Posts Tagged ‘Rafael Nadal’

 

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.

 

In 2010, Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic to win his first US Open title and cap off the best Grand Slam season of his career.  In 2011, Novak Djokovic took the tour by its throat and won 3 major titles while defeating Rafa in 6 consecutive tournament final matches.  2012 saw the rivalry shift again.  Nole won a classic 5 set marathon against Rafa to take the Australian Open crown.  The 2012 clay court season saw Rafa reverse the course of the rivalry with 3 victories over Nole including a four set final at Roland Garros played over two days.  Since that time, Novak Djokovic has been the most consistent performer on the men’s tour winning 1 Australian Open, 2 World Tour Finals, and logging two US Open and 1 Wimbledon runner-up finishes.  Still, the loss to Nadal in the 2012 French Open final ended Nole’s reign as dictator of the men’s tour.  Rafa has had a lot of ups and a few downs since that 2012 match. He picked up 2 Grand Slam titles in 2013, but also suffered 2 early losses at Wimbledon and missed the 2012 US Open and 2013 Australian Open with injuries.

The War of 2013

Nole was playing with purpose last year as his childhood coach passed away.  He dedicated his tournament to her memory.  Rafa led two sets to one and took a break lead in the fourth set. The match seemed to be over.   Nole took his game to a higher level and broke serve, eventually forced a tiebreak and took the tiebreak to force a fifth set.

 The fifth set saw Novak take a break lead, and Rafa looked to be in serious trouble.  Nole had a mental lapse and ran into the net to put a ball away.  Things turned around after that point.  Nadal got the set back on serve.  Eventually he took the match.  Nadal went on to win his 8th Roland Garros title.  Nole lost in the Wimbledon final to Andy Murray and then lost the US Open final to Rafa.  Each man suffered a loss at the hands of Stanislas Wawrinka in Melbourne. The winner will either take his 9th (!) Roland Garros title or complete his career Grand Slam and reascend to the top of men’s tennis.

Novak’s Reassertion?

After his US Open loss, Novak did not lose another match in 2013.  His wins included two straight set victories over Rafael Nadal.  2014 did not include a 5th Australian Open for Nole. Novak did beat Rafa in straight sets again to win Miami.  The clay court season did not start perfectly for Nole.  He hurt his wrist in Monte Carlo and lost to Roger Federer.  This injury led to Nole skipping Madrid.  The two faced off in Rome with each aiming for momentum heading into Roland Garros.  Nole dropped the first set, but then took the next two sets 6-3 and 6-3.  Novak has 4 straight wins over Nadal and has won 8 of the 9 sets in these 4 matches. Winning the World Tour Final, Miami and Rome over Nadal has to give Novak a lot of confidence, but winning Roland Garros over Nadal would return tennis to a state resembling that of 2011.  Novak can move from being tennis’ most consistent performer to once again becoming the top champion on tour.

Rafa 9 and 14

A ninth Roland Garros title would keep Nadal at #1 in the computer, and it would further cement his status as the greatest clay court player to ever live.  His excellence on clay is so otherworldly that it may propel him to the status of Greatest of All Time across the board.  A ninth Roland Garros title would also mean a 14th major tying Rafa with Pete Sampras for 2nd all-time in terms of Grand Slam singles titles.  With 14 Grand Slam Titles, an Olympic Gold Medal, and great head-to-head records against most all of his peers, Rafa’s case for GOAT would get stronger.

The Prediction

The build to this match is a great deal like the 2006-2008 Wimbledon duels between Federer and Nadal.  In 2006, Roger won in 4 sets.  In 2012, Rafa beat Nole in 4 sets. In 2007, Roger turned back Rafa in 5 sets.  In 2013, Rafa beat Nole in 5 sets.  In 2008, Rafa turned the tables and beat Roger in 5 sets.  In 2014, I predict that Novak Djokovic will turn the tables and win Roland Garros in 4 sets.  Rafa will dig as deep as he can in this match.  So long as Novak is willing to pay the price physically, I think his return game and ability to hurt Rafa’s court positioning will make the difference.  Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

 

 

 

 

 

The 8 time champion and the clay court GOAT faces an interesting opponent in the semifinal. Andy Murray has tools that could/should make him hard to beat on clay.  Murray is fit, he is one of the fastest players on tour and he has one of the top service returns on tour.  The best analog I can offer to Murray is to look at Michael Chang’s 1995 upset of two-time defending champion Sergi Bruguera in the semifinal round.  Chang was not as natural on clay courts as Burguera, but he made his foot speed and return of serve the key factors in that match.  Equipment and ball striking has changed a lot since 1995, but I think Murray using an updated version of Chang’s formula has a chance at pulling a major upset.

