25 Jan 2015

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The Mind The Racket Podcast returns for a second episode! Bri (@4TheTennis) joins Brodie to recap and share thoughts on the first week of the Australian Open. How good is Murray right now? How bad was Dimitrov’s collapse? Nadal, Azarenka, Keys, Goerges, grunting on volleys and so much more!

iTunes, Stitcher and subscription information forth coming!

18 Jan 2015

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It’s the very first Mind The Racket podcast! Juan Jose (@jjvallejoa) joins Brodie to look ahead to the 2015 season and the Australian Open. Will the Big 4 still be a thing? Which young guy is most likely to win a slam first? What sort of impact will the new coaches on the WTA make? All that, and we take a quick peak at both draws and talk about what excites us and make a few predictions.

iTunes, Stitcher and subscription information forth coming!

17 Jan 2015

Novak Djokovic (SRB) And Andy Murray (GBR). Day 14. Mens Singles Final. Australian Open Grand Slam Tennis Championship. Rod laver Arena, Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. 27/01/2013. Photo By Lucas Wroe

Novak’s Quarter

It’s not often we get such a juicy first round match in the ATP, but Del Potro vs Janowicz is certainly that, even if neither seems likely to make a particularly deep run in this tournament. It should be must watch, early round tennis and may just end up as one of the night matches. Sigh, DelPo. This makes us all so sad. He’s already withdrawn.

But of course, this is Novak’s quarter, and he couldn’t have asked for a nicer run to the quarterfinals. As good as Bautista Agut can be, he’s not going to have the weapons to trouble Djokovic.

His likely opponent is Raonic, but sadly Milos may have some very tricky hurdles. Julien Benneteau will put him under pressure, and if he can make it that far, Feli Lopez is a serious problem in the fourth round, as could be Gael Monfils. It’s difficult to call that section, however, and assuming Feli Lopez will make it through his first three matches is probably asking a bit much.

Predicted Quarterfinal – Djokovic vs Raonic

Stan’s Quarter

This is a huge tournament for Stan Wawrinka. Stan was so impressive en route to taking this title last season, but fell off rather significantly after and never looked quite as impressive. He has his own quarter, and needs a good result to keep his ranking up where it is.

His first three matches should be straight forward, but beyond that, things get brutal, and quickly. He’s likely to face either Dolgopolov or Pospisil in the fourth round (Fabio “The Fog Machine” Fognini is still terrible on hard courts) and the Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals. Pospisil looked good at Hopman Cup, and played Wawrinka tough in Chennai last year before being forced to retire. That said, I like that Stan should be able to play himself into this tournament.

Things are hardly straight forward for Nishikori, who gets a brutal first round match against Nicolas Almagro. Dodig, Giraldo, and possibly Ferrer is hardly a cake walk, and that’s just to earn a chance to likely play Wawrinka. All of that said, I loved what I saw from Nishikori against Raonic in Brisbane, and he clearly has no problem sustaining a high level over long matches and should grind out any of these names if things get dicey.

Predicted Quarterfinal – Wawrinka vs Nishikori

Rafa’s Quarter

Let’s be honest – this quarter is going to be an absolute mess. In theory, it belongs to Rafael Nadal, who would be slated to meet Berdych in the quarterfinals. The chance of either of them making it that far feels low, and Nadal gets a seriously difficult first round opponent in Mikhail Youzhny. The Youz isn’t a problem for Nadal in theory, but his health and overall level remains a serious question. Looming in the third round? Lukas Rosol. Ouch.

Flying around in Berdych’s section are a whole bunch of wild names. Gulbis/Kokkinakis itself is a first round match. Tomic. Kohlschreiber. We’ve seen entire quarters implode in the WTA, and I think we need to start getting used to the idea of that in the ATP. My first two quarter predictions were boring, this one? Not so much.

Predicted Quarterfinal – Kohlschreiber vs. Anderson

Roger’s Quarter

At first glance, a quarter containing Roger Federer and odd-man-outside-of-the-top-4 Andy Murray should be a fun one. That quarterfinal certainly would be, but there isn’t much else here that gets the blood pumping. I would love to see a Federer and Robredo fourth round match, after Robredo took out Federer in the 2013 US Open. Outside of Nick Kyrgios, this section is Kyrgios-ly boring. I certainly don’t mind his chances of making the fourth round, too.

