Top 10 Statement Wins on the ATP World Tour in 2014

“Statement Win”–not only defeating your opponent, but accomplishing other victories in the process. Whether it be overcoming a lopsided head-to-head record, putting a beat-down on a top rival, getting your name out to the world, or simply playing your best tennis, a statement win is about more than just a notch in the win column. (See also: highlight win, signature win, etc.) 

2014 was another incredible year in tennis, and with the season wrapping up, The Tennis Nerds will look back and highlight some of the best moments from the past twelve months. We’ll try to stray from the norm–“Best points” “Best matches” etc–and give a little variety for our readers. You can find the Top 10 matches of the year just about anywhere. Today, I countdown the Top 10 Statement Wins of 2014. Comment if you agree/disagree or have thoughts on the best statement wins of the year!

10. Kei Nishikori d. Novak Djokovic 6-3 1-6 7-6(4) 6-3 US Open SF

Nishikori was the young gun who made the best breakthrough in 2014, finishing the year ranked a career high #5 in the world and reaching a Grand Slam final in the process. After two five-set marathon wins over Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka, few if any expected Nishikori to have much left in the tank for his Semifinal showdown with Novak Djokovic. He had been hampered by a recurring left foot injury for much of the summer, and looked out of the tournament when he took a medical timeout trailing two sets to one against Raonic. To add insult to injury, Nishikori had spent over 8 hours on court in his previous two matches. A windy day in Flushing led to some inconsistent play early, but after Djokovic won the second set 6-1, Nishikori looked on the ropes. He refused to give in to the sweltering heat of that day, and pulled off a shocking upset over the World #1. More shocking? He beat him at his own game.

9. Stan Wawrinka d. Roger Federer 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2 Monte Carlo F

The fact that Wawrinka is only on this list once is probably a huge mistake on my part. His 5 set epic over Djokovic was deserving, but I felt that this win was actually more significant in terms of mental strength. Coming into the final, Federer led the head to head matchup with his Swiss friend 13-1. FIFTEEN TO ONE. Federer owned his compatriot. Stan struggled not as much with forehands and backhands, but with his head. Mentally he was inferior. So when he lost the first set–playing pretty well–the outcome of the match looked clear. Federer was going to win his first Monte Carlo title. Wawrinka started to hold serve much easier in the second set, and although he gave up a break lead, the Lausanne native sealed the second set tiebreak with a serve and volley overhead winner. He ran away with the third set, tearing the cover off the ball on both wings. Federer was not playing poorly whatsoever, but Wawrinka was just too good.

8. Federer d. Murray 6-0 6-1 ATP World Tour Finals RR

By scoreline alone this one could have been number one. Andy Murray had a subpar 2014 campaign, but looked to be back in good form during the fall season. He won titles in Shenzhen, Vienna and Valencia to earn himself a spot in the World Tour Finals. His match with Federer was his final round robin match, and he needed a straight sets win to reach the semifinals. Playing in front of a home London crowd, Murray laid an egg, while Federer was on fire. If it weren’t for a few bad unforced errors at 6-0 5-0, Federer would have delivered the Scot a double bagel. Still, Federer proved that he was in far superior form, attacking second serves and approaching the net at will. He was off the court in 56 minutes, handing Murray the worst loss of his career.

It was so bad there aren’t even highlights on YouTube! (But here’s a Hotshot)

7. Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal 6-3 6-3 Miami F

Djokovic came into the Miami final having just won Indian Wells. He was attempting the difficult IW-Miami double in back to back weeks, and had to face one Rafael Nadal in the final. What unfolded was a comprehensive, dominant performance. Djokovic went at the Nadal forehand relentlessly, which opened his two best attacking shots; the inside out forehand and backhand down the line. He was in full flight on return, putting everything Nadal threw at him within feet of the baseline. The last few matches of this rivalry had been back and forth, with Nadal winning 3 of the last 5. You felt like this match would serve as a good barometer to show where each player was at, and it did. Match point was pretty decent as well.

