Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Day from hell at Wimbledon

I got up early excited for another day of Wimbledon tennis, and especially to see another match in what I hoped would be Roger Federer's run to the final.  I had no idea what I was in for.  It started with messages coming fast and furious about injuries and withdrawals - Isner, who was injured after two games and had to retire, Azarenka who slipped a couple days ago and withdrew, Nadal's slayer Darcis who hurt his shoulder during that match and now couldn't even serve or hit a forehand.  Then I watched Hewitt go out to a truly inspired Dustin Brown, who played the match of his life, Caroline Wozniacki losing after slipping hard in the back of the court, then watched Tsonga go down two sets to one and retired (apparently from a knee injury), then a shocker with Maria Sharapova losing to a virtual unknown after falling three different times in the slippery grass.  What a day already.  I didn't realize that the biggest shock was yet to come.

Federer's match started off well.  I was expecting a pretty routine win so I was watching for when he would take his opportunity for the early break.  It soon became obvious, however, that his opponent, Sergiy Stakhovsky, was playing quite well and Roger wasn't really figuring out his service games.  Stakhovsky was doing a lot of serve and volley, overall coming to the net almost 100 times during the match.  Federer eventually won the first set in a tiebreak and I really thought a break would come quickly in the second set, pretty much settling things from then on.  For some reason though Roger just never was able to get into Stakhovsky's service games, and when Stakhovsky was able to take the second set in a tiebreak it wasn't long before he just seemed to have the upper hand.  Pretty much everything he was doing was working for him and Fed started to make some errors at critical times, and most importantly wasn't able to capitalize on the few break point chances he had   After going down an early break in the 4th, he FINALLY managed to break back, which I thought could change the momentum.  I mean, I have watched Roger come back so many times now in important matches that I fully expected him to do it again - why not, he's the 7 time champion.  In the eventual 4th set tiebreak (after having break points to win the set at 6-5 that he couldn't take) Stakhovsky continued to play amazingly, using the tactics that had worked for him the whole match.  My heart was pounding so hard in my chest I actually had my hand over it to try to slow it down.  When Federer was able to save a couple match points and get it back to 5-6, on his serve, once again I thought he could maybe turn it around.  But an errant backhand ended the match with a very disappointed Roger coming to the net to congratulate his opponent.

Though I'm certainly not going to say it's the end of an era - as Roger said himself, he hopes to play for many more years to come - it still is the end of one of the things he has been so well known for - his consistency in majors.  His streak of 36 consecutive quarterfinals is one of the greatest in sports (not just in tennis).  We have seen Rafael Nadal lose in the first round this week, plus miss multiple slams, and Andy Murray not be able to compete in last month's French Open, which already disqualifies them from ever even coming close to a streak like that.  While it makes us realize how special it was, it also makes us realize that these early losses will likely come with more frequency now, mixed in with some amazing runs with hopefully a lot more titles (and even more slams hopefully).  We knew it would eventually happen but we all wanted to hold onto it for as long as possible.  It's always difficult to see something so beautiful come to an end, especially in his own "house" on Centre Court at Wimbledon.

But although very disappointed, Roger didn't sound devastated in his press conference.  He talked about working hard and moving forward, and that's the perspective that fans need to have too.  And while Wimbledon won't have the same magic for the rest of the fortnight for many, those who are true tennis fans will continue to watch, wondering if maybe something different than the norm can happen this year.  So onward we go, many of us with gut wrenching disappointment, but also appreciating this man Roger Federer who has accomplished so much and brought so much joy and tennis beauty to his fans around the world.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Big loss, easy win, and the continuing GOAT debate

Well well well, we thought last year was a huge shocker when Rafael Nadal was beaten in the 2nd round by Lukas Rosol.  Who in their right mind would have ever predicted Nadal going out this year in the 1st round, to an opponent ranked 135, in his first ever 1st round loss?  Although obviously Rafa wasn't even close to his best, and most likely his knee was really bothering him, which became apparent by the end of the match, there was no doubt about it that Steve Darcis played a clutch match beginning to end.  I have never seen some of the shots he was doing with his slice, and at the end of the match he was hitting some very Nadal-like winners.  Earlier this year he was losing in challenger tournaments, but regardless of what happens in the rest of his career, he will now always be remembered as the guy who took out Nadal in the 1st round of Wimbledon.  Quite the accomplishment!

