Yeah, that is Novak Djokovic‘s unbeaten streak today after beating David Ferrer comfortably 6-4 6-4.
Who is going to stop the Serb in the final and, more importantly, in Paris? It's hard to see Nadal, whose game is slowly getting better but who still is unusually unreliable, pose enough of a threat to a player with a 21-match win-streak confidence. Federer? Nah, not over five sets. Who else? Wawrinka, who yesterday beat Nadal 7-6 6-2? Nope, don't think so.
Still, a slam is a slam and there are lots of tennis to be played. Djokovic has never won there before so he needs to get past that hurdle mentally. But 2015 sure feels like his year, no matter how much we want it to be more competitive.
Before we talk Paris, we have Wawrinka and Federer in what could be an interesting semi-final and after that of course the final. World number one versus a “decent” Swiss player…
We've seen some amazing tennis so far in Rome and the best match I've seen until now is the swashbuckling thriller between Nadal and Murray last night. That was a spectacular show that started with Murray playing out of skin to almost bagel Nadal 6-0, but then became familiar in the second set when the king of clay fought back in style. Murray then was a break up in the decider before Nadal came swinging and took the match 7-5. These two really bring out the best in each other and it was truly a test for Nadal going into Roland Garros.
Talking about tests, Djokovic edged Ferrer yesterday in three tight sets and the same happened today, but with serve cannon Milos Raonic on the other side of the net. Both Nadal and Djokovic are not winning their matches easily, but maybe they should be happy about that – maybe it's just the best warm-up possible for Roland Garros?
I'm writing this before the Nadal vs Dimitrov semi-final and thinking it's another possible three-setter that I think the Spaniard will win. It seems to be a recurring theme in Rome that the top two players start shaky but then get settled into the match while their opponents get tight at the thought of the upset. Dimitrov is definitely playing well enough to test Nadal, the question is if it's enough?
I've truly enjoyed the Rome Master so far. Let's hope for two more great matches!
Nadal beating Dimitrov 2-1 in sets, but losing the final to Djokovic in 3. DS.
Not many hours have passed since Monte Carlo Masters shut its doors for this year before we look ahead to the next couple of ATP Tournaments – ATP Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell and BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy.
These are the matches we can look forward to today with my picks in bold!
ATP Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell
Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Fabio Fognini, Kei Nishikori, Tommy Robredo, Nicolas Almagro, Jerzy Janowicz, Alexandr Dolgopolov
Pick to win: Rafael Nadal (oooh, risky prediction!)
SCHEDULE – MONDAY, 21 APRIL 2014
PISTA CENTRAL start 11:00 am
[WC] D Gimeno-Traver (ESP) vs [WC] R Carballes Baena (ESP)
Not Before 13:30
[Q] A Kuznetsov (RUS) vs P Carreno Busta (ESP)
L Kubot (POL) vs R Bautista Agut (ESP)
A Montanes (ESP) vs [Q] M Lopez (ESP)
PISTA 1 start 11:00 am
S Giraldo (COL) vs I Sijsling (NED)
[WC] I Cervantes (ESP) vs O Nedovyesov (KAZ)
R Stepanek (CZE) vs [Q] D Thiem (AUT)
J Sousa (POR) vs M Matosevic (AUS)
PISTA 2 start 11:00 am
T Gabashvili (RUS) vs M Przysiezny (POL)
[Q] M Viola (ITA) vs A Golubev (KAZ)
[Q] A Beck (GER) vs E Roger-Vasselin (FRA)
K De Schepper (FRA) vs [Q] M Ilhan (TUR)
BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy
Who's playing: Grigor Dimitrov, Mikhail Youzhny, Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon, Vasek Pospisil, Andreas Seppi, Nicolas Mahut, Jarkko Nieminen.
