Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nadal the Real Deal

Nine months ago, Rafael Nadal had just retired from his Australian Open Quarterfinal match. He had not won a major tournament since the previous Australian Open, and had dropped to number three in the world rankings. Followers of the Spaniard had big hopes for 2010 after a disastrous end to 2009: he lost for the first time at the French Open, couldn’t defend his title at Wimbledon due to his failing knees, and had to deal with the unexpected divorce of his parents.

After his prematurely ageing legs couldn’t take him through his much hyped match in Australia against Andy Murray, many thought this was the end. After all, he is the oldest 23 year old in Tennis having captured his first of six majors at 18 years old.

Come September and Rafael Nadal has just become the youngest of seven players to win all four major tournaments. He has a staggering nine grand slam singles titles, and looks indestructible.

The Us Open still gave critics enough ammunition to doubt Nadal’s status amongst the games elite. Many thought the balls were too soft and the courts were to fast for his heavy baseline game. However, any time a question is raised regarding Nadal’s ability to win a particular event,  he continues to prove everyone wrong.

It was only five years ago Nadal claimed he wanted to win Wimbledon. This remark was laughable to many tennis purists, who said this would be impossible. His grips were to extreme, the balls stay too low, and he isn’t comfortable moving forward. Five years later and he is already twice a Wimbledon champion, and also runner up.

Now, having captured all the Major tournaments,  the sky is the limit for the Spanish superstar. He has captured every tennis accolade at the extremely young age of 24, and doesn’t look like stopping.

He has a never-seen-before ability to adjust his game drastically to help him on different surfaces. Most noticeable was his serving at this year’s US Open. He only lost his serve once after six matches, leading into the final. His fastest serve was 135 mph compared to 123 mph in the events before the Open. His coach (Uncle Tony as he is referred too), claimed it was only a subtle grip adjustment, which is a huge understatement since it added an incredible 13 more miles to his once vulnerable serve.

Now one must wonder how to beat Rafael Nadal in a best of five set match. He lost one set for the tournament. This came in the final against the finally rejuvenated Novak Djokovic. Djokovic played his best tennis with some scintillating striking of the ball. However he had nothing left in the tank. He was simply mentally and physically worn out against an opponent who did not commit an unforced error for the last set and a half.

Nadal’s ranking as the number one player will only continue to grow as he has very little points to defend between now and next year's clay court season. One continues to be mystified by his extremely modest nature. He continues to laugh off comparisons to Roger Federer, as he claims he is nowhere near replicating Federer’s great achievements. It is a credit to Nadal’s mentors, family, and surroundings that a champion of his statue is this humble and gracious in a world of sporting ego maniacs.

However, comparing Nadal and Federer is an interesting question. Nadal has won more major tournaments at the same age, and all of the four majors well before Federer did. He also holds a 14 to 7 head to head lead over the Swiss star with the majority of those win’s coming in grand slam finals. Many give the prolonged career edge to Federer due to Nadal’s physically demanding game. But due to Nadal’s bigger serve and relatively easy victories this is know where near a foregone conclusion.

Nadal will continue to be modest about his achievements, but if he keeps the type of tennis up we are seeing from him he may well go down as the greatest. Whether he will ever admit it or not who knows, but one thing for sure is that facts don’t lie Rafa.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not such a great summer for Roddick

ANDY RODDICK  poor form in major’s continued last night with a second round loss to fearless Serb JANKO TIPSAREVIC.

This was always going to be a dangerous match for Roddick. He also lost to Tipsarevic in the second round of the 2008 Wimbledon, but it was the way he played that was most baffling.

Roddick hasn’t had a great summer, and recently admitted that he had a mild case of the debilitating mononucleosis.

It’s disappointing to watch Roddick, who once had one of the biggest forehands in tennis, stand so far behind the baseline, and play so conservatively. One would expect a player who isn’t 100% fit to use all the weapons he has to get as many free points as possible. The post match statistics ultimately justified the outcome, with Tipsarevic registering more winners, and incredibly more aces than the number-one ranked American.