6. Marin Cilic d. Roger Federer 6-3 6-3 6-4 US Open SF

Hard to find words for this one. Just a look at the score pretty much tells the story. After looking….shaky against Gilles Simon in the fourth round of the US Open, Cilic started playing the best tennis of his career. This match was astonishing in particular. His liability in years past was often his forehand, but he was outhitting even Federer on that side. He was standing up on the baseline, giving his opponent nothing to work with. Federer wasn’t great, but he also wasn’t bad, which made this result one of the most surprising of 2014. The crowd tried to get Federer into the match throughout, but Cilic silenced them on every occasion with booming serves and flat, penetrating groundstrokes. Cilic claimed his first win in six tries over the 17-time major winner, and went on to beat Nishikori for his first Grand Slam title.

5. Rafael Nadal d. Andy Murray 6-3 6-2 6-1 French Open SF

It was a down year by Nadal’s insane standard, but he managed to win his 9th Rolland Garros title in relatively simple fashion, dropping only two sets the entire tournament. His most impressive performance came in the semifinals against Murray, who appeared to be back in good form after struggling with his return from back injury. Murray had taken Nadal the distance in Rome just two weeks prior, and this semifinal had the chance to replicate that competitive scoreline. It didn’t. Things started off badly for Murray, and they didn’t get any better. Nadal had time on all his shots, and was dictating play from the get-go. Yes, Nadal is the undisputed clay court GOAT, but to beat one of his best rivals, only losing 6 games in the process was a massive effort.

http://youtu.be/UDS-Mgh7wbg (FFT disables embedded video)

4. Novak Djokovic d. Tomas Berdych 6-0 6-2 Beijing F

Beijing seems to treat Djokovic pretty well. He’s won the 500 event all five times he’s chosen to play it. In fact, he’s only dropped *THREE SETS* in 24 matches played. The final in 2014 was, in a way, just another dominant performance from the Serb. But this might have been the best match Djokovic has ever played. Save for getting broken at 6-0 5-0, the world #1 played flawless tennis. He broke Berdych’s serve six times and never looked troubled. The quotes from both players after the match tell the story.

Berdych: “I just said to my coach now that I probably played over 700 matches in my career, and I met guys like Andre, Roger, all those probably in their best times. But I have never, ever experienced anything like that.”

Djokovic: “This has been, in the circumstances, probably the best performance of any final in my career. I have played some great finals, had some convincing wins, some straight-set wins against top rivals. But with this kind of performance and with this domination result-wise, I mean it’s never happened.”

3. Roger Federer d. Novak Djokovic 6-4 6-4 Shanghai SF

As stated in #4, Djokovic was playing unbelievably well during the fall swing. When Federer and Djokovic set the semifinal showdown in Shanghai, Novak was the betting favorite. Still, most in tennis expected a fascinating encounter. Well, it was fascinating. Djokovic played well, but the guy on the other side of the net was a different animal. Federer turned back the clock, and played as well as I’ve seen from him in years. The Edberg net-attacking gameplan coupled with an aggressive baseline game put Federer in vintage form. Vintage is a word that is used too often with Federer, but this really was a vintage performance. Federer halted Djokovic’s incredible 28 match win streak in China, sending a message that he was not going to finish the year quietly.

Federer: “It was a great match, I agree. I think I played very well. There was nothing in the game today that wasn’t working. I think it was a high-level match. I’m unbelievably happy with the way it went.”

Djokovic: “I think I did not play too bad.It’s just that he played everything he wanted to play. He played the perfect match. I think he’s going to tell you how he felt, but that’s how I felt he played. He played an amazing match.”

2. Grigor Dimitrov d. Andy Murray 6-1 7-6(5) 6-2 Wimbledon QF

I’m guessing that many of you will think I’m putting this too high on the list. (And please, let me know what you think!) But when I first came up with the idea for this Top 10, this match was the first thing that came to mind. Murray(on the wrong side of this list for the third time) was truly playing well at Wimbledon through the first four rounds. He had not dropped a set, while Dimitrov had just scraped through a 5 setter with Alex Dolgopolov. But Dimitrov was on a mission during this quarterfinal. He had already made the QFs at the Australian Open, and won two titles in 2014–Acapulco and Bucharest. But the Bulgarian made his official arrival to the top of the sport at SW19, blowing Murray off the court in the process. After every game you thought that Murray would find a way back, but he didn’t come close. Dimitrov’s shotmaking was incredible, and his backhand slice proved critical in a straight set dismantling of the defending champion.

