Archive for January, 2008

WOW!

January 30, 2008

ATP.com has written about the “three-way race” for the #1 spot. The facts here are one big WOW after another. Except for Hewitt at #1 spot, Djokovic would have had the number one spot with the 5165 points he has today. (Ranking points since the 2000 update). Nadal would be a sure thing without Federer who closes up on a career high of 6000 points!! Poor bastard!

Anyway, this sort of elaborates of a couple of points I was TRYING to make in the post below.

Today’s players, best ever?

January 30, 2008

What happened at Aussie Open is historic. Not only did Isreal get themselves in the tennis spotlight, but much of Eastern Europe and Asia has started to enter this sport going from almost zit. 20 years ago we were still under a divided west-east iron curtain situation with several revolutions and reforms to come. For most of the tennis history, it was a sport practiced only in the west This was not the case in many other sports, but certainly tennis is one that has traditionally been more popular in Australia, UK, USA, France..etc

Now what countries behind the iron curtain could we see on the pro tour back in 1988? Only three! The ATP site seems to have separated Czechoslovakia already, but there were like 10 of these in the top 100. We can include #1 Lendl who at this point was playing for USA. Then there was one from Yougoslavia and ONE from Russia or Sovjet.

That’s it. One can wonder whether culture played a big role, or money, or access and freedom, or all of the above. The thing what is impressive is how today’s players from eastern Europe have gone from almost no tennis to becoming a big tennis nation. Yes, yes.. Serbia being the big explosion, but don’t forget the winners of Fed and Davis Cup Russia. If we add the ATP and WTA tours I am sure that Russia is the most represented country of them all. Then I ask you… is today’s players the best ever?

When there’s more competition, there is need to perform even better. Now that the tennis world has opened up big time, the players have more to content with. We know from Hockey, Track&Field and other sports that the East have been very competitive and spend a lot of time practising to become the best of the best.

Ilie Nastase is a good example of what I mean. This guy was not known for being the player who hit the court to practise non-stop. He was probably the most talented player at the time and was unique in that he was one of the few players who were even allowed to travel on the pro tour. But even then, the professional attitude with being the best and hitting the court daily to get any small advantage over their opponents, was not AS important as today. Today it’s vital. When you see 4 year olds pracitcing like pros, several hours a day with the goal being to become a pro player, well that says it all about today’s competition.

So there has been a lot of talk about Sampras vs. Federer and who is actually best. A decade separates them and Sampras is being rated as one of the best of all time, but as opposed to Federer, Sampras had to deal with more competition. Arguments say that there were more Nadals and Djokovices on the tour in the 90s, and so Sampras could not win as much. That, I believe, is not correct. Becker, Rafter, Kuerten, Agassi + many more where not as good as Sampras and play was quite slower even in the last half of the 9os as compared to today.

If we go 10 years back in time and look at the ranking, I see a much weaker field than today. Top 10 in the right order was Sampras, Rafter, Chang, Bjorkman, Kafelnikov, Rusedski, Korda, Rios, Moya, Muster. Someone would say that all of the 9 players below Sampras were far better than all below Federer today. I just don’t see it. Chang was a good player but never had the stability to become a dominant figure. Bjorkman! We know him from today and we know what he is able to do, but Sampras is 9-1 against him. Federer is 5-0 and haven’t lost a set against him. Not even in 2001 when Federer was a kiddo and Bjorkman was a profile.

Lets take 98 as a random year in Sampras’ career. He was #1 and we have mentioned his “tough” competition. Which players did he lose to? Kucera (who??), Agassi, Muster, Ferreira, Santoro, Chang, Delgado(who?), Woodforde, Agassi, Rafter, Paes(who???), Rafter, Ferreira, Haas, Kraijek, Rusedski, Stoltenberg, Corretja.

Total count is 18! That’s a lot for a world number one!

Like I’ve said before, comparing decades or eras in tennis is pointless. Game has changed so much in 20-30 years and will most likely still change, maybe not at the same pace, but still. The 2000s generation are not only better, but there are more of them today and spread over the whole world and more competitive on all levels. So from now on, stop comparing eras!

Djokovic takes it

January 27, 2008
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3 players from Serbia in the SF, you would expect at least one of them to clinch it. Djokovic did it with a powerful performance, having more pressure than his opponent and keeping his cool on importnant points, much unlike in the US Open final where he was very close to the first set.

