on the ball and go the way of those players, then expect to find out a lot more about him in the coming years.

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Commentary  by Christian Deverille

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ATP Six Points of Interest Hamburg Gstaad Atlanta Nadal Thiem Isner

ATP

CC courtesy of Yann Caradec @ Flickr.com

Last week was a busy one on the ATP Tour with an ATP 500 in Hamburg, an ATP 250 in Gstaad and the US Open Series kicking off in Atlanta with the ATP 250 BT&T Atlanta Open. The tennis review looks back at a week that saw tempers flare, titles won and heads scratching.

1. Rafael Nadal’s time-taking between points really gets on his opponent’s nerves.

Fabio Fognini could not take much more of it in the heart of the second set of the Hamburg final against Nadal. The Italian blew up at the top seed, berating him for one of the Spaniard’s many much maligned behaviors.

Check out the video below to see Fabio Fognini lose it with Nadal.

Fognini had to take matters into his own hands, or words, because the ATP officials, well, don’t.

These kind of scenes might be entertaining, but they also make tennis a little bit of a circus. Perhaps it’s time to introduce a stop clock to monitor the game’s more infamous time wasters so that the likes of the talented Fognini can focus on taking their aggression out on the ball and not on their opponents at the changeover.

2. Rafael Nadal is still very much in love with tennis

Nadal’s slump has been one of the year’s headlines and at times he has looked like he really been suffering out there.

There was no sign of suffering when he converted match point in the Hamburg final though. Despite struggling with his serve and his forehand being dangerously short at key moments, Nadal fought and won his 67th career title, his 47th ATP Clay title, and the joy in his achievements showed.

The French Open winning style celebration was understandable- the Hamburg title is Nadal’s biggest since winning at Roland Garros in 2014, and the title could not have come at a better time as the tour builds up to the U.S Open where a confident, and hungry, Nadal will make events that bit more interesting.

Photo courtesy of www.straitstimes.com

Photo courtesy of www.straitstimes.com

3. Dominic Thiem is a future Roland Garros Champ

Thiem won his third clay court of 2015, (Nice, Umag, Gstaad) and third overall, when he defeated David Goffin in straight sets for the ATP 250 Gstaad trophy.

That collection is quite an achievement for a 21 year old and he follows in the footsteps of players of the likes of del Potro (2009) and Safin (2000) in winning multiple titles in one season before his 22nd birthday.

The question is whether Thiem will be like those top five ranking slam winning Champions or will he become a clay specialist of the likes of Muster, Costa and Coria, all who went on to win Roland Garros. The 21 year old’s clay court prowess certainly bodes well for his chances of becoming a Roland Garros champion at the very least in a few years.

Whichever way his career goes, he is certain to keep tennis fans entertained with his easy on the eye game and his choice of hairstyles.

ATP Thiem

Photo courtesy of www.luzernerzeitung.ch

4. David Goffin is struggling to make the next step

Goffin served for the first set against Thiem in Gstaad, and the Belgian, who led the head to head 4-1 before the match, then went quietly away in the match, succumbing to Thiem’s quiet intensity and great defense.

Letting that lead slip could have been down to Thiem’s great play, or it could have been to Goffin’s head. The world no.15 has been making great strides the last year- winning ATP 250 titles and a making 500 final (Basel), and is on the verge of breaking into the top 10.

That breakthrough is hard to achieve for anyone and with so much expectation on his shoulders to do it, Goffin may have had that thought in the back of his mind serving for the set.

The Belgian has withdrawn from Kitzbuhel where he was the defending champion so we won’t know if his ‘choke’ was a temporary glitch in what has, so far, been a smoothly progressing operation or a career-threatening weakness until the North American hard court events in a couple of weeks time.

5. The ATP Schedule is one of the world’s great wonders

With the US Open five weeks away, and the French Open now a distant memory, except for those hardcore Wawrinka fans of course, the Calender last week had its biggest event, a 500 one,  on clay, another clay event, while the tournament to kickstart the US Open Series and its first winner of 2015 John Isner got lost somewhere in the background. (Even more baffling is that this week’s ATP 500 Citi Open is not even in the US Open Series due to TV licensing policies but more on that next week).

This head-scratching scheduling is just one of the many oddities of one of the world’s most professional, and for those that break into the elite, lucrative sporting associations joining other wonders such as the first slam of the year starting a month into an 11 month season, Newport coming the week after Wimbledon, and the tired-looking, anti-climatic  final Indoor events.

6. John Isner won his third Atlanta title

The American won on home soil in Atlanta for the third consecutive year, though it was the lowest key victory of the week with Nadal dominating the headlines in Hamburg and Thiem’s clay court run attracting a lot of the attention.

Isner looked impressive as he always does on home hard courts, and he is once again looking good for a strong U.S Open lead up. Whether he can really break through and compete for his home slam is another thing, but he is certainly in the mood to get noticed, and with the tour now about to focus on the North American Summer Swing, he hopefully will.