1. Nick Kyrgios d. Rafael Nadal 7-6(5) 5-7 7-6(5) 6-3 Wimbledon R16

Finally! Number 1. (It took way too long to write this) Is there really any other option here? Kyrgios, 19, went out onto Center Court at the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, and took out Rafael Nadal in stunning fashion. Nadal certainly did play poorly. The match was taken out of his hands by the young Australian, who was bursting with confidence. Kyrgrios’ win was pretty much the definition of a breakout performance. Ranked outside the top 100 at the time of their meeting, Kyrgios looked like he belonged from the onset. Dozens of aces, massive winners, and even a jaw-dropping tweener set the tone as Kyrgios shocked the tennis world. (Actually, he actually shocked the ENTIRE world because of the Drake Drama!)

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Roger Federer’s New Racquet: How it Affects Every Aspect of his Game

fedracquet

Roger Federer has been competing with his new 98 square inch Wilson Racquet for about five full months now, and the results have been nothing short of outstanding for the 32 year old. But rarely do we see or hear an explanation on how the racquet is helping. Well, I’m here to break down how the racquet is impacting each and every part of Federer’s game. It’s almost all positive, but there are some things that Federer has had to adjust in his game to adapt to the racquet. Let’s get into it.

Serve–For the most part, the larger racquet head size and lighter frame has allowed Federer to put a few more MPH on his serve. However, it’s not that big of a difference. He peaks around 205 kilometers per hour(127 MPH), and that’s about the same as when he was using the old racquet. This biggest thing is that Federer is getting a consistent increase in pace AND spin. The spin here is the key. He’s now hitting kick serves as first serves, and they’re extremely effective. His wide serve is also getting excellent width with the added spin.

His second serve was starting to get eaten at up in 2013. What used be one of the best second serves in the game was not getting punished when he played good, attacking players.(See matches against Nishikori, Berdych, Stakhovsky, Robredo) The new frame is getting just a little bit more kick, and it’s made a difference. In 2013, Federer won 55% of his second serve points, and in 2014, he’s winning 57% of those points. While that may seem like a minimal gain, it actually is huge. When he’s consistently defending his second serve, Federer is very tough to beat.

Return–This is probably the toughest aspect to analyze. Federer’s return has always been the weakest part of his game, even though it’s really not that weak at all. He’s winning the same amount of first serve return points as he did in 2013, 33%. He’s doing slightly better on second serve returns though, where he’s gone from 53 to 55% points won. He is able to attack second serves more effectively because he can generate more pace with the larger frame.

What we see is that Federer is about the same on first serve returns on his forehand side, but slightly better than before on the backhand side. He’s mishitting fewer, and putting more in play. That allows for him to get into points and really get the most out of the racquet–at the baseline.

Forehand– It’s interesting, because Federer is one of only a handful of players in the top 100 to still use an eastern forehand. Everybody talks about how the racquet is giving Federer more power and spin, but nobody really goes further than that. Players with eastern forehands, such as Roberto Bautista Agut and Radek Stepanek, often hit very flat strokes, and rarely ramp up the spin. But Federer is an exception. He uses so much wrist just before contact that if he wants to hit spin, he can. Watch below.

So with the new larger frame, he has more margin for error during that wrist action, therefore limiting the number of balls he mishits. He’ll still shank an occasional forehand, but far less than when played with the 90 square inch frame. He is hitting the ball with more power and spin, but that’s predominately because the sweet-spot on the racquet is larger, and he has more margin for error.

It also doesn’t hurt that he can generate more racquet head speed with the lighter frame.

Backhand–This is where we really start to to see a difference. In 2013, Federer was shanking balls left and right. He was leaving the ball short and making numerous unforced errors off of his weaker wing. The new frame has added a couple dimensions that have really helped Federer. First, he’s able to hit over his backhand WAY more than he used, especially when he’s on the run. The larger head size is allowing Federer to get more easy pace, and therefore he feels more comfortable driving through the ball, even when he’s in defensive positions.

This video is a great example of that.

The slice is getting more spin and bite than before, and he hasn’t lost any control in the process. One concern when Federer switched was that with more power at his expense he would lose some of the precision that his game is based around. Well, that concern is gone. In fact, he is able to be just as precise if not more accurate, due to the consistent increased spin rate he is putting on the ball.

Volley– This was my biggest concern when Federer switched. Bringing in Stefan Edberg, everybody talked about Federer’s increasing desire to get to the net. Often times larger and lighter frames lack the stability and feel needed to excel at the net. But it turns out that Federer’s volleys have IMPROVED with the new racquet. He’s getting a little more stick on the standard volley, and a ton of slice and bite on the low volley.

