Sunday, 29 May 2011

Roland Garros: The best way to win is to get injured?

Looking at the last couple of days, the answer to this question might be: YES. Only for the men, though, the women who get injured don't win here.

Yesterday it was Andy Murray, who rolled his ankle in the beginning of his second set against Michael Berrer, and after extensive taping applied, kept on standing. And winning. For two whole sets, Berrer couldn't exploit Murray's injury, and ended up losing the match, 6-2 6-3 6-2. He later said that he was too sorry for Murray, and couldn't capitalize on the moment:
It's not an excuse, but the way I am is that I felt sorry for him - that's my mentality. I should have hurt him when he's down, but that's difficult for me. I think you cannot play worse in this situation than I did.
(Since we don't have an official transcript, I took the quote from British news sites, so apologies in advance if it's out of context or missing information)

Today, we saw the same thing happening again, in what turned out to be a full-of-drama match between Albert Montanes and Fabio Fognini. After 4 sets (4-6 6-4 3-6 6-3, quite symmetric), it was *6-7 on serve in the fifth set for Fognini, and 15-30 - so Montanes had to win two more points in order to clinch the match. At that point, Fognini grimaced in pain and stopped playing. It looked like cramping (which doesn't allow you to call for a trainer until the changeovers), but the umpire summoned a trainer to check Fabio out, after which he received a medical timeout and a massage.

"Get injured. Then win! Problem?"

Again, you would think that when your opponent is injured and can hardly move, or even serve (Fognini made one foot fault after another), and all you need is 2 points (not 3 sets, like Berrer), it shouldn't take you too long to close it out. Well, that's apparently wrong. Even though Montanes had five (5!) match points, Fognini held serve thrice, for a 9-9 score. And then he broke. And held serve again. And so he won the match with 11-9 in the deciding set. I'm still finding it hard to believe.

In the end of the day, and just before play was suspended, Gael Monfils rolled in the clay with another twisted ankle, only to be broken to 2-0 in the fourth set against David Ferrer. Monfils currently leads 2-1 in sets, but will he be able to play tomorrow? Just like Andy Murray, the answer is unclear at the moment.

There's just one thing they can say on Suzanne Lenglen these days:

(Photos: Getty Images, AP Photo)

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Roland Garros: 40-0 Djokovic

No, that's not a game score, just Novak Djokovic's Win-Loss record in 2011 (42-0 total).

After yesterday's interruption of the match between Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro at one set all, it wasn't clear who's going to have the advantage today. Both players had time to rest, and they've essentially played two best-of-three matches day after day, just like in a regular tournament. In the end, it was Djokovic who used the break in play to collect himself and come to the match much more focused than he was yesterday.

I wish I could describe how both of them played today, but I was watching the match on a low-quality stream, which kept getting stuck, so I don't think I can do it too objectively based on the highlights video. There is one incredible point that left me in awe, where Delpo got to Novak's dropshot, and passed it in an unbelievable angle to the other side of the net. Other than that, watch for yourself (that point is there, towards the end of the video) - right here.

Another thing that should be said about this match, both yesterday and today, is the attitude of respect that showed at all time between both players. Steve Tignor described it here, and just to quote a small part:
Marks were inspected on request and rubbed out without hesitation. When del Potro briefly came up limping on a bad ankle, Djokovic immediately began walking toward the net to see how he was. Even better was the way they acknowledged each other’s good shots.
This is the other half of the same coin, but as I've mentioned before, I just love this:

(It looks much better on video, to be frank, but I can't find one at the moment)

Edited to add another photo, because it's way better:

And edited once again, as there's now a video available:

(Photos: Roland Garros facebook page, Getty Images)

Roland Garros, 3rd round - Del Potro vs. Djokovic, 1:1

By now, fans have quite a few reasons to be disappointed with the 2011 edition of the French Open. First, we had the "transcriptgate" (reccommended reading!), which deprived us of the possibility to actually read for ourselves what the players were saying after their matches, and forced us to get all the news from the official media representatives on site. Never mind that they put things out of context, and only deliver "relevant quotes" of the players that they're interested in. By now, it's possible to find the transcripts online, even if not on the official Roland Garros site, which still says:
The written transcripts from the press conferences will not appear on this page this year. The transcripts are for the use of journalists but you can still watch our video coverage of the press conferences. For the hearing-impaired or those who do not have sound on their computer, quotes appear in the articles written by our journalists and in written interviews. Thank you for your understanding.
 But if that wasn't enough, today we encountered an even larger mishap, quite possibly. The order of play for today on Philipp Chatrier included two women's matches, followed by two men's matches. The last of which was the highly anticipated third round match between Juan Martin Del Potro and Novak Djokovic. In a tournament that can't hold matches as soon as the darkness falls over, due to lack of lights infrastracture, it's easy to get to the end of the day with play still not completed. And so, as Jo Wilfried Tsonga was unable to finish his match against Stanislas Wawrinka in three sets, it became clear the Del Potro and Djokovic would have to wait some more before going on court.

