Archive for September, 2012

13 Sep 2012

(0.5 Kim Sears’ hair > Yours)

1. Murray Really Does Have It In Him It was always going to be a matter of when, not if, but after Djokovic’s career year last year, there was significant questions about Murray finally breaking through and winning that first slam.

He needed a bit of luck, as many champions do, but his ability to realize it was his moment in the fifth and shut down a tiring Djokovic was truly impressive. I think it would be silly to start getting carried away thinking Murray is a big favourite to win the Australian, but suddenly he looks a legitimate chance to win at least one of three major titles next year, and that is a refreshing change.

2. Serena Williams – Greatest Ever?* It was tedious to sit through people wonder out loud if Serena was the greatest player years ago, when her amount of major titles barely stacked up to the 22 of Steffi Graf. While now only at 15, *Serena can’t be considered the greatest in terms of results, but surely has to be considered the best in terms of pure objective power and ability. McEnroe noted that having missed so much time, there’s a legitimate chance she could play for several more years and not get tired. She might have that 22 number in the back of her head, and if she does, watch out.

3. Super Saturday Doesn’t Work Regardless of whether or not it actually rains on Saturday, loading up the end of the week with so many important matches is suicidal, and has provided us with five straight Monday finals, going back to Federer over Murray in 2008. (That was 2008? I feel old). If it rains Thursday or Friday, the entire thing is basically screwed. As I mentioned many times, the decision on this is largely due to ratings for TV, and it needs to stop.

4. Jo Needs A Coach. Bad. It’s no secret that I’m a big Jo fan. He has massive power, but he’s also pretty natural, has a crafty element to his game, and is quick around the court, particularly back to front. However, while being coachless for a while has allowed Jo to stop thinking and go hit the ball, his loss to Klizan is unacceptable for someone of his quality. Sort it out, dude.

5. Azarenka The First Legitimate Top Player of the New Generation While Caro was number one for some time, it has been her friend and mirror image Victoria Azarenka who has made the biggest surge for the upper levels of the game. The spoiled brat syndrome has all but been converted into a cool confidence (hashtag #Vikaswag please) that has pushed her to the next level of mental strength. Outside of Roland Garros, she has to be in the conversation to win any of the other major titles next year, and arguably had the second best year to only Serena.

6. There Is Still a Place for Crafty Fighters Maybe it’s come from their great success as a doubles team, but despite being no match for Serena, both Errani and partner Vinci made some impressive runs this US Open. As far as the women’s game has come with big hitters and big servers, they can still be prone to having their game break down, and players who really want to fight to the end can always have a chance on their day. Likewise, Vinci uses some mega slice on her backhand that throws off players who like it simple and flat. A lesson a lot of players could learn.

7. Delpo a Threat Again There wasn’t a whole lot between him and Djokovic, despite the close score. Quality over quantity (of sets won), my friends. This was always going to be an important year for del Potro to really push his game to get back to the top. Now ranked sixth and likely playing the World Tour Finals, JMDP is now setup to get some nice draws and push deep into the second weeks of slams. Get it, son.

8. Ivanovic Steadying the Ship – Slowly It’s hard to believe this was the former number 1s first slam quarterfinal since she last won one at the 2008 Roland Garros. I don’t need to remind Ana fans that it has been a pretty terrible fall from grace. Regardless, Ana appears to be figuring it out, and by that I mean finding that controlled, consistent aggression she once had. She can beat the players she should be beating. The ball toss and serving in general remains an issue, but the ground strokes and brain problems are really starting to find a happy medium, which is a positive sign heading to 2013.

9. Canada Looks Strong You know who I’m talking about. Filip Peliwo of course! The kid is on fire, and made all four junior slam finals this year, winning Wimbledon and the US Open. Junior success never automatically translates to senior success, but he seems to be a genuinely great kid as well as having a real controlled competitiveness to him. He’ll need to keep working, like any junior, to bulk up a bit, among other things, but he already looks like he has a bright future ahead of himself. Oh, and yeah, Milos had a great tournament, falling to Murray in the fourth round.

10. WTA Full of Impressive Youngsters Sloane Stephens equaled her 2011 fourth round result and Laura Robson matched it. These two ladies, YOUNG ladies, have tremendous attitudes and tremendous power. I’m absolutely convinced they have top 20 stuff, likely top 10, as they already impress and are no where near turning 20. Believe the hype, these kids are the real deal.

