Rafa Nadal US Open Trophy Win In the Tennis World All Grand Slams Are Equal

Nadal US Open 2017

Photo courtesy of http://hausa.leadership.ng

Rafa Nadal was one of the favorites going into this season’s US Open, but his journey to his 16th slam was expected to be a tough fought one versus an old rival and some players threatening to become new ones. Instead the Spaniard was presented with a very different path to navigate, a path less rocky and picturesque but as impressive as any road any champion has traveled on for the simple fact the top seed was the last man standing at the end of a road some never even managed to get a foot on. 

In modern tennis, all slams are equal- each slam earns the winner 2000 ATP points- and each one adds to the champion’s tally, and the higher the number, the greater the player’s ranking in the list of men’s tennis legends. But when it comes to those Greatest Ever debates, the numbers written on paper are often not enough to convince the doubters and debaters. Pundits and fans delve into the drawers of draws, replays, interviews, and media because while on paper all slams may seem equal, in the sphere of tennis debate, some are more equal than others.

Rafa Nadal’s recent US Open victory has undergone that scrutiny as to whether or not the numbers really add up when it comes to the Spaniard’s greatness. The  world No.1’s 16th slam, his third US Open (2010, 2013, 2017), has put him four Majors ahead of Novak Djokovic and two ahead of Pete Sampras in the all time Major list though he is still, just as he was this time last season, trailing career rival Roger Federer by three (19-16).

That number 16 means, if you consider slams to be the defining, and deciding, factor when it comes to greatness, Rafa Nadal is the second greatest player of all time, and some will even use that number 16 in addition to his head to head lead over Roger Federer (23-14) to argue Nadal may actually be the G.O.A.T despite his recent allergy to Grass.

Nadal’s slam numbers certainly work out for him when it comes to assessing him as one of the greatest of all time, but the other numbers that came up in his run to the 2017 US Open trophy are not as impressive most notably the rankings of his rivals – 85, 121, 59, 64, 53, 28, and 32. But players are more than just numbers and those rivals were Dusan Lajovic, Taro Daniel, Leonardo Mayer, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Andrey Rublev, Juan Martin del Potro, and Kevin Anderson. Two of those players were lucky losers who won titles in the clay stretch post Wimbledon, (Rublev (Umag), Mayer in Hamburg), one of them has a career win over Nadal (Dolgopolov, Indian Wells 2013), Lajovic and Daniel had qualified directly for the draw and were as quality opening round opponents as most top seeds have faced at slams, one had beaten favorite Roger Federer in the previous round and was a former US Open champion with a 5-8 record versus Nadal (del Potro) and Kevin Anderson is a former top tenner with a win over Andy Murray at the Open in 2015 and who so nearly beat Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon ’15.

Those player’s rankings, though, unlike his own or his number of slams won, are numbers Nadal cannot control. This year, the draw also spiraled out of control numbers wise before the US Open began, the draw less equal to slams past to begin with as Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori, two former champs and a former finalist withdrew before the event, and then, after the draw was done, Andy Murray, the second seed, lopsided the draw with his last minute withdrawal, a draw pitting the two favorites Federer and Nadal in the same half, a draw which collapsed round by round as Sascha Zverev was upset by Borna Coric and Marin Cilic fell to Diego Schwartzman.

Heads rolled in the top half, too. Kyrgios did not survive the opening round, Rublev knocked out Grigor Dimitrov, and David Goffin, and a struggling Roger Federer finally came up against a player with the experience and big match feel to take him down, Juan Martin del Potro, the event’s sleeping giant who likes nothing more than to be woken up by the roars of other giants in the biggest arenas and then silence them before a fervent crowd.

But while everyone else was losing their heads, Nadal was keeping his, and firmly on, too, as he kept the numbers in his favors, winning the required three sets in his matches, and upping his game in the quarters, dismissing Rublev for the loss of five games, dropping the same number in the final three sets of his match versus del Potro, a match in which Nadal played his best tennis since Roland Garros, and then defeating Kevin Anderson in straights in the final, a performance in which Nadal did not face a break point, dropped just 15 points on serve in 14 service games and won 16/16 points at the net.

Nadal’s performance at the business event of the tournament would have stood up well to whoever he played – his fitness would have outlasted Federer’s, the Swiss compromised by a sore back, and Nadal’s experience, will to win, and smarts would have have been too much for Zverev or Dimitrov whose early exits suggested they were not as ready to break through in a slam as many fans thought they were.

Just as Nadal’s timing on the ball was better than anyone in the draw so was his timing when it came to the season. The top seed’s Roland Garros run meant he had the confidence to win another slam on a surface which suited him over five sets, (the title was his first hard court title since Doha ’14), and his limited success on Grass and in the US Open series (6-3) meant he still had the strength and energy to take a slam, depleted draw wise by the rigors and stresses of a tour nine months in, a draw shredded round by round once the tournament began, the survivors in the final rounds the strongest at that time, but none as strong as a top seed with 15 slams on his record.

That record reads 16 now, the second strongest tally in history, and while his numbers may be called into question by some, the numbers tell us Nadal, the top seed, has entered 49 slams and been the best player in the draw 16 times, numbers which for a tennis player, do not, unless your name is Roger Federer, get better than that.

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US Open Preview The Favorites Testing Times for the First Picks on Paper

US Open

Photo courtesy of taringa.net

The US Open favorites are an unknown quantity this year with injuries, inexperience and unpredictability all raising questions concerning the potential champion’s fitness to come through and win the title. 

Roger Federer, seeded 3, champion 2004-08.

Roger Federer has not won the US Open since 2008 and has not competed in the championship match since 2009, his last significant success in New York now half his career ago.

However, with the current stage of his career mirroring the best moments of the first part, 2017 could be the year he gets his name engraved on the US Open trophy for the sixth time.

The last time Federer won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in the same season was 2007, just over a decade ago. In a fairytale revival tennis fans have been only too eager to watch play out, a third slam this season should not, unless the sore back suffered in Montreal is anything more than that, shock anyone, but would instead, be another of the very pleasant surprises Federer’s 2017 has sprung.

How the draw treated him:

If Federer’s back is bothering him, Frances Tiafoe could be a tricky opponent in the first round. Tiafoe is highly touted, very talented and a little experienced at pushing Federer, too, taking the Swiss to a tiebreak in the first set of their Miami match earlier this season.

The draw looks pretty straightforward from then on until the last sixteen where 14th seed and Cincy finalist Nick Kyrgios is scheduled, a tough prospect for the Swiss with the Australian already notching up a win vs Federer in Madrid ’15 and pushing Federer all the way in their Miami thriller back in the Spring, and with every one of their six sets contested going to a tiebreak.

Once into the quarters, Federer is drawn to meet sixth seed Dominic Thiem, but could find himself up against Juan Martin del Potro, seeded 24 and dealt a kind draw, the kind he deserves after his back luck draw-wise this season.

The semis is where another slice of history in the multi tiered chronicle 2017 has become could take place- the first Fedal US Open contest.

The US Open is the missing link in the Federer vs Nadal rivalry, and if Federer and Nadal, the slam champs of the season, the first and second in the race to London, get that far then they could be playing some of their best tennis which means learning what that missing link might have revealed will be a sight to see, and, if that match is a classic, could also mean that if Federer goes on to win the title, it may, arguably, end up being his greatest title win in New York yet.

Sascha Zverev, seeded four, second round 2016.

