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Posts Tagged ‘David Ferrer’

PostHeaderIcon Sloane, Paul, and Conflicts of Interest: A Wimbledon Day Three “Shock or Not”

Sloane Stephens (Chris Raphael/AELTC)

Sloane Stephens (Chris Raphael/AELTC)

Sloane Stephens, and her coach Paul Annacone, lead the way for my first tournament upset “Shock or Not” of the fortnight. Wondering why I included her coach? Let’s just call it a case of “Conflict of Interest” Shock. Read on for those bits, in addition to thoughts on losses by Stosur, Gulbis, Ferrer, and more.

Maria Kirilenko defeats Sloane Stephens: Shock or Not? Sadly, but predictably, NOT.

Kirilenko, someone who’s coming off of an injury-plagued year, played a very good match. However, that has nothing to do with the ever-growing body of disappointing efforts from Sloane.

I’d hate to say that I’ve kind of given up on Sloane, but I’ve kind of given up on Sloane; at least until she can stop playing the martyr. We (in the media) are not the enemy, and we don’t all want her to fail. We simply want her to stop acting like an entitled American player who enjoys the perks/money of sporting fame but doesn’t put in the effort that’s necessary to continue warranting those perks.

What was once a genuine freshness in the interview room has turned into (way too much) attitude for the on-court display of nonchalance. For what it’s worth, my advice is cut the snark, put your head down, get to work and prove us wrong!

Sloane coach Paul Annacone from her Twitter account.

Sloane coach Paul Annacone from her Twitter account.

Paul Annacone, Sloane Stephens’ coach, once again did NOT recuse himself from on-air analysis after her loss: Shock or Not? Label this a “Conflict of Interest” Shock.

Paul Annacone shouldn’t have said one word about Sloane’s match in the Tennis channel commentary afterward on Wimbledon Primetime. But he did. And what he said was stunning for its’ lack of objectivity in breaking down Sloane’s performance in that match. This may not bother others, but I’m going to have a difficult time taking him seriously after this one.

The conflicts of interest in tennis are numerous and sometimes almost legendary. For example, think back to all of the times Mary Jo Fernandez would commentate on Federer only to join her husband, Fed’s ex-agent, in his Roger’s player box at big matches.

Mary Jo’s actions always bothered me, but this one with Annacone bothered me more. Sloane pays him. So it only stands to reason that he’s not going to give as honest a critique of her efforts as other commentators will who aren’t on her payroll. That is the appearance that was suggested to me from his analysis, or lack thereof; particularly so because he offered little more than an agreement with her own assessment of the match.

Integrity matters, and the appearance that it could be lacking in the commentary booth matters more. I’m not saying that Annacone doesn’t have integrity, but I am saying that his comments on his employer appeared disingenuous because of their relationship.

Samantha Stosur (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Samantha Stosur (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Yanina Wickmayer defeats Samantha Stosur: Shock or Not? Absolutely Not.

Back after 2012 disappointments at Wimbledon and the Olympics, I asked Sam if she was glad to finally be off the grass for the season, she said: “Yeah. I’m not that sad that I’m off of it for another year or so.” Take a look at her record on the green stuff and you’ll quickly understand why this was no shock, no matter what her seed was coming into the tournament. Hopefully she regains some mojo back on the American hard courts.

Sergiy Stakhovsky defeats Ernests Gulbis: Shock or Not? Shock.

Ernests has never done well at Wimbledon, but I’d hoped that  his maturity as a player over this past year would translate to a better performance at this year’s Championships. Perhaps I should have known otherwise after hearing that he made quips about not wanting to be a quote machine, then followed up by promptly talking about vampires in his next press conference.

Andrey Kuznetsov defeats David Ferrer: Shock or Not? Shock, but…

It’s never a good sign when a player’s camp is silent to the extent that Ferrer’s camp was prior to the start of Wimbledon. Stomach issues kept him from playing last week, and that surely had to play into his loss against the upstart Kuznetsov. Lack of play isn’t great preparation for a grinder like Ferrer. It also doesn’t help that Kuznetsov is a former junior champion at Wimbledon.

Lauren Davis defeats Flavia Pennetta: Shock or Not? Not.

This was a great win for Davis, who’s managed a few upset scares over the past couple of years. Apart from Davis, Flavia had her moment in the 2014 sun at Indian Wells. Unfortunately, it’s going to get any brighter than that for her the rest of the season.

