Friday, 28 January 2011

A Final Showdown

Murray - Djokovic

A fascinating match-up and another extremely difficult one to call. Murray overcame a battling and resistant Ferrer in 4 sets (finally an accurate prediction) to book his place in the final while Djokovic held his nerve at the crucial moments to put Federer out in straight sets. They're both playing well, Novak perhaps slighty more so, but basically, there's very little between them.

Here are some stats to show how they've got on in this year's Aussie Open:

ACES: AM-59 ND-45
UFE: AM-157 ND-148       *AM had 63 UFE against Ferrer
Winners: AM-199 ND-188
Sets dropped: AM-2 ND-1
Double Faults: AM-15 ND-14

Murray has had a significantly easier route through - looking at the rankings of his 6 opponents thus far (101, 79, 32, 11, 46, 7) - they average 46th, whereas Djokovic's defeated opponents' average rank is 29 (42, 81, 29, 14, 6, 2). It all counts for very little...

Murray will need to up his level against NDjo - as many errors and weak service games as he put in against DF will be mercilessly punished. Federer didn't exactly play badly, Novak just looked solid, determined and astonishingly consistent with the power and accuracy of his groundstrokes. He'll attack Murray more than Ferrer but the biggest difference will be Djokovic's GS experience - Ferrer was Murray's match for most of the game and then collapsed in the two tie-breaks. It may well come down to who performs at the crunch moments - they both did in their semi-finals.

Extremely solid in defence, passionate and aggressive on court but lighthearted and relaxed off, they're seriously well matched. Murray is exactly 1 week older, their hard court head-to-head is tied at 3-3 and their career win percentages are within 2% of each other. (ND 75.5%, AM 73.9%) - who needs Federer/Nadal?

A few stats do separate them though and may prove crucial one way or another.

Djokovic hasn't even taken a set from Murray since April 2008 (3 meetings) and Murray leads the head-to-head in Finals 2-0 (Miami '10 and Cincinnati '09)

He leads the overall head-to-head 4-3, has a better GS career win % (78.7% to 74.0%) and a significantly better Australian Open win % (78.3% to 70.6%). He also has the experience of winning a GS, and at Melbourne Park no less.

If a tennis match could end up in a draw, this one might well. I'm gonna stick my neck out, it's Murray's time. He'll win the Australian Open in 5 sets

* Unecessary but interesting stats:
If Djokovic wins, he'll lead Murray by 2120 ranking points, if Murray wins the gap will be just 520 - we've all heard of a 6 pointer, this is a 1600 pointer.
A Murray win will also take him back up to 4th in the rankings, whereas a defeat will mean that remarkably Soderling extends his lead over Murray to 195 points

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Nadal asks no semi - Ferrer gives no semi

What an anticlimactic way for the Nadal dream to end. I appreciate the sentiment behind "give Ferrer his due" and "it's not easy to stay focussed in a situation like that" but in reality it was a bit like taking candy from a stubborn baby - not without minor difficulties but essentially inevitable and resulting in success but with a somewhat hollow ring to it. Ferr play to David for not showing any mercy but it's not like we expected him to forfeit a set out of a sense of friendship and humanitarianism.
In my prediction of straight sets (cop out excuse - I didn't state clearly who to ;-)), I commented that Nadal is Nadal - truth is during this match he wasn't. 

Or maybe he was, but not the Nadal we like to think of (sheer power, determination and incredible skill with a racquet). Part of Federer's consistency in Slams is not only always making it to the QF and beyond, but the fact that he participates in them all and never retires from a match. Nadal's style means that he is very susceptible to injury and so is unlikely to a) ever have a consistently injury-free year or b) have as lengthy a career as Federer. There's no doubt Nadal is a champion but his chances of winning as many GS as Federer are harmed greatly by his Darren Anderton-esque injury-proneness.

So we are left with the following Semi Finals:
Federer vs Djokovic
Murray vs Ferrer
Murray trails the head-to-head 3-2 but leads 2-0 on hard courts. Hard to evaluate Ferrer after the Nadal match but I would expect Murray to take him, although it may not prove as straightforward as their clash at the 02 in November. I slightly underestimated the difficulty Dolgo would cause but I genuinely don't see David taking more than a set from the Scot. Murray in 4
Remarkably, this will be Djokovic and Federer's 5th Grand Slam semi-final match up. Their head-to-head makes for interesting reading.
Overall: Fed leads 13-6 (68% RF wins)
In Semis: Fed leads 6-4 (60% RF wins)
In Slams: Fed leads 4-2 (67% RF wins)
On Hard: Fed leads 12-5 (71% RF wins)
In other words, there's an incredible consistency in the percentage of times Roger beats Novak. But to make it really specific, their four Grand Slam semi meetings are split 2-2 (RF: US '09, US '08 - ND: US '10, AUS '08). Perhaps this can give Djoko some hope.
It's a tough one to call, it will no doubt mean a lot to Federer to show that he is still capable of winning slams but Novak has to believe that he has a great chance, not only to beat Federer but to go on to claim his second Grand Slam title. Their career win percentages are unexpectedly close, at 81% (RF) and 79% (ND). I wouldn't be surprised to see it go to 5 sets but this time I think Federer will have the edge.