It did not look too good when Tsonga made that passing shot, followed by a picture perfect lob to take the first set. It seemed that his game from the Gasquet-, Youzhny-, and Nadal-matches would go on in this final. But I think that the first set only showed about half of what he had in him comparing it to the Nadal match. Realisticly, it shouldn’t have been possible to sustain it for more than 3 sets, but Tsonga is still the second best player in Melbourne.

After the first set, I really don’t know why Tsonga had problems moving the way he did in the last 2 or 3 matches. Fatigue? Don’t think so. He got to rest for 2 nights before the final and said that he felt great. I was more concerned with Djokovic who ususually shows that he cannot deal with several long rallies in one game. That started to happen in set 3 and 4, but Tsonga was not able to break Djokovic. He hit far more errors on big forehands and backhands today and that might have been the deciding factor. Conclusively we can say that it doesn’t matter at all. Both players will leave Australia with a great YES!!! in their bags.

Now, for the rest of the season, it will be interesting to see how far these two can advance. Will Djokovic pass Nadal and/or Federer? It looks that way but a repeat of last year is not impossible, and remember that Djokovic has two BIG tournaments to defend in March. Tsonga on the other hand can use his seeding to win his first ATP title! And certainly, do some serious damage this spring and threaten the top 10 guys.

Finally some variation! Congrats to Djokovic and Serbia for their achievements in Tennis.

Grand Slam final preview

January 25, 2008

Who will it be? Who will win the first slam final that doesn’t include Federer or Nadal since Aussie Open 2005 when Safin beat Hewitt. That’s 3 YEARS of Federer/Nadal slam dominance.

I really cannot tell who has the best game right now of the two remaining players. Tsonga has played superbly and beaten several big named players. Djokovic has gone through 6 matches without too much court time, but with so and so play. Even if we aren’t impressed with every shot Djokovic makes, he has been consistent enough to get straight set wins 6 times in a row.

Now in term of their game and style, Tsonga seems to be favored in a long match. Seems more fit, more agile (if that’s possible for a big guy like him) and slightly more poisonous at the net. The key for him will be to continue with consistent powerful groundstrokes and top notch serving. I am almost certian that if he can play on the same level as with Youzhny and Nadal one more time, he will get his GS trophy and steal Novak’s second chance at getting it. So I believe it’s all up to Tsonga.

Prediction: Tsonga in 4 

Federer OUT!

January 25, 2008

And I’m not sad. Closing the gap between the top players isn’t the worst thing that can happen to this sport.

Wilander interviewed Novak right after his victory saying that the two best players of the tournament are in the final. Cannot be more right. Djokovic has sailed “quietly” through rounds 1 through 5 with no big news or too much attention. Everybody was sort of expecting a Fed-Novak SF regardless of how they were to play throught the first 5 matches. Well… the matches I’ve seen from Roger have been quite poor actually. Most of them have been those wins that he gets when he doesn’t play his best game. He played well against Santoro and Hartfield, but then after Tipsarevic, things were not the same. It was like he gained respect for the other players or something. I’m not saying a 3 set win over Berdych is poor, but he made similar errors like today. Human errors that is. Blake can hit those forehands as hard as he wants, but Federer can outsmart him time after time, even when he’s playing average. Against Novak, as proved, it did not work. Though it did work for almost the first set.

Federer had 5-4 serving for the first set, but only after having played several errors and not with too much magic off his forehand. Througout the entire match, I was wondering where Federer’s serve was at. He used to demolish top players with his serve in the second week of a slam. Well it had to end sometime and why not Down Under. I think his main concentration should now be winning that frickin’ Roland Garros. That might be enough to call it a successful year. That and keeping the #1 spot. And Wimbledon. And US Open. And Gold in Beijing. But hey, it’s Federer… don’t worry.

update: What I am trying to say is in this entry at tennis.com which I think is spot on.

You cannot be serious!!

January 24, 2008
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I think I just got a new favorite player! This is greater than Nalbandian defeating 1,2,3 twice in three weeks! Unseeded Tsonga with not a lot to show from last year, even though it was by far his best, just demolished Nadal 2, 3 and 2. That just doesn’t happen!