And don’t worry, his drop volley’s look just as good as they used.

Here’s a video of some of Federer’s best points of 2014 thus far.

 

Reflections from Roland Garros: Day 1

The French Open is back, and so are we! It’s been a long layoff for The Tennis Nerds. I had a lot on  my plate over the last few months, including school, college tennis, and figuring out plans for the future. But I have some exciting news that I’ll be sharing very soon, but first, let’s begin our daily series from the French Open, where I reflect on anything and everything that I found interesting from the action of that day.

Roger’s Racquet is STILL Blacked Out– Okay, this isn’t exactly breaking news, but it still baffles me that Roger Federer, the most recognizable and marketable tennis player on earth, has a tennis racquet with no design on it. Wilson has had something like 6 months to design and name the new weapon that has treated the Swiss star so well this season, but they are still painting the frame all black, and simply stenciling the Wilson “W”. Think about how much money they could make if they offered Federer’s frame to the public? People would go crazy over that thing. Even Federer’s old racquet, the Pro Staff 90, which should not be used by anybody other than a professional, sells off the charts. Go to your local tennis club, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The 5 Set Warrior: Mikhail Youzhny– It seems like every time I look at the live scores of one of Youzhny’s matches, it goes the distance. Seriously, the guy plays 5 set matches ALL THE TIME. Check out his ITF Tennis page, and see for yourself how often he plays these types of drama filled matches. Today, he went down two sets to none on the youngster Pablo Carreno Busta. He only won 4 games through the first two sets. And that’s when the comeback began. As he was clawing his way back, the crowd started to really embrace the unpredictable Russian. He won 3-6 1-6 6-3 6-4 6-0, and finished with his classic Soldier Salute. I still believe it’s the best celebration in tennis. Also a word for Radek Stepanek, who himself came back from 2 sets down to defeat Facundo Arguello on Sunday.

It’s Not The French Open Without Scheduling Controversy– When it was announced that 8-time and defending champion Rafael Nadal was to begin his 2014 campaign on Suzanne Lenglen, there was a lot of questioning of the decision from fellow players such as John Isner, to the outrage of media members and fans on social media. It’s very interesting to me, because the French Open is different than any other major when it comes to scheduling. Because they don’t play under the lights, only 4 matches(2 men’s, 2 women’s) are scheduled  per day on the big show courts. Tournament organizers decided that Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka would serve as better options than the 14 time grand slam champ. At any other slam, Nadal would have been an automatic for Center Court.

But when I thought about their reasoning, it sort of makes sense to me. Roland Garros, more than any other slam, aims please their fans. The Paris crowd has never really loved Rafa. Sure, they have a ton of respect for him, but his style of play is not the type that the French really love. They appreciate a little flair, and almost anybody who speaks their language. Roger Federer is treated as one of their own during his fortnight in Paris. Even Novak Djokovic, who over the years has become pretty fluent in the French language, is now getting serious support from the Parisians. So think about it. Do you think the French Crowd would rather watch Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic? The last two times the two met at Roland Garros, it was Djokovic who had the crowd slightly behind him, especially last year. Now, Nadal or Wawrinka? The French love Stan. He has the one handed backhand, throws in the dropshot, and is fluent in French. While it’s probably not right that an 8 time champion isn’t put on Center court, it does make sense if you think about from the tournament organizers eyes.

Speaking of the French Crowd– They show their players more support than probably any other country, except for maybe the Fanatics of Australia. Alize Lim held in first service game, and the Paris faithful was already rocking. They were incredible for Tsonga, and I can only imagine how loud they’ll be for their favorite player; Gael Monfils.

Sidenote– How awesome would it be if Monfils made a deep run into the tournament this year? I, for one, am completely behind that notion.

The Clay is Playing Slow, like Really Slow– It’s wet, it’s cloudy, and it’s slow. The red clay is already the slowest of the four surfaces, but when it’s cold and rainy, it is nearly impossible to hit through the court. I really noticed this in Federer and Lacko’s match on Chatrier. The show courts are tended the best, and for that reason they are also usually the slowest. Combine that with the moist conditions, and you get the idea. They say the weather is supposed to be just as bad if not worse for at least the next 5 days, and it will be interesting to see how it affects the tournament. Nadal actually likes the hot, fast, high bouncing conditions much more than the slow clumpy stuff that will be out there this week. However he should roll through his first few matches.

