Posts Tagged ‘Rafael Nadal’

Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Novak Djokovic (2)

After Nole ended 2013 with a huge winning streak, dreams of Djokovic winning his 5th Australian Open title setting up a battle with Rafael Nadal in Paris seemed tantalizingly close. Instead, Stan Wawrinka beat both Nole and Rafa in Melbourne and 2014 has been a year without a clear storyline.  Still, #1 vs. #2 is a story whenever it happens.

Who Needs it More?

Nadal has picked up two smaller titles in 2014 and has an Australian Open runner-up to his name.  Nole just won Indian Wells, and a player is on a roll anytime Masters 1000 events are won consecutively.  Rafa has never won Miami despite being loved by the fan base in south Florida.  I think Nole needs this more than Rafa despite his previous successes in Miami.  Rafa is the reigning French Open and US Open champion.  Nole does not hold any of the four Grand Slam titles at the moment.  A win makes Nole a hunter who is looking to regain old prizes.  A loss continues the narrative of Nole failing to close out events despite being the most consistent player across all surfaces.

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Who is in Better Form?

Given that each man played a grueling semifinal …  If nagging injuries exist, very little can be done.  However, each player should be rested and ready for this match.  I think each man is playing well enough, but neither has played their best tennis thus far in 2014.

Anything New to See?

Not really.  Rafa did change his court positioning a bit and slices his backhand more against Nole so that he does not plant as firmly in his backhand side.  Slicing allows Rafa to get back to his forehand corner more easily.  However, Rafa has been using these techniques since the 2012 Australian Open final.  The question for me is how much of a price is Novak willing to pay?  I think that Nole has a slight tactical edge vs. Nadal so long as Novak is willing to put his entire mind and body on the line.  These guys have pushed baseline tennis to a new realm.  I hope we see that again today.

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Who Wins?

Nadal has to feel like he is due to win Miami.  Still, I think Djokovic is the slight favorite in this format.  I like Djokovic to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.  It may or may not prove to be an instant classic, but it is a better ticket than 99% of possible tennis matches.

Semifinals

Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Tomas Berdych (7)

I think Berdych could win this match, but my guess is that a Rafa-Nole collision is on the horizon.  Berdych’s chance is to play first strike tennis and take control of points off of his serve and his return.  If Rafa serves well enough, I think he will get his teeth into points and dictate play.  Rafa dictating = victory and Rafa on the defensive is far from a sure thing for Berdych so my pick is Nadal d. Berdych 7-6, 6-2

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Predicted Winners in BOLD

Nishikori’s win was not a total shock, but it does send Roger into the clay court season only picking up 216 points in Miami rather than the 360 or more he would have added had he reached the semifinal round.  That could be important for Wimbledon and French Open seeding.

Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Milos Raonic (12) – Milos has a puncher’s chance.  He is likely to play better than he did vs. Nadal last year at Masters Series Canada as he won’t be in the final round and won’t be carrying the hopes of his nation on his shoulders.  Milos has seen Dimitrov and Dolgopolov have nice starts to 2014.  A win here would obviously give him a huge boost.  Also, he seems to like the Miami surface.  Still, Rafa is the favorite in this match.  I think Rafa wins in 2 sets, but one set will be a tie-break.

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Tomas Berdych (7) vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov (22) – If Dolgopolov can use enough variety to throw off the sometimes predictable Berdych, he can win.  I think Berdych’s first strike capability on his serve and return will allow him to bully his smaller opponent.

Predicted Winners in BOLD

Milos Raonic (12) vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez - This is no sure thing, I think Raonic wins.  He likes the surface in Miami and that means a lot.

Alexandr Dolgopolov (22) vs. Dusan Lajovic - Dolgopolov has been strong as of late.

Tomas Berdych (7) vs. Joao Sousa - Cash the Big Czech for at least one more round.

Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Denis Istomin - Rafa rolls even though Istomin is a nice player.

