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!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Federer Sails into Round Three

Roger Federer made quick work of Carlos Berlocq 63 62 61 in the 2nd round of the US Open on Thursday to move on in the final major of the season.

The Swiss Maestro was in no mood to play around and was sharp right from the start of the match. He wound up taking the opening set in half an hour. They traded breaks in the first two games of the second before Roger went up another two breaks and it was much of the same in the third set as Roger handed out a breadstick to the veteran clay-court specialist from Argentina.

It was a better performance than his opening match and the quality of his opponent was much better also. Berlocq didn't really play that badly, but he was obviously overmatched. The 30 year-old handled himself well and the contest was sprinkled with some brilliant points throughout.

Federer hit 37 winners to 25 errors, was 28/40 at the net, and broke serve 7 times in 13 attempts. He didn't have his best serving day but he didn't need it either. If he practiced after his first round win because he felt the match had little rhythm, he didn't need to after this one as there were many baseline rallies with the consistent and intense Berclocq.

Next up for Fed is Adrian Mannarino, who upset American #2 Sam Querrey in 4 sets. The Frenchman is someone who makes the most out of his game but anything but a straight sets win would be a surprise - in their two previous meetings at Wimbledon and the Paris Indoors in 2011, Roger won comfortably.

Elsewhere in the draw....

On Wednesday, Andy Murray unsurprisingly rolled by Michael Llodra in a highly entertaining match that featured many cat-and-mouse points and creative shotmaking. Juan Martin del Potro had a tougher go of things, needing 4 sets and 4 hours to beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Rafael Nadal cruised into the third round with a simple victory over Rogerio Dutra Silva in the Thursday night session.

Round three will see an interesting match between del Potro and Lleyton Hewitt, a battle of two US Open champions. It could be a tricky test for the big man but he should come through.

As it stands, Djokovic should make the quarters with ease as he plays Benjamin Becker in the second round, then Jarkko Nieminen or Joao Sousa, and then Marcel Granollers or Rajeev Ram. Murray has a similarly smooth path, with Leonardo Mayer in the second round, then Donald Young or Florian Mayer, and then Tobias Kamke or Denis Istomin. Del Potro's biggest test to the quarters could be Tommy Haas in the 4th round, and for Tomas Berdych, it could be Stan Wawrinka.

On the sadder side, James Blake was defeated by Ivo Karlovic on Wednesday night in 5 sets to send his proud career into the sunset. The American lost a two set lead but it has to be said that the tall Croatian has improved his overall game a lot over the years. His serve may not be as powerful as it once was, but his forehand, movement, and net game are all improved. Even his return has stepped up, and many times the big man ran around his slice backhand return to hammer a forehand to which Blake had no answer.

It's always sad when a player you enjoy watching retires, and there have certainly been many of them over the last few years - Marat Safin, Carlos Moya, Ivan Ljubicic, Fernando Gonzalez, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and now Blake.

Blake's career may not have been as good as it could have been, be played the game big and on his terms, with his massive forehand and athletic quickness. But as much as he was a joy to watch on the court, he was even better off it, and to see him have as successful a career as he has had after his broken neck in 2004 and the death of his father.

You will be missed James, from a big fan.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Federer into R2 at US Open

Roger Federer's path towards a 6th US Open started comfortably on Tuesday with a 63 62 75 win over Slovenian Grega Zemlja in an hour and a half. The match was scheduled for opening night but rain postponed it.

It was hardly a masterclass from the 7th seed (that sounds weird, doesn't it?), but he got the job done without much difficulty at all. With the exception of one game in the third set where he was broken his serve was solid, and he shortened points frequently by coming to net, winning 20 of 21 points in the forecourt and hitting 33 winners to 16 errors.

From my experience in watching majors, fans try to judge too quickly how a player will play in the later rounds of a tournament by how he does in the first and second rounds against, for the majority of the time, opponents who pose very little threat. If a player wins 62 62 62, then he looks great and the predictions start about the second week - but if he struggles even the slightest bit then that doubt creeps in.

Right now, we know that Federer has a potential meeting with Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. But how he does in the first four rounds does not in any way give us the ability to predict how he might play vs Nadal in the quarters. The win today was solid and he faced no real trouble, and that's what matters. None of the top guys aim to play their absolute best in the early rounds unless, of course, they are forced to.

