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

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

Monday, July 30, 2012

Federer Cruises Past Benneteau

After a shaky opening round match against Colombian Alejandro Falla, Roger Federer had a much easier time of things in his 2nd round match, where he soundly defeated Julien Benneteau 62 62 in just 58 minutes.

This match was the polar opposite to the Wimbledon classic they had a month ago at Wimbledon.  Benneteau was unable to challenge the Great Swiss consistently like he was able to do at the Championships, Federer got just what he needed after a tough test against Falla - a quick match with a good winner/unforced ratio (24-7).  He was also 9/10 at net and won 25/31 of his 1st serve points, or 81%.

Next up, the Fed plays Denis Istomin.  Istomin is a solid player with a big serve and big ground game, and he made it to the 4th round of Wimbledon before losing in 5 sets to Youzhny.  I see Roger taking control of the match early and never looking back, winning the match something like 6-2, 6-3.

In postponed 1st round action, Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic, Richard Gasquet, Juan Monaco Marcos Baghdatis, Nikolay Davydenko, Milos Raonic, Feliciano Lopez, and Lleyton Hewitt advanced.  In 2nd round action, Janko Tipsarevic and John Isner both won to set up their 3rd round matches with the prize likely being a match with Federer.  Gilles Simon and Nicolas Almagro also won, while Berdych-beater Steve Darcis made it to the 3rd round (quite the achievement).

In the doubles, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka fought back from a set down to take out Japanese pair Kei Nishikori and Go Soeda 67(5) 64 64.  They will next face the Israeli team of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram.  Should they win, they will likely take on the Bryan brothers in the quarterfinals.  Federer and Wawrinka beat the Bryans in the semis in the Beijing games.

There are many great matches lined up for day four - Djokovic vs Roddick, Tsonga vs Raonic, Cilic vs Hewitt, Gasquet vs Baghdatis, Monaco vs Lopez, Murray vs Nieminen, Ferrer vs Kavcic, and Davydenko vs Nishikori.  Don't be surprised if Roddick somehow manages to upset Novak.

Until next time....

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Federer Wins Olympic Opener

On the first day of the 2012 London Olympic Games, Roger Federer needed more time than he thought he would to advance to the 2nd round.  He finished off Colombian Alejandro Falla 63 57 64 in one hour and 53 minutes of play.

Federer started off smoothly and broke at 4-3  and consolidated to take the first set in 31 minutes.  In the second set it appeared as though Roger would win fairly easily when he got the break and went up 5-3 0-40, holding three match points.  But Falla fought them off, and then broke in the next game.  The momentum had turned by that point and he won the 12th game to send the match to a third set.  But in that decider, as he has done so often this season, he righted the ship.  He went up an early break, got broken back, but then broke to go up 5-3 in the same fashion that he did in the second set.  He went up 0-40 and finally converted on his 5th match point.

Note:  Federer is 11-1 in deciding sets in 2012.

Next up for Roger is the man that nearly upset him at Wimbledon, Julien Benneteau, who prevailed over Mikhail Youzhny.  I wouldn't say this is going to be an easy match for the Swiss Maestro, but it should be less formidable than it was at Wimbledon.  (In comparison, after Falla nearly beat Roger at Wimbledon two years ago, he went out convincingly in straights in Halle two weeks later.)

In the shocker of the day, Tomas Berdych was knocked out by Belgian Steve Darcis.  The Czech has had a dismal grass season, losing in the first round of Wimbledon and now losing here.  The odds of Andy Murray making the semifinals grew with Berdych's loss.

Juan Martin del Potro, Janko Tipsarevic, Nicolas Almagro, John Isner,and Gilles Simon all advanced.  Donald Young lost his 15th straight match when he was defeated by Andreas Seppi.  It is amazing that the losing streak has grown this big, and he really needs a major turnaround if he doesn't want his career to go down the drain.  Fernando Verdasco also continued his poor form with a loss to Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.

In action on day two are Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Juan Monaco, Milos Raonic, Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic, and Lleyton Hewitt.  There are a few upset possibilities with Murray playing Wawrinka and Monaco facing David Goffin.

Until next time....

Friday, July 27, 2012

London Olympics Men's Predictions

Hey all,

These are my predictions for the London Olympics.  It shall be interesting to see how many matches I am able to get correct.  One upset could shake up my predictions in a very bad way.

My predictions:

1st Round:

Federer def. Falla
Youzhny def. Benneteau
Muller def. Ungur
Istomin def. Verdasco
Isner def. Rochus
Lu def. Jaziri
Petzschner (replacing Karlovic) def. Lacko
Tipsarevic def. Nalbandian
Ferrer def. Pospisil
Kohlschreiber def. Kavcic
Stepanek def. Davydenko
Nishikori def. Tomic
Simon def. Kukushkin
Dimitrov def. Kubot
Seppi def. Young
del Potro def. Dodig
Berdych def. Darcis
Harrison def. Giraldo
Berlocq def. Bogomolov Jr.
Almagro def. Troicki
Gasquet def. Haase
Baghdatis def. Soeda
Nieminen def. Devvarman
Murray def. Wawrinka
Tsonga def. Bellucci
Raonic def. Ito
Lopez def. Tursunov
Monaco def. Goffin
Cilic def. Melzer
Hewitt def. Stakhovsky
Roddick def. Klizan
Djokovic def. Fognini

2nd Round

Federer def. Youzhny
Muller def. Istomin
Isner def. Lu
Tipsarevic def. Petzschner
Kohlschreiber def. Ferrer
Nishikori def. Stepanek
Simon def. Dimitrov
del Potro def. Seppi
Berdych def. Harrison
Almagro def. Berlocq
Gasquet def. Baghdatis
Murray def. Nieminen
Tsonga def. Raonic
Monaco def. Lopez
Cilic def. Hewitt
Djokovic def. Roddick

3rd Round:

Federer def. Muller
Tipsarevic def. Isner
Kohlschreiber def. Nishikori
del Potro def. Simon
Almagro def. Berdych
Murray def. Gasquet
Tsonga def. Monaco
Cilic def. Djokovic


Federer def. Tipsarevic
del Potro def. Kohlschreiber
Murray def. Almagro
Tsonga def. Cilic


Federer def del Potro
Murray def. Tsonga


Federer def. Murray

I have gone out on a limb and taken Cilic to beat Djokovic and Kohlschreiber to beat Tsonga.  After his Wimbledon performance, I have decided to keep faith in Andy Murray (he got by a tough draw a SW19 and I believe he can do the same again here).  In the end, I don't see anyone stopping Roger Federer from capturing his first gold medal.


London Olympics Draw Analysis

Here we are, finally at the 2012 London Olympics!  This year, the tournament for the gold medal will be played on the sacred grass of Wimbledon, and Roger Federer, fresh off winning his 7th title at SW19, will be looking to capture his first gold medal.

With Rafael Nadal absent, David Ferrer and Juan Martin del Potro have improved chances of going far.  Djokovic and Murray were placed in the same half, which makes Federer's life easier as he'll only have to go through one of them potentially to grab gold.

