Roland Garros 2018 The High and Lows

 

nadal roland garros

Photo courtesy of www.samaa.tv

Roland Garros 2018 served up a record 11th title for Rafa Nadal, a nice run from a much derided young gun, and an amusing and to the point outburst from Schwartzman. But while there were some entertaining highs, there were some lows, too- the predictability, the final, and the lack of hi-tech facilities. The Tennis Review takes you along the rollar coaster that was the French Open ’18.

Highs

Excellence pursued, pursuit excelled.

Nadal is no longer in pursuit of excellence. he has attained it. Everything else he achieves at Roland Garros from here on is a bonus, be it 12 titles, 13, 14, no one is going to close in on his record at a single slam whatever the number from 11 onward.

As it stands, he has already distanced himself from past mass slam accumulators in the Open era- Bjorn Borg won six Roland Garros titles (74-75, 78-81), Pete Sampras 6 at Wimbledon (93-95, 97-00), Roger Federer 7 at Wimbledon (04-07, 09, 12, 17).

One factor most likely to leave Nadal standing alone at the top is that the Spaniard got into slam trophy collecting early, winning his first title aged 18, a feat today’s 18 year olds are far away from achieving, the end of the first week at a slam the best they can hope for.

Nadal has another time factor in his favor, too. Back when players did win slams in their teens on a regular basis, their careers ended in their late 20s at best, and if they were playing into their 30s they were shadowy figures disappearing in first rounds. Nadal, now 32 and No.1 in the world and holder of two slam titles, is, however, a new breed of slam champion and has carried on winning into his prime and into his second prime, revitalizing his career with the latest technology, science, and playing conditions, to win into his early 30s, and there is little to suggest he won’t be biting into that Roland Garros trophy for seasons to come.

This Roland Garros may have the best time for Nadal’s opponents to halt the top seed in his record-making tracks. This season, Nadal looked more vulnerable than in previous championship form seasons. particularly in the Rome final. However, his Roland Garros draw was a good one for the defending champion featuring few players capable of exploiting his patchy form over the course of a five set match,  and after a rocky start versus Simone Bolelli, in which the Italian threatened to out hit the Spaniard, one of the only ways to beat him in Paris, the Spaniard survived, lack of light helping him by giving him a night to think matters over, and the next day Nadal defeated Bolelli and cruised through the draw, beating Guido Pella, Richard Gasquet, and Maximilian Marterer until the last eight when that cruise got a little choppy and Diego Schwartzman took a set and led by a break in the second.

The same rainy damp conditions which helped the Argentine hit the ball with a heavy hand also turned out to help Nadal when rain sent them off court until the next day when the defending champion came back and won the next three sets with ease, Nadal, arguably the game’s quickest problem solver over the course of a match more than capable of getting to the root of his issues versus Schwartzman with a night to sleep on it.

Nadal’s semi-final versus Juan Martin del Potro was straightforward, too, when, after saving six break points in the first set, the Spaniard went on to dominate the match and reach his 11th Roland Garros final.

High hopes for the final versus Dominic Thiem were dashed after a competitive first set, the Austrian struggling on his serve and going down a break early in the second and third sets and never able to steady himself and get into the match against the game’s best front runner. Even Nadal’s cramping hand could not come to Thiem’s rescue, the Austrian overwhelmed by then and unable and lacking the big match experience, the feel for the occasion so absorbed into Nadal, to keep Nadal on court and take advantage of the tennis scoring system.

Those Nadal hands were healed in quick time, ready to lift the trophy for the 11th time.

Zverev’s run to the quarters

Zverev had been pestered with the question of when he was going to start producing at slams ever since he won his 1st ATP 1000 title in Rome, and the more trophies he won, the more bothersome the questions became.

As the second seed in Roland Garros, after a strong clay lead-in, Zverev had even more pressure on him than usual to perform.

In his second, third, and fourth roud match it looked like he would have to swat those questions of when, when, when, away once again with his typical answer that he was only 21 and had time on his side. In each match Zverev fell behind, 2 sets to one versus Dusan Lajovic and Damir Dzumhur and 2 sets to love versus Karen Khachanov, and, in each contest, Zverev made the most of the extra time five sets gave him as he fought back, scrambling  into the quarters where he had little to give versus Dominic Thiem, going down in straights.

Likely to be seeded three and fourth at the remaining slams of the season, the next question is when is Zverev  going to reach the semis? His inconsistency means that when that might exactly be is a touch unpredictable, but when it happens it will probably be, as his answer to his critics was at Roland Garros,  loud, crazy, and divisive sports entertainment of the highest order.

