Tag Archives: Roger Federer

Australian Open 2013 Preview and Predictions

While probably the least heralded of the four Grand Slams; the Australian Open has a considerable claim to being the best of the bunch. Were it not for the majority of play generally occurring during the middle of the night in Britain then this tournament would surely be receiving a great deal more credit. Even with this caveat, an unfeasibly large number of the best matches of the 21st century have taken place in night-time slot – the slot coinciding with those in the United Kingdom arriving at their desks for a morning of discreetly following along online.

So, why is it the best? Most importantly, the tournament produces a greater quantity of high quality matches, from start to finish, than any other Grand Slam. Additionally, the meteorological issues which plague the other three majors are absent – apart from the occasional excessive heat warning, rather an insignificant problem to have. And finally, it has the best crowd of any of the Grand Slams– an audience there to enjoy the tennis and support the players fairly and passionately; free from the sorry disrespect frequently in evidence at Roland Garros, the snobbery occasionally prevalent at Wimbledon, and the ignorant catcalling of Flushing Meadows.

Recent evidence of Melbourne’s superiority? The 2012 Australian Open latter stages surely matched any Grand Slam in the history of the game: Rafa Nadal took down Roger Federer (again) in a mini-classic in the first semi-final; Novak Djokovic then outlasted Andy Murray over five hours and five sets in the second semi before –almost incomprehensibly, in one of the greatest athletic feats of all-time – returning to defeat Nadal in an epic six hour final less than two days later.

2012 was another incredible year for men’s tennis (comfortably the highest quality sport on the planet right now), but the combined standard of play and drama probably never equalled that which was on show Down Under in January.

So to 2013 and a tennis landscape which has shifted dramatically at the summit of the game. Nadal is out injured, has been since Wimbledon, with no definite return date. Murray is now a Grand Slam champion, and in possession of dramatically increased confidence and a transformed forehand. Federer is on the wane, capable of fleeting brilliance but lacking consistency. Only Djokovic is recognisable from 12 months ago – remaining a frightening warrior, world number 1 and deserved favourite to win his fourth Australian Open.    

Interestingly, Murray has a chance in Australia to accomplish something that has never been previously achieved in the Open Era (1968 – present). No player has ever won their second Grand Slam immediately after winning their first.  Indeed, of the 49 first time Grand Slam winners in the Open Era, only Federer, Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas and Ilie Nastase managed to win their second Major at the second attempt. (Thanks to the Sporting Intelligence website for that wonderful little nugget).

The other element of interest in this year’s draw is the potential rise of young contenders, Bernard Tomic, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov. All have weaknesses in their games, but the appearance of a real challenger to the top 4 is long overdue. Australian, but by no estimation the home favourite, Tomic has a penchant for throwing the towel in too easily and Dimitrov is flashy, if erratic – but both young men have started the year exceptionally and could go well. Raonic has a monstrous serve but struggles with his movement.  Could Tomic possibly end Federer’s remarkable streak of reaching every Grand Slam quarter final since Wimbledon 2004.

The draw has set up the tournament immaculately with big matches potentially on schedule from early on in the first week: Lleyton Hewitt vs. Janko Tipsarevic (R1), Tomic v Federer (R3) and David Ferrer vs. Marcos Baghdatis (R3) to name but three. Here’s to another January of attempting to balance overnight tennis and work the next day – something I’ve never managed with any great success before.

Predictions

Q/Fs

Djokovic bt. Berdych (Djokovic in 3); Ferrer bt. Dimitrov (Ferrer in 5); Murray bt. Del Potro (Murray in 4); Tomic bt. Gasquet (Tomic in 4).

S/Fs

Djokovic bt. Ferrer (Djokovic in 3); Murray bt. Tomic (Murray in 4).

Final

Murray bt. Djokovic (Murray in 5).

Analysis

It is hard to look beyond a Murray Djokovic final. The pick here is for Murray to take him down in 5 sets again, gaining a measure of revenge over Djokovic for heartbreaking defeats in 2011 and 2012. Should this occur, a rivalry to match any of the greatest in history will be officially, inarguably born.  

The majority of the draw should progress according to seeding with Ferrer’s quarter unquestionably the most open. However, if Ferrer can survive Baghdatis in the third round, one would still expect him to reach the semi-finals.

