Top 30s in 2018: Men, 5-1

Novak Djokovic

No. 5: Juan Martin del Potro
When he is healthy, and he has no pain, then he can beat anyone. However, every year, the Argentine gets hurt and he cannot play up to his potential. In 2018, in the first nine months, he was just fine. His body was OK, which is why he won a bunch of matches against some very excellent players. At the US Open, he reached the final, he beat Fernando Verdasco, Borna Coric, John Isner and Rafa Nadal (who retired) but lost to Novak Djokovic in straight sets. It was pretty close, though. For the first time, he won an ATP 1000 at Indian Wells, outlasting Federer 7-6 in the third. He also won Acapulco, beating Kevin Anderson. DelPo is so committed. Now, he has regained his two-handed backhand because, for years, after he underwent his surgery (three times), he could only hit a one-hander, slicing a lot. Now, he can hit both of them. He has won a major before, in 2009 at the US Open. But, can he do it again? I would think that the 30-year-old still has a chance, but he has to stay healthy in 2019 and truly focus for two weeks.

No. 4: Alexander Zverev
The youngest player in the top 10 is spectacular when he is on. He is only 21 years old, and the German can crush his first serve, forehand and backhand. He can be very focused. He has yet to go very deep in the Grand Slams, and while he really tries, he still doesn’t get it because there are moments when he starts to get foggy. Eventually, he panics and he loses focus and matches. But Zverev is so young and each year, he will get better. But, he has to learn how to excel at the Slam with their three-out-of-five-set format. At the end of the year, he won the ATP Final, upsetting Roger Federer and Djokovic to grab it. That was super impressive. In 2019, we will find out how calm he is at the Australian Open. If he does, he has a legitimate chance to snag it.

No. 3: Roger Federer
I would think that the 37-year-old Swiss had a pretty good year, but I am sure he was not happy at times, because he still wants to win everything. But he is aging, a little bit, so he cannot be expected to run over everyone. He has been around for a very long time, and most people have watchd him for so many hours. He brilliantly mixes it up on his serves, his forehand is one of the best ever, his returns are phenomenal, his backhand has improved a lot of the past two years, and he is very intelligent at the net. He won the Australian Open again, and he won three more, at good events. But, he was not delightful when he lost in the quarters at Wimbledon, and then he lost in the round of 16 at the US Open. The same thing at the ATP Finals in London. At times, he was pissed off. Regardless, Federer will try super hard to win a major again in 2019. In a couple of weeks, he will be in Melbourne, and right there, his confidence will rise immediately. Because of that, he is one of the favorites, but to win it, he has to figure out about how to beat Djokovic, who has beaten him a lot. Fascinating.  

No. 2: Rafael Nadal
Through Roland Garros for five months he played about as well as he could, when he was healthy, that is. The Spaniard rarely retires, but he was forced to do it, retiring at the Australia Open against Marin Cilic. On clay, he was unbeatable, winning Paris at the Grand Slam, 11 times now. Totally locked in. He came very close on grass at Wimbledon, losing 10-8 in the fifth to Djokovic. Nadal certainly had some chances there by he barely missed it. The 32-year-old admitted that. This has happened many times. He went back on hard courts again, and he looked good, winning Toronto. He went to the US Open and, unfortunately, in the second week, he had to play for many hours against Dominic Thiem. Nadal won, but it was 7-6 in the fifth. So, in the semis against Del Potro, he couldn’t move. He yelled. There was tremendous pain, so he retired. That was it and he stopped for the rest of the year. Nadal knows his body is breaking down more and more, you have to wonder if he will retire in the next couple of years. But even so, when he is playing wonderfully, he will win another Grand Slam — one of two. His heavy forehand is his best, ever. No doubt about it.  

No. 1: Novak Djokovic
In the first five months, the Serbian was unsure of himself. He had been hurt in 2017, and he returned in 2018, but he was shaky. On court, he had to trust himself and go for it on the lines. Finally, at Wimbledon, he was more comfortable, he ran and ran, hit it deep, crosscourt and down the line, he pounded it, especially with his backhand. He would wait until he had a legitimate opportunity, and would jump on it. He won the Big W on grass, and after that, he was the best player once again. He won Cincy, the US Open and Shanghai. He beat the Slam winners, so many great players such as Nadal, Federer, Cilic and Del Potro. He didn’t win Paris Masters or the ATP Final, but so what? He came back, he was right in there, and while he can get frustrated, still, he is so darn good. Try to pass him, really try, because he is so quick that he can pick the ball up and crack it. Djokovic is No. 1. He has done that for a long time. Can anyone pass him again in 2019 if he is healthy and playing when he wants to? Right now, that will be extremely difficult. At this point, he will win a major again, and maybe two this year. That’s how good he is.

