Posts Tagged ‘Roger Federer’


Rajat Jain
Head of Tennis, The CouchExpert
10 September 2011

 

The weather Gods have created havoc at Arthur Ashe, controversies were raised due to the schedule and the playing conditions, while a revolt was threatened surrounding the prospect of playing four matches in four days. Despite all this, the tournament has survived and the Super Saturday is upon us. Whether or not the players like it, whether or not the fans moan on the repercussions of playing back to back best of five set matches, it is hard to deny that a marquee line up like tomorrow’s makes us forget everything and anxiously wait for the day to begin.

For the second time in a major this year, the top-4 men have lived up to their seeding to secure all four semifinal berths. And it took extreme circumstances — Rafael Nadal’s injury and Jo Wilfried Tsonga’s magical comeback after being down two sets — to make sure that the remaining two majors didn’t end up this way. Each pair among the top four have set mini rivalries among them (and Federer-Nadal rivalry is already considered one of the greatest), have scores to settle, mental battles to win, and points to prove. The only downside of this is that a thrilling first match soaks out all your emotional energy and the second one usually turns into an anti-climax as it happened at the French Open. Regardless, this always ensures that tennis takes precendence over other television shows on the day and it is good news for the game.

If this is not enough, the women’s side also has enough drama awaiting. The top-half semifinal between Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams will answer a definite question — Is Serena still head and shoulders above the womens’ tour or is Wozniacki the real No. 1? The other half will answer us whether Sam Stosur has really laid the demons of her French Open defeat or not. Lets have a look at all the semifinal matchups.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs Roger Federer (3): Courage Under Fire

I have rarely seen the five time US Open champ look towards his camp right after the victory. One was when he defeated Nadal in Madrid ’09 and other when he won the World Tour Finals in ’10. It is even rare that he looks towards his camp during the match. Yet his camp received a lot of fist pumps and “Come On!”s yesterday when he played Tsonga. Clearly Federer has a point to prove, if not to the world, then to himself. The last time he was in such a position, he played the best match of this year and handed Novak Djokovic his only loss for 2011. The French Open semis was a near flawless performance and he will need to repeat this tomorrow.

Although Novak Djokovic has not looked at his best this tournament and one can sense fatigue finally creeping through the gulten free muscles of the Serb, he should have enough motivation to raise his level for the two final big shots of the year. As it has been the case for their last two encounters at the majors, the first set will be critical. Both times it went to the tie-breaker and both times its winner went on to win the match. Can the fans be third time lucky?

Prediction: Federer in four sets

Andy Murray (4) vs Rafael Nadal (2): Survival of the Fittest

They have played some great matches in the past even if they may not have gone the distance. Even though Nadal leads Murray 4-2 in majors, both of Murray’s wins were on hard courts. The situation is different this time as both players will play their third consecutive match tomorrow and physical fitness would come into play. Both of them are incredibly fit and can chase balls all throughout the day, but Murray will be at a slight disadvantage as he was stretched by Isner today while Rafa cruised through a semi-injured Roddick.

As comprehensive as Rafa looked against Roddick, his backhand still lacked the usual depth. The venomous cross court backhand winners were absent, and down the line was landing in the mid court. Roddick was not able to take advantage of it, but Murray will. Of course, it will depend on how fit Murray will be, tomorrow. Remember, he has a minor back pain too.

Prediction: Nadal in five sets

Caroline Wozniacki (1) vs Serena Williams (28): Best on Paper vs Best on Court

It is astonishing that a player who was out of the tour for more than a year, and who has played only two tournaments heading into the Open was the overwhelming favorite to win this tournament, and is the overwhelming favorite against the world No. 1. But that is how big a champion Serena is, and that is the level to which Wozniacki needs this Slam to shut her critics. Not that she cares about what the critics have to say, but her recent tirades against the media — self conferencing in Australia followed by the kangaroo bite incident, and most recently the mimicking of Rafa’s cramps — show that there is some insecurity deep down inside the Dane.

A win against Serena will definitely go a long way in proving her credentials as the world’s top baller even if she fails to win this tournament. If she loses, though, it will further distance Serena from rest of the tour.

