Author Archives: dantheopinionatedman22

Shanghai Masters Final Preview: Federer vs Nadal XXXVIII

This years Shanghai Masters Final pits two best players of the season, and likely of all time, against each other. Federer and Nadal’s comebacks from career derailing injuries, particularly at relatively advanced ages for tennis players, has made this one of the most storied seasons in tennis history. 

Both have dominated the tour and the majors, winning at their respective favourite slams, the Swiss winning Wimbledon, and the Spaniard the French Open, as well as bookending the grand slam season with a hard court slam apiece, Roger beating Rafa in the final in Australia, and Rafa sweeping aside all comers last month in New York.

These two all-time greats thrive on hard courts, and tomorrow will be an interesting moment in their rivalry, Federer hitting the ground running in winning the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami at the start of the season, whilst Nadal has taken longer to find his feet, losing in the finals of Australia, Acapulco and Miami, but mostly dominating in his winning runs in New York and Beijing last week.

Although Federer was hindered with a back injury in Montreal and New York, he appears to be fighting fit again, advancing to the final mostly untroubled, but for losing a set against Del Potro in the semis. Nadal’s campaign in the Far-East has been a little more shakey, dropping a set this week and in Beijing last week against ‘Baby Fed’ Grigor Dimitrov, as well as last week saving a match point before defeating Lucas Pouille.

Federer has won all three meetings against his great rival this year, making something of a dent in their lopsided head-to-head record that Nadal leads. Significantly all of these matches have been on hard courts, and what’s more, slow hard courts. His wins against Nadal in Australia, Indian Wells and Miami were all on surfaces traditionally regarded as playing at a medium to slow pace with the balls bouncing high, Nadal often in the past utilising this and his topspin to beat Federer’s backhand into submission. The Swiss has turned the Spaniards strategy on its head, utilising his larger racket and sweet spot to defend successfully on that wing, as well as taking the ball on the rise and down the line, at times doing more damage to Rafa this year with that shot down the line than his much hailed forehand.

Shanghai is generally considered to have quicker hard courts than many of the other events played on that surface, yielding lower bounces, and this should benefit Federer who will look to implement his attacking game and superior serve to good effect. If Dimitrov, an all-court player like the Swiss, albeit with less natural power and an at times suspect backhand can cause Nadal such trouble, Roger who does all these things better ought to outfox his opponent with his superior variety and ability to take away time and rhythm from him.

Winner: Federer in two tight sets

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Brief Preview: Federer vs Lopez, US Open 3rd Round

A lot of questions remain unanswered regarding Federer’s form and fitness this US Open. After a back injury flared up two weeks ago in the Montreal Final, he pulled out of Cinncinatti where he is usually dominant, and struggled against the talented up and coming Tiafoe in the first round, and the veteran and two-time Open Semi-finalist Youzhny, being stretched by both to five sets in the first two rounds.

Although the Swiss has stated his back is better, citing lack of practice being as much a reason for these scrappy wins as anything, he has looked tentative during spells with his movement.

Lopez will prove a dangerous opponent for Roger. The Spaniard seems to be drinking from the fountain of youth, and has been in reasonable form this year, securing his biggest title on the grass at Queens Club. He possesses one of the best serves on tour, and volleys well, both a great asset on the medium-quick courts at Flushing Meadows.

Although this will be the highest ranked opponent Federer will face thus-far, I think his last two presented problems that Lopez will not, namely that both hit big ground strokes off both wings, able to move Federer about and exacerbating any lingering movement problems. Aside from his killer serve, which will no doubt contribute to many of his own free points, Lopez almost exclusively slices his backhand, and his forehand, whilst solid, is more accurate than solid. Federer will thus be under little pressure when Lopez is returning his serve, and during neutral rallies will be able to target Lopez’ backhand side and attack consistently.

Not an easy opponent, but I predict Federer will prevail in four sets

2017: A Revival of Aggression in Men’s Tennis?