Here is the draw:  http://www.london2012.com/tennis/event/men-singles/index.html

Federer's Quarter

Roger starts his campaign for gold against Alejandro Falla, the left-hander who so nearly took out the Swiss in the first round of Wimbledon two years ago.  That should be fairly straightforward.  After that, Fed faces one of two men he battled at Wimbledon - Mikhail Youzhny or Julien Benneteau.  Roger would surely prefer to play Youzhny as he is 2-0 on grass against him this year and he suffered that massive scare vs Benneteau in the 3rd round of Wimbledon.

In the 3rd round, Fernando Verdasco, Gilles Muller, and Denis Istomin are potential matches. After that, the quarters will see a likely match with John Isner or Janko Tipsarevic, and in the semis, a contest with Juan Martin del Potro or David Ferrer.

Djokovic's Quarter

The World #2 starts his run against Fabio Fognini.  In the 2nd round, he is likely to face Andy Roddick, which would be a tough match potentially with Andy's recent good form.  In the 3rd round, he could face Lleyton Hewitt, Jurgen Melzer, or Marin Cilic.  Cilic is the good pick there as he has been one of the hottest players on tour in the past month and a half.  In the quarters, a meeting with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga awaits, on paper at least.  In the semis, Andy Murray or Tomas Berdych will likely meet him, though neither is guaranteed to be there.

Murray's Quarter

Murray, as he did at Wimbledon, has a tough draw.  He opens the tournament against Stan Wawrinka, and the Swiss is certainly capable of the upset.  Should Andy get by that, he'll probably face Jarkko Nieminen, and in the 3rd round either Richard Gasquet or Marcos Baghdatis.  In the quarters, he may have to go through Tomas Berdych, but the Czech has his own concerns before that, potentially having to go through Nicolas Almagro in the 3rd round.

Ferrer's Quarter

Ferrer starts his tournament against Canadian Vasek Pospisil.  In the 2nd round, he will likely face Philipp Kohlschreiber who is a very good grass court player.  In the 3rd round odds are he'll face Kei Nishikori, but he could also meet Bernard Tomic or Radek Stepanek.  In the quarters, he will probably have to go through Juan Martin del Potro if he wants to have a shot at Federer in the semis.


4 Players to Watch For:

Juan Monaco:  After cracking the top 10 for the first time ever, can he keep his hot streak up and make some waves in these Games?  A potential match with Tsonga comes in the 3rd round.

Philipp Kohlschreiber:  Ever dangerous on grass, he could rattle the draw if he manages to upset David Ferrer, and if he does that, he could get to the semis.

Milos Raonic:  The promising Canadian had a bad Wimbledon, but he'll be looking to bounce back at the Olympics, and a highly anticipated match with Tsonga awaits in the 2nd round.

Marin Cilic:  The Croat has been on a roll as of late, with a win in Queens, a 4th round appearance at Wimbledon, and another win in his native event, Umag.  He could cause damage because his confidence must be sky-high at the moment.  Novak Djokovic had better watch out.

It's shaping up to be an amazing Olympic tournament.  Coming off his huge Wimbledon win, Roger Federer looks as poised as ever to take his first singles gold medal, especially if he can produce the same magical tennis we saw at Wimbledon earlier in the month.  With the best-of-3 format, he will need to be sharp right from the start and can't afford many lapses, but the same goes for the other top guys, who have tougher draws than Federer does (Murray, Djokovic).

Enjoy watching the tennis everybody!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Nadal Withdraws from Olympics

Rafael Nadal gave some shocking news on Wednesday, announcing that he was not going to be participating in the London 2012 Olympic Games.  He was going to be the flag bearer for Spain, but that honour has now gone to basketball star Pau Gasol.

Nadal's reason for not playing in the Olympics are his knees, which seem to give him trouble multiple times a season.  He claims he had issues with them at Wimbledon, and he has also had problems at Miami (when he had to withdraw against Murray) and at the Australian Open, before that tournament started.

Rafa's absence in London will help the rest of the draw that would have been on his side.  Perhaps helped the most will be David Ferrer, who suddenly gets the #4 seeding.  Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, who are comfortable favourites to win it all, will have one less obstacle to overcome, since one of them would have met Nadal in the semis.

One thing is for sure: the hole Nadal leaves is big, just as it was at Wimbledon after his early exit.  The rest of the field, namely Juan Martin del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, and John Isner, will have much better opportunities with Rafa out of the equation.

As for Nadal and his bad knees, you can only hope that he gets healthy again soon.  If he does return healthy, he should be a great force as always, but that the key word there is "if."  Rafa lost to Lukas Rosol on June 28th, and the Olympics will start almost a month after that, so you know it is very serious.  The Rogers Cup starts right after the Olympics end, and it'll be interesting to see whether Rafa is healthy enough to compete there (he only has 2nd round points to defend).

The bottom line is this: Rafa is 26 now, and every injury he encounters will shorten his career from here on out.  He could probably get away with his bad health three or four years ago, but in this day, with the game becoming so increasingly physical, he'll have a hard time staying healthy as he ages (or as logic would dictate).

Nadal's style of tennis was not designed for a long career like Federer's.  No matter who you support, we can only wish that Rafa's career can stay strong and he can overcome the physical and mental (disappointment) strains that have been put on him in the past month.

If this injury is reminiscent of the one he suffered in 2009 when he had to miss Wimbledon, then that could be bad news for him (he had a terrible end to the season).  But being three years older, it may be more difficult to come back in the same fashion he did then.

If I could give any advice to Rafa right now, it would be to schedule much more wisely from here on out.  Less clay events during that heavy spring season.  And, if possible, start using a much more offensive approach to his game, where he won't put so much mileage on his body, and more specifically, knees.  He certainly has the ability to start taking the ball flatter and to be more offensive.  I believe it will be the only way if he wants to stay at his current standard for years to come.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Federer Week #287 at #1

Today, July 16, Roger Federer officially started his 287th week at the top of the ATP rankings.  It has been just over two years since the Swiss great has held the top spot in men's tennis, and it is ranking that few thought he could ever capture again.

The journey back to the pinnacle started last September after he suffered a heartbreaking semifinal defeat to Novak Djokovic after having two match points.  Since that fateful day, Federer has gone 63-6 with 8 titles, culminating with his incredible victory over Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final eight days ago.  Less than a month away from his 31st birthday, getting back to World #1 at this period in time, with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the prime of their careers, is nothing short of spectacular.

I really cannot say enough about Roger's greatness.  The past two and a half years have given him so many reasons to lose hope and wind down his career knowing that the younger, faster, and stronger players would surpass him.  But that is why Fed is a true champion - he only accepts the very best of himself and does not settle for less.  When he publicly made it his goal to get back to #1, nobody thought he could really do it.  But he thought he could do it, and in the end, that is all that counts.

Roger's self-belief is astonishing.  Even as a huge fan and to-the-very-end believer, I had my doubts that he would ever get back to #1.  And that he has, one month short of age 31, with such a competitive field playing with him, it really is ridiculous.  There are no words that can describe the fortitude of this great Swiss.

Now, as we celebrate Federer's 287th week at World #1, it is a very special time for us Fed fans.  All the painful defeats and tough times only make this triumph in Roger's career that much sweeter.  The fact that Roger got back the #1 ranking by winning Wimbledon (where it all started 9 years ago) seemed like destiny.  It is as if all the results in the past two years were setting up for this glorious moment.

