Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Art of Tennis

by Savannah

If you say someone took a "beat down" many images come to mind. There's the person stomped by others laying on the ground bleeding. There's the baseball team that was beaten 14-0. The basketball team that was on the wrong side of a 130-75 score. In the sport of tennis beat downs can take many forms. A 6-0, 6-0 final score in a best of three match, a double bagel as we call it, would be considered a beat down. There were two beat downs administered yesterday and neither one was a double bagel.
The men's final in Dubai was won by Novak Djokovic. He defeated Roger Federer 6-3, 6-3. That score is sometimes called a virtual bagel. I'm not exactly sure why but it's common to see it called that now. That said the final score of the best of three final was indeed a double bagel.

You see Roger Federer was never in the match. With surgical skill Novak Djokovic executed his game plan to perfection. The commentators talked about Federer's backhand not working at all and that his forehand wasn't doing much either. What they didn't say was that Djokovic simply wasn't allowing them to work. They were more focused on Federer resurrecting himself in the second set and winning their hoped for third set. It wasn't going to happen.

Djokovic's play in the first set was nothing short of spectacular. It seemed he couldn't miss and lost no opportunity to flummox his opponent who was like a soldier under enemy attack with no foxhole nearby in which to take cover. You don't play the way Djokovic did without coming back to earth and when Federer got the break early in the second set it looked as if the commentators would get what they wanted. Instead the second set gave us a more methodical and devastating performance by Djokovic who simply continued the beat down he was administering and took it to it's logical conclusion.

Once again I have to say a soft draw does not a champion make. Federer opened against Somdev Devvarman. He next faced Marcel Granollers. When Richard Gasquet defeated Gilles Simon setting himself up to face Federer in the semi finals he ensured that Federer would make the final without facing a seed.

Djokovic opened against unseeded Michael Llodra and went on to face Feliciano Lopez, Florian Mayer and the #3 seed Tomas Berdych in the semi final. Berdych retired at 2-4 in the third set citing injury but he did so after forcing and winning the first set 7-6(5) tiebreak. I didn't see the match but Berdych lost the second set 6-2. Still he took a set from Djokovic who had cruised through his early round opponents. In the end Berdych did something Federer couldn't do against Djokovic.

To be clear I'm not a Djokovic fan and don't think I ever will be but you have to give credit where credit is due. The man played his ass off in that final and didn't allow Federer to settle into a pattern. It was a masterful performance by Djokovic and he deserved to hoist that trophy.
The other beatdown occurred an hour away in Qatar where the WTA final was played between Vera Zvonareva and Caroline Wozniacki, the computer ranked world #1. I'd seen a lot of this tournament and noticed that Vera was playing very, very well. She opened against Dominika Cibulkova whom she defeated in straight sets. After that the going got tough. Vera defeated a determined Daniela Hantuchova in three tough sets 7-5, 6-7(5), 7-5. That match was followed by a semi final against Jelena Jankovic that again went three sets 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. That match was harder than it looked. JJ is always a challenge with her deflections and distractions and when Vera lost that second set 2-6 it looked as if she was going to be out of the tournament. What looks like a routine 6-4 third set wasn't. It was an all out war and Vera rallied herself mentally and came from behind in that set to win it.

Meanwhile Wozniacki was having an easier time of it. She opened against Nadia Petrova who appeared on court as Bad Nadia, best friend of Bad Sveta Kuznetsova. Bad Nadia lost in straight sets 3 and 2. Next up was Flavia Pennetta who tried but ended up doing nothing but playing the part every pusher wants their opponent to play letting Wozniacki set the pace and tone of the match. Hows this for a statistic? The winners to unforced errors was 35/7 for Wozniacki and 33/21 for Pennetta. And Flavia lost 6-2, 6-0.

Wozniacki's semi final was against Marion Bartoli. Bartoli defeated Wozniacki the last time they met and this match was expected to be a doozie. Instead a fitter Marion lost 6-1, 6-1 and was not able to change her strategy against Wozniacki. That led to Wozniacki making the final after having been able to have her way with three players who usually play better than they did against her but once again fell victim to a pusher. I have to say that if you think I'm nuts because I say Kim Clijsters is the older more experienced version of Caroline Wozniacki try and see the Bartoli match. I had to remind myself a few times that it was Wozniacki and not Clijsters playing Bartoli.

In my opinion the final would hinge on whether Vera would be able to play her own game and not do what the other players had done. She started the match with a break and after that never looked back. Vera's record in finals is dismal but yesterday she showed mental strength and played a match that had her opponent throwing racquets and talking to herself. Wozniacki found herself in positions where she was at her weakest and Vera was at her best. Vera moved her around the court like nobody's business and even when pressed didn't falter. It was a masterful performance from a woman who is best known for her waterworks and drama on court. At the end of the match she ran over and hugged her coach. It was the least she could do.
I saw absolutely none of the women's matches in Acapulco, one of my favorite tournaments of the year. The women's final wasn't even shown in the States, at least not on Tennis Channel. The winner, Gisela Dulko, looks quite stylish in her sombrero.
I did get to see the men's semi finals and final. Nicolas Almagro came into the final as the hottest player on the Golden Swing. He'd won two previous tournaments and was looking to add Acapulco to become the second man to win three clay tournaments in a row, something some other guy from Spain did back in 2009. He was going to face defending champion David Ferrer who had defeated Alexandr Dolgopolov in the semi finals. That match was expected to be a real throw down but in the end a mentally and physically tired Dolgopolov, who had also played the Golden Swing had nothing left and while winning the first set went down quietly after that. The final score was 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 for Ferrer.