Prediction: Serena in straight sets

Angelique Kerber vs Sam Stosur (9): The Other Semi

It might be easy to forget among the battle of the heavyweights that there is also a fourth semifinal taking place. Perhaps that is why this is the only semi which will be played at Louis Armstrong as opposed to Arthur Ashe Stadium. Not that both the women will mind this negligence. Sam Stosur is not particularly known to thrive under pressure, while lack of an arena like setting will suit the German as well, whose run is among the more suprising results seen in the recent past. Stosur will be the huge favorite to win this match, but so was the case last year at the French Open. Although, neither is this a major final, nor will she play at Phillippe Chatrier or Arthur Ashe.

Prediction: Stosur in three sets



Rajat Jain
Head of Tennis, The CouchExpert
7 September 2011

 

The fact that serve-n-volley is practically dead today has been a common discussion point among tennis afficianadoes. While it is true that it is now an extinct art, I do not miss that aspect of the same so much. There is still great baseline tennis on offer and the spectacular winners from the far court than makes up for that. In fact, I enjoy the occasional serve-n-volley points that players do today as an element of surprise, which is why I enjoy watching players like Roger Federer, Mardy Fish, Jo Wilfried Tsonga (coupled with Michael Llodra).

An aggressive slice is becoming a lost art

An aggressive slice is becoming a lost art

The side effects of the above has been more telling, in my opinion. One of them is the slow decay of the backhand ‘slice’. I know what you are saying. Don’t players today use slices a lot? Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray have a great slice, Novak Djokovic does it sometimes, and Andy Roddick has modeled his backhand purely on the slice as the zip on his two hander has declined over the years. In fact, youngsters like Dolgopolov use it heavily, and yesterday’s match against Djokovic was a great example. The Ukranian troubled the Serb for the greater part of the first set with the lack of pace generated through the slice.

But the common pattern among all of these players is the exclusive use of defensive slice. Most of them use slice only when they are not in a position to hit a strong two hander. In fact, the aggressive slice down-the-line, one of the more difficult shots in the game, is almost absent in the game. There were countless times in yesterday’s match, when I yelled from my seat, “Slice to the forehand!” It never came. Or it came only when Djokovic was present mid court, and was in a great position to make a decent pass. Just like the backhand down-the-line is used to open up the court, the slice up-the-line was a great ploy used by serve-n-volley players which either resulted in some of the best running forehands or in a makeable volley at the net.

Dologopolov’s used heavy cuts on the slice, which were devoid of any pace and stayed very low even on these courts which have more bounce than in the previous years. For some time it troubled Djokovic, but it was only a matter of time before this pattern became routine, and Djokovic, with arguably the best backhand of all time, started handling it easily.

The other side effect has been the inability to recognize a good approach shot and closing the net. The sight of Roddick becoming a dead duck at the net against Federer occurs frequently in their encounters. Yesterday, Kuznetsova was passed time and again against Wozniacki. Part of it was because she made wrong approaches by hitting to Wozniacki’s stronger wing, the backhand. The inability to hit a good slice up-the-line to Wozniacki’s forehand. And because she was passed so frequently, she did not come forward on a potentially good approach. The other part of it was the lack of confidence to take the net which usually resulted in her in no (wo)man’s land in the mid-court. She took a lot of difficult half volleys as a result which were easy pickings for the Dane.

The very fact even Federer, the best aggressive player of this era, has hired Paul Annacone to improve his chip-n-charge tells the current condition of the game.


Rajat Jain
Head of Tennis, The CouchExpert
5 September 2011

Biggest Upsets

The first week of U.S. Open had everything to offer ... except Irene

The first week of U.S. Open had everything to offer ... except Irene

It was unfortunate (or does it further prove the presence of chaos in the WTA?) that the three women slam winners of this year all were out of the U.S. Open after the very first day. Kim Clijsters already pulled out with an injury, while Li Na continued to show her inconsistent form this year. She lost five straight matches after Australian Open, and has won only a couple of them after French Open. Of course, her run to the finals at Australian Open and the maiden Slam victory at French Open more than compensates for all her other failures. The Wimbledon champ, Petra Kvitova, is still looking for solutions to her hard court problems as she crashed out in the very first round.

Meanwhile, the men’s side has sailed pretty smoothly, barring the biggest shocker of the tournament, as the Mumma’s boy, Donald Young, finally became a man by defeating an ATP heavyweight in Stan Wawrinka. He came from two sets to one down, failed to serve out the set in the fifth, and then dominated the final set tie-breaker which brought the crowd to its feet. While such big upsets are usually followed by tame defeats, Young avoided that by upsetting the 24th seed, Juan Ignacio Chela in a very routine manner. Is this finally the arrival of the Donald?

