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, 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.