The last 20 year old to break through and win the US Open was Juan Martin del Potro in 2009, and if anyone is going to repeat that kind of youthful success this year, then it is going to be Sascha Zverev.

In a draw missing its defending champ (Wawrinka), two former champs ((Djokovic, Murray), and a former finalist (Nishikori), there is space at the top in men’s tennis and, awarded the fourth seed in the draw, Zverev has three big factors in his favor to help him not just fill the void in the short term but make it his in the long-term- the serve, the backhand, and, above all, the desire.

How the draw treated him:

Zverev faces qualifier Darian King in round 1, and will have a tough time in round 2 versus Borna Coric or Jiri Vesely. Kevin Anderson, who Zverev beat in the Citi Open final, is seeded for round three.

Zverev has had a bit of luck being drawn in the opposite half as Federer and Nadal and got even more fortunate with Andy Murray’s last minute withdrawal from the tournament, a development which means Zverev will find himself the favorite to win his quarter-final, 17th seed Sam Querrey his likely opponent.

In the semis, if the 20 year can hold his nerve versus Marin Cilic, who he leads 3-1, or eighth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a first slam final is Zverev’s for the taking, and, the way his season is unfolding, once he gets there, the momentum on his side, the milestone every young player dreams of stepping across will be within skipping distance- a walk up to the podium on Slam final’s day, the trophy handed to him, upon it, his name engraved.

Grigor Dimitrov, seeded 7 , fourth round 2016, 2014.

Right now, Dimitrov is the last man standing of the ATP’s 2014 Young Guns (Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic have both pulled out injured) and the 26 year old pulled even further away from them winning the Cincy Open, the first ATP 1000 trophy won by any of that trio.

The tennis world has been waiting a while to anoint Dimitrov as a Grand slam champion, and in Cincy he proved he had what it takes to come through an injury hit draw and matches in which he was the favorite. Dimitrov will face different pressures this Open, potentially facing three top ten opponents including Nadal, Federer and Sascha Zverev to win the title, but he has never gone into such a possible scenario with such a strong season behind him or as much confidence.

How the draw treated him:

Dimitrov plays qualifier Vaclav Safranek in round 1, and could face an intriguing clash with #NextGenATP player Andrey Rublev in round two or Aljaz Bedene, two players who have climbed from outside the top 100 to inside the top 50 this season. 27th seed Pablo Cuevas is scheduled for round 3, and either Gael Monfils (18) or David Goffin (9) could be waiting in the last sixteen.

That fourth round will be a real test as to how Dimitrov is able to handle the pressure of being one of the favorites for a slam for the first time. Monfils leads Dimitrov 4-1, including two wins at the US Open (2011, 2014), but this would be their first meeting since Dimitrov has hit some of his career best form. Dimitrov has a better match up in Goffin, leading him 3-1, but that one defeat happened in their last match, a three set win for the Belgian in Rotterdam this season, a time Dimitrov seemed to suffer a let down after his early season success.

Should Dimitrov make it to his scheduled last eight spot, which would be the furthest he would have gone in the US Open, a rematch of the Australian Open semi with Rafa Nadal could take place, a match which, if the tournament has not delivered an all time classic, could be the one to do so.

Nick Kyrgios, seeded 14, third round 2016, 2014.

Kyrgios continues to arouse the curiosity if the tennis world, and his recent trip to the Cincy final, his first ATP 1000 final, will have only served to arouse curiosity even further.

Was that breakthrough a real step forward, or are Kyrgios and his fans about to take another step back this US Open? No one knows, but we can be certain it will be entertaining finding out.

How the draw treated him:

Kyrgios faces fellow Australian John Millman in round one, either Malek Jaziri or Thiago Monteiro in round two, Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round and none other than Roger Federer in the fourth, a showdown likely to be played under the lights on Arthur Ashe over the Labor day holiday, and one the big match loving Kyygios will work hard not to miss.

Rafa Nadal, top seed, Champion 2010, 2013

Rafa Nadal is certainly back- the Australian Open finalist, the Roland Garros champion, the world No.1- but for one of the greatest of all time players, there is back and then there is back and the question going into this US Open is just how back is he?

In his best years, seasons in which he has finished the year end No.1, Nadal has won multiple slams (2008, 2010, 2013) and with the race to year end No.1 with Roger Federer very close, (just 500 points separate them in the ATP rankings going into this US Open), victory this US Open still might not seal the deal, but would give Nadal plenty of confidence to have a strong enough showing in the final swing of the season- one in which he has performed better in in recent years than he did earlier on his career– to end the year No.1 for the fourth time.

Nadal has not been as sharp in this season’s NYC lead in as he has in previous US Open winning years- last 16, Montreal; Quarters, Cincy– but he was under a lot of pressure in Montreal to grab the No.1 ranking, and Nick Krygios is a tough match up for him on fast hard courts. This Open, if Nadal does end up facing an inspired young gun with nothing to lose or a skilled hard courter playing smart tennis, he will be in trouble, but so will his opponents who, if they thought defeating Nadal in best of three at an ATP 1000 was tough, will find that beating him in best of five at a slam is a reward that only comes in the most punishing manner.

How the draw treated him:

A struggling Nadal will not relish a possible meeting with Fabio Fognini, his 2015 conqueror, in the fourth round, but that could be the match in which his hard court champion’s form finally clicks under the pressure.

The top seed will need that click to happen if he is going to get past Grigor Dimitrov in the last eight- the Bulgarian will be in the mood to avenge that Australian Open semi-final defeat- and then negotiate a possible semi with Roger Federer who has beaten him on hard court three times this season (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami).

Marin Cilic, seeded 5, champion 2014.

Cilic’s Wimbledon final appearance was a bittersweet one, the achievement one he was clearly proud of, his biggest feat since winning the 2014 US Open title, but a feat he did not showcase his full abilities in, a foot blister and the occasion overwhelming him.

With the psychological scars and the physical ones still  too raw to have healed- Cilic has not played since Wimbledon– little can be expected of the former champ, an unknown quantity at the best of times, but, as one of the few active slam champs in the draw, the Croatian has to be given a shot because when Cilic is on, his shots are of as high a quality as anyone else in the draw.

How the draw treated him:

After Andy Murray’s withdrawal, Cilic has taken his place in the draw, and will probably be relieved to face world No.104 Tennys Sandgren and not Gilles Simon who he was originally drawn to play. Cilic will not underestimate Sandgren, though- the American will have the crowd’s support on a show court and is match fit having played 12 matches since Wimbledon.

Florian Mayer, if the 2016 Halle champ beats Roberto Dutra Silva, could be awkward in the second round, Thanassi Kokkinakis will be one to watch in the third, and Lucas Pouille (16) or David Ferrer (21) will help us learn just how much Cilic has bounced back.

Cilic’s last eight match is scheduled to be versus 8th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who he played and beat at the same stage in 2015, and if he can  repeat that win, he could face Sascha Zverev, a player who he has struggled with in the past, but if Cilic beat Zverev over five sets and exploit the German’s inexperience on that slam semi-final stage, Cilic will show us he has not only recovered from his SW19 loss, but that he may have even grown.

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US Open Five Faces to Watch Khachanov Rublev Kokkinakis Chung Sugita

US Open

Photo courtesy of twitter.com

The US Open draw is dealt, and while most of the attention will be on the top seeds, there are a few lower ranked players tennis fans will be keeping an eye on. The Tennis Review gives you five players to watch at this season’s final slam.

