July 6, 2011
With the stats, dominance and titles on his side, newly crowned world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was the unanimous choice for player of the month honors.
Picking up his third career Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, Djokovic improved to 48-1 on the season, and surpassed the $7.5 million dollar mark in YTD earnings. Perhaps his most impressive feat of 2011 thus far was his fifth straight victory over 10-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal. Defeating the two-time winner and five-time finalist in four sets, Djokovic joined the elite ranks of the sport as the first-ever player from Serbia to hoist the coveted hardware in London.
Becoming the 25th player in ATP history to hold the No. 1 ranking, Djokovic will now head into his favorite part of the year and the hard-courts of North America.
Losing in the finals of the US Open on two occasions, Djokovic will be heavily favored to pull out his third Major of the year. Losing to Roger Federer and Nadal in his two previous Open finals, Djokovic owns an astounding 8-1 record against the two legends in 2011.
Using the experience that has elevated him to the top of the sport, Djokovic out-thought and out-willed Nadal toward the latter stages of the first and fourth sets. Never defeating the Mallorcan in a Grand Slam event, Djokovic has now beat Nadal on every major surface.
So what’s left for the top seed on the men’s side to achieve? He’ll have the US Open in his short-term thoughts to deal with, and perhaps the challenge of taking home the French Open later next spring. The Olympic games will be held in London next year, and with Djokovic’s recent performance on the grass, it would be foolish to underestimate his chances of winning a gold medal for his country.
There will of course be challengers to the titles that Djokovic intends on capturing, and as Nadal so rightfully put it during his final Wimbledon presser: “My experience says this level (Djokovic’s) is not forever. Even for me when I was last year winning three Grand Slams, my level of last year is not forever. Probably the level of Novak of today is not forever. I gonna be here fighting all the time, waiting my moment. I don’t have to wait a lot, because I already won three tournaments this year and one Grand Slam. But waiting my moment to beat him another time.”
A hungry and experienced Nadal was right on the money with his analysis of Djokovic’s current form, but what the Spaniard failed to mention was that Djokovic won’t necessarily have to keep up his ball-striking and electric movement to rack up further titles. The best players in the world—a place Djokovic undoubtedly stands now—have reached that mantle with the confidence of knowing how to win when they’re not playing their best.
For a greater part of the recent fortnight, Djokovic was far from playing his best tennis. He upped his form to take out Tsonga in the semifinals and become No. 1, but he was clearly struggling with his nerves in the finals. However, even though his arm may have felt heavier than usual, and his opponent across the net had battled the same conditions on many more occasions, Djokovic remained steadfast in his ways and exuded the mental fortitude that only great champions possess.
Serving and volleying to set up match point at 5-3 in the fourth set, Djokovic came out of his comfort zone to surprise the defending champ. It may not have been the cleanest or most dynamic looking backhand volley ever struck, but what it did prove was that Djokovic was indeed confident and poised.
We’ll definitely see Djokovic play some of his best tennis during the upcoming Montreal and Cincinnati events before heading to the US Open, but the anchor that will continue to build the Serbian’s legacy will be his resolve and experience when it counts the most.
It’s not known for certain if Djokovic will end the year ranked No. 1 in the world: Nadal and Federer have been playing some good ball as well, and it’s only a matter of time before they start to pressure Djokovic even more than they already have. But if I were to write up a summary of 2011 right now, I’d have to put Djokovic at the top of my list to finish No. 1. He’s simply dynamo on asphalt and his off-the-rise groundstrokes will continue to keep his top foes locked behind the baseline.
Coming home to a heroes welcome of over 100,000 screaming fans in Serbia, Djokovic declared that he’s “only just getting started,” as the new world No.1. If in fact that is the case, look for many more composed and thoughtful performances from Serbia’s new superstar.
April 5, 2011
by: Nima Naderi
Asserting himself with the desire to become the best player on the planet, Novak Djokovic continued his dominant 2011 season by winning the Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami during the month of March.
Scoring five love sets throughout his two tournament titles, Djokovic has only lost five sets in total since losing to Roger Federer at the World Tour Finale in November.
Improving to 24-0 on the season, while maintaining a 26 match winning streak, Djokovic has also pocketed $3,826,395 in prize money this year.
Capturing two consecutive victories over Rafael Nadal in March—the first two finals he’s ever defeated the Spaniard in—Djokovic cemented himself as the Tour’s top hard-court player. Defeating Roger Federer along the road to his second BNP Paribas Open crown, Djokovic scored his third straight win over the 16-time Grand Slam champion.
From a historical perspective, Djokovic’s devastating form this season has not been seen since Ivan Lendl won 25 matches in a row in 1986. In fact, Djokovic’s Masters double in March hadn’t been achieved since Federer won both tournaments in 2006. A feat that only eight men have accomplished in Tour history.
So what has made Djokovic the player that he is this year? It was only a year ago when the 23-year-old found himself ousted in the opening round of Miami to Oliver Rochus; a match which he donated 11 double faults and won a mere 29 percent of his second serve points. But through hours of video analysis, and the relentless will to improve, Djokovic once again adopted his previous service motion, while recording notable Grand Slam results.
