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!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Federer Escapes Benneteau in Thriller

Only a day after Rafael Nadal was beaten in shocking fashion by Lukas Rosol, Roger Federer survived a scare of his own, fighting back from two sets down to overcome Julien Benneteau to advance to the 4th round.

From the beginning, it was clear that Roger was feeling the nerves and the pressure of the moment - Nadal had just been eliminated less than 24 hours later, and while that would bring Fed some relief, in the end, it did not.  Add that to the roof being on to start and Benneteau playing some inspired tennis, and Roger quickly got into trouble.

After dropping the first set 6-4, Roger broke early in the 2nd, only to get broken back.  They held serve until the tiebreak, and just before that at 4-5, Roger had 3 set points but could not convert on one, with some sensational play by the Frenchman.  Roger lost his serve on the first point of the breaker and from there it was all downhill as he lost it seven points to three.

Right from the start of the 3rd set, the tide turned.  Roger got an early break, and Benneteau slipped on the grass while approaching the net, which seemed to stun him.  The Fed took the set 6-2 rather easily, but there was still more hard work to be done.

The 4th set may very well go down as the one of the greatest mental performances Roger has ever put forth.  He was serving from behind the entire set, and was down 15-30 at 5-6 - two points away from ending that remarkable 32 straight quarterfinal streak.  Roger fought to a tiebreak where he got a mini-break at 3-2, only to give it right back.  He also gained a mini-break at 5-4 when, you guessed it, he gave it right back.  He had a set point at 6-5 on Benneteau's serve but could not convert, and they headed to the changeover at 6-6.  Benneteau sailed a backhand long, and Roger had a set point, but this time on his own serve.  He stepped around and crushed a fearhand down the line to which Julien could not reply, and Federer let out a huge roar to his box and ran to his chair.  (That is the first time I have ever seen Roger do that in my life.)

Will you EVER see Roger more pumped?

In the 5th, Roger got the break right away at 2-1 with a scintillating (love that word!) forehand return winner.  Benneteau started to cramp and had to see the trainer.  He was a little bit slower, and that is all the advantage Roger needed to capitalize.  He consolidated the break to go up 3-1, and from there he did not look back.  He broke again and served out the match in fine fashion to win 46 67(3) 62 76(6) 61 in nearly four hours of spectacular tennis.

Quite simply put, Roger was under immense pressure and he fought like the true champion that he is.  Just think about what he was facing: losing before the quarters for the first time since the French Open in 2004; losing the chance to win the Wimbledon title that he has openly stated he wants more than anything (and with it, the #1 ranking).  To have all that kind of pressure on you and be within two points of losing that one chance 5 TIMES shows what kind of heart he displays.  Roger Federer, without a shadow of a doubt, now more than ever, shows why he is the greatest tennis player ever and why he is a critically underrated fighter.

Full credit must be given to Benneteau, as he played the best match of his life.  In the end however, Roger broke him down physically, which was smart to do as Julien had had very little match play in the past few months compared to other pros with the wrist injury he suffered.  For being 30 years old and suffering numerous injuries he has had lately, what he did was inspirational.

For Roger, he looked very relieved to have gotten through.  He next plays Xavier Malisse of Belgium, a 31 year-old from Roger's generation.  He took out Fernando Verdasco in 5 sets, but like Roger, he will have the weekend to rest.  I see Fed getting back to his dominance in that one (as he usually does after gutsy wins), although I still expect at least one or two very close sets (Xavier is a decent grass player).

All the best, and I am so happy to see Roger still alive in this tournament.  I was screaming and yelling like a complete madman during that fourth set tiebreak, and I am so proud of Roger for fighting through that tremendous challenge with such poise and determination, like only a champion like him can.

#Allez17 #H17TORY ##3down4togo

PS - I am not looking past Malisse, not after this scare.  With Rosol's upset over Rafa, it seems as if other players are gaining belief that they previously did not have.  The rest of the matches for all the top guys could very well prove to be challenges if these underdogs find inspiration to play exceptional tennis for long stretches of time.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nadal Stunned by 100th Ranked Rosol

In an absolute stunner on centre court Thursday, two time Wimbledon champion and 11-time major winner Rafael Nadal was upset by the 100th ranked player in the world, 6'5 Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic in a classic 5-set thriller.

The #2 seed looked uncomfortable the entire match and lost 6-7(9) 64 64 26 64 in 3 hours and 18 minutes.  To his credit, Rosol, a massive hitter reminiscent of Robin Soderling, played the match of his life.  In fact, the match was similar to that famous Roland Garros match where Rafa lost - there was a sense that the match was not on his racquet but Rosol's - something that is very rare for the Spaniard.

The match started out well for Nadal as he broke early, but then Rosol surprisingly broke right back the next game.  That was the first sign that the Czech would be a force to be reckoned with on the day.  The set went along on serve until it came to a tiebreak.  Nadal saved two set points (after saving the first one at 5-4 before the breaker), and took the first set when Rosol netted a shaky short forehand.

At this point, it looked like Rafa had the match won, as surely Rosol would lower his level.  He did not, to most everyone's surprise.  He took the 2nd set 6-4 after some inspiring play, and suddenly, we had a match.  The third set was eerily similar to the 2nd, with Rosol breaking early and holding serve with shocking ease.  He took the set and all of a sudden, an upset was on the cards.

Rafa stormed back in the 4th and gave everything he had.  He gained the break - the first one he got since early in the first set - and let out his trademark Rafa fist-pumps.  He was energized and he brought the crowd back on his side.  He took the set 6-2 after breaking Rosol oncemore.


The official came out and called for the roof to be closed.  The players were sent off court, and waited over 40 minutes before play resumed.  When it did, Rosol was a man possessed.  He broke Rafa in the very first game and then played the most solid tennis of his life by holding 5 more times, and the final 3 at love, to pull off one of the biggest upsets of all time (I personally think it is).  For the first time since Wimbledon 2005, Rafael Nadal lost in the 2nd round of a major.

My thoughts

In my opinion, Lukas Rosol played the greatest tennis match than any human in history has ever played.  Right from the beginning, he was solid as a rock, and when he needed holds, he got them, and with consummate ease.  Rafa could not do anything, and the upset was not a result of poor play from Rafa (he hit 41 winners to only 16 unforced errors), but of Rosol's unstoppable power tennis.  The Czech hit 65 winners to only 29 unforced errors - a very small number considering how huge he was hitting the ball.

Mentally, Rosol was flawless.  He got inside Nadal's head time and time again, and his intensity never wavered, when all you could think is that it would at some point at which Rafa would capitalize.  As I said, Rafa played a very good match of his own, but it was not enough against Rosol, who was just in the zone, and there was no getting him out of it.  This is the problem Rafa has with these big, tall hitters - if they get hot, Rafa does not have the weapons to neutralize their power like Federer does.

Another thing I want to touch on is Rafa's poor behaviour in the match - and it finally becoming noticed by the tennis media.  In the 3rd set, when Rosol was starting to really overpower Nadal, the Spaniard purposefully elbowed Lukas casually as they walked by each other on the changeover.  It was a classless, gutless move by a desperate man.  The event was caused by Rafa's unhappiness with Rosol moving before Nadal was serving - a baseless accusation.

In the 5th set, at 4-3, Rosol hit an ace on the first point.  He was ready to serve, looked up, and Rafa went for the towel.  No fooling anyone Rafa - who needs a towel after they get aced?  There was also an incident where Rosol hit an ace but Nadal claimed he was not ready and the point was replayed, which Rosol lost.  Rafa was continually trying to slow down play on Rosol's serve (he was serving at a pace even faster than Federer and Roddick like to) even though the rules state that you must play at your opponent's pace on serve.

