Posts Tagged ‘Andy Murray’


Rajat Jain
Head of Tennis, The CouchExpert
24 August 2011

 

The U.S. Open series is over, and there is a lot to look forward to in a week from now as the final grand slam of the year begins in New York. The two masters before the Open are usually supposed to give us a fair idea of who are the players to look up to during the Open. Unfortunately, Canada masters is usually the first tournament after a month long layoff (for the top players) and hence are looking to shake off the rust. In Cincinnati, the conditions are extremely hot and humid, and hence the players are cautious to not over exert themselves ahead of the Open. The quality of tennis does take a hit, as was evident by the lackluster performance of all the top-4 this year. So who are the top contenders for the trophy two weeks from now?

Djokovic and Murray are among the top contenders for the Open

Novak Djokovic(1): The sub-optimal form of the Serb was still sufficient to make him end up as the best player of the two masters. Even though he sustained a shoulder injury in the final, it is the mental fatigue that would worry him. He looked disinterested during both tournaments, and this was after he had a month long break post-Wimbledon. How much would that be a factor going into the Open? And what about the shoulder injury? It would have been serious enough to make him pull off a match for the first time since Jan 2009. More importantly, will it effect the confidence on his serve which has become such a potent weapon this year?

Rafael Nadal (2): The five losses to Djokovic has made a huge dent in Nadal’s confidence this year. It is not that he lost early in both tournaments, because he has not done well here historically. It is the way he played in these tournaments–a third set tie-breaker against Dodig after having a break lead twice during the third set, and the error-prone three hour slog against Verdasco. In addition, he faced problems with his foot during Wimbledon, burned fingers here, and some more blisters in the feet. The physical issues, while genuine, will definitely impact him even more. Despite all this, he still managed to reach the semis in 2009, his worst year. I would expect at least a repeat of that if not more.

Roger Federer (3): Federer loves playing in New York … period. And if anything, his form in these masters is not indicative of his performance at the Open. He won Cincinnati in the last two years and failed to make the finish line at Open, while he lost in the first round in 2008 and yet saved his year by beating Murray in the finals. The difference being, during 2008 his losses were brushed off as one-off, while now they are becoming a pattern, like with Berdych and Tsonga. This definitley eases the pressure on the rest of the tour and makes them more confident.

Andy Murray (4): Murray last reached the final here in 2008. He has improved a lot in these three years. The problem for him is that his peers have improved even more. These are his peak years as a player, and with each passing major, the pressure on him to win that elusive one increases exponentially. Historically, he has not played well here in the last two seasons going down to big hitters not afraid to compromise on their shots, but one has to agree this is his best chance to win a major given the possible mental burnout of Djokovic, phsyical problems of Nadal and the natural decline of Federer.

Mardy Fish (6): There is no doubt that Fish is the best American player at present, and he deserves it. His new found all court game is exciting to watch and so is his eagerness to improve. Even with all this, he is miles away from the top-4 as the best game of Fish was still unable to beat a 50 percent Djokovic at Montreal, while he lost yet again to Murray at Cincinnati. Even though the win against Nadal was progressive, even he knows the Nadal he might face at New York will be vastly improved from Cincinnati. More than winning the title, his first step should be to make his maiden semifinal appearance, and given the recent form, he is definitely in contention for the same.

Juan Martin del Potro (19): Given his giant leap in the rankings in the first five months, the summer hard court series was supposed to be a bonanza for this gentle giant from Tandil. However, uncharacteristic losses to Cilic and Gulbis, and the retirement at Cincinnati does not bode well for him going to the Open. If not, it would be a huge disappointment given how the tour desperately needs somebody to step it up and challenge the top-4.

Other players to watch out: Bernard Tomic who showed some real promise during Wimbledon, Jo Wilfried Tsonga who is showing renewed enthusiasm on court, Grigor Dimitrov and the local boy Ryan Harrison.

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Rajat jain

Head of Tennis, The CouchExpert

15 August 2011

 

Is this how predictable the Men’s field has become these days? Yes. Was there any real contender for Montreal Masters apart from Novak Djokovic? No. Nine titles, two majors, five masters and a solitary loss against 51 wins, only 18 sets lost against 122 won; these are numbers that even Roger Federer was not able to conjure up in his glory days of ’05 and ’06.

