This is my tennis blog, Lefty Advantage. Tennis is my biggest passion in life and I started this site to discuss the great game. I mainly follow the career of Roger Federer, but I truly love watching all tennis, whether it be the final of a Grand Slam
or a junior tournament on the other side of the world.

I have played tennis for 13 years. If you ever met me, I could talk your head off about all things tennis for hours on end if you would let me. Welcome, and enjoy the writing!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Federer vs Djokovic Preview

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will continue their storied rivalry, meeting for the 45th time at the Australian Open. It will be a much anticipated match, and they have both won 22 times each.

Djokovic, coming off the back of a stellar 2015 season where he beat Roger twice in Grand Slam finals, is the definite favourite. What does Federer need to do well in order to stand a chance? (Besides everything, you mean?)

1. Serve Well

This much is obvious. Djokovic is the best returner the game has ever seen, and he makes you pay if you leave him too many second serves to hit. Though I believe Agassi is the greatest pure offensive returner in the game's history, the Serb is definitely the best all-round one. He isn't as aggressive on second serves as the enigmatic American was, but he gets great depth and often puts the server under pressure immediately, taking the ball early and delivering a strike that more often than not puts him in an offensive position right away in the rally.

Federer's serve is one of the best the game has ever seen, this much we know. To give himself a chance to win, he must serve well. This means keeping a high first serve percentage and hitting his spots with his accurate rhythmic delivery. It also means varying his second serve in an attempt to get Novak off balance as much as possible. Serving out wide on the deuce side and down the T on the ad side will be crucial.

2. Aggression on the 2nd serve return

Under the tutelage of Boris Becker, Djokovic has developed one of the best second serves in the game. It has good pace, he can kick it or slice it, and he isn't afraid to hit a big one on important points. Federer has long been too passive (as a general rule) on second serve returns, choosing to slice or chip the ball into play rather than being aggressive to help set up the point.

Against Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, Roger attacked second serves regularly, getting the ball deep in the court, giving himself good opportunity to be the aggressor from the baseline. Though Djokovic has a much better second serve than the Czech, the same aggressive intent will need to be there against the game's most impenetrable defense. It will be harder to be as aggressive as he was in the quarterfinal, because Novak varies his second serve so well (unlike Tomas) and aims to keep the returner off balance. Nevertheless, if the Great Swiss is going to win, he will need his return to be doing some damage.

3. Crack the forehand

Seems obvious, right?

For the last number of years, Fed's feared forehand hasn't been the same weapon it once was between 2003 and 2009 (including the Australian Open 2010, where he hit it superbly). But the aggression of his forehand against Berdych was fantastic. It was honestly the best I've seen him hit his forehand in six years since his 16th major win.

Djokovic defends better than anyone, this much we know. Roger must capitalize on any medium-length balls Novak gives him by creating time and space for his favourite "fearhand." A staple of RF's game in his mid-twenties was crushing forehands from central areas of the court and constantly putting opponents under pressure. Though Novak defends so incredibly well, Roger must have the same aggressive mindset as he did in his quarterfinal - taking a big mid-court ball and attacking the net as if it had stolen his food on a camping trip.

We have long gone past the point where Roger can slug it out with Novak from the baseline, especially in a best of five set encounter. This means he must take every opportunity to put the World #1 on the defensive and come forward. Crushing his forehand early in rallies is the way to go. That isn't suggesting he "go for broke" and try to hit low percentage winners - rather, step up in the court, power a shot to one of the corners, and constantly keep Novak out of that lethal baseline rhythm he loves, where he's virtually unstoppable.

4. Backhands down the line

Every time Roger has had success in this match up in recent years, his backhand down the line to the Djokovic forehand has been a shot used to great effect. He won't win many backhand to backhand rallies, and when the opportunity presents itself, he must take a risk and redirect the ball up the line in an attempt to get the Serb off balance, and to give himself forehand looks in central court positions. Approaching the net by slicing up the line could also be an effective tactic, to keep the ball low and give himself time to get close to the net - plus force a tougher pass.

