Archive for January, 2012

The Long Haul

Posted by Brodie under: Australian Open, Fergasm, Nole, Rafa

31 Jan 2012

It was bound to happen eventually.

Novak Djokovic not only turned the tennis world on its head last year as he won three of four majors, he turned the seedings we’ve become so accustomed to upside down. Regardless, it was the same old as Federer continued to draw Djokovic and Nadal drew Murray. Nadal/Federer could be a possible semifinal, however being the second and third seeds, and it was exactly that for the first time in ages.

It’s been said so many times in tennis circles it’s become a cliche. The left handed, physical, unconventional, clay master Spaniard. The right handed, smooth, elegant, gentleman of Wimbledon Swiss. We’ve heard it all. Hell, books have been written on it. Yet, late in the first set, I believe we all realized once again how palpable those differences are, and indeed how special this rivalry continues to be.

It is the type of extreme difference nigh on impossible to achieve let alone see in team sports. It’s also such an extreme difference rarely accompanied by such greatness and regularity in tennis.
It may have been the perfect stage. With Djokovic now a slight step above all, Nadal and Federer were allowed to fight among themselves and show off just how relevant not just their rivalry is, but how relevant and close they remain.
In reality, this match was an audition. A reminder of perhaps the greatest rivalry tennis has ever seen. Yet it was not the final, it was a semifinal. The old rivalry versus the new. And so it was fitting that once again Rafa was dragged around court by the master, but outlasted him and eventually outplayed him quite handily.

Cometh Brutality

Due to Federer and Nadal’s large chasm in styles and approaches, their matches turn into wildly entertaining cat-and-mouse affairs that are largely based around trying to hit the ball to the other’s backhand. Once that happens, one uses lazer like precision, the other relentless physicality, to push the opposing player around the court and win the point. This is all wonderful for Nadal, and has been for years. Nadal’s wildly unconvential matches up perfectly against Federer’s convential, albeit effortless and precise, style.
But what if Nadal were to meet his match? A player who’s game matches up in the exact perfect way to tear down the war machine that is Rafa. You know where I’m going with this. Of course, Rafa has lost many matches over the past several years. But when pre-2011-Nadal was healthy and played his best, he simply did not lose.

It has to be noted, that Nadal met his match, a player playing at the top of his ability, and a player with the exact type of game to tear the Spaniard’s down. And it was’t Novak Djokovic.

Fernando Verdasco pushed Nadal to the absolute limit in 2009 and foreshadowed the type of play that could defeat Nadal. Verdasco and Djokovic aren’t the same player, but there are similarities. First off, Verdasco is left handed, Djokovic is right handed. However, Verdasco’s forehand is incredibly flat, (on that day) reliable, and able to expose Nadal’s backhand by firing cross court from any spot on the court. This is all true of Djokovic’s backhand. Much like Verdasco’s forehand and left-handededness “cancelled out” Rafa’s largest weapon, his forehand, it also dismantled his reliable approach to point construction. Nadal is finding the exact same difficulties in this area due to Novak’s backhand.

Breaking It Down and Breaking Down

The Australian Open final will be remembered for what is now the longest major final ever played. This largely implies that the match was incredibly close to have dragged on for so long (after the epic Isner-Mahut, it is difficult not to jump to this conclusion). In reality it should be remembered for not being close at all.
After winning the first set 7-5, Djokovic dominated what was a series of pretty junky tennis, winning the next two sets 6-4 and 6-2. In reality, he should have wrapped it up in four. It is almost as if these two are resigned to the fact that they’re in it for the long haul, and it is going to be gruelling, regardless of the scoreline.

Now would be the time to throw in the old cliched tennis to boxing analogy. Sure, it is a nice one. Both are individual sports, both involve breaks between periods of action, and it makes tennis look pretty damn good. The difference is, despite being punched in the head repeatedly, boxing matches don’t take six hours. If Nadal/Federer is a fencing match, Nadal/Djokovic is a Medieval bloodbath with battle axes. If Nadal/Federer is judo, Nadal/Djokovic is the UFC.