That’s it for day 1, but I’ll be back tomorrow! Also, if you missed it, here are my analysis and picks for some of Monday’s best matches: http://wp.me/p2TliK-2tL

Australian Open Quarterfinal Picks–Dimitrov/Nadal and Federer/Murray

baby and fed

There are two blockbuster quarterfinals tonight, with both Baby and Uncle Fed participating. In all seriousness, these have the potential to be great matches, and my roommate Jorge Merlos has joined me to break down the match-ups and make our picks.

Grigor Dimitrov vs Rafael Nadal

Joey: This match has the uncertainty factor. Nadal definitely goes in as the favorite, but there are a few things that could have a massive impact on the outcome of the match. For one, Rafa has grabbed his knee a few times throughout the tournament, and it’s unclear whether he is 100% healthy. The massive blister on his palm could bother him, but he should be able to fight through that. Another unknown is how Dimitov will perform at this level in the most pressure packed match of his life. He had not been past the third round of a Grand Slam before this tournament, and although he has performed exceptionally well thus far, you never know what might happen given the uncharted territory.

The matchup is always tough for a one-hander like Dimitrov against Nadal, but Grigor has taken a set off of Rafa in each of their previous three meetings. Interestingly enough, it has always been the second set, and I believe if Grigor wants a shot at this one he will need to win the first. Unlike most players, Baby Fed hits a very sharp slice that actually can give Nadal trouble. In Cincinnati last year he used the shot very effectively, keeping Rafa on the back foot. It will be interesting to see how much he decides to come over the ball, because his one-hander at shoulder level almost always lands short. We pretty much know what we are going to get from Rafa, who never gives anything away, and always makes the opponent earn the match. Dimitrov has served exceptionally well and he will need that to continue to have any shot. My head tells me Rafa, as does every expert analyst out there, but sometimes you gotta go with your heart right?

Dimitrov 7-6(4) 6-4 2-6 1-6 7-5

Jorge: La Rodilla! The blister! Stop it. After beating Kei Nishikori on Monday, Rafael Nadal is poised to stop the Fed of the future, Grigor Dimitrov. If Dimitrov wants to win this match, his serves have to be on point. Last year in the round of 16 against Nadal at Cincinnati, Dimitrov won 38 of 54 point of his first serve. However winning points off his second serve was not as efficient as he won 12 out of 29 points.

Dimitrov has been able to win at least a set on Nadal in each of their matches but Nadal has been able to close out every match. Grigor takes a lot of positive momentum into this match after taking out Raonic and Bautista Agut, but Nadal looks unstoppable after beating his last 3 opponents in 3 sets. Look for Nadal to use his forehand to break down Grigor’s backhand, and attack Dimitrov’s unstable return game. I see this match ending with a very tough 4th set tiebreaker with Nadal eventually pulling it out.

Nadal 6-4 5-7 6-3 7-6 (7).

Roger Federer vs Andy Murray

Joey: A little after Baby takes the court, Uncle Fed will take center stage against Andy Murray. The two played a great, but not necessarily high quality match one year ago in Melbourne. Murray is coming off of back surgery and has played three players outside the top 100 in route to the quarters, so to say he’s had a weak draw would be an understatement. He has looked sharp though, only dropping one set to Stephane Robert in the round of 16. Through his first four matches it appeared that Murray had a few lapses in concentration, but that is understandable given the competition. He does look fully healthy, but playing his 5th match in 10 days will be a big test for back. After playing somewhat scratchy against James Duckworth in the first round, Federer has looked awesome in last three matches, culminating with a dominant performance over Jo Willy Tsonga that gave all Fed-fans some serious hope and belief.

Murray leads the head to head 11-9, while Federer leads the Grand Slam record 3-1. Hard courts are definitely the Muzza’s best surface, with his movement giving his opponents fits. The surface on Rod Laver Arena in a little quicker this year, but it’s a night match so condition will slow down. With the new racket, Federer has been serving very effeciently, even adding a few m.p.h.’s. His wide serve in the deuce court has been especially potent, and he uses that serve on almost every first point of his service games. Murray has played Federer with more aggressiveness in their past few meetings, and it will be important he does so against, because Federer has been bossing his opponents around the court. I think we know what to expect from Murray, a good solid performance. Federer is much more of a questions. However, there is a certain fire in Fed’s eyes and you know how badly he wants to prove the doubters wrong. Again, I’ll admit it, I’m picking with my heart.