I have never seen Rafa act worse than he did in this match.  He managed to show in 3 hours why I cannot stand him as a tennis player.  He tried every dirty trick in the book to try to get Rosol out of rhythm and it did not work - a refreshing change of pace for once.  The bottom line is that Rafa did not deserve to win the match because he got thoroughly outplayed in the big moments and his behaviour was absolutely atrocious.

Nadal going out opens up that half of the draw in a major way.  Murray now has his best chance ever to finally make the Wimbledon final, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer also have new hope.  On the other side, Federer now knows that he only has to go through Djokovic, and not both Nole and Rafa, and if he keeps playing the sensational tennis that he did in the first two rounds, he's almost a dead lock for the semis.

The rest of the tournament shall be very interesting with Rafa's departure, and I cannot wait to see it unfold.  This has been a dream come true - I have been wanting this to happen for so long now and it finally did.  All I have to say is thank you Lukas Rosol for you excellence - you gave millions of fans a memory they will never, ever forget.

PS: I forgot to say something about Rosol's own gamesmanship in the match - but unlike Rafa, his was tasteful and appropriate.  Before the match even started, as the coin toss happened, Rosol was bouncing up and down like a prizefighter - just like Rafa does.  He raced back to the baseline just like Rafa does.  Right from the very start, he was fearless, and he had the intention of winning right from the beginning.  That was a HUGE factor in the win, because he had endless belief in himself.

PSII: Ru-an, one of the best Federer bloggers out there, posted this gem of an article that explains better than I ever could what you have to do to beat Rafa and why Rosol did.  Check it out.  It is a remarkable piece from a great writer, and he summarized wonderfully why it was so refreshing to see a player stand up to Nadal and cut past his bull.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Federer Clinics Fognini

After a triple breadstick performance against Albert Ramos in the first round, Roger Federer displayed much of the same great form in dispatching Fabio Fognini 61 63 62 in one hour and fourteen minutes.

 Federer was in cruise control from the very start and broke Fognini twice in the opening set to collect his fourth straight 6-1 set of the tournament.  If Fognini was to have any chance whatsoever he would need a good start and he didn't get one - largely due to the supreme nature of Roger's play.  The second set was a little bit more competitive but Roger still broke twice to take it 6-3.  The third set was more of the same and he again broke twice (what's tennis without consistency?) to win the match without really breaking a sweat.  He did not face a break point the entire match.

It is such a treat to see Roger play this well, especially after the disappointment that was Roland Garros.  He looks sharper than he has in a very long time on these grass courts (since 2009), and he seems to be doing everything right to prepare himself for the daunting task ahead of having to go through Djokovic and Nadal.  He's serving masterfully, his forehand and backhand look wickedly good, and he is attacking brilliantly - he seems to being make a more concerted effort to be more aggressive, as he said he was passive the past two years.

Edit:  Prince Charles of Wales and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, were in the audience to see Roger play.  Prince Charles had not been at Wimbledon in 42 years, and he only stayed to see Federer play.  That is a telling figure, because the last time he was at Wimbledon it was all serve and volleying, and perhaps he does not take as kindly to the modern power baseline game as others?  To stay only to see the great Roger Federer could be a testament to his appreciation of the dying variety in Roger's game.

Hanging out with the royalty, looking very royal himself.
Sharperer.  35 winners to 8 unforced errors!

The stats from the match were very telling of just how sharp Roger is: 35 winners, 8 unforced errors, 13 aces, 21/23 at net, 6/8 break points converted, and 90% first serve points won.  That is absolutely ridiculous.  In fact, through his two matches thus far, these are the overall numbers:

68 winners, 18 unforced errors (in 45 games played)
46/57 at net
2 hours 33 minutes on court
14/26 break points won
22 aces to 3 double faults
81/118 first serves in = 69%
66/81 first serve points won = 81%
36 games won, 9 games lost

To recap other action.....


- Rafa Nadal was in trouble early on Tuesday against Thomaz Bellucci when he went down 4-0 in the first set but then rallied to win comfortably 76(0) 63 62.  Disappointing that Bellucci could not win the first set, but I guess it is not surprising that he would fold.  Andy Murray cruised by Nikolay Davydenko 61 61 64.  Juan Martin del Potro beat Robin Haase in four sets, and young David Goffin, who made his name at the French Open by making it to the 4th round and by taking a set off Federer, beat Bernard Tomic in four sets.

Mardy Fish made his return to tennis with a straight sets win over Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, Jo Tsonga looked healthy in a straight-setter over Lleyton Hewitt, and big Kevin Anderson was upset by Grigor Dimitrov.  Philipp Kohlschreiber came through in a 6-2 5th set against Tommy Haas, while Nicolas Almagro did the same in a 6-4 decider against Olivier Rochus in the 1st round.  Feliciano Lopez was upset by fellow lefty Jarkko Nieminen in 4.

Brian Baker continued to make his return to tennis by getting to the 2nd round, and British future star James Ward entered the 2nd round with a win over Pablo Andujar.  Kei Nishikori, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Marin Cilic, and Marcos Baghdatis also advanced without much trouble.

Other results from Wednesday.....

Novak Djokovic took out Ryan Harrison in a triple quatre (64 64 64) to win in just under two hours.  The Serb was in trouble midway through the second set when he had to save six break points, but he saved all of them and went on to win rather comfortably in the end.  An interesting stat is that Djokovic came to net 40 times, which we are not accustomed to seeing him doing regularly in matches.  The winners to UFE ratio was 31/15 for Djokovic and 30/14 for Harrison, so the numbers were very even there.

Andy Roddick made his way to the 2nd round by finishing off Jamie Baker in straights, whereas Janko Tipsarevic needed 4 sets to dispatch Ryan Sweeting after dropping the opener.  David Ferrer and Milos Raonic swept through to the 2nd round and Richard Gasquet and Mikhail Youzhny eased into the 3rd round.  Juan Monaco advanced rather easily in a 4-set win over Jeremy Chardy.  Almagro, playing on back to back days, got by Guillaume Rufin of France in 4 as well.  Stan Wawrinka lost to Jurgen Melzer in a 8-6 5th set.  Sad to see Stan go out so early.

Roger next plays Julien Benneteau, who took out Michael Russell in 4.  I do not expext the match to be as easy as the Ramos and Fognini ones, but Roger should get by comfortably with a scoreline similar to 3, 4, and 3.

Be back on Friday.  Until then, #Allez17 and #H17TORY!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Federer Obliterates Ramos

After an unexpected loss to Tommy Haas in the final of Halle, Roger Federer was unforgiving in his Wimbledon opener, destroying World #43 Albert Ramos 61 61 61 in one hour and nineteen minutes.  

Love it.

It was a masterclass display from the Swiss Maestro, dispatching his opponent in a swift, orderly, and focused manner.  There was only one tiny blip on the radar when Fed got broken early in the match, but apart from that, it was a genius display of all-court attacking tennis from the 6-time Wimbledon champion.  It was probably the cleanest match he has played in a while, perhaps since his win against Andreas Seppi in Rome.

Statistically, it was a near perfect match from Federer.  He hit 9 aces to one double fault, got 69% of his first serves in play, was 25 of 34 at the net, and broke eight times.  He also hit 33 winners to only 10 unforced errors.  He won 73% of the points on his first serve, but that would have likely been higher if he had played more service games.  Overall, a thoroughly dominating performance, although he was playing a clay-court specialist who was only playing in his second ever grass match.

The key stat for me is the 25/34 at the net.  That he came in 34 times in 21 games is quite remarkable, and it could very well mean that Roger is putting more of an emphasis on attacking in these Championships.  He will need to do so if he wants to beat Djokovic and Nadal back-to-back.

In other first day action....

Novak Djokovic swept by former World #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero 63 63 61.  Good performance from Nole after a shaky start where he got broken by the Spaniard.  His next opponent is Ryan Harrison, who should be a great man to test Novak's ability on the grass.