The top half of this quarter is pretty similar. Andy Murray and Grigor Dimitrov are the massive favourites to play in the fourth round, though I do like Martin Klizan, and he could give Murray a bit of a push.

I like this section for Dimitrov a lot. Dimitrov remarkably tossed Murray from Wimbledon in straight sets last year, but he also squeaked out a fantastic semifinal win against him in Mexico which was on courts pretty similar to Australia. His early round matches should be straight forward, and I think he is a real threat in this section.

Predicted Quarterfinal – Dimitrov vs Federer

Predicted Semifinals – Djokovic vs Nishikori, Kohlschreiber (how did this happen?) vs Dimitrov
Predicted Final – Djokovic vs Dimitrov
Predicted Champion – Djokovic

17 Jan 2015

WTA AO Preview

Serena’s Quarter

What a quarter, and what a way to kick this tournament off. Stephens vs. Azarenka, Wozniacki vs. Townsend, the winners play each other in the second round. Azarenka has to be one of the players to watch in 2015. After an injury riddled 2014, her ranking has some serious bouncing back to do, and she’ll be in tough right out of the blocks this year.

Ultimately, this is Serena’s quarter to lose, and she looks in good shape to make it through. Azarenka feels like the most likely player to challenge her, but that would not be until the quarter finals, and is far from a guarantee. A looming Jankovic vs. Muguruza is a looming third round match that would be must see stuff. Lastly, Pironkova vs. Watson is a fantastic first round match as well. And this is just the first quarter. Tasty.

Predicted Quarterfinal – Williams vs. Wozniacki

Petra’s Quarter

Sadly, the second quarter leaves a lot to be desired. There aren’t too many names that get the blood pumping, and there certainly aren’t as many intriguing early round matches. It’s tough to rely on Kvitova in what is typically extreme Australian heat, too.

It’s early, but I was so impressed with Madison Keys’ counter punching victory over Cibulkova to kick off the year in Brisbane. It’s easy to describe her as a big hitter, but what she really loves is when opponents give her pace to send back at them. This was evident against Domi as she routinely stepped inside the baseline and smacked forehands for winners. This section is full of players that Keys could be effective against, as long as she’s healthy.

The rest of this section pretty clearly belongs to Aga Radwanska, who probably shouldn’t have much reason to be scared in her first four matches, and might just make the quarterfinals without dropping a set. It’s that straight forward.

Predicted Quarterfinal – Keys vs. Radwanska

Simona’s Quarter

The rest of the draw looks likely to offer up plenty of excitement, and personally, find it overall much more intriguing than the men’s. Ivanovic and Halep are slated to meet in the quarters, but there are all sorts of sneaky, scary dark horses in this section. Pliskova has had an excellent start to the season and looks more increasingly like she can slap just about anyone off the court. Makarova had a quietly excellent 2014 and is, believe it or not, the 10th seed. Belinda Bencic! Pavs! Hell, Sabine Lisicki!

Halep absolutely rolled in Shenzhen, and as biased as I am, she has become excellent and doing away with lesser opponents with little to no nonsense. She has to be a heavy favourite for this quarter.

Predicted Quarterfinal – Makarova vs. Halep

Maria’s Quarter

And finally, the Queen and her heir to the Pretty Blonde Nike Throne, it’s Maria and Genie. The two of them facing off in a slam quarterfinal would be delicious. The question is – can they both make it there?

Sharapova first. She should be able to roll through her first four rounds, but I don’t mind Safarova’s chances at all. Lucie should be able to escape her section. If the two of them do meet, and Lucie’s forehand is working (which you would assume it would be), it could be a very difficult match for Sharapova. That said, Lucie needs to make it through the first three rounds, and that is hardly a guarantee.

