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!

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Plea to the ATP

Okay, I'm really starting to worry about the state of the men's game. No, I'm not talking about the top 4 and the great matches we've been getting lately, but something more.

Back many years ago, the tour started slowing down court surfaces (especially Wimbledon) to allow for more baseline rallies, which in turn, would make for more aesthetically pleasing viewing for the casual tennis fan. Come to the present, and the courts are as slow as they have EVER been, and because of that we get to see the greatest athletes in the world push their bodies to new extremes for the greatest prizes. The physicality of the Nadal/Djokovic match would never have been possible at the turn of the century, but it is made to be possible now by the slowed-down courts and the higher degree in difficulty of hitting winners past two guys who have phenomenal defense like Djokovic and Nadal. Now, we may have reached the peak of the vision the ATP had all those years ago after a nearly six-hour long match featuring the two greatest warriors of our time, and maybe of any time. But what is the price to be paid in the future from such extraordinarily physical matches?

Six years ago, after a 5-hour match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in Rome, both men withdrew from the next week's tournament due to fatigue and to recover from the incredible physical torment they put their bodies through. This prompted the ATP to change to 3-set Masters Series finals the next year. Skip ahead six years to the present, and we just witnessed the longest and most physical tennis match ever played between Nadal and Djokovic. It was so exhausting that both men could not stand afterwards for the trophy presentation. Now let me go back a few months to the US Open final. At the time, that was the most physical match ever played, and it impacted the duo's ability to play the rest of the season. So what happens now, as the matches get longer and longer and more and more physical? Are players ever going to remain fit and healthy for a full season ever again? Needless to say, if the tour continues on this path, then their players' careers will inevitably be shortened and the game will lose all the variety that makes tennis so special to watch.

Is it in the ATP's best interest to keep the courts slow and let these superhuman athletes run their bodies into the ground? Rafael Nadal has said that he wants to be able to live a normal life after he retires, and he has every right to want that. But the length of the season is not the problem, but how physical the game has become. Shortening the length of the season will not be a benefit to anyone if the matches continue to get more and more physical, up to the point where the players cannot stand afterwards. This is a time for the ATP to tread the waters with extreme caution. They are walking on VERY thin ice. On the surface, it appears that the men's game is better than ever, but if they cannot preserve the health of the top names, then tennis will die.

Wake up and smell the roses ATP. Find a balance between the wonderful 90s era and the baseline era we see today. In other words, go back to 2002-2005 when there was a perfect balance.  When the courts were not homogenized and there was a difference in court speeds throughout the season.  In that way, players will be able to preserve their bodies and have long and healthy careers.  In the same fashion that they wanted to slow down the courts because the game was becoming too serve-dominated, they have come to the other end of the spectrum.  The game has become too physical, too demanding, and I really fear the future of the game if it comes to the point where the players cannot even play a full season healthy because they have been forced to exert their physical abilities to the point that their health becomes a serious issue.


Djokovic defeats Nadal in Epic

In the first Grand Slam final of the year, the top two players in the world, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, battled it out in an epic 5-set encounter that lasted just shy of six hours.  It was a match that could have gone either way, but in the end Novak Djokovic prevailed over his great rival 57 64 62 67(5) 75 to capture his 5th Grand Slam title, 3rd in a row, and 7th straight victory over Nadal.  It was a pure battle of wills, but in the end, Nadal's own defensive nature cost him the match.  One thing is for sure, both Nadal and Djokovic are going to take a LONG time to recover from this epic contest.

In the first set, Nadal got an early break lead to go up 3-2.  The Serb looked fatigued after the marathon semifinal clash with Andy Murray, and maybe this time, things would be different.  The first set was going to be crucial, one would think, in the outcome of this match.  If Nadal could get confidence and get a lead, the result may be different.  But alas, the lead did not last long, as Djokovic broke back in the 8th game to make it 4-4.  However, just two games later, Nadal broke once again (a recurring theme in these matches) to go up 6-5.  This time, he held, and won the first set 7-5.  It was a hard fought set that lasted well over an hour, and in hindsight, it was a sign of things to come. 

The second set was similar in the opposite way, with Djokovic getting the early break and going up 5-3.  Nadal broke back when Novak was serving out the set, but as is the case with these two warriors playing, a break is not a break until consolidated.  Novak received the benefit of a Nadal double fault to take the 2nd set 6-4. 
 In the third, it was not close, and Djokovic continued to open up his shoulders and push Rafa far behind the baseline.  He won the set 6-2 and it looked very much like the match would mirror their Wimbledon and US Open matches from 2011 (tough, hard-grinding 4-set matches).  In that crucial 4th set, Rafa was hanging on for dear life.  He held many tight service games, all the way until 4-3, 0-40.  This was it.  Djokovic was going to break and serve his 5th Grand Slam title out.  But wait!  Nadal clawed back, played some incredible tennis, and somehow, in ways I cannot fathom, he held to make it 4-4.  From that point, you could feel the momentum turning.  Nadal started playing more aggressively and Djokovic was reeling.  The set went to a tiebreak and Nadal was pumped up.  At 6-5, set point Nadal, a forehand went wide and, oh my, we were going 5!

This was the first time in 30 matches that Nadal and Djokovic were going to a deciding 5th set.  And on such an occasion to do it too!  At the start of the set, Djokovic looked exhausted.  Understandable too, with all the tennis he had played in the previous 48 hours.  The tide that had been turning since Rafa saved three break points in the 4th set seemed unchangeable.  He got the break to go up 4-2.  Certainly this match was soon to be over?  Novak was limping between points and even falling down once or twice after rallies of gargantuan length.  Then, out of the blue, the tide turned again.  Nadal, up 4-2 and 30-15, had an easy backhand passing shot at the service line.  If he makes it, he would certainly go onto win the match.  But he missed, out of absolute disbelief.  Funny I should say that, because that miss gave Djokovic all the belief in the world.  He went onto break and hold to make it 4-4.  Djokovic had come back from the brink of defeat.  The fatigue Novak showed at the start of the 5th set was starting to vanish.  A few games later at 5-5, the "Man of Steel" from Serbia broke and then held to close out the match.  Another incredible 7-5 win for Djokovic in the 5th set, something he is coming to be well-known for. 

5 hours and 53 minutes of the most physical baseline tennis you will ever see, but in the end, Novak Djokovic prevailed to win his 3rd straight Grand Slam final over Rafael Nadal.  The Spaniard becomes the first man to lose three straight Grand Slam finals, and surely now, Djokovic must be locked in Nadal's head.  Rafa came so close to winning the match, but ultimately faltered due to his own failures.  Throughout the entire match, Nadal blindly looped his forehand to the Djokovic backhand, as if not remembering that the Serb's backhand, especially his shoulder-height backhand, is the best shot in the game.  When Nadal had Djokovic on the ropes in the 5th set, when Novak was beat up and tired, Rafa let him back in the match by playing defensive and hoping Djokovic would make the error.  But he didn't, and Rafa fell back into the same pattern of play he had seen for much of the match.  In the end, Rafa went to what was most comfortable for him, the divine space 10 feet behind the baseline where he can miraculously run down would-be winner after would-be winner, and because he chose to do this, he paid the ultimate price in the end:  a third straight Grand Slam final defeat and a stinging sensation of knowing he was so close to winning the match, but ultimately falling short.

Without any doubt in my mind, this match will go down as one of the greatest ever, but not THE greatest ever for numerous reasons.  While it was incredibly impressive that these two gladiators were on court for nearly 6 hours, length alone should not classify this match the best.  If you were to do some calculations, the match would have been just over 4 hours long if both Nadal and Djokovic served at a normal pace.  Instead, they both take far too long to serve and without any doubt, the match was ONLY near six hours in length because the two men take such a long time to get the points underway.  Your opinion of the match merely comes down to the type of tennis you enjoy watching.  Do you love long, physical, corner-to-corner baseline rallies where neither man attacks the net?  This is the match for you.  But if you are like me and enjoy the all-court game that features attacking tennis, beautiful volleys, and great serving, this may not be your cup of tea.  The one thing I can say without any question is that Djokovic and Nadal are two of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen, and their endless bounds of stamina and physical strength is enough to make the viewers fatigued from just staring at their screens.

We as a collective viewing audience will have to wait and see what effect this match will have on the psyche of Rafael Nadal.  There have already been countless comparisons to the Australian Open 2009 final in which a depleted Rafael Nadal overcame the fresh and hungry Roger Federer in 5 sets.  This time, the roles are reversed, and it was a depleted Novak Djokovic who overcame his fiercest rival Rafael Nadal in the longest Grand Slam men's final ever played.  The one thing I can say for absolutely certainty about the future of Nadal is that he will need to take a long look at himself and will need to stray far outside his comfort zone if he ever wishes to beat Novak Djokovic again.  It is clear that his one play that works so well against Roger Federer is the one play that becomes his downfall against Novak Djokovic.  If Nadal can prove he is not one-dimensional, he may be able to knock his biggest rival off the top of the mountain.  But then, and only then, will he able to accomplish such a magnificent feat.  For the time being, Nadal will need to do some serious soul-searching.  If there is one thing I understand as a huge Federer fan, it is pain, and I console all the Nadal fans who are gut-busted after witnessing such a painful defeat.  To all the Djokovic fans, your man is the unquestionable #1 in men's tennis, and enjoy the great victory. 

After witnessing such a fantastic, physical match that pushed Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to places within themselves they did not know existed, there is little question that the game of tennis won.  It is a shame that there had to be a winner and a loser because both men pushed each other to produce a match that may never be rivaled in terms of its length, physicality, and stamina.  However, there is one clear loser in the big picture, and that is Rafael Nadal.  He had the match won on his racket, and hit a costly mental roadblock for which he could not recover.  Quite simply, Nadal was stubborn and he did the one thing that could not be done against Djokovic - he let him back into the match.  You have to wonder if he will ever be the same.  I know Federer was never the same after his emotional defeat to Nadal three years ago.


PS, on match point Djokovic, this is a loose transcript of what I said.  At this point in the match, I was as intense as I had ever been watching a tennis match and was begging Djokovic to win.

