I tried to pick players who have never played in a Year End Championship, but who might put together a solid year and get into the season ending event next year.
A Major Accomplishment
Winning 6 Masters/ATP World Championships/Masters Cups/World Tour Finals (Year End Championships hereafter)* is not an accomplishment on the same level as winning 16 Grand Slams. It is however no small task. To win a tournament that is only comprised of elite players is difficult. To win a tournament in which one has to potentially defeat an elite player twice is doubly difficult. Boris Becker knows this all too well as he defeated Pete Sampras during the 1996 Round Robin portion of the Year End Championships to only face the world #1 a 2nd time in the final round and lose in 5 sets in front of a rabid German crowd. Federer winning this event 6 times is a major centerpiece of his career. Federer swept the field in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2010, and 2011. Only in 2007, did Federer lose a round robin match and then recover to take the title.
Lendl and Sampras
Ivan Lendl was ruthlessly consistent as a tennis player. Consider Lendl’s results from the 1985 US Open to the 1989 Australian Open. Lendl won the 1985 US Open, In 1986, he won the French and US Open titles and was runner-up at Wimbledon. The Australian Open was not held in 1986. In 1987, he was a semifinalist Down Under, won the French and US Opens and was runner-up at Wimbledon. In 1988, he had a down year in which he was a semifinalist at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, he was a quarterfinalist at the French Open and was runner-up at the US Open. He then won the 1990 Australian Open. This consistency was not demonstrated by either Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras. Roger Federer was the first player since Lendl to reach the deep stages of every major for multiple consecutive years.
Pete Sampras loved tennis history and demonstrated exquisite movement and balance on the tennis court. Sampras aimed to etch his name on multiple tennis records. He also played a form of tennis that looked effortless to the casual viewer. It takes hard work to look effortless, but Sampras’ style allowed for him to expend less energy on court than say Patrick Rafter did. Pete also typically kept himself from getting too high or low on the tennis court. Pete’s ability to ride out tough situations helped him a great deal in matches such as his 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 2001 US Open quarterfinal victory over Andre Agassi. Roger Federer possesses similar qualities. Federer demonstrated a cool head most clearly during his 2009 Wimbledon victory over a nearly unbreakable Andy Roddick and his 2011 Year End Championship victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
I do not advocate reducing any player’s game to traits or tactics from another player’s game. I do think something can be learned from comparing present players to their predecessors and contemporaries alike. For instance, I always felt that Pete Sampras to an extent combined Boris Becker’s power all-court game with Stefan Edberg’s movement and athleticism. In the case of Federer, I think Roger has a lot of similar qualities to Lendl that helped each become predictable strong participants in big events. Roger also demonstrates similar on-court movement and a parallel passion for tennis history as Pete Sampras. I don’t see Federer as an amalgamation of Sampras and Lendl, but I think all three possessed traits that make their 16 combined Year End Championships unsurprising.
* – While the powers that be cannot settle on a single name for this event, I can.
3 Good Tennis Videos
Call me old fashioned,but I find it reassuring having a Wimbledon champion who is Czech and a lefty.
That entire match was incredible.
Thanks to all of the great readers of this blog. Family travel obligations in the US and the World Tour Finals in London have not meshed in terms of me posting as much as I would like for such a large event. Do not worry however several posts are coming your way this upcoming week. Congratulations to David Ferrer, and Thomas Berdych for getting to the semifinal round. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was quite close to pulling off a second a monumental comeback versus Roger Federer in London. He could have folded in the 2nd set and did not (something even average players can learn). Federer is to be congratulated on an undefeated World Tour Finals and his 70th career title.