Once there, Ferrer would face Djokovic, a nightmare matchup for the little Spaniard – and one which he has no hope of winning. In fact, it is difficult to see any significant challenge to Djokovic before the final.

The only outlandish selection here is for Tomic to go deep into the second week. But if not now, then possibly never for Tomic. I think he raises his game in front of a raucous home crowd and snaps Federer’s remarkable quarter-final record –just a hunch, plenty evidence to the contrary – and takes down Raonic and Richard Gasquet before eventually falling at Murray’s hands.

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US Open: Quarter Final Preview

We have been spoiled by the sheer quantity of legitimately epic Grand Slam matches witnessed in recent years and the 2012 US Open appears to be building to yet another glorious crescendo. Each of the four Quarter Finals has the potential to be a captivating match, with the subsequent permutations for the semis and final promising all-time great games and timeless classics.

Bearing in mind that I’m currently on a roll (7/8 correct in the 4th round) here is an in-depth preview – with predictions – of the Flushing Meadows Quarter Finals.

Quarter Final Matches

 Roger Federer (1) v Tomas Berdych (6)

This may prove a tricky encounter for Federer as it should be the first genuine test that he has faced in the tournament. After sweeping imperiously past Donald Young, Bjorn Phau and Fernando Verdasco, the Swiss then enjoyed a walkover to the Quarter Finals after Mardy Fish’s withdrawal. Federer has looked totally untroubled so far, but Berdych – while in possession of a somewhat suspect psychology – has the huge weapons that are essential to trouble Federer on a hard court. When Berdych gets it right, he is practically unstoppable. However, it is severely doubtful that he will get it right for three sets tonight.

Pre-tournament, I predicted that this matchup would occur and that Federer would take it in straight sets; however, Berdych is playing with more confidence than expected and crushing his flat groundstrokes on both sides. The first two sets will be split before Federer begins to take control in a tight third and then a comfortable clincher.

Federer in 4

 

Andy Murray (3) v Marin Cilic (12)

Murray started the tournament inconsistently, with scratchy performances against Alex Bogomolov and Feliciano Lopez bookending an authoritative showing against Ivan Dodig. Fortunately, the Scot appears to be moving through the gears – destroying the much hyped Milos Raonic in the 4th round with a splendid display of powerful ballstriking and fleetness of foot and mind. Cilic has progressed quietly to this stage, and while he has beaten Murray at Flushing Meadows before, his confidence for this matchup will be built on a sandy foundation due to Murray’s utter dominance on every other occasion they’ve played.

Expect Murray to continue serving well and dictating the points with his steadily improving forehand. Cilic has the power to stay with Murray from the baseline – enough power to make it difficult for him at times – but ultimately Murray’s superior movement around the court and greater consistency off both wings should be enough to take control of the match early on and keep it for the duration.

Murray in 3

 

David Ferrer (5) v Janko Tipsarevic (8)

David Ferrer is an utterly fascinating player, one of the most underrated in the history of the game (an aside that I’m currently analysing and writing up currently) – and surely a multiple major winner in any other era. Possessing slightly better skills in every department than he is ever given credit for, Ferrer – often unfairly portrayed as a mere roadrunner – should progress to his second US Open semi-final with effort to spare against the occasionally flaky Serbian.

Tipsarevic undoubtedly has the requisite power game that can trouble Ferrer on the hard court, but is slightly too inconsistent (the reason his career has reached a – admittedly impressive – plateau of 8 in the world) to break the relentless Spaniard down over 5 sets. While he will never penetrate Tipsarevic’s defences with impunity, Ferrer will eventually wear the Serb down with his heavy forehand and supremely consistent ballstriking – increasing the possibility that he could grind his way to what would be a genuinely deserved Grand Slam title.

Ferrer in 4

 

Novak Djokovic (2) v Juan Martin Del Potro (7)

This is potentially the match of the tournament. Defending champion Novak Djokovic taking on the only man outside of the ruling triumvirate in men’s tennis to have won a Grand slam since 2005. After struggling with a variety of injuries following his US Open success in 2009, Del Potro has finally appeared close to his peak again, and has moving menacingly through the draw so far. Djokovic will serve more consistently and move better than Del Potro (better than anyone in the history of the game, perhaps?) but his defence will be tested to the limit under the forehand onslaught that the Argentine always bring to the court.

