Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is Nadal done! Will Real Roger Stand up! Will Murray take over!

Postmortems are always ugly but someone's gotta do it and much as I dislike scraping fresh wounds, I think sometimes we need to do it so we can be healthier.

So I looked at some of Nadal's comments, after his US Open loss to Andy Murray and have to say that, to me they were almost Rogeresque! Let me explain what I mean.

For many months now, Roger would make comments after tournaments that I thought were kind of partial denials of reality - for example his comments after the French Open and before the Wimbledon that he was still the favorite to win Wimbledon and that grass was his best surface. While the comment was partially correct, it ignored the fact that other contenders specially Nadal was snapping at his heels - grass or no grass. Sure enough, Nadal did a Roger at Wimbledon and won the title. No denying that Roger played extremely well but no denying the end result either. I kept feeling that Roger was reluctant to acknowledge that his crown was in danger - that unlike any other time in the past four years, he was being chased very closely by Nadal and maybe a bunch of others.

Coming back to Nadal - Even though a good number of predictions were that Nadal will win USO, my reading after watching him in initial matches, was that Nadal's busy and demanding season was taking its toll on his body and he was surviving the USO matches plainly on skills and will power and not on stamina.

And now after the USO, asked if he might cut his schedule next year to avoid the match fatigue, Nadal said that "playing so many events is what enabled him to become the world No.1."

"If you want to be in the top position, do you think you have any chance if you play less? No," he said.

As you may know, next on Nadal's agenda is the Davis Cup semi-final and then the Masters Series event at Shanghai.

I think this is a potentially dangerous line of thought and a risky way of going into the next season considering that Davis cup starts within next 9 days and even though the Masters Events thankfully starts a month later, on November 9, it is still, way too short a period to recover from grueling matches. Is Nadal cutting it too fine physically, because the Australian Open then starts on January 19th.

Maybe I'm getting paranoid for nothing, after-all Nadal is supremely fit looking athlete but something to me is not right in this picture. I would rather have him skip the Davis Cup (or maybe just be a reserve for the Davis Cup), take longer rest and then go to Masters in Shanghai.

Even some of the other comments he made like, ""You know how important it was for me to win Wimbledon after two years playing the finals," Nadal said. "For sure after Wimbledon I had the big goal - Number One and Olympics and finals US Open", appear to me as unlike Nadal. Is he already sounding like Roger! Your call!

Moving on to Roger- He's the US Open Champion and winner of 13 slams and I hate to write anything that takes away from his achievements but I've got to say that even though he won the match from Andy Murray, he didn't convince me that he will rule the courts the way he used to. Many are predicting that this is the return of the old Roger - the invincible, but I'm going to wait & watch. He showed the glimpses of his old self when Andy was making mistakes but not when Andy was firing back. To me that is the difference between old and current Roger. Old Roger would make the best look like ordinary and the current Roger makes ordinary look like good! Great player no doubt but old Roger, not yet.
I do hope that he gets to at least 15 slam titles so we can wait, pant , anticipate to see if there will be a successor to his crown. To me he can easily go beyond 15 too but only if the old Roger resurrects.

Andy "Muzza" Murray - watching him up close during the US Semis and in practice matches made me think that this man could very well may displace Djokovic from # 3 position in next 6 months or so. Its not only his tenacity and good play, the man can think on his feet and play deceptive shots to fool opponents. He can cover the ground well from coast to coast and his shot arsenal is getting wider too - we have all seen him hit those running cross court forehands that are tough to handle and are winning shots more than ever before.

Djokovic - I like him but I am getting the feel that he will really have to step it up. I will keenly follow how he performs at Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai. I do want him to do those impersonations of other players. This man is genuine fun.

May the Best Player take it all.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Didn't I say so! King Federer tames new heir apparent Prince Andy

Well, as I thought and wrote earlier, Andy made it to the finals but was somewhat overwhelmed by Federer. As a Fedex fan, I still don't know when will he start playing like his old self but in the end he prevailed and that's heart warming for Roger's Fans. At the same time can you think of any other player that you love to watch, who will make you happy & sad at the same time.