5.  Footloose

Roger wasn't even three years old when "Footloose" was released, but he must dance just the same. In my opinion Fed has the greatest feet in the game's history, and he must be dancing in this one. Footwork will be more imperative than usual because of the depth Novak gets, and as I've mentioned, Roger must be fully ready to take on any shorter ball to pounce. This is especially vital when turning backhands into forehands, something historically he does better than anyone when he's on.


My greatest advice to Roger, as a fan? Stay relaxed. At the US Open he wasted many chances by not pulling the trigger at the right time and trying to let Novak miss. That isn't a good strategy on the big points against anyone, let alone the best big-point player in the world. Roger is the big underdog and few expect him to win. Fed, of course, will step on court with every intention of winning - he hasn't accomplished this much by not having a great mindset in big matches.

He must stay committed to the gameplan he has with new coach Ivan Ljubicic, and he must give himself the best opportunity to win in every set. That means keeping the energy level high, remaining laser focused, and playing to all of his strengths - versatility, net play, good serving, controlling with the forehand, and opportunistic returning.

This will be a huge test for Roger, and a lot will need to go well for him to end the night with a victory. Djokovic is absolutely incredible on these courts, and though he hasn't looked particularly sharp against Simon and Nishikori, he will be fully ready and I expect nothing less than his best effort. If both men are at their best, Novak probably comes out the winner. Roger, at least, must be playing at a high enough level to capitalize on any mistakes Novak makes.

It should be a great match. Regardless of the winner, I'm still so proud to be a fan of Roger. He has had a great tournament and the start to 2016 has been encouraging even if the outcome doesn't match his (and his fans) desire.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Thoughts on the Wimbledon final

Roger Federer played some vintage tennis at the Championships, but ultimately fell short of winning the title for the 8th time after being defeated by the World's #1 player Novak Djokovic in a rematch of 2014's final.

It wasn't the result that Federer fans wanted to see, but it is one that for me is easy to accept. Beyond the first few moments after the match ended, the disappointment passed. Djokovic is clearly the best player in the world and there is absolutely no shame in a near 34 year-old losing to him in a tough 4-set match. Roger has proven once again that he can still hang with the best in the game even at a point in his career when he is far past his physical prime.

After the mind-boggling semi-final that Roger played against Andy Murray, I thought he had a very good chance to win, but I also knew that Djokovic is a much more difficult opponent for the Swiss. I don't think anyone else would have taken a set off Novak in that match, let alone be close to taking two. Novak was so solid in every department, but particularly his returning, which proved why he possesses the best return of serve that we have ever seen.

Fed served worse than he did against Murray, but that was always going to be the case as it would have been simply phenomenal to serve like that again. Besides, serving is a two-way street, and with the level of the returning, Roger was forced to go for more lines. I lost count of the amount of quality returns Djokovic had, even on good first serves. If he wasn't putting it at Roger's feet he was putting it near a sideline and gaining the advantage right from the start. Whether it's Roger, who uses his serve as a major weapon, or someone like Ferrer who doesn't, the pressure of being on the back foot after a first serve takes its toll over the course of a match, and that was definitely the case on Sunday.

The turning point in the match was at 1-1 in the 3rd set when Fed was up 40-15 and lost four straight points to lose the break. The first three points were all won by Djokovic, but the break was lost on a horrendous forehand miss that Roger usually makes in his sleep. From there Fed seemed deflated and Novak raised his game to make it tough for Fed to get the break back. There was a 20-minute rain delay at 3-2 and Fed came out flat after it, but I thought the difference was made before that.

I'm sure Roger would have been kicking himself after the match that he was broken at such a critical time on such a stupid miss, though of course Djokovic could have very well broken anyways if the break point was saved. Perhaps the pressure of Djokovic's game would have worn down Fed mentally and the result would have been the same, but you never know what might have transpired had Roger held and the set had gone deeper with holds exchanged.

