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, August 25, 2014

2014 US Open Preview

The tennis calendar's final major kicks off in New York on Monday, and the draw is an interesting one.

In the top half, top seed Novak Djokovic may have to go through one of Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals, and one of Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic in the semifinals. On the bottom half, 2nd seed Roger Federer may have to defeat Grigor Dimitrov and David Ferrer successively to make his 26th Grand Slam final.

The big hooplah when the draw came out seemed to be how stacked Djokovic's half was, with Wawrinka, Raonic, Murray, Tsonga, Isner, and Nishikori. While it definitely is the tougher half of the draw, we all must remember that it is only the pre-tournament draw and no matches have been played.

If Djokovic makes the final having to go through Isner, Murray/Tsonga, and Wawrinka/Raonic, that would be a great accomplishment. But there is certainly a chance that he won't have to do that. Isner could fall to Kukushkin, Llodra, or Kohlschreiber. Murray has a tough path to the 4th round where he would play Tsonga, as he might have to go through Haase, Stepanek, and 31st seed Fernando Verdasco (who nearly beat him at Wimbledon last year). If Tsonga displays the kind of form he showed in Toronto, he should make the 4th round without dropping more than a set, but with him these days you never know.

Federer's side definitely looks to be the easier of the two before the tournament starts, but I would really caution placing his nametag in the final slot just yet. We have seen many times a player who has been glossed over as a supposed simple win come out big and pull off a shocking upset. Federer is too experienced to not be only focused on his first round match against Australian Marinko Matosevic.  If or when he gets by that, only then will he look toward the 3rd round. And so on.

There are a few examples we have seen of Federer in Grand Slams where he faces tough matches in the early rounds where few expect a stiff challenge. Maybe the most notable one was the 1st round at Wimbledon in 2010 when Alejandro Falla nearly shocked the tennis world. But there have also been other instances. Who came closest to denying his 7th Wimbledon title two years ago? Not Djokovic or Murray, but Julien Benneteau. Who came closest to knocking him out during his run in New York in 2008 to win his 13th major?  Again, not Djokovic or Murray, but Igor Andreev in the 4th round. Andreev also gave Federer quite a scare in the 1st round of the Australian Open in 2010 when he nearly took a two sets to one lead.

The point is, don't count your chickens before they hatch. That is a saying seemingly as old as time itself, but it remains a popular one for a reason.

Yes, given Federer's current form, he is the heavy favourite to come through that half. But he knows it won't be easy, and he still has to win 6 matches to play for the trophy. Ivo Karlovic is dangerous should he be faced across the net in the 3rd round. Yes, the big man can't return well and Roger returns his serve better than anybody (arguable), facing him is always stressful to an extent as you know losing one service game can cost you the whole set.

If it isn't Karlovic, then it could be Jarkko Nieminen, who is a steady vet with the experience to make it a tough match. Roberto Bautista-Agut is on the up'n'up and he has the type of flat hitting that could trouble Roger. If it isn't Dimitrov in the quarters, it could be Gael Monfils, who has proven to be a dangerous opponent the last few years. In the semis, of course we would all like to see David Ferrer, but it could be Tomas Berdych, who has always given Roger difficulty especially at the majors. It could also be Ernests Gulbis, who has already beaten Roger this year at the French Open.


Now, having said all of this, I do expect Federer to make the final - I just hate it when people start talking about the true difficulty of a draw before the tournament even starts - when we have no idea who will be in the 4th round, quarters, and semis. As I wrote on Twitter - "tough" draws can fall through and "easy" draws can be filled with unexpected threats.

Given the way Roger has played this whole year, and especially since Wimbledon, I think he is in the perfect mindset to capture his 18th major title. He has played 10 matches the last few weeks, but with those matches, five of which were 3-set wins, comes the confidence and assurance that he can get it done when it matters most, even if he hasn't been sharp on the day or had some blips on a usually clean radar. Though he was tired after the Cincinnati win last week, he has had his chance to rest, and we must remember that this is a Slam, so he will have a day off between matches and even two days off at one point I believe (but don't quote me on that). And as I have re-iterated numerous times to anyone that would listen, there is a day off between the semis and finals this year. So even if he was to have a tough 4 or 5-setter in the semis against Tomas Berdych or David Ferrer, he wouldn't be at a disadvantage like he would have last year.

And just in case you are superstitious, there is virtually zero chance of Federer being put on Louis Armstrong Stadium where he lost last year to Robredo. With Nadal out, he will be the main attraction every day he's playing.