Biggest Disappointments

Marin Cilic was a part in both of them. First he defeated the upcoming American youngster, Ryan Harrison, in a dominant fashion. What was disappointing was not that Harrison lost, but the tame manner in which he failed to put up any fight. All the hopes generated after his successful U.S. Open series were shattered barely two hours after the tournament commenced. Cilic continued his manhandling of youngsters, by surrending a mere five games to Bernard Tomic, who had raised a lot of hopes after his success at Wimbledon.

Biggest Positives

Donald Young, in all likelihood, will fail to win a set against Andy Murray in the fourth round (even though he has beaten him in their last encounter at Indian Wells this year), but the manner in which he held his nerves to beat a top seed in the final set tie-breaker was more than praiseworthy.

On the women’s side, the American teenager Sloane Stephens reached the third round of a Slam for the first time in her career. While she did not have a run like Melanie Oudin, she does not show signs of fading like her, either. At 5’8″, she is considerably taller than her compatriot and will go stronger with time.

Bakery at Flushing Meadows

NewYork is known for bagels and breadsticks, and for good reason. While bagels are common the women’s tour, this time it was prominent on the men’s tour too. Novak Djokovic almost created history when leading 6-0 6-0 2-0 against Carlos Berlocq, as the latter barely avoided the embarrasment of a triple bagel by winning a couple of games. Tomas Berdych also served a couple of bagels to Fabio Fognini. The others who served bagels includes Dolgopolov, Cilic, Tipsarvic (twice), Murray, Davydenko, Gasquet, Sela, Anderson, Hasse, Ferrer, Mayer, Mahut and … suprise surpise, Berlocq himself. In fact, it was pretty ironic for Berlocq, as he himself had a dominant first round victory that included a bagel and a breadstick to his opponent.

David towers Goliath

At exactly six feet, Gilles Simon is half a foot shorter than Juan Martin del Potro and a good 30 pounds lighter. Del Potro has the massive serve and forehand, while Simon is just a hapless counterpuncher. Del Potro is a champion having won here in 2009 (and how!) while Simon is a now a father, and a former top-10 player. And yet, when the giant from Tandil met the diminutive Frenchmen, the roles were reversed. Simon hit four times as many aces as Del Potro (thirteen against three), committed half the number of double faults, and hit 11 more winners than Del Potro marching towards a four set win. Del Potro was hitting bigger during most of the match, but Simon outhit him when push came to shove. David downed Goliath once again.

The Great Escape

After the disappointment at the Aussie Open, Andy Murray has been tentative throughout. He has dug a lot of holes for himself through the year, and got out of them in fine fashion as well. A lot of times he lost the first set and found a break down in the second, and came back to win the match. In a lot of matches, he routinely went 4-0 or 5-0 down, only to win the set 7-5 or 7-6. It seems he needs the fear of embarrassment or upset to bring out his best. Turns out, that exactly was required against Robin Hasse, as he pulled off another great upset after he faced a two set deficit against the Dutch.

Searching for Nails

The exuberance and charisma of Gael Monfils against the consistency of Juan Carlos Ferrero. The acrobatics of Monfils, the calm of Ferrero. The over the top winners of Monfils, the clay-feet of Ferrero. A spectacular eighty one winners and twenty one aces from Monfils. Eighty one unforced errors and ten double faults from the same guy. Only two aces from Ferrero, yet one of them when he was 30-0 up in the final game. Difference of just one point between the two players. Five tough sets over four hours and forty eight minutes. What not to love?

… And some Drama

Andy Roddick, when asked about how he handled criticism from the media, responded with this. Djokovic, tired of impersonations, showed some of his dancing skills. Nadal had no injury problems during his matches, but collapsed with cramps during a press interview. To top it all, Venus William’s outfit did not spark ant controversy.

Crystal Ball

Men’s Semifinalis: Djokovic d. Federer, Murray d. Roddick

Men’s Champion: Novak Djokovic

Women’s Semifinals: Serena d. Petkovic, Stosur d. Pennetta

Women’s Champion: Serena Williams


Rajat Jain
Head of Tennis, The CouchExpert
30 August 2011

Grigor Dimitrov

Grigor Dimitrov


I will not blame somebody with a bird’s eye view who was watching the simultaneous matches of Roger Federer and his baby clone Grigor Dimitrov and confuse the latter with the former. The service motion, the fluid footwork, the one handed backhand, the powerful down the line punch and the hands at the net. They all look identical, including the Nike logo on their attire and sporting a single wrist band on their respective right hands. It is not difficult to envision how Dimitrov has clearly modeled himself like his idol (he was even coached by Federer’s former coach, Peter Lungdren).