Spectacular Novak Djokovic wins the US title

novak djokovicFROM THE US OPEN – Before Djokovic walked on the court, he knew that if he played well, he would win the title again. He is better than Juan Martin del Potro, he knew that coming in, but he realized that the Argentine was rising, very gradually. If he was very consistent and powerful, he would win.

 And he did, 6-3 7-6 (4) 6-3. In the second set, DelPo had a few chances, to grab it, but Djokovic stayed in there, out-hitting with his backhand, moving so well, returning a lot, which he had to, because DelPo was crushing his first serves.

The Serbian stayed strong, he didn’t play great with his serves, but his backhand beat the Argentine down, especially crosscourt. Plus, his forehand was hard. He wouldn’t allow DelPo to come into the net hardly at all, unless he decided to bend him down, pull him over, and pass him. DelPo crushed his huge forehand a lot, and in the second set, there were times when it appeared that he was getting better and better. Had he won the second set, then who knows? But in the breaker, Djokovic focused, and he locked in, and when he won the second set, it was essentially over.

While the No. 3 DelPo has had a terrific year, still, if he wants to win a major again — and to stay healthy — he must continue to work his backhand and his return. Other than that, he is a darn good player. Djokovic is a fantastic player, because he is now won 14 Grand Slams, tied with American Pete Sampras. Surely, next year, the No. 2 Djokovic can win another title, possibly at the 2019 Australian Open. That would be something else.   

The others

Rafael Nadal

The No. 1 played three marathons, before the semis started against DelPo. After the first set, he became injured, and after he lost 7-6, he told the umpire that he was going to retire soon. In the second set, he pulled out. He was sad,  and a little upset, but the No. 1 Nadal knew that you cannot win all the time.

He will always remember in the quarters against Dominic Thiem, winning it 7-6(5) in the fifth, which ended in four hours and 49 minutes. It was spectacular. But after that, his body and his leg  was exhausted so there was no way he could continue. He did win Roland Garros, plus four more ATP Masters 1000, so in the fall, assuming he is feeling better, he will continue to push, and try to win it again. The last time he and Djokovic played against each other, he lost 10-8 in the fifth at Wimbledon. That was super close. Maybe they will clash at the ATP Final in London, or early. We all hope so. 

Kei Nishikori

The Japanese looked great heading into the semis, beating Marin Cilic in five, running fast, leaping in the sky, and punishing with his forehand. He returned pretty well, too. But, once again, Djokovic is better than he is. His first and his second serve, and he can grind him down, also with his phenomenal backhand. I am not sure that Nishikori can upend Djokovic ever again, maybe once, or twice. In a five-setter at a Grand Slam, he can’t take a quick win. In the two out of three sets, sure he can lock in and upset Djokovic, but he couldn’t do anything on Friday, losing 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. That was a good US Open for Kei, but not good enough to win the title.     

Dominic Thiem

The Belgian played well as he could, especially on the hard courts,  because he has won a number of titles on clay, but the 25-year-old wasn’t ready for long, hard-court contests. At the US Open, he knew he had be very aggressive, with his huge first serves, and his heavy spin, with his forehand and his backhand. He did, and he battled, and he fought, and he pumped his fist, but he couldn’t make it.
After he lost, the No. 8 Thiem said that he will always remember this defeat. But, perhaps in the fall, he can shake it off, and during the fall, he will add more variety. I would think that we will reach the ATP Finals in England. But that is a toss-up. It’s all in his head now.

US Open picks: day 14: Novak Djokovic vs. Juan Martin del Potro

Novak Djokovic, by Mal Taam
FROM THE US OPEN – Without a doubt, Juan Martin del Potro has played as well as he can over the past 13 days. His serve in gigantic, his forehand is extremely fast, his backhand is getting better every day, and he is pretty clean at the net.

So how is he going to upend Novak Djokovic, who he has lost to 14 times, and he has won only four contests? I am not sure how he is going to unearth him.

Djokovic is on top of the ball, very cool, and very efficient. His backhand is the best ever, his forehand in pretty deep and solid, he can return from way back in the court, and he is so fast. That is why he has won 13 Grand Slams and counting.