Was it so hard to predict that if all matches go the distance (as indeed they did), the last match won't be played? Of course not. But in the words of Neil Harman:
When are we going to allow tennis people to make decisions, rather than TV execs who don't care a **** for tennis making all the calls?
And so, the most promising match of this week was moved in the last moment from Philipp Chatrier to Suzanne Lenglen, a somewhat smaller court, with separate tickets. Which also meant that the ticket holders who planned to watch this match, found out that they can't get on the court where it was held. Now, this decision at least makes some sense, since the general rule is that the last match on any court may be moved. But this is exactly why it was a mistake to put it as the last match, instead of the third. The Frenchman for whom it was done ended up losing a five-setter anyway, and the crowd just got upset, booing outside the stadium, which mainly interrupted the players themselves.

I won't say too much about the match, since it's not over yet, and it's hard to say what will happen. Both players won a set with a 6-3 score and a single break of serve. We got everything we bargained for - brilliant backhands from Djokovic, fantastic forehands from Del Potro, and terrific tennis to leave us speechless, or slightly hysteric, depending on your liking of both players. The two players showed great sportsmanship, and both obliged to sign some autographs in the end of the second set, which closed out the day.

Tomorrow we'll have the second part of that match, still strangely scheduled as the third match on Suzanne Lenglen. I'm hoping that the players will come in a better mood, and well rested - they're going to need all their physical and mental strengths in order to win this. The match is wide open at this point, and the lucky winner will get to play another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, who will be well rested for Sunday's fourth round.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Roland Garros - First Two Rounds

Unfortunately, since the Roland Garros started, I didn't have the time to sit down and blog properly. Nor did I see as many matches as I would've liked, but unfortunately watching 5-6 matches in parallel is still not possible :)

Anyway, a quick list of upsets so far, though this is already old news:
Both Berdych and Almagro lost their first-round matches, after leading 2-0 in sets. Next time don't play in Nice just before the RG, boys ;)
A lot of seeds are already out, and there's one section - the bottom section of the top half - which is so completely and utterly open, that it just might have a qualifier going into the quarterfinals, since 3 out of 4 players in the third round are qualifiers.
The bottom half of the men's draw is much stronger, with only 3 out of 16 seeded players out after the first two rounds (compare to 8 out of 16 in the top half).

The women seeds are actually doing a lot better - the only major upset was Kim Clijsters losing today to Arantxa Rus, after leading 6-3 5-2 and having two match points. Considering the fact that Kim hasn't played on clay in ages, an early exit here wasn't such a suprise - but as she was physically fit, the result itself is.

But the story of this tournament so far, in my opinion, is Rafa's first two matches. In the first round, the tennis gods gave us a blockbuster of a match - Rafa Nadal vs. John Isner (a.k.a. winner of the longest match in history). Many (me included) expected it to be a routine win for Nadal, since Isner isn't exactly a clay-court expert, but how wrong we were. Isner fought, and Isner didn't give up, and he played his best tennis for 4 hours. It wasn't enough to win, but it sure was enough to become the first player ever who takes Nadal to 5 whole sets in Paris. So yes, another record (of a sorts) by big John, and I'm already planning to attend his first-round match in the US Open, no matter who he's going to play against. He attracts interesting first rounds in slams, apparently.

Rafa's second round was today, against a fellow Spaniard, Pablo Andujar. I knew Andujar's name, I knew he's got good results on clay (just won his first ATP title in Casablanca less than two months ago), but I haven't actually seen him play. Until today, that is. And all I can say know is - I have a new favorite to follow.

Andujar played some really beautiful tennis today. He stayed with Rafa in the rallies, he hit smart shots and virtuosic shots, and he managed to turn defense to offense, and to make Rafa run for the ball. There aren't many players who can do that against Nadal, and in fact - there were points which reminded me the Rafole finals we've seen so much lately.