"Alright Nole, come on, one more point and you have this match won.  Go up the middle with the slice serve, Nadal will pop it up, you will hit the winner, and you win.  Do it Novak."

Guess what Djokovic did?  He had my predicted slice serve up the middle, Nadal looped it up short in the middle of the court, and Novak put it away for the match-concluding shot.  Can I predict these things or what?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

'12 AO F: Djokovic vs Nadal Preview

Here we are, the 2012 Australian Open Men's Final, between the #1 and #2 players in the world, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.  This will be the pair's third straight meeting in a major final.  Djokovic won all six of their matches last year, all in finals (two in Grand Slam finals), and this match could hold a lot of significance on the future of the game in the next few years.  A 3rd straight loss in a major final to the same man for Nadal could deplete his confidence, and for all we know, affect the way he will play the rest of the year.

Djokovic is looking for his third Australian Open title and Nadal is looking for his second.  This Slam has to be by far Djokovic's favourite tournament, due to his past history and the way the court plays that so favours his game.  Nadal can certainly beat Djokovic, and this will be their first meeting at the Australian Open, but I just cannot see Rafa winning.  Though he may be the fresher of the two, the mental block he suffered against Novak last year could very well be the difference.  Physical fitness should not really be an issue for Novak, I don't think.  At the US Open last year he clearly had the tougher match against Federer, while Nadal pretty much skated by Andy Murray.  In that match, Djokovic came out on fire and suffered no ill effects from the epic match he had against Federer.  Novak believes in himself so much now, and going into a final against Nadal, whom he knows he has beaten six successive times last year, he will be confident.

Alright, time to get down to some of the technical aspects of this compelling match.  So much of the Nadal/Djokovic match up has to do with what Novak can do against Rafa that Roger cannot.  Because Roger has a one-handed backhand, the heavy, spinning forehands of Nadal can neutralize his swift attacking game.  Against Djokovic however, the big looping forehands have no effect, because Djokovic is far more capable of easing them right back cross court to keep neutral in the rallies.  With his strong two-handed backhand, Novak can not only attack Rafa's backhand with a vicious down the line shot, but he can open up the court in ways Roger can only dream of by taking a high, heavy ball, and sending it back to the forehand corner, which constantly keeps Nadal on the run.  Throughout their six matches last year, Novak pushed Nadal behind the baseline with furious forehands and backhands to Nadal's backhand, and then when the time was right, he opened up the court, not giving Rafa any room, and also keeping him on the run.  He never went for a winner too early, and he just wore Rafa out and limited his ability to attack.  If Novak can control the baseline in this upcoming final, and move Nadal side to side the way he has done for the past year, he should win rather comfortably.  Another big advantage Djokovic has over Nadal that Federer does not is the return.  Novak has a powerful two-handed backhand return and he can consistently put Nadal on the defensive right away in a point.  Another big thing is that on the crucial 0-15, 15-30, and 30-40 points on Nadal's serve, which all take place on the ad side, the Spaniard cannot send a slice serve out wide to the backhand with the same efficiency as he does against Roger, because Novak has a much stronger return.  I bring this up because it was a huge part of why Djokovic dominated Nadal last year.  Unlike Roger, Novak could get those needed 0-30 and 15-40 advantages on Nadal's service games, which then allowed him to break a lot.  This was certainly the case in the US Open, where Nadal had no answer for Novak's impeccable returning on the big points.

Everything Roger tried to do in the semifinal against Nadal, Novak will be able to execute much, much better, and I think that will be the big difference in this match.  Because of his strong two-handed backhand, Novak understands that Nadal's one big weapon (heavy cross-court forehand) is not effective against him.  Rafa knows this, and yet he still never changed up his strategy in any of their meetings last year.  If he tries to employ his same predictable game, Novak will jump all over it and claim his 5th Grand Slam title, and 3rd straight.  If Nadal wants any chance of winning this match, he will need to hit his forehand down the line much more frequently and he will need to serve and return brilliantly.  He excelled at the latter two against Federer, but the big question is if Nadal can go out of his comfort zone and attack more.  It is the only way he can prevent Djokovic from pushing him behind the baseline, which will no doubt happen if Novak is able to open up the court with his furious cross-court backhands.

It should be another amazing, physical match, and I hope it can live up to the billing of a Grand Slam final.  As far as I'm concerned, this is a must-win match for Nadal.  Three straight major final losses to the same player will really rattle him and would only deplete his confidence even further in the big matches in the future.  Federer never lost seven straight matches to Nadal, and if Djokovic beats Nadal for that 7th straight time, I believe it would utterly destroy Rafa mentally.  It would force him to seriously question how he is going to recover if he loses.


In the women's final, Victoria Azarenka put on a beautiful display of tennis to defeat Maria Sharapova 63 60 to win her first Grand Slam title, and capture the #1 ranking from Caroline Wozniacki.  It was an amazing match by Vika and she will definitely be a force in women's tennis as the #1 with her all-court attacking style.  Wozniacki could seriously learn a thing or two about how to win majors.  Unlike Caro, who plays very defensively and waits for an error, Azarenka took the match into her own hands by taking the ball early and flat and pounding it into the corners, making Sharapova run side to side.  It was really a great display of the way tennis should be played - aggressive, attacking, taking the ball early - and I hope that the more defensive women like Wozniacki take serious note and come back with a similar gameplan against the big names in the Grand Slams.  To me, it is clear that defense does not win majors in the women's game.

Hoping for a Djokovic win,


Friday, January 27, 2012

2012 AO SF: Federer Defeats Himself

This is going to be a tough one to swallow. 

In the first semifinal meeting at a major since the French Open in 2005 (on Nadal's 19th birthday), the Spaniard came through once again to defeat Federer 67 62 76 64 in three hours and 42 minutes.  The loss for Federer now brings his Grand Slam head-to-head to 2-8.  The loss will sting for many Federer fans for quite a long time because we all know that Roger could have played much better over the course of the 4 sets. 

Federer started the match off with brilliant tennis and got ahead to a 3-0 lead.  The mighty Nadal broke to get back to 4-1 however, and the set went to a tiebreak, which Federer took after getting back to his emphatic best.  The second set looked like it might to be much of the same when Roger broke in the opening game.  Then, as if a precursor for things to come, Rafa broke back and won 5 of the next 6 games to take the 2nd set 6-2.  In the 3rd, the match was back to even terms and both men played point-for-point tennis until 3-3 in the set.  At that time, Roger broke Nadal, and looked poised to win the crucial 3rd set.  Then, as if destiny forced its hand, Nadal broke right back once again, and then took the set 6-4.  Backbreaking stuff for Roger.  Nevertheless, the fourth set was dead even as well until 4-4, when Rafa broke.  In the final game, he held off a few Federer break points, including one spectacular defensive lob that caught the baseline (however it did I am furious with the Tennis Gods for that one) and forced Federer into error.  A couple of points later Nadal won the match when a Federer forehand sailed long (as they usually do when Fed loses a big Slam match), and the realization came that another Slam went by without Federer having the chance to win it in the final.

As a diehard Federer fan, this loss hurts.  Granted, it is nowhere near as painful as the final loss three years ago to Nadal was, but it still leaves me with questions of "what if?"  In my match preview, I outlined all the reasons why Federer had an amazing chance to beat Nadal this time around.  In the first set, as if he was reading my article himself, Fed did everything he needed to.  He was patient, controlling the rallies with peppering shots to Nadal's backhand.  Even when he hit relatively tame backhands down the line to the Spaniard's weaker side, he couldn't put much on it and it allowed Roger to control the point.  Everything was looking great in the first set, and then right out of the blue, it vanished.  Roger started reverting back to his impatient attacking style of game, and it cost him the match.  For instance, on many approach shots, he went up the line to Nadal's forehand instead of going cross to the backhand.  Why?  For what possible reason could Fed have for doing this?  The Nadal forehand on the run, especially when given time, is the most lethal shot in the game.  It wasn't that Fed was hitting to the Nadal forehand on the approach, but he was doing it in the wrong way.  He was very successful when he was decisive in attacking that side, after wearing Nadal out on the backhand side.  In that way, he could keep the Spaniard guessing.  But what Roger did was attack the forehand during times when Nadal was clearly in the court and the wiser play would have been to go back to the backhand.  This didn't just happen on approach shots either.  For some strange reason, Fed wanted to direct his forehand up the line, which created a plethora of uncharacteristic errors into the net.  The bottom line in this match was that Federer could not play against Nadal in the same way that Nadal plays against Federer.  Roger did not consistently attack the backhand and fell into the same familiar trap of Nadal forehand to Federer backhand rallies.  It is just VERY frustrating because when it was the other way around, the Federer forehand to Nadal backhand, the Swiss Master won many of those points barring Nadal did not come up with something extraordinarily special.

Although this loss stings because I know that Roger had all the tools to beat his nemesis this time around, all we have to do as fans is move on.  I know that Roger already has, and that has been his mindset for quite a while.  He is there as a contender at the end of majors, he just cannot break through.  But his time will come, and I am confident of that, as the man himself is.  Perhaps what hurts the most is to see such a well-played tournament from Federer end in such a disappointing fashion.  We saw genius displays of tennis against Tomic and Del Potro, and even at times against Nadal (the first set mainly).  One thing is for sure, and that is that Roger strays far from his comfort zone when playing Nadal because he must.  He cannot go out there and play the same tennis as he does against anyone else, even a Murray or Djokovic.  Against anybody else, Fed would not make the same kind of mental mistakes that are forced upon him by the relentless defense of the Mallorcan.  He knows Nadal can handle his very best attacking tennis and make him play those few extra shots that will bring about unforced errors.  As I have already stated, it is just extremely frustrating, because THIS TIME, Fed could have done it, and he let the match slip off his strings.  I guess we must accept that Nadal is the kryptonite to Federer's Superman.

