Updated: What The Finals? Group A Preview
Posted by Brodie under: London
The quick title to this group is clearly the rematch of the last two slam finals between Rafa and Berd/Nole, but us tennis nerds know there’s more to this group than meets the eye. How have these players been doing post-USO? How do they stack up against others in their groups? What are their WTF records over the years? Let’s take a look.
Rafael Nadal 
While this might be the greatest year Rafa has ever had, it hasn’t exactly been an autumn of much note… not that he needs one or anything. He had a strange loss to Garlo in Thailand, turned around and won Tokyo the next week, and then crashed and burned in his third consecutive week of playing in Shanghai against Melzer.
The real cause concern hasn’t been the results. A nagging left shoulder injury bumped him out of Paris, however he insists he is now fine, and that the doctor just recommended he take a week off to make sure it didn’t get worse. Fair enough. Hopefully it’s a non-issue.
What about motivation? You’ve won three slams, you completed the career slam, you’ve locked up the number 1 spot for about the next 6 months… who cares?
“I will have a special motivation, and I’m going to give everything I can to play well here,” Nadal said. “I want to improve the image of last year. I’ll try to win.” (Associated Press)
A quick peek at Rafa’s WTF history is surprisingly underwhelming. In 2005 and 2008 he was unable to compete due to injury. In 2006 and 2007 he lost in the semis to Fed, and last year he looked utterly exhausted and didn’t manage to win a set, let a lone a match. His record through the years is 4-7.
We all know Rafa loves titles, especially ones he’s never won before, and this would definitely be another solid feather in his cap, especially considering indoor hard courts are easily his worst surface. He’s only ever won one title on indoor hard courts (over Ljubs in Madrid in 2005… 7-3 in a fifth set tiebreak, none the less).
Last year Rafa played Paris, played WTF right after, and then had Davis Cup. Combined with an even more exhausting season than this year’s, last year’s results weren’t necessarily that surprising. This year it’s just London, and he hasn’t played in a month. Expect Rafa to come flying out of the gate this year.
Novak Djokovic 
It’s been a pretty productive fall for Nole. He won Beijing without dropping the set, lost in the semis of Shanghai and the final of Basel to Fed, and then basiclally check out of the building in the third round of Paris against Llodra.
With the momentum of a solid summer and autumn behind him, Nole might appear to be one of the favourites in London. There is one pink elephant in the room, however, and that’s the upcoming Davis Cup tie involving Serbia and France. Nole is the only player who will be competing in London and the DC final this year, and one has to wonder how much that will be in the back of his mind. Does he really want to get himself deep into three setters or get all the way to the final of London if that’s going to risk his chances against a solid French team? Or does he really want those bonus points going into next year?
The good news for him is that the fast indoor hard court will likely make life a bit easier for him and his body, but more on that when I get into the actual head to head.
Tomas Berdych 
It’s been a breakout year for the Berdman, who turned 25 in September. Unfortunately, he hasn’t gotten past the quarterfinals since Wimbledon and hasn’t gotten past the third round since Toronto. Cripes.
I’ll be honest in saying that I haven’t seen much of Berd since his semi-heart breaker against Fed in Toronto (5-7 in the third). He just hasn’t really gotten far enough for me to have had to take notice. But from what I have seen, it’s been pretty clear that Thunderberd has turned into Hummingberd in terms of his aggressive play and accuracy. It’s one of the harder parts of being tall. Much like someone as, say, Venus, when things get out of whack with all those moving parts, it gets messy. The ability to scoop out those low forehands and put some spin on them (what helped him reach the Wimbledon final) has basically disappeared. With missed, sprayed balls the confidence goes and then more balls… well, it’s a vicious cycle. You know the drill.
So what a great opportunity for Berd to toss out the past months, remember what he’s done well this year, and go out and battle. And let’s be honest, in this group, that’s exactly what he’s going to have to do. This is a pretty fantastic opportunity for some points, and a great first time reward for an epic year. Show us what you got, big guy.
Andy Roddick 
While Andy might seem like the most surprising guy to see here, history would kindly disagree. Andy has now won at least one tournament every year for the past 10 years, and has qualified for the WTF 8 years running. That’s some pretty damn good consistency.
While Dick didn’t make it past the quarters of a slam (and only got that far once; in Australia) he did have a pretty wicked first half. He won Brisbane (which included my favourite player/umpire interaction of the year), made the quarters of Australia, made the final of Indian Wells, and then won Miami while only dropping one set on the way. Other highlights include the semis of Cincy and Basel as well as the quarters of Paris. When you quickly compare those results to the year 9th ranked player Fer had, it makes sense (sorry Fer fans).
While injury nearly kept Dick from qualifying in the first place, it may end up being a bit of a blessing in disguise. A fresh and hungry Dick is a dangerous Dick (well that sounds interesting…) and if his serve is working on these fast indoor courts, he could throw a serious wrench into the WTF wheel. Don’t count him out.
Head To Head Previews
Monday, November 22nd, 2pm: Djokovic vs. Berdych
H2H: Djokovic 3 – 1 Berdych
Hard Court H2H: Djokovic 2 – 0
Last Meeting: Davis Cup 2010: Djokovic d. Berdych 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
It’s a bit of a strange head to head, and it’s even more strange that all of these meetings have come from 2008 and after.