Murray Was Close in Rome; Why Not Paris?

Andy Murray raced through a first set versus Nadal in Rome, Nadal took the second, and Murray led by a break in the third set before Nadal rallied to win 1-6, 6-3, 7-5.  Murray has to draw some confidence from that encounter.  He has a chance on clay.  The two have only played once since Murray broke through and took the 2012 Gold Medal and US Open titles. Murray is in a different spot mentally than he was for all but one of their head-to-head matches.

For Murray to Win

Murray does have a chance to win, but winning a three out of five set match in Rafa’s backyard will require drawing an inside straight.  Murray will have to pressure Rafa’s serve throughout the match, he will have to steal some points with defensive tennis, but also keep Nadal on the defensive as often as possible.

My Prediction

I think Murray will execute that game plan pretty well.  Hence, I do not see this being a straight set win for Nadal.  However, I think Nadal will prevail.  Nadal will give Andy such a narrow margin of what can work that over time my guess is Murray won’t be quite sharp enough to win the match.  Rafael Nadal d. Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4

After the injury marred Madrid final, I had no idea how to rank my Top 10 so I did the cowardly sensible thing and waited another week.  So here is a Double Masters 1000 Power Ranking Extravaganza.

2014 Power Ranking #6 – Madrid and Rome (Roam If You Want To)

  1. Novak Djokovic - Nole answered questions about the state of his wrist with a title in Rome.  He dropped sets to Kohlschreiber, Ferrer, Raonic and Nadal.  Still, bending but not breaking and a nasty return of serve place Novak atop my rankings heading into Roland Garros.  Change since last ranking +1
  2. Rafael Nadal – Rafa has 3 clay court losses in 2014 and that is a rarity, but titles in Madrid and Rio along with a runner-up finish in Rome have Rafa solidly at the #2 spot.  Change since last ranking +1
  3. Stanislas Wawrinka - Stan has 3 titles in 2014 including the Australian Open and Monte Carlo.  The problem is that since winning Monte Carlo Stan has looked pretty ordinary.  Change since last ranking -2 
  4. David Ferrer – The 2013 French Open runner-up rises after losing a tight semifinal match in Madrid and pushing Novak in the Rome quarters.  His decent form combined with Federer’s post-baby haze are enough for Ferrer to nudge upward one spot.  Change since last ranking +1
  5. Roger Federer -  Federer losing his first match in Rome and skipping Madrid were perfectly understandable, but he does drop one spot.  Change since last ranking – 1
  6. Kei Nishikori – His health is the biggest X factor.  His win at Barcelona and runner-up finish in Madrid mean that he’s a guy people hope is on the other side of the draw in Roland Garros.  Change since last ranking +3
  7. Milos Raonic – His solid play at Indian Wells and Monte Carlo were surpassed by his semifinal showing in Rome.  If Milos continues to learn to construct points, games, matches and tournaments around his serve, he will be a mainstay in the top 10.  Change since last ranking + 1
  8. Andy Murray - He remains at #8, but for the first time since Wimbledon 2013, Murray looks to be alive and kicking.  Murray will be a player neither Nadal nor Djokovic want to see in a quarterfinal match-up.
  9. Grigor Dimitrov – Grigor won a 250 level clay court event, reached the round of 16 in Madrid and the semifinal round in Rome.  His flat performance vs. Nadal does not overshadow his 17-3 record on clay in 2014.  Change since last ranking – not ranked
  10. Tomas Berdych – Berdych split matches with Dimirtov in Madrid and Rome, but he lacks a title on clay this year.  Change since last ranking – 4

Biggest Mover – Tomas Berdych dropped 4 slots

Entered the Poll – Grigor Dimitrov

Dropped Out – Fabio Fognini