It should be a great US Open and by the end of it I so hope that we can see Roger lift that trophy for a 6th time. For me as a fan, it would probably be even sweeter than his last Wimbledon win, considering the struggles he went through last year and how hard he has worked to play better this year.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Federer wins 6th Cincinnati Masters

He finally won a big title!

Since Federer won his 5th Cincinnati Masters title two seasons ago over Novak Djokovic, he had gone 2-9 in final matches since. Last week in Toronto he lost playing horrid baseline tennis. In the Wimbledon final, he should have lost in 4 and so nearly pulled the rabbit out of the hat. In Monte Carlo, he lost a 2nd set tiebreak to Wawrinka that would have won him the match. In Indian Wells, he lost a 3rd set breaker. In Brisbane, he lost a tight but sloppy match to longtime friend and foe, Lleyton Hewitt. In Basel last fall, he lost a tight 3-set match to Juan Martin del Potro. In Rome, he was overmatched by Nadal. At the World Tour Finals in 2012, he lost a close one to Djokovic in straights. And finally, in Basel he lost a 3rd set breaker to del Potro.

In all but one of those 9 finals, he had his chances to win. Some he maybe should have won. But through this bad history since his last Masters title, he managed to win in a hard-fought battle against a man he had never lost to, David Ferrer. Even with the man across the net having never won the final point against him, it was a big match, and Roger knew it.

The Swiss started the final pretty well, and broke the Spaniard's serve midway through the set. Things got tight for him when he went down 0-40 at 5-3 but he managed to save those break points and eventually held. At that point, I doubt many envisioned the second set going the way it did, with Ferrer winning it 6-1 after taking a shocking 5-0 lead. It was even more surprising because Roger had break points in the opening game. But once the set was out of reach, Roger saved his energy and didn't spent too much of it trying to win a virtually unwinnable set. It was important, however, that he held his serve at 0-5 so he could start the 3rd set on serve. He saved a few break points, but he did win it, and that would make a big difference.

The difference between the 2nd and 3rd sets was almost immediate. In the 2nd, Ferrer was dictating the rallies by hitting his heavy inside-out forehand to the Federer backhand, getting it to kick up and forcing short balls. In the third, Federer wasn't letting that happen as he started hitting bigger, cleaner, and more aggressively. He got the crucial break at 2-1, and emphatically held. One might have been worried when he didn't take his break chances at 2-4 to go up the double break, but they would have worried for nothing, as he held comfortably and broke to take his biggest tournament win in the last 24 month on the dot.

Credit to Ferrer, because he played gritty and persistent attacking tennis, and thoroughly deserved the 2nd set (and he could have gotten back on serve in the 1st to boot). Sure, Roger made some bad decisions in the 2nd, especially when he gave up the second break by serve-volleying every point, but it wouldn't be fair to not point out the quality of Ferrer's groundstrokes and return.

In my observation, Roger looked a little bereft of rest (try saying that 10 times straight), but he fought through that. He lost a lopsided second set and he could have kept dwelling on it, but he didn't, and from the tennis he played in set three, you wouldn't have thought he lost the second picking up just a single game.

In my opinion, that is the difference between Roger the last few weeks (and this whole year) versus last year and even years like 2010 and 2011. If he plays a bad set, or just gets outplayed, he pushes the reset button and doesn't panic. We saw him get pushed around in the second set from the baseline, so he went more aggressive and didn't let himself get pinned in that backhand corner hitting shoulder-high balls. He even ran around a backhand return to smoke a forehand return twice in the game in which he broke to give him the third set cushion. In the second set he was being reactive to Ferrer's play, but in the third he was most certainly being proactive.

Overall, I couldn't be happier for Roger - he definitely deserved to get one of those "bigger" trophies, as he put it. He's played very well throughout this season and hasn't always gotten the breaks, and perhaps the best of all now is that the win springboards him into great form heading into the US Open. And this year more than others, that could be crucial, depending on how Djokovic plays and if Nadal even plays at all. Winning the US Open would be so wonderful, a culmination of the almost year's worth of solid results he's been getting.

Allez, come on, chum jetze ..... Roger.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Federer Downs Murray in Cincinnati

Let's call this my return.....

Roger Federer advanced to the semifinals of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati with a 63 75 win over struggling Andy Murray in a match where he recovered from a *4-1 deficit to win six of the last seven games against the 2013 Wimbledon champion.