If for nothing more than recent results, it’s pretty easy to give Nole the edge. He’s clearly gained confidence and momentum after his US Open final run, whereas Berd has puttered out after his Wimbledon final run. I’d give Berd the slight edge for the indoor hard court surface, however, he’ll be knee deep in his own Berd poop if he plans on playing passive or sloppy tennis. He’ll need to bring his serve and hope to keep Nole off balance so points are nice and short.
As for Nole, I’d expect him to come out flying, toss in some spinning kick serves, and make Berd run a lot. If Berd starts spraying, he’ll smell blood, and this thing might be over before you know it. Winner: Djokovic
Monday, November 22nd, 8pm: Nadal vs. Roddick
H2H: Nadal 5 -3 Roddick
Hard Court H2H: Nadal 2 -3 Roddick
Last Meeting: Queen’s 2010: Nadal d. Roddick 7-5, 6-4
This is more or less what I expected before I looked up the head to head. Slight edge to Rafa overall, slight edge to Dick on the hard courts. Oddly enough, Rafa’s hard court wins over Dick came in the 2007 and 2009 semis of Indian Wells. His other wins were on clay in Davis Cup, and the Queen’s result above.
The most important match in this head to head, however, was their Miami showdown in which Dick won in 3 sets. Rafa was hardly playing terrible tennis. Andy, however, was serving laser beams out of his eyeballs and was basically unbreakable. Not only do big servers cause Rafa problems in that he can’t work his way into points, but they also severely screw with his rhythm and that’s exactly what happened in Miami.
I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to know that, barring a Rafa injury, Dick is once again going to have to fire up the rocket launcher and serve as if his life depended on it. The surface is obvious a big advantage thrown Dick’s way in that it will help the serve and it’s Rafa’s worst surface. Who knows, maybe Andy will even get some bonus London support after his tragic hero Wimbledon run last year.
I think the breaker here is Rafa’s motivation. He’s not just finishing off the year, he wants this title under his belt. Still, don’t write Dick off just yet… Winner: Nadal
Wednesday, November 24th: Nadal vs. Berdych
H2H: Nadal 8 -3 Berdych
Hard Court H2H: Nadal 3 – 2 Roddick
Last Meeting: Wimbledon Final 2010: Nadal d. Berdych 6-3, 7-5, 6-4
Indoor hard courts are a whole different beast from grass, but unless Berd can blast his way through Rafa and play some damn precise tennis, he’s likely going to be ground up and spit back out by Rafa who will probably come out firing. At the same time, if Berd’s serve isn’t working or is making a lot of errors, Rafa can sit back a bit and win on athleticism alone. Probably the easiest throw away match of this group. Winner: Nadal
Wednesday, November 24th: Djokovic vs. Roddick
H2H: Djokovic 2 -5 Roddick
Hard Court H2H: Djokovic 2 – 5 Roddick
Last Meeting: Cincinnati 2010: Roddick d. Djokvoic 7-5, 6-4
Much like Rafa, Nole doesn’t always have the greatest answers to big serves, and because of it this head to head isn’t wickedly surprising. But does Dick really have the advantage here?
Likely not. A fast court does give him the advantage, but Nole’s return has been pretty damn solid this past half year. Not to mention, anyone who saw him at USO (specifically the Fed semi) knows that Nole isn’t afraid to let it rip. The problem for his opponents is that it’s landing in.
Dick remains the wildcard for this group and does have a shot at Nole. I just don’t think a big serve will likely save him. As long as Nole isn’t too busy thinking about Davis Cup, he should bring the heat and the aggressive play that will make the difference. Winner: Djokovic
Friday, November 26th: Nadal vs. Djokovic
H2H: Nadal 15 – 7 Djokovic
Hard Court H2H: Nadal 3 – 7 Djokovic
Last Meeting: US Open 2010: Nadal d. Djokvoic 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2
The obvious answer here would be to choose Rafa after his win over Nole in the US Open final. However, it’s important to look at the hard court head to head, 7-3 for Nole, and their only meeting on an indoor hard court. That would have been last year in Paris where Nole only dropped 5 games on his way to winning.
Lots has been made of the type of court, and rightfully so. Indoor hard courts force Nole (and Rafa) to be aggressive, and unlike most players, Nole is typically fine with Rafa playing wicked defense and getting a lot of balls back.
Overall it’s going to be quite the fight, and might end up being the best match of the tournament. Winner: Nole. In a squeaker.
Friday, November 26th: Berdych vs. Roddick
H2H: Berdych 2 – 6 Roddick
Hard Court H2H: Berdych 1 – 3 Roddick
Last Meeting: Miami 2010: Roddick d. Berdych 7-5, 6-4
Poor Hummingberd. Sorry dude, but Roddick is probably gonna pull out the rocket launcher and serve his way through you. Winner: Roddick
So there we are. Nole wins the group, Rafa gets second. Let me know what you think. Will Rafa be too rusty? Too hard indoors? Will Nole be too busy thinking about Davis Cup? Will Berd pull off an upset? Can Dick’s serve mess something up? Hit me.