Congrats to Nishikori and Garcia-Lopez who both got titles this week in Barcelona and Bucharest respectively. My attention however went to the Andujar who had a great week in Barcelona and defeated David Ferrer with some really clever clay court tennis including drop shots, varying pace, spin, and finishing many points at the net. If you can bewilder David Ferrer, you're doing something right.
Andujar played well in the final too, but it was Nishikori's week. I can stop marvelling how much racquet head spin the current top 5 player gets on the ball. If he stays healthy I'm sure he can win a slam in two years time. If he managed to beat Djokovic at the US Open last year – anything is possible.
This week the tour travels to Munich, Istanbul and Estoril for some more clay court tennis before the Masters in Madrid and Rome. Federer is the top seed in Istanbul (new tournament) and Murray hold pole position in Munich, but he's not that comfortable on clay so will be interesting to see.
Nadal and Djokovic rests before the Madrid Open. Nadal really needs to get on the title board before the French Open to have enough confidence to battle a Djokovic in “Robocop” form.
We have hardly been able to catch our breath from a dramatic French Open final and now the grass season is already under way with Federer and Nadal playing in Halle and Murray and Wawrinka in Queens. (See the live scores here.)
Winning Ugly author (must-read book for all tennis players and fans) and tennis guru Brad Gilbert was impressed with Nadal who the day after he lifted the Roland Garros trophy was out on the practice courts in Halle trying to get used to the different surface. It's the dedication of a true champ and if you want greatness you need to bend the rules of your body in mind and put in that extra hard work.
To me this is the most amazing aspect of Rafa's tennis, his incredible determination. There are many talented players out there, but there aren't one on this planet with the willpower of Rafael Nadal.
But willpower or no willpower, I think it will be tough for Nadal to come straight from two successful weeks in Paris into the fast, low-bouncing green stuff in Halle. It takes one hell of an adjustment to transition from clay to grass and I'm not sure he's up for it. He need to amp up his aggression a great deal and move much closer to the baseline. Therefore I wouldn't be surprised if we see an early exit from Rafa in Halle.
Federer on the other hand is built for the stuff and loves playing in Halle (five times champion, defending last year's title). He even has a street named after him in the German city. Okay, Nadal has this:
But that's not the point, the point is that Federer is very comfortable in Halle and I think he'll defend his title, even if he were to play Rafa in the final. Whether Fed has what it takes to win Wimbledon is another story, but I think that together with Murray he's the top favourite. Djokovic doesn't enter my mind as a true contender for the Wimby throne which is strange considering how good he is and how he's ruled the hard courts. Just think that the RG loss will be tough for his confidence and he was never a hundred percent comfy on grass.
Okay, I've touched Halle and Wimby now briefly. Who are in Queens and what are they doing there except worrying about rain?
Well, Murray impressed me at RG and I think he will keep doing it for the grass court season. Especially now that he let the cat out of the bag and hired Amelie Mauresmo as his coach. Interesting choice and kudos to Andy for making it!
So Andy is definitely a contender for both Wimbledon and Queens. Just look at how relaxed he is in this Instagram photo posted by Dimitry Tursunov of @tursunovtales
The other top player in Queens is “Stan the Man” Wawrinka. I like Wawrinka's game. He has a fantastic one-handed backhand and everybody loves that shot, including me, but it's been a topsy-turvy year so far for him, albeit mostly topsy his first slam and masters titles. The problem for Wawrinka is that he's not really used to being number three in the world and it will take some time to adjust his mental game. Suddenly everybody wants to beat him badly and he has a status to defend. That can play tricks on a tennis player's fragile ego.
Wawrinka is not really a great grass court player either. His swings are too long and his volley game not confident enough to make an impact on the grass. I also feel his serve can get wobbly at times, which is not great when you're playing for example Milos Raonic.
Talking about Milos Raonic, this is a guy who can really make an impact in Halle and Wimbledon. He was good enough to make the quarters in the French Open and has a serve that makes you drool with jealousy. He's also became a more mature player this year and doesn't give away as many free points as before. Raonic is a threat to anyone on grass.
I'm running out of writing time. This is my first post for the grass season – more to come so stay “posted” and please share with your tennis friends.
Davis Cup Quarterfinals 2014…final day.
Federer remains upbeat despite the Swiss loss yesterday against far less experienced Kazakh doubles team:
“I'm actually very excited for tomorrow,” Federer said. “We are still the favorites for each singles match tomorrow, but with no more margin for error and we're aware of that.”