Roger said after the match he felt he got a little lucky, and perhaps he did. But let me tell you this - with the way Roger has been attacking the net recently (even if it hasn't always been successful), he has earned his luck by putting constant pressure on his opponents. Coming to net as much as he has been doing has been a very valuable part of his game this season, not only because it limits the amount of long points he plays, but because of the gradual effects it has on the guy across the net. He may get passed once, twice, or five times, but attacking the forecourt so much asks the question.  As the net player, you ask "you passed me there, can you do it again?"

Murray, who is one of the best passers in the game, yet even he felt the pressure of Roger coming in so much. That's the value of rushing your opponent, and that's what the classic serve-volleyers like Edberg, Sampras, Becker, Rafter, and McEnroe understood so well.

Roger's volleying has been curious however the last two weeks. His net play overall hasn't been horrible, but he definitely doesn't look completely sure of his ability when he approaches to hit a putaway volley, usually down the line. However, when he comes in and is forced to hit a low shoestring volley or half-volley, and then is forced to hit a second volley, he's done very well. So to say that his volleying overall has been terrible would be wrong in my opinion, but it still is curious that he is struggling with the simpler volleys but is doing better with the tougher ones. It could be the racquet, or just a matter of thinking one thing and doing another, but he has to get it fixed before it costs him a match.

Stefan Edberg's greatest effect on Federer's game has been his quicker approach to the net and better positioning. He seems to have taught Roger that you don't have to finish it off in one swing. Whenever Roger comes in and hits a volley that hasn't won the point, he's been doing a great job at staying close to the net and not giving up ground. We saw that against Monfils when he hit a heavy drop volley, stayed strong at net, and cut off a cross-court pass for a great reflex volley.

Federer's semifinal opponent will be Milos Raonic, a man who he is 5-0 against, though he did have three deciding-set wins in 2012 against the big-serving Canadian. Simply put, if Roger holds serve, he will have a great chance of winning. Raonic has only broken once in the 15 sets they have contested, or 1 out of 79 attempts. Roger's serve looks mostly on song so I don't think he'll struggle to hold if he is getting a good first serve percentage.

From now to the end of the year I'll be writing more often. I apologize for stopping, as I was dealing with some personal issues in my life and needed to focus on other things.

Friday, March 21, 2014

2014 Federer Miami Preview

Hey all,

I apologize for not writing anything about Indian Wells, where Federer had a great week and just fell short in the final against Djokovic. Before I start with Miami, I want to talk a little bit about that tournament, for Fed, even if it is late.

Coming off the Dubai win, it was important for Roger to have a good tournament in California, especially because he could gain points after his quarterfinal exit a year ago. He probably got a little fortunate that Nadal lost in the 3rd round to Dolgopolov, as they would have faced off in the semifinals, but as they say, all you can control in a tennis tournament is your own matches.

By making the semifinals against Dolgopolov, it was the 7th consecutive tournament where he made at least the semis - dating back to Basel last fall. That kind of consistency is what was missing for nearly all of 2013 for a variety of reasons. It's nice to see Roger get a string of positive results, because in my view building up that confidence and momentum now is the only way he'll be able to put himself in a position to make another run at Wimbledon.

Also coming with the final appearance at Indian Wells was a jump in the rankings from #8 to #5, is biggest single week jump since 2002. He will go up to #4 after Miami if Ferrer doesn't reach the final and Berdych doesn't win, which would be a great feat and something to be proud of after a tough season in 2013.

Alright, onto Miami.

First up, the Fed will face Dr. Ivo, the man that dissects mere mortals with his serves and laughs them off keel with his humour. The big guy is always dangerous with his serves but whenever Roger faces him, he tends to bring out the best in his returning ability. I expect nothing less in this one.

Should he get by that, Fernando Verdasco could await in the third round. Verdasco had a solid week in Indian Wells, but should be no match for an in-form Roger, especially since the Spaniard isn't the player he once was in 2009-2010. Richard Gasquet could be a tough 4th round opponent, but the Frenchman hasn't given Roger any trouble on hardcourt since 2006 (the only time he troubled Fed on the surface).  Kevin Anderson could also be a round of 16 opponent, whom Fed easily dispatched in the quarters last week.  Ferrer is the highest seed in the quarters, but he is coming off an injury and he may have the dangerous Dimitrov in his path.  And Roger get by all that, he'll likely face Djokovic for the 3rd time this year in the semis.

All things considered, it would be a disappointment not to make the semis given his form and the fact he got Ferrer in his quarter and not Nadal or Djokovic. Miami has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for Fed, not having made the final since his 2nd title win there in 2006. But when he's playing well, as he is now, he can definitely make a great run. I don't think he'd have any chance against Nadal on the slow courts at Key Biscayne, but against Djokovic he always has a chance no matter what the conditions are.

