Sunday, November 27, 2011

Shine On, You Crazy Diamond

Roger Federer defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for a record 6th ATP World Tour Finals title today. Many are now wondering: What will he win next?

Sunday's 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3 victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was yet another shining example of Roger Federer's current status as a force to be reckoned with on the ATP Tour. The landmark victory (it was Federer's 100th career ATP final) not only moved Federer back into the current ATP top 3; it also moved him past Stefan Edberg into 6th place on the ATP's all-time win list (with 807), and scooted him past Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras with 6th ATP Championship titles.

But for Federer, who seems to break a slew of records each time he takes his racquets out of his bag, this wasn't about padding his legacy, or stoking a once-burning-brightly fire. Today's win was about the Federer of here and now. His never-ending hunger for competition, his indefatigable passion for the sport, and his belief that he is still a player who is very much in his prime, more than anything else, are what is driving him.

Can a man who has just hit thirty, an age often associated with tennis's version of senior citizenship, still be a terror on the court? Federer thinks so. "It's interesting how you evolve as a tennis player," Federer told reporters after defeating David Ferrer in London yesterday, "For me it's only logical to improve."

Words are one thing, but Federer's play of late is entirely another. The Swiss won his 17th consecutive match today, and after starting the year 3-9 vs. Top 10 competition, he's finished the season by reeling off seven straight vs. the top 10.

That's improvement any which way you slice it, and for Federer it must be doubly sweet, given that he had just recently dropped out of the top 3 for the first time in over eight years. Now, he's back, and today's thrilling cliffhanger vs. the hulking Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stands as yet another testament to that fact.

Still, there are skeptics who'll argue that Federer's re-emergence has been timed perfectly with a pull-back from his competition. It's no secret that both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal hit the wall somewhere between New York and London this season, and it's also no secret that Federer benefited from this.

But it only proves that Federer -- old "codger" that he is -- is finding ways to win in spite of the rousing improvements that Djokovic and Nadal have made to surpass him in recent years. This is what we find so endearing about Federer's recent ascent. He's still as silky as ever on the court, but his recent gains have been due to his maturity. Yes, the fatal forehand is still running full blast, and yes, the feathery touch is there too, but Federer's recent renaissance is more a product of another skill that is vastly underrated in tennis today: the ability to stay healthy.

It may sound simple, but it is not. The essence of Federer has always been his technique: the lightness afoot, the easy power and the ability to shorten points with volleys, flattened-out winners, or aces. Now -- whether by design or good fortune (I'm thinking design) Federer's essence is a big reason that he's able to keep breaking records, even on nights when his twins keep him up until 4 A.M.

It's uncanny. In a day and age where 25-year-olds have great difficulty playing consecutive tournaments, let alone making 30 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals, it seems that Federer doesn't age. Well, we know that he does, but his ability to preserve his body is, at least in the short term, making him appear ageless.

Today was no exception. Even after a scare from the bullying Frenchman, who can overpower anybody when he's hot, Federer stayed calm. Calmer, perhaps, than he has been all year. He won this tight three-setter like he's won so many Grand Slams in the past. By staying light on his feet, and by saving his best for last.

Now we are thinking that maybe his best has yet to come.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Deuce Court: Is Nole's Season Diminished By London?

Today The Deuce Court will discuss the merits of Novak Djokovic's 2011 season, even though it isn't technically over yet.

Deuce #1: So, How Good Was His Season?

Djokovic was as succinct as could be after losing in three sets to Janko Tipsarevic today, when asked about what was missing from his game in London by a member of the media: "Freshness," was his reply, and the word spoke volumes. Of course, in tennis, there are no excuses for losing. As a result, Djokovic will have to face the fact that his mind-bending 2011 season will forever be tainted in the eyes of those special few who decide which player had the "Best Season Ever," due to this lack of freshness. How much will it be tainted? Not much at all. But, enough to place him below John McEnroe in 1984 and Roger Federer in 2006, most likely.

Deuce #2: Not So Fast

Personally, I'm not so quick to write off Djokovic's accomplishments. Look, he was running on empty in London, and that has to be taken into account. But placing too much emphasis on two uninspired matches would be a mistake, especially given the sheer brilliance of Djokovic's Grand Slam season. Novak may tap out at 70 wins and 6 losses, leaving him with a decidedly lower winning percentage than McEnroe's 96 % or Federer's 95%, but can either Federer or McEnroe say that they disrupted the most legendary duopoly in the history of the sport during their critically acclaimed seasons?

There is an element of transformation to Djokovic's ascent that makes his season even more remarkable. Who could have predicted, before the year started, that we'd be looking at a sport with a Serbian No. 1, a player who had been cast off by so many as an underachiever, as one who'd never be able to overcome his physical limitations or the otherworldliness of Federer and Nadal?

Ad In: Fine, Have it Your Way

I'm not trying to argue that we should give Djokovic a pass for not finishing his season with a flourish. But I will argue that you should take into account the following things: 1) The sheer physicality of the game is astounding these days, so it's no surprise that Djokovic played some flat tennis in London (see Nadal, Murray...) and 2) the depth of the men's field is perhaps as strong as we've ever seen it. So, if you're going to dock Djokovic's 2011 body of work for his London letdown, you should also take into the account the very tangible reasons for the lack of "freshness" that he experienced (namely, that he played off-the-wall highly inspired tennis for 9 months).

Deuce #3: It's not quite over

As I write this, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych are warming up for the last round-robin tilt of the week. If Ferrer wins, Djokovic will face Federer in the semis. Will naysayers have a change of heart if Nole somehow rallies to take the title?

Ad Out: Summing it Up

Regardless of where Djokovic's season stands on the all-time list, it's pretty clear that the fact that we have been debating the merits of his season since early spring means that something UTTERLY AMAZING has been achieved by Djokovic in 2011. When you put everything into perspective and consider how far he had to climb, who he had to defeat and how often (6 finals over Nadal? Are you serious?) and what kind of style and verve he did it with (the match point miracle in New York? Are you serious?) you pretty much have to bow down and show respect, regardless of how his less-than-devastating performance in London might lead to criticism from the pundits.

Finally, when we think about how Djokovic's season stacks up, I think it's a good idea to realize that numbers, while telling, aren't the only way to measure a season. Can a 70-win season with six losses be as good as an 82-win season with three losses, or a 92-win season with five losses? Sure.

Now that so many are now secure in the notion that Djokovic's season, because of his performance in London, cannot be considered the best season ever, the precedent has been set. Djokovic's season, at least the way it will be perceived in the future, has dropped a notch.

I'm not so sure that's a proper thing, nor am I sure that it's warranted. I'm not a betting man, but if I was, I'd be betting that tennis doesn't see another season as remarkable as Djokovic's in the next 30 years, maybe more.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

WTF Group A Semifinal Scenarios

In my last post we tackled the convoluted Group B semifinal scenarios. Now we will check out Group A.

Group A: Singles

Oh, geez. Since when did a year-end tennis tournament turn into a probability and statistics experiment? Check this out.

To put it in layman's terms, Ferrer is already in, but he isn't a lock to finish first. But, there are still ways for Ferrer to finish first even if he loses in straight sets (if Djokovic defeats Tipsarevic in straight sets too). Remember, head to head record doesn't matter if there is a three-way tie for first. This would happen if Djokovic beat Tipsarevic and Berdych beat Ferrer. Djokovic, Berdych and Ferrer would all be 2-1, and sets would have to be counted.

If you are still confused, I recommend reading this post over and over and over.

Group A Doubles:

The Bryans are not a lock to make the semis, but they can only miss by losing in straight sets if Lindstedt and Tecau win in straight sets. Below are all ten possible permutations.

Confused yet? Me too. Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy the tennis!

WTF Group B Semifinal Scenarios

I decided that a post that covers the various convoluted WTF semifinal qualification scenarios would be a good thing right now. If it leaves one or more of you less confused then you were when you started reading this, then I'll consider my job done.

Group B Singles:

Group B singles are actually very simple. All you kneed to know is...

1) Federer wins the group no matter what


2) The winner of Tsonga-Nadal gets the 2nd spot.

Wasn't that easy?