While Djokovic has looked close to his invincible best thus far at Flushing Meadows, I’ll stick with my pre-tournament prediction – Del Potro taking him down in a blaze of monstrous forehands, stinging backhands and huge serving. This is dependent upon his recovery from victory over Andy Roddick – and whether he can sustain that physical and mental effort over a major tournament is yet to be seen – but Del Potro can destroy anyone in the world on his day. This is his day.

Del Potro in 5

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US Open 4th Round Preview & Predictions

US Open: Last 16 preview.

With the first week of the US Open completed and (almost) all of the big names still in the tournament it is time to preview the business end of the tournament. Of the top three, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have looked immensely comfortable in coasting through the early stages while Andy Murray has appeared a little shaky, not least in his third round, four set slugfest against Feliciano Lopez. David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro are also still in contention with 5 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 9 seed John Isner the highest ranked players to fall.

Fourth Round Matches

Roger Federer (1) v Mardy Fish (23)

Federer appears to be playing at the top of his game again, breezing through the opening week with a minimum of fuss. Expect Fish to play him tough with the fervent backing of the New York faithful, as he did in Cincinnati two weeks ago, but Federer’s serve and forehand will eventually take control of the match and carry him to another straight sets victory.

Federer in 3

 

Nicolas Almagro (11) v Tomas Berdych (6)

Grudge match. Berdych refused to shake Almagro’s hand after their Australian Open 4th round match earlier this year; the Czech unhappy after Almagro had blasted a ball at him from close range. This should be a brutal match, with continuous, unrelenting trading from the baseline. Berdych got the better of Almagro in Melbourne, owns the head-to-head record 6-3, and is regaining his form after a terrible summer but the Spaniard will take this in a deciding set; his glorious single handed backhand and greater reserve of mental fortitude the keys to success.

Almagro in 5

 

Andy Murray (3) v Milos Raonic (15)

After watching Murray labour to victory over Lopez on Saturday night, Raonic will certainly fancy his chances of causing the upset in the night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday. Murray looked lethargic and powerless at times during his nervy victory over the Spaniard and Raonic will hope to exploit Murray’s fatigue tonight. However, the Scot has proved before that he raises his performance under the lights at Flushing Meadows and has an outstanding record against huge servers like Raonic. The Canadian has won their only meeting; but that was on clay and probably has no bearing on this evening’s contest. Murray should be able to neutralise Raonic’s monster serve effectively and will prevail in a tense struggle due to his superior consistency from the ground.

Murray in 4

 

Marin Cilic (12) v Martin Klizan

Cilic’s career has stagnated rather similarly to Tomas Berdych’s but he couldn’t have picked a more accommodating 4th round opponent. Klizan may have shocked Tsonga in the second round, but the giant Croat will have way too much for him here. Expect Cilic to win in straight sets with Klizan eventually capitulating under a barrage of suffocating groundstrokes.

Cilic in 3

 

Janko Tipsarevic (8) v Philip Kohlschreiber (19)

Kohlschreiber produced the biggest shock of the third round, taking down the highly fancied John Isner. The German has the tools to trouble the higher ranked Tipsarevic, particularly a surprisingly thunderous serve and a beautiful single handed backhand (as an aside, it is intriguing that the only 4 players in the top 32 with single handers have all made the last 16). However, Kohlschreiber could suffer an emotional letdown from his titanic 5 set victory over Isner and Tipsarevic should prove slightly more reliable in the ground game, despite his own flaky start to the tournament.

Tipsarevic in 4

 

David Ferrer (5) v Richard Gasquet (13)

Grind. Grind. Grind. Ferrer holds a 7-1 head-to-head record against Gasquet and he’ll bury the Frenchman into the ground with his unique brand of relentless tennis tomorrow evening. Gasquet’s suspect temperament will be exposed by Ferrer, a man who gives absolutely nothing away. This should be close for the first two sets but Ferrer will prove slightly tougher in the clutch, choking the life from Gasquet early on with his remarkably deep and utterly consistent groundstrokes, before pulling away in the third set.

Ferrer in 3

 

Juan Martin Del Potro (7) v Andy Roddick (20)

This will probably be the night match on Arthur Ashe tomorrow night. And this will probably be the last game of professional tennis that Andy Roddick ever plays. Despite an inevitably raucous New York crowd, Roddick just doesn’t have quite enough game at this stage of his career to compete with the nuclear power of Del Potro. Inspired by the occasion, Roddick will pull out a set before being overwhelmed by the potency and penetration of the Argentine’s groundstrokes.