 Unlike his peak years where he seemed unstoppable and disturbingly unbeatable, we have seen a very human side of Roger these past 4 years, as he has had to endure the trials and tribulations of growing older and deal with the rise of his younger rivals.  Now, Fed has a family, and we realize that there is so much for him to play for, even at an "old" age in tennis terms.  Even though his life has changed dramatically over the past few years, his love for tennis will never die, and it is the greatest asset he has as he moves forward.

To put 287 weeks at #1 into perspective: only four players have held the #1 spot for at least 100 consecutive weeks - Jimmy Connors (160), Ivan Lendl (157), Pete Sampras (102), and Roger Federer (237).  The difference between Roger's streak and Connors' streak (2nd) is 77 weeks, well over one year more.

Roger Federer is my hero, and I am proud to say that.  I believe if there was ever a person to model yourself after, it is him.  In becoming #1 again, and achieving the goal he desired greatly, he became a clear example of perseverance and patience; of determination, spirit, and attitude.  He is a true inspiration to all that support him, and he certainly is one to me.  I think I am a better person today because I have observed how Roger handles himself at all times.

Of course, there is no talking about Federer's journey back to the #1 position without mentioning his wife ,Mirka, his two daughters, Charlene Riva and Myla Rose, and his team, consisting of coaches Paul Annacone and Severin Luthi, as well as his trainer and physio, Pierre Paganini and Stephane Vivier.  Without such great influences around Roger, perhaps none of this would have been possible.

Credit must certainly go out to Paganini and Vivier for keeping a near 31 year-old in such amazing physical condition!  And to think that Fed had severe back pain halfway through Wimbledon and he was playing (and moving) so well in the final.  Those two men must be magicians.

As of this moment, Federer has achieved everything there is to achieve in tennis.  But you know he won't stop here, after working so hard to get back to the top of the mountain.  At 287 weeks at #1 and counting, there really is no limit on the success of Roger Federer.  He has surpassed expectations throughout his entire career, and it will be a privilege to watch him play for the rest of his days.

Congratulations Roger, and thank you.


PS:  07-16-12.  7+1+6+1+2 = 17.  287 weeks at #1.  2+8+7 = 17.

You just gotta love numbers, right?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Federer vs Murray Analysis

Every time Roger Federer and Andy Murray play against each other, it is like a game of cat and mouse, with both players trying to be the cat.  Their encounters are heavily tactical, and it is almost always the one who is able to assert his game plan that ends up winning the match.

In the Wimbledon final, both Federer and Murray played high-level tennis, and the difference between victory and defeat was very small.  Because of this, the tactics both men utilized, and their ability to use them to their greatest effect, played a critical part in the outcome of the match.  Like momentum, tactics can change throughout a match, and in the first grass-court match played between the two, Federer managed to consistently employ his tactics, while Murray struggled at times to do so.  That small margin gave the Swiss Maestro the opportunity to win, which he took in emphatic fashion.

 The 3 Keys to Roger's victory:

1.  Murray's serve
2.  Federer's return
3.  Federer's aggression and Murray's passive play

Murray's Serve

Andy Murray has a big serve - he can clock it up to 135 mph on certain occasions.  When he uses the serve the right way, it is a very effective weapon, but when it has problems, it becomes a major issue in his game.  A fine example of this was the final against Roger.

In the first set, Andy was having problems on his serve.  After the first few games, he tried to serve bigger and flatter, and as a result, he gave Roger way too many 2nd serve looks.  Fed was in every single one of Andy's service games in the opening set, and had the Swiss been more clutch, he may have taken it.

In the second set, Murray's serve was much more successful.  It was a result of using variety with the serve - going big and flat, plus mixing in slice serves out wide and up the middle.  It was important for Andy to get a large number of first serves in play (72% for the set) because he has a vulnerable second serve.

In the third set, the roof closed.  This is where Andy started to abandon the tactics of his serve and it cost him in a big way.  For the set, which he lost 6-3, he only put 49% of first serves into play.  Why?  Because he was attempting to hit big, flat serves with no margin for error.  And when Andy does not get a good number of first serves in, he struggles.  Federer capitalized on being given so many 2nd serve looks and jumped all over Murray, employing his all-court aggressive game.

In this all-important third set, the first serve was not working either.  By this point, with the roof closed, Roger was in the zone, and even when Andy barreled a first serve at him, Fed just blocked it back deep and either gained an advantage in the rally or put himself on neutral ground where he could beat Murray from the baseline.  Andy should have figured out that he needed to mix up the pace, but he did not - and he suffered dearly for it.

In the 3rd and 4th sets, Andy served at 49% and 45% respectively.  This gave Federer, already at his most dangerous indoors where weather conditions don't factor in, a ridiculous amount of opportunities to attack right away off Murray's weak second serve.  It also meant that Andy could not employ the same attacking style that gave him success in the first two sets.

Federer's Return

Murray was missing many first serves, but he would not have been as unsuccessful as he was on the second serve had Roger not been so willing to attack it.  Specifically in the third and fourth sets when the roof was closed, Fed jumped around his backhand, knowing Andy was going to kick it out there, and crushed forehands to all parts of the court, immediately putting him on the offensive.  

Variety is a staple of Federer's game, as we all know.  He used that variety on the return to great effect in the final two sets.  Along with jumping around backhands to smack forehands, Fed was alternating between slicing/chipping the return back, and coming over the backhand.  All three plays worked for him, so he used all three to keep Andy on his toes.  A few times Roger would also follow his backhand return (be it a topspin or chip/slice shot) into the net, to give Andy yet another possibility to think about.  This is what makes Roger such a difficult opponent to play.

The marathon 20-minute, 26-point, 10-deuce game at 3-2 on Murray's serve was when Roger really found "the zone" on his return.  From then on, Murray's 2nd serve was there to be attacked almost every time.

Federer's Aggression and Murray's Passive Play

When Murray plays Roger, he tries to break down Roger's backhand.  In the first two sets, Andy was very successful in going big on his forehand to Roger's forehand.  This was a good tactic because Fed knows Andy is going to go to his backhand most of the time.  So when Murray stepped into a forehand and hit it big, it caught Roger off guard, which didn't allow him to find his comfort zone from the baseline.

In the final two sets of the match, when the roof was closed, Federer dialed up the aggression from the baseline.  He benefited greatly from the drop in Andy's own aggression, but to be fair to him, Roger was putting him under tremendous pressure time and time again and forced Andy into being a defensive counter-puncher.

Murray tried to push and direct the ball to Federer's backhand the majority of the time in the final two sets.  There were many instances where it would have been smarter to go up the line to Roger's forehand, but he decided not to.  As a result, Roger, knowing what was happening, decided to step around his backhand every chance he got to unleash a forehand - and many times down the line to Murray's own forehand, which was a very smart play as Andy's legs wore down.

When Murray struggles against Roger (see: Dubai 2012, World Tour Finals 2010, and Australian Open 2010), it is a result of his passive play.  Instead of taking the ball early and hammering away with his groundstrokes, he tries to hit a ball in Fed's backhand area and hopes that it will either force a short ball or a miss.  The problem with this play is that Roger is too smart and too experienced to be fooled by it.  Most of the time, Fed will just hammer a backhand right back to where it came from, and he'll hit it deep and with angle.  In the final, Murray instead of being aggressive with his backhand, he tried to semi-push it back to Fed's backhand corner, and by then, Roger was already on his way to cracking a forehand, immediately putting Murray in trouble. 

