Posts Tagged ‘Rafael Nadal’

When will Rafa be fully back?  Points like this say his best form may be close

Rafael Nadal vs. Juan Monaco

I’d be a fool to say Nadal is not the favorite in this match.  I still don’t think it will be easy.  Monaco is a true pro in terms of his preparation, willingness to complete, and his conditioning.  Rafa does not yet look like he has hit his clay court stride.  Rafa dropped a set in the Rio quarters and then lost a lead in the semis.  Today versus Carlos Berlocq, Rafa saved 5 set points to win the first set and came from an early break down to win the second set.  Rafa’s comeback in the first set and winning the final 6 games of the second set might have him feeling like his old self.  Still, if Rafa plays at his current level, I think this match will at least be taxing for Rafa as Monaco is a stout competitor.  Monaco, an Argentine, is playing in front of a Buenos Aires crowd and is unhappy with Argentina’s Davis Cup situation.  Winning versus the King of Clay would send a strong message to his fans and to the Argentine Davis Cup leadership.

My Prediction: Rafal Nadal d. Juan Monaco 3-6, 6-2, 6-3

Rafael Nadal vs. Carlos Berlocq

Maybe I was being a bit harsh in my pick after looking at these highlights

This is a mismatch.  I know saying that about Rafa on clay is trite, but Berlocq’s game (which I love) is predicated on running, scrambling, grinding out points etc.  He is not going to be able to do that often enough to really bother Rafa.  Nadal will be relaxed knowing this and will likely play quite commanding tennis.  Berlocq’s serve and shots are not big enough to really bother Rafa.  Unless Rafa has an error prone outing, expect this one to go quickly.

My Prediction: Rafael Nadal d. Carlos Berlocq 6-2, 6-2

Nicolas Almagro vs. Juan Monaco

This should be a nice match.  I think Almagro has enough firepower to be favored, but Monaco is playing on home soil and is upset with some Davis Cup selections.  I am therefore torn.  Almagro has superior weapons, but Monaco is a more reliable competitor with a lot of motivation.  In this case, I will give an edge to the Argentine.

My Prediction: Juan Monaco d. Nicolas Almagro 3-6, 7-5, 6-3

[3] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs [7] Tomas Berdych (CZE)

Based on what I saw of Rafa in Asia last fall and on his own pre-tournament words, I would give Berdych a fighting chance in this match.  Rafa who typically downplays his chances said he felt he was in good form after defeating Kevin Anderson.  That does not bode well for Berdych.  Also, Anderson is a good sparing partner to have when preparing to face Berdych.  I could see Tomas take 1 set, but 3 sets are not coming his direction as far as I can tell.  Rafael Nadal d. Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-4, 6-4

[6] Andy Murray (GBR) vs Nick Kyrgios (AUS)

I just wrote a column on Kyrgios and Nadal, but shockingly I am not picking Kyrgios to set up a second match with Rafa.  Andy Murray showed a lot of fight in preventing a 5th set vs. Dimitrov.  Kyrgios is young enough to recover from a long round of 16 match in which he too displayed a lot of heart.  I think Murray’s return game, this surface, and Murray’s general form will be enough to win this match in four sets.  Murray’s task is to keep the crowd from becoming a huge factor as a Davis Cup environment would make anything possible.  Andy Murray d. Nick Kyrgios 7-5,  3-6, 6-4, 6-3

Both Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios have punched tickets for the quarterfinal round of the 2015 Australian Open.  That fact has caused me to revisit their match at Wimbledon last year even though they still each have to win to set up a sequel.  Their Wimbledon match was not the match of the year by any measure. However, it is the 2014 match that most interested me.

Generational Duels

Some generational matches are full of ill will a la Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors’ US Open tilts in the late 80s not to mention their more recent biographical battles.  Other generational matches present a sense of continuity as was the case in Roger Federer’s 2001 Wimbledon upset of defending champion Pete Sampras.  Federer had a ponytail at the time, but his play in that match mirrored Sampras’. Roger’s evolution beyond that template was still 2 or 3 years into the future.  Kyrgios vs Nadal was not full of spite or admiration.  Rather, it gave me a glimpse of what the eventual changing of the guard will look like.

Rafa’s sui generis play served warning to established tennis norms

Rafael Nadal – Forever Young?