After all is said and done, you just have to take your hat off to Djokovic. He played a great tournament coming off the heartbreak of the French Open loss to Wawrinka, and he was as solid as ever when he needed to be. Though he is Roger's biggest rival at the moment, I have great respect for being a good ambassador for the game the last few years since his rise to the #1 ranking in 2011. He's showing Federer-esque consistency at the majors and you could argue he's even playing better now than he was in 2011, when he started the year undefeated for the first five months. The future is impossible to predict, but I could definitely see him matching Nadal and Sampras' 14 major titles in the next few years.


As for Roger, he'll go back to the practice hard courts and prepare for the US Open. He should have a great chance to go deep, and with a few factors going his way, maybe he makes the final and competes for his 6th title there at Flushing Meadows. Wimbledon was definitely his best chance this year but he is still the second best hardcourt player in the world at the moment and I think he can beat everyone there bar Djokovic (and Nadal, but he has to prove a lot right now) if his level remains high.

Fed has proven the ability to bounce back from tough losses his entire career, and I expect this to be no different. He knows that if he keeps putting himself in positions to win majors, a break will come where an in-the-zone Djokovic isn't on the opposite side of the net. He's at a point with his game where I don't think there will be that much decline in his performance for the next 12 months if he stays healthy. He's more comfortable with the bigger racquet than ever and he's conserving his body so well with his pinpoint serving and aggressive net-rushing hybrid style.

The rest of the year should be fun to watch as all of the courts suit Fed's game - Canada, Cincinnati, New York, Basel, Shanghai, and the World Tour Finals. He has a final and a win to defend before the US Open but if he can enter the last major of the year as the #2 seed it would give him the best chance, most obviously because a match with Djokovic would only come in the final. We're still a month away from Montreal beginning, however, so in the meantime, he'll probably have some nice time off before he hits the ground running.


To wrap up, I just want to talk a bit about some comments that Pat Cash and others have been making about Roger playing "the best tennis of his career." Not only is that inaccurate, it is actually kind of degrading to the ridiculously high level Roger was playing at the peak of his powers in 2005 and 2006. Had he possessed the '06 ground game in the final against Novak, he very well may have won in 4 sets, as the big edge Novak had in the baseline rallies would not exist. John McEnroe said after the semis that he had never seen Fed move better, and I just had to shake my head at that repeatedly. I know John knows Roger was once much quicker around the court, because he witnessed it numerous times in the commentary box.

I think there are parts of Roger's game that are as good or better than ever, namely his serve and volleying. Edberg has done a great job at getting him to attack the net more urgently, and his second serve has more pop than ever (racquet aids that I know). However, his forehand is nowhere near as potent as it used to be, while his movement to that side has clearly declined also. I'm not trying to downplay the great level Roger is still playing at, but it is certainly not true that he's a better player now than he was then, regardless of what he may say himself. After all, what would he say? "I am much easier to beat now compared to ten years ago." Even if he knows that to be true, there would be no benefit for him to actually say that in the media.

This was the first piece of writing I have done this year, and I'm happy to get it out. I'll be writing regularly the rest of the year and I may have a surprise or two coming as well. I have always been an optimistic fan and I like to think I bring a good perception to these kind of disappointments. Just remembering that he's almost 34 and still playing this well is inspiring as a fan, and I'm sure it is for the other over-30s on the tour. It's fantastic that he still loves competing so much that he will continue to work hard to win another major. Whether it happens or not in the next year or two, the journey will be fun and at every passing tournament we can be proud of all he is still doing in the game of tennis.

Monday, August 25, 2014

2014 US Open Preview

The tennis calendar's final major kicks off in New York on Monday, and the draw is an interesting one.

In the top half, top seed Novak Djokovic may have to go through one of Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals, and one of Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic in the semifinals. On the bottom half, 2nd seed Roger Federer may have to defeat Grigor Dimitrov and David Ferrer successively to make his 26th Grand Slam final.

The big hooplah when the draw came out seemed to be how stacked Djokovic's half was, with Wawrinka, Raonic, Murray, Tsonga, Isner, and Nishikori. While it definitely is the tougher half of the draw, we all must remember that it is only the pre-tournament draw and no matches have been played.

