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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kyle's 2012 ATP Awards

As we are in the offseason and there is no tennis to speak of, I thought I'd give my own end of year awards, plus my thoughts on who to watch going into a sure-to-be very exciting 2013.


Player of the Year: Novak Djokovic

No player has ever had to work harder to win a Grand Slam.

Djokovic started the year #1 and ended the year #1 (albeit in the last two weeks of the season). He made three Grand Slam finals and won one, the Australian Open. He won six titles (AO, Miami, Toronto, Beijing, Shanghai, and the World Tour Finals) and made five other finals (Monte Carlo, Rome, Roland Garros, Cincinnati, US Open). He followed his amazing 2011 season with a solid 2012 campaign, and to me, he was the best player overall throughout the course of the year.

After the Australian Open, he struggled a bit, understandably, but after winning Miami, he had a great clay court season and nearly won the French Open, which would have been his fourth Slam in a row. After losing four times in a little over a month, he rebounded strongly to have the best second half of the year (post-Wimbledon) with four titles, culminating with his 2nd year-ending championship where he went undefeated. He finished the year winning 15 of the 16 matches he played in. He did lose the #1 ranking to Federer but he had so much to defend in the first half of 2012 it's understandable (plus Federer raised his game and made a strong push in the first half of the year).

Most Impressive Player of the Year: Roger Federer

While Djokovic gets my vote as the player of the year, the all-time leader in Grand Slam titles was the most impressive player of the 2012 season in my opinion.

He won 6 titles (most since 2007) and returned to world #1. He won a Grand Slam at 30 years of age, which hadn't been done in nine years since Agassi lifted the Australian Open trophy in 2003.  He won over 70 matches (71) in a year for the first time since 2006 and between Rotterdam and Cincinnati he went on a run of 49-5, including stretches where he went 16-0 and won 18/19 and 21/22 matches (Wimbledon-Cincinnati and Rotterdam-Madrid). He also became the first player to win a Masters title without being broken, when he did so in Cincinnati (though that tournament will be remembered as the time he bageled Novak Djokovic, I believe). Last but not least, he won a medal at the Olympics, silver, which was the only thing he had been missing from his resume.

He will go down as the only champion to have won on blue clay, and the way he handled that entire week was inspiring. Unlike Djokovic and Nadal who complained about the surface, Roger adapted and played some of his best tennis of the year. At the start of the week against Milos Raonic, he struggled from the baseline so he switched to serve and volley tactics. But by the final against Tomas Berdych, he was chasing down heavy groundstrokes like the King of Clay himself, Rafa Nadal.

Federer won his 7th Wimbledon. He regained the #1 ranking. He broke the all-time weeks record at #1 and ended up stretching his record to 302 weeks. However, what may have been most impressive about his season was what happened previous to it. After having years in 2010 and 2011 that some (and maybe he) would find disappointing, he started the year with a goal in mind and did everything he could to achieve it (the goal being to reach #1). He won a lot of close matches and showed the kind of heart and drive that would bring him success at Wimbledon.

Simply, what Federer did in 2012, at age 30-going-on-31 was just outstanding. To have the motivation and commitment of a player ten years his junior, after everything he has accomplished, is quite unbelievable. For much of the first half of 2012, he was the player to beat, and he was perhaps a few matches away from becoming the year-end #1.

Most Improved Player of the Year: Andreas Seppi

What might have been....

 The 28 year-old Italian gets my vote for most improved player of the year for a few reasons. He reached a career-high ranking of 22 in October and finished the year #23, up from #38, where he started the year.

However, it was his play and results that really stood out as a big improvement. It started in Belgrade where he won his 2nd ever title. Then two weeks later, he made the quarterfinals in Rome, before losing to Federer. He also took part in one of the most entertaining and dramatic matches of the year against Stan Wawrinka the round before, where he saved many match points before winning in a third-set tiebreak.

Then at Roland Garros, he followed his good form up with a 4th round appearance against Novak Djokovic, where he took a two set lead before the Serb came back to win. After that, he made the finals in Eastbourne before losing to Andy Roddick (he will hold the distinction of being the final player Andy beat to win a title). After the US Open, he led Italy back into the World Group with a win over Chile, and then made the finals of Metz, a 250 event, losing to Tsonga. He finished a vastly improved year with a win in Moscow, where he defeated Thomaz Bellucci in the final.

Newcomer of the Year: Jerzy Janowicz 

I have that same shirt!

Janowicz started 2012 ranked #221, and ended the year ranked #26. The Polish 22 year-old made a huge splash in the final Masters event of the year in Paris, where he made the final, defeating four top 20 players (including Andy Murray) before losing to David Ferrer. However, his improvement in the rankings was not only due to that finals appearance in Paris, as he was already #69 before that tournament started. He won three Challenger events, in Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland, and he made the 3rd round at Wimbledon before falling to Florian Mayer. His jump of 195 spots in the rankings was remarkable and he is a player worth keeping an eye on as 2013 unfolds.

Comeback Player of the Year: Tommy Haas

The veteran German started the year outside the top 200. By August, he was in the top 25. How did he do it? It started at the French Open, where he made the 3rd round after going through qualifying. Then he went into his home country and won the Halle title on grass against Roger Federer. After a first round loss at Wimbledon, he made the final in two 500 events, Hamburg and Washington, losing to Monaco and Dolgopolov respectively. He followed that by making the quarterfinals in Toronto and pushing the then world #2 Novak Djokovic to 3 sets. He capped off a great year with another quarterfinal appearance in a Masters 1000 event, this time in Shanghai, where he again lost to Djokovic.