Group B Doubles:

Key: ZimLlod=Zimonjic and Llodra, NesMyr= Nestor and Myrni, Indo-Pak = Bopanna and Qureshi, FyrMat = Fyrstenberg and Matkowski.

Myrni and Nestor are the only undefeated group, and on the strength of those two wins, they will qualify for the semis, win or lose. Bopanna and Qureshi are already eliminated. There are actually only four ways the Group B Dubs can play out. They are as follows:

1. if ZimLlod d. NesMyr and Indo-Pak d. FyrMat, then ZimLlod get 1st and NesMyr get 2nd.
2. If NesMyr d. ZimLlod and FyrMat d. Indo-Pak, then NesMyr get 1st and FyrMat get 2nd.
3. If ZimLlod d. NesMyr and FyrMat d. Indo-Pak, then ZimLlod get 1st and NesMyr get 2nd.
4. If NesMyr d. ZimLlod and Indo-Pak d. FyrMat, then NesMyr get 1st and ZimLlod get 2nd.

I hope this helped you as much as it helped me.

The Deuce Court: Oh, Janko!

The deuce court looks at Tomas Berdych's win over Janko Tipsarevic today.

Deuce #1: Wow, Tipsarevic

Janko Tipsarevic had a match point against Tomas Berdych today, but sadly, he couldn't convert. I'll start by paraphrasing something I read by Steve Tignor this week, that definitely applies: "Big points and momentum, that’s what drives tennis, we hear. The player who wins the former, gets the latter." He's right, you know. It always comes down to that. A few points here, a few points there, all these matches turning on dimes...

Today, you could throw away three sets of tennis with one errant volley. Janko Tipsarevic learned that -- the hard way.

Tipsarevic had trouble in today's 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(6) loss. He didn't execute on match point, and that was trouble. But what made the trouble ever more troubling was his reaction to his match point failure: a double fault. It was a second serve that more resembled a pity party, and it's truly a pity for the Serb, who continues to be one of the ATP's most entertaining players.

It was a car crash at the end, and it's unfortunate. But Tipsarevic needn't hang his head. Yes, he blew it, but at least he blew it in style, and he will be stronger because of it.

Deuce #2: A Fine Year, Really

It's been a very solid year for the Serb. Tipsarevic reached a career-high five finals this year. He also earned his first and second career titles, his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, and his first Masters 100 semifinal.

The 27-year-old need not be discouraged. There is clear proof that he's rapidly improving. This is not a time for him to be dejected, it's a time for him to continue to grind. It's also a time for him to learn to deliver in the clutch. If he can improve his tiebreaker results (he's 19-19 on the year) and his record in deciding sets (he is 8-9 after today), he can definitely have another top ten year, maybe better.

Ad In: Berdych deserves props, too

Berdych, meanwhile, deserves all the credit for staying with Tipsarevic in a very tense third set that featured much elevated tennis. He failed on a match point against Djokovic in his first match, so maybe it was fitting that he was able to save one against Tipsarevic.

It certainly wasn't a case of luck. Berdych was bombing the serve, and playing some very effective "aggro-tennis." More notably, Berdych has been competing very well. I've always wondered about what I've perceived to be indifference by Berdych in big matches in the past, but in London he appears to be feisty.

Deuce #3: Bryans Take Group A lead with win over Lindstedt and Tecau.

The Bryans are starting to play some good tennis. And when the three-time WTF champs start heating up, watch out. Bob and Mike were never threatened today, as they stormed to a 6-1, 6-2 56-minute thrashing of the No. 6 seeds.

Ad Out: Rafa-Tsonga set to meet Thursday

Thursday's marquee match-up will feature a reeling Rafael Nadal, fresh off a head-scratcher at the hands of Federer, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is a beast of an indoor player and still very much alive in the hunt for a semifinal spot. Tsonga is only 2-6 lifetime vs. Rafa, but given Rafa's current form and the fact that one of those two wins came less than 6 months ago, I'd say Tsonga has a really good shot to win this pivotal tilt.

Before this tournament started I was tipping Rafa; after what Roger did to him yesterday, I'm not feeling so confident about that call.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Deuce Court: Rafa's Rambling Presser

The Deuce Court tries to decipher the meaning of Rafa's post-match presser. Nadal only managed three games against his long-time rival Roger Federer in London today.

Deuce #1: Rafa's shoulder: Not Great

For those who were caught off guard by this talk of Rafa's shoulder bothering him, there were reports surfacing that Rafa was having difficulties with the shoulder as of ten days ago. To his credit, he said very little about the shoulder until he was pressed for the reason that he did not practice yesterday, at the end of the interview.

So what does it mean going forward? Hard to say. It seems like planet Rafa is destined to always have a wide range of nagging injuries orbiting around him. Right now it's the shoulder. With more matches to play in London, a huge Davis Cup final the following week, the primary concern has to be what kind of recovery work can he get done after Davis Cup and before Australia.

Deuce #2: Read between Rafa's lines

Throughout this presser Rafa paints a very bleak picture about his next few months. Not only is he hurting in London, he's also under immense pressure to perform in the Davis Cup final. So he might be hurting even more when it's over. As soon as Davis Cup ends the clock will start ticking to Australia. Talk about no rest for the weary.

Rafa isn't fuming mad, but I think it's clear to anybody watching this presser that he's fed up. There's so little time to rest and recover, and he seems desperate right now. For a player who relies heavily on being in almost freakish physical condition, this is a very big deal. Just like Federer has done over the last few years, Rafa will have to make very wise decisions regarding scheduling, maintaining fitness, etc...

Ad In: The problem with Rafa managing his schedule is that he likes to play himself into form. If he needs to skip events to stay healthy, how will he stay match tough?

Deuce #3: All this said, if Rafa can manage a win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Thursday he'll be in the semis. He could still win this thing.

Ad Out: The consolation? Next year will be slightly better.

Next year should be a little better, with the ATP lopping two weeks off the schedule, but what are they going to do about that Davis Cup Final date? Someday, as much as I'm loving late-November tennis, I hope the ATP can find a way to put their season to bed before November begins. It's just too taxing for the top guys right now, and it's becoming painfully obvious with the growing number of walking wounded (Fish, Murray, Nadal, Djokovic) in London.

Roger-Rafa: 10 Quick Thoughts

Roger Federer defeated Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-0 today in London. Here are 10 quick thoughts on the match.

1. It just occurred to me that Rafa's period of dominating Federer might be coming to an end. I didn't consider this to be a possible byproduct of the drop in confidence that 2011 might have caused Nadal, but it makes sense. Is it happening, or was today's result a one-off?

2. One possible implication of Roger having more success against Rafa (assuming that it actually happens) is that Slams come back to the table in the short term. Federer's match-up problem has been Nadal, not Djokovic. If Fed proves that he's capable again of beating Rafa in a Slam, we could see No. 17 as early as February.

3. I can't quite put my finger on what is missing from Rafa's game right now. How is it that Roger is hitting him off the court? Has Rafa lost a step or has Roger gained another? Today's winner count: Federer, 28 Rafa, 4

4. Federer is playing perfect tennis right now. But you know what? There were a lot of other losses to Nadal where Federer played perfect tennis. Rafa had an answer and then some back then; today he's got nothing but confusion.

5. This is what I love so much about tennis: There is always another chapter, another set, ANOTHER GAME. Anything can happen and quite often, when it does happen, it will be when you least expect it.

6. Flashback to Roland Garros, when Federer broke Djokovic's streak to set up a final date with Nadal. I was not happy at the time because I felt (knew?) that Rafa was going to demolish Fed in that final. If it happens again next year, I will not assume that Rafa is going to demolish fed -- even on clay in a Slam.

7. How is Federer -- at 30 -- looking more sprightly than Rafa, who is 25? You have to hand it to Federer here for being healthy when everybody else is in walking wounded mode. Hey, staying healthy is a big part of the sport, and Federer gets the "check" in that column every time.

8. Did you know that today was the first time that Roger and Rafa have met where neither player was ranked No. 1 in the world? It truly is a new era...