To be fair to Murray, Federer was moving awfully well to his forehand side in the last half of the match when the roof was closed.  Roger was hitting forehands on the run with ease and flicked it simply (too simply) cross-court to either remain neutral or to put himself in an aggressive position.

Overall, Murray's game just does not match up well with Federer's over the course of a match.  Andy, being the defensive-minded counter-puncher that he is, will eventually go back to his roots, and if Roger is on his game, which he was in the Wimbledon final, he gets into big trouble.  There were stretches throughout the match where Andy was aggressive and took the first strike, but it did not come near often enough for him to put himself in a winning position.

The Federer vs Murray match-up has changed:

The head-to-head between Federer and Murray was at one time 6-2 for the Scot.  It is now 8-8.  Roger struggled with finding ways to beat Murray many years ago, and Andy took advantage of Roger's "worst days" in 2008 and 2009 to rack up wins against him.  But ever since Cincinnati 2009, when Roger won in straight sets in the semifinal, it has been one-way traffic, with Fed winning 6 of the last 8 matches.

The bottom line is that Murray needs to be aggressive to beat Roger (as does mostly everyone), but the problem is that his natural tendencies are to defend and not go for the killer blow.  So when Fed is on his game, attacking the net and hammering big, heavy groundstrokes consistently, Murray finds himself on the defensive way too much, and when Fed gets going, he is nearly impossible to stop.

As tennis fans, we should be happy that we were able to witness such an immaculate final.  Both Murray and Federer brought their best games to their court on Sunday, and the result was a spectacular match full of wonderful tactical warfare and splendid clutch shotmaking from two of the best shotmakers in the game today.

Authors' Note:  Even though this article highlighted the ways in which Roger won, let me be clear in saying that Murray played a great match as well, even in the last two sets.  He was struggling in the second half because Fed was so dominant with his attacking, and the match was sort of taken out of his hands.  Even though the match was slipping out of Andy's reach, and the hopes and dreams of his first Slam title, he fought like we hadn't seen before and made Roger earn the victory.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Federer Wins Wimbledon!

One month shy of 31 years old, the ever-impressive Roger Federer made history again by defeating Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final 46 75 63 64 to win his 17th major, 7th Wimbledon, and first Slam win in two and a half years.  He also regained the #1 ranking, and will break Pete Sampras' record for weeks at #1 in two weeks.

Note:  I am going to be writing this not so much as an analyst but as a big Roger Federer fan, so beware: it may get a little emotional.  This Grand Slam means so much to me as a fan of Roger, after seeing all the struggles he has had to endure over the past two and a half years.

Don't you just love it when dreams come true?  Was it destiny calling? 


There was so much pressure on Roger Federer and Andy Murray before their epic Wimbledon final.  There was Andy, who was looking to win his first Grand Slam and be the first British player to win one since 1936.  There was Roger, who was bidding to become the World #1 after two years being at #2 and #3.  He was trying to win his 7th Wimbledon title and record-extending 17th overall.  And the beauty of this match was that even with so much combined pressure on the shoulders of Roger and Andy, they put forth a spectacular display of tennis that will be remembered by those who witnessed it as a coming of age for Andy and a magical moment in the grand career of Roger.

The crowd was electric long before the match began.  Nerves would certainly play a part early in the match, but who would it affect the most?  The easy pick would be Murray, but that was not the case.  Murray broke in the opening game and looked focused and energized.  Unlike the other three Slam finals he'd competed in, you knew Andy was in it to win it this time around.  And boy, he did not let the pressure get to him.

As mentioned, Andy broke in the first game.  Roger got the break back to make it even at 2-2, and they swapped holds until 4-4.  One game earlier, at 3-4, Roger had a chance to break (and ultimately win the set in all likelihood), but he could not convert.  That came back to haunt him, as he got broke in the 9th game and Murray held emphatically to win his first set in a Grand Slam finals (he was previously 0-9).

In the second set, it was tense.  Real tense.  I had confidence that Fed would still come out on top and turn the match around because there was a stretch in the first set where he was playing really solid tennis and won 4 of 5 games.  Crucially, Fed saved a few break points throughout the set, and more and more, momentum was starting to shift to his side.

At 5-6, Murray went up 30-0 and a tiebreak looked to be ahead.  But in the first set, Roger broke after being down 40-15 in Andy's service game, and the same thing happened here.  Roger won the next four points to take the set in amazing fashion.  On set point, after a lengthy baseline rally, Roger played a genius short backhand drop volley with side spin that not even the quick Murray could get to.  It was a brilliant way to end the set and set the precedent for what was to come.

In the 3rd set, rain started to pour down at in the third game, and there was a forty minute delay while they closed the roof because it was raining heavily.  This decision would prove to be instrumental in the outcome of the match, as Roger's game is perfectly suited for playing without the variable elements of wind, sun, cold or hot temperature and humidity (that can affect balls), and so on.

At 3-2 on Murray's serve, there was a twenty minute game that featured ten deuces and lasted 26 points long.  Fed had six break point chances, and converted on the final one to grasp the important break.  It is worth noting that Andy fell three separate times during that game, and this was truly the time when Roger started to get into the zone.  Roger consolidated the break and held twice more to take the important 3rd set, just as he did on Friday in the semis against Djokovic.

In the 4th, Murray was staying strong and put on an inspirational last stand.  He had a chance to break at 1-1, and if he won the point, he likely would have won the set with the onslaught of energy that would shoot through his body.  Lucky for Roger, Andy's forehand pass went wide, and Roger escaped trouble.  At 2-2, Fed broke with a sensational backhand passing shot - vintage Federer.  He then did a Nadal-like fist pump, knowing he was now so incredibly close to achieving his goal.

Murray made Fed earn it.  They traded holds until 5-4 when Roger had to serve it out to win.  It was a tricky game, no doubt one of the toughest games Roger has ever played, given the score and what was at stake.  He held two match points and converted on the second one.  He fell to his knees and then to his back, looking up to his box as tears rolled down his face.  He was a Grand Slam champion again, and World #1 again, and after two years of dominance by his younger counterparts, Nadal and Djokovic, Federer was back where he had been 16 times previously - standing as the major champion with the trophy in his hands.

Quite simply, Roger was unbelievable.  In the first set, he was most certainly nervous, and Murray played spectacularly well.  In the second set Fed dug in and managed to play his best tennis near the end of the set to get the break.  The final two sets with the roof on over Centre Court could only be described as genius, sensational, mind-blowing, inspiring, and any other fabulous word you can think of.

Was it destiny calling?  It sure seemed that way for Murray when Rafael Nadal was shockingly defeated in the 2nd round.  He made the final (the first male to do so since 1938) and the only man to stand in his way was the greatest champion the game has known.  Andy was emotional after the match and he received a heart-wrench ovation as he gave a powerful speech that brought tears to his eyes, his fans' eyes, and to mine, if I'm being honest with myself.  If you ask me, and Roger said the same thing, this is not the end for Andy, only the beginning.  This fortnight showed what the Scot is capable of, and I do believe he will win a Slam in the next year.  He has nothing to feel ashamed of after that determined effort.