Haas finished the year ranked 21 - and he started the year #205, a 184-rank jump in 11 months. With being 34 years old, very old in tennis terms, and coming off many injuries, the former world #2 gets my vote for Comeback Player of the Year.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year: John Isner

This sums up Isner's Grand Slam season.

There were many expectations on the big American heading into the season, and he didn't live up to any of them. He lost in the 3rd round of the Australian Open, 2nd round of the French Open, 1st round at Wimbledon, 3rd round at the US Open. He performed well in the Davis Cup and made his biggest impact at Indian Wells where he upset Djokovic and lost to Federer in the final (he entered the top 10 briefly after this), but overall, it just wasn't the year many thought he would have.

He overscheduled and therefore didn't allow himself to play his best when it mattered most. He played 21 tournaments and three Davis Cup ties, and he put too many miles on his body. A guy like David Ferrer can keep up with playing a lot of tournaments, but not a guy like John. His style of play was also poor, as he chose to lumber around the baseline instead of attacking. In essence, he paid the price for exposing the glaring holes in his game.


Who to watch for in 2013?

Rafael Nadal: It shall be interesting to see how the Mallorcan responds after missing the second half of 2012. Will he be the same player he once was? He has said he will be changing his schedule up to help reduce his injuries, but could he pay for that in the rankings?

Grigor Dimitrov: At #48 in the world, will 2013 be his breakthrough season? He has been touted as a talented player with the potential to do great things, but can he be good enough week in and week out to break into the top 30? Top 20 even?

Milos Raonic: The big-serving, lanky Canadian had a solid 2012, in which he reached his career-high of 13 to end the year. He had two wins over Andy Murray and three close losses to Roger Federer (he probably should have won the last two). As he starts hitting his peak years, he will be a top 10 contender and will look to make the final eight at majors next year.

Juan Martin del Potro: It appears as though the big Argentine is back to the form he displayed throughout the second half of 2009. Delpo had a great year, winning 65 matches, four titles, and a bronze medal. He was stunted by Federer six times (including the French Open and London Olympics) before winning the final two matches in Basel and the World Tour Finals. He will be a very dangerous threat to the top 4 in 2013, and I'm sure he has a major on his mind. And the thing is that he has the game at all four majors, so he should be a consistent threat year-round.

Friday, November 16, 2012

2012 Federer Season in Review

Simply, 2012 was a better season for Roger Federer than any of his fans could have expected.

At the Australian Open, he played some amazing tennis before losing to his biggest rival, Nadal, in the semifinals. This was a disappointing match because he played so well prior and ulimately gave up on his tactics after the first set.

A week later at the Davis Cup, he suffered a shock loss to John Isner (who had never beaten him), en route to Switzerland getting blitzed by the USA. By this point, Roger had lost two straight matches, but nobody could have guessed what he would do in the coming months.

He played in Rotterdam, a 500 tournament, for the first time since 2005. In the semifinals, he fought from a break down in the second set (after losing the first) against Nikolay Davydenko to win, and then dismissed del Potro quite easily to win his 71st career title. A week later in Dubai, he did not drop a set and was only broken once to capture that title, his 5th at the event.

 Riding into Indian Wells, which he had not won since 2006, he was confident after putting together a 10-match win streak. After coming back from a set down to defeat Milos Raonic and Thomaz Bellucci consecutively, before stringing together three quality matches against del Potro, Nadal, and John Isner to capture his 19th Masters title. This was very impressive because he was ill with the flu the entire week, and still put together an outstanding week.

In Miami, Federer suffered a loss to one of his oldest rivals, Andy Roddick. The American played one of the best matches of his life, and with the loss, Roger had an extended break until the clay court season.

Which brings us to Madrid. There was great controversy over the event because blue clay was laid down, which made Nadal and Djokovic extremely unhappy (they both went out early). Federer's draw was very hard, and he barely scraped past Raonic before dispatching Gasquet, Ferrer, and Tipsarevic in making the final. In that final, he took on Tomas Berdych, and fought valiantly from a set down and had maybe his most clutch match of the season, winning his 20th Masters title and 74th overall.

Here came the down part of the year for Roger. In Rome, he made the semis before losing to Djokovic, but got some decent match play heading into the French Open. However, at Roland Garros, he never found his rhythm and after coming back from two sets down to defeat del Potro in the quarterfinals, he lost to Djokovic in the semis in a rematch of their famous encounter in 2011.

In retrospect, losing to Djokovic at the French was a blessing in disguise. The Serb and Nadal battled a war in the final whereas Fed received some extra rest, preparing himself for the grass court season. In Halle, he made a run to the final, including a third come-from-behind win against Raonic, before losing to his good friend Tommy Haas (more on the German later). Even with the defeat, it was a solid warm-up for his favourite Slam of the year.

At Wimbledon, the magic happened. In the 3rd round, he was two points from being upset from Julien Benneteau, but miraculously survived. A round later, on a cold, windy day, he suffered a scary back injury against Xavier Malisse, but somehow willed himself to victory.

Then came the moment of truth. In the semifinals, he took on Djokovic in a gargantuan battle. He was rock solid and took out the defending Wimbledon champion to make his first Wimbledon final in three years. He would face Britain's favourite son, Andy Murray, and with a win, would return to #1 in the world. He lost the first set to the Scot, but rebounded like champions do, and played some of the finest tennis he's ever played to win his 17th major title in 4 sets. It was a momentous occasion and all the hard work he had put together in the 10 months previous finally paid off.

 A few weeks later, he was back at SW19 for the Olympics. After surviving an early scare against Alejandro Falla (of Wimbledon 2010 fame), he landed himself in the semifinals without much trouble, against del Potro. He fought from a set down and won 19-17 in the third set in a contest that lasted well over four hours long. It was the longest three-set match ever. The win guaranteed him a singles medal, his first ever. In the final, he had little left in the tank against a red-hot Andy Murray and took home the silver, a fantastic achievement.