If Djokovic makes the final having to go through Isner, Murray/Tsonga, and Wawrinka/Raonic, that would be a great accomplishment. But there is certainly a chance that he won't have to do that. Isner could fall to Kukushkin, Llodra, or Kohlschreiber. Murray has a tough path to the 4th round where he would play Tsonga, as he might have to go through Haase, Stepanek, and 31st seed Fernando Verdasco (who nearly beat him at Wimbledon last year). If Tsonga displays the kind of form he showed in Toronto, he should make the 4th round without dropping more than a set, but with him these days you never know.

Federer's side definitely looks to be the easier of the two before the tournament starts, but I would really caution placing his nametag in the final slot just yet. We have seen many times a player who has been glossed over as a supposed simple win come out big and pull off a shocking upset. Federer is too experienced to not be only focused on his first round match against Australian Marinko Matosevic.  If or when he gets by that, only then will he look toward the 3rd round. And so on.

There are a few examples we have seen of Federer in Grand Slams where he faces tough matches in the early rounds where few expect a stiff challenge. Maybe the most notable one was the 1st round at Wimbledon in 2010 when Alejandro Falla nearly shocked the tennis world. But there have also been other instances. Who came closest to denying his 7th Wimbledon title two years ago? Not Djokovic or Murray, but Julien Benneteau. Who came closest to knocking him out during his run in New York in 2008 to win his 13th major?  Again, not Djokovic or Murray, but Igor Andreev in the 4th round. Andreev also gave Federer quite a scare in the 1st round of the Australian Open in 2010 when he nearly took a two sets to one lead.

The point is, don't count your chickens before they hatch. That is a saying seemingly as old as time itself, but it remains a popular one for a reason.

Yes, given Federer's current form, he is the heavy favourite to come through that half. But he knows it won't be easy, and he still has to win 6 matches to play for the trophy. Ivo Karlovic is dangerous should he be faced across the net in the 3rd round. Yes, the big man can't return well and Roger returns his serve better than anybody (arguable), facing him is always stressful to an extent as you know losing one service game can cost you the whole set.

If it isn't Karlovic, then it could be Jarkko Nieminen, who is a steady vet with the experience to make it a tough match. Roberto Bautista-Agut is on the up'n'up and he has the type of flat hitting that could trouble Roger. If it isn't Dimitrov in the quarters, it could be Gael Monfils, who has proven to be a dangerous opponent the last few years. In the semis, of course we would all like to see David Ferrer, but it could be Tomas Berdych, who has always given Roger difficulty especially at the majors. It could also be Ernests Gulbis, who has already beaten Roger this year at the French Open.


Now, having said all of this, I do expect Federer to make the final - I just hate it when people start talking about the true difficulty of a draw before the tournament even starts - when we have no idea who will be in the 4th round, quarters, and semis. As I wrote on Twitter - "tough" draws can fall through and "easy" draws can be filled with unexpected threats.

Given the way Roger has played this whole year, and especially since Wimbledon, I think he is in the perfect mindset to capture his 18th major title. He has played 10 matches the last few weeks, but with those matches, five of which were 3-set wins, comes the confidence and assurance that he can get it done when it matters most, even if he hasn't been sharp on the day or had some blips on a usually clean radar. Though he was tired after the Cincinnati win last week, he has had his chance to rest, and we must remember that this is a Slam, so he will have a day off between matches and even two days off at one point I believe (but don't quote me on that). And as I have re-iterated numerous times to anyone that would listen, there is a day off between the semis and finals this year. So even if he was to have a tough 4 or 5-setter in the semis against Tomas Berdych or David Ferrer, he wouldn't be at a disadvantage like he would have last year.

And just in case you are superstitious, there is virtually zero chance of Federer being put on Louis Armstrong Stadium where he lost last year to Robredo. With Nadal out, he will be the main attraction every day he's playing.