I'm finding it hard to pinpoint the exact cause of Andujar's loss today. He was pretty tough mentally, at least in the first 2 sets, in both of which he managed to break Nadal back to even out the score. And it isn't exactly lack of consistency, since his level didn't really drop down for too long at any point. But together, he just wasn't consistent enough, and wasn't mentally tough enough to play it through. And so, being 5-1 40-0 up in the third set, he made too many errors, got broken back twice, and eventually lost the match in a tie break - 7-5 6-3 7-6(5), missing 8 possible set points along the way.

So while he didn't win, I tip my virtual hat to Pablo. I liked this match very much. And looking good doesn't hurt him, either ;)

Tomorrow we have a very promising third round - Juan Martin Del Potro taking on Novak Djokovic. Can I just said that I'm afraid?

(Photos: Roland Garros official facebook page, Novak Djokovic's facebook page)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Hello, Roland Garros!

The excitement starts in just a couple of hours! :)
Less than two weeks from now, I'm going to be sitting in Philippe Chatrier, so... good luck to the 256 tennis players who are starting the year's second Grand Slam tournament!

(Photo from the ATP World Tour facebook page)

Friday, 20 May 2011

Roland Garros Draw Preview

Let me say this in six words: The Roland Garros draw is CRUEL. Why do you do this to us, tennis gods?

I really tried to find something meaningful to say about the women's draw, but frankly - I just don't know. It could be anyone. So let's look at some parts of the men's draw.

Here's Andy Murray, for example, with his freshly cut hair (thanks for that). He's playing a qualifier in the first round. Presuming he wins it (you never know with Murray and 1st round qualifiers...), who does he get in the second round? Ah, the winner of the epic match between Mr. Qualifier 1 and Mr. Qualifier 2. Yes, life is tough in Paris.

Then we have this guy. You might have heard of him, he's called Roger Federer. 16 slams, and all that. Who does he get in his first round? Oh, just one Feliciano Lopez. It's not like they played the most amazing match a couple of weeks ago. How is that fair that one of them (meaning, Feli) is going to be out on his first day of the tournament?
By the way, the winner of this match will play the winner between two French Wild Card players, Millot and Teixeira. So the draw is tough for the locals as well, not that it's any consolation ;)

Juan Monaco, who had the worst luck with draws this year, continues with more of the same, as he plays Fernando Verdasco in the first round. Considering this was the last we've seen from Verdasco, and Monaco's good week in the World Team Cup  in Dusseldorf (Argentina's through to the finals against Germany there), maybe there's a chance for an upset here.

I won't even talk about John Isner getting Rafa Nadal in the first round, because... well, there's not much you can say about that. See you in Wimbledon, John, court 18 is already waiting... Incidentally, Nicolas Mahut will play against Kevin Anderson, another big server.

And if it's tall tennis players that you like, the Roland Garros gives you a mouth watering first round match: Juan Martin Del Potro against Ivo Karlovic.

Here I was, so happy that Del Potro was going to play in the French Open, and where does he land? In the perfect spot to meet Novak Djokovic as early as the third round. Just great.

Sarcasm aside, here are the possible quarterfinals, according to the seedings:

Rafael Nadal - Robin Soderling
Soderling is the only player who ever beat Nadal in the French Open. He reached the finals here in the last two years, beating Nadal in 2009 and Federer in 2010. Will he be able to make it for a third time? And if he does, might he stop Djokovic this year? My guess is no to both questions.
Nadal could meet Davydenko in Round 3, but I can't see him pulling an upset.

(Photo by AP Photo)

Andy Murray - Jurgen Melzer
This is probably the open part of the draw. I do think Murray will make it, and we might see an interesting match against Raonic in the third round. I'm not so sure about Melzer, who suffered from back problems lately, and Nicolas Almagro might be a safer bet from that side of the quarter. Almagro just got through to the finals of the ATP 250 tournament in Nice, so he's definitely in good form, but might get to Paris a bit tired.
Anyway, I can see Murray making it through to another clay-court semifinal.

David Ferrer - Roger Federer
Assuming Federer gets past Feli Lopez (I might cry if I write it again), he shouldn't have any problems getting to the QF - the biggest threat in his section is Stan Wawrinka, and he's hardly a threat when playing his fellow Swiss. Ferrer is a bit more of a question at the moment, as he didn't play in Rome, and was out of Nice early enough, but I think he was more eager to get to Paris, so I wouldn't worry about him. He might meet one of a number of Frenchmen in the fourth round, most probably Gael Monfils (if he stays away from the cheese). Or maybe Philip Petzschner? In any case, I'm guessing that Federer will make his 53965294th Grand Slam Semifinal here.