He is healthy again, and two months ago, at Wimbledon, Djokovic finally felt that he can go for the lines, and he can be patient until he sees an opportunity. Then he strikes, time and time again.

In 2017, they played three times, at Acapulco, Indian Wells and Rome (on clay). Djokovic won all of them. Two years ago, the Argentine won it at the Rio Olympics 7-6, 7-6. Delpo was thrilled with the victory on hard courts. So, maybe on Sunday, he can really focus and break him.

I doubt that, because Djokovic generally knows where he has to move, or stay in the middle, and return deep and compact. But on occasion, because DelPo can hit his serve around 130 mph, a blaster, and crush his forehand at 100 mph.

In 2009, at the US Open, DelPo won it all, knocking out Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer. That was really important. But in 2012, when DelPo hurt his arm, he lost in straight sets against Djokovic in the quarters. 

Yes, Novak wasvbetter than the Argentine, and remains so. However, two days ago, DelPo looked much better against Rafa Nadal, running fine and smashing his forehand. He won’t go backwards.
There should be some wonderful rallies. DelPo will not be nervous, but Djokovic will serve hard and guess correctly on his returns and dominate backhand versus backhand. It’sd all about angles and depth, and Novak will push him back.

Djokovic will win it in four sets, the third time at the USO. He is one of the best players ever.

US Open men’s semifinal pick: day 12

FROM THE US OPEN – Well, that was some kind of a match. We’re talking about the quarterfinal clash between Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem.

The Spaniard was so close to losing, but he kept hanging in there, running and running. He simply never gives up. He may not play particularly well, but he will continue to push himself to a level beyond other players.

At the end, against the now fantastic Thiem, Nadal looked in deep down and found the solution, winning 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7(4), 7-6(5). Good enough.

Now, the 17-time Grand Slam champion has to face Juan Martin del Potro, who won it nine year ago, in 2009. 
The 32-year-old Nadal has also won the US Open three times in 2010 and 2013. Last year, he won again over Kevin Anderson, somewhat quickly. 

Recall back in 2009, when DelPo crushed Nadal in the semis. The Argentine was red hot, as he shocked the famous Roger Federer in five sets in the final. At that time, Nadal said that DelPo played amazing tennis, but it won’t happen again. Well, he has, once in a while, but not against Nadal again. The Spaniard has beaten him 11 times, while DelPo has won five. 
Last year at the USO, in the semis, Nadal beat him 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2. Clearly, DelPo was exhausted after a couple hours, but Nadal nailed his forehand all the time. 

This year at Wimbledon, in the quarters, on Nadal edged him, 7-5, 6-7(7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. That was a toss-up, but Nadal served extremely well.

However, DelPo has improved this year, a lot. He is now ranked No. 3 and he could go further. He now can hit his two-handed backhand, where for many years, he couldn’t, because his left leg was almost destroyed and broken. It is hard to predict how long he will continue to be healthy. Hard to say month to month. No one really knows, but on Friday here at Flushing Meadows, he shouldn’t be tired or hurt when he walks on the court. 

DelPo does love to slice his one-hander. When he is on top of it, he will hit it very low. But look, Nadal can knock it with his huge forehand, time and time again, and that is why he has won many matches. He belts the ball.

Nadal has played very long contests in the last three matches. His serves are very good, but over the past 11 days, he is not crushing it. I am not sure exactly why, but against DelPo, if he can, Nadal has to nail it on the Ts. 

DelPo has to find away to break him, which means that he has attack on his backhand, and keep him off the baseline. Even if he does, he has to be patient. Of course, this will go five, with a long service game. In the end, DelPo will figure him out and win it, say 6-3 in the fifth. Just one break and hold on.

Women’s semis: Kerber vs Ostapenko, Serena vs Goerges

FROM WIMBLEDON — Many players are very nervous on court, but others aren’t nervous at all. When you have won a Grand Slam, that nervousness can go away.

That is why Angelique Kerber and Jelena Ostapenko will face off on Thursday. German Kerber won the ’16 US Open and ’17 Australian Open, while Latvia’s Ostapenko won ’17 Roland Garros. This season, they have been OK, for the most part. But, in the last 11 days, they were so good and so driven. Kerber has been around a long time, while Ostapenko is very young. Kerber is super steady as she is very fast, while Ostapenko crushes her forehand and backhand. 

However, after you win a major, the so-called pressure is on in the next year. You are the champion, so do it again. Ostapenko admitted that last month that she was emotionally messed up. But not now.

