June 23, 2013
1) Will History Be Made?
With Nadal both seeded fifth and playing in the same quarter as Federer, we are set to (perhaps) witness an unheard-of occurrence: a member of the Big Four beating ALL THREE other members of that exclusive club en route to a Slam win. Rafa can do it en route to his third Wimbledon title, or Federer can pull off the improbable feat and assure himself of being the King of the Hill at SW19 for yet another year.
How likely is this to actually occur? As it turns out, not very. Due to the structure of the draw, none of the Big Four has ever had the possibility of vanquishing all three of his chief rivals in the same tournament until now. Winning against two of the three back-to-back has proven to be a colossal challenge as well:
Let’s take a quick look at what has transpired when each of the Big Four has faced two of the other three in back-to-back (semi and finals) matches since the 2010 Australian Open:
Novak Djokovic (1)
2012 RG (win RF, loss RN)
2012 AO (win AM, win RN)
2011 USO (win RF, win RN)
2011 AO (win RF, win AM)
2010 USO (win RF, loss RN)
Andy Murray (2)
2013 AO (win RF, loss ND)
Roger Federer (3)
2012 W (win AM, win ND)
2011 RG (win ND, loss RN)
Rafael Nadal (5)
2012 AO (win AM, loss ND)
2011 USO (win AM, loss ND)
2011 W (win AM, loss ND)
2011 RG (win AM, win RF)
A few takeaways:
- Federer is the only one to have made beaten two Big Four players back-to-back at Wimbledon, which he did last year.
- Djokovic has the best record (3-2) when confronted with the challenge, but this year he will only need to get through (maybe) Ferrer, and then one of the other three guys in the finals.
- Murray has never beaten two Big Fours back-to-back in a Slam.
- Nadal in 1-3 when put in similar circumstances, and failed to win at Wimbledon in 2011 against Djokovic after defeating Murray in the semis.
- While Djokovic will be unfairly criticized for having a soft draw, in the grand scheme of things he has definitely earned his seeding due to his performance against the very best players on the planet since 2010.
2) Notables and Floaters
Section 1 (Djokovic)
Florian Mayer (Djokovic’s first round opponent, ranked 33 in the world, QF appearance at Wimbledon in 2012)
Tommy Haas (Has a victory over Djokovic this year)
Richard Gasquet (Past semi-finalist)
Bernard Tomic (QF loss to Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2011)
Tomas Berdych (2010 finalist)
Section 2 (Ferrer)
Philipp Kohlschreiber (2012 quarter-finalist)
Kei Nishikori (career-high 11th ranking)
Juan-Martin del Potro
Section 3 (Nadal/Federer)
John Isner (never been past round 2 at Wimbledon)
Lleyton Hewitt (former champ faces 11th-seeded Wawrinka in round 1)
Jerzy Janowicz (3rd round appearance in his only Wimbledon presence in 2012, now seeded 24th)
Lukas Rosol (will not play Nadal again unless he makes the quarter-finals)
Section 4 (Murray)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (semi-finalist in the last 2 years; has a fairly nice draw this time around to get that far again)
Ernests Gulbis (upset Berdych in the first round last year, could be a second-round matchup for Tsonga)
Julien Benneteau (came within a few points of taking out Federer here in 2012, is a low seed once again)
Kenny De Schepper (6’8’’ lefty could be this year’s Lukas Rosol)
Mikhail Youzhny (just made the finals at Halle and was a quarterfinalist here last year)
Benjamin Becker (big-serving German has had a nice run on grass courts this summer, plays Murray in the first round after losing to the Brit at Queen’s)
3) Milos Alert
Raonic has not won a Tour match in nearly 1 month and has been the victim of three straight upsets (R32 loss at the French Open vs. Kevin Anderson, then first round losses at Halle and Eastbourne to Gael Monfils and Ivan Dodig respectively). Some of it could be attributed to his recent change in coaching situation (he’s now working with former world number three Ivan Ljubicic), but for a player who’s historically done a great job of winning matches he was favored to win, the recent losing streak must be a tough pill to swallow.
With his massive serve (perhaps the hardest and most varied on Tour) and nose for the net, it’s just a matter of time until Raonic puts together a really terrific run on the lawns of Wimbledon. However, he is a fairly unspectacular 8-8 on grass at the ATP level. In fact, he has never beaten anyone higher than 45th-ranked Santiago Giraldo (a clay-court specialist) at Wimbledon or at any other grass-court event.
All that being said, since his four-set second round loss to Querrey last year, Raonic has carried Team Canada through a couple of epic Davis Cup ties and has climbed into the Top 15. His game is good enough, and he really can’t do any worse this year, so perhaps a run to the second week is in stores.
First Round: Carlos Berlocq
Second Round: Igor Sjisling
Third Round: Philipp Kohlschreiber
Fourth Round: David Ferrer
Quarterfinals: Juan Martin del Potro
Semifinals: Novak Djokovic
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.