Novak Djokovic defeated Mardy Fish to win his fifth straight Masters title of the year

Novak Djokovic defeated Mardy Fish to win his fifth straight Masters title of the year

Djokovic is playing like a much improved version of Andre Agassi. The same punisher’s attitude, moving his opponents from side to side and wearing them out. Of course, with a much better first serve, and supremely better movement. In his semis and final against Tsonga and Fish respectively, at a point when the matches were even (4-4 in the first set in the semis, and the opening game of the third set), Djokovic launched his famous assault. He played, and won, a brutal 27 shot rally against Tsonga, and a 33 shot rally Fish. Both players couldn’t continue at the same high level thereafter. The only weakness—if it is indeed a weakness—in Djokovic’s game currently, is that he has managed to lose at least one set in each of his nine titles this year.

Djokovic’s victory was the only predictable event that happened in Montreal. Rafael Nadal bowed out in his opening round, so did Andy Murray. Federer himself could only win a single match before bowing out spectacularly to Tsonga in a match that provided a lot of moments for the highlights. These losses further strengthened the fact that the outrageous consistency at the top is good for the game. If some opponent is to beat these top guys, they have to play out of their skin for three hours—and that means great tennis on offer.

Jo Wilfried Tsonga—the underachiever—has been on a different level after the grass court season started, and he looked in ominous touch in this tournament too. Perhaps breaking up with his coach has given him the license to play tennis in the way he wants to play: good, first strike, aggressive tennis with lots of athleticism and flair. Federer may be the artist, Nadal may be relentless, and Djokovic may be the punisher, but it’s hard to find anybody who pleases and works up the crowd more than Tsonga.

If the Frenchman is slowly starting to live up to his enormous potential—he will be back in the top ten from Monday, Mardy Fish is continuing to surprise us with his success, and making further claims that he deserves to be American’s top baller and a top ten player. If his consistency and fitness shot him into the top-ten last year, it is his intelligent mix of aggression and patience that was paramount to his run here at Montreal. It is not merely that he is serving and volleying every now and then, or approaching the net at the first opportunity that has been enjoyable to watch. It is the fact that he is starting to think like a pure serve and volleyer.

Throughout the tournament, he has shown great variety on serves. An ace down the T is followed by a kick serve off wide, or by a medium paced serve on the body. His opponent is constantly kept honest, which invariable has led to weak replies. Even his volleys are reminiscent of the serve-volley players of the 90s as he constantly throws down punch volleys deep into the mid court to rob his opponent any chance of angles—even for Djokovic. At one point, he had to throw three straight punch volleys at Djokovic, but lack of an angle resulted in a weak reply from Djokovic eventually, as Fish punched it for a winner. Fish has made three straight finals now, and is definitely one of the contenders for the semifinal spot at Arthur Ashe three weeks from now.

Amidst all these success stories, it will be easy to forget the failures of Rafa and Andy. Is this the start of the decline of Nadal, or is this is psychological effect of losing five straight finals to Djokovic? I remember the Rafa of 2008 or 2010 always had the edge once the match went the distance. Yet, Rafa has already lost two matches this year in a third-set tie-breaker. More worrying for him, though, is he is easily relinquishing a lead. Against Dodig, he was up a break twice in the third set and lost 7-6. Against Federer in the final of the French, he was up 4-2 in the third set only to lose five games in a row. Same against Djokovic in the second set of Madrid finals. Whether these patterns continue to affect him in future is something that I will watch with interest.

On to Cincy now.


Rajat Jain

Head of Tennis, CouchExpert

23 January 2011

Watching Australian Open in the United States is difficult, equally difficult as watching U.S. Open in India. It is nice to have Grand Slams across the world, but it is a given that you will have a nightmare following at least one of them due to difference in time zones. I missed watching the thriller between Hewitt and Nalbandian due of some morning commitments the next day, and many other night matches at Laver (or RLA, as it is called in Australia). I had a firm willpower to watch the teenage sensation Bernard Tomic battle his funky ground strokes with the heavy top spin of Rafael Nadal, but I accidentally dozed off at around 1AM, and when I woke up, Nadal was one point away from victory. Sigh.

From what I have heard, Tomic gave quite a few punches of his own to the world No. 1 outlasting him in winners and the ace count by a healthy margin (and of course, in unforced errors as well, which ultimately made the difference). Even though Tomic claims that he loves to play the funky cat and mouse tennis reminiscent of Miloslav-the-cat Mecir and Andy Murray, he has the ability to turn the heat when situation demands—unlike the two players he reminds us of. Murray is often criticized for the lack of offense in his game, but Tomic showed the willingness to hit a heavy ball after the 6-2 blowout in the first set. And he made Nadal sweat for most part, especially in the beginning when he raced to a 4-0 lead before pressure started to creep in. Will this talent help him to achieve what his predecessors Mecir and Murray (till now) have not achieved?

Of course, as Nadal himself confessed in his interview, it is a different ball game when you are 17 or 18, as you have nothing to lose, even if you lose. He stressed on his own match against Hewitt at the same venue seven years earlier when he impressed everybody at the stadium and declared himself as the future of tennis. I promptly searched for these clips, and it was a very different Nadal than what I have seen in the past five years.

—The YouTube ID of the poster is “federermagic,” and there is a “bonus” at the end of the title. Nice to see some Federer fans being equally appreciative of Nadal. Read the summary of this clip by the poster to get a better picture.

—Even way back in 2004, one of his knees was taped. As he started playing, and winning, more, the pressure on his body increased, and so did the tapes on his knees, which finally crumbled in 2009 after Madrid. Since then, though, it is a completely different Rafael Nadal. He plays more efficiently, is not afraid of losing a few points, and games, towards his path to victory, and hence does not play every point as if it is a match point. Many say that his level of play is not as spectacular as it was in 2008 and early 2009, but he is winning more too. And of course, the knees are no longer taped.

—That forehand! It was not like the one we see today. Very hard, as today, but as flat as have seen much like Del Potro. And he was not only hitting winners when he was on top of the ball, but even when the bounce was low. He was able to generate enough spin to keep the ball above the net, and yet, enough pace to not allow one of the best retrievers in the game (and at his peak), to have a sneak at that laser.

—Back then, Nadal’s technique on his forehand was adept at hitting flat. The massive follow through that goes above his head in a circular motion today, was not there. It was tailor made for hitting fast, flat forehands. And it was this same forehand, which helped him towards his first major breakthrough in the ATP—a win against the no. 1, Roger Federer, at Miami, just a couple of months later. Some time late during the year, he made a decision to add more spin to that laser and that resulted in the development of one of the greatest clay court players we have ever seen.

—This also explains why his transition from a clay court specialist to a supreme all court player was smooth. He always had that flat forehand—that aggressive game—ingrained in him. As he matured, he learned to find the right moment to pull the trigger from defense to offense. It made him a less attractive player to watch, but a much better one.

—I have not watched pre-2009 clips of Nadal for a while now. It was a welcome change to hear the expressive fist pumps and loud yells of “Vamos” once again.  It was never a secret that Nadal is always booming with energy on the tennis court. The utilization of that energy has changed with time. He is still as expressive as 2004, but in a different, mature way.

—Nike had not yet spotted this teenage sensation. The fiery bandana was still there, but the sleeveless was missing. The ‘pirate’ was still an infant, but with the same luxilon strings of Babolat.


Rajat jain

Head of Tennis, CouchExpert

15 January 2011

 

Another season starts, and brings with it lots of questions and expectations. Will Rafael Nadal bag his fourth Slam is at the top of this list, with the expectations from the reinvigorated Roger Federer, who recently paired with Paul Annacone and had an excellent fall 2010, not far below. Novak Djokovic has given enough to his fans to look forward to after his runners-up performance at New York (and Melbourne is place where he has bagged his maiden major), while Robin Soderling (surprise, surprise! In a repeat of last year, Andy Murray doesn’t find himself at No. 4 at Melbourne) expects to increase his cushion in the top-4 by gaining points even if he wins his opener.

Andy Murray, and Great Britain, is still in search for his elusive feat, while the other Andy, Roddick, says he has never been more motivated. There is a small matter of Juan Martin del Potro coming back in the circuit, while Nikolay Davydenko performed well at Doha too.

Lots of action await, and the year’s first Slam is due for a major surprise this year. The last two years had surprisingly predictable finalists considering the history of this court to produce dark-horses (Thomas Johansson, Rainer Schuettler, Marcos Baghdatis, Fernando Gonzalez to name a few) and Melbourne cannot get third time lucky. The distorted seedings due to injuries will make the earlier rounds very interesting, and to add to the unpredictability, we’ll have the wrath of rainfall too, adding the unnecessary breaks in between and spoiling player’s rhythms.

Amidst all this, a draw analysis is an indispensible part of the event, whether important or not, differs with one fan to another.

Rafael Nadal’s Quarter

Promises to be a blockbuster. Right from the start, we will revisit an old rivalry—Lleyton Hewitt vs David Nalbandian. While they are more famous for being the two counter puncher finalists at Wimbledon, it was the last time at Melbourne, when they played an epic, which went 9-7 in the fifth. Both men have lost their firepower since then, but this promises to bring back some of it—the war of two great return of serves, and two great backhands.

Other than this highlight opening round match, this seems to be a fairly routine draw for Nadal, with compatriots Feliciano Lopez expected in the third (Lopez can only trouble Nadal on a fairly fast surface, and given that he was unable to even break him at New York, Melbourne should be a breeze), and David  Ferrer expected in the quarter finals. Ferrer has troubled Nadal in past, but that was way back in 2007 where he was having the year of his life, and Nadal was …. well, not quite the Nadal we know today. He may be very well troubled by Marin Cilic, though, even if he is out of form. He likes Melbourne, and would be hoping to repeat his semifinal performance this time around.

Richard Berankis is the kid to look out for after having a great season last year to spring himself in the top-100 and earn a place in the main draw. Michael Llodra, who brought Paris Masters to life last year, is also the one to look out for, even though he may not like the slower surface here.

First Round Matches: Hewitt vs Nalbandian

Dark Horse: David Naldandian

Semifinalist: Rafael Nadal

 

Robin Soderling’s Quarter

Or if we want to go back to the routine top-4 we have enjoyed for most part of the past two years—Andy Murray’s quarter. This also promises to be the most exciting quarter of them all, with lots of potential upsets on card, and a great chance of a dark horse to emerge. Both the top seeds expect to have smooth sailing for the first three rounds, and things will start getting explosive by then. Murray might get any one from the former finalist, Baghdatis, Melzer, or ….. del Potro, who finds himself nicely hidden in the draw. Soderling would also find it difficult in round four, with any one of Tsonga, Gulbis or Dolgopolov opposite his net. There are also dangerous players in Thomaz Bellucci or Phillip Petzschner lurking around.

All in all, this promises to be a very exciting quarter, and look out for a definite dark horse emerging from here.

Potential matchups to lookout for: Gulbis vs Dolgopolov, Tsonga vs Petzschner, Baghdatis vs del Potro.

Dark Horse: Ernests Gulbis

Semifinalist: Jo Wilfried Tsonga

 

Novak Djokovic’s Quarter

Again, not much to choose from. Berdych has been out of form since ages, Kohlschreiber has enjoyed some upsets in Melbourne, Verdasco achieved a dream run (albeit with a bitter ending) in 2009, Davydenko almost upset Federer last year, while Djokovic has had his own personal problems with the heat and humidity here. Adding up the veteran Ljubicic, and the unpredictable Almagro and Gasquet only add to the confusion. Djokovic might struggle against the fellow Serb Troicki, while Davydenko and Verdasco may light up the Melbourne night in the third round. All in all, your guess is as good as mine.

Potential matchups to lookout for: Davydenko vs Verdasco, Djokovic vs Troicki, Gasquet vs Kohlschreiber (the battle of two one handed backhands)

Dark Horse: Can Davydenko be called one?

Semifinalist: Fernando Verdasco

 

Roger Federer’s Quarter

Federer may not have won as many titles in Melbourne, as he has won in New York or London, but all of his four victories here have been ruthless dominations—in 2004 against Safin, in 2006 against Baghdatis, in 2007 against Roddick and Gonzalez, and in 2010 against Tsonga and Murray. When he is in form, he enjoys this surface as much as, if not more than, Wimbledon or U.S. Open. And given his form over the last few months, it is hard to see any player coming even remotely close to upset Federer before the semis. Sure, Simon may have beaten him twice, but he is half as good as he was in 2008, while Federer is twice as much efficient. Monfils, Roddick, Wawrinka …. All are capable of giving him a scare, but not outdo him in the war of attrition.

Federer is fit, fresh, motivated, match-fit, confident, and on a winning streak. Anything less than something really special will be insufficient to stop this man.

Semifinalist: Roger Federer

 

Semifinals: Tsonga d. Nadal, Federer d. Verdasco

Champion: Roger Federer