The two of them pushed the level of physicality in the US Open final to a point rarely seen. Perhaps we should have seen this coming. Both players move so well and play such good defense, they rely purely on instinct at the end of long points (and eventually, long matches). In the end, this is what makes the difference. Djokovic’s muscle memory, right now, is at an insane level. The smoothness and accuracy he was finding off both wings late in the match was incredible. The footwork wasn’t there, but he was still able to just his upper body strength to move the ball and keep the backhand flat.
For Nadal, it is not quite the same. The most obvious point is his missed backhand passing shot at 4-2, 30-15. Despite Nadal’s efforts to work on his backhand, and it has improved mightily over the past couple of years, old habits die hard. The power goes, and so does some of the accuracy and craftmanship. It becomes a “get me over the net” shot. Maybe it’s because Nadal is a natural right hander, but plays lefty? I’m not sure.

This makes life incredibly difficult for Nadal. Dictating points from the forehand is not as easy, as it is cancelled out by Djokovic’s backhand. To make matters worse, Nadal’s own backhand tends to fail him in long matches whereas the fitness and muscle memory of Djokovic’s largest weapon continues to tick and give him a slight upper hand.

Losing the Battle, Winning the War

Nadal and Federer’s rivalry has long been talked about, analyzed, and cliche’d into oblivion. It’s one of the greatest rivalries sport has ever seen. But what a treat to have, with an outgoing Federer, a new rivalry for the ages. The reasons for one man’s success and the other man’s failure are only now beginning to simmer in the minds of hardcore tennis fans. This rivalry is another that has never been seen before, dares to push the sport to the edges of physicality, athleticism, and endurance, and should be celebrated as such. As tennis fans, we should line up our water bottles, tug at our shorts, look to the heavens, tear off our shirts and jump in.

25 Jan 2012

Just like I’ve done for the past two (three?) tournaments, send in your predictions of the men’s semifinals, including the winner and set numbers. For example, Federer in 5, Djokovic in 4. I don’t need the exact scoreline predicted. You can tweet them to me at @MindTheRacket or you can leave a comment here on the blog and I’ll add it in. Winners will be announced with a special shoutout, and it’s always interesting to see how the picks fall when lots of people get involved (which you all have in the past).

Here’s what I have so far, and I’ll continue to add predictions all the way up to the first men’s semifinal tonight. Retweet, tell your friends, and good luck!

Federer in 3, Djokovic in 3:
Federer in 3, Djokovic in 4: @ATP_Mars
Federer in 3, Djokovic in 5:
Federer in 4, Djokovic in 3: @MindTheRacket, @ParkUpdates, @RagingBitch, @bobbychin
Federer in 4, Djokovic in 4: @AnaTennisGirl, @fogmount, @TennisOnTennis, @ZeZeAM, @ITakeTheeTennis, @Castala, @sabs215
Federer in 4, Djokovic in 5: @astraldrops
Federer in 5, Djokovic in 3:
Federer in 5, Djokovic in 4: @hjennap
Federer in 5, Djokovic in 5:
Federer in 3, Murray in 3:
Federer in 3, Murray in 4:
Federer in 3, Murray in 5:
Federer in 4, Murray in 3:
Federer in 4, Murray in 4: @zbrain, @Lils4reals
Federer in 4, Murray in 5:
Federer in 5, Murray in 3:
Federer in 5, Murray in 4:
Federer in 5, Murray in 5:

Nadal in 3, Djokovic in 3:
Nadal in 3, Djokovic in 4:
Nadal in 3, Djokovic in 5:
Nadal in 4, Djokovic in 3: @rosso_neri, @vamosdutchgirl, @kait_oc, @RacquetRequired
Nadal in 4, Djokovic in 4: @jmtomato, @ShawnBesabella
Nadal in 4, Djokovic in 5:
Nadal in 5, Djokovic in 3: @ljkingy
Nadal in 5, Djokovic in 4: @_drivevolley, @anna_tennisfan, @VasekPospisil, @snoodtastic, @fast_tennis
Nadal in 5, Djokovic in 5:
Nadal in 3, Murray in 3:
Nadal in 3, Murray in 4: @tennissmash
Nadal in 3, Murray in 5: @RafaelNadalFC
Nadal in 4, Murray in 3:
Nadal in 4, Murray in 4:
Nadal in 4, Murray in 5:
Nadal in 5, Murray in 3:
Nadal in 5, Murray in 4: @mzemek, @emmaphickey, @nidssserz
Nadal in 5, Murray in 5:

19 Jan 2012

Poor Ryan Sweeting.

How many times have we seen lesser players crack under the mental pressure of pushing a top name to the limit? Ryan Sweeting had unexpectedly gone up two sets to one, on Ferrer. Incredible hitting to the corners, Sweeting was ripping Ferrer’s short playing, moving forward and dictating play. Impressive stuff from the American who had never made it past the second round in a slam.

Ferrer wasn’t much interested in being pushed around in the fourth, however. A little bit deeper was all he needed to keep Sweeting from getting on top of the ball and made rushing the net more difficult to set up, and more dangerous to attempt. Heading into the fifth, the match would only go one way.

Serving at 4-4, things were tense for Sweeting. A fantastic backhand down the line winner from Ferrer followed by an excellent return that caught Sweeting by surprise and suddenly he was down triple break point. A double fault and a horrendous return game and the match was over in the blink of an eye.

For Ferrer it’s an escape that puts him in his proper place; one of the greatest in the game today. While many lower ranked players often collapse under the mental pressure of facing a big name, Ferrer takes this and forces you to physically collapse. The level of his game in the fifth set was but a sliver away from his form in the first set and he dominated on serve to keep the pressure on Sweeting. After winning the fourth set, the outcome of the match was never in doubt and rightfully so. The man is a machine.

Other Notes:

- Tough start to the year for Fish who was visibly frustrate at the Hopman Cup in Perth weeks ago and didn’t fair much better versus Falla. Bad timing, slopppy footwork and all around low confidence, this is the biggest upset for the men so far. The American hard court swing should give him the boost he needs to jump start his year.

- A tough injury to Andy Roddick leaves him out for a few weeks. The real pain is that it knocked him out versus his long time rival Hewitt and denied the chance for a rematch of what was a fantastic 2011 Memphis final versus Raonic.

- Speaking of which, you have to like the Canadian right now. When he’s serving well, he’s darn near impossible to return and break. If he wins that, Djokovic is next. That would be a fantastic match to gauge exactly where both players are right now heading forward.

- Lastly: This has been an incredibly slow first four days as far as the women go. That’s fantastic news. A lack of upsets means that the upcoming match-ups, starting as early as today, will be fantastic and continue to be fantastic regardless of who wins. What a way to kick off 2012 this will be for the WTA. I can’t wait.

17 Jan 2012

It certainly feels like a lifetime has passed since I wrote this.

It’s been a long couple of years for Sorana Cirstea. Things seemed very much on the up in 2009. She made the Roland Garros quarters and Los Angeles semis, as well as the third round in Wimbledon and the US Open. The transition from junior to serious pro seemed complete at the ripe age of 19.

Despite her positive outlook, it’s been a tough couple of years. Sorana has lost much of the “complete player” look she once had, and in a very similar fashion to Ivanovic, has looked more like a player with a big forehand and sporadic confidence.

Tennis is a funny sport though, and so often it’s in the head. At the end of the year last year, Sorana yanked out a $50k ITF title in France after saving a match point all the way in her first round. A solid showing in Auckland against Pennetta despite the first round loss, and then a quarterfinal loss in Hobart to Kerber after blowing two match points.

Expectations for Melbourne? Please. I’ll paraphrase, but at the beginning of her match versus Stosur, I texted my friend saying that I was about to watch Sorana be destroyed in front of a packed house.