Diego Schwartzman’s outburst

The trend, or hard to give up habit now, of fist-pumping winners, or your opponent’s errors, and letting out an accompanying shout of “Come on” is a controversial one.

We know which side of the fence Diego Schwartzman sits on in this debate after his outburst to the umpire on a change of ends in his last sixteen match versus Kevin Anderson.

Trailing two sets to love,. Schwartzman took his frustrations out verbally, perhaps being a little too candid for his opponent who was in earshot. But venting his fury served Schwartzman well- he won the match, saving match points,  and he went on to become the only player to win a set off Nadal.

The Lows

One man’s continued excellence is another man’s never-ending predictability.

As much a legend as Nadal is, and while it is a pleasure to witness his excellence on the surface, the lack of competition made the tournament a hard watch for neutrals.

The final- more of a final blow than a grand finale.

Much was expected of Dominic Thiem in the final and his failure to deliver did not go unmentioned out loud when Ken Rosewall said, when asked his thoughts on the match in the pre-ceremony chatter, that Thiem had “disappointed”.

Thiem blushed. Anyone watching did, too.

2018 and Roland Garros, in the city of lights, is still without them. Next year will be lit, though, and there will be rooves, too.

Let’s not end this review on a low note, though. Let’s remember instead the wonderful spectacle that was:

The best match of Roland Garros 2018:

Marco Cecchinato vs Novak Djokovic. Cecchinato won 6-3, 7-6 (4), 1-6, 7-6 (11)

An old champ on the road back, driven by his hunt for glories past, a player with a past seeking to make a good name playing inspiring tennis, the kind it takes to romance the Parisians, a tiebreak of the most dramatic order, in an at times lackluster tournament, this quarter-final rewarded those who stay tuned by taking us to the rare heights tennis can take us.

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Wimbledon 2018 Men’s Final Preview Kevin Anderson Vs Novak Djokovic

Wimbledon

Photo courtesy of wiki commons.

Novak Djokovic (12) and Kevin Anderson (8) have given everything they could possibly give to put themselves in a position to contest this year’s Wimbledon final, but both men will need to give, as daunting as that must seem, even more on Sunday if they want to win the title. The Tennis Review takes a look at the factors each man has going in his favor and predicts the winner. 

In Novak Djokovic’s favor

This is Djokovic, three time Wimbledon Champion.

Novak knows exactly what it feels like to win a Wimbledon trophy. He won the title in 2011, 2014, and 2015, and he beat Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, twice, to do it.

He has a nice head to head lead over Anderson.

Though Djokovic struggles more with big serving than he does with other strengths, he has a 5-1 head to head lead over Anderson.

Their closest match was at Wimbledon in 2015, a match suspended because of fading light, which took 2 days to complete and in which Djokovic trailed 0-2 in sets and came back to win.

Head to heads mean little in matches like Grand Slam finals however, and Anderson has much improved the past couple of seasons. Nevertheless, the head to head does suggest that Djokovic may have a little too much game for Anderson.

Djokovic is playing his best tennis since Summer 2016.

Djokovic is coming into the final off a win over world No.1 Rafa Nadal in the semis, his best win for some time.

Nadal is not the grass courter he once was- this year’s semi was his first trip there since 2011-but he was playing some great tennis, especially around the net, and Djokovic’s 10-8 fifth set victory over him means his mental toughness, his focus and belief, is where it needs to be going into his 22nd slam final.

Anderson is coming into the final on the back of playing the second longest match in Grand Slam history (6 hours 36 minutes)

Anderson did not have to do too much running, nowhere near as much as Djokovic did in his semi-final, the 11th longest of all time (5 hours 15 minutes), but the mental toughness he had to execute, serving second in the deciding set in both that semi-final and his 13-11 fifth setter  quarter-final versus Roger Federer must have left him pretty spent.

In Kevin Anderson’s favor

He has been to a slam final before.

Anderson reached the US Open ’17 final where he lost to Rafa Nadal.

His run to that final, through the bottom half of the draw ripped to shreds by 2nd seed Andy Murray’s last minute withdrawal, was less stellar than his run to this Wimbledon final (Aragone, Gulbis, Coric, Lorenzi, Querrey, Busta compared to Gombos-Seppi-Kohlschreiber-Monfils-Federer-Isner) and he matches up better to his final opponent Djokovic than he did to his US Open conqueror Nadal who defeated a nervous and flat Anderson in straights.