Pick to win: Grigor Dimitrov
SCHEDULE – MONDAY, 21 APRIL 2014
CENTRAL start 1:00 pm
Qualifying – A Ungur (ROU) or E Gerasimov (BLR) vs J Pospisil (CZE)
J Chardy (FRA) vs J Vesely (CZE)
Not Before 5:00 pm
 J Nieminen (FIN) vs L Mayer (ARG)
O Marach (AUT) / F Mergea (ROU) vs J Knowle (AUT) / V Pospisil (CAN)
COURT 1 start 1:00 pm
Qualifying – N Basilashvili (GEO) vs H Laaksonen (SUI)
[WC] V Hanescu (ROU) / A Patrui (ROU) vs  E Butorac (USA) / R Klaasen (RSA)
S Stakhovsky (UKR) vs [WC] P Ciorcila (ROU)
Coming into the quarter-finals you saw four big favorites: Wavrinka, Nadal, Federer and Djokovic. Wavrinka got tested against “Missile” Milos Raonic, but came through in the end 7-6 6-2. Then we had the match everyone felt they knew the script to: Nadal vs Ferrer.
The stats were solidly in Nadal's favour: he had won 10 of their last 11 meetings and the last time Ferrer beat him on clay was July, 2004 in the QFs of Stuttgart when Nadal was ranked No. 57.
Much has changed since then of course.
But already from the outset Ferrer looked super-focused and ready to hit his shots confidently. And Nadal on the other hand didn't seem quite sure of himself and seemed to mistime his shots with the unforced error count quickly on the rise.
But we all know that even a Nadal in poor form is half-impossible to beat on clay.
First set offered a lot of breaks, back and forth. They came to a tie-break and there I think 99% picked Nadal to win it. Instead, Ferrer came firing at him and won the tie-breaker 7-1 after some strangely sloppy play from Nadal.
Still, could Ferrer really win the match? I didn't think so.
But Nadal got himself into trouble quickly and Ferrer kept hitting the felt off the ball and going for his shots. The only really viable strategy to beat Nadal.
Suddenly he was up a break 3-1! What was going on? Surely he had to turn this around?
Nadal's head was starting to hang a bit and you started to wonder if there was some kind of injury behind his unforced error count. I mean, when does he really lose on clay? Pretty much never.
But when Ferrer broke again to 5-2 to serve for the match, it seemed meant to happen. And although Nadal managed to break back and hold his serve to 5-4, I was certain that Ferrer would be able to keep it together for the W.
And he did it with flair and a couple of heavy forehand winners. We wrote the scoreline 7-6 6-4 and Ferrer had once more proven himself to be a player worthy in so many ways of the history books, but never quite making it there.
Well done, David Ferrer. Shame for you Rafa and fans, but more clay tournaments to come!
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.
He's relentless. He's fearless. He never gives up.
These are just a few words that describes soon to be(?) world number one, Rafael Nadal. He has just beaten the talented Italian, Fabio Fognini after being down 6-2 4-2 and game point at the China Open quarter-finals. The game at 4-2 in the second set seemed to decide the match, Nadal fought like a tiger throughout and although Fognini managed to get rid of three or four break points through his lethal forehand, it felt like it would be Nadal's game. Finally, Nadal broke and that deflated Fognini completely who only won one game after that as Nadal rushed to a 2-6 6-4 6-1 win. It was another “nail in the coffin” for Fognini's mental stamina, which is usually his downfall, and another glorious star for Nadal's fighting instinct.
Did he put in something a little bit extra because the number one title is at stake in China? Possibly, but the fact is that Nadal is the one player who plays best under pressure, the one that truly never gives up. What an inspiration he is! And not only for other tennis players, but for everyone, in any walk of life.
To Fognini I can only say, learn from your opponent today, practice your mindset harder than your forehand and the wins will eventually come your way. The talent is there, there's no doubting that.
I haven't been posting of late due to other writing commitments, work, family, you name it. I've even started playing more myself again and the game is coming along decently – with the only worry being the body holding up.
But I'm going to try to get back to the blog and Twitter and follow it until the end of 2013. At least a chunkier post every week. And as an add-on I'm going to write a newsletter where you who subscribe get something a little bit extra from time to time. Match predictions, gear reviews, tips and tricks for your own game and general opinion. Just write your e-mail address below the post. You can of course unsubscribe at any time.
Okay, so I realize this has nothing to do with Federer so far. But I felt like the first post after a long break has to be about him. I guess I could write something more positive, like how amazing Nadal is playing and how great the Nadal vs Djokovic US Open final was, but Fed's poor form has been the more controversial/hot topic lately. Is he on a more permanent decline? Or will he jump back and do another “2012”?
