Archive for the ‘Australian Open’ Category

25 Jan 2014

Roger Federer Australian Open Nadal

Tennis hasn’t always been played this way.

The history of the sport of tennis is typically divided into two eras with the dawn of “The Open Era”, a sort of Anno Domini that began when Roland Garros became the first tournament to open its doors to professionals in 1968. However, the game that was played in 1968 hardly resembles the game that is played today.

We all know that the change from wooden racquets to modern technology in the 1980s had an incredible impact on the sport – perhaps an impact leading to the most significant change of any widely played modern sport. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the ancient method of serving and volleying, a tactic that had brought so many so much success, was beginning to be viewed as an outdated strategy to win matches at the highest level of the sport.

This wasn’t just down to the new racquet technology. Yes, players were getting better at dismantling and expecting serving and volleying when returning, such as Marat Safin’s rout of Pete Sampras in the 2000 US Open final. But they were also starting to find more success by staying at the back of the court when serving. This has little to do with a purposeful tactical shift and everything to do with the increased strength, speed and stamina of players in the modern sporting age. Simply put, tennis players weren’t just great tennis players anymore – they were also elite athletes.

Perhaps the best example comes from Andre Agassi’s book “Open”, where he recounts his wild drop in ranking and success. Agassi wasn’t playing well, but above all else, wasn’t fit enough. His rise from the embers of the Challenger circuit were widely down to the success of his trainer Gil Reyes who had Agassi completing vigourous workouts specifically designed for tennis players, eating properly, and hydrating properly on court with something that Agassi affectionately called “Gil Juice”.

Today, the practices that Reyes employed are a given for all players (and still employed with the Adidas team). However, at the time, they were seen as progressive and even revolutionary. That was less than 20 years ago.

Today there can be no doubt that the top tennis players are among the upper tiers of the world’s best athletes.

In 2013, Roger Federer had his worst year since 2002. Was it the back? Was it the racquet? Could he find a way to play more aggressively? Could he improve his serve? People wanted answers. After his defeat of Andy Murray at this year’s 2014 Australian Open, the narrative was simple – the aggressive play we come to expect from Federer was back. Federer was back to his old self. Before his semifinal match against Nadal, commentator Nick Lester, while also stating Nadal’s blister and perceived lack of freshness, went as far to say “the way Federer has played here… I think he has a real shot here. If I was putting my money down, I’d be looking at Federer in 3 of 4 sets.” Federer was then dismissed with ease as Nadal won in straight sets.

We know that sports science has pushed the athletic heights of tennis into the stratosphere. Despite all of this, there has been little talk about perhaps the most obvious and least sexy topics when it comes to Federer: he’s getting older. So what can we learn from other major sports when it comes to aging and decline?
Read the rest of this entry »

19 Jan 2014

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Brodie and Juan Jose discuss the stand outs of the opening week or so of the Australian Open, including Ivanovic, Muguruza, Dimitrov, Bautista-Agut and many more. They also introduce a brand new segment, and talk about some of the more interesting things players had to say this week.

Remember to subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher or use this feed to subscribe to us on an Android device or any other feed aggregator. If you like it, give us a rating and even a review and we will love you forever. Also, check out the always great The Changeover and all of its lovely members: @linzsports, @juanjo_sports and @AmyFetherolf .

10 Jan 2014

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The whole crew plus Jeff Sackmann (@tennisabstract) do a quarter by quarter break down of the men’s side of the Australian Open, picking out potential good matches, who we think will deep, and who we think will ultimately win the whole thing. Delicious!
Remember to subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher or use this feed to subscribe to us on an Android device or any other feed aggregator. If you like it, give us a rating and even a review and we will love you forever. Also, check out the always great The Changeover and all of its lovely members: @linzsports, @juanjo_sports and @AmyFetherolf .

10 Jan 2014

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The whole crew plus Jeff Sackmann (@tennisabstract) do a quarter by quarter break down of the women’s side of the Australian Open, picking out potential good matches, who we think will deep, and who we think will ultimately win the whole thing. Do it up!