Watch highlights of Isner’s BT&T Atlanta win over Marcos Baghdatis below


Commentary by Christian Deverille.

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ATP Washington 500 What The Title Would Mean to Murray Nishikori Dimitrov

Washington

CC courtesy of Marianne Bevis at Flickr

The ATP 500 Washington Citi Open gets underway next week with Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, Marin Cilic and Grigor Dimitrov among those playing for the title. While the winner stands to earn 500 points, the trophy and generous prize money, the title would also mean something to the winner in terms of confidence, health, and their US Open fortunes. The tennis review looks at what the title would mean to four of the favorites.

Andy Murray (1) has done a great job of getting back into the top three, reaching a slam final and winning titles (Madrid, Queens, Munich) in 2015.

What Murray has not done, though, is score a win over Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic since 2013. This year the Scot has suffered bruising defeats to Djokovic in the Australian Open final, the Indian Wells semi, the Miami final and the French Open semi-final, and was very much second best to Federer in the Wimbledon last four.

That status quo is likely to continue at the U.S Open unless Murray works his way into his optimum hard court form, the aggressive kind that won him the US Open 2012, beat Federer for the 2010 Canadian Open title, del Porto for the 2009 Canadian Open title, and Djokovic for the 2008 and 2011 Cincinnati titles.

Winning Washington would be a good way for Murray to get his game fit for what the Scot has said is his favourite slam, the US Open, where he will have to beat Federer or Djokovic, or both, for the title.

The Washington title would also make a statement to the rest of the ATP tour, reaffirming what it already knows- that Murray is far more consistent than those ranked below him- and also proving he still has what it takes to win big titles on the surface- if he wins the Citi Open title this week it will be his biggest hard court title since Miami 2013.

The 500 ranking points could also, if Murray does well in Montreal and Cincinnati, help make him the no.2 seed in New York meaning he would avoid his nemesis Djokovic until the final.

A win in Washington would also help him mentally if he makes the U.S Open final. Most likely, Murray will lose to Djokovic or Federer in Montreal and Cincinnati, but in a US Open final, with a Washington title under his belt, and if he can make his lead up matches versus Federer and Djokovic competitive, Murray could dig deep, find his game over five sets and really get his career back on track as a leading player rather than his current bridesmaid status.

Kei Nishikori (2) has been plagued by a calf injury of late, forcing him to pull out of his last two events (Halle, Wimbledon). Nishikori has had a month to rest the injury and a win in Washington would be just what he needs for his confidence on his best surface.

If Nishikori is going to win a Slam, it is going to be on hard courts, and his runner up finish at last year’s U.S Open suggests it could very well be there.

The aggressive baseliner has all the tools for hard court success and you get the feeling, if his health could hold up, he is just a few steps away from a breakthrough.

Injuries can play havoc with the minds of players on the comeback trail as they worry a step here, a surge there might flare it up again. But a week’s play and a title win in Washington would certainly help Nishikori get over any qualms he might have about his health, and could crucially, come the US Open,  help him over that first Grand Slam finishing line.

Marin Cilic (3) stormed to victory at last year’s U.S Open, but since then a shoulder injury has derailed him. The Croat did win the Moscow title in the autumn, however he withdrew from the Australian Open and did not make a quarter final on the tour until Wimbledon where he lost in three tame sets to Djokovic.

That run to the last eight in SW19, which saw Cilic battle past both Isner and Berankis in five grueling sets, was encouraging progress. Certainly his will to win is there, and if his huge serve and baseline game can be consistent, he could make another run for the title in New York. A win in Washington would help his cause no end as he would most likely have to beat the consistent Nishikori and Murray, players against whom only his best will suffice.

The title would also look good on his resume. Cilic, who has a Grand Slam on his C.V does not have any titles above ATP 250 alongside it. An ATP 500 in Washington would go some way to redressing that imbalance.

Grigor Dimitrov (6) has had a turbulent last year since he broke into the top ten to No.8 back in the first week of August 2014. The Bulgarian has slid down the rankings to No.16, failed to go beyond the fourth round of a slam, and been written off as the Next Big Thing.

That might change now that Dimitrov has gotten rid of the distraction of his very famous girlfriend, but what is most likely to make the biggest change is his firing of coach Roger Rasheed, who for all his skills as a fitness coach had some serious shortcomings with regards to technical and strategic coaching.

Dimitrov’s reliance on defense, his proneness to choking in big matches, and the failure to exploit his naturally aggressive game that allows his talents to shine have to be blamed somewhat on Rasheed and with him now out the picture Dimitrov’s game might get back on track.

That would need to happen for him to win Washington. The Bulgarian might have to get past in form Marcos Baghdatis in his opening round, the talented and recent Bogota Champion Bernard Tomic in the last sixteen, his Wimbledon conqueror and nemesis Richard Gasquet in the last eight, the ever consistent Murray in the last four, and then Nishikori in the final.

