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!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

'12 Miami R3 - Federer Upset

Andy Roddick turned back the clock a few years and played some inspired tennis to defeat Roger Federer 76(4) 16 64 in the 3rd round of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.  Roddick ended Federer's 16-match winning streak and the Swiss's bid to win the Indian Wells/Miami double for the third time.  It was only Roddick's third win against Federer in 24 attempts.

Right from the start, both Federer and Roddick were trading service holds and the first set unsurprisingly went to a tiebreak.  The 'breaker was also close but Roddick got the one mini-break he needed after Roger failed to put away a tough overhead and Andy passed him.  In the second set,  Roger stormed out early and broke Andy's serve three consecutive times to take it 6-1, in a wild turn of events from the first set.  At the start of the third set, with all the momentum on his side, Fed could not take advantage of 4 break point chances at 1-0.  This would prove to be costly as Andy played one of the best return games of his life right after and broke the Federer serve.  In the end, that was all he needed, as he held his serve four straight times to close out the victory in two hours on the dot.

Before the match started, I knew it was going to be close, based on their previous two matches in Miami.  Both of those, in 2008 and 2009, were three setters, and in '08 Roddick won to pick up his first victory over Fed in five years.  No matter what happened in the first set, I figured we were going three.  There is something about Miami that really fires Roddick up and he plays energized, inspired, and aggressive, especially against Roger.  He had every reason to feel terrible after the 6-1 drubbing in the 2nd set, but he didn't.  He kept fighting, and went all-out to earn the elusive break he needed.  He was definitely inspired and was given motivation from the passing of his agent in October, Ken Meyerson.  He was from Miami and his wife was there, and that was why Andy was looking up to the sky after victory.

Roger did not play a bad match, and it is certainly a loss that I am alright with, even though I am disappointed.  He was only broken once, and did play some spectacular tennis in that 2nd set.  Did he play his best?  Of course not.  But a lot of what Fed was doing can be attributed to the way Andy was playing.  I think in the third set, Roger was shaken up by not breaking Andy at the start, and then he was caught off guard when Andy threw caution to the wind and threw everything he had at Roger.  But Fed didn't go away after that, and he forced Andy to hold his serve the rest of the way to win.  Given Andy's poor record against Roger, that is not an easy thing to do, and Andy was up to the challenge.  I give him full credit for beating Roger, because he was spectacular.  Overall, it was a high quality match with great serving and superb shot-making from both.  Regardless of the outcome, tennis was treated to a special night.

As for Fed, perhaps this loss is a blessing in disguise.  He has played a lot of tennis so far this year and hopefully the added time off will do him good heading into the clay court season.  In my estimation, he did look a little burned out in the Harrison match, and even more so against Roddick.  We knew the courts play extremely slow in Miami and Fed did seem to have a tougher time than usual winning free points off serve and getting the ball through the court.  That was especially the case against Andy, although in fairness the American did hit the ball with more aggression than he had maybe since the Wimbledon 2009 final.

Roger commented on the toll of playing so many matches.:

"Yeah.  Maybe 30 matches for the season.  Just feeling like it's taken its toll a bit, which is normal.  But I've played more tired in the past, so this was not the most tired I have ever been, but you just start to feel it a bit.  I didn't just get the lucky break today that I got in Indian Wells.  And, yeah, I mean, I regret missing those opportunities and giving myself maybe a chance for tomorrow.  Then you never know how things all of a sudden turn out in the tournament.  Yeah, it is what it is tonight, and I'll deal with it the way I always have."

He also spoke highly of Andy, showing the immense respect he has for him:

"I feel like I lost against a former No. 1.  That's how it felt, not that I lost against a guy ranked 30 in the world.  That ranking is not real, so it was a tough second round.  I knew that in the start, and particularly here in Miami where I lost against him in the past.  So I was aware of that, and I didn't underestimate Andy at all."

After the Harrison match, he did speak about the threats Andy poses, and all of those threats seemed to be very apparent in their match, as Andy was on his game and very sharp.

"The head to head doesn't play a massive factor for me in every match I go in against Andy, because I know there's always a lot in Andy's racquet depending on how he serves.  And, you know, if I don't play well, I know I won't win.  So the pressure is there.  That's what he can create with his game.  This is why I never take a match lightly against him."

I wish Andy the best for the rest of the year.  If he can keep up that kind of form and aggression, there is a chance he could make it back to the top 15, which would be great for him and American tennis.


In other round three action....

Novak Djokovic got through his friend and countryman Viktor Troicki 63 64, as expected.  Juan Martin del Potro defeated Marin Cilic 63 76(3).  David Ferrer also won in straight sets, defeating Julien Benneteau 76(5) 64.  Juan Monaco came back from a break down in the 3rd set against Gael Monfils to win 46 63 64.

Mardy Fish got by big South African Kevin Anderson in straight sets, 64 63.  A meeting between Fish and Federer seems very likely in the quarterfinals.  Nicolas Almagro avenged his loss to Verdasco in Acapulco by beating his fellow countryman 63 64.  Richard Gasquet came through against Albert Ramos 62 57 63.  I hadn't really heard of Ramos before this year and when I think of him, I think of Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire.  Now wherever I look, I see his name in every tournament I follow in at least the 3rd round.  From the looks of it, the 24 year-old is quickly rising and I could see him becoming top 40 by the end of the year (he is currently at #56).

The biggest upset of the tournament saw Grigor Dimitrov taking out Tomas Berdych 63 26 64.  It was Dimitrov's first win over a top 10 player in his career.   I really like Grigor, and I hope that this victory can jumpstart his career in a positive direction.  He has a very fun game to watch so the more we can see of him on tour, the better it will be.  However, I am not that fond of comparing him to Federer.  Is that comparison only made because Grigor has a one-handed backhand?  To me, he far more resembles Nicolas Almagro than Roger Federer.  I wish him nothing but success though, and he will be a bright star in tennis for years to come alongside other young guns like Harrison, Raonic, Tomic, Sock, and Dolgopolov, and others.

Rafael Nadal cruised through Radek Stepanek 62 62.  The match was never slated to be close to begin with, when you factor in Stepanek's net rusher game and the very slow hardcourt.

What would have been an incredible match between Andy Murray and Milos Raonic was halted because the Canadian withdrew due to an ankle injury.  It was highly disappointing since Raonic would have had a legitimate chance to beat Andy, but it was not to be.  Even though he is still very young, I really fear for the young Canadian's career.  He is only 21 years old but he has already sustained numerous injuries including three in the last year alone.  I really don't want to go here, but he is reminding me of Mario Ancic the more and more he gets hurt.  I sincerely hope he doesn't end up like Mario because he has a bright future and has Slam-winning potential I believe.

John Isner, who had been slated to meet Rafael Nadal in a potential quarterfinal, bowed out in disappointing fashion against #19 seed Florian Mayer 64 64.  This is a very disappointing result and certainly not a good sign after his fantastic week in Indian Wells in which he vaulted into the top 10 for the first time.  Isner, it appears, still needs to work on his consistency week in and week out throughout the season.

In other results on the day, Tsonga got past Kohlschreiber in two tough sets and it was the same for Gilles Simon, as he got by Jurgen Melzer in a similarly close contest.  Janko Tipsarevic passed a stern test from Alexandr Dolgopolov, winning 64 57 62.  Kei Nishikori advanced to a meeting with Nadal after a straight sets win over Lukas Rosol.

The 4th round will be played on Tuesday, and the matches are as follows:
(1) Novak Djokovic vs (17) Richard Gasquet
(2) Rafael Nadal vs (16) Kei Nishikori
(4) Andy Murray vs (13) Gilles Simon
(5) David Ferrer vs (11) David Ferrer
(6) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs (19) Florian Mayer
(8) Mardy Fish vs (12) Nicolas Almagro
(9) Janko Tipsarevic vs Grigor Dimitrov
(21) Juan Monaco vs (31) Andy Roddick

It should be a great day of tennis, although it would have been better with Roger there.

Until next time, Kyle.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

'12 Miami R2 Recap

All but three seeds advanced to the 3rd round of the Sony Ericsson Open, including the top four, who did not drop a set.  Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray breezed through on Friday, whereas Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic had a little more difficulty on Saturday.

Roger Federer had to be sharp in his opening round match against the young American Ryan Harrison.  The two met in Indian Wells last year and the youngster took Roger to a tiebreak in the first set, so I knew his potential to cause a stir.

Roger got out to a very quick start, seemingly continuing his momentum from Indian Wells last week.  He won the first set 6-2 - almost too comfortably for my liking.  In the second, he got an early break and served for the match at 5-3, but the fiery Harrison broke back and he suddenly had life.  How Roger got broken was a little controversial for me, however:  midway through the rally, Fed hit a ball on the line and a person in the crowd called the ball out - not to Fed's knowledge.  Roger didn't play the next shot, assuming the ball was called out by a lines judge, and Harrison got the break.  Now, I am not completely briefed on the rulebook of tennis, but to me, the point should have been replayed on some kind of hindrance.  Nevertheless, Fed got through a tiny rough patch in play and stormed through the tiebreak 7-3, ending the match in fine fashion.  62 76(3) Fed in an hour and fifteen minutes.  After the match, Fed showed great class and sportsmanship by embracing Harrison at the net and wishing him the best the rest of the year.  It was truly a special moment.

