Monday, September 12, 2011

U.S. Open: Top Seed Takes on Defending Champ

Can anyone slow down the chest-thumping Serb?

Federer was beaten in a classic, while Murray went out with a whimper. Now the top two tennis players in world are preparing to square off on the world’s grandest stage.

Nadal stumbled through the first four rounds, but suddenly found his legs and his confidence in the quarters against Roddick. Djokovic basically cruised through the entire tournament until he ran into a red hot Roger Federer. But even when he was down two match points - Djokovic rose to the challenge.

Rafa versus Novak is such an intriguing matchup. Rafa was once the most CONFIDENT and most ruthless player in the world. He swung for the fences and was always ready to live by the sword and die by the sword. These qualities led him to ten major titles and he really should have won Wimbledon this year.

But then you look at Novak Djokovic – it was not his skill, but rather his confidence that propelled him past Nadal in the Wimbledon final. And as where Rafa once had that unbeatable swagger about him – it now is firmly in the hands of Djokovic.

Never was the Djokovic confidence more glaringly apparent than against Roger Federer in the semis of this year’s U.S. Open. Federer had Djokovic beaten – a comeback was not only unlikely, it was nearly impossible. On his second match point, Federer ripped a punishing serve wide to Djoko's forehand side – The legendary reply was one of most devastating forehand service return winners in the history of the tournament. You have to believe your own hype to take a swing like that to erase a match point with such authority.

That mind-numbing forehand told Federer all he needed to know – this match was over.

It’s hard for me to endorse a tennis player who was actually beating his chest for the crowd after his semifinal win. But just because Djokovic acts like he’s on a casting call for Return of the Planet of the Apes, doesn’t mean he isn’t best tennis player alive right now. Rafa is an amazing champion and a lion-hearted competitor – but he will need his best to have any chance to stop chest thumping number one player in the world – Novak Djokivic.

Unless Rafa can regain his swagger – take Djokovic in four sets over Nadal.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Get Ready for Djokovic vs. Murray - Act Two

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, owners of 26 grand slam titles between them, are both in amazing form as they head into this year’s U.S. Open Semis. The only problem is, neither one of them is likely to be around to contend for the U.S. Open Championships on Monday. Andy Murray has been my pick to win his first grand slam tournament since the U.S. Open began and I see no reason to change that prediction now. But first, let’s look at the Federer – Djokovic matchup.

Federer is still a terrible threat to Novak Djokovic on almost any surface, but not on the hard courts at Flushing Meadows. There was a time not so long ago, when Federer was unbeatable in New York – but those days have crept by us now. The list of people who can beat Federer regularly on hard courts is terribly short - sporting only three men. The problem is that all three of them, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray are the three remaining men in the draw.

Federer has the skills, but has lost about a half a step in the past year and that’s all Djokovic needs. The Serb is brimming with confidence and has never looked back since stunning Federer in last year’s U.S. Open semi finals. He’s captured two grand slam titles this year and is hungry to put the U.S. Open on his resume.

Take Djokovic in 3, possibly 4 sets.

Nadal and Murray represent the other half of the draw and this is really Andy’s time to shine and finally join the grand slam club. Nadal is playing his best tennis of the fortnight, but he doesn’t have the firepower to overcome Murray - if Andy can keeps his wits about him. This is the eighth time the Scot has made it to a Grand Slam semis in his last 17 majors.

Hard courts are Murray’s best surface and after losses in three different grand slam finals – He has the seasoning at the age of 24 to capture this year’s U.S. Open and end the dizzying drought for the United Kingdom. You can’t sell Nadal short because he is the defending champion. But Nadal has lost a lot of the sting on his serve that led him to last year’s title. Unless he can conjure up that booming serve again, Murray will prevail.

As Nadal, Djokovic and Federer have grabbed slam after slam – Murray has been steadily improving. He is playing smart and composed tennis and if he can break out of his own head, he will overcome Nadal and stamp his invitation into the U.S. Open Finals.

Take Murray in four tough sets!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Murray Ready for Break Out at 2011 U.S. Open

Murray is fit and ready to grab his first Grand Slam title.