A run like that to the title would mean Dimitrov was back to the form that saw him win titles in Stockholm, Acapulco, Bucharest and Queens, and reach the Wimbledon semis from 2013-2014. That player was an aggressive, brave and imaginative Dimitrov, one the tennis world would be very pleased to have back in time for the U.S Open.

Commentary by Christian Deverille

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Roger Federer Is Right to Skip ATP 1000 Canadian Open Five Reasons Why

Federer

CC courtesy of Tigre Municipio @ flickr.com

Roger Federer’s decision to skip the 2015 ATP 1000 Canadian Open will have disappointed fans who were planning to catch him in action in the US Open warm-up event, but, in the long term,  it is the right decision for both himself and his fans. The Tennis Review gives you five reasons why.

1. The Canadian Open has never been the happiest of hunting grounds for Federer.

Federer is arguably the greatest hard court player in history, with five US Opens and four Australian Opens to his name. However, he has had less success at the Canadian Open than at other hard court ATP 1000s, winning just two titles (2004, 2006) and finishing runner-up three times.

The surface is arguably one of the slower hard courts, and players of the likes of Simon, Djokovic and Murray, all great defensive players, have gotten the better of him there over the years, something they have failed to do at faster hard court ATP 1000s like Cincinnati.

2. Cincinnati is the week after.

Federer’s most successful hard court ATP 1000, the Cincinnati Open, starts the very next week after the Canadian Open. Cincinnati is the best warm up event conditions wise to the US Open with one of the fastest hard court surfaces on the tour and compliments Federer’s aggressive game and excellent service game.

Last year, Federer won his sixth Cincinnati trophy, the week after losing the Canadian Final in straight sets to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Playing in Canada did not end up damaging Federer’s title chances in Cincinnati, but Federer might have benefitted from Djokovic’s early defeat, Murray’s poor form, and facing players such as Ferrer and Roanic in the last two rounds, players against whom he has favourable match-ups.

3. A seventh title in Cincinnati would give Federer much needed confidence for the US Open.

Last season, Federer’s biggest rivals, Djokovic and Murray were struggling in the US Open Series, and Nadal was absent, so his win in Cincinnati was not entirely unexpected.

This season, things are a little different. We do not know Djokovic’s post Wimbledon triumph form yet, but he does not have last year’s distractions of being a newly-wed with a baby on the way. As for Murray, the Scot is back up at world No.3, making big finals and winning titles. Meanwhile, Nadal may be slumping still, but that slump could turn around given a few confidence boosting wins in Hamburg and the early Montreal rounds, and the Spaniard likes the slow high bouncing Canadian Conditions. More crucially, he likes playing Federer in those conditions.

Federer will face a stronger field in Cincinatti, and he will be in better condition to stand up to it if he skips Montreal, where those players will be competing. A couple of wins against the likes of Murray and Djokovic going into the US Open would also mean he would have a valuable confidence boost, and Federer, who has not won a slam since Wimbledon 2012, and made just two finals since then, needs that confidence more than he needs a few hundred ranking points or a few hundred thousand dollars in prize money from playing in the Canadian Open.

4. At this stage of Federer’s career, it’s all about the Slams.

Federer, with 17 Slams on his resume, and the record for weeks at No.1, is always going to be in the Greatest of all time debate. At this stage of his career, an extra runner up finish or a title at an ATP 1000 is just the icing on the cake. Tasty, but the cake tastes pretty good anyway.

Another Slam title however would mean far more than just icing- it would be another layer. A very sweet one, too. Winning an 18th Slam, and beating his own record in the process, at the age of 34, would not just put him in the Greatest of all time debate, it would cancel out any arguments against- a weaker era, Nadal’s winning head to head- and cement him as the G.O.A.T, if there is such a thing.

Last year, Federer was as close as he ever has been to undisputed G.O.A.T status when he went into the US Open as arguably the favourite, and with Nishikori’s upset of Djokovic, and a slamless Cilic in his semi, the Swiss was expected to finally get no.18.

Things did not quite work out that way, though – Cilic played the match of his life, and Federer, for the fifth year in a row, failed to make the U.S Open final.

While all credit must go to Cilic for being so strong under such pressure, it did not help Federer that he had had to come back from two sets to love down against Monfils in the quarters, or that he had played two consecutive finals the week before the US Open started.

5. Federer is a week away from turning 34 and he needs rest.

The bottom line. Federer is about to turn 34. In tennis years, that is as close to retirement as it gets. Considering Federer’s age, the fact he is world No.2 is astounding. It is also not surprising he hasn’t won a slam. Federer may have plenty getting in the way of slam 18, a rival who has his number in big finals among them, but his biggest obstacle is his age, and since he turned 31 in August 2012, Federer has only made it to meet Djokovic on two occasions in slams, losing to Berdych, Murray, Tsonga, Stakhovsky, Robredo, Nadal, Gulbis, Cilic, Seppi and Wawrinka before the Championship match.