“I’m not like at the French Open because I had all that pressure, now it’s gone. Finally it’s gone,” Ostapenko said. “Now it’s another tournament, another great opportunity for me. I’m just not afraid to miss. I’m just going for the shots. In general, I think my level is much better the last Grand Slam.”

Kerber has reached a number of semifinals this year, but she has yet to win tournament since she won Sydney at the start of the year. In Australia she reached the semis, and she was very close, but Simona Halep pushed her back 9-7 in the third set. Since then, Kerber has been gaining momentum. When she goes deep in an event, she will back off and lose. Perhaps on Thursday, Kerber will be substantially more aggressive and return well. She has to. Her young opponent will make Kerber step it up.

“It’s a big challenge, especially with Ostapenko where I never played against her. She won also a Grand Slam,” Kerber said. “The match starts from zero. The pressure is not always on my side. There are no favorites anymore. We are in the semis. I’m not looking left or right. I’m not looking about the others. I’m really taking care about my game.”

This is a toss-up, but in the third set, Ostapenko will hit the corners and capture it. 

Serena Williams is once again back into the Wimbledon semifinals. She is the favorite, but she still is not playing 100 percent, yet. She needed to best Camila Giorgi 6-4 in the third. Her serves were tremendously good in the last hour, but still, her forehand is a little off. Regardless, she is still so smart, her backhand is lethal, and her returns is very deep. As long as the rallies go quickly, she will be find her game.
Julia Goerges will go up against Serena. Goerges is relentless, and even when she gets down, she goes forward, and she finds ways to win. It has taken the 29-year-old many years to reach the pinnacle of her career. Now, she is in the semis at Wimbledon, so the folks will say, “Who is Julia?”

Well here it is, things changed: “It was almost three years ago when I decided to make a change in my team. I went completely a new way. I took a new physio, a new coach [Michael Geserer]. I changed my residence,” Georges said. “I went from the north to the south of Germany really to start everything from zero.

“I thought there is much more potential in my game and in myself to reach my goals I want to achieve, to become the best player I can be with my abilities I’m having. This work we are putting in every day, you can’t expect it happening in three months, and it’s just there. It needs a lot of time and a lot of work. I think it’s everything worth it for the season I’m playing now, that I’m sitting here right now. I’m able to play on the semifinal against Serena Williams. That’s something what a player is dreaming of.” 
She is correct. Last year, she won two titles, and this season, the German has beaten some very good players including Caro Wozniacki, Daria Kasatkina, Karolina Pliskova and Ash Barty. She is strong. But here is what is crucial: At Roland Garros, she lost to Serena 6-3 6-4 in the third round on clay. So how is she going to attack on grass? That is risky business. Even if she does, Serena will win in straight sets.

The men
It was a heck of a day on Wednesday, very long with a couple of wonderful contests.

The famous Roger Federer went down in a spectacular fashion, losing to South African Kevin Anderson 2-6 6-7(5) 7-5 6-4 13-11. Federer had a number of chances, but Anderson stepped up to the plate, hit some huge forehands and his slamming serve. He came though, perhaps his best match, ever. Federer was a little bit shaken up.

“I was very happy that I got off to the right start, was able to take control somewhat,” Federer said. “I just don’t know exactly how I couldn’t create more opportunities once the third set came around. I had my chances, so it’s disappointing. No doubt about it. He was consistent. He was solid. He got what he needed when he had to. Credit to him for hanging around really that long.”
The other multiple champion, Rafa Nadal, survived in nearly five hours, beating Juan Martin del Potro 7-5 6-7(7) 4-6 6-4 6-4. The fifth set was a true classic, with both men returning well, going side to side, hitting hard or soft, changing everything. But in the end, Nadal was slightly more consistent, and brilliant, which is why he will have a decent shot to knock down Novak Djokovic in the semis. But first, Nadal was thrilled.  

“I am very happy the way that I survived a lot of important points in that fifth set. I think I did a lot of things well,” Nadal said. “I went to the net. In general terms, have been a positive match. Only negative thing is I played almost five hours, and I had the chance maybe to play less winning that second set. For the rest of the things, great news, semifinals of Wimbledon again. Great feelings.”

Serbian Djokovic was extremely good, as he was very focused and his backhand was spot on. In the last hour, he whipped Kei Nishikori 6-3 3-6 6-2 6-2. Nishikori had some good moments, but then he totally lost his game, committing errors after errors.  