Stay tuned for more posts this week and beyond,
Roger Federer d. Mardy Fish 6-1, 3-6, 6-3
Roger did not play his best tennis in completing a 3-0 sweep of his pool. Even in the one-sided 1st set Roger faced a lot of challenges while serving. Still, Roger brushed back Fish in the 3rd set after Fish found his range in an impressive 2nd set. Roger serving at 0-30 in the 1st game of the 3rd set was not ideal, but he quickly grabbed momentum by holding-breaking-and-holding to grab a 3-0 lead in the 3rd. Fish had some chances today, but Roger is on a roll.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga d. Rafael Nadal 7-6, 4-6, 6-3
Tsonga beat Nadal earlier this year on grass. Tsonga has had success against Nadal. This indoor surface favors Tsonga’s style. Tsonga played very well in Paris while Nadal has struggled since the US Open ended. However, this was an upset even if a mild one. Nadal will have a chance to end 2011 on a high note with a Davis Cup title opportunity still looming, but something seems off for the world #2. Nadal’s psychological edge may (and I emphasize may) be dulling. Rafa looked cooked to end 2008 when he skipped the Masters Cup/World Tour Finals* and went on to win the 2009 Australian Open. Rafa lost all 3 round robin matches in 2009 prior to launching his best year in 2010. I don’t think anyone can say Rafa is in decline or has lost a mental or physical edge with any degree of certainty.
Having acknowledged all of that, it was still odd to see Nadal get broken 3 times in the 3rd set after he rallied to win the 2nd set. Nadal winning a tight 2nd set after losing the 1st set normally invokes the tennis version of a shark feeding frenzy in which momentum and steely resolve violently snatch victory from possible defeat (see Nadal v. Murray Wimbledon 2011 for an example of this phenomenon). If Rafa is just mentally tired, I will expect a great year in 2012. If Rafa is psychologically or physically not 100%, 2012 could be an interesting year for Nadal. Can Nadal dial back his schedule as he did in 2010 to optimize results or will a season that includes the Olympic games be too full for Rafa?
Semifinal Round Taking Shape
As fans, we now know that Federer, Tsonga and Ferrer are into the semifinal round of the World Tour Finals. The 4th competitor will be determined tomorrow. Tsonga is a title contender. He has played great tennis since the start of the grass court season and looks like he could crack into the pantheon that the top 4 currently occupy. Ferrer, the current world #5, beat world #3 Andy Murray and world #1 Novak Djokovic in straight sets. A win in London would place Ferrer’s career into a new light. Federer has won the title 5 times and is only 2 matches behind Ivan Lendl for the most total Masters/ATP World Championships/Masters Cup/World Tour Finals* matches won. We simply need one more contestant to put on a great show this weekend.
* – Could the powers that be ever pick one name and stick with it? Call the event pi = 3.14 for all I care, but tennis leaders please pick a permanent name for the year end championships as well as for the Super 9/Masters Series/Masters 1000 events. #helpmeMrKrajicek
The Indoor Setting Matters
Before I make too much out of this match, it should be noted that Roger was 3-0 versus Rafael Nadal at the World Tour Finals/Masters Cup. Roger had won 6 of 7 sets the two had played in this event prior to today. Now, Roger stands 4-0 vs. Rafa at this event having won 8 of 9 sets played. On an indoor court, Roger can hit more service winners/aces and he can end points off the ground more quickly. This all makes it much harder for Nadal to grind Roger down. Roger is a 5 time champion at this event. Even if his two titles in Houston were on outdoor hard courts, Roger clearly is the best indoor player in the post- Sampras, Krajicek, Stich etc. era. Still, to bagel Nadal … not bad for someone old enough to play on Jim Courier’s Champion’s Tour.
With my apologies to the gunners, Roger’s titles in Basel and Paris along with his 2-0 start in London demonstrate that he has the mettle to win more slams. Roger has now won 2 titles since turning 3o. This November Roger has posted wins over Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (twice), Thomas Berdych, Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet. He can win a 17th slam title. I take Roger’s slams 1 at a time, but if he wins 17, 18 and beyond is plausible.