Federer 6-3 7-5 6-7(5) 6-4

Jorge: I readily admit that I did not expect this match to happen. I did not see Federer beating Tsonga, and certainly not with that kind of  conviction, crushing Jo Willy in straight sets. It was the perfect way for Fed to come into this matchup against Murray. Murray has looked solid in his first few matches coming back from surgery but has not faced a big challenge from any opponent.

What I have seen from Federer in the past week has been amazing after a dismal 2013.  If Federer can move like he has been for the past couple matches, he can win this match. Look for more of the serve and volley from Roger to neutralize the Murray backhand return. The serve and volley tactic won’t seal the deal, but it will be a key part in winning the match.

Federer 5-7 6-4 7-6 (4) 3-6 6-4.

Go ahead, blast our picks. But I want to hear from you guys. As Brad Gilbert and Ricky Dimon  would say, who ya got and scoreline?

Australian Open Preview +Picks

aus

 

Make sure your alarm clocks are set. Be sure that your friends and family are aware that you may be unreachable for the next two weeks. If you’re like me, your sleep schedule will be wildly unordinary for the next 14 days. The Australian Open is upon us, the first slam of the year, the “happy slam.” With temperatures set to break 100 degrees on multiple days in Melbourne, the heat will certainly test players happiness.

The draw was released on Friday, and more than a few were in uproar at the imbalance it produced. Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro and Roger Federer are all on the top half of the draw, leaving Novak Djokovic sitting pretty in his quest for his 4th Australian crown. But a draw is nothing more than a draw, and the matches still have to be played for potential matches to occur later in the tournament.

I think this year’s Aus Open will be the year of the upset. An upset winner is highly unlikely, but we could be in store for some deep runs by less than “elite” players. So let’s get into the picks!

Winner

Novak DjokovicI know, this is probably the 1000th time you’ve seen this pick. But to pick against Djoker would mean that I’m not a realistic tennis analyst. Look at his draw. Really the only danger he faces in route to the final is Stanislas Wawrinka, and that is real danger. If Stan the Man gets to the quarters, we could be in for another epic. But most likely Novak will cruise through his first 5-6 matches dropping maybe a set or two in the process. He is the best hard-court player in the world, as he proved during his 24 match winning streak to end 2013. Obviously he should face a great player in the final, whether that’s Nadal, Murray, or Del Potro. But none of those players have an easy road to get to their 7th match. The overall stress of playing 2-3 tough matches takes its toll and Novak will undoubtably have the clear edge in the final.

Dark Horse(‘s)

Ernests Gulbis–Although Ernie G is in Novak’s quarter of the draw, he has the firepower to take out anyone. He lost in straight sets to Rafa in Doha, but I think the court speed in Melbourne is just right for Gulbis’ style of play. He will have just a split second more time, and the ball will sit just a little higher; perfect for his elongated strokes and extreme grips. Of course Ernie could lose in the first round and make me look incredibly stupid, but you gotta show some faith right?

Gael Monfils–I’ve made a few comments on twitter in the last couple weeks talking about Monfils. From what I’ve seen, I think he’s ready for a breakout(or breakback?) 2014. The talent has always been there, but he looked as focused as I had even seen him in Doha. He lost a close 3-setter to Nadal in the final, but he was hitting the absolute **** out of the ball. If he is serving well, he is tough to beat, and Gael lives for the big moments in front of big crowds. The defining match for him will be the potential 3rd round rematch between Gael and Nadal, under the lights on Rod Laver Arena.

Grigor Dimitrov–I pick this guy….a lot. And usually he proves me wrong, by losing before the third round in Grand Slams. But my colleagues at Tennis View Magazine have had great reports for Dimitrov’s practice sessions. Apparently he is really hitting the cover off the ball, and with new coach Roger Rasheed, it’s time that Grigor made his move. 2014 will see Grigor inside the top 10. There. I  said it.

Americans(The less Popular One’s)

Tim Smyczek–Had to include Smee in this post. He adds to the stacked top half of the draw. He will play Roberto Bautista-Agut in the first round. RBA is in good form, reaching the SF in Auckland, where he blew a set and break lead to John Isner, eventual champion. Tim is using a new racket in 2014, and as long as he takes out RBA he will meet Delpo in the second round, which should be fun to watch.