The match had a similar feel to Roddick’s shock fourth round Wimbledon exit to little know Taiwanese player LU YEN-HSUN, where Roddick was content to loop his forehand and chip his backhand, enabling Yen-hsun to dictate play. The magnitude of that loss was realized when NOVAK DJOKOVIC  crushed the Taiwanese hope in the quarterfinal’s by simply using his weapons to hit him off the court.

Tipsarevic is a talented player who came to fame with a four hour five set marathon with Roger Federer at the 2008 Australian Open. He has been a very consistent. However has never broken the top 30 in the ATP rankings. A seasoned veteran with the success and weapons Roddick posses should not lose to him in a major tournament.

There wasn’t a person who didn’t feel sorry for Roddick after his heartbreaking 2009 Wimbledon final lose to Roger Federer. He outplayed the Swiss megastar with blistering serves and penetrating groundstrokes. The win was the record breaking 16th grand slam for Federer but Roddick stole the show. There were chants of “Andy” after the match, and his graciousness won him many fans.

It is clear Roddick hasn’t recovered from that shattering loss. He has become content in playing very defensive tennis. This type of tennis is making his opponents play better. Gone are the days where he used to destroy the lesser ranked players with sheer brute force, and power.

After last nights performance his integrity now must be questioned. The anger that was once in his game has transferred to anger at the officials and linesman. He humiliated and berated the lines lady that foot faulted him. His performance was immature and arrogant, which was made more significant by Roddick claiming that none of it would have happened had the lady just told him that it was his left foot.

Roddick needs a change. He has only just turned 28 and still has the power to compete with the best. He should take some time off, and watch the replay of last’s night’s match. If he can put aside his huge ego and carefully watch the match he will see a completely different player than he used to be. Let’s hope he can learn from this and come back a more aggressive player, and better person.

Ultimately, the tennis world does need Andy Roddick.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who's taking home the trophy?

This years men’s US Open singles event promise’s to be exciting as ever. A number of players have had a good summer series, and will be confident of progressing into the second week of the year’s last major.

Let’s take a look at the draw for the top eight seeded players, and some of the interesting opponents they may face:
  1. Rafael Nadal has had a US summer series slightly below the world's #1 incredibly high standards. He has spoken of his problems with his backhand, and still find’s the fast Harcourt surface troubling. However, as long as Nadal is in the tournament he seems to only get better, and he has been handed a favorable draw. His first two rounds will provide no problems, and he will look to gain confidence with his game during these matches. His third round he will probably face German Philipp Kolschreiber who has given Nadal problems before. Kolschreiber took a set off the Spaniard in Toronto and will provide a stern test. However, one would expect Nadal to get through and probably encounter big hitting Croatian Ivan Ljubicic in the last 16. Nadal, according to seeding is due to meet fellow Spaniard and close friend Fernando Verdasco in the quarterfinals. However, Verdasco’s form hasn’t been great of late, so I believe he will more likely face Rejuvenated David Nalbandian, or Spanish grinder David Ferrer before a mouth watering Semi Final showdown with Andy Murray.
  2. Roger Federer is the "in form" player of the summer. He leads the US series points race, and looks primed for an assault at his sixth US Open. He has been dealt a very nice draw. The world’s #2  faces former world number one, Lleyton Hewitt in the third round. Hewitt will provide a tough test with his fighting spirit. However, Federer has dominated Hewitt in the latter stages of their careers, and Hewitt’s troubled hip still doesn’t look 100%. Federer should cruise through to a quarterfinal match up with big hitting Swede Robin Soderling. Soderling famously ended the Swiss star’s six year grand slam semi final run when he defeated Federer in Paris. However, Federer’s record against Soderling is fantastic, and on current form Federer is playing much better, and will like his chances. The fact that Federer avoids a semi final showdown with either Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal means he should find himself playing for the title on the second Sunday.
3.  Novak Djokovic hasn’t impressed me since his Australian Open win in 2008. He is the world #3 player because he is fantastic at beating the players he should beat. He doesn’t beat the best in big matches, and continues to complain of sickness. His third round will probably be Argentine journeyman Juan Monaco. Although Djokovic is the heavy favorite, Monaco is good at making his opponents play many balls. If the weather is hot, this may trouble Djokovic. His fourth round will be either Mardy Fish or Marcos Baghdatis. Both players will like their chances, and will be a very tough match. If Djokovic can survive this far he will most likely play American Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. Roddick is coming off a straight set victory over the Serb in Cincinnati, and I like Roddick to do the same again, and progress through to the semi Finals.

