May 3, 2013
First, the “1000s” are mandatory events for the game’s top players. There is a lot at stake, both in terms of money and ranking points, so most of the top players make sure that they arrive at the tournament mentally and physically ready to perform. Those who stay home are either injured, or experienced enough to merit a special exemption by virtue of their age and playing records (ex: Roger Federer skipping Monte Carlo earlier this spring). When you show up to the locker room at a Masters 1000, everyone around you can play serious ball, and has enough game to beat anybody in the world on a given day. The same cannot be said for any other types of tournaments on the calendar, not even Grand Slam events.
Second, even though the 1000s are played with a draw of 64 players, 8 of those spots are actually first-round byes reserved for the top 8 seeds. The free money and ranking points are surely welcomed, but at the same time, coming into the tournament cold and playing against potentially a top-20 player in the second round is a tough proposition for anyone – Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal included. Upsets will occur early and often, so be on the lookout for that.
Because of these two characteristics, getting a good draw at a Masters 1000 event could mean the difference between losing in the second round and getting to the semi-finals. Let’s see what the players are up against starting this Sunday in Madrid:
In Indian Wells less than two months ago, Grigor Dimitrov was serving for the first set at 5-4 against the world #1 when he hit no less than three double-faults in a row to give the momentum back to Novak Djokovic. Dimitrov then more or less fell apart, and lost the match 6-7 1-6. If all goes to plan, he’ll get a rematch against the Serb in round 2. Look for him to get a set this time, but no more.
Speaking of tricky second-round matches, Alexandr Dolgopolov will get a chance to square off against Tsonga. Anything can happen when Dolgo takes to the court, but Tsonga should be too solid for the mercurial Ukrainian.
Favored to move on: Djokovic
Floaters: David Goffin, Martin Klizan
Examples of top players getting brutal first-round draws at a Masters 1000: both Simon and Tipsarevic will be in tough despite being seeded, as they are playing Julien Benneteau and Juan Monaco respectively. Expect one or both of them to be sent packing by the underdogs.
Berdych has a first round bye and could be in danger as well. He will face either Jerzy Janowicz or Sam Querrey in the sound round. Janowicz especially has the type of game which can give a top player trouble. He will also have the benefit of coming into the match with some court time under his belt, were he to get past the American and book a showdown with the sixth-seeded Czech.
Favored to move on: Murray
Floaters: Jerzy Janowicz, Tomaz Bellucci
This section of the draw is absolutely stacked with Spanish clay-court talent. Nadal, Ferrer and Almagro are the usual suspects, but don’t forget about wildcard recipient Tommy Robredo, who is back at the top echelon of the pro game after a few years in no-man’s land. He could make it as far as the third round for a date with the ironman David Ferrer.
Nadal gets a really kind-looking draw here. His second round match, against either Benoit Paire or a qualifier, should be a cakewalk. Then he is slated to meet Almagro and Ferrer in succession. He has never lost against Ferrer on clay, and has never lost to Almagro, period.
Favored to move on: Nadal
Floaters: Tommy Robredo, Fabio Fognini
Federer is the defending champion, but the tournament is no longer played on the quicker blue clay, and the Swiss has not played a competitive match since losing heavily to Nadal in Indian Wells. He’ll have his work cut out for him, though the high altitude in Madrid should still give him game a bit more punch. He’ll play either Tomic or Stepanek in round two. Neither will be easy to deal with, but Tomic is definitely the more dangerous foe here.
The guy to watch out for is John Isner. As usual, everyone at a Masters 1000 CAN play great tennis, but mostly the one who’ll move on is whoever’s playing better tennis on a given day. Not so with Isner, because against him you’re never really playing tennis. As with Federer, the altitude will help the American get some more aces and unreturned serves. If he can string together some good returns, look for him to sneak into the semis.
Favored to move on: Isner
Floaters: Bernard Tomic, Feliciano Lopez
Jack is a Montreal-based marketing professional and business lecturer. In addition to writing for Tennis Connected and traveling the world to cover the pro game, he also write about business for IndecentXposure.com. Check out his work for IX here.