In recent years the larger events in Men’s tennis have been swept up by players who, for the most part, are counterpunchers of either the aggressive or defensive variety. From 2013-16 the Majors were divvied up between Djokovic (7), Murray (1), Nadal (3), Wawrinka (3), and Cilic (1).

The former three are able to utilise aggression well to varying effect, but are all of them at their core counterpunchers, and will revert back to defence when facing an opponent who is putting them under pressure. The latter two are primarily aggressive baseliners, looking to dictate and go for higher risk shots.

It’s notable that the defensive triumvarite of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray all finished as the number one player in the world, Rafa in 2013, Novak in 2014-15, and Andy in 2016. Cilic and Wawrinka were impressive in their Major Title runs, but could not bring their top form week in week out on the tour. Below the Majors are the Year End Championships, and the lucrative Masters 1000 Titles, nine of which take place throughout the season between March and November. Between 2013-16, most of these were taken by Murray, Djokovic and Nadal, and the consistency that is required to win at these events and remain atop the rankings seemed destined to be possessed only by those who were the fastest, and could rally the longest. Wawrinka, Federer, Tsonga and Cilic took some of the Masters Trophies in this period, but these more aggressive players seemed destined to remain on the second tier.

I prefer watching aggressive tennis, though I am by no means a purist. I like watching  Djokovic, and admire though have never taken to Murray and Nadal’s games, whilst the shot selection and feel of Gilles Simon, the consummate defensive baseliner, I never tire of seeing. Nonetheless, the prospect of the game rewarding defence more and more made my favourite sport to watch less appetising.

Cue 2017! Federer, rested from injuries and playing with more aggression than ever, beat all comers in claiming the first three big titles of the year, The Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, all played on medium to medium-slow hard courts, and beating his tormenter Rafa in each. Nadal, also seemingly on the slide until this year, dominated two of the three clay court masters events, and winning an astonishing tenth Clay Court Major in Paris, playing with his signature defence, but looking to dominate with aggression as much as possible. Federer won a second Major of the year at Wimbledon, trampling over all comers on the medium speed grass courts. The remaining Masters Titles played thus far were won by the Aggressive baseliner Alexander Zverev, who looks with his imposing frame and court coverage set to dominate the game in a few years time, winning on the clay of Rome, and the medium paced courts of Montreal, and the much touted but underachieving Grigor Dimitrov, the so-called ‘Baby Fed’ utilising his all court aggression, albeit not recklessly, winning last weekend in the final on the fast courts in Cincinnati.

This year has definitely seen a renaissance of aggressive tennis paying dividends on the men’s tour. With Djokovic side-lined for the rest of the year, and Murray also carrying question marks over his fitness, the tour seems primed to see more of the same. The US Open just round the corner is definitely the fastest of the four majors, and following that we have the mostly fast court Asian Swing, and the European indoor events, all tailored for the more aggressively minded players.

There’s no right or wrong way to play tennis, and watching a defender pick apart aggressors is in its own way entertaining, and requires great skill and strategy. I hope though for the sake of fans that we see more of a variety of styles at the top of the game, producing a contrast and a spectacle that endless rallying rarely produces.

Wimbledon Men’s Final

I cannot say I am particularly surprised at the two men who will be competing in the Wimbledon Final on Sunday. Federer has had a great season, winning an eighteenth Major in Australia, two Masters Titles, as well as a grass court event in Halle leading up to Wimbledon. He was the bookmakers favourite, and that has been vindicated, the Swiss not dropping a set en route. Cilic, my dark horse for his half of the draw, has a Major Title to his name, and has shown grass court pedigree, reaching three quarter finals at Wimbledon on the bounce prior to this years championships, as well as being a finalist at Queens three times, winning in 2012 courtesy of Nalbandian’s angry outburst, and finishing runner up twice, including three weeks ago in an epic against Lopez in which he held a match point.