4.  Andy Murray’s form has been good. He looks more comfortable on the fast hard court, and away from the mania that surrounds his every move in Britain. His draw is challenging but on his current form he will like his chances. I expect him to cruise past the Swiss 25th seed Stanislas Wawrinka in the third round, before a fourth round showdown with either Sam Querrey or Nicolas Almagro. Querrey beat Murray in a tough three set final in Los Angeles. However, this was Murray’s first tournament of the US season and his form is much better now. He will have a very tough quarterfinal with seventh seeded Czech Thomas Berdych. Berdych has a huge game and is capable of hitting the scot off the court like he did at Roland Garros. This will be a very interesting match, but I expect Murray to progress through to the semi finals.

5.  Robin Soderling has been in career best form. He once again made the French Open Final, and lost in the quarter finals of Wimbledon, both times to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. He is at a career best ranking of #5 but has never played very well on the hard court surface. Looking at his draw I expect him to make it though to the quarterfinals before losing to Roger Federer. His third round will likely be the dangerous Fernando Gonzalez. Gonzalez has a lethal forehand and is known for playing well in grand slam events. However, the latter half of his year has been plagued by injury, so I don’t think he has played enough matches to trouble Soderling. The Swede will then likely face Marin Cilic in the fourth round. Cilic made the semi final of the Australian Open but hasn’t played well of late. In any case he is young, exceptionally talented, and will be a good test for Soderling.

6. Nikolay Davydenko is one of the most consistent players over the last decade, and is very unlucky to have never won a grand slam. However 2010 he has been plagued by injury and still doesn’t look at his destructive best. His second round against talented Frenchman Richard Gasquet will be tough, but I still expect him to win. But due to a lack of play I think he will lose in the fourth round to 10th seeded Andy Roddick.

7. Thomas Berdych looks set for a quarterfinal showdown with Andy Murray. He has a few tricky matches before hand, but with the form he has shown of late these opponents shouldn’t be an issue. His first round is against veteran Frenchman Michael Llodra. LLodra is a serve volleying left hander. He has a lot of experience, and will be a tough first round match up. His third round I think will be unseeded Julien  Benneteau. Benneteau held match points against Nadal last week in Cincinnati, and may be in career best form. However, it’s hard to see the French Open and Wimbledon semi finalist losing before the quarterfinals.

8. Fernando Verdasco is seeded eighth but has not had a good US summer so far. He is very much a confidence player, who at his best can beat anyone in the world. However, he is down on confidence and has really been struggling with his backhand and serve. Verdasco is the wildcard in my eyes, however on his current form I don’t see him getting past Argentine David Nalbandian in the third round.
Of the player’s outside the top eight, I think Andy Roddick is the most likely to progress to the Semi Final. The 10th seeded American will like his chances to defeat the two seeds above him, Nikolay Davydenko, and Novak Djokovic.  Even though I think Roddick is capable of making a semi final, I believe the US Open champion will be down to three players. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray, but we will have to wait to find out.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cincinatti down, next NYC

Roger Federer captured his fourth Cincinnati Masters crown with a hard fought win over rejuvenated American Mardy Fish. The win ties Federer for fifth with Bjorn Borg on the open era title list. Astonishingly,  this was Federer’s first title since his Australian Open triumph back in January. However, in preparation for his assault at his 17th grand slam title, the win could not have come at a better time.

Eye brows were raised when Federer lost in the quarterfinals of both The French Open and Wimbledon. For the vast majority of current male players, this would be considered a wonderful effort. But for a man who hadn’t lost before the semi final of a major since the French Open in 2004 ... a man who has won 16 grand slam singles titles in seven years, these losses would be enough for the toughest critics to start asking questions.