Because of the Olympics, he skipped Toronto and found himself back at his stunning best in Cincinnati. He defeated Djokovic in the final, delivering a bagel in the process. He held serve the entire tournament, the first time ever that a player has won a Masters title without being broken.

He took that momentum into the US Open, hoping to capture his 6th title in New York. After easing through his first three rounds, he received a walkover in the fourth when Mardy Fish withdrew due to health concerns, and he walked into the quarterfinals cold against Tomas Berdych. The Czech power hitter took advantage of the less-than-sharp play of the Swiss and won in four sets. It was a disappointing loss because had he won, he could have very well won the tournament.

After helping Switzerland get back into the World Group by taking out the Netherlands, Roger was back on tour action, looking to capture his first Shanghai title (he skipped the event in 2011 which led to his sweep of the indoor season). In the semifinals, he lost in straights to Andy Murray.

In Basel, he made the final before losing to del Potro in three close sets. He then took the week in Paris off, thus losing the #1 ranking, the total at 302 weeks. He entered the World Tour Finals on a 10-match winning streak at the event.

His first win against Janko Tipsarevic broke Ivan Lendl's record for most wins at the event, and he surpassed John McEnroe for most all-time wins. He overcame a tough challenge from David Ferrer, who was playing his best tennis ever, before falling yet again to the big Argentine.

He had played some great tennis in the round robin but also some errant tennis, so his semifinal showdown with Andy Murray was huge. He ended up putting together a masterclass against the US Open champion, and made his 8th final at the year-ending Masters Cup/World Tour Finals. In the final, it was the #1, Djokovic, against the #2, Federer in the last match of the season. Roger held a break in each set, but ultimately the Serb was too strong and Fed finished runner-up for the second time at the year-ending championship.

Overall, the numbers look like this: 71-12, 6 titles in 9 finals, a silver medal in the Olympics, and a return to world #1. He won 70 matches for the first time since 2006, and played a whopping 83 matches, also his most since 2006, when he played 97.

My thoughts on the season that was for the Swiss Maestro:

2012 was superb, and I don't think Federer fans could ask for much more. The last portion of the year was a bit of a letdown, but the first half of the season was absolutely magical. From Rotterdam to Cincinnati, Federer went 47-5 with 5 titles in 10 events.

I think before the win in Rotterdam, Fed was struggling with his confidence (hence the confusing losses to Nadal and Isner), but once he beat Davydenko, his entire mindset changed, and his confidence rose with every match. His serve became better, his movement and defense improved, and his mind remained focused and strong under duress, which allowed him to win many matches he could have or should have lost. His play in Dubai, Indian Wells, Madrid, Wimbledon, and Cincinnati honestly put me at a loss for words, he was that astonishing.

In the fall season, he was clearly on his last legs and tired after the heavy season, and the US Open defeat to Berdych did not help with his confidence, since he was on such a high heading into that event. Basically, the Olympics wore him out, and the loss in New York diminished his confidence and momentum just enough to derail him. Still, he made two finals and could have won both those titles had a few more points gone his way. He was certainly far from his best but he fought to the very end, which was a staple in 2012 that we did not always see in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

I think what Roger was able to do this year at 30-31 is out of this world, and this will go down as one of his best seasons ever. As mentioned, he played 83 matches - the extra six matches coming from the Olympics. It wasn't just that he played so many matches, however, but that many of them were tough mental battles where he had to be on the top of his game at the important moments to win.

He showed that he is perhaps the youngest 31 year-old to ever play the game, and that his fitness is elite. He showed that his love of the game is stronger than ever and he is willing to fight with the younger generation for these big titles. I can't stress enough that for someone who has accomplished everything, to still love the game as much as he does and want to put in the work to keep getting better is very admirable and respectable. His work ethic off the court is vastly underrated and it is his commitment to training in the off-seasons that has allowed him to piece together such a fantastic season where the game is more physical than ever.

May Federer have a great 2013 season and may he continue to win more titles and keep breaking records! The Maestro proved that he is far from finished and can beat his juniors (in the prime of their careers) on any given day, and you can bet your behind that he will continue to work as hard as ever to keep himself at the top of the game, challenging for the most coveted titles in our sport.

So long,


PS: my top ten Federer matches of 2012:

based on quality of play and importance of the match on Federer's season

1.  vs Andy Murray, Wimbledon final
2.  vs Nikolay Davydenko, Rotterdam semifinal
3.  vs Julien Benneteau, Wimbledon 3rd round
4.  vs Juan Martin del Potro, Olympics semifinal
5.  vs Milos Raonic, Madrid 2nd round
6.  vs Tomas Berdych, Madrid final
7.  vs Rafael Nadal, Indian Wells semifinal
8.  vs Bernard Tomic, Australian Open 4th round
9.  vs Novak Djokovic, Wimbledon semifinal
10.  vs Novak Djokovic, Cincinnati final

Monday, November 12, 2012

Djokovic beats Federer for WTF Title

Roger Federer could not capture his 7th World Tour Finals title as he lost 7-6(5), 7-5 to Novak Djokovic in an intense, grueling battle between the world's two best players.

Federer couldn't have asked for a better start as he took twelve of the fourteen points to open the match at 3-0, but it was short-lived as Djokovic raised his level to get back even at 3-3. The Serb broke at 4-4 and was two points away from the set, but Roger stormed back to break. They went to a tiebreak, where Djokovic held set point at 6-5, but Federer made a ridiculous stretch volley followed by a whip forehand that was behind him to save it. It was to no avail however as he lost the next point and Djokovic put away a forehand winner to take the tiebreak seven points to five.