Roger Federer had a much better day than Rafa did.  He wasn't the slightest bit troubled in his first round match against Victor Hanescu.  I think his victory in the tournament on grass in Halle was very helpful for his confidence going into Wimbledon.  He played his beautiful grass court tennis that we have gotten so familiar with.  The errors that can sometimes creep into his game weren't an issue in the slightest today and he showed his full range of all court tennis.  He served great, which always helps so much in setting up his game.  Obviously this was an opponent who couldn't do much to trouble him, but I think this bodes well for his upcoming matches.  And with Rafa now out of the tournament (which I still find hard to believe!), that really changes things as to his chances to claim his 8th Wimbledon crown.

And now I just have to rant for a moment.  There has been much debate for quite some time as to the GOAT (greatest of all time) question - really more than there should be when those being talked about are still playing.  For a great majority Roger Federer is undeniably the GOAT for a good many reasons.  Before Nadal's surprising exit, however, former tennis great and current commentator John McEnroe was trying to make the case that Nadal is getting close to taking over that spot.  For one who used to speak so extremely highly of Federer in that position, McEnroe certainly is fickle and I can't see at all where he is coming from.  Not even counting the 17 to 12 total grand slams, Federer is so far ahead in so many areas.  What about his 23 consecutive grand slam semis, his still unbroken 36 straight quarterfinals, 302 weeks at #1 (237 of those consecutive), 18 of 19 major finals, winning 6 World Tour Finals (which Nadal has yet to win any).  No, he doesn't have a Davis Cup win but that certainly isn't all on him by any means.  Really the only thing Nadal has going for him is his record against the top guys, many of those wins, especially against Federer, on clay (on which Nadal is undeniably the GOAT).  No one is going to have every record or be best at everything.  However, in so many different areas Roger Federer has been the best in history.  We will see how things end up when each of them have hung up their racquet, but for now, for me, there just is no room for any other view between these two great players.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Wimbledon finalists win warm-up events

Roger Federer broke through a big barrier today to win his 77th title.  After not having won any in 10 months, and knowing he would tie John McEnroe's record, I believe it had become a bit of an obstacle trying to cross the finish line.  In this final match he looked to be starting off great with four break points in Youzhny's first service game.  However, he was unable to capitalize on any of them and eventually went on to lose the set in a tiebreak.  You could see his frustration at some of his errors, one time even hitting himself in the head with his racquet (bringing back memories of Youzhny's violent display several years ago  He was eventually able to cut down on his errors, however, finding a way to break serve in the next two sets to win the championship, bringing his head-to-head record against Youzhny now to 15-0, and most importantly winning his first title of 2013.  
Usually I don't feel like these warm-up tournaments necessarily have a huge bearing on who goes on to win the upcoming grand slam, in this case Wimbledon.  I this situation, however, I feel it was very important, mainly because I think he really needed this confidence boost as he goes into this tournament as the defending champion with 2,000 points to defend.  As he said in an interview, winning is everything, and I think this really increases his chances as a big favorite to win his 18th major.

In other news, Andy Murray, who played Federer in the final of Wmbeldon last year, also won a warm-up tournament, taking out defending champion Marin Cilic in the final.  After not playing the French Open due to injury, this will also give Andy confidence that he could come out the winner instead of the finalist this year.  He also took part in a rally for cancer fund raiser, playing doubles against his coach Ivan Lendl.  Here's a fun video where Andy celebrates hitting Lendl during a rally:

And finally I always have to post some pictures whenever the Federer twins make an appearance.  Here are adorable Myla and Charlene at the trophy presentation:


Saturday, June 15, 2013

A final for Federer in Halle

Phew - I admit to feeling a great amount of relief right now after watching Roger Federer lose the first set in his semifinal match in Halle against good buddy Tommy Haas, only to come back to win it in three.  I was getting quite frustrated in the first set watching Roger dump it into the net way too many times, wasting break point opportunities, and generally just not playing as well as I had hoped.  It didn't feel like Tommy was doing anything special, just playing solid and allowing his opponent to make errors.  I wasn't feeling ultra confident that Federer could turn it around after seeing his puzzling loss to Tsonga last week.  But this is a different week and a different surface and he was able to do just that - cut down his errors, make a few more winners, and watch Haas begin to mount his own self destruction, including a surprising amount of double faults.