In speaking of what Federer could have or should have done differently, let me be clear that I am not taking anything away from Nadal.  The defense he displayed was out of this world, and as I previously mentioned, HE causes Fed to second guess himself with his relentlessness.  However, it was not only his defense that was immaculate.  His forehand was punishing as usual and forced Roger into errors (both physical and mental).  He served at a VERY high percentage, although, in a positive statement about Federer, he did return many of them and gave himself many chances on Nadal's service games.  The big factor for me in the match was Nadal's return.  I spoke about the effect that the out-wide serve on the deuce side could have been the difference, and to Rafa's credit, he returned spectacularly.  He routinely covered that one serve and sent a deep looping ball to Fed's feet, allowing Rafa to dictate the points the way he wanted.  However, as I said before, when Fed got to Rafa's backhand side, he could not do anything to defend against it, which is why I stand by the belief that Roger made things easier on Nadal by setting up the looping forehand in the strike zone too frequently.  In the end, no matter how much analyzing is done, Nadal is the ultimate opponent for Roger because of the way he plays.  We just have to accept that Fed is affected by Nadal in the same way that Roddick was affected by Federer.  In both instances, Federer and Roddick know they must play their very best over the course of 5 sets to gain the upper hand, and even then, sometimes it is not enough.

Roger will go back to the drawing board after this match with Paul and discover what he could have done differently.  I'm sure many of us Federer fans will never want to watch the match again, but for Roger, he will have to if he ever wants to beat Nadal outdoors again.  The advantage Roger has this time is that he did have the right strategy versus his biggest rival.  Now, he just needs to understand how to maintain it over more than a set at a time.  If he can do that, he will beat Nadal once again.


In the second semifinal, Djokovic defeated Andy Murray in a thrilling 5 set match 63 36 67 61 75.  I did not see the match live but did record it and, if you'd believe it, my recording ended at 3-2 in the 5th!  So I only found at the score at the end, but was not surprised to find Djokovic had won.  The mental strength of Djokovic right now is something we have never seen before, not even from the likes of Federer or Nadal.  At times throughout the match, Novak looked physically exhausted, and it certainly looked like Murray had a great shot when he won the 3rd set.  But Novak turned it up another gear and won, clawing and scratching his way back in it.  There is something about the Serb winning decisive 5th sets in Grand Slam semifinals 7-5.  He did so against Federer in 2010 and 2011 at the US Open, and did so once again against Murray.  It speaks to his mental and physical fortitude that he can outlast his big rivals in tight 5th sets when the match comes down to a few shots here and there.

Novak now plays Nadal in a 3rd straight major final.  Even with the questions dealing with Djokovic's health, I still must take him because he holds a mental vicegrip on Nadal, much like Nadal holds over Federer.  Nadal may be the fresher man, but in the end that may not matter if Djokovic can direct his strong backhand at Nadal's forehand in more consistent ways than Federer could ever dream of.  My full preview of the men's final shall come shortly.

This Federer loss will be a tough one to absorb for a long time, Fed fans, but remember that there will be better days ahead.  Three years ago, things looked much gloomier for our favourite player, and look how he responded that year, under the biggest pressure in his life.  Roger is very capable of winning a Slam this year, and I believe he will.  You should as well.  As the old saying goes, "if you count Federer out, you are a damned fool." (I just came up with that right now, but the sentiment is real.  Never count out a great champion like Roger, especially after a tough loss like this.  Remember 2009.  Remember.)

With the deepest of thoughts,


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Poem for Federer Fans

Hey all,

I recently found this poem I wrote about Roger's triumph at the famous French Open 2009, which was hidden away as a draft in my email.  To be frank, I don't remember writing it.  At the time, I was 16 years old and was coming off the biggest emotional roller coaster of my young life in following Roger's spectacular run during that fortnight.  I thought I would share the poem with all my fellow Federer fans who are feeling down at the moment after the difficult loss Federer suffered against Nadal in the Australian Open semi.  When I first read it, a warm smile came to my face - partly because I have no recollection of writing it.  I hope it can cheer you guys up just a little bit and remind us all that better days are ahead.


Most thought it a sure thing—no thirst left to quench:
Taxes and death and Nadal at the French
Four years in a row and working on five,
The kid from Mallorca would eat them alive.

He’d hold up that trophy and Roger would cry,
And Federer’s fans would ask what went awry.
But something strange happened out there on the clay:
Rafa Nadal finally had a bad day.

And who was this person—this odd, skinny dude,
Who took down the Spaniard and darkened his mood?
Not Murray, not Novak, but Robin the Swede,
A spotty, but dangerous, twenty-third seed.

When Rafa left Paris, all eyes fixed on Fed.
Would he now claim his prize or crumble instead?
Would they crown him the GOAT, the greatest of all,
Or would Robin step up and answer the call?

For the last year or so, Roger’s aura had faded,
Eclipsed by Nadal, he often seemed jaded.
We witnessed his anger, we saw him in tears,
And we knew that his gifts would fade through the years.

But the umbrellas went up—rain pelted the clay,
And Roger stayed tough and put on a display
Of winners and volleys that showed off his art,
And gave us a glimpse of his courage and heart.

A champion’s nature is something so rare
That when it’s revealed, in awe, we just stare.
When the crowd rose as one to give him his glory,
Roger’s tears added joy to this wonderful story.


Remember that there will be better days.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2012 Australian Open - Federer vs Nadal Preview

The day we have all been waiting for is here - Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal, #3 vs #2 in the world, in the semifinals of the Australian Open.  This will be their first semifinal match in a Grand Slam in nearly seven years - of course for many years after that they were both #1 and #2 in the world so that match could not happen.  It is a dream match for sponsors and it is definitely the one everyone had their eyes on when the draw came out before the play began.

Heading into this mega match, both Federer and Nadal have played very well, with the slight edge going to Federer.  Nadal has lost only one set (to Berdych) and Federer has not dropped a set in his first four matches (walkover in 2nd round).  Federer has only been broken three times as well, once in the first round, once in the fourth, and once in the quarters.  Nadal's serve has also been a weapon, and it seems to be coming around to the levels it was at in 2010 when he dominated.  For me, there are a few questions I am asking myself about Rafa.  My first concern is how the physical match against Berdych could affect him coming out of the gates, where Federer is a very fast starter and Nadal is not.  The match against Tomas was 4 hours and 16 minutes long, although like many other Nadal marathon matches, the time can be deceiving because he wastes so much time in between points.  But nevertheless, it was still a physical match and Nadal was forced to take part in many long rallies and was required to play his very best defense in order to fend off the big-hitting Czech.  Federer, on the other hand, had quite an easy time in his previous two matches against Bernard Tomic and Juan Martin del Potro and did not show any weaknesses in those matches.  Considering the hype Del Potro was getting about being able to challenge Roger, the Great Swiss surprised a lot of people with his thorough beatdown of the Argentine.  To conclude my thoughts, it will be interesting to see if Nadal's fatigue will come into play in the first set and a half, and whether or not that will have any serious outcome on the match.

Next up I want to do a comparison to Federer vs Nadal from the Australian Open final in 2009 and the semifinal match they are about to play.  There are numerous points to suggest that things might be very different this time around.  In early 2009, Federer had a back injury that hampered his movement and serve.  In the final, Federer served terribly, yet he still took the match to 5 sets.  In fact, he could have won the match in 4 sets because he had many chances to take the crucial 3rd set.  You also have to factor into the equation that Rafa was at his outstanding physical peak in early 2009.  He had just come off a marathon match against Fernando Verdasco and still had enough left in the tank to win the final.  Although he is still in great shape now, I don't believe he is quite the same with all the injuries since that match.  I also believe that the Australian Open 2009 featured Rafa's best tennis.  I have never seen him play the same since.  Anywho, back to this upcoming encounter:  this time around, Federer is healthy, confident, and motivated.  He just came off an absolute mauling of Nadal in the World Tour Finals a few months ago, so he knows he can beat his biggest rival.  In their Australian Open final, Federer still had the lingering memories of the Wimbledon 2008 final.  Not to mention that he also had extreme pressure as he was the heavy favourite heading into the match.  This time around, there is no pressure on Federer and I suspect he will come out and play his absolute best against his toughest foe.

When I review how Roger has played the past few matches, it makes me realize that this is as good a chance for Roger to beat Rafa as there ever was.  His serve and return have been outstanding.  He has been whipping his forehand and backhand as well as he did in his prime.  The back injury that forced him to withdraw in Doha looks like a non-issue, and in fact, he looks to be graciously floating around the court like he was 22.  But he is 30, and for him to still be moving that wonderfully is a testament to the man Roger Federer is.  Because of this elite movement around the court, Roger's defense has also been sharp as ever.  In the past two matches against Tomic and Delpo, The Fed returned some balls that he would have never returned when not at his physical best.  And it's not just that he returned some of these miraculous gets, but he did enough on them to keep himself in the rally and have a chance to take the offensive.  Federer transitions from defense to offense better than anyone who has ever played, and he is certainly flowing with confidence that he can win a point that is seemingly impossible.  And last but not least, Federer is as confident and motivated as ever, and this will only help him against his toughest opponent, Nadal.  There may even be some fire in Fed's belly about the remarks Nadal made before the tournament started.  Even though he may dumb it down for the press, I'm sure Fed did not take too kindly to what Rafa said about him.

I want to discuss the effects of Paul Annacone on Federer's game, specifically referring to the match-up against Nadal.  Ever since Paul came on board, he has attempted to get Fed more aggressive on the return.  In his prime he had sliced or chipped the ball back in play and worked his way into a point and eventually hit the back-breaking shot and win the point.  In later years, the players started to hit too big and Roger started getting bullied around the court, which made his game ineffective.  When Annacone came in, he enforced a mindset with the Swiss to use the return to immediately put pressure on the opponent and gain an advantage right away.  You saw Roger utilize his new-found aggressive returning style to great use at the end of 2011, and even in this tournament you have seen him step around the backhand many times to punish a 2nd serve.  Against Rafa, being aggressive on the return will be necessary because if Nadal is given the chance to dictate, he will move Roger side to side and get into an unbreakable rhythm off the ground.  So Roger must attack on the return when possible and nullify Nadal's attempts to dictate.