Here's to an entertaining tournament and to Roger entering the top 4 once again (hopefully!).

Friday, February 28, 2014

Federer Rolls Back The Years

Wow. Just wow. That is all I can say.

Where did that come from?

Is that man 32 and a half years old?

That man has played over 1100 matches (at age 32!) after playing 15 full seasons on tour. This will be his 16th. That was his 1154th match. To put that in perspective, Andre Agassi played for 20 years and played 1144 matches.

Where does that hunger come from? You know, the one that tells you that you've accomplished everything but still want more? One might think that Federer has a reset button in his brain, and that he takes on every new challenge with the mind of a man ten years his junior. Federer may be almost 33, but he has a youthfulness of spirit far younger than most of his fellow players on the ATP World Tour.

Stunning. Spectacular. Mind-blowing. Age-defying. However you want to describe it, that word will probably work for that win from the Swiss Maestro. It's unbelievable how he continues to put together these masterclass performances time and time again, and just when we all think his car is running out of gas. But the tank is full right now.

I mean, did you see how great he was moving? Did you see that ridiculous forehand pass to get the second break in the third set? He wasn't doing that last year - because he couldn't do that. I think Roger showed the world today what he can do when he has a healthy body and a strong mind, even for a guy that by the end of this season may have 1200 professional matches under his belt (and not to mention thousands of hours practicing and training over as I said, 16 years on tour).

I named this article "Federer Rolls Back The Years" for a reason - because of what I saw in his match against Djokovic. Time and time again in the last two sets, Novak had break points, and Roger erased them with big serves which were unreturned - and against the best returner in the game no less. The new racquet certainly helped with that, but the biggest factor in being able to hit those great serves at pressure moments was confidence. Roger certainly has it right now. He is playing with a hunger and a desire to win at all cost that we saw two years ago (and we know what happened that year).

The way he served in the clutch was reminiscent of the way he served in his peak years of 2004-2007. Heck, so was the way he moved, the way he hit the ball, the way he played aggressively all the time, even the way he defended (remember that line from Mary Carillo at the French Open in 2011 vs Djokovic? "That's Grandpa?"  That's Grandpa, baby!)

I admit, I didn't watch the match live as I was at work. However, I followed the third set online and saw that he went up 3-1. I had matters to attend to, and when I came back, I saw he had won 6-2. I was actually astounded. Many of you know that I am one of the more faithful Fed fans you'll ever come across, but even I never expected the kind of performance he would give us. He won after losing the first set, something he had never done against Djokovic. He won 10 of the final 13 games of the match, and he delivered an entire commercial block of amazing shots that would make your jaw hit the floor if you happened to be close enough to it.

I have long gone past the point of trying to understand how this man does it. He has two beautiful children, with a third on the way. He has accomplished everything he dreamed of. There is really nothing left to play for and nobody would blame him if he had hung up his racquet on the wall after his 2013 campaign. But he plays because he loves it. He loves the whole lifestyle that comes with being a pro tennis player - even after having done it half his life. I'm sure he even loves the responsibility of being such a revered athlete and the weight of the stardom he possesses. There's just Something About Roger.....

I have had people tell me that I'm crazy for being such a diehard supporter of Fed in the wake of all his "decline." They said he would never win another major. He did. They said he would never get back to #1. He did. They said his game was old-school and out-dated. Well, that may be true in today's baseline-dominated sport. But he's Roger freakin' Federer, and his tennis will never go out of style.

If there is one thing I have learned about sports, it is that you never, ever count out the great ones. Ev. Er. 2013 was a low point in Roger's career, perhaps the lowest. But like the proverbial phoenix, he rises from the ashes soaring up and up, and when he commits himself to something, it is very hard to stop him. We saw that in 2012. I think we are seeing it now. Great players will always be great, especially in the face of great adversity. We have heard that for years about Nadal, and it is true. But Roger doesn't get the credit he deserves for having such a champion's mindset. He is a fighter; always has been, always will be. He just does it in a different way.

Personally, I think all of last year's disappointment made this victory so much sweeter. There have been many who have fallen after bad seasons like that, but not Roger. After the painful defeat at Wimbledon in 2008, he won the gold medal in the Olympic games for doubles and then won the US Open. After the Australian Open defeat that left him in tears to Nadal in 2009, plus a string of bad losses that spring, he rose and won the Roland Garros/Wimbledon double. After the so-close-yet-so-far defeat at the hands of Djokovic at the US Open in 2011, he went on to have one of the best 12-month stretches of his illustrious career. Now, after the nightmare that was 2013, there is 2014. A year to rise, to reclaim, and to bring renewed faith to those who lost it.