12 Sep 2012

As we are all aware, the tennis gods pre-rig all tennis matches ever played, and that will ever be played. However, it is not well known that all matches are planned out in the small amount of time between tournaments in December. Below is the writing of the main events of the 2012 men’s events between the god responsible for it, and his assistant.

It was a cold, blustery day in Tennis Goddom, December 29th, 2011 as the tennis gods got to writing out the next season. Tennis God #3 was responsible for the main events of the men’s season, and was responsible for planning them out with his assistant, who we will call for naming purposes, Mo.

Tennis God #3 Mo! Bring me my scroll! And my quill! And that massive bottle of rum you bought me for Christmas. Tennis season will soon be upon us!

Mo Yes sir, of course sir.

Tennis God #3 This year will be a simple year, Mo. Yes, while my years of Federer and Nadal domination ended this 2011, 2012 must even itself out. I’m feeling generous.

Mo Are you drunk al-

Tennis God #3 Silence! Alright. The Australian Open. Ah! Yes! It is but days away. I can’t have everyone believing that things will be simple this year. Never. It must be relatively predictable. Djokovic again! Yes. And over Nadal. A gruesome, brutal, war of attrition for a final. Those silly people in North America will never sleep! Bahahaha. This is all too easy and fun.

Mo You’re just taking the easy route because you’re drunk.

Tennis God #3 BLASPHEMY. The Roland Garrosssss…. but of course. Nadal. We’ll tease the fans with a Monaco/Nadal match-up along the way… but then have Nadal mercilessly crush him anyway. Silly girls. Bah! We’ll have Tsonga nearly beat Djokovic too, yes. Curse those silly French people. That will make Djokovic easy meat for Nadal in the final, too. Yes, good. God, this job is so easy.

Mo Wouldn’t giving Djokovic another slam and a shot at a full Grand Slam create an easier narrative?

Tennis God #3 Oh helllllll no. We need Djokovic out of the picture for now. We need to give Rafa fans false hope. Yes. But screw them! Ha. Yes. Screw them royally. After a nice jet skiing holiday in Mallorca, or whatever the hell it is he does there, we’ll have him get hurt. First he must lose early in Wimbledon though. Yes. Let me throw my pen at this piece of paper and… Lukas Rosol! It’s all too perfect.

Oh this will be perfect! Andy Murray to win Wimbledon! Over Roger Federer! Haha. How brilliant would that be? Man, this is fun.

Mo I suppose he will win the Olympics as well? That would be fun.

Tennis God #3 … Dammit. You’re right. That would be far too much Murray for any of us to handle. There would be statues of him everywhere, and all sorts of monuments named after him. Insufferable. Give Wimbledon to … screw it, Federer. Murray can lose to him in the final. Ha! He can win it another year, screw it. We’ll give him the Olympics though, yes. And over Federer in the gold medal match! Baha. Too perfect. It’s like he won Wimbledon over the greatest grass courter ever… except he totally didn’t. Yes, that will do.

Mo And the bronze medal?

Tennis God #3 Riiiiight. Nadal is still injured? Yes. Right. Hmm. Not Djokovic, I’m done with him. Del Potro? Sure. Give it to him. And over Djokovic. I’m bored of him, screw him.

Mo As you wish, sir.

Tennis God #3 US Open! Oh the possibilities. Leave Nadal out, he can still be injured. Not sure what else to do with him. Still screwing Djokovic… and Federer won Wimbledon. The dude is old. Another US Open would seem fishy… yes, give it to Murray! Over Djokovic in the final! It will be an epic to finish the year!

Mo That seems awfully unbelievable.

Tennis God #3 You’re right. Somehow Djokovic will have to lose, hmm… Mo! To the tornado machine! Conjure up a tornado and push Djokovic’s match to Sunday. Playing someone he’ll beat easily, Ferrer or something, I don’t care. Hell, push the winds into Monday’s final, screw it all up. Give Murray the edge with the wind. That makes sense, right?

Mo Surely you would not make the entire final a windy affair. Into the night? That doesn’t make much sense.

Tennis God #3 Dammit Mo, why must you be so intelligent. You’re right. And we can’t have Murray winning in straight sets. That would just be… Un-Murray like. Once the wind stops, Djokovic will mount a comeback… but fall short. Yes. We can’t have this making much sense anyway. It’s Murray’s first slam. That would be stupid.