Karen Khachanov, seeded 25

US Open history: 2015, lost qualifying second round to Ivan Dodig; 2016, qualified to main draw and lost to Kei Nishikori in round 2.

Why he’s one to watch:

Khachanov has shades of another Russian, one who excelled at the US Open, Marat Safin, with his powerful serve and ground game. The 21 year old has climbed up to No. 29 in the world rankings from this time last year when, ranked 95, he had to qualify to enter the US Open draw.

A title win in Chengdu (hard courts), and reaching the Barcelona quarters, the Roland Garros last sixteen and the Halle semis have all contributed to Khachanov’s current career high ranking. That all surface ability bodes well for the Russian’s future as a future top five player, and also for his success at the US Open where the hard courts are fairly neutral and reward both great aggression and defense.

Khachanov falls in the aggressive category, and that mindset plus the fearlessness of youth mean none of the top 16 seeds are going to want to see him in their round of 32.

What draw was he dealt:

25th seeded Khachanov has drawn Marin Cilic (5), a bittersweet draw with Cilic being the 2014 US Open champion and reigning Wimbledon runner up, but also sidelined since SW19 with injury.

Andrey Rublev, ranked 54

US Open history: Qualified in 2015 and lost to Kevin Anderson in round 1, lost in 2016 qualifying 1st round to Miljan Zekic.

Why he’s one to watch:

19 year old Andrey Rublev has climbed from 186 in the rankings ( 22.08.2016) to his current ranking of 54 (career high of 49 after winning Umag), an ascent achieved on the back of winning a first career title, as a lucky loser, on Clay (Umag), reaching the Halle last eight (lost to Khachanov), reaching the semis of the Irving, Texas, Challenger, the final of the Rennes Challenger, and qualifying for the main draw at all three of this season’s slams, going as far as the Wimbledon second round.

The big-serving, big-hitting Rublev has not had the most successful lead in to this year’s US Open, playing just one match in the Cincy qualifiers and losing to Ernests Gulbis, but he did make the Winston-Salem second round (beat Darcis, lost Chung) and he has been working off court with countryman Marat Safin, no less, and that experience combined with winning Umag as a lucky loser should give him plenty of confidence to make his mark in his first ever direct main draw appearance in a slam.

What draw was he dealt:

In his first round, Rublev has drawn world No.48 Aljaz Bedene who has been remarkably consistent this year climbing up into the top 50 from a ranking of 101 at the start of the season.

If Rublev survives Bedene, who has not lost in the opening round of an event since Miami, he could face the in-form No.7 seed Cincy champ Grigor Dimitrov who, with more pressure on him than he has faced for a few years, could be ripe for an upset.

Hyeon Chung, ranked 49

US Open history: 2014, lost second round qualifying to Jimmy Wang, 2015 lost to Stan Wawrinka round 2, 2016, DNP.

Why he’s one to watch:

South Korea’s Hyeon Chung currently holds a career high ranking of 49 and has been working hard this US Open Series, playing in four events, and the Citi Open, a swing which saw him reach the Winston-Salem quarters, and earning wins over David Goffin, Feliciano Lopez, and fellow #NextGenATP player Rublev.

As well as being healthy and hard working, Chung has another factor in his favor, a taste for the big matches, making his way to the last 32 of this year’s Roland Garros where he took Kei Nishikori to five sets.

This season, Chung has also beaten Gael Monfils and Martin Klizan back to back to reach the Munich semis, and qualified for the Barcelona main draw, beating Alexander Zverev and Philipp Kohlschreiber before losing to Rafa Nadal.

That impressive list of scalps is a varied one style-wise. Chung’s game – aggressive consistent baseline tennis, high on margin for error, point construction and calculated risks – matches up well to most styles, meaning if he catches a top seed even slightly below par, the 21 year old is in with a chance to cause some damage to the draw.

What draw was he dealt:

Chung has drawn the veteran clay courter Horacio Zeballos in his opener and could face tenth seed and recent Cincy semi-finalist John Isner in the second round.

Thannasi Kokkinakis, ranked 223

US Open history: 2014, lost qualifying second round to Yoshihito Nishioka, 2015 lost 1st round to Richard Gasquet, 2016 DNP.

Why he’s one to watch:

Kokkinakis has plenty of motivation to go on a good run this US Open- this is his last time to take advantage of his protected ranking-and he also has the inspiration to go deep- after 19 months out of the game recovering from injury, he recently made his first ATP final in Las Cabos, beating Tomas Berdych on the way.

Currently ranked 223, the Australian was ranked as high as 69 (2015.06.08), and for good reason. The 21 year old has the height (196cm) to make his serve a weapon on any surface and the consistency to grind from the baseline and the power and aggression to take advantage of any short balls to come his way.

That style has served Kokkinakis well on hard courts with the Australian reaching the Las Cabos final, the 2015 Indian Wells last sixteen, and upsetting Ernests Gulbis in the 2015 Australian Open first round.

What draw was he dealt:

Kokkinakis has drawn another player coming back from injury, the former top tenner Janko Tipsarevic, in round 1, the 29th seed Diego Schwartzmann who is more at home on clay courts in round 2, and second seed and good friend Andy Murray in round three.

That is a good draw for the Australian and with his laid back and fun-loving personality ensuring him of crowd favorite status, if he can push his more experienced rivals close, he can rely on plenty of crowd support to help him over the line.

Yuichi Sugita, ranked 43

US Open history: Sugita has never appeared in the US Open main draw. Qualifying 1st round ’09, ’11-13; 2nd round ’15, ’16; 3rd round ’10, ’14.

Why he’s one to watch:

Peaking at an age pros used to consider retiring is as much a feature of the tour as teen phenoms once were, and Sugita, aged 28,after spending the first decade of his pro career ranked outside the top 100, finally broke through on 2016.02.09, winning the indoor hard Kyoto Challenger, and the Japanese is just recently hitting his stride, reaching a career high ranking of 43, winning the title in Antalya and the Surbiton challenger on Grass, and reaching both the Cincy and Barcelona quarters (as a qualifier).

Sugita’s favorite shot is the return, a shot which has become as important, if not more so, than the serve in the last few years, and with that in mind, plus his preference for faster surfaces, the Japanese, with Kei Nishikori sidelined with injury, may give his home country something to cheer about this US Open when, for the first time, the 28 year old competes in the main draw.

What draw was he dealt:

Sugita has drawn French wild card Geoffrey Blancaneux in round 1, and could face 26th seed Richard Gasquet in the second round, and if he scores the upset, top seed Rafa Nadal in the third.

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US Open Five Questions Is the Tide about to Turn at the Top?

US Open

Photo courtesy of http://www.dnevnik.bg

The season’s final slam gets underway next week with an intriguing line up of injured and struggling top players and a string of younger players looking ready to breakthrough. The Tennis Review asks five questions concerning what might go down in New York City.

Roger Federer– Is it going to be a rival or the Swiss’ own body which defeats him?

Until his back played up in the Montreal final, Federer was the favorite for the US Open. With the Swiss playing well in his Montreal matches, expectations were that the reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion would do well in Montreal, win Cincinnati and go on to contest for the US Open title and a 20th slam trophy. But, after suffering a sore back against Sascha Zverev in the Montreal final, Federer withdrew from Cincinnati as a precautionary measure.