April 13, 2013
by: Jack Han
Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters
Prize Money: €2,646,495
The draw: Link
(1) Novak Djokovic
Miami 2013 Result: R16 (Loss to Haas, 2-6 4-6)
Monte Carlo 2012 Result: Final (Loss to Nadal, 3-6 1-6)
After losing to an on-fire Tommy Haas in Miami and tweaking his ankle in Davis Cup, Novak might be vulnerable coming to the tournament. As the 2012 finalist, he has a lot of points to defend but does benefit from a relatively kind draw. John Isner could give him trouble with his disruptive game in the third round. Del Potro could also be a quarterfinal opponent. I wouldn’t expect much out of Djokovic this week. A quarterfinal or semifinal appearance would be encouraging enough given his health and his limited preparation coming into the tournament.
(2) Andy Murray
Miami 2013 Result: Champion
Monte Carlo 2012 Result: QF (Loss to Berdych, 7-6 2-6 3-6)
The winner in the last Masters 1000 contested this season, Murray should feel good about his chances this week. While a few of key rivals were playing Davis Cup last week, Murray was slogging away on a clay practice court somewhere while his compatriots came back from a 0-2 deficit to beat the Russians. The additional few days of training gives him an edge in terms of transitioning to the clay courts of Europe. He has the always-dangerous Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Stan Wawrinka and Nicolas Almagro in his quarter before having to face Nadal in the semis.
(3) Rafael Nadal
Miami 2013 Result: Did not play
Monte Carlo 2012 Result: Champion
Nadal has a 44-1 record in Monte Carlo and has not lost here since his first ever trip to the Principality. If he can get through Verdasco in his first match and either Bellucci or Kohlschreiber in the next round, he’ll have a pretty good chance to repeat as champion. Once Nadal gets rolling on clay, it would take a peak-form Djokovic to stop him, which we probably won’t be seeing this week.
(4) Tomas Berdych
Miami 2013 Result: QF (Loss to Gasquet 3-6 3-6)
Monte Carlo 2012 Result: SF (Loss to Djokovic 6-4 2-6 3-6)
Like Murray, Berdych had a week off during the Davis Cup quarterfinals. It should have been time to cure whatever ailed him physically, and also get some practice in on the slow red stuff. He could face Davis Cup teammate Stepanek in his second match, in which case he’d be the heavy favorite. After that, it’s revenge time. In the quarters, Berdych could have a chance to avenge his Miami loss a couple of weeks ago to Richard Gasquet. If he makes the semis, he might expect to play Djokovic, the man who beat him here in 2012.
(5) Juan Martin Del Potro
Miami 2013 Result: 2R (Loss to Kamke 6-7 1-6)
Monte Carlo 2012 Result: Did not play
While Del Potro has not exactly set the world on fire since taking a set off Rafael Nadal in the Indian Wells final a month or so ago, he could make up a lot of ground this week by winning a few matches, as he has no 2012 ranking points to defend. Like Berdych and Murray, he did not participate in his country’s latest Davis Cup efforts, which will leave him fresh physically and mentally for the task ahead. His quarter of the draw has the likes of Dolgopolov, Tomic and Raonic, but these three are a lot more threatening on hard courts than on clay. Theoretically, Djokovic in the semis would be the first player able to go toe-to-toe with Del Potro from the baseline. Just to get to that match would be a good result for the Argentine, but given the Serb’s ankle problems, perhaps an upset is in the cards.
(6) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Miami 2013 Result: R16 (Loss to Cilic 5-7 6-7)
Monte Carlo 2012 Result: QF (Loss to Simon 5-7 4-6)
Despite winning both of his matches in the Davis Cup tie against Argentina last week, Tsonga’s team came out on the losing side. Whether that will be an additional motivation for Tsonga to do well this week in Monte Carlo or an excuse for him to give less-than-ideal effort remains to be seen. At least Tsonga matches up well with player in his quarter. He is 2-0 against Melzer, 6-0 against Almagro and 2-2 against Davydenko (but has won the last two meetings). His record against Murray, his possible semifinal opponent, is not so good, however (1-7).