The return will be crucial in this match, but the one thing that is even more important is the serve, and specifically, one particular serve.  That would be the out-wide slice serve on the deuce side.  It was a very effective serve against Tomic and Del Potro, and against Nadal it can be even more effective because he is a left-hander.  In the World Tour Final matches in 2010 and 2011, Roger went to that serve nearly every point on the deuce court, and Rafa was only able to win a handful of points in each match when Roger hit that serve.  In this match, if Roger can effectively use that serve again, it could be the big difference.  For Nadal, that out-wide serve is the one shot that he cannot defend against, and it would enable Roger to win many cheap points.  The other big threat about that serve is that even if Rafa cheats over and guards against it, Roger can go up the middle and catch him off-guard.  It is a brilliant tactic against Nadal and I have no doubt that Annacone helped Roger realize that he can gain a big advantage by using it in pressure situations.  Sticking with the aim-it-at-Rafa's-backhand theme, if Roger can attack the backhand with not only his forehand but his down the line backhand (which has been perfect throughout the tournament for Roger), then he will be able to open up the court and set himself up for great success in the points.  Overall, if Roger can return aggressively, hit the out-wide serve effectively, and attack the Nadal backhand, he will give himself an excellent opportunity to win.  The way I see it, a lot of the mental block Fed has against Rafa has to do with the inability to figure out a compelling strategy to beat the Spaniard.  Now, thanks to Annacone, Roger has been given keen insight and it will without a doubt help him in this match if he can utilize all these tactics.

Prediction:  Federer in 4.  63 75 36 76(4)

Hope you enjoyed this preview.  I had a great time writing it.  Enjoy the match and I'll be back with a review after it's over!  I hope Roger wins, and am confident that he will.  He is looking as good as he has in years right now.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 AO QF: Federer Masterclass vs Delpo

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal booked their clash in the semifinals on Monday by beating the two most dangerous big hitters on tour - Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych.  Federer defeated Del Potro soundly 64 63 62, and Nadal overcame a gaunt task to prevail 67(5) 76(6) 64 63.  Their wins set up a muuch anticipated semifinal match between the two rivals.

Before the match against Juan Martin del Potro, many people believed that it would be an extremely difficult match for Roger because of the challenges that the big Argentine poses from the ground.  I was confident that Roger was playing well enough to take care of the Grand Slam champion, and he proved me correct.  The Fed came out on fire, starting with a ratio of 7 winners to 0 unforced errors to take a quick and maybe surprising 3-0 lead.  Was this too good to be true?  Could Federer really be playing this well against such a "dangerous" opponent?  Well, it didn't last for that long, because Delpo got back from 4-1 to 4-4 by playing his classic and deadly power tennis.  Roger started trying to overpower the big guy and it cost him.  Fortunately for the Swiss Maestro, he rebounded VERY quickly at 5-4 to play a brilliant returning game to take the set.  6-4, one set in the bag.  I know that images of the US Open 2009 final creeped into a lot of heads;  Roger had not won yet by any means of the imagination.

However, Fed fans need not have worried, because Roger went up an early break and rode it until 5-4 when he faces a barrage of tough groundstrokes and the sun.  He had to really fight his way out of it, saving multiple break points and giving himself many inner pump-ups.  The game was interesting because shadows were crossing most of the court except for the sunline near the left sideline.  On the deuce side, Roger had trouble serving, and in the rallies, Delpo attacked Fed's backhand so he had to play many shots from the difficult sunline.  Clever game.  Nevertheless, Roger took the set and all memories of the US Open final vanished - he now had a safe two set lead.  The third set was much of the same genius play from The Fed, and he took the set easily 6-2.

This was Roger's 1000th match, and with the win he boosted his record to 814-186.  Quite an outstanding achievement that really highlights his elite longevity on tour the past decade.  It was the perfect match to play as #1000 too, against a former Grand Slam champion in Fed and Delpo's first Grand Slam meeting since that US Open final.  I'm glad everything worked out that way.

Alright time for the technical talk.  Roger played....outstanding.  He executed all his shots the way I outlined that he needed to if he wanted to have a great shot at winning, specifically the slice, serve, and return.  Roger made Delpo quite unomfortable from the usual comfort of the baseline by mixing up his game with slices and then taking his chances to move the big guy around the court.  The serve was clicking at a very high rate for much of the match, and he utilized the out-wide slice serve on the deuce court to utter perfection.  His returning was also very aggressive and upbeat, which is no doubt an effect of Paul Annacone tinkering with The Fed's game.  As far as I can see, Roger is returning as well as he has since his prime years and it is definitely allowing him to break easier and thus feel less pressure on his service games.  Overall, it was a true Masterclass performance from Roger.  He is playing some of the best tennis he has played in two years right now, and looks VERY dangerous.  His serve, return, forehand, backhand, movement, and defense are all being used as well as they ever have.  Add to the fact that Roger is very motivated and confident with his attacking game right now, and he will have many great chances to win this title on Sunday.


In the second quarterfinal of the day, Rafa Nadal was pushed to the limit by the most controversial man in tennis, Tomas Berdych.  When they came on the court, the big Czech was actually give a good reception, with only a few boos.  The first set was about as dead even as it could possibly be, and lasted much longer than it probably should have no doubt with thanks to Rafa taking forever to serve.  The set went to a tiebreak, where a crucial mistake was made by Nadal at 5-5.  Berdych hit a backhand long, but it was called in.  Nadal expected a call but didn't challenge immediately, and Tomas put away an easy forehand winner.  Nadal complained to the umpire Carlos Bernardes, but to no avail.  The right call was made because Rafa did not signal for a challenge until after Berdych had hit the winner.  A point later, Tomas had the set 7-5 in the tiebreak.  In the second set, it was another long affair.  Nadal got up a break early after originally being down a break for one game.  Then Berdych fought back valiantly from 5-3 down to take it to another tiebreak.  At 6-5 in it, Berdych had a set point but ducked a volley.  Nadal won the next two points to take the 2nd set.  Rafa took the 3rd set by riding out a break to the end, but he did not win it without a big test from the dangerous Czech.  The 4th set featured the same pattern until Rafa broke to love at 5-3 to take the match 67(5) 76(6) 64 63 in 4 and a quarter hours.

It was a very entertaining match from top to bottom.  Berdych was serving very well and played as well as I have seen him play since he made the Wimbledon final two years ago.  He gave Rafa everything he could handle and even more.  A few points here and there and this could have been a Berdych 4-set win or a tough 5-setter.  Rafa was not at his best for the first three sets but picked up his game dramatically in the fourth to seal the deal.  I certainly did not expect Tomas to take Rafa to the limit like that. For Berdych, the incident where he refused t shake Almagro's hand in the previous round was blown to the side a little bit as he gained respect from me and many others for his effort.  He was given a warm departure from the crowd and he seemed to acknowledge that he made a mistake in his previous match.  I hope Berdych has a good 2012 season.


So the match everyone wanted is here:  Federer vs Nadal in the semis.  I'm going to go much more in-depth about this later, but for now I will say this:  Federer has as good a chance as he has ever had to beat Nadal.  His playing at an impeccably high level right now and has all the tools to beat Rafa.  He just needs to believe.

--  On the women's side, Kim Clijsters upset Caroline Wozniacki in two sets.  Woz will now lose her #1 ranking and prove it to be one of the worst reigns ever.  She just does not have the attacking mindset to beat the bigger hitters in the majors.
--  In the other women's semifinal on this side, Victoria Azarenka defeated Ag. Radwanska 67(0) 60 62.  How many times do you see a bagel and a bagel tiebreak in one match?  Azarenka looks very good at the moment and the Clijsters/Azarenka semifinal should be amazing.

Until next time,


Monday, January 23, 2012

2012 Australian Open QF Preview

The biggest matches of the tournament thus far are here, and we should be in for some amazing tennis as eight become four over the next two days.  On Tuesday, two blockbuster quarterfinals will be played, as Tomas Berdych takes on Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer plays Juan Martin del Potro.  On Wednesday, Andy Murray plays surprise quarterfinalist Kei Nishikori and Novak Djokovic takes on the scrappy David Ferrer.  All four matches are equally intriguing with Federer/Del Potro being the most anticipated match surely, being a rematch of the US Open 2009 final.


Andy Murray vs Kei Nishikori

This is quite the match-up.  Murray has been on fire since his first round match where he lost the first set, but don't write him through so easily.  Nishikori has put together an amazing tournament and should give some kind of fight.  Nevertheless, it should be a very tough match for Kei because he played a very tough 5-setter against Tsonga in the 4th round.  He will be exhausted and Murray should wear him out even more with his accurate shots and great defense.  I would not be surprised if Murray had the kind of easy match that he had against a fatigued Kukushkin in the 4th round, but I think Nishikori will put up a better fight than Mikhail did.  If Nishikori somehow rejuvenates himself and doesn't show fatigue, he can put forth a good match and give Murray a big test.  I hope this is the case for the fans' sake because I know it's a letdown to see an uncompetitive match with Andy Murray in it, since he's not nearly as spectacular with his shotmaking as a Federer or Nadal (or even Djokovic).

My Head Says:  Murray in 3.
My Heart Says:  Murray in 4.

Novak Djokovic vs David Ferrer

This is a rematch of the 2011 World Tour Finals Round Robin, which Ferrer won.  Djokovic is looking much better than he did that day, however, and at this stage you can't predict anything from looking at previous matches.  On paper, Djokovic should not have a hard time with this match, but nothing is decided on paper, is it?  After Novak's physical breakdown against Lleyton Hewitt in the 4th round, I was starting to ask some questions.  Hewitt is nowhere near as physically fit as Ferrer right now, and Ferrer has much more ability than Hewitt does to play aggressive and take Novak's time away.  Having said that, what happens if Novak's body breaks down on him again and he loses a set?  Ferrer is much more capable of capitalizing on a weakness than anyone Novak has faced to date.  IF Ferrer can bring his best tennis to the match (and he's playing as well as he did last year when he upset Rafa) and Djokovic starts struggling physically, this could make for a very close and competitive match.  Of course, it's easy to write this down and predict that it might happen, but that's not the way it works.  Djokovic should win this match in 4 sets at maximum if he is playing well.  With his improved fitness level, he should be able to recover from his letdown against Hewitt and put together a great match and move onto the semifinals.  Still though, it would be something to see if Djokovic can get pushed and risk losing the match.  Nobody hates upsets, right?

