Archives for September 2020

Hello, Roland Garros: Nadal & Djokovic are favorites

Novak Djokovic


On Monday, in the final in Rome, Novak Djokovic already knew that if he was playing respectably, he was going to win another ATP 1000

That is not easy. He wasn’t perfect, but he was good enough, and he mixed it up a lot. He confused Diego Schwartzman, and the Serbian was slightly in the zone. He went straight at him. Djokovic broke him down, and he pushed down Schwartzman 7-5, 6-3.

Djokovic hasn’t lost hardly anything over the past 12 months. He is obsessed with tennis, which is why he wants to be totally prepared in Paris.

Djokovic can be pissed off, and you can see at the 2020 US Open that he was not totally right while playing. But, last week in Rome, finally, with Djokovic and most of the players, the rust was gone.

Now Djokovic will have a week before Roland Garros starts in Paris, which begins on Sept. 27. He should be healthy and should take most of his matches.

Can Djokovic beat Rafa Nadal on clay and upset the Spaniard? It is doubtful on clay because Nadal has won the RG 12 times. He really is the “King of the Clay.” When he was a teenager, everyone saw that Nadal had a vast lefty forehand, his bulky serve and he just kept sprinting. Those are tremendous assets. And he hustles every second When he is set up, he can blast the winner over and over again.

What they would really like is not only to see Nadal and Djokovic face off, but Dominic Thiem, who won the US Open. He has gotten so much better. not just the strokes, but his expended mind. Thiem reached RG finals twice, losing to Nadal in the last two year. Whether No. 3 Thiem will get out there and really push. If he super close to victory, will he trip them up? He is better this year than last year. Thiem is growing.

Forget about the finals yet, as it is too early to figure out who will make it. But if you want a short list of who will reach the quarters in the second week, here they are: Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini, Denis Shapovalov, Roberto Bautista Agut and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Djokovic continues to make case as greatest male player

It’s been an eventful year for Novak Djokovic. Starting by leading Serbia to an inaugural ATP Cup triumph, he followed that up with his obligatory Australian Open title – a record-extending eighth.

So began a 26-match winning run that also took included titles in Dubai and the Western & Southern Open either side of the five-month coronavirus lockdown.

COVID-19 and disqualification of US Open
Between those triumphs in Dubai and New York, Djokovic courted plenty of controversy for the ill-fated Adria Tour. A multistep exhibition series in the Balkans he spearheaded that descended into chaos when numerous players, including himself and his wife, tested positive for COVID-19.

The widespread criticism the No. 1 faced could derail the focus and form of most players. But Djokovic is not most players. No player can compartmentalize better than the Serb, whose proven time and again that off-court distractions rarely affect his ability to deliver on the court.

That certainly seemed the case at the US Open, where he looked on course to win his 18th Grand Slam, before his astonishing disqualification in the fourth round where his perfect season came to an end after 31 matches.

Back on track in Rome
Once again, Djokovic regrouped in Rome and it was in the Italian capital that he made a renewed case as the greatest male player of all time. By winning the Italian Open, Djokovic moved ahead of Rafael Nadal as the most illustrious Masters 1000 player of all time, his 36 edging the Spaniard’s 35.

Roger Federer, meanwhile, trails both rivals substantially with a not insignificant 28.

The debate surrounding the greatest male tennis player of all time is a favored topic among tennis supporters and commentators and typically focuses on the “Big Three” of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.

It is almost a tribal debate where fiercely loyal fans make their case for their favorite player, and while there are arguments to be made for each man, statistics and honors are quickly showing that Djokovic will soon standalone – if he doesn’t already.

If you take one of those free sport quizzes on the greatest French Open players of all time, then of course Nadal – with his 12 titles – is so far ahead that his status is indisputable. Similarly, eight-time champion Federer remains the king of Wimbledon, while Djokovic is the Australian Open’s finest.

In terms of overall Grand Slam titles, the three titans of tennis are within touching distance of each other. Federer retains a marginal lead with 20, closely followed by Nadal’s 19 and Djokovic’s 17. Even the most ardent Federer fan would admit that the Swiss is unlikely to add too many more major trophies to his enormous collection.