“I feel if I have to compare the game that I’ve played, the level of tennis that I’ve had those years and today, I think it’s pretty close,” Djokovic said.

American John Isner finally reached his first Grand Slam semis ever, beating Milos Raonic 6-7(5) 7-6(7) 6-4 6-3. In the second set in the tiebreak, it looked Raonic was going to grab it and go up 2-0, but Isner kept strong and snared it. After that, he was on cruse control. 

“Pure elation right now. With how I’m feeling physically and mentally, I’m in a very good spot,” Isner said. “I think I can keep doing damage here. This is amazing. It’s by far the best Grand Slam I’ve ever played in my career, and I’ve been playing for 11 years. I’m super happy.”

They winners are all happy. Not so much for the those eliminated in a glorious day of tennis.

Who’s closing in on the men’s semis?

FROM WIMBLEDON — In first glance, it looked like Milos Raonic is the favorite versus John Isner. But uh, uh. The American has beaten the Canadian three times, in Canada, in Cincinnati and Miami — all on hardcourt. In 2016, Raonic finally beat him, 7-6(5), 7-6(5) again at  Cincy. Both of them have huge serves, both of them can smoke their forehands, both of them have improved there backhands — slightly. When they come in, and if you have to bend low, then that is trouble because they are very tall and it is hard to put it away.
But this is about the grass, and while Isner is playing better in the  fortnight, he is going to have to move up very quickly, because Raonic is feeling it. Yes, the Canadian gets injured all the time, but at least when he is healthy — and that it pretty rare — he can move it around, with a lot of spin. Also, the ace-master Isner can actually scramble. Whomever gets a chance, he has to grab it now

“The keys is going to come down to one, two, three points here and there. That’s pretty much it,” Raonic said. “I don’t think we’re going to have many consecutive opportunities on each other’s serves. It’s going to be coming down to those moments about being sharp in the right moments, who is going to be able to step up, to dictate, putting more pressure on the other guy. It’s going to be decided by small margins.”

It was warm and sunny in the past nine days, but on Tuesday, it was cooler. However, it hasn’t rained. Because of that, the balls comes up higher. Raonic seems to like it, on court, that is.

“It gives you more things to sort of hit down on, hit through the court on. You’re not bending over as much,” he said. “Obviously that’s going to help him. I like to use the slice to come in. I like both conditions when it comes to being on grass. I think it’s definitely been the warmest I’ve ever played here. It definitely is a factor when it’s a living court. It’s the only live surface we play on.”

Raonic certainly loves grass, but he just can’t shake Isner. The American will bomb his big serves and his forehand. Isner will win on five sets.
Rafa Nadal will face Juan Martin Del Potro, which is a very tight match. The Argentine will attack him anytime he can, and he will certainly risk his serves. He can’t allow Nadal to yank him around.  Del Potro will push him early, and try to bother him, but Nadal  will pound him on his backhand and throw in some sweet passing shots. Nadal will win in four sets.

Roger Federer is the favorite everyday, so while Kevin Anderson is so mentally sound now, the South African has never beat the Swiss. Over the past year, he has improved a lot, but still, Federer is quicker, faster and conscious. ‘The Fed’ will win in four sets.

Novak Djokovic is churning. Day after day, he is more comfortable, and the 12-time Grand Slam champion is oozing. He has to face Kei Nishikori, who is right in there, but two days ago, he said that his elbow was hurting him, but he got through  Now Nishikori  has to find away to unearth him. The Japanese says: “This is a fresh start.’ Is it really? We will find out.

“I don’t know if we never played on grass. I think it’s going to be new game for us,” Nishikori said. “But he’s always like big war for me. I always enjoy playing against him. It’s always big challenge. Maybe I don’t have good result, good record with him, but I always enjoy playing him. He’s one of the best player on the tour.”

And so is Nishikori, in a smaller degree. For a few hours, Nishikori will handle him, rallying side to side. But in the fourth set, Djokovic will start to dominating his backhand and his serves. The Serbian will win in four sets, and after that, here comes playing Nadal — 52 times. That is a lot.

Injured Serena pulls out, Sharapova moves on 

March 08, 2018: Serena Williams (USA) hits a backhand in her match against Zarina Diyas (KAZ) at the BNP Paribas Open played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. ©Mal Taam/TennisClix/CSM

FROM ROLAND GARROS — It is to bad that Serena Williams withdrew; her arms and her shoulders really hurt a lot, which is why she had to way goodbye. She will see the doctors in Paris tomorrow. Will she will recover, quickly, and play Wimbledon? She loves Wimbledon — she has won it seven times — so she will push herself as much as she can. Hurt, or not.