Set number two also started just as Federer would have liked, as he broke the Djokovic serve. He held the one-break lead until he served for the set at 5-4 and held two set points, but he could not close it out. Djokovic wound up breaking back and holding, and he took his first championship point, giving him his second year-ending title.

It was a highly entertaining and dramatic match, and both Djokovic and Federer brought it on the occasion. It was a back-and-forth match with a multitude of momentum swings, and in the end, Djokovic was more opportunistic and deserved the win.


Wow. That is about the best that I can sum it all up. A fantastic season of tennis was finished with a stellar match with intense drama and an energetic crowd. Even though Federer lost in straights, he very well could have won in straights had a few more points gone his way. He had chances to get up a double break in both sets but couldn't, and Djokovic played relentless defense and returned characteristically incredible.

As a Federer fan, it surely is disappointing that he could not take his chances, but the match was decided by the smallest of margins - a point here and there. Also, full credit to Djokovic who remained patient and did not give up. He put together a great match and Roger certainly did not hand it over even when he was up a break in both sets.

It is also worthy to note that Djokovic had a day off in between his semi and final, whereas Roger had to play three matches in three days, and against three very difficult opponents for him. Given the circumstances, Roger did as well as he could have against a relentless amazing-under-pressure Novak Djokovic.

I don't think Roger should feel any regret. After all, he lost to a player six years his junior, and that player had to fight tooth and nail to beat him. Roger showed tremendous heart and fighting ability, and he definitely gave it everything he had. Both of them did. And that is why it was such a thrilling contest - because both players understood that each point mattered, and that one point could swing the momentum of the match.

Winning the World Tour Finals would have been icing on the cake, but this has been a great season for Roger, his best since 2007. Djokovic has been the most consistent player on tour this year, but Roger has played the best tennis in my opinion. His level from the start of Rotterdam to the end of Cincinnati was outstanding (6 titles in that stretch). The Swiss put in the hard work all year long and continued to prove those who doubt him wrong.

He heads into 2013 as the #2 player in the world, but a great Australian Open, and he could very well have a chance to retake the #1 sometime in the year. We shall see what happens but one thing I know is that Fed will work harder than ever to ensure that his level remains as high as it was in 2012. We all know his fitness is incredible, and it will need to be as he will be one year older.

Keep your heads up folks - what Roger did was special this year, especially regaining the #1 ranking and surpassing 300 weeks - he didn't get the finish to the year he would have enjoyed, but I have no doubt this result will help motivate him for the Australian Open. He deserves a good break now and here's hoping he will start 2013 with a bang!

PS - speaking of the off season, I know many are worried about the exhibition matches Fed is playing against Tsonga in South America. I wouldn't be too concerned about it as Roger will probably take the experience as a time to relax and have some fun traveling to a part of the world he rarely visits. Plus, they take place in December, so Fed will still have a month off until them and then the Christmas break before the start of the season.

I bid adieu to another season in tennis history, and look ahead to the next one. If 2013 is as good as 2012 was, we are in for a treat! I have hopes that Roger will win another major and keep shocking the world with his brilliance, but whatever happens we are all blessed to witness the genius of the Master.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Federer Crushes Murray in Semis

Roger Federer made his 8th final at the year-ending World Tour Finals with a very impressive 7-6(5), 6-2 win over Andy Murray in the semifinals. After what had been a shaky round robin stage at times for Federer, it was a breath of fresh air to see the Maestro perform up to his very lofty levels.

Murray started the match on fire, breaking the Federer serve early and holding a very quick lead. No doubt this was worrying to Federer fans after his loss against del Potro, but little did we all know that Roger would turn it all around magnificently.

Federer was down 3-1, 0-30 early, but then the tide slowly started to turn. After getting to deuce on Murray's serve at 3-2, he impressively broke back at 4-3, and from there, he never looked back. The set went to a tiebreak, and after getting down an early mini-break, he got it right back with a trademark inside-out forehand winner. At 5-4, controlled aggression won him the crucial point he needed, and at 6-5, a heavy deep forehand that Murray could not return won him the set.

In the second set, Roger really started to open up his shoulders and free up. He earned himself a break of serve at 1-1 after being down 40-0 (which you may remember happened at Wimbledon in the 3rd set), and from there, he never looked back. He captured a second break at 4-2 and put away a forehand winner on match point to seal the deal.

Novak Djokovic recovered from a set and a break deficit to take out Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. So therefore the final match of the season, fittingly, will be Djokovic vs Federer. Roger has won the last two matches and the head to head is tied 2-2 on the season.

Federer brings his A-Game:

In the simplest terms I can think of, Roger Federer showed why he may be the most resourceful tennis player who has ever picked up a racket. Murray started the match off in great form, but then Roger changed his tactics, which unnerved Murray as the match went on. The Swiss started to chip and charge, a staple of his coach Paul Annacone. He started to attack the net more and more, and used great angles.

Murray, regardless of what Ivan Lendl has been preaching to him about being aggressive, will always be a counter-puncher. He is not an all-out attacker like Federer is. Therefore, the moment Roger started to shake things up and not allow Murray to get into his baseline rhythm, the Scot had serious trouble.

Statistically, it was a very solid match from Fed. He was 13/15 at the net, broke all three times he had the chance, and backed up his second serve by winning 63% of the points. He played his best at the big stages, and surely he knew his form heading into the match was average, so to put together such an amazing performance must feel just wonderful for the man.