However, today was the exact day where you would be taken back to your childhood days when you solved comic puzzles involving two nearly identical pictures placed side by side and you were asked to spot ten differences between the two pictures. The moment Dimitrov lost to Gael Monfils in three regulation sets, I switched my telecast to Arthur Ashe stadium where his idol was on the verge of winning the first set against Santiago Giraldo. Just fresh after being entertained by Dimitrov’s elegance and Monfils’ acrobatics, it was much easier and much more obvious to compare the difference between the fresh raw product and the extremely finished one.

—The most obvious difference was how Federer could stay in the rally for 10, 15, 20 shots and still manage to win the point. Dimitrov often threw up an error once the point went beyond six or seven shots.

—At one point, Dimitrov came forward of an approach, but Monfils hustled to put up a great lob. Dimitrov, going backwards, was visibly off balance and promptly spilled the overhead two feet beyond the baseline. On another such shot Federer was pushed back to the baseline as the ball soared in the air. Federer seemed to have more than enough time to see the side where his opponent was leaning,  added the precise amount of slice to the overhead, and hit it for a winner.

—Monfils, crowd pleaser that he is, tried a poor drop shot that stood up. Dimitrov judged it a split second late, but still reached on time. He hit a beautiful backhand down the line (which made me go “Awwwww Yes!”), but imparted more spin than needed which not only allowed Monfils enough time to react, but also to dispatch it past the Bulgarian. When Federer was presented with such an opportunity, he nicely got on top of the ball, and hit it flat past his hustling opponent for a clean winner.

—Monfils hit a serve striaght at Dimitrov’s backhand and approached the net in style. Dimitrov had enough time to dispatch a backhand down-the-line passing shot winner and make the Frenchman look stupid. Monfils applauded and tried to challenge in vain for a ball which clearly looked in. Turned out, it was not. It was a couple of inches out. When such an opportunity was given to Federer, he hit a similar down-the-line, but hit it short enough so that the ball landed on the service line. A great passing shot.

—I lost count of the number of instances where Federer non-chalantly returned a half volley from the baseline with enough depth. Dimitrov on the other hand invariably returned it short enough to allow the acrobatics of Monfils to come into play.

—When a return was short, Dimitrov was found struggling on what to do. Should he go forward enough to take a volley, allow the ball to bounce and hit a forehand winner, take a half volley, or just stay safe at the baseline? Almost always, he was found in the mid court at the mercy of Monfils. It was good to watch as Dimitrov had enough talent to take the ball from anywhere and return it back, but Monfils always had the advantage and mostly he ended up winning the point. When Federer approached the net, he knew exactly where to punch the ball. Even if it was returned back, Federer was there at the exact position to hit the next winner. No theatrics like Dimitrov were required and he rarely lost such a point.

Roger Federer

Roger Federer

—Federer saved break points with service winners. Dimitrov lost service games, twice, with double faults on break points.

If I was to select just one glaring difference between the two, it was the surity in their court positions, which was like north pole (Federer) and south pole (Dimitrov). Of course, it is unfair to compare an upcoming 20 year old with a veteran and probably the greatest player ever, it shows how subtle the differences are between a top three player and one ranked below 50. Dimitrov is still a raw product, but is beginning to ripe. Even during the end of the third set, he was showing committment by hustling and running around the court, sometimes a bit too much as he pulled a couple of hamstrings routinely, and hitting some great first serves in tricky positions. He needs consistent match play in order to convert his genius into greatness.


In this episode, The CouchExpert’s Goutham Chakravarthi and Rajat Jain discuss the favourites for the U. S. Open 2011, the draw, injuries to key players and coaching woes of some of the others. They also discuss some potentially classic matches to look forward to in the first week.

Will it be another dominating performance to expect from favourites Djokovic and Serena Williams or will Djokovic’s shoulder and mental fatigue finally catch up? Will Serena implode? Will Murray break his duck at the Slams finally? Is Federer still a force past 30? Will Sharapova make a splash with her game or just with her outfit? Will Lisicki Vs. Venus Williams be the women’s version of Sampras Vs. Ivanesevic?

Listen to the podcast to know their opinions.

Center Court – Episode1