Federer will play Carlos Berlocq of Argentina, the intense ball of fire who is playing his best tennis now at 30 years of age. It should be a straightforward win along the lines of 63 62 64 unless the Warclocq brings out some of his magic.

Elsewhere in the draw so far, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, and Richard Gasquet have all advanced easily to the 2nd round. Other notables advancing were Milos Raonic, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Tommy Haas, John Isner, Julien Benneteau, Bernard Tomic, Feliciano Lopez, Nikolay Davydenko, Tommy Robredo, and American Jack Sock. Nicolas Almagro was upset while 28th seed Juan Monaco retired. Ernests Gulbis, the 30th seed, was upset in 5 sets and Fernando Verdasco was outed by Ivan Dodig.

While the top guys had smooth matches to the round of 64, many young guns bowed out in the opening round disappointingly. 11th seed Kei Nishikori lost in straights to Dan Evans. 14th seed Jerzy Janowicz, semifinalist at Wimbledon, crashed out to Maximo Gonzalez, who may be best known for being Roger Federer's first round opponent in his 13th Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2008. Granted, the Pole had a back injury, but it's still disappointing. Grigor Dimitrov, who now may be most famous for dating Maria Sharapova, lost to Joao Sousa in 5 sets, 6-2 in the 5th. The Bulgarian, who has tons of untapped potential, still hasn't advanced past the 3rd round in a major and is now 22. Finally, Vasek Pospisil lost a two sets to none lead to Rogerio Dutra Silva, wasting 7 match points in the process. The Canadian who entered the top 40 with his semifinal run in Montreal a few weeks ago, lived up to the ever-persistent choker label and has proven again to still struggle outside Canada.

That paragraph will lead to another article about the rise (or lack thereof) of young talent in the game, but that is for another time.

Until Roger's next match,


PS - I heard that Roger practiced after his win, and if that was the case, then you know he's dead serious about giving everything at this US Open.

Friday, August 23, 2013

2013 US Open Draw Preview

If Roger Federer is going to come close to winning his 6th US Open and 18th major title, he may need to go through his biggest rival Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals.

This is the Swiss' projected path:

Round 1 – Grega Zemlja
Round 2 – Carlos Berlocq or Santiago Geraldo
Round 3 – Sam Querrey or Horacio Zeballos
Round 4 – Kei Nishikori or Tommy Robredo
Quarterfinals – Rafael Nadal or John Isner
Semifinals – David Ferrer or Richard Gasquet
Final – Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray

The first four rounds could have been a lot harder, so I'm pleased with that aspect of the draw. Having said that though, an easy draw on paper can turn dangerous and a hard draw can open up so you can never base too much on paper.

A match against Sam Querrey in the 3rd round should be the first test Roger faces in the tournament because of the American's big serve. Then playing in the 4th round against Nishikori  would be a challenge, but also a chance at revenge after the Madrid upset. However, the Japanese youngster may have to go through Marinko Matosevic or Tommy Robredo and that won't be any easy match.

The big match with Nadal awaits in the quarters, but we can't count the chickens before they hatch. They were set to play in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and of course they both went out early in surprising defeats.

The 2010 US Open champion starts his campaign against Ryan Harrison and then will very likely play Vasek Pospisil, who saw his ranking rise stratospherically with his semifinal run in Montreal a few weeks ago. One of Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco should be his 3rd round opponent, and then he may face big John Isner in a rematch of the Cincinnati final (or Philipp Kohlschreiber, the 22nd seed).

One thing I'm more than pleased about is that should Federer get by Nadal, or if Nadal goes out early, then his semifinal opponent based on seeding would be David Ferrer or Richard Gasquet. However, Ferrer has been in bad form recently since his French Open final and Gasquet hasn't made a Grand Slam quarter since Wimbledon 2007 when he made the semis. There is a very good chance we see a surprise in that quarter.

Bottom line is, if Federer had to go through Nadal, Murray, and Djokovic to win the title, that would be near impossible at this point with him being 32 and with it being so hard to handle the best-of-5 grind in Slams. With this draw set up though, if he can make the semis and play Ferrer, Gasquet, or anyone else, it would be a much easier task than facing Murray and he would hopefully have an easier match to prepare for a final against likely Murray or Djokovic.