There were two big upsets, however, as the #6 seed Berdych went out shockingly in straight sets to Ernests Gulbis in three tiebreaks, and big John Isner went out to Alejandro Falla in a 7-5 5th set.  The Isner loss probably isn't as shocking as the Berdych loss because Isner had never been past the second round at Wimbledon.  The big serve suits the grass, you would think, but perhaps his big, wind-up groundstrokes don't prove to be the best on the fast grass in the first week.

Janko Tipsarevic, Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon, Juan Monaco, Fernando Verdasco, Dr. Mikhail Youzhny, Florian Mayer, and Julien Benneteau all advanced to the 2nd round.  Andreas Seppi was upset by Denis Istomin 8-6 in the 5th.

The Fed plays Italian Fabio Fognini in the second round.

Looking forward to the rest of the Championships, especially if Roger keeps up that magnificent form he showed in his first match!  #Allez17 #H17TORY

Friday, June 22, 2012

Wimbledon 2012 Draw Analysis

The Wimbledon draw was released on Friday.  Surprisingly, Roger Federer received a pretty good draw and Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray were dealt less than favourable hands.  Play starts on Monday.

Check out the draw here:   http://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/scores/draws/ms/index.html

Top Half (Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer)

Novak Djokovic's Quarter

The reigning Wimbledon champion has his work cut out for him right from the very beginning, as he faces 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in the first round.  Not the easiest of starts; Ferrero might be way past his prime, but he is still a great player and can give Novak some trouble if the Serb isn't up to par after a few weeks off since his loss in the French Open final.  In the second round, the #1 could play Ryan Harrison, which would also be an early round tester.  In the 3rd round, he is likely to face Radek Stepanek, who's serve-and-volley game suits the grass courts, especially in the first week when conditions are faster.  In the Round of 16, Juan Monaco is the top seed that awaits, and he shouldn't give Nole too much trouble, even though he is a very good player.  In the quarters, the Serb may meet Tomas Berdych or Nicolas Almagro.

Roger Federer's Quarter

The Swiss Master and 6-time Wimbledon champion will start his bid for his 17th major and ascension to the World #1 against Spaniard lefty Albert Ramos.  Should be straightforward enough, and Ramos is a lefty and it never hurts for Roger to get a feel for playing them before any potential meeting with Nadal.  Speaking of lefties, Roger could meet Michael Llodra in the second round if the veteran Frenchman can get by Fabio Fognini.  In the third round, Roger is likely to meet 29th seed Julien Benneteau, and in the fourth round, he might meet another Frenchman Gilles Simon or Fernando Verdasco.  Of the two, Roger would prefer Verdasco as Simon has been a thorn in his side ever since they first played against each other in Toronto 2008.  On a rare occasion, Roger has gotten a lesser evil in his quarterfinal, with big John Isner or Janko Tipsarevic being his likely opponents. 

Bottom Half (Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray)

Rafael Nadal's Quarter

For the first time in a long time, Rafa Nadal has gotten a tough draw!  He starts off against fellow lefty Thomaz Bellucci, a former #21 in the world.  The Brazilian has struggled lately however he is not a nobody.  Having said that, Rafa owns lefties so he'll likely win with the loss of only 4 games.  In the second round, the Bull will meet either Lukas Rosol or Ivan Dodig, who if you might remember, upset Rafa in Montreal last year.  (He also defeated Tsonga in Queens.)  The third round is where it gets interesting, where Rafa will likely face the man who bested him in Halle, Philipp Kohlschreiber, or the man that bested the man that bested him in Halle, Tommy Haas.  (Was that confusing for you?)  Both guys are great grass players and for Rafa to play either of them in the first week where the grass has not slowed down as much could pose a problem for the 11-time Grand Slam champion.  The fourth round will probably be easier with his opponents probably being Dolgopolov or Feliciano Lopez (whom Nadal owns at Grand Slam level, but does have a win on grass against him).  In the quarters his top seeds are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish.  Mardy is just recovering from an illness and Tsonga injured his finger in Queens, so his status remains to be seen - if he can play, will he be as good as he can be, and will he even make the quarters?

Andy Murray's Quarter

Andy Murray just cannot catch a break these days.  Bidding to win his first Grand Slam title, the Scot has the toughest draw of the top 4.  He faces former World #3 Nikolay Davydenko in the first round, followed by potential matches with Ivo Karlovic in the 2nd round and Kevin Anderson in the 3rd round (Anderson beat Murray in Montreal last year).  In the 4th round he may meet none other than Milos Raonic, who seems to be the favourite in every tournament for upsetting one of the top guys, and for good reason (the guy got game!)  In the quarters, David Ferrer and Juan Martin del Potro await, both of whom can beat Andy if he has a bad day.

Verdict:  This is a good draw!

I like the way this draw has been set up.  After seemingly many years of Federer getting tough draws and Nadal getting easy ones, the tables have turned.  Murray, with his recent form, looks like he may not make it to the semis, and Djokovic, who's least decorated surface is grass, has some tests in the early rounds as he navigates the path to the semis.  Somehow, I feel Djokovic will have a mental letdown after that exhausting French Open. 

As simple as the draw appears for Roger, the bottom line is that he still has to go out there and play great tennis.  Benneteau has a win over Fed, as does Simon.  Even Llodra can be a very tricky opponent on grass with his aggressive nature and volleying ability.  John Isner is a dangerous opponent in the quarters even if he appears less intimidating than Tsonga, Berdych, or del Potro.

Nadal's quarter is dangerous because he may be playing guys that have beat him, and/or guys that are good on grass.  Dodig just beat a Top 10 player in Queens; Kohlschreiber just beat Nadal in Halle; Tommy Haas is full of confidence and is a superb grass player.  Dolgopolov is a mental nutcase sometimes, but a very talented mental nutcase.  I don't expect Nadal to get to the quarters as easily as he did at the French Open, and the funny thing is that he'll likely catch a break if Tsonga is unhealthy and goes out before the quarters.

All in all, it should be a great tournament, and I have full confidence that Roger can come out on top at the end of the fortnight and win his 17th major, 7th Wimbledon, and regain the #1 ranking.  (He'll automatically do it if he wins since he's in Novak's half.)  Fed has been marking this part of the year on his calendar for a very long time, and despite his recent troubles since Madrid, I feel like he will give everything he has got and play some sensational tennis along the way.  If the stars line up and Djokovic and/or Nadal falter, that could be all Roger needs.  Even f they don't, I have total belief that grass is the one surface where Roger has an edge over the top two (well, other than indoor hardcourt). And with the #1 on the line, something of which Roger has stated he wants again, I have no doubt the Swiss Maestro will open a can of beauty on the field and give it his best shot.

May the force be with him....


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Federer Defeated in Halle Final

Playing in final #105 did not bring good fortune to Roger Federer, as he lost to former rival and good friend Tommy Haas 76(5) 64 in the final match at Halle.  Haas played the best match he's contested in three years, and Roger could not find the right form when he needed it.  But full credit to Haas, who played phenomenally well and certainly deserved to win.

Roger started the match in fine form, breaking Haas right away and jumping to a 3-1 lead.  He had a couple of break points to go up the double break but could not convert, and that's when the momentum switched into Tommy's favour.  He broke back and Roger needed to be clutch to send the set to a tiebreak.  Fed opened the breaker with a 2-0 lead but then relinquished it and gave up four straight points.  Haas closed out the set with a massive serve at 6-5.  The second set was even until the 9th game when Tommy broke and then he served out the match.  A well-deserved win for a guy that has had more than his fair share of struggle throughout his career.