(7) Richard Gasquet
Miami 2013 Result: SF (Loss to Murray 7-6 1-6 2-6)
Monte Carlo 2012 Result: Did not play
The French’s favorite whipping boy took some heat in the press again this past week in the wake of the national team’s Davis Cup setback against Argentina. It all seems a bit unfair considering Gasquet didn’t even play in the tie, pulling out a few days before with an injury. As it stands, the number-two ranked Frenchman can gain some ranking points this week but will have a tough draw to compose with. Ivan Dogic, Marin Cilic and Jerzy Janowicz are all big hitters who can pressure Gasquet into going for too much and melting down. If Richard can get survive them, he’ll have a quarterfinal date with Tomas Berdych, most likely.
(8) Janko Tipsarevic
Miami 2013 Result: R16 (Loss to Simon 7-5 2-6 2-6)
Monte Carlo 2012 Result: R16 (Loss to Simon 0-6 6-4 1-6)
After the Australian Open, Tipsarevic went two months without winning a Tour match, only recovering from that tail slide by making the third round in Miami a few weeks ago. He could either get Malisse or Dimitrov in the second round. Both are dangerous players – Malisse will look to dictate with his forehand and let Janko do most of the running, while Dimitrov will want to play a run-and-gun type of game and try to outmaneuver the eighth seed. If Tipsarevic wins that match, he’ll have yet another Round of 16s encounter with Gilles Simon to look forward to. Third time’s a charm?
April 8, 2013
You may already know that Milos Raonic helped Canada reach the semifinals of Davis Cup competition for the first time ever by beating Andreas Seppi in four sets, putting the home team in an unassailable 3-1 lead. This leaves the Canadian’s record in Davis Cup competition at 4-0 on the year, with only one set lost and two services games dropped. However, the man who left the most profound impression on me over the past three days was not the rocket-armed Raonic, but the bald, hunch-backed captain of the Italian squad, former tour player Corrado Barazzutti.
This confession may be a surprise to most. As a proud Canadian, I surprised myself when I realized this. But while the Canadian team was all-business and preferred to let their racquets do the talking, the Italians, their patriarch and spiritual leader especially, frequently let those in the press room see a truer, more human side of their personalities.
During the first match, while Canada’s Vasek Pospisil held a commanding two-sets-to-love lead against Andreas Seppi, the Italian number one, Barazzutti did nothing to let his players feel additional stress. After Pospisil broke Seppi in the final game of the second set, the Italian captain did not yell, or scream, or do anything to give his player a sense that something was amiss. He only told Seppi to “be positive.” It might something that a coach might say if his player is up two sets, or at least on equal footing with his opponent. Nevertheless, Seppi roared back to take the match in five sets.
After the second match, a straight-forward straight-sets win by Raonic over the mercurial Fabio Fognini, the mood was markedly different. Fabio wanted nothing to do with the press and looked very much like a caged animal during the post-match sit-down in the interview room. Knowingly, Barazzutti put his hand on his player’s shoulder, and cajoled him into finishing the pesky press obligations with inside jokes whispered into Fognini’s ear. While his Canadian counterpart Martin Laurendeau always seemed guarded and on-edge when speaking to the press, Barazzutti answered questions candidly. I asked him about the US Open match against Connors and the incident which made him famous for all the wrong reasons. He took pause, and I could see that he was once again reliving the pain of a point stolen from right under his nose by the American pest on tennis’ biggest stage. He looked down for a long moment, then back up at me. “Yes, I think about that moment often. Perhaps if not for that, I might have made the final that year. But Connors was also world number one. And I was very young…”
When the Canadian took the pivotal doubles rubber 15-13 in the fifth set, Barazzutti looked as crushed as his two players. They stood outside the interview room, in a light Vancouver rain, for many minutes after fielding questions. I wondered how much older a person could become in the span of four hours, because from where I sat, Barazzutti’s hunch became ever more pronounced.
On Sunday morning, at the tail end of the final practice before the Seppi-Raonic showdown, most of the Italians – Seppi, Braccialli, Lorenzi, Barazzutti and the hitting coaches – ended the session with a relaxing game of bocce ball on the stadium court, never mind that they were about to play a do-or-die match. Braccialli was the most skilled player, though each seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the distraction.
