Friday, July 3, 2015

Qualifier Brown blasts off Nadal

Wimbledon grass is increasingly looking more and more alien to the two time champion Rafael Nadal. For the fourth time in a row this year Nadal has been sent packing off the Centre Court by a player ranked outside the top 100. Add Dustin Brown to the list of Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis and Nick Kyrgios who all carry the rare honor of beating Nadal on the lush greens when nobody gave them an off chance. 

Dustin Brown doesn't necessarily rings a bell in the tennis circuits. He is at best a journeyman player on the tour, currently ranked 102 but have never gone over rank 78 and at age 30 is by no means an up and coming player either. Standing at 6 foot 4 with maybe the best hair on the ATP tour hanging freely up to his back, several piercings, tattoos and loose shorts Brown gave an air of nonchalance and reckless abandon. So does his game.

Brown started with booming serves, crisp volleys and well disguised (sometimes not so disguised too) drop shots drawing admiration from the crowd but quickly fell behind 1-3 in the first set. He looked like a player who could entertain but cannot sustain the intensity and ferocity that Nadal brings to the court. To add to that this was Brown's fifth match on grass along with the qualifiers that he has come through; was part of a doubles match yesterday only that went 10-8 in the fifth and was playing at the Centre Court for the first time; although he was 1 out of 1 against Rafa having beaten him at Halle last year 6-4, 6-1. This was best of five however.

Dustin Brown played his game from the word go; the extinct tennis of serve & volley, drop shots, a mix of power & soft hands - basically the tennis that fits the grass (or rather did when Sampras made his name). Going after Nadal's first serve Brown managed to win about 69% of the first serve points (surprising stat) on Nadal's serve in the first set, in the process making some astonishing shots. The strategy worked in the first set, did not so much in the second and the match was leveled. And then in the next two sets Nadal could not break him even once.

One of the features of his game was he put Nadal in uncharted territories throughout the course of the match; Nadal was made to run for drop shots, lobs, volleys while he would have liked to stay 6 feet behind the baseline to dictate the game, Despite the swinging passing shots that Rafa made and threatened to make Brown never made any change to his game plan. He continued to send down bullets, chip and charge onto them and had the quickness to respond at the net. The average second serve speed of Dustin Brown was about 20 mph higher than Nadal in this match.

At 5-3 in the fourth set he had his first match point (on Nadal's serve) which he lost to a floating ball that he left at the net which went on and dropped just inside the baseline. He had it on his racket and it could have been game changing. In the next game however he stepped up and held his serve to send Nadal home registering the greatest upset of the tournament and his greatest win ever. Call it inspiration, being good on a day, Nadal not being at his best or whatsoever but Dustin Brown looked every bit the player who could threaten anybody on grass with the way he played.

For Rafael Nadal, the grass has been the graveyard for the past four years but that shouldn't be a shocker. Grass being the way it plays is the surface that gives plenty of upset opportunities to players who play big. There could be a few more in the days to come.

Note: And so with all the speculations about the draw, this quarter becomes wide open with Nadal's loss and Ferrer's withdrawal for Andy Murray to grab without beating either of them. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Wimbledon 2015: Dissecting the Men’s Draw

The field of battle on grass is drawn - the possible layout of potential seven matches before one hopes to lay hands on the elusive Wimbledon trophy. Here is the breakup of two halves of the draw with the top 32 seeds divided as per the draw.

               Top Half
Bottom Half
1st Quarter
2nd Quarter
3rd Quarter
4th Quarter
(1) Novak Djokovic
(4) Stan Wawrinka
(3) Andy Murray
(2) Roger Federer
(5) Kei Nishikori
(7) Milos Raonic
(8) David Ferrer
(6) Tomas Berdych
(9) Marin Cilic
(11) Grigor Dimitrov
(10) Rafael Nadal
(12) Giles Simon
(14) Kevin Anderson
(16) David Goffin
(13) JW Tsonga
(15) Feliciano Lopez
(17) John Isner
(19) Tommy Robredo
(22) Viktor Troicki
(18) Gael Monfils
(24) Leonardo Mayer
(21) Richard Gasquet
(23) Ivo Karlovic
(20) R Bautista Agut
(27) Bernard Tomic
(26) Nick Kyrgios
(25) Andreas Seppi
(29) G Garcia Lopez
(28) Pablo Cuevas
(32) Dominic Thiem
(30) Fabio Fognini
(31) Jack Sock