Federer goes in tomorrow as the clear favourite. He has won this event seven times, as well as finishing as runner up on three occasions. I waxed lyrical earlier on this years tournament wins, in addition to those he has lost just twice this year. He has not had things all his own way, Berdych I believe pushed him relatively hard with his raw power, forcing two tiebreaks. The Swiss was also more edgy than usual, cursing from time to time in Swiss German.

Cilic has had a less convincing path to the title match. Although he did not drop a set in the first four rounds, Muller, the conqueror of Nadal, stretched him to five, whilst Querrey put the Croatian under the cosh in the semis, winning the first set, and threatening a comeback in the fourth. Despite this, he should be as fresh as Roger, Muller and Querrey both offering more in the way of aggression than attrition in those two closer contests.

In terms of their head-to-head, Federer leads six matches to one. Marin beat the Swiss en-route to his only Major title in New York in 2014, routing the Swiss in three sets. Federer though had only just squeaked past an on fire Monfils in five sets, with I believe little time to recover. Cilic also played Federer close in last years quarter finals, stretching him to five sets, failing to convert those in a gut wrenching loss.

It is clear however that Federer is playing better tennis and is in good shape compared to those two matches. In this fourth season playing with a larger racket head size, he appears to be utilising it to its full effect, taking on serves and strokes directed to his nominally weaker backhand earlier, robbing opponents of their time. He is also moving unhindered, transitioning to the net seamlessly where, under Edberg’s coaching in 2014-15, he shored up his volleys where even though the hands were always there, the execution of them could occasionally be wanting.

All is not lost for Cilic. Although at 6 ft 6 he is not the quickest of movers, he is more nimble than a lot of his tall peers on the tour. His big serve has nuance to it, often not attempting the more obvious play of going for an outright ace, instead kicking it up and wide, or hitting a body serve to produce a weak return that allows him to dictate with his powerful ground game, or approach the net where he himself is an above average volleyer.

I think tomorrow may prove too much of an uphill task though for Cilic. He has navigated himself skilfully to the final, but is yet to play an opponent of the same calibre as Federer. The Swiss is rested, seemingly injury free, and although lacking the explosiveness and raw power that he possessed ten years ago, his shot selection, placement and ability to attack decisively and often I believe will overcome the Croat, a fine player and for me the most overlooked on the men’s circuit.

Winner: Federer in four sets.

Wimbledon: Men’s Semi Finals

Federer vs Berdych

Federer has been playing some of the best tennis of his life this year, and hasn’t dropped a set en route to the semis. Also in Federer’s favour, he enjoys an 18-6 head-to-head record against the Czech. Berdych by contrast has had to slug out more matches, although he should be rested with Djokovic retiring after an injury in his last match. Also, Berdych has beaten the Swiss twice at Majors, once on the grass at Wimbledon in 2010, and again in New York in 2012. Federer remains however a heavy favourite, seemingly injury free, and with more variety than ever, I think this is a poor matchup for Berdych, a fine player but dependant upon rhythm. Federer is unlikely to give him any.

Winner: Federer in straight sets.

Cilic vs Querrey

I pencilled in at the start of the draw Cilic as being the most dangerous player outside the more accomplished players in his section of the draw. I have thus far been vindicated. Although he survived a slight scare against Muller in his previous match, this was against an unorthodox lefty who doesn’t give his opponent an opportunity to get into any rhythm. This should not be the case against his American opponent, a solid player and a worthy opponent, but his ground game is what one might call a meat and potatoes in its style. Querrey possesses a killer serve, and this gives him his best chance of reaching tiebreaks and grabbing mini-breaks. He should look to attack decisively after every serve, and reach the net where he possesses an above average put away volley and a solid overhead. Cilic in turn will look to dictate proceedings with his superior ground game, as well as using his sliding serve to pull the Querrey out wide, the American not being the most mobile of players and vulnerable out on the stretch.

Winner: Cilic in five sets

Wimbledon: Men’s Quarter Finals

Federer vs Raonic

The Swiss, a seven time winner and seemingly in the best form in many a year, is many a pundits pick for the title. Raonic, although not playing as well as last year, where he beat Federer en route to the final, ought to prove Federer’s sternest challenge yet. I expect Federer to prevail in four sets. I also expect a lot of aces to be hit.