Remember to subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher or use this feed to subscribe to us on an Android device or any other feed aggregator. If you like it, give us a rating and even a review and we will love you forever. Also, check out the always great The Changeover and all of its lovely members: @linzsports, @juanjo_sports and @AmyFetherolf .

29 Jan 2013

Sorana Cirstea AO 2

1. Business as Usual at the Top

I noted last year that while it felt like a bit of an odd season for the ATP, it was really incredibly predictable. Each of the top 4 men won the major title that they typically do well at. While Murray’s defeat of Federer is a significant note towards Federer’s incredibly slow but inevitable decline, it was really business as usual. Without Nadal in the top 4, the void was filled by Ferrer, without a doubt the most consistent guy out of the big 4, and the door was essentially slammed in his face by Djokovic. This top 4 thing doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to it’s finish.

2. Azarenka Enters Eliteness

Arguments about the drama aside, both the mental strength and physical strength shown by Azarenka to come through and defend her title really was “the stuff of champions”. When Azarenka’s name used to be mentioned, it was game first and mental strength second. Her collapses against Serena in Australia were the stuff of nightmarish legends. Suddenly, the fact that she’s still number 1 and finding ways to win difficult matches is the story. Very few people are talking about the fact that Azarenka is playing some incredibly top tennis at the moment and smoking the ball with little remorse. Embrace her in the discussion amongst the top, everyone. Vika and her grunt aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

3. Ball Don’t Lie: Jo and Rasheed Works

I’ll fully admit that I am a massive Jo fan. He’s one of those “five tool” guys who can literally do anything on a tennis court. Yet, his overall tactics, and at times, attitude or mental strength tend to fail him depending on the situation. His controlled aggression and ability to get down and find another boost of energy against Federer was refreshing. Jo was fighting and finding new ways to win points. There was a self belief there. Commentators noted that Tsonga said he enjoys working with his new coach because of the language barrier, and he really has to stop and think about what Rasheed is saying. Jo definitely seems like one of those guys who can act a lot without thinking (at times his aggression is insane, other times he looks like he just learned how to play tennis a week ago), and obviously there are a few key things that he is really taking to heart. A balanced Jo is a winning Jo, and I hope we get to see more of that in the clay season.

4. Li Na Here To Stay

I refused to buy into a lot of the Li Na hype being thrown around the past couple of years, mostly because I’ve been largely unimpressed by her game, and her age worried me. It’s becoming very clear that neither of these things are much of an issue, suddenly. Nails missed a lot of time earlier in her career, and the regular wear and tear hasn’t taken it’s toll to the same level as a regular 30-something tennis player. Li Na’s movement has always been her biggest issue, leading to her game to be incredibly erratic at times. It appears to have really improved under Carlos, particularly on the backhand wing which has almost instantly gone from, at times, a liability, to a super weapon. She’s making small adjustments on tough balls to play some defense instead of the one way train of “crush everything possible”. It’s another dimension that her game desperately needed, and will serve her well on the clay of Paris.

5. Andy Murray Still Not Over Final Funk

Listen. Tennis is great for narratives. Murray’s win in the gold medal final was fantastic, and he won the US Open title. But it shouldn’t be ignored that Djokovic played terribly in the first two sets of that final, turned it on, won two sets, and then basically collapsed. Murray failed to break Djokovic a single time in the Australian Open final. If Djokovic, Federer or Nadal played in a slam final, four sets, nearly four hours, and failed to break their opponent there would be serious questions being ask. Djokovic is receiving praise for this win, as he should, but Murray was incredibly impressive, and still lacks an ability to create in sticky situations.

6. Sloane Stephens is Legit

I always had a feeling Sloane Stephens was going to break through before Robson, Watson or McHale. Raw power goes incredibly far in the WTA, and players who can use that power to both 1) hit it inside the lines with some sort of consistency and 2) make decent decisions with it are going to win considerable amounts of matches. Along with the other three, Stephens has a great head on her shoulders, isn’t getting ahead of herself, and seems to be comfortable with the media. She turns 20 in March. Suddenly, she is no longer a “player to watch”. She is a legitimate player who could be knocking on the door of the top 10 before you know it. I think she’s that good.