Putting aside his well-placed serve for a moment, Djokovic’s court speed and consistency have really separated him from the rest of the field. Irrespective of his opponent, Djokovic has managed to alter his game-plan accordingly to the situation.
Djokovic really didn’t need to win Sunday’s final in Miami against Nadal; he had already proved that he was confident, and that his year couldn’t have started any better. But by displaying the determination to defeat a champion like Nadal—a player that had seldom lost a match-deciding tiebreaker previously in his career—Djokovic showed what he was truly made of.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve come down on Djokovic in previous seasons for not displaying the type of grit that was necessary to be a top flight player. It appeared before that Djokovic wasn’t fit enough to deal with the high pressure moments of grueling matches. But after capturing his maiden Davis Cup title in December, the two-time Slam champ has been a whole new player.
Although Djokovic has breezed through the competition this year, while recording commanding scoreline victories, he has been made to fight through some tricky situations when not playing his best.
Ivan Dodig gave him something to think about during the second-round of the Australian Open, while Federer and Nadal managed to take three combined sets off him during Indian Wells and Miami. However, displaying the mental discipline that he’s improved on vastly this year, Djokovic endured the peaks and valleys that every tough tournament holds, while managing to stay consistent and positive.
One point in particular during Djokovic’s Miami campaign sticks out in my mind. While serving for the first set against Mardy Fish in the semifinals, Djokovic went down 15-40 in a hurry. With Fish in prime position to win the point, Djokovic sprinted over to his backhand and redirected a hard hit forehand back to a surprised Fish. There’s no doubt that Fish shouldn’t have missed his open-court backhand volley, or for that matter hit his forehand back into Djokovic’s backhand corner in the first place, but what that point showed was a microcosm of why Djokovic has been able to dominate this season: His quick-fire foot speed.
When Federer was ruling the game, it was his movement that was so devastating. Ditto for Nadal during his current run at the top; the Spaniard induces errors from his opponents because they are pressed to make their shots better than they need to be. Djokovic to that same degree has joined Federer and Nadal in that category.
His ground-hugging movement on the baseline provides no room for his opponents to breathe. They are constantly under the gun to hit sideline perfect shots, and apart from the top two or three players in the world, that is a difficult task to constantly employ.
Looking ahead to the clay season, Djokovic will be on deck for his biggest challenge to date. Never defeating Nadal on the dirt, Djokovic will attempt to wrestle away the Spaniard’s dominance of the past six years. Cleaning house during the clay season last year, Nadal lost two sets during four straight titles.
Djokovic has certainly given Nadal something to think about prior to entering Monte Carlo next week, but until the Serb can defeat the Spaniard on clay, his quest for the No. 1 spot will be difficult to obtain.
Nevertheless, Djokovic has produced a sensational start to the 2011 season, and I’d be surprised if that ended anytime soon.
February 3, 2011
by: Nima Naderi
Supplanting himself as the main name to remember to begin 2011, Novak Djokovic’s level of play at the Australian Open was perhaps his best to date. Arriving in Melbourne with the confidence of capturing his first-ever Davis Cup title in December, the 23-year-old dazzled the Aussie fans by losing one set in seven matches during his fortnight of focus.
Defeating five seeds en-route to his second grand slam crown, Djokovic dismantled the heavy duty cast of Viktor Troicki, Nicolas Almagro, Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer and Andy Murray in succession.
If anything, it appeared through the early stages of the event that Djokovic was playing with a different aura of confidence. His fitness was at peak form; his serve had returned to the previous productive motion that he employed in 2009, and his court-positioning and speed around the baseline remained relentless.
When thinking of great movers on the red-brick in Paris, the name Rafael Nadal immediately comes to the forefront of our thoughts. But when analyzing how a player should populate the baseline during a hard-court match, I don’t think that there is a better mover at the moment than Djokovic. There wasn’t a single shot that seemed out-of-reach for the Serb throughout his two week trek in Melbourne: His defense turned into offense on a dime, and his aggression was far too good for likes of Federer and Murray.
It isn’t often that a player can get Federer off the baseline and into a defense mindset for the entire duration of a five-set match, but when looking back at the footage of the pair’s semifinal showdown, Djokovic simply outhit and out-maneuvered the 16-time major winner for three-straight hours. Federer’s topspin and slice backhands were continuously belted back by Djokovic, and the renowned forehand wing of the Swiss was no match for the leg-kicking down-the-forehand of the eventual winner.
Defeating Federer for the second-straight time in a grand slam, Djokovic remained one win away from relinquishing his one-slam wonder title.
Across the net on that final Sunday stood a desperate Murray looking for his maiden championship. The pair had fought through some close matches in the past; Murray being the benefactor of the latest three encounters. But judging by the early stages of the year’s first major final, a different Djokovic and a similar Murray were ready to square off.
While Djokovic was busy inching his way closer to the center service tee, Murray began to grow more-and-more frustrated with his inability to push his opponent off the baseline.
Losing the first set after sending his favorite backhand shot wide on the sideline, Murray’s wheels completely came off by going down 5-0 in the second set.
The writing was certainly on the wall for Murray after Djokovic created his significant second set lead, but the match was won (in my opinion) during the elementary stages of the first set.