* selected other career win percentages (with total GS wins), for information's sake:
Borg 83% - 11
Nadal 82% - 9
McEnroe 82% - 7
Lendl 82% - 8
Laver 79% - 11 (5 in Open Era)
Sampras 77% - 14
Agassi 76% - 8
Edberg 75% - 6
Murray 74% - 0

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Dolgo and the big boys

Nadal v Ferrer
Dolgopolov v Murray
Berdych v Djokovic
Wawrinka v Federer  

So, the 8 top seeds failed to all make it through. Wawrinka did indeed prove to be more than a minor spanner in the Roddick-works, but I think few expected to see Ukranian Dolgopolov put Soderling away and so comprehensively. 

So who is this upstart? I must admit, I watched the first set and thought it was a bit embarrassing him being so far into the tournament. He served 23% first serves and won only 20% of points on his second serve. He pulled those stats up to 50% and 44% respectively but was no doubt assisted in victory by Soderling's astonishing UFE count. The sets Dolgo won convincingly (3rd and 5th), Robin had a combined total of 32 unforced errors. That's gonna lose you the set. Put it this way, Murray has only committed 60 UFE all tournament. 

Dolgo has a bizarre and decidedly unorthodox technique, perhaps most obvious in his serve. His slingy forehands are quite dangerous and unpredictable but Murray will defend more than the naturally aggressive Soderling and it will leave Dolgo frustrated and we're likely to see an extremely error-strewn performance. In each of his matches so far, he's run away with a set or two (6-1, 6-2 against RS, 6-1, 6-1 against Tsonga, 6-0 against Becker, 6-2 against Kukushkin) which he's unlikely to be able to do against Murray.
Prediction: AD to have some dangerous moments, maybe the odd break and Murray is likely to concede more than 3 games in a set for the first time, but straight sets

As for the all Swiss match-up, Federer vs Wawrinka, although Stan seemed to be on great form and Rog struggling a touch, I can see the world number 2 coming through in 4 sets. Roddick and Monfils weren't able to offer anything different to their regular tactics and Stan punished them on the backhand time and again. No-one mixes it up and thinks on the court like Federer and that'll be enough to extend the 6-1 head-to-head

Not much of an adventurous prediction in the iberian clash either - Nadal hasn't lost to Ferrer since 2007 and takes an 11-3 head-to-head lead into the match. That said, David has won all 8 matches he's played this year (including the title at Auckland), dropping only 4 sets on the way - he's in exceptional form, but Nadal is Nadal. Straight sets

The quarter that intrigues me most is Djokovic-Berdych. Tomas is looking for a bit of consistency that might see him really challenge the top 5 - after his great Wimbledon performance, he fell off the wagon somewhat. Djoko put him away easily at the 02 and leads the head-to-head 4-1, but that 1 was the semi at Wimbledon. Don't think that Berdy will fold under the pressure. He's made serene progress, against some tough opponents and he has the potential to give Novak a good go. I'm gonna go for Nole though, I think the Aussie Open is special to him for some reason and he'll turn it up when he needs to. Another Federer Djokovic semi could be classic...

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Top 8 = Last 8? And other stats

There is the real possibility that in two days' time a phenomenon may occur in Melbourne that has never occurred yet (as far as my research can tell me) - the top 8 seeds will make it through to the Quarter finals and therefore be the last 8 players in the tournament. Surely this is the whole purpose of the seeding process - getting the best players taking on each other in the closing stages? Yet never before has it happened. It nearly happened two years ago at the Australian Open '09, but Murray (4) let slip a 2-1 set lead to Verdasco (14) in the 4th round, leaving 7 of the 8 top seeds to fill the QF slots. 

Strangely enough it is Verdasco (9) who arguably has the biggest chance of spoiling the party this time round too, up against Berdych (6). That said, the Czech does lead the head-to-head 6-4 and 4-1 on Hard courts. 

Another one who could ruin it is Stan Wawrinka. He ruthlessly punished Monfils in R3 and certainly can threaten A-Rod. I'll still back our capped friend

Answers to this conundrum on a postcard: Stan has never even taken a set from Roddick yet he leads the head-to-head 2-1. *answer at the bottom*

Nadal again showed his class today - I warned you Tomic could be dangerous, but Rafa kept his nerve and demonstrated all of his fabled battling qualities from 4-0 in the second set. Tomic has an incredibly languid style (description from John Lloyd - patent pending), and seems almost lazy in thumping away winners. Unfortunately his UFE count meant that the only significant thumping was the one Rafa dealt him in the end. Lots of potential but needs to concentrate and not expect success to fall into his lap. Even Federer has to work hard. I fear Cilic may be reliant on divine intervention to have a chance of seeing the QFs this year, although he comes from the right town for it so who knows...