Tommy Haas is one of tennis's most special talents and even though I am a big Roger fan, and am slightly disappointed that he lost, I can't help but feel happy for the German.  It was obvious that the win meant more for Tommy than it did Roger, and both seemed to know it, and played accordingly.  As far as Fed is concerned, he got some good match practice on the grass and got some good match play with the tight win over Raonic.  I think he'll be very motivated to do well at Wimbledon.

Speaking of motivation, if Fed wins Wimbledon and Djokovic doesn't make the final, Fed regains the #1 spot, so you know that he'll be giving it his all once the real play begins.  Seeing as it's likely Roger will be placed in Djokovic's half, a semifinal match between them would be absolutely huge, and it'd be Roger's biggest semifinal match at Wimbledon since his 2003 semi vs Andy Roddick.

Immediately after the match, I heard plenty of panic among Federer fans in the form of "Fed lost to HAAS in Halle so therefore that means he'll likely get upset early at Wimbledon OH NO!"  Well, first of all, that's not a very positive attitude to take.  Second of all, Roger did say in his press conference that he had been suffering through a cold.  Considering he could have gone out in the quarters to Raonic, a loss to a very deserving friend in Haas is the lesser evil.  I'm pleased that he got some good match play and he still looks very good on the grass.  He served well all week and that is a good sign because he will need that serve to be firing on all cylinders if he is to win Wimbledon.

I said many months ago that Roger winning close matches will help him when the right time comes.  He's had a handful of them this year, and that is one of the major reasons why he already has four titles.  He came through another tough challenge against Raonic and even though he faltered in the end against Haas, there is really no reason to worry just yet.  Let's give ourselves a break and wait until he's a set from losing in Wimbledon before we panic and start jumping to conclusions, shall we?

Losing to Tommy Haas is not a shameful thing.  The guy is a former World #2 and even now, is still one of the most talented players on tour.  As he showed throughout the week, he is a formidable opponent on grass, and it was plainly obvious that he was inspired and that was what led to his winning the title.  And the assumption that Roger played poorly in the final is kind of blown out of proportion.  Sure, his level dropped after losing the break in the first set, but that was also because Haas was on his game and did not let up for one second.  Had Tommy not been playing so magnificently, it would be Roger winning the title because his standard form would have been good enough to beat a regular-form Haas.  On the bright side, as I said before, Roger was serving amazingly well and hit many clutch serves throughout the week, and after the bad serving performance in Roland Garros, Roger will take comfort in the effectiveness of that shot. (He was only broken 3 times in 4 matches.)

Upwards and onwards to Wimbledon!

PS:  In my opinion, it is better for Roger to lose to guys like Roddick and Haas over the younger generation of Raonic, del Potro, and the likes.  Because Roger wants to play a few more years, the young guys are the ones that are going to be the real consistent threats week in and week out.  Losing to Haas seemed to not effect Roger at all, and while this may seem like a bad thing, I think it's a good thing.  Roger is obviously putting everything he has into Wimbledon with everything that is at stake (#17, the #1), and I have no doubt that when his favourite tournament gets underway, he will be as sharp as the knife by which his native land is named after.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Federer into 7th Halle Final

As we have seen so many times throughout Roger Federer's illustrious career, he follows up a tough, nail-biting win with an absolute masterclass.  This was the case in the Halle semifinals, where, after coming off a tight win against Milos Raonic (for the third time this year), Federer was in peak form in beating Mikhail Youzhny 61 64 in one hour.

Roger was never in trouble from start to finish, and broke Youzhny twice in the opening set to take it in 21 minutes.  It was the same in the second set as he went up a double break lead at 5-2.  To his credit, Youzhny got one of the breaks back and fought valiantly, saving a few match points on his own serve before forcing Roger to close it out on his own serve, which he did without any difficulty.

Is there a more beautiful sight than Federer in motion?

If there was any negative energy after the French Open semifinal loss, then reaching the Halle final and being back on grass will certainly help get him back into a better state of mind in his preparation for Wimbledon.  I say "if" there was any negative energy because I really think Roger was content (or more content than usual) about losing that match, knowing the challenge that would arise from winning it.

Tommy Haas upset Philipp Kohlschreiber 76(5) 75.  What Tommy has done since the French Open began has been quite remarkable.  He has now won 12 of his past 14 matches (8-5 before that in 2012), including five straight at the French Open when he had to come through qualifying and made it to the 3rd round.  He has wins over Tsonga Baghdatis, Berdych, and now Kohlschreiber.  For a guy that has struggled with health throughout his career, to be 34 years old and doing this well, even in a short stretch, is remarkable.

As great as Haas has been playing, and he has beaten some very good players en route to this Halle final, he now has to come up against Roger, who has to be the overwhelming favourite.  However, the match should be close because Haas is a tremendous grass court player. Federer has won their past two meetings in Halle, both in the semifinals, in 2005, which was 64 76(9), and 2006, which was 64 67(4) 63.

The Halle fans love Roger but obviously they keep the most special place in the heart for one of their own.  If Haas is to have any realistic chance to actually win, he'll need to feed off the support from the crowd.  Roger is in such fine form though that even that may not be enough.  The Fed is on a mission right now and he doesn't look like he's going to throw a pity party for the home player. (Even if he does have massive respect for said home player.)

Look at that floating hair!

It should be a great final featuring two men that are a combined 64 years in age! (And 30 year-old David Nalbandian is in the Queens final.  Hooray for the old guys!)  It has been really refreshing to see such fine grass court tennis this week after the long clay season.  The grass at Halle is very special and vintage because it is extremely fast and low bouncing, something of which Wimbledon is not anymore.  I guess the older guys have an advantage on a quick short-point and serve-dominated court because all these young players have grown up on slower surfaces, and especially grass lately, with Wimbledon becoming slower than ever.

PS:  A note of praise for one-handed backhanders:  in the four quarterfinal matches, four one-handers played four two-handers, and all the one-handers won.  Oh yeah!  Being impartial to one-handed backhand players since I use one myself, it is pretty neat to see, since there are far less one-handers than there ever used to be.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Federer Overcomes Raonic Test

For the third time in 2012, Roger Federer beat young Canadian superstar Milos Raonic in a close three-set match that saw Federer need to come from behind.  As expected, it was a serve dominated affair, with only one break of serve throughout the contest, and once again it came down to the final few points to decide it.

The first set, almost inevitably, ended in a tiebreak, as it has so often when these two play this year.  (They have played 4 tiebreaks including this match.) Raonic got the edge at when he got the mini-break at 3-2, and he did not relinquish his lead from there, and closed the set 7 points to 4.  Immediately into the second set, Roger broke the big man's serve and that's all he needed as he held out from there to take the set 6-4.  The third set, once again, almost inevitably, went into a tiebreak, where Roger got the mini-break at 2-2.  That would prove to be all the opening he needed as he got another mini-break at 5-2, which brought him to 6-3 after a Raonic ace, and Roger converted on his second chance to win by putting away an easy backhand volley into the open court.  Fed won 67(4) 64 76(3) in one hour and fifty nine minutes.

Federer did not face a break point the entire match.

Once again, both Federer and Raonic played very well.  They seem to be a perfect fit for each other in terms of putting on quality matches.  There's no doubt that Fed enjoys facing the challenge of playing a big server, as it makes him focus much more intently on his own service games, knowing that if he gets broken, he likely loses the set.

Statistically, it was a great match from Roger.  He served at 69% while not facing a break point and won 82% of his first serve points and a whopping 83% on the second serve!  Raonic served an incredible 25 aces (to Fed's 9) wile serving at 66%, but he only won 53% of the points on his second serve, which might have ended up costing him in the end.

Rafa Nadal lost in straight sets to defending champion Philipp Kohlschreiber 63 64.  I knew Kohl would be a dangerous opponent and I was not wrong.  He was strong from start to finish and did not get broken once despite the fact that he only made 50% of his first serves.