Imposing his will and confidence on Murray early, Djokovic took the fight out of the Scot before he could gain any momentum. Having the knowledge that Murray had struggled in the past on the grandest of stages, Djokovic made sure that the contest started under his rules and his confidence. Using his v-serving strategy to open up the court, Djokovic remained ultra intense from the back of the court throughout the first eight games. Setting his sights on pocketing his second slam title, Djokovic’s positive demeanor from the get-go proved to be the difference.
Riding high after his success in Melbourne, Djokovic will continue to be a threat at the three remaining slams in 2011. Posting semifinal or better results at all four major tournaments, Djokovic’s increased offense will surely aid him on the clay in Europe, while his improved serve will undoubtedly help him achieve his goals of capturing his first-ever Wimbledon title in England.
“Wimbledon is the most important tournament (of the year) for me, and I really want to do well at Queen’s and at Wimbledon this year,” Djokovic told the media regarding his outlook for the grass-court season this year.
While the task of winning on clay and grass will become more difficult than prevailing on the hard-courts of Australia or New York, Djokovic has without question put himself in prime position to challenge for any tournament he enters for the rest of the year.
Finding his serve allowed the rest of Djokovic’s game to evolve into the menacing force that we witnessed throughout the Australian Open. But as Djokovic confessed himself, hard work and many hours on court led to the revival of his delivery.
“Hitting thousands and thousands of balls on the practice,” admitted Djokovic. It’s all about hard work and patience, I guess, dedication to the hard work which in the end pays off. That’s the situation. There is no secrets.
“Of course, I was aware of what I do wrong. But once it gets into your head, it’s really hard to get it out of your habit. Everybody was, you know, criticizing me, Why did I change my serve? I didn’t change it intentionally. It just came like that.
“I worked hard the last 10 months, and now it’s back.”
With his serve back and a second grand slam title next to his name, the rest of Djokovic’s season could very well be filled with more racket wielding and shoe tossing prior to hoisting the winner’s trophy.
December 1, 2010
What started off as a romp to his 16th Grand Slam title in Australia, quickly turned into a difficult and less-than-successful spring and summer for the Roger Federer.
Falling in the finals of the Madrid Masters event to Rafael Nadal, Federer recorded further demise at the French Open, Halle tournament, and Wimbledon.
However, known for the ability to shake off hardship and failure, Federer returned to the Masters event in Toronto before losing to Andy Murray. Learning from his backcourt mistakes in Canada, Federer fought towards a title campaign in the muggy conditions in Cincinnati, but couldn’t hold his form at the year’s final Grand Slam in New York, losing to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
But the year would not end there for the competitive Swiss champion. Taking a good month off after the US Open before flying into the event in Shanghai, Federer reached yet another final, before losing to the best-of-three-set brilliance of Murray once again. Although Federer wasn’t capitalizing on his Sunday chances the way he once did, his ability to enjoy the competition, while honing his game for the upcoming World Tour Finale in London was commendable.
Recording his 64th and 65th career titles in Stockholm and Basel, Federer not only supplanted Pete Sampras for the fourth position in the all-time titles’ list, but he also placed himself as the favorite heading into the culminating event of the season.
Defeating five of the world’s best players with the loss of only one set throughout the week, Federer notched his fifth career year-end title, while banking a hefty $1.6 million in prize money.
Sweeping past David Ferrer, Murray, Robin Soderling and Djokovic without breaking a sweat, Federer gave himself an opportunity to gain a crucial victory against his chief rival Rafael Nadal.
Trailing Nadal by a substantial head-to-head margin heading into the championship match, Federer did own a comfortable lead over the Spaniard on surfaces other than clay.
Stamping his intentions early on the match, Federer jumped out to a one set lead on the strength of winning 100 percent of his first serve points. Dropping the second set to his valiant and courageous opponent, Federer rebounded in a major way to crush Nadal’s hopes in the third set.
The win over the Spaniard could set the stage for an enticing 2011. Although Nadal has proven that his clay and grass-court skills are second to none, the Mallorcan still hasn’t fine-tuned his game accordingly to dominate the hard-courts. Federer on the other hand proved that his asphalt ability was better than ever. Taking to the low-bouncing nature of the O2 Arena like it was his own backyard, Federer’s precision and margin off his shots were inch perfect.
More than anything else, I was pleased with how Federer appeared to cast aside his previous game style for the fresh advice of Paul Annacone. Hiring the American after Wimbledon to aid him back to the top spot in the world, Federer implemented the slash and crash tactics of Annacone on numerous occasions against Nadal, and the rest of the field.
Remaining aggressive and shortening the points will be vital to Federer’s success over the coming years. He has unquestionably lost some court speed since his dominance from ‘04-’06, and his execution of shorter more forceful points will undoubtedly add a great dimension to his game.
Federer’s serve will also remain the cornerstone towards his longevity. Hitting any spin or location with the same ball toss, Federer won over 80 percent of his first and second serve points against Nadal in the final.
While the Swiss has set a tentative date for the 2012 London Olympics to end his career, he recently did admit that he was contemplating an appearance at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
Whatever the case, and whenever he decides to hang up his magical Wilson racket, Federer once again displayed his innate ability to enjoy the game he loves during his profitable fall season.