Serena was supposed to play against Maria Sharapova. So the American/Russian didn’t have a chance to to attack Williams and test herself. Not this week, though, maybe in Wimbledon, or during the rest of the summer. They both hope so.

Sharapova will face Garbine Muguruza, who also advanced when Lesia Tsurenko retired after just two games. That is too bad, because there are a lot of fans who come out to watch the tennis and when there are just a few people playing, maybe the fans won’t want to come anymore. There are too many injuries, year after year.

On the women’s side, there were two other matches on Monday, and there were two blow outs: Simona Halep crushed Elise Mertens, and Angie Kerber whacked Caroline Garcia in straight sets.

Yesterday, on the bottom half, all four matches were contested, and there were no three-setters. However, there was a fun contest with Daria Kasatkina and Caro Wozniacki. There were some incredible rallies, and Kasatkina outlasted her 7-6, 6-3.

On Sunday and Monday, there was only one good match. Let’s hope on Tuesday, there will be some wonderful contests, maybe Sloane Stephens against Daria Kasatkina. That must go three sets, with two cage players. They will have a huge amount of long strokes. Whomever will worn her down, she will reach into the semis.

The Men

Juan Martin del Potro is so incredibly confidence now. He bested John Isner 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, crushing his forehand, his big serve and he moved fairly well. He also scampers to the net and puts it away.

Isner had a good nine days at RG. He knows that his gigantic serve and her massive forehand, and he hustles. But, for the past 10 years, he hasn’t been able to figure out how to be an effective returner. He can do it here and there, but this was on clay, which is slower, and softer, and he couldn’t break it against DelPo. Not once.

“If I would have lost today, I would have liked to maybe put up a better fight. So that’s a little disappointing,” Isner said. “Delpo certainly has one of the best forehands in the world, especially when he’s feeling it out there. And if he’s able to get in position and take a rip at that shot, it’s going to be very lethal. So it’s very good for tennis to have him playing well again and being healthy.”

Marin Ciclic needed five sets to push back Fabio Fognini. It was up-and-down for both of them, playing well, missing it, re-doing it, over-thinking. As Cilic said, it was “extremely tough mentally.” And how.

On Wednesday, two of the excellent top 5 veterans will clash. Years ago, from Cilic and DelPo, they struggled on clay. Still, sometimes, they make too many errors. But here at RG, they are going exactly what they can do. They are almost a tossup, both of them have won the US Open — on hard courts. On clay, even thought they can nail their forehands, they have to return deep.

“We played many times. We know each other,” Cilic said. “He won a lot of our matches in these last few years, and we had few tough ones. One of them was the Davis Cup match, that was the last one. That was a big match. [Argentina won the Davis Cup]. Juan Martin is having great season playing great tennis.
And then [we] are playing similar games but still different. I think in some ways I’m maybe a little bit quicker on the court, but he’s in some ways serving a little bit better, hitting off his forehand side bigger and more consistently. So just in those comparisons, it’s always a tough matchup between both of us.”

John Isner vs. Juan Martin del Potro: Coming down to the wire?

Finally, John Isner is back again. I mean, in the last nine days, he woke up in Miami. Prior to that during the past two and a half months, he was sadly down. He only won two matches, and he lost time and time again. Very early.

But after he played Indian Wells, he talked to his coach, and his friends, and they said, ‘C’mon, you are better than that. Don’t be so nervous and be  so depressed on court. When you get start the match, make sure to shake it off, even if you whiff. This is your life. You are 32-years-old now so it is time to believe in yourself, because in another five years, you might retire. So go to it.’”
He did and in the last three days, he played extremely well, knocking out the  No. 3 Marin Cilic, and the young rising Hyeon Chung in straight sets.

Isner and Cilic have been around for a very long time. Cilic has played pretty well in 2018, but he has not been terrific. So Isner hit some huge serves, his big forehand, and he was very patient. When he beat Chung fairly easily, he returned pretty decently, which is surprising, because over the past decade, Isner  rarely broke. But he did on Wednesday.

So now he will face Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine won Indian Wells, and when he arrived in Miami, he said he was very tired and he wasn’t sure whether he can last. But he has, overcoming Milos Raonic in three very long set, 7-6 in the third.  The Canadian Raonic was right there, but he hesitated, or he just missed it. As Delpo said, I can go for my shots, anytime I want,  because I am riding the waves. He sure is.