In the final opportunity I had to speak with Barazzutti, after the fourth match, I had to ask him about his coaching style. How could it be possible that he could be such a warm, caring, fatherly and downright loving coach in the dog-eat-dog world of professional tennis. Was this an Italian thing, or a Corrado Barrazzuti thing? I wondered aloud. He smiled at me and said:
“Isn’t it normal, to be supportive of each other? It is my job to create a good atmosphere for my players. This is what makes us a good team. We are strong, because we are close.”
April 7, 2013
Nestor-Pospisil warming up against Levine-Shamasdin
A focused, up-tempo session with a lot of balls hit in a minimum amount of time
In comparison, the Italians were pretty leisurely. Just Fognini and Bracciali working on a few simple crosscourt drills
Didn’t really look like they were about to play a pivotal match…
Milos came out to hit a few forehands, but was otherwise detached from the action in order to stay fresh mentally for tomorrow
Canada was up 2 sets and a break when the Italians began to dictate the action. This is 7-7 in the fifth set
After facing a 15-40 deficit on Nestor’s serve, the Canadians recover and serve for the match at 14-13
Follow @KSplayersClub on Twitter.
April 6, 2013
Fognini rocking out before warming up
Levine and Pospisil
More free food in the media lounge
Before the first match
Raonic was solid and closed out his match in straights
April 5, 2013
The Seppi Paradox
Andreas Seppi found himself down two sets to love against Vasek Pospisil after about an hour of play this afternoon. Yet he was able to dig himself out of that hole and win the match. However, he did it by being a great front-runner.
A contradictory statement, perhaps? The Italian started the match in a bad way, dropping the final game of the first two sets to trail 5-7 4-6. After taking a break to confer with his captain, however, the world #18 adopted, in his words, a more positive mindset and won the next three sets handily without dropping serve.
In the post-match press conference, Seppi explained that by getting an early break in each of the final three sets, he was able to focus on his serve and had the confidence to go for more at critical moments. He saved several break points with well-placed first serves hit well above his usual velocity simply because he knew that he had the lead in the set. The fact that he was down two sets to love didn’t matter to him. As a veteran and a player used to competing at the highest level of the game, Seppi had long forgotten that he’s down 0-2 and close to losing. All he cared about was his small, but ever-so-important break advantage in the current set, nothing else. He kept up that line of thought and came out the winner.
So don’t call Seppi a comeback king or an escape artist, but instead a prescient front-runner. Thanks to some clever thinking, Italy is up 1-0.
Pospisil: No Pain, No Gain
Down the hall in the Canadian locker room, Vasek Pospisil was understandably a little less satisfied with his performance. He played solidly enough in the first half of the match, well better than his current ATP ranking (around #140) would indicate. Yet, when Seppi started finding his range in the latter stages, Pospisil was unable to raise his game.
One reason why the Canadian is not currently ranked in the top 100 in the world may be due to a lack of mental awareness. In the second half of the match, he drifted further and further behind the baseline on his return games, to the point where he was taking Seppi’s unspectacular first serve from ten feet behind the court. That decision, whether conscious or not, had serious ramifications. First, it gave Seppi the option of hitting a wide first serve with less pace and still be offensive. Second, even when Vasek was trying to move three steps closer to the baseline to attack the second serve, he was in actuality still standing five feet behind the baseline (not the place to be if you want to take a big cut at the ball). Finally, once he got the return in play, Vasek was usually too far back to really be offensive and put pressure on Seppi. Indeed, in the last three sets, despite the speed of the indoor hard court, Pospisil was rarely able to hit offensive forehands and close the point out at the net.
In the post-match interview, the Canadian explained that he began moving back to get a better read on the Italian’s low-bouncing serves and flat ground strokes. “If I played right on the baseline, I’d be rushed,” Pospisil explained. “It just felt more comfortable to me.”
That is technically true, but it is worth considering that by moving back and giving himself more time to line up his shots, Pospisil was also giving his opponent more time to operate. Because he didn’t want to take the chance to feel rushed, he was simply never able to make Seppi rush. Today, Pospisil didn’t have the raw power to be able to hit through Seppi, and not many people on this planet could hope to out-grind the steady Italian. So what was Pospisil to do? Lose close, and lose pretty. Nothing more to it.