Awesome outfit.

Knowing how dangerous Harrison can be, I am happy with the way Fed played.  I didn't expect him to play a great opening set, but he did, and in the second he played his best in the tiebreak to put the match to bed.  Roger did point out his relief to come through, under the circumstances.  He said,  "I felt like I had to win the match like three times at the end, so I was relieved to come through. Beating against an American in America is always a big deal, because this is where they usually play their very best."

Warm embrace - both have great respect for each other.

 Novak Djokovic overcame a stern test against former top 10 player Marcos Baghdatis 64 64.  It was a tight match but a good win for Novak, considering he had lost a set in his previous five matches against the Cypriot.  The Serb did seem overly intense after winning the match, but I account that to his knowledge of how important winning this Miami title is, and coming through in a tough early round match.  The day before, Andy Murray did not stumble out of the gate this time around, and he dispatched Alejandro Falla 62 63 and Rafa Nadal destroyed Santiago Giraldo 62 60.  Rafa was obviously letting out all of his frustration after the windy, nonrhythmic loss to Federer in Indian Wells.

The only three seeds to fall in the 2nd round were Feliciano Lopez (15), Marcel Granollers (24), and Juan Ignacio Chela (29).  John Isner survived a scare against Davydenko, winning in three, and Janko Tipsarevic avenged his loss to David Nalbandian last week with a convincing straight sets win.  David Ferrer beat youngster Bernard Tomic in straights.  Last week, he had to play Grigor Dimitrov, another highly skilled, highly touted up-and-comer.  David has to hope he doesn't get any more young guns in the near future in his early part of the draws.

The 3rd round looks to have some very good matches on hand, and even some with upset potential.

The matches are as follows:

(1) Novak Djokovic vs (27) Viktor Troicki
(2) Rafael Nadal vs (25) Radek Stepanek
(3) Roger Federer vs (31) Andy Roddick
(4) Andy Murray vs (26) Milos Raonic
(5) David Ferrer vs (30) Julien Benneteau
(6) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs (32) Philip Kohlschreiber
(7) Tomas Berdych vs Grigor Dimitrov
(8) Mardy Fish vs (28) Kevin Anderson
(9) Janko Tipsarevic vs (18) Alexandr Dolgopolov
(10) John Isner vs (19) Florian Mayer
(11) Juan Martin del Potro vs (23) Marin Cilic
(12) Nicolas Almagro vs (20) Fernando Verdasco
(13) Gilles Simon vs (22) Jurgen Melzer
(14) Gael Monfils vs (21) Juan Monaco
(16) Kei Nishikori vs Lukas Rosol
(17) Richard Gasquet vs Albert Ramos

A few thoughts:

There is not one match there that does not have the potential to be great.  That is a SUPERB 3rd round lineup if you ask me.  Federer/Roddick, Murray/Raonic, Jo/Kohl, Fish/Anderson, Tipsy/Dolgo, Delpo/Cilic, Almagro/Verdasco, Simon/Melzer, and Monfils/Monaco should all be highly entertaining.  Don't expect Nadal or Djokovic to get pushed.  Troicki has given Nole much trouble in the past but can never actually follow through and beat him.  Almagro and Verdasco played in Acapulco, where the latter won, so Nicolas will be looking to right the wrong and get some payback.

--  Federer and Roddick will play for the 24th time.  Fed, of course, leads the head-to-head 21-2, but most of their matches are close, even if the same person wins the vast majority of them.  Roger has so much respect for Andy's serve that he never takes him lightly, and therefore usually always plays his very best against his oldest rival.  Andy has beaten Roger in Miami, in 2008, and it should be a very close match.
--  Murray vs Raonic should be very interesting.  Milos has the game to beat Andy and he could very well do that.  We saw how he pushed Roger in Indian Wells and the same could happen here.
--  Kevin Anderson vs Mardy Fish has upset written all over it for me, especially with the way Fish has played this year.  Don't be shocked to see the American lose.
-- Monfils vs Monaco is a match to watch for if you are a Fed fan because one of them will face the Swiss Maestro in the 4th round should Fed get by Roddick.

It's already shaping up to be a wonderful 2012 Sony Ericsson Open!


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Miami 2012 Preview

Right around the corner from the finish of Indian Wells, here we are in Miami for the Sony Ericsson Open, ready for yet another invigorating Masters 1000 tournament.  Can Novak Djokovic defend his title from last year?  Can Roger Federer continue the run of success he has had with the Indian Wells-Miami double?  Those two questions and many more will be answered on the tennis court in the sunny tennis hotbed that is South Beach.

Top Half

Novak Djokovic's Quarter:

Right off the bat, the #1 seed has a potentially difficult opponent on his hands in the Cypriot, Marcos Baghdatis.  Djokovic should definitely win that one but it is not an easy match by any means.  After that, Novak would likely face his countryman Viktor Troicki, who, if basing off past history, should fold like a fresh set of laundry for Djokovic.  In the 4th round, he will most likely face Richard Gasquet or Feliciano Lopez.  In the quarters, a clash with Juan Martin del Potro or David Ferrer most likely awaits.  Speaking of del Potro, he has a very tough path to the quarters.  He plays Karlovic in the 2nd round, then perhaps Marin Cilic, then potentially Ferrer.  Those are three tough matches to have in succession.

Roger Federer's Quarter:

Roger comes off the heels of Indian Wells with plenty of momentum and confidence, and he'll need it in Miami.  Right away, he gets to face the young American Ryan Harrison.  These two also met in Indian Wells last year, with Fed winning in straights.  In the 3rd round, Roger will most likely meet Andy Roddick, which would also be a stern early round test.  However, it's Andy Roddick, and Fed leads that head-to-head 21-2, so there is no real reason to worry.  In the 4h round, the Swiss may meet either Gael Monfils or Juan Monaco, both of whom would challenge Fed but never really threaten him.  The four likely opponents for his quarterfinal are Almagro, Fish, Verdasco, and Anderson.  Fish is the highest seed, but I highly doubt he makes the quarters with the horrendous results he has had this year.  My bet would be Almagro, who has played some great tennis this year and has loads of confidence.

Bottom Half

Andy Murray's Quarter

Andy starts his Miami campaign against Alejandro Falla.  After that, he likely plays big Canadian and rising star Milos Raonic.  This would be my early round upset pick, because Murray is very mentally fragile and Raonic is as solid as a rock on serve.  If, and that's a big if, Murray gets through Milos, he likely plays Gilles Simon.  Boy would that be a fun match to watch or what?  Can you sense my sarcasm through those words?  If he gets by that match, then he will play Tomas Berdych should the seeds hold up.

Rafael Nadal's Quarter

Rafa plays 57th ranked Colombian Santiago Giraldo in the 2nd round.  In the 3rd, he will either play Radek Stepanek or Tommy Haas, and then in the 4th round, the highest seed he could face would be Kei Nishikori.  They met last year in Miami, but Kei has come a very long way since then.  In the quarters, Rafa's two likeliest matches are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Indian Wells finalist John Isner.  The big American would be especially tough for Rafa, who generally struggles against the big servers.


2nd round matches to watch for:

Djokovic vs Baghdatis
Federer vs Harrison
Nalbandian vs Janko Tipsarevic (rematch of Indian Wells 3R)
Del Potro vs Karlovic
Ferrer vs Tomic
(Ferrer gets Dimitrov one week, Tomic the next week.  Ha.)

Potential enticing 3rd round matches:

Dolgopolov vs Nalbandian/Tipsarevic
Simon vs Melzer
Federer vs Roddick
Almagro vs Verdasco
Fish vs Anderson
Murray vs Raonic
Del Potro vs Cilic


My Thoughts:

Roger has a very manageable draw and he could very easily make the semifinals if he plays as well as he did in Indian Wells (or even anywhere in the vicinity of that level).  Harrison should be a good starter match for him to get into the tournament, and then from there I can't really see him getting hurt until the semis when he may play Djokovic.  I'm expecting a semifinal performance from Roger, however, we know how confident he is right now and that could make all the difference in him coming through with the Indian Wells-Miami double, something he has not done since 2006.  He is feeling very good at the moment, so a win is not out of the question, even with the slow playing conditions.  The same was said about Indian Wells and we know what happened there.

Novak Djokovic NEEDS a win.  A loss before the final here would almost guarantee he does not end the year at #1 (well not quite, but in my estimation, it will be very hard).  He lost in the semis of Dubai and Indian Wells, losing points there, and if he loses points in Miami it will only put further pressure on him to win in Madrid and Rome, which will not be easy to do again.  I noticed ever since Dubai that he has not looked the same as he did last year; he is playing a little too much defensively and he hasn't had the same "I'm unbeatable" mindset.  A win in Miami would do wonders for his confidence, but I'm not sure he will.  Even if we see a Federer/Djokovic semifinal, I would give the edge to Roger basing off the past few weeks (and we know Roger likes playing Novak more than say, Nadal).

