With all the board hoping I lost the post I made to wrap 2012 and tease 2013
The latest piece of news is that Federer launched ayoutube channelthat is broadcasting live his exhibition matches in south america. Three have been played already (Bellucci, Tsonga, Haas) but you can watch the footage on the channel, and three will be broadcasted in the next few days (Del Potro, Del Potro, Tsonga).
Next two weeks are in the running for best two of the year for me from a purely sports fan point of view. NFL playoffs going on at the same time as a tennis major. Can't get much better than that for me!
Let's check it in four chunks from the POV of the four top seeds:
Mathieuin the first round. The french veteran made a great come back in 2012 after many health problems and is known to be fighter. Tricky draw, but... yeah.
Harrisonpossibly in the second. One of the future faces of Tennis even if his only weapon is his tennis IQ.
LopezorStepanektwo different brands of veterans. The old school S&V lefty in Lopez and the crafty all court player in Stepanek. Or maybeTroicki. The serbian N?3 pushed Djokovic at times when he is serving well.
Wawrinkamight be up next orQuerrey. Both have different weapons, but if they can be the aggressor and still manage their shots, they can beat just about anybody. If they get too defensive, they are in for a tough day against Djokovic.
Berdychis the other top seed in this quarter of the draw and should be there on quarter final day unless an in formVerdasco(played a very solid exhibition match against Djokovic a couple weeks ago) or an in formAndersonhave their say
Rochusto start. Very talented player with a great hand and great eye, but is that enough to best Ferrer?
Karlovicis facing one of the best returner and most consistent baseline player so nothing short of his best serves and best volleys will mean a loss.
Baghdatisonly beat Ferrer once in four matches but it was at the Australian Open in 2010 and after losing the first two sets!
Nishikorior maybeYouzhny. The japanese has been on a steady rise since his surgery (wrist? elbow?) and he is still only 23. Very fast on the court, he has a steady backhand and a mean forehand. Not a huge one, but a mean one: able to redirect shots, use the opponents power, place with lethal precision and depth. And he leads the head to head 2-1!
Clever is the man who can predict who will escape this eighth of the draw. You haveTipsarevic,Almagro, polish sensationJanowiczand french veteranBenneteauas seeds and then you have some trouble makers like Federer cloneDimitrov, giant slayerMuller, eternal warriorHewitt... for any of these guys, reaching the quarter of a Major would be big and when you know this quarter will be at worst against Ferrer they must feel the opportunity. It's not like Ferrer is a pushover, far from that, but the Big Four left very little room in the semi finals of majors for years now.
Haaseis a tricky customer with a big serve and broad array of shots, but Murray is trickier.
Both portugueseSousaand australianSmithare unkown to me. Both are 23 so they are late bloomers or will lose heavily.
Mayeris the seed andStakhovskythe possible upset. Two tricky players that love to mix things up, play a lot slice, change pace... they face the master at this type of play though.
An odd block here withDolgopolovandSimon, but alsoMonfils, back unseeded from injury, who will face the ukrainian in the first round for a intriguing match. Giant slayerLuis also around here. I can see an on fire Dolgopolov or Monfils overpower Murray, but it seems very unlikely a scenario.
Any other thanDel Potroin the quarter would be a surprise and really the only likely candidate is Cilic and I still would be surprised. Del Potro and Murray did not face each other since 2009 when they played several close matches with only one going the way of Del Potro. I must say I was a bit surprised by this stat.
Paireis a tall french player that really made an impact last year, climbing into the top 50. Too talented for his own good, he can lose his focus and/or temper but also make the most ludicrous shots with power of deft touch. Unless Federer tries to out-showboat the french he should win by virtue of consistent high standard.
Davydenko... just outside of the seeding range and currently playing some of his best tennis since his injury in 2010. People knew there would be a stealth bomb in the draw (along with Monfils) and it's Federer who gets it. Will he be able to defuse it? He should be, because the russian did not seem to be at the level he wasbeforehis injury, that his when he won the Masters Cup in 2009.