Del Potro in 4

 

Stanislas Wawrinka (18) v Novak Djokovic (2)

MATCH OF THE ROUND. Wawrinka is a solid player, with a gorgeous single handed backhand, and certainly more capable of going deep into Grand Slams than he has shown during his career. In the surprise of the round, I expect Wawrinka to play the match of his life and push the hitherto untested Djokovic to the very limit. Ultimately Djokovic will have a little too much heart, but the Wawrinka’s ground game could just test Djokovic in a way that he might not expect. The Swiss hit the ball beautifully in his victory over Dolgopolov in the last round and his shots noticeably penetrate the court more at the US Open than other majors. Djokovic to steal it in a classic.

Djokovic in 5

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The Trouble with Tomas Berdych

Firstly, an admission – I had planned to write this fairly negative article about Tomas Berdych, regardless of the outcome of his first round match at the US Open today. That he beat David Goffin fairly straightforwardly (7-5 6-3 6-3), is beside the more important point: that is, given Berdych’s prototypical physical stature and the attacking weaponry at his disposal, The Berd should be The Word.

Instead, Berdych is the most anonymous member of the world’s top 10. Consider it: the Big Three speak for themselves; as does Andy Murray, if to a slightly lesser extent. Based on pure ability, Juan Martin Del Potro is perhaps the nearest to crashing the Federer/Nadal/Djokovic closed shop. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga brings verve and boundless exuberance to the party. David Ferrer; a remarkable ability to run forever, in addition to some underratedly weighty groundstrokes. John Isner has a massive serve, huge heart and a penchant for epic matches.

Tomas Berdych? Well, nothing really – other than an overwhelming sense that the Czech just doesn’t really want it enough. His genuinely powerful groundstrokes, huge wingspan and colossal serve should, at very least, have made him a poor man’s Ivan Lendl (a compliment). Unfortunately, Berdych is apparently contented with his position near, but not at, the pinaccle of the game.  Lacking in heart, somewhat strategically naïve and mentally frail – these are deficiencies that even an abundance of talent cannot overcome.

For, despite these criticisms, Berdych undoubtedly has great ability – you don’t reach a Grand Slam final as he did at Wimbledon in 2010 without at least a modicum of said asset. However, the giant Czech seems curiously loath to display this virtue on the biggest stages. Take this year’s top level defeats: an encouraging start before tame submission to Rafa Nadal at the Australian Open. A similar, resigned loss to Del Potro at the French Open. And more recently, an incomprehensible annihilation by Ernests Gulbis at Wimbledon.

However, the nadir was probably a woeful straight sets loss at the Olympics to Steve Darcis. Yes, Steve Darcis. (World Number 74, since you didn’t ask). And while Berdych could possibly be excused that debacle on the grounds that ‘it was only the Olympics’; remember that the Olympic tennis tournament and a victory over Roger Federer created Berdych’s reputation in 2004, a reputation that he arguably existed upon for the next six years.

Many of Berdych’s best results have taken place on clay, a strange scenario given the apparent suitability of his game to faster, harder courts. While this may be due to the dubious ‘Martin Verkerk principle’: the clay giving Berdych more time to line up his shots than on other, quicker surfaces – it is an invalid excuse for a player possessing such serious firepower on both forehand and backhand, and with legitimate aspirations of winning Grand Slam titles. In fact, Berdych’s game – so similar in many aspects to Del Potro’s – should be ideally suited to the US Open; instead, he has never progressed beyond the 4th round. A dismal record for a player with his unquestionable ability.

While a permanent fixture in the top 10, Berdych is not seriously a threat to win any Grand Slam tournament in this era; indeed, he currently seems unable to muster the heart to sustain even a credible pretence at challenging in the Majors. While this may yet be the fortnight that his stagnating career is resurrected; Tomas Berdych appears disappointingly – given his aforementioned natural ability – satisfied with his lot.

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US Open 2012: Preview and Predictions

Last year’s US Open produced a truly unique tennis moment. A single shot that defined a match, a tournament and possibly even an entire season. In a sport rarely judged by singular moments of brilliance, Novak Djokovic’s mind-blowing forehand return winner at match-point down to Roger Federer might be a completely unparalleled event.