I don't really have much interest in the bottom half, but I have a feeling we won't be seeing a Murray vs Nadal semifinal.  I would love to see Rafa get taken out by Isner in the quarters.  Actually, I guess I do have some interest in the bottom half of the draw because if Rafa loses before the semis and Roger wins the tournament, then Fed will be #2.  So I would love to see Isner beat Rafa and then see Roger take home the trophy!
Would love to see this at the end of the tournament!
Hoping for another great tournament, and I wish Roger all the best!


Monday, March 19, 2012

Federer Wins Indian Wells

In the finals of the BNP Paribas Open from Indian Wells, California, Roger Federer defeated big American John Isner 76(7) 63 to win his 4th Indian Wells title, a record.  It was Fed's 3rd title of the 2012 season, his 19th Masters 1000 title, and his 73rd career title.  It was Federer's first Indian Wells title since 2006.  With the win, Roger has now won 39 of his past 41 matches, won 6 of his last 8 tournaments entered, and it is looking more and more like he will overtake the #2 spot from Rafael Nadal before the French Open.

It was another windy day, but not as windy as the day before when the wind was wreaking havoc with Federer's semifinal win against Nadal.  The first set was very even, with Federer holding serve with relative ease by moving the big American around the court, and Isner held comfortably off the strength of his serve.  Roger's only chance to break the Isner serve came at 5-6, but the chance was snuffed out quickly by a huge Isner bomb.  The set went to a seemingly inevitable tiebreak.  Both men traded mini-breaks and looked as though they didn't want to win the set at all.  Nerves were definitely playing a part.  Skip ahead all the way to 7-7, and Roger hit a framed half-pass half-lob that landed square on the line, and he had set point, his 4th of the set.  He won the next point and took the first set tiebreak 9-7.

The second set again, started out very evenly, until Roger turned up the heat at 3-3 with two delicious passing shots; one inside-out forehand and one down-the-line flick backhand pass.  It was simply breathtaking.  Roger was getting a better read on the Isner serve than he had in the first set and that allowed him to be much more aggressive and do things that only Roger Federer can.  He broke, then held comfortably, and then broke again.  7-6(7) 63 Federer, to win his record-tying 19th Masters 1000 title.  In the second set, he only lost one point on serve, and he saved his best tennis for last, as if even possible after the victory against Nadal.

Complete concentration.

I could not be more proud of Roger.  When the draw came out, it looked daunting.  Milos Raonic in the 3rd round, then a semifinal with Rafael Nadal?  It certainly didn't look like he could get through that, even with the great run he has been on.  But he did, and he did with flying colours.  He overcame tough tests against Raonic and Thomaz Bellucci, in which he needed to come back from a set down each time.  Perhaps the Federer of last year wouldn't have come through in those tough situations, but this Roger Federer is a completely different player; a much more confident player.  After those two comeback wins, the test became even tougher.  Another match with del Potro, which is never easy.  Federer rolled through him like a knife cuts through cheese.  Surely he couldn't play better than that?  But he did.  And he did so against his greatest rival, Nadal.  It was the perfect match played by Roger, and he did it in terrible conditions and with the odds against him.  Again, last year, he may have lost that match.  Not this year.  Not now.  Then came the final against Isner.  A man who Fed had lost to at the Davis Cup, on clay, in Switzerland.  It was time to avenge that loss (but in a sweet way, you know, because Roger is so kind-spirited).  It took him a set to get used to the serve, and then in a flash, he was playing the best tennis we had seen all week long.  And it was spectacular.  Perhaps what made it more spectacular was that Fed had the flu and did not get much practice time, and he still played some of the best tennis we have ever seen from him.  That is a champion.

The title win capped off a perfect week for the Swiss Maestro.  He won a title where he hadn't even made the final since 2006.  That tells you right there how well he is playing.  He played with fire, determination, heart, and passion.  He converted on 22 of 38 break point chances, which is incredible, and certainly a key factor in his success.  When he can convert his break points well, everything falls into place and he is able to win much more efficiently.  His return was especially great against Isner, where Fed got his racket on the majority of balls and made the big American play. 

Before the tournament started, never in my wildest dreams did I think Roger would play this well and win the title.  And to do so with straight sets wins over del Potro, Nadal, and Isner, well, that's just magical.  Nobody does that.  Only Roger.  That seems to be the telling theme these days.  Only Roger.  Only Roger can do what he is doing at age 30, almost 31.  It's extraordinary.  He may be 30 years old, but he moves like he's 24 and he has the motivation of a 24 year-old as well.  He just loves tennis more than anyone else on planet Earth, and even though he has accomplished everything, he wants more.  He is hungry and driven, and nothing will get in his way.  Not Djokovic, not Nadal, not age. 

The Champ looks happy!

The rest of 2012 is looking extremely promising for Fed, and I have no doubt he can win another Slam or two and get back the #1 ranking by years end.  Miami is up next and I have no doubt he can do well there if he plays as well as he did in Indian Wells.  It is all in the mind, and Roger is as focused as perhaps he has ever been.

Congrats Roger, and thank you.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Flawless Federer Into Final

Roger Federer played some of the finest tennis he has ever played against Rafael Nadal, and he took down to Spaniard 6-3 6-4 in a cold, windy, dramatic match.  With the win, Federer has now made the final of Indian Wells for the first time since 2006.  In the previous semifinal, big American John Isner upset world #1 Novak Djokovic 76(7) 36 76 in an entertaining match filled with all sorts of drama.

Federer started his clash with Nadal in the perfect way, getting the early break and going up 3-0.  Nadal immediately broke back to get to 3-3, however the tide had not turned.  Roger was still playing at a very high level and I knew he was in good standing to still take the set.  That turned out to be a prophetic thought because Roger did keep his level high and broke Nadal in the crucial 8th game and went on to take the set 6-3.  In the second set, his momentum carried forward.  He got the break in the third game and consolidated to go up 3-1.  He had a big chance to go up the double break at 3-2 but could not.  It made no difference however because he did get the double break to go up 5-2.  That insurance break would prove to be very handy as Rafa broke Roger and got back to 5-4.  The final game was tightly played as expected, and at 30-30 Nadal missed a forehand into the net after an incredible rally to give Roger match point.  The drama did not end there though, as play was halted for a few minutes on MATCH POINT due to some rain falling.  I had never seen anything like that happen before.  It was nothing to be worried about in the end as when they did start play, Fed smacked an ace out wide to win the match.  63 64 in one hour and thirty one minutes in an absolute masterclass.

As fired up as you will ever see Roger.

I did not think that Roger could play any better against Nadal than he did at the World Tour Finals last November, but boy, was I proved wrong.  The 63 60 demolition was beautiful, but given the tougher playing conditions for Roger in a match against an opponent that clearly has the advantage, this was a level above that.  From start to finish, he stuck to the game plan and did not let up for one single second.  He came through in the tough moments with flying colours, just like I thought he might with all his success in tough matches lately.

Tactically, he was flawless.  In the rallies, nearly every forehand was hit cross-court to Nadal's backhand, pushing the Spaniard back and letting the Swiss move in and attack.  His backhand was as solid as a rock, and he may have hit it better than I have ever seen him hit it.  Considering the slow speed of the courts and usually how effectively Nadal can neutralize his backhand, the way that shot was working was impeccable.  He was smacking nearly every backhand cross-court, and with pace and depth.  It is the same play that guys like Djokovic employ to beat Nadal, but as we all know, Roger cannot use that play with the same effectiveness, at least outdoors.  But tonight was a completely different ball game. 

Perhaps for the first time ever on an outdoor court, it was not like we were seeing Federer play Nadal, but just another player who Roger knew he was going to beat.  He was that confident in his own abilities and I credit that largely to the great form he has had since the Australian Open.  One thing is for sure - he learned from his mistakes.  Down under, he let up on his strategy and let Nadal dictate play after the first set.  He did no such thing this time around, and the best way I can sum it up is in two words: ruthless aggression.  And it was amazing.

Nadal did seem utterly frustrated with the windy conditions and was not hitting the ball with the same vigor he usually does.  However, I also credit that to Roger's supreme attacking, and Rafa was continually pushed back behind the baseline where he could not make any ground.  The one thing you cannot do against Fed is let you push him around, but Rafa had no answers, regardless of how many balls he tracked down.  There are no excuses this time around, because Roger was playing in the same cold and windy conditions.  Roger is just a much better wind player because he can cut through the wind as opposed to Nadal, who's heavy looping balls can be manipulated by the different wind patterns.

In my estimation, Rafa's one play wasn't working (forehand to backhand pattern), and he was lost.  Regardless of what the tennis media might say, Nadal is still very one-dimensional and this match proved it.  When Rafa realized that he couldn't just pepper the Federer backhand because of the strength in which the Swiss was hitting it, what did he do?  He kept going to the same play and kept getting burned.  When a player has a strong backhand and neutralizes Rafa's usually one surefire strategy, he is done.  He can fight as hard as he wants, but he is just incapable of change because he is so one-dimensional.  And Federer exploited that brilliantly.


In the other semi on the day, played much, much earlier, John Isner defeated Djokovic in three tight sets in a highly competitive and entertaining affair.  With the win, Isner not only reaches his first ever Masters 1000 final, but also becomes the first American to take out a World #1 since James Blake at the Beijing Olympics in '08.  He also cracks the top 10 for the first time ever, a milestone achievement.  Isner was clutch in the big moments and Djokovic did not play very well, and the better and more deserving man won. 