My Head Says:  Djokovic in 4.
My Heart Says:  Ferrer in 5.


Rafael Nadal vs Tomas Berdych

This was the expected quarterfinal when the draw was put out, and here it is.  Nadal is in great shape heading into this clash, not having a lost a set through the first four matches.  Dare I say that Rafa looks as good as we have seen him since Wimbledon 2010.  His groundstrokes are landing deep in the court which allows him to dictate rallies, and his serve is clicking at a high rate.  He had a very high first serve percentage against Lopez in the 4th round and without a doubt, he will be a hard opponent if he keeps serving well.  On the other side of the net is the villainous Tomas Berdych.  He seems to almost enjoy being the most hated and controversial man on the ATP World Tour.  He will probably be booed as he comes onto the court and throughout the match after the incident in his previous match (which you can watch HERE).  I am unsure whether or not the hate from the crowd will help or hurt Tomas in this match with Rafa.  During the on-court interview afterwards when the crowd was showering him with boos, he smiled at times and generally did not seem to mind.  For all intents and purposes, Berdych is arrogant, and that very well might give him more motivation against Nadal if he knows nobody wants to see him win.  Strictly from a tennis perspective, Nadal should win at the most in 4 sets.  Even though Berdych is a big man like Del Potro, Nadal doesn't have the same problems attacking the backhand like he does against the Argentine.  Berdych is also a lot more mentally fragile and inconsistent on the court, and Nadal will pick up very easily if Tomas is showing any weaknesses in his game.  Whatever may happen, it shall be a very entertaining match.  I don't think the crowd will affect Berdych at all and I think he'll give Rafa a hard contest.

My Head Says:  Nadal in 4.
My Heart Says:  Berdych in 5.

Roger Federer vs Juan Martin del Potro

Like the Nadal/Berdych quarterfinal, many predicted this match when the draw came out.  Here we have it, the most anticipated match of the tournament to date, Roger Federer vs Juan Martin del Potro.  A former Grand Slam final at the US Open 2009, and it should be another amazing match from both men.  It will be a very big test for Roger because Delpo is the biggest hitter on tour and the most dangerous.  The big Argentine is starting to find the same form that he showed in 2009, although I don't believe he is there quite yet.  Nevertheless he is still incredibly dangerous and will keep Roger on the tips of his toes all match.  The Fed knows this so he will be sure to bring his best to the match.  I think the fact that Federer played Tomic the match before will benefit him in this match against Juan Martin.  Fed will need to do many of the things he did against Bernie if he wants to be successful.  For instance, he will need to vary his shots and utilize the slice and drop shots effectively.  If he can get Delpo out of his baseline rhythm, he will be fine.  In the match last year in Cincinnati, Roger forced Delpo to the net many times and the tactic did wonders for him.  He also sliced the ball a lot as opposed to giving the big guy pace to work with.  These same tactics will pay off for him if he can execute them to his ability.  The overlooked factor in this match is that it will be played during the day.  The way I see it, this could be good or bad for Roger.  The heat could affect Juan Martin and hamper his ability to move around the court, OR, playing during the day could add a little more "heat" onto his groundstrokes (see what I did there - I should become a comedian) which would make his balls cut through the court quicker which would overpower Roger.  Of course, I may be overthinking it and the conditions could have no affect on the match whatsoever, and in which case it would just come down to the tennis.  Federer is playing some of his best tennis since the Australian Open two years ago, so I expect him to pull this match out with some beautiful tennis and put all his doubters to rest.

My Head Says:  Federer in 4.
My Heart Says:  Federer in 3

(I would NEVER go against Federer)

So there you have it, four quarterfinal previews for four what hope to be fantastic matches.

*To the Fedfans:  I know many of you are nervous about the match against Delpo for our favourite player, but be confident, not nervous!  Remember the last time The Fed played a tough match against a dangerous opponent?  It was vs Tsonga in the US Open and Fed dismantled him in 3.  I'm not saying that the same will happen here, but remember who Roger Federer is - the greatest tennis player and champion of all-time.  He will most definitely take Delpo VERY seriously and I suspect he will bring his unmatched best tennis to the table.  If he wants to win he will have to.


PS:  Why does Caroline Wozniacki remind me of an astronaut?

Because she's moon-balling.

(Sorry for the lameness)

2012 Australian Open R16 Recap

In the Round of 16 on Sunday and Monday, 8 men moved onto the quarterfinals of the first major of the year, and it was two days' worth of amazing tennis featuring everything you could expect in Round of 16 matches at a Grand Slam.  There were some beatdowns, there were some upsets, and there were some unexpected results.  There was even a little bit of controversy.

On Sunday, the results went like this:

Roger Federer def Bernard Tomic 64 62 62
Rafael Nadal def Feliciano Lopez 64 64 62
Juan Martin del Potro def Philipp Kohlschreiber 64 62 61
Tomas Berdych def Nicolas Almagro 46 76(5) 76(3) 76(2)

In the most anticipated match of the tournament, Roger Federer easily handled young Australian hope Bernard Tomic 64 62 62.  Quite simply, Federer put on a masterclass performance of the highest order against a very unorthodox opponent.  The match was pretty even in the first 8 games, and then Federer turned it up another gear and broke and held to win the set 6-4.  At this point, I felt like Roger had gathered enough information on Bernard's game to now break away and take over the match.  I was right, because it was a Federer display of genius for the next two sets.  Tomic played well for his standards but he just had no answers against the shotmaking brilliance of the Great Swiss.  Roger brought his wide arsenal of shots to the match, hitting half-volleys, backhand smashes, drop shots, cheeky slices, and executing brilliant ballstriking from the baseline to thoroughly dismantle his 19-year old opponent.  Although it was not a close match after the first set by any means, it is one that those in attendance and those watching on TV all around the world will remember forever.  This is the Federer Effect.  Sometimes in a match featuring Roger, your jaw drops, and you understand that the tennis you are witnessing is so special that all you can do is enjoy the moment.  Sometimes you just have to applaud at the shots Roger hits when he is in full-flow like he was against Tomic.  It was magnificent to watch and I know I won't forget the match and some of the genial shots that Roger pulled off.

I must admit I had not really seen Tomic much before the match.  I knew he had a unique game but I did not know that he had such crisp groundstrokes.  His forehand is big, and his backhand cuts through the court like a knife cuts through warm butter.  Add to that a very good serve and a great tennis IQ, you can see why this guy is a promising star in the game of tennis for the next decade.  As for Federer's game, well, it was just shockingly spectacular.  He hit his forehand and backhand equally brilliantly, and played his backhand down the line to perfection.  His movement and defense was also clicking at an elite level, which is no doubt a great sign for his game.  Everything was executed to perfection, and I honestly say that it was about as good a match as he has played since he beat Tsonga two years ago at this same tournament.  I really like his chances the rest of the way if he brings that level of tennis to the table.

--  Nadal eased by countryman Lopez 64 64 62.  Just as I thought, Feliciano did not challenge Nadal much at all.  This had to be expected, as other than Ferrer, the Spaniards never test Rafa anymore.  Whether that is because they hold too much respect for Rafa or it is because none of them are anywhere as good as Ferrer, I'm not sure.  Nadal looks very good so far, and seems to be back playing his ultra-punishing style of tennis with his heavy, deep groundstrokes that wear down opponents.
--  Del Potro played brilliantly to dispatch Kohlschreiber 64 62 61.  He looks scary good at the moment, and I would say he is close to playing his very best again.  A dream Federer vs Del Potro match awaits in the quarters.
--  Berdych got through Almagro in a tough 4 setter, winning all three of his sets in consecutive tiebreaks.  However, the match itself was not the big story in this one...

Late in the 4th set, Almagro lasered a forehand straight at Berdych who was at the net, and you could clearly tell that Tomas was unhappy with it.  Almagro repeatedly apologized, but nothing was going to change Berdych's mind.  After Tomas won the match, he went straight to the umpire and did not shake Nico's hand.  Because of his lack of respect, the Australian crowd hit him with an unrelenting chorus of boos and Tomas could barely get through his on-court interview.  I think it was incredibly disrespectful for Berdych not to shake Almagro's hand after the match, but I can understand why he wouldn't.  The incident happened so late in the match that it was very fresh in the Czech's mind, so he was obviously still very upset.  Had the incident taken place in the first set, I don't think he would still be so upset and then we wouldn't even be talking about this.  Tomas obviously felt that Almagro purposely aimed for him, but we will never know if this was the case.  It was a smart play for Nico to direct the ball at Berdych so he could not get a racquet on it, but I think he just hit the ball a tad too hard at Berdych for the Czech's liking.  Nevertheless, Berdych has some serious balls to go against protocol and refuse to shake his opponent's hand.  Already unpopular with many tennis fans, Berdych lowered himself even more in their eyes and will be undoubtedly booed non-stop in his quarterfinal clash against Rafa Nadal.


On Monday, an equally entertaining day of tennis was played.  The results were as follows:

David Ferrer def Richard Gasquet 64 64 61
Andy Murray def Mikhail Kukushkin 61 61 10 (retirement)
Kei Nishikori def Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 26 62 61 36 63
Novak Djokovic def Lleyton Hewitt 61 63 46 63

--  Ferrer looks very good, much like he did last year.
--  Andy Murray was given a retirement after only dropping two games in two sets.  No doubt that kukushkin was exhausted after his 5-setter with Monfils and got injured in some way from that match.  Nevertheless, Murray looks good heading into his QF.
--  The biggest upset of the day came when Nishikori got a 5-set win against Tsonga.  Jo was looking exceptionally good heading into this match, but it wasn't enough to beat a very motivated and confident Nishikori.  Andy Murray must be very happy that Tsonga was eliminated, because he would be a much tougher matchup for Andy than Kei.
--  Arguably the most entertaining match on the day was Djokovic vs Hewitt.