Fabio Fognini

Fabio Fognini

Fabio Fognini reaches the third round: Shock or Not? Yep…Shock.

I expected an early exit for Fabio, but he proved me wrong. However, he did NOT fail to disappoint on the court; amassing $27,500 in fines for unsportsmanlike conduct. Now THAT’S the Fabio we’ve all come to know and love!

Bojana Jovanovski defeats Victoria Azarenka: Shock or Not? Not.

In my preview piece of the women’s draw, I said that Vika was going “to have virtually no impact at this Wimbledon”. That was pretty much the case after a tough first-round win that was immediately followed by and even tougher second-round loss. I knew she wouldn’t go far, but I didn’t expect the screaming Bojana Jovanovski to send her packing.
(Yes, there was value judgement in that comment.)

Tereza Smitkova defeats Coco Vandeweghe: Shock or Not? Disappointing, but No Shock.

With a wonderful serve and power to rival Serena, many of us would love to see Coco consistently perform at the top level of her game. This is especially true after her first WTA title win at the Top Shelf Open. But it all came crashing back to earth in a second round loss. Still a great run for her…

PostHeaderIcon Novak’s Time to Shine: My Wimbledon Men’s Preview

Novak Djokovic (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Novak Djokovic (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Owing to the unpredictable nature of grass court tennis, Wimbledon is always ripe for early round upsets. Remember Rosol and Darcis’ triumphs over Nadal, or Stakhovsky’s takedown of Federer? Nothing is a given on grass if your opponent gets hot. This year is probably no exception, with a handful of potential upsets looming early. Still, I don’t see anything stopping Novak from a second Slam title after Paris disappointment. Let’s dive in for a “best guess” at who’ll be the last man standing on grass.

(* – Expected R16 matches)

Top Half, Top Quarter

Djokovic [1] – Tsonga [14] *

Wildcards: Simon (Djokovic), Querrey (Tsonga)

Gulbis [12] – Berdych [6] *

Stakhovsky or Verdasco (Gulbis), Cilic (Berdych)

Now is as good time as any to stake my claim on Djokovic as my Wimbledon favorite. Away from the clay (or even on the clay in best of 3), Novak has proven to be the most consistent of the Big Four at making the late stages of his tournaments. And his loss in the French Open final will just add fuel to the fire for another Slam title.

After dispatching Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in R16, Novak’s likely opponent in the quarters will be former finalist, Tomas Berdych, after he gets through his own tricky R16 with Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis won their last encounter a few weeks back at Roland Garros, but Berdych won their earlier meeting in Rotterdam, and also has a few more grass matches under his belt. So, barring another ’12 first-round upset (ironically, to Gulbis), Berdych takes this by a razor-thin margin.

Gilles Simon doesn’t really pose a threat to Novak, but he’s always dangerous when he cares enough. Querrey, a former Queen’s Club champion, could cause problems for Tsonga (see above for Simon). Gulbis will need to watch out for Sergiy Stakhovsky or Fernando Verdasco, and Berdych will definitely need to watch out for Marin Cilic. In the end, however, look for a Novak – Tomas quarterfinal.

Top Half, Bottom Quarter

Murray [3] – Fognini [16] *

Wildcards: Bautista Agut (Murray), Anderson (Fognini)

Dimitrov [11] – Ferrer [7] *

Wildcards: Thiem or Dolgopolov (Dimitrov), Brown (Ferrer)

Mauresmo notwithstanding, Andy Murray will be lucky to make it out of this quarter…and I’m just not sure he’s going to be THAT lucky. Odds are good that he’ll make a quarterfinal appearance, but then he’ll likely face off against Grigor Dimitrov, the newly-crowned Queen’s Club champion. And with Grigor’s much-improved game and 5-set match fitness, Andy could be hard put to reach the semifinals.

Though he is the expected R16 match for Murray, Fabio Fognini is a non-starter. Kevin Anderson is more likely to reach the R16 than Fognini. To a lesser extent, the same could be said of David Ferrer in the bottom section with Dimitrov. He’s the expected match, but comes into Wimbledon on the heels of an injury. His first test could come in the form of Dustin Brown, a talented-yet-unpredictable player who knocked off a tired Nadal in Halle. But even if he gets past Brown, he won’t get past Dimitrov.

Though I might be selling Andy short in this quarter, Grigor finally looks primed to reach his first Slam semifinal.