I was pleased that Baghdatis did the business over JMDP, as predicted, so it's a shame he had to pull out against Melzer. I fancy Murray over the Austrian (the Scot leads the head-to-head 4-0) but the Cypriot could have made it interesting.

So Rog and Raf are still there and still looking like giving us our first dream final since their clash here two years ago. Having tipped Rog because of his easier run to the final, I did some research (prompted by an off the cuff comment made on BBC Live text - see 11.52). Is it actually of benefit to avoid seeds on your route through? 

Not necessarily it would appear. Take a look at Federer's route through the Aussie Open since 2005 and you'll see that he's been in 4 finals (won 3) and only once in those years (4th round 2006 vs Haas, who was ranked 41 (having missed a lot of 2005 after stepping on a ball at Wimbledon and spraining his ankle) at the time, but made it to 11 by the end of 2006) has he played a non-seed after the 2nd round. 
The years in which Roger has been an abysmal failure, and only made the semi-finals ('05 and '08), he took on a non-seed in the 3rd round, and again in the 4th in 2005, before losing to the eventual winner each time.
Rafa is similar, last year he played non-seeds in the 3rd round and QF before losing his semi to Murray but his victory in '09 came off the back of wins against seeds in R4, QF and SF. 

Maybe the tougher route is the better one after all. 

Another bit of trivia, the two active players who have played the most consecutive Grand Slam tournaments are 1) Roger Federer (with 45) and 2) Tommy Robredo (with 41) - who play each other tonight.

* trivia question answer - both of Wawrinka's victories over A-Rod have come from the American's withdrawal due to injury, both in the first set (once SW was 4-0 up, once AR was 4-3 up). Congratulations if you got it, and a special mention to my wife who's not exactly a tennis enthusiast but figured it out pretty much straight away

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

No Major upsets

3 days in and a few hairy moments but, as with most Majors, no major upsets. Gilles Simon gave Federer a great game in one of the matches of the tournament so far - even more than my predicted "maybe take a set". Real signs that he can get his way back up to the top 10 before too long.

Plenty of competition for the match of the tournament though, Nalbo-Hewitt, Verdasco-Tipsarevic, Fish-Hanescu, Petzschner-Tsonga and Monfils-De Bakker all producing epic 5 setters but each time the higher rank coming through in the end. So why is that? 

A quick bit of maths reveals a telling stat regarding unforced errors (UFE). In the 6 matches mentioned (GS-RF, DN-LH, FV-JT, MF-VH, PP-JWT & GM-TDB), the average % of UFE made by the lower seed for the whole match was 48.5%. However the average % of UFE made by the lower seed in the 5th set only jumps up to 59.7%
Most pundits will tell you that UFE come down to two things, tiredness and concentration. There's no reason for any player to be less fit than his opponent (apart from if you're playing Monfils cos that man's a running machine) - but concentration is another matter. Not that I'm a world-class tennis pro to speak from experience but maintaining your concentration for 3+ hours is almost impossible. No wonder the ATP website attributes Federer's success to his experience. Players like Tipsy and Hanescu are always around in tournaments and can give a good show of themselves, but on the big stage they seem to lack the mental game to see it through. 
That's what sets Rafa, Roger and Novak apart, even from Robin/Andy/Tomas etc., they are insanely consistent in the Grand Slams. 

No doubt Rafa will crash out to Sweeting tonight. 

So my predictions from the previous post - mixed I think is a good summary. 

Simon certainly earned his label as "dangerous", only I underestimated quite how dangerous

Davydenko crashed out first round - hardly living up to my prediction of a QF slot

We'll have to see tonight about JMDP and Tomic, although I feel like the latter has done well by me getting past 44th ranked Jeremy Chardy.

As for the overall prediction, I'm sticking with Federer, it's good for him to have had a battle early on and the draw has opened up for him even more than before - the earliest he could meet another seed is the QF. Nadal certainly looked ominous but I'm not sure there was enough actual tennis to make a proper evaluation. We'll see how it looks after another round of matches...

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Australian Open/Closed?

So the Australian Open starts this weekend and other than the usual Murray-mania, it's basically down to Federer Nadal. Again. If it was just Man U and Chelsea winning the Premiership every year, people would call it boring. Oh wait. Never mind.

Nadal is streaks ahead but Federer's been showing good signs - can he prove himself once again? I doubt he cares, but the number of times he's apparently finally settled the debate that he is the greatest of all time must be close to the number of aces in a Roddick-Karlovic 5 setter. Roland Garros '09 (career GS), Wimbledon '09 (most GS wins), regaining yr end No 1. ranking (end of '09), London O2 '10 (World Tour Finals).

But if you think of the great RN-RF clashes, it's Rafa that comes out on top. Wimbledon '07 was epic, but