As for the top half featuring last year's US Open final competitors, they both should make the quarterfinals with ease but there are a few speed bumps along the way.

For Djokovic, he could gace Grigor Dimitrov in the 3rd round, which could be a hard match or it could be simple, just like their 3rd round match at Roland Garros was, which the #1 won 62 62 63. His 4th round is projected to be played against Benoit Paire or Fabio Fognini while his quarterfinal opponent based on seeding should be Juan Martin del Potro.

For Murray, he has a smooth path until the quarterfinals where a match with Tomas Berdych or Stan Wawrinka could await. He could play Juan Monaco in the 3rd round and Nicolas Almagro or Andreas Seppi in the 4th round.

Overall, as a Federer fan I am pleased with his draw. Sure, it's not ideal that he got drawn with Nadal, but you never know what might happen. As for if they face off, I think Rafa would have the decided edge because of the best-of-5 format and his recent run of form, but I would not count Roger out. If he could play as he did in Cincinnati and keep his nerve in the big moments, he would have a chance. But that's a long way away and all this talk is best saved for later.

Have a good time watching the US Open. I will be in Maine on vacation for the first week of the tournament but I'll be writing and keeping up to date with everything that is going on.

Cheers, Kyle.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Federer suffers loss to Nadal in Cincinnati

Roger Federer gave Rafael Nadal all he could handle and played some vintage tennis under the lights in Cincinnati but he ultimately fell to his rival 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. The loss drops the all-time leader in weeks at #1 to #7 in the rankings, dropping him outside the top 5 for the first time in ten years.

There was much speculation about whether or not Federer, who has had a rough couple of months, would be able to challenge the in-form Nadal, even on the quick Cincinnati hardcourts where Federer has been champion five times. In the end, he challenged Nadal and then some.

Right from the start there was a sense that this wouldn't be a lopsided match. The first set was pretty even throughout the first ten games but Federer was playing very well, winning many points off his serve and holding easily. In the eleventh game the Swiss Maestro played like the Federer old on break point, hitting forehand after forehand after forehand to the Nadal backhand and eventually forcing the error to grab the first break of the set. He held with ease to close the set out, and needless to say, it was the best set of tennis Federer has played in months.

The second set was dead even as well though Nadal started to raise his level, by serving better and hitting his groundstrokes with more authority. In the tenth game, Rafa missed a few set point chances but prevailed in the end with one forehand winner and the match was going the distance.

At the start of the third set, Roger dropped his intensity and looked a little more tired, and he was broken under the weight of Nadal's relentlessness. In the end, that small lapse was the difference of the match. Roger kept hanging on and saved a few break points along the way before getting to 5-3 for his last stand. Nadal racked off the first three points but Roger saved them all. He then lost a deuce point, then saved another match point, then lost the deuce point, then saved another match point, then lost the deuce point (on an unlucky net cord), and then FINALLY, Nadal sailed a forehand winner down the line to win the match (or so we thought - hawkeye later revealed that the ball was out but Roger did not challenge).

In the end, it is a loss and another one to Rafael Nadal, bringing Roger's record against him to 10-21. But those numbers are really irrelevant at this point in time. What every Federer fan must take from this match is a positive outlook, because he hasn't looked that good in a very long time, perhaps not since the Australian Open.

He looked physically healthy, he was serving at a very high standard, and for a good while in the match he was beating Nadal in many of the baseline exchanges.  He was beating Nadal at his own game, hitting constantly to the backhand and only going to the forehand when there was a clear opening. He rarely sliced the ball and came over many backhand returns, something I and other Fed fans have been begging him to do.

Nadal did what Nadal does, which is rise to the occasion. But make no mistake, Roger forced Rafa to raise his game in order to win. The screws tightened and he became more aggressive because he knew he couldn't allow Roger to dictate the rallies any longer.

All in all, Fed can take so many positives from this match and from this week in general. His back looked fine, he got the groove back on his serve (2nd serve was great) and he finally showed some glimpses of the player Roger is when he plays to his potential, even now at 32.