Bottom Half, Top Quarter

Wawrinka [5] – Isner [9] *

Wildcards: Istomin (Wawrinka), Lopez (Isner)

Janowicz [15] – Federer [4] *

Wildcards: Janowicz (Janowicz), Muller/Benneteau (Federer)

This quarter, titled “The Monte Carlo Rematch”, will likely pit the current Swiss No. 1 against the former Swiss No. 1.

Though he’s had an uneven season, Stan Wawrinka is still one of the game’s elites, and not half-bad on grass. He might receive a challenge from John Isner, but it’s not likely. Big John hasn’t had the best season, however, and hasn’t been able to use his big serve for success at SW19 a la Andy Roddick. But his presence should keep Stan on his toes, as should the presence of Feliciano Lopez; a surprisingly adept grass court player.

Roger’s path to the quarters goes through Jerzy Janowicz, which could be tough. Jerzy hasn’t had the best year, but could catch fire like he did at last year’s Championships (semifinal loss to Murray). Roger will also have to watch out for two potential upset artists: Julien Benneteau and Gilles Muller. Benneteau had him on the ropes in 2012, and Muller always seems to lift his game on grass.

But even with all of the potential challengers, it’s hard to see this quarter being won by someone NOT from Switzerland.

Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter

Raonic [8] – Nishikori [10] *

Wildcards: Kohlschreiber (Nishikori)

Gasquet [13] – Nadal [2] *

Wildcards: Kyrgios or Monfils (Gasquet), Klizan or Rosol or Karlovic (Nadal)

Rafa Nadal is about as vulnerable this year as any year I’ve seen. Yes, he won a record ninth French Open title, and he’s the World No. 1, but there’s a greater sense now at the ripe old age of 28 that his body is becoming more and more uncooperative to the stresses of the game. Grass is one of the biggest stresses for him (knees) because of the low/unpredictable bounce. And let’s not forget that troublesome back, which nearly took him into a fifth set against Novak in Paris.

Rafa’s draw doesn’t help either, seeing as it’s littered with potential landmines all the way to (and including) the quarterfinal match. Klizan, Karlovic, and his 2012 slayer Rosol all have a chance at an early Nadal scalp. Richard Gasquet has grass-court credibility as well. If Gasquet can get by the surging, young star Nick Kyrgios AND countryman Gael Monfils, Rafa will have his hands full.

And that’s only in his section of the quarter. The other side poses even greater threats with Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori.  Raonic has improved his movement over the past year, but still gets challenged on grass – even with his huge serve. Luckily for him, he has no real challengers up until he faces Nishikori.

How that match might swing will depend on many factors. The first is Nishikori’s body. He always seems to be at risk of retiring or breaking down in way too many matches. Longer Slam matches don’t help. The good thing for him, however, is that he’s playing some of his best tennis and is a better mover than most. If he can get by Kohlschreiber, I think he’ll get past Raonic for a spot in the quarters.

My gut tells me that Rafa won’t make it out of this quarter. Then again, my gut told me that his knee wouldn’t hold up for last year’s US Open; and we all know what happened there, right? In all seriousness, Rafa’s best chance this year is to pray for a hot and dry fortnight that will make for drier grass and, eventually, a more clay-esque environment for his game.

Quarterfinal Picks

Djokovic – Berdych, Murray – Dimitrov, Wawrinka – Federer, Nishikori – Nadal

Notable First-Round Matches

Steve Johnson (USA) v Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [27]

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) [11] v Ryan Harrison (USA)

Donald Young (USA) v Benjamin Becker (GER)

Samuel Groth (AUS) v Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) [21]

Martin Klizan (SVK) v Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2]

PostHeaderIcon Crunch Time For The Women and Men in Paris: A Quick French Open Quarterfinal Preview

Sharapova, Errani, Halep, and Bouchard

Sharapova, Errani, Halep, and Bouchard

Here’s a quick preview of the French Open quarterfinals, including my original picks AND my revised picks. Ladies first…

WOMEN

* – original pick for quarterfinal winner

Garbine Muguruza (ESP) v Maria Sharapova (RUS) [7]
H2H: Sharapova leads 1-0

On paper, Maria is the clear favorite in this match. But that means nothing in an upset-laden tournament such as this one. Nor does it matter to the woman who knocked out Serena Williams then backed it up with two more solid wins. My gut says Maria, but I won’t be surprised if Garbine comes out of this one with another high-profile scalp to add to her collection.