The fact is that however much they slow down the surfaces, Federer still gets a step slower than his opponents, and the more matches he plays, the less his chances get, and the longer his matches go, his first serve percentage decreases, the errors increase, and the defeats mount.

Rest before a big event is exactly what Federer needs right now at this stage of his career. In his last five slams, he has had a busy time leading up to them and has made just two finals. In fact, his Success has been hurting him as he gone on to lose at the Slams to players with much less success, but fresher legs, in the leads ups.

  • At Wimbledon ’14, he won Halle the week before and lost the final when serving to stay in the match in the fifth set.
  • The US Open’14 saw him play two finals leading up to the event and lose in straights to Cilic in the Semis.
  • He won Brisbane the week before this year’s Australian Open and lost in round 3 to Seppi against whom he had enjoyed a 9-0 career win-loss.
  • At this year’s Roland Garros he had competed in the Rome final the week before only for  Wawrinka to beat him in straights in the last eight.
  • At this year’s Wimbledon he won Halle a couple of weeks before, and even two weeks rest was not enough to stop him looking worn out by the fourth set of the SW19 final.

By skipping the Canadian Open, an inform Federer could tear up the Cincinnati draw in straights which would leave him match tight and still fresh for NYC, and give himself the best possible chance of enhancing his legacy at this year’s US Open and leaving the game with 18 Slams.

That possibility should come as some comfort to fans who will miss him in Canada, but who will not miss, if Federer makes the US Open final, their hero get the chance to make even more history.

Commentary by Christian Deverille

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U.S Open Series 2015 Five Faces to Watch Dimitrov Kokkinakis Sock

Dimitrov

CC courtesy of Marianne Bevis at flickr

The U.S Open Series starts Monday and eight weeks of exciting hard court tennis lies ahead. The Tennis Review picks five faces to watch for the 2015 North American Summer Swing.

Grigor Dimitrov

With the recent split ups from coach Roger Rasheed and from girlfriend Maria Sharapova, Dimitrov may find being single and fancy free just the reboot he needs for his tennis singles career.

Critics accused both Rasheed and Sharapova of getting in the way of the young talent’s career. Rasheed was said to have focused too much on Dimitrov’s fitness and encouraged him to be too passive and defensive rather than on developing his all court skills and natural aggression.

Meanwhile, Sharapova was thought to have distracted the ATP star, who already received enough attention in his own right, and was now not only the ATP’s poster boy but was also caught up in the romance of the tennis world.

Dimitrov has himself said he believes this Summer will be the start of new things, and the recent sighting of him hitting with Ivan Lendl suggests he has been getting some great advice.

The U.S Open Series would be a great stage for Dimitrov to get his act together again. The world no.16 is the 2008 U.S Open boys champion and has had some success as a pro in the North American Summer, taking Nadal to three sets in the Cincinnati fourth round in ‘ 13 and was a semi-finalist at last year’s Canadian Open.

 

BNP Paribas Open

Thanasi Kokkinakis

Kokkinakis has been quiet since winning a Challenger mid-May on Clay, but expect him to make some noise this Summer –he has had his best results on hard courts and has shown himself to be quite the big match player, beating Gulbis at the Australian Open and reaching the last sixteen of Indian Wells after beating veterans Garcia Lopez and Monaco in three sets back to back.

The 18 year old qualified for the Canadian Open main draw last year, losing in the first round to Anderson, and he went as far as the U.S Open qualifying second round.

With his direct entry into the U.S Open main draw this year, we are sure to see a lot more of the world no.72 in New York, and with the right draw, Kokkinakis could make a few headlines.

US Open Series

CC courtesy of Marianna Bevis

Vasek Pospisil

Pospisil made the Washington final last season with his big serve and aggressive game, and after his run to the Wimbledon quarters this year it is easy to see him repeating that success n the U.S Open Series.

Pospisil will have plenty of support in his home tournament The Canadian Open and currently ranked 30 he would likely be seeded for the U.S Open where he will aim to better his career best second round finish in 2011.

Frances Tiafoe

17 year old American Tiafoe’s debut onto the ATP tour happened at last year’s Citi Open. His debut was greeted with much fanfare and for good reason – Tiafoe is the youngest ever winner of the Orange Bowl and is one of the most promising youngsters on the tour.

Since that first round defeat to Evan Donskoy, Tiafoe has played in the main draws of the U.S Open ’14 and Roland Garros ’15, turned pro and reached 284 on the ATP rankings.

While little is expected in this early stage of his career, American tennis fans will be keeping an eye on the progress of their current biggest prospect.

Jack Sock

CC courtesy of Tatiana @ flickr.com

Jack Sock

Sock was the 2010 U.S Open junior champ and after five years on the pro tour, he seems to be finally fulfilling his junior promise, winning his first ATP title, on Clay in Houston, and earning a seeded position at this year’s Wimbledon for the first time.