A few notes: Federer is 8-1 in Masters Cup/World Tour Finals semifinals after this win. And he was two points away against Nikolay Davydenko in 2009 from making that mark 9-0. And just how dominant has Federer been at the year-ending championships? Well, he has made the final eight of the last ten years, and has only failed to qualify for the semifinals just once. And in that year, 2008, he was suffering from a bad back and still lost a heart-breaker to Murray, a match where he saved 7 match points in one game while barely being able to move.

So we are all set for fireworks in the final match of the season. The two undisputed best players of the season squaring off in what should be an epic. I would give the advantage to Federer if only for his history at this event. He also has the confidence knowing he has beaten Djokovic the past two times. The conditions suit him against the kind of game Novak plays, and if he plays anywhere near as well as he did against Murray, he could walk away with a 7th year-ending title.

PS: I do think Djokovic has been the best player this year hands down, however I think Federer has had the most impressive season. Considering he's 31, had 70 wins for the first time since 2006, and returned to #1, it is almost unbelievable. He has put in the hard work and dedicated himself all year, and for that, I thank you Roger. Thank you for blessing us with your beautiful tennis. If my jaw drops any further I may require surgery.

May the best player win, and whatever happens, tennis wins with this one.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Federer Ousted by Del Potro

Roger Federer had his 12-match winning streak at the World Tour Finals snapped as he lost to Juan Martin del Potro 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-3. It was the Argentine's second straight win against the Swiss great.

There was nothing separating the world #2 and world #7 in the first set, and just as they did twice in Basel, it went to a tiebreak. Federer was playing solidly enough up to that point, but he imploded and got down 5-1 in dropping the set in disappointing fashion.

The second set was much more solid from Roger as he got a break in the very first game, and rode his serve to victory. It was a very solid serving performance as he never let Delpo into any of his service games. However, the big man turned the tables on Fed in the third set and broke early to take a 3-0 lead, one which he would not relinquish, and he held out from there to assure his place in the semifinals.

Janko Tipsarevic put in his best effort at this year's World Tour Finals, but it was to no avail as he lost to David Ferrer 4-6, 6-3, 6-1. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, he does not make the semifinals. It has to be a disappointing end to a fantastic season.

My thoughts on Federer:

It is obvious that Roger is burned out after the long season. He does not have the same stout mental ability that he usually does, and his game can be described as inconsistent and frustrating - he plays superb in stretches and then looks completely lost at others. Against del Potro, that was the case in the first set tiebreak.

However, I have watched too many Federer matches to count, and at this given point in time, Roger is far from playing his worst. I understand that he is not lighting it up, but he put together two very solid performances (in different ways), and then had a letdown against a very good del Potro.  Considering the big guy is in the prime of his career and Roger is at the tail end of a season where he has won 70 matches, the most since 2006, when he had his greatest season ever.

Breaking down the match, Roger was definitely overpowered by the strong Delpo serve. He was rarely in any service games and had trouble returning. Juan Martin doesn't have the fastest serve, but it is very heavy. The same can be said of his groundstrokes. We must remember that Roger has had trouble with Delpo many times before, so we shouldn't be surprised that he lost to a guy that needed the win much more than he did.

When you look at the match really closely, Roger could have won it 6-3, 6-4 if he had taken the break at 4-3 when he had two chances to break. And even without that set won, he forced Delpo to stay strong on the serve in the third set as he kept putting on the scoreboard pressure and kept it a one-break lead. Statistically speaking, he served very well, especially in the second set, when his entire game came together.

Andy Murray is the next opponent for Roger in the semifinals. Andy is playing some great tennis at the moment, but I really do believe Roger will raise his game because he'll have to. He usually brings his best when he needs it the most, and I hope that is what happens.

I hold the belief that Roger's game is right there, and he just needs to dig a little deeper to find it. His defense has been class all week, and regardless of the unforced errors, he has put together a vast array of amazing, jaw-dropping shots.

He is also getting frustrated more easily than we usually see him, but I think against Murray that may change as Andy could be the one blowing a gasket or two at any given time, and Fed stays cool against those kind of guys. Plus, Fed's anger can be attributed to his passion - he really wants to win, and knows that the level he's playing won't be good enough to win.

We know that Federer loves challenges. He will be forced to play his best against Murray and it shall be interesting to see if he can. I know many are saying he can't, but I am too experienced a Roger fan to ever write him off. He has proven me wrong too many times in the past.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a Djokovic/Murray final, but I also wouldn't be shocked to see another Federer vs del Potro match. In fact, if that did happen, it would be their 9th match of the season!

For those doubters and cynics out there, remember the fighting champion spirit that perhaps drew you to Federer in the first place. Even if he doesn't beat Murray, you can be rest assured he will give it everything he has, because he cares about winning this event that much. That is all.


Thursday, November 08, 2012

Federer Battles by Ferrer

Roger Federer qualified for the semifinals of the World Tour Finals with a tough but good 6-4, 7-6(5) victory over the world #5 David Ferrer. The Spaniard had been on an 11-match winning streak prior to the match.

The Swiss Maestro had a shaky start and was forced to save three break points in his opening game, which he held. Almost predictably, he broke Ferrer in the second game and held in the third to consolidate the break. However Ferrer's form came back and he got on level terms at 3-3. Skip ahead to 5-4, and the Paris champion played a few loose points and the Swiss took full advantage.

The second set was much closer, and Roger had his chances to get the elusive break, but was unable to.  12 games could not decide the set winner so they went to a tiebreak, where Fed played some of his best tennis to seal the match in one hour and twenty-nine minutes.

Fed was clutch on the day, as he saved nine of ten break points, and he had to earn about eight of them I'd say.  Clutch Roger at his best is something to see.  His composure is outstanding.

Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray on Wednesday in a tight three-setter to move him to 2-0 in the group. Tomas Berdych also won in three, beating Tsonga. It sets up a very interesting Friday, as Murray must win to advance to the semifinals. Juan Martin del Potro also picked up his first win by dismantling Janko Tipsarevic 6-4, 6-0.

Analysis of Federer/Ferrer match:

This was a match that you cannot look too deeply into the statistics. Federer hit 39 unforced errors, but he also hit some jaw-dropping shots, including a few that were reminiscent of his prime days on tour. He didn't get as many first serves in play as he would have liked, but his second serve was elite and won him many points.

Ferrer also played very well, and his aggressive attack certainly caused Fed to go for more on his serve, and Roger admitted that afterwards. Much of the struggle Roger had on the day can be attributed to (in my opinion) the depth and consistency of Ferrer's shots. There were many backhand errors where Roger was half-volleying them from the baseline and tried to hit the ball a little too fine to give him an offensive position and he shanked.

So why am I not worried about the 39 unforced errors? A few reasons. When Roger struggles, he tends to get impatient and goes for outright winners when he has no business attempting them. This is not what happened today. As I previously mentioned, many of his errors came from the baseline and off the backhand wing where Ferrer was peppering it deep and without much pace (but lots of spin).  Roger, never wanting to back off the baseline, was playing much riskier shots than if he were to back off the back line.

It is very easy to mistime a backhand hit right off the bounce (Federer takes the ball so early that even if it isn't a "half-volley" it is still coming fiercely off the court). Having a one-hander of my own, I know what it's like. When you hit a successful one, your centre of gravity remains low throughout the shot, and then when the follow through is completed, the weight shifts.  But the slightest shift in weight too early, and balance can be lost and therefore the shot becomes misdirected. Notice that the majority of the time Roger makes an error of his backhand wing, he's off-balance and he doesn't have his right foot planted firmly.

All right, onto the positives of the match, and the way I see it, there were many of them.  Firstly, his second serve. Early in the match, he hit a good three or four second serve kickers that had Ferrer missing wildly.  One serve, on the deuce side, just landed over the net close to the centre line, and kicked up over Ferrer's head. It was jaw-dropping, and just as impressive as any other highlight-reel shot Roger comes up with.

The other big thing to take away from the match was Roger's defense. Since the US Open, his legs have not been as sharp as they usually are, and it was affecting his game. Now, it appears as if the week he took of in Paris was certainly the right decision. There were many points where Ferrer had Roger running side to side, and the Fed, in his vintage free-flowing style, tracked them down and defended beautifully.  Especially off the forehand side. A few times he lasered a forehand cross-court or down the line and it immediately put him back on the offensive.

Last but not least, the creative juices were flowing in this one. Halfway through the second set, Fed played around with his drop shot and well before the match ended, he had pretty much hit and/or attempted every single shot in his repertoire. And remember, that repertoire is an encyclopedia (meaning, in essence, that he has every single shot in the book).

A few gems from the Grand Master: six rallies that stood out to me.

 At 30-40 in the very first game, Roger was forced into hitting a short ball, and Ferrer approached. The Spaniard hit a near-perfect shot right into the corner, but Roger while running, scooped up the ball on his backhand side and flicked it past David down the line. It was a play that Roger could make at will in his prime and it was nice to see him bring it out on such an important point.

At 2-0 break point Ferrer, Fed came up with another stunner. Ferrer hit a hard forehand cross-court with great angle, and Roger, while on the dead run, whipped his forehand like a lasso with an absurd angle for an ouright winner.  David Ferrer is one fast dude, and to be able to hit a winner like that by him (he was tracking it down) is just too good.

The first point of the 10th game at 5-4 didn't end spectacularly but it was special nevertheless. Once again, Roger was pushed out wide on the forehand and hammered a forehand down the line with just a flick of his wrist (uncanny). He next scampered across the court, set his feet, and nailed a penetrating backhand down the line. After that, he attacked the net, and took a swinging forehand looper out of the air, and Ferrer hit his lob long. I highlight this point in words because Roger would have never been able to attack without the tremendous defense he played, and that sort of thing was something he was doing regularly in the spring. It appears he is back in that regard.

In the second set, in the first game at 30-40 on his serve, Roger stole one. After hitting an inside-in forehand and then a short cross slice, he came in. However, he stumbled just before reaching the service line and nearly lost his balance. He didn't though, and somehow pulled off a volley behind Ferrer, which forced David to pop up a lob. It would have been successful and he would have grabbed the game but Roger used all his athletic ability and made contact with the smash off the very top of his strings for the putaway. It would have been easier but Roger was caught too close to the net when he stumbled and was forced to recover more. That made it special.

The next point I described may have been the best of the match, at 1-1 15-30 on Roger's serve. A few shots into the rally, Fed hit a hard angled forehand cross court which forced Ferrer to make a stunning get. Fed, in the doubles alley, ran all the way past centre to to hit a forehand (oh Roger) which clipped the net.  Fed's next shot was a sick-angled backhand which David amazingly got to. The next shot was the dagger, as Roger hit a fading-away inside-in forehand that forced Ferrer to hit a weak reply and he hit the net. But the only reason David couldn't get to the ball was because he stopped in his backhand corner for a split second, looking for Roger's favourite inside-out shot. That is how big of a weapon that shot is for him.  Even when he isn't smacking it, the hesitance of his opponents wins him points.

One last one, I promise. This one came in the second set at 3-2 0-15.  After a great baseline exhange of spin and angle, Roger tried to sneak in but Ferrer caught him and put a ball near his feet.  Fed tossed up an inside-out backhand drop shot. Ferrer was there with time to spare and smashed it cross-court, but Federer, floating like a butterfly, lunged to his left and stabbed a backhand volley to the open court. A great display of reflex, anticipation, and creativity.