March 12, 2013
While pretty much the entire tennis-playing population of the universe has a healthy respect for Rafael Nadal’s game, at least one guy in the locker room isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with the world number five:
“I think the way I play right now, that should make a difference,” Gulbis told reporters. “I believe that I can win. I like to play against him because his ball and his heavy spin, it’s good for my timing. I don’t like when the opponents hit flat, deep balls. I like the opponents hit spin, high balls. It’s easier for me to control them. So honestly I like to play against him. I had close matches. I had three sets twice [as well as a four-set loss], and just in the third set lack of experience, lack of fitness, lack of everything, and then he just broke me down. I know how he plays. And of course he’s a great player, but I honestly believe that if I play my best game I can beat him.”
The player who uttered those words? The one and only Ernests Gulbis. He also happens to be Nadal’s next opponent at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. If all goes according to plan, the pair should take to the courts on Wednesday for their fifth career meeting. Nadal leads the rivalry 4-0, but Gulbis has made the Spaniard work for every single one of those wins. Also, it seems that he won’t easily be impressed, no matter how strongly Nadal comes out of the gates.
Online, the Latvian Prince has received much criticism for his apparent disregard of the ATP pecking order. Still, his outspoken stance on the Rafa issue reminds me of the posturing adopted by three of the Spaniards former tormentors. Gulbis certainly has had the game all along to put a scare into the former world number one, but perhaps his newfound attitude might be what it takes to help him get past the finish line this time around.
Exhibit A: Tomas Berdych
Career Record vs. Nadal: 3-12
Signature Win: Marid Masters 2006 (Indoor Hard)
For someone whom Nadal “owns” even more than Roger, Berdych sure give the Spaniard a whole lot of trouble earlier on in their careers. The Czech’s most memorable win occurred in Madrid, back when it was still a fixture in the late-season indoor swing. After taking the match in the second-set tiebreak, Berdych put his index finger in front of his lips and “shushed” the hostile crowd. That match put him up 3-1 in the rivalry. After being the subject of much criticism, Tomas ended up backing down and offering a semi-apology for his behavior. Not surprisingly, Nadal has won the nine subsequent meetings between the two.
Exhibit B: James Blake
Career Record vs. Nadal: 3-4
Signature Win: US Open 2005 (Outdoor Hard)
Between 2005 and 2008, the American was the player Nadal least wanted to see on his side of the draw. Blake won the first three matches played against Nadal, the most impressive of which was their first match played in New York. The American wildcard, running on sheer adrenaline, upset the #2 seed with four sets of power tennis in the second round of the US Open. Of course, Blake went on to have that epic five-setter against Andre Agassi a few days later on Arthur Ashe Stadium. While Blake never resorted to any kind of gamesmanship to get an edge over Nadal, one could definitely see that he was unfazed by the Spaniard’s heavy topspin or dogged defense. Trusting his natural style, Blake never hesitated to step around and use his strength, the flat inside-out forehand, to get right at Nadal’s own forehand. It never occurred to James to play any differently against Rafa than against a qualifier; he was always going to go on the court and rip every shot. That defiant line of thinking often allowed him to conjure his best tennis when facing off against the Spaniard.
Exhibit C: Robin Soderling
Career Record vs. Nadal: 2-6
Signature Win: Roland Garros 2009 (Outdoor Clay)
This list would not be complete without a nod to “Bo-Carl” Soderling, the architect of perhaps the greatest upset in tennis history. While his fourth-round victory over Nadal at the 2009 French Open had been discussed ad-nauseum, the two previous encounters between the pair deserve additional attention. Less than a month before that faithful day in Paris, Nadal issued the beat-down of a lifetime on the Swede in Rome, only conceding a single game en route to a 6-1 6-0 win. Did that match make Soderling angry and helped him pull off the upset four weeks later? We’ll never know. But we do know that there was already some beef between the two players. Two years earlier at Wimbledon, the pair squared off in a nail-biting five set match spread out over three days because of rain. Nadal eventually won 7-5 in the fifth, but not before experiencing the best of Soderling’s heavy hitting and prickly demeanor. At one point, the Swede took exception to Nadal taking too much time in between points, and began picking his butt in a derisive manner. Once again, he was lambasted in the press for his actions, but less than three years later, Robin proved to the world that he knew what he was doing all along.
May 1, 2011
The good people at 2K Sports have released the 4th iteration in their blockbuster tennis franchise Top Spin. The Top Spin series is best known for bringing ultra realistic game play to the console market since 2003 and ever since has gone through many variations by changing up the controls, player lineups and of course bumping up the graphics.
The first thing you notice when you pop in the TS4 disc is how much the game and the gameplay itself feels like a tennis match you would watch on TV. From the player entrances, to the between points cut scenes, there is no doubt that 2K really wanted to make the gamer feel like they are taking part in a real match.