Berdych awaits in the final and he has been playing some amazing tennis lately. But, so is Roger. Being the champion he is, I expect nothing less than a championship performance to bring home a 6th Dubai crown - which, forgive me - would be a truly crowning achievement in his trophy collection.

Long Live The King.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Federer Survives in Dubai

After a smooth and efficient first round win over Benjamin Becker in Dubai, Roger Federer was made to work a little harder, beating veteran Radek Stepanek 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-3 in a thriller.

Things couldn't start much worse for Roger as he was broken in the opening service game of the match. Fortunately for him it all went uphill after that, as he broke right back and broke two more times to win the opener 6-2. He only hit one error after the first game, so he really tightened things up.

The opening game of the 2nd set went badly though and Stepanek broke. He would hold that break lead until 5-4, when Fed broke back and the set went to a breaker. Roger played a few loose points and Radek closed it out on his own serve.

In the third, Roger was broken in his first service game of a set for the third time in the match (I wonder if that has ever happened before?). Stepanek was serving for a 3-0 lead and had 4 separate game points, but Fed hung tough and fought hard to finally earn the break back with a sweet backhand return winner. Momentum was with him after that and he roared to a 5-2 lead, where he was serving for the match.  On his first match point he hit an ace but it was called out, and lost the point. He would get broken, giving the Czech some hope, but Roger put the match to bed a few points later.

Overall it was a good match by both men. Roger was great in the first set and then Stepanek raised his level, playing nicely from the baseline and taking charge of a lot of the rallies. Fed almost seemed to lose his rhythm from the baseline and played more conservatively in sets two and three, which surely helped Steps implement his gameplan.

To see Roger fight back from a break down in the third set was good to see. Last year he wasn't winning these matches where he wasn't playing his best tennis throughout, but he found a way to get through this one. He played the same way under pressure he did in 2012, and we all know how great a year that was for him.

Next up is Lukas Rosol, known for upsetting Nadal at Wimbledon in 2012. A guy like him is always dangerous but Fed should have no problem getting by him, which would likely set up a semifinal with defending champion and world #2 Novak Djokovic.

Keep going Roger.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Thoughts on the Australian Open

That was quite a tournament, wasn't it?

The 2014 Australian Open was quite an unexpected Grand Slam, harking back to decades past where the results were a little more unpredictable than they have been in recent times.

We saw Ana Ivanovic defeat heavy favourite Serena Williams, returning Serena's serve as well as someone can. We saw the two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka upset by Agnieszka Radwanska, who put together a masterful display of shotmaking. We saw the rise of a future star in Eugenie Bouchard (who is now my favourite female player). A consistent top 20 player, Dominika Cibulkova, had the tournament of her life, and made the final. And Li Na put together a run of blistering form to win her second major title - it's hard to believe now that she was one point away from defeat in the first week.

On the men's side, the feature story was obvious - the rise of Stanislas Wawrinka. After losing in an excruciating 5-set marathon to Novak Djokovic last year, Stan went on to have a fantastic 2013, by making a Slam semi, making a Masters final, and qualifying for the Year-End Championships in London. However, coming into this major at #8 in the world, nobody would have foreseen what happened through the first major of the season.

Novak Djokovic failed to make the semifinals of a Slam for the first time since the French Open in 2010, as he fell in dramatic fashion to the "Stanimal," who finally prevailed 9-7 in the 5th set after losing twice in 5 sets to the Serb last year. It was a coming of age moment for the Swiss. Djokovic was looking for his 4th straight title in Australia, and now finds himself only having won two majors in the last 24 months.

Roger Federer had a successful tournament overall, even if the finish to it was a little underwhelming. After three straight Slams where he was knocked out before the semifinals, to make the final 4 after getting by Tsonga in the 4th round and Murray in the quarters is a step in the right direction. Though he encountered the same problems he always does against his greatest challenge, Nadal, the tournament has shown us that the new racquet and new coach, Edberg, were the right choices to make.

And then there was the final, the #1 player in the world, Rafael Nadal, vs heavy underdog Wawrinka, who had failed to take a set in their 12 previous meetings. Nobody could have guessed what would have happened on that Sunday night.