Nadal remains a prolific collector of Grand Slam titles, particularly at Roland Garros, but the rate at which Djokovic is winning major tournaments, it almost feels inevitable that he will, in the not too distant future, emerge as the most successful Grand Slam player of all time.

Is Novak current the best male tennis player?
Since 2011, when Djokovic won his second major at the Australian Open, the Serb has won 16 Grand Slams, Nadal has won 10, and Federer has won four. Given the relentless pace the No. 1 is setting, by the end of the 2021 or 2022 seasons he could hold the record.

Then, there is the Masters 1000 achievements. The most prestigious tournaments outside the four Grand Slams, Djokovic is now the greatest three-set male player in history. While he trails Federer’s overall ATP title haul – 103 to 81 – Djokovic’s vastly superior record in the Masters events gives him another strong argument in the GOAT debate.

Despite having countless supporters around the world, Djokovic will never win a popularity contest against Federer or Nadal – two of the most beloved athletes in history. The Serb can be a spiky character and his style of play, although immensely effective, is not particularly pleasing on the eye.

But, while such attributes may not make Djokovic exciting or endearing, his accomplishments on the tennis court currently make him one of the greatest players in history. Soon though, it looks likely that he will push ahead of Federer and Nadal as the finest to ever play the game. His Masters 1000 milestone in Rome is just the latest reminder.

Nadal: Back and hustling on every point in Rome

Rafael "Rafa" Nadal

Rafa Nadal is finally back, and he has not played at a tournament since late February. There he is, in Rome, at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, blasting  Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-1. Careno Busta, who reached the semis at the US Open, barely losing against Alexander Zverev. The steady Carreno Busta was close to a fifth-set victory, but he couldn’t kiss the lines. Zverev found a way to prevail. 

Dominic Thiem ended up winning the 2020 US Open, inching over Zverev, in a fifth-set tiebreaker. Thiem was weeping in joy, while Zverev was so disappointed. The German was so sad that after the ceremony, he broke down. Neither will not play Rome this week, as they are totally exhausted.
But there are a number of terrific players, such as Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Matteo Berrettini, who won in the round of 32. Stefanos Tsitsipas went down in the third set to Italian Jannik Sinner.

Nadal has won Rome nine times, a tremendous amount. His lefty forehand is very heavy, with a tremendous spin. And he hustles every second, and when he is set up, then he can blast the winner.

Last year, in the final, Nadal took down Djokovic in three sets on the Italian clay. Obviously, the Serbian has beaten Nadal on the hardcourts, but on the soft clay, Nadal is still king.

But this week with Nadal and Djokovic, if they play lights out, then they will meet each other in the final on Sunday. The whole world will watch the match.

There were three good wins on Tuesday, from the 18-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti upsetting Stan Wawrinka. Two other young players won: Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov.

The former two-time Grand Slam champion Angie Kerber is still struggling. The German can be so steady, when she was No. 1, grabbing the 2016 Aussie Open, the 2016 US Open and 2018 Wimbledon. But, since then, she hasn’t won the big ones, and really, she hasn’t dominated at other events. She was injured when she arrived in January, and she went down early in, at the AO. She lost against the long veteran, Sam Stosur, in the first round, and then shortly after, she pulled out in California and Florida. Kerber subsequently withdrew due to a left-leg injury. Now she is back, and she feels pretty healthy, but she has a lot of work again. At the US Open, she made it into the fourth round, but she couldn’t hit with enough topspin or depth. She did win three matches, and then the very good American Jennifer Brady punched her out.

The 32-year-old Kerber still has a solid three years of play when she is healthy, but her move back up the rankings from No. 22 will take some time. In Rome, early this week, she lost to Katerina Siniakova.

Kerber may not win Roland Garros as she never really understand exactly how to work on clay.
 
The very young teenager Coco Gauff had a solid win, beating Ons Jabeur in the first round.

Two-time Grand Salm champion Garbine Muguruza beat another former major champ, Sloane Stephens, in two sets. She is up and down, but when she feels 100 percent healthy, she can win any match. Muguruza is fast, and she really likes to attack. She could win the event in Rome, as long as she is durable.