Djokovic looked to be cruising to an easy 3-set win when he was up 61 63 30, but then the tide turned.  Hewitt fought back valiantly to win the next 6 of 7 games to take the set 6-4.  He even held a break point in the 4th set to put another dagger into Djokovic, but alas could not.  Djokovic raised his level and ended up winning the the match 61 63 46 63.  Though Novak won, his performance does raise many peculiar questions.  First of all, how does Djokovic, after being up 61 63 30, suddenly falter physically and become tired?  His first three matches featured scorelines of 62 60 60, 63 62 61, and 60 61 61.  So after only losing 10 games in the first three matches, how does Novak suddenly falter and not only lose a set to Hewitt, but lose a set after being up 3-0?  Sure, Lleyton played some incredibly inspiring tennis, but Novak did not look anywhere near the same kind of player he looked like in the first two sets.  His fitness will definitely be something to keep an eye on in the second week with some very difficult matches ahead of him.  Every player remaining in the draw should take notice of Novak's vulnerability in this match, even those on the opposite half.  Djokovic showed some real weaknesses, and Federer and Nadal will definitely have taken notice in case they meet in the final.  David Ferrer (Nole's QF match) will be comforted that Hewitt could wear down Novak because Ferrer plays equally as physical and tough, and he has many more weapons than the veteran Aussie does.

As for Hewitt, what an amazing tournament he played.  There were doubts that he wouldn't even make it past the first round, let alone make it to the 4th AND take a set off the current #1 player in the world.  Lleyton is a true warrior and has gained so much respect from the fans and the locker room with his performance this tournament.  I couldn't be happier for him.


On the women's side of things, Serena Williams was upset 62 63 against unseeded Ekaterina Makarova, and Maria Sharapova outlasted Sabine Lisicki.  Kvitova also moved through by beating Invanovic and Jie Zheng was quickly dismissed by Italian Serra Errani in another upset.

On Tuesday, the blockbuster Clijsters vs Wozniacki match will be played.  If Kim is healthy, she should have a great chance of winning.  Victoria Azarenka played Ag Radwanska, which should also be a competitive contest.  On the men's side, the two blockbuster quarterfinals of Berdych vs Nadal and Federer vs Del Potro will be played.  I will talk more about that later in my quarterfinal preview.

Overall, it was a great Round of 16 at the 2012 Australian Open.  Here's hoping the quarterfinals can exceed it.  Nadal/Berdych, Federer/Del Potro, Djokovic/Ferrer, Nishikori/Murray, Clijsters/Wozniacki, Azarenka/Radwanska, and Sharapova/Makarova should all be tight.  The only match I can't see being close is Errani/Kvitova.

Until next time, Kyle.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

2012 Australian Open Day 6 Recap

On Saturday the top half of the men's singles draw was completed.  It was an exciting and predictable day at the same time, with Djokovic and Murray coming through easily in straight sets, and then we saw two upsets, with Mikhail Kukushkin upsetting Gael Monfils in 5 sets and Lleyton Hewitt put together an inspiring performance by defeating Canadian Milos Raonic in 4 tough sets.  In other matches, Jo Tsonga eased by Frederico Gil, David Ferrer beat Juan Ignacio Chela, Richard Gasquet defeated Janko Tipsarevic, and Kei Nishikori overcame Julien Benneteau in 4 close sets.

In the best match of the day, Lleyton Hewitt overcame the odds and beat young rising star Milos Raonic 46 63 76(5) 63.  Quite simplistically put, it was an amazing match by Hewitt, and he played with passion and emotion that we saw from him when he was in his prime.  The turning point of the match came in the 3rd set tiebreak when at 6-5, Raonic had an easy (yet awkward) overhead putaway and missed it, giving Lleyton the two sets to one lead.  That point was huge because it permanently swung the momentum in favour of the Aussie veteran, and he closed out the fourth set after forcing an early break.  Being Canadian, I was disappointed to see Raonic get eliminated, thus preventing him from facing the World #1 Djokovic, which I was quite looking forward to.  Nevertheless, I could not be too upset because I saw what the win meant for Hewitt.  He was almost in tears at the end of the match and he showed once more where his true allegiance lies in pro tennis.  He continues to put forth incredible performances at the Australian Open, and especially now, after the injury-riddled 2011 he had, a win like this over the decade-younger and higher seeded Raonic is a huge accomplishment.  Hewitt is a class act and I have all the respect in the world for him for his competitive spirit and never-say-die attitude.  The embrace between Lleyton and Milos was touching - it was really mature of Raonic to act so graciously in what had to be a very tough loss for him.  But I guess he knew what I knew and that this win means a lot more to Lleyton than a loss means to Milos.  Raonic has his entire career ahead of him and will likely be a top 10 player in the near future.  Hewitt had a wonderful moment and it will certainly go down as one to be cherished.

In perhaps the biggest upset of the day, Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin defeated Gael Monfils 62 75 57 16 64.  The first two sets were heavily controlled by Kukushkin and Monfils was struggling physically.  Then, after failing to serve for the match at 5-4 in the 3rd set, the momentum swung and Monfils won the third set 7-5 and then the 4th easily 6-1.  In the 5th, it was a close affair but the Kazakh got the better of La Monf in the end.  This win is very important for Kukushkin and Kazakhstan.  He is now the first man of that country to reach the 4th round at a Grand Slam, and for that, a big congratulations must go out.  He has played very well this tournament and deserves all the success he receives over this fortnight.

To recap the other matches:

--  Djokovic strolled by Mahut 60 61 61.  Mahut was visibly injured and he should have retired, but didn't, and for that he got admiration from Djokovic and the crowd.  Djokovic has not been tested at all so far this tournament but he hasn't played anyone of note that could even hope to challenge him.  The second week will be far more telling than the first if he has to play Hewitt, Ferrer, and Murray/Tsonga back to back to back.
--  Murray and Llodra played a tight match in the first set and a half before Andy ran away with it 64 62 60.
--  Tsonga was sharp as ever in a 62 62 62 win over Gil.
--  Ferrer overcame a 3-0 deficit in the first set against Chela to take the match 75 62 61.  Ferrer is looking very good right now, and is in the same kind of form he was in when he upset Nadal last year.
--  Richard Gasquet, in a surprising result, beat 9th seed Janko Tipsarevic 63 63 61.  Richard is playing great tennis right now and this is a big win for him in a Slam over a top 10 player.
--  Kei Nishikori beat Julien Benneteau 46 76(3) 76(4) 63.  Nishikori became the first Japanese player to make the Round of 16 at the Australian Open.

A few notes that I took from the day:

--  Djokovic is VERY good right now, but I am unsure if getting through the first three rounds this easy will be a detriment to him.  He hasn't had any true competitive match practice and hasn't had to worry at all through the first week.  Yes, the great chances are that Novak will get through to the finals and probably win, but it will be interesting to see how he handles the second week of the Open.  I know he won't take anyone lightly, but he could have some very tough, physical matches coming up.  His improved fitness will definitely be tested against Hewitt and Ferrer, should that match happen.

--  Kukushkin is a very impressive player to watch.  Ever since I saw him give Federer a test in the 1st round of last year's Wimbledon, he has impressed me.  He goes for shots and plays a balls-to-the-wall kind of style.  He is confident right now and could give Murray fits in their 4th round encounter.

--  Judging by their forms right now, I would take Tsonga over Murray if they were both to meet today.  Jo has been firing on all cylinders and we know how Andy can struggle with guys who are too offensively overpowering for him (goes into a defensive shell and loses).


On Sunday, there are 4 potentially incredible matches slated on the men's Round of 16 bottom half.  Kohlschreiber vs Del Potro, Berdych vs Almagro, Nadal vs Lopez, and Federer vs Tomic (match of the tournament thus far) could all and should all feature great tennis.  Expect Del Potro, Berdych, Nadal, and Federer to all win in 4 or 3 sets.  I would love to see Lopez test Nadal but I'm afraid there are very slim chances of that happening.  On the women's side, there are some sweet matches lined up, starting with last year's final, Kim Clijsters vs Li Na.  Honestly, take your pick, because it should be a very tight match.  #1 Caroline Wozniacki also meets Jelena Jankovic, and that should be a good match if both can bring their best games.

It's an absolute mouth-watering day ahead at Melbourne Park, one that EVERY tennis fan across the globe should see.  There should be some stellar matches with the biggest names.  I know I'll be pulling another all-nighter to watch the action.  I hope it's fantastic.


Friday, January 20, 2012

2012 Australian Open Day 5 Recap

The Round of 16 bottom half of the draw was set on Friday, and there were some very good matches with a lot of high drama the entire day.  Rafa Nadal easily dismissed Lukas Lacko, Roger Federer passed by Ivo Karlovic in a tight match, Nicolas Almagro soundly beat Stan Wawrinka in straights, Tomas Berdych dispatched Kevin Anderson, Philipp Kohlschreiber beat the man who upset Mardy Fish, Alejandro Falla and there were two close 5-set encounters with Bernard Tomic getting the better of Alexandr Dolgopolov and Feliciano Lopez topping John Isner.

Federer required his very sharpest tennis to beat Ivo Karlovic in three sets 76(6) 75 63.  The first set was a deadlock with both men holding serve until the tiebreak.  Federer did have small chances in games at 15-30 and deuce, but could never get to the crucial break point.  In the tiebreak, Karlovic got a set point at 6-5 on his own serve, which was countered by a brilliant at-the-net lob OVER Karlovic, who couldn't get enough of the ball on his racquet to win the point.  It was quite a stellar play by Roger to not only get to the ball that was dropped just over the net, but to actually have the mind to lob it over someone who stands as tall as Ivo.  The next point at 6-6 was equally as brilliant.  Off Karlovic's fastest serve of the match, Federer hit a screaming inside-out backhand return winner.  He served out at 7-6 and won the tiebreak 8-6.  The next set was much the same as the first, but Roger redlined his game at 6-5 to break and take the crucial two sets to none lead.  In set number three he got a break early to go up 4-1 and then held out from there for the straight sets win. 

