Posts Tagged ‘Rafael Nadal’

This was pretty good

  1. Roger Federer’s 4th title and 9th final of 2014 prove that 2013 is a thing of the past.  Roger did not win a Grand Slam in 2014, but his form, health and demeanor tell me he is someone to watch in 2015.  At the end of 2013, I thought 2015 might be his swan song.  
  2. Rafael Nadal’s commitment to play the rest of 2014 before having his appendix removed is noble.  It also strikes me as odd.  Novak Djokovic is likely to finish 2014 ranked #1.  Even the most routine surgery can have a recovery that takes detours.  I do not have Rafa’s medical charts.  I do however think that Rafa could give himself extra weeks to recover and practice for Australia.
  3. Playing Gilles Simon has to be the ATP equivalent of going to the dentist.  The guy is sneaky good, but he also exudes a vibe that seemingly makes it hard to build up a war on court against him.

Tennis Abides Power Ranking 2014

Ranking #10: Cincinnati

    1. Novak Djokovic – Nole stays at #1, but his play in Toronto and Cincinnati will not be good enough to win in New York.  I expect Novak to round into form, but this was not the most reassuring hard court swing for his supporters.
    2. Roger Federer - Rafa has had an overall better 2014, but in Roger’s past 4 tournaments he’s won Halle, been runner-up at Wimbledon and Masters Toronto and won Cincinnati.  Aside from pocketing a cool 3050 ranking points, Roger enters the US Open as the form horse without a possibility of facing his nemesis.  6 titles in Cincinnati is not bad either.  Change since last ranking +1
    3. Rafael Nadal – He is out of the US Open.  His 2014 Grand Slam season has the highlights of a 9th Roland Garros title and a 3rd Australian Open final appearance, but after opening the year 13-1 in Grand Slam play Rafa posts a 3-1 record at Wimbledon and a DNP doctor’s decision for the US Open.  Change since last ranking – 1
    4. Milos Raonic – The big Canadian has been a picture of consistency in Masters 1000 events this year, he posted his best two Grand Slam results at the two most recent slams and won Washington, DC.  His serve is also lethal as I can say from seeing it live.  Change since last ranking +1 
    5. David Ferrer - Two near misses versus Roger Federer and a lot of wins on hard courts have the Wolverine of the ATP Tour looking strong heading into the US Open.  Change since last ranking – Not ranked
    6. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – His run in Toronto is not totally negated by a tough first round draw and loss to Mikhail Youzhny.  Change since last ranking – 2
    7. Grigor Dimitrov - Grigor lost a tough 3 set match to Jerzy.  While that is not a terrible loss, Ferrer’s dogged play pushes him down a slot.  Change since last ranking: – 1
    8. Andy Murray - The good news is that Andy won some nice matches and reached the quarters to set up a showdown with Roger Federer.  The bad news is that Federer blitzed Murray in the first set and then Murray surrendered a double break lead in the second set to lose in straight sets.  Change since last ranking +2
    9. Marin Cilic – Marin did not have a great event in Cincinnati, but he’s still playing well as of late.  Change since last ranking: -1
    10. Stanislas Wawrinka - Stan is 12-1 in his previous 2 hard court Grand Slams and knows he can cross the finish line in New York.  His form heading into the US Open is not great though. Change since last ranking – 1

Entered the Poll – David Ferrer

Dropped out of the Poll – Feliciano Lopez 

Biggest Mover – Andy Murray + 2

 

photo (5)

Dinner Debate

Earlier in July, I was eating dinner with my family and the topic of Rafa overtaking Federer’s 17 majors arose. I told my older brother I thought it was quite possible because I figured Rafa should conservatively speaking win 1-2 more Roland Garros titles and that would mean that a smattering of success over the next 3 seasons in Melbourne, London and New York would result in getting to 17 or more.  I figure his head-to-head lead would mean a tie went to Rafa if both greats ended with 17 slams.  My brother said, “I’m not sure he’ll be in good enough health to win even one more Roland Garros title.”  I retorted, “I’d pick Rafa at Roland Garros even if he had recently been attacked by piranhas.”  We laughed, and that was that.