Roger can play with less and less pressure against Nadal, Novak Djokovic and anyone else that comes along to face him. As excellent and unprecedented as his run was from 2004-2007, everyone knows that he is 30. Roger has won just about every event or award he could want. He can simply play with the notion that any win adds to his legacy, but that his legacy is in tact if he gets trounced or edged out by a young gun.
Federer playing without stress could be a nightmare for people trying to push him further into the background of the sport. This is doubly true given the fan support Federer enjoys around the globe. Jimmy Connors once roughly said that the problem with being experienced is that once one has experience he is too old to use it. Federer is still healthy at 30 and has an abundance of experience. Federer is champion emeritus until he retires.
The 2011 US Open championship match was the most punishing tennis I have ever witnessed. While watching it, I thought it might shorten the careers of each man. Roger’s style of play keeps some stress off of his body. At 30, I think Roger is not as spry as Nole or Rafa currently are. Still, it would not shock me that Roger being ranked ahead of either of them in 2 or 3 years. Health has been a major factor in Roger’s longevity and consistency. I am not arguing with Rafa’s 10 majors or Nole’s 2011.
Still, I think something should be said for players such as Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer who moved around the court in a manner that minimized impact on their bodies. Federer has withdrawn mid-tournament once and has never retired mid-match. This is quite impressive to me given that this has been the most physically demanding period of professional tennis I have seen in my 36 years. I don’t begrudge Nole for pulling out of Paris or Andy Murray for pulling out of London. Roger’s ranking trails both men, but his health is likely better than either heading into 2012.
Roger Federer may or may not win this event. However, he has made his point. Roger Federer is a relevant force, not a factor but a force, on tour for the foreseeable future.
What We Should Expect
3 of the 4 matches have gone deep into the 3rd set. 2 of those matches went to 3rd set tiebreaks. The player with the better ranking won 3 of 4 matches to this point. World #1 Novak Djokovic struggled with Thomas Berdych, but held up under pressure better than the big Czech. World #2 Rafael Nadal had problems with Mardy Fish and his stomach. Roger Federer out-dueled Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. More or less on point. Top 8 players should be able to win sets and demonstrate their strengths, but the top guys should win out in the end.
David Ferrer d. Andy Murray 6-4, 7-5
I know Murray had an injury in Basel. I know he was hurt during his match with David Ferrer. I know Ferrer is the worst type of opponent to play when struggling physically due to the long punishing points he likes to play. Still, after Murray’s Triple Crown in Asia, I thought he might be ready to make a move and get into the mix as a true threat to Nadal and Djokovic. Instead, Federer wins back-to-back events and Murray plays phlegmatic injury-prone tennis.
Murray’s Big Move?
Federer is clearly no worse than #3 in the minds of the fans and players right now. Andy Murray is still not in that elite pantheon that he so clearly desires to join. The setting of London only places added pressure on Murray. World #5 David Ferrer keeps adding to his career haul as well. The beauty of the round robin format for Murray is that he can get back into this event if his health and game are there. If London does not go well for Murray, I might suggest something crazy. He might want to approach Lleyton Hewitt to be a player-coach in the same manner that Andre Agassi approached Brad Gilbert during Gilbert’s final year or so on tour. Hewitt might help Murray thumb his nose at all of the respectable people unintentionally putting unwanted pressure on him. Murray against the world may be the only way a man from his part of the world meets the expectations placed upon him. Meet the expectations by disdaining those expectations and the entire tennis world. It is a crazy plan, but it might also work.
Here is a good take on Murray’s demonstrative ways.
3 Good Tennis Videos
With the Year End Championships upon Us, I will Give Video Highlights of the Top 3 Seeds (Federer has Gotten a Lot of Ink from me the Past 2 Weeks).
1. Novak Djokovic Brutal Domination 2011 - Djokovic dominated the year
2. Rafael Nadal’s Best Points of 2011 - Some brutal angles and visceral tennis from Nadal.
3. Andy Murray’s Highlights from Winning Tokyo - Murray finding a way past Nadal after 3 consecutive Slam semifinal losses to Rafa.