It’s a decision which could prove to be another of the many wise ones the Swiss has made the last year. The lack of match play should not affect Federer- he only played some exhibition matches at the Hopman Cup going into the Australian Open, and he played just two events going into Wimbledon- and the most important thing for Federer at this rejuvenated late stage of his career is taking care of his 36 year old body, and a sore back, which can come and go in a day or two for the average 20 something year old but is more likely to stick around someone of the Swiss’ advanced tennis years, can only have benefited from a rest rather than being put to the test yet again just days after the Swiss reached his sixth final of eight events competed in this season.

We won’t know how well Federer has recovered until he plays his first couple of US Open matches, but we can guess, if he is healthy, he will be well prepared for his better match-prepped rivals who played Cincy and Winston-Salem and we can also assume that Federer will be ready to carry over his 2017 slam winning form to the final Major of the season, bidding to win his first title in New York since 2008, his 20th career slam, and to win three slams in one season for the fourth time (2004, 2006, 2007).

Will Rafa Nadal live up to his top seed billing?

Ranked No.1, a Roland Garros trophy in hand, the Spaniard is on familiar ground – the question is what kind of territory will he explore this US Open?

The only new territory would be a first round loss- Nadal has won the title twice, been runner up twice, and lost in every round but his opener. Nadal has tasted every kind of bite the Big Apple has to offer, from the sweet taste of Champion status to more rotten ones- the top seed has even suffered his only slam loss from two sets to love up in New York.

While Nadal’s form has been off since winning La Decima at Roland Garros, losing to Muller (Wimbledon), Shapovalov (Montreal) and Kyrgios (Cincinnati), his struggling to maintain his results in the second half of the season is another common pattern in his career, a pattern only broken in two of the three years in which the Spaniard has finished No.1 (2010, 2013).

Even though Nadal may not have been recently looking sharp enough to take the US Open title, in an injury hit and slam-winning inexperienced draw, he may not have to be. The one thing Nadal does need is something he has in abundance- experience- and if he can fight through to the second week, there is every chance this season, like 2010 and 2013, could be one he signs off with both a US Open title and the world No.1 year end ranking.

US Open 2017

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

Is Del Potro’s season about to take a delayed take off?

After a very welcome comeback in 2016, one which seemed to promise so much, 2017 has just not taken off for the Argentine with injuries, bad draws and a lack of match play conspiring to stall him.

There has been some progress this season- del Potro has climbed from 42 to 30 in the rankings and he will be seeded this US Open, and there have been some nice wins- Dimitrov and Nishikori in Rome, Berdych in Cincinnati- but the 2009 US Open champion does not have the momentum he had going into last season’s slam finale in which he made a tearful run to the quarters.

On a positive note, del Potro, a big match player with a top ten all time forehand and a US Open title on his resume, does not need too much momentum. What he does need though is his health and the fitness to run around his backhand when attacked and take control of points with his forehand.

If del Potro comes in at all sluggish, he will at least still have the indoor season to make an impact on the tour, but with that final swing of the tour in many fans eyes little more than a footnote to a long season, and with the world’s sports media and casual fans taking note of the tennis world right now in Flushing Meadows, a deep del Potro run on the New York stage would make the tournament stand out if, in a tournament absent of Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori and defending champion Stan Wawrinka, big names keep fading into the background.

#NextGenATP breakthrough?

In the last few months, Alexander Zverev has won the same number of ATP 1000 trophies as Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Juan Martin del Potro, and Marin Cilic combined, winning the trophies in Rome and Montreal, and defeating Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in the championship matches.

Those results mean the  20 year old has broken through to the top of men’s tennis, but only to some degree – his best showing at a slam is his last sixteen appearance at this year’s Wimbledon, a few rounds too few for a man who has managed to achieve something beyond the skills of the likes of Nishikori and Raonic.

That next step for Zverev, slam wise, looks set to happen at the upcoming US Open. There is something of the Safin circa 2000 or del Potro 2009 (years in which both men won the US Open) to Zverev’s season. The 20 year old has won five titles in 2017 (del Potro won three in 2009 including the Citi Open, and reached the Montreal final; Safin won 7 in 2000 including Canada), an achievement which can be partly attributed to the world No. 6’s double-handed backhand, a match winning all surface shot which could end up, like Safin and del Potro’s, going down in the top ten of all time.

This US Open, unless the draw is as unkind as the Roland Garros one, delivering up as it did as dark a horse as Fernando Verdasco, Zverev will be favored to reach his seeded position in the last four and, once there, he would have a great chances versus a struggling Nadal or Federer, or the likely third and fourth seeds Murray and Cilic, and the way the German has been playing of late, this could be the time not just to make any old breakthrough, but to make the breakthrough.

Zverev is not the only Next Genner to get excited about in New York. Another member of that squad who could break through and win the title could be Nick Kyrgios who just made the final in Cincinnati.

Behind Zverev and Kyrgios are a host of other NextGenners who could go far in New York- Thanassi Kokkinakis just reached his first ATP final, in Las Cabos, Frances Tiafoe upset Sascha Zverev in Cincy, Karen Khachanov just hit a career high ranking of 29 this week, and Denis Shapovalov beat del Potro and Nadal back to back in Montreal.

Is the tide about to turn at the top?

It’s not only the Next Gen who are looking like they might breakthrough- Grigor Dimitrov just won his first ATP 1000 trophy, in Cincinnati. That elite level success has been a long time coming for the Bulgarian who had his first big breakthrough in 2014 when he reached the Wimbledon semis and broke into the top ten in August, hitting number eight, a ranking he is now, after his Cincy win, just one behind at number Nine.

That return to the top ten has been achieved on the back of the 26 year old’s hard court results at events such as Cincy, Beijing, Brisbane and the Australian Open as well as his Grass court ones, reaching the Queens semis and Wimbledon last 16.

Dimitrov’s aggressive style of play, creativity and flair means he plays his best tennis on faster outdoor and indoor hard and Grass court surfaces on which his skilled defensive game and use of slice also give him the edge over other attacking players, and with the Bulgarian finding his form at just the right time, he could repeat or exceed his best career finish at a slam, the semi-finals (Wimbledon ’14, Australian Open ’17).

Seeded seven, the popular 2008 US Open Boy’s Junior champion will also benefit from a kinder draw in the last 32 and 16 and, with so many other big names absent, the potential to be scheduled on bigger show courts such as Arthur Ashe or Louis Armstrong where he will get plenty of crowd support.

While hopes are high for a player like Zverev or Dimitrov to break through and win a slam, another big question is this – if one of the “next in line” were to breakthrough and win the US Open, would it be a false dawn like del Potro’s 2009 win or Marin Cilic’s 2014 victory or would it signal the start of the tide finally turning at the top of men’s tennis?

With all the big name absences and injured and struggling top players, there is space in the draw for the likes of Dimitrov, Zverev, Kyrgios and Raonic to move through, gain even more confidence, and open the floodgates for men’s tennis’ Next In Line.

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Rafa Nadal Montreal Preview 3 Wins From Best ATP View Hard Work Can Earn You

Nadal Montreal

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

Rafa Nadal is three matches away from holding the No.1 ranking for the first time since July 6 2014. The Tennis Review previews Nadal’s potential last steps back up to the best ATP Tour view hard work can earn you. 

For a man who has won 46 matches this season, and won a minimum three matches in a row eight times, another three wins to grab the No.1 world ranking does not sound like too much of an obstacle.