However Roger Federer has captivated and inspired millions over the years with his exquisite talent that may never be replicated. He has remained modest and humble in a world full of sporting controversies. He offered no excuses during these unexpected losses. Only speaking of his eagerness to spend time with his family, and working on his game before the US summer, which he has done.

Federer took six weeks off before embarking on his quest for a sixth US Open crown, starting with the master’s series in Toronto. During this time he employed the coaching services of well known American Paul Annacone who is known for bringing out the best in his clients, especially in the latter stages of their career. He did this for both Sampras and Henman. Most telling was Sampras’s 2002 US Open triumph which not many believed he could win. Fittingly, it was the last match of his wonderful career.

Annacone seems like a perfect fit for Federer, which is already paying dividends. Both are apparently very laid back individuals, with a deep appreciation for the history of the game. Federer is the smoothest player to ever grace our court, and as long as he is healthy, doesn’t need a drastic change in his game. He needs someone to give him subtle pointers to give him that small edge against his toughest opponents. He needs someone to keep him motivated and further ignite his love for the game. Annacone seems like the breath of fresh air the Swiss superstar craves.

Federer’s semi final victory over Marcos Baghdatis was the best he has played since the Australian Open. He had spoken about how unhappy he was with his return game in the last two majors. This was put to rest when the Cypriot only won 50% of points on his first serve. Federer kept taking the returns early and wasn’t afraid to move in completely, taking Baghdatis out of his comfort zone. His forehand was lethal, his movement was graceful, and he amazingly only lost three points on his serve in the hour long demolition.

However, Federer showed the mental toughness that is needed to prevail in the big tournaments with his win over Mardy Fish. Fish was the feel good story of the week. He was attempting to win his first master’s title at the age of 29, and had played a lot of tennis coming into the final. Fish was playing like he had nothing to lose with the help of a very patriotic crowd. Federer dealt with the frustration of outplaying Fish the first set but still losing it. He had to play a second set tie breaker knowing he was only seven points away from losing, and he had to continue to hold serve game after game throughout the match before claiming victory.

The Swiss magician will once again be the player to beat at the year’s final grand slam. Although he will be seeded number two, he is joint leader of the US series points race, and has won at Flushing Meadows five out of the last six years. He toughest opponents look vulnerable.  Rafael Nadal still looks uncomfortable on the very fast hard court surface. Andy Murray cannot be considered the favorite coming into a major until he wins one, and Novak Djokovic looks destined to never beat a top ten player again, without falling sick at least.

Once again the tennis world will watch as Roger Federer plays for his 17th Grand slam. He has recently spoken of his desire to claim an incredible twenty major singles crowns. The way he has dominated tennis now for so many years one would have to be brave to doubt his predictions. He is certainly the best tennis player to ever play, and perhaps the best sportsman. Tennis is a game played by so many in all different countries. For one man to dominate over an extended period of time is truly and incredible achievement. From a tennis fans point of view we say “Thank you Roger.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

American, Mardy Fish battled for nearly three hours in 90 degree heat to prevail in a third set tiebreak over inform Scott Andy Murray. The win puts Fish into the semi Finals of the Cincinnati Masters, and takes him to a year high 25 in the ATP rankings. Fish will now face good friend and fellow American Andy Roddick who he beat three weeks ago in Atlanta.

The good form recently displayed by Fish is a result of hard work paying off. He was nearly unrecognizable when he captured his second title of the year in Atlanta. The 30 pounds he shed is clearly paying dividends. Fish has always had the powerful game, which can trouble any player. However, his movement around the court, especially at net, was always a problem. The best players were always able to nullify his power, and take him out of his comfort zone exposing his movement and fitness.

This was put to the ultimate test in his win against Murray. Murray is one of the best at making his opponents play a lot of different balls, and exposing their vulnerabilities. Fish stood tall in extreme heat to capture what is definitely one of the best wins of his career. His neat play was phenomenal, as he continued to come in and make shoe lace volley’s against one of the games’ best passers.

The good form didn’t come easy for Fish. It’s not an easy task to go lose 30 pounds after 10 years on the tour and over $4 million in prize money. After he dropped out of the top 100 in March many believed the end of a good career wasn’t far away.