Djokovic vs Berdych

Although Djokovic has turned a corner mentally it seems under the tutelage of Andre Agassi, he seems still very conscious of factors that are beyond his control, including today the quality of the playing surface. Berdych has flown below the radar this tournament, but was stretched to five sets by Thiem on Wednesday, and has a 2-25 losing record against the Serb. Nevertheless, one of those two wins came at Wimbledon seven years ago, and he will have enjoyed a days extra rest and preparation than Novak. With the Czech’s power and clean hitting, I feel this has the makings of an upset.

Murray vs Querrey

Murray has made steady progress to this stage, the defending champion dropping a single set getting to the quarters. Querrey is usually the type of player the Scot thrives against, using his speed and returning skills to nullify the American’s big serves, powerful groundstrokes, and relative slowness on the court. Querrey has beaten Murray in the past though, in Los Angeles, and has displayed this year he can beat anyone when in a groove, defeating a rejuvenated Nadal in the final of Acapulco in March. He should look to do one thing only against Murray: attack at every opportunity, or else lose.

Cilic vs Muller

Cilic has been my dark horse on this side of the draw since the start of the tournament. he has a solid, powerful ground game, a well placed, heavy serve, and good court sense. A former US Open champion, and a runner up two weeks ago on the grass of Queens Club, I expect the Croatian to be largely untroubled by Muller, the conqueror of Nadal, who must surely be both mentally and physically spent after his heroic exploits against the Spaniard?

Wimbledon: Fourth Round Matches of Interest

Men

Federer vs Dimitrov

Fed versus Baby Fed will certainly be a shot makers delight. Dimitrov has had a career year, and is certainly at home on this surface. Federer I believe though will be largely untroubled by the Bulgarian, namely because although they play with a similar style, the Swiss has more weight of shot, anticipates more quickly, and generally does everything a little bit better. Should be an interesting watch.

Nadal vs Muller

Of all the remaining title contenders, I think Nadal has looked the most convincing, hitting with consistent aggression and with renewed passion after romping through the clay court swing. His opponent from Luxemburg however could prove quite the banana skin. Muller is 6 ft 4, has a big serve, hard groundstrokes, a deft touch, and at age 34 is playing his best tennis, recently winning a tournament on grass in the Netherlands. I sense an upset in the making.

Raonic vs Zverev

This one ought to be an ace fest. Both stand at 6 ft 5 & 6 respectively, and when they’ve not hit an ace or service winner, they back up their serves with strong ground shots, with neither being a slouch at the net. Raonic enjoys the greater calibre, having reached the final last year, but he has been injured of late, whilst Zverev’s star is on the rise, having won his first Masters trophy in Rome during the Spring, and will be swinging freely having already bettered last years performance at Wimbledon.

Women

Kerber vs Muguruza

This match I believe could be one of the contests of the tournament. Kerber was a runner-up last season, her Spanish opponent two years ago. The German has been playing in defence mode, which could work if Muguruza’s signature aggression becomes error strewn, but should she hit her stride, I think she could blast Kerber off the court.

Radawnaska vs Kuznetsova

The slick surface of Wimbledon agrees with Radwanska, where her underpowered but artistic strokes and anticipation saw her to the final five years ago. Her Russian opponent can be erratic, but is one of the dark horses for the title, and her footwork and shot making which has won her two majors should make this a fine contest and contrast of styles.

Azarenka vs Halep

Azarenka is on quite a run in only her second tournament back after having a baby. Although stretched to three sets in more than one match, her aggression, power and competitive fire saw her through them, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two-time Australian Open winner reach the latter rounds. Halep meanwhile has a grass tournament to her name, and was a semi-finalist at Wimbledon three years ago. I doubt not her willingness to hang tough and compete, but if she reverts back to type and counts only on foot speed and defence, she may hand Azarenka the initiative to bully her around the court.