Sock has had some success on American hard courts, his big serve and aggressive game paying off for him in the heat on the hard surfaces- he has been to the U.S Open third round twice and reached the quarters of the 2012 Atlanta Open.

If he can have a good run this U.S Open Series and guarantee seeding for the U.S Open, Sock’s big game, and the huge support behind him, would make him a dangerous opponent for a top seed and a face to watch this U.S Open Series.

Commentary by Christian Deverille

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Wimbledon 2015 Final Review Novak Djokovic Defeats Roger Federer

Wimbledon

Photo courtesy of a.abcnews.com

Novak Djokovic, the top seed and defending champion, may have been the bookies favorite going into the 2015 Wimbledon final, but he was not so in the eyes of many fans and pundits. The Federer grass court game had promised much in the semi-finals but the Swiss legend could not deliver, and, when he threatened to Djokovic was not getting to let him either. The top seed’s 7-6(1), 6-7(10), 6-4, 6-3 victory will not go down as one of the most popular wins, but it will be well up there alongside some of the most solid and clutch Wimbledon final displays in history.

When Roger Federer broke Novak Djokovic for 4-2 in the first set of the 2015 Wimbledon final, his legion of fans celebrated. The high risk return game the Swiss had executed so impressively beating Andy Murray in the semi-final was, once again, paying off, and the prospect of an 18th Slam for the Swiss looked to be a few sets away.

Andy Murray, though, is no Novak Djokovic. They may have a few things in common, but the Serb is a far more dangerous rival to Federer at Slams, and especially in finals. The defending champion also has a much better  return game, arguably the best on tour. He would demonstrate just how good that return game was in the next game as he did something only Gilles Simon had managed to do all fortnight- break the Federer serve. He did not have to fight for it either. Aggressive on his ground strokes, and smart on break point with a high, heavy passing shot off the backhand that forced a Federer error at the net break point down, the Serbian broke to 30.

That immediate break back left Federer fans with little time to enjoy the prospect of victory, changing the mood of a match that looked to be another vintage Federer display at SW19 into something else very familiar of late- Djokovic beating Federer in a final.

The Serbian had won 4 of their last five finals, and all the big ones- Wimbledon ’14, Indian Wells ’14 and ’15, and Rome ’15. If Federer was going to change that trend, he needed a similar serving display to the one he had put in against Murray, but the way he surrendered that service game to Djokovic so quickly, suggested he would not be able to repeat his semi-final display, and also, just as fatally, that Djokovic would not let him.

That winning record in recent finals looked to continue for Djokovic as his depth of shot, defense and carefully constructed attack, and variety of length and angles dismantled Federer in the first set tie-break 7-1, the Swiss feeling the pressure of the Djokovic return as he double faulted to surrender the set, and the Serb led by a set to love.

Losing the first set was, in many people’s eyes, an almighty nail in the Swiss’ coffin, though it was only the first one and the lid was still loose enough for him to break out could he gather all his strength. The consensus before the match was that Federer needed to get the job done quickly, and falling a set down to Djokovic meant if Federer were to win, it was going to be, like last year, another long afternoon, the kind of afternoons that turn into early evening. The kind of afternoons Djokovic likes.

There was still hope that this year’s result might be different, though. Three of those four Djokovic final wins had gone the distance, with Djokovic getting nervous and failing to take a grip on the match, and Federer had had his chances. That script played out in this final, too, as Djokovic squandered set points in set two, and Federer took the second set tiebreaker 12-10 to level the match at a set all.

But while Djokovic is prone to nerves on the big occasion, he is also skilled at getting back on track, and he was threatening the Federer serve from the first game of the third set, finally breaking Federer a service game later  to get an early lead. The Serbian, keeping his error count low and his shots deep, held all the way to 5-4 and then, with the pressure on again, could not have been more solid serving out for a two sets to one lead. The world No.1 did not miss a first serve.

In the fourth set, Djokovic could not have been more clinical as he, as confident in his tools as ever, took the Federer game apart all the way to 5-3 where, returning the Federer serve, he earned championship  point with a backhand winner. After his roar had died down, he sprung to life again on his return game, working his way to the middle of the court with two backhands and then whipping a short ball away with the forehand for a winner, converting his first championship point with another roar that more than made up for the muted response from the mostly pro-Federer crowd, many still in their seats as the two players shook hands at the net.

The crowd may not have wanted to believe the 7-6(1), 6-7(10), 6-4, 6-3 score in Djokovic’s favor, but they slowly stood up and applauded a man whose game may not be as smooth, as beautiful or as awe-inspiring as the Swiss’, but whose mastery of the modern game, the unrivalled transition from defense to attack that may make him the most successful all surface player of all time, has its own beauty, one that grows on you much like the grass Djokovic ate post-victory grows on the Center Court lawn he is making his own.