In spite of Roger's delicious play in his double bagel win in the quarterfinals (only the second of his career), sometimes I think the easy matches can work against him when he has to immediately go play against a top opponent.  In my low-level but frequent club level play I have seen how I can gain a lot of confidence by beating someone who is either having an off day or not as strong of a player and then in my next match play against someone where the ball comes off their racquet differently and feel like I have no answers with errors creeping in that weren't there before, so I can understand how those things can happen.  I don't like to think, however, that those at the very top have to deal with those same issues and it's frustrating to watch the level of play change so drastically from one day to the next.  And when it's my tennis hero I don't want to see the humanness finding its way in.

Regardless of the level of play, however, with certainly more errors than we like to see, a win is a win and Federer is now into his second final of the year with a great chance to claim his first title of the year against Mikhail Youzhny, who he has a 14-0 record against.  I don't think we should just automatically pencil in the win, however.  Youzhny has been playing some great tennis this week, easily beating Richard Gasquet 6-3 6-2 to get to the final.  The fact that Roger has been unable to cross this barrier of tying John McEnroe's record at 77 titles could be in his head a little bit, so I would expect it to be a tight match in the final in spite of some very convincing wins in the past against Youzhny.

Hopefully, though, it will be a happy day for Federer and his fans to be able to claim his first title of 2013, which could then propel him into a much better run for the second half of the year. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Grass season is here!

It's grass season!  I must admit to feeling very relieved to get off that dirty clay stuff and onto the lush beautiful green.  I'm not a big clay fan and though of course I watch the tournaments, I am always very happy when it's over.  Ok, confession time - I didn't even do a post on the French Open winners.  Though I was very happy for Serena and the Bryan Brothers to finally have success there after so many years, I am frankly just tired of Nadal winning it every single year.  If conditions for the semifinal would have been what they were on the day of the final I believe Djokovic would have won, but somehow Nadal always gets luck on his side, as well as his obvious amazing talent on clay.  Enough of that - onto grass.

Roger Federer won his first grass tournament of the year in Halle, with I am hoping 10 more to follow in succession!  It was by no means his best match, with quite a few more errors than any of his fans would want to see.  But a win is a win and hopefully he will see what he needs to improve on before his next match on Friday.  He looked a bit frustrated with himself after some of the errors so hopefully he will be eager to try to improve his level of play.  Assuming he wins his next match he will play either Haas or Gulbis in the semifinals, a challenge either way to be sure.  Great preparation for the all important upcoming Wimbledon, however, which is already starting to make me nervous just thinking about.  He seems to really enjoy being in Halle so hopefully with this first win under his belt he will be able to relax and find his high level of tennis to thrill his fans there.

Many of the guys are also playing in another tournament at Queens Club in London.  They have had quite a bit of rain so far, with Andy Murray not able to finish his first match.  Though the rain is frustrating it would be great if they could get it out of the way now with some good weather for at least the first week of Wimbledon.  Can't believe it's less than two weeks away!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Pondering the losses

I admit I've been having a hard time being inspired to write a blog post after watching an uninspiring quarterfinal performance by Roger Federer, in which he lost in straight sets to Jo Wilfred Tsonga.  I can assure you that you won't be reading any articles from me in any way implying that Federer is done or that he should retire or that he will soon be dropping out of the top 10.  However, I really have been rather perplexed in the last several months to figure out what is going on with some of these losses.

Unfortunately Roger has been unable to defend any titles so far in 2013, and until Rome last month, where he lost terribly to Rafael Nadal, he hadn't even been to a final.  In his match against Tsonga at Roland Garros he started out well, going up an early break, and was up 40-15 to consolidate the break.  That's when all the unforced errors started, following him through the rest of the match.  Not that he didn't have any great play mixed in too, but the errors really ruled, mixed in with a high level from Tsonga, who sensed his opportunity.