I was reminded of Federer’s passions for the sport earlier this week when I stumbled upon some footage of his first Masters 1000 win over Marat Safin at the 2002 Hamburg event in Germany. Becoming overtly emotional after his defeat of the Russian, Federer’s mindset and passion remains the same today.
Fist-pumping and calling upon his inner will to pull him past the sport’s best players, Federer’s reign atop of the men’s field appears safe for the foreseeable future.
Federer once so-rightfully claimed that “I live the game,” and judging by his excitement and acceptance of the grinding demands of the drawn-out calender, the 29-year-old Swiss native should find his name in the Grand Slam conversation until his final event.
October 6, 2010
What would you deem a successful accomplishment for a 24-year-old?
Completing a Masters degree with honors? Moving up the corporate ladder within a year of being hired? How about owning a few condos, while saving up for an early retirement?
While these and other well-deserved accomplishments have been met by hundreds of thousands of young adults around the globe, very few will ever lay claim to what Rafael Nadal achieved at this year’s US Open.
Closing the door on his Grand Slam collection in New York City, Nadal became the seventh man in history to win all four Major championships, and the youngest in the Open era.
Capturing the Olympic gold medal in 2008, two Davis Cup titles for his native Spain, and 18 Masters 1000 trophies, the Island born Mallorcan could be headed toward an untouchable resume.
Remaining humble throughout his 10 years on Tour, Nadal has always lived and died by the motto of self-improvement. Never one to take an opponent lightly, Nadal’s two hard-court Majors in Flushing Meadows and Melbourne Park were perhaps his two toughest victories.
Arriving Down Under in 2009, Nadal was by no means the favorite. Roger Federer and Andy Murray were the superior asphalt contenders, and Novak Djokovic had a lot on the line as the defending champ. However, with his head down, and an explosive will behind his sails, Nadal gutted out a riveting semifinal victory over Fernando Verdasco, only to outshine those efforts in the finals with a five-set win over Federer. Shedding his label as a slow-court specialist, Nadal had banked three of the four Majors with the US Open hot on his radar.
Injuring his knees while battling through the divorce of his parents in the spring of ‘09, Nadal was forced to skip the defense of his Wimbledon title, and later suffered a blowout defeat to Juan Martin del Potro in New York. Although del Potro poured in a whale of an effort to take home his first Slam title, Nadal’s abdominal tear prevented him from competing at his best.
The prognosis for Nadal’s body would not improve throughout the early stages of 2010. Landing in Australia with an outside chance of defending his title, the Spaniard was forced to withdraw in the quarterfinals with further knee pain. Andy Murray’s delectable play would’ve been tough to defeat under normal circumstances, but with Nadal’s tendinitis an ongoing issue, his chances of survival were next to impossible.
Regrouping from his injuries with a month off in February, Nadal returned in March to record competent semifinal finishes at Indian Wells and Miami. Although his dominant 2008 form was far from present, his tenacity and wherewithal on court appeared ready to rise. Admitting after his loss to Andy Roddick in Florida that if he continued to reach the semifinals of Tour events good things would happen, Nadal ended eight months of hard-court action, and set his sights on his home bred clay surface.
Capturing the Monte Carlo title for the sixth-straight time, Nadal began an unstoppable tear on the dirt which included losing only two sets on his way to his fifth crown at Roland Garros. What started off as a bleak and potentially catastrophic year, was now shaping into a season that he would soon not forget.
Racking up his second Wimbledon title in July, Nadal encountered a worrisome summer before entering the Big Apple. Falling in uncharacteristically meek fashion in both Toronto and Cincinnati, Nadal took some much needed inspiration from his Uncle Toni, and golf legend Jack Nicklaus ahead of his New York campaign. Adjusting his hand to a slightly more continental grip on his serve, Nadal began to produce missiles in the 130 MPH range.
Picking apart opponent after opponent toward his first final, Nadal backed off from the sheer pace of his serve throughout the latter stages of the event, opting to slice his delivery out-wide, while controlling the tempo with his forehand.
Watching Nadal through the early part of the US Open, I couldn’t help but think back to Andre Agassi’s march at the 1995 Wimbledon Championships. Arriving at the All England Club in a do-rag and carrying a yellow racket, Agassi began to hammer his serve through the first few rounds, while blazing his return-of-serve past puzzled opponents.
I vividly recall John McEnroe claiming that if Agassi could continue to serve as big as he was, then the tournament committee could save everyone some time and hand the American the trophy after the opening round. The principle around McEnroe’s claim was based on the addition of a point ending serve, which was coupled by Agassi’s groundstrokes. Striking arguably the cleanest forehand and backhand of his time, Agassi had become almost unbeatable with a bigger serve.
However, unlike Nadal, Agassi’s luck would run out in the semifinals against a trigger happy and opportunistic Boris Becker. While Agassi stepped off the pedal against the German during his five set loss, Nadal continued to steamroll through his semifinal opponent Mikhail Youzhny on Super Saturday.
The rain would stall Nadal’s first final by one day, but the result of his focused efforts would be met with a four-set victory over Djokovic on Monday. Hugging the baseline with his two-handed backhand, Nadal’s net play and first-strike approach would allow him to fall to the ground by the late evening.
Embracing his victory with his box of supporters, Nadal shared his joy with the assembled media after his victory.