Djokovic has now failed to defend two of his three titles so far in 2012, and this is a really important time for him.  With wins in Miami, Madrid, Rome, and Wimbledon, the next few months will be very important for his quest to keep the #1 spot.  Miami is crucial.  If he goes out in the semis there, for instance, I don't see any way that he does not lose the #1 by the US Open, be it to Federer or Nadal (which is a battle all its own right now).  Overall, Djokovic has not looked good ever since the Australian Open ended.  Even then, he barely escaped two tough matches at the end to win that title.  I believe he has gotten too defensive from the baseline, and that, coupled with a drop in his returning level, is the reason he is struggling.  There is also the previously mentioned point pressure, which must be a huge weight on his shoulders as every tournament becomes that much more important to his future as #1.


Final Thoughts

Federer and Isner have only met 3 times, at the US Open in 2007, at Shanghai in 2010, and of course at the Davis Cup right after the Australian Open, where Isner pulled off the upset.  I'm not taking what happened there to mean anything for a few reasons.  One, those playing conditions were perfect for Isner; his serves kicked up extraordinarily high, his groundstrokes were always within the strike zone, and the clay court was poor, which did not give any advantages to Roger.  Since then, Fed has upped his game considerably and he has good motive to go out there and beat Isner.  Also, the way I see it, if Roger can control the baseline against Nadal and move him around, he can certainly do the same to the big American.  I expect a straight sets Federer win for title #3 in 2012, titles #19 at Masters 1000 level, and title #73 of his career.

Best of luck in the final Roger!


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Federer Masterclass in QF

The semifinals were set at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday and Friday, and the two matches are Federer vs Nadal and Djokovic vs Isner.  On Thursday, Djokovic beat Nicolas Almagro 63 64 and John Isner edge Gilles Simon 63 16 75.  On Friday, Federer put on a great performance against del Potro 63 62 and Nadal barely got by against David Nalbandian 36 75 64.

Although Roger's victory over Delpo came to be very routine, it did not start out that way.  In the very first game of the match, Fed had to save two break points in a game that lasted over ten minutes.  Surprisingly, this first game also ended up being the turning point of the match.  At deuce, Roger hit an ace which was challenged by the Argentine.  The ball was clearly out, but the hawkeye system was not working and therefore the original call stood, much to del Potro's dismay.  From then on the wheels fell off and he started getting very unnerved about the incident.  Roger broke in the very next game and held the rest of the way to a 6-3 first set.  The second set was more of the same as Roger broke in the first game and continued dominating and took the set even easier than he did the first.  63 62 Federer in 69 minutes, an absolute masterclass.  He hit 13 aces to Delpo's 0, and he was assertive from the baseline, moving the big man around the court and not giving him any time to set up his massive groundstrokes.  He also made an effort to hit through his backhand, and used the drop shot very effectively.  The Master nearly played the perfect match.

Overall it was a very routine match and probably should have been much closer, but del Potro lost all his focus and concentration in the first game after the hawkeye controversy.  Federer is now 4-0 vs del Potro in 2012 and 5-0 since last summer, and has won the past 11 sets.  In fact, Federer has won 69 games in that stretch to Delpo's 39.  To say that Roger is completely comfortable playing del Potro is an understatement.

Credit:  Mike Blake/Reuters

In the second semifinal of the day, Rafael Nadal barely escaped defeat against David Nalbandian.  The Argentine won the first set 6-4 and gave Rafa the same kind of problems that Djokovic does.  Unfortunately, Nalbandian does not have the same mental strength as the Serb, and lost the second set 7-5.  He was two points from victory at 4-5 0-30 and probably should have won the match there, but Rafa fought out of it.  He went on to win 4 straight games from 4-5 to 2-0 in the third set, and t looked all but over.  Nadal got out to a quick 5-2 lead but then was broken.  At 5-4, the veteran Argentine had two break points to even the match, but could not convert and the Spaniard pulled through win the dramatic comeback win.  Overall, it was a shaky performance, definitely his worst of the week.  However, he was playing a guy that was red-hot in Nalbandian and a guy that is structured to give Nadal problems.  Rafa seems to struggle with guys who have two-handed backhands; Djokovic, Davydenko, Nalbandian, Murray, and del Potro among them.  Overall, this match was the case of the better player losing.

On Thursday, Novak Djokovic eased by Nicolas Almagro 63 64.  It was routine, however Djokovic still doesn't look to be as sharp as he was last year.  Ever since Dubai he has appeared a little defensive and is not returning as well as we have grown accustomed to.  His serve is as good as ever though, which is helping him without a doubt.  In the night match, John Isner overcame the feisty Gilles Simon in three sets.  It was a great win for Isner because Simon was returning a lot of his big serves and the big guy was being forced to play.  Simon is as consistent as they come on the tour, and Isner did very well to stay focused on the task at hand each and every point.


Semifinal Thoughts

Federer vs Nadal

We know that Nadal is the toughest match for Federer.  We know that Indian Wells is a slow hardcourt that favours Nadal.  We know that Roger can struggle against Rafa no matter what his previous form was.  In all likelihood, Roger will lose to Rafa.  But here are a few reasons why the Swiss may be able to pull off the win:

Familiarity:  I'm not talking about the fact that Roger has played Rafa so many times, no.  I am talking about the fact that Roger has already played a heavy-hitting lefty this week in Indian Wells.  Thomaz Bellucci posed many of the same threats that Nadal will, albeit at a lesser efficiency.  Still, the way Fed played the final two sets of that match is the same way he will need to play to beat Rafa.  Having already played a lefty this week could help him.

Confidence:  Sure, you might be saying right now "Federer had confidence in Australia and look what happened there."  However, I am not talking about that kind of confidence.  I am talking about match toughness.  Since the Australian Open, Roger has played numerous tight matches where the outcome could have gone either way.  Against Davydenko in Rotterdam.  Against del Potro in Dubai.  Against Raonic and Bellucci in Indian Wells.  Federer knows that he can come through any tough situation he is placed in.  He is not panicking right now, and he is playing very much within himself.  Of course, Rafa is the toughest opponent for Fed, so having confidence in his abilities to come out of a dire situation could be crucial.

Best of 3:  Rafael Nadal is one of the toughest players to beat over a 5-set match, and not just for Roger.  But since this is Rafa and Roger we are talking about, a best of 3 match certainly makes it much easier for Fed to win.  Take the recent Australian Open semi as an example.  If that match was not best of 5, Fed probably would have won and he wouldn't have encountered the mental problems he sustained over the final three sets.  In their past 6 best of 3 matches, Federer and Nadal have split it at 3 wins apiece.

I truly believe all three of these factors could hep Roger pull off a victory.  He will need to serve very well, hit his backhand with authority, and take the chances that are given to him.  Given the history of Federer/Nadal matches, Fed will have them.  I know that you cannot base these matches off the match before, but Roger did look very sharp against Delpo and Rafa really struggled against Nalbandian.  David does have advantages over Rafa that Roger does not, but nevertheless, if Roger senses any weakness that has carried over from that match, he will pounce.  He also has the rest advantage, with playing the earlier quarterfinal and getting by it quickly, whereas Rafa was on court for over two hours.

I understand that Rafa is the heavy favourite here and he will probably find a way to win, but I have my confidence in Roger that he can win this one.  The pieces are in place, and he just needs to go out and execute the gameplan - the same gameplan that he had in Australia.

Djokovic vs Isner

Djokovic is the heavy favourite here, but I think Isner will be his toughest match yet.  As I mentioned previously, Novak hasn't been returning great this tournament and we all know Isner has an incredible serve both on first and second serves.  The big American should also take belief in the fact that he overcame a guy that plays very similarly to Djokovic in Simon.  At the very least, there are similarities in that Djokovic will likely get many returns into play like Simon did.  Isner is very dangerous in that he can take over a match at any time when he is on his game, so Novak will have to be wary.

Hope to see two great semifinal matches!

Allez Roger!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

RF fights to IW QF

On Wednesday, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer advanced to the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open.  Juan Martin del Potro, John Isner, Nicolas Almagro, Gilles Simon, and David Nalbandian also went through.

Roger Federer had a quick turnaround from his late night match against Milos Raonic on Tuesday, and he faced Brazilian left-hander Thomaz Bellucci.  The lack of rest clearly showed early on from the Swiss Maestro, as he was broken early and then broken again to lose the first set 6-3.  Feeling a sense of urgency, Fed broke in the first game of the second set, just as he did against Raonic.  He started playing much better and he started to resemble the greatest player to ever play the game.  He broke again in the final game of the set to wrap it up 6-3.  In the third set it was even, much like the third set against Raonic.  Both men were holding serve until 4-4 when Fed got down 0-30.  The next few points would decide the fate of the match.  Roger came u with the goods and hit four unreturnable serves to quickly find his way out of trouble.  The next game, he won the match on his second match point to win his second comeback match in as many days.