They will play on Friday with Isner against Del Potro. Last year, they played each other twice, in Canada,  with Juan winning 7-5 7-5, and in Paris Bercy,  John won 6-4 6-7 6-4.

All of those contests were on hardcourts, and they will do it again in Florida. Obviously, del Potro is favored, as he has won the 2009 US Open, and almost two weeks ago, he won his first ATP 1000 in California. He is simply cracking the ball.

If Isner can crush it when DelPo hits a second serve, he might have a chance to break him. However, if he doesn’t, then he will go down in straights set. But if he does, he can go into the third set and then, who knows?   Obviously, Del Potro is favored, as he has won the 2009 US Open, and almost two weeks ago, he won his first ATP 1000 in California. He is simply cracking the ball.

If Isner can crush it when DelPo hits a second serve, he might have a chance to break him. However, if he doesn’t, then the American will go down in straights set. But if he does, he can go into the third set and then, who knows?

Verdasco: ‘Hopefully and stay for few more years on the tour’

The 34-year-old Fernando Verdasco took down the No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov and eventually, lost in Indian Wells to Taylor Fritz. On the plus side, he says that he is not ready to retire now. The former top 10 Verdasco reached the ’09 Australian Open against Rafa Nadal, losing in five incredible sets, that lasted more than five hours.

After he rests and goes on vacation Verdasco, wants to walk on the court and begin hitting again. He is playing Miami this week, and he is hoping that he will be hitting the ball next week, too.

“Tennis was always my life since I’m a baby. I always love this sport. I always love to play,” Verdasco said. “Of course, you always have some crisis in your life that, you like to play but maybe you just want to go on a beach and just relax some days with friends. But, actually, when I’m away for maybe a week, maybe 10 days, I miss it. And then I just want to go back to the court, to the gym, and work and try to keep improving and working hard to stay in the top level and being able to fight against the best players in the world, no? Now I’m 34 and I have to fight against players with 21, 22, 23 (of age) that that they are much younger. They have much less miles or kilometers in his legs.”

Verdasco admits that one of the reason he lost to Fritz is because he didn’t go for the lines often enough. He can be steady, and aggressive, but there have been some matches when he backed off.

“I was sometimes losing matches because, in the important moments with my serve, I was just kind of like not pushing. But just playing with first serves maybe 100 miles, and maybe I need to serve 125, 130, 135 sometimes, even if I miss.” Verdasco said. “But that’s what really makes you improve, and sometimes you have to take the risk. One match with Andy Murray, fourth round in Australia when I did semifinals, the fifth set against him, I start serving, 130 all the time. And, I surprised his return, because he was waiting for me wide, wide, wide, and then I start to do T hard, and many free points I got. Is not easy with pressure. And, hopefully, I will still have time to improve in more things and stay for few more years on the tour.”

Verdasco has always had a huge forehand, and his first serve, but his backhand has been mediocre. The Spaniard continues to work on it, to mix it up and hit it reasonably deep.
“My forehand was always there, or feeling good. The backhand, sometimes not that regular or maybe hurting that much. So, maybe I have to work my footwork to try to play with my forehand as much as possible. Backhand be aggressive. Changing, mix it up, high, low, slice. … It depending on who you play. Everything change about that. You try to change your game to hurt him, and at the end you’re hurting yourself because you’re not doing what you know how to do the best. So, in the end, it’s kind of like confusion because you lose because you don’t know what you’re doing on the court. That’s the worst feeling when you jump on court and you lose doing that.”

Miami notes
Vika Azarenka crushed CiCi Bellis in the first round. Azarenka admitted that she was pretty nervous, but once she went on court, she immediately locked in. Can she win Miami once again? It is a little early, but you never now with her. She faces Madison Keys in the next round. Keys has to get going. Azarenka already has.

Monica Puig took down Sam Stosur 6-3, 6-4. Puig loves Miami, where she lives.

Katarina Pliskova will face Ekaterina Makarova on Thursday. The Czech has to keep her head down because during some days, she doesn’t focus. The same thing goes with Makarova, but both of them are very good.

Roger Federer, who let the final against Juan Martin del Potro at Indian Wells slip away, says after Miami is done, he will decide whether to play Roland Garros. Now that would be nice to have play the Slam he didn’t play last year. Here are two very good matchups in doubles: John Isner/Donald Young v. Kyle Edmund/Nenad Zimonjic; Zverev brothers vs. Santiago Gonzalez/Verdasco.