2011 has been pretty good to me so far, correctly predicting the winners of 2 of the last 3 slams. I picked the Djoker to snag the Aussie and Nadal to capture the French. Rafa let me down at Wimbledon, but I'm obviously hoping to go 3 for 4 by picking the man that no one is really talking about – 4th-seeded Andy Murray.

Between Rafa and the Serb, Murray is really the forgotten man at the 2011 U.S. Open and that will come back to haunt the experts. The Scot has a tough draw with arch-nemesis and former U.S. Open champ, Juan Martin Del Potro possibly looming in the quarters. Murray and Del Potro have a mean-spirited history with each other dating back to the Italian Open in 2008, but should Murray prevail, the U.S. Open is his for the taking.

Murray is in the Nadal half of the draw and has had an amazing 2011 campaign reaching the finals in Australia and the semis at both the French and Wimbledon. Make no mistake, Murray’s best surface is the hard courts and he was a finalist at the U.S. Open 2008.

Djokovic is obviously the favorite, but like it or not, Djokovic proved once again during Cincinnati in August that he's still a quitter. Murray was giving him a good thumping in the final when Novak quit before Murray could finish him off.

It's not the first time Djokovic has called it quits while losing a match. This was actually the 8th time Djokovic has quit in the middle of match that he was losing, not to mention the fact he has defaulted a total of four times during Grand Slam play.

Going back to Murray – he has a long history of being his own worst enemy – but he is the only player on the circuit right now who has what is takes to knock Djokovic off of his perch.

The drought for the U.K. has to end some time – and it will be Murray who hoists the trophy in New York when all is said and done.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Djokovic Stings Nadal with Familiar Form of Intimidation

Nadal shrinks away from the Djokovic challenge at Wimbledon

Rafael Nadal has fallen victim to the very same spell he cast over Roger Federer more than five years ago.

That was when the young Spaniard named Rafael Nadal became a splinter in the mind of the game’s most dominant player, Roger Federer. Back then, Federer was a tennis deity who firmly believed that no one alive could threaten him on any surface. Then came Nadal – And after just a few close losses, the seed of intimidation was planted deep into the psyche of Roger Federer.

From that point on, Federer forever lived in fear of Nadal. Federer was faced with an intimidation factor he never dreamed was possible and it cost him every time he stepped onto the court with Nadal. Nadal’s game played a factor in Federer’s problems, but the bottom line was, “Federer did not play like Federer against Nadal.”

Fast-forward to this year, and Rafael Nadal is writhing in the grip of his own inner demons – an intimidation factor he never thought possible, the bold and brash Novak Djokovic.

Like Federer, Nadal believed that if he was playing at 90%, he was unbeatable. But then Novak won a couple of close matches in a row and Nadal suffered what appeared to be a gradual decline in confidence. WRONG! What appeared to be a slow-moving virus is now a full-blown case of, “I’m scared of that guy!”

This is not to take anything away from the amazing brand of Djokovic tennis, but Nadal did not play like Nadal in the Wimbledon final. Nadal ran scared and instead of trying to win, he played not to lose. The Spaniard is NOW in huge trouble every time he steps of the court with the Serb.

What also makes this so interesting is the fact that Nadal had dominated Djokovic at the majors for so long. That era seems to be over. The Wimbledon final was only one match – but it is likely to set the tone for the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry for the next couple of years. Each Nadal loss against Djoko is worse than the one before, eerily similar to the decline of Federer.

Nadal played tentatively for the first time at a grand slam and it was a disaster. Without his fearlessness, Nadal is just another top three player who will win a stray grand slam here and there, more along the lines of Andy Murray.

What’s great for tennis fans is to see if Nadal can overcome it. Tennis history demonstrates that he probably can’t do it. But make no mistake, the torch has been passed.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Djokovic Grabs Top Spot, but Won’t Claim Wimbledon Title

Look for Djokovic to take the fall against Nadal

Novak Djokovic – This is his time.

When the new rankings come out next week, Djoko will be the number one player in the world according to the ATP computer. What he won’t have is the coveted cup that goes along with the 2011 Wimbledon title.

All signs point Rafael Nadal hoisting up his third Wimbledon trophy in four years.