(Photo by Reuters Pictures)

Tomas Berdych - Novak Djokovic
Berdych's section is another open part in the draw, the other seeds there being Garcia-Lopez, Cilic and Youzhny. I'm not sure who I think will make it to the QF here, Berdych is as good a prediction as any.
Djokovic's section, on the other hand is pretty packed. Gasquet, Bellucci, Del Potro - all had very good results in this clay season. So the big question will probably be: Can Del Potro stop the streak?
I've said it in a previous post - I'm not betting against Djokovic anymore. Of course, he'll lose at some point, but I'm not trying to guess when will that be. Que sera, sera.

So, to sum it up, I'm hoping for a top 4 semis (not going to happen, right?):
Nadal def. Murray
Djokovic def. Federer

Djokovic def. Nadal. 
We haven't seen enough of those lately ;)

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Must read

If you're a Novak fan (and actually, even if you aren't), you've GOT to read the article about him in Sports Illustrated. It's a bit long, so take your time, maybe get some tissues next to you, and start reading.

If you want something more light to read, here's the 39-match winning streak by the numbers, courtesy of the ATP website.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Rome champion - Unbeatable

2010 Davis Cup. 2011 Australian Open, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade, Madrid, Rome.

2011 Head-to-head against the Top 5:
4-0 vs. Nadal [1]
3-0 vs. Federer [3]
2-0 vs. Murray [4]
1-0 vs. Soderling [5]

Already qualified for the ATP World Tour Finals in London.

I'm never predicting against Novak Djokovic again.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images, via the Novak Djokovic Fan Club facebook page)

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Look what I've got!

The DHL delivery guy arrived just half an hour before I was due to leave to the university this morning:

Straight from Serbia :D
(It amuses me that the delivery cost me twice the price of the shirt itself. Still, not complaining ;))

Dealing with pressure

How many "Best match of the year so far!" did we hear in 2011? I heard it just yesterday from one of the commentators during the Rome semifinals between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.

The match was - without any doubt - a great match. It started with the now customary 6-1 to Djokovic, making it seem as though the 38th straight win (36 this season) will be in his pocket quickly enough. However, the fatigue caught up with Novak soon after that, and Murray won the second set 6-3.

The final set was all about pressure, and dealing with it. Novak broke first to lead 3-1, but Andy broke back, held his serve, and broke again to lead 4-3. Two successive breaks (WTA much?) later, Andy Murray was at 5-4, serving for the match. At this point, it almost seemed over - Djokovic looked like he was running out of gas during the last set, suffering from pain in his legs and shoulder, and generally more upset with himself than usual.

And yet, serving at 30-15, Murray couldn't deal with the pressure well enough. A double fault prevented him from getting to a match point, and after a few break chances and another unfortunate double fault, Djokovic broke back, again. 5-5.

Soon enough, it was tie-break time. A couple of errors and a couple of winners later, Novak had 4 match points. He only needed one of them to finish it off, 6-1 3-6 7-6(2).

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Image, via the Novak Djokovic Fan Club Facebook page)

I'm still not really sure how he did it. He was clearly very tired, and Andy was playing really well most of the time. But he still found the grit and determination to continue fighting, during moments when a less stronger player would've already given up.

And so, for the fourth time in 2011, the Masters 1000 final will be a battle between the best two players in the world right now - Nadal vs. Djokovic once more. Who will deal with the pressure better today? Rafa is the one who needs to defend the title, and who needs to show that he can beat the 2011 version of Novak, after failing to do so in their last 3 meetings. I think it shouldn't be too difficult for him, if only due to the difference in the time they had to rest. But surely Novak has nothing left to prove anymore. After practically 6 months without losses, the streak will probably end tonight, and that's alright. The pressure will be back for the Roland Garros.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

What can you do with 3 match points?

Suppose you're 6-2 5-4 40-0 up. What do you do now? You might win a match, if you're Robin Soderling. Or you can lose the lead, get broken back, lose the second set 5-7, and then lose the third set (and the match) 4-6.

Yep, that was the general reaction, Fernando.

(Picture taken from here)

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Guest Post: Streaks and Rankings

During the last few weeks, all we heard about were the different streaks, present and past. It seemed that each day, the ATP decided on different numbers to represent Lendl's and Borg's records from the 1980s.