I hope you guys can help me understand what happened in the first two sets. I only got to watch the last one and by that time I saw a Nadal who, had not given up, but wasn’t too far from it either. Actually in the last few games I saw, for the first time ever, a Nadal who had a “I just cannot win this match”-kinda look.

From what I’ve seen of Tsonga this far, I can say that he has one of the biggest tennis brains on the tour. I have not once (maybe once) been able to say, “why the hell did you just do that” or “what were you thinking”?  He seems to understand the game brilliantly and beat Nadal exactly on his not so obvious weakness. Baseline play on hard court with balls running deep and with pace. That’s what I thought Youzhny would do to beat him one more time, and that’s what I feared Tsonga would not be able to do against the best baseliner. Not only did he do that, but he was able to mix it up, he knew exactly when to rip and kill, timed the wrongfootings perfectly, net play was still brilliant and serve was pretty much the reason he holds with such ease.

Like I’ve said, I see a Sampras-Safin-Baghdatis-Agassi combo in him. Baggy being the neutral baseliner who’s able to hit many smart and accurate groundstrokes. (or at least used to)

One more reason why this is a “YEEEESSS Finally!!”-moment is because we have a guy, who I hope will stay in the top, who plays serve-volley, is able to drop shot, seems to know how to adapt his game when he meets different opponents and best of all…. movement on the frickin’ court is probably what describes the 2000s. That’s why I think the 90s generation would have a brutally hard time to play with today’s pace. I mean, if I said Tsonga will outrun Nadal, would you believe me? Well I think he just did!

NOW IT GETS INTERESTING! Can Tsonga keep this up against the greatest of all time?! I would be dissapointed if Djoko decides “this is the time top stop Federer’s GS final streak”. I did not believe Tsonga would beat Nadal this easily and would love to see what damage he can cause to a Federer who might get a challenge tomorrow. It’s thursday night in Australia now.., Federer will play into friday night. Final is on Sunday night…. Tsonga getting more rest and Federer might be in for a 5 set match?!? He better beat Djokovic quick and painful!

Well if you didn’t catch the news through this annoying entry… Jo-Wilfried Tsonga just spanked Nadal 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, and will play in Sunday’s Grand Slam final. His best result in a slam is 4th round Wimbledon 2007.

Don’t need coffee when there’s tennis!

Call me crazy, but….

January 23, 2008

…if Tsonga wins the whole thing, I believe he can crack top 10 already on Monday!

He will then get 1789 points which on today’s ranking means #10. BUT! Gonzo will fall out of the top 10, as he wasn’t able to defend enough points. Actually we might see him outside top 20. These are unofficial calculations though!

1789 would actually bring him out in front of Nalbandian who remains 10th and in front of Blake who seems to be getting the ninth. So if Tsonga is ahead, Blake will be 10th and Nalbandian 11th. In addition, Youzhny will join the top 10 and be right behind Gasquet.

Roddick will lose many points and he will have to work hard to enter the top 5 as the gap will be 500+ points to Ferrer. This sort of marks a clear gap between top 5 and 5-10.

Another crazy thought… if Nadal wins and Federer is stopped in the SF, the gap between Fed and Rafa will be of exactly 100 points!!  If Djokovic wins the whole thing, he will pass 5000 points! Not impressed? He had 1675 a year ago!!

Of course with a Fed-Nadal final, the changes are less remarkable. Lets hope that doesn’t happen!

Last 4 = Year end top 4?

January 23, 2008

Could it be? The only real question mark is Tsonga… If he is able to play like this the entire season, he will be up there with Djokovic. That’s another kid who is mui impressivo. He’s till 20, and has 3 grand slam SF and a final to defend after tomorrow (assuming he loses to Fed)

Serbia is really the country to watch, both in Davis Cup and Fed Cup. If they can continue to grow players like those today, it won’t be long until we face a Serbian DC and Fed Cup champ. Chance is that we can have 3 of 8 player are Serbs and fighting for a GS final spot. In fact, if they all win, there can be 3 serbian players in two GS finals! Amazing stuff…

Ivanovic and Jankovic are just as impressive as Djokovic and will probably stay on top in tennis for many years to come. That’s really something, coming from a country that spent most of the early 90s being in a war zone. In Contrast to for example Great Britain who struggles to find the GS winners and spends probably 10 times as much on tennis than Serbia, it’s really an accomplishment to manage to find these talents and give them this opportunity.