“You know, I still 24. I have, I know, for me, it’s a dream have the career Grand Slam, but this is more dream have the US Open,” admitted Nadal. “Is some moments unbelievable feeling because I worked a lot all my life, in all difficult moments to be here, but I never imagined have the four Grand Slams.”
Honoring his commitments to his fall calender in Asia and Europe, Nadal’s year may be entering an anticlimax, but his memorable finish to a troublesome beginning will be remembered for quite some time.
There’s no telling what the future will hold for the current world No. 1, but with a potential “Rafa-Slam” on the horizon in Australia, the remainder of Nadal’s career appears as bright as ever.
September 16, 2010
Falling just short of his seventh straight US Open final, Roger Federer entered the final Slam of the season by capturing his 17th career Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati.
Defeating Mardy Fish in the championship match in Ohio, Federer captured his 63rd career title (tying him for fifth place on the all-time list with Bjorn Borg), while ending a seventh month title-drought after winning the Australian Open in January.
Federer also reached the finals of the Rogers Cup in a losing effort to Andy Murray, but not before defeating Tomas Berdych and Novak Djokovic en route.
The Swiss displayed his gritty fighting spirit in Toronto, while taking advantage of a cushy draw to prevail in Cincinnati. While his serve was cooking in both tournaments, the current world No. 3 improved on his footwork in Mason, and took that part of his skill set into his first five rounds in New York.
Pulling in his best performance of the season against Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals, Federer struck 18 aces in the hurricane Earl induced conditions.
Telling the on-court crowd after his victory that “I’ve been serving for 20 years, and if I was called to serve at 4 a.m. I would,” Federer notched his 13th career victory against the formidable Swede. For those you that were in attendance for Federer’s victory over Soderling, it was perhaps the greatest display of footwork that any player could have put forth under the difficult conditions.
The ball was at the sheer mercy of the wind—not the mention the Evian bottles and napkins flying around overhead—and for Federer to control his shots with the precision and accuracy that he did, only further exemplified his artistry and footwork.
If there’s one area of Federer’s game that he could improve on, it would be his self motivation. Federer has accomplished so much for so many years that the thrill of capturing the sport’s biggest titles may have eluded him.
I’m not suggesting that Djokovic didn’t earn his victory over Federer because he did, but the Swiss has squandered a ton of crucial points this season in various matches, and that could very well be attributed to his lack of focus.
That extra gear of ruthless desire to finish an opponent off is what carried Federer to great heights throughout his dominant years, and if he’s adamant on reaching that level again, he’ll have to buckle down and take chances on the bigger points.
Facing Djokovic in the semifinals of New York, Federer had an opportunity to create a 15-40 break point chance and push the match into a deciding fifth set tiebreak. After striking a blistering forehand winner on the first point of the game, and then receiving a backhand cross-court error from Djokovic on the second point, Federer decided to hit a routine passing shot back to the Serb at the net. If Federer had gone down-the-line with that particular forehand pass—I know it’s easy to sit here and say that now—he would have without question won that point.
However, letting Djokovic off the hook, Federer would drop the next two points and fail the reach the finals of his second most successful Slam. Leaving the event with the grace and respect that he always has, Federer will now turn his attention to resting before finishing off the season.
Pulling out of this weekend’s Davis Cup play-off round, Federer is scheduled to see action at the Shanghai Masters in China as his next event.
Whether or not the Swiss great finishes the year with a few more titles, I think it’s safe to say that his objective for 2011 should include playing with more urgency on a consistent basis.
Although Federer has played his entire career with the fluidity and ease that even his contemporaries have marveled over, the closing stages of his truly storied campaign will require him to place more attention and guts on playing every point like it’s match point.
by: Nima Naderi
August 2, 2010
Becoming a consummate professional can never hurt any player’s chances of achieving tour success.
You eat right, sleep early, do your crunches, and good things are bound to happen.
Early on during the career of Minnesota born Mardy Fish, the sacred scriptures of how to become a world-class player didn’t really apply. He’d party ’till dawn, eat a juicy cheeseburger, and become more consumed with adding to his lavish jean collection than improving on his split step at the net.
The American would reach a final here, upset Roger Federer there, but then just as quickly slip back into journeyman obscurity. If Fish was consistent in any facet of his game prior to the 2010 season, it was missing a forehand wide, and taking his talents for granted. But with the declining age of 29 fast approaching, Fish finally decided to put aside his bad habits and become serious about his future.
Losing a hefting 30lbs from his frame, Fish engulfed himself in a disciplined diet that would allow for better court movement. Already holding the easy power in his serve motion, Fish can now glide around the court and hit his weaker forehand with more depth. While power remains the most devastating weapon in the modern game, speed, and agility will always allow for championships to be won.
Beginning his season with a few semifinal finishes, Fish’s year (and hard-work) began to payoff at the Queen’s Club event in London. Reaching the finals of the premier Wimbledon tune up tournament, Fish would lose to countryman Sam Querrey, but take away the knowledge that his fitness regime had almost peaked.
Losing early at The Big W, Fish would keep his baseball cap on tight, while continuing to plug away at future glory. The days of feeling sorry for himself and not being able to back up a good set, or a good win were a thing of the past. It was time to get back to work.