Rafael Nadal meeting Nick Kyrgios struck me as a less acrimonious version of Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain meeting at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.  Rafa and Kyrgios have a few things aesthetically in common, but in many ways they are creatures from different eras.  The majority of Rafael Nadal’s career has been marked as being the challenger, and a very successful one at that.  Rafa has played the role of smiling revolutionary for several reasons.  First, Roger Federer, whose peers include Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and Juan Carlos Ferrero, is almost 5 years older than Rafa but has never left the top tier of tennis during Rafa’s career.  Many tennis fans either like or dislike Federer for his regal demeanor. Rafa had a promising 2004 and rocketed into the top tier of tennis in 2005 all while wearing shorts associated with clam digging, hitting a buggy whip forehand, and wearing a muscle shirt.  For many years, Federer was the establishment, and the younger Rafa was the revolutionary.  In 2008, this all came to head in the classic Wimbledon final won by Nadal.

Little if anything in all of sport is as good as this was

Chasing Roger from 2005-2007 helped make Rafa an eternal upstart, but so too have Rafa’s injuries.  Rafa has posted excellent years from 2005-2014.  There is no reason to think 2015 won’t be an excellent campaign as well. Still, Rafa ceded the #1 ranking back to Roger in 2009.  He then had his best year in 2010 only to have Nole take over in 2011.  Roger even reclaimed the #1 ranking for a portion of 2012. Rafa again claimed #1 with a dominating 2013, but his 3 years of dominance required toppling a number one and then entailed losing that number one ranking the next year.  Taking the tour over on 3 occasions makes Rafa a highly successful revolutionary, and revolutions tend to be associated with youth.

Kyrgios Gave a Glimpse of the Future

At Wimbledon 2014, Nick Kyrgios walked onto court against Rafael Nadal wearing Beats by Dre, artistic kinesio tape, and a substantial gold chain.  Kyrgios, as Nadal has always done, exuded supreme athleticism on court, but he played with a fluid power that showcased what a player who grew up watching the retrieving and returning skills of Rafa, Nole, and Murray might need to do in order to dictate play.  Kyrgios clearly had no interest in a war of attrition akin to what is often seen between Rafa and Nole. He hit a ridiculous array of aces and huge ground strokes preventing Rafa from imposing his preferred patterns of play.*  Kyrgios sent the message that a set of players building on this prototype will eventually take over tennis.

Look at the 6:55 to 7:05 mark to see what I am getting at

It is unlikely that any one player of the next wave will be as accomplished as Nadal has been. However, as Bruce Lee once said “running water never grows stale so you’ve got to keep on flowing.” Tennis’ constantly arriving future is the one opponent no generation defeats.  For a few hours at Wimbledon in 2014, Nick Kyrgios made Rafael look like the palace guard.  That is noteworthy given that Nadal had been breaking down the gates seeking to conquer or reconquer the kingdom of tennis for a decade.  I remember that match so vividly because for one day the eternal revolutionary was the ancien régime.

* – A similar dynamic was present when Jerzy Janowicz won the first set of his 2013 Wimbledon semifinal vs. Andy Murray by hitting second serves above the 120 mph mark.  Murray, Nadal, and Djokovic’s defensive skills may spawn, via the tennis arms race, players routinely hitting winners that were unthinkable a decade ago. Still, I think Jerzy has less talent than Kyrgios.  Also, Jerzy ultimately lost this match, and Murray has not been the alpha male on tour.  Therefore, the Kyrgios-Nadal match stands out to me as the first big warning sent by the coming generation.

Predicted Winners in BOLD

[3] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs [14] Kevin Anderson (RSA) – Mr. Anderson’s height might allow him to handle Rafa’s spin better than the average player.  His serve might earn him a set.  Still, an upset would he highly shocking.  Rafa is just a much stronger player, and Anderson should be good sparring to get ready for Berdych.

[6] Andy Murray (GBR) vs. [10] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) – Dimitrov handled Murray at Wimbledon.  He also beat Murray in Mexico last year.  Murray beat Dimitrov last fall in Paris.  Dimitrov struggled in his last match while Murray has looked rock solid.  Both have to feel like the semifinals are there for the reaching (if I can coin a phrase).

[7] Tomas Berdych (CZE) vs. Bernard Tomic (AUS) – Tomic deserves praise for rebounding from irrelevance.  I think he can beat the Big Czech.  Still, everything I consider regarding this match points toward Berdych winning.