As for Roger, well, I cannot believe that he won.  I had this gut feeling right from the start that this Slam would be different than previous ones, as if the stars were lining up.  Then Rafa went out, and his biggest obstacle was gone.  Then in the match with Benneteau, he was down two sets and was two points away from losing five times, but he came through like a champion.  In the next round against Malisse, he overcame severe back pain to fight through; he was not going to give up the chance to win this major.  He faced Djokovic, the World #1, and flourished, asserting his game and playing beautifully under the roof.  And then in the final, against his toughest opponent, playing with such inspiring determination, Fed brought out his best and showed why he is the greatest champion in tennis history.

As a fan, I have to thank Roger for all he has given me as I have grown up into becoming an adult.  His courage and strength have given me a light even in the darkest of my days.  Fed showed us why perseverance and dedication can make anything possible.  Slam #17 was a long time coming, perhaps too long.  But on the other hand, the tough defeats we had to endure as Federer fans, not to mention the effect those losses had on the Man himself, made this win, at Wimbledon (where it all began), that much sweeter.

Congratulations Roger, and thank you.

PS:  I will write more about the Wimbledon final and the tournament in general in the coming days - how Roger won, how special this Wimbledon was, and what lies ahead for the newly re-crowned World #1.  I also have an array of impressive stats to dish out about Wimbledon and Fed's career in general, so stay tuned!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Federer vs Murray Preview

In the 2012 Wimbledon final, history will be on the line.  Either Andy Murray wins his very first Grand Slam and becomes the first Brit since 1936 to win one, or Roger Federer will win his 7th Wimbledon, 17th Grand Slam, and regain the #1 ranking to pass Pete Sampras' record of 286 weeks with the top spot.

This will be the first time that Federer and Murray have played off hard courts.  Murray will have an entire nation behind him, and with that, all the pressure of actually breaking through and winning his first Slam.  Federer will go into the match knowing that this could be his best chance to win another major title and add to his illustrious career.

My analysis:

Whenever Federer and Murray play, tactics come to the forefront as both men try to use their strengths against the others' weaknesses.  In this final, however, the biggest factor in the winner of the match is likely to be the mental strength of both players.  Murray has never been in the position that he is in - with a chance to win Wimbledon.  Will the pressure be too much for him to handle?  Federer will have pressure of his own, but since he has been in so many pressure situations over the last decade, he's much better equipped to handle the moment than Andy.  In order to win, Andy must keep his head and use the motivation of an entire nation to will him on.

Tactically, this is what Murray cannot do: he cannot mindlessly pepper away at the Federer backhand.  While it is true that many of Andy's wins against Roger have come because he has been able to break down the Federer backhand, it is also true that many of his losses have been a cause of his stubbornness to abandon a tactic that is not working.  For example:  In the Dubai final that they played earlier in the year, Andy hit to Roger's backhand nearly every time.  Roger's one-hander was sharp that day, and he kept blasting the ball with spin and angle back to Andy's two-hander.  It came to the point where Andy was forcing short balls cross-court in hope that Roger would miss, but that only allowed Fed to step around and crush forehands, which he absolutely loves doing.

While it may be cruel to say, when Fed's backhand is solid, he wins matches against Andy Murray.  The ability of Andy to try to break down the Federer backhand and not feed the Swiss confidence on it will be a huge part of the outcome of the match.  In my view, Andy must try to attack the Federer forehand if he wants to have any success.  Roger has been moving better to his backhand side, and he defends better on that side as well on grass, where he is able to slice the ball with incredible cut and precision.  On the other hand, Roger's forehand cross-court was exceptional against Djokovic in the semi, so Murray may have to tread the waters with caution if he looks to attack Fed's favourite shot.

As with the match against Djokovic, Fed must use all his variety - meaning the slice, the down-the-line backhand, and the different spins and angles that he can deliver on the ball.  He must serve well, and using the body serve on both first and second serves would be a wise move in my book, since Andy has such a long reach with his big, lanky frame.

I believe if Andy is to have any chance to win the match, he must win the first set.  This will be easier said than done, because surely the nerves will be at large, and if he lets down for a moment, Federer could pounce and take the match out of Murray's hands (this is what happened in the Australian Open final).  Any must use the crowd to his advantage and he cannot afford to get complacent.  He must attack, even if his gut instincts tell him to defend and counter-punch against the all-aggressive Roger.

Another thing that may go against Andy's ability to win the first set is the unknown.  As Djokovic experienced against Roger in the semi, playing the Swiss on grass is different than playing him on any other surface.  Andy will need to adapt to playing Roger on grass and he must find a way to return Roger's serves effectively - they bounce differently on grass and it is a much more effective shot (just ask Nadal and Djokovic).  Murray will also need to serve well, which is a given.  But he cannot expect Roger to return poorly like Tsonga did.

I expect Roger to win in 4 sets.  The match will ride on the tactics both men employ, but it is clear that there will be enormous pressure on each man as they know how much this match means to them.  How they handle the weight of the occasion will play a vital role, without any doubt.  I will close by saying this: if Murray plans on playing the match exactly like he did in Dubai earlier in the year, he will lose.  He must find a way to get out of his comfort zone and find ways to attack, or else Fed will be all over him.

Overall, I believe that Roger will find the zone at some point in the match and pull away.  This is what I like to call the "Federer Freight Train," because it is impossible to catch him when he gets on a roll.  Andy must be very cautious, and knowing the likelihood that Fed will find his rhythm at some point in the match, Murray must try to weather the storm.  That means he has got to dig his heels in and fight - and most importantly, not go into defending counter-puncher mode.  That will cost him the match.

Here is hoping for a great final!

PS: If Federer uses the confidence gained from beating Djokovic so decisively, I can only see Andy putting up a great fight but falling short.  Nobody has been able to beat Roger when he is at his absolute best at Wimbledon, with perhaps the only exception being Rafael Nadal in 2008.  If Roger plays anywhere near as well as he did against Djokovic, he might be too much to handle, with all the pressure Murray has on him to break through here.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Federer Defeats Djokovic in Wimbledon Semi

Rolling back the years, Roger Federer put on a masterclass display of tennis, defeating the World #1 Novak Djokovic 63 36 64 63 to reach his record 8th Wimbledon final.  He will go for a 17th major, the #1 ranking, and 7th Wimbledon on Sunday against British hope Andy Murray.

One month shy of his 31st birthday, Roger Federer continues to defy the odds.  This time, he shocked the world by beating Novak Djokovic (a man who had beaten him in 6 of their last 7 matches) in 4 incredible sets of tennis.  Understandably, the World #1 was the favourite heading into the match, but the Swiss Maestro brought his entire grass court repertoire to the party and showed the world why he has still got "it."

The first two sets were surprisingly quick.  Both Federer and Djokovic were holding serve with ease in the first five games until Roger broke through in the sixth in the blink of an eye.  Fed held twice more to take the set in a too-fast 24 minutes.  It was a surprising start because there were very few rallies and both men won many free points off their serve.

In the second, the tide turned straight away as Novak broke in Roger's opening service game and took a 3-0 lead.  They traded holds after that and the first two sets were in the book after 54 minutes of play.  In the time it usually takes for Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to complete one set, Fed and Nole had completed two, and the match was now best-of-three.