I don't really know what to think at this point. Something about Federer's game is definitely off, but it's hard to say exactly what. Is it his timing? Is it his mental strength and willingness to fight for the win? Is he getting old? (Looking at Tommy Haas, who's older, this seems weak), does he have some personal problem that affects his game?
Who knows but the Fed Express? And maybe he's in the process of searching for answers?
No matter what, the indoor season will be a big test for him and all us Federer fans. If he plays well in Shanghai we'll certainly get our hopes up for Paris and ATP World Tour Finals. If he loses before the semi's in Shanghai, I think we won't see much of a resurgence in 2013. He needs to rebuild his confidence and that is going to require winning a few tough matches in a row.
Time will tell. Until Shanghai starts we can enjoy Djokovic and Nadal in China Open. Nadal seems to be in an unbeatable mood, but can he match Djokovic's speed indoors? Somehow I think the Serb will come back strong in the end of the year. He's comfortable indoors on faster courts and should have more motivation now that he's likely to lose the number one position in the rankings to Nadal.
Murray, as you might have heard, is injured and won't play any more this year. Shame for the Scot who had his best year to date.
But let's end this post on a positive note and hope that Federer gets back to his glory days and Nadal continues his good form. The tennis world deserves a few more years of these two giants blessing the sport.
The battle that was on display between Nadal and Djokovic yesterday and which ended in the fifth hour with: 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 9-7 in the favor of Nadal – is hard to put into words. The match had everything. Fantastic points, high drama, nerves, comebacks, and brute physicality. It was another classic in their rivalry. In the end, Nadal had the edge of being (almost) unbeatable at Roland Garros and he managed to qualify for yet another final.
Who awaits there? His good friend Ferrer. It's a bit of anticlimax with an all-Spanish final, but at least we had the Djokovic-Nadal drama that we wanted. Ferrer is a great player and deserves to be nr 5 in the world, but it's very hard to see how he will be able to beat Nadal in a French Open final. We can just hope he can make it competitive and interesting for a while.
Shame for Tsonga who seems to have a hard time stringing two good victories together. After beating Roger in the quarters I had the feeling he wouldn't be up to it against super-solid Ferrer. It would have been fun with a local hero against Nadal in the final, but Ferrer surely deserves all the success he can get. His determination is definitely an inspiration for young players all over the world.
Congrats Rafa and congrats Nole for a fanastic show yesterday. Hopefully many more to come…
The first day at Roland Garros 2013 is almost over and we have managed to get through it without the looming grey clouds in Paris infringing too much on the action. It's cold in Paris and the weather forecast for the first week does look rather grim, but hopefully we won't have too much of a break in the schedule.
I had a feeling the weather together with the flimsy form of some of the favorites would allow for potential upsets, but the first day saw none. Federer breezed through dangerous youngster Carreno-Busta 6-2 6-2 6-3 and except for a few loose backhands he looked rather flawless:
“I thought it was a good match for me,” said Federer. “He's played many matches and won a lot this year. That really helps your confidence. And he's played a lot of matches on clay, in comparison with me. I knew it could be tricky if I didn't sustain a certain level of play and certain aggressiveness [and] got caught up in long rallies, [which is] maybe what he [was] looking for. Overall, I thought I did well on the serve, on the return [and] movement wise, as well. So clearly I'm very pleased.”
A good start for the Fed Express and hopefully a path he can keep on until he reaches sterner opponents nearing the quarter-finals. Federer's draw looks very kind to him so if he just stays in his usual Grand Slam mode, I think he should have no problems until the quarters where likely a hungry Tsonga could stir up trouble, or in the semis where I think Ferrer could be waiting. I don't know if I'm expecting too much, but I think Federer's chances of a final showing are very good. Check out the Roland Garros Men's Draw here
The most exciting and tight match of the day belonged to Gilles Simon, who managed to beat veteran Lleyton Hewitt 7-5 in the final set (coming back from 0-2). Simon has never had an easy time at Roland Garros and I don't feel like that's going to change this year.
Other than that it's really to early to comment. The tournament has just started and we can all watch it unfold in excitement.
Tomorrow we can look forward to watching Nadal against Brands (I think Nadal drops maximum 6 games) and the big blockbuster match of the day Berdych vs Monfils. A tough test for the “Birdman” but I think he gets through it in four sets.