Numerous times throughout the match Fed let out some of his signature "Come On" guttural yells, and to me I think this was a great sign.  When Roger is into a match and knows how big the points he wins are, it sets him into a good frame of mind.  As we have seen many times throughout his career, Roger is at his best when he is really motivated and aware in the match.  The latest example of this was the French Open 2011 semifinal in which he was as pumped up as you will ever see him.  The fierce intensity he showed against Karlovic will benefit him against Tomic, whom he meets in the Round of 16.  Tomic came through another tight match with a 46 76(0) 76(6) 26 63 over the Dog, Alexandr Dolgopolov.  I did not see the match but from the scoreline it was a very physical affair, and with both men playing such distinct styles, it must have featured many entertaining rallies.  Even with all these heroics from the young Australian, his fitness must be questioned now, especially heading into a match against one of the fittest ever, Federer.  Tomic has already been in two 5 set matches (against Verdasco and Dolgopolov) and a tough 4-setter against Sam Querrey.  Logic dictates that he will be tired against Roger, but he will have the Australian crowd support.  Although against Roger, that may not mean much as he is the most popular player anywhere he goes, no matter if he goes up against the nation's boys.  Case in point when Federer met Hewitt in the 4th round two years ago and the crowd was just as much pulling for Federer as for Hewitt.  Fed plays another Aussie in the 4th round this year, so maybe that is a sign of things to come (grasping at all hope as a Federer fan).

To recap the rest of the day:

--  Nadal was as good as he's been all tournament with a strong serving performance against Lukas Lacko.  He won 62 64 62. 
--  Tomas Berdych got through two tough sets to wipe away big Kevin Anderson in three, 76(5) 76(1) 61.  He is now a real threat to take out Rafa in the quarters I believe.
--  Nicolas Almagro played a striking match against Stan Wawrinka, dismantling him 76(2) 62 64.  This sets up Berdych and Almagro in the 4th round which could be a very interesting match.
--  Feliciano Lopez painfully set up a 4th round clash with Nadal by getting a 5-set win over American John Isner.  I am sorry to say this, but Lopez stands no chance against Nadal.  Isner may have not either since he had a few hard matches, but he would have had a better chance.  It's all but guaranteed that Rafa makes the quarters now.
--  Del Potro and Kohlschreiber came through easily in straights and meet in the 4th round.  Should be a great match.

There are a few unpredictable matches today.  Raonic vs Hewitt, Benneteau vs Nishikori, and Tipsarevic vs Gasquet should all be close, competitive contests.  Djokovic (vs Mahut - famously remembered for the longest match ever), Murray (vs Llodra), Ferrer (vs Chela), Tsonga (vs Gil), and Monfils (vs Kukushkin) should all advance easily.

The Round of 16 is just around the bend, and I can't wait!


Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012 Australian Open Day 4 Recap

It was a pretty routine day of tennis on day four of the Aussie Open as Djokovic, Murray, Ferrer, Tsonga, Monfils, Raonic, and Gasquet all came through pretty easily.  There were what may have been called upsets when Julien Benneteau defeated Gilles Simon in 5 sets, Lleyton Hewitt beat Andy Roddick when the latter withdrew with a hamstring injury, and Viktor Troicki was upset by Kukushkin, who is starting to make a name for himself on the tour.  Michael Llodra also set up a clash with Andy Murray in the 3rd round after coming through against Alex Bogomolov Jr in 5 sets after being up two sets to none.

Since there is not much to talk about, I'll go to the topic of Andy Roddick.  As time goes on, especially after Wimbledon 2009 which I think broke his spirit, Andy has gotten worse and worse and is not the same player he once was.  If he keeps declining I could see him retiring soon in the next two years.  He is a fighter and a hard worker though so he'll do whatever it takes to get back up there, but if he can't, I don't see him gaining much satisfaction in dwindling in the rankings, just like Davydenko.

-- Also, how big a difference a year makes.  Last year, Gilles Simon played the match of his life against Federer and just came up short.  Now, he loses in the 3rd round in another 5-setter to a much lesser player.  Simon MUST become more aggressive if he ever wants to reach the top eight again.

The matches on Friday should be very good as players in the bottom half try to book their spots in the Round of 16.  Lacko vs Nadal, Federer vs Karlovic, Berdych vs Anderson, Wawrinka vs Almagro, Lu vs Del Potro, Isner vs Lopez, Falla vs Kohlschreiber, and Tomic vs Dolgopolov should all be very entertaining contests.  Lacko did get bageled in 2010 but I doubt he will have any trouble.  Federer will need to be sharp on the return but other than that Karlovic shouldn't hurt him.  Berdych/Anderson, Wawrinka/Almagro, Lu/Delpo, and Tomic/Dog all have the potential to go 5 sets and they could all go either way.

Looking forward to the Book-Your-Spot-In-The-Last-16 day one.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

2012 Australian Open Day 3 Recap

The 3rd day of the Australian Open featured some great tennis, some unforgettable moments (some for the wrong reasons), and Hisense Arena being robbed of Roger Federer playing his first match on that court since 2004 thanks to Andreas Beck withdrawing, giving Fed a free pass into the 3rd round, where he will play Dr Ivo, Ivo Karlovic.  The last time these two met was Wimbledon 2009 where Roger was utterly superb with his return game.  On the slow hardcourt surfaces, I can't see Roger having any harder a time breaking Ivo's serve than he did on that Wimbledon occasion.  Karlovic's ground game is virtually non-existent as well so Roger should have no trouble holding serve.  I expect a straight sets win but all the sets should be close.

Nadal came through in straights against Tommy Haas but it was hardly a convincing win.  He was up 5-1 in the first set before barely holding on to win 6-4, and then in the 3rd set he was down a break before coming back to win.  The most shocking upset on the day came when Alejandro Falla defeated Mardy Fish 76 63 76 to knock the #8 seed out.  Mardy had a terrible attitude and quite frankly deserved to lose for the disrespect he showed to a fellow veteran in Falla.  Another thing I noticed about the match is that Fish has NO ground game to speak of.  His forehand is the least intimidating shot I have ever seen, and even when Falla was hurting physically, all he had to do was keep the ball in court because Fish was no threat to whip winners by him.  Almagro, del Potro, Wawrinka, Lopez, Anderson, Tomic, and Dolgopolov all came through.  In Wawrinka's match, his opponent Marcos Baghdatis took it upon himself to smash four racquets in succession after going down two sets to love.  This was COMPLETELY uncalled for, especially when he went on to win the 3rd set but lose the 4th.  It was an emotionally immature act and I hope he feels shame.

The biggest shock of the day came at the conclusion of the John Isner vs David Nalbandian match.  The score was 8-8 in the 5th set, and David had a break point.  Isner hit his serve, which was called out.  He was going to challenge, but before he could, the umpire overruled it.  So because of that, Nalbandian challenged.  But he was told he could not.  And the supervisor told him he could not as well.  Nalbandian ended up losing the match 10-8.  The umpire and the supervisor should lose their jobs after this debacle.  On break point at 8-8 in the 5th set, and the umpire does not allow Nalbandian to challenge a serve that HE overruled as in?  For all intents and purposes, the umpire and supervisor cost Nalbandian the match, which should NEVER happen in tennis.  The outcome of a match should NEVER be decided by any other than the players themselves.  Shame on the umpire and supervisor, and I wish you both nothing but shame.

There are some enticing matches for the bottom half's 2nd round matches.  Hewitt/Roddick should be an amazing contest, as should Troicki/Kukushkin, Llodra/Bogomolov Jr, Raonic/Petzschner, and Simon/Benneteau (battle of the Frenchmen).  Djokovic, Murray, and Tsonga should ease through.

I hope we see a great day of tennis,


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012 Australian Open Day 2 Recap

On the second day of the Australian Open, it was a pretty routine day for all of the expected victors with a few exceptions.  Novak Djokovic only lost two games in his defeat of Italian Paolo Lorenzi.  Andy Murray dropped his opening set against American youngster Ryan Harrison, but then won 46 63 64 62.  Tsonga came through in 4, which is a little surprising that he lost a set.  Gilles Simon came through in a tight 5-setter.  Tipsarevic, Roddick, Raonic, Nishikori, Hewitt, Gasquet, and Troicki came through as well.  The closest thing to an upset all day on the men's side would probably be Stepanek or Youzhny going out.

Alright, time to focus on the (supposed) saviour of British tennis, Andy Murray.  He lost the first set to Harrison but in the big picture that means little.  Federer lost the first set to Andreev two years ago and almost went down two sets to one, and two weeks later he won the tournament.  I'm not saying that Murray will win the tournament, but the 4-set win shouldn't be taken too seriously.  Having said that, he still has a very tough draw and will need to be much better than he was if he wants a shot at challenging Djokovic in the semis.  On another note, I think it's clear after the first round of play that the most potentially intriguing match is Djokovic vs Raonic in the Round of 16.  With both men playing as well as they are, fireworks could fly.  It is an interesting dynamic as well with an elite server going up against an elite returner.

Matches on this half of the draw to watch for in Round 2 are Raonic vs Petzschner and Roddick vs Hewitt.  Andy vs Lleyton should be very good, and I expect it to be very close.  Both players are pretty much on the same level now, the downsides of their careers.  Both are trailing off fast.  Bellucci vs Monfils could also be a highly entertaining match.

In the bottom half Round 2 action, there are many compelling matchups.  Wawrinka/Baghdatis, Isner/Nalbandian, Querrey/Tomic, Stakohvsky/Anderson, and Dimitrov/Almagro (fun for the one-handers like me) should all be good, competitive matches.  Even a match like Nadal vs Haas, while predictable, could be a little fun because Haas is close to retirement at this stage.  Any time to see him play against a top guy is a good match to watch.  I also look for Roger to inprove on his play from his first match, and I suspect he might have an easier contest.

Until next time,


Monday, January 16, 2012

The ATP Politics Struggle

I wrote about Nadal's remarks about Roger in my previous post and got some positive feedback on it.  After their first round matches in Melbourne, both Nadal and Federer addressed the issue, and both regretted that this issue was so widely revealed in the media.