Original Picks: Serena Williams*, Maria Sharapova

Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) [14] v Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) [18]
H2H: Suarez Navarro leads 1-0

Carla’s playing great tennis and Eugenie has a ton of confidence. Since I haven’t seen either of their matches, I can’t really use their prior matches to predict this outcome. It’s a toss-up, but I’ll give the nod to Eugenie. My gut tells me that, all hype aside, she’s the real deal. Let’s hope she lives up to it.

Original Picks: Aga Radwanska*, Flavia Pennetta

Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) [27] v Simona Halep (ROU) [4]
H2H: Head-to-head is tied at 2-all

Out with the old, in with the new! Sveta has done well to make it this far, but Simona is playing excellent tennis. She’s completely owned her ascension to the top of the women’s game, and doesn’t look likely to be derailed from a first-ever French Open semifinal. If Sveta has a good day, you never know what could happen. But it’s not likely…

Original Picks: Simona Halep*, Ana Ivanovic

Sara Errani (ITA) [10] v Andrea Petkovic (GER) [28]
H2H: Head-to-head is tied at 1-all

Add me to the ranks of people who are thrilled to see Andrea fit, and playing great tennis again after way too many injuries in her short career. That said, this is an interesting (and odd) match-up with not much history to help us figure out who will come out on top. Sara has gone much further than I thought she would after her injury in the Rome final, and looks poised to go further. Experience will make the difference in this match-up.

Original Picks: Li Na*, Jelena Jankovic

Revised Quarterfinal Picks: Sharapova, Bouchard, Halep, Errani

Nadal, Murray, Gulbis, and Djokovic.

Nadal, Murray, Gulbis, and Djokovic.

MEN

* – original pick for quarterfinal winner

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] v David Ferrer (ESP) [5]
H2H: Nadal leads 21-6

Before the tournament began, I gave the nod to Rafa in this quarter in spite of Rafa’s loss to David in Monte Carlo. All of a sudden, however, there’s a lot of background chatter about Rafa’s back. (And we all remember what happened in Australia when his back went out.) Still, if injury isn’t an issue, I can’t see David hanging with Rafa for “best of five”.

Original Picks: Rafa Nadal*, David Ferrer

Gael Monfils (FRA) [23] v Andy Murray (GBR) [7]
H2H: Murray leads 3-2

As I tweeted earlier today, this match pits “ridiculous defense against ridiculous defense”! But in the end, Andy’s experience will win out. His game is a notch or two more disciplined than Gael’s, and that will be enough for a trip to the semifinals. And don’t forget to bring your popcorn.

Original Picks: Stan Wawrinka*, Andy Murray

Tomas Berdych (CZE) [6] v Ernests Gulbis (LAT) [18]
H2H: Berdych leads 4-2

It’s anyone’s guess as to who will prevail in this quarter. Tomas has had an excellent tournament, dropping only two sets along the way. He seems to be in a good headspace and is playing excellent tennis. Ernests, however, has a huge amount of confidence and momentum coming into this match after defeating Roger Federer in R16. Tomas leads the H2H, but Ernests is playing with such variety that I can see him unsettling his Czech opponent early, and often.

Original Picks: Roger Federer*, Roberto Bautista Agut

Milos Raonic (CAN) [8] v Novak Djokovic (SRB) [2]
H2H: Djokovic leads 2-0

Milos has worked hard to improve his suspect movement on clay, and the results speak for themselves. Unfortunately for him in this match, he’s playing the second best clay court player in the world. Novak moves better, and has shot variety, can return big serves, and easily turns defense to offense. Even if Milos plays the match of his life, it still won’t be enough to overcome Novak’s ruthless path to the final.

Original Picks: Novak Djokovic*, Milos Raonic

Revised quarters picks: Nadal, Murray, Gulbis, Djokovic

 

 

 

PostHeaderIcon Men’s French Open Preview: Best of Five Helps Rafa Get Number Nine

Rafael Nadal (© FFT)

Rafael Nadal (© FFT)

The spring clay court season demonstrated to us all that Rafa is definitely beatable in a “best of three” format IF his opponent can execute their game plan from first ball to last. It’s a whole different matter, however, when you need to win three sets against the King of Clay.

If Rafa Nadal wins a record ninth French Open title, it will be with the help of the “best of five” format. But it won’t be easy. He’ll need to exact revenge on all of his major foes from 2014 to do so. The toughest of the group, Novak Djokovic, wants this title more than anything else, and has the game to do it.