Denis Kudla–I really like Kudla, I think he has one of the higher ceilings among young Americans. He is VERY fit, and solid as they come off the ground. He qualified into the tournament and will face Florian Mayer in the first round. Mayer is a really good player, but I think Kudla takes this one in 5. He will then could face Mikhail Youzhny. Again, it should be fun.

As Brad Gilbert says: Who ya got and scoreline?

 

The Positives and Negatives of Roger Federer’s New Racket

Photo Credit: tennisearth.com

Photo Credit: tennisearth.com

Happy New Year everyone, and I’m back with the first blog of the tennis season!

Roger Federer started 2014 in a winning way, taking out Jarkko Nieminen in Brisbane, 6-4 6-2. Starting his season in Australia for the first time since 2000, Federer is featuring a couple of new things in his game. He announced about a week ago that he is teaming up with Stefan Edberg for around 10 weeks this season. Federer described Edberg as “an inspiration” and “somebody I always looked up to.” Perhaps more importantly, the Swiss great is once again playing with a new racket. This new frame from Wilson has a 98 square inch head size, and definitely has an impact on Federer’s game.

I’ll start out by saying that the new stick seemed to perform overwhelmingly well in the match, and that I think the new racket is a must for Federer. There were a few noticeable effects on Roger’s game, some positive and some negative. Let’s break them down individually.

Positives

Serve- Roger hit 9 aces, certainly nothing out of the ordinary for Federer, but the new frame did seem to add a few MPH to his flat serves, and a good amount of extra spin on the slice and kick serves. Roger was hitting the serve down the “T” on the deuce side with good pace, regularly eclipsing 200 kilometers per hour. However, most of his aces and service winners came off of his preferred slice serve out wide on the deuce side, and down the T on the Ad side. It was hard to tell if Roger’s second serve was any better/worse because Nieminen was taking very aggressive cuts at the ball even if Federer hit a quality serve.

Forehand- Federer’s best and most important shot, the forehand looked very strong with the new Wilson. Again, he was hitting the ball with a little more pace and a little more spin when he needed it. He was hitting the inside-out forehand noticeably well, crushing that shot throughout the match. Federer’s turning point shot, the Inside-In forehand, looked good as well, with Federer able to swing freely but still have the necessary spin. Also, with the slightly larger sweet-spot, it seemed like Roger was half-volleying balls from the baseline with relative ease.

Backhand Slice- He didn’t hit too many, but Federer’s backhand slice had a ton of bite and was staying very low, even for him. Playing a lefty, Federer opted to go with the slice down the line much more often than cross-court. The chip return looked sharp, and with the new frame I think a little extra under-spin could really help this already great shot become even more of a weapon.

Negatives

Return of Serve- As I said above, the chip return looked good, but when Federer tried to hit over the return, especially on the forehand side, his timing was a little off. With a larger frame, it looked like Federer was just a a bit late getting the racket face through the contact zone on his first serve return. If he guessed wrong he was having trouble compensating with his return. He also struggled a little bit with his second serve return, missing quite a few forehands into the net in the first set. To his credit, he made a nice adjustment in the second and was attacking beautifully.

At the Net- Hiring Edberg as his coach, you figure that Federer will try to get the net even more than in the past, and he was making a concerted effort in this match to move forward. However, his feel at the net was not great. When he had time, he was hitting volleys well, but when he was rushed he missed a few. He also had trouble with a few half-volleys at the net, struggling to find the same feel with the larger head size.

When asked on how he thought the new racket played, Federer said,”I had a much longer time to get ready for this swing than I had last time around, after Wimbledon, before the American summer. So I’m not thinking about it when I’m going out there, which is a great thing. I’m hitting the ball really well, so I’m very pleased with the racquet.”

Overall, the new racket looked great, and I think it can really add something to Federer’s game. He struggled with a couple things, but I think as he plays more matches and gets more comfortable with the frame those things will disappear.

What are your thoughts and what are you looking forward to in 2014?

The Final Stop

Djokovic Paris Champion

As the final round robin event approaches, there hasn’t been a field as wide open as this one for many years. Almost all players in the field you could make an argument for them taking home this prestigious crown in the Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals. In this preview, I will go through player by player from each group and break down their chances. We will start with Group A.

