Archives for June 2019

Preposterous? Nadal and Barty win Roland Garros

OK, Roland Garros is over. Finished. Done. It is on the grass now, most of it is in England. There is almost clay throughout the year, and the same thing goes with the hardcourts. But before thinking about the famous Wimbledon, there are a few thoughts about the French Open champions Rafa Nadal and Ash Barty, and others, too.

So, let us do it.

Nadal has won 12 majors in Paris. When he came into the tournament, the Spaniard wasn’t sure that if he would be hurt, which he has done it many times, then maybe he would lose. But, he really knows what he has to do, pay attention all the time, don’t even think about how sore his shaky legs, and swing hard.

Many people have to try to out-think him, to get into his brain. But at RG, Nadal cracked Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem. Those two cannot shake him. Once again, he pushed Federer to the left and the right, and down the middle. Nadal would pass him, or he would nail a winner with his huge forehand.

In the final, against Thiem, he knew that in the first couple hours, the Austrian would attack him frequently, and he would mix it up, too. They split the first two sets, but in the third set, Nadal began to punch away. He made very few errors, while Thiem became too anxious, and he was confused. He was done. Nadal beat him 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1, and now he was thrilled, a new record that may well never be broken.

In the last five years, Nadal has played great tennis, from 2017 until now, but in 2015-2016 he also had to stop for months because he frequently was injured. But he just moves on, and he pushes himself and improves. He recovered, and on clay, in the past year and a half, he won Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros. Also, on the hardcourts, he won the ATP 1000 in Canada in 2018.

The question is, can he win Wimbledon again? The last time he did was in 2010 — 10 years ago, when he beat Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych. If his legs are fine, Nadal definitely have a good shot.

A new Australian champion
Four years ago, Ashleigh Barty wasn’t playing tennis anymore. She quit for a couple years, playing professional cricket, to be at home in Australia. Then, she came back in 2017, and gradually, she was much more tranquil and steady. Even last year, you could tell that she had a tremendous variety. She was strong, fast and patient. At Roland Garros, she smoked the very young Czech, Marketa Vondrousova, 6-1 6-3, in the final. Barty went out for the first time in the final and dived in. She was perfect.

Now she is ranked No. 2, and she is very close to the top spot, right behind Naomi Osaka. After Wimbledon, both of them can be No. 1. That should be preposterous— and fun.

Can Federer dent Nadal’s dominance?

Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer will compete on Friday at Roland Garros. They are the two best players, without a doubt, and maybe someone else will pass them. 

But not now, because not only are they so intelligent, on court, they are also brilliant when they decide which way they will go.

They both have a bundle of assets: their heavy serves, their smart returns, their famous forehands, how they can slide, and they put it away on the net. 

But, it has been different on clay, in Paris. Nadal has beaten Fed five times at Roland Garros. The last time was in 2011, when the Spaniard knocked off the Swiss 7-5 7-6(3) 5-7 6-1. That was a good contest, because the other four matches on the dirt in Paris, Nadal beat him fairly easy. 

Now, obviously Federer is much more comfortable on hardcourts, and he has beaten Nadal five times in a row from 2015-2017. At the 2017 Australian Open at the beginning, Federer had finally improved his backhand, where before, Nadal would just push him back, with a very dense topspin, and deep, and the Swiss couldn’t move forward. Federer finally would put his head down. However, on the AO, he began to leap early with his backhand, before the ball jumped up, so he could flatten it out, down the line, for a winner. Federer won 6-3 in the fifth. He was thrilled.

But that was totally different. On the hardcourt, or on grass, the Swiss is more positive. Federer is almost always confident, on every thing, which is why he was won 20 Slams. But he has never found out how to shake Nadal on clay. After all, Mr. Rafa has won 11 majors at RG. He has been the most dominant player. 