Overall, it was a very good win for Roger, and it paralleled his semifinal win against Davydenko in Rotterdam.  He played poorly in the first set, but rebounded very nicely in the second and third sets.  Also like the Davydenko match, he was on the brink of defeat at 4-4 in the 3rd set when he was down 0-30 (he was down 0-40 vs Davydenko).  That Federer has come back from potential match-losing situations twice this year is a very good sign and it shows that he is very confident in his own abilities right now.  I hope that is highlighted the rest of the tournament in Indian Wells as Roger looks to capture his 3rd title here.


World #1 Novak Djokovic needed three sets to beat clean-hitting Spaniard Pablo Andujar 60 67(5) 62.  Although the two sets that Djokovic won were 6-0 and 6-2 sets, I can't help but feel that he is not playing at his very best.  He was getting pushed around by Andujar from the back of the court many times throughout the match and really needed to bring his best tennis to the table to get by the 45th ranked Spaniard.  Rafael Nadal breezed through Alexandr Dolgopolov 63 62 and faced no real trouble whatsoever.  Del Potro needed three sets to overcome Denis Istomin 76(2) 67(6) 62, and John Isner and Gilles Simon came through as they should against Matthew Ebden and Ryan Harrison.  The young American was down a set and a break but came back to win the second set, and he couldn't hold it as the 13th ranked Frenchman took him out easily in the third set.  There were two upsets on the day, as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych were both eliminated.  Tsonga was playing David Nalbandian and was serving for the match and was two points from victory but could not close out the match, and it cost him dearly.  He lost 36 75 63.  Tomas Berdych was demolished by Nicolas Almagro 64 60.  Almagro was surely fired up after their controversial match at the Australian Open, and he played the match with guns blazing at high velocity.

The quarterfinal matches are as follows:

(1) Novak Djokovic vs (12) Nicolas Almagro
(2) Rafael Nadal vs David Nalbandian
(3) Roger Federer vs (9) Juan Martin del Potro (what else is new?)
(11) John Isner vs (13) Gilles Simon

-  Djokovic vs Almagro and Isner vs Simon take place on Thursday, while Federer and Nadal play on Friday.  Almagro has played very good tennis lately and has the firepower to give Djokovic some big problems.  Whether he can play as well as he did against Tomas Berdych remains to be seen, but I expect a close match with the Spaniard bringing the fight to the World #1.
-  Rafael Nadal was given a big break (what else is new?) when Tsonga went out, and he gets Nalbandian.  The Argentine has had success against Nadal before, but don't expect much of a close match with the way Nadal has been playing.
-  Roger is already 3-0 against Delpo this year and this will be the fourth time in four successive tournaments that they will meet.  Unlike the other three matches, however, I believe del Potro will have a really great to chance to beat Roger with the Swiss Genius having the flu and not always looking his sharpest.  You also have to wonder whether a likely semi meeting with Rafa will weigh on Fed's mind at all.
-  Isner vs Simon is a straight toss up.  Simon may not have the big game to beat Isner, but he is a very good returner and he is consistent, and he will have his chances.  Take your pick.

I'll be back on Friday with a recap of all the quarterfinal action.

Until then,


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

2012 IW R3 Recap

3rd round action at the BNP Paribas Open was completed on Tuesday, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Juan Martin del Potro and Alexandr Dolgopolov advancing to the Round of 16.  There were two upsets as David Ferrer and Janko Tipsarevic were eliminated.  Ferrer was suffering from an illness.

The most anticipated match of the 3rd round was the final match of the 3rd round.  The great Roger Federer faced the big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic.  The crowd was buzzing right from the start and it was evident the players were locked in right from the start.  In the first 12 games of the match, there was literally nothing separating Federer and Raonic.  Both were holding serve with exceptional ease, and Roger could not even get many serves into play with how well the Canadian was hitting his biggest weapon.  Expectedly, the match went to a tiebreak, where both men held their service points until 4-3 Raonic when he gained the mini-break.  That was all he needed, and he served out the set to win the tiebreak 7-4.  Was it upset time?  Federer could barely get a return into play and would have to break the serve if he wanted to win.

The second set started with a bang, as Federer displayed some elite tennis to break Raonic's serve right away.  The tide had turned, and the Canadian was struggling to get his first serve in play.  Roger went on to capture the security break to go up 5-1, and went on to win the set 6-2.  The question after the set was whether or not Raonic could reset himself and raise his level of play to where it had been in the 1st set, and after Fed left the court for a toilet break, play began again.

The decisive 3rd set was very even, much like the 1st set, until 3-3 when the Swiss Maestro gained the crucial break with a devastating backhand pass.  Raonic hit a 136 mph serve out wide on the ad court, and Fed blocked it back like only he can.  The ball landed just over the net, drawing the Canadian forward, and when he hit it cross to Roger's backhand, the Swiss whipped it up the line and followed with an encouraging yell.  It was the only break that he needed in the 3rd set, and he went onto win the set 6-4.

Picture credit: Reuters/Danny Moloshok

Both Federer and Raonic played exceptionally well and gave the crowd at Indian Wells a match they will never forget.  The serving was elite, the big points were played well, and it was a very fun match to watch.  The way both men were holding serve was reminiscent of a past day when courts were faster and much more emphasis was placed on finesse rather than power.  Federer was in superb form and even though he lost the opening set, it was really one point that decided it.  Raonic should not be disappointed, because he pushed the greatest player ever to his very best and brought the greatness out of him.  The big difference in the match was the percentage of first serve points won.  Federer won 88% of first serves and Raonic only 76%.  That stat highlights how brilliantly Roger was returning because Raonic only lost one point (maybe two) in the first set when he got his first serve into play.  Another key stat is that Fed won 3/4 break points, and in this tournament, has converted on 8 of 10 break point chances, a simply outstanding number.

Rafael Nadal had a simple match against countryman Marcel Granollers, winning 61 64.  The first set was a total walk in the park, but Rafa was tested a little in the second set which is good to see.  Juan Martin del Potro saved six set points to beat Fernando Verdasco 62 76(6).  Verdasco held four set points and 4-5 and then two more in the tiebreak at 6-4 but he could not capitalize thanks to some slutch ply by the big Argentine.  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga came back from a set down to beat Radek Stepanek 67(2) 63 62.  The always unpredictable Alexandr Dolgopolov defeated Marcos Baghdatis 64 57 64 in over two hours of highly competitive tennis.  As previously mentioned, David Ferrer was upset by Denis Istomin 64 63.  The Spaniard was suffering from the illness going around the grounds, but I suspect playing clay court events after the Australian Open did not help matters either.  The transition is not easy to make.  #10 seed Janko Tipsarevic was taken out by David Nalbandian 63 36 63.  Nalbandian is always a dangerous player because of his elite returning and ball-striking ability.

Match of the Day:  Federer vs Raonic


Monday at Indian Wells featured the top half round 3 action, featuring Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, Mardy Fish, 3 of the top 10 players in the world.  Djokovic overcame South African Kevin Anderson 63 62 in well over an hour.  Despite the scoreline, Djokovic was tested in nearly every game as the big Anderson was pummeling the ball, and the #1 had to be at his sharpest.  For the most part, he was.  He did not drop serve and saved multiple break points.  In the night match, Tomas Berdych overcame crowd favourite Andy Roddick 63 46 62.  The Czech played a very good match against an inspired Roddick.  Andy, to me at least, seemed to be hitting the ball flatter and more aggressively, which is a great sign for his game.  I wish him the best the rest of the year.  Mardy Fish, who has been struggling so far this year, struggled even more when he lost to 24 year-old Australian Matthew Ebden 63 64.  There was some controversy at the end of the match when Fish was serving at 4-4 deuce and he yelled out "come on" after he hit a volley, but he did so before Ebden made his play on the ball.  The umpire was forced to call a hindrance, so Ebden won the point and then broke.  He then served out the match.  Fish did not shake the umpire's hand.

In other action on the day, John Isner fought through a close match with Juan Monaco 75 75.  Gilles Simon beat Stan Wawrinka 64 64, and Ryan Harrison defeated the Murray-beater, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 75 64.  Nicolas Almagro came through a tough 3-setter over Santiago Giraldo 46 62 76(2), and Pablo Andujar gets the dreadul task of facing Novak Djokovic in round 3 after beating Albert Ramos in straights.

Match of the Day:  Berdych vs Roddick

Here is the lineup for Wednesday's Round of 16 action:

(1) Novak Djokovic vs Pablo Andujar
(2) Rafael Nadal vs (21) Alexandr Dolgopolov
(3) Roger Federer vs Thomaz Bellucci
*Bellucci received a walkover after Davydenko withdrew due to illness
(6) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs David Nalbandian
(7) Tomas Berdych vs (12) Nicolas Almagro
(9) Juan Martin del Potro vs Denis Istomin
(11) John Isner vs Matthew Ebden
(13) Gilles Simon vs Ryan Harrison

It should be a great day of tennis.  Federer should handle Bellucci easily, and on top of that, he will be great practice for a potential match with Nadal in the semis.  All the favourites should get by, but there are some interesting matches.  Dolgopolov is a very tricky opponent and he could give Rafa some trouble with his explosive game.  Then again, Dolgo will be tired after playing a long match against Baghdatis, and Rafa is as fresh as a daisy.  Tsonga could be pushed by Nalbandian who has played great tennis this week.  And finally, my most anticipated matchup, Berdych vs Almagro.  If you remember what happened at the Australian Open (where Berdych didn't shake Almagro's hand after getting hit with the ball), then you will be intrigued with this one.  Overall, should be a fun day as we trim 16 down to 8.