Bouchard’s section is straight forward if not for Kerber. Duncurrber has one of the most unorthodox but fascinating styles of play, and her general lack of creation of pace gives Bouchard problems. Genie doesn’t always create a ton of pace on her own and it allows Kerber to start dictating by changing direction off the left handed forehand, especially because she’s likely to see lots of those coming cross court from Bouchard snatching at her backhand. Sadly, she might just ruin the Blonde Nike Party.

Predicted quarterfinal – Kerber vs. Sharapova

Predicted Semifinals – Williams vs. Radwanska, Halep vs. Sharapova
Predicted Final – Williams vs. Halep
Predicted Champion – Serena Williams

14 Jan 2015

It’s been a while. The blog was once a common spot for me to get my thoughts out into the world, and after a busy year last year, I’m ready to return to regular blogging. The mailbag returns, up at the beginning of every week. I hope to make Thursday the day where I post Ponder The Racket, a collection of random assorted thoughts. There’s a podcast in the works and of course there will be plenty of other posts including full previews of both Australian Open draws, match analysis and so much more.

Shout out to Katie for this week’s mailbag. She sent in a bunch of brilliant questions and I’m going to get to a few of them here.

There are three ATP single-slam winners (del Potro, Wawrinka, Cilic) and three WTA single-slam winners (Ivanovic, Schiavone, Stosur) currently playing. Of those six, do you think any will ever win another Slam? If you had to pick one as the most likely, which would it be?

– Katie (@breakpointsaved)

Brilliant question, and certainly a fun one. Off the bat, it’s pretty difficult to see del Potro winning one again, though he is just 26 which is still young by the ATP standards. Schiavone certainly not, and Stosur almost definitely not.

That leaves us with three intriguing questions. Stan Wawrinka turns 30 in March, and I was disappointed with how his season seemed to fade after winning the Australian Open last year. I was quite high on high during the 2013 US Open, and his backhand was incredibly explosive. But for me his movement and complete fearlessness to hang with the big names in long rallies is what really gave him such an excellent year, from the 2013 to 2014 Australian Opens. Stan has been excellent on clay for most of his career, but he showed little promise on it last year and his season seemed to lose momentum, and those stunning backhands down the line seemed to disappear as well. With the ATP in so much flux, he’s certainly one to look out for but I feel like there’s a less than 50% chance of him winning another.

Marin Cilic, roll the dice. Is the huge serving, fearless, stepping inside the baseline Goran protege here to stay, or will he revert to his far too passive, floating forehand self? Sadly, we are going to have to wait a while, as he has had to pull out of the Australian Open. Cilic’s best shot at another slam title is definitely a fast surface, Wimbledon or the US Open, but he also needs to be careful to keep his ranking at a respectable level to play himself into the slams and avoid those big names for as long as he can.

And finally, Ana Ivanovic, amazingly, may be the most likely of any of these players. Last year was an excellent year for her on so many levels. She played deep into tournaments across various surfaces and most importantly seemed to be genuinely enjoying her time on court and happy in general. The forehand was confident, not loopy, and she genuinely dominated players at times and won easily. Ivanovic can be a streaky player, and if she gets a streak going at the right time, she might just pull it off one more time, before it’s all said and done.
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18 Feb 2014

Every Monday… or Tuesday… I take some of the best questions and give some answers in hope of creating further discussion. If you would like to send in a question, Tweet me (@MindTheRacket) or e-mail me at brodie@mindtheracket.

I think Li Na may end up being a bigger favourite for Roland Garros than we put her out to be. Serena will be there, of course, and as will Sharapova, but clay is not either player’s best surface, and if Li Na is seeded second, she’ll have an excellent chance of never having to play either of them, or at the very least, not having to play Serena before the final. The ball slows down and sits up for her, which she loves, and will give her plenty of time to continue killing that excellent backhand of hers.

She’s never going to win Wimbledon, where she has to spend far too much time digging things out to be able to get on top of the ball and rallies. The US Open? Who knows. Again, if she is seeded in one of the top two places come August, she might be able to get Serena and Azarenka to land in the same half of the draw, which is a huge coup for her. In the meantime, keep a close eye on her draw for Roland Garros.