So, going into his 2nd slam final, Anderson should be feeling confident, inspired and more able to handle slam final nerves, and, as a result, give a performance worthy of his skills and hard work, which, when you have his serve and work ethic, should be quite something.

His serve .

Anderson’s serve has never been tested to this extent as it has this Wimbledon and you would have to give him an A star for his performance.

His serve has held up to about as much pressure as anyone could put it under and if he finds himself in a fifth set in the final and serving second he should be anything but fazed, and if he’s serving first, well no one is going to say he does not deserve a little luck.

Anderson will of course need his serve to negate the returning strengths of Djokovic who has a good habit of breaking back immediately after being broken, but Anderson’s serve is going to be harder to break than anyone else Djokovic has faced in the draw and he may find good habits die easy on the Wimbledon lawns.

His opponent has just come off his biggest win in nearly two years.

Djokovic used to play, and win, the kind of matches he played in his semi every other slam, but it’s been since 2016’s US Open since he made a slam final and until the Nadal win he had not won a five set slam match versus a big rival since beating Murray in the French Open final.

Djokovic says he had to overcome all sorts of doubts to defeat Nadal and that he would have liked a day to recover so there is a chance that kind of mental toil might lead to a little letdown in the final which could open a door for Anderson early on, but a door the 8th seed will need to shut pretty quickly.

Prediction: Djokovic will be contesting his 22nd slam final, Anderson his 2nd. Djokovic is 12-9 in finals and it is very much up in the air which slam final Djokovic we are going to get in the final. Still, Anderson is even more of an unknown quantity and if the 2017 US Open final version turns up, Djokovic should win in straights.

This final will be played on a new day though and that is what tennis matches come down to- how the players compete on the day.

Going on form coming into the final, both men are pretty even. Going on the match up, both men have a shot to negate their opponent’s strength. Going on how much either have left to give, both are pretty spent from their semis and will need to hope that the final itself, the atmosphere, the occasion, will give them that extra boost of adrenaline needed.

So, who has the edge? That has to go to Djokovic. Running on empty versus a tough opponent in a high pressure match is what he knows and with a 13th slam a match away against an opponent he has beaten before in a tough match at SW19 that knowledge should be what gives him the power to win the final and biggest point.

 

 

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Wimbledon Week 2 Preview Anyone else for del Potro for the title?

Wimbledon

Photo courtesy of flickr.com

After  a week of upsets which made a mockery of my predictions, here is my preview of  week 2 of the 2018 Men’s Singles Wimbledon Championships.

Week 1 had plenty of upsets- check out some of the seeds who were knocked out:

First quarter

16th seed and Halle Champ Borna Coric (lost to Dannii Medvedev in round 1)

Second quarter

3. Marin Cilic (lost to Guido Pella in round 2)

6th seed Grigor Dimitrov (lost to Stan Wawrinka in round 1)

Third quarter

7th seed Dominic Thiem (retired two sets to love down versus Marcos Baghdatis in round 1)

4th seed Sascha Zverve (lost to Ernests Gulbis in round 3)

15th seed Nick Krygios (lost to 24th seed Kei Nishikori in round 3).

The fourth quarter has been the least damaged with Rafa Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, and Novak Djokovic all still in the event.

Cilic was probably the only real title contender in that mix, but the absence of many of those other big names will have made the lives of some in the draw a little easier.

The last 16 now looks like this:

Federer Vs Mannarino

Monfils Vs Anderson

McDonald Vs Raonic

Isner Vs Tsitsipas

Khachanov Vs Djokovic

Nishikori Vs Gulbis

del Potro Vs Simon

Vesely Vs Nadal

Federer’s draw got a lot easier after the first week.

Coric and Cilic’s losses have made Federer’s path to the final certainly a lot easier. The Swiss has barely been breaking a sweat as it is and has made it to the second week without dropping a set, but he has had a nice draw, facing Dusan Lajovic, Lukas Lacko and Jan Lennard Struff all of whom he matches up well with.

Federer’s big weakness, his ground game, may be tested a little more by Adrian Mannarino, and if he meets Gael Monfils in the quarters, he will certainly be tested out in that regard, but he should come through as Federer is playing good tennis, Mannarino is inexperienced at this level and Monfils is not exactly famed for the kind of focus he would need to defeat Federer at SW19.