Sunday, March 11, 2012

2012 IW R2 Recap

Round 2 action has been completed at the BNP Paribas Open, and there were many expected results, but also many seeds falling in their opening matches.

Roger Federer's Indian Wells campaign began on Sunday evening with a routine straight sets win over 19 year-old American Denis Kudla 64 61 in under an hour of play.  Right from the start, Federer was very casual, quickly getting out to a 4-1 lead thanks to a stretch of 14 straight points.  He was then broken however, but benefited from having the double break and won the set 6-4.  It was much of the same in the second set as he got out to a 4-0 lead and took the set 6-1.  It was a very simple match for the Swiss Maestro; as I have mentioned many times before, Fed never works up too much of a sweat in early round matches in which he is certain he will win.  This is especially the case today as he is older and must save energy for later in the tournaments when he plays his rivals in the top 10.  One big stat stood out for me, and that was his conversion rate of 5/6 on break point chances.  That will without a doubt serve him well (pun not intended) if he can convert like that as the tournament rolls on.  As for Denis Kudla, I liked what I saw out of him.  He is only 19 and he has a solid game that could develop very well as he progresses in his career.  I think he has a bright future.

Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (retirement), and Janko Tipsarevic also advanced easily into the 3rd round.  Tsonga played five games before his opponent, Llodra, retired.  Verdasco, Dolgopolov, Raonic, Graonllers, Stepanek, and Davydenko also moved on to the 3rd round.  Davydenko was given the benefit of playing lucky loser Bjorn Phau after #14 seed Gael Monfils withdrew due to an illness.


Saturday featured a handful of upsets, including a massive shocker, when Andy Murray was defeated by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 64 62.  Coming off a solid week in Dubai where he defeated the World #1 Djokovic, this has to be a truly devastating blow.  The only good news that can be taken from this if you are Murray is that he also went out in the 2nd round last year, so he doesn't lose any points.  Andy must recover from this shocking turn of events very quickly or else he could suffer a serious slump just like he did last year when he lost four consecutive matches from the Australian Open to Miami.  Overall, six seeds were eliminated, including Murray.  Richard Gasquet (16), Kei Nishikori (17), Florian Mayer (18), Viktor Troicki (25), and Julien Benneteau (32) were also cut.  On Sunday, Feliciano Lopez (15) lost to Marcos Baghdatis, Marin Cilic (24) was defeated by David Nalbandian, Jurgen Melzer (20) was taken out by Thomaz Bellucci, and Juan Ignacio Chela (31) was perhaps unsurprisingly dismissed by Denis Istomin.


#1 seed Novak Djokovic eased through qualifier Andrey Golubev 63 62, but it wasn't an entirely convincing performance.  It was an error-filled affair and Golubev practically handed the match over with his inconsistent play.  To me, Djokovic does not look like the same dominating player that he was in 2011.  He is just a little more cautious and not as risky, and his risk-taking ability was a huge part of his success in 2011.  Perhaps the massive weight of expectations is starting to catch up to him.  We will see.

Andy Roddick picked up a tremendous win over Poland's Lukasz Kubot 46 76(5) 63.  Andy was down 4-5 in the 2nd set, facing down defeat, and then everything turned around.  He started playing much better and started returning winners nearly every game.  It was a great win for the American and the crowd definitely appreciated his effort after crawling back from the brink of defeat.

Berdych, Fish, Isner, Almagro, Simon, Monaco, and Wawrinka also advanced to the 3rd round.


The 3rd round matches are as follows:

(1) Novak Djokovic vs (29) Kevin Anderson
(2) Rafael Nadal vs (26) Marcel Granollers
(3) Roger Federer vs (27) Milos Raonic (match of the 3rd round)
(5) David Ferrer vs Denis Istomin
(6) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs (28) Radek Stepanek
(7) Tomas Berdych vs (30) Andy Roddick
(8) Mardy Fish vs Matthew Ebden
(9) Juan Martin del Potro vs (29) Fernando Verdasco
(10) Janko Tipsarevic vs David Nalbandian
(11) John Isner vs (22) Juan Monaco
(12) Nicolas Almagro vs Santiago Giraldo
(13) Gilles Simon vs (23) Stan Wawrinka
(21) Alexandr Dolgopolov vs Marcos Baghdatis
Nikolay Davydenko vs Thomaz Bellucci
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs Ryan Harrison
Pablo Andujar vs Albert Ramos

Federer will have a very tough match against the dangerous Canadian Milos Raonic but I expect he will play well and pull through.  Djokovic could have a tough time with Kevin Anderson who is on a roll.  I doubt Nadal will be given any trouble by his countryman Granollers.  Overall it is a great lineup of 3rd round action with Simon/Wawrinka, Tipsarevic/Nalbandian, Delpo/Verdasco, Dolgopolov/Baghdatis, and Berdych/Roddick all looking to be competitive matches.

Looking forward to all the action,


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

2012 Indian Wells Preview

The first Masters 1000 tournament of 2012, Indian Wells, is right around the corner, and there are many questions to be answered.  Can Roger Federer continue his incredible form and succeed in Indian Wells this time around?  Can Novak Djokovic defend his title from last year?  How will Rafael Nadal look, after having not played since the Australian Open?  All these questions and more will come into play as the tournament goes on.  But for now, I preview the draw of the 2012 BNP Paribas Open from Indian Wells, California.

Check out the Indian Wells men's draw here.


Djokovic's quarter:

Top seed Novak Djokovic has a very manageable draw.  His 2nd round match, as with the other three players in the top four, should be an easy one.  Then in the 3rd round he will most likely play big South African Kevin Anderson, who triumphed at Delray Beach last week after claiming defeats of Andy Roddick and John Isner along the way.  That could be a tough match for Djokovic, but I doubt it.  In the 4th round the Serb could play Florian Mayer or Richard Gasquet, both beatable.  The quarters is where it gets interesting for the World #1, where he might play Tomas Berdych.  That would be a difficult match but with Tomas being as inconsistent as he is, I truly cannot see Djokovic losing that one.  In the semis he will, on paper, play #4 seed Andy Murray, who took out Djokovic in Dubai last week.  I could see that one going either way in all honesty - the Indian Wells courts suit Djokovic really well but Murray may have a psychological advantage knowing he has taken 4 sets off Djokovic already this year.

Murray's quarter:

The Scot will very likely meet Djokovic's countryman Viktor Troicki in the 3rd round.  All signs point to Murray in that one but we should not forget the French Open last year where Andy came so close to losing to Troicki, where he was down two sets to none.  The 4th round contains a potential match with Stan Wawrinka or Gilles Simon, neither of which should trouble him (though should and would are two very different things).  If all goes to plan, a very enticing quarterfinal match awaits, either against big John Isner or Mardy Fish.  If he plays Mardy then I am sure he will win but Isner may not be as easy with his massive serve and the slow, high-bouncing court.  Should he make it to the semis, which looks likely, then as aforementioned we will see a rematch of the Australian Open and Dubai semifinals.


Federer's quarter:

After facing either Denis Kudla or Dmitry Tursunov in his opening match, Roger has a very difficult draw, at least on paper.  A much anticipated 3rd round match looms against Canadian Milos Raonic, and it would be the first time the pair has met.  If Fed can play as well as he has on his 9-match winning streak, he should win, but the Canadian is very dangerous.  Still however, I could see it playing out like Roger's match against Ryan Harrison last year - close, but the more experienced Fed gets it done in the end.  Moving on, in the 4th round, a likely match against Gael Monfils or Jurgen Melzer awaits.  Roger holds a combined 9-2 record against them both and if he is on, he should have no trouble dispatching either one.  The quarterfinals is where it gets really interesting, where the Swiss Maestro could play David Ferrer or yet again, Juan Martin del Potro.  The good news for Roger is that he holds a combined 22-2 record against both Ferrer and Delpo, but he must be careful, especially if he plays the Argentine, since the slower courts really suit his game.  Ferrer is a guy that will never truly challenge Fed because he doesn't have the weapons to do so, but David is on a roll this season, amassing a 18-1 record with two titles.  Another factor is that Ferrer and del Potro will likely meet in the 4th round, and they could very well beat each other up so much that it will leave the winner ripe for the Fed Express.  If  Fed gets by his first 4 matches, he has a potential meeting with Rafael Nadal, which would be their 28th pro meeting.  A match against Nadal is tough no matter where it is, but it will be for absolute certainty this time around with the slow playing conditions that favour Rafa's game.

Nadal's quarter:

As usual, Rafa has a pretty easy draw.  He will likely play lefty Alejandro Falla in the 2nd round and then Jarkko Nieminen in the 3rd.  Rafa loves playing left-handed players and those two matches would be a great way for him to get back into the ease of playing matches again.  Nieminen is far more likely to give him trouble than Falla, and he has some firepower, but don't expect him to challenge Rafa in any way.  In the 4th round, Rafa may meet, oh look, another lefty, Feliciano Lopez, whom Nadal has tremendous success against.  The quarters could potentially be his first real test in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  That will be a tough match for Rafa and will push him to his limits with the big-hitting and serving ability of the Frenchman.