Stephens is mentally out of it, in the past one year and six months. She has to turn it around during the fall, or she will continue to drop down farther than her present No. 33.

Amanda Anisimova is ready to make a move. But, it won’t happen in Rome as she was bested by Dayana Yastremska in the round of 32. Every month, you can tell that the 19-year-old is studying and improving. And when he does, she will break into the top 10 in the next months. A learner.

Finally, a new men’s Slam winner

Dominic Thiem

A few days ago, Alexander Zverev was on court at the semis against Pablo Carreno Busta, and the German was flailing in the first two sets. Zverev was spaced out, and he could not play patient.

In the third set, he was ticked off. To have any chance, he had to target it. Pretty quickly, his first serve was massive, his forehand was towering and his backhand was monstrous. The hefty hitter was confidence, and Zverev won it 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

In the semis, he knew that he had to trust himself. He did, but now he has to face Dominic Thiem. He is in his first Slam final in the US Open on Sunday.

Austrian Thiem has reached the Roland Garros final twice and, while he does love clay, he couldn’t figure out how to attack Rafa Nadal. The Spaniard has won a millionth times at RG (actually 12), while Thiem was stymied again.
 
The Austrian decided not to grind it for hours on clay and began practicing more on hardcourts. And he was faster now In January, Thiem reached the final at the Australian Open, and he has ready to stun Novak Djokovic. Once again, Thiem had a chance to win his first Grand Slam trophy, but he couldn’t dismantle the Serb. Djokovic is a backboard, who has now 17 Grand Slams.

Thiem has a one-handed backhand. Against Daniil Medvedev in the semis, he just mixed it up all the time. He was sharp, and he never gave up when he he needed to dig down deep. He pulled it out, 6-2, 7-6(7), 7-6(5). It is time, for show time.

Thiem is 27 yearsold, while Zverev is 23. At the start of the year, the semi veteran Thiem beaten the German 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(4) in the semis at the Australian Open.

Thiem is the favorite, because he is a little bit more mature, and he knows very well. As long as he can push back the 6’6” German, he will rule. Zverev has a chance, too, if he can keep calm and focused. It could be a harsh contest, for both of them, because there will be some long, solid rallies.

Thiem will win it in four, lively sets. That will be a new Grand Slam winner in 2020. Finally.

The big clash: Azarenka versus Osaka

Victoria "Vika" Azarenka

When exactly did it dawn on us that the former two-time Grand Slam champion Vika Azarenka was playing well enough to take the 2020 US Open and to win another major?

Before August, it was hard to know when will the Belarussian was going to return to her former dominating game, winning matches all the time and smashing very deep and true. There were a good three years when she was out of it, mentally, focusing on family and not processing tennis. But, in 2020, she began to practice a lot, and re-think what she needed to do. She found more patience, overcoming her earlier rut of being baffled.

But, not anymore. As she said, she matured a lot. When she finally woke up, went on the court, and she locked in, winning at the Western & Southern Open. She won it all, getting a walkover when Naomi Osaka withdrew due to injury. Now, she has reached the US Open final, and on Saturday, she will face another two-time Slam champ in Osaka.

Azarenka shocked Serena Williams when she beat her in three sets – the first time the Belarussian took down the American at a major. On Thursday, at night, Serena was 19 victories and 4 losses. In Thursday contest, there were some fine points, but Serena knew she could make Azarenka nervous. She did that at the Grand Slams, so many times, then Serena would grab it again. In the second and third set, Serena was so-so, while Azarenka let her strokes and aggressiveness fly and she went for it. This time, the powerful Azarenka grew up.

She won the Australian Open twice, and she also reached two US Open, another two times. Also, the vast basher reached the semis at the French Open and Wimbledon. Clearly, when 31-year old Azarenka was playing very with determination from both sides to side, she can beat anyone.
Osaka, who won the 2018 US Open and then the following Australian Open, is also on a roll. She had some dry patches in 2019. But when she returned from the COVID-19 pause,, she really wanted just to go out there and have fun. During the last 12 days, Osaka dug in, win or lose. Her strong commitment to support the Black Lives Matter movement on social media and by wearing masks with Black victims’ names, seems to help her focus on that mission, and her tennis game.