9. Is it safe to say that there is no dominating force in tennis anymore? Maybe Novak Djokovic will have something to say about that, but my gut tells me that Djokovic will drop a level and Rafa and Roger will both come up a level next year. That's a three-way dogfight at the top with Muzz and Tsonga and maybe a few other courageous souls creating major chaos at the Slams. I welcome that wholeheartedly.

10. Food for thought: True or False? The "Annacone effect" is playing a large role in Roger's recent rejuvenation.

Second Serving: Group B Dubs Update

Very quick update on the Group B dubs standings before Rafa-Roger, episode 26 begins. FyrMat is in very good shape, having defeated Llodra-Zimonjic on Sunday, they will qualify if they win on Thursday. They will also qualify regardless of their outcome if Llodra-Zimonjic lose to Myrni and Nestor.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Deuce Court: Rafa-Roger, Round 26

Deuce #1: Remembering the epics

There's a reason the tennis world basically stops every time Nadal and Federer play. It's been a while since episode 18 (see video above), and yes, not all their matches are resplendent with genius, but because of what we know -- that these two titans are capable of creating the most stirring of dramas -- we'll always be tremendously excited whenever the pairs shall meet. Maybe it won't happen tomorrow, but if it does, do you want to be one of the one's who wasn't watching?

Here's a scene from another epic, since I'm waxing poetic:

Deuce #2: Is Rafa is pulling away?

Whether Federer fans like it or not, Rafa has gained the edge in this storied rivalry, and he hasn't given any indication of giving it back this year. He thumped Roger on hard courts in Miami, winning 60 percent of the points; he was strong on the clay too, beating Fed in Madrid after losing the first set, then getting the best of Roger in their biggest match of the year, the Roland Garros final. Rafa has won nine of eleven against Federer, including four in a row in Slams, and two out of three on hard courts.

Is it realistic, now that Federer has turned 30, for Federer to expect more wins against the 25-year-old?

Ad In: Federer needs the backhand to function well

Federer, who usually struggles from the backhand side against Nadal, was flawless with the one-hander when he defeated Nadal at this event last year. If he can do that again, it will allow him to dictate with more than just his serve.

In case you missed it, here is one of those aforementioned backhands:

Deuce #3: They are even on hard courts

Before you get too bent out of shape about the 17-8 advantage that Rafa holds in the head-to-head over Federer, make note of the fact that the pair have split their eight previous matches on hard courts.

Ad Out: Fed chasing Edberg, Rafa chasing them both

At 803 wins, Federer has a chance to reach and possibly surpass one of his heroes, Stefan Edberg, on the ATP's all-time win list. Federer is currently seventh on the list. Nadal has 539 career wins, good for fourth among active players, behind Federer, Roddick and Hewitt.

Second Serving: The Bryan Brothers Make Me Proud to Be American

Every time somebody starts riding their persnickety high horse, saying that American tennis ain't what it used to be, I think of those knuckle-bumping, chest-thumping gurus, the guys that break doubles records like they are bad habits, the dudes that ooze enthusiasm for the sport, the No. 1's, the real deals...

I'm talking about the Bryan Bros, and if you begin or end a discussion about American tennis without mentioning them, you have most certainly been remiss. And you're probably not as proud of American Tennis as you deserve to be.

The California kids were up to their usual hijinks (hint, hint, click link to see tweener) in London today when they defeated the German-Austrian pairing of Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 10-5. Down a set and a break, the three-time Barclays ATP World Tour Final champions were basically walking the plank. Then, as their opponents served for the match, it began: a veritable clinic on how to simultaneously control and feed off your emotions in a time of great distress. All at once, the Bryan Brothers became pillars of focus, dialing in their rapid-fire volleys, dispatching each with purpose, directing them to specific spots on the court, and instinctively knowing what responses they would elicit. It was pure unadulterated jedi mind-tricking, and it was beautiful.

Sure, it was doubles, a form of tennis not typically plastered on billboards, discussed on the splash pages of ESPN, or, even televised. But just because the mainstream doesn't cover doubles tennis as fervently as it does singles, doesn't mean that Americans shouldn't be immensely proud of what the Bryan Brothers are achieving on a year-in year-out basis. We should revel in their uncanny greatness, and when somebody starts telling us that "American tennis sucks," we should carry a glossy photo of the Bryan Brothers chest-bumping after winning a Grand Slam, so that we can provide them with evidence of the fact that no, we do not, in fact, suck.

Yesterday, the Bryan Brothers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and that didn't suck either. To put it another way: Rafael Nadal may be Spanish and Roger Federer may be Swiss, but goddammit the Bryan Brothers are American, and for that I am thankful.

Even if American tennis fans tend to downplay the significance of their dominance, it doesn't stop the Bryan Bros. from doing what they do: winning in style, with style, and for the cause.

So, if you ever find yourself in need of a bandwagon to join, a place to come when you want to feel pride...the Bryans should be your guys.

The Bryan Bros will continue their quest for a fourth Barclays ATP World Tour final on Wednesday.

Second Serving: Day 1 WTF's: Federer Loves Indoor Courts and More

Editors Note: From this point forward, The Fan Child will refer to the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals as the "WTF's." Please take note.

Now, let us dissect day 1...

Rafa? Roger? Anybody? Beuller?

Was it just me, or did it seem like everybody had a difficult time maintaining an elite level today. Roger was guiding the ball rather than driving it. Rafa's forehand was too round, and his slice was too fluffy. Jo-Wilfried was asleep for the first 30 minutes. Fish was good at times, but his forehand lost its will at others.

In other words, it wasn't necessarily pretty...

Let's Talk About Day 2 Then:

Murray-Ferrer and Djokovic-Berdych are on tap for Monday. Here are some stats/ analysis:

Murray leads Ferrer 5-0 on hard courts, but let's not forget how tough Ferrer played Muzz in their biggest match of 2011. Ferrer won the first set and also pushed Murray to second and fourth set tiebreakers in their Australian Open semifinal match.

Djokovic on His Shoulder:

"I have been serving almost 100 percent the last two or three days," said Novak. "So for me the shoulder is fine at this moment." My worry: Almost 100 percent? I'm not sure that's such thrilling news...

Tracking Back to Noah's PED rant:

Read about it: Rafa's reaction, Uncle Toni and Ferrer were quoted in this Telegraph Piece.

Fed With Gimel:

On Sunday, Tennis Channel aired Fed's interview with Justin Gimelstob on the practice courts (filmed at least a day before his first match). Federer expressed minor concerns about the speed of the London courts. "I think conditions are a bit faster here. I'm still struggling a little out here a bit actually, so that's a little bit of a slight worry, but I still have another day to prepare," said the five-time WTF titlist. "The thing with Tsonga, and with Fish -- because he's also in my group -- is they can sort of hit you off the court."

Fed also said that indoors are a great love of his: "This is where I did the breakthrough, back in '98 actually. I went to the quarters of Toulouse, and then the year after that I had the breakthrough beating Moya, who was world No. 4. So I think indoors has always been sort of my first love on tour."


You want dubs? We got your dubs...

Both doubles tilts went to Match Tiebreaks today, and both ended 11-9. The Indo-Pak express had the balls to serve, up 6-3 vs. Nestor and Myrni, but still lost. One of the teams I know the least about, Fyrstenberg and Matkowski (Who? The ATP website is calling them 'Polish Power') pulled a big upset against Zimonjic and Llodra in the other 11-9 Match Tiebreak.

On Monday, The No. 1 Bryan Bros. will battle Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner. Incidentally, the Bryans own a 4-0 vs. MelPetz. Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes will face Robert Lindstedt and Horia Tecau for the first time in the other round-robin tilt.

The O2 Arena: an awesome tennis venue:

Check out this photo of the 02 Arena ready for tennis. The court looks like an oasis of light. This is rock-n-roll tennis, baby. Let's hope the players follow suit tomorrow...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Federer Wins in Less Than Pretty Fashion

Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have developed a nice niche rivalry in 2011. Theirs may not fit the classic definition of a rivalry and it may not possess the cachet of Federer-Nadal or Nadal-Djokovic, but from a purely aesthetic standpoint, the regal and refined Federer pitted against the dynamic and flamboyant Tsonga is about as dreamy as it gets.