He will be #7 heading into the US Open, but being #5 or #7 doesn't make a big difference - either way he will get Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, or Ferrer in his quarter (please Ferrer, God please Ferrer).

So in the end, even though he lost, I feel like Roger and his fanbase have good reason to be more optimistic about the rest of this year. Fed showed what he can do when healthy and I can't ask for a better time for Roger's form to get better than right before the US Open.



Thursday, August 15, 2013

Federer fights past Haas in Cincy

Roger Federer made his way to the quarterfinals of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati by rallying past Tommy Haas 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a match that saw the 17-time Slam champ come back from a set and a break down.

The first set was quite disastrous to say the least, and the German stormed off with it 6-1 on the back of two breaks. For the first half of the second set, it was much of the same story as Haas broke in the opening game to hold a firm grip on the match. Until the real Roger Federer showed up.

For the first 13 games of the match everything was going Haas' way. And then he played one loose game and allowed Roger back into it. From then on, the momentum slowly started turning to the Swiss' side. All in all, he ended up winning 5 of the last 6 games of the second set and headed into the third with momentum. In that deciding set, they split the first six games but then Roger went up another gear in the eighth game to break and then he hit a forehand winner on his first match point to seal the deal.

You can split this match into two halves, the first and the second. In the first, Roger was playing pretty poorly and showed the kind of form (or lack thereof) he's been showing much of this year. But in the second half, what we witnessed was closer to the old Roger, the one with the free flowing game and gleaming confidence.

The Fed served at 66% for the whole match, which is pretty decent overall. He hit 43 winners to 39 errors, and converted on 3 of 12 break point chances.

It was a scrappy win but right now that may be just what Roger needs. I think back to the come-from-behind win against Davydenko at Rotterdam last year where he was also down a set and a break and most think that the win in that contest raised his confidence and helped propel him to that magnificent run he had between February and August.

It is going to get a whole lot harder however as next up is Rafael Nadal, who overcame Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. Nadal has been in great form pretty much the entire year and backed up his great success on the clay this spring with a win in Montreal on the hardcourts last week. He did not look as sharp as usual against the young Bulgarian, but you can be rest assured that he'll have his A game against Roger in the quarters.

So what are Roger's chances of pulling off the upset? He is most certainly the underdog here, no matter how much Rafa will say that he is not the favourite. Fed must serve well and be patiently aggressive in order to succeed. The good news is that he appears to be healthy and has served very well in his first two matches. Also, the fast Cincinnati courts should help him win more free points than usual off his delivery. Being "patiently aggressive" basically means to not go for broke too early and work the point until an opening comes to go for the kill. Fed must approach the net intelligently and not give Rafa any momentum from hitting passing shots. And perhaps most importantly, Roger must return well. He needs to hit over the backhand as much as possible and stepping over to his backhand side before the serve would help things out to get a quicker jump on the ball.

Before the tournament my expectations were for Federer to make the quarterfinals and then from there see what happens. I won't be disappointed if Roger doesn't win, as it will take a great effort, but at the same time I wouldn't be surprised if Roger played a great match and shocked us all.

Hoping for the best tomorrow,


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Federer off to good start in Cincinnati

Roger Federer returned to the hardcourts with a 6-3, 7-6(7) win over 26th ranked Philipp Kohlschreiber in Cincinnati, where the Swiss Maestro has won five of the last eight years.

After the troubles with his back in Hamburg and Gstaad, and the general poor form over the last few months, there were some questions to be answered heading into this match. Roger didn't come back with a bang, but he did win in straight sets against a talented top 30 player, so it's a start.

The first set went smoothly enough as Roger served well and never looked uncomfortable. He wasted six break point chances in one game but the next time he had a chance he converted to go up 4-2. His back looked like a non-issue which is a very positive sign and his net play was very good, and he even used a little bit of serve-volley. It must be said that Kohlschreiber played an abysmal set and showed no self-belief on the court.

