Posts Tagged ‘Mardy Fish’


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.


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.