The pair’s seventh meeting of the season, a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 Federer victory, started anticlimactically. Each player was tentative early, but it was Tsonga whose nerves bit him first, in the fourth game of the first set. The Frenchman didn’t make a first serve in that game, and to make matters worse, he missed badly on two consecutive inside out forehands – his bread and butter when he’s going good – to hand Fed the first break of the match.

Federer had expressed slight concern about the speed of the courts at the O2 Arena earlier in the week, but he didn’t seem to mind serving on the speedy surface as this match began. He lost three points on serve in the first set, facing no break points. Meanwhile, Tsonga continued to look badly out of sorts. He double faulted at 2-5, 0-30, and Federer had the set when Tsonga dumped a volley into the net on the next point.

But Tsonga rallied, buoyed by the support of the crowd when he held to draw even in the second game of the second set. His feet started to move with a sense of urgency, and when Federer missed on two identical forehands from 30-all of the very next game, Tsonga had taken advantage of an oft-recurring Federer theme: the inexplicably loose game. With Tsonga holding the break advantage in the second set, things were finally getting interesting.

In the third set, Tsonga took the dominant role, attempting to hit Federer off the faster court, while Federer stayed defensive, looking to find the crack in the armor of his now emboldened opponent.

The two traded holds, until the crack in Tsonga’s armor finally opened up. On a day that loose play was the norm rather than the exception, Tsonga’s final walkabout (a botched volley and a double fault) while serving to stay in the match left him facing triple match point.

He saved one, but Federer sailed a nifty backhand pass past Tsonga to seal the deal on the next.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Deuce Court: Noah Gone Wild, Rafa's Chances

Welcome to The Deuce Court, where we wax poetic about tennis while keeping it sweet and short...

Deuce #1: Really, Yannick?

Most of you know by now that France's last Grand Slam champion penned some scathing commentary about Spanish sports having "la potion magique" while other nations like France are too strict and law-abiding to enjoy the benefits of PED's. As is always the case with these type of allegations, Noah's unfounded accusations are at best irresponsible, at worst harmful, Whether Noah intended to do it or not, he has unfairly cast the Spanish players in a very negative light.

The whole piece smacks of a bitterness that I never suspected a person as happy-go-lucky as Noah to possess, but the craziest ideas of all came in the last line: Noah wrote "La meilleure attitude à adopter est d'accepter le dopage. Et tout le monde aura la potion magique." which roughly translates to "The best attitude to take is to accept the doping, then everybody will have the magic potion." This is wrong on so many levels. So, we are just supposed to ban all attempts to curb doping because some athletes in some less-policed nations are allegedly gaming the system and gaining an illicit advantage? Great, and while we're at it, let's make sure that the 6-12-year-old's are getting there share of dope as well.

No, no, no. Not good at all. As messy and expensive as policing doping is, and as unfair as it may or may not be (because there will always be some who have found "la potion magique" and, more importantly, found a way to avoid detection), just giving up the chase entirely will never be the solution. There are lives in the balance Yannick, not just wins and losses -- get with the program.

Deuce #2: Tipping Rafa

It's been a month since Rafa's disappointing loss to Florian Mayer in Shanghai, so it's somewhat of a mystery as to what form he'll actually be in when the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals begin. Based on what I've seen from his practice vids, and what he's telling the press in this piece, Rafa basically pulled the plug on playing in Asia because he wanted to go home, regroup, and come back with a renewed focus for this event and for the upcoming Davis Cup final with Argentina. We all know what Rafa can do when he sets his mind to something. I think more than anyone else in the field, Rafa wants this title. Because of that, he's my pick to win it. That could change after I see his form, but for now, I'm tipping Rafa to do the deal in London.

Ad In: Less than 24 hours to go until the #finalsshowdown begins in London.

What a fantastic way to finish the season. As Federer said (paraphrasing) in a pre-tourney media interview, opening a tournament against a top ten players really gets your blood pumping. Mine too. No offense to the rest of the top 100, but how nice is it to get all this talent bundled up into one delectable holiday package, at the perfect venue, with throngs of tennis hungry fans, and no chance of an early round upset? And even better, if your favorite player loses his first match, he's still got two more to play. No offense to Shanghai, Houston, or anyplace else, but since the finals moved to London, I have been all-in. I sense that I am not alone in this sentiment.

Deuce #3: Tsonga Not Intimidated

Good luck to the rest of the field trying to top this quote. He may not win the event, but the Frenchman has best quote wrapped up.

Ad Out: Helfant's replacement

Christopher Clarey's must-read on the future of tennis looks at the search for a new Chief Executive, possible changes to the rankings systems and more.

Friday, November 18, 2011

ATP WTF Group A Preview: What Can Nole Do For An Encore?

2011 has been the year of Novak Djokovic, but strangely, as we head into the final event of the year, talk has centered around Roger Federer's rejuvenation and quest for a 6th World Tour Finals title. In addition to Federer, a lot has been made of Andy Murray, who reeled off 17 consecutive wins this fall, and jumped into the No. 3 spot in the rankings.

Well then, who's year is it anyway? When you are blessed like the ATP is, with a star-studded cast of elite players who have all made significant statements throughout the year, a bit of confusion and competition at the end of the year is not such a bad problem to have. And if Djokovic wants to win this prestigious title for a second time, he will have to compete just as hard as he did over the course of the year, when he compiled a 43-match win streak, took over the No. 1 ranking and won three Grand Slams.

The big question: Does Djokovic have the energy to do it? We know he has the game, but he's been ailing since he dropped to the court in agony in Davis Cup play on September 18th with a back injury. After a 41-day layoff, Djokovic returned, but he hasn't been the same. He's been plagued by a shoulder injury in recent weeks, and he's looking mentally fatigued as well. But let's remember, this has been a season marked by Djokovic's ability to turn doubters into believers. Wouldn't we be foolish not to expect one more breathtaking burst of brilliant tennis from him? Marat Safin thinks so, for what it's worth.

The little question: Is it Murray's time to shine? Murray has seemed to gain a lot of confidence from witnessing Djokovic's remarkable transformation this season. Murray's never been one to shy away from a challenge, and now that he's seen first hand how a player can go from a perennial underachiever to having one of the greatest seasons in tennis history, many think that he's next in line for a similar transformation. That said, there are just as many that don't believe that Murray has enough of the intangibles to become a truly elite player. One things for sure: snaring this title would give him a lot of momentum going into 2012.

What about the other guys? I've failed to mention one of the bright spots of the ATP season, David Ferrer. He's the consummate grinder, he's in ridiculously good shape, and he never takes a point -- let alone a match -- off. Ferrer, a former finalist at the ATP World Tour Finals, has a respectable 12-13 combined record against the group, and he is no doubt anxious to prove that he's better than he showed in losing all six sets that he contested at last year's World Tour Finals.

Meanwhile, Tomas Berdych is the wildcard in the bunch, but the hard-serving Czech figures to be a tough out for anybody in the group, especially Andy Murray (he's 3-1 vs. Murray lifetime).

Picks: Murray, 1st, Djokovic 2nd

Head to Heads:

Djokovic: Making 5th appearance, former champion ('08)
19-9 vs. Group A, 6-4 vs. Murray, 6-4 vs. Ferrer, 7-1 vs. Berdych
Murray: Making 4th appearance, reached semis twice
10-12 vs. Group A, 4-6 vs. Djokovic, 1-3 vs. Berdych, 5-3 vs. Ferrer
Ferrer: Making 3rd appearance, former finalist ('07)
12-13 vs. Group A, 4-6 vs. Djokovic, 3-5 vs. Murray, 5-2 vs. Berdych
Berdych: Making 2nd appearance
6-13 vs. Group A, 1-7 vs. Djokovic, 3-1 vs. Murray, 2-5 vs. Ferrer

ATP WTF Group B Preview: Federer and Nadal to Finish Strong?

Just over 24 hours left to go until the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals kick off at the O2 Arena in London. Today we're going to take a look at the groups individually, starting with group B.