Andreas Seppi def. Vasek Pospisil 5-7 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-3
Italy Leads Canada 1-0
April 4, 2013
Getting set for the Montreal-Vancouver flight
Showing up at 1AM for a 6AM flight = naptime
Slightly nicer weather in stores, though it is supposed to rain today
Part of the grind, but still nothing as bad as a 15 hour flight to Australia or China
Somewhere over Saskatchewan
Watching “What Not to Wear” after seeing the same SportsCenter show four times; not much of a choice
The calm before the storm, at the BC Sports Hall of Fame for the draw ceremony
My presence alone brings down the average age in the room by about 3-5 years. Plenty of veteran journalists in the house.
Two surprises in terms of the lineups: Levine replaces Dancevic, and it’s Lorenzi-Braccialli in doubles instead of Fognini-Bollelli
Fabio had a tough time sitting still during the ceremony, and at one point burst out laughing while the ITF official was talking
Dancevic is out with a sore knee. Pospisil will take his place in #2 singles, while Levine will be the backup
Martin Laurendeau (Captain): “No changes in the court surface. We had it rolled up and put in storage after the last tie.” Choice of balls will be Yonex Tour, which plays a bit faster than the Wilson US Open and does not fluff up as much.
When comparing Raonic’s serve to Isner’s, Seppi believes the Canadian can generate better angles on his second serve and and kick the ball up higher
A hallmark of Tennis Canada events: Come for the tennis, stay for the food
More gratuitous food shots
Stay tuned for more pictures and analysis tomorrow!
March 29, 2013
by: Jack Han
1) An interview with Jesse Levine
Since you guys may already be tired of hearing my opinions on the upcoming tie against Italy, I caught up with world #97 Jesse Levine, who will be making the trip to Vancouver as a practice partner for the Canadian team and asked for his concerting the Italian squad. Here are his thoughts:
Q: If someone is watching Davis Cup for the first time ever, and has not seen those guys (Seppi, Fognini and Bollelli) play, how would you characterize their games?
JL: Seppi is a very solid player. He has powerful groundstrokes from the back and is he’s very good from the baseline. Fognini is the same type of player. Both are extremely talented and have good hands. And obviously in Davis Cup, they will both fight extremely hard. In terms of doubles, Bollelli and Fognini (#2 doubles team in the world) have had a lot of success recently. Like (the Spanish doubles team of ) Gronollers-Lopez, they like to play two-back and rip from the baseline as opposed to a more traditional net-based doubles game. Vasek (Pospisil) and Daniel (Nestor) will look to be aggressive and take it to them in the indoor conditions. But it’ll be a very tough match.
Q: The court surface in Vancouver plays pretty fast, so do you think that will help a guy like Seppi (who does not have an overwhelming serve and uses the slice serve quite a lot) hold more often?
JL: Seppi does have the powerful ground strokes to back up his serve, and at the level he is playing at (currently #19 in the world), he’s going to hold serve more often than not anyway. It’ll be a tough matchup, but with Milos’ serve being one of the biggest on tour, if we can get one break, we might be able to run away with it. And if Frank (Dancevic) plays like he did against Spain, then we’ll have a good chance.
Q: What about Fognini? He runs hot and cold sometimes, so what do you expect?
JL: In Davis Cup you’re playing for your country as opposed to yourself, so I expect him to be mentally strong and play his best tennis.
Q: In terms of the lineup, do you think (Davis Cup captain) Martin Laurendeau went with the team which got him here? (I had expected Jesse, based on ranking, to play #2 singles behind Milos Raonic)
JL: Absolutely. And I respect that. I’ll do what it takes to help the team; if and when I get called upon, I’ll be ready. If you have a win against a team like Spain, then you don’t want to change anything.
Q: So you developed your game mostly in Florida. Do you notice a change in training philosophy here, since you’ve come back to Canada?
JL: It’s my first time being part of a Tennis Canada training camp since I was maybe 10 years old. There’s obviously been a lot of changes, but when you have a guy like Milos Raonic who is doing so well, it’s great to be able to kind of follow in his footsteps and figure out what works and what doesn’t work.