Winning his sixth career title on the grass of Newport, Fish remained in sharp form heading into the first week of the US Open Series. Entering the inaugural Atlanta event as the No. 6th seed, Fish didn’t lose a set in reaching the finals, which included a defeat of top ranked Andy Roddick in the semifinals. Winning only his second match against Roddick lifetime, Fish moved onto this third final in his past four events, and would next face giant serving countryman John Isner.
Defeating Isner in three thrilling sets, Fish was forced to deal with the oppressive on-court temperatures, while deflecting the seemingly impossible serves of his opponent. Overcoming the elements and an inspired opponent, Fish gutted out a third set tiebreak win for his seventh career title.
Admitting after his victory that he would have never won the contest with his previous build, Fish had this to say during his post-match presser.
“This is as top as I’ve ever been,” said Fish. “I’ve never won two tournaments in one year, I’ve never won two tournaments in a row, and on the ATP [World] Tour, I’ve never won 10 matches in a row. It’s probably as good as it’s been. ”
Making the veteran decision to skip the LA Open last week in order to regroup, Fish will take his confidence and new found durability into this week’s Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C.
Seeded No. 15 in Washington, Fish will have to contend with a tough quarter which will include: Querrey, Llyeton Hewitt, and Marin Cilic.
The stakes will be higher in D.C. considering the point value of the event and the players that will be present. However, winning 10 straight matches on tour is never a fact that any opponent is willing to overlook, and Fish will certainly enter Washington with a definite mental edge.
There’s no question that winning in Washington, or the forthcoming events in Toronto or Cincinnati will be far more difficult that his two previous titles. But if Fish has learned anything in the past year it’s that everyday brings forth a different set variables that no one can control. With his fitness in the palm of his hand, and the knowledge of not becoming fatigued a certainty, his potent game can take flight with continued ease.
It’s never easy to put aside a night of partying, or the greasy delight of an oily cheeseburger. But as Fish has learned with his past experiences, the true mark of living up to one’s potential is the diligent and unglamorous work that is achieved behind the scenes, when the cameras are turned off.
The road to the US Open will take over the tennis radar for the next six weeks. What Mardy Fish can hope for at this point—what he can now trust in more than anything else—is the confidence that he’s done all that he can do in order to succeed.
July 5, 2010
It’s beginning to resemble a broken record when player of the month honors are being thrown around.
Since the start of the clay season, which was highlighted by his ominous form throughout Monte Carlo and Rome, Rafael Nadal has been on an unprecedented roll. He cleaned house on the dirt this year, Nadal didn’t lose a single set en route to taking home his fifth Roland Garros title. With four titles to his credit heading into Wimbledon, Nadal proved that his guile on the softer courts of the circuit was ever present.
Nadal survived two titanic struggles against Robin Haase and Philipp Petzschner earlier in the event. Nadal later defeated dangerous Swede Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals, and then hometown favorite Andy Murray in the semifinals.
Having been dealt a difficult draw in the early rounds, Nadal ousted Tomas Berdych in the championship round.
Casting aside earlier doubts that his knees would not make it through the fortnight, Nadal ended his fantastic trip to London with an updated forward somersault to celebrate his latest victory. Let’s be honest here: The Bjorn Borg backwards knee bend was getting a little old, no?
Nevertheless, Nadal’s post-match gestures weren’t the only attribute to chronicle throughout the fortnight. Capturing his eighth Grand Slam at the age of 24, Nadal currently stands with two more Major titles than Roger Federer did at the same age.
Nadal also improved to 47-5 on the year (that’s a 90.3 percent winning mark for those of you counting), while taking home his fifth title.
Although there wasn’t any ground-breaking additions to the Spaniard’s game throughout the event—that in turn wasn’t necessarily a bad sign.
Nadal is beginning to—or is he already there?—reach a stage in his career where he is completely in tune with what he needs to accomplish at every stage of a tournament.
After fighting past Haase and Petzschner, Nadal was forced to dip into his defensive foundation and claw back from a 5-0 first set deficit against Soderling. Advancing in four sets over the Swede, Nadal displayed his ability to spit back the penetrating shots of his opponent while mounting his court positioning closer to the baseline.
Nadal’s straight set win over Murray was perhaps his most impressive win of his title campaign. Murray, who had lost only one set in reaching the semifinals, was matched in the craft department by Nadal. He would as a result, fall victim to the Spaniard’s ever-improving net game. Holding his only set point of the match at 6-5 in the second set tiebreak, Murray’s valiant backhand pass down-the-line was met by a drop-shot volley winner by Nadal.
Murray to my mind is perhaps one of the best thinkers on the circuit. However, if Murray is the best thinker, then Nadal is at the very least the best at executing his game-plan.
Not succumbing to the desperate cheer’s of the British crowd, Nadal picked up on Murray’s forehand cross-court earlier, and exploited the shot for a greater part of the contest.
Trading in the length of shot that he used against Murray for short angled spins shots against Berdych, Nadal further exemplified that every opponent does in fact warrant a different strategy.
Not losing his serve against Berdych throughout the match, Nadal’s constant barrage of low hit passing shots allowed for a hand-full of timely second hit opportunities.
Using Berdych’s height to his disadvantage, Nadal breezed through his second career Euro Slam.