Tomicplayed some very solid matches in exhibition (including a win against a bland Djokovic) and reached the final in Sydney beating some quality player along the way so he is at home and surfing a wave of confidence. The guy as a good weapon with his serve, but I doubt his strange brand of off pace game can really bother a Federer who can deal with slices and generate his own pace.
Kohlschreiberalready showed some good things in 2013. The same cannot be said ofRaonicwho after beating two top 10 in Tokyo last year suffered early exists in all the tournaments he played. Kohlschreiber slayed some giants in the past (like Djokovic at the French, but the next day Soderling beat Nadal and stole the german's fire! - btw the swede got married, got a child and still got mononucleosis), but I have a tough time seeing an upset here from anyone else than an in-form Raonic.
Tsongais the top seed here, but he will have to deal with Llodra in the first round.Gasquet, who is also hot in this start of 2013 might have a word to say, but the amazing, the marvelous,the oh so great Tommy Haasmight remind them why he was N?2 in the world and why in a season at 34, he went from 205 to 21 at the ATP.
Djokovichas basically what you could expect from a Grand Slam draw as one of the top seeds other than being a tad unlucky with his first round. He should be in quarter and probably in semi.
Ferrerhas the easiest draw as he is also the most vulnerable top seed, he might not make it to the semi, but smart money is still firmly on him.
Murrayhas a decent draw, but he will need to be careful: many of the people he will face have the ability to turn a match into a quagmire, to lower opponents to their levels, to mess with their mind. If Murray is not assertive enough, he might spend more energy that he needs to to go through these early rounds, an energy that could be sorely missing when facing a Del Potro and beyond.
Federerhas kind of a shitty draw. He gets the talented guy with a screw loose, the massive undercon and the youngster with the wind in his sails in the first three rounds. After that it falls into the regular Grand Slam fare.
-Monacowas seeded 11 and lost 6-1-1 to youngsterKuznetsov. Not sure what happened there, but Kuznetsov is one of these 'potentially future great' (PFG from now on). It's the only big upset of the day.
-Djokovic, imperial on his serve, sailed pastMathieuwith ease.
-Stepanekprevailed in five againstTroicki.
-Verdascofaced a severe test from PFGGoffinbut won in five after being lead two sets to one.
- A guy to watch isBautista Agut. The 50ish ranked spaniard won several challengers in 2012, reached the quarter in St-Petersbourg and in 2013 the final of Chennai, beating some quality players along the way. He beatFogniniand will faceMeltzernext.
-Ferrerwon cleanly againstRocchusand will not have to faceKarlovicasSmyczekbeat him.
-Almagrotook five sets to beat journeymanJohnson. All is well since he will faceGimeno-Traverwho also went the distance.
- Similar scenario forBaghdatisandIto, with the first playing deep into the night.
- PFGJanowiczwent through, but PFGDimitrovwas coldly denied by veteranBenneteau.
-Hewittfor his potential swan song at the AO was unlucky to drawTipsarevicas his first round match. He managed to make it a contest against the eighth seed, but lost in straight sets.
- The strong seeds went through with ease.Federer,Murray,Del Potro,Cilic,Simon,Raonic,Gasquet,Tsonga: all through.
-Dolgopolov(18) was victim of bothMonfilsand a shitty draw (as Monfils is only unseeded because he comes back from a long injury).
-Haas(19), the in-form Haas, fell 8-6 in the fifth after almost four hours of battle against counter punching veteranNieminen.
- 8-6 in the fifth is also the score that allowedDuckworthto beatMichellin a 4h30 fight of the young australian wild cards.
-Klizan(27) lost to the hulking germanBrands. Brands is journeyman more used to the challenger circuit, but he is playing some very good tennis at the moment. He came out of qualifications in Doha to reach the semi, and he is out of qualies here once again. He is a tiny bit unlucky with his draw though as he will play the very much in-form Tomic next and Davydenko or Federer after that.
- The talentedKavcicobliteratedBellucci(29). I guess the brazilian did not sleep since he beat Federer in an exhibition match at home.
Day Two wrapped up the first round, so let's what the 2nd round has in store for us:
DjokovicvsHarrison: A good test of skill and character for the american PFG.
LopezvsStepanek: neat veteran battle. I expect Stepanek to try and take the net away from Lopez by rushing it himself. It should make for a refreshingly original match.