Who do you think is the real @PseudoFed? (My guess is someone in Andy Murray’s camp, but it sure seems to be someone in the UK.)
Amy C.

Ha, great question! It’s certainly someone in the UK, as all of the times he has seen Fed for “the courtside tweetings”, they’ve been UK events (he also uses English turns of phrases, etc.)

I don’t hear everything, but am decently connected, and have never heard any whispers of him being someone actually involved with a player – my assumption is that he’s just a fan that’s good at what he does. He more or less follows the 3 rules of “winning at the internet”, 1) Post good, original content, 2) Post regularly and at peak times, 3) Interact with your audience. The third one is what really puts the cherry on the cake, with his #humble hashtag, reference to himself as “Me”, and referring to everyone as “fan”. Who doesn’t love getting a “thank you Amy fan”? Some of his blog posts have been absolutely hysterical, as well. @PseudoFed is the Man, and we could all learn at thing or two from him. #humble

I actually don’t think Simona getting a coach makes a massive difference in how she’ll play. Her instincts on court go above and beyond – they’re not something you can teach, at least not in a short period of time. I think getting Wim helps her in a couple of ways. It gets her another pair of eyeballs to help her with technical things in practice – “you’re opening up too quickly on the backhand”, these sorts of things. All humans need this to keep from developing bad habits. From what I’ve ever seen of him, he seems like a pretty cool headed guy, too, which should fit well with Simona. Sometimes, like a boxer, it’s just good for a player to have someone in their box urging them onward.

Good question. The nice thing about Stan’s slam win was that it wasn’t particularly out of nowhere. As tennis fans, we hate irregular results, and Stan was on fire last year, nearly beating Djokovic at the 2013 Australian Open, so when he did it this year, it wasn’t a huge surprise.

It’s certainly a difficult task to jump from, say, number 18 up to the top 8, or in this case the top 5, but if I had to put my money on a player making a solid jump up the rankings, I’d probably go with Kei Nishikori. It feels like Kei has been around forever, but 24 is no longer that old on the tour, and he continues to improve, slowly but surely. Ranked number 15 right now, he has players like Haas, Isner and Fognini above him – players he could certainly pass. Kei is known for his speed and defence, but the more I see of him, the more I love seeing his pure shot making ability. He likes to hit into space and open things up, and is a wildly different player than someone like David Ferrer, for example. That’s not to say that he’ll go on to win a slam next year, or necessarily ever, but I could see him finishing in the top 10 this year, and making a push for the WTFs next year.

27 Jan 2014

Every Monday I take some of the best questions and give some answers in hope of creating further discussion. If you would like to send in a question, Tweet me (@MindTheRacket) or e-mail me at brodie@mindtheracket.

A big thanks to everyone for all of the great questions this week, and apologies if I didn’t get to yours. Great questions, as always.

I have to be honest and say that Twitter and presumably most people’s reaction to the final was quite well measured, considering the freak outs that we often get in sports related #fauxoutrage. This was Stan’s title, but the effect the injury had on that specific match can’t be ignored. (It can also be noted that Wawrinka only played six matches after Pospisil withdrew.)

What Stan achieved was incredible, and simply put, no one can take that away from him now. In the long term, there won’t be any blight attached to this win – these things tend to fade over time. In the short term? It certainly needs to be acknowledged. Which brings me to…

It’s important to acknowledge Rafa’s injury, because Stan only really needed to win a set and a half against a fully functioning Rafa. He even managed to choke a set away – something he fully admitted to. This doesn’t really matter for the past, but the future. Wawrinka is far from the favourite to win Roland Garros suddenly. That said, if he sticks in the top 4 ranking spots until RG he could find himself with an incredibly friendly draw. In theory, he will still have to go through Nadal and Djokovic, the top two players in the world, but this wouldn’t be until the semis and final. This ups the chance of one of those players losing in the quarters or semis, and giving Stan a player to pick off in the next round. Stanimal the Manimal has always had great success on clay, too, as it gives him bonus time to really load up the backhand. The high ranking will see him seeded well in other tournaments as well. I’m not sure if Stan will win another slam, but he could be a threat to sneak a Masters title this year.
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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?
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20 Jan 2014

Every Monday I take some of the best questions and give some answers in hope of creating further discussion. If you would like to send in a question, Tweet me (@MindTheRacket) or e-mail me at brodie@mindtheracket. Thanks, everyone.