In my view, it was a mistake for Rafa to play in Halle, since the court is very quick and he really only came for the money, which should be no reason to play a tournament, if you ask me.  It is obvious that he is physically and mentally drained after the long clay court season.  For him and his fans' sake, I hope that his tank isn't empty to play his best at Wimbledon.

The bigger upset than Nadal losing to Kohlschreiber was 34 year-old Tommy Haas beating Tomas Berdych 64 36 75.  The former World #2 has been in very good form recently, beating the #5 Tsonga in Munich and making a 3rd round run at Roland Garros, where he had to win three qualifying matches just to get into the event.  I really enjoy watching Tommy play, so it's inspring to see him play so well for his age.  He is only 19 match wins away from 500, and has aspirations to win another title.

The semifinal matches are Federer vs Youzhny (who beat Stepanek in 3) and Kohlshreiber vs Haas.  Expect Federer and Kohlschreiber to both win in straight sets.  Both Youzhny and Haas have been playing very well but Fed and Kohli have been better, and are much fresher.

Fed is a combined 28-2 vs Youzhny (12-0), Haas (10-2), and Kohlschreiber (6-0), so he has certainly become the overwhelming favourite with the departures of Nadal and Berdych.  He will still have two tough matches to win however, and you know he will stay sharp.

Two matches for title #75!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Federer Wins Halle Opener

Roger Federer was back in fine form in his first grass court match of the season, defeating German Florian Mayer 64 75 in one hour and fourteen minutes to advance to the quarterfinals, where he will have a very tough test against Milos Raonic, the young Canadian Phenom.

Federer made the transition from slow clay to fast grass as fast as he could, knowing that he was facing a Top 30 player and a very tricky opponent who has an unorthodox style.  He displayed his wide array of shots in a fun contest that had fun rallies and incredible finesse play.  The first set was very even but Roger finally broke through in the 10th game when he was up 5-4, to automatically win him the set.  It was more of the same in the second set when in the 12th game Roger got the break to win the match, 64 75.

Overall, I was happy with Roger's play.  The transition from clay to grass is never easy at first with the vast difference in speed and playing style.  Besides, Mayer is no slouch (he beat Rafa last year in Shanghai) and he already had match play on the grass.  It was very nice to see Fed play on a fast court, since the last time he played on one was back in February in Dubai.  The clay court season always feels too long, especially now with Indian Wells and Miami featuring such slow hardcourts, it basically feels like a clay court season from Indian Wells to the French Open.

On a fast court like Dubai, Halle, and Paris, Roger gets to showcase his variety and his skill.  They are the few surfaces where he gets to play like he did in his earlier years when he didn't rely as much on baseline dominance as much as all-out net-attacking 90's style tennis.  I truly cherish these tournaments where Roger can let loose and be himself, instead of trying to adapt his game to beat elite defenders in long baseline rallies which does not suit his playing style.

Anyway, in other action, Nadal defeated Lukas Lacko 75 61.  It was a tricky first set for Rafa but after he got it in the bag there was little question as to who would win.  Also, the aging veteran Tommy Haas upset clay-court specialist Marcel Granollers in straight sets 63 64.  Granollers is #22 in the world.  Last year's champion Philipp Kohlschreiber came through in 3 sets against Lukasz Kubot to advance to his 7th Halle quarterfinals.  On Wednesday, Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic, and Radek Stepanek all eased through their matches, while the #4 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov was upset by Mikhail Youzhny.

Quarterfinal Thoughts:

Federer will have his hands full with Milos Raonic.  Roger has beaten him twice this year, in Indian Wells and Madrid, but both encounters were very tricky affairs, especially Madrid.  This fast Halle surfaces suits Raonic's big-serving game to perfection, but if Roger can successfully play him the way he has played all other big men throughout the course of his career, he should be able to edge by.  If he does win, he will likely have a much easier semifinal match against Stepanek or Youzhny.

Nadal faces Kohlschreiber, who loves playing in Halle and loves the surface.  Rafa must be real careful in this one because Philipp is a very dangerous opponent.  The 7-time French Open champion also might need to find a different way to beat him other than his attack-the one-hander strategy (that he employs so successfully against Federer) since the Halle grass is very fast and low bouncing.

With Stepanek and Youzhny, take your pick.  I pick Stepanek.  In the Berdych/Haas clash, it should be one-sided.  I love Tommy and he has been in surprisingly good form in recent months, but he should get demolished by the Big Berd.

Federer vs Raonic and Nadal vs Kohlschreiber should feature some great tennis, so do not miss them if you can't help it!  Both matches could very well go into a third set and both the matchups pose problems for the favourites (Federer and Nadal) that could see them upset.

Until tomorrow,


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nadal Wins 7th French Open

If there was any doubt, there isn't any more:  Rafael Nadal is the greatest clay court tennis player to ever play the game.  In a two-day final, delayed by rain, Rafa overcame his biggest rival Novak Djokovic 64 63 26 75 to win his seventh Roland Garros title, and seventh in the past eight years.  He still only has one loss at the event, to Robin Soderling in 2009.

Nadal mesmerized Djokovic in the first two sets with his unstoppable clay court play, and it looked like the Serb was feeling the effects of his two five-setters en route to the final.  The match looked like it would end comfortably in straight sets once Nadal got up 2-0 in the 3rd set, but then Djokovic rallied off 8 consecutive games to take a stranglehold in the 4th set, 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 1-2 (up a break).  And then the rain came, which halted play for the night, much to Rafa's pleasure.  When they came back the day after, Rafa started the way he did to start the match, breaking Novak right away and eventually breaking again at 6-5 on a Djokovic double fault to claim his 7th French Open and 11th Grand Slam overall.

The match seemed to be a reverse of the Wimbledon and US Open from last year.  In those bouts, Djokovic dominated the first two sets, and then Rafa came back to force a 4th, only to have Djokovic shut the door there.  In this encounter, Rafa was the one that dominated the first two sets, and it was Nole that had to pull out every trick in the book to force a 4th set.  It even looked like he might force a 5th at one point, and he very well might have before rain forced play to discontinue for the day.

Once play was stopped, Rafa had some choice words for the tournament referee, as he felt that play should have been stopped much earlier because of the rain.  Of course, he likely had some safety concerns, but his main problem was that he had just lost 8 of the previous 9 games, and the momentum swing could be attributed to the heavy rainfall.  Rafa's heavy topspin groundstrokes started having less and less effect and Djokovic was starting to take control of the rallies and find his imperious rhythm from the baseline.  The rain was a big factor why Djokovic made it a match in the 3rd set when he was down a break.  It is worth noting that when Rafa won the next day, it wasn't as rainy and there was only a very brief stop while showers passed by the courts.  When he finally got match point, the skies were clear and the sun was shining through.

Djokovic was clearly under a lot of pressure under the circumstances - trying to win his 4th Grand Slam in a row - something of which both Federer (twice) and Nadal failed to do.  You never know, of course, but it may have been the final chance for Novak to win 4 straight.  Also, he has never won the French Open and was playing in his 1st Roland Garros final, and that surely had to be weighing on his mind, especially with the King of Clay on the other side of the net.  However, I have no doubt Novak will have many more chances to win the French Open and complete the Career Slam.

As for Nadal, who knows how many more French Opens he will win?  Nine?  Ten?  It's very possible.  It's likely that as Rafa gets older, he will spend the most amount of energy on claiming the one prize he cherishes most in the arena that he now owns.  That will certainly be the case if his health does not remain perfect, where it will be harder for him to win on hardcourt with his knee problems.

Personally, I didn't find the match as enthralling from a tennis point of view as the previous three Slam finals these two played, but with the enormity of the occasion, it was expected, I guess.  They would certainly have to go to great efforts to try to top their Australian Open epic.