MalissevsVerdasco: we shall get to see how solidVerdasco's regain of form is with this match against the always tricky belgian.
DavydenkovsFederer: considering how well Davydenko has been playing of late and how well Federer will have to play to win, this should be a great match.
BrandsvsTomic: a very in form dark horse in Brands against the home crowd favorite on a 9 matches winning streak. This could turn into an epic.
- The only upset of the day: russian youngster Donskoy prevailed over his compatriot Youzhny in five sets. The guy discarded the talented romanian Ungur in the first round and won five challenger events in 2012 with two in november. He'll face Nishikori next.
- Very tough wins for Tipsarevic over Lacko and for Janowicz over Devvarman. The polish sensation lost his nerves early in the match because of some line calls on a court without Hawk Eye (that's the perverse effect of the system: once you get used to play with it, it's easily infuriating to play without it), found himself two sets to love down, but somehow managed to turn things around (the indian scoring a single game in sets three and four) and prevail in a tight fifth set. These four hours on court might cost him dear in the next round against Almagro.
In the women draw:
- Sharapova reached the third round without losing a game and without facing a break point. She plays against Venus Willams next, so much respect if she can double bagel her too!
- The Australian Curse goes on for Stosur as she lost in the second round. A case of nerves, but also of bad draw since she faced Zheng, one of the very best unseeded player.
-Murray,Tsonga,Del Potro,Cilic,Gasquet,KohlschreiberandRaonicunsurprisingly won in straight sets.
- More surprisingly,Federeralso had a comfortable straight sets win overDavydenko.
- Even more surprisingly,Ricardas Berankis, lituanian PFG only allowed the 25th seedMayerto score six games! I am curious to see what he will bring to the table when he faces Murray next.
- Less of a surprise are the demise of 30th seedGranollersto lanky frenchmanChardyand the very hard work it took for 21st seedSeppito edge past the very good hard court player that isIstomin. The same can be said of the five set battle ofMonfilsagainstLu, the shotmaking and athletic defense of the frenchman prevailing in the end (but probably costing him dear for his chances in the next round against Simon - though Simon has health problems at the moment and at first thought he would not be able to play).
-BrandsvsTomicis the only of my predicted hot match that delivered. Three tie-break sets and a 7-5: it can't get much closer than that. Tomic prevailed in the end by the skin of his teeth, giving him the opportunity to become a national hero if he beats Federer in the next round.
With day four, the second round is over so it's time for the third aka the battle of the seeds.
8 of the 32 seeds are missing, but only one (Monaco, 11th) from the top 16. Potential upsets:
Querry(20) vsWawrinka(15): these guys played an epic at the 2010 US Open. We could very well see another one here as both are back to the kind of level they had then.
Ferrer(4)vsBaghdatis(28): The man from Cyprus has many good memories to draw upon when playing at the AO. One of them is fighting in 2010 from two sets to love down against Ferrer and winning in five!
Janowicz(24) vsAlmagro(10): The huge serving of the man from Poland can be very frustrating to opponents and Almagro is certainly not one known to keep his cool when things don't go his way.
Simon(14) vsMonfils: One is not 100% fit, the other is tired but hungry. This, plus them being countrymen and very different styles could lead to an intriguing match.
Kohlschreiber(17) vsRaonic(13): the german has been playing very well lately and he is an even keel and experienced guy, so he will calmly wait for his openings, knowing full well that they will be rare.
Less likely to end in an upset, but a potentially good glimpses at the future of tennis, I will try to see theMurrayvsBerankisandFederervsTomic. It's funny that these two battle with new faces whileFerrerandDjokovicface guys who shone and faded all through the last decade inStepanekandBaghdatis.
Slight note: it seems the court plays fast and with a relatively low bounce. I know a GOAT who must be happy about it.
-SimonvsMonfilsproduced a marathon of a match, but in the end it was not really an opposition in styles, both guys were content just to defend and wait for the other to take risk to then try and counter-punch, Simon by taking the ball early, Monfils by using his power. End result rallies that got up to 71 shots and a match that lasted 4h40 ending with two zombies. If Simon scores more than 6 games against Murray, he is a god amongst men (or his physio is).