With Roger Federer's stellar play of late, the idea of renewing tennis's most storied rivalry seems a lot more exciting that it did earlier in the season. Federer, who is in search of a record-breaking 6th WTF title, might be the fittest player of the eight in the draw, and, he's also coming in red hot, with titles at Basel and Paris just recently claimed. But Nadal, who holds a career record of 17-8 against Federer (including 3-0 this season, with wins over Federer in Miami, Madrid and Roland Garros), will come in fresh after making the decision to skip Paris in order to get healthy for the final.

Little known fact: Rafa has never beaten Roger at this event. He's 0-3 vs. Federer in their three previous meetings (semis '06 and '07 in China, and finals last year). 2011 will also be the first time that the two legends have been paired in the same group.

The big question: How is Rafa's health? In other words, did he skip Paris because he's really dragging after a long, disconcerting season that featured 6 consecutive losses in finals to Djokovic, or did he skip Paris because he is fully committed to winning this prestigious even for the first time in his career? If it's the latter, watch out.

I think the extra rest bodes well for Nadal, and even if he loses to Federer in group play, his combined 13-3 record against Mardy Fish and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga mean that the odds of him not advancing to the semifinals next week are very slim indeed.

The other two members of group B, Fish and Tsonga, will have to hope for inspired performances and perhaps some good old fashioned luck. Fish is a combined 2-14 versus the members of group B, and he's coming in hobbled by a hamstring injury that forced him to retire from Paris. Tsonga, who scored wins over all three of the members of Group B during the season, has a decent shot to break through. By beating Nadal at Queens, Federer at Wimbledon and Montreal, and Fish at the US Open, Tsonga has proved that he might be better than his combined 6-12 career record against the members of Group B indicates.

Picks: Nadal, 1st place, Federer 2nd place

Head to Heads:

Federer: 5-time champion, making his 10th consecutive appearance.
(20-21 vs. Group B): 8-17 vs. Nadal, 6-1 vs. Fish, 6-3 vs. Tsonga
Nadal: Making his 5th appearance, finalist last year
(30-11 vs. Group B): 17-8 vs. Nadal, 7-1 vs. Fish, 6-2 vs. Tsonga
Tsonga: Making his second appearance
(6-12 vs. Group B): 3-6 vs. Federer, 2-6 vs. Nadal, 1-0 vs. Fish
Fish: Making his first appearance
(2-14 vs. Group B): 1-6 vs. Federer, 1-7 vs. Nadal, 0-1 vs. Tsonga

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why Hasn't Murray Won a Slam? It's The Serve, Stupid.

We call it the "Big 4" in men's tennis, but three of the four have broken through and won multiple Grand Slams (a whopping 30 between Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic combined) while Andy Murray is still coveting that elusive maiden Slam title.

So, why do we even bother counting Andy Murray among the game's elite when the cold hard facts say he is not deserving? Is it an expression of sympathy for the tortured artist who wears his heart on his sleeve, a mere bone thrown to give forlorn British tennis fans something to believe in, or is it justified?

Well, the answer is simple, and yet, it's complicated too: Between the lines, Murray does possess an elite game. He's a physical specimen, he's tactically brilliant, and his shotmaking abilities are on par with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. But between the ears Murray can become discombobulated at times. Oh, let's be honest, he can fall into a bottomless pit of agony and despair and not come out until the match is over. His last Grand Slam final was a clear indication that Murray is not yet capable of adequately dealing with the pressure of a Grand Slam final.

It's a shame, because Murray's clearly a highly intelligent player, and he no doubt puts great emphasis in his mental preparation on the importance of poise in such situations, but he's yet to conquer his nerves under the brightest spotlight in tennis.

Can he? Sure.

Will he? I don't know.

But before you think that nerves are the only thing keeping Murray from being the next Novak Djokovic -- a player who rises up and takes over men's tennis for an extended period of time --let's look at what I believe to be the real reason that Murray hasn't gotten over the hump yet: his serve.

For years the rap on Murray has been his lack of aggression. Pundits have consistently blamed Murray's failures on the fact that his predilection for cat-and-mouse rallies and his lack of a Berdych or Soderling-like forehand is what's hurting him. I don't agree. I think that Murray was born to be the type of player that he has become, and he should embrace it and stick to it. Can Murray focus some of his effort on being more aggressive when the situation calls for it? Yes. Does he need a massive philosophical overhaul? No.

What Murray does need is to serve better. You don't believe me? Check the stats.

Murray's 46th on the ATP Tour at winning 2nd serve points. If that isn't a recipe for disaster when you are regularly trying to beat two of the best returners in the history of the sport, I don't know what is. Nadal is 1, Federer is 2, and Djokovic is 3, in case you were curious.

Murray's 41st on the ATP Tour in first serve percentage, and he's 23rd in percentage of service games won. Federer is 2, Djokovic is 5, and Nadal is 15.

Murray can strengthen his mind all he wants and become as aggressive as everyone else wants him to be, but until he starts getting better results from his serve, he'll only be able to win a Grand Slam title if he plays perfect tennis in every other facet of the game.

If I was Murray's coach I'd tell him to leave his game the way it is. He's an amazing tactical player, and he gains confidence from being able to execute his unique brand of tennis against the best players in the world. That's who he is and he's damn good at it, so why should he change?

But the serve needs to get better. He needs to make more first serves, he needs to deal with his service games better emotionally, and he needs to construct better points around his second serve.

Until he can serve like the other members of the "Big 4" I think the monumental task of becoming the first British player to win a Grand Slam since 1936 will continue to be too much for him.

2011 First Serve Percentage:

Murray: 59%, 41st
Nadal: 68%, 6th
Djokovic: 65%, 11th
Federer: 64%, 14th

2011 2nd Serve Points Won:

Murray: 50%, 46th
Nadal: 57%, 1st
Federer: 57%, 2nd
Djokovic: 56%, 3rd

2011 Service Games Won:

Murray: 81%, 23rd
Federer: 89%, 2nd
Djokovic: 87%, 5th
Nadal: 84%, 15th

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Fan Child's WTA Awards, Part 2

Okay. In case you missed The Fan Child's WTA Awards, Part 1, you might want to click the link to put all of this in context.

Without any further ado, I'll start handing out some more awards...

Best Defender: Caroline Wozniacki

Caroline Wozniacki's shortcomings have been ruthlessly well-documented throughout 2011. Everything from her lack of a devastating forehand to her methods of employing a suspect pda strategy. Some of the criticism is legit, and some is just the product of an insanely unforgiving public. But there is one thing you can never, ever take away from Caroline, whether she backs up her No. 1 ranking with a Grand Slam title or not: the woman can defend. Woz has all the tools of a great defender: the footwork, the fortitude, the situational comprehension, and the shots, and she's proven time and time again (see six titles in 2011) that her defensive style can hang with the best offensive players in the world quite nicely, thank you.

Best 40-something: Kimiko Date Krumm

Okay, she's the only 40-something, but that doesn't stop me from handing out an award to the ageless wonder. Kimiko wasn't as successful in 2011 as she was in 2010, but for those of us who got a chance to see her employ her old-school strokes and tactics up close and personal, we should consider ourselves lucky. And let's not forget her fabulous 2nd-round match at Wimbledon with Venus Williams, which was voted by Tennis Channel's James LaRosa as one of the top 5 women's matches of the year.

Zaniest: Bethanie Mattek-Sands

Bethanie is unafraid to let it all hang out, and because of that, she's very deserving of this award. Bethanie took a lot of heat for dressing up in a tennis ball-encrusted outfit at the pre-Wimbledon players party, but can you blame the woman for trying to liven things up a bit? Yes, yes, the tube sock-wearing motorcycle-riding baseline basher can crash our players party any time -- and she can wear anything she wants when she does.

Best Disappearing Act: Kim Clijsters

Kim, wherefore art thou?

Best pound-for-pound player: Dominika Cibulkova

Have you ever wondered how hard Dominika Cibulkova would hit tennis balls if she were a 6' tall player like a lot of her WTA peers? I mean, she already pretty much knocks the fuzz off the ball, and outhits most of her bigger, taller opponents, so it's a scary thought. The 5'3" 121-pounder broke through for her first WTA title this year in Moscow, taking out Kaia Kanepi, who is 8 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier.