7. Grigor Dimitrov Needs Some Work

Lordy. Remember when we were all GRIGOR DIMITROV HAS ARRIVED!…? I bit my tongue. The way Dimitrov hits the ball is eerily similar to Federer, and it’s nice to look at. Yes, his face is nice to look at too. But Dimitrov still lacks something essential, and that’s depth. It seems to be getting better, but some good wins in Brisbane does not make a top 10 player. One handed backhands are pretty things, but they need to be effective. Dimitrov’s backhand still hovers around in the Gasquet school of loopy yet ineffective backhands. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of positive signs in Brisbane, and I think he could be poised for a good year, but let’s not all claim him as the next big thing quite yet.

8. Delpo Where Art Thou?

Similar to my Jo love, my Delpo love is well documented. He had a great season last year to get back into the top 10 and really get fully healthy. Now is the time to go for it. He’s been pretty notoriously crap at the Australian Open and this year is along the same disappointing lines. It’s not easy, but an opportunity to challenge the top 4 is definitely there. Delpo is incredibly underrated on clay, and it would be lovely to see him crush some balls and get back into the groove before the hard court swing starts.

9. Azarenka’s Media Skills Come Back To Hurt Her

If you’re reading this, you know what happened with Azarenka and Stephens. Azarenka took a medical timeout which may or may not have been legitimate at a questionable time. Stephens’ coach called it “cheating within the rules”. Afterwards, Azarenka was hammered. Regardless of what you make of it, there is something much deeper to this whole situation.

Some have claimed that Azarenka has been “interrogated” and mistreated by the press. This may be true. It needs to be said, however, that Azarenka has done herself zero favours. I’ve been in those rooms, and I hear things. It’s simple human nature. It’s hard not to love a player like Petkovic, who comes in, gives good answers, and understands that the people in the room are there to do a job, and a job that is ultimately good for the sport that she plays. She once asked at the end of a press conference that I was in “are you guys good?”

Azarenka is largely uninterested in press. She often defers to her support group and is cold and mistrusting of the media. The media is not always the most lovable of group, but they will definitely warm to those willing to help them out. The fact that Azarenka may have been so affected by the media and others calling her out for medical timeout should teach her a harsh lesson about the power of the media and of fans.

10. Tennis Fans and Their Drama

Perhaps this isn’t something learned, but the amount of off court drama that came with this year’s first major was at times staggering. The Azarenka story above, the courts being too slow, players slipping and sliding, Tsonga’s comments… and now, finally, as more information comes out about doping in cycling and baseball, the spotlight somehow turns to tennis. Tennis has come a long way in a short time, along with other sports. The major difference of tennis to other sports is the technology. The rackets players use today have next to nothing in common with the wooden rackets of days gone by. Yet baseball players still use wood, football players still use their feet… Suddenly, the word “superhuman” has come to imply “unnatural”, as if there is no way top tennis players could have come this far so quickly without performance enhancing. A quick look on the changes of tennis’ racket technology, surfaces, and sports science and nutrition on a whole will see that this curve is entirely expected in a sport relatively young in its professional growth. So please, before you start throwing around steroid allegations, particularly those not as familiar with tennis, stop and think for a moment.

Deconstructing Djokovic

Posted by Brodie under: Australian Open, Nole

28 Jan 2013

Djokovic Australian Open 1

Sunday’s final was a weird one.

A day’s perspective has done little to change my mind on things. That match, along with the 2012 US Open final, was neither of the drama nor the quality of men’s major finals clocking in well past the three hour mark. Yet, it was the manner in which Djokovic managed to win that is most interesting.

Djokovic has firmly cemented his position as the man to beat once again. While he “only” won one of the four major titles last year, he was the number 1 for the entire year, and finished in that position. Slowly but surely, Djokovic is moving into a domination of Australia approaching that of Nadal’s at Roland Garros or Federer at Wimbledon.