On top of everything else, he’s riding high on confidence after besting Rafa in consecutive Masters Series finals: the last on clay in Rome. Can Rafa turn the tide in Paris? Let’s take a quick look at the draw, and its’ likely outcome starting with the quarterfinals.

Top Half – Top Quarter (Rafa Nadal [1])

This quarter starts with Rafa and this year’s sacrificial lamb, Robby Ginepri. From there he’s likely to face Nico Almagro in the R16, and then David Ferrer in the quarters. It’s not an ideal draw, but one that is still pretty manageable with the “best of five” format. Both Nico and David beat Rafa this spring, but in “best of three” matches. And I don’t give either player the benefit of the doubt in this format.

Stan Wawrinka (© FFT)

Stan Wawrinka (© FFT)

Even though Grigor Dimitrov, the Bucharest Open champion, is also in this quarter, I don’t expect him to get by David for the chance to take on Rafa. He’s improved his game, and fitness, by leaps and bounds since his 2012 Roland Garros cramp-fest. But “best of five” on clay against two of the games preeminent clay-courters is simply too much to expect.

Top Half – Bottom Quarter (Stan Wawrinka [3])

Stan is a question mark in this year’s French Open. Why? After winning the title in Melbourne, he went AWOL through the rest of the hard court spring. The clay swing starts and he’s back on top again in Monte Carlo, only to go AWOL again. Honestly, it could go either way. Luckily for Stan, his draw looks good to make it through to the quarterfinals where he’ll likely face Andy Murray.

Roger Federer (© FFT)

Roger Federer (© FFT)

Andy has an 8-6 H2H with Stan, but has never beaten him on clay. When you add that to his lack of a coach (and subsequent return of his past “bad” Andy behavior), it doesn’t look good for the former member of the Big Four.

Bottom Half – Top Quarter (Roger Federer [4])

If I were to go strictly by rank, Tomas Berdych would be the choice to reach the quarterfinals from the top section of this quarter. But ranking doesn’t amount to much when facing a potentially dangerous opponent like Roberto Bautista Agut. Roberto, still riding a wave of great play that started early last year, reached the semifinals in Madrid. Conditions are different in Paris, but he’s still capable of an upset.

Novak Djokovic (© FFT)

Novak Djokovic (© FFT)

In the bottom section, Roger will need to get by the dangerous-yet-unpredictable Ernests Gulbis in the R16. And like with Rafa versus Nico and David, “best of five” will be the deciding factor. From there, Roger should be good to make it through this quarter.

Bottom Half – Bottom Quarter (Novak Djokovic [2])

Always one to give credit where credit is due, I give all credit to Milos Raonic for putting in the work to get his movement where it needed to be in order to well on surfaces other than hard court. He’s moving better, playing smarter, and should have no issues in getting through the top section of this quarter.

Unfortunately for Milos, Novak will once again await him on the other side. And barring injury, there’s little that’s going to keep Novak from reaching the final!

Quarterfinal Picks

Rafa Nadal defeats David Ferrer

Stan Wawrinka defeats Andy Murray

Roger Federer defeats Roberto Bautista Agut

Novak Djokovic defeats Milos Raonic

Semifinal Picks

Rafa Nadal defeats Stan Wawrinka

Novak Djokovic defeats Roger Federer

Final Pick

Rafa defeats Novak for his ninth French Open title with help from the “best of five” format.

Notable First-Round Matches

Rafael Nadal v Robby Ginepri

Nicolas Almagro v Jack Sock

Grigor Dimitrov v Ivo Karlovic

Milos Raonic v Nick Kyrgios

PostHeaderIcon A Serena Cakewalk and Rafa Dethroned: Ten Final Thoughts on the Week in Rome

Serena Williams (photo G. Sposito)

Serena Williams (photo G. Sposito)

With work (and life in general) keeping me busy, it’s been awhile since my last pro tour post.  But now that I’ve had a chance to recharge, it’s time to dive back into the thick of things after a very telling week in Rome. Without further ado, here are some final thoughts on the gusty week that was in Rome.

