2018 Aussie Open, The Picks, Day 4


Novak Djokovic vs Gael Monfils

It has been a long time that Novak has been on court. He’s been hurt physically, as well as mentally. On Tuesday, when he walked on court, you figure his first thought was that he was finally back.

He sure is. The former No. 1 is an excellent player, who has improved so much over the past decade. But now, he has to re-charge his battery. 

The funny Gael is a veteran player and he has reached the semis twice at Roland Garros. Every year, I thought if he was healthy, he could win a major. When he is focused, he is phenomenal. But he has not changed his tactics, especially because he lives too far behind the baseline and his backhand is marginal. 

That is why Djokovic is better; without a doubt, his backhand is substantially better, and he hits it very deep. He is super-intense. Novak will win in four sets, but it should be some terrific points.     

Simona Halep vs Genie Bouchard
The Romanian Halep is No. 1, which is just fine, but she has yet to win a Grand Slam. She absolutely has to. She has come very close, but in the finals at the majors, she backs off and inside in her head, she blinks. And then she is gone.

However, Halep moves so well, and she runs and runs without getting tired. She is incredibly strong. 

Now Halep has to go up against the Canadian Bouchard, who was stunningly good in 2014, when she reached the final at Wimbledon and in the semis at the Aussie Open. She is a huge hitter, and moves forward like an animal. But over the last three years, Bouchard has played terrible. Last year, she did win a couple events, but other than that, she was losing in the first round all the time.

Right now, she is barely in the top 100, considering that in 2014, she was ranked No. 5.  That is kind of crazy, given that more or less, her body is just fine. One day, she could rise, but Genie has to become much more mature. Go out and battle and forget about the negatives all the time. But even if Bouchard players very well, Halep will out steady her. Simona will win in straight sets.

2017 top players: men’s 1-5

TennisReporters.net will review 2017’s top 30 women and men, our annual feature.

No 1: Rafa Nadal
At the start of this year, when he began to play again, after three years when his body was breaking down, all of a sudden, he was fast in his legs and he began to be more aggressive, — finally. His backhand fell deeper, rather than landing too short, and was slightly harder and longer. On occasion, he decided that it was OK to crack it down the line. We all knew that Rafa has one of the best forehands ever, but it took him 15 years to change his backhand and make it stronger. So he won Roland Garros again — 10 times now — essentially dominated on clay. He won the US Open on hardcourts, serving huge, chipping here and there, coming to the net and putting it away, and rarely missing. When he starts to play very well, he goes into the zone, and now he doesn’t fall out of it. That’s why he’s the No. 1. However while Rafa had a great year, there are two negatives: Roger Federer beat him all four times, which is very unusual. In 2018, Rafa has to improve his backhand even more, because the Swiss is hitting his BH even harder now. Secondly, once again, towards the end in the fall, his body began to break down again. Many times. In 2018, he has to stop playing so many events or … another injury will take its toll? I hope not.

No 2: Roger Federer
It is pretty obvious that the Swiss is the best player ever, with 19 Grand Slams. But that is right now, because in another seven years, will his record be better than Nadal, or even Novak Djokovic, in 2025, when they are all retired? We just have to wait, because things can change extremely quickly. Remember Pete Sampras, who retired in 2002, with 14 majors. “No one can overtake him,” people thought. Ten years later, Federer and Nadal have passed him. Who would have thought it? Now we know. Federer played an amazing year. When he returned in January, he was healthy, and at the Australian Open, we watched his backhand tear through the court. Finally, he stepped in and got on top of the ball. Before, he would go back and against Nadal, Federer couldn’t go toe-to-toe with his one-handed backhand against Nadal’s lefty forehand. He could not, for many years. But Roger knew what he had to do and in the fifth set against Nadal in the Aussie Open, he rose up and he out-hit the Spaniard. Many people were pretty shocked. So was Nadal. Three more times, Federer beat Nadal again and again and again. In 2017, Roger was better head-to-head versus Nadal. However, Roger didn’t play on clay at all this season. Had he played against Nadal on clay, Rafa would have beaten Federer on the dirt so many times. I would imagine that Nadal would have beaten him repeatedly. Let’s not forget that Federer won Wimbledon again. Great as always. But at the US Open, he lost to Juan Martin del Potro. He was so-so at the ATP Finals, losing to David Goffin. Next year, he will turn 37 years old. He is a brilliant player, and he hasn’t slowed down. In 2018, he will another Grand Slam. When and where? Who knows, be he will be super exciting once again. 