Commentary by Christian Deverill

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Wimbledon Final Preview Roger Federer Vs Novak Djokovic

Wimbledon

Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

The Wimbledon 2015 final will be contested between top seed Novak Djokovic and second seed Roger Federer. Both men have a lot to win, their eighth and third Wimbledon titles respectively, and a lot to lose, too. The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winner.

What’s at stake? Roger Federer, at 33 years old, and under a month shy of turning 34, will not have many more chances to add to his tally of 17 slams. This is his tenth Wimbledon final, a record for most finals reached at any slam, and he already has seven titles. Those kind of numbers already have many arguing he is the Greatest ever, an eighth title at Wimbledon would make that argument an open and shut case.

Djokovic has an 8-8 record in Slam finals, and he has only one multi slam year on his resume, 2011. Since then, he has managed one slam a year and lost two finals in 2012, two in 2013, and one in 2014. That kind of record has something about the Hingis years about it. Djokovic, like Hingis was from 1998-2001, is dominant enough week in week out to be No.1, but is prone to being defeated in the majority of big matches at Slams by opponents with bigger games, and sometimes, stronger minds.

A third Wimbledon title would earn Djokovic another multiple slam year on his resume  and put him in the black on his Slam titles-runner up finishes ratio.

With so much at stake in a Slam final, both men will be nervous, and whoever handles their nerves better will win. Who will do that is hard to say as both men have had issues in finals the last few years. Djokovic has lost a few Slam finals, including last month’s Roland Garros, in which he was the heavy favourite, and Federer has lost a slam final and five of seven ATP 1000 finals he has played in since 2014. and he has lost four of those matches to Djokovic, five if you count his default from the 2014 WTF final.

With both men being questionable mentally in big finals, the match will be a fascinating one, and with their head to head so close, Federer leads 20-19, this match really could go either way.

Form coming in: Federer played one of his greatest slam matches since 2012 when he defeated Murray 7-5, 6-4, 6-4, a scoreline that actually flatters the no.3 seed.

The Swiss shut the Scot out of every single one of his service games, and in the final game of each set, with the Scot serving to stay in, Federer wrecked havoc on the Murray second serve, broke him, and then started the next set with his strongest weapon, the serve, dictating matters. The win was a masterclass of aggressive, perfectly paced tennis, and showed Federer has a Grand Slam winning performance still left in him.

Djokovic did not have such a task as facing a former champion on his hands in his semi and beat Richard Gasquet for the 13th time in his career (head to head now 13-1). The Serbian, whose opponent in the last eight, Marin Cilic, has been his highest seeded one, will face a completely different level of class when he meets Federer. Luckily for Djokovic he has had to fight in the tournament, coming back two sets to love down against Kevin Anderson in the fourth round so he is, at the very least, match tough.

Who is the favourite to win? Djokovic is the bookmaker’s favourite, but Federer, as the more natural grass courter, is highly fancied and should win.

Head to head: The serve. Federer has impressive stats here over the course of the tournament: 67% of first serves in, 85% of points behind that delivery, 66% of second serve points won, and 67 aces.

Djokovic, though, is not so far behind, his numbers reading 71, 77, 65 and 64. The Serb also has one of the best second serves on the tour and places it more effectively than anyone bar Federer.

However, the stat that really separates them is on break points saved and lost- Federer has had only 5 break points against him, and failed to save only one of them. Meanwhile, Djokovic has faced 25 break points and lost five of them.

Advantage: Federer. If he can repeat or get close to his serving display versus Murray, he will cruise through his service games and save his energy for trying to break Djokovic.

The return of serve: Djokovic has earned himself the reputation of best returner in the game, but this Wimbledon Federer’s return stats are as good, if not better.

Of course, this stat is not so reliable in that it very much depends on whose serve you are facing, but Federer’s stats, he has converted 28/61 break points (46%), slightly better than Djokovic’s 25/60 (42%), suggest he is very much on his return game, a fact that was perfectly demonstrated against Murray against whom he had the perfect return strategy.

Federer was of course helped by the fact Murray’s second serve is a weakness, but the Scot actually served well for most of the match.  What Federer made look so easy was attacking the weak serves and he will also be just as  ready for any chances Djokovic gives him as well.

Djokovic will be ready for Federer, too. The Swiss is unlikely to emulate his formidable serving display from the semis and there is going to be a time when Djokovic works himself into a Federer service game and earns a break point.

Federer will take risks to stave off those break points, and they may or may not pay off. All we know, from looking at his serving performance, and his ground game and net game, too, that there is a very strong chance fortune will favour the brave, and Federer will dig himself out of any holes.

Advantage: Federer is returning well here, but the way Djokovic broke an in-form Anderson’s serve in the last sixteen and picked apart the Cilic serve in the quarters gives him the edge.

The Ground Game: Djokovic, who stays at or around the baseline more than Federer, grabs this one on default. The world No.1 does have, though, the best back court game in the business, and this tournament he has won 55 percent of baseline rallies. He has also struck 68 forehand winners, and 49 backhand winners.

