So, this seems a little odd for me, chiming in at this point of the year's first Grand Slam when I usually would've had my patented round of 16 predictions all said and done by now, with another post or two in between. But I just had this crazy, nutty, out-of-this-world thought:
What if no one from the "Big 4" made it to the semis?
Like, suppose Nick Kyrgios continues to play like the fearless teenager that he is and rides the momentum of hometown support, and shocks Andy Murray in the quarters? What if Tomas Berdych decides no one beats him 18 times in a row and takes it to Rafael Nadal in their final-eight matchup?
Roger Federer's already gone, having lost to Andreas Seppi in the third round. That just leaves the top dog himself, Novak Djokovic, who's been looking like the man to beat so far. He faces a resurgent Gilles Muller, then if he gets past that, big-boomer Milos Raonic or the underrated Feliciano Lopez in the quarters. Could one of them pull off the biggie?
I don't know when the last time all four of the four were entered in a tournament and not one of them made the semifinals. I'd probably have to guess the safe answer would be "never." But what if it happened now?
Crazier things in this world of ours have happened. And this would definitely be up there, tennis-wise.
To be clear, I'm not actually rooting for that to happen, but if it did, it would be mind-blowing.
And who doesn't like a little mind-blowing every now and then?
It wasn’t so long ago that Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka—two
of the top four players in the world—lost a Davis Cup tie that they were
overwhelming favorites to win.
Indoors on clay.
Against the United States.
The Swiss team has managed to bounce back against that most ignominious
defeat quite nicely and finds itself in the Davis Cup finals for only the
second time in the nation’s history. And even though Federer and Wawrinka have
had fantastic years, they’re faced with some serious obstacles:
Playing indoors on clay.
On the road against a veteran French team.
And the unbelievable amount of pressure to capitalize on
their best opportunity to win the Davis Cup and put one last feather in the cap
of Federer’s accomplishments.
It’s a stern test, possibly the biggest of both of their
careers—even that of the most prolific Grand Slam winner in men’s singles.
Because of his near-decade of dominance, Federer has rarely
found himself in a situation where he’s been so close to capturing a meaningful
title and the situation representing his best opportunity to achieving the
feat. In one instance, after Rafael Nadal lost early at the 2009 French Open,
Federer became the overwhelming favorite to win the title, which he did,
finally completing his career Grand Slam.
Conversely, at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Federer made it to
the Gold Medal match, but was soundly defeated by Andy Murray, whom he’d just
beaten on that same court a few weeks earlier in the finals of Wimbledon. More
than likely, it was Federer’s best chance to join the likes of Nadal and Andre
Agassi as holders of the career “Golden Slam.”
As for Wawrinka, his career has been one of mostly ups and
downs. In 2014,though, coming off his
first year-end top 10 finish, he finally realized his potential and won his
first Grand Slam singles crown, defeating Novak Djokovic and Nadal en route to
the Australian Open title. The months afterward showed he wasn’t ready to quite
capitalize on that surprise victory as he won only one more tournament over the
course of the year.
Wawrinka has been a Davis Cup stalwart for Switzerland,
often having to pick up the slack when Federer hasn’t participated in the competition
over the years. But the situation this weekend is entirely different as the
Swiss players will be facing former top-tenners in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael
Monfils, who both know how to work a crowd to their advantage.
It’s a difficult situation, especially as Federer and
Wawrinka are the favorites on paper and are both accomplished clay-courters.
Can they overcome one of the stiffest tests they’ve had to face in their
One thing’s for certain: It’ll be worthwhile viewing to see
how they handle the pressure.
Only a couple Slams, some Masters 1000 events, a year-end championship, a Fed Cup title, a Davis Cup round or two...
You get the idea!
But let's let all that go and talk about the here and now, now being the ATP World Tour Finals. Not much drama on the singles side with a lot of whuppings going on. Should be some good semifinal matches, though. Kei Nishikori is a gamer, Novak Djokovic is on fire, Roger Federer is playing like it's the late aughts and Stan Wawrinka has been solid. It's a solid efinal four, and one I'll ruminate on post-matchups.
I missed it for the French, but in true TTA? fashion—aside from that aforementioned blemish—here's my Slam predictions, from the fourth round on. Enjoy the start of Wimbledon!