Nick Kyrgios (AUS) vs. Andreas Seppi (ITA) – They had a great match in New York last year.  I expect the young Aussie to advance, but not without a few moments of doubt.

Predicted Winners in BOLD

[2] Roger Federer (SUI) vs Andreas Seppi (ITA) – I don’t see this as an easy match, but Federer in 3 or 4 is my pick.

[3] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs Dudi Sela (ISR) – Stomach cramps are the only thing that could stop Rafa here.

[7] Tomas Berdych (CZE)  vs. Viktor Troicki (SRB) – The Big Czech should advance.

Nick Kyrgios (AUS) vs Malek Jaziri (TUN)  – Kyrgios has been a solid pick for me to this point.

[6] Andy Murray (GBR) vs. Joao Sousa (POR) – I see this as being close in a few sets at least.

Bernard Tomic (AUS) vs. Sam Groth (AUS) – Australian war to settle the score

[14] Kevin Anderson (RSA) vs [24] Richard Gasquet (FRA) – Mr. Anderson advances.

[10] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) vs Marcos Baghdatis (CYP) – The Bulgarian should hold off a momentarily resurgent Baghdatis.

Predicted Winners in BOLD

Form should generally hold, but expect a few more upsets than the first two days: I wish I had a ticket as this is a great slate of matches.

[2] Roger Federer (SUI) vs Simone Bolelli (ITA) – I don’t think this is the easiest match for Roger. Depending on how sharp he is, I could see this match go 4 sets.

[3] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs Tim Smyczek (USA) – His draw is soft enough that Rafa is likely underselling his chances at a second title Down Under.

[6] Andy Murray (GBR) vs Marinko Matosevic (AUS) – I could see this match go four sets as well.

[22] Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) vs. Bernard Tomic (AUS) – Consistency vs. an erratic hometown player

[10] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) vs  Lukas Lacko (SVK) – This is another really good match.  I like Dimitrov, but we are living in an era of few bad matches on the men’s tour.

Sam Groth (AUS) vs. [WC] Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) – I will take the hot hand to pull a mild upset.

[24] Richard Gasquet (FRA) vs [WC] James Duckworth (AUS) – Am I crazy to take Gasquet?

[29] Jérémy Chardy (FRA) vs. Andreas Seppi (ITA) – I see this match going 5.  Flip a coin

[7] Tomas Berdych (CZE) vs. [Q] Jurgen Melzer (AUT) – Another match that could become complicated.

[23] Ivo Karlovic (CRO) vs Nick Kyrgios (AUS) I expect a lot of long grinding rallies Take cover

[20] David Goffin (BEL) vs. Marcos Baghdatis (CYP) – Goffin is playing quite well.

[28] Lukas Rosol (CZE) vs.Dudi Sela (ISR) – A 50-50 match

[26] Leonardo Mayer (ARG) vs Viktor Troicki (SRB) – Mayer’s style should benefit from the court speed and the possible heat.

[14] Kevin Anderson (RSA) vs Ricardas Berankis (LTU) – Mr. Anderson in 4 or 5 sets

Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA)  vs. Malek Jaziri (TUN)

[32] Martin Klizan (SVK) vs Joao Sousa (POR) – I like Klizan’s game, but I think the bounces in Melbourne will favor Sousa.

Predicted Winners in BOLD

Welcome Back as Tennis’ Off-season is Now Over

[3] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) – Rafa’s draw is pretty soft after this match, but I think Rafa is low on confidence and is not yet grooved.  I give Youzhny a 40% chance at the upset despite one of my loyal readers telling me that I am crazy.

[2] Roger Federer (SUI) vs Yen-Hsun Lu (TPE)  – I like Federer here.  I also think Fed will benefit from night matches.

[6] Andy Murray (GBR) vs. [Q] Yuki Bhambri (IND) – The qualifier should be match tough, but Murray is a new level of opponent.

Federico Delbonis (ARG) vs. Nick Kyrgios (AUS) – The Aussie crowd should help their big hitting hope for the future advance.

Tobias Kamke (GER) vs. Bernard Tomic (AUS) – Tomic is hard to predict.

Sam Groth (AUS) vs. Filip Krajinovic (SRB)

[10] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) vs Dustin Brown (GER) – I wish I was in Melbourne to see this one on sight.  This should be a treat for the fans.