No 3: Grigor Dimitrov
The Bulgarian had a terrific year. Even a couple years ago, he had no idea what he was doing. Very stylish, but he was so erratic. He has always mixing it up, but he didn’t know which way to go. So at times, he was very upset, and he would almost give up. But this year, he knew that he had to calm down, decide where to go, and when he had an opportunity, he would jump on it. He began to return substantially better. His one-handed backhand was struck down the line, pretty flat and hard, and he moved forward, quickly. He won Cincy and at the end, he won the ATP Finals — at last. Now can he won a major in 2018? Yes he will, if he remains super confident.  

No 4: Alexander Zverev
The young German is extremely impressive. He is very tall, he can smash his forehand, backhand and first serve and, once and a while, his return. He won Rome and Canada, and he shot up the rankings this year, even though in the fall, he became to be tired, mentally and physically. That happens with the young players: they start strong, and after 6-8 months, it is time to rest more often. It happens with everyone, but as you get older, then your legs, your arms and your brain gets more comfortable. So in 2018, without a doubt, Zverev will get better and be slightly smarter. Can he win a Grand Slam in 2018? Possible, but it will very tough to upset the Big 4 or 5, in the 3 out of 5, not in 2 out of 3 sets. He has to be super patient and add more variety.  

No 5: Dominic Thiem
The 24-year-old from Belguim had a good, but not a spectacular year. Yes, he has won a number of solid matches. Overall, he is up and down. Of course he is still pretty young, and he has to think about which way he is going. He can move quickly side to side, he can smoke his forehand and, to a certain degree, his one-hand backhand. He is OK at the net, and he rarely gets hurt. But can he win major in 2018? Possibly, it he continues to improve, which I think he will. However, can he upset Nada/Federer/Djokovic/Murray/Wawrinka at a Grand Slam in the finals? For me, not yet.  

 

2017 top players: men’s 6-10

TennisReporters.net will review 2017’s top 30 women and men, our annual feature.

No. 6: Marin Cilic
The Serbian was extremely consistent this year, even though here and there, he gets frustrated and over-hits. Still, when he is running, the big man has become a little faster moving left and right. Obviously, he is a gigantic hitter, but he has to be more patient. He did reach the final at Wimbledon, which was progress, but Roger Federer smoked him. In the last tournament, at the ATP Finals, he lost three matches and he appeared to be pretty tired. Can he win another Slam at the 2018? Possible, if he is adds to his game.

No. 7: David Goffin
This Belgian still hasn’t won a big title yet. The veteran has become more aggressive, his first serve has become stronger, and, of course, his speed is a weapon. Yes, he couldn’t like to talk at the Grand Slams, thinking that pressure will be in his head, but he has calmed down and he doesn’t give up immediately. He did stun Federer in the semis at the ATP Finals, playing nearly perfectly. The same with at the Davis Cup final at his home. He won both matches, but they lost 3-2 against France. Not easy for Goffin. Can he win a ATP 1000 and/or a Grand Slam? Yes, he will win an ATP 1000 — somewhere —  but to win a Slam? I just can’t see it.

No. 8: Jack Sock
Who would have though that the American was about to play extremely well, match after match? There was a long stretch of six months when he couldn’t get into it, losing early, week after week. But in November, he began to turn it around. Suddenly, he won the ATP 1000 in Paris. Somehow, he made it to the ATP Finals — a shocker, as he said — and in London, he beat Goffin and Alexandr Zverev, before he lost in the final against Grigor Dimitrov. Look, he is not very young, and he isn’t very old. Right in the middle. I would think that in 2018, he will continue to lift it  — like his returning — and in the summer, he will be ranked No. 5. Pretty good, huh?