Potential Match-ups for the top four seeds (and Nadal):

(1) Novak Djokovic: Philip Kohlschreiber à Lleyton Hewitt à Bernard Tomic à Kevin Anderson à Kei Nishikori/Marin Cilic à Stan Wawrinka à Roger Federer/ Andy Murray

(2) Roger Federer: Damir Dzumhur à Sam Querrey à Jack Sock à Feliciano Lopez à Tomas Berdych à Andy Murray/Rafael Nadal à Novak Djokovic

(3) Andy Murray: Mikhail Kukushkin à Robin Hasse/A Falla à Andreas Seppi/Borna Coric à JW Tsonga à Rafael Nadal à Roger Federer à Novak Djokovic

(4) Stan Wawrinka: Joao Sousa à Benjamin Becker à Fernando Verdasco/Dominic Thiem à David Goffin à Dimitrov/Raonic/Kyrgios à Novak Djokovic à Federer/Murray

(10) Rafael Nadal: Thomaz Bellucci à Dustin Brown à Stepanek/Troicki à David Ferrer à Andy Murray à Roger Federer à Novak Djokovic

On paper the draw seems nightmarish for Murray and Nadal. While Nadal is seeded 10th and cannot expect anything else, Murray seems to have hurdles a bit too many for the title run. Djokovic, though avoids the other members of big four, has plenty on his plate with dangerous floaters and his newfound rival Stan Wawrinka. The two Swiss have somewhat favourable draws but the paper drawings result in nothing substantial. The last two matches (semis & final) are bound to be against the two top in-form guys and all the favourability or toughness of the draw goes straight out of the window.

And then, in the past few years itself, how many times have we seen the draws opening up with upsets by motivated floaters?

Anyone from the five above can win it or maybe even someone outside of them but that’s rather unlikely, not even remotely possible, actually impossible as it seems. One of these guys will claim it but not without some serious resistance. What we can be assured of are plenty of high intensity matches, match-ups both old and new, surging adrenaline, quality and passion.


Time to watch the white powder fly up from the painted lines on the green surface with the swirl of the racket and twirl of the tennis ball!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

French Open '15 shockers - The Big Spaniard loses, lesser known Swiss wins, the Serb still waits!


That’s what the sport is for. That is, to defy the odds, people, pundits,predictions and patterns. The question about this French open was pitted as Rafa again or Novak finally? And when both of them settled in one half to meet at the quarters that match became the heaviest of all. Winning it would be the title, well almost. That almost remained almost. The ‘heavy’ match between Novak and Rafa was not so loaded except the first set. Nadal fell for just the second time at Roland Garros but pretty meekly.
What was heavy about this year’s French open was what it should be. The finale! As Novak stepped up to claim his first RG crown after demolishing the long reigning ‘king’ and handed the newly wed Andy Murray his first defeat since marriage, nobody dared to put their money anywhere else. Yet, that’s why there are two sides of the draw and they play rather than just let the supposedly best man take it all. It is all in that day, in that moment that winning and losing is decided. The other man who walked out of the tunnel was Stan-the occasional man these days – seemingly well aware of the occasion. He played loaded, heavy, spoiler, unaware of the history on the other side and blasted the world no 1 off the court.
Sounds easy, execution way too tough. There were moments when the expert script seems to take over when Novak broke on right occasions and threatened to run away with the goods as he usually does. Stan hung on. He brought his A-game in the most clutch moments. The booming serve, booming forehand and the yes, booming backhand down the line (Isn’t everything about Wawrinka booming when he is in the zone). And yes that backhand is a thing of rare beauty too. He did not fade, kept on the belief and saw it through. It’s by no means an easy thing to do in your first Paris final and only second ever against a most seasoned campaigner who also happens to be the top dog. But then I guess Stan focussed on the positives – nobody expected him to win, the pressure was more on the other side, and he had stretched and beaten Novak before in the past and in run to his maiden GS title.
Stan – even the occasional man has finally gotten out of the massive shadow of Roger Federer. He isn’t young to register himself as one of the greats but he can continue to be one of the great spoilsport for some of the greats. He snatched Novak’s AO streak last year before surprisingly plummeting Nadal (injured or not) of one GS pedestal. AO was so sure Nadal will win and equal Pete Sampras as they flew him in all the way to present the trophy. Not to be! This FO Stan the man emerged again to hand his big friend Rog (who had a decent chance having avoided Nadal) a ticket back home before clutching that elusive clay win over Djokovic even after losing the first set.
Having witnessed all that, we got to have great respect for the following:
1.     Nadal winning it 9 times when even 1 is so elusive
2.     Novak finally beating Rafa and for keep coming in for the title – he might just get it
3.     Stan for grabbing it – the one handed BH beauty lives
4.     Roger Federer 2009 win – imagine the pressure after Nadal’s loss
Bye Clay! Bring on Grass (The Wimbledon draw is out tomorrow)!
P.S. - Moral of the story is – Don’t beat Nadal at French Open – It is jinxed at the final hurdle.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Takeaways from the Australian Open 2015