The next few weeks will surely feature a lot of talk about rankings and points. With Rome and Madrid switching places on the calendar, figuring out the next rankings might give anyone an headache (and that's before you consider ATP's elaborate rules for them).

So, in order to bring some order into this mess, I'm delighted to present this guest post by Yolita, who knows the numbers much better than all of the tennis journalists and ATP's stats people combined ;) You can follow her on twitter - @Yolitatennis.


I think Novak's achievements over the last 5 months surpass anything even the most die-hard Nole fan would have dared to hope. We've been living in a dream and when we wake up (because wake-up we will) we'll have memories to last us a lifetime. But not only that, after so many records by Roger and Rafa, one would have thought that there was no hope of new records being achieved. Not so. One of the most amazing things about Novak's season is his winning streak, which started last December, when he won two Davis Cup matches for Serbia. Just how good is this winning streak of Novak's? It should be straightforward, but it isn't, apparently.

I hate it when a rumour becomes the truth by virtue of repetition. I got tired of hearing the girl commenting the match between Novak and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez saying that Nole was about to tie Lendl for the third best start of the season. He wasn't. He had already passed Lendl. :roll: :roll:

It's not difficult to understand. In the Northern Hemisphere, an academic year is not the same as a calendar year, right? Why? Because the academic year starts in August, September or October.

In the same way, before 1987, the tennis season didn't start at the beginning of the year. The end-of-season championships (known then as Masters Cup and now as World Tour Finals) were played in January of the following year. And the season started later. So start-of-year is not the same as start-of-season. Not so difficult, right?

I have exchanged e-mails with Greg Sharko (a very nice man, by the way), and he told me that a decision had been made to count all matches played in January, even if they were the end-of-season championships for the previous season, as belonging to the next season. I'm, sorry, you can have your own opinions, but you can't have your own facts. You cannot "decide" that matches from one season really belong to another.There's nothing wrong with having 2 records: start-of-year and start-of-season. You can also have winning streaks in general, starting at any point in the year. So we have three different records relating to winning streaks.

1. John McEnroe 42 (1984)
2. Novak Djokovic 32 (2011)
3. Bjorn Borg 31 (1980)
4. Ivan Lendl 29 (1986)
5. John McEnroe 23 (1985)
6. Pete Sampras 17 (1997)
7. Roger Federer 16 (2006)
8. Andre Agassi 15 (1995)
8. Stefan Edberg 15 (1987)

1. John McEnroe 39 (1984)
2. Novak Djokovic 32 (2011)
3. Bjorn Borg 26 (1980)
4. Ivan Lendl 25 (1986)
5. John McEnroe 20 (1985)
6. Pete Sampras 17 (1997)
7. Roger Federer 16 (2006)
8. Andre Agassi 15 (1995)
8. Stefan Edberg 15 (1987)

Starts of season including the Australian Open.
This is relevant because before 1987 the Australian Open took place in November, so it was easier to get a winning streak to start the season, as can be readily seen. Novak has the longest winning streak to start a season since the Australian Open was incorporated, with 88.23% advantage over 2nd place Sampras and 100% advantage over 3rd place Federer. I think that looking at the streaks in red, and seeing the names involved, puts Novak's streak in context. It's beyond amazing.  :o :)

1. Guillermo Vilas 46 (1977)
2. Ivan Lendl 44 (1981-82)
3. John McEnroe 42 (1984)
4. Roger Federer 41 (2006-7)
5. Bjorn Borg 38 (1979-80)
6. Thomas Muster 35 (1995)
6. Roger Federer 35 (2005)
8. Novak Djokovic 34 (2010-2011)
9. Rafael Nadal 32 (2008)

As you can see, at this point in time the difference between start-of-year and start-of-season is irrelevant. The list of players at the top is the same in both. But it may become relevant if Nole's streak ends at 40! Or for future players.

So, with this season, Novak has already made sure his name is in the record books. But there is something else happening. Since January 2004, when Federer won the Australian open, the #1 player has been either Federer or Nadal. For the first time in over 7 years, there is a real possibility of that changing. Many people are confused about how the ranking system works. There are many little rules that I won't go into now. What's important to know is that on May 16th. the players will drop the points they earned in Madrid 2010 and add the points they earn in Rome 2011. Below you see the Top 10 players, with the points they have on Monday May 9th., the points they'll drop and the minimum and maximum points they'll have on May 16th., depending on their performance in Rome 2011.