Mo Spot on, sir.

Tennis God #3 So it’s finished! My top 4 project will finally be realized. Each will win his preferred slam, and we’ll give the gold medal to Murray, the poor sod. Remind me to give him Wimbledon another year though, will you Mo?

Mo Of course, sir.

Tennis God #3 To the bar with us, then!

8 Sep 2012

Predicting sports is a tricky thing. We all do it, and it’s part of the fun, in my opinion. Some do it with their favourite teams or players, others for the strategy and love of the game, some for gambling and for any other combination. Tennis is a tricky sport to predict, as there are many things to take into consideration, particularly strategy. Moreover, it is an individual sport, and players can be prone to bad or good days.

The following is a beginners guide to predicting tennis matches. It is in no way meant to talk down to anyone, and I am in no way pretending to have all of the answers. I also believe that we as a tennis community are largely pretty accurate in our ideas of the game and predictions. However, I often find that people make predictions based off of only one or two of the following instead considering of all 10. The list is in a general rank of importance, but obviously varies from match to match.

1. Past Results – The most obvious of obvious. How a player has been playing recently has a large part to play in how they will play, both in the quality of their play and their confidence*. Duh. While this is something we all take into account, I find it is one that is often largely misused, for the reason to come in number 2. Regardless, success breeds success in tennis and more often than not a player who is playing well will continue to play well.

2. *Quality of Performances - In reality, this should be number 1. It is often over looked for the very sake of practicality – no one can watch every tennis match at every time. Regardless, it needs to be the most important thing in mind with your favourite player, or with a prediction. It goes both ways, too. Very good players can win a lot of matches, even tournaments, without playing very well (the joys of having a high ranking). Likewise, lesser players can play incredibly well and lose earlier or to greater players simply because of rankings/draws and the sheer lack of tools. The most recent result that comes to mind for me is Tipsarevic’s match against Djokovic in Toronto. He played incredibly well, but lost in straights. On paper, it is a predictable result. Regardless, Tipsy brought that quality into the USO and nearly made the semifinals.

Top players can be much harder to judge in this respect. They often try to play a more reserved game and win on the fact that they are simply a far superior player, and turn up the quality later in the tournament. Often warm up tournaments are a greater example of where a players game is at than early rounds of slams. Wins and losses, as well as how far a player went in a previous tournament only ever tell half of the story.

3. History - Obviously all sports are two way streets, and this is no more true than in tennis. There’s another player on the side of the net! Head to head records are always a nice place to start, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with a player. If a player owns another in a head to head, you already have a start. However, all head to head matches need to be taken with the nine other grains of salt outlined in this post (if not more).

4. Style of Play - I would argue that styles of play have a much larger role in the WTA than the ATP, where they are often much more obvious and easy to predict. How does your favourite player do against big hitters? Big servers? Scrappier players? In this sense, you can see how a certain player matched up against a player who plays a similar, if lesser style than the upcoming opponent. For example, Ana Ivanovic always loves to take on big hitters, outside of the very elite. She likes pace, yes, but she’s not a counter puncher. More than anything, she likes targets and enjoys when her opponent goes for it and opens up the court for her. She can struggle against players who have some pace but are scrappier, as it puts the onus on her to create chances from scratch.

The same thing is true for the ATP. There are big servers, there are scrappier players, players who rely on their forehands, etc. Knowing how one player copes with another particular style is always a good start.

5. Shot vs Shot, Strategy – This is always tricky. I’m very interested in tactics and strategy, but is something not often talked about in tennis circles in comparison to something like both European and North American footballs. Rallies tend to happen or develop out of cross court battles due to it being a higher percentage shot because it is 1) easier to do 2) the net is lower. This is a starting point. If it is a right/right or left/left matchup, backhands will go against each other, forehands against each other and opposite for left vs right.

Even though a player like Juan Monaco is ranked in the top 10, he would have an incredibly difficult time against Djokovic because he struggles to go down the line on the backhand side. This means he is always likely to lose points involving backhand rallies, as Djokovic can quickly open up the court. This is also true of Nadal, who used this very tactic, except on the forehand side because he is left handed, to open up Monaco at Roland Garros.