Ferrer owns Almagro. The head to head coming in was 4-0 in favor of Ferrer. It is now 5-0. Still Almagro gave it his all and it was nice seeing a decent clay court match this early in the year.
A self admittedly tired Juan Martin del Potro defeated Janko Tipsarevic at Delray Beach. After his semi final win last evening Juan, breathing hard, said he was tired and also said the same thing today. Still he had enough in the tank to defeat Tipsarevic who seemed not to know what to do against the Argentine. Del Potro is not the guy to light up the court and I had to fight to stay awake. I'm sure Del Potro is happy to have a new trophy to add to his collection.

End Note

With the men's final in Dubai and the women's final in Doha taking place at almost the same time I ended up watching the ATP match and auditing the women's match knowing it would be on later if it was going to be worth my while to see it. Even though I wasn't watching the women every minute on TennisTV I knew every time Piotr came down to counsel his daughter. Imagine my confusion when none of those visits were shown on the Tennis Channel replay? It couldn't have been for time issues since the match wasn't overly long. I don't understand the black out on Piotr.


Fred66 said...

Excellent piece, Savannah. I watched the Doha final, and I've come up with a new rule for myself: I'll root for whatever player abstains from having her coach come on court. I was very happy to see Bepa win, obviously. Every time I saw Wozzie's daddy come on court to berate her like a 10-year old, it made me cringe. I've given up hoping the WTA will get rid of this rule, though. It's here to stay.
A question for you and everyone else who visits this blog: When Federer proclaims he can still dominate men's tennis, is he
1) in denial, 2) delusional or 3)just putting on a brave face? I can't figure it out.

Karen said...

6-3, 6-3 is now a beat down. Really? So what would you call 6-1, 6-1?A dusting? Come on. There is hyperbole and then there is this.

Novak played great tennis, but you get to play amazing tennis when the person on the other side of the net does not even look as if he wants to be there. Novak is playing amazing tennis now, so was a whole lot of players prior to coming into the 2011 season. As a wise man once said, it is not how you start, but how you finish. There is a lot of tennis left to play and while Novak has been on a tear recently, one wonders what he will be like in the middle of the season.

For all the flack that Fed takes around these parts, one thing you have to say about him is that win or lose he keeps showing up. Wish I could say the same for the younger men on the tour.

Karen said...

I went back and re-read your post again and I am still shaking my head about the scoreline in the Fed match being a beatdown. Anyway, still love you.

On another note, a 35/7 W/UFE stat is not a pusher stat. That is an aggressive player stat. I don't know whether Doha is playing faster or not but the ball seemed to be flying through the air a lot quicker than eve at the WTA Champs. Let us hope that this is a sign of things to come.

I heard commentators mentioning that the court at Delray Beach was slower than a clay court.

I know you are a fan of clay tennis Savannah, and I like it as well, but I do not wish to see clay court tennis being played on a hard court. There is nothing exciting about that What would have been winners yesterday by DelPo were just balls sitting up waiting to be hit. It just shows how poor Tipsy is that he could not even do that.

How the hell do you lose a match when your opponent is bending over after every point. I just don't get it.

Savannah said...

Karen the Federer/Djokovic scoreline is deceptive. It wasn't that close. Federer was never in the match and had no answers to the questions, or should I say declarations Djokovic was making.

You are right - it's where you end up not where you start that matters. The next two tournaments, the "slower" court at Indian Wells, and the fast court of Miami are going to tell us a lot about all of the men, and women.

I don't see the younger men of the ATP being as, I'll say disappointing, as the younger players of the WTA.

And yeah, how Tipsarevic managed to lose that match yesterday is beyond me.

Savannah said...

Fred I think that the back to back Masters 1000's/WTA Premiers will tell us a lot about the state of tennis for both the men and the women.

I said in my first post of the year that this year was going to be all about Roger Federer. I stick by that statement. His ups and downs are going to be the talk of tennis, bloggers, commentators and fans.

As for the on court coaching it's a horrible answer to an obvious problem - the inability of some players to think and strategize during a match. We have seen the future - and it ain't pretty.

Karen said...

Fred, I don't think Federer has ever said that he will be dominating the Tour again. People need to stop reading headlines and actually start going back and reading the press transcript themselves. In those press transcript, Federer has always declared how tough it is to maintain the same level of performance year in and year out. Credit to him that at the age of 30 most of the younger players have to be playing mind blowing tennis in order to beat him. That is someone who still invokes some form of mental hurdle against most of the players on the Tour.