But the three matches which potentially await Rafa Nadal in Montreal will need the Spaniard’s full focus if he is going to clear them- Borna Coric in round two, John Isner or Juan Martin del Potro in round three, and  Milos Raonic or David Goffin in the last eight.

While the Spaniard has a pretty tough draw, his recent form and his history at the event indicate Montreal is as good a place as any to reassert himself at the top of the rankings.

Nadal has a 28-7 winning record at the Rogers Cup and three titles (2005, 2008, 2013). When the Spaniard is in great form, as he was in those years, his serve and forehand are strong enough to hit through the relatively fast courts and out hit high achieving hard courters such as Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Andre Agassi.

Nadal is in impressive all court form this year, too, the Spaniard’s No.1 chances built on both a successful clay court season and a hard court one, reaching the Australian Open, Miami and Acapulco finals.

In the years Nadal has held the No.1 ranking, (2008, 2010, 2013), the Spaniard has managed to adapt his game across most surfaces, and this year is no different.

The Spaniard has been flattening out his shots, serving up there with the best of them, (Nadal is 10th on serve in the 52 week ATP leaderboard) and playing aggressive tennis. Those factors have seen him lead the Race to London and beaten on hard courts by ‘only’ Roger Federer, Milos Raonic and Sam Querrey.

Nadal will also have a little point to prove after his 15-13 fifth set loss to Gilles Muller in the Wimbledon last sixteen.

Nadal is likely to have learned from that defeat, and if his twitter feed showing him training at his academy with the likes of Grigor Dimitrov is anything to go by, he is motivated to take the final few steps of a comeback to the very top of the game and beat the players lined up for him in the Montreal draw,

Borna Coric is likely to be Nadal’s first Montreal opponent. The Croatian has two wins over Nadal (Basel ’14, Cincinnati ’16) and one loss (US Open ’15). The world No. 54, who has a win over Andy Murray this year on his way to the Madrid Quarters and won his first title in Casablanca back in April, has the consistency and tactical acumen to take advantage of his opponent’s weaknesses so if Nadal is at all struggling, Coric will not be afraid to capitalize.

One player who could beat Nadal however well the Spaniard is playing is Juan Martin del Potro, one of the Spaniard’s potential third round rivals. Nadal leads del Potro 8-5 but all five of those del Potro wins have all come on outdoor hard including at last year’s Rio Olympics.

John Isner, del Potro’s first round match up, is more of a long-shot to prevent Nadal reaching No.1, (Nadal leads him 6-0), but the American has a big serve to take Nadal to tiebreaks where anything could happen and is also match fit after winning in Atlanta.

In the last eight, Nadal could meet David Goffin. Nadal is 2-0 versus Goffin and the Belgian is on the comeback from injury so a Goffin win would be a big upset.

More dangerous a last eight opponent for Nadal would be Milos Raonic. Nadal leads Raonic 7-2 but both those losses have come on outdoor hard (Brisbane ’17, Indian Wells ’15).

Nadal did beat Raonic in straight sets at the Australian Open this January, a match with more on the line than Brisbane, and if Nadal has the world No.1 ranking one more match on the line, the Spaniard should prove to be the mentally tougher if the match is close.

Raonic, though, has been injury prone the last 12 months and Nadal could even find himself in the position Andy Murray did when he became No.1 at last year’s Paris Open after Raonic withdrew from their semi-final.

A year ago, Nadal was on the comeback path once again in his injury hit career, ranked No.5, and the prospect of La Decima and the No.1 ranking a distant one. One year on, after making some changes to his team, adding Carlos Moya and deciding to part from Uncle Toni at the end of this season, and adapting his game to his older body, Nadal is three wins away from the No.1 ranking.

The ideal outcome for Nadal would be not just grabbing the No.1 ranking in the semis, but winning the title and its 1000 points, and thus strengthening his bid to finish the year at the top of the rankings. To achieve that Montreal title win, Nadal would have to, if the draw plays out, defeat Alexander Zverev (4) in the semis and Roger Federer (2) in the final.

Zverev has proven a difficult rival for Nadal, holding match point against him in Indian Wells ’16 and taking him to five sets at this season’s Australian Open.  The German is also the recent Citi Open winner and his big serve and powerful backhand combined with confidence could be a lethal concoction for the Montreal top seed especially if Nadal is feeling any letdown after finally regaining the world No.1 spot.

If the achievement inflates Nadal instead, beating Federer in the final might still be out of reach- Federer has beaten Nadal three times on hard this season and is the Spaniard’s biggest rival for the year end No.1 ranking– but even if the Spaniard does lose, defeat will never have looked as pretty as it does from the World No.1 suite in the ATP rankings penthouse.

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CITI OPEN What the Title Would Mean for the Top Six Seeds

Citi Open

Photo courtesy of http://tenisalmaximope.blogspot.jp

A title win at the ATP 500 Citi Open is a big opportunity for one of  the contenders to get some valuable confidence going into the bigger ATP 1000 events and then the US Open. The Tennis Review looks at what the trophy would mean to the top six seeds. 

Dominic Thiem (1)

Thiem has already won two ATP 500 titles, one on hard courts in Acapulco in 2016, and one in Rio, on clay, this season.

The Austrian has not won a title since Rio but had a great European clay court showing, reaching the Barcelona and Madrid finals and the Roland Garros semis.

The world No. 7 was not the favorite to win those big clay titles, losing to Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but, this week, he is the top seed and if he can win in Washington, it would mean he can handle the pressure of being the leading player at an ATP 500 event with ten of the world’s top 20 in the draw.

Handling the pressure of life at the top of tennis is something Thiem needs to work on, as we have seen from the letdowns he suffers when he faces two elite players in a row (versus Djokovic in Rome, Nadal in Paris), so a Washington win might help him believe he really does deserve to be up there with the best of them, a feeling that will come in handy with the US Open just three weeks away.

Draw: (Last 16 onward)  Kevin Anderson, Gael Monfils,  Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori.

Chances: Hard courts are not Thiem’s best surface and while he may be the top seed, this draw is full of players with better hard court games and more experience at winning in 500 fields. If Thiem did manage to win the Citi Open beating some of the big names here, it would be very impressive indeed.

Gael Monfils (6)

Monfils won his, so far, one and only 500 event at the Citi Open last year, beating Ivo Karlovic in the final, and went on to reach the US Open semis.

This season, injuries have meant Monfils has not been able to build on that progress, but the Frenchman announced after Wimbledon he was feeling positive when it came to his health.

If Monfils did repeat his Citi Open 2016 success this year, it would be the first time he defended a title.

Draw: Mischa Zverev,  Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori

Chances: Quite a good draw for Monfils. If he makes the final, Sascha Zverev or Kei Nishikori might be a tough ask, but he would have a good chance against most of the other potential opponents to cut down his 6-20 finals deficit.

Alexander Zverev (5)

Zverev hit a career high ranking of 8 this week and is the only player in the draw with an ATP 1000 trophy (he’s not the most decorated player in the draw, though- that status belongs to slam champion Juan Martin del Potro).

The 20 year old is now the leading player of the #NextGenATP and if he wins the title, he would pull even further away from the chasing pack of Nick Kyrgios, Borna Coric, Hyeon Chung and company.

An ATP 500 title added to his collection (three titles) would mean the only classification missing would be a slam, and if he can keep having confidence boosting runs through big tournament draws, that slam breakthrough could really gather some momentum.