Then things started happening. Impressive things. Powerful things. Dominating things. First, the footwork. It’s always been a bit clunky. Last year she made a push to become more fit, and looked almost unhealthily skinny. It was sad to see. However, there seems to be a good balance and it showed in her movement.

The forehand has always been big and been a strength. However, to my eye, much of the loopiness that made it wild was gone. This looked mainly in her wrist preparation which is much more consistent. However, the footwork allowed her to get to balls with plenty of time and make the entire motion consistently over the course of the match.

The serve was impressive as well. 65% is a very, very good sign for her. The fact that she was serving, on average, 10km/h faster than Stosur on first serves at 165km/h doesn’t hurt either.

Mostly importantly, however, was her ability to push Stosur around and take advantage of short balls early in points. Stosur traditionally struggles against some uber-flat hitters and that isn’t by accident. Sorana ate up Stosur’s slices which normally neutralize opponents. She was ready for them too, and wasn’t afraid to bend her knees and let it rip. The forehand down the line (including an amazing running passing shot late in the second set) was particularly impressive.

Lastly, the net. First off, I would like to note that many people noted Cirstea’s success at the net (14/16) and drew comparisons to Kirilenko’s net rushing versus Stosur in New York. This is both true and false. The true part is that both were very effective at the net, and playing the net was often a wise decision. The difference from the Kirilenko match, however, is that it was very much on the forefront of Kirilenko’s mind, particularly while serving. Many of Cirstea’s points at the net were a result of getting on top in baseline rallies and having the guts to finish them off. This largely comes about by the nature of Sam’s short slices, as well as a few Stosur drop shots. Just because a player has a decent amount of net approaches and is largely successful does not necessarily mean that they were net rushing, and in fact, can be quite the opposite.

Overall, you have to feel terrible for Stosur. Full credit needs to be given to Cirstea who may have played the match of her life last night and came in for a fight. But it is also fair to say that Stosur did not play her best tennis and really did not start to show shades of the US Open champion that she is until 1-1 in the second set. However, Stosur is a notoriously slow starter of the season and tends not to find a ton of success in Australia. This is far from a crushing blow to her confidence and potential success this season.

Next up for Sorana Banana is Urszula Radwanska and the chance to make a grand slam third round for the first time since 2009.

(Side note: for those curious of the Twitter hashtag I throw around in good fun, #SoranaCirsteaprayercircleofone. Clearly, I’m a fan of Sorana. I made a trip up to Montreal in 2010 to see the ladies play, and Sorana had made it to the final round of qualifying, up against fellow Romanian Monica Niculescu. Following nothing but the live scores with great intent. Clearly I was the only one caring let alone freaking out and tweeting about it, so I used the hashtag #soranacirsteaprayercircleofone, making a joke on the sometimes used #[player name here]prayercircle joke sometimes used for fans who have a player locked in a tight match. And so the hashtag lives. Oh, and she lost, by the way. Go figure.

13 Jan 2012

Official Site: Here
Official Draw: Here
Women’s Draw Preview: Here
Top Seeds:
Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Murray, Ferrer, Tsonga, Berdych, Fish

Top Half, First Quarter

While Djokovic dominated the season last year, things are a bit different entering 2011. Despite being better than Nadal for the first half of the year, it was difficult to call a favourite heading into the US Open. This time, Djokovic is the clear favourite. This time, he’s not only the number 1 in the world, he has to defend his slam title, and the only one he’s won twice.

The good news for him is that his draw is absolutely fantastic. Perhaps the only major threat could come in the fourth round versus Raonic or Roddick. He’s likely to get Ferrer in the quarterfinal, which is the perfect fit for him considering the 5-8 seeds. Ferrer needs to run and grind down his opponents, something he won’t be able to do against a well rested and confident Novak.