The third set was by far the best set of tennis, from both players.  They exchanged service holds in the first five games, and then Roger had two break points that he could not convert on.  History would say that those missed opportunities could have been costly for the Swiss Maestro, but this was no ordinary day.  At 4-4, Novak held break point.  Roger hit a serve up the middle that Novak chipped long.  He was thinking that the serve would go out wide to his backhand, and that momentary indecisiveness was all Fed needed to get the point.  He then served two balls that Djokovic could not get back, and that was the game.  Fed escaped.  At 5-4, Roger cranked up the pressure and benefited from a Djokovic overhead error at 15-30.  At 30-40, Roger found a way to net, picked off a low volley, and then smashed away an incoming lob to grab the vitally important 3rd set.

As if Djokovic was still thinking about his missed opportunity in the 3rd set, he got broken right away to start the 4th, and Fed opened up a 3-0 lead.  The two exchanged holds after that until 5-3 when the moment came for Fed to serve out the match.  He had not been truly tested on serve until that point in the 4th set.  Djokovic got it to 30-30, but Roger, with his clutch serving, hit two unreturned serves to pull off the victory in two hours and nineteen minutes.

Why Roger Won:

As I wrote in my mini-preview of the Federer/Djokovic clash, Roger had to serve well, hit with plenty of variety, and stay mentally focused the entire match if he wanted to have any chance of coming away with the victory.  In the end, he did all three things incredibly well, and then some!


To put it simply, Mr Federer served about as well as he could.  Djokovic is the best returner in the game, and nothing but his best serving effort was going to get the job done.  Thankfully for him, his serve was firing on all cylinders.  He served at 64% and won 75% of those first serve points.  But the more telling stat was his 2nd serve points won - an outstanding 72%.  Considering who he was playing, that is a remarkable number.

With Roger winning so many points off his 2nd serve, it allowed him to go for more on his first serve (he averaged 118 mph and his fastest was 128 mph), knowing that he had a very good 2nd serve to rely on (he was averaging 102 mph on it, an amazing number).  The placement of his 2nd serve was key to his success.  Djokovic has an amazing wing span on the return, so Roger started hitting body serves to get the Serb out of his lethal rhythm.  This tactic paid off on the big points in which he was forced to hit second serves.

Federer hit 12 aces to 0 double faults, which is incredibly solid considering how big he was going on the second serve.  Overall, it was definitely one of the best serving performances of Roger's career considering he was playing one of the greatest returners of all-time in Djokovic.


In the first two sets, there were not many baseline rallies as both men were winning the majority of the points off their serve.  In the second set, Novak got more Federer serves into play and started to dictate the rallies more and more.  In the crucial 3rd set, Roger changed it up a bit from a tactical standpoint.  He started to slice more backhands cross-court to Djokovic's backhand, making the Serb hit up on the ball and impart more spin on it than he would like to.  This, in turn, allowed Roger to be more aggressive on his forehand and backhand when the time came to plow into the ball at breakneck speed.  It also caused more errors for Djokovic as he was unable to get into any sort of rhythm from the baseline, where he becomes lethal.

The other tactic that won Roger the match was the insistence of the Swiss to hit forehand to forehand rallies.  Early on in the match, Djokovic slipped a few times out wide on the slick grass to his forehand side.  Roger recognized this, and started pulverizing the ball cross-court, using angle and spin whenever possible.  He also threw the tactic of hitting down-the-line running forehands out the window (for the most part) and focused on crushing them back to Novak's forehand side.  This strategy paid off very nicely, as is one of the reasons why Roger was able to play successfully from the baseline.

Mental Focus

To beat Djokovic, Roger would need to stay in the moment and remain focused throughout the entirety of the match.  That is exactly what he did.  The first two sets went by so fast that it was possible for Roger to start going outside his comfort zone, but he did not; he remained sharp and even rose the level of his play to match the barrage of assaults Djokovic was throwing at him in the second set.

In the third set, he did not let not getting the break at 3-2 harm his mentality.  He stayed strong and did what he had to do until he was able to do until he found an opening in which to strike (at 5-4 to break to win the set).  In the fourth, he did not let down as he has been sometimes known to do (US Open 2010 and 2011 ring any bells?), and even when he had a break lead he was wary of a tired-looking Djokovic and kept his foot on the gas.  And yes, this time Roger closed out the final game in style, albeit with a little bit of drama.


In my opinion, the match was very similar to the Federer/Djokovic semifinal in the 2008 US Open and the Wimbledon 2006 final against Nadal; I think they are similar for two different reasons.  My comparison to the 2008 US Open semi is not only based on the score (a smooth 4-set Federer win), but on the fact that Roger was doubted before the match, having lost to Novak in the Australian Open that year.  Roger played with fire and determination like he did in this match, and the result was largely the same because of it.

The Wimbledon 2006 final was a case of Federer vs Nadal in their first match on grass, just as this was the first match between Federer and Djokovic on grass.  Playing Roger on grass is a very different experience than playing him on any other surface, even for a guy that has played him 26 times before this encounter.  On grass, Roger serves better than you think he can.  He hits this forehand better than you think he can.  He slices the ball with more cut.  He moves just that much better on grass, which creates a sense of panic that you cannot outmaneuver him, which is surely what Djokovic was feeling in the heart of the match when things heated up.  I, for one, believe Novak was a little shell-shocked at how quickly Roger was moving, as well as the precision in his serves and groundstrokes.  That could have unnerved him a great deal, because he could never find his rhythm.

Overall, I am ecstatic that Roger put on a brilliant display of grass-court tennis.  There was so much uncertainty heading into the match but I just had a feeling that Roger would play incredibly well and really surprise a lot of doubters.  For being a month shy of 31 years old, the man can still play elite tennis like no other.  He may not be as consistent day-in-day-out as he used to be, but that does not stop him.  Like a car, his wheels just keep on turning.

Roger now plays Andy Murray in the final on Sunday.  It should be a cracking match, and I only hope that Fed can take confidence from breaking down the game's top player and use it towards the final.  He has had trouble with Andy in the past, but he is 2-0 in Grand Slam finals against the Brit.

I'll be writing a full final preview on Saturday detailing what Roger and Andy will need to do to prevail.  Either Murray will win his first Slam and become the first British player to win a major since Fred Perry in 1936, or Federer will capture his 17th major, 7th Wimbledon, and recapture the #1 ranking and break Pete's all-time weeks at the top.

Can't wait!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Sharp Federer Routs Youzhny

For the first time since 2009, Roger Federer is back in a Wimbledon semifinal.  The Swiss Master eased by Mikhail Youzhny 61 62 62 in just over 90 minutes, and made his 32nd Grand Slam semifinal - breaking Jimmy Connors' record of 31.

The big question before the match was whether or not Roger's back would hold up after the testy 4th round difficulties he had.  It looks like The Fed knows his body very well, as he looked very healthy and was moving around the court in his usual gazelle-like fashion, taking the opening set in 28 minutes.

Roger broke in his opening return game after being down 40-0, and that break set the tone for the entire match.  In fact, Roger broke Youzhny in the Russian's first service game of each set - a good sign of not wanting to spend too much time on the court.  There was a quick rain delay at 4-1 30-40 on Youzhny's serve, and after the 20 minute break, Roger won the point after tracking down two balls, the second of which he sent flying cross court for a clean pass.