In the second, the German improved his play and broke in the sixth game when Roger double faulted on break point. However, I had a feeling Fed would break right back and he did. The set went to a tiebreak which Roger went down 2-0 but then reeled off five straight points, up a mini-break. Kohlschreiber got back to even though and saved the first match point he faced. He then had a set point in which Roger served wide and forced an errant reply, but the ball was actually out, and there was no challenge. A lucky break for Fed at such a crucial point, but perhaps that is what he needs at the current time. He converted on his second match point for an unimpressive but businesslike win.

A win is a win, and right now, that is what Roger needs, no matter how pretty or ugly they may be. There were some negative signs, but there were also many positive signs that I saw - his serving, net game, and movement (and overall health). It was the kind of match where he was shaking off rust and at the same time felt little pressure from his opponent. His average service game lasted around 90 seconds the whole match, so that tells you how easily he was holding with the exception of the one break he surrendered.

Next up is Tommy Haas and Roger will need to improve his game there, but I have no doubt that he will. He knows this is a crucial point in the season and he needs a good run here. 

Friday, August 02, 2013

Federer to skip Montreal

In an unsurprising move, Roger Federer has pulled out of the Rogers Cup in Montreal next week.

After his opening round loss to Daniel Brands in Gstaad, the 17-time major champion said that his back had been giving him problems for a few weeks and that his status for Montreal was questionable. This withdrawal could have been expected from the time he announced the back injuries, and at this point in his career, health takes priority over everything else.

Even if Federer has done some good rehabbing of his back the last week and a half and gotten some necessary rest, it isn't worth playing Montreal because the back problems would have cut into his training time on-court. The way it looks now, he would have been hard-pressed to get past the quarterfinals, and with his recent form there is no guarantee he would have even reached that stage.

Personally, I just hope that the week off does him well and he can go into Cincinnati healthy and with a good dose of optimism. He has always done well at that event, being a five time champion, and perhaps going to a place where he has had so much success since 2005 will help shake him out of this slump. He is also defending champion, so having a good result there is important (though it will be difficult if he is the #5 seed).

Roger is 30-10 on the season in 11 tournaments with one title. Before the Rogers Cup in Toronto last year (which he didn't play), he was 51-7 in 12 tournaments with five titles (a Slam and two Masters and two 500s). 2012 was certainly a very special year and right from the start Roger had his sights set on claiming Wimbledon and the world #1 ranking. The fantastic end to the season in 2011 gave him confidence and momentum heading into the next season, and that entire stretch from Basel to Cincinnati the following August was one of the greatest runs he's ever had in his career.

Roger said before this season began that the year would be one of transition, and up to this time it has certainly been that. Apart from a few patches of brilliance every now and then, it has been a pretty disappointing campaign thus far. Whether it is just natural decline, low confidence, or the back injuries, or all of the above, he has not had the results he would have enjoyed and has lost to nine different players, six of whom he really should not have lost to (Benneteau, Berdych, Nishikori, Stakhovsky, Delbonis, and Brands).

So far the year has been the exact opposite of the first seven months in 2012. Not only was he healthy (for the most part) and playing spectacular tennis week in and week out, but he had the confidence to win close matches that he could have and perhaps should have lost. This year, the confidence and self-belief is low and he is losing those see-saw matches that he won so often last year.

The fire in his eyes seems to be out this year with the exception of the Australian Open, although as I said, we don't know how much of the last 7 months he's been dealing with his back problems. We know he was struggling with it in Indian Wells and now in Hamburg and Gstaad, but, and I only speculate, he could have been having back issues at every tournament this year and all he can do is manage it as best he can.

The rest of the year, barring any injury, Roger will play Cincinnati, the US Open, Shanghai, Basel, and the World Tour Finals if he qualifies. Right now, it looks like it will be hard for him to win 50 matches this year. I don't really have any expectations for these next tournaments he plays; I just want him to stay healthy, because with health will come better play, I am almost sure. It hasn't been a fun season as a fan, and for me personally it's hard seeing him look unhappy on court and in pain. Having many injuries the last few years playing tennis, I understand.

Looking forward to Cincinnati to see what the future holds for Roger, but for now I'm excited for Montreal, my country's biggest tournament. It won't be as enjoyable without Roger there but it should be interesting nevertheless with Djokovic, Murray, Nadal, Ferrer, del Potro, and Berdych all there (Tsonga withdrew as well).


PS: 200th article on this blog!