The first grand slam of the year is over. There are three more to go and an even otherwise long and competitive season looms. Lets look at the takeaways from the recently concluded Australian Open and the possibilities for the rest of the year.

1. Serena Williams will continue to make/break records

Champion for a sixth time in Australia, she has stamped her authority once again. Serena grabbed her 19th Grand Slam and now stand 3 short of Steffi Graf and 5 less than Margaret Court's all time record of 24. Serena is hungry, the records in sight are a great motivation and there is no evident challenger.

2. Novak Djokovic is one of the best in Australia

The Djoker is a great player but is not yet in the conversation of all time greats. His peers Federer and Nadal reserve that distinction for now. However, when it comes to the Australian Open he is one of the greatest. With the fifth title this year, he is only one short of Roy Emerson's six wins. While Federer has four, Rafa has only one Australian Open title. It's clear who is the boss in Australia.

3. Maria Sharapova is good but second best

It's not just the WTA ranking or the AO'15 result that puts Maria at No.2. She is good and can beat anyone on the tour; anyone but Serena Williams. As long as Serena is in the draw or on the tour, Sharapova will only be a second choice. It's been almost 11 years since she last beat Serena and twitter is full with 'how famous celebs look when Sharapova last beat Williams'. Grigor Dimitrov included.

4. The Big Four still rule

Ok, Federer went out in round 4 to a player he never lost and Nadal went out in Quarters to a player he has never lost in last 17 meetings. Still the 'Big Four' are still a class above the rest. Murray returned after a dismal 2014 and Djokovic continued to pile up big titles. On their way to the final they dismantled the young guns Raonic, Dimitrov, Kyrgios in routine matches. About Federer and Nadal, rule them out at your own risk. Come grass and clay we know they will be back.

5. Mr. Honest Tim Smyczek

The world is rotting with liars and cheats and sport is as competitive as ever. Yet Tim Smyczek stood courageous. Against Rafael Nadal in the fifth set at the Rod Laver arena, with the greatest win of his life a possibility, he did the right thing. A spectator shouted while Rafa was serving disturbing his rhythm and the ball went in the net. As the umpire begged for silence again and Nadal prepared to deliver his second serve, Tim asked the umpire to let him serve the 1st again. That potentially ruined his chances as Rafa being Rafa won the point and brought up match points. Tim lost the match but he won the hearts and the right to a proud and peaceful sleep.

6. Djokovic gunning once again for Paris

Djokovic has the right game, slide and potential hold the French Open. But, Spanish Bull is too adamant to move out of his territory. Djokovic is a potential threat at Roland Garros at least since 2011 when Federer stopped him in the Semis and gifted the trophy to Nadal in the Final. The next three years, Djokovic lost to Nadal in hard fought battles and even losing the advantages. Can he cross the hump this time having already regaining his mental edge in big matches? Wimbledon '14 and AO '15 suggest so but the Bull will be ready.