No. 9: Stan Wawrinka
After Wimbledon, the three-time Grand Slam champion was done. His body had collapsed and he was unable to play the rest of the year. But before that, he was pretty darn good, losing a classic match at the Aussie against Federer in a very fun five sets. At Roland Garros, he took down Andy Murray in the semis, but in the final, Rafa Nadal over powered him. Without a doubt, over the past three years in the Slams, he has been so exciting, displaying so many different strokes. Assuming he is healthy, he will win a Slam in 2018. Wow.

No. 10: Pablo Carrera Busta
The Spaniard has improved a good amount this season, reaching the US Open semis, the quarters at Roland Garros and the final at Rio. Plus, he won Estoril. Pretty good. Over the past decade, he has been very steady, but he decided that when he got an opportunity, he would go for it, both with his forehand and backhand. Sometimes that worked, but he still wants to be very steady, which often slows down his progress. In order to win a major, he has to rush at the net, improve his second serve and, when he is feeling good, go for his shots. Can he win a Grand Slam? I doubt it, but he can reach the final.

2017 top players: men’s 11-15

TennisReporters.net will review 2017’s top 30 women and men, our annual feature.

No. 11: Juan Martin Del Potro
The Argentine actually thinks that he can win his second major soon. He did it at the the 2010 US Open, and before he began to get hurt all the time — heavy surgeries— it looked like he would win many Grand Slams. He almost retired, twice, but he kept battlingon. Now, he could actually play the entire year.  It is amazing that three years ago, he could only chip his one-handed backhand. This season, his favorte two-hander is back. Not all the time, but some of the time. As long as he progresses, then yes, he can win a Grand Slam again. However, he could improve his return.   

No. 12: Novak Djokovic
The Serbian was dominated for a solid three years. Then, in 2017, he started to slip. Not immediately, but you could tell  that something inside his body was painful. So, in the summer, he had to stop for the rest of the year. It happens to almost all of them at some point. When he was winning Slam after Slam, he was almost impossible to beat. His backhand and forehand were so strong and very deep, his serves was huge and it was so hard for the opponents to find out where to go.  Plus, he was efficient at the net. But now in 2018, who knows? Will he play as well as he could when he’s 100 percent? Will he become aggressive again? Confident? Happy? We will find in the first six months in 2018. It will be fascinating.

No. 13: Sam Querrey
Who would have thought that the American would finally rise up? His backhand was going deep, he returned more consistently, and he was actually focused. Just like with Kevin Anderson, he just isn’t very fast, which drags down any player’s game. But, he can chip-and-charge on occasion, and he can be steady at times. He is very calm, a happy-go-lucky. Can he reach the final at a Slam, or win an ATP 1000? Possible, but tough.    

No. 14: Kevin Anderson
The South African had a very good year, reaching the US Open final, for the first time ever. Yes, over the past decade, he has been pretty solid, but not spectacular. Now, though, he is more patient, and he has improved his attack at the net, too. He might be too tall, though; so it is hard to get down on the ground. However, he is now more efficient, so maybe he will crack the top 10, again. But top 5? I cannot see it.

No. 15: Jo-Wilfred Tsonga
The thoughtful Frenchman always changes tactics. Over the years, he has come close to win a Grand Slam , but he has fallen short. This is because he is frequently injured, and he also panics when he goes deep in the majors. Yes, he has a great first serve, a gigantic forehand, and he returns fairly well, but he isn’t incredable fast. Plus, his backhand is so-so. Still. You have to give him another shot to grab a Grand Slam. Maybe at the Aussie Open, or Roland Garros.

2017 top players: men’s 16-20

TennisReporters.net will review 2017’s top 30 women and men, our annual feature.