Tomorrow the first finalist will be decided. Now this one will be interesting. Can Tsonga do the same to Nadal as he did to Gasquet and Youzhny? We know that Nadal, regardless of opponent, will sacrifice everything for that final spot. Will Tsonga be as motivated and determined to win the match? He will have to play his absolute best, one more time, and maybe even a little extra to turn out the Nadal flame. Like I wrote yesterday, Tsonga’s game is probably one that Nadal prefers over the defensive baselining play. He will hit many sucessfull passing shots and Tsonga will have to be perfect on serve and volley. Baseline play…. well Nadal seems to be favored even if Tsonga moves surprisingly well. It will be an entertaining match, I REALLY HOPE. Worst case scenario is that Tsonga loses in three short sets and leaves with no regret or dissapointment. I mean, how can he?

TSONGA, TSONGA, TSONGA!

January 22, 2008

Did you see him play?! I underestimated him big BIG time. Youzhny had gone through 4 matches in an impressive way and therefore thought that Tsonga would be tough, yes, but should be a close match where the Russian prevails. No WAY! Tsonga just played better than ever! He did not miss too many shots and those that were unforced, were not in decisive rallies or points.

I just cannot find anything I would give him a B+ for. Forehand was cool and precise. Backhand reminded a lot of Safin, with the angles with the precision, with the pace. Serve was rock solid and looked pretty heavy. Volley, probably to an A+. Considering that he is like 200lbs, 90 kg, being an effective serve-volley player…. well it ain’t that easy damn it!

And that’s another thing that amazed me. His movement and court coverage was beyond impressive. I’ve seen him in action before, but never this effective on every single aspect of his game. If this guy can move like that, I think players like Safin, Roddick, Berdych…etc. should have a look and learn.

Now it’s Nadal! Can he create some history and go all the way? I still think Youzhny and his game, would do more damage to Nadal. Tsonga’s game might be the offensive type that Nadal likes to play against. Nadal adores passing shots and there should be plenty of them when they meet. But that’s over a day away.

Nadal got through his match against Nieminen with ease. Nieminen didn’t seem to interested after that first set. It’s like players lose motivation when they see that they don’t get anywhere against Rafa. Oh well, that made Nadal’s road to a HC slam a little shorter.

Tomorrow Djokovic will try to beat another speedy gonzalez. But Ferrer should be tougher than Hewitt. It really depends on Djoko. If he has some of those periods where he makes numerous errors, this match could go long. And if Ferrer hits those groundstrokes like in TMC, well the match could be a short one in his favor. Unpredictable. 51-49 to Djoko.

Federer vs Blake. 7-0. Will it be 8? I want to believe it will not, but Blake just does not have that extra something to distroy Federer. Maybe he watched the tape of the Tipsy-match and stole some ideas… Federer will have to make 100 errors for Blake to win. It may happen….

QF are ready to roll

January 21, 2008

… and I think the last 8 players are 8 best right now.

No big surprises in today’s 4th round. Djokovic beat a willing, but tired Hewitt. Ferrer beat his friend Ferrero as expected. Federer did not need 5 sets to send big serving Berdych home.

Tomorrow’s matches are the bottom two. First up in the mid-day heat, Nadal will have to overcome Nieminen. I think it’s comparable to Federer-Berdych. Nadal will take it in three but with some problems on the road. It seems like Nadal has been able to play better for every match and should be headed for his first hard court SF.

Now Youzhny vs Tsonga is a different story. Youzhny seems to handle defensive players quite well, but I don’t know if Tsonga will allow Youzhny to hit his backhand to often. Some people think Tsonga will get an easier match this time, compared to Gasquet. I think it depends on how well Tsonga is able to serve. If he can serve and be effective on the net, like against Murray, then he will be in a good position to take it. If Tsonga plays well enough in his own serve, he should be in a good, confident position to hunt for a break of serve. I would have liked to see these two in separate matches because I want them both to win. But as Youzhny has tried longer and is somewhat older I will probably want to see him in a potential SF against Nadal.  He also stands a better chance against Nadal than what Tsonga does. But that’s far in the future and just silly predictions.