My nonchalance about  Rafa’s health comes from my belief that almost all world-class athletes have nagging injuries, but that Rafa just is more willing to talk about and publicly fret about his injuries.  The news that Rafa was skipping both Masters 1000 tournaments leading up to the US Open strikes me as odd.  Also, the nature of this injury is a cause of concern.

Right Wrist Issues?

A lot of two-fisted backhand players in recent years have been experiencing injuries in their non-dominant wrists.*  The most notable is Juan Martin del Potro’s whose rise in tennis seems to have been seriously delayed if not totally derailed by this problem.  David Nalbandian and Kim Clijsters had issues with this problem as well.  Novak Djokovic had a problem with his left wrist at Monte Carlo this year.  Rafa is reporting problems with his right wrist as the reason for missing two Masters 1000 events and dropping 2000 points off of his ranking.  It must be serious as Rafa typically plays his best when he has been playing frequently.   To fail to defend 2 titles as he enters the US Open as the defending champion with no tune-up matches is not Rafa-like.  Even in 2009 when Rafa skipped Wimbledon with health concerns he returned to the courts prior to the US Open.

Early Implications

  1. Tennis fans in Canada and Ohio will miss out on seeing an all-time great and world #2 play.  This is a losing situation for the fans, for the events, and for broadcasters.
  2. Rafael Nadal will drop 2000 ranking points, but he will enter the US Open as the #2 seed.
  3. Roger Federer is at a stage in which he needs a few breaks to come through a draw at a major.  If Rafa is rusty and loses earlier than the semis in New York and Andy Murray is still on walkabout, Roger Federer might find himself needing either 2 winnable matches or needing 1 winnable match and 1 great effort vs. Nole to take an 18th major.
  4. Novak Djokovic’s chances of finishing 2014 #1 increase mightily.  Novak added 4100 points to his ranking total between the conclusion of the 2013 US Open and the closing of the 2013 season.  He is defending an additional 1200 points at the US Open.  Still, Rafa will drop 2000 points, and Novak is likely to win at least one of the two Masters 1000 events leading into the US Open.  If Rafa fails to defend his US Open title regardless of Nole’s showing in New York, I think Novak finishes 2014 ranked #1.
  5. Players Outside of the Big 4 benefit from Rafa’s absence.  Stanislas Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, and other players looking to overthrow the quadrinity of tennis have a great chance to add confidence and momentum prior to the start of the US Open.  Once the US Open begins, these players would be looking at roadblocks comprised of Rafael Nadal without any matchplay, Andy Murray missing his January 2012-July 2013 swagger, a 33-year-old Roger Federer and of course a confident Novak Djokovic.  It has to be appealing to need to only knock off one in form legend versus needing to potentially beat three confident members of the big four.

* The reason for many of these non-dominant wrist backhand injuries comes from the technique being taught with two-handed backhands.  Players are encouraged to use a forehand/semi-western grip with their non-dominant hand on a two-handed backhand.  This allows for a lot of spin, but it is not an overly natural motion.  I am not certain if this is the case with Rafa as his backhand technique while effective has always been hard for me to analyze.

 

Predicted Winners in BOLD

I am not expecting an encore

Singles – Second Round

Lukas Rosol (CZE) vs. [2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) – I think this will fall somewhere between “paybacks are hell” and “lightening strikes twice.”  Rafa wins in a semi-competitive match.

Gilles Muller (LUX) vs. [4] Roger Federer (SUI) – Federer should win.

[5] Stan Wawrinka (SUI) vs. Yen-Hsun Lu (TPE)

[8] Milos Raonic (CAN) vs. Jack Sock (USA) – US and Canada get to see their top prospects face-off.  The NAFTA Cup?