Draw: Nick Kyrgios,  Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori,  Dominic Thiem

Chances: Zverev’s draw looks tough on paper, but Kyrgios has been injured, Dimitrov is so inconsistent, Nishikori has been injured and hard is not Thiem’s best surface so Zverev has a nice chance here to cement his top ten status.

Kei Nishikori (2)

Wild card Nishikori is working his way back from injury and his results have been mixed the last few months- a quarter final run at Roland Garros and a retirement in the Halle last 16 and a Wimbledon last 32 defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut.

Hard courts are a better surface for Nishikori than Grass, however, and the Japanese has plenty of good memories of American Summer hard courts with a Citi Open title in 2015, a run to the 2014 US Open finals and a run to the semis in NYC last season.

If Nishikori can reach the Citi Open’s later stages, that would be very encouraging. If he won the title, it would mean Nishikori had some form and much needed confidence going, but the Japanese is so injury prone a Citi Open win would mean little for his long term chances at the US Open.

Draw: Juan Martin del Potro, Lucas Pouille, Grigor Dimitrov,  Dominic Thiem

Chances:  This is a tough draw for Nishikori, but he is one of the most skilled hard court players in this draw and if he can produce his best form he can beat whoever is on the other side of the net.

Milos Raonic (3)

Milos Raonic has taken a wild card into the event he won in 2014. The Canadian has been setback by injuries since reaching last year’s Wimbledon final and has dropped from a career high ranking of 3 reached at the end of 2016 to his current ranking of 10.

Raonic has not competed in Washington since he won the ’14 title so with no points to defend, if he won the title, he could start climbing back up the rankings again. A win would also give the Canadian some much needed confidence to help him have another go in New York at winning that all important first slam trophy.

Draw: Ryan Harrison, Jack Sock, Kei Nishikori, Dominic Thiem

Chances: Raonic is one of the best hard court players in the draw- if he is healthy, he can take a second Citi Open title.

Grigor Dimitrov (4)

In the last year, Dimitrov has shown us what he can do on hard courts, reaching the last four of Cincy (lost to Cilic), winning Brisbane (beating Thiem, Raonic and Nishikori on the way), and reaching the Australian Open Semis (lost to Nadal).

Dimitrov struggled on the slower hard courts in the US Spring swing and on the European clay courts (though he did contest one of the best clay court matches of the season in the faster Madrid conditions versus Thiem) before showing some better form at Queens and Wimbledon, reaching the semis and the last sixteen, losing to eventual champions Feliciano Lopez and Roger Federer.

A Washington title would be the second ATP 500 title of Dimitrov’s career (won Acapulco ’14) and with the US Open three weeks away, Dimitrov would have plenty of time to keep building on his confidence going into the season’s last slam where he has twice been to the last sixteen (2014, 2016).

Draw: Steve Johnson,  Sascha Zverev,  Kei Nishikori,  Dominic Thiem

Chances:  Dimitrov beat Johnson, Thiem and Nishikori on his way to the Brisbane title, so it all depends on which Dimitrov shows up- the one who won Brisbane or the one who lost to Dan Evans in his Citi Open 2016 opening match.

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PlayBrave Clothing Review Why British Tennis Summer Season Need Never End

PlayBrave

Photo Courtesy of PlayBrave

The British Tennis Summer might be over, but PlayBrave’s all weather tennis gear means that for tennis lovers who live in colder climes such as the UK, the tennis, strawberries in season or not, need never end.

Britain should be some kind of tennis heaven- we have the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament, a sporting event that grabs the back and front page headlines for a few weeks every year, the men’s No.1 tennis player comes from Scotland, and there is no shortage of tennis partners to be found in June and July.

But, once the tour leaves our shores, most of the tennis news vanishes into the results pages, and a lot of the tennis players leave the courts and disappear onto their sofas,  a departure not entirely their fault given the at times scary British weather and the just as frightening fees for indoor courts.

Luckily for us British tennis players who want to play all year round, but are in need of some encouragement, PlayBrave has come up with just the gear to keep the British tennis Summer going all year round, kit which keeps us looking both stylish and comfortable, leaving us free to forget about any dark clouds overhead and kick up a storm at the net and rain down aces instead.

Play Brave

Photo courtesy of PlayBrave.

You may already know PlayBrave from this year’s British Summer Tennis Season. PlayBrave was one of the Boodle’s sponsors, exhibiting the talents of Nick Kyrgios and Thanassi Kokkinakis to tennis fans at Stoke Park, Buckinghamshire.

PlayBrave

Photo courtesy of Play Brave

PlayBrave was created by a privately owned British Company who wanted to help tennis players living in colder temperatures enjoy the benefits of outdoors sport’s clothing technologies and keep playing outside no matter what the British weather threw at them, the kind of weather – sunshine one second and wind, downpours or drizzle the next – to have forced some of the world’s biggest tennis matches to go on into the dark or even over a couple of days.

For the pros at Wimbledon, the Center Court roof has solved some of their British weather problems, but a few days to finish a tennis match or a roof to save the day is not a luxury available for many recreational tennis players, and for those times when you would like to get practice, a hit, or a match finished, PlayBrave has a clothing collection to let you do so.

PlayBrave’s tennis gear uses layering to control body temperature in changing weather conditions with jackets, sweaters and T-shirts designed to not only give players the chance to train and play outdoors all year round but to do so with maximum freedom of movement and comfort.

Play Brave

Photo courtesy of PlayBrave

PlayBrave’s Britishness is also represented by its materials coming from all over the world- Merino Wool from New Zealand and elastane and polyester from Portugal.

These materials combine with liberation cuts to produce tennis gear which stretches and moves with the player so the clothes flow with your swing, not pull against it, giving you superior stroke finishing and better reach on serves and smashes.

The material also allows for, with all that moving and jumping, some much needed ventilation, so, whether you are playing in the chilly Lake District or the depths of Winter in Illinois, there is no need to be afraid to get out there and play, every incentive, instead, to get some stylish tennis gear on, get on-court, and play brave.

PlayBrave

Photo courtesy of Play Brave

 

The PlayBrave clothing collection is available to purchase at www.playbravesports.com 

Follow PlayBrave on twitter here.

Follow PlayBrave on instagram.

 

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Roger Federer Wins Record 8th Wimbledon- Do You Believe in G.O.A.T?

Federer Wimbledon

Photo courtesy of UPI.com

If seeing is believing, tennis fans around the world will tell you that on Sunday July 16th 2017 in the Gentlemen’s singles final on Wimbledon’s Center Court  they saw the G.O.A.T defeating seventh seed Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4.

Fans who were not around to see the victory, those not yet born, will read about it in the record books one day- an 8th Wimbledon title, a 19th slam title, 14 years after his first and a 93rd career title- and decide on Federer’s G.O.A.T status themselves as past fans of the game did when it came to assessing Rod Laver’s G.O.A.T status before Pete Sampras broke the Australian’s record of 11 slams with his 12th  slam win at the 1999 Wimbledon event, defeating Andre Agassi in a great straight sets Grass Court exhibition, or evaluating Sampras’ own G.O.A.T credentials in the period leading up to Federer’s 15th slam win, also at Wimbledon, in 2009.

This season, fans foresaw Federer the G.O.A.T  gracing the Wimbledon trophy ceremony when, after winning the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, the Swiss skipped the clay season to rest and prepare for the Grass, a decision that proved wise when he returned and, after a rusty loss versus Tommy Haas in his Stuttgart Opener, won 11 matches straight from Halle to the Wimbledon final and did so without dropping a set.