With his next goal being a potential US Open title, what will the Spaniard need to succeed?
Having never captured the title at Flushing Meadows, Nadal will likely play the Toronto and Cincinnati events in order to prepare for the final Slam of the season.
Attempting to become the seventh player in history to capture all four Slam titles, Nadal will need his body to hold up, while attempting to survive the fast-paced asphalt.
The courts in New York are without question quicker than the lawns at Wimbledon and the clay of Roland Garros. But if all holds to form, Nadal will be more than ready to complete his career Slam later this summer.
There is no doubt, however, that the passionate Spaniard will be eager to further define his historic career during the year’s final Major.
February 4, 2010
Defeating a handful of quality opponents along his trek to capturing his 16th Grand Slam title, the 28-year-old Swiss native proved that his status as the world’s best player was far from over. Surviving a stern test from Igor Andreev in the first-round, Federer later ended a two-match losing skid to Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals. It was perhaps his match against Davydenko which ignited a confident flame under Federer’s continued success in the event. Brushing aside Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray in the semifinals and finals, respectively, Federer was without a doubt the best player in January.
Recording his eighth straight finals appearance at a Major while keeping his worldly streak of reaching 23-straight Grand Slam semifinals alive, Federer made a strong case going forward that he may very well finish No. 1 in the world for a sixth time this year. Surpassing the $55-million mark in career prize money, Federer remains 12 wins shy of reaching his 700th victory on Tour. Adding his 62nd career title in Australia, Federer is now tied with Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas at the No. 5 position on the all-time titles’ list. Could Jimmy Connors’ record title count of 109 tournaments be in jeopardy? Only time will tell. With Federer conceding that he intends to play well into his mid 30’s, the Swiss remains well in line to capture Pete Sampras’ 64 career titles, and John McEnore’s 77.
There were certainly many who doubted Federer’s form coming into 2010. His final set flop against Juan Martin del Potro in New York seemed to summon a complacent and content Federer, one who wasn’t bothered by Major defeat. Adding onto his disappointment at Flushing Meadows, Federer remained winless on the Tour for the remainder of the season. Losing to Novak Djokoivc in Basel, while leaving the Paris Masters at the hands’ of Julien Benneteau, became a cause for concern. Although the fall season was a preverbal time of rest for the big boys, it appeared that Federer had began to relinquish his aura of invincibility.
Meek results during the Tour final in London, as well as the Qatar event to begin the season, didn’t provide much in the way of a Federer romp Down Under. However, what the naysayers and pundits continually forgot when assessing Federer’s form during the non-Slam events, remained his mastery of playing five-set matches.
Federer’s relaxed and injury-free physic had historically allowed him to achieve optimal playability throughout a fortnight of tennis. Where players such as Murray, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokoivc push their physical and mental limits to achieve success, Federer’s uncanny ability to remain calm and composed under the most difficult of times remains bar-none his greatest asset. I’m not quite sure if Federer’s ability to remain reserved and in complete control of his emotions is a taught trait, but I may be able to provide a few reasons for the Swiss’ impenetrable focus.
First, Federer has some of the best footwork in the game. As Patrick McEnroe suggested during the final’s on Sunday, “Federer gets to every shot so early that he has so many options when making contact.” This vital and well-versed part of Federer’s game allows him to take initiative on pretty much each and every point. Never appearing a step slow when riffling a forehand crosscourt, Federer’s horizontal and vertical movement remains sublime.
Secondly, Federer is undoubtedly the most relaxed ball-striker the game has ever seen. Next time Federer is playing in an event, make sure you take a look at his face while he’s hitting a groundstroke. Keeping his eye on a shot even after it has left his racket, Federer remains utterly emotionless when hitting his strokes. This ability to keep his face and shoulders relaxed allows for the fluidity in his game to shine through. When players are tense and grunting through their shots—more often than not they are muscling their shots—and not allowing for their time and rhythm to take over—not Federer.
Lastly, there can’t be enough said about Federer’s experience. He’s played in every Major final on at least four occasions, and he’s aware that no one on the Tour can come close to that stat. I remember asking James Blake a few year’s back who he favored going into the 2008 the US Open, and without a moments hesitation, he responded with Federer. Blake went onto comment that his immediate response was driven around the “been there, done that” formula which Federer had always played under. What perhaps surprised me the most about Blake’s answer was that Federer had not won a Slam going into the ‘08 US Open. I guess I’ve been caught with own share of doubting Federer on more than one occasion.
Moving onto the remainder of the year, I’d say that Federer will be aiming to win his second French Open title as a major priority. In the event that he can defend his Roland Garros crown, the Swiss would have won every Slam on at least two occasions, while leading the all-time list. I’m sure Federer would love nothing more than to defeat an injury-free Nadal during the event—even though the odds and history would suggest a less than favorable result.
With one month into 2010, the tennis world remains centered around its staple figure. Federer has withstood all criticism and adversity which has been thrown his way, only to redirect those trying times into record success.
The scary thing about Federer is that the guy just loves playing tennis; not for money or for fame, but the for simplicity of competition and dedication to that competition.
It appears now, anyway, that a fit and ready Federer will remain on top.