Best new doubles pairing: Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond

It didn't take these two doubles aficionados long to start making serious hay on the WTA's doubles circuit. After joining forces in April the pair of old-timers won four titles, including the US Open and the WTA Championships. Now that they've figured out who will play the deuce court, an Olympic appearance and a lengthy stay at the top of the rankings might be in the cards.

Stay tuned for more of The Fan Child's WTA Awards later in the week...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Fan Child's WTA Awards, Part 1

The WTA posted its year-end player awards yesterday, but something about them left me feeling a little disappointed. Well, not disappointed really, but I did feel that more players deserved credit for their remarkable achievements. Depth was truly the calling card of the WTA this year, with three first-time Grand Slam winners and lots of other surprises along the way. Sure, Petra Kvitova is clearly deserving of player of the year, but how about a rule precluding her (or anyone else) from getting more than one award when there are so many other deserving players?

All totaled, Kvitova won four awards, including one voted on by the fans (favorite breakthrough player) and another voted on by peers (Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship). Make no mistake about it, Petra is totally deserving, but I've created The Fan Child's WTA Awards to recognize some of the other great players who've been left off the WTA's official list.

So, here goes:

Most Inspiring: Na Li

First Asian Grand Slam winner in tennis history? Check. Thought by many to be past her prime and not truly elite? Check. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the biggest story in tennis this year, Na Li. Not only did she have 116 million watching her French Open final in China, she also proved that press conferences and on-court interviews can be hilarious episodes of comedic genius too. But seriously, think about it: No matter what happens in Chinese tennis for the next million years, Na Li will always be the one who cracked the code. And she did it against the odds, on a surface that she outwardly disliked, with tons of spunk and nerve to boot. It's true that Li hasn't been the same player since this remarkable triumph, but that does not in any way cast a shadow over Li's truly remarkable performance at Roland Garros. Nothing ever will.

Comeback player of the year: Serena Williams

Sabine Lisicki, who has chosen by the media for the WTA's version of the award, is very deserving, let's make no mistake about that. But is she as deserving as the player who went through a near-death experience, was expected by many to never play again, then rose from the ashes to become the Tour's hottest player of the summer and reach the US Open final? I don't think so. I know the last thing that Serena wants is another meaningless award -- the woman wants Grand Slams titles -- but if there was one comeback player in the WTA this year, it could only be Serena.

Most Pleasant Surprise: Sam Stosur

I actually don't understand why Sam Stosur wasn't voted by her peers for the Sportsmanship award, but because she wasn't I'm going to do her a solid and vote her in for the WTA's most pleasant surprise. Honestly, is there a nicer, more down to earth player on the WTA Tour? Still, as talented as Stosur was, most believed that she'd forever be known as a player who always found a way to not get it done when it counted the most. But lo and behold, there was Sam Stosur, staring down Serena Williams in the US Open final, and playing the best tennis of her career, precisely when it counted the most.

Best Crowd Pleaser: Andrea Petkovic

Ah, the Petko dance, the vids, the indie music, the hilarious, sentient, and self-effacing tweets, the laid back viral video shot on the Indian Wells grassy area with James LaRosa. Is there anybody better suited to deliver the message that WTA players can say more than stuff like "it is what it is" and "I'm just going to try and play my tennis" when the camera is on them? I think not.

Grunter of the Year: Maria Sharapova

This one was very close. I hemmed. I hawed. But in the end, based on the strength of her decibel level and on her Grand Slam final appearance at Wimbledon, I have to give it to Maria. Obviously Vika is a close second, and in a surprising twist, Francesca Schiavone, she of the "Ah-Heeeeee," came in third.

Server of the year: Petra Kvitova

Since I'm not going to do the conventional player of the year thing, I have to give Petra something. Petra used that big swooping lefty serve as the cornerstone of her dynamic game this year, and she's finally proved that someone other than a Williams sister can bring the heat on the serve when it counts. In second place is Sabine Lisicki, who has the chance to enter the top 10 next year, largely on the strength of her serving prowess.

Best Net Player: Francesca Schiavone

In a game ruled by baseline bashers that fear they'll turn into pumpkins if they cross the service line during a point, Francesca Schiavone breaks the mold. Francesca may not have the purest volleying technique, but she more makes up for that in aggression and a willingness to finish points at the net. Schiavone is one of the most exciting players to watch on Tour because she plays tennis in three dimensions, using everything she can to construct winning points.

Is there anybody I've left out? Of course, that is what part 2 is for, so stay tuned for more in the upcoming days.

ATP World Tour Finals: Federer, Nadal Set to Meet

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will renew their storied rivalry next week in London, as the two were drawn into Group B alongside Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish. Below are all the singles and doubles group pairings.

Federer is attempting to become the first player to win the event for a sixth time. The 2010 champ is currently tied with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl, who have each won the title five times.

Nadal leads Federer in their head-to-head rivalry 17-8, and he won all three matches that the pair contested in 2011, losing only one of the eight sets they contested.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is seeking a second World Tour Finals title to top off one of the most successful seasons in ATP history. He will contest Group A, along with Andy Murray, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych,

Play begins on Sunday, with 2 singles and 2 doubles matches taking place. Stay tuned for previews and analysis later in the week.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Second Serving: Looking Back at Paris

The Federer Express wasn't the only train rambling its way to a Paris title on Sunday. The Indo-Pak express made some noise too.

Yes, The BNP Paribas Masters most certainly was about Roger Federer's 18th masters title -- his first in the city of light -- but Federer's eye-opening run to the Paris winner's circle wasn't the only feel-good story of the week. The Indo-Pak Express, the formidable doubles tandem comprised of Indian Rohan Bopanna and Pakistani Aisam-ul-Haq-Qureshi, cruised to their first masters title yesterday when they defeated the French wildcard pairing of Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau.

The 6-2, 6-4 victory will most certainly bring more exposure to the Indo-Pak Express's peace-promoting project "Stop War, Start Tennis," and, even though the home crowd was rooting for a French triumph, most tennis fans would agree (even the French) that an Indo-Pak Express victory is never a bad thing.

In fact, Bopanna and Qureshi, who first brought their cause to the mainstream when they reached the 2010 US Open final, might be the hardest doubles team to root against in the history of the sport. Each is soft-spoken and good-natured, and collectively the pair is selfless in the pursuit of a higher purpose: raising awareness and calling for the end to a long, dark period in Indo-Pakistani relations.

Throw in their gentle air, Qureshi's clean toothpaste-commercial looks, and their willingness to sit down and talk about their respect for each other and their opponents, and you've got yourself a recipe for making the world a better place. And who isn't rooting for that?

Regardless of rooting interest, yesterday's win was a huge achievement for the pair, and -- even better -- for peace. Bopanna and Qureshi's cause is a noble one, and their commitment to steady improvement shows that they are aware of the fact that the better they play, the better chance they have of actually making a difference. It's a big task to be sure, erasing more than a half century of bitter acrimony between the nations, but the Indo-Pak express doesn't appear daunted at all by the magnitude of it.

While they are shining a spotlight on the silliness of the hostility and suspicion that divides the two nations, tennis fans are taking notice. As they make their way to London for their first appearance at the prestigious Barclays World Tour Finals, here's to hoping that they raise a lot more awareness for their cause, win or lose.

Click like on the "Stop War, Start Tennis" page to join the Indo-Pak Express in promoting peace through sport.

Other Notable Occurrences Last Week In Paris:

Isner Reaches Career-high Again:

A nice run by John Isner, especially his quarterfinal defeat of David Ferrer and his close call against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semis. Isner rises six spots in the rankings with the effort, giving him consecutive top 20 year-end finishes. Is the 26-year-old poised to make a run at becoming the top-ranked American? If he can find ways to improve his rate of success in the return game, he'll do more than that -- he'll be a viable threat to contend for Slams, especially in New York, where the crowds will be behind him. It's a big if though...

Federer, Federer, Federer:

I'm noticing some frustration from Djokovic and Nadal supporters about the media making too much of Federer's recent revival. But wouldn't they want the same for their charge, if he'd endured his first year in many without a Slam, was the subject of so much "Roger is done" talk, and still -- as he seems to prove time and time again -- had plenty of game left?