There were three upsets I did not expect at all:
-Seppiproved too resilient forCilic, so the seeded underdog prevailed.
- Big servingAndersonbested in-formVerdasco.
-Chardy, yes, Chardy, drownedDel Potroin winners and managed to create the unprobable upset at the very end of the fifth set. Chardy is one of these guys with big weapons and an aggressive game plan, which means he will beat some great players here and there, but will have trouble achieving the kind of consistency that allow to get rewards and not only prestige. He is getting better at managing his shots though: ranking does not lie, and his is firmly in the top 50.
The direct consequence of these upset is that Murray, after discarding zombie-Simon in his next match, will play Chardy or Seppi in his quarter.
Oh and Federer did not blink against Tomic, producing so top drawer stuff to win in straights. It could have gone the other way around as Tomic only lost his opening service game because of nerves and lead 5-2 in the 2nd set tie-breaker... in the end, he found himself two sets to love down against a suddenly relaxed Federer and a mountain to claimb... a 6-1 closed the match.
Djokovicstarted poorly against a very solid Wawrinka. The swiss N?2 played well and made things very uncomfortable for the defender who had trouble finding his range (so many uncharacteristic errors) and his footing (the guy was slipping like crazy). As Wawrinka was about to take a very commanding 6-1 6-3 lead, things changed slightly. Wawrinka suddenly realized the magnitude of his performance and swung a little less freely, Djokovic changed shoes and, with his back against the wall found again this survivor instinct, this never say die attitude that has been his trademark for the last two seasons, getting in many many very tough matches but almost winning them all. And the tide turned. Instead of losing the set 6-3, Djokovic won it 7-5 and even got an early break in the third. All credit to Wawrinka, he managed to react, raise his game, fight back and cancel the break, forcing Djokovic to find an extra gear to close the set 6-4. At this point, surely Wawrinka would crumble? Surely. Nope: the swiss also found an extra gear which lead both players in a fourth set breaker that the swiss won to earn the right to play a decider. No tie-breaker in the fifth in the AO and Wawrinka was the Mahut of the day, forced to play catch up again and again after breaks were exchanged early. The underdog refused to flinch, fought and fought, producing tennis as stellar as his opponent's despite the duration of the match. But after saving in a masterful manner a first match point at 11-10 a cheap error brought another, resulting in another monumental rally won after 5 hours of battle by Djokovic.
vs Berdychhas yet to lose a set. Dominating Anderson through the first two sets of their match, he found himself in a tough battle in the third, but did not blink, producing the goods again and again in a breaker that ended at 15-13!
Last year, Djokovic played a marathon against Murray in the semi only to play and win another marathon in the final against Nadal, so it's difficult to say that Berdych will benefit from the serb's fatigue. What can be said though is that the match might turn into another endless dogfight and that the semi also very well could and that, no matter who you are, the accumulation of effort has to be paid at short, medium and sometime even long term.
Ferrercontinues to show that being the weakest link of the top 4 does not mean he is a weak link at all. Facing the offensive Nishikori that had a 2-1 advantage in head to head (the japanese won their last meeting at the 2012 Olympics), the spaniard left no openings and won in straight sets.
vs Almagrobenefited from the withdrawal of an ailing Tisparevic to go through.
Almagro never beat Ferrer. The veteran is probably just too steady, just defending a little too well, to make it possible for Almagro to have more winners than unforced errors. That said, tennis history is filled with guys breaking huge losing streaks.
Chardyconfirmed his performance against Del Potro by besting Seppi. The french started the match very flat but then went to work and prevailed.
vs Murrayhad no problem discarding all that was left of Simon after his epic against Monfils.
This one could be intriguing. Not only because Chardy won their last meeting in Cinci last year, but also because it's such an opposition in styles. Chardy tries to make the points as short as possible, while Murray is usually content defending, counter-punching, out-rallying and discombobulating his opponents. Murray's return of serve will be key to not allow Chardy to dictate play, because if he does, then Murray's weight in the equation is greatly reduced, it becomes only about Chardy being able to execute his aggressive game play and, obviously, he showed that, these days, he can.