One of the elements that makes this game what it is is the player lineup. There are a wide array of players, both past and present (25 players in total), including the most anticipated (according to me anyways), Andre Agassi. There is even a retro version of Andre that all pre-ordered gamers received and he looks pretty good but unfortunately due to his new sponsorship with Adidas, he isn’t wearing some of the old neon outfits that we grew up with and that still sit in my closet. There are a few exemptions that I would like to see including Johnny Mac, but I believe he has been signed exclusively to the EA Grand Slam Tennis franchise. The ATP side is definitely more covered than the WTA side, but I am not sure if this was due to dollars or due to the ATP’s greater popularity at the moment.
The venue list has also been beefed up and looks very realistic. One thing you notice right off the bat is that the crowd does not look cut and pasted and all over the place. The sound they produce during different times in the point really adds to the ambiance of the game.
Another amazing addition is that the players really move differently according to venue/surface. Obviously this is most evident on clay where the player’s not only slide like in real life, but also the recovery time and hitting behind the players have the same effect as on the dirt.
There are a lot of venues, some are real and unfortunately some are not. While they do have three out of four of the slams, everyone will notice that they have left out Wimbledon. This is of course due to money and the fact that once again it seems like EA has exclusivity on that venue. They do have the “Dublin” Open which does take place on grass, but it is a downer in a game that is so realistic in so many other ways.
Career mode is quite good and very similar to what you have seen in the past if you have played any of the previous Top Spin games. The game starts off with you as a newcomer trying to make it on the tour. You start playing low level events (1 star) trying to build wins to enter larger events. Each win gets you “XP” points which you can use to train your player. One thing that is different with TS4 is that you can hire different coaches which bump up your level according to their teaching ability. You unlock this potential by accomplishing four specific tasks for each coach (ie. Hit 50 winners, 25 volleys, etc.).
Although Top Spin 4 does a better job that the previous games in terms of challenges, the first couple of matches seem too easy and essentially pointless. I would love to see a bit more scaling in terms of challenge. Once you do start stringing some wins together and make it to the higher matches the competition does get better, especially when in a semi or final. Nadal is difficult to beat on any surface but at Roland Garros, good luck on your first try. Many gamers might hate this but I loved it. It really is a challenge and makes you have to pick and choose your shots wisely as opposed to just button mashing or coming to the net like every other tennis game ever.
By far my favorite part of the Career mode is the “Dream Matches.” This is where you challenge a legend to a match. This was so much fun and depending on the pro, also very challenging. Courier’s forehand was massive, Sampras’ serve I didn’t even see sometimes and of course Andre’s return put me on the defensive many times.
One thing that makes TS4 a lot better than the previous tennis games is that in order to progress the game keeps altering the challenges. For ex: You need become No. 1 to have so many fans; beat so and so at such a venue to unlock an outfit, etc. I have played for at least 48 hours (not straight but close) and I can honestly say I am maybe 50 percent through. This is a very welcome change since before I would usually just trade in my game the following week.
Online game play has been very good as well. The game matching has been pretty spot on and there are many different variations depending on your level or the amount of time you have. Another huge plus is that the rankings reset every week. That means every Monday you can start over and try to achieve the No. 1 ranking over the guy/girl that seems to play 25hrs in a 24hr day. The only negative I have had is trying to play a friend online but it didn’t seem to go through, but I am not sure if that was an Xbox problem or with Top Spin’s server.
By far the best element of Top Spin 4 is the controls. Throughout the history of the game, the developers have played with different button combos but I have to say that I think they have finally hit the nail right on the head with this one. The simple reason being is that the controls are more like real tennis. The success of the strokes depends on timing. You hold the button for your backswing, then release when your player is to start the follow through. As easy as this sounds, it does take some time to get used it. This allows balls to go short, wide, long, in, out, etc and really adds to the realism. When you do win a point, match, etc. you have a greater sense of accomplishment than in previous versions. Also, it prevents net rushers to always have the advantage because now their reflexes need to be super sharp instead of just button mashing.
Overall Top Spin 4 is definitely worth the price ($59.99CAD) and is taking the world of online tennis sim to the next level. Is it perfect, no, but then again you can’t expect Madden-like development for a game who’s niche market is a lot smaller. Overall Top Spin 4 gets 8.5/10.
- Controls are very good and very symbolic of tennis
- Wide variety of venues and challenges
- Array of both new and legend players
- Player movements and gameplay very realistic
- Graphics, especially player faces can look a lot better and really should look a lot better
- Omission of Wimbledon
- Lack of sleeveless Nike tennis shirts
- Lack of Kinect support
- No ability to have tantrums between points (this used to exist in previous versions)
*Special thanks to 2K Sports for providing us with a copy of the game.
August 31, 2010
Nima and Dan sit down and discuss the final Grand Slam of the 2010 season. Who looks good, who’s already out, and what you can expect for the next two weeks.
As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.
August 8, 2010
The tennis world is back in Canada this week after the ATP’s short “break” following Wimbledon.
All the top players have arrived in Canada, with Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, and Federer leading the way.
Nima and Dan once again sit down to preview this week’s action packed draw.
As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.
July 5, 2010