Situation normal: Roger Federer is in control

INDIAN WELLS – Once again, Roger Federer is a seriously favorite to win another huge title. It is possible that someone will play perfectly, and the Swiss is a little bit off, and at the third set, the guy hits the lines all the time while Federer cannot keep his first serve in, and soon enough, he will get frustrated and he will miss point after point. 

Not these days, though. However, even though Federer has won 20 Grand Slams, and 97 victories overall, there have been losses. All the great champions have a few in the “L” column.

So this week, Federer can lose, but who exactly can run past Roger?
He will face Jeremy Chardy on Wednesday and while the Frenchman is pretty wily, he won’t be able to out-hit him, especially with the forehand. In the quarters, Federer would face either Hyeon Chung or Pablo Cuevas. The young Chung likes to be on the big stage, so he will put together some intense rallies, but in the end, Federer will confuse him. Unless …

One more terrific match coming up Wednesday is American Taylor Fritz versus Borna Coric. That is almost a tossup, but Coric is more driven this year. … How about this: Dominic Thiem and Gail Monfils retired. Nick Kyrgios and Kei Nishikori pulled out last week. Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are all injured and couldn’t come, while Grigor Dmitrov and Alexandra Zverev both lost. Wow, is playing tennis that difficult for everyone?

Federer and DelPo talk about worrying Djokovic 
Many of the top American players are hurt, and couldn’t come to compete at Indian Wells, and a few retired — important players, too. But at least three very significant guys are here: Federer, Juan Martin del Potro and the former No. 1 Novak Djokovic. The Serbian lost early. He had a ton of unforced errors and, as he said, he was very shaky. He hadn’t played for months, but he really wanted to get back on court and swing away.  H  is struggling mentally, but that doesn’t mean that he will panic forever. He just has to be patient.  

Here is Federer’s take on Djokovic’s situation: “When you do come back, it’s like, ‘Oh, those break points; oh, those deuce points; those 30-all points; 15-30s; first point of the game.’ Where normally, when you’ve played a lot of matches, you just rock up, you hit a good serve, play a good point, 15-love, you just move along with the score.

“But you put extra effort to manage all that’s happening in your head. I feel like when you do come back from injury or when you haven’t played in a long time, it just takes extra effort. That’s probably also what he’s also feeling. And maybe was tired in the end a bit because, the focus you need to have is greater. Look, still such early stages for Novak coming back and the first one after surgery. He’s only going to get better from here. He knows that. We all know that. But it was nice to see him playing again.”

Del Potro has been there, too. Over the last eight years, he was in and out all the time. Multiple surgeries, leaving, coming back, winning, some big wins and some mediocre losses. He could have retired, but he has not. He is still very good, and he might be able to win a major again, but as he says, it can be difficult. Del Potro says that Djokovic just has to be patient,
“It’s not easy to come back and play good tennis, as everybody expect Novak’s game. And mentally you must be strong enough to deal with these kind of losses in this big of tournaments,” del Potro said. “It’s only time to get where he deserve to be. And if his body feels good, the tennis come along and the confidence come along, too. But is not easy to deal with this kind of frustrations after injuries or when you always be the favorite to win a tournament, you come here and you lose in first round. Is not easy. But he’s strong enough to deal with that, and I love him and I want to see him in the top positions very soon.”

The Women
No. 1 Simona Halep was very happy after beating Qiang Wang in straight sets, and she joked a lot in the press conference.
On Monday, she actually watched Serena and Venus Williams playing each other. Some people almost never watch the matches, but many of the players stop and watch the famous Williamses. Their matchups are pretty darn intense.
“I’m the world No. 1 in this moment, but I just watched the best player in the world,” Halep said. “I just do what I feel. I felt to come because I admire a lot the sisters.”
Venus knocked down Serena in straight sets on Monday, as the younger sister couldn’t control her ground strokes. Venus was pounding the ball very deep and hard. Plus, she was running well. 

On Tuesday, Venus rose up again, beating Anastasija Sevastova. Serena is gone, so Venus has an opportunity to win it all, but most of the very good players still left. Like Karolina Pliskova, who beat the 16-year-old American Amanda Anisimova in straight sets. Anisimova is already tall and strong, so watch her, if you get a chance. She does need a few more years to improve, but she is already very talented. “I think this will change a little bit in the future, but for sure the game is good and not really any weakness,” Pliskova said. The Czech will play the Japanese Naomi Osaka, who lives in the United States. What a basher.