7. Federer will pin his hopes at SW 19

With a shock upset the mighty Rog got his streak of 11 consecutive Semis broken at the Australian Open. Nobody will write him off not after his showing in 2014 and not because its too risky. These champions prove the critics wrong time and again and make them look like fools. But at 34 in August, Federer's best hope of winning a major is still Wimbledon. He may go deep in Paris but winning is nearly impossible. The US open hasn't brought him any luck since 2008. Grass on the other hand, is his territory. Roger Federer at the centre court of Wimbledon will always be a threat. However, the clock's ticking.

8. Nadal need the French Open

Even though Nadal has 9 French Opens, higher than anybody else at any slam, he needs it this year even more. Great players have great goals. Nadal's will be to try and cross Federer in the number of Grand Slams. Though he is just three short and is only 28, it is clay where he thrives. Winning the French sets the tone for the rest of his year. And to fend off Novak's challenge once again can provide him a plenty of edge for their other encounters and a 15th title. If he did not get the French, Federer's 17 won't be easy. History at stake.

9. Andy Murray need the killer instinct

Muzz is a top talent, two time grand slam champion and a trendsetter on tour. What he lacks is the major trophies that keep on going in the cabinets of Rafa, Djoker and here and there. He is now better than last year and the back injury is now in hindsight. With both Novak and Rafa his peers in terms of age, he needs to find another gear to snatch some more of those majors. This year will define Murray's legacy.

10. If Novak wins the French this year....

A great 'if' but a lucrative 'if'. With AO in bag, if Novak wins the French people will talk about the the most illustrious achievement in the sport of Tennis. The Calendar Slam - which means winning all four grand slams in a season. Rod Laver did it twice but nobody in the open era has ever. Roger came close for many years and failed. Rafa showed that form for a year or two but fell short. Djoker has the game but a Calendar Slam need some luck as well. Let's take them one at a time for now.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Australian Open 2015: Federer bundled by Seppi

When Andreas Seppi of Italy stepped out on the Rod Laver arena today he must have presumably done some packing and have gotten the flight tickets for back home. Justly so. The odds were overwhelming. He was to face Roger Federer in the third round at the Australian open. Yeah, the usual adjectives (justifyingly though) - greatest, 17 time champion, crowd favourite, 4 time winner at AO, and blah blah. Add to that fact that Seppi has managed just one set in their previous ten meetings and Federer hasn't bowed out of Australia before semis for last 11 years. Geez!! Even Seppi himself wouldn't have put his own money on himself, only to now wonder what if he had.

Andreas Seppi went for it. You lose so much to one man you really lose something in your mind as well. It's either the belief to ever win or the fear to lose. Seppi went hard for his shots. He was solid on serve. When he took the first set, not many wondered any result different from the odds. Federer will pick up, Seppi will drop is the usual chatter. Federer never picked, Seppi never dropped. When Federer picked, Seppi maintained the pressure. At 5-3 in the second set tiebreak, the Italian unleashed himself to turn it around. At 2 sets to love, Federer was pinned down. Yet he had survived this 9 times before in his illustrious career. Federer did win the third, but the legs seem to hold him back in the fourth. At 33 years of age it isn't the same.

Shanking forehands and backhands has a great deal to do with positioning and Federer was just a bit short in that area. Federer clearly had a bad day in office. His serve which had bailed him on several occasions had 9 double faults today. When he had the opportunities he failed to produced the goods and take advantage. Equal credit to Andreas Seppi though for keep throwing punches at the Swiss giant. The last three points of the match in the fourth set tie break were a thing of enormous belief that Seppi was playing with. Federer had the fourth set on his racket to force a decider when Seppi took three to wrap it up. 