Fabio Fognini (14) vs. Roberto Bautista-Agut - I will take the Spaniard for a mild upset because I have to pick one upset.

Stanislas Wawrinka (3) vs. Edouard Roger-Vasselin - Wawrinka should move forward.

Aljaz Bedene vs. Benjamin Becker - Becker is a solid performer.  It is amazing to think his win over Agassi came in 2006.

John Isner (10) vs. Nicolas Almagro (18) – This is a 50-50 match.  Almagro beat Isner on grass so I think he should win on a slow hard court.  Then again that match was prior to Almagro losing from 2 sets and multiple breaks ahead in the Australian Open quarterfinal.  If Almagro is confident, he should win.  That is a big if.

Predicted Winners in BOLD

[27] Dmitry Tursunov (RUS) v [7] Roger Federer (SUI) – I would not be shocked if the blogging Russian found a way to win a single set, but I think Federer advances.

[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) v [28] Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) – A rematch of sorts, but I think Rafa wins unless Dolgopolov has a superhuman moment playing for his native Ukraine in this time of crisis.

[11] Tommy Haas (GER) v [19] Kei Nishikori (JPN) – I don’t see Haas’ 2013 form yet in 2014.

[5] Andy Murray (GBR) v  Jiri Vesely - At some point I think and hope Murray will return to pre-surgery form.

[23] Gael Monfils (FRA) v [13] Fabio Fognini (ITA) – This is a 50-50 match in my mind.  Fognini’s efforts in Cincy were so bad last year that I will pick against him now.

[3] Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) v [29] Andreas Seppi (ITA) – Stan the man will stay perfect for now.

[10] Milos Raonic (CAN) v Alejandro Falla (COL) – On a hard court, I will take Raonic.  A good result here could salve his wounds from losing to Dimitrov in Melbourne.

[17] Kevin Anderson (RSA) v [LL] Evgeny Donskoy (RUS) – Mr. Anderson has been on a roll.

 

Second Tennis Power Ranking 2014

Not a lot has happened since Melbourne and that is about to change with two Masters 1000 events being played in succession

  1. Rafael Nadal – Rafa has won 2 events in 2014 and was runner-up at the first slam.  He is a lock for the top spot right now.  
  2. Stanislas Wawrinka – Winning the Australian Open as well as a tune-up has him at #2.  He has played very little since Melbourne (1 Davis Cup match), but he’s #2 for now.
  3. Roger Federer - His title in Dubai complete with wins over Nole and Berdych have Federer rising.  2014 may not be a vintage year for Federer, but it has already surpassed much of 2013.  Change since last ranking +1
  4. Novak Djokovic – He ended 2013 on a major roll.  2014 has yet to match that run.  It is early and both of his losses have come in deciding sets against top flight players.  The warning signs of near misses in 2013 weighing on his confidence are there though.  Change since last ranking -1
  5. Tomas Berdych - I nearly moved him to the 4th slot.  Berdych has a title, a Grand Slam semifinal and a tournament runner-up finish to his name in 2014.  He’s playing well and if the tour becomes slightly less predictable he might sneak through and win a Masters 1000 in the coming month.  Change since last ranking +1 
  6. Grigor Dimitrov – Last fall, Dimitrov finally took his first title.  In Australia, he out dueled Milos Raonic and played Rafa tough in his first major quarterfinal.  Now, he has a win over Murray and a second career title.  Dimitrov is on the way up, and is a contender for both the Indian Wells and Miami titles.  Change since last ranking +2
  7. Andy Murray – Murray does not yet appear to be fully recovered from his surgery.  A healthy Murray is in the top 4 in the world.  At the moment, he looks more like a top 20 player knocking rust off of his game.  Murray has little cause for panic in Indian Wells, but he does defend 1000 points in Miami.
  8. Marin Cilic – The Croatian has come back from a PED suspension in strong form.  His 16-3 record in 2014 boasts two tournament titles and one runner-up finish.  Change since last ranking – not ranked 
  9. David Ferrer – Ferrer does have one title in 2014, but he dropped an unexpected match in Rio and is inured pulling out of Mexico and now skipping Indian Wells.
  10. Kevin Anderson - Mr. Anderson has been runner-up each of the past two weeks.  He also sprung an upset of the injured David Ferrer in Mexico.  His near misses against Cilic and Dimitrov in each championship match demonstrate his level of play.  Change since last ranking – not ranked

Biggest Mover – Grigor Dimitrov – He gained two spots with his title in Mexico and win over Andy Murray.