As well as the issue of the length of the season (which I'll get to later), it was revealed that there was a chance of a strike being discussed at the players-only meeting.  One issue is the distribution of prize money, where Davydenko said that at Indian Wells some players can lose money after paying tax and travel costs to compete.  This is a grievance that I can concur with, as it is only a detriment to the lower-ranked players and doesn't help their careers, but is it a big enough issue to go on strike?  I guess that depends where you sit on the fence.  Personally, I don't think going on strike will help get the problem resolved, and it would definitely create an uproar with tennis fans who want to see the highest level of tennis.  To me, the two sides need to come to some agreement and work from there.  But no strikes, because that wouldn't help anything.

The biggest complaint is the length of the season, and this is the problem that I certainly do not understand.  The length of the season is the same as it has always been.  Players can still manage their schedules so that they don't make the season too long for themselves (like Roger does), and there are even two Masters Series events that some take off if they choose to (Monte Carlo and Shanghai).  The length of the schedule is not a problem.  When you look a little deeper, you see why Nadal's accusations are kind of, well, wrong.  After the Australian Open, the first Masters event of the year is in March, Indian Wells.  That means the top guys can take a month off to rest their bodies, or very near it if they take a week to play in a tournament like Dubai, Rotterdam, or Belgrade.  Then, after Wimbledon, the next Masters event is in August in Canada, which means the top guys can again take a month off to recover their bodies after the long spring season.  This is what Federer, Nadal, and many other top players do (the Americans generally play in their home country small events).  Then, after the US Open, the next Masters event, Shanghai, is in October.  That means, once again, that the top players can choose to take that time in between off to heal.  So if you eliminate those three months of any competition (bar maybe one or two tournaments), the season is not even 11 months for these top players, but rather 8 months.  For the lower-ranked players it is a different story, but that is why there are numerous ATP 500 and 250 events at their disposal to help them get points and money.  So you see, for the top guys, the length of the season should NOT be an issue.  Of course, there is Davis Cup and every four years the Olympics, but Davis Cup is not mandatory and the Olympics are once every four years so it isn't relevant enough in the calendar.

The main problem with the schedule is not the length, but the strain of it.  By that, I do not mean that there are too many tournaments, no.  What I mean is that the surfaces have been homogenized so much that every surface barring indoors and maybe grass is very strenuous on the body.  Indian Wells and Miami are basically clay courts with the speed at which they operate.  Then you have the very long, too long, clay court season.  This spring stretch of the season is FAR too physical, even for a guy that moves so gracefully like Roger, and I truly believe it hurts the players the rest of the year.  So blame the ATP for the slowing down of the courts and not varying the speed of them, don't blame the length of the season, if you are upset about the way things are operating.

Whatever happens, this rift between the players about certain conditions on the ATP Tour needs to be smoothed out immediately, for the good of the players, sponsors, and fans.  There is a compromise here to be met, that can satisfy both Federer and Nadal's needs.  But realistically, Federer doesn't have any complaints so he doesn't really have any needs since he doesn't mind the way things are.  Anyways, I hope the issue is put aside until February and we can have a nice and peaceful Australian Open fortnight.

Until next time, Kyle.

2012 Australian Open Day 1 Recap

Let the games begin.

A ferocious first day of tennis was on display on Monday as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal picked up easy first round wins.  Bernard Tomic came through down two sets to none against Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.  Berdych, Fish, Almagro, del Potro, Dolgopolov, Isner, Lopez, Baghdatis, Kohlschreiber, Nalbandian, Karlovic and Wawrinka all survived and moved onto the 2nd round.

Federer started his campaign with a 75 62 62 win over Grand Slam-debutant Alexander Kudryavtsev of Russia.  The unknown played very well in the first set, but quickly lost the match in the 2nd and 3rd sets.  Roger was serving and returning very well, which is a very good sign that his back is doing fine.  He wasn't as sharp off the ground as he could be, but that is hardly a worry.  Fed always gets into rhythm off the ground between the 3rd round and quarterfinals, which allows him to really hit his stride late in tournaments.  The fact that he was serving well was a great sign for things to come.  When his serve is clicking, the rest of his game follows suit and he is able to efficiently utilize his first-strike tennis.  Roger now plays Andreas Beck of Germany in the 2nd round, whom he also played in the 2nd round of the 2010 US Open.  Expect another routine victory, which hardly needs to be said.  Ivo Karlovic beat Jurgen Melzer so he is a good choice to be Roger's 3rd round opponent.  That would be tricky but very manageable.

Nadal got off to a good start with  64 61 61 win over American Alex Kuznetsov.  It was a close first set, but then Rafa ran away with it.  Like Roger, he also plays a German in the 2nd round, veteran Tommy Haas.  After the match, Nadal mentioned that he injured his knee while sitting in a hotel chair, which is about as comical as Murray hurting his rear end while sleeping.  Is Nadal made of glass?  Is that why his body breaks so easily?  It is obvious now that the media is catching on to his physical failures more and more these days and are starting to question it.  This leads me to believe whether Rafa will have less pull with the umpires this year in taking so many medical timeouts during matches.  But no doubt, he'll try to affirm his case that the season is too long by piling up injuries if he feels it is necessary.

Alexandr Dolgopolov and Bernard Tomic both came back from two sets to none, which sets things up nicely for Roger.  Both of them must be very tired after such tiring first round matches and now there is a big question mark as to if they will even make it to the Round of 16, where they are potential opponents for Federer.  Del Potro came through in 4 sets against Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.  He had a slow start but then rebounded nicely.  His form will need to be much better however if he hopes to reach the quarterfinals and give Roger a test.

In Day 2, Djokovic, Murray, Tsonga, Monfils, Ferrer, and many others play their openers.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Nadal Shows His True Ego


Remember the days when there was the wide-held assumption that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer had mutual respect for one another?  Well, those days are gone, and Nadal seems increasingly hell-bent on changing everything on the ATP World Tour to suit his own needs.  Recently, Nadal and Federer have been on opposite sides in the ongoing debate about the season schedule, among many other things.

Unlike in past complaints, Rafa brought Roger into the picture by criticizing his viewpoints.  He said that Roger's opinion of the tour's schedule being fine is "wrong" because "more people have the same opinion that the schedule is too demanding.  Well, let me ask, how many people really have been complaining about the schedule besides Nadal and Andy Murray?  I almost know for a fact that the lower-ranked players are on Roger's side, who understands that money doesn't come as easy for them so they NEED to play more tournaments in order to make their living.  Unlike the top 30 players, who can get by from playing the minimum requirements in the schedule, they have to play many small tournaments to help themselves out.  For some reason, Nadal does not get this and only thinks of himself and the benefits a different schedule can have on him.  Is this the kind of sportsman that the ATP wants to have leading the way?  I don't think so, and that's why Roger is viewed with more seniority than Rafa.

I really have a problem with Nadal's attitude.  He does not seem to understand that HE can control his own schedule, and that HE is his own worst enemy when it comes to all the injuries he has compiled over the years.  Sure, Federer plays a much more easing game on his body, but he has also had injuries too.  Roger has just handled his schedule very well throughout his career, knowing when to take breaks, when to heal, and when to skip some tournaments in order to get more rest (prime example is Shanghai last year).  To blame Roger for playing an easy game on his body is a very misjudged accusation because he does encounter his own problems.  But for Roger, tennis is more than about winning.  Even in the darkest moments of his career, he has always held true to his values and never stooped to lower other players or the tour just because things are not going his way.  For Nadal, winning IS everything to him, and he loves it more than tennis itself.  What happened when he was stymied six times by Djokovic last year, twice in major finals?  He insulted the serve and volley style of play made famous by guys like Pete Sampras and Gorn Ivanisevic.  He started complaining about the schedule, about the lack of clay court events (a RIDICULOUS complaint), wanting a two-year ranking system, the speed of the balls, and much, much more.  I do find it quite hilarious that he thinks the balls are moving faster than ever when the courts have been slowed down year after year after year.  It is also very funny that he complains about finishing his career with numerous injuries, yet they are ALL from his own hand due to his careless scheduling habits.  What a hypocrite.  It is clear to me, and now many others, that Nadal is not the saint he once was made out to be.  When the going gets tough, he finds numerous excuses to distract from his own problems.  Before Grand Slams, he plays the injury card so that if he loses, he has an excuse as to why he lost?  This has been the case for years and is why there has been this misconception that whenever Nadal loses, it is because he is not at his very fittest.  Give me a freakin' break.

Rafa, we see your true colours shining through.  If you aren't careful, you will ruin your legacy and disgrace the game that gave you and your family EVERYTHING.  You have lost all my respect for you with your behaviour over the past year.  Compared to you, Roger is an angel and you are the devil.  If you truly want to be an ambassador of the game, stop thinking about yourself for a change and think about the others who struggle to break even in their tennis careers.  Be blessed that the ATP has given you so much and that you have been privileged that the courts have been universally slowed for your benefit.  Through my eyes, you are a despicable human being, and don't deserve anything the rest of your career.  Grow up and stop acting like a child.

These are not words that I am writing just because I am sitting behind a computer screen.  I want to let it be known that I would say all this right to his face if given the chance.  Rafa needs to be put in his place and taught a lesson about how to treat others and how to honour the game that made you.  For once, and now more than ever, should Rafa and Roger meet in the semis, I want Roger to DESTROY him.  Not hold back.  I can only hope that Nadal's words have just fueled Federer's fire and he will given him another severe beatdown.

If you ever right your wrongs, Mr. Nadal, and stop trying to change everything for your own benefit, I may change my mind about you.  But as of right now, you cannot hold a candle to Federer as a tennis player or as a human being.  Everything will come full circle and we will all see your true colours.


PS - I have had many of those thoughts I just wrote in my head for a very long time.  I have disliked Nadal the tennis player for years now, but I always respected the human being off the court because I thought he was a class act.  After seeing his whining this past year about every nook and cranny in the ATP, I have lost all that respect, and can now see that he is nothing more than an immature little boy who wants his own way all the time.  I hope this article can make people think about the misconceptions we have had about Nadal throughout the years.