Q: So the soccer game is coming along a bit? (In reference to what happened YESTERDAY)
JL: (laughing) Yes, yes. It’s getting there. Growing up, I played soccer competitively in Ottawa, and that was fun. I’ll keep working on my soccer skills but I think I’ll stick with tennis. And golf. I LOVE playing golf.
2) Full House
Today, Frank Dancevic and Martin Laurendeau joined the group from yesterday. In the early afternoon, Frank and Vasek warmed up with each other before spending an hour or so fine-tuning their first serves. The coaches set up three targets in each service box, and the pair took turns blasting down flat and slice serves.
While I mentioned yesterday that Polansky and Levine both hit the ball with a degree of “heaviness” not seen in the juniors’ games, Pospisil and Dancevic took that concept a step further, showing that there is a small but discernible difference between an ATP-level shot, and an ATP-level weapon. After working on their serves, the two Davis Cup starter cut short their on-court practice and headed upstairs to work on their conditioning with fitness coach Kieran Foy.
3) Always Something to Work On
Martin Laurendeau saw some room for improvement in Levine’s already excellent groundstroke game, and worked with him relentlessly to cover those gaps. Using a variety of hand-fed and basket-fed drills, Laurendeau emphasized the need for Jesse to hunker down and drive through the backhand, while being more proactive on inside-out forehands as to take as many balls as possible with his strength.
What was especially impressive was Levine’s foot speed – you could count about ten tiny adjustment steps on one of his inside-out forehands, versus five slightly larger steps for a lower-ranked pro, and two awkward lunges for a rec player.
On the other court, Filip Peliwo was playing a practice set against Peter Polansky. The younger pro was regularly out-hitting Polansky, especially off the forehand wing. From the side, we could see that his rally shots cleared the net a foot or two lower than those of the veteran. However, that added margin allowed Polansky to regularly fend off Peliwo’s attacks and transition from defense to offence. In the end, Peliwo won the hard-fought set 6-4, nearly pulling off an impossibly athletic sliding split counter-dropshot (a la Paradorn Srichaphan) in the process.
Same as yesterday, Peliwo continued to work with the coaches for 45 additional minutes after all the other players had already left. Doing essentially the same drills that Levine was performing earlier, Peliwo’s shots seemed to have more sting, but while the tiny adjustment steps to the ball seemed second-nature to Levine, Peliwo labored a bit more due to the strain of the three-hour workout. Either way, the additional work will pay off. It’s just a matter of time.
(I’ll be flying to Vancouver next week to cover the Canada vs. Italy tie on-location. Stay tuned for more content!)
March 27, 2013
by: Jack Han
Earlier in the week, I received an email from Tennis Canada announcing a three-day pre-Davis Cup workout to be held at Stade Uniprix in Montreal, the site of the Tennis Canada National Training Center. While I was absent yesterday for the announcement of the Team Canada lineup for the tie against Italy, today I was able to pay the guys a visit.
I showed up at around 2PM, just in time for the afternoon practice, with a bag of McDonald’s cheeseburgers in one hand and a supersized Sprite in the other. It just felt right, watching Vasek Pospisil, Peter Polanski, Jesse Levine and Filip Peliwo warm up while chowing down on McDoubles and Junior Chicken sandwiches.
Perhaps due to the French-styled training doctrine adopted by Tennis Canada, the players did not touch their tennis racquets for the first half-hour of the practice. Instead, they were joined by ITF junior Hugo Di Feo, fitness trainer Kieran Foy and coaches Guillaume Marx and Jocelyn Robichaud in a game of four-on-four soccer. Exceptions being, that they tried to play the ball over the net, and have two players per side handle the ball before punting it over, much like in volleyball. The Pros (Levine, Pospisil, Polansky and Peliwo) faced off against the Non-Pros.
Pospisil and Coach Marx, playing in the front row of their respective teams, were the most skilled soccer players of the bunch. Polansky and Peliwo showed good touch, but weren’t as active as Pospisil, who at one point hopped over a couple of tennis bags and a chair to make a desperation save. Di Feo, Robichaud and Foy held their own, as well. On the other hand, Jesse Levine was having all sorts of trouble just getting the ball over the net or to a teammate. Peliwo later told me that Jesse was playing a lot better this morning. Maybe he was just having an off day… In any case, the Non-Pros actually came out on top, winning in straight sets.