So is he having problems with motivation, problems with concentration, a physical issue he's keeping under wraps?  Or is it too hard to play match after match at a high level at the age of 31?  Or are the responsibilities of having a family travel with him, along with all his other endorsement and press commitments getting to be too much for him?  Maybe the short grass season will answer some of these questions since he has such love for this surface, and surely great motivation to try to defend his title at Wimbledon.  It sure would give him some confidence if he could land his first title of the year at Halle, where he lost last year to Tommy Haas in the final.

Hopefully in the few days before his first match next week in Halle he and his team will have been able to find some answers to some of the questions he also must be asking.  I firmly believe his game is fully still there to win tournaments, grand slams included.  There just seems to be a piece missing at this point and he need to figure out a way to add it back into the puzzle.

In the meantime who will make the final at RG?  I would love to see Djokovic beat Nadal and Tsonga beat Ferrer in the semis.  Would make for a pretty exciting final I think.  Unfortunately they often don't turn out the way I hope.  In any event, should be some pretty high quality semifinal matches.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

30-somethings do it again

The last couple days at the French Open have been amazing for the 30-somethings.  Whoever started the phrase "20 is the new 30" sure knew what they were talking about.  Let's start with the ageless Tommy Haas and his gutsy win against the serving machine John Isner.  Anyone who was watching the tail end of the 4th set was glued to their TV/computer, I can tell you that for sure.  When Tommy failed to convert any of the 12 match points he had on Isner's serve (through hardly any fault of his own, mind you), lost the set and then was down a break in the 5th set, who couldn't be thinking it had just been too much for the 35-year-old, who had already had to play his rain delayed previous round the day before.  But that wasn't taking into account that Tommy still desperately wanted to win this match.  So he continued to fight through the booming Isner serves, which despite the fact that big John was practically dead on his feet after his previous 5 set match the day before, continued to come at the same fearsome speed.  He finally got his opportunity to get back on serve but knew he would have to break Isner again, since there are no tiebreaks in the 5th set at Roland Garros.  And finally at 8-all he got his chance, with John pretty much done in.  Haas still  had to serve it out, but he did that without drama and earned an incredible victory to take this much deserving fighter into the 4th round.

Not to be outdone, another 30-something Tommy, 31-year-old Tommy Robredo to be exact, pulled out not just one but three incredible wins.  Coming back from two sets down is always going to be an amazing feat that gets attention, but how about doing it three times in a row?  That is exactly what this comeback "kid" has done this week.  Surely he must be getting exhausted by now, but I'm sure the exhilaration of coming back over and over again has to be the adrenaline that is pulling him through.  Not only that, but just a year ago Robredo was ranked, believe it or not, 471 after being out for injuries.  Who would have believed he would have the gumption to fight through those odds.  Yet here he is now into the quarterfinals of a major, beating choker Nicholas Almagro, who surely should have won this match.  The tears he shed at the end of the match showed how much it all means to him.

And the match that not only had me on the edge of my seat like the Haas match, but also with major heart attack potential was that of Roger Federer against Gilles Simon.  After completely cruising through the first set I totally thought this was going to be another stressless match.  However, a fall in the second set, which could have been disastrous on his ankle, was saved as Roger caught himself and fell onto his hands and knees.  However, though he appeared to be ok physically, he definitely wasn't the same player for the next set-and-a-half, getting broken the same game, losing the set, and going on to win only two games in the next set.  Surely something was wrong.  However, all of a sudden in the fourth set something came alive once again.  He starting hitting some of his beauty shots again, moving around the court better, shouting some come ons, and with an awesome grunting forehand broke and went on to win the set.  The fifth set was again more dominant by Federer.  Though he had some trouble serving it out, he eventually did to gain his 900th win and his 36th consecutive major quarterfinal.  It was a stressful match for his fans, and I'm sure for him too, but sometimes being tested can be a good thing.  I'm hoping that is the case, as his next opponent, Jo Wilfred Tsonga, has beaten him in a major quarterfinal before.  Let's hope this severe test by Tsonga's countryman will be enough to pull Roger through to give him a chance at his 2nd FO title.  As he said himself regarding Tsonga:  "I know he can beat me, and he knows he can beat me.  But I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen."  Go Roger!