Potential early round matches:

2nd round:

Tsonga/Llodra or Gulbis

3rd round:

Del Potro/Verdasco

4th round:

 Federer/Monfils or Melzer
Del Potro/Ferrer
Murray/Wawrinka or Simon
Berdych or Roddick vs Almagro or Nishikori

I am on the fence on whether or not this will be a successful tournament for Roger.  He has not even made the final since 2006 (as with Miami) and the court surface definitely doesn't help matters.  However, with his improved defensive abilities, the slower courts could help also, and his baseline game could stay in riveting form and give him the chance to win the title on the final day.  It's tough to call what might happen.  I don't have winning expectations for Roger based on the results from the past five events at Indian Wells, but I do know that confidence is a magnificent beast, and when he is feeling good, the sky is the limit.  Right now, he is feeling VERY good, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a result for him that is different to last year, or the years before that.



Djokovic vs Berdych - Djokovic
Murray vs Isner - Murray
Federer vs del Potro (yet again!) - Federer
Nadal vs Tsonga - Tsonga


Djokovic vs Murray - Murray
Federer vs Tsonga - Federer


Murray vs Federer

Winner:  Federer

Am I being a bit of a fan by choosing Fed to win?  Perhaps.  But I do know what Roger is capable of when confident, and even though the courts don't ideally suit him, he does say he enjoys playing on them, so take that for what it's worth.
"I've had some great finals, big matches, and I always enjoy playing at Indian Wells. The surface really suits my game, my slice stays low, the kick goes up and the ball travels quickly through the air."
He also said that the Dubai win was fantastic and that he didn't expect it.
"I didn't expect to win in Dubai to be quite honest, I had a lot on my plate with the Davis Cup and Rotterdam.  Dubai has always been the type of tournament where you play really well or not play well. It can be over really quickly.  The first couple rounds were big for me and I ended up playing a great semis and a great final and really well in difficult conditions. I came out of Dubai feeling better than I felt at the end of Rotterdam."

Take those quotes to mean whatever you think.  All I know is that the Maestro is himself again.

Hope to see a fantastic week of tennis in Indian Wells!


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Key to Federer's Confidence

After picking up back-to-back titles in Rotterdam and Dubai, Roger Federer looks like a much different man than the one we saw only one year ago, where he lost to Novak Djokovic in the Dubai final in straight sets - a convincing straight sets defeat, too.  From the Australian Open all the way to the US Open, Federer did not win a title, and had only made two finals - the aforementioned Dubai final and the French Open.  In large part, Roger did not look anywhere near like the assured, aggressive, dominating force that we had seen in his incredible prime.  There was a changing of the guard, with Novak Djokovic having a surreal year and Rafael Nadal being right there behind him, losing in six successive finals.  There were times when it looked like Mr. Federer would never get his mojo back again - that same mojo that helped him win a record 16 Grand Slam singles titles.  Then everything changed.

After his 5th title win in Dubai only a few days ago, Roger commented on the change that has taken place in his game in the last six months - a stretch where he has won 33 of 35 matches, 5 of 7 tournaments entered - and he currently holds a 16-2 record on the season:

"I think the six weeks I took off after Davis Cup and the US Open was necessary if I wanted to play that much and be that successful. So that was a good decision.  Obviously I'm still sad I didn't go Shanghai last year because it's such a wonderful tournament. In hindsight, maybe it was the right thing to do.  I think I was just confident. I was playing aggressive. I was focused. I didn't doubt my ability. I'm defending much better than maybe I was in the middle of last year where I felt like I couldn't come out of tough defensive positions anymore. I was able to sort of turn it around. It started midway through the French Open and then through Wimbledon, even though I ended up losing. But I felt like my game was very good.  Now just have to keep it up."
Pure concentration.

 It is very evident that since the US Open finished, Roger has been a rejuvenated player.  He is confident, he is aggressive, and most importantly, he is healthy.  It's easy to judge quickly and say that confidence and added aggression alone is the big difference between the Federer of the past six months and the Federer for all of 2011 before that.  But it is much more than that.  He touched on it in the interviews after winning the Dubai title - he is defending much better than he was last year.  That is the one big difference between now and then - his defensive abilities.  In both Rotterdam and Dubai we saw Roger battle and fight to win points that surely looked as though he would lose.  Whether it be a full-stretch backhand slice or an effortless forehand on the dead run, he found ways to keep himself in points long enough to turn them around.

Here's my theory:  After the US Open, Roger, Paul Annacone, and Severin Luthi sat down and analyzed Roger's game over the past few months where he, for the majority of the time, struggled.  They noticed that he was slower, not as sharp, and therefore not as confident in his own abilities.  So in the six week break (with the exception of the Davis Cup tie), Federer trained.  He trained hard.  He worked on his endurance, his stamina, his reflexes, his conditioning - all valuable factors in being a solid defensive player.  At the same time, the elongated break allowed him the opportunity to get fully healthy again - something I suspect he was not for the middle stretch of 2011.  When the break ended, and Roger was ready to play his first tournament back, in Basel, he was prepared.  He was confident.  He knew that he had put the pieces together and was ready to have a grand finish to the year. 

Now, that is just my speculation.  I know how hard Roger trains off the court, and I just have the feeling that he dedicated a lot of time on improving the one deficiency in his game that was truly holding him back for achieving greatness - his defense, and, tied together with it, his movement.

Now, some of you might be wondering why defense is such a big part of what makes Federer successful.  Do not underestimate its value.  In today's baseline game, there are going to be many mid-to-long length rallies, and you must be prepared to fight out some points - and some of those points may come at times in the match that are crucially important to the outcome - as we saw in the Davydenko match in Rotterdam and the del Potro 2nd set tiebreak in Dubai.  In both instances (2nd set at 3-3 0-15 in Rotterdam and 6-6 in the 2nd set tiebreak in Dubai), Roger won a grueling rally that pushed his physical limits.  But he came out the winner in those rallies, and he went on to win those matches. 

I believe that Federer's rejuvenated defensive abilities have led to this streak he has been on since the US Open.  Confidence rises after winning a point you probably should have lost.  It also gives you the belief that you can hang in rallies for 20 or 30 shots and know you will come out on the better side in the end.  In Federer's game, when he defends well, he attacks well.  He sets up points properly in only the masterful way he knows how.  He does not get impatient and go for the high-risk shot before its there.  It all stems from his knowledge that he can bring himself out of any difficult situation that is thrown his way. 

When Roger struggles, it is because he goes for too much, and unforced errors start piling up.  He tries to put away the point early because he is uncomfortable with a rally going too long where he might be exposed.  Since the end of the US Open, with improved movement and defense, he no longer has that issue.  He is able to be aggressive within his comfort zone - and if he gets into his comfort zone, there is really no stopping him.  Right now, he is fit, he is healthy, and even for 30 years old, he moves better than nearly everyone in today's game. 

With the way Roger plays his game, defense and movement are so important - more important than many people realize.  If he is struggling physically, he will not be able to play to his fullest capabilities.  We saw many times in 2010 and 2011 Roger being overpowered by bigger, stronger hitters.  The reason for that is because he could not utilize his silky smooth movement and defense to full effect and track down the balls he would have normally gotten to.  However, with his movement and defense clicking at highly elite levels, what have we seen in the past six months?  3 wins over Tsonga.  3 wins over del Potro.  A very dominating performance against Berdych in Paris.  All three men, at one point, were able to overpower Roger.  Not anymore. 

The Maestro, with his improved defense and movement, added with rejuvenated confidence and aggression, has had a physical and mental breakthrough that nobody would have thought possible 6 months ago after the US Open.  Credit must be placed where credit is due, and full credit to Roger for getting back to his very best in an assertive effort to eliminate the issues that were hampering him in 2011.

With much pleasure,


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Federer wins Title #72

The one and only Roger Federer won his 72nd career title in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Championships, defeating Andy Murray 7-5 6-4 en route to his 5th Dubai title.  He was also the champion in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2007.  With his 2nd title win of the season so far, the Swiss Maestro has had his best start to a season since 2007.  He had not won two titles in the first two months of the season since then.

The final between Federer and Murray was eagerly anticipated and the crowd was hot.  The tension was there as well, as neither player gave the other any openings in the first few games of the match.  Keep in mind also that Federer and Murray had not met on court in over a year so there was definitely a feeling out process.  At 3-2 in the first, Murray held two break points on Federer's serve with the chance to take a stranglehold of the set.  However, he was unable to capitalize, and a few games later Roger earned the crucial break at 5-5.  He went onto hold to take the set 7-5.  In the second set, Federer got an early break to go up 3-1.  It would not last long though as a few poor decisions cost him a break - the first time his serve had been broken all week - and they were even again at 3-3.  The momentum was seemingly all with Murray and Fed would have to fight hard to take the second set.  Thankfully for him, he did.  At 4-4 he got the decisive break when Murray played a tight game and Roger took advantage.  He closed out the match in dramatic fashion, finishing with five straight inside out forehands (four at deuce, one on match point) to achieve victory in Dubai for the fifth time in the twenty year history of the event.