After soccer, Pospisil headed back upstairs, most likely to get some physio work done, while the other four players remained on the courts. Peliwo paired off with usual sparring partner Di Feo on the near court, while Polansky took to the far court with Levine.
This made for a rare opportunity – the chance to compare the playing levels of a top-50 ITF junior (Di Feo), a rookie ATP pro (Peliwo), a top-200 ATP singles player (Polansky) and a bona fide top-100 veteran (Levine).
Physically speaking, the two pros on the far court had significantly more muscle mass, which translated into their tennis games. In the beginning, they weren’t hitting the ball that much cleaner or deeper than the younger guys, but there was a “heaviness” to their groundstrokes that the lower-ranked Peliwo and the junior Di Feo didn’t yet have. Polansky, especially, could hit extremely solid forehands a foot inside the baseline without having to throw himself at the ball, unlike his younger training partners on the adjacent court.
After warming up their groundstrokes, the players took turns serving and returning. For the two youngsters whose games were still works-in-progress, a good deal of their improvement will come off these two shots. Di Feo’s serve is not a world-beater for now. Quite a few of his serves were coming at the body instead of placed in the corners. Peliwo cranked a few thunderous flat serves and could put almost as much work on the ball as the two veterans on the neighboring court, all he needs to take his game to the next level is to be able to consistently reproduce his best deliveries. Speaking of consistency, Levine was working on his wide serve on the deuce side and hit about ten flat serves in a row to the exact same spot. The same phenomenon held true on returns. Even when the serve was a foot out, Levine and Polansky (but especially the higher-ranked lefthander) could take the ball right off the bounce and rifle a return a few inches inside the line like it was nothing.
After about two hours, Di Feo and Polansky called it a day, while Levine sat down and had a long chat with Coach Robichaud and Louis Borfiga, who oversees the training program here in Montreal. Peliwo spent some more time working on his kick serve on the ad court, and then had Coach Marx feed him forehands and backhand for another half an hour.
More to come tomorrow!
March 20, 2013
Flying into Miami for the Sony Open, one can’t help but take note of the absence of Federer and Nadal, the two titans of the game responsible for a good deal of the Master 1000 titles won in the past decade. Their withdrawals will be felt at the gates as well as in the draw, which is certain to open up and give hope to midpack players hoping to go at least one round farther this year than last time around in Miami.
This week, we will find out whether Djokovic can solidify his hold on the #1 ranking, and whether heavy hitters Berdych, Del Potro and Tsonga can build on their 2013 results so far.
By The Numbers:
(1) Novak Djokovic
Indian Wells 2013 Result: SF (Loss to Del Potro, 6-4 4-6 4-6)
Miami 2012 Result: Champion
Still the undisputed world #1 but no longer perfect in 2013, Djokovic comes into the tournament with nothing to gain and everything to lose: namely, 1000 ranking points on the books, having won the tournament in Miami a year ago. The loss last week against Del Potro was as close as it gets – the Serb won 100 points while the Argentine took 101. Nothing in Novak’s level of play indicated that he was wholly dominated – he earned 11 break points and didn’t convert on a couple of them based on bad luck. Still, we’ve seen that the 2013 incarnation of Novak isn’t invincible. Perhaps he could be vulnerable in the latter stages of the tournament.
(2) Roger Federer (WITHDRAWN)
Indian Wells 2013 Result: QF (Loss to Nadal 4-6 2-6)
Miami 2012 Result: R32 (Loss to Roddick)
Now in danger of slipping to #3 in the world behind Andy Murray, Federer still decided to skip the Miami Masters in order to rest his back and get ready for the clay-court season. Fortunately for him, he does not have many points to defend, having lost in the third round last year to a surprising Andy Roddick. Perhaps his back was bothering him, but his loss against Nadal last week in Indian Wells was about the least inspired tennis I’ve seen Roger play since the 2008 French Open final. As I mentioned before Indian Wells, Federer is having a tough time winning points on his second serves. He was at around 47% in four matches last week and winning less than 53% of second serve points on the year. The last time he was below 53% was back in 2001.