Tsongacontinues to prove that he found a maturity that allows him to repeat again and again high quality performances. Here again winning in four sets in a very tricky match against a talented and in form compatriot in Gasquet.
vs Federerhad to face PFG in Tomic and that resulted in a first set well managed, a close second won in a breaker and a solo in the third against a mentally broken opponent. It was a repeat scenario against PFG Raonic who simply could not deal with Federer's serve and with the intensity of the swiss in the rallies. With that win, Federer will play his 35th grand slam quarterfinal in a row. Fun fact: only 5 of the other 127 players in the draw competed in the previous 34 grand slams! Another comparison is that Djokovic would need to reach the quarterfinals of the AO in 2018 to match that streak.
Strangely, they faced each other 8 times in 2011 (6-2 Federer - 2-2 on fast outdoor) but never in 2012. For my money, Tsonga is a little better now than then, but Federer has been very impressive in these first few rounds, nimble on his feet, very consistent with his shots, serving well... yeah, the guy will be tough to beat.
I think people don't like Azarenka because of the screaming, which is a form of crypto-misogyny. Personally, I am not a huge fan (I love Stosur and all the chinese - Li, Zheng, Peng - or odd players like Martic, Niculescu, Daniilidou, Begu, Date-Krumm...), but you have to respect her work ethic, her will to make her game evolve and, seriously, how can you hate a girl who says her favorite player of all time is Edberg?
As far as being the most hated... people hated on Wozniacki a lot and I know I did because the girl had no game, she really 'just' ran and made no mistake and found herself World N?1 as a reward for her consistency, but not her excellence! She tried to make her game evolve without much success and now her opponents know what to expect and know how to play her better (I used to say she was an IQ test for the WTA players as you had to build the points to win, but now the cheat cards are out and coaching is allowed so... yeah).
In the men's draw, I would be shocked if top 4 guys cruise into the semis, there is just too much quality on the other side of net for it to be easy for all four of them. Even if there is no upset, what happens in the quarterfinals could have a big impact on the semis. Djokovic playing Ferrer after a 6-2 6-2 6-2 win over Berdych is a different story than him playing the spaniard after another five hours match!
The way I see tennis is that it can be similar to baseball in a way. For one, it is possible in theory that a baseball game can never end. Same with tennis. Also there is this idea of a 'perfect game' (or match). In baseball a perfect game is when a pitcher doesn't allow a single person on base. In tennis it simply means that you are able to hit every shot you intend to and that you intended to hit the correct shot to begin with AND that you have the physical ability to pull it off. This idea of 'perfect tennis' will never be achieved, ever, but we root for those who can get as close as possible. That's why Olympic, Davis Cup, Team Tennis, and even Doubles will never be as popular as Singles. We don't give a shit where you're from, why you play, or what gender you are. If you can produce a product that can be considered 'as close to perfect as can be reasonably expected' then we will love you and shower you with money and bitches. Right now, the Big 4 in Men's are unquestionably producing more perfect tennis than anyone else. Ferrer is close but he strikes me as Wozniacki-ish. Solid and reliable but not much flash. Lacking that one 'thing' that sets you above. Certainly, even the big dogs can have a bad day. Betting on the Big 4 isn't a guarantee, but having seen their ceiling, the odds are still in their favor. They more easily produce perfect tennis than the others. At least, this is what I see when I watch.
Azarenka's screeching is part of it but people don't hate on Sharapova that much. I think the other part of it is her body language. When she's winning she has an arrogant swagger that people pick up on and dislike. And when she's losing she blames every person or thing but herself (or so her body language suggests). Every time she smashes a racket she gets booed. But I suppose it's possible to transcend it all. She can go full Mcenroe and become a chariacture of herself and have people almost DEMAND she smash a racket at every questionable call for amusement of the crowd. Not sure if that's it or not, just so long as she posses for Playboy it's all good.
Almagro is about to declare me wrong and Szlia right. I saw him win some smaller tournament a month or so ago and I remember thinking he looked like he was a step ahead. Maybe it was against Tipsaravic? Either way, Spain is cranking them out.