MEN Fourth Round
Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (14)
Fernando Verdasco (18) vs. Tomas Berdych (6)
Andy Murray (3) vs. Kevin Anderson (20)
Grigor Dimitrov (11) vs. Marcos Baghdatis
Denis Istomin vs. Feliciano Lopez (19)
Lleyton Hewitt vs. Roger Federer (4)
Milos Raonic (8) vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber (22)
Richard Gasquet (13) vs. Rafael Nadal (2)
Djokovic vs. Berdych
Murray vs. Dimitrov
Lopez vs. Federer
Raonic vs. Nadal
Djokovic vs. Murray
Federer vs. Nadal
Nadal over Murray
WOMEN Fourth Round
Serena Williams (1) vs. Eugenie Bouchard (13)
Angelique Kerber (9) vs. Maria Sharapova (5)
Sorana Cirstea (29) vs. Shuai Zhang
Sabine Lisicki (19) vs. Taylor Townsend
Coco Vandeweghe vs. Lucie Safarova (23)
Ekaterina Makarova (22) vs. Agnieszka Radwanska (4)
Venus Williams (30) vs. Flavia Pennetta (12)
Caroline Wozniacki (15) vs. Li Na (2)
S. Williams vs. Sharapova
Cirstea vs. Lisicki
Vandeweghe vs. Radwanska
V. Williams vs. Na
Sharapova vs. Lisicki
Radwanska vs. V. Williams
But now, but now (I had to type it twice for extra emphasis!) I just don't know.
All doesn't have to be lost, though. Why just tonight, in fact, I've come up with two ways that the fates and fortunes of the U.S.-born can improve. And since the whole point of a blog is to share your thoughts, here they are:
1. Make the Commitment
Someone's going to have to do this: the second that their U.S. Clay Court Championship run is over, they have to hop on a plane and go to Europe.
And stay there. At least until their Wimbledon run is over.
Of course, being away from home will be hard. But to be the best, one must go against the best first, and the best players are all playing abroad. Showing up three weeks into the clay-court season is a wasted effort as it takes much longer to get acclimated to the different playing conditions, from surfaces to weather.
Every American male within the top 100 should be overseas at least by now.
I'm not privy to anyone's bank accounts, but from what's been noted, John Isner and Sam Querrey, at least, are able to sustain themselves comfortably for a couple of consecutive months in Europe. In the past, all-time greats from John McEnroe to Pete Sampras to Andre Agassi to Andy Roddick could show up late because of their sheer talent. There's no one like that among the current crop of Americans, but hard work and sacrifice could make a world of difference.
And the old adage of "Americans can't play on clay" is hardly true anymore as both Isner and Querrey have won titles on the dirt. In fact, they're probably better suited for clay now than grass.
The truth is, no one can be forced to go over if they don't want to. But if that's going to be the case:
2. The U.S. Needs to Establish a Clay-Court Circuit
The Clay-Court Championships are it. One ATP World Tour tournament in the U.S. on the game's most prevalent surface. That's a poor testament to the importance of helping the game grow in the American consciousness.
There are tournaments being played on Har-Tru on the Challenger circuit, but the level of competition—while fierce—isn't what you'd find at this week's ATP World Tour event in Munich, for instance.
What if one or two more ATP events were held on Har-Tru? Then, players could stay home and work on their groundstrokes while playing matches that count. And while the green clay here isn't as tricky as the red dirt, at least a better semblance of timing is being established over the course of a few weeks. Plus, green clay tournaments would attract players from South America and smaller countries on this side of the hemisphere.
There's no need for anyone to worry about saving themselves for Wimbledon because the fact of the matter is that Americans are better suited for clay then grass by far nowadays. Get out on the dirt, hit big kick serves and forehands, and win matches. Doing that while being closer to home will build a semblance of confidence before heading abroad. Playing matches that count are better than practice sets anyway.
It's almost become cliche that American men are having some struggles. But maybe it'll just take getting down and dirty to hit the heights once again.
I was at a party yesterday talking to a tennis-liking/playing friend of mine and as usual, talked turned to the pro game: Federer's resurgence, Djokovic's toughness, etc.
Then we started talking about Juan Martin del Potro and that wrist of his. Tough break after all that work to rise from the 400s to a spot in the top 10, and now another year lost.
You have to wonder if he has another epic comeback in him. In talking with my friend, I noted how young del Potro is. He mentioned how it's one thing for Nadal to come back because he's so mentally tough, but how will it be for del Potro?
I think he'll be able to pull it off: depends, though, how much self-belief the Argentine has.
An old friend of mine and I used to talk tennis for hours, whether it was our own games or what was happening in the pros. I've started Tennis Talk, Anyone? to, well, talk tennis with an even broader crowd! My name is Van Sias and I've been playing for 20 years now, and not only am I player, I'm a huge fan of the game as well: pro, amateur, you name it. I'll post links to news items related to the sport, and offer my own personal opinion, predictions and hopefully get some of yours as well.