It should be a great US Open and by the end of it I so hope that we can see Roger lift that trophy for a 6th time. For me as a fan, it would probably be even sweeter than his last Wimbledon win, considering the struggles he went through last year and how hard he has worked to play better this year.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Federer wins 6th Cincinnati Masters

He finally won a big title!

Since Federer won his 5th Cincinnati Masters title two seasons ago over Novak Djokovic, he had gone 2-9 in final matches since. Last week in Toronto he lost playing horrid baseline tennis. In the Wimbledon final, he should have lost in 4 and so nearly pulled the rabbit out of the hat. In Monte Carlo, he lost a 2nd set tiebreak to Wawrinka that would have won him the match. In Indian Wells, he lost a 3rd set breaker. In Brisbane, he lost a tight but sloppy match to longtime friend and foe, Lleyton Hewitt. In Basel last fall, he lost a tight 3-set match to Juan Martin del Potro. In Rome, he was overmatched by Nadal. At the World Tour Finals in 2012, he lost a close one to Djokovic in straights. And finally, in Basel he lost a 3rd set breaker to del Potro.

In all but one of those 9 finals, he had his chances to win. Some he maybe should have won. But through this bad history since his last Masters title, he managed to win in a hard-fought battle against a man he had never lost to, David Ferrer. Even with the man across the net having never won the final point against him, it was a big match, and Roger knew it.

The Swiss started the final pretty well, and broke the Spaniard's serve midway through the set. Things got tight for him when he went down 0-40 at 5-3 but he managed to save those break points and eventually held. At that point, I doubt many envisioned the second set going the way it did, with Ferrer winning it 6-1 after taking a shocking 5-0 lead. It was even more surprising because Roger had break points in the opening game. But once the set was out of reach, Roger saved his energy and didn't spent too much of it trying to win a virtually unwinnable set. It was important, however, that he held his serve at 0-5 so he could start the 3rd set on serve. He saved a few break points, but he did win it, and that would make a big difference.

The difference between the 2nd and 3rd sets was almost immediate. In the 2nd, Ferrer was dictating the rallies by hitting his heavy inside-out forehand to the Federer backhand, getting it to kick up and forcing short balls. In the third, Federer wasn't letting that happen as he started hitting bigger, cleaner, and more aggressively. He got the crucial break at 2-1, and emphatically held. One might have been worried when he didn't take his break chances at 2-4 to go up the double break, but they would have worried for nothing, as he held comfortably and broke to take his biggest tournament win in the last 24 month on the dot.

Credit to Ferrer, because he played gritty and persistent attacking tennis, and thoroughly deserved the 2nd set (and he could have gotten back on serve in the 1st to boot). Sure, Roger made some bad decisions in the 2nd, especially when he gave up the second break by serve-volleying every point, but it wouldn't be fair to not point out the quality of Ferrer's groundstrokes and return.

In my observation, Roger looked a little bereft of rest (try saying that 10 times straight), but he fought through that. He lost a lopsided second set and he could have kept dwelling on it, but he didn't, and from the tennis he played in set three, you wouldn't have thought he lost the second picking up just a single game.

In my opinion, that is the difference between Roger the last few weeks (and this whole year) versus last year and even years like 2010 and 2011. If he plays a bad set, or just gets outplayed, he pushes the reset button and doesn't panic. We saw him get pushed around in the second set from the baseline, so he went more aggressive and didn't let himself get pinned in that backhand corner hitting shoulder-high balls. He even ran around a backhand return to smoke a forehand return twice in the game in which he broke to give him the third set cushion. In the second set he was being reactive to Ferrer's play, but in the third he was most certainly being proactive.

Overall, I couldn't be happier for Roger - he definitely deserved to get one of those "bigger" trophies, as he put it. He's played very well throughout this season and hasn't always gotten the breaks, and perhaps the best of all now is that the win springboards him into great form heading into the US Open. And this year more than others, that could be crucial, depending on how Djokovic plays and if Nadal even plays at all. Winning the US Open would be so wonderful, a culmination of the almost year's worth of solid results he's been getting.

Allez, come on, chum jetze ..... Roger.