In the semis, Federer could face Milos Raonic, but that match up works well for him (Federer leads 11-3) and Raonic would need to be having an excellent day to defeat him or Federer having an off day, which is possible considering his age and that he has not really been challenged this tournament.

Isner, McDonald or Tsitsipas would also be unlikely to upset Federer, Isner perhaps able to take a set, so more than likely Roger Federer is going through to the 2018 Wimbledon final.

Who is Federer’s likely final opponent?

Rafa Nadal has been playing some patchy tennis but is into the second week and has a nice draw with Jiri Vesely in round 4, but the quarters is about as far as Nadal should be going this Wimbledon.

del Potro has been playing well and has yet to drop a set, beating Lopez and Paire in the last couple of rounds, and is likely to take Nadal out in the quarters. del Potro just has too much firepower and lives for the big matches. He also has a score to settle after Paris and will not want to miss this chance.

In the semis, del Potro could face Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori, or Ernests Gulbis, and would be favored to win against any of them on the basis of his recent big match form- del Potro is the Indian Wells Champ and is coming off a Roland Garros semis appearance and so he seems to have the winning feeling of late, and that confidence could make the difference against opponents who will push him, have not been consistent enough of late to push del Potro quite far enough.

Novak Djokovic seems the most capable of defeating del Potro and the three time champion is having an impressive return to second week Slam form, however del Potro is going to have the support of the Center court crowd and Djokovic is still not quite where he needs to be to beat del Potro in a slam semi, which is Rafa Nadal US Open and Roland Garros Champion standard.

Still, if Djokovic is going to get back to that level, a semi versus del Potro could be the match which elevates him, but for now, going on the first week and recent history, del Potro seems the player most likely to reach the final.

Who is going to win the final?

If Federer were to be facing anyone else in the draw in the final, I would say he would win, but if he faces del Potro, who has the serve, the second shot, and the back court game to win on a slower center court deep in week 2, as well as the mental strength and smart tactics to defeat Federer in important and close matches, then I have to pick del Potro as a very worthy and popular winner.

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Wimbledon 2018 Men’s Tennis Preview

Wimbledon

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Men’s tennis’ finest will be competing for the prestigious Wimbledon trophy over the next two weeks, but who are the favorites? The Tennis Review looks at the main contenders for the 2018 Gentlemen’s singles trophy.

The Favorites

Marin Cilic, runner up 2017

Putting Marin Cilic at the top of this list seems only the sensible thing to do after his recent Queens win in which he defeated Novak Djokovic after saving championship point.

Cilic trailed Djokovic 1-14 in their head to head going into that match and is as infamous for his mental issues as he is famous for his big serve and groundies. Beating Djokovic the way he did was an encouraging sign that Cilic is improving in his weakest department.

Cilic has been improving in general since winning the US Open ’14. The Croatian may not have replicated that slam win, but he has become more consistent and has won an ATP 1000, an ATP 500, reached two more slam finals, and climbed to No.3 in the world.

Prediction: Champion. Cilic plays his best tennis in slams and over five sets and is looking the most in form on Grass this season.

Roger Federer, Champion, 03-07, 09, 12, 17

Federer has once again built his season around Wimbledon, but in his most recent Grass court outing, losing to Borna Coric in the Halle final, his foundations looked anything but ready for a slam battle.

Federer could of course regroup in time for the Championships, but he won’t go into the tournament as the absolute favorite like he did last season and his recent loss will give his opponents some hope they can end his SW19 reign.

Prediction: Last 16. Federer has drawn his Halle conqueror Borna Coric in the last 16 and will need to be on his game if he is going to avoid being pinned to the baseline and forced into fatal error after fatal error.

Borna Coric, second round, ’15

Coric was 2-6 on Grass before he won Halle, beating Sascha Zverev and Roger Federer en route to the title. That Grass title run was a watershed moment for the 21 year old who has been improving steadily and seems to have garnered the necessary experience and confidence to win big matches.

Coric is the 16th seed after Roberto Bautista Agut’s withdrawal and the draw has landed him right in the way of a last 16 contest with Federer.

Prediction: Semi-final. The mentally toughest of the Next Gen and with the depth of shot and aggression to outgun the other baseliners in his section and keep his more aggressive opponents at the back of the court and reliant on their weakest shots, making them most uncomfortable in the process.

Novak Djokovic, Champion ’11, ’14-15

Djokovic seems to have steadied his season with his recent Queens final appearance, a title he was a match point away from winning.