  1. Question: Who can stop Serena? Answer: Nobody!
    Serena was soundly lambasted back when she first exclaimed, “When I’m playing at my best, it’s hard for people to beat me”. Years later, there isn’t a single player on tour who can refute that claim, and beat her with their best. She might lose a set or two, and maybe even an occasional match, but let’s be honest. The only two things stopping Serena from an unfettered Roland Garros title defense are her body and her mind: and both are looking pretty good after this past week in Rome.
  2. Though Victoria Azarenka has a grunt that grates on the nerve endings of every cell in my body, I’ll be the first to declare that the women’s tour desperately needs to return to action. The former No. 1 has been away from the game because of a foot injury sustained earlier this year, and withdrew from the French Open this past weekend because of ongoing issues with the same injury. I hope she comes back strong by the US Open. Serena needs a worthy adversary, and we need to see more competitive finals.
  3. Even if Sara Errani never stood a realistic chance against her formidable opponent, her tears after the loss to Serena in the Rome final were heartbreaking. Sara was 0-6 against Serena going into the final, so we knew this was not going to be a competitive match. But the leg injury that she sustained in the first set assured the loss while also casting doubt on her French Open prospects. The phrase “adding insult to injury” comes to mind.
  4. Maria Sharapova lost in the early rounds, but should still be a factor at the French Open. It all depends upon her draw. The only problem with that scenario is that, because of her ranking, her draw is gonna suck! I’ll be very surprised if she makes it back to the final.
  5. Novak Djokovic (photo: G. Sposito)

    Novak Djokovic (photo: G. Sposito)

    Novak Djokovic capped off a great week with a convincing win over Rafa Nadal in the men’s final. While it’s certainly true that Novak’s game is perfectly-suited to neutralize Nadal’s strengths, I’d even go so far as to say that the only thing that keeps him from beating Rafa on a consistent basis are his lapses in focus that come a little too frequently when playing the Spaniard, particularly in best of five matches. Take away those lapses and we could finally see the King of Clay dethroned on the final Sunday in Philippe Chartrier.

  6. Rafa Nadal’s rocky road to a ninth French Open title seemed to get a little less rocky with his showing in Rome. After losing to Ferrer in Monte Carlo and Almagro in Barcelona Rafa looked imminently beatable by anyone who could execute an attacking game plan. (Nishikori came close in the Madrid final until his back gave out.) In Rome, however, he pushed through early match struggles and successfully battled back to consecutive three-set victories. Unfortunately for Rafa, Novak – his likely opponent in the French Open final – is less a rock and more of a huge boulder.
  7. I appreciate Roger Federer’s “I play because I still love the game” attitude as much as the next guy. But can we all agree that it was silly for him to show up in Rome only 5 days after the birth of his twin boys? We get it Roger. You’re still viable at the top of the men’s tennis food chain. Now get back to Switzerland with your wife and twins where you belong.
  8. Andy Murray played his best tennis of the season in his three-set loss to Rafa in the Rome quarterfinals. Against anyone else, he most likely would have earned a place in the semifinals, and perhaps even the finals with a win over Grigor Dimitrov. Positive stuff to be sure! However, let’s hope he finds another no-nonsense coach soon. We would all do well if a return to Andy’s barking, griping, cursing, body part grabbing ways could be avoided.
  9. Stan Wawrinka continues to struggle under the burden of Grand Slam winner expectations. The Monte Carlo champion lost in the Madrid R32 to Dominic Thiem, and in the Roma R16 to veteran Tommy Haas. Rather than focus on Stan’s difficulties in embracing his newfound membership in the Grand Slam club, we should all be much more in awe of the ease with which Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic gladly accept, and live up to, the challenge.
  10. Speaking of Dimitrov, the young Bulgarian had a great week in Rome up until he went against the Nadal buzz saw in the semifinals. The same could be said of Milos Raonic in reaching his first Masters 1000 semifinal on clay. It’s nice to see the “young guns” really start to make their mark at the top of the game against the best. Grigor’s increased strength/fitness and Milos’ improved movement/footwork were on full display. But can either sustain their improved games over two weeks in best of five matches? We’ll find out next week.

 

PostHeaderIcon Djokovic Handily Defeats Nadal at the Sony Open For His Second Indian Wells-Miami Double

Novak Djokovic, 2014 Sony Open champion (photo courtesy of sonyopentennis.com)

Novak Djokovic, 2014 Sony Open champion
(photo courtesy of sonyopentennis.com)

In a result that few expected, Novak Djokovic handily beat Rafa Nadal 6-2 6-3 in the Sony Open men’s final for his fourth title in Miami (2007, 2011, 2012, 2014). The win is also his fourth Masters Series title win in a row (Shanghai, Paris, Indian Wells, Miami), and his second Indian Wells-Miami double.