[7] Tomas Berdych (CZE) vs. Alejandro Falla (COL) – This is not the easiest first round match for the Big Czech, but I think Berdych wins in 3 or 4.

[Q] Alexander Kudryavtsev (RUS) vs. Marinko Matosevic (AUS) 

[11] Ernests Gulbis (LAT) vs [WC] Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) – Perhaps against my better judgment, I am taking Gulbis.

Blaz Kavcic (SLO) vs. [WC] James Duckworth (AUS)

Juan Monaco (ARG) vs. Simone Bolelli (ITA) – If ticket holders want to see good hard fought tennis, find this match on the grounds and watch it.

[20] David Goffin (BEL) vs. [Q] Michael Russell (USA) – This is another fun match in my mind.  Russell never makes anything easy and Goffin of the Shire is a rising star.

Jiri Vesely (CZE) vs. Viktor Troicki (SRB) – A 50-50 match

[32] Martin Klizan (SVK) vs Tatsuma Ito (JPN)

[26] Leonardo Mayer (ARG) vs [WC] John Millman (AUS) – I love Mayer’s game and mentality.

[28] Lukas Rosol (CZE) vs. Kenny De Schepper (FRA)

Malek Jaziri (TUN) vs. Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) – Kukushkin is a talent.

Maximo Gonzalez (ARG) vs. Lukas Lacko (SVK)

[Q] Jurgen Melzer (AUT) vs. Victor Estrella Burgos (DOM) – Melzer is crafty and tough.

Ricardas Berankis (LTU) vs. Igor Sijsling (NED)

[22] Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA) – This could be quite good if one can get court side and watch.

[WC] Jordan Thompson (AUS) vs. Joao Sousa (POR) – Can some of Spain’s successes from 1989-present spill over to Portugal?

Marcos Baghdatis (CYP) vs. Teymuraz Gabashvili (RUS) - I wanted to pick Baghdatis, but I fear his best days were years ago.

[29] Jérémy Chardy (FRA) vs. Borna Coric (CRO)

[23] Ivo Karlovic (CRO) vs [Q] Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) – Good news is that Ruben qualified – Bad news is that he has to face Ivo’s serve for anywhere from 3-5 sets

[14] Kevin Anderson (RSA) vs. Diego Schwartzman (ARG) – Big man tennis takes this one.

[15] Tommy Robredo (ESP)  vs. Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA) – This is another match that ticket holders should be sure to see.

[24] Richard Gasquet (FRA) vs Carlos Berlocq (ARG) – I can’t pick Gulbis and Gasquet on the same day.  Berlocq is entertaining, but he will have to dig in to pull an upset here.

[WC] Luke Saville (AUS) vs. [Q] Tim Smyczek (USA) – I’ll take the guy who is match tough from the qualifying rounds.

Andreas Seppi (ITA) vs. Denis Istomin (UZB)

Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) vs. Dudi Sela (ISR)

Roger Federer collected his third career win versus his shadow Grigor Dimitrov.  I am not going to read too much into Dimitov’s one-sided loss, but at 33 Roger Federer is someone Dimitrov should press a bit more than he has to date.  Dimitrov only won 4 games in this match and is now 0-3 (0-6 in sets) versus The Fed.

History Watch

  • Roger Federer is one win away from his 1000th main tour victory.  He will join Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl as the only men to win 1000 or more matches in the Open Era.  He may join them by winning his 83rd career title.
  • Roger Feerer holds 82 career titles.  This places him 3rd behind Jimmy Connors’ 109 career titles and Ivan Lendl’s 94 career titles.  I think Connors’ mark is out of Federer’s reach.  Lendl’s mark seems like a stretch, but Roger won 5 titles last year.  A title to start 2015 may mean Federer has enough time to give serious chase to Lendl.
  • Milos Raonic, who has won 1 of his 2 most recent matches versus Federer, will have something to say about all of this.

Rankings Watch

  • Rafael Nadal did not defend the 250 points he won in Qatar last year.  Roger Federer has at least defended and may add to the 150 points he won at Brisbane last year.  To my mind Rafa is the biggest challenge to Djokovic, but the odds of Rafa surpassing Roger’s ranking prior to Wimbledon seem low.  Rafa has many points to defend between now and the conclusion of Roland Garros.  This means Djokovic and Nadal will be slatted to face off in some semifinal rounds this year.

This was pretty good