Okay, I'm done with that.

In general, Roger didn't bring his A-game but wasn't allowed to from the great play of Ferrer. But Roger brought his A-game in terms of creativity and it was a very fun match to watch, with a countless number of exciting baseline exchanges, and some very great net play. Don't worry about the serving or the shanks - this was still a very classy match from the Swiss Genius.

Federer now plays del Potro in his third match, which will take place on Saturday. He is guaranteed a semifinal finish regardless of the outcome, but you know he'd like to have a clean sweep and go into the semis with confidence, especially if he ends up playing Murray or Berdych.

Hope you enjoyed,


Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Federer Sweeps Past Tipsarevic

Roger Federer began his quest for his 7th World Tour Finals title with a comprehensive and smooth victory over Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-1 on Tuesday afternoon.  The win moved Federer into the lead for most match wins at the event, and he passes John McEnroe in the all-time wins list, with 876.

The Swiss Maestro held quite comfortably at the start of the match, and then proceeded to break the 8th seed.  He opened up a controlling three-game lead, and focused all his energy on holding.  In the second set, he broke Tipsarevic in the third, fifth, and seventh games to put away the match rather easily.  It was a fine display from Federer and the peRFect way to start off his week.

It is worth noting that Tipsarevic has fallen victim to a cold in recent days, but even if he was completely healthy, the result would remain pretty much the same.  Janko has nothing to hurt Federer with and the Swiss was in full control of his advanced arsenal the entire match.

The world #2 only served at 51% for the match, however he backed it up with a very stable second serve and authoritative baseline strokes.  It was a vintage performance as Roger pulled out some amazing shots (more on that later), and hit his backhand like gold.

On Monday, Andy Murray defeated Tomas Berdych in three sets and Novak Djokovic defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straights.  Therefore, we will see a rematch of the US Open and Shanghai finals on Wednesday, in what should be a cracker.  Federer plays David Ferrer, who took out del Potro 6-4 in the 3rd.  Roger definitely has a big advantage in his group in games won/loss so far.

Analysis/Thoughts on Federer in this match:

Simply put, Roger was fantastic in this match.  He may lose a step or two at his age (although it appears he hasn't), but he will never lose his unique shotmaking genius.  A few examples of the amazing shots he hit in this match:

-  Early in the first set (at 3-1, 30-0), Tipsarevic attacked the net and Fed passed him.  However, the Serb got his racket on it and just dipped the ball over the net.  Federer, scrambling almost effortlessly to get there, ran around his backhand side to lay a forehand on the ball, and flicked the fuzz inside-out with a very acute angle.  Janko got his racket on the ball, but Roger put away the smash.  It was absolutely brilliant and shows how dexterous Fed's right wrist is.  He is way too flexible for his own good, I tell you.

-  At 3-1 deuce in the second set, Roger hit a fading drop shot just over the net.  He moved forward, while Tipsarevic slipped the ball past him with a sharp angle.  Fed, as agile as he is, ran to the ball that was behind him and somehow flicked his wrist into a backhand that got the ball over the net.  Again, his wrist is way too talented with a racket in his hand.

-  Just two points later, the two men had an exchange of forehand strokes, and then out of the blue, Federer hit a forehand that landed short of the service line just inside the sideline.  The only catch is that he did this while standing in the ad court.  How he was able to create an angle such as that I don't know.  The amount of top spin he puts on the ball is extremely underrated though.

-  When he did capture the break in that game, it was a thing of beauty.  A 24-shot rally in which Roger defended superbly a few times off the backhand side until a sizzling backhand down the line gave him control of the rally, and then he put away a popped up Tipsarevic defensive shot with a fiery forehand winner.  He then let out a yell that wasn't a "come on" or an "allez," but it was more like a "Yeee!"

Federer's success on the the indoor London hardcourt:

With his win, Federer moved to 13-2 at the O2 Arena in London for the World Tour Finals, and he has won his past 11.  Overall, he has 40 wins at the event dating back 11 years ago when he first made the top 8 in 2002.  Picking up two titles in Houston and two in Shanghai, he cemented his status as the man to beat at the end of the season almost every year.  He was never fatigued like others were at the end of the season-long grind, and nearly always performed his best.

The same rings true in London.

At the O2 Arena, it is as if Federer is playing in his own backyard.  His serve is more lethal, his returns are crisper (and he makes more of them), his volleying is more accurate, and his immaculate groundstrokes are made to be even more effective.  Especially his backhand, which brings me to my next point.

Federer's backhand is unbreakable on this court.  Just using this match against Tipsarevic as an example, there is great evidence to suggest as much.  Many times Janko hammered away backhands at Roger, but Fed just half-volleyed them back and with interest.  Mentally, Roger just doesn't have any fear of hitting on that side on this court, and it pays massive dividends for him when it comes to dominating from the baseline.

Historically, Federer's backhand has been his best shot on the court too.  In 2009 and 2010, Murray tried to break it down.  Couldn't do it.  In 2010 Djokovic tried and failed.  In 2010 and 2011, Rafael Nadal, the one man who has hurt Roger's backhand the most in his career, couldn't even come close to doing it.  But why?

Much of it (in my analyzed opinion) has to do with the actual court.  Of course, the event is played indoors so that helps with Roger's confidence on that wing in that he can time the ball much better, but that isn't what I am talking about.

The court can be described as a mid-to-low bouncing hardcourt.  Federer's top spin strokes bounce off the court faster than normal because there's no wind to affect the ball.  The court is pretty fast, however the heavy top spin his shots have kick off the court quicker and more extreme.  His slice also stays extremely low, and many players have struggled with the extreme variation Federer shows them on this court.