Predicted Quarterfinal: Djokovic vs. Ferrer

Top Half, Second Quarter

This quarter has perhaps the most intriguing quarterfinal match-up of Murray/Tsonga. Tsonga has finally gotten himself healthy and is playing an incredibly aggressive and athletic brand of tennis that can really challenge the top 4. However, Murray does well with overpowering players and is perfectly happy to redirect the pace back at his opponents and come up with the necessary angles.

There are some tricky early tests for Murray, including Harrison and anyone out of Troicki, Llodra or Gulbis. Otherwise, a straight forward road for these two to clash in the quarters.

Predicted Quarterfinal: Murray vs. Tsonga

Bottom Half, First Quarter

This quarter comes with the most questions. A Fish/Federer quarterfinal is less than guaranteed with players like Melzer, Verdasco, Tomic and most importantly del Potro looming.

Perhaps the only two large threats to Fed are Dolgopolov, who showed flashes of brilliance last year, and Melzer, seeded at the 31 spot due to injury. One of these may test Fed, but pencil him in for the quarters one more time.

The top half of the quarter is a bit more tricky with Delpo opposite Fish. Del Potro steadily improved last year after his return and is not back to top form… or is he? Some time off, some training and a fresh outlook can do wonders. Delpo is no longer the comeback, feel good story and will likely feel like he’s out to prove himself and make that jump back into the top 10 and the ATP’s elite. His underrated defense and return of serve in a five set match gives him the edge in my book.

Predicted Quarterfinal: del Potro vs. Federer

Bottom Half, Second Quarter

Lastly we come to the quarter of Mr. Number 2, Rafael Nadal. While his results in Abu Dhabi and Doha may imply that Rafa is not ready to reclaim tennis’ top spot or the Australian title, anyone who saw him play can tell you that the flame is burning. And it’s burnin’ high.

Were there brain farts? Yes. Were there adjustments, point construction, and improvement? Absolutely. In particular, Rafa’s backhand impressed as did his movement around the court. There was just that little edge that we come to expect from Rafa. He looks much more relaxed off the court, and most importantly, he knows he needs to be better. And so the hunted becomes the hunter.

On the other side of the coin is what could be a tricky quarter for Berdych. His form right now is anyone’s guess, but he’ll have the oppurtunity to work his way into the tournament. That being said, he has been known to stumble, and a possible showdown versus a hot Almagro and a semi-hometown favourite Baghdatis may be a tough ask.

Predicted Quarterfinal: Almagro vs. Nadal
Predicted Semifinals: Djokovic vs. Murray, Federer vs. Nadal
Predicted Final: Djokovic vs. Nadal
Predicted Champion: Novak Djokovic

12 Jan 2012

Official Site: Here
Draw: Here
Top Seeds:
Wozniacki, Kvitova, Azarenka, Sharapova, Li, Radwanska, Stosur, Zvonareva

Top Half, First Quarter

While this quarter is a potential Wozniacki/Li match-up, Clisters roams in what is otherwise a very attractive looking quarter for the big names. Amazingly, Kim falls on Nails’ side, meaning they could meet in the fourth round in a rematch of last years final. That is the closest they could have been, due to seeding. As of right now, the edge has to go to Nails who has looked fantastic in Sydney. Kim is fighting injuries and her inconsistency may do her in, despite her game matching up well. Regardless, if that does happen, it will be mandatory evening (or middle of the night) viewing.

A quarterfinal finish, at the least, is a must for Caro. She has an incredibly favourable draw and should cruise to the fourth round. There she will likely meet Jankovic or Safarova and should move through.

Predicted Quarterfinal: Wozniacki vs. Li

Top Half, Second Quarter

If there’s a quarter serving up a ton of fantastic first and second round matches, this has to be it. Wickmayer/Voskoboeva, Rezai/Peng, Azarenka/Watson and numerous other match-ups happening the rounds to follow. The Sydney final will give us a preview of the potential quarterfinal battle, Azarenka/Radwanska, which is a difficult match to call.