The Swiss juggernaut played an amazing first set, using his great power and aggressive mindset to take the play to the 2009 champion. The turning point came when Stan was serving for the set and he got down 0-40. He then won the next three points off of Nadal return errors (off 2nd serves no less) and he took the set. He broke in the very first game to take a commanding lead in the match, and then Nadal took a medical time-out and left the court for a back problem. When he returned he was greeted with boos, and he could barely serve the ball over the net as he was broken again and lost the 2nd set.

The fighting Spaniard took the 3rd with the help of a lapse in concentration by Stan, but in the 4th set the man born in Lausanne closed it out with a subdued reaction to his greatest triumph, in respect for Nadal and his injury problem.

I understand that Nadal has a history of taking MTO's at inopportune moments in order to try and regain control and momentum of a match. When part of the crowd was booing him, it was before they (and we at home) knew the severity of Rafa's back problems. He could hardly twist on his serve and he was arming all his groundstrokes and not moving for much. his body seemed to get better in the 3rd and 4th sets, but there is absolutely no doubt that the injuries were real, no matter what anyone thinks.

The important thing to take away from this is that Wawrinka was already up a set and a break before Rafa's movement was compromised. The way he was playing, and with the self-belief he had found, it is very likely he would have won even if Rafa was at 100%, as strange as that sounds.

Two weeks ago I wouldn't have believed you if you told me that Stan would have won this event. But that's tennis, and anything can happen. All those Nadal fans who gloated after his win over Federer because he was facing Wawrinka in the final were stunned by the outcome. Above all else, tennis has a new Grand Slam champion, and a very deserving one (he's 2nd only to Ivanisevic in number of Slams played before winning one). He is only the third man since the start of 2005 to win a major other than Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray, and he is the first player ever to beat Djokovic and Nadal in the same Slam.

Now, onto Federer.

Of course it's disappointing any time he loses a match, and we had high hopes for his semifinal against Nadal after his wins over Tsonga and Murray. He needed to win the first set and he did not. Nadal has such great confidence against Federer that going in front just makes him play even harder, and that spells trouble for Fed. Roger played well at times and poor in others, but it must be said that Rafa played a very solid match. Good serving, great returning, and consistent, deep baseline play - his tried and true formula for beating Roger.

I can't complain at all about the loss though. Sure, if Rafa had his back issue two days earlier Roger would have played Stan in the final and he may or may not have won, but I'm happy with the way things turned out. Wawrinka deserved the Slam title more than anyone else and Roger showed enough good in the event to show me that 2014 will be a good year for him if he stays healthy. The game is there, the motivation is there, the health just needs to be there.

Well, ta-ta.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Federer vs Nadal in AO Semifinal

For the 11th time in their illustrious rivalry, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will meet in a Grand Slam, where the Swiss will look to make his first Grand Slam final since winning his 17th at Wimbledon in 2012.

We all know that it will be an uphill battle for Federer against Nadal, as it always is, and it will certainly take an excellent performance to take out the man who has given him the most trouble in his career.

Federer is on a roll right now, taking out Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straights and Andy Murray in four sets. History has shown that Roger's previous match form doesn't count for much when the man on the other side of the net is Nadal, but I feel that this could be a different kind of match that the ones we have seen in the past.

Throughout this entire tournament Roger has been very aggressive, which can be summed up by the fact that he got to net 107 times in 7 sets against Tsonga and Murray. To get to net 66 times in 4 sets against Andy was quite unreal because of the Scot's counter-punching skills. Whether it's Stefan Edberg's influence or Roger just being confident with his game, this is a different Fed than the one we saw for the majority of last year.

If Federer and Nadal play at the same level, Rafa has the edge. In order for Fed to win the match, he'll need to be better - not necessarily throughout the whole match, but in the important moments that will decide the outcome (notably, break points for and against). Everyone knows that Nadal will try to implement his tried and true strategy of getting the ball high to Roger's backhand, where he can then control the centre of the court. Roger has to counteract that as much as possible by being aggressive, keeping the ball deep, and not giving Nadal short balls.

This is the big question for me. Will the bigger racquet make a difference for Roger? Will the added power on the serve help him win some more free points? Can the 8 added square inches assist him in taking all those shoulder-high backhands? Can the added pop on his forehand be a factor? The courts are a little bit faster this year so will that make a difference? Nadal has been playing with a bad blister on his hand which he says affects him on the serve. He may be playing without the tape but if the blister becomes an issue how will that affect the match?

I understand a lot of fans are skeptical about Roger's chances in the match and for good reason - he hasn't beaten Rafa in a Slam since 2007. I don't have unrealistic expectations and if he lost I'd still consider this tournament a success considering all that happened last year. But I have a feeling in my gut that this is Roger's time to turn the tables.