The quickness of the court helps with his backhand because he is able to counter-punch successfully off the backhand side when it is peppered, since many balls don't come shoulder height and he doesn't have to move back to wait for the ball to drop.  He can take on half-volleys at will standing close to the baseline and bide his time until the right shot opens up or the opponent tries to attack his forehand.

Note:  I have observed just how deep Federer hits his backhand consistently on the court.  It is absolutely stunning.  He just does not allow opponents to attack him by keeping them on the back foot.  His forehand depth isn't as great, but he uses his forehand for more angle so he doesn't have to hit it deep all the time.*  But unless Roger has stepped inside the court, he will not angle his backhand cross court, but rather set himself up to run around his backhand for his favourite inside-out forehand.

*Federer's forehand can be angled off more and be just as effective because it's generally coming faster than his backhand is.  So a whip forehand that lands at the service line gets to the opponent just as fast as a steady, solid deep backhand that he half-volleys off the baseline.

Anyway, that is my attempt at analysis.  I have been thinking about his backhand since I saw the match, and it brought up fresh thoughts that I just had to get down (for my own benefit).  I do find Roger's game fascinating, and especially indoors when everything comes together.

Enjoy the tennis tomorrow and I'll be back after Federer vs Ferrer.  Hope you enjoyed!


Sunday, November 04, 2012

Paris Glory and World Tour Finals

An exciting and eventful week in Paris for the final Masters 1000 event of the season culminated with a wonderful finish, as David Ferrer, the world #5 caught in the shadows of the dominant top 4, won his first Masters crown and 18th title overall by defeating qualifier Jerzy Janowicz of Poland in straight sets.

A quick recap of the week:  

Roger Federer withdrew from the event following his final loss in Basel to Juan Martin del Potro.  As a result, he gave up the #1 ranking to Novak Djokovic, who will end the year on top.  Speaking of the Australian Open champion, he was defeated by Sam Querrey in the 2nd round, ending a 10-match winning streak where he picked up titles in Beijing and Shanghai.

Andy Murray suffered the same fate as he was shockingly upset by Jerzy Janowicz, who saved a match point in the second set to win 6-2 in the third.  For Murray, it was the third consecutive tournament in which he has held match point in a contest and lost.  The first was to Milos Raonic in Tokyo, the second to Djokovic in the Shanghai final.

The biggest story of the week was Janowicz, the Polish 21 year-old.  He defeated five straight top 20 players before losing to Ferrer in the final.  They were Kohlschreiber, (19), Cilic (15), Murray (3), Tipsarevic (9), and Simon (20).

The Pole's play was outstanding all week, as he rained down bombing serves and groundstrokes.  But he also showed a great sense of variety and touch, employing drop shots at will, and a rock-solid head and mental maturity.  He became the first player in 12 years to reach a final in his Masters debut.  He also jumps to #26 in the world after his star-in-the-making type performance.  It is quite considerable when you realize that he started the year #221 in the world.

For the victor of the week, Ferrer, it is a tremendous achievement.  At the age of 30 (old in tennis, supposedly), he has quietly put together his best year on tour.  He has a tour-leading 71 wins and 7 titles.  His attitude, effort, and consistency has paid great dividends and finally winning a Masters title is the icing on the cake to a fantastic year.

Mini World Tour Finals Preview:

The year-ending World Tour Finals starts on Monday, as the final eight do battle at the O2 Arena in London for the final title of the year.  The participants are Djokovic, Federer, Murray, Ferrer, Berdych, del Potro, Tsonga, and Tipsarevic.  The world #4 Nadal withdrew from the event, marking the third time he has been absent from the proceedings since 2005, when he was world #2.

Group A features Djokovic, Murray, Berdych, and Tsonga, while Group B features Federer, Ferrer, del Potro, and Tipsarevic.  Federer certainly received a favourable draw, as he is 31-3 combined against his three round robin opponents.

My thoughts and predictions:

Federer should make the semifinals if he shows the same kind of form that has won him his past two World Tour Finals titles.  Tipsarevic should be a straight-sets win, while Ferrer and Delpo should give much more difficult matches.  Well, at least Delpo anyway.  I have my suspicions that Ferrer will be very tired, both physically and emotionally after the past two weeks he has had, winning Valencia and Paris.  He only has a day of rest after playing for two weeks straight before he faces the 2009 US Open champion, and he could be gassed.  We shall see.

On the other side, it is much more open.  Djokovic has been strong lately and he should be a force to be reckoned with unless fatigue overcomes him.  It's hard to question where Murray's mind is right now after losing three matches he should have won recently.  Nevertheless, he will have the full crowd support behind him, especially after what he accomplished at Wimbledon, the Olympics, and the US Open, where he won his first Slam and ended the ever-long drought for a British Grand Slam winner (76 years, I believe?).  Berdych and Tsonga are two unknowns.  They can both play lights out and they'll need to if they hope to make it out of the round robin stage.  The Frenchman will take refuge in the fact that he had such a great week a year ago, making the final before losing to Federer in a very close match.

If I had to make a prediction now, it would go like this:

Federer goes 3-0
Del Potro goes 2-1
Ferrer goes 1-2
Tipsarevic goes 0-3

Murray goes 2-1
Berdych goes 2-1
Djokovic goes 2-1
Tsonga goes 0-3

The final would feature Federer and Murray in a blockbuster.

Regardless of the outcome, it has been an amazing season with so many terrific storylines.  Let us hope that the year ends with a bang in London, preferably with Federer coming out the victor! (Yes, I know I am biased, sue me).