Tactically, Roger played a great match, which we all knew he would need to do.  He was striking the ball beautifully from the ground as he had been doing throughout the week, and he never let Murray dictate the play like the Scot was able to do against Djokovic the day before.  Murray was a tad too predictable in his strategy whereas Federer was at his varietal best, mixing spin, angle, slice, and pace in a magnificent harmony of the strings quartet.  Murray tried to attack the Federer backhand way too much, and Roger had it read most times.  He basically set up camp in the ad side and dared Andy to try to attack his forehand.  The Scot didn't do so, and Roger kept pouncing like a panther on short mid court balls that Murray was trying desperately to angle to Fed's backhand.  This was the exact same problem that Andy had in the Australian Open final in 2010, which is interesting, because I figured the match would play pretty similarly in terms of the tactics utilized by both men.

Overall, it was a superb week for Roger and he fully deserved to win the title.  He did not drop a set and was only broken once, to Murray in the final.  He now holds a 9-match winning streak, and has won five of the past seven tournaments he has entered, dating back to his US Open defeat to Djokovic last year.  He has won 35 of his past 37 matches and 40 of his past 43 if you count since the start of the US Open.  I don't care who you are, that is an incredible record to have over a six month period and Federer looks in imperious form as he heads into the all-important spring that leads up to the French Open and Wimbledon.  I am very excited about what the future holds for the Maestro.  Will he win a Masters 1000 title leading up to the French Open?  Will he surpass Rafael Nadal for the #2 ranking?  Can he go even further than that and regain his #1 ranking that will make him the leader for number of weeks at the #1 position?  Much of what the next few months may do to the rankings depends on Djokovic and Nadal and whether or not they can defend their many points until Wimbledon, but if Roger can win a Masters 1000 title and then claim the French Open or Wimbledon, then you never know.  Stranger things have happened.  Who would have thought that Nadal would lose his #1 ranking to Federer in 2009 after the Spaniard's Australian Open triumph?  Nothing is ever safe in tennis, and you never know what might happen.  All I know is that whatever does happen, Federer's recent run of imperious form makes the next few months very intriguing for the top 3.  May the Maestro continue to play his best!

Enjoy the win Federer fans.  It is certainly a very happy time right now, but let's hope it doesn't end here!  Fed has much more to accomplish in 2012, and I wish him all the best for the rest of the season!  May he so gloriously win many more titles on his continuing path of greatness!


a VERY happy Kyle.

PS:  Beautiful boat trophy!

PS II:  The Dubai crowds were incredible all week long and their energy and excitement made watching the matches a very special experience!  The crowds were particularly fantastic in Fed's final two matches.  I can see why the players loving playing in the Dubai Duty Free Championships - it is a wonderfully organized event with supreme player accommodations and an excellent atmosphere.  I hope the tournament may flourish for the next twenty years and the next twenty after that.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Federer Into Dubai Final

The great Roger Federer has advanced to his second consecutive tournament final with a 76(5) 76(6) win over Juan Martin del Potro.  Federer now has 4 straight wins over del Potro and has won the past 9 sets.  It is Roger's seventh Dubai final in his illustrious career:  he won in 2003 (def. Jiri Novak), 2004 (def. Feliciano Lopez), 2005 (def. Ivan Ljubicic), and 2007 (def. Mikhail Youzhny).  His other two final appearances were in 2006 and 2011 when he lost to Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

The match was very evenly contested with both men holding serve with relative ease.  Neither player was broken en route to two tiebreak sets.  In the first set tiebreaker, Federer went up 6-2 before del Potro pushed back to make it 6-5.  On Roger's final set point, he put away a forehand winner to take the set.  In the 2nd set tiebreaker, Roger quickly got down 5-0 after letting some points slip away.  He got the next two points on his own serve but Delpo won the next one to take a commanding 6-2 advantage.  One would normally think that there would be no possible way that Federer could win the set, but never say never in tennis.  Fed won the next three points to put himself in the same position that del Potro had in the first set; 6-5 down with the opponent to serve the final set point.  Del Potro could not save that final set point in the first set, but Roger could.  After the change of ends at 6-6, the best point of the tournament was played:  a highly dramatic, very intense 29-shot rally that had Federer pushed from side to side, hitting many pressured backhands until the big Argentine finally clipped the net with a backhand and the ball bounced back on his side.  Roger closed out the match on the next point to advance to the final.

Statistically speaking, it was yet another solid performance from Federer.  He served at 61% with 11 aces and 89% of points won off the first serve.  He had six break point opportunities in which he could not capitalize but that is a combination of his own faults and del Potro's stellar big point play.  The Maestro also won 62% of his second serves, a sign that he is also playing very well from the ground.  Throughout the entire week, Roger has been hitting his second serve very well, with great depth, placement, and variety.  Thanks to his efficient second ball, it allows him to win more free points than he usually would, and it gives him the confidence to hit the ball with authority off the ground as he is very seldom getting pushed back upon the return shooting back at him.  It is well-known in tennis that serving well is usually very important to winning matches, especially against the best players, and Fed has shown tremendous skill with his serve the entire week.  This bodes very well for him because when he is serving well, the rest of his game follows suit and he can open up his shoulders a little more freely.  Overall, it was a great, serve-dominated match with two fun, dramatic tiebreakers.  Coming back from 6-2 down in the 2nd set breaker to win six straight points should give Fed some great confidence heading into the final.  It was very reminiscent of the Wimbledon final in 2009 when Fed came back from 6-2 down as well to rack up six straight points and take that pivotal second set that could have conceivably won Andy Roddick the match.

In the first semifinal of the day, Novak Djokovic, the champion of the last three years in Dubai, lost to #3 seed and World #4 Andy Murray 62 75, in a rematch of their great Australian Open semifinal match a month ago.  The first four games were even, with both players trading holds, but then Murray reeled off four straight games to take the set 6-2.  Djokovic was not looking like his supreme self; he was shaky from the baseline and Murray was brilliant to take his time away.  The second set started with Andy roaring out to a 3-0 lead and the #1 player in the world looking unmotivated and unusually dejected.  After Nole got on the board at 3-1, the two men traded service holds until Murray was serving for the match at 5-3.  Then, Novak broke, and he finally showed some signs of life.  He got back to 5-5, but that is as far as he would get as he was broken at 5-6 to lose the set and thus the match.


On the scoreboard, 62 75 looks better than 62 63, which is what it should have been.  However, this was a very thorough victory from the Scot.  He played with aggression on the serve and from the back of the court.  He played the kind of tennis that is needed for him to break through at the Grand Slam level.  It was a masterful win and you have to credit Murray for coming through in such a big match after a devastating loss at the Australian Open to the same man.  After a very shaky start in the opening round, Murray has looked better and better with each passing match and looks to be in great form heading into the final against Federer.

So there you have it, the Dubai final, Roger Federer vs Andy Murray.  I would like to note that I predicted this final match-up, so I win!  The match should be very compelling.  Federer and Murray play very technical against one another, with Murray trying to attack the Federer backhand and Federer trying to attack the consistent Murray defense.  I have no doubt that we will see many cat-and-mouse exchanges as both guys will look to utilize drop shots, angles, slices, and any other form of shot making that will give them the edge.  It is worth noting that all 14 of their matches have been played on a hardcourt, which is absolutely amazing.  Murray has the 8-6 advantage in the head-to-head, but that is meaningless right now as they have not played since the end of 2010 in the World Tour Finals.  I will say, however, that many of Murray's victories have come with Federer not at his best;  Masters Cup 2008 when Fed had a back injury (and still nearly won), Indian Wells 2009 when Fed was in a confidence crisis, Toronto 2010 after a tough Wimbledon defeat and a tough week in Toronto, and Shanghai 2010 after the tough US Open loss to Djokovic, where he struggled mightily.  In the times when Federer has played well against Murray, he has won; the US Open 2008 final, the Cincinnati 2009 semifinal, the Australian Open 2010 final, and the World Tour Finals in 2009 and 2010.

For much of his career, Murray has been criticized for playing too defensively in the important matches against the top players.  This week in Dubai, however, Andy has made the attempt to play much more aggressively and it has paid off.  His serve is as good as ever and he is actually taking the initiative to attack and go after his shots in the rallies.  That mindset certainly helped him defeat Djokovic and he will need to do the same if he wants to walk away with the title.  For Federer, he has served magnificently all week long.  He has not been broken at all and has played his past three matches without facing a break point, and even more impressively, he hasn't even been to deuce in his past three wins.  Against Murray, who is a great returner, Roger will need to serve with the same ability that he has shown thus far, and that includes hitting great second serves.  Because Murray is such a great returner though, it would probably be in his best interests to have a high first serve percentage, and with the way he is serving he is certainly capable of that.  Overall, it should be a great final to cap off a great week in Dubai.  Both Federer and Murray are playing at a very high level which should make for some great tennis and some great points.  I give the edge to Federer because of the way he has been serving and backing up his serve with sharp baseline play.  He will need to return much better than he has all week, but I believe he can and will do so.  There is also the factor that Roger will be heading into the final coming off a hard-fought semi, and as we saw in Rotterdam two weeks ago, Fed does very well the match after a tough victory.  If he is sharp right from the word "go" in the final, as he was in the Rotterdam final, he will have an outstanding chance to win.

Enjoy the final!