Archive for February, 2013

17 Feb 2013

Del Potro Frankenstein

Visual approximation of Juan Martin del Potro’s time machine.

del Potro d. Benneteau 7-6, 6-3

It’s not a win over Federer, Djokovic or Murray. But Del Potro’s largely dominant display in Rotterdam this week should be a warning sign to those four in what has been largely an unpenetrable ivory tower of slam wins.

Del Potro defeated Julien Benneteau to take the Rotterdam title, winning 7-6, 6-3. The beginning of the match saw Delpo broken early, and down 2-0. He was sluggish, and looked interested in simply pushing the ball around. Delpo then quickly jumped into his time machine. His sluggishness turned into a double dare against Benny. The first dare – I dare you to hit a second serve. Delpo took 74% of points off of Jules’ second serve. The forehand was on fire.

The second dare – open up the court. Delpo’s forehand turned the match into an indoor hard court match in terms of pace, but Benny’s aggression pushed the level of tennis far higher. When the court opened up, Delpo used his patented running forehand to level the playing field. There were many rallies where both men were running side to side, looking for an edge. Delpo’s continued underrated defense dug him out of holes.

Furthermore, the Argentine’s ability to be creative in tricky situations, such as playing behind Julien or taking a bit off on the forehand showed a real sense of killer instinct and comfort in his shot making at the moment. Perhaps the most insane shot came from an excellent backhand cross court return from Benneteau off the ad side of the court. The angle was incredible. Delpo simply shuffled over and hit a one handed slice backhand winner down the line.

The scoreline was largely close due to Benneteau’s sometimes unplayable shots on such a fast surface, and a few Delpo brain farts. However, the quality of play is always the most important thing to look at, and Delpo’s shot making and overall tactics were superb today, and now seems a favourite to defeat anyone ranked below him.

16 Feb 2013

Victoria Azarenka Doha 1

Victoria Azarenka d. Agnieszka Radwanska 6-3, 6-3

Victoria Azarenka hits the ball hard. Agnieszka Radwanska does not.

On the most recent Changeover podcast, I picked Azarenka to win Doha. This wasn’t based off of her current form. It wasn’t even based on the fact that she was the top seed. It was based entirely off of the chance of her draw. A quick glance revealed that there were no players in her entire half that would likely give her any trouble. Barring injury, it would be a major surprise if she didn’t make the final. She’s made the final, and hasn’t had an opponent take more than 3 games off of her in a set.

The fact that Agnieszka Radwanska, the fourth seed, and a player who can roll over lesser players with ease was dismissed by Azarenka speaks volumes to how good Vika is; and where the WTA is currently at.

Power remains the biggest weapon a player in the WTA can have. A combination of movement and consistency is a deadly combo. Mental toughness? Bloody hell. It’s the reason players like Sorana Cirstea and Ana Ivanovic can be so frustrating – the power is there, the consistency is not. It’s also the reason I’ve backed players like Sloane Stephens and Laura Robson. Once the ranking becomes respectable, these type of players can simply hit through smaller players to roll on through early rounds.

Aga sure didn’t play well, but she never looked like giving a damn, either. Azarenka is simply killing her prey before they get on court and then ripping the meat off over the following 80 minutes. That’s not to say that Serena and Maria won’t have something to say about it, but it’s difficult not to back Azarenka, particularly with the great draws she is bound to get.

16 Feb 2013

Del Potro Rotterdam 1

Del Potro d. Dimitrov 6-4, 6-4

It’s been a long, tough comeback road for Del Potro. After almost a full year off from injury and a year to get his game and ranking back up, 2012 was a bit of a let down. At times he looked like his old self, and was a permanent fixture in the top 10. At the same time, he never looked like upsetting the top 4 apple cart like he did in 2009.

Attempting to predict what we might be in for from the big Argentine this year would be difficult and partially pointless. A third round loss in Melbourne did little to stoke the fires of excitement. That being said, Rotterdam seemed the perfect tournament for Delpo to get his game up from a B to an A level.

The semifinal clash with Dimitrov was a fascinating one. Grigor has had a lovely start to the year, reaching the Brisbane final and is raising eyebrows with his aesthetically pleasing game (and let’s be honest, face). The way Dimitrov hits the ball is similar to Federer, and originally that is where I thought the comparisons should end. That isn’t entirely true. Grigor plays like Fed does on grass, but to the extreme, and not necessarily in a good way. He likes to slice the ball and keep it low, all while using top spin to get the ball deep and yes, keep it low. He likes to engage in the sort of cat and mouse rallies that Federer became famous for.

In the first set, I wasn’t sure if Delpo was doing enough to try to really drive the ball, but it became more obvious how great of a job Dimitrov was getting Delpo to play into his hand. While Del Potro was pushed into playing these longer, defensive rallies, he showed once again how underrated his defense is, particularly in the middle of the first set, when he was able to stick in points and eventually come up with the big shot to finish them off.

Dimitrov’s lack of killer instinct is really what seems to really kill him. Federer can be such a treat to watch when he pushes people around because you always know he will have a sly trick up his sleeve to win the point, a ridiculous drop shot, a nasty snap forehand, whatever. Grigor can do an excellent job tactically of setting points up, but then runs out of ideas (or ability?) to close out the points. He’s also far to prone to break down with silly errors, largely from the backhand wing (where he was needlessly broken off of early in the second set). His decision making has improved immensely, in my opinion, but it’s still lacking at the end of points.

That being said, the signs from Del Potro are incredibly positive. Like all big players, game and physically, he can have troubles with players who like to slice, keep the ball low, and move it around in unexpected ways (it’s why he is terrible on grass). He was able to play defense well, but not get too sucked into those patterns of play. He cranked it up on the first serve and the power when he got into trouble on serve, finding that next gear. You always love to see that from the top guys when playing these smaller tournaments; can they find the extra 5% juice in tricky times to out class there opponent.

Roll on, big man.

Mind The Racket Podcast:

Episode 7 – US Open Week 2 Wrap-Up