(3) Andy Murray
Indian Wells 2013 Result: QF (Loss to Del Potro 7-6 3-6 1-6)
Miami 2012 Result: F (Loss to Djokovic)
Murray didn’t play his best tennis in Indian Wells, dropping a set in his first match against Evgeny Donskoy and narrowly winning in straight sets against Carlos Berlocq before falling to Del Potro in the quarters in pretty comprehensive fashion. The Brit didn’t serve well (8 aces but also 8 double-faults) and didn’t return well (0 for 2 on break breaks versus 3 for 11 for Delpo). However, with the withdrawal of Federer and Nadal, the opening might give Murray a glimmer of hope in at least equaling last year’s final appearance, even if his game isn’t firing on all cylinders right now.
(4) Rafael Nadal (WITHDRAWN)
Indian Wells 2013 Result: Champion
Miami 2012 Result: S (Walkover loss vs. Murray)
Is it time now to proclaim that Rafa is really back? After posting three consecutive wins against Top-Ten opposition last week (Federer, Berdych and Del Potro in the final) on a surface he hasn’t competed on in 11 months, perhaps now is the time to admit it. Nadal started the week inauspiciously, shanking forehands badly into the net in a nip-and-tuck second round win against Harrison and gutting out a victory against Gulbis 7-5 in the third set of the round of 16. Still, he found his groove against familiar foes and got the job done when it counted. Rafa is back in the top four now, and it would be a mistake to discount his chances at any tournament going forward.
(5) David Ferrer
Indian Wells 2013 Result: R64 (Loss to Anderson 6-3 4-6 3-6)
Miami 2012 Result: QF (Loss to Djokovic)
Indian Wells brought a series of bad news to the plucky Spaniard. First, he took to the court against #37 Kevin Anderson in his first match in California and proceeded to lose in three sets even after winning the first. The big-serving South African is a major threat on hard courts, and getting him in the second round (following a first-round bye) is bad luck. But still, up until this point, Ferrer hadn’t lost to a player ranked outside the top-5 at all in 2013. Still, historically speaking, Ferrer stands to gain the most from the withdrawals of Federer and Nadal, against whom he holds a depressing 4-31 lifetime record. Their absence can mean a relatively easy road to the semis for Ferrer this week.
(6) Tomas Berdych
Indian Wells 2013 Result: S (Loss to Nadal 4-6 5-7)
Miami 2012 Result: R32 (Loss to Dimitrov)
Like Ferrer, Berdych can gain a lot of grounds on the top-four this week in Miami. Not only is he playing good tennis (having dismissed four opponents in straight sets before running into the Nadal buzzsaw in the semis), but he has few points to defend from last year’s Sony Open for having lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the third round. Look for him to make the final four yet again this week.
(7) Juan Martin Del Potro
Indian Wells 2013 Result: F (Loss to Nadal 6-4 3-6 4-6)
Miami 2012 Result: R16 (Loss to Ferrer)
After starting the season with a poor record against Top-32 players (0-3 before Indian Wells), Del Potro righted the ship, beating #19 Tommy Haas, #3 Andy Murray, #1 Novak Djokovic and going up a set against #5 Rafael Nadal in the final before succumbing in three sets. Especially against Nadal, Del Potro showed a willingness to grind out points and wait for the right shot to pummel with his forehand and transition to the attack. With Federer and Nadal sitting out this week, we’ll get a taste of what the game will be like after the two superstars ride off into the sunset at the end of their careers. It might be a great opportunity for Del Potro to once again rise to the top and put contend for the biggest titles in the game.
(8) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Indian Wells 2013 Result: QF (Loss to Djokovic 3-6 1-6)
Miami 2012 Result: QF (Loss to Nadal)
Playing against four quality opponents in Indian Wells, Tsonga eked past three of them (Blake, Fish and Raonic) before coming out flat against the world #1 and losing in straight sets. In each match, Tsonga has faced more break points on his serve than he was able to generate on his opponent’s delivery. Some adjustments are in order to the Frenchman’s game. Perhaps we’ll see a better version of Tsonga in Miami in the coming days.