Thats the way to look at it I guess after a disappointing loss. In today's matches we have Wavrinka going up against Kukushkin, a player who's ranked well below him, but who he has lost against in the past and if Stanislas wins, we have Federer against Golubev who according to the Swiss champ himself is playing very well:
“I've been very impressed by him,” Federer said. “He made the difference in the doubles at the end. I'm looking forward to that challenge.”
To me it's quite clear that Kazakhstan have truly benefitted from having no pressure, being underdogs away and just playing freely, while especially Stan the Man Wavrinka has suffered from nerves, now being the top ranked player in the home nation and thus having to shoulder quite some pressure.
The pressure will be heaviest today though with a must-win situation against Kukushkin. If Wavrinka wins, I'm sure Federer will be able to handle it, but I have my doubts about Stan today. He's been edgy through the entire tie and if it's not some kind of injury, it's definitely a major bout of nerves. Somehow I feel that Kazakhstan will win this already in the fourth match, but I hope that's not the case.
Two other matches remain exciting. In Italy vs Great Britain we have a truly top match with Andy Murray going up on clay against a man who's very comfortable on that surface, Fabio Fognini. With the British being 2-1 up, this match seems to decide everything as I think Seppi is the big favorite against Ward in the eventual final rubber.
Murray has really held his own and been instrumental in giving his country the lead, but the question is if he can seal the deal? My prediction is Yes, the Brits will win.
We have a really exciting day in France as well, with Tsonga playing Kamke in a must-win match. Kamke was spellbinding against Benneateau, but Tsonga is a completely different challenge. The question is how good the Frenchman's nerves are since he didn't really shine during his first rubber loss. If Tsonga wins, the French are slight favorites with Benneteau taking on Gojowczyk in the final rubber. But Gojowczyk is a tricky player and he beat Tsonga on Friday so – like always in Davis Cup – everything is possible.
In the end, I think the French will take it 3-2.
An exciting Davis Cup day in front of us.
Davis Cup Quarterfinals 2014…
Davis Cup is its own beast. Rankings means little, home court is vital, team spirit is suddenly everything. When you looked at the match-ups beforehand there were quite obvious favorites in all but one match (Great Britain vs Italy).
But…this is Davis Cup. So it so happens that France, with Benneteau and Tsonga, lost 0-2 to Germany who were without Haas, Kohlschreiber and Mayer! Tsonga said about his match against 119-ranked Peter Gojowczyk :
“It's clear that this was one of those matches one can classify as unloseable and yet I lost it”
This was very unexpected of course, but almost equally unexpected was it that Benneateau would go down in three straight sets to Kamke.
Talk about an uphill battle for the French!
The Davis Cup factor was also evident in the “cleanest” match-up of the weekend, Switzerland vs Kazakhstan. Grand Slam champion (still not really used to writing that) Stanislas Wavrinka was up against #64-ranked Golubev, but for some reason the Swiss couldn't find his groove while the Kazak played the match of his life and won in four sets.
Federer came back and steadied the ship with a comfortable straight sets win against Kukushkin, but I'm sure the Swiss would have appreciated and partly expected a 2-0 lead before the doubles. We'll see if Wavrinka is in better form today, playing with Federer.
But at the time of writing this, they're down 5-3 in the first set which makes me think that this could be the BIG upset of the weekend.
The other quarterfinal matches:
Czech Republic are already through with 3-0 against Japan.
Great Britain is at 1-1 which was expected with Murray winning and Ward losing.
Lots at stake in the doubles today!
ATP World Tour writes today that Nadal's road to the title in Indian Wells look complicated. They're right. He needs to get through Murray, Federer and Djokovic to win the title and with his absence from the hard courts since his injury in the Australian Open final, there should rightly be doubts about his ability to get through such a field on his least preferred surface.
I doubt that even the competitive monster of Rafael Nadal can do it. Miami with its slower surface is better suited for Nadal and I think both Federer and Djokovic with their recent good form are more probable favorites. Especially Federer who seems to be on a roll, following wins over both Berdych and Djokovic at Dubai. Murray is a tough pick for me, because he hasn't impressed since he won Wimbledon last year and seems to be back playing too passively from the back of the court.
So…Federer or Djokovic? Or…even a dark horse like hot shot super talent Dimitrov? Berdych should be in the mix as well. Some might even want to throw recent winner (Marseille) in Gulbis into the ring, but I think he's still too weak mentally to sustain his winning over longer periods.