With the clay court season out of the way, it is on to Halle where play has already begun.  Rafa will need to make the quick transition from a slow clay court to a fast grass court very quickly if he wants to win the title on Sunday.  I would be surprised if Rafa wins the event, seeing as he hasn't played in Halle for a very long time, and the grass is much quicker than at Wimbledon.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Federer Defeated by Djokovic in FO Semis

The match with history on the line will be played in the Roland Garros final with Rafael Nadal looking to claim his record-breaking 7th French Open title and Novak Djokovic attempting to become the first man since Rod Laver to win four Grand Slams in a row.

In the first semi of the day, Rafael Nadal destroyed David Ferrer 62 62 61.  That's all that really needs to be said there.  Ferrer never tested his compatriot and Rafa cruised yet again to the final with the loss of a set.

The rematch of the epic semifinal last year between Federer and Djokovic was not even close to the great match we witnessed last year, from either player, and certainly not Roger.  In the end, the Swiss Maestro lost disappointingly in straight sets, 64 75 63.

Roger started out sharp and took a break early to go up 3-2.  Unfortunately, he could not consolidate it, and lost 4 of the last 5 games to lose the first in a set that looked promising at the beginning.  The second set also started the way Fed wanted, getting up an early double break at 3-0 with some very inspired play.  He lost both breaks however, only to break another time.  And then he couldn't hold that, when he was serving for the set at 5-4.  Perhaps predictably, he lost the set 7-5.  The third did not start like the first two for Roger and he went down a break, which pretty much signaled the end.  Overall, it was a promising but disappointing loss for Roger, and in the end it seemed he went down without much of a fight.

Federer was "off" and out of rhythm the entire tournament.  The only time when he really found it was in the final three sets against del Potro when he had his back against the wall.  Against Djokovic, he played some inspired tennis for short stretches but then couldn't play his best when he needed to (trying to consolidate breaks).  Overall, I don't think Roger's heart was in this tournament like it is for the other majors and that is why I don't truly feel that disappointed with the loss.

Consciously, Roger likely really wanted to win the title, as he does with every tournament he enters.  Subconsciously though, I feel that he withered at the thought of having to go through Djokovic and Nadal to win, when there would be a very small chance of him actually winning the title on Sunday.  Last year, Roger played arguably the best he's ever played at Roland Garros, and still fell short against Nadal.  With Nadal much more imperious than he was last year, and with Roger struggling to find his best form, there is little to suggest that Fed would have been able to give Rafa the scare that he gave him a year ago.  In the back of his mind, I think he knew he didn't have what it would take to go through both Djokovic and Nadal, knowing how demanding those matches would be on his body and mind.

Although Roger struggled throughout the tournament, it wasn't a total loss.  He broke the Grand Slam wins record in the 2nd round with his win over Adrian Ungur.  He made it to his 32nd straight Grand Slam quarterfinal and made it to his 31st Slam semifinal, which ties a record with Jimmy ConnorsHe will look to break that record at the place where it all started, Wimbledon.

Speaking of Wimbledon, Roger should be fresher than he was last year heading into his favourite Slam, and hopefully that will benefit him in helping him try to win his 7th title at SW19.  Last year he was likely mentally drained after the tremendous French Open he had, and even then, he was one set away from making the semis.  This year, he will be wholly focused on Wimbledon with the Olympics coming up at the same venue.  Also, there is a very good chance that Nadal and Djokovic wear each other out in the Roland Garros final and that can only be a good thing for Roger's chances.  Besides that, if Djokovic beats Nadal, Fed will hold the #2 ranking again.

I won't say much about the French Open final.  I believe Rafa will win in 4 for a few reasons.  One, he has looked unstoppable and has not dropped a set en route to the final.  Two, this is his best surface and this is the one place where it is nearly impossible to beat him.  Three, Djokovic will be under so much pressure to win his 4th straight major, and he has already lost convincingly to Rafa two times on clay this year.

Rafa has looked ridiculous the entire tournament, making very good clay courters look very, very average (Monaco, Almagro, Ferrer).  Djokovic has had his struggles, and even in the semi he didn't really do much more than play consistent and keep the ball in play and let Roger miss.  At any other major against Rafa where he would go for his 4th straight I would say he has a very good chance of winning but I can't see him winning at Roland Garros.  From the start, this has been Rafa's tournament, and I don't think even his toughest rival getting in his way for a 7th French Open and 11th major overall.

As for me, I am already onto Halle, where Roger will look to win his 6th title there.  I will watch the Roland Garros final with limited interest as I don't really find Nadal vs Djokovic matches that entertaining.  I have very high hopes for Roger's chances at Wimbledon and I think everything that happened at this French Open for him will give the man a very good chance to win his 17th major come the first week of July.

Will be back to recap the men's final,


Thursday, June 07, 2012

French Open Semifinals Preview

The top 3 players are once again in the final four of a Grand Slam, but unlike the Australian Open and the US Open last year, the #4 player won't be joining them.  Instead, it will be the always-consistent David Ferrer as he tries to do the (nearly) impossible - defeat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

(2) Rafael Nadal vs (6) David Ferrer

I'll start with the Ferrer/Nadal match because it's the most predictable of the two semis.  No matter how much I try, I can't really think of a single way that Ferrer ends up winning this match.  He is a guy that is competitive against Rafa for a set at a time, and then disappears after that.  He took Nadal to a tiebreak in the first set of their recent matches in Rome and Barcelona, lost them, and then Rafa cruised to the finish line.  I see the same thing happened in this match; we could see a very tight first set and then Rafa, with how great he has been playing, could run away with it.

At the very least, perhaps Ferrer will have the ability to take a set off The King of Clay.  He ha played tremendously well to get to the semis, only dropping a set, and if he can capitalize on his opportunities, he may have a chance (and he will have his fair share of opportunities).  In the end, however, Rafa is on a mission to capture his 7th French Open title and he won't let David Ferrer end that mission early.

I'll give David a set, just to be generous.

Nadal def. Ferrer 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1.

(1) Novak Djokovic vs (3) Roger Federer

This is a rematch of last year's epic semifinal where Federer broke Djokovic's streak of 43 straight match wins.  Roger played superb in that match, and he will need to do so again if he wants to repeat history.  In that match one year ago, both men were in better form, but that does not mean we won't see another dramatic match this time around.

There are a few reasons why I think Federer is going to win.  One, Djokovic has all the pressure on him to capture his 4th straight Slam.  Two, he has never made a French Open final whereas Roger has made it to five.  Three, Novak seems to be more uncomfortable moving on this Roland Garros red clay than any other surface that he plays on.  Last year, Roger utilized the tactic of going behind Nole, wrong footing him, and he ended up being very successful with that.

The biggest factor in the outcome of this match could be what has preceded it.  Djokovic has had to come through two incredibly taxing matches back to back, and that toll could be too much for him in the end.  I'm not talking so much physical strain as I am mental.  Against Seppi, Novak was down two sets to love.  Against Tsonga, two sets to one.  He saved four match points against Jo, and came through a tough fourth set versus the Italian.  If he faces a very sharp Roger Federer, the last thing you want to be is fatigued in any way - that's when the Swiss will jump all over you.

What makes this match interesting is that neither man has played their best to get to the semis.  Federer has not found his rhythm (or "riddum" as he says), although he may have found some of it against del Potro which he can carry over (he will sure want to), and Djokovic has been a mixed bag all tournament long.  He eased through the first few rounds without struggling, yet he didn't look his best.  And then, of course, he has been really pushed vs Seppi and Tsonga and did extremely well to get through those tough tests.

Federer will certainly be motivated to avenge the US Open defeat, and because he is better on the Roland Garros red clay, has had less physical and mental strain, and he can take solace in the fact that he beat Djokovic here last year, when the #1 was arguably better than he has been this year.  Whatever happens, it should be very close and (hopefully) very good tennis.

Federer def. Djokovic 6-4, 6-7(3), 7-5, 2-6, 6-3.