Federer, who is to be found in the middle of the court and at the net more often than at the baseline, has been more impressive on the forehand- striking 73 winners- and a little less so on his more vulnerable backhand with 29 winners. Though when he has needed it, that shot has been sublime.

Advantage: Djokovic. His depth of shot, and his variety of length, will keep Federer back at times, and he will win most of the longer rallies, though Federer’s aggressive game will rob him of some rhythm resulting in more errors than usual.

The Net Game: Much like Djokovic with the ground game, Federer wins this by default, too. The Swiss’ commitment to the net over the last season and a half is what has brought him up from No.8 to No.2 in the world and the principal reason he now has another shot at an 18th slam title. Federer has been to the net 199 times, and won 145 points up there (73%).

Djokovic, to his credit, has also been successful at the net. Under Becker, he has started to come to the net more, but typically only when the opportunity to do so has presented itself, rather than, as is the case with Federer, working each point to finish it up there. Djokovic has won 116 of 166 net approaches (70%).

Advantage: Federer.

Fitness/stamina: Djokovic is the fittest player on tour and can outlast anyone. That factor played a major role in his defeat of Federer in last year’s final.

Fortunately for Federer this year, he will go into the final fresh. The Swiss has spent just 9 hours 58 minutes on court. Meanwhile Djokovic has been on court for 13 hours 04 minutes. That will not bother the world no.1, as fit as he is, but Federer’s lesser time on court could prove to be decisive in this final.

Advantage: If the match goes the distance, Djokovic will have a huge edge.

The match up: While all these numbers are well and good, what really matters is how this match up pans out. Federer leads it by a whisker- 20-19- and they are 4-3 (in Djokovic’s favour) in their past seven matches since 2014. Djokovic has the edge in finals since 2014 though , leading 4-1, and has won the bigger tussles in Indian Wells (2014, 2015), Rome (2015), and at Wimbledon last year, which gives the Serb a slight mental edge.

That edge is negated somewhat though by the fact that Federer has won two of their recent matches on the tour’s faster surfaces (Shanghai 2014, Dubai 2015). The grass of Wimbledon might be slower if the match is played under the roof, but the ball will bounce even lower, ensuring Federer’s slices, drives and volleys die before Diokovic can reach them and keep the point alive.

In this final, Federer will likely have the advantage early on, cruising through his service games, and he will, courtesy of his better serve and more aggressive game on grass, have the advantage in the lotteries that are tiebreakers. He may not even need them, if he plays his return games as shrewdly as he has been.

Whatever happens, Federer will, just as he did against Murray, have to get the job done quickly. Federer is almost 34, and the longer the match goes on, the more likely his biggest weapons are to tire, and Djokovic will be there, waiting for his chance, ready to get one more ball back, put the pressure on, and tear the title from the Swiss’ grasp.

Prediction: Federer to win in four sets. The Swiss will take the first two, struggle and then drop the third, before raising his game for one final burst and wrapping up the win in four.

Commentary by Christian Deverille.

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Roger Federer Defeats Murray Wimbledon Semi-Final Five Remarkable Things

Wimbledon

Photo courtesy of sportinglife.com

Roger Federer’s 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 semi-final victory over Andy Murray in the Wimbledon 2015 semi-finals was a masterclass in grass court tennis on the big stage. The Tennis Review looks at five remarkable things from the win.

1. Federer’s pacing. Federer cruised and cranked his way to this win. He cruised through his service games- he did not face one break point the entire match- and kept to his aggressive game plan during the Murray service games, going for his returns and attacking the net, robbing Murray off any rhythm.

Then at the end of each set, with Murray serving to stay in, Federer cranked things up aggression wise, piling the pressure on Murray, whose second serve was a liability at key moments.

The Swiss broke Murray to take each set, and, in the process started each set with his own incredibly strong service game.

2. The serve. Federer struck down 20 aces, had a first serve percentage of 76, won 84 percent of those points, and won 55 percent of his second serves. A weapon like that, which can win him free point after free point from just one stroke, is invaluable for a 33 year old a month away from turning 34.

Even more so when you consider Murray’s return of serve is one his biggest weapons.

3. The Swiss’ winner to error count. Federer clearly reaped the benefits of his fine serving by saving plenty of energy which he used in some of the match’s extraordinary rallies.

However, the seven time champ kept most points short with his aggressive, high risk game. That game paid off, too, as Federer hit 56 winners in total to 11 errors. That is a positive differential of 45 over three sets, an average of 15 a set.

4. That net game. Federer won 29 points at the net from 42 attempts, a percentage of 69. The grass may be slower than it once was, but the ball still bounces lower and dies quicker than on other surfaces, and Federer made that fact work for him, and made it look easy, too.