While it doesn’t feel like it, Djokovic now has four Australian Open titles, three of them coming in a row; becoming the first player in the open era to achieve that feat. The number isn’t the same, but the level of dominance is.

Djokovic’s defeat of Wawrinka was tennis drama at its highest. Djokovic refused to back down in his aggression, and Wawrinka held pace deep into an extended fifth set. Yet, somehow, there was always that feeling that Djokovic would pull it off. Surely, he would hang tough. Not just mentally, but tactically, he would continue to play his style, ripping backhands crosscourt, and go for it.

It was Federer-esque on many levels. Federer has often been accused of not being the greatest “match player”. In other words, he doesn’t always play the bigger points better, or perhaps that he doesn’t adjust his game according to the circumstances or the opponent. The truth is, he rarely needs to. The same can now be said of Djokovic, particularly on this blue surface. Djokovic’s win reminded me of a long forgotten first round win of Federer’s against Igor Andreev at the Australian Open. Andreev was punishing Federer on the backhand wing and pinning him into the corner. Fed was often left with little answer but to scoop it crosscourt. Try as he could, despite running around plenty of forehands and generally destroying the poor ball, Andreev could not get an early, significant blow. Calmly, Federer stuck to his guns and rode it out. You knew he would win.

While Djokovic’s win over Wawrinka showed off his willingness to continue to be aggressive, his game plan against Murray was much more defensive and tentative. Criticize the entertainment value of it, the plan worked. Djokovic was equally as tentative in the US Open final, but the difference in that match was that he was missing. On Sunday, with the exception of the first set tiebreak, Djokovic was not missing, and was never broken. Djokovic knew he needed to keep the court wide open against Stan, and he knew he needed the opposite against Murray; playing an aggressive, side to side style would break him open to Murray’s counter punching. Murray’s inability to create in tight points caused him to collapse under the weight of himself when it mattered most.

Perhaps it’s the confidence instilled from saving match points against Federer at the US Open, where he said after the match that he simply closed his eyes and ripped it, and if it fell in, it fell in. This has become a larger metaphor for Djokovic’s game on the hard courts of Australia. He’s sticking to the plan, and when closes his eyes and rips it, it falls in. 21 matches in a row, and counting.

27 Jan 2013

Episode 3 – Australian Open Finals Recap

We’re back! Australian Open finals recap, the media flurry around Azarenka, what’s up for next week and much more!

Remember to subscribe on iTunes! Also follow the lovely @linzsports, @juanjo_sports and @AmyFetherolf on Twitter, too.

23 Jan 2013

It is that time of year again! Last year I believe I missed the final semifinal predictor game, but I plan on hitting all four this year.

For those who don’t know it, it’s pretty simple. Comment below or tweet me at @MindTheRacket your winners of BOTH men’s semifinals including the NUMBER OF SETS it will take to win BOTH matches. Eg. Djokovic in 4 and Murray in 4. or Ferrer in 5 and Federer in 3, etc. I’ll record all of the picks here, and we’ll have a/some winner(s) at the end of the second semifinal.

Got it? Go!

Ferrer in 5, Murray in 4: @nidssserz

Djokovic in 3, Federer in 3: @imthi78
Djokovic in 3, Federer in 4: @babblingbrat, @everythingtaboo, @ITakeTheeTennis, @ParkUpdates
Djokovic in 3, Federer in 5: @Danielle_TW_Dee, @anna_tennisfan

Djokovic in 4, Federer in 3:
Djokovic in 4, Federer in 4: @MichalGradziel, @TheSixthSet
Djokovic in 4, Federer in 5: @naterzzz, @MattF15

Djokovic in 5, Federer in 3:
Djokovic in 5, Federer in 4: @akexova41
Djokovic in 5, Federer in 5:

Djokovic in 3, Murray in 3:
Djokovic in 3, Murray in 4: @AaronH02056, @thetonyjones, @rosso_neri
Djokovic in 3, Murray in 5: @KojakJr, @Curtos07