December 16, 2009
The final months of the tennis season can be grueling to say the least. The sport’s top stars have usually exhausted both their mental and physical attributes by the latter stages of the fall circuit, resulting in far too many injuries and tournament withdraws.
In a crapshoot of attrition and mental perseverance that determined the last men standing, Russian Nikolay Davydenko, and Spaniard Rafael Nadal poured in well earned victories to round out an overall fatiguing year of tennis.
Nikolay Davydenko: POM for November
In a year marred by early injury and poor results, Davydenko ironically was the last man standing during the World Tour finals in London.
Appearing in his fifth straight Tour finale, the defending finalist survived his first loss of the event to Novak Djokovic, only to defeat Nadal, Robin Soderling, Roger Federer, and Juan Martin del Potro in successive rounds.
Not only did the 28-year-old Volgograd resident defeat all of the Major winners of the season, Davydenko’s biggest tournament title was highlighted by his first ever win against Federer.
Losing to the Swiss No. 1 on 12 straight occasions, Davydenko’s chances of victory in the pair’s semifinal were nil to none.
Federer’s stellar serving and early struck forehand had always outclassed the Russian’s under-matched arsenal.
However, during that final Saturday on the ATP World Tour, Davydenko’s improved determination and unconscious shot-making proved good enough against the decade’s most prolific champion.
Continuing his stellar form in the finals, Davydenko thrashed US Open champion del Potro to take the title.
Cashing in on his grandest career pay day of over $1.5 million, Davydenko leapfrogged Andy Roddick in the year-end rankings to finish world No. 6.
The compact and quick Russian will now head into the year’s first Major in Australia with a realistic shot at taking home his first ever Grand Slam title.
Let’s keep in mind that winning in Melbourne will not be easy. But it’s also important to remember that winning in London was no small feat either.
Rafael Nadal: POM for December
In stark contrast the Davydenko’s early season woes, the talk of the tennis world circled around Nadal for the first quarter of the year. Capturing five Tour titles which included his first hard court Major Down Under, Nadal appeared ready to fight for the elusive “true” Slam.
However, well documented knee and domestic concerns altered the finely tuned beginning of the Spaniard’s campaign. Succumbing to a tailspin of early exits (for his standards) and eight months of without a title, Nadal’s prime concern became finishing the season with a Davis Cup victory.
Beginning the weekend’s tie against Tomas Berdych, Nadal’s early set jitters were evident. His confidence was shaken after four straight losses (tying his worst loss streak since 2004), and a fifth straight loss to an under-matched clay opponent would be embarrassing to say the least.
After trading opening set breaks of serve, Nadal’s clay court genius finally began to surface. Reeling off 13 straight games after winning the first set, Nadal’s hook forwards and athletic fist pumps were once again the catalyst of his winning combination.
The clay had once again rescued the Mallorcan from enduring further disappoint.
Spearheading Spain’s fourth Davis Cup title of the decade, Nadal improved to 14-1 in singles competition and 12-0 on clay courts.
The win in Barcelona (site of Nadal’s first Davis Cup triumph in 2004) merely added to the solidification of his Hall of Fame career :Top heavy results on a consistent basis.
Six Grand Slam titles, an Olympic gold medal, 15 Masters 1000’s crowns and former No. 1 status left Nadal with a strong claim as one of the sport’s most accomplished players.
It remains to be seen if Nadal can carry over his Davis Cup glory into next season. His knees and personal life have been affected, but he is still relatively young at 23.
If anything, the Davis Cup final proved that Nadal’s passion for the game is ever present. Cheering on his squad when not fighting for his life on court, Nadal’s positive energy towards his teammates was nothing short of invigorating.
Recapturing the No. 1 ranking and attaining a US Open victory (the remaining Major on the Spaniard’s resume) will fuel the rest of Nadal’s career
He will definitely need some luck if he is to triumph in New York; after all, the Slam comes at the end of the season when Nadal is usually banged and bruised from a successful spring and summer circuit.
With 2010 waiting in the bounds, one would have to think that Nadal’s tenure at the top is far from over.
Let’s not forget…
Honorable mention for POM consideration also goes out to Djokovic and David Ferrer.
Djokovic, who captured the title in Basel, Switzerland (d. Roger Federer), and the Paris Masters 1000 (d. Gael Monfils), proved that his ability to win in back-to-back weeks was ever present.
Djokovic’s run did come to a premature end during the Tour finale in London, falling just short of a semifinal position.
Ferrer’s tail of success came from a slightly different angle. The workaholic Valencia native didn’t have his most spectacular season on Tour. With no titles to his name, and with his lowest year-end ranking in the past five years (No. 17), Ferrer was in dire need of a shot in the arm.
The beginning stages of his Davis Cup match with Radek Stepanek didn’t turn out as planned: Ferrer was mercilessly blown off the court in the first two sets.
Emphatically cheered on by team leader Nadal, Ferrer began to chip away at Stepanek’s lead, capturing the third and fourth sets on the strength of his two-handed backhand.
Playing a photo-finish fifth set, Ferrer captured the greatest win of his 10-year career by ousting Stepanek by a final set score of 8-6 in the final set. The win also gave Spain a comforting 2-0 tie lead.
I fully expect Djokovic and Ferrer to feed off their late season heroics and put forth solid 2010 campaigns.