Prediction: Quarters. Djokovic has had a great draw and will take advantage of it. He showed in Paris and Queens he means business in tennis again and expect to see him in the business end of his second most successful slam.

Grigor Dimitrov, Semi-finalist, ’14.

Dimitrov did not show up in Queens, losing tamely in straights to Djokovic in the last 16 , but Dimitrov’s game is tailor made for Grass and if he is going to notch up another significant run this season, it will be in SW19.

Prediction: Quarters.

Sascha Zverev, fourth round, ’17

Zverev has the serve and the groundies to go far at Wimbledon, however his lack of net game means he is unlikely to be winning the title this season.

Prediction: Fourth round.

Nick Kyrgios, quarter-finalist, 2014.

Anything could happen with Nick Kyrgios.

Prediction: Semis. Something big has to happen to him soon, and this Wimbledon, his draw and recent form (Semis Stuttgart and Queens, defeated by Federer and Cilic) suggest this could be the time he is going to catch fire and go on his best slam run yet.

Juan Martin del Potro, Semi-finalist, 2013

del Potro just gets better and better, winning his first ATP 1000 in Indian Wells and reaching the Roland Garros semis this season.

Prediction: Runner up. del Potro shows up for the big ones and is in the weaker bottom half. By far the biggest match player bar Nadal and blessed with the serve and attacking groundies to excel on grass, del Potro seems destined to make his first slam final since New York ’09.

Early tournament Predictions:

Quarter Finals:

Coric d. Querrey

Cilic d. Dimitrov

Kyrgios d. Djokovic

del Potro d. Pospisil

 

Semi Finals:

Cilic d. Coric

del Potro d. Kyrgios

 

Final:

Cilic d. del Potro

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Dominic Thiem Can He Win his First Grand Slam in the Roland Garros Final?

Roland Garros Thiem

Photo courtesy of ici.radio-canada.ca

Dominic Thiem has reached the Roland Garros final after defeating Marco Cecchinato in straight sets and is now into his first ever Grand Slam final. The Tennis Review asks if Thiem can he win his first Grand Slam on Sunday at Roland Garros.

Before the tournament, there were doubts as to Thiem’s French Open championship chances. Thiem had suffered a  one sided defeat in Monte Carlo (Nadal), been upset in Barcelona (Tsitsipas), been dismissed in the Madrid final (Zverev),  suffered an early loss in Rome (Fognini), and had endured a pretty grueling run to the title in Lyon.

Those doubts have been put to rest now that Thiem has exceeded his own seeding (7) and other’s expectation by reaching his first slam final and at the tournament he has been tipped to win since he first made a name for himself as one of the game’s best clay courters.

Thiem has worked hard to reach this stage of his career, but he has had a bit of a helping hand in the last two weeks. They say that you need a little luck to win your first slam, and Thiem has had his fair share this Roland Garros. In his second round match versus Stefanos Tsitsipas who beat him in Barcelona, Thiem was involved in quite a battle before poor light stopped play. Thiem was also a little lucky to face a Sascha Zverev coming into their quarter final match on the back of three consecutive five set matches and to get that match won in three very straightforward sets. Thiem was fortunate, too, in his semi, facing Marco Cecchinato, a first time slam semi-finalist. The Italian may have made Thiem work for his win in the first two sets, but lacked the experience to keep himself in the match once he had blown his chances in the second.

Thiem has taken his luck with the gratitude it deserves, playing superb tennis at times, the right mix of powerful baseline hitting, taking time away from his opponents, moving forward to finish points and showing us some fine touch, as well,  on his way to reaching his first Grand Slam final.

Most importantly, Thiem has managed to not just move on from a somewhat dispiriting run going into the tournament, but has also put any mid match mishaps behind him such as that fluffed volley on set point in the second set tiebreak versus Cecchinato. Thiem did not implode and get himself embroiled in a real dog fight out there, instead, he expressed his fury with himself for making such an error and then moved on, competing to the best of his abilities, and in the process winning the set, and then dominating the third like someone competing in his third consecutive Roland Garros semi-final versus a first timer out there on the big stage.

In his first slam final, Thiem faces ten time champ Rafa Nadal who defeated Juan Martin del Potro in straights, running away with the match after a tricky first set in which the Spaniard had to save six break points.

Facing Nadal for your first Roland Garros title is a fitting step in the sporting rite of passage Thiem has earned for himself, and, while the task is the most daunting one Thiem could face in the current Clay court competitive climate, in Thiem’s favor is the fact he is the only player to defeat Nadal in the past two clay court seasons (Rome ’17, Madrid ’18).