Djokovic in 4, Murray in 3:
Djokovic in 4, Murray in 4: @ZezeAM
Djokovic in 4, Murray in 5: @MindTheRacket, @mzemek, @walterPalena, @Jvandem

Djokovic in 5, Murray in 3:
Djokovic in 5, Murray in 4: @Hog_Tennis
Djokovic in 5, Murray in 5: @_supertiebreak

20 Jan 2013

Stan Wawrinka Australian Open 1

When coming against a stronger opponent, there are usually two immediate reactions one might take. The first, is not a reaction at all. “The only way I can win is if I execute what I do at a top level”. This is a fool’s plan, and only works if the opponent defeats themself.

The second is to take the “nothing to lose” attitude and go for broke. Dodig and Rosol versus Nadal, Tsonga’s 2 sets down comeback against Federer all come to mind. These players threw their hands in the air, said “screw it”, and decided to punish the ball as if it had killed their families.

While the second plan is great in theory, it is difficult to sustain that kind of power. Not to mention while there can be high reward, there is also high risk.

What was truly remarkable about Stan Wawrinka’s near defeat of Novak Djokovic was his ability combine the two attitude mentioned above.

To start, Stan took part of the things he does well. Stan’s backhand is always very good, it is just rarely talked about because he is not a player that people watch a ton of, nor is he known as a particularly flashy player. The technical ability needed to rip one handed backhands, particularly those down the line, is immense. It could be argued that no one in the world could hit flat, devastating down the line one handed backhands like Stan could last night. Not Federer, not Gasquet, not Almagro. Even more incredible was his ability to adjust on the fly with the shot. I remember one specific point where he hit a loopy, short, cross court backhand (similar to a Gasquet style) that dragged Djokovic out of position due to its extreme angle. This set him up for a signature flat backhand down the line that could not have been any more opposite of the previous shot.

On the surface, Stan may have looked like the second type of player: a player going for broke. This is not exactly true, however. Counterpunching isn’t a word often used with the men’s game, but many points were examples of excellent counterpunching, similar in the way Andy Murray can play. Stan was not playing like a Rosol or a zoning Tsonga; he often let Djokovic make the first move and open up the court. This meant Stan was dragged out of position. At the same time, this can open up an angle, and bring about many of the side to side rallies that we saw, and Djokovic typically accels at.

The problem for Djokovic was that moving Stan side to side often failed. His backhand would not break down, and would be even more punishing to Djokovic as he himself was on the run. Stan was patient and realized when opportunities arose. In points where he clearly got on top, he recognized Djokovic’s interest in keeping things side to side, and played many excellent balls behind Djokovic, particularly to the forehand wing. These shots often looked like the wrong shot, with acres of space to Stan’s right. But they kept Djokovic honest, and also made it difficult for him to adjust back, much preferring to run to a backhand. Even though Novak could get these back to the centre of the court, Stan recognized the situation brilliantly and often punished him with a ripping backhand, even from the centre of the court.

For many, this was their first experience with a top level Stan Wawrinka. The truth is Stan has been a top 20 fixture for many years, and is a great tennis player. This was clearly one of the best matches he has ever played, and his ability to cope with Djokovic’s interest in pushing him side to side was magnificent. His decision making and patience up against a tougher opponent was perhaps the most important and impressive thing, outside of his pure desire to compete.

Well done, Stan. Enjoy those new fans.

19 Jan 2013

Episode 2! This week we cover the first three rounds and the big stories of the first week including WTA youngsters, Delpo’s collapse, Raonic’s rise and what to expect from the final four rounds. Make sure to follow everyone else that makes this podcast possible at @linzsports, @juanjo_sports and @AmyFetherolf. All their great writing is over at The Changeover.

iTunes stuff will be done by the end of the week and you will be able to subscribe by episode 3. Thanks for hanging in there, and spread the word!

The Changeover Podcast:

Episode #56 – Indian Wells Wrap