Rankings as of 9 - May - 2011

Heading to Rome

Current points.
Points to be dropped on May 16.
Net starting points.
Interval of possibilities at the end of the Rome tournament.
Possible rankings after Rome.

1. Nadal 12470 1000 11470 [11470,12470] 1-2
2. Djokovic 10665 0 10665 [10665,11665] 1-2

3. Federer 8900 600 8300 [8300,9300] 3

4. Murray 5905 180 5725 [5725,6725] 4-5
5. Soderling 5265 10 5255 [5255,6255] 4-5

6. Ferrer 4420 360 4060 [4060, 5060] 6-7
7. Berdych 4035 0 4035 [4035,5035] 6-7

8. Melzer 3020 180 2840 [2840,3840] 8-10+
9. Monfils 2645 180 2465 [2465,3465] 8-10+
10. Almagro 2495 360 2135 [2135,3135] 8-10+

If Nole wins Rome and Rafa loses before the semis, Nole will take the #1 spot on Monday May 16th. :o :o
If that happens, Nole will have 11665 points and Rafa at most 11470+180=11650.
I know it's a long shot and the probability of Rafa losing before the semis on clay is very small indeed, but it's mathematically possible.
Remember also that even if Nole doesn't get the #1 spot, he'll get closer to Rafa, and Rafa defends 2000 points in Roland Garros, to Nole's 360. A much bigger chance there.
We're living in interesting times. :)

Dare we hope?

I was never a big fan in particular of either Serena or Venus. Usually I just used to groan when I saw that a favorite of mine has got them too soon in the draw. But as they say - you don't know what you've got till it's gone. And so, I think all tennis fans want both Williams sisters to be back. ASAP.

Any guesses on when they come back? Everything seems to indicate start of the grass season, so probably Eastbourne.

Kim Clijsters, it's your turn now.

In other news, 5 minutes after those tweets we found out that Juan Martin Del Potro is doubtful for Roland Garros. Talk about long-lasting injury breaks... :| I really hope he gets well soon, and resumes playing. He so doesn't deserve this unluckyness (There's no such word, is there?).

Monday, 9 May 2011

Speechless a.k.a. Madrid Finals

I hoped for it to happen, but I still couldn't believe it.
The Mutua Madrid Open champion for 2011 is...

Novak Djokovic. Undefeated in 2011. 6 titles out of 6 tournaments. 34 straight wins, beginning with 2010 Davis Cup. I'm repeating the numbers, though everybody probably knows them by heart already (or is it just me?)

I... really, I'm out of superlatives. 7-5 6-4 win over Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay. That's a third straight win over Rafa - all of those came in ATP Masters 1000 finals. Only this time, Novak hasn't even lost a set. Did I mention that the match was on clay? (Though, admittedly, a faster surface than the regular clay court, coupled with high altitude and bouncy balls). And it was in front of a crowd that was absolutely one-sided - the cheers for Rafa were ear-splittening, those for Novak were hardly heard.

The match was everything tennis fans could dream of, and more. Both players produced some of their best game. Just take a look at Rafa's tweener (the whole rally is pretty much incredible, and contains almost everything you can think of in tennis):

If you have a spare 10 minutes, look at the highlights video. The whole match was like this, more or less. Nole's cross court backhand winners are stunning.

I can't think of anything else to say, really. I'm just speechless.

(Photos: Julian Finney/Getty Images, DANI POZO/AFP/Getty Images, PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images, via NOVAK DJOKOVIC FAN CLUB's facebook page)

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The final we've been expecting

For the third consecutive time, a mandatory Masters 1000 tournament final will feature Rafael Nadal (def. Federer 5-7, 6-1, 6-3) and Novak Djokovic (def. Bellucci 4-6, 6-4, 6-1).

The scores look very similar - both lost the first set, both dealt a 6-1 breadstick to their opponents... The similarities don't end there. Take a look at the interviews given by Rafa and Novak after the matches.

I practically had a tear in my eye after watching that second interview. The level of respect those guys have for each other is incredible, and I think they sincerely mean everything they say about each other. Rafa probably does feel a bit of an underdog, after losing to Djokovic twice in their last Masters finals meetings. And of course, when playing against Nadal on clay - it's clear who the favourite is, even if your name is Novak.