What fans did not predict though was quite how the Wimbledon final would turn out. The match started competitively enough with Cilic holding a break point early on in the first set, but the Croat hit the return into the net, and then took a tumble on court soon after, his performance slipping, too, in its focus and accuracy, the errors bombing, his self imploding, and all the while Federer holding firm, knowing  Cilic was prone to nerves and inconsistency, symptoms exacerbated by blisters on his feet, the Croat’s body bruised by the hours on court needed to reach the heights of a Wimbledon final, his mind overwhelmed by the occasion, and the presence of his opponent, so much so that in the middle of an MTO, with the Tennis world’s eyes upon him, Cilic wept.

Federer was not moved by that heart-breaking sight, though. The Swiss got down to business despite the distraction of an injured opponent like the professional he is, taking the first set 6-3 and then coming in for the kill, like a Champion does, to take the second set 6-1.

Cilic managed to pull himself together in the third set, but it was too late by then, Federer’s grass court tools too sharp, his mind and gut too close to the finish line to let this one slip. At 3-3, Cilic serving at 15-40, a Federer backhand slice drew an error from the Cilic forehand, and the Swiss had the break.

Federer served for the match at 5-4 and a service winner earned him two championship points, on the second of which the Swiss served an ace down the tee to win the trophy and to convince even the disbelievers, despite what they saw when he won his record 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th slams, he was not just resurrected for an encore but was instead back for the long-haul, winning his 19th slam two slams after his 18th (there had been three and a half years between 17 and 18), and pulling away from his active rivals Rafa Nadal (15) and Novak Djokovic (12).

In previous years, Federer’s classic grass court guile was beaten by Nadal and Djokovic’s very modern aggressive baseline games, games so effective in recent conditions, Federer himself had been forced to bow down to them and modify his own style to stay relevant, but, as much as he was master of his style, they were masters of theirs and their style was in trend and so both men got in the way of Federer winning an eighth Wimbledon sooner than the age of 35, Nadal beating him in the 2008 final, Djokovic in the 2014 and 2015 finals, wins which have been referenced in rebuttals to the already converted arguments as to Federer’s G.O.A.T status, some critics, no less than tennis Gods themselves, arguing you cannot be the Greatest ever when you have a losing head to head record versus your greatest rival and some arguing Djokovic’s 2015 was the greatest season ever put together and that such a season could only belong to the G.O.A.T.

A 19th slam, though, aged 35, a month away from turning 36, and won without the loss of a set retells the Nadal and Djokovic G.O.A.T narratives from twisted tales to monstrous myths, unlikely to be retold again as anything but the latter unless they, too, revamp, improve, persevere, and even if they do, their more physically grinding games are unlikely to stand the test of time the way Federer’s classic style has.

Djokovic and Nadal, aged 30 and 31, were nowhere to be seen in the role of G.O.A,T busters in this year’s Wimbledon final, but Federer, as unbelievable as it seems looking back a year, was once again G.O.A.T hunting, and this time a big serving big hitting opponent like Cilic was   facing him down, the perfect match up for the Swiss.

Cilic was going to have to peak to bring Federer down, but Federer’s 76% of first serves in, 81% of first serves won, 72% of second serves won, 23 winners and 8 unforced errors, and 5/10 break points won were stats of a game never likely to be beaten, just as Federer’s serving game, attacking play, touch and use of slice had been too much for Mark Philippoussis in 2003, Andy Roddick in 2004, 2005 and 2009, Rafa Nadal in 2006 and 2007, and Andy Murray in 2012.

Nadal and Djokovic’s absence from Federer’s 19th slam victory run does not stand in the way of its greatness, their absence instead eclipsed by the man’s very presence in the final itself. Federer’s perseverance to get himself into contention for the title for the eleventh time despite those three heart-breaking losses is what earned him the opportunity to contest another Wimbledon final against a favorable match up (he led Cilic 6-1 before the match) in the first place, and while the Swiss’s classic styles matches up well to most and has taken him to 29 slam finals, it is his belief that has turned a champagne career into the milk and honey of the Gods, Federer saying in his post match speech:

The tournament I played, not dropping a set, it’s magical really, I just can’t believe it yet, it’s just too much really….I guess again it’s just belief that I can achieve such heights and, you know, I was not sure if I was ever going to be here again in another final, you know, after last year, I’ve had some tough ones, losing to Novak here in ’14 and ’15, but, you know, I always believed I could maybe come back and do it again and, you know, if you believe, you can go really far in your life and I think I did that, and I am happy I kept on dreaming and believing and here I am today for the eighth and it’s fantastic.”

Now Federer has won Wimbledon again, that belief is sure to keep flowing, potentially even more slam titles floating upon it. In his mid to late 30s, Federer has dived head first into the tennis fountain of youth- warm milky sweet waters concocted of well-timed rest, the best health, fitness and technical experts 2.2 million pounds a slam trophy can buy, and weaknesses retooled into weapons fired with bigger rackets.

A fountain a thirsty man like Federer will always be willing to drink from, the Swiss pouring the milk and honey into even more trophies, holding them aloft, passion spilling over, to toast his G.O.A.T worthy talents to, forever surrounded by believers only too happy to raise another chalice.

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Wimbledon Final Preview Roger Federer Vs Marin Cilic All Roads Lead to SW19

Wimbledon Federer Cilic

Photo courtesy of halotimes.vn

Roger Federer (3) and Marin Cilic (7) will compete for the 2017 Wimbledon Men’s singles title, a final both men have been on the road towards for some time, at the end of which one is looking to add some finishing touches to the most glittering of empires, the other to decorate further an already finely bejeweled palace . The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winner.

Roger Federer’s 2017 has seen the Swiss put the finishing touches to the game he reconstructed back in 2014, namely on his single handed backhand’s potency and resilience under the pressure of its greatest potential demolishers, and consequently swell his legacy and build the second quarter of his season around the one achievement that would leave that legacy as out of reach for his competitors as London’s Shard is to the buildings it towers over.

The 18 times slam champion’s decision to skip the clay season in order to prepare himself for the Grass was easy to understand considering the Swiss’ age, the timing of his resurgence, and his skills on the surface, a decision he could afford to take after unexpectedly winning the Australian Open and then following it up with titles in Indian Wells and Miami, his best start to the season since 2006.

Marin Cilic, aged 28 and seven years younger than the Swiss, may not have built his season around the Championships, but his season has shaped into its best form just in time. The Croat did not have such an impressive start to the season as the Swiss- in the events Federer won in the first quarter, Cilic went second round, opening round, opening round- but Cilic found his form on the clay, winning Istanbul and reaching the quarters of Monte Carlo, Rome, and the French Open, and in the process getting some much need match fitness and confidence if he was going to make a push for the Wimbledon title.

While Cilic was working his way into form, Federer’s decision to take a rest from the Clay season and focus on Grass paid off as the Swiss won Halle and then beat Alexandr Dolgopolov, Dusan Lajovic, Mischa Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych without dropping a set and while suffering a hold cold.

Cilic’s hard work also paid off, too, as he reached the final of the AEGON championships and beat Philipp Kohlschrieber, Florian Mayer, Steve Johnson and Roberto Bautista Agut all in straights at Wimbledon and then Gilles Muller, one of the in form Grass courters, in five sets and then top seed Andy Murray’s conqueror Sam Querrey in four to reach his first Wimbledon final after 11 attempts where he play a man playing his eleventh Wimbledon final in all.