No. 16: Andy Murray
The Brit was on fire during the second half of 2016. He was winning everything, he was confident, and he never tired. But in 2017, his body began to betray him. Murray played way too much, and finally, he had to come home. He stopped playing for the rest of the year. Obviously, he loves tennis, watching it, paying attention to it, talking and learning. But it 2018, Andy has to stop going from tournament to tournament. This time, he has to rest and be concise. And then if he does, he can win another Grand Slam, probably a few.

No. 17: John Isner
The American had a so-so year, winning a couple small titles. At the Slams, he was mentally out of it. He really improved his backhand, and he has gotten better when he is at the net. But still, it is so hard for him to break serve, while obviously, he wins his own huge serve very frequently. Tiebreaker coming — again. However, if Isner wants to reach the semis at a Slam, he has to change something, or the 32-year-old will never be able to win a Slam. That would be sad. 

No. 18: Lucas Pouille
This was a good year by the 23-year-old Frenchmen. After all, the so-called youngsters are good, but they have yet to win a Slam yet. In order to do so, they have to push themselves hard. Pouille recently won Vienna over Jo Tsonga and Stuttgart over Feliciano Lopez. Pretty good. However, he played too much and lost in the early rounds too many, many times. He needs to be more patient and efficient. He can reach the top 10 next year, if he continues to grow. 

No. 19: Tomas Berdych
The Czech has been very consistent over the past 10 years. He is tall, strong, and he crushes his forehand and his backhand. But the reason why he hasn’t won a major yet is because he is a little slow when he is running and he can get pretty nervous at the end of the match. He did manage to reach the final at Wimbledon, and he has beaten a number of the top competitors — once in a while. But, in 2018, he has re-tool his game or he will drop even further.

No. 20: Roberto Bautista Agut
The Spanish veteran has finally woke up, smelled the roses, and now, he isn’t just playing on the clay courts. He is moving forward, and when he has an opportunity, he can crack the ball on the lines. Still, he is consistent, but the lack of a big weapon has kept him from winning a big event. Can he win a Slam or the ATP Masters 1000? I doubt it.

2017 top players: men’s 21-25

TennisReporters.net will review 2017’s top 30 women and men, our annual feature.

No. 21: Nick Kyrgios
When the Aussie is into it, he is about as good as he gets. Nick has a tremendous first serve, huge forehand, good slice on the backhand and is pretty good when he is at the net. The big downsides are he doesn’t want to play hard all the time and he gets hurt frequently. Then, he disappears. Look, it’s all about him. Nick is very young, but he needs decide if he really wants to be a tennis player.

No. 22: Kei Nishikori
I have no idea what Nishikori is going to do in 2018. Just like Raonic, I really though that the now 27-year-old Kei would get better and better and eventually will win a major. Or even win an ATP 1000. But, he gets hurt constantly. Sure, he is a fantastic player when he is into it, but every time deep in a tournaments, we start thinking, “Is he going to retire tonight, because his body is about to collapse?” I hope not, but he has to figure out how he can adjust his frame to the hard rigors of pro tennis.

No. 23: Albert Ramos-Vinolas
The 29-year-old Spaniard had a fine year. Sure, it has taken a long time to figure out the hard courts, but still, now he is willing to move forward and he can mix it up whenever he can. He needs to push himself even more, with his backhand, especially.   

No. 24: Milos Raonic
A few years ago, I was pretty sure that he was about to win Grand Slam. He came close, reaching the final at Wimbledon, bu,t as he says, he gets hurt all the time. I mean, almost every second. That’s why in 2018, he has to stay healthy for the entire year. On court, when he’s 100 percent, he has become so much better, especially with his backhand and at the net. If he keep focused and not overthink, the 26-years-old Raonic can actually win a major for the first time. Imagine that.

No. 25: Gilles Muller
The 34-year-old had a very good year. It has taken, what, 15 years before he realized that, in order to win a tournament, he had to stick with a strategy and not panic. In 2017 he won his first ATP title – ever – in Sydney. He is very tall, he loves to come into the net and while he isn’t that fast running, he focuses. Maybe he can reach the semi at a major in 2018. He would be thrilled.