The second set was more of the same as he cruised once again in 28 minutes.  Youzhny showed some fire and determination that got him inside the top 10 a few years ago, but it was nowhere near enough, especially with tired legs after the long 5-setter against Istomin in the 4th round.  The third set showcased the brilliance of Fed even more as he hits incredible shots and amazed the crowd with his stunning play - perhaps more stunning because of the struggles Roger had in getting through Benneteau and Malisse.  All in all, it was a swift, convincing effort by the 286-week #1.

It was the perfect match to prepare for a titanic semifinal clash with Novak Djokovic.  After the 4th round win, Federer fans and general tennis fans alike were worried about the state of his back, which he injured midway through the first set.  It looked like we need not worry at all, as the back was very good and Roger was able to free up and play his sensational best.  He will need to be in the same kind of form if he wants to beat Djokovic and get the chance to win his 7th Wimbledon, 17th Grand Slam, and reclaim the #1 ranking.

Speaking of that Federer/Djokovic semifinal....

How can Federer win?

Roger has lost six of his past seven matches to Djokovic since the start of 2011, but many of those matches were close (the French Open and US Open 2011 semis).  The two have never met on grass, and this will be their 27th meeting 27 matches in 7 years.  Though none of us really know what the match-up will be like on grass, let me give some thoughts on why I think Fed can overcome Djokovic and make the final:

1) Serve

Fed's best surface for his serve is grass.  On hardcourt and clay, even his best serves can be returned, but on grass, it is harder to return.  Roger has served incredibly well all tournament long, and if he can win the majority of his first serve points, as well as get a large percentage of his first serves in play, that should give him an advantage.  If there is one surface where Roger can win many free points off his serve against the best returner in the game today (and perhaps all-time), it is grass.

2) Variety

Roger's variety is second to none in men's tennis - nobody has ever had more ways to beat you than Fed.  If he is to succeed, he will need to mix things up on his serve, and also vary the pace, spin, and angles of his attacks.  The slice will also be key - Djokovic's footwork can be suspect at times and if Roger can make him feel uncomfortable at the baseline by cutting slices and touching drop shots, it could pay huge dividends.

3) Motivation

At the French Open last month, it was obvious that Roger's heart was not in it.  It was likely a combination of playing poorly throughout the tournament and knowing that he would need to go through both Djokovic and Nadal if he were to win.  By doing so, he could spend all his energy up and he would not be at 100% for Wimbledon.

Now, there is no Rafael Nadal waiting in the final - there is only Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  Fed knows he can beat both of them when his game is clicking.  Do not underestimate the power of the subconscious, and with the knowledge that Djokovic will likely be his toughest opponent, it could fire him up even more.

The Fed has also said that he wants this Wimbledon very badly.  As we all know, a confident and motivated Roger Federer is a dangerous Roger Federer.  He is match tough within this tournament with those great 3rd and 4th round wins, but he has also had 3 masterclasses against Ramos, Fognini, and Youzhny.  That balance of sharp play and mental toughness could will him to his very best. 

It should be an incredible match and I know that Roger is going to put everything on the line.  I sense that we could see a performance from Roger like the US Open 2008 semi or last year's epic French Open semi.  Of course Novak will have his say in the match, but I can only hope that Roger pulls through and makes his 8th Wimbledon final; it would be a dream come true, and if destiny exists, this is the time to prove it.

#Allez17 #H17TORY #5down2togo

PS:  Roger has never lost a set in a Wimbledon semifinal, going 21-0 in 7 semis.  I don't know about you, but that is absolutely incredible.  It is a sign that Roger plays his very best near the end of Wimbledon, and if that same pattern holds up on Friday, Fed will have a very good chance to beat Djokovic.  At any other Slam, I think Djokovic would win, but not this one.  Not with everything that Roger has at stake.  I say The Fed in 4 wonderful sets.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Federer Overcomes Back and Malisse

After a near defeat to Julien Benneteau on Friday, and the weekend off, Roger Federer thought he would have an easier match in his 4th round.  He did not, as a back injury gave him (and his fans) a huge scare, but in the end, he won in 4 sets and fought through the pain like a champion.

Federer and Malisse were first up on Centre Court and it was a cloudy, rainy, and cold day.  The match started evenly, with both men holding serve up to 5-5.  However, about 5 games in, Roger was clearly not moving as well as he usually does; he was serving more upright with less knee bend (closer to how he would have served in 1998), and on return he was barely bending over at the hip, as is his trademark.  He was also moving gingerly between points - something was definitely wrong.  ESPN's Darren Cahill pointed it out and it was a great catch.  Roger left the court at 4-3 to get some treatment, but he was not moving any better.

Malisse broke at 5-5 when Roger dumped a tame pushy-forehand into the net.  He sauntered off to his chair, obviously trying to figure out what to do next.  He came back after the changeover with a new strategy - hit the ball softer and let Malisse miss.  It worked.  The Swiss broke back with a superb stretch volley, which was remarkable to do for someone with a bad back.  In the tiebreak, Malisse seemed to unwind and Fed stayed the course, and he took the tiebreak seven points to one.

After the set, the players were ushered off the court, perhaps a blessing for Fed.  In that time, he got more treatment and took some painkillers.  But there was still a question to be asked; would the back be better?

The second set was a lot easier.  He won it 6-1 in a cool 24 minutes (pun intended; it was very cool out - only 15 degrees Celsius).  Roger came out wearing an undershirt, which likely helped his back fend off the cold.  He was not moving that much better though, but he still played good enough to take the set easily.

Right off the bat in the third set, Malisse broke, and held another five successive times to take the set 6-4.  This was not a matter of Roger dropping his level as much as it was Malisse raising his, closer to the way he played in the opening set.  I say this because Roger was in many of Xavier's service games, but could not find a way to manufacture the break point chance that he needed.  Anyway, the veteran Belgian pushed the match to 4 sets.  Remember, he was only one hold away from having a two sets to one lead at this time, so in hindsight, Fed taking the first set was very crucial.

In the 4th, Malisse's momentum carried over from the third set and got the early break again, just as he did in the previous one.  This time however, Fed would not let the set get away from him.  He broke right back to get to 2-2, and then broke to finally get ahead.  (He was looking much more like the Roger of Health.)  That was all he would need, and he took the set 6-3.  A very tough and excruciating Federer win, 7-6(1), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 in two hours and eleven minutes.

He apologized to Malisse after the match, showing what a true class act he is.  Roger knows as well as anyone that playing an injured opponent can be an awkward experience and it can make a guy uncomfortable, as seemed to be the case with Malisse.

My Thoughts

As if it wasn't already obvious after the Benneteau match, Roger's fighting ability is extremely underrated.  To encounter a back injury midway through the first set and know that you'll have to win the match with great physical difficulty, that takes some serious strength.  In the end, he found a way to win without being at his very best.  He found a way to outmaneuver his opponent with variety, guile, and touch.  His backhand slice and drop shot were paramount in his ability to get through the match.

There was no doubt that the cold conditions did not help matters when it came to his back.  The undershirt that he wore for the final three sets probably helped a great deal, as well as the half hour break after the first set that allowed Roger to get treatment and maybe more importantly, get warm.  Without that rain delay, he may not have had the same success in the second set.  Perhaps the Tennis Gods were on Federer's side for once as a token of gratitude for his success at the All-England Club this past decade.