Both men have lost one set, in the first five matches. Both of them have played excellent ball, overall. Federer has won this tournament once, in 2017. Can he do it again and stop Nadal on clay? It is possible, if he can push himself hard. But Nadal has beat him 23 times, and Federer has won 16 matches. Does that prove that the 17-time champion Nadal is a better player? Overall, it might be a toss-up, but on clay, Nadal locks in and he out-hits Federer. In the semis, Nadal will win in four tough sets.

Ash Barty always improving, to face Madison Keys

Many years ago, the Australian Evonne  Goolagong won the French Open in 1971, which was a little bit surprising. She did win the Australian Open five times, and she also won Wimbledon,  twice. That was on the hardcourts  and the grass. But at Roland Garros, it was on clay, so it was difficult, to slide and be very super patient. Goolagong did that, and she won it, for the first time.

Now we have to wonder whether the other Aussie Open, Ash Barty, to actually win the event. She is so steady, and she is very creative. On Monday, she beat the young American, Sofia Kenin in three sets. In the third set, she pushed herself, and she mixed it up until  Kenin panicked. She was done at the end.

In January at the AO, Barty reached the quarterfinal. She took down Maria Sharapova 6-4 in the third in the fourth round, and then she lost against Petra Kvitova, who was playing fantastic. No big deal. 

In Miami, Barty beat three top 10 players: Kiki Bertens, Kvitova, and in the final, she wore down Karolina Pliskova.

She did not play great at Madrid and Rome, but it was respectable.  Here in Paris, mentally, on court, the No. 8 Barty is calm and diligent. 

“Nothing changes. Very much we go through the exact same process after a match,” Barty said. “Whether it’s a win or a loss, it’s the same recovery, same everything. I think that’s probably what I’ve been doing best over the last 12 to 18 months. And it’s put me in better positions. I’m in these positions now because I’m doing that better.”
She will face against Madison Keys on Wednesday, who has certainly gone deep at the Slams,  at the Aussie Open, Roland Garros, and at the US Open, but on clay, she can been a little out of it. She is ranked No. 14 — not in the top 5 — because she gets hurt a lot.
However, at RG over the past eight days, Keys was thoughtful and she doesn’t become so angry, which she had before.  In 2018, Keys reached the semis in Paris, and then she went down against her friend, Sloane Stephens [who just lost against Jo Konta yesterday). 
If Keys can beat the Britain, she has to attack her quickly, because Konta can do it exactly the same thing.

NOTES

Novak Djokovic has yet to lose a set in the first four rounds. The No. 1 is so steady, deep and thoughtful. He has only won RG once, but remember, he is going for a Grand Slam. Last year and this year, he won the 2018 Wimbledon, the 2018 US Open, and the 2019 Australian Open. Very few people have won it four times in a row. He is thinking about it, that is for sure.

Djokovic will face against Alexandra Zverev, the best young player over the past two years, but this season, he has been struggling. The German walked into RG and in the first round, he kept his head down and survived to beat John Millman in five sets. Then in the third round, once again, he he went into the fifth set, and he came though, edging the much improving Dusan Lajovic. 
In the fourth round, he also edged another player, the experienced Italian, Fabio Fognin in four sets.  

Zverev has won a few huge events in the ATP 1000s, but the 22-year-old has never gone deep at the Slams. He has only reached the second week two  times. Last year, at Roland Garros, he was up and down there, but three times in a row, he won it in five setter, pushing back Karen Khachanov, among others. Then in the quarters, he was very tired, and he lost quickly against Dominic Thiem.

Now, here,  he can attack  Djokovic. He knows that the Serbian will grind him down. Not only can he yank him around — especially within his amazing backhand — but he can throw in  his spectacular first serve,and he can back on the wall and return  it court. Djokovic is very fast and agile. 

Zverev does like long rallies, but if it goes four hours, then the German could get tired, with his legs, and he will rush the balls. Whether he does it or not, the No. 5 Zverev will be around for a very long time, but can he stun Djokovic on Wednesday? Possibly not, but it will be a very fun contest.