2017 top players: men’s 26-30

TennisReporters.net will review 2017’s top 30 women and men, our annual feature.

No. 26: Diego Schwartzman
The 25-year-old Argentine had a pretty good year, reaching the US Open quarters, and he made it to the final at the European Open in Belgium. He is fast, and quick, and agile. If he wants to reach the top 10, he has to attack the net more often.

No. 27: Fabio Fognini
The Italian had a decent year at time, taking down Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori and Lucas Pouille. He likes to mix it up, to chop it, and he goes for the lines. At times, he is a beautiful player, but at other times, he gets totally losing control. He’s outstripped Nick Kygrios as the current tennis bad boy. In 2018, if he can find a calm space, he could reach the final at a Grand Slam for the first time. But, but not at Wimbledon, because he can’t figure out on grass. 

No. 28 Adrian Mannarino
The 29-year-old Mannarino is up and down, playing great, and then mentally, he gets very frustrated. The Frenchman did reach the final of Tokyo, and he knocked out Gail Monfils at Wimbledon. He is very good, but he is not a fantastic player. Maybe in 2018, he will find a better form.

No. 29: Philipp Kohlschreiber
The veteran plays all the time, and he is rarely injured. He likes to spin, and slice, and crack the ball. He is a very good competitor, but to win a major? I cannot see that.

No. 30: Damir Džumhur
The Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina native Dzumhur had a breakout year, winning Petersburg and Moscow while reaching the final in Winston-Salem.He started the year ranked No. 77 and now he is in the top 30. He seems to like hard courts, but he does not love grass, or even clay. Obviously, the 25-year-old is still learning to play, and he is playing much better.

Dimitov wins the ATP Finals, beats Goffin

Next year, Grigor Dimitov will be a serious contender to win a Grand Slam. This season, he has calmed down, he practiced a ton and, for the first time, he actually listened to his coaches. 

The Bulgarian nailed it, winning the ATP Finals, upending  David Goffin in three fun sets, 7-5 4-6 6-3.

He is very personable, and intelligent. Fine. On court, he needs to find out what his opponent is doing. Right at the end, he was nervous and tight, but he knew that if he just held on, was patient, and when he had an opportunity, then he could crack the ball off both sides. With championship points slipping away, Dimitrov didn’t break down mentally.

Just a couple years ago, Dimitov was confused, mixing his backhand. Too often, it was out, or short, but not deep in the court. The players would jump on him. Dimitov would shake his head, would put his face down and he could not recover.

But in 2017, he didn’t give up. Even after he won the ATP 1000 Masters Series in Cincy in August, he lost early at the US Open. He was so-so in Asia. Oddly, when he arrived in London, he knew that if he began to play great, then he could actually win it all.

The now No. 3 Dimitrov did, beating a tenacious Goffin early. Then he beat Dominic Theim, Pablo Carreno Busta, and Jack Sock in the semis. Ithe final, he faced the Belgian Goffin one more time.

He beat him and he was overjoyed.

“This makes me even more locked in, more excited about my work, and for what’s to come,” the two-time Grand Slam semifinal Dimitov said. “It’s a great platform for me to build on for next year.” 

Pro tennis: too many male players are injured

 

Fix it, please.

Who knew that they could snag a Grand Slam again, considering that they were aging, and the chances to dominate was very slim.   

But somehow, someway, they had improved their strokes and when they came on court, they were better and smarter. Federer won the Aussie Open and Wimbledon, and Nadal won Roland Garros and the US Open. They were back, and much better. 

Unfortunately, “everybody” is injured. Federer decided not to play on clay, because he though that if he did, he could get hurt again and once he came on grass, he could be very tired or very sore. Nadal played about as well he did on clay — once again, he won Roland Garros, 10 times — and the same thing on the hard courts in the end of the summer in New York. 

But three weeks ago, Nadal’s knees started to get extremely tender, and two days ago, he pulled out at the ATP Finals.

Now, it’s the middle of November. While there are some terrific matches at the ATP Finals played by Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev, four multiple Grand Slam champs who are not there: Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. Those four have combined to win 33 majors; but they aren’t in London town. For the fans, that hurts.