The scoreline read 6-4, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 for the winner. Federer must be wondering he only needed those two breakers and he would be doing the winners press conference. So many times he has turned around matches like these. Seppi can feel the same. Yet, today is different. The winner tonight is from the other side of the Alps and deservedly so. When Federer patted Seppi on the back at the net, he knew the guy had to topple the baggage of last 10 losses to make it happen. Who knows about mental fortitude better than a 17 time champion.

For winning is a matter of trying, no matter the losses incurred. For putting oneself in a position to try an 11th time is a matter of courage and then who knows, you may defy the odds. For odds are nothing but a piece of history and on a today of fresh fight they can be yours to defy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why Nick Kyrgios needs a special mention?

Nick Kyrgios. Tennis player. Doesn't ring a bell? 

Well he's just 19 yr old teenager from Canberra, Australia who has got a wildcard from the All England Club to play at Wimbledon 2014. And in what way he has put that wildcard to use?

As of now, he is involved in a gruelling fight with one of the all time greats Mr. Nadal on a jam packed Centre Court of Wimbledon. He'll most likely lose this fight since Rafa Nadal has made a name in tennis burying challengers. Yet, Nick Kyrgios has already won hearts of fans and pundits alike.

He won the first set over Nadal and lost the second. It'll most likely be over in four sets with his loss. Still looks like the Australian teenager is here to stay. Let's just look at a few things why he can be the future of Men's tennis.
  • He's got this bullet of a serve using which he has piled over 20 aces on Rafa in the first two sets. Fast, accurate and consistent. The second serve also matches up to the reputation. Big Serve! Yes, we have heard that before - Isner, Raonic, Karlovic. So what?
  • The forehand has a lot of fire power when hit with abandon, as he usually does.
  • The backhand is more consistent and solid shot for Kyrgios and he can do some damage from that front as well.
  • The court movement is remarkable, even more considering he is 6 ft 4 inches.
  • However, the greatest asset is his attitude. That's what makes a Champion a mere talented player and vice versa. He seem to thrive under pressure, in front of a large audience to showcase some of his talents. For instance, he doesn't seem to belt under the overwhelming presence of Nadal on the other side at the Wimbledon Centre Court; his first. He shows his frustration, but moves on before the next point. And above all, he believes he can go toe to toe with the top guys.
Despite all that - as John McEnroe mentioned, "he's a work in progress". He may not start winning them all at once. He is still lean, he'll gain muscle. It's hard to believe how his serve can still improve! His forehand will get a lot more lethal and accurate; the backhand more venomous. And he might just learn to volley a little bit too. For now, lasting for 5 tough sets would be tough for him but he'll learn to do that with a few more years. Over and above the skill, he's also a delight to watch. Plays quick, energizes the crowd and has a tough mental forte at just 19. 

If he stays fit the tennis world is going to talk a lot about him, beginning with Rafael Nadal in today's post match conference. Nick Kyrgios is one for the future!

Edit: Nick isn't going down to Rafa in four at least. Will he in five?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Topsy Turvy at the Top of Men's Tennis

The state of utter confusion at the helm of Men's tennis. No Stan Wawrinka is not the World No.1 and David Ferrer is not beating the shit out of Rafael Nadal, yet there is a lot of cat and mouse chase and games happening at the top. With one Grand Slam down and US hard court swing dusted, lots have happened that will define the clay play. 

Let's first feel for the Brit who arrived as the Messiah for Grand Slam thirsty British Men's Tennis and ended the epic draught since almost the dinosaur era. Thanks to Ivan Lendl. Andy Murray got a back surgery at the end of last year and was just planning to make a solid run against the top opponents when Lendl decided to leave. Shocking and breaking. This was one of the most rewarding player-coach relation recently and it's sad to see this happen. Andy has now slipped to 8th in the rankings and the climb without Lendl will undoubtedly put a stress on his already hurting back. No titles so far this year for Muzz and with clay around not much hope for the recent future.

Yet Andy is fit and playing on the tour and that could be a bigger blessing than anything else if you look only as far a Juan Martin Del Potro. 2009 US Open Champion - blasting away Nadal and Federer in consecutive matches - the next big thing - lost 2010 to a wrist injury and is out again for the same surgery in his other hand. Poor thing. Just to say that he being in the mix makes things much more exciting than otherwise. Wishing him luck, hope he returns sooner than later.