Granted, Nadal has the upper hand in their recent two year clay court rivalry period (leads 4-2   and 6-3 career) and the top seed did defeat Thiem in last season’s Roland Garros semi-finals for the loss of just 7 games.

That 2017 Roland Garros Nadal victory came versus a Thiem coming down after delivering his best ever Grand Slam performance, defeating Novak Djokovic in the last eight, the Austrian bageling in the third set the defending champion who had beaten him convincingly in the Rome semis a few weeks before.

That Rome loss, coming off the back of Thiem inflicting on Nadal his only clay court loss of the season, was another of Thiem’s let downs after a big win, an unfortunate hall mark of Thiem’s career, rearing its ugly head even as recently as Monte Carlo where he beat Djokovic only to lose to Nadal and winning a mere two games.

This Roland Garros, however, there is little risk of a similar fall from up high when he faces Nadal in the final.

This time, Thiem goes into the final on the back of winning matches in which he was the favorite- Zverev may have been the higher seed, but the slower Roland Garros conditions were more suited to Thiem than the German-and this upcoming final  is the first match at this year’s Roland Garros in which Thiem will be the underdog.

This match is the upset Thiem will be going after with fresh legs, a hungry mind, and, if he plays well, plenty of adrenaline to wash away any nerves.

Those Thiem legs are going to be a little wobbly to say the least. That this is Thiem’s first slam final is a blessing and a curse- on the one hand, Thiem has no scars from previous final defeats, but on the other hand he could suffer stage fright, and no doubt he will.

In the best case scenario, Thiem eats up those nerves with the appetite of a champion,  comes out swinging and if he does lose it is because he forces Nadal to raise his game to its very heights; in the worst case, Thiem chokes, the match races away from him and he has the grass season to lick his wounds.

Which one happens, and it might be the case Thiem swings from one end of the spectrum to the other at different stages of the match, all depends on Thiem and how he deals with those wobbles.

One way of coping for Thiem should be by the seventh seed reminding himself that while top seeded Nadal may be a 10 time champion, he, Thiem, is very much the heir apparent and has arguably had the more convincing run to the final.

Once you tear up the match on paper and throw it on the fire, Thiem really has nothing and no one to fear out there on Philippe Chatrier on Sunday. Thiem has worked towards this goal his whole tennis playing life, has finally arrived at a place in his tennis career where he is capable of handling the lows and the highs that come with being a Grand Slam contender and is in a position to contest the championship match, and while his opponent in that match is none other than Rafa Nadal, the Spaniard has been vulnerable this clay season, as he was when Thiem beat him in Madrid and Zverev led him by a break in the third in Rome, as he has been even this Roland Garros when he came up against Simone Bolelli and Diego Schwartzman who both had him rattled in their most aggressive streaks of play, the kind of streaks Thiem can turn into a consistent barrage.

 

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

Roland Garros

Photo courtesy of wikicommons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander Zverev (2), 3rd round 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Zverev’s first slam final looks imminent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep an eye on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Curious Case of the Madrid Open

Madrid Open

Photo courtesy of youtube.com

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

The Clay plays faster than your average clay court event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Madrid Open’s courts were once painted blue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thirty30 Tennis What You Need to Know

Image courtesy of Mark Milne

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

What is Thirty30 tennis?

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

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

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

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

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

What are the rules?

Everything is identical to the traditional scoring except:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the idea come about?

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

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

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

2018 ITF Rules of Tennis

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) FAST4 (brand name)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the advantages of  Thirty30?

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

Thirty30 Tennis – Trialing

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

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

Thirty30 tennis:

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

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

If you are interested please see:

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

Thirty30 Tennis – Testimonials

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

https://www.thirty30tennis.com/testimonials

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

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

Thirty30 Tennis – Summary

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

Thirty30 tennis – EVERY Point REALLY Counts!

Thirty30 tennis – VERY marketable!

Thirty30 tennis – Have You Tried It Yet?

Website: https://www.thirty30tennis.com

Email: contact@thirty30tennis.com

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

Arbroath, Scotland, March 2018

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

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

Clay court season

Photo courtesy of pxhere.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A telling time for Zverev

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep an eye out for Thanasi Kokkinakis 

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

Other players to keep an eye on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Isner

Photo courtesy of Hindustantimes.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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