It is not just them. Three excellent competitors also became substantially injured this season: Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Nick Kyrgios. 

The 36-year-old Federer says that now, you can play longer and you don’t have to retire so early, such as Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf. Perhaps so, but one of the problems is the length of the year; they have to start at the beginning of January and continue until the middle of November. Essentially, in pro tennis, you have to play the entire year. 

Yes, they can relax for a week or two. Players begin to practice in December. Within a second or two, it is time to get back on court, and play the matches. 

This has been going for many years now. If it was up to me, I would reduce the schedule. I know it’s all about the money, making more and more money all the time, but what I see — and this is totally true — lots of people stop watching tennis in the fall. It is too much, too many tournaments, too many days, and eventually, the fans get bored. So they stop.
That is why pro tennis is still struggling.

Hopefully, in 2018, they will fix it, at least a little bit. 

 

ATP Finals: Sock outlasts Cilic; Dimitrov beats Thiem

Jack Sock has been slumping for five months. At times, he was frustrated and very irritable. But, in the last three weeks, he became so consistent, he hung in there and he changed his tactics.

Two days ago, he lost to the phenomenal Roger Federer.

On Tuesday, in London, he overcame Marin Cilic 5-7 6-2 7-6(4). Now the American has a chance to reach the semis at the end of this week.

Today, he was pretty quick, especially when very close to the net. The court isn’t that fast, which is good, considering that the hard courts can be lighting quick in different indoor tournaments. Not in London, this time.

Sock has been sneaking up on the Top 10, finally reaching No. 9 with his Masters 1000 victory in Paris. Since the American Andy Roddick — who won one major at the 2003 US Open — American men have been underachieving. Surprise Wimbledon semifinalist Sam Querrey was the first American man to break the final four Slam glass ceiling since Robby Ginepri in 2005.

Today, there are a good amount of U.S. male players in the top 100. But, winning a Grand Slam, or even making it into the ATP Finals, with only the top eight players at the end of a season, is very difficult.  

That was surprising two weeks ago, because it looked like that once again, the Americans would be unable to consistently beat the big boys. Now, Sock rose up, and has a chance to go deep this week in England.

Yes, obviously, Federer is the favorite, and yes, Sock will have to face the excellent, very young player Alex Zverev on Thursday. Can Sock win and reach the semis? That is up in the air, but finally, Sock is gaining confidence every day. Maybe, every second.

With a win today over Zverev (61 in the final set), Federer has sealed a spot in the semis for the 14th time.

Nadal calls it a year
Without question, Rafa Nadal has had a terrific year. He has won six titles, two of which were Roland Garros (10 titles in Paris) and the US Open. He has improved at the net, and his softer backhand is landing deep and with even more spin.

Nadal was pretty shaky when he lost against David Goffin in three sets He was limping towards at the end.

Nadal ran around, but he was a little slow and he could not crack his famous forehand. His legs were wobbly.

As Federer said, perhaps his good buddy, Nadal, should not have gone to Asia in October. But he did, winning Beijing and then reaching the final at Shanghai, losing against to, believe it or not, Federer.

Then, after that, Nadal was hurting, once again. On Monday, the No. 1 waved goodbye for the rest of the year.

Now, he needs to rest. And heal. In 2018, who knows? Will Nadal be healthy all the time? I doubt it, because over the past four years, the 31-year-old gets hurt pretty frequently. When he is feeling just fine, he gets better all the time, which is a very good thing.

During the afternoon, Grigor Dimitrov overcame Dominic Thiem 6-3 5-7 7-5. Dimitrov rarely goes away, and he mixes it up all the time. He almost lost though, because Thiem jumped on him and he was winning the one-hander versus the same one-hander. But the Bulgarian was more patient and confident. At the very end, young Thiem sort of gagged. Or panicked.

Either way, with Nadal now gone, Dimitrov is favored to reach the semis. He could actually win the entire event. Imagine that.