Surely Azarenka has to be the massive favourite for this quarter. A resurgent Pennetta may prove tricky in the fourth round, but should be beatable with where Azarenka’s game is right now. Despite what should be some fantastic matches…

Predicted Quarterfinal: Azarenka vs. Radwanska

Bottom Half, First Quarter

This quarter is incredibly packed and even more difficult to predict. The fourth rounds would be Serena/Zvonareva and Lisicki/Sharapova. Other big names lurk around the corner with Kanepi (3r Zvonareva), Kuznetsova (3r Lisicki) and Cibulkova and Marino who could play in the second round for the chance to play Serena.

At the same time, it’s difficult to know how players like Zvonareva (who bounced early in Sydney and Lisicki and Serena (injuries) are feeling right now. In other words, though it might seem difficult for some of the lower ranked players to squeeze through, the opportunity may be there.

Due to Serena winning this tournament the last time she was here combined with her fitness level, it is difficult to rule out her chances in this quarter.

Predicted Quarterfinal: Williams vs. Lisicki

Bottom Half, Second Quarter

This quarter features what should be Kvitova/Stosur, but a match that is highly unlikely, in my opinion. Stosur struggles at home and typically early in the season. Kvitova has asthma problems and the brutal Aussie heat does her no favours (thanks Ana!).

With that in mind, this may be the weakest overall quarter of the draw which could help see the big names through. Look for Bartoli, in Stosur’s section, to get on a roll and make some noise.

Predicted Quarterfinal: Bartoli vs. Kvitova

Predicted Semifinals: Wozniacki vs. Azarenka, Williams vs. Bartoli
Predicted Final: Azarenka vs. Williams
Predicted Champion: Serena Williams

Boring? Maybe. But this is a tournament that Serena loves and after missing out her chance to defend it?… Scary times, people.

9 Jan 2012

Combined – Sydney (Premier and 250)

Official Site: Here
Draws: Men & Women
Top Men Seeds:
Delpo, Isner, Gasquet, Feli Lopez
Top Women Seeds: Woz, Kvits, Azarenka, Nails

The beginning of the year has been a strange time for the past few years. Typically Fed and Rafa peace out to Doha for the first week of the season, which seemingly takes place in an alternate universe. Djokovic doesn’t even bother. The rest of the events scrounge together what recognizable names they can find and do what they can. Then everyone comes together for the big show.

For the ladies, nearly everyone gets their cuts in somewhere, and almost everyone chooses to play Sydney. This year, nearly every top lady entered, pushing someone seemingly automatically in to a big tournament, Maria Kirilenko, into the qualifying draw (which she was eventually bounced out of).

While the men’s draw largely lacks any dark horses or big names overall, it is home to del Potro as it’s top seed. It is tough to know exactly what we’ll get from the big man this year. His return to the tour was not the Delpo we saw in 2009, and as expected. However, this may be the year that the big man gets back into his groove and there is no reason that that shouldn’t happen. Every tennis fan should scout out his form heading to Melbourne.

The ladies’ field is absolutely packed and has already featured a ton of big name matches that you would expect to see in the second week of a slam. And therein lies the rub. It may be tricky to know exactly how some of these players are feeling (I’m looking at you, Zvonareva) heading into the Melbourne. A quick loss here does not mean that they won’t find a way to work themselves into the Open and find success. Regardless, a must watch tournament with fantastic match-ups each and every day, guaranteed.

Women – Hobart (International)

Official Site: Here
Draw: Here
Top Seeds:
Wicky, AMG, Niculescu, Kerber

Hobart does not have a terrible draw considering Sydney is happening at the same time. Some names that could make some noise in Melbourne (Wicky, Peer, Pironkova… Cirstea…) and a pretty even draw overall. On a personal note, sometimes watching these smaller, laid back tournaments can be incredibly relaxing and can really give off the laid-back atmosphere of outer courts at other tournaments. Nerds only!