My gut tells me Djokovic will take the title, but my heart is with Federer.
Who's your favorite? Check out the draw on the Indian Wells official homepage
Yes, dear Federer fans, he's back in business! After coming back from a set down against both Djokovic and Berdych he emerged as the winner in ATP Dubai 500. The crowd was behind him all the way of course as could be expected pretty much anywhere he goes and maybe especially so in a city where he owns a home and spends a lot of time. This was Federer‘s 6th Dubai title and his first title on the tour since Halle last year. Quite a relief!
So what could have brought on this resurgence? Well, there are a few obvious things to point to:
* His back is better.
* He has his childhood idol Stefan Edberg in his camp.
* He has a new, larger and more powerful racquet.
And as soon as he starts winning, he gains confidence and becomes a lot more dangerous, even for the likes of Novak Djokovic. I also want to add that it was extra nice to see him turning around matches. It was the first time he was able to win despite losing the first set against Djokovic and being able to come back from a set and a break down against a Berdych (who's hitting the felt off the ball) is no mean feat. There are definitely a lot of positives to take on as we move into the hard court season and later also clay.
It feels good to be a Fed fan again!
Highlights from the match against Djokovic, which had some stunning points:
[The new tennis bromance?]
Yes, that's the question hovering in every Fedfan‘s mind after his demolition of a lacklustre Tsonga 6-3 7-5 6-4 in today's Australian Open fourth round.
Federer looked back to old ways, Tsonga couldn't keep up. Only after going back a break in the third (two sets down), he started showing some frustration and effort to get back in the game, but Federer was simply too good.
The question posted by brilliant tennis writer Steve Tignor and other pundits is: is Federer good enough to beat Murray in the semis?
My answer to this question is obvious: I don't know! What we saw today was a glorious display, vintage Federesque, elegance, grace, control, power, cat-like movement and miraculous ball control (yes, Fedfans tend to overdo it with the adjectives!) – but when the über-defender Murray is on the other side of the net, the storyline tends to look different. We saw this last year when Maestro Fed lost in 5 sets.
But maybe, just maybe, there is hope for change on the Fedberg horizon? New coach, new racquet, Murray doesn't look so convincing, Federer seems hungry – there are many things that look up. Let's take comfort in those as we head into the quarter-finals and hopefully semi-finals with a certain Roger Federer in them.
If you want to read a funny preview – check out the always poignant Pseudofed's blog.
Federer played his first singles match of the year in Brisbane today and beat Nieminen comfortably 6-4 6-2. What impressed me the most is how lethal his forehand was. It really looked like the increased racquet size (from 90 to 98) helped his pace on that shot. If that's the case we have interesting things in store. Federer also looked hungry and ready to play and moved well.
Nadal on the other hand has struggled finding depth and aggression on his shots in his first two matches (in Doha) and was taken the distance by German Tobias Kamke today, but won in the end 6-3 6-7 6-3. Not sure if he's troubled by his knees or just needs to get warmed-up, but he's not playing as a confident world nr 1 right now.
Murray was cruising against another German in Florian Mayer with 6-3 3-0 and most people probably switched channel at that point. They shouldn't have done that. Mayer started playing aggressively and painted lots of lines in a 3-6 6-4 6-2 victory. Murray is back from injury and we should expect it to take some time before he's playing well again. Today he was just too passive and cautious against a dangerous opponent and paid the price. I don't predict great results in Australian Open for the Scot.
Exciting news! Besides being a father again in 2014, Federer has also said that he will use his childhood idol Stefan Edberg as a coach for at least ten weeks starting from Australian Open. And he will be using the larger head size racquet he was tinkering with in 2013 permanently!
Two quotes from the maestro himself (source tennis.com):
“I am happy to announce that beginning in Melbourne, Stefan Edberg will join Severin Lüthi on my coaching team,” Federer said on Facebook. “Severin, who has been part of my team for the last 7 years, will do most of the weeks and Stefan has agreed to work with us. Stefan was my childhood hero, and I am really looking forward to spending time and learning from him.”
“The racket is extremely important,” said Federer, who experimented with a new frame last summer before going back to his smaller frame at the U.S. Open, and for the rest of the 2013 season. “But now I have the feeling that this is the right time for a change. I've played through two and a half weeks with the new model and am confident. The racket suits me very well.”