Nole, Nole, Nole:

There are no questions about Djokovic's game heading into London. That said, health is a big concern, and if he pushes too hard to make one final grand statement in London next week, he may need more than one month to replenish. Cue the argument for a men's season that ends one week after the women's season here...

Well done Mardy Fish:

In all my haste last week I failed to give Mardy Fish his due for an incredible 2011. Fish is the only first-timer of the eight in the London field, and he's been grinding all year to reach this spot. Remember back in Australia, when Fish was so dejected after taking ill in Australia and losing in the 2nd round to Tommy Robredo? His presser was heartfelt afterwords, and he made it clear that he had no idea what was wrong with him or how he would rebound from there. Turns out he had a thyroid issue, and while he was dejected, Fish was unwilling to let it curtail all the progress he had made in the 2nd half of 2010 with the weight loss and the fitness regime.

He bounced back on American soil (semis in Miami), made the Wimbledon quarterfinals and took a set from Rafa, then proceeded to have the best summer of his career. Even when he lost a heartbreaker to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the 4th round of the US Open, Fish didn't stop battling. He made the semis if Tokyo to solidify his place in the race, and now, here he is, one of the elite eight in men's tennis, and a shining example of how hard work and dedication can change the course of a career, even when many thought it wasn't possible...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Deuce Court: Federer-Tsonga, Paris Masters Final

Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will meet for the 6th time in 2011 tomorrow in Paris. The Deuce Court will now break it down.

Deuce #1: If you were thinking that Roger Federer was going to become an afterthought after suffering through his first season without a Grand Slam title since 2003, think again. Federer has been excellent since returning to the court in Basel last week. He's won 11 straight matches since the US Open, and today's 6-4, 6-3 victory over Tomas Berdych might have been the most impressive of them all. It took 81 minutes, with Federer blasting 34 winners to 13 unforced errors.

Deuce #2: After losing four of his first five matches against Federer, Tsonga recorded one of the most epic wins of his career against him in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Down two sets to love, the charismatic Frenchman found a way to accomplish what had been impossible achieve up until then: He became the first man to come back and beat Federer after trailing by two sets in a Grand Slam (Federer was 178-0).

And, for good measure, Tsonga stormed past Federer in Montreal, scoring a 7-6, 4-6, 6-1 victory at the site of his first career victory over Federer.

Ad In: Federer rebounded nicely in New York, scoring a decisive straight set victory over Tsonga in the quarterfinals. At the time, Federer said "I was returning much better this time around, or his serve wasn't going through the court as much as it did in Wimbledon, and I just felt that I was in control from the baseline."

If that's the case, then the much-talked-about slower courts in Paris might serve to give Federer a boost this time around as well.

Deuce #3: When it comes to confidence, I'm not sure that either player has a decisive edge in this tilt. Both have scored massive wins against the other this season, and both are in fine form. But Tsonga, who was able to fight off three match points in the final set of his thriller against John Isner today, should benefit from the fact that he is playing with house money now, in front of a crowd that, while enamored by Federer, will be in his corner from start to finish.

Ad Out: Federer, who has won 50 or more matches in 10 consecutive years, will be gunning for his first Paris title tomorrow. He has now reached at least the final of all nine masters events.

Deuce #4: Tsonga's only previous masters title came in Paris in 2008; Federer is attempting to win his 18th, which would leave him one behind the all-time masters title winner (Nadal, 19).

Ad Out: Regardless of outcome, Tsonga will rise from No. 8 to No. 6 in the ATP rankings, marking his previous career high.

The Deuce Court's Pick: Federer in two

Friday, November 11, 2011

Federer's 800th Win Another Reason to Celebrate His Remarkable Career

I caught myself wondering today: "What will tennis be like without Roger Federer?" I'm not the first to wonder, and I'm sure I won't be the last -- such thoughts are natural, especially on a day when Federer became only the 7th player in the history of men's tennis to reach the 800-win threshold. Thankfully for those of us who aren't ready to bear the thought of a Federer-less ATP Tour, it appears that Roger is likely to spend the next few years of his life inching towards Jimmy Connors all-time record of 1,242 wins.

Which brings me to what I perceive to be the most remarkable thing about Federer, post-domination: the fact that he seems just as content as the world's No. 4-ranked player as he did when he was reeling off Grand Slam titles speaks volumes about the man's genuine love for the game. I can honestly say that I expected Federer to handle his new place in tennis' pecking order with a lot more disdain than he has shown. Instead, it's been nothing but positivity, a willingness to improve, and the desire to regain whatever slices and snippets of his former glory that he has the power to take back.

This, more than anything, has reinforced my respect for Federer the player and Federer the man of late. The fact that he is in there, digging into the trenches and going about his business, is something that should not be taken lightly. Federer is a man who has clearly bought into the idea that his talent is something that should never be taken for granted. And so, here he is, doing the best he can with what he's been given, working every day to make the most of his abilities, honoring his talent, honoring his family and his starry-eyed admirers -- honoring the game.

What's not to love? How can you not be moved when you see a player who has won 16 Grand Slams working as hard if not harder than everyone else on the Tour when he could easily be putting his feet up and sharing a Corona with Mirka on some idyllic beachfront in perpetuity?

It was just a routine tennis-watching Friday for me until Federer took the court in Paris this evening, then all of this started to hit me. I had just watched a few hours of the Tomas Berdych-Andy Murray quarterfinal, and while it was a fantastic match with lots of drama, some world-class ball striking and the like, once Federer's match started airing I was immediately struck by how entertaining, by comparison, it was to watch Federer play.

Even though it was not his best effort of the week, something about Federer's play still felt sublime. It was symphonic. It was refined and dignified, yet explosive. It was svelte, adaptive and interpretive. And all the while there was that Federer Aura, making every single tense moment feel larger than life itself.

Tennis is a rock-n-roll game these days, but there is still room for the classically trained musician. It's great to see Federer pull out the harp to negate the thrum of a wall of electric guitar. He's a throwback in so many ways, but the one thing he doesn't seem to be doing -- the thing that we all fear -- is getting old.

But the older he gets, the more milestones tennis fans will get to enjoy. He's six wins from tying Stefan Edberg at 806, so I guess we could say Federer's 30 -- going on 806.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Locked and Loaded: Berdych, Tsonga and Fish Qualify For London

It was pretty much academic when the tournament started, but on Thursday Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish finally made it official.

Tomas Berdych scored a straight-set win over Janko Tipsarevic, and the win not only qualified Berdych for his 2nd ATP World Tour Finals appearance, it also enabled Berdych to avenge four previous tour level loses to the Serb.

It has been a quiet year for Berdych, especially considering that many had him pegged for greatness after his breakout summer of 2010, which saw him reach the French Open semis and the Wimbledon final. Still, the 26-year-old has notched a 50-win season in 2011, and he is the first Czech player to record two consecutive top ten finishes since Petr Korda did so in 1991 and 1992.

Tsonga, who defeated Andreas Seppi in straight-sets today, will also be making his second appearance in London. It's been a very solid year for the flamboyant Frenchman. He became the second biggest story on the men's side at this year's Wimbledon when he defeated Roger Federer in the quarterfinals after dropping the first two sets (Federer was 178-0 after winning the first two sets in a Slam coming in), and he continued to captivate the London faithful in the semis when he lost a wildly entertaining semi to Novak Djokovic.

Fish became the only first-time London qualifier, in spite of retiring in the third set of his match vs. Juan Monaco today. Fish failed to convert on match points in the second set tiebreaker vs. Monaco, and once the third set got underway, he thought better of testing the hamstring that had also plagued him last week in Basel.