Men – Auckland (250)

Official Site: Here
Draw: Here
Top Seeds:
Ferrer, Almagro, Verdasco, Chela

It’s all about the Spaniards in Auckland, as tennis’ Energizer Bunny gets to work on his season. Ferrer had what he called his greatest season of his career last year as he became a mental and physical force that seemed to defy his age and time spent on court. He has to be the overwhelming favourite to take this tournament, and has to be a name to watch out for in anyone’s part of the draw in Melbourne. Special shout out to Verdasco, who looks incredibly fit and played well in the Hopman Cup. Surprise Melbourne run to come?

9 Jan 2012

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my Christmas break was much more busy than I expected to be. I planned on doing 12 different posts to wrap up the 2011s of the top 6 men and women. Turns out that wasn’t going to happen. However, I did come up with a post for Tsonga, and I figure it might not be a bad time to post it considering his current form, and recent Doha championship. This will be the (second and) last one. Regular blog activity, however, returns now!

Looking back on Jo’s year, it’s pretty incredible that the Frenchman managed to finish in the top 10 let alone number 6. Despite making the Rotterdam final, it was a tough start of the year for Jo who fell in the third round of the Australian Open. He had an absolutely dismal clay swing where he played five tournaments before Roland Garros and only mustered up 6 victories. He wouldn’t escape the third round of the French either, falling to Stan the Man.

But like just about all of our beloved French players, it’s all in the head with this one. A defeat of Nadal at Queen’s and run to the final (where he lost to Murray) gave him the confidence he desperately needed. Wimbledon was the perfect stage (and surface) for Tsonga to make a run.

After defeating Ferrer in the fourth round, the mighty Federer stood in Jo’s way. It was a typical, old school “frozen in the sights of the master” by Jo over the first two sets, where he seemingly forgot which parts of his game bring him success. Two sets to The Fed, and it was over.

That’s what we figured. Everyone except Tsonga, apparently. Against Federer, and Wimbledon’s greatest champion, it was something none of us have ever seen and will likely never see again. Sure, guys have loosened up and tried to make great comebacks against greats other than just Federer. However, the issues of concentration, fitness and overall skill tend to undo the underdog and get the favourite into the next round. Unfortunately for Fed, it was a different animal.
Jo didn’t just throw caution into the wind, he loaded it into a rocket launcher and fired it back to his house in France. The man was an absolute beast. To start, the serve. Enormous. To boot, he looked to not only pulverize every ball hit his way, but to push it to the sides or the corners. And to kick off the ultimate grass court game, he came to the net when necessary and used his athleticism to finish points off. Honestly, I don’t think anyone on tour would have beaten Jo in those three sets. It was the ultimate display of power, movement, and volleying.

Next up was the man of the hour, Novak Djokovic. With hindsight, in my opinoin, this was probably going to be Djokovic’s toughest match. Die hard Rafa fans will disagree, but Novak needed two tight tiebreakers (9-7 and 11-9) to squeeze out of this one. If Jo had just a little bit more of the spark that he had versus Fed and a little bit more luck, it easily could have gone the other way.
The rest of Jo’s hard court season saw a steady string of results, including beating Federer again en route to the Montreal semis, the quarters in New York, the Metz title and the Paris final, among some other good results. Lastly, he beat Nadal and pushed his way into the World Tour Finals before losing to Federer.

For me, Jo continues to be a player to watch, and a guy you never want to see in your section of the draw. It takes an incredible amount of skill to win a grand slam these days. We often talk about having all of the “tools”, and Jo’s tool box runneth over. He’s one of my favourite players to watch. Powerful serve, a solid (and powerful when necessary) forehand combined with excellent movement and athleticism that can help him make that show stopping shot or get to that tricky ball.

No, for Jo it’s both in the head and the body. Injuries seem to plague him, and for a guy who needs confidence and a steady string of results to get his feet under him, constantly being banged up and missing matches does not help the brain. If Jo can stay healthy and get some solid results under his belt, me might just be able to stir up some results at Wimbledon and into the second half of 2012.

The Changeover Podcast:

Episode #56 – Indian Wells Wrap