But putting personal preferences aside, I'm seriously amazed by Rafa's humility. He's unbeatable on clay - just look at the last season, where he swept the titles in Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome, and Roland Garros. And he started the same way this year, with the MC and Barcelona (which he didn't play in 2010) titles already under his belt. And still, when asked directly, he mantains that Novak is the favorite to win the match, being unbeaten this year.
(On a related note, Rafa's english is so good right now.)

Some stats, going into the finals:
Streaks: Rafa has 37 successive wins on clay, Nole's got 31 in wins 2011 (33 overall at the moment). One of those streaks ends tomorrow.
Head to head: Rafa leads 16-9, and 9-0 on clay. One of those 9s will become a 10 tomorrow.
Their last meeting in Madrid (SF, 2009), lasted 243 minutes (that's 4+ hours), Nole winning 125 points, and Rafa - 120 points and the whole match.
So what will tomorrow bring?

The answer is one of the weirdest trophies imaginable.

(Player photos by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Saturday, 7 May 2011


Thirty matches played since the beginning of the 2011 season. Thirty matches won in that period of time. 30. Go get them, Nole.

David Ferrer was the 6th player to take a set off Novak in 2011 - joining Ivan Dodig (AO), Feliciano Lopez (Dubai), Tomas Berdych (Dubai), Roger Federer (IW) and Rafael Nadal (IW, Miami).
Ferrer played some really good tennis today, with beautiful points at the net, and overall impressive shot-making. The most fantastic point of the evening was this:

Nole played a great first set, but after being 2-0 up in the second set, he started making too many errors, and missing good opportunities. In the last set, after a few tough games, he raised his level once again, and kept it up until the end, winning 6-4 4-6 6-3.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Feli, We Love You

Wow. I don't really know what I want to say. Yesterday I said that I can see an opportunity for Feliciano Lopez to upset Roger Federer, considering his recent form. Well, I couldn't imagine how close I would be to the truth... As close as a 5-2 lead in a 3rd set tie-break, in fact. Then came a missed smash... and with it a lapse in concentration, that cost Feli the match.

Until that point, I think we might've seen the best tennis match of this year. Up to now, this title belonged (in my opinion) to the Djokovic-Nadal Miami final, but this was an entirely different level of play. In Miami, the first set had too many errors, the second - unexpected exhaustion, and only the last set -- which was also decided by a tiebreak -- gave us a tennis battle until the bitter end. One of those sets where you can't know until the very last second who will be the winner.

Well, today we had three sets like this. It started as usual, good service games from both players, some quality points, nothing unexpected, really - as Lopez was broken, and Federer served for the first set. But then something happened. And Lopez wasn't about to give in that easily. After several deuces, he finally managed to break back, and hold his own service game, to level it at 5-5, and then 6-all. And thus started an epic tiebreak - after trading minibreaks, both players held their serve for a very long time. My twitter filled up with Isner-Mahut references at that point. Eventually, Federer won the set with 15-13 in the tiebreak.

At this point, many people expected Lopez to break down, and lose the match easily. That is what the commentators on my local TV station predicted, at least. But they couldn't be further from the truth. Feli continued playing quite amazingly, and though he missed two break points, he won the set in another tiebreak, this time with a 7-1 score.

The third set showed us more of the same. Being 0-40 down on his own service, Lopez found the mental strength and the right shots to get back to deuce, saved another break point, and served the game out. Once again, we had a tiebreak, with no breaks of serve during the set. The Spanish crowd was chanting "Feeeeeli, Feeeeli" at that point. After a couple of holds, Feli hit a lovely cross-court winner, giving him a minibreak advantage, 3-1. After three more holds from both players, it was 5-2, and Roger was serving. As the next rally drew to an end, Feli prepared to hit a smash... which went out, denying him a match point. At 5-4, he had two more serves. He just needed another couple of good first serves (had a 100% win on 1st serves in the second set, by the way), to finish this match off and cause a huge upset. Alas, with the first serve going out, Roger managed to get the minibreak back, leveling it at 5-5. The next point brought Feli a match point, but it was Federer's turn to serve. 6-6, 7-7... And that was it. At 8-7 and a match point for Roger, Feli's shot was out, and the match was over.

25 aces to Feli's 23, and 7-6(13), (1)6-7, 7-6(7) for Roger, who goes on against Malisse in the third round tomorrow.

But for me, there was one hero to this match.

He played incredibly well, he never gave up, and he did it all against a player who might as well be the greatest tennis player of all times. Feliciano Lopez, I think you deserve a whole lot of respect for the way you played today.