Entered the Poll – Marin Cilic and Kevin Anderson – Each man has been consistent and more important has been winning in 2014.

Dropped Out of the Poll – Juan Martin del Potro – His left wrist is a major question mark.  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also dropped out of the poll.

Pablo Andujar pushed Rafael Nadal to the limit in last week’s semifinal match in Rio. Andujar is not the young clay-court player I keep expecting to break onto the scene and make matches wars of attrition.  He is actually older than Rafael Nadal.  Still, It is a big deal for a baseline player to have a clear chance (2 match points is a clear chance if there ever was one) of beating Rafa on clay.  I am not sure if anything is to be made of this.  Andujar is a solid player.  Is he poised to join the top 10?  I would love to see it. At a minimum, he is a player to watch in the Latin American and European clay court swings of the tour.  For now, just enjoy these highlights:

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A lot was made about the recent Australian Open match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.  Notable tennis observers even called it a career defining match. Sometimes reality works out in ways that tennis analysts would not predict.  Federer lost to Nadal again, but Rafa getting to 17 majors seems like a more uphill affair than it did after the semifinal clash.  It ended up being more of a status quo match than being a Federer push-back or Rafa grabbing the GOAT title by the horns.

Most of the Fedal matches have taken place at Grand Slams, Masters 1000 events and World Tour Finals.  Almost all of their matches have taken place in the later stages of tournaments.  Each man holds so many titles and so many records that any match between the two holds importance.  However, some of their clashes have lacked the implications found in the majority of their matches.  Here are the 5 least important matches in the Fedal Rivalry.

Number 5 – 2004 Miami

Nadal d. Federer 6-3, 6-3

Why it is less important:  Roger had just become #1 in February 2004.  He did own a Wimbledon and Australian Open title, but Roger was not yet being thought of as an all-time great (that talk began in ernest when he thrashed Hewitt at the US Open and became the first man in 16 years to win 3 slams in 1 year). Roger had also just won at Indian Wells.  After winning a long event, many players do not play as well in the next event.  A tireless teen is the wrong opponent when having already logged as many matches as Roger had at that point in 2004.  Rafa also missed the 2004 French Open with a stress fracture in his foot.  Therefore, Rafa did not turn this upset into a major run.

Why it is more important than the next 4: It set a precedent in their rivalry.  It also gave a young Nadal confidence versus Federer.  Had Roger dug in and found a way to win the match it might have taken Rafa a bit longer to get his feet under him versus Federer.

Number 4 – 2012 Indian Wells

Federer d. Nadal 6-3, 6-4

Why it is less important: The conditions for this match were atrocious.  Wind was a major factor.  It impacted both players, but the quality of play was low throughout the match.  The conditions were so bad that it would be hard to draw much from this match.

Why is it more important than the next 3: Rafa struggled through portions of 2011 and lost an epic Australian Open final to start 2012.  Losing to Federer here was part of Rafa’s 2012 narrative of injury and decline accompanied by a clay court push-back versus Nole.  Also, Roger at 10-23 versus Rafa has to see his wins as more precious commodities.

Number 3 – 2013 Indian Wells

Nadal d. Federer  6-4, 6-2

Why it is less important: Roger hurt himself 2 rounds previous to this match with Nadal.  Rafa has had an upper hand versus a healthy Roger.  If Roger is injured, the match is just not apt to be close.  Rafa needed 12 month to exact revenge on a largely meaningless loss at Indian Wells to notch a largely meaningless win due to the outcome being a foregone conclusion.