Jarkko Nieminen (FIN) vs. [9] John Isner (USA) – The lefty veteran could extend this match, but I see Isner winning in 4 or 5 sets.

Denis Kudla (USA) vs. [10] Kei Nishikori (JPN) – I love Kudla and he’s best on grass.  Still, Kei should advance,.

[13] Richard Gasquet (FRA) vs. Nick Kyrgios (AUS) – Part of me would love to see the young Aussie make a good run here, but I think Gasquet will be hard to beat.

Sam Querrey (USA) vs [14] Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) 64 67(2) 76(4) 36 9-9 – to finish – I picked Tsonga yesterday, but I am just glad to see Sam Q. paying meaningful tennis again.  What a match!

[15] Jerzy Janowicz (POL) vs. Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) – Rusty is not a great draw when one has been slumping.

[19] Feliciano Lopez (ESP) vs. Ante Pavic (CRO) – His grass court mojo has been in full effect in June.

[22] Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) vs. Simone Bolelli (ITA) – PK FTW

Adrian Mannarino (FRA) vs. [23] Tommy Robredo (ESP) – Robredo is hard to pick against in a match such as this.

Jiri Vesely (CZE) vs. [24] Gael Monfils (FRA) - Who knows?

[30] Marcel Granollers (ESP) vs. Santiago Giraldo (COL) – I could see this going either way, but Granollers recent success in doubles makes me think his short game will be an asset on the somewhat green grass.

Julian Reister (GER) vs. Denis Istomin (UZB)

Lukasz Kubot (POL) vs. Dusan Lajovic (SRB)

Frank Dancevic (CAN) vs. Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) – I love Dancevic’s longevity on tour.  His lefty serve gives him a shot, but I think Kukushkin wins.

 

It came to my attention today that Rafael Nadal cried with joy when Roger Federer won Roland Garros in 2009.  Given that Nadal is tied for 2nd on the all-time list of male Grand Slam winners and that Roger Federer is 1st on that list, it seems like a generous outlook from Rafa.  Competitors look for edges and revealing this when both players are still active strikes me as being as unexpected as it is positive.  Nadal mentioned how he has a good relationship with Roger in this press conference as well.  Roger has said that Rafa could certainly pass his total of 17 Grand Slam titles.  Pete Sampras returned to Wimbledon for the first time after retiring in order to be present when Federer won is 15th major.

Why so Magnanimous?

My guess is that Nadal, Federer and Sampras have been kind to one another when it comes to this chase for two reasons.  First, these titles of GOAT or Grand Slam King are not something that can be won or lost in a tournament.  These three men are among the greatest of all time at winning tournaments.  They each can/could zero in on a the goal of winning a tournament with laser-like focus.  Winning a title that Bud Collins laptop or Peter Bodo’s desktop award is not something that would elicit that type of focus.  Second, while none have walked the exact same path, they have a clear idea of what the other two have gone through in terms of training, practice, match situations and raising trophies.  This commonality is likely why we see empathy and generous attitudes toward one another.

 

2014 Power Ranking #7 – Roland Garros

  1. Rafael Nadal - Rafa entered Roland Garros with a few questions swirling around his level of play.  He answered those questions and made history.  Change since last ranking +1  
  2. Novak Djokovic – Nole had a good run to his second Roland Garros final in 3 years.  Novak’s form was not perfect on Sunday.  He will be hoping for some quick redemption on the grass courts.  Change since last ranking -1
  3. Andy Murray – Andy won two five set battles and beat Fernando Verdasco as well.  The good news is that Rome and Paris seem to indicate that Andy is closing in on his pre-back surgery form.  Moving off of clay is also good news for Andy.  The bad news is that the gap between #2 and #3 looks massive to me.  Change since last ranking +5
  4. David Ferrer – Despite his curious effort in the final two sets versus Nadal, Ferrer looked solid in Paris.  Change since last ranking +1
  5. Milos Raonic – The big serving Canadian has been very solid in Masters 1000 events this year.  He just added his first ever Grand Slam quarterfinal.  Change since last ranking + 2  
  6. Stanislas Wawrinka - Winning the Australian Open and Monte Carlo kept Wawrinka from dropping further, but his first round loss was not a good result even if his draw was not ideal.  Change since last ranking -3 
  7. Roger Federer -  Roger played well enough in his first three matches and did not roll over for an in-form Ernests Gulbis.  Change since last ranking – 2
  8. Ernests Gulbis – This guy is for good or for ill a character.  He played quite well in reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal.  He’s also posted a number of good results in 2014 at other events.  Change since last ranking – not ranked 
  9. Tomas Berdych – He was steady enough to reach the quarterfinal round, but Berdych got beaten badly by Gulbis.  Change since last ranking +1
  10. Kei Nishikori – His health may end up holding him back.  Change since last ranking – 1  