Six months on Fish is two good wins away from claiming his first master’s title. He is second on points for the US open series, and will be favored by a good seeding when the US Open begins in just over a week’s time.

Along with Andy Roddick, Fish will be the other American hope at the US Open. American tennis is struggling with John Isner battling an ankle injury, and Sam Querry looking below his best since his win in Los Angeles. Once again the American public will be expecting a lot from Fish, which to his credit he thoroughly deserves.

Murray Triumphs In Toronto

Andy Murray became the first player since 1995 to win back to back Toronto Masters titles when he took out Roger Federer in a rain soaked affair. Murray is currently the world’s number four player with a collection of master’s titles. However he is still trying to become the first British player since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a grand slam title.

The weight of expectation on Andy Murray is phenomenal. His every match is scrutinized by an English media still bitter from England’s disastrous world cup campaign. There criticism of him is unfair. At just 23 years of age Murray has been a Wimbledon semi finalist twice, a US and Australian Open runner up, and has won a handful of master titles. By most players standards this is already a wonderful career, but to many critics he won’t be great until he captures the elusive major title.

One realized how important a major title is to Murray when he fought back tears after his Australian Open defeat to Roger Federer. He was in career best form and looked set to hold up the trophy down under. However he ran into a champion at the top of his game. Who has been in so many major finals, and knows how to bring out his best when it counts. Murray knew he gave it everything and was just outplayed. But to come so close and fall short was bitterly disappointing.

The loss in Australia clearly effected the rest of Murray’s year. When many thought he was set to progress even further he simply fell apart. His US hard court season was disastrous. His clay court season was well below his best, and even though he was a Wimbledon semi finalist he was favored by a good draw, and was completely outplayed by Rafael Nadal.

Murray’s triumph in Toronto is much more important to him then many people realize. This just may be the title he needed to help him go all the way at Flushing Meadows because of a few particular reasons.

In capturing his first title of 2010 Murray took out the worlds two best players Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer without dropping a set. His win over Federer was his first in his last three attempts, but more importantly his first against the superstar in a final. This is exactly what Murray needed. He was shocked last week against Sam Querry in Los Angeles, and still looked out of form. To recover and beat the best a week later, leading into the US Open may just be the tonic the young Scott craved.

If Murray had failed to defend his title he would have been overtaken by Robin Soderling and dropped to number five in the world rankings. Even though this is only a one spot drop it is much further than people presume. If Murray had entered the US Open as the number five seeded player he would have a chance of meeting Nadal or Federer as early as the quarterfinals. To win a major requires winning seven five set matches. This requires a huge amount of exceptional tennis and physical exertion. You do not want to meet one of the two best players this early in the tournament if you believe you have a chance of winning it. However, after his Toronto triumph he is guaranteed to be the fourth seed, and not seeing Nadal or Federer until a semi final.

Andy Murray loves the fast courts in the US. He has a great tennis mind, with one of the best returns and backhands in the game. However Murray does tend to play to conservatively in big matches. He prefers to stand back and wait for his opponents to commit an unforced error. This will win matches in the early rounds however it won’t beat the very best. Against Federer in the final Murray changed his game. He was aggressive, and wasn’t afraid to move forward, and trust his game by taking some chances. Federer was clearly shocked going 3-0 down very quickly. Defeating Federer with an attacking style may have finally made Murray realize he has the weapons to win, but will have to go outside his comfort zone to do it.

Even though the US open is still two weeks out Toronto may have been a blessing for Andy Murray. He finally looks primed and ready for another assault at his first major title. With so many matches to win and so many talented players in the draw it will be a daunting feat. However if he displays the form he showed last week he must be considered a favorite.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Open is Coming....

The start of 2010 didn’t look promising for Rafael Nadal. He looked out of sorts and still troubled by the persistent knee injury in his Australian Open quarter final surrender to eventual finalist Andy Murray. People questioned whether his best was past him. If the physical toll from all those hours pounding his body with such desperation and determination had finally caught up to him at the awfully young age of 23. Oh how wrong they were!