Enjoy the matches, and I'll be back to wrap up after their completion.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Federer Fights to Make 31st Slam Semi

The quarterfinal play on Tuesday was edge-of-your-seat drama, as Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic needed 5 sets to advance to the semifinals with wins over del Potro and Tsonga, where they will meet again in a rematch of last year's semi, where Federer ended Novak's 41-match winning streak in an incredible display of tennis.

The Mighty Fed started off very slow, and the conditions suited Delpo's massive game to the letter.  It was overcast, rainy, and slow, all which helped JMDP implement his unstoppable baseline game.  Roger looked one step behind for the first set and lost it 6-3.  In the second he went up a break but then lost it, and the set went to a tiebreak, where the Argentine played too well, and in what seemed like too short a time, Fed was down two sets to love.  It would be a long road back if he wanted to get by.

The long road back started very quickly, as Roger improved his play at the start of the third and immediately gained control.  Delpo was starting to feel the effects of his knee injury and that little drop in level gave Roger all the opening he needed as he stormed through the third 6-2.  The fourth was much of the same and The Fedster dished out a bagel (his 2nd of the year, first was against Llodra in Dubai), and all of a sudden, almost too quickly, they were in a 5th set.

Delpo looked much sharper at the start of the decider and held two break points in the first game but Roger was able to fight them off, crucially.  As usually happens in matches where one man cannot take the break, Delpo was broken, and that was all Roger needed.  The big guy fought valiantly to try to get back in the set, but Roger was too good and he took the final set 5-3.  The match ended after 3 hours and 14 minutes of play, usually very short for a five set match, but Roger did win the final 3 sets 6-2, 6-0, and 6-3.

Two great sportsmen with nothing but respect for each other.

There is no doubt, and Roger said this himself, that Delpo's injury troubles popping up after the second set really turned the tide of the match.  However, Fed also raised the level of his play, and in the end, the Argentine never really had a chance in the final three sets, apart from two break points in the first game of the fifth set.  The match reminded me a lot of the match against Tommy Haas three years ago, without the third set drama (where Fed was down 3-4 30-40 and hit that sensational inside-out forehand winner).

Statistically, Roger was good.  He hit 59 winners to 43 unforced errors, and hit 11 aces to 1 double fault.  He was also 25 of 30 at the net, which is a sign that he does very well when he gets into net (do it more!).  In the final three sets, Fed was attacking much more and controlling the points, something he seemed reluctant to do in the first two sets.  He also changed it up more than he did in the first two, where he was practically feeding Delpo balls to hammer back at him.  He utilized smarter slices and angles and served better also.

Roger knew he escaped a terrible situation.

Novak Djokovic saved 4 match points to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a classic 5-setter.  The #1 took the first set 6-1 and Tsonga looked uninspired.  Then Nole went up a break in the second, and that seemed to wake the Frenchman up as he broke back and won the second set 7-5.  He continued his fantastic play and unbelievably, took the third set 7-5 as well.

The fourth set was where all the magic happened.  Jo was fighting valiantly to close out the match, and to get to the semis, which would be his biggest accomplishment, at least personally.  Novak was not going to go away easily however, and saved four match points, all on serve, to take it to a tiebreak, which was hectic.  Novak went up 2-0.  Then Jo made it 4-2.  Then Nole made it 6-4.  Then Jo made it 6-6.  And then finally, Novak got the edge and took the tiebreak 8-6.  Crazy stuff.

After that, the air went out of the tires for Jo, and he lost the fifth set rather easily, which is understandable knowing how close he was to making it to the semifinals of the French Open.  It was obvious that if Djokovic won the 4th set, he would break Jo's spirit, and that's exactly what he did.  Credit to the Frenchman though - he played three of the best sets of tennis he could have ever played on clay, and just faced a Novak Djokovic that was too strong in the head and faced his four match points fearlessly.

I feel bad for Jo, as I'm sure everybody did.  He had his face in his towel after the match, and Nole, being a good sportsman, let him have the first interview on court.  A win for Jo would have meant the world to him, especially with such pressure to do well in his home country's major.  Unfortunately, he ran into a Wall of Steel, Djokovic, who just would not falter, no matter how many match points he had to save.

The other two semifinal matches will be determined tomorrow, with Nadal vs Almagro and Murray vs Ferrer.  They will be in tough to top the action that was seen in the two brilliant five-setters we saw today, but I'm sure they will try.  And fail.  In other news, if Nadal and Murray win, I will have gotten all my 4th round and quarterfinal predictions correct, so yay for me!

Since the semifinals will be played on Friday, I will go into detail on the two matches on Wednesday or Thursday.  All I will say now is that it should be a good match between Roger and Novak and I hope they bring out their best tennis like last year.  I give Roger the edge personally, because I feel he is a better mover on this Roland Garros surface.  But enough of previewing that, it shall be saved for later.

Hope you enjoyed the tennis like I did,


Monday, June 04, 2012

French Open 4th Round-Up

Goffin will likely remember this match for the rest of his life.
 The final 8 in Paris was set on Sunday and Monday, and all the victors were no real surprises.  Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer, Juan Martin del Potro, and Nicolas Almagro all got through.  Only Djokovic, Federer, and Tsonga were really threatened at all.

Roger Federer had a tougher go of things than expected against Belgian lucky loser David Goffin, who idolized Fed growing up.  Surprisingly, the young, skinny 21 year-old took the first set 7-5 after playing some spectacular unsuspecting tennis.  The youngster kept the pressure on the 16-time Slam champion in the second set and was up 15-30 at 4-5, attempting to create shocking headlines.  Roger got his feet back under him, however, and won the next three games to take the 2nd set 7-5.

After taking that set, the Maestro settled into the match and never really had any trouble from there on out.  He took the final two sets 6-2 and 6-4.  By picking up the win, Roger advanced to his 32nd straight quarterfinal.  He has not failed to make it there in eight years, which I can't really put into words how incredible that is. (By comparison, Rafa only has made 11 straight quarters, and Djokovic 12 straight.)

Talking with his idol.
Speaking of Djokovic, he nearly went out to Italian Andreas Seppi, going down two sets to none before prevailing 46 67(5) 63 75 63 in almost 4 hours of play.  Djokovic claimed himself that nothing went right but he just kept believing and that is what got him through the day.  I knew that Nole hadn't been exactly easing through the first three rounds, but I was still shocked to see that he needed 5 sets to get by Seppi.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga gained revenge on Stan Wawrinka (who defeated him last year) by recording a 5-set win over the Swiss.  Tsonga took a two set lead to start the match, but just like last year, Stan came rolling back and took the next two sets.  Darkness halted play when Jo was up 4-2 in the fifth and they resumed the next day, where Stan broke right back and got to 4-4 before Jo broke in the 10th game of the set to advance to his first French Open quarterfinal.

Richard Gasquet did not have the same luck on his side.  After blowing past Andy Murray in the first set of their encounter, the Scot roared back with some inspired play and handily took the match in the next three sets, 16 64 61 62.  It was probably some of the sharpest tennis I have ever seen Andy play overall, not just on clay.  It was a masterclass over the final three sets.

Rafa did not face any challenge whatsoever against Juan Monaco, beating him soundly 62 60 60.  Monaco was coming off a tough 5-setter vs Milos Raonic and obviously did not have anything left in the tank to give Rafa a competitive match.  Not that he would have had a much of a chance if he was totally rested, but you get my point....

Nicolas Almagro waits for Rafa in the quarterfinals (fun prize to get for making the quarters!).  Nico was "technically" the underdog against Tipsarevic, being the lower seed, but he is the far better clay courter, and won 64 64 64 without much hassle.  Like Rafa, he has not dropped a set in the tournament thus far.  Another guy who hasn't dropped a set yet is David Ferrer, who dismissed Marcel Granollers easily 63 62 60.