Good luck Roger. And congratulations to Stan Wawrinka for making his first Grand Slam final. Well deserved. The guy has worked so hard the last year and I wish him the best of luck in the final, whether it be against Roger or Rafa.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sharp Federer into AO Quarters

Well well well, wasn't that a joy to watch as Federer fans? The Swiss Maestro put on an amazing performance in his blockbuster 4th round clash with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, winning 63, 7-5, 6-4 in very convincing fashion. In my estimation, it was the best match he has played since the Cincinnati final in 2012 against Djokovic.

Right from the start Roger was on point and broke in his first return game to take a 3-0 lead. He played some magnificent tennis throughout the whole set, and against Jo, he was 9-1 when winning the opening set in their head-to-head.

In the second set Tsonga started to raise his level on his own service games but could not make any dents on Federer's. In the 11th game Tsonga made some errors and Fed capitalized and rode to a smooth two set lead. With the early break in the 3rd he was in full control, and though Jo fought hard in the set to get back, garnering his only break point (which he missed a return) and Roger closed out comfortably to get a statement-making win.

I don't know what to say, really. Federer came to play and he was better than he's been in a very long time, especially against a player the calibre of Tsonga. His serving wasn't great, but his forehand and backhand were on fire, his movement was sharp, and perhaps most importantly of all, his gameplan was perfect. Any short to medium ball he received was attacked and followed to the net, which were decisive and crisp. The stats look amazing: 43 winners, 21 errors, 34/41 at the net, 88% first serves won and 69% second serves won.

A match like this definitely shows that the old guy still has what it takes to compete at the highest of levels.  I've said this before, and I'll say it again: if he's healthy, he's still the best attacker in the game and capable of hurting anyone (including Nadal).

The addition of Stefan Edberg looks like it has worked wonders for his net game. Maybe not in the actual volley technique (which doesn't have to be worked on), but the tactics behind coming in; namely being decisive, and coming in behind a solid approach. These days passing is simpler than it ever has been before, but coming in behind a strong approach makes it a lot easier for the volleyer (as evidenced by this match).

In the quarterfinal awaits Andy Murray, who dropped a set to lucky loser Stephane Robert. Andy has only played a handful of matches since his surgery last fall but at the end of the day he is still Andy Murray and should be a very tough test.

Murray is a better mover, returner, passer, and defender than Tsonga, that is well known. But if Roger can employ his aggressive game once again, Andy could very well struggle with it. I don't think it's a must win match for Roger and I sort of feel about this one the same way I did about the match against Nadal two years ago here in Melbourne. Fed has shown us all that he still has the game to be a force, and even if he does lose a tight match to the Scot, the signs are still good for the rest of this year so long as he remains healthy.

Until the quarters,


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Federer into 13th straight AO 4th Round

Roger Federer was all business in the 3rd round as he swept aside big-hitting Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 to advance to his 13th consecutive Australian Open round of 16. The last time he failed to reach the 4th round was 2001.

Fed started off strong in the first, hitting 12 winners in the opening set to only 4 errors and he wrapped it up in 33 minutes (though he did face 15-40 in his opening service game). The second set was almost identical (11 winners to 4 errors) and it was won in 39 minutes. The third set was a little more error prone (10 errors) but he still got through the whole match with relative ease. He saved 5 break points and has now only been broken once in 9 sets of tennis.

Gabashvili has great power off the ground but his big weakness is the serve, which is an odd weakness for him to have since he's a fairly tall man. He gave Fed some trouble from the ground on occasions throughout the contest but he had no consistency to trouble Roger.

Next up for the Fed is the big match against Tsonga, who took out a tired Gilles Simon in straights. This is probably the hardest 4th round contest Federer will have since facing Tommy Haas at the French Open in 2009 (and before that, Haas at the Australian Open in 2006). The big Frenchman is in good form and it should be a very difficult match, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Roger play a good match and rise to the occasion - you have to think he needs to avoid going 5 sets if he wants to have any chance against Murray in the quarters. He'll need to serve well (the new frame should help), and he has to mix it up off the ground, like he does regularly against del Potro.

In other matches, Rafael Nadal cruised against Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 in what on paper should have been a more competitive match. Andy Murray dismantled Feliciano Lopez after a slow start, and in one of the more entertaining matches of the day, Grigor Dimitrov took out Milos Raonic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(10) to make his first ever round of 16 in a major. The Bulgarian played fantastic tennis, hitting 49 winners to just 13 errors!