The breakthrough of Stan Wawrinka in the ranks of Grand Slam title holders was credited to the back spasm of Rafael 'chasing his 14th crown' Nadal. Those who have seen the first set and a half of that Final will give him a bit more credit. Unsurprisingly, great endeavours can easily lead to lethargy and slump. At the US Hard Courts Stan wasn't the same man as he was down under. He is the No.1 Swiss player now which is a lot to say while a certain 'RF' is still hanging around. Stan has to be hungry again and up his mojo if he wants to even stay where he is.

With that, let's talk about a happy go lucky man who also happens to be 'a legend already from some time'. Yes the ageing, declining, losing his GOAT status to a Spanish bull - Federer. What makes him so 'happy go lucky' if he isn't what he once was. Fit again at almost 33, the back problems of last year gone, a new stick working better and a new coach, a childhood idol sitting in the box. To top that, two 4 year old twin daughters and a once again expecting wife can be also be seen when he plays. With virtually a lot less points to defend this year than usual, an upward climb is what many are expecting. From slipping to 8th and returning to top four post AO, not bad. Still Fed beating Nole to grab an ATP 500 was a tad bit soured for him by losing to Nole in ATP 1000 Final and surrendering a comfortable lead to Kei Nishikori in another. He is better than last year but not until Grass should we come to expect anything really remarkable, if at all. Except for Kryptonite Rafa, Fed can run deep into the clay season as well.

That brings us to our beloved top two seeds Rafa and Nole who are so like Tom and Jerry for some time now. Just as we see and assume one player dominating the other, we also see the other turning on the tables and bounce back from the dead. Rafa rampaged last year, torn down Nole's dream of winning at French clay, beat him hands down at his favoured US Open hard courts, snatched the No. 1 ranking from him and it seemed Rafa had solved Nole. The ugly memories of 7 consecutive losses to Novak and the potential threat to clay dominance seemed like another lifetime. Rafa has found the solution to Djokovic's most dangerous weapon against him - the backhand down the line - with his own forehand bullets down the line. And just when that seemed enough, Djokovic - having lost all (metaphorically) - shed all his inhibitions and came out on top of Nadal in Beijing, World Tour Finals and Miami. That and that too in straight sets. 


This time Djokovic is targeting Nadal's forehand rather than the presumably weaker backhand. From the famed backhand down the line, its his backhand cross court that is hurting Nadal the most. Why so? Because Nadal stands closer to his backhand side to cover his slightly weaker shot and count himself to run down the forehands. Nole has thus ripped his cross court backhand, depriving Rafa of a split second and deriving errors from Nadal's long swing forehand. 

With the trusted Marian Vajda in Djokovic's box he seems an assured player. The world is still wondering the reason of why they have to bear the sight of a grumpy, stuffed, more nervous than Nole himself - Boris 'the not so booming or beaming' Baker. How long we'll see! The Bull from Spain however still has the ever trusted, eternally aligned, the 'we' speaking Uncle Toni at his box but it's his game which hasn't been top notch. With even the organizers of Australian Open expecting him to grab his 14th GS and Pete Sampras flying all the way across the globe to do the honours, that loss (for whatever reason) must have hurt. While some would say he hasn't recovered physically from AO'14 but that seemingly is a lame argument. The next however is clay, and we all know who rules the roost there. The Greatest Clay Courter of All Time has some match-up issues to resolve but the red dirt is the perfect setting he can expect to turn the tables again.

*FACT: Match-ups mean a lot in Tennis. While Nadal easily scrapes aside Federer (on any surface these days), Nole gives him a terrible time. While a confident Novak can beat a confident Nadal more comfortably than a confident Federer - we know it's not just about who is a better player. While Nadal can exploit Federer's backhand as he wishes, no other player has been able to take much advantage of that. Djokovic's backhand doesn't hurt Federer as much as it hurts Nadal and Murray would be much happy to see Novak on the other side any day over Nadal.