I mean, come on Roger, OK we knew that making it a 6-0 final set was little too much to ask but why did you scare us by getting the score go to 6-2! This is the part where I get to seriously question on why is Roger still not closing out like he should. I don't deny that anyone would tighten up at such a special time but we are so used to seeing Roger play these points nonchalantly and almost without being unaffected mentally, physically and emotionally that this new Roger is a bit scary.

I know I should just enjoy the victory for now but I just can't. I mean
-he's become the first player to win 5 consecutive titles in two grand slame events
- his streak of being undefeated since 2004 in US Open is still intact
- he is the first man since1920s after Bill Tilden to win the tournament 5 times in a row
- he is now just one title shy of beating Pete Sampras' record of 14 slam titles - in fact, as I write this blog, I notice that 91% of more than 6000 people polled said that he will break Pete's record in 2009 and we all know that he will
- For a bad year, he's won slam, was finalist in two others and in Semis of the another, has a olymic doubles gold to boot

and yet, I feel a slight vaccum when it comes to his closing skills in a game, set or match. I still feel a certain hesitancy, a trepidation, a wavering when he's up be a good margin against an opponent. I do think his decision making during plays is a bit of question mark and that reflects in his volleys going out of the lines or his drops catching his own side of the net. I just can't get over the fact that he's great and yet he's only playing excellent this year.
Even the match stats are revealing;

Murray Federer

1st Serve % 45 of 81 = 56 % 48 of 81 = 59 %
Aces 3 3
Double Faults 3 0
Unforced Errors 28 33
Winning % 1st Serve 23 of 45 = 51 % 38 of 48 = 79 %
Winning % 2nd Serve 17 of 36 = 47 % 15 of 33 = 45 %
Winners 16 36
Receiving Points Won 28 of 81 = 35 % 41 of 81 = 51 %
BreakPoint Conversions 2 of 5 = 40 % 7 of 10 = 70 %
Net Approaches 7 of 11 = 64 % 31 of 44 = 70 %
Total Points Won 68 94
Fastest Serve 133 MPH 126 MPH
Avg. 1st Serve Speed 108 MPH 114 MPH
Avg. 2nd Serve Speed 82 MPH 92 MPH

as can be seen practically Roger's first serve gave him the edge with about 26 more winners was the difference, by no means a small feat but I'd like to see his overall stats to improve a lot specially the unforced errors that he's making more and more.

I am just hoping that 2009 will be Back To Fedex year in a big way. All in all, we couldn't have asked more of this great athlete than to close out the year on a winning note.

Whatever the new year may bring up, for now I'm just going to enjoy this win.
Roger Rules

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Prince Andy Sets up showdown with the King Federer

Take a good look at the picture. This is your own Desiwriter as the chair umpire on Court 17!

So Doubters, hope you trust my forecasts now!
When I wrote 10 days back that I expect Nadal to be out and Andy to storm into the finals - many a doubts were raised! Someone even commented that I was not only writing my blog but was also writing my own comments (this was because someone wrote a comment on my blog, agreeing with my assessment).

Before I get drunk in my own heady minor success, let me say that I also forecast in the same article that while Roger would get into the semifinals, he will lose to Djokovic, so I was off on that! I have to say that I'm delighted that Fedex is rolling back again and the way he played in the last two sets, I felt that old Roger was surfacing back again, if not almost back. Hope he wins the final and is resurrected. On the other hand, i saw him practice today and was confused - why! Lets come back to that later.

Getting back to the match, watching the match live at Arthur Ashe stadium with my family, almost as always, I was the only one amongst the group who was supporting Andy Murray, and very vociferously too, if I may add. In fact, the people seated right ahead of me complained that I was too loud, thankfully they were nice people and knew that I was a true sports fanatic and meant no ill will for their ear drums. In fact, if you were at the stadium, you'd think that there was barely any Andy supporter. Court would erupt if Nadal won a point and would have a smattering of applause when Andy carved a point. Of course, Nadal is a great player and that kind of support is expected in a way but I was still surprised that Andy didn't have more support than I saw. Well, the good part of being in minority is that when you are vindicated, its doubly satisfying and thanks to Andy, I could celebrate.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that I don't like Nadal, as I have seen many people do, whenever I write anything that happens to go against popular sentiment. He is a great player, someone who was just considered a good clay court player and is now feared on every surface. I just felt that the long season was about to catch up with him and I had expected him to be out in the quarterfinals of US Open and he still made it to the Semis. just goes on to show, how good a player he is.