Both Federer and Cilic  have taken very different roads to get to this Wimbledon final, and those roads did not just begin at the start of this season, but can be followed all the way back to 2014 when Federer lost the Wimbledon final, his first slam final since Wimbledon 2012, while the statuesque Cilic, long touted as a potential winner in SW19, reached the last eight for the first time and took the eventual champion, Novak Djokovic, to five sets.

That Cilic 2014 SW19 run laid the foundations for a breakthrough for the 2010 Australian Open semi-finalist whose career had never reached its potential, a tendency to choke and to be inconsistent week in week out seeing him trapped under rubble when he should have been scaling the heights.

Where better than to scale the heights than the city of Skyscrapers and a couple of months later in New York, with Federer closing in on the No.1 ranking, and Djokovic knocked out of the US Open, Cilic showed he had the mental strength to reach the top as he defeated the heavily favored Swiss in a straight sets demolition, going on the win the final and enter the very small circle that is 21st century men’s tennis Grand Slam winners.

Cilic’s career would not escalate after that slam win, however, the Croat suffering a shoulder injury that kept him out of the 2015 Australian Open. Federer, meanwhile, did not let up chasing the No.1 ranking, and though he would not take it,  in 2015,  Federer, playing his best tennis since 2012, would reach another Wimbledon final, and Cilic would get his career back on track, reaching another SW19 quarter-final, losing to the eventual champion Djokovic again, this time in straights.

With both men such prominent figures at the tournament, it seemed only inevitable they would eventually meet on Center Court, and one year later, Federer and Cilic, two of the favorites for the title, went head to head in the 2016 last eight. The match was a classic, Cilic leading two sets to one and holding match points against a Federer struggling with a knee injury but determined to revenge the US Open defeat, the Croat going on to lose the match, and Federer losing the semi-final and then taking six months out the game.

While Federer was out, Cilic made an odd progress of sorts in his career, a rare one on the tour, the Croat one of only seven active slam champs, and the youngest of all, winning a first ATP 1000 title, in Cincinnati, and a first ATP 500 title in Basel, and reaching a career high ranking of 6, displaying the consistency he could build on to win more slams, and the ability to stay strong under the pressure of being the favorite against lower ranked in form opponents or higher ranked but compromised rivals.

Federer knows only too well about being the favorite, having contested 29 slam finals, winning 18 of them, and collecting 74 other titles. The Swiss also knows about how to handle being the favorite in a match up, having defeated Cilic 6 times and losing just the once.

The Swiss matches up better to big servers and big hitters than he does big returners and consistent aggressive base-liners, matching the likes of Cilic service game for service game and having a stronger return to get that decisive edge, and, failing that, the shot-making skills, superior all round game and career experience to get the upper hand in tiebreakers.

The Swiss is only vulnerable to such players when they, as Cilic did in New York in 2014, red-line.

Cilic will need to paint the lines again if he is going to beat a Federer in this fitness and form on Center Court this Final’s day. More likely, though, the Croat’s game will hit highs and lows as he experiences a heady mix of adrenaline and nerves from the dizzying heights of the dream come true of his first Wimbledon final while the Swiss, who has lived the dream eleven times over, and lived the nightmare of it, too, stays steady under pressure, and then plays even better, producing his best grass court tennis on the big points to claim a record eighth Wimbledon title.

A title Federer has been on the road towards for a few years now, a road well-traveled, one he knows Cilic is not far behind him on, the Croat ready to overtake him should the Swiss take a wrong turn in the race to whatever lies at the end of the stretch, an empire already glittering or one on the verge of exploding.

Posted in Grass court season 2017, Marin Cilic, Preview, Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2017 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wimbledon Semi Finals Preview Federer Vs Berdych Cilic Vs Querrey

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Photo courtesy of wrestlingua.com

The Wimbledon 2017 Last Four features the clear favorite for the title, a former slam champ few would bet their house on, the 2010 SW19 runner-up still in the mix, and the first American in the men’s semis since Andy Roddick in 2009. The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winners.

Roger Federer (3) Vs Tomas Berdych (11).

A favorite at one of his best events, and at the business end of the tournament, Federer should feel pretty optimistic about his chances of making the final, but one player who might make the Swiss feel a little pessimistic is his semi-final opponent eleventh seed Tomas Berdych.

The Czech beat the Swiss at the 2010 Wimbledon event and at the 2012 US Open, and has beaten him at some of the other tournaments the Swiss could call his backyard such as Dubai (2013) and Cincinnati (2011).

While Berdych has been the spoiler at a few seemingly potential Federer victory parades, the Czech has also been one of the Swiss’ victims on plenty of occasions with Federer leading Berdych 18-6 in their head to head.

It has also been a while since Berdych upset the Swiss, Federer  not losing to him since Dubai 2013 and winning seven matches in a row.

Two of those matches have come this season and very different matches they were, too. Federer defeated Berdych for the loss of just ten games in the Australian Open third round while their Miami last eight encounter saw Federer  saving two match points and winning 8-6 in a third set tiebreaker.

Those recent Federer victories mean Federer should be feeling confident he can overcome whatever challenges his old rival gives him as should the very different stages both men are at in their careers right now.

Federer has had a career revival, winning another slam at this year’s Australian Open aged 35 and after six months out the game, and the Swiss has been the stand out favorite for the title before the tournament began. Five matches in, despite suffering a head cold, the third seed remains so – the Swiss has not dropped a set and beat last year’s runner-up Milos Raonic in the quarters in, bar a slight lapse in the third set, pretty convincing style.

Meanwhile Berdych has declined since 2014, no longer a member of the game’s elite top eight and hovering around the fringes of the top ten. Nevertheless, he is still a high quality competitor and is into the Wimbledon semis for the second consecutive year, coming through a fairly tough draw defeating Chardy, Harrison, Ferrer, Thiem (in five sets) and then Djokovic, leading 7-6 (2), 2-0 when the three time champion retired.

Prediction: Federer’s cold and Berdych’s clean baseline hitting, the likes of which Federer has not faced this Wimbledon and a style of play which can bother him,  means the Swiss is a little vulnerable here, but the seven time champ’s serve and grass court skills should see him through in four sets.

Marin Cilic (7) Vs Sam Querrey (24).

Marin Cilic has been tipped as a potential Wimbledon champion for a few years now though the Croat’s inconsistent nature means few would bet their house on the Croat, who has reached the semis for the first time after his fourth quarter-final appearance, to finally contest the final even though he is on paper very much the favorite.

Cilic leads Querrey 4-0, including a 17-15 fifth set win at Wimbledon 2012, another five set win at Wimbledon 2009, and a three set win at Queens 2012. The only straight sets win came in their most recent match, the 2015 Washington last sixteen which Cilic won in two tiebreaks.

Both men went five sets in their Wimbledon 2017 quarter final matches, with both men winning their fifth sets 6-1, and both were impressive doing so for different reasons– Cilic having to see off an in-form and inspired Gilles Muller, Querrey faced with the distraction of an injured Murray and instead of being dragged down level-wise managing to lift his game instead.

Prediction: A close match looks on the cards, and one which could go either way. Cilic, though, is the more experienced at this level of the sport- this is his third slam semi compared to Querrey’s first- and the Croat should be able to raise his game if things get tight and make it through to his second slam final.

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