You can never write off a champion, especially one with the guts and pride of the fighting Spaniard. His triumph four months later at the French Open was an uplifting time for tennis. Whether you like him or not you have to admire him. His fought injury, criticism, and the sudden divorce of his parents. He dropped from number one to three in the rankings, and failed to win a match at the year ending masters in London. To see the young warrior come back and raise the French Open trophy again was a truly a special moment.

Nadal’s triumph one month later on the grass courts of Wimbledon was the title that showed he was once again the best player in the world.

Now two weeks out from the US open one must wonder what it takes to beat the number one player. He is like the modern day Gladiator, so brutally destructive inside the arena, yet so humble and gracious outside. His opponents know they must go outside their comfort zone on both a physical and tennis level to have a chance of defeating him.

However, the US Open is the only Grand Slam Nadal hasn’t captured in his steller career, and there are a handful of players who would like their chances, and a number of reasons why the Open is unique from all the other slams. To win the Open it takes a great amount of concentration, attempting to stay focused while dealing with the elements.

The New York crowd is loud and tough. If they are on your side it’s a great advantage, but the smallest outburst or show of frustration can turn them, subsequently making the player feel like they are playing against 20000 people.

The planes which constantly fly over flushing meadows can break a player’s focus. This may sound insignificant but when a player is playing an important point and is already feeling the pressure an unexpected noise can lead to an error.
The noise between change over’s can also be tough to deal with, especially on Arthur Ashe stadium. If the sheer size of the world’s largest tennis stadium isn’t enough, the players whilst sitting have to deal with highlights of them on the over head screen playing to the latest modern music.

So who are the players best equipped to stop Nadal’s slam run and win the years last major?
  1. Roger Federer hasn’t won a title since the Australian Open, and by his lofty standards 2010 has been a year for him to forget. However, he is a five time US Open champion, and loves the fast hardcourt surface. The addition of Paul Annacone as his coach shows the intent and passion for the game is still there. Annacone worked with Sampras and Henman, and posses an extensive knowledge of the game which can only benefit Federer. He guided Sampras to the 2002 US Open title when many experts believed he would not win another title. With the help of Annacone, and the sheer brilliants and gracefulness that has captivated audiences for so many years, Federer will give himself a big chance to hold that trophy for a staggering sixth time.
  2. Andy Murray is my personal favorite to win the tournament. His year has been ok but many expected much more. He seemed to have an extended hangover after his shattering Australian Open final loss, and the great weight of expectation to break the British Grandslam drought. However, he is a former US Open runner up, and has tremendous versatility in his game especially on his backhand side. He has the personality of a Scottish winter, but an exceptional tennis IQ. Being out of Britain will help him, and I get the feeling this may be his year.
  3. Novak Djokovic is currently the number two player in the world, a grandslam champion and former US open runner up. He is always a threat in majors, and must be a contender. However the brutal summer will not help him, as he struggles with heat and his breathing. His groundstrokes at his best are phenomenal, but can break down along with his serve. It really comes down to how mentally prepared Djokovic is coming into the tournament.
  4. The two other players who would give themselves a good chance of winning their first major are Robin Soderling and Thomas Berdych. Both players are tall and extremely powerful. Both players have had an exceptional year, and can play well on all surfaces. They also have the advantage to be able to keep points short by hitting winners. To win a granslam you have to winner seven matches so to posses weapons like both these players have is a real benefit.
  5. The other notable players who I don’t believe can win the tournament but may cause some damage are Andy Roddick and David Nalbandian. Roddick has the best serve in tennis, is playing in his home country, has won here before, and has a great coach in Larry Stefanki. However his early form hasn’t looked great and I don’t think he longer has the game to beat the very best over five sets. Nalbandian has been plagued by injury but looked magnificent in his win at Washington last week. He is very talented and has some of the smoothest strokes in tennis. The fact that he will not be seeded will make the best players nervous. However he just won’t have the match fitness to go all the way.
The US open adds further pressure because the next major is over four months away. Players have four long months to reflect before they get the chance to play in another slam. The state of men’s tennis is exciting with so much versatility, youth, and experience. This will be a great two weeks to watch.