Entered the Poll – Ernests Gulbis – He should be interesting this summer.  

Dropped out of the Poll – Grigor Dimitrov – Losing to Dr. Ivo is no sin, but he had just beaten the Big Man in Rome.  To lose in straight sets in Paris seemed like a lapse.

Rafa and Pete

There was a period in the Mid 1990s in which Pete Sampras had figured out grass court tennis.  His serve was nearly unbreakable.  He had the mentality of a dominating pitcher in baseball.  He was going to give his opponents few looks, he was going to play tactically disciplined tennis, he was going to be hard to beat in a tiebreak if he did not get a service break, and he knew that over 3 out of 5 sets it would be hard for anyone to upend what he was putting in place on court.  He won 7 Wimbledon titles in 8 years.  Even with that Pete was beaten at his own game in 1996 by Richard Krajicek.  He was beaten by Goran Ivanisevic in 1992 before he had put this formula fully into practice.  Goran pushed Pete to five sets in 1995 and 1998.  Boris Becker and Patrick Rafter were able to take the first set in championship matches.  Pete’s serve on that style of grass court gave him a great edge.  His athleticism and strategic discipline did the rest.  Still, he was not untouchable on grass.

The most heterodox opponent possible in the 2011 1st round caused some concern

 

Rafael Nadal sits at 66-1 for his career at Roland Garros.  He has more or less been untouchable.  Robin Soderling’s 2009 win over Rafa is the exception that seems to prove the rule.  Novak Djokovic took Rafa deep into the 5th set in 2013.  John Isner won two tiebreaks and led 2 sets to 1 in 2011.  Djokovic, Federer, Ferrer, Hewitt, and several others have managed to push Rafa to 4 sets at Roland Garros, but in all honesty he has only been faced with a possible defeat 3 times.  Rafa won 2 of those 3 matches.  Rafa’s athleticism and movement, his mental fortitude and rapier forehand have solved clay court tennis.  There are times I see the table tennis like shots he hits, and think it is simply unstoppable on clay.

Respect

I would pull for Pete Sampras against Michael Chang, Andre Agassi and others, but he was not in my top tier of favored players.  I always looked at his Wimbledon triumphs and other victories with a lot of admiration.  He developed his ball striking skills and explosive athleticism to become a champion with tactical and strategic discipline.  I view Rafa’s victories in a similar manner.  Nadal’s game is not my favorite to watch.  His ball striking is almost alien from what many preached when I started playing and watching tennis.  I think most players have chronic injuries etc. and am not a big fan of hearing about every physical bump in the road from Rafa and/or his camp.  Still, Rafa has done something otherworldly in winning 9 French Open titles in 10 years.  He’s also won at least 1 Grand Slam title per year for 10 consecutive years.  Pete Sampras and Roger Federer managed to win at least 1 Slam per year for 8 consecutive years.

Uncle Toni as John Wooden

John Wooden coached the UCLA Bruins to 10 NCAA titles in 12 seasons.  That is the closest comparison in sports that I muster for Nadal’s Roland Garros dominance.  Uncle Toni crafted Rafa’s game.  He’s managed Nadal’s play since he was a boy.  There is something of a mad scientist quality to Uncle Toni’s tinkering with Rafa’s game and the insular system from which Rafa’s game has emerged.  Given Nadal’s mastery of topspin as well as his gifts of concentration on the tennis court, Toni deserves a lot of credit.