Your fan.

(Photos: Julian Finney/Getty Images, PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


The name of the city couldn't describe it better. The Mad tournament already got rid of all the bottom half of its seeded players, namely: [9] Monfils, [10] Almagro, [11] Fish, [12] Roddick, [13] Youzhny, [14] Wawrinka, [15] Verdasco, [16] Troicki. And that's before any of the top 8 played a match, except for David Ferrer (I'll get to him later).

I only watched 3 matches out of these 8, but every one was crazy in its own way.

First, we have Roddick losing 4-6 7-6(7) 3-6 to Flavio Cipolla from Italy, ranked 160, who got in through the qualifying draw. Predictably enough, he acted very much like himself:

If anyone has a video of him F-wording away, I'd appreciate a link, I just missed that part of the match ;)
More to the point, he really didn't play very well. He approached the net time and time again, only to be passed by Cipolla (who kept his nerve throughout the match), and didn't learn from his mistakes at all.

Then we have Youzhny, who lost to Del Potro. The loss itself wasn't that much of a suprise, as Del Potro had been in good form lately, with great results overall and a fresh title from Estoril, which he won  just two days ago.

However, Del Potro struggled with an injury at the beginning of the second set, and while Youzhny managed to use it to win the set, you'd expect him to win the whole match after that...

But Del Potro continued being too good, and I really hope that he recovers in time for his match tomorrow, and makes it healthy to the 3rd around against Nadal (Presumably, you can never know these days... ;)).
You can read a bit more about the match here.

 (Photo: Daniel Ochoa De Olza / AP)

A surprising result was Verdasco's loss in two sets to Yen-Hsun Lu. Lu played a total of 8 matches on clay in his whole career (turned pro in 2001), with only one win until today. He now improved to 2-7 on the surface... Since I didn't see the match, that's about all I can say about it.

A couple of words about Monfils' loss against Juan Monaco - Monfils didn't feel well during his match. Calling the trainer, he said that he was dizzy, and that he had some problems with his stomach, apparently. However, he denied the treatment that the trainer wanted to provide, and carried on playing... Not long afterwards, he took a break and went off the court, with the need to vomit. And yet, when he returned, play resumed. In the end, he retired at 2-6 0-3 down. And I only have one question: Why didn't he do it earlier?!
Granted, the same thing happend to Dinara Safina a couple of weeks ago in Morocco, and she somehow managed to win her match (though walk out of the next one). But nobody wants to see a player who's literally shaking on the court. Health should come first...

Edited to add: Monfils tweeted that he accidentally ate cheese, which he's allergic to, and that he's frustrated with the need to retire... :(

And finally, David Ferrer. After a couple of great tournaments - got to the finals against Nadal in Monte Carlo, and then again in Barcelona - he won his first match in Madrid against Adrian Mannarino. With the incredible score 7-5 0-6 6-0. Even though I watched the match, I'm still not sure I can explain what happened there. The second set was actually a lot tighter than the scoring suggests, but Ferru made a lot of bad mistakes, while Mannarino managed to get to each and every ball. Then David came to the deciding set ready for action, and though it was pretty tight too - he crushed his opponent, as we expected him to do much earlier...

Speaking of which, the amount of bagels in this tournament is incredible. Here's a list of players who won a 6-0 set in the last three days: Bethanie Mattek-Sands, David Ferrer, Adrian Mannarino, Francesca Schiavone, Vika Azarenka (double bagel), Ana Ivanovic, Roberta Vinci, Elena Vesnina, Jelena Jankovic. At least 3 of these players lost the match after winning that set (Schiavone's still playing at the moment).

The bottom line of this is: No one is safe, dear top seeds ;) I fully expect a couple more upsets coming our way tomorrow - Berdych? Soderling? Perhaps even... *whispering now* Federer? With how Feliciano Lopez is playing (beat Raonic in 3 sets today), I wouldn't put it past him to cause an upset...
Just to complete the picture, Nole and Rafa - you'd better play your best tomorrow!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

D-Day: Davydenko, Del Potro, Djokovic

This will be short, since I only saw one of those matches, and since the crazy fan in me is talking:

Yayyyyyyyyy, Nole wins his FIFTH title this season! Unbeatable since end of 2010 *happy dance* :D

 (Pic from Serbia Open facebook page)

Feli was pretty awesome (and awesomely pretty) in this tournament, too :)

In other news, it's great to see both Kolya and Juan Martin getting their form back.