More and more, I’m starting to find the idea of “hype” an incredibly fascinating thing. It certainly pops up in all sports, but in an individual sport like tennis, it’s always an unavoidable topic when talking about young players, or groups of players.

What is “hype”, anyway? To start, our idea of how much a player has been hyped is our own personal experience – there is no master “Hype Truth” out there. So what is it?

1) The weight of other voices (or lack there of) telling us how good or bad a player is

2) Our idea of whether or not that hype is either warranted or over done according to our own ideas of a) how much any one player should be talked about and b) our own projection of how good their talent level is

3) Whether or not we believe the hype is describing the player’s current form, or their potential in the future

Sloane Stephens has become one of the most interesting cases of being fed through The Hype Machine. If you live in the United States or Canada and watch ESPN, you’ve had her talked about at you endlessly, yet you might not think the talent or the results quite match up. On the other hand, if you don’t watch ESPN (I don’t), and get most of your tennis commentary through individual matches, online articles, and your own personalized Twitter feed (I fall into this category), Sloane Stephens has barely been a topic of discussion. Maybe it’s because her break through came a year ago, maybe it’s because people would much rather debate the ceiling of Bouchard, I’m not sure. Personally, I view Stephens as nearly underrated in my own personal circle. She hasn’t put it all together, but 1) I don’t see a ton of people talking about her, 2) I certainly think she deserves to be talked about a great deal and 3) believe that she isn’t fantastic right now, but will be in the future.

If you follow the same checklist for Simona Halep, you will almost certainly come up with a different answer. I have even had Romanians say that they’re excited that she will make the top 10 in hopes that she will get more attention back home. To be honest, she hasn’t played that many big matches, either. And so while it frustrates me that people say “she hasn’t done anything in the slams”, they might just be saying “I haven’t really seen her play much.” So unless you follow only five people on Twitter and one of them is me, you almost certainly don’t think Halep has gotten much hype. (I’m here for you, girl.)

Winning solves all problems in sports, ultimately. I picked Halep to qualify for the YEC this year, and she has a solid shot at making the semifinals in Melbourne. She’ll finish out the week in the top 10. Outside of semifinal points in Rome, most of her points come post Wimbledon, and the points that she should rank up over the clay season and at Roland Garros should see her staying in the top 10 well into the summer. Eventually everyone will have to reckon with Simona, give it time.
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18 Jan 2014

Federer Old

The ATP is currently enjoying a period of previously unforeseeable success. From the emergence of the greatest player in its history in Roger Federer, to one of the greatest rivalries in sport with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic’s incredible success and Andy Murray’s snapping of the British drought, things are looking pretty good for the ATP at the moment.

At the same time, those in the tennis community have pondered the lack of emergence of young talent to crack the top 30. This excellent piece from The Changeover looks at just how the average of the of the Top 50 has risen in recent years.

While we can discuss the lack of talent of younger players, we also need to discuss the age and continuity of the elite (using the top 16 and 32 as bench marks). It’s easy to note that the “Big 4″ have been around and winning for years, but names like Tsonga, Wawrinka, and Berdych have been around a considerable time as well, and aren’t getting younger. Eventually, the level of these players will drop, and they will retire – but someone is going to have to take their place. Is this simply a bias of recent memory, or is this continuity of elite players a surprising new trend in the history of the ATP? Let’s take a look at some of the numbers.

The following chart looks at the continuity of the top 16 and 32 ranked players on the ATP entering the Australian Open. (The same is true for the WTA’s version of the chart – these are the players that should have been seeded, not those who necessarily were, due to injuries/withdrawls.) In other words, how many players ranked in the top 16 and 32 in 2009 have found themselves ranked in a similar position 5 years down the line?
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Mind The Racket Podcast:

Episode 5 – Federer and Serena Dominating, ATP and Halep