The shot, the charismatic celebration and the subsequently inevitable victory was the eye of Djokovic’s 2011 perfect storm. His remorseless completion of the greatest season in tennis history (don’t bother arguing, McEnroe and Federer) against Rafa Nadal in the final may not linger in the memory; but Djokovic’s forehand will live in tennis immortality.

After the match Federer was pilloried for his rather ungracious remarks: “For me, this is very hard to understand. How can you play a shot like that on match point?” yet he might well have had a point. The last-roll-of-the-dice nature of Djokovic’s forehand symbolised a different, imperceptibly more fleeting, type of success to that achieved by Federer and Nadal. A great player? Certainly. One of the greats? Possibly not yet. (And I argue that with sadness, as Djokovic always appears the most likeable, humble and fullest of heart among the Big Three.)

So, twelve months later, to this year’s instalment of the biggest, brashest show in tennis. The dynamics of the top 3 have changed dramatically throughout the course of 2012: Djokovic’s level – understandably so – has begun to drop noticeably over the summer; while Federer has ascended back to the summit of the game; and Nadal misses the tournament with a knee injury.

The dream final for the neutral observer is probably a sixth consecutive meeting between Federer and Djokovic at Flushing Meadows (4 previous Semi-Finals and 1 final). However, this may just be the tournament where the balance of power in the men’s game ultimately begins to shift from the Federer/Nadal/Djokovic hegemony that has existed in some form or another since 2005.

Olympic champion Andy Murray, crowd-favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Spanish roadrunner David Ferrer will all come into New York in possession of varying levels of confidence that this is their time. And, perhaps most dangerously of all, lurks the only other man who has won a Grand Slam in the trinity’s era.

After a decade of observing tennis, I remain convinced that no-one has ever struck the ball with more ferocity than Juan Martin Del Potro did during the final two sets of his 2009 US Open final victory over Federer. Despite a nervous start that night, his consistently flat, howitzer-like forehand completely eviscerated Federer towards the end of the match. A genuine contender was born. Or was; until a wrist injury befell the monstrous Argentine.

Finally, three years on, Del Potro has regained close to his best form this summer; hammering those lethal groundstrokes with the force of old and serving imperiously. If he can overcome yet more niggling ailments (wrist and knee, currently) then Del Potro is a serious contender to take down Djokovic in the Quarter-Finals, and potentially make a run at the title.

Similarly, Murray – the greatest player ever, never to have won a major – will surely believe that this is his best chance to win a Grand Slam. Following a remarkable destruction of Federer in the Olympic final, and finally in possession of a consistent forehand, and additional – if not yet abundant –composure; this will be as good a chance as Murray ever has to win a Grand Slam.

Predictions

Q/Fs

Federer bt. Berdych (Federer in 3); Murray bt. Tsonga (Murray in 4); Ferrer bt. Isner (Ferrer in 5); Del Potro bt. Djokovic (Del Potro in 5).

S/Fs

Murray bt. Federer (Murray in 4); Del Potro bt. Ferrer (Del Potro in 3).

Final

Murray bt. Del Potro (Murray in 4).

Analysis

I’d expect the top half of the draw to proceed according to seeding. If Murray can negotiate the Lopez/Raonic/Tsonga minefield – as I believe he will – then a Semi-Final against Federer will surely be the outcome. The combination of Murray’s clinically accurate backhand and increasingly formidable serve, allied to playing on his favourite surface, should be enough to throttle Federer over 5 sets.

The other half of the draw is wide open. As detailed above, I think Del Potro – injury permitting – is ready to advance to a Grand Slam final again. A potential Quarter-Final with Djokovic is a salivating prospect. David Ferrer should come through the weakest quarter of the draw, although John Isner, Richard Gasquet and Tommy Haas could also have legitimate chances to make the Semi-finals. Once there, any of the four will lose to Del Potro. Or Djokovic. Take your pick.

My predicted final – Murray v Del Potro – would be a rematch of the 2008 Quarter Final, one of the most brutal tennis matches I can remember witnessing (Murray eventually triumphing 7-6 7-6 4-6 7-5 after almost 4 hours of suffocating tennis). The power and accuracy on display from both participants was quite remarkable that day and would be just as fitting a climax to this tournament as Federer Djokovic VI.

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