In the second week, you could know that Osaka would hit very hard from the backcourts, and she was fast. Just like Azarenka, they want to go for shots immediately and find a mammoth winner.

This will surely be a three-setter. In the final set, someone has to commit and take a big chance. Azarenka will do that, and win the 2020 US Open. She will be extremely satisfied.

Alexander Zverev: Is he ready to win a Slam?

Alexander Zverev

The 6-foot- 6 Alexander “Sascha” Zverev can be on fire. But, then in the next games, he will ignore what he is supposed to do. In some matches at the end of last year and through early 2020, he did what he needed to succeed against intelligent players.

Zverev is only 23 year old  and started playing as a pro in 2013. Eventually, he began to figure out how to take tough matches. He started to lock in, then figured that he was going to win a big title. He won Rome, Canada, Madrid and the ATP Finals. He played some excellent ball, and at various tournaments, he looks good. But when he started to slip, he could smash down. He has screamed or throwing his rackets into the ground.

And he could be cocky. When talking with a journalist, he could be irritable with some hard questions and answers.

Well now, even when Zverev is playing so-so, I wonder what he is thinking he walks to the next point. Maybe he is thinking about how to sprint at the net. If the ball is really low, does he bend down and think, “I can put it away. But sometimes, I could miss it.” Maybe he thinks, “OK, I missed it, but in the next point, I can really breath, so now I can really center.”

However, the past 11 days, he seems to be thinking clearly. In the first round, he put down Kevin Anderson, returning deep and attacking early, because he didn’t want to attack the net. That worked.

On Thursday, he will face Pablo Carreno Busta, who the German beat in their only meeting in 2018 Miami. He beat Canadian Denis Shapovalov 36 7-6 (5) 7-6 (4) 06 63, in more than four hours. Carreno Busta had to puff and puff to keep going, and he wasn’t nervous, and hit with a lot of depth. The Spaniard worked with his coach from March through August, and he changed his strokes.

They both know that in order to win one they will have to hit it deep and keep their composure and mental acuity. The key is … don’t panic.

The US Open: Shaky Osaka & Dominant Djokovic

Naomi Osaka

The US Open can be thrilling, or dull, depending on who is really focusing. At the conclusion of the first week, it can be a blast, but winning and reaching the second week is the hardest. Many people — and I mean hundreds of players — have never made it into the quarterfinals at the Grand Slams. It is pretty rare. That is reality.

On Friday, there were some cool wins in a hot, sticky day. Four of the women won it, with Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, Petra Martic and Jennifer  Brady. Osaka and Kvitova have won twice at the Slams. Both of them can be some of the biggest hitters out there, cracking forehands and backhands, complimented by heavy first serves. They may not love the net, but they can bend down and put it away. But they have triumphed on the big stages before and they could do it again

Martic does push herself now, for more than for a year now, but to get even deeper, she has truly mix it up. The American Jennifer Bradly had a few wonderful wins, punching down Caroline Garcia. However, on Sunday, she will have to run for a long time because she has to play against the former No. 1 Angie Kerber, who can be steady for a long time. Because of that, Brady has to push herself more than ever.

You have to think that Novak Djokovic may never lose this year. He is totally brilliant, but there were some so-so patches being ticked off. Yet really, in three-out-of-five-sets matches, his confidence is right there. The No. 1 Djokovic is heavily favored in every match.

Denis Shapovalov wouldn’t quit, and it was very close, but he was pretty tired at the end. He edged Taylor Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2. That was a huge victory, and the Canadian began to return. He is bigger and stronger than he was last year. He is growing up…

Alexander Zverev is so unpredictable at all the Slams, but he is so good when he is on. He could go far, into the semis, and then, it could face Djokovic. He would have to play his best ever to stun the Serbian.

At 1 am on early Saturday monring, Borna Coric edged Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7(2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(4) in 4 hours, 36 minutes. There were so many different strokes in many different rallies, but Coric never went down. He is playing more solidly, but on Sunday, he could be exhausted. It only Sunday, seven days, and now they can see that if they want to go further, they have to trust themselves.