Rafael Nadal: No one had expected Rafa to come back the way he did this year, winning the French and US Open titles. He has only lost 5 matches all year with a spectacular 68 – 5 record. Adding on to the 2 slams, Rafa has won 8 other titles, including 5 Masters 1000 titles. However, since the indoor hard court season has started, Nadal has struggled a bit on the fast hard courts. He has not won a title since the US Open. In the 3 tournaments he has played since then, he has lost to Djokovic, Del Potro, and Ferrer in these tournaments. Despite his struggles on the hard courts, I still see Nadal moving on through his portion of the round robin due to the lack of consistency from the others, besides Ferrer, to beat him.

David Ferrer: There might not be a hotter player on tour right now than David Ferrer. Going into Paris, I did not expect him to do well after a horrific indoor season with losses to some pretty low quality players. This does not include Dimitrov or Youzhny in the last 2 weeks. But the losses to Florian Mayer and Joao Sousa stuck out to me. But I think Ferrer shocked all of us when he knocked off Nadal in the semis and had many chances to stun Djokovic in the finals. I think Ferrer will surprise us again and go 3 – 0 in his section of the round robin and advance to the final rounds.

Tomas Berdych: It has been another solid year for the big hitting Czech. Berdych is certainly one of the most dangerous players out there on indoor courts like these. It’s the consistency that is a concern for me. He didn’t make it past the quarterfinals of any Slam this year and I think that has something to do with it. It’s more of the belief factor for Berdych. Does he really think he can hang with the top guys on a daily basis? He has been close on several occasions, but I have not seen enough consistency from him throughout the year to make me think that he could take out Nadal or Ferrer right now.

Stan Wawrinka: This has certainly been one of Wawrinka’s best years on tour. He is currently at an all time high in the rankings at #8 and is certainly deserving of that. His semi final run at the US Open this year was phenomenal and also played very well in Paris, where he had the battle with Gasquet, and Australia, where he played the possible match of the year against Djokovic. The only problem with Stan here is that the indoor hard courts are his least favorite surface, and I think we all witnessed that a bit when he got slammed by Novak last week in Paris. But that does not mean opponents should look him over. He is still very dangerous, and very powerful off the ground. If he beats Ferrer and Berdych, I like his chances to advance. But I still think Ferrer is too solid right now. Nevertheless, just someone to keep your eye on as the week progresses.

Here is the Group B preview now.

Novak Djokovic: Novak certainly looks like he playing the way he was back in 2011. He is full of confidence and has not lost a match since the US Open final. He beat Nadal in Beijing and also took both the Masters 1000 titles in Shanghai and Paris. There is no one playing better ball than Djokovic right now. That being said, he was not favored a kind round robin group. Delpo and Roger landed in his group and those are 2 guys that are playing some good ball as well. I still like Djokovic to advance and he is my pick to win the title for the second straight year.

Juan Martin Del Potro: Another fantastic year for the big Argentinian. He has returned to one of the game’s most elite players. He took the title in Basel for the second straight year. He crushed Nadal in Shanghai before losing a tight match to Djokovic in the final. Despite his loss to Roger in Paris, I think it will benefit his cause for London for a few days of extra rest. Delpo, Roger, and Novak will all battle for the 2 spots into the elimination rounds (sorry Gasquet). I do think Novak will prevail, but you can’t tell much apart from Delpo and Roger right now and I am looking forward to how this turns out.

Roger Federer: Glimpses of the old Roger were seen last week in Paris. He finally got some revenge against Del Potro in the quarterfinals before falling to Djokovic in 3 sets in the semis. Roger has a great chance to advance here because of the surface. There might not be a better surface suited for Federer’s game than in London right now. But like I said before, you can’t tell much apart from Roger and Delpo right now.

Richard Gasuqet: It has been a good year for Gasquet as he reached his first semi of a Slam since the Wimbledon semis all those years ago. He playing solid ball right now after reaching the quarters in Paris and winning in Moscow. Unfortunately for him, he is surrounded by 3 grand slam champions and power hitters. Gasquet could have made a run in the other group, but he does not have much of a shot here. He has a combined record of 4 – 24 against Djokovic, Federer, and Del Potro. Good luck Richard. He should put on some big shots though with that beautiful one hander.

Semi – final predictions:

Djokovic d. Nadal

Federer d. Ferrer

Final predicition:

Djokovic d. Federer

Enjoy the last full week of tennis everyone!