It should be a cracking encounter between Roger and Jo, and it's a shame it has to come so early in the tournament. A match like this should be a quarter or a semi. I expect Fed to bring his best and my prediction is that he will win in 4 tight sets 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Federer into third round at Australian Open

Roger Federer picked up some steam in the first week of the Australian Open with a solid 6-2, 6-1, 7-6(4) win over Slovenian Blaz Kavcic in the second round of the first major of the year.

If Federer started a little tentatively in his first round match, he came out guns a'blazing in this one and quickly got out to a dominant two set lead, only dropping three of 15 games. He was aggressive off the ground, firm on the return, and put his unique stamp on his opponent right from the first point.

In the third Roger's level dropped ever so slightly and Kavcic started to play a little better (9 of his 14 winners came in this set). A tiebreak was needed and Fed got down a mini-break but he stormed back to win 7 of the last 8 points to book his place in the third round.

The third set was worse than the first two, granted. But if you look at it this way, he hit 12 errors in 8 games in the first, and 17 errors in 12 games in the third (plus an 11-point tiebreak). Kavcic raised his level in that last set but Fed was still playing decently.

If I was Stefan Edberg I would be telling Fed that the way he played in the match is the blueprint for what he will need to do in this tournament to have success (and after this, for the whole season). The serve was clicking (76% in), he was aggressive off the ground and in approaching the net, and he was moving well (and when he is moving well, he remains more patient). Plus, he was more aggressive off the return, which helped him break frequently.

If Roger is going to beat Tsonga and Murray, he will need to serve well, take his chances off the ground when they are given, and he must return well.  Now, to return well doesn't always mean hitting over the return, but it is vital to mix up hitting over the ball and slicing or chipping under it. Variety and unpredictability are Roger's two best friends right now in his career. This also applies to his baseline game. Over the course of a match he can't slug it out with Tsonga or Murray any longer from the back, but at the same time he can't charge the net every time he feels like it - those two are too good with passes, as are many in the game today. But knowing when to stay back and when to come in will help give him an advantage against those tougher foes. I believe he brought in Edberg to help with those kinds of tactical situations, since the Swede was the finest volleyer the game has ever seen.

Elsewhere in the draw, del Potro lost to Roberto Bautista Agut, so Nadal's chances of making the semifinals took a vertical raise. Rafa took out the young Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis in straights, but watch out for the youngster in the next 5 years.

Andy Murray won the final 23 points in his win over Frenchman over Vincent Millot, while there was more disappointment for the Aussie crowd as 18 year-old Nick Kyrgios lost a two-set lead to Benoit Paire and was defeated. The kid has a bright future.

As for Federer, he will face Teymuraz Gabashvili, who took out major under-achiever Fernando Verdasco in five sets. Fed should win in straights, but playing well is very important because Tsonga very likely awaits in the round of 16.

Til next time,


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Federer starts well at Australian Open

Roger Federer played his first match with Swede legend and new coach Stefan Edberg in his box and it was smooth sailing as the Swiss defeated Australian James Duckworth 64 64 62 under immense heat on day two in Melbourne.

It was one of those matches where Roger just got the job done.  With the heat being over 40 degrees Celsius, to get off the court in straight sets and not expending too much energy was important, especially in this tournament with a tough road ahead.

The first two sets were pretty similar, with Fed gaining one break and squandering multiple break chances. The third set was much simpler and he got the double break lead before serving it out. He only faced one break point the whole match, which he saved, but was only four of seventeen on his own break point chances.

Federer could have been much sharper in his return games, but credit has to be due to Duckworth however, who stood as wide as possible on the ad side to serve and continuously swung a kicker sideways into the Federer one-hander. Dealing with such an unorthodox serve (for singles anyway) is tough to deal with for anyone, but especially for a one-handed backhand. Roger had a tough time dealing with the lack of pace on the delivery and the only true way to get an advantage when returning that kind of serve is to go right down the line, which is a pretty low-risk shot attempt. It was a smart tactic by the Australian but Roger did improve his return of serve the longer the match went on.

Next up is Blaz Kavcic, who Fed has never played (though he has practiced with him). Kavcic took out Stepanek who would probably have been an easier opponent since him and Roger have played so many times before. Barring a colossal breakdown, Roger should win the match in straights and hopefully, he will improve on his first round form.

Apologies for being absent during the offseason. I meant to write a few pieces here and there throughout December but I was working and I never found the time or energy for it. Besides that, I didn't really think about tennis all that much after the Davis Cup final - but I am back now and I can safely say my tennis fever is back! I hope all those reading this have had a good New Year so far and happy watching of the Australian Open.