Djokovic has enjoyed one of the easiest and luckiest grand slam draws in many years. Any time, you can cruise into the Wimbledon finals without playing a single player ranked in the top 15; you are very, very fortunate. Djokovic screamed and howled through every victory, even though he never encountered a top-ranked opponent.

Djokovic looks surprisingly mortal on the grass. His superior movement bogs down on the green stuff down and his unforced errors break into double digits.

The biggest break in the tournament for the Serb came when Roger Federer forgot to close out his QF match against Tsonga.

Tsonga was a pretender, not a contender and Djokovic ate him up on Saturday. Now he's riding high into the championship match having beaten Nadal in four straight finals. However, this is a grand slam and it's being contested on grass. Two pivotal factors that will leave Djokovic on the outside looking in.

It doesn’t matter whether Rafa is ranked 1, 2, or 102 – he is the most ferocious competitor in tennis and he is hungry to claim his third Wimbledon crown.

Rafa certainly won’t be happy to give up his number one ranking to Djokovic on Monday, but securing his eleventh grand slam title by beating him in the final will surely easy the pain.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Didn’t See that Coming – Tsonga Zaps Federer

Tsonga savors an unlikely win over Roger Federer.

It looked so routine.

Roger Federer was on cruise control with a two sets to love lead. After closing out 179 straight matches with a 2-sets to none lead – Federer sputtered, blinked and choked away a relatively easy path to the 2011 Wimbledon semis.

The Swiss star was down a break at 3-4 and 4-5 in the third set. On both occasions, he jumped to love-30 leads on the Tsonga serve and seemed poised to break back. But somehow – IT NEVER HAPPENED!

It seems that all good things must come to an end. Federer was a mere shadow of himself in the quarters breaking down with the finish line well in sight and giving Tsonga the victory.

I really don’t know what to make of Fed any more – this was his match to take. And when you watch it, he seems to have the upper hand. But he let it slip away – without question the worse loss I’ve ever seen from him. Fed actually seemed complacent - he didn't seem interested or inspired enough to close out the Frenchman.

This wasn’t Rafa on clay or DelPo/Djoko on a hard court – it was Jo-Willie on grass and Federer may never be the same. I’ve seen him out of sorts before, but never was the 16-time grand slam champ so in control and then so lost.

The killer-instinct we took for granted for so long seems to have lost its edge. After the French, I was a believer that Federer had one or two slams left in the tank – now, I’m not so sure.

Tsonga didn’t play badly, but he didn’t light up the court either. Tsonga served well, but not well enough to knock Federer off of his favorite surface. Tsonga gained confidence only because Federer fizzled out.

The irony here is that Federer, who saved the number one ranking at the French for Nadal – has now for all intents and purposes handed it to Novak Djokovic. Djokovic will batter Tsonga and claim the number one spot, even if Rafa claims the Wimbledon title.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rafa-Federer Redux - Ready to Renew Epic Wimbledon Rivalry

The more the game changes, the more it stays the same. Carve out whatever subplot you like, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are once again on a collision course for the Wimbledon Championships. Just like the French Open – the top two seeds are also the best grass court players in the field.

Novak Djokovic lost just one match all year long and has won an astounding seven tournaments. That will be no help whatsoever on the grass courts of Wimbledon. Djoko got dumped on the clay at the French in 2011 and will be unceremoniously knocked out of Wimbledon as well.

Djokovic is playing the best grass court tennis of his life – but it’s still not enough to get him past Federer at the All England Club. If Djokovic makes it to the semis, he is likely to be cut down by the 16-time grand slam champion who is serving like his life depended on it.

British favorite, Andy Murray is rolling, but a relatively easy draw is not working in his favor. A list of easy opponents is no way to prepare for a possible meeting in the semis with the two-time defending champ, Rafa Nadal.

"Nadal is not playing his best, but no one on the grass, save Federer, is his equal."

This is Federer’s best shot in a long time to exact a little grand slam revenge upon Nadal. Federer is serving lights out, and to beat him, Nadal will have to be at his best. You can never count Nadal out, but he must right the ship against the great one to grab his third Wimbledon title and retain his number one ranking.