The 29-year-old has enjoyed a breakout year that saw him reach a career-high ranking, become the No. 1 American, and reach three consecutive ATP finals over the summer. "I'll certainly play London," said Fish, "there's no doubt about that. Even if it's torn I'm still going to try and play."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Deuce Court: More London Scenarios

Deuce #1: Djokovic grinds out a win vs. Dodig

Wouldn't it be interesting if Novak Djokovic won the last two events of the year, then retired and moved to Hollywood to start a career in motion pictures? Why not? The man does have a nice smile, after all. One things for certain: after securing today's $1.6 million bonus for good attendance at the masters events, Djokovic can afford to take a few years off. He was at $10.7 in prize money million heading into this week, so the bonus will put him well over 12. Add to that his cachet of lucrative endorsements and the considerable credibility that has been added to the Djokovic brand and I'd say the man is fast approaching Warren Buffett status.

So here's the question that I have: with shoulder and back problems nagging him, and lots more money on the table (plus the prestige that would come with winning these next two events), is Djokovic in the midst of a Faustian dilemma? In other words, will he -- or should he? -- keep putting his body at risk to further, more serious injury, all in the quest to prove that nobody in the history of tennis has ever had a better year than he did in 2011?

Peter Bodo doesn't think so, and neither do I. I'd like to see him hang it up pronto, because I'd rather see Djokovic continue to play at this level in 2012, then to see him win one or two more titles and risk his health in 2011.

As much as fans of Djokovic, and fans of high quality out-of-this-world tennis, want to see him pour every ounce of his heart and soul onto the hardcourts of Paris and London this month, I'm not sure any of us will want to see what might happen to Djokovic if he does do that, and what he will play (or not play?) like in 2012 as a result.

But I digress. Djokovic was solid today in a 6-3, 6-4 win over Ivan Dodig today, and is scheduled to play Viktor Troicki in round three. A nice casual loss to his good buddy might be the best case scenario for all of us.

Deuce #2: More London Scenarios

Gael Monfils was already eliminated from the London chase when Mardy Fish defeated Florian Mayer in straight sets earlier Wednesday. But, just for good measure, he was trampled by a serving and volleying Feliciano Lopez, 6-3, 6-4. Not the best year from Monfils, but he overcame an injury scare in February, a coaching change later in the season, and still managed to finish just outside the top 10. And, of course, he was entertaining the whole way through.

Ad In: More London Scenarios

Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish are all one win away from clinching their berths in London. Berdych will face Janko Tipsarevic early tomorrow, and Tipsarevic will have to win to stay alive in the race (he needs a title to qualify). Fish will face the winner of the Monaco-Simon match, which is in the first set right now. Simon must also win the title to qualify.

Ad Out: Almagro Out

With his loss to Andreas Seppi today, Spaniard Nicolas Almagro was eliminated from London contention as well.

Deuce #3: Murray Notches Sweet 16

Andy Murray continued his torrid play with a 6-2, 6-4 win over wildcard Jeremy Chardy today. That's 16 consecutive wins and a lot of "can he win a Slam?" talk. He'll face Andy Roddick tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Deuce Court: London Scenarios

Deuce #1: The Chart above is pretty much all you need to know about London scenarios. Some of the details are funny though. Like if Berdych loses in his next match (3rd round), Either Almagro, Tipsarevic or Simon have to win the title in addition to Fish and Tsonga reaching the quarters. In other words, Berdych is a shoe-in. Here's a link to the link if you are genuinely curious. (click on "Paris Tuesday.")

Deuce #2: Fish and Tsonga will likely qualify too. Here's what needs to happen for Fish to miss out: If Fish loses in his first match (2nd round), one of these four things will have to happen: 1. Almagro reaches final (sure). 2. Tipsarevic reaches final (at best, moderately possible). 3. Simon wins title (sure) 4. Monfils wins title (imagine that?).

Add In: Tsonga, who is currently up a set against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, is virtually a lock. If he wins today, Fish will have to reach the quarters and either Tipsarevic, Almagro, or Simon will have to win the title (sure).

Deuce #3: If Fish beats Florian Mayer tomorrow, Monfils is out. If Fish loses, Monfils needs to win the title to qualify (imagine that?).

Add Out: With the WTA season coming to an end this week, the women are now decompressing after a long season on the road. We don't gain much access as fans to the players during their off-seasons (I think that's a good thing), but this is where true champions are made.
Having two months is off is great from a player's perspective, because it allows for time to be a couch potato or travel, and some time to retool the game afterwards. Now, if only the men could have some time, too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Definitive Guide to Whether Or Not Roger Federer Will Win Another Slam, Part 1

So how has turning 30 been for Roger Federer? Well, if his level of play is any indication, his fifth career Basel title yesterday proves that he's feeling quite alright, thank you. And, in a period when the rest of the "Big Four" (Nadal, Djokovic, Murray) are suffering from some sort of tennis-related ailments, the senior "Big Four" member has been busy proving that tennis isn't just a game for the under 30 set of late.

The redundantly discussed "genius" of Federer was available for all to see last week in Basel, and for Federer, who clearly relishes the opportunity to give his countrymen something to remember, this was more than just the luck of the draw: it was proof that The Swiss Maestro is still a remarkably gifted player who is practically a freak of nature when it comes to two all-important necessities in tennis: a: balance and quickness (the man is lightning fast for his age) and b: his ability to remain fatigue/ injury free.

These virtues will always give Federer a shot when it comes to Slams, because his high-octane forehand and serve are basically built for triumph. More than anything, the thing that Federer needs to work on is getting his backhand at its optimal level for the last three rounds of a Slam. Is it possible? I think so.

In the end, even if Federer never truly overcomes the disadvantage of being a one-hand backhand hitter in a two-man backhand hitters world, he still has a relatively good chance of winning that elusive 17th Slam next year -- especially if Djokovic or Nadal (or both?) are dealing with injuries that limit their effectiveness.

For Federer to capture his 17th Slam, he may have to finish that Slam as the last-man-standing, so to speak. With Djokovic and Nadal exhibiting so much physical vulnerability on the tail ends of sustained periods of domination, Federer is in a position to benefit from his meticulously maintained fitness and uncanny ability to remain injury-free, if one or both should be hampered by injuries.

Of course, Federer willl need his shotmaking too. And he'll need the booming serve that he was able to produce with such regularity in Basel. That's need with a capital "N." Make no mistake about it, Federer's serve will be the key to any future Grand Slam runs that he makes.

Fortunately for Federer these things -- the world class shotmaking and serve -- are staples of the Federer arsenal. A year ago, when a friend asked me to write this guide -- The Definitive Guide to Whether or Not the Maestro Can Do It! -- I must admit, I didn't see it happening. Now, after Federer's effort vs. Djokovic in the French and at the US Open, I am convinced that he has a good chance to win another Slam.

Federer may be aging, but if there is any indication of it, it is only evidenced by the fact that he isn't as consistently good as he once was. But in the Slams Federer is proving that he can will himself to inspired tennis. Federer is is a player who has seemingly nothing left to prove and yet he still appears motivated to prove something. Next year shouldn't be any different.

The same things that irk some people about Federer -- his perceived arrogance, his habit of crying at inopportune moments, his bitter resentment of losing and the snide comments he can make after losses -- are the things that are driving him, pushing him further, enabling him to display his "regal" and physically charismatic method of ball-striking: one that can only be described as an art, or, as David Foster Wallace so famously wrote, a "Religious Experience."

With Djokovic and Nadal both so much younger than Roger, it's hard not to feel for Federer. He's seen the game evolve during his career, and the current state of string and racquet technology have conspired to make his elegant one-handed backhand look like an outdated shot at times. He's had his reign at the top of tennis cut short by a new breed of super athletes (namely, Nadal and Djokovic) that are playing modern tennis the way it was meant to be played, and it hasn't always been easy for Federer to accept it and stay positive inspite of it.

Federer is fighting an uphill battle now, and it has been 7 Slams since his count stalled at16. 20, a number that some glibly threw around back in late '09 and early '10, isn't in the picture any more, but 17 still is.

17 is still a number that even the skeptical can grasp. One more shining symphony from the Beethoven of tennis? One for the doubters and faithful alike? Ah, it'd be one for the ages, for sure.

Regardless of what the future holds, the beauty lies in Federer's quest.

The key is that Federer is still fighting. He's still looking for ways to stem the tide, and turn it back in his favor. He's No. 4 in the world right now, and in the short term, he has nowhere to go but up.

I say, why not? If that's not definitive enough, stay tuned for Part 2.