Rafa the Revolutionary?

What I wrote above regarding Rafa’s ball striking being a break with what tennis used to be, offers a glimpse of where tennis might be headed.  We have seen Rafa, Nole and Murray all put on punishing displays of tennis that involve improbable retrieving skills as well as ruthless backhands and forehands.  I watched a junior ranked in the USTA’s top 50 warming up several months ago.  The spin he generated with his forehand as well as the net clearance he produced are clearly inspired by a newer wave of hitting hard with a greater margin for error than was afforded the hard hitters in previous eras.*  I predict that tennis will feature players who bend the ball downward with extreme spin more and more as the future unfolds.  The old geometry of tennis is likely to keep fading, but this new style does have a geometry of its own. The old choice between being consistent or being aggressive on a tennis court may prove to be a false choice in the new geometry.  Rafael Nadal is the prophet who first tapped into what these racquets and strings can do and launched a new way of imaging the possibilities presented by a tennis court.

* – I asked a former top junior from the 1990s who was a serve and volley player who works at IMG Academy what he thought about this new style that was so different from what he played.  He said he felt, slice backhands, flat serves and slice serves could all help breakdown some of the extreme grips players use today.  It will be interesting to see the potential arms race surrounding this new method of playing tennis.

Rafa and Nole will shortly be facing off for the 42nd time.  Rafa leads the current head-to-head 22-19, but these two seem destined to meet many more times.  The final at Roland Garros carries with it a Grand Slam crown, the number one spot in the ATP rankings and a possible Career Grand Slam.  A lot is up for grabs, but there is room for some levity when looking at this rivalry.

Rafa and Nole already have played each other more often than any pair of male players in the Open Era.  Many institutions of popular culture have had fewer than 42 installments.  I will express the Rafole rivalry in terms of these other aspects of our popular imagination.

Ali – Frazier

Muhammad Ali and Smokin’ Joe Frazier only fought three times.  Still, their rivalry is part of sports lore.  Djokovic has more in common with Ali as both men have entertained fans with words and deeds.  Frazier was a physical  brawler, and Rafa would more easily fill that role. “If Uncle Toni wants to talk about me, I’ll beat Rafa in three!”

007

Twenty-three James Bond were released through the company Eon.  Two other films were made as well. 007’s dry wit meshes well with Nole’s personality as well.  That means Rafa would likely have to be Q who could through meticulous tinkering find the best electrolyte drink possible (and the best way to position the drink near one’s chair).

NBA

The LA/Minneapolis Lakers and Boston Celtics have met in 15 different NBA Finals.  Based on more recent teams and personalities, I would slate Rafa as Kevin Garnett and Nole as Shaq.  In a more vintage look at the NBA, I’d look at Rafa as Bill Russell and Novak as Magic Johnson.

Big Bang Theory

Of the four main male characters, Rafa’s obsessive side is a good match for Dr. Sheldon Cooper while Nole’s joking side and set of impersonations is reflected best by Howard Wolowitz.  The idea of Rafa and Nole at a comic book store together is comedic in and of itself.

Monster Movies

The 30th Godzilla film was recently released.  Rafa would have to be viewed as Godzilla on clay.  Since Nole has beaten Rafa 4 times on clay and pushed him on other occasions, he’d have to be seen as King Ghidorah/Ghidrah.

 VS.

Pro-Wrestling

Couldn’t we use Jim Ross in the broadcast booth?

The 30th edition of Wrestlemania was held this past April.  In wrestling, Uncle Toni might throw flour into Nole’s eyes allowing Rafa to grab a quick victory.  Andy Murray might come out at the end of the match with bagpipes playing and attack the winner to set up the next pay-per-view Wimbledon 2014.