This is an extreme example, but an example none the less. If player A has a slightly better forehand but a far inferior backhand, they need to find a way to avoid that kind of rally, etc. Again, this can be a little bit more obvious in the WTA, but at the same time players tend to have their shots break down more easily.

6. Surface - Perhaps the most intriguing part about tennis are the changes in conditions and surfaces. While team sports will always have changes with home/away and different players coming in, tennis is alone in the fact that past match-ups can have major asterisks on them due to the surface.

Know your surfaces! Hard court was always intended to be the “neutral” surface between clay and grass, but in reality it is much faster than a mid way point. Hard courts play very different in different conditions, and play like a high bouncing grass court in side.

And just because grass plays fast does not mean that big servers automatically win. We’ve often been led to believe this, as past big servers would serve and volley their way to victory. The biggest serves in the game today come from much taller players who do not serve and volley, and have difficulty getting down to balls on the low bouncing grass.

Clay is far, far slower than anything else and rewards physically fit players as well as players who can move quickly. At times, however, we have seen it reward players who like time to set up shop, have the ball bounce up to them, and crank it (for example Soderling and Stosur). Likewise, power is neutralized less on the women’s side, perhaps most obviously with Sharapova winning the 2012 Roland Garros title.

7. Weather – I will forever have a press conference with Serena Williams at the 2011 Rogers Cup lodged in my mind. I believe it was after her win against Julia Goerges in which a reporter asked if she had to hit the ball more flat due to the conditions to push through the wind. “You don’t watch much tennis, do you?”. It was as if he was a six year old unsure about how science works. More wind = more spin, to cut through the wind and have it spin the ball and push it around. Some players can do well in the wind, others struggle.

Cooler days mean heavier air, slowing the ball down. Hotter days mean thinner air, speeding the ball up. Likewise, certain players deal with extreme heat better than others. Difficult to predict well ahead of time, but something to keep in mind.

8. Schedule – A pretty obvious, but often over looked factor. This works threefold. First, how much has the player played in the tournament itself. Have they played entirely long matches, with the other player having a smooth ride? Did they play late the last night and were forced to come out next afternoon? These are elite, world class athletes, but a large amount of tennis in a short amount of time, particularly starting and stopping twice, takes it’s toll. If for nothing else, it is taxing on concentration levels.

Secondly, how much has the player played recently. We tend not to forget this one. Petra Kvitova was always going to have a tough time in New York, having won Montreal and New Haven. That’s a lot of tennis.

Thirdly, how much have they played that year, relative to how much they usually play. Djokovic simply ran out of gas at 2011 Roland Garros due to all the tennis he had been playing that year. That is an extreme example, but a similar thing often happens to younger players on a smaller scale; they are not used to playing such demanding players and so much tennis in a week, and eventually run out of steam.

9. Mental Health – Confidence, intent, mental strength and the like are typically the thing thrown at number 1 or 2 of tennis commentators, or sports commentators buzz words. “He has the confidence after his win at…” “they’re a team of winners…” “you don’t know how to win until…”.

Being a fan of of baseball’s advanced metrics and European football’s strategy and analytics (see my post comparing tennis to football here) I am a firm believer that “chemistry” and team togetherness is often overplayed and other more important factors are left out. I also believe that is true for tennis.

Regardless, it is a massive factor in this sport. Tennis is a lonely sport, and you’re out there alone (usually) for the duration. You need to believe you will win, and you need to find a way to win. Agassi spoke in his book about the strange opposing forces, both pulling you and dragging you away from a win as you closed in on the conclusion of a match. An inner tension that all players have felt at some point. Likewise, performance in “big points” and “taking opportunities” IS important, because tennis is a circumstantial sport.

The hardest part of judging mental health is that it is impossible to get inside a player’s head. We try, sure, but we never really can, and most of the time are entirely speculating. Was Andy Murray really super confident after his win at the Olympics? I’m inclined to say no, even though he did follow it up with a US Open win.

10. Number of Sets - This rule only applies to half of the players (men) eight weeks a year, but it is important to keep in mind. Player X might have played Player Y in a warm up tournament a couple of weeks prior and beat them rather handedly. But does this result match up over five sets? Five sets often separates the great from the supremely great, as the best players not only have the best shots, but the best physical conditioning and mental strength. It can be a big advantage in the long run.

The Changeover Podcast:

Episode #56 – Indian Wells Wrap