Getting back to the match, what I liked about Andy was that even though he lost the third set, he never appeared to not have the guts to take the game to Rafal. I for one was not surprised at his win even though almost the entire staidum seemed to!

Moving on to his bigger challenge, the Men's final - obviously, he does have a chance, a good one at that to upset the overwhelming favorite - the King - Federer. Andy is playing with great confidence, he has the skills, he hits the shot with convictions and just if you didn't know or forgot, his record against Fedex stands at 2-1. Oh, and don't forget, Andy won the US Open title in 2004 in the Junior championship so he knows this surface very well.

However, something tells me that Roger is not about to give up, just like that. The man is on a 33 consecutive wins streak at US Open, since the last one and half sets is playing like his old self again and is a master of the craft. I must mention though that, as the Andy/Nadal match was in progress, I saw Federer come into the practice court. Thinking that, it was going to be a good practice session, I temporarily stopped watching the Andy Nadal match and focused on what I though was going to be an intense practice session by Roger. I have to say that I was surprised that Roger stayed not more than 20 minutes on the court. he hit a few balls with his hitting partner, hit out a few serves and was gone before I could say Roger Federer. I don't know, maybe he was out there just for the heck of it or just to stay loose or maybe changed his mind about a long practice session but I was surprised that he left so quick!

even though, I felt uncomfortable, I think, Roger will win the title. In the last one and half set he played against Djokovic, I felt that he was sharp, gained confidence rapidly and didn't let up. I do thaink that it would be a four setter and we'll see some good action in the second and third set with Roger prevailing. All in all, it would be a great match and I know that you are as excited to see this one as I am. I do wish that I had tickets for this one too - I would have really enjoyed watching it live in the stadium but then, that would have burnt a deeper hole in my pocket. The semis have alreday done it so I think I'll better watch it on TV.

Good luck to both and may the best player win!

Some of the pictures, I snapped today;

Above- India's Leander Paes is listed on the winners board for his win in the Mixed Doubles Final

Above- Roger Federer practicing while the Andy/Nadal match was in progress

Above- Roger Federer sitting in the practice court

Above- Andy after the win

Above & Below - Andy/Nadal match in progress

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What a Semis showdown! Fedex is back on rails, Nadal temporarily saved by rain!

Ok So I was wrong (well at least 50%) but why does it feel so right!

I know I said that Roger will reach Semis but will lose to Djokovic and here I was, sitting in the stadium and watch unfold the Semis drama while the clouds hung overhead.

Soon as Roger came into the stadium, I started pumping my fists. No longer had he served his first serve that I was screaming into the ears of people in front of me. My kids were very confused, said my son; "Dad, you wrote earlier that Roger will lose to Djokovic and here is the first serve by Federer and you are already screaming in his favor! What's the deal! We thought you didn't like Roger!

I had to correct them and tell them, look, I love Roger, I want him to break every record there is, because he's a master, BUT make no mistake, a few years from now someone younger and talented will come and attempt to break all of Roger's records and I will be cheering that guy to go all the way. I like this cycle of prepetuity, Roger should break Sampras' records and if someone more capable comes along then let the new kid break Roger's records. That's how I like it.

But I digress, I gad to explain to my son that despite that I love Roger, I don't like the current Roger - the tentative Roger, the hesitant Roger, the overanxious Roger, or simply missing the Roger that I and other fans have known for last few years. I don't like the stubborn way he is playing these days without making necessary changes, the adjustments.

I think today, Roger heard me, his fans and their prayers and came a little bit back into his own, but he was still kind of really missing, well at leats till the third set against Djokovic. He had a fair opportunity to carry the second set to the tiebreak but at 30-40 down and knowing that he must get a deuce and then win next two points, he chose to hit a shot that I have seen him over/under hit many a times this year and there it was, 7-5 in favor of Djokovic! I was getting nervous again! Will the Real Roger please stand up!

