Predicted Winners in BOLD
Predicted Winners in BOLD
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
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:
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.
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.
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
With 30 majors between them, this is about as big as a semifinal can get. Rafa had a somewhat close straight set win over Kei Nishikori and then struggled with Grigor Dimitrov until the fourth set. Roger Federer has looked as sharp as he’s been since winning Wimbledon 2012, taking the silver medal and then winning Cincinnati 2012.
A lot of people are saying Roger can win and some are predicting him to win. I am splitting the difference. Rafa has always had a lot of success against Roger. He beat Roger 4 times in 2013 (winning 8 of 9 sets). I think Roger can win, but the historical evidence including Nadal winning both previous encounters in Australia along with Nadal’s #1 ranking/seed means that Nadal must be the pick.
I think Roger looks to be enjoying tennis more than he has in years. He is playing with a clear purpose. He is serving well and the surface is playing faster than last year.
My Prediction: Nadal d. Federer 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-4
Predicted Winners in BOLD
Rafael Nadal (ESP)  vs. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)  – I think Grigor may win a set. Winning 4 matches here bodes well for Grigor’s transition to the top tiers of tennis, but Rafa is very likely too much for Dimitrov at this time. Don’t be shocked if Rafa does what he did to Monfils. Rafa has to know with JMDP and Nole out of the event, that he has a golden chance to win his second title in Melbourne. Nadal d. Dimitrov 6-3, 7-5, 6-2
Andy Murray (GBR)  vs. Roger Federer (SUI)  – Federer’s 4 wins in Melbourne and runner-up in Brisbane make me think that he is in better form than Murray. I think it will be a close match, but Murray has to also think that Nadal is his last huge obstacle for an Australian Open title. Murray d. Federer 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6.
The Coaching Arms Race is On
Andy Murray has been working with Ivan Lendl for 2 years. This partnership has yielded 1 Wimbledon title, 1 US Open title, 1 Gold Medal, 1 Wimbledon runner-up finish, and 1 Australian Open runner-up finish.
Becker is Back
Murray’s successes with Lendl plus Nadal’s improbable dominance after knee injuries had to play a part in Novak Djokovic hiring Boris Becker as his coach. My father, Boris Becker and Jimmy Connors got me to become interested in tennis as a kid. I am excited to see Becker assume a more active role on the tour. I am not sure what this partnership will bring, but I don’t find it to be as odd as some have. If Becker can help Djokovic manage his service games slightly more effectively, his results at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open might be different in 2014.
Is Edberg Back?
Federer picking Edberg’s brain also makes sense to me. Roger had a rough year in 2013. If working out with one of his idols gives him positivity heading into 2014, it has already been a plus. It is unclear if this will be a regular working relationship or a one-time training session. Still, Federer does not have the legs at 32 to play super patient tennis. He’s been plagued with errors, but that may be a price of age. Perhaps a more aggressive set of tactics plus a more powerful racquet will allow Roger to try to dictate play as often as possible.
At 32, grinding through days when he only has his B game is not a winning strategy for Roger. I doubt we will see a return to classic serve and volley tennis. As a tactic, it can be effective, but passing shots are easier to hit with today’s strings than at any point in my lifetime. Edberg dictated play when he won and when he lost. He was going to play his way. If Federer can dictate play the majority of the time, perhaps he can play at ease and just see what happens. If a new frame allows him to hit more aces and service winners, Federer might be able to hang around in sets when he is not playing his best and take some chances from 4-4 forward in a set. Applying pressure at 4-4, 30-30 during a return game is something Federer’s fans likely want to see.
Will Nadal Add Someone?
I don’t see it. Uncle Toni sculpted Rafa’s game. Rafa has plenty of hitting partners. He works with people at various events when Uncle Toni is not traveling with Rafa. With the exception of some of the retired Spanish champions, I can’t see Rafa adding a high profile ex-player to his team as this would create a second center of gravity in his coaching camp. Uncle Toni is his coach. Jimmy Connors had a family driven coaching arrangement as well. I’d give Connors a 2-3% chance of a part-time consultation with Team Rafa. Players such as Jim Courier or Thomas Muster have an even lesser chance to formally consult Rafa. If Novak runs the table in the first portion of 2014, Rafa might be more open to matching the moves of his rivals, but when you’re number one making changes is not a high priority. When one has rituals and is number one, upsetting those rituals seems downright silly.
Rafa won 2 slams, 5 Masters 1000 events, won 3 other events, and was runner-up at 4 events. Rafa beat Nole 3 times including matches at Roland Garros and the US Open. The computer has Rafa ranked #1.
Nole won 1 slam, was runner-up at 2 others, and a semifinalist at a fourth. Nole won the World Tour Finals, 3 Masters 1000 events, and 2 smaller events. Nole beat Rafa 3 times including at the World Tour Finals and at Monte Carlo ending an unreal streak.