Statistically, Roger played well, to my great surprise.  The numbers:

9 aces, 1 double fault
45 winners, 18 unforced errors
34 of 39 at the net
6 out of 7 break points won
70% first serve percentage and 73% first serve points won

Overall, those are pretty decent numbers for a guy struggling with a back injury.  The first serve numbers jump out at me - granted, he was averaging 110 on it, with the fastest serve being 122 mph (in the 1st set before the injury), but from experience, Roger does not serve well when he is unhealthy.  He has served worse when he has been healthy, so being as good as he was on serve was almost icing on the cake.  Federer's serve has always been about accuracy more than pace, but surely the 10-15 mph drop in speed would cost him?  I guess not.  If anything, I believe that Fed put more emphasis on accuracy knowing that he could not slam aces like he usually can.

The other thing that got me was the net statistics.  34 of 39 at the net?  He was coming off a bad volleying day against Benneteau, but that was to do with improper anticipation than anything else, I believe.  In this match, he was dealing with a bad back, which is not ideal for hitting good volleys.  However, the numbers tell us a lot.  First of all, Fed was making an effort to get to net quicker, by either using a low slice approach shot or hitting a drop shot and following it in.  Whatever was the case, it paid off.  He also hit a few genial stretch volleys, which, I'm sorry, is something you do not do when you have a bad back (you are breaking the rules Roger!)

Next up:  Dr. Mikhail Youzhny

The veteran Russian will be Roger's quarterfinal opponent.  He and Roger have met quite a few times on grass, including in Halle a few weeks ago and Wimbledon last year, so they know each other very well.  Youzhny is a very good player and this will be his first quarterfinal after half a dozen Wimbledon 4th round exits.

Roger is 13-0 against the doctor.  However, he knows the danger of his play, and with this back problem adding to the equation, we may see a closer match than expected.  Youzhny will be coming off a very long four hour long match against Denis Istomin.  Whether or not any fatigue will come into play will be interesting to see.  He has had two four setters and now a grueling 5-setter.

Roger stated at his press conference that he is largely unconcerned about his back.  He indicated it was feeling better as the match wore on, and that this back problem has been on and off for years (in other words, 2008, when he had mono).  Two nights of sleep should help him recover, as well as the treatments, pain killers, and so on.  If he feels healthy, he should be able to come through against the Russian in straight sets.  If he isn't, well, then we shall go from there.

 In a slightly unrelated topic, Roger winning a comeback match and then fighting through this injury will give him some incredible confidence should he be healthy come the quarters and semis (against Djokovic, very likely).  This tournament has been unlike Roland Garros, where Fed could never find his rhythm at the right times.  Here, he has had two masterclasses, and two survival matches.  Should he feel healthy and ready to roar in the quarters, I can only imagine the relief that he'll feel, which can turn into confidence.  Just a thought.

So proud of Roger for fighting like a champion!

PS:  Rain halted play on the outer courts around the time Fed finished up, so they could only complete two more matches on Centre Court, one of which was Djokovic's dismantling of countryman Viktor Troicki.  The officials decided that play would end after that, with three men's matches (Tsonga/Fish, Gasquet/Mayer, and Murray/Cilic) all left to be unfinished.

This is a mistake in my opinion.  They could have finished the Gasquet/Mayer match to give one of those guys a day break to be on even terms with Novak.  Now, the #1 has an unfair advantage, which is something he surely doesn't need to beat one of them.  It is not an issue with the other matches since all of them will have the same disadvantage of having no days off (playing Tuesday and then Wednesday).  But for Gasquet or Mayer, they will be facing a fresh Djokovic while they will be winded, and that is not fair.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Wimbledon Manic Monday Preview

With the first week of Wimbledon over and done with (a fantastic week of tennis, by the way),  I preview (and predict) the upcoming men's Round of 16 matches, all to be played on "Manic" Monday.


(1) Novak Djokovic vs Viktor Troicki

After only having dropped one set in the first three rounds, and looking very good so far, Djokovic takes on his compatriot Viktor Troicki.  The #2 ranked Serbian player has given Djokovic trouble before, including nearly beating him at the 2010 US Open, but he never seems to be able to get the job done in the end.  Expect a straight sets win here for the #1.

Djokovic wins 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

(3) Roger Federer vs Xavier Malisse

After narrowly escaping defeat on Friday, Roger will be looking to re-assert his dominance and good play over Xavier Malisse, who has played well up to this point.  Fed cannot take him lightly, of course, but if history has told us anything, it is that Roger comes out strongly the match after a tough nail-biter the round before.  I see it being a tight straight sets win for Fed.  Should he win, it will be his 33rd straight quarterfinal.

Federer wins 7-5, 6-4, 6-1

(4) Andy Murray vs (16) Marin Cilic

Andy Murray really benefited from completing his 3rd round match against Marcos Baghdatis on Saturday.  If he had not, he would have had to finish his match on Monday, which would give Cilic an extra day to recover from that incredible 5 and a half hour long match he won against Sam Querrey.  Having two days off instead of three could be all the difference in the end.  Marin does have a Grand Slam win over Murray, though.

Murray wins 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6(3)

(5) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs (10) Mardy Fish

Fish's run to the 4th round has been inspirational.  After coming off problems with his heart and having not played a tournament since April, what he has done is remarkable.  Unfortunately, I see the run coming to an end here as he plays Wimbledon semi-finalist Jo-Willy Tsonga.  The two played in the 4th round of the US Open last year, which Jo won in 5.  I expect another tight match similar to that one.

Tsonga wins 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 6-7(4) 8-6

(7) David Ferrer vs (9) Juan Martin del Potro

This match is more or less a toss up.  Delpo has flown under the radar in the first week but he is playing some great tennis.  Ferrer is playing well also.  It will be a very tight match, but I see Delpo coming through in the end because I believe he is the better player at the moment.

del Potro wins 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.

(18) Richard Gasquet vs (31) Florian Mayer

Richard Gasquet has looked very good so far, but he'll face his toughest opponent yet in Mayer, a decent grass court player in his own right.  Overall though, Gasquet has played so well in his first three matches (and took out the #12 seed Almagro), so I see him taking it in 4.

Gasquet wins 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5

(26) Mikhail Youzhny vs Denis Istomin

Youzhny, like del Potro and Gasquet, has been flying under the radar here at Wimbledon once again.  He has made the 4th round a number of times (7 I believe), but he has never been able to break through and crack the quarterfinals.  Last year he took a set off Federer before his defeat, but with a much lesser player in Istomin on the other side, it looks like he might get through this time.

Youzhny wins 2-6, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6(6)

(27) Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Brian Baker

Brian Baker's story has been inspirational, without a doubt.  He is a very talented player, as we have seen through his first three matches.  Kohlschreiber is a very decent grass player though, and I cannot see him losing even though Baker will be very motivated, and quite frankly, has nothing to lose.  It would be a wonderful story to see the American get to the quarterfinals (after all, last year he was playing in Futures tournaments), but I just cannot see it happening.  Sorry Brian.

Kohlschreiber wins 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.


I love the second Monday at Wimbledon - there is something very special about having all the matches taking place on the same day, and the absence of play on Sunday builds up the anticipation even more.  There are some very good matches on the lineup and I hope we see some superb tennis as sixteen gets cut down to eight.

Enjoy the tennis!