5. Federer is now into his tenth Wimbledon final- a record. Federer made his first final back in 2003, the start of a run of seven consecutive finals until 2010 when Tomas Berdych stopped him in the quarters.

Federer made his eighth appearance in the final in 2012, a winning one and his last Grand Slam victory, and then made his ninth appearance last year when he finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic.

Ten final appearances at the same Major is a record. The tennis world now waits to see if Federer can break his own record on Sunday- winning his eighteenth slam, and if he doe, he will achieve another record, too- becoming, at 33 and 338 days, the oldest male Slam winner in history.

Remarkable, yes, but for Federer being remarkable is very, very ordinary.

Commentary by Christian Deverille.

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Wimbledon 2015 Semi-Finals Preview Federer Vs Murray Djokovic Vs Gasquet

Wimbledon

Photo courtesy of nyt.com

The Wimbledon semi-finals feature a much anticipated clash between seven time Champion Roger Federer (2) and 2013 Champion Andy Murray (3) while defending champion Novak Djokovic (1) takes on 2007 semi-finalist Richard Gasquet (21). The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winners.

Roger Federer (2) Vs Andy Murray (3).

Head to head: Federer leads Murray 12-11 and has won their last three matches including a 6-0, 6-1 win over Murray at last season’s WTF in London. Federer also leads Murray 1-0 at Wimbledon, beating him in the 2012 final, and leads him 4-1 in Grand Slams. Murray, though, does have one big win over Federer on grass- the 2012 Olympic final which the Scot won in straight sets.

Form coming in: Neither man has really been pushed to their very best so far. Federer has had the smoother ride, dropping just one set to big-serving Sam Groth, and he got past the usually difficult for him Gilles Simon in straights in the previous round, but Simon was well below the form he had shown in his fourth round win over Berdych.

Murray has been patchy, and dropped sets to Karlovic and Seppi, his second serve proving to be a liability, and if Pospisil had a better return of serve, that match would likely have gone to four sets as well.

Who should win?: Murray is the bookies favourite, but Federer should win. This season he has played well on the tour’s quicker surfaces, beating Djokovic in Dubai, and winning in Halle.

Federer is also the better grass court player and is committed to being aggressive, playing at the net, and going for his shots.

The Swiss is also by far the better server- he has been broken only once, by Simon in his last match, since playing Phillip Kohlschreiber in the first round of Halle three weeks ago- and the energy he will save cruising through his service games can be spent on trying to break Murray. That might not prove to be too hard either as the Scot has been struggling with his serve all fortnight.

Federer also has the edge when it comes to the game’s most vital deciding factor- mental toughness. Federer is world no.2, has 3 wins over Djokovic the past 12 months, and has, throughout his career, proven to be mentally tougher than Murray who has, more often than not, succumbed to the pressure in big matches against his biggest rivals. Federer’s superior mental toughness should enable him to take charge of this match by the second set and finish it without any undue fuss.

Murray could win if: Federer has had his off days over the last few years in Slams, most notably against Ernests Gulbis at Roland Garros ’14 and Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open this season. If Murray sits back at the start of the match, as he tends to do, feeling out his opponent’s level and then adjusting his game accordingly,  and sees Federer is below par then he will be ready to strike.

Murray also has a chance if he can stay with Federer during any of the Swiss’ peak periods and if he can use his defensive skills to get enough balls back in the lulls for Federer to start making errors and drop a set or two. The longer the match goes on, the more of a chance Murray has to win as Federer’s first serve starts to wane and Murray, whose return is one of the game’s best, gets a chance to grab a decisive break in the fifth set.

Prediction: Federer to win in four sets.

Novak Djokovic (1) Vs Richard Gasquet (21)

Head to head: Djokovic leads Gasquet 12-1, losing just one match to him back in the 2007 WTF. In his 12 wins, Djokovic has dropped just 2 sets to  Gasquet. They have played twice at Grand Slams, both times at Roland Garros, including this year. This is their first ever meeting on Grass.

Form going into the match: Djokovic struggled against a big server, as he is prone to do, when he went five sets against Kevin Anderson in the fourth round. However, Anderson was on form going into the match and has rarely played better in a slam than he did in the first few sets of that match.

Against another big server, Marin Cilic, in the quarters, Djokovic cruised to victory and did not have to go into his upper gears. Gasquet, meanwhile, had to go up a few gears to win the fifth set of his match versus Wawrinka 11-9, and also had to play his best to beat Nick Kyrgios in four sets in round three.

Who should win? Djokovic is the overwhelming favourite here. He may not be the greater grass court player- grass brings out the best in Gasquet whose defensive game, slicing and volleying skills come to the fore on the surface- but he has the greater all surface game, vastly superior athleticism, and is by far and away the better big match player.

Gasquet will win if: He plays the kind of inspired tennis he showed in the fifth set versus Wawrinka and Djokovic has not just a bad day but one of the worst in his career.

Prediction: Djokovic to win in straight sets.

Commentary by Christian Deverille

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