Since the US Open the man has reached the semis or better of every tournament that he has played. He may not be dominating like circa 2005-2007, but he is still a part of the conversation. Lest we forget the man has only dropped to No. 3 in the world since getting the NO. 1 ranking.

For years he was atop the the rankings and many players have studied his game. He is now changing it for better or worse, and it will take some time before he gets it perfected. Until then, my money is still on the man to continue to give the top players fits and be a contender.

Helen W said...

Fred66, if Roger claims he can still dominate men's tennis, he is all of the above.

Last year about this time, when Roger wasn't very successful, we were assured by The Worshipful that it was because he only cared about the majors. Since then he has failed to make the final of a major, so that one is wearing rather thin.

I just do not see him hanging around to show himself as a mere shadow of his former self. Why would he?

Whole Sight said...


You said, "The Federer/Djokovic scoreline is deceptive. It wasn't that close. Federer was never in the match and had no answers to the questions, or should I say declarations Djokovic was making."

And as a Federer fan, I totally agree. Just as at the AO you could tell from the first game that Federer had nowhere to go.

And I don't think it's because his backhand was off etc. - D. just has too much game for Federer right now, and no amount of magic Paul Annacone sauce is going to make a difference.

Two points:

1) I just went back in time and watched 2005 USO of Federer vs. Agassi. We can't bring that Federer forward in time to see how he'd do against D.'s improved game today, but there is a galactic difference between Fed 2011 and Fed 2005. The forehand back then exploded out of nowhere and routinely dimpled both corners inches from the baseline. The feet really did look like those of a ballet dancer. Etc. Oh well, we all get old.

2) Now that D. has elevated, the match I am most interested in - but impossible to predict when it will happen - is D. versus a healthy, in-form Nadal. For that to happen, D. has to stay healthy himself, and N. has to recover & get grooved again. Clay would be fine for both. I want to see if D. has not only gone past Federer, but maybe gone past Nadal. Really don't know, which is what makes it so interesting.

Savannah said...

I think that Federer will continue to get favorable draws during the Winter/Spring US hardcourt Master 1000 tournaments. What I mean by that is he will not face a seed until late in the tournament.

Meanwhile his main competitors will probably face Murderer's Row to get to the late stages of either tournament.

If Federer gets a soft draw I can see him making the semi's and even have a chance of winning a final if one of his rivals gets taken out early.

Whole Sight said...

"I think that Federer will continue to get favorable draws during the Winter/Spring US hardcourt Master 1000 tournaments. What I mean by that is he will not face a seed until late in the tournament."

The worst possible thing for Federer, in my opinion. Soft draws don't test his game & make him find his form. An old man off his game needs some fear to shake him up whereas a young man (Milos R. comes to mind) of the right sort has no fear. At the AO Federer's form wasn't that of London, and I think you can partly blame the draw. Same thing with Dubai.

So I hope he gets a tough draw for his own sake. If he gets knocked out early so be it.

Antony said...

I would very much like to see what you guys call a tough draw for Federer, I really would. Because of his domination of the Tour circa 2004-2008, the man has a winning head to head against almost every single player on the Tour. Please, someone please tell me how can a man like this get a tough draw. Every single draw will be a soft draw. Everyone.

As a matter of fact, on clay, they may as well give Nadal the trophies because no one has been able to beat him on that surface when he is healthy. NO ONE. And I say this as a Federer fan. How about that for a soft draw.

2 players came up and dominated tennis. If not for nothing that it took poor Djokovic 3 years since he won his first major to win another one.

Another thing... the man is 30 years old and if a young, fit and healthy 23 year old cannot take him down then what does it say about Djokovic? The head to head between Fed and Djokovic is a lot to a little bit. Its about time Djokovic started winning some of these.

It would seem as if people expect Fed to win matches that he used to win when he was a young and fit 20+ year old man. If everyone who posts here believe that, then you also expect Venus and Serena to dominate the women's tour, and that is never going to happen again, no matter how much we may desire it.

Antony said...

And why do people always have to come in the middle of a discussion about tennis and start the name calling. It gets old

Craig Hickman said...

Whole Sight, didn't we see a fully fight Rafa defeat a fully fit Djokovic in the finals of the US Open last year?

I think they've played more times than any of the top players in tennis, including Rafa/Raja.

Whole Sight said...

Hey Craig,

Yes, the USO was the last time Nadal and Djokovic met in a full match. But I don't think D. then was as good as he is now. He played well to beat Federer in the semis there, but Fed also choked. Whereas at the AO and now Dubai, Federer was, as Savannah has pointed out, completely out of the match from the start - D. was just that much better. That makes me wonder if (a) D. has turned on an afterburner some of us didn't think he had, and (b) what would happen if he and N. get to play another quality match with D. still playing this well.

If it happens, hopefully no bad pasta or contact lens will intrude ...

- Randy