To get back a little bit, I liked how Roger came out in the first game, won it and continued to play well. Not surprisingly though, he was still over anxious on many points in the first two sets, but in the third, as Djokovic started misfiring a bit, Roger strated getting his groove back. With every game, we were seeing the Roger "the King" Federer hitting the shots with supreme confidence and finally he relieved Djokovic from his misery with a clean forehand, with the final score at 6-3 5-7 7-5 6-2 , Roger has booked his ticket to the Final.

More importantly,
- Federer is now 7-2 against Djokovic.
- This was Federer's s 33rd consecutive victory at the US Open. Can you believe, his last loss was in the 2003 (against David Nalbandian)
- If Federer wins US Open, it will be his fifth consecutive US Open trophy
- If Federer wins US Open, He will be the first man to win 5 consecutive titles at two grand slam titles ( Wimbledon and US Open)

One side fun fact of the match was that while there was some support for djokovic (I was actually surprised by that, I thought he would have zero support and will be solidly booed after his comments at the end of match with Roddick), BUT every time Roger was on the go, he got a huge cheer from the crowd. By my guess, Roger's fan outnumbered Djokovoc fans by roughly a 100o:10
As for me here's my thought;


I have got to tell you, I was almost stunned when I heard the announcer say during the second set of Fedex/Novak match " Because of inclement weather, Nadal/Murray match will start right now in the Louis Armstrong stadium". I was like, "No freakin' way. I came here to watch both the matches, not half of this and half of that." Since rest of my family wanted to see Nadal and I definitely wanted to see Andy ( he was so gracious the other day when I got his autographs and asked him to pose for a foto, Andy is real cool), we reluctanly made our way to the other match.

Man, was I happy to see Andy play so well! He was calm, not trying too much extra and was on the ball. I think in the whole stadium, there were probably five of us, Andy supporters and it sounded like it was a Rafa fan convention. Everytime, Nadal would get up, go to serve, make a good return, the whole stadium would hit a high octave. It may sound silly, but even though I was outnumbered as an Andy fan, maybe 1:3000, somehow, I felt good and I think it was mainly because Andy made his racket talk. Thank the lord, that Andy won the first and then the second and put a little bit of lid on the Rafa fans. More than him, I was relieved.

I do think though, that Andy was both a bit relieved (having won two sets) and, out of focus at the start of the third set. I was little startled that, he proceeded to go 0-2 in the third and of course, right now, the score stands at 2-3 with Nadal up a break. What I dislike about that as an Andy fan, is the fact that,
- one, if you are Andy, you can't afford to be out of focus even for a fraction of a second, against world's current best player
- two, with a rain break, now there is a chance that Nadal will gather himself and unleash his missiles on Andy.

As for Nadal, he looked slightly out of sorts right from the start! Was he thinking too much, too ahead! Did he think, he will walk on the court and Andy will roll over! Was he already planning for the Finals! I don't know Man! All I saw was that he was lackluster and Andy's great play made it look very ordinary ( don't get me wrong, even an ordinary stroke from the world number one is extraordinary, but something was missing!)

There were some extended, powerful, long rallies with both guys hitting some tough, ground hugging shots but Andy got the best of, many of them. On the other hand, I was worried for Andy, for suddenly at the start of the 3rd set, he didn't have answers for the Rafa serve and that to me is a dangerous sign. As much as Rain has helped Rafa escape a NDE ( near death experience), I think, Andy needs to use this break to get his act together, he can't afford to slip up. Its Do or Die trying for him! No third option.

As for me, I'm happy, Not only Fedex is back but I'll get a chance to get back to the stadium tomorrow and see the completion of Nadal/Murray match. In fact, if the rumors are correct, my ticket will enable me to watch Cara Black & Liezel Huber battle it out against Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur in the Women's Doubles - Finals. Well, lets just say that I consider my $1000 spent on the tickets, really worth every penny.