Why it is more important than the next 2:  Rafa posted nice results on a Latin American clay court swing to reboot his career after an injury absence.  His 2013 dominance in North American hard court events began at Indian Wells, and this match is part of that larger story.

Number 2 – 2011 World Tour Finals

Federer d. Nadal 6-3, 6-0

Why it is less important: Roger got a decidedly one-sided victory over Nadal in a round robin match.  We’ve seen Rafa struggle at the World Tour Finals in other years. This scoreline is so out of keeping with the remainder of their rivalry that it looks like an outlier.  Rafa overcame Roger in 4 interesting sets at the 2012 Australian Open so their seemed to be no hangover for the Spaniard from this beating.  Also, round robin matches are a bit different.

Why it is more important than the last one: Roger moved to 4-0 versus Rafa on indoor courts after this match (4-1 now).  It does send a message than on faster courts with lower bounces that Roger seems to have a bit of an edge on Rafa (Roger is 2-1 on grass as well).  The thing is Roger’s 2010 World Tour Finals victory over Rafa in the championship round had already made this point.

Anyone expecting Roger to do in 2013 what he could not do in 2006?

Number 1 – 2013 Masters Rome

Nadal d. Federer 6-1, 6-3

Why it is of such low importance: At this stage of their rivalry, the outcome of this clay court match was never in doubt.  Federer scrapped his way to the final only to take a telegraphed red clay beating.  Roger had his worst year in over a decade in 2013, and Rafa had the second best year of his career.  If the last match was an outlier or an exception, this match was the rule in their rivalry.  The age gap, Roger’s 2013 mobility issues and a clay court all tilted this match to Rafa to such a degree that it would have only made waves had Roger won.

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Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] vs. Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) [8]

Stan and the Tough Draw

Nole got the Tough Draw

When the draw was released it looked like Rafael Nadal would have a tough quarterfinal match with Juan Martin del Potro who had beaten him last fall. Stanislas Wawrinka’s two instant classic matches in 2013 against Novak Djokovic were overlooked.  As it turned out, JMDP lost early and Novak was eliminated 9-7 in the 5th set as their trilogy of great matches went Wawrinka’s way for the first time in a Grand Slam.

Is this French Open 2013 All Over Again?

Rafa looked masterful against Monfils and Federer.  He looked a bit vulnerable against Nishikori and Dimitrov.  Still, Rafa for the second time in less than 12 months enters a Grand Slam final as the overwhelming favorite.  He is better on clay than on Plexicushion, but Ferrer had won sets and matches (including 2 at Grand Slams) against Rafa.  Wawrinka has never won a set at this point versus the number one seed.  So there is no chance for an upset, right?

Not exactly.  Wawrinka is an obvious underdog.  In addition to his lousy record vs. Rafa, Nadal has just played 7 sets against guys with one-handed backhands (as if he needed practice on what to do with a one-hander).  He has a low chance at victory, but I think Stanislas has a better chance than Ferrer had one year ago.

So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance

Wawrinka on clay would have a worse chance than Ferrer had last year. However, Stan played Rafa tough last year at the World Tour Finals.  Stan also is playing better than Dimitrov who did threaten Rafa.  Stan has a serve that can allow him to stay in sets and see what happens on Plexicushion.  I don’t think he has a great chance, but they should not engrave Rafa’s name on the trophy just yet either.

My Prediction

If Nadal plays like he did against Federer, it is hard for me to see Wawrinka winning this match.  If Nadal plays like he did vs. Dimitrov, I still think he’s the favorite, but it might be a long match.  I think Stan has the ability to push people around and dictate play in a way that even Federer lacks.  He hits through the court.  He will have to do a lot of that to have a chance at victory. I think Rafa will either come out smoking or play his way into form.  Either way, the Spaniard is likely to win.  I do think Stan will take his first set off of Nadal though.

Nadal d. Wawrkina 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5