More importantly, it was his third straight win over his Spanish rival before the start of the clay season, which could make for interesting drama in run up to the French Open.

Today’s match between Djokovic and Nadal was the 40th meeting in what has become the most prolific rivalry in ATP history. Many expected today’s match to provide an encore to their epic 2011 final. But after fending off his only break point in his first service game of the match, Novak eventually settled into a ground game for which Nadal had few answers.

For Nadal, the key to winning this match was threefold: serve well, vary his ground game, and defend the Djokovic “down the line” backhand with aggressive hitting on his own backhand. There were early signs, however, that Nadal’s weaponry was misfiring.

He struggled to find the necessary depth on his crosscourt forehand, his backhand often sailed long, and Djokovic rarely allowed him to tee off on his preferred inside-out forehand. Conversely, once Djokovic found his range on his backhand and forehand shots, Nadal was on constant defense with little chance to assert his game on his Serbian opponent.

The crucial break in the first set came at 3-2 on the Nadal serve. Struggling to find his first serve, Nadal quickly sank to Love-30 with the help of a Djokovic touch volley winner and an untouchable crosscourt backhand winner. A timely unreturnable serve gave Nadal a glimmer of hope, but was quickly snuffed out by an amazing baseline-kissing Djokovic forehand followed by a Nadal backhand unforced error.

That one break was all that Djokovic needed to close out the first set in 39 minutes.

Nadal’s usually reliable serve let him down badly in the final. His first serve percentage of 59% wasn’t great, but his 47% second serve percentage was major a liability. Nadal’s lacking offensive game stemmed from an inability to defend second serves that were often 80-90 mph. Then again, it’s difficult to defend that speed at the top of the men’s game, even with perfect placement.

There was concern that perhaps a flair-up of his earlier back issues was affecting his serve speed. Nadal, always reluctant to talk about injury issues, gave a curt, “I am fine.  Thank you very much” when asked about this in post-match press.

The second set continued as the first ended, with Nadal struggling on offense, and Djokovic confidently hitting every shot in his repertoire. There were moments when Nadal’s offensive game surfaced, only to be muted by one of his many unforced errors on the next point. Nadal fought as best he could, but couldn’t stop the inevitable as Djokovic ended the long championship point rally with a volley into open court.

Nadal ended the match with 15 winners against 20 unforced errors. Djokovic’s numbers were significantly better at 22 winners against 14 unforced errors. In matches that are determined by a handful of points, it’s hard to overcome this type of deficit.

For Nadal, however, the primary cause for today’s final failures was the superior play of his opponent. Djokovic is one of the few players who can hurt Nadal when he’s playing his best tennis. He can hurt Nadal in many ways, and with few defensive options.

“So playing against him is the worst thing that can happen for me, because in general, talking about the first two shots, he has a better return than my one, he has a better serve than my one in this surface, especially.”

“Today Novak played at very high level in my opinion and was better than me.”

In sharp contrast to the relief displayed by Djokovic after his win over Roger Federer at Indian Wells, the newly-crowned Miami champion came into today’s post-match press conference smiling, happy, and obviously looking forward to continuing his momentum as the tour moves to European clay. He credited the confidence from that Federer win for much his strong play in Miami.

“That was a great confidence boost for me that I carried on in this week, and this tournament has been perfect from the beginning to the end.  The matches that I have played I played really well, and I elevated my game as the tournament progressed.  The best performance of the tournament came in the right moment on Sunday against the biggest rival (Nadal).”

When asked if he was glad that Djokovic existed to offer him a challenge”, Nadal quickly (and jokingly) said, “No.  I like challenges, but I am not stupid.”

In a telling reversal, Novak offered a very different viewpoint on the challenge of playing his rivals. “I think challenges, big challenges that I had in my career changed me in a positive way as a player. Because of Rafa and because of Roger I am what I am today…”

“Obviously it’s not easy when you’re playing a top rival at the finals of any tournament, but if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, you know.  You have to win against the best players in the world. That’s the biggest challenge you can have.”

Nadal’s loss in today’s final continued a disappointing trend for Spaniards in Miami. No Spanish men have won the title in the tournament’s 30-year history, and are 0-7 in the Miami final. Nadal lost in four of those finals, and is joined by David Ferrer (2013), Carlos Moya (2003), and Sergi Brugera (1997).

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