As I predicted, Juan Martin del Potro defeated Tomas Berdych in 4 sets.  Delpo went up two sets to one before darkness came, and then went up a break in the 4th when play resumed, only to have Tomas break back and even it up.  That was not to last as the Argentine broke in the 12th game to win the match, 76(6) 16 63 75.

Quarterfinal Predictions

(3) Federer vs (9) del Potro

Roger has beaten Delpo 4 times in 2012 and 5 since last summer, and has taken 11 straight sets against the big man.  However, del Potro is very dangerous and Roger knows that, and he cannot be underestimated.  He did take Roger to 5 three years ago, and even though he has seemingly gotten "owned" by Roger this year, anything can happen.  Fed will have to improve his level of play from the first four rounds if he hopes to make his 31st Grand Slam semifinal in his past 36 Grand Slams.

Federer in 4:  6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(4)

(1) Djokovic vs (5) Tsonga

Both Djokovic and Tsonga will be coming off five-setters.  Both know each other, and both generally play well when they face off.  Jo has the firepower to beat Novak, especially with the way Nole looks to be struggling in the movement department at the moment.  The question is whether his head will hold up or not.  I expect Djokovic to win but it won't be easy.

Djokovic in 4:  6-2, 3-6, 6-1, 7-5

(2) Nadal vs (12) Almagro

Two years ago, Rafa was tested by the fiery Spaniard in two tiebreaks, ultimately winning 76 76 64.  Rafa is looking remarkable at the moment, and there is no way anybody should pick Almagro, but I think Nico will be able to steal a set.  If he tested Rafa two years ago, he can do it again now, when he is much better and more confident.  He has also played a fine tournament so far.

Nadal in 4:  6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2

(4) Murray vs (6) Ferrer

This is a match where both guys are playing sensationally well.  Ferrer has breezed through his first four matches and Andy, while struggling initially, looked ridiculously good against Gasquet.  This is a toss up to me, but I think Andy will take it in the end, maybe in 5.

Murray in 5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4

All the matches should be very entertaining and hopefully close, and it would be great to see Rafa get his first real competition of the tournament as he has not been tested at all so far.  (You can say that Rafa has played great, which he no doubt has, but he's played guys that have just rolled over.)

I'll be back with a recap of the quarters on Wednesday, so until then....


Saturday, June 02, 2012

French Open 3rd Round-Up

The top nine seeds are all in the Round of 16 at Roland Garros, though some matches were much easier than others.  Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray all got through very comfortably but Roger Federer needed 4 sets to advance.  Tomas Berdych was down two sets to one against South African Kevin Anderson before rallying to win 6-4 in the 5th.

Flying hair.

Federer played a good match against Nicolas Mahut, winning 63 46 62 75 in over two and a half hours.  Many think that Roger was off his game and he should have won in straight sets.  I agree he probably should have won in straight sets but disagree with those that say he didn't play well.  The Maestro hit 54 winners to 25 unforced errors, and with Roger's attacking game, those are superb numbers.  Adding to that, only 7 of those 54 winners were aces, so he was doing very well from the baseline.

To his credit, Mahut played as well as he could have.  He is a tricky player to go up against because of his serve and volley tactics, but he also has a decent ground game, as Roger found out.  He was also pushed by the French crowd, particularly towards the end of the match when it looked like he may be able to push the match towards 5 sets.

Warm embrace at the net.  Massive respect for each other.

Next up for Roger is lucky loser David Goffin.  The Belgian upset Lukasz Kubot in straight sets.  He has done remarkably well to make it to the 4th round, but it very much looks like this is the end of his run.  He has never played this many matches before and having to go up against Roger Federer, a determined Roger Federer who wants to raise his level of play, is likely the hardest thing to do for a very young player.  At best, I see Goffin losing a 6-4 set.  He will surely have some crowd support.

Other 3rd Round Action:

-  Novak Djokovic eased by 32 year-old Nicolas Devilder, a left-hander from France who has had a tough go of his career.  The #1 player won 61 62 62.  I did not watch the match, but he hit 34 winners and 28 unforced errors.  How he could hit 3 more errors than Roger did in such a simple (and short) match is beyond me.  He now plays Andreas Seppi in the 4th round, who upset Fernando Verdasco in 5 sets.

-  Rafael Nadal continued his simple march towards the final with a straightforward 61 63 64 win over Argentinian Eduardo Schwank.  Schwank is a good doubles player now and was never really a good singles player, but he actually played about as well as he could have.  Against Rafa on clay though, that didn't mean much.

-  Andy Murray had a much easier time of it in his 3rd round match than he did in his 2nd round contest as he thoroughly beat Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 63 64 64.  Andy's back looked fine and he appeared to be in fine form heading into the second week.  He will face Richard Gasquet in the Round of 16, who took out Tommy Haas in 4 sets.  Gasquet beat Murray in Rome so it will be a good match.

-  Juan Monaco got by Milos Raonic in 5 sets, 67(5) 63 67(5) 63 64.  Monaco played very well and Raonic did not break the Argentine's serve the entire match, and in the end, it cost him dearly.  Raonic would have been a tough opponent for Rafa with his big serve and calm demeanor but it was not to be. 

-  Stan Wawrinka upset Gilles Simon in 5 sets, 75 67(5) 67(3) 63 62.  Stan played as well as I have seen him play in a very long time.  The match lasted over four hours and Stan hit 82 winners.  His backhand was firing on all cylinders, showing why it's one of the best shots in the game.

-  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Janko Tipsarevic, Juan Martin del Potro, Nicolas Almagro, and David Ferrer all swept into the 4th round with straight sets victories.  All four players look really strong at the moment.

Looking Forward to the 4th Round:

(3) Federer vs Goffin:  Roger should take this match in straights without much trouble.  I expect him to up his level of play, as he said he wanted to do.  Goffin will put up a nice effort but in the end the overpowering play of Fed will be way too much for him.

6-4, 6-2, 6-2 Federer.

(1) Djokovic vs (22) Seppi:  The Italian is a talented player but is really no match for Novak in mid-Slam form.  I believe Nole could play at 60% of his ability and get by in straights.

6-3, 7-5, 6-4 Djokovic.

(2) Nadal vs (13) Monaco:  Monaco will put up a fight and give everything he's got, but it will not amount to anything in the end.  He lost 61 62 62 in the Davis Cup final last year and while I don't expect the scoreline to be that lopsided, Rafa should get through with ease.

6-2, 6-4, 6-3 Nadal

(4) Murray vs (17) Gasquet:  This is an interesting match that could likely go either way, although in 5 sets Murray should get through if he doesn't implode (or get injured).  Gasquet won in Rome but that was 3 sets, and 5 sets is an entirely different ball game.

6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2, 7-5 Murray

(5) Tsonga vs (18) Wawrinka:  These two met last year in the 3rd round and Stan won in 5.  However, after the 5-setter the Swiss just had to endure, Jo will be the fresher player and should win.  Stan should take a set though.

6-1, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 Tsonga

(5) Ferrer vs (20) Granollers:  Ferrer.  End of.

6-2 6-2 6-2 Ferrer

(7) Berdych vs (9) del Potro:  Delpo came off a straight sets win while Tomas is coming off a tough 5-setter.  This one is a toss up and will likely come down to a few points.  Delpo has the head-to-head advantage, but Berdych is the better player right now.  Somehow, I think Delpo wins this one.

5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6(3) del Potro

(8) Tipsarevic vs (12) Almagro:  This is a match that I could see going either way, but in the end I think Almagro will win.  He is a better clay courter and I think he has the edge.  It will be close either way, probably going 5 or 4 tight sets.

6-4, 3-6, 7-6(6), 2-6, 6-3 Almagro

It should be a great second week at Roland Garros!