I hope I don't sound like too much of a broken record on this one, but I just can't figure out why the top American men don't play a heavier schedule on the red clay in Europe.
I know that that's a long way from home base. I know there are finances involved. I know that there's the inclination to save oneself for the faster surfaces. But there's so much potential there to do well on the clay, and pick up points and prize money.
Jack Sock just won the U.S. Clay Court Championships and did so in quite impressive fashion, counting among his wins Roberto Bautista Agut—no slouch on the clay at all. Why couldn't Sock hit Munich?
I think if there was ever a surface built for current U.S. number-one John Isner, it's clay. He's battled Rafael Nadal to the brink on it a couple of times, and beaten Roger Federer. I'd think he could've made a dent in that Istanbul draw if he'd played.
It might sound crazy, but I think an American male of this generation could have a better shot at going deeper at the French than Wimbledon. They can't follow the Courier/Agassi/Sampras/Chang model of showing up for the big warm-ups, either winning them or going deep in the draw, then advancing far at Roland Garros, mainly because those four are among the greatest players of all time.
If the commitment's there from this current crop, though, the results will come.
It's been an interesting 2015 so far for Andy Murray.
There was that Australian Open final. There was that return to the "Big 4." There was that stretch of tournaments without a sniff of a semifinal. There were those convincing defeats at the hands of Novak Djokovic.
But I guess you'd have to say the good outweighs the bad, for the most part, especially coming off a season where he was rebounding from back surgery--not really the easiest thing in the world for a professional athlete to deal with.
Anyway, the reason I bring up Andy Murray is because of Rafael Nadal and his upset loss to countryman Fernando Verdasco. Not that Nadal's exactly been a Miami world-beater, but in my mind, his loss makes a Murray run to the finals as close to a sure thing as it gets. I'd say the toughest player left in the bottom half of the draw is Tomas Berdych, and Murray's come through against him with regularity.
I'm not necessarily tapping Murray for the finals once he gets there--I don't know what can derail the Novak Djokovic express--but a title-round tilt can be another notch in what has been an interesting campaign so far.
Over the weekend, Kei Nishikori won his first title of the year in what's essentially become his home court, Memphis. Stan Wawrinka took home his second trophy of the season after winning Rotterdam.
Wawrinka beat Tomas Berdych, a fellow member of the top 10, who has been having a very solid season as well.
This has got me wondering: Is this one of the best top tens in men's tennis in years?
You know Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray are going to get theirs--and have been doing so for years.
What makes things different nowadays is that the other guys are showing such a high level of mental toughness. Nishikori fought all the way through that Memphis draw. Wawrinka bounced back nicely after failing to defend his Australian Open title. Berdych's consistency has been at a high level all season. And you can't overlook Milos Raonic and David Ferrer: at opposite ends point-in-their-career-wise, but both eager for continues improvement.
The jury's still out on Marin Cilic, who's been battling injury all year. Whenever he does return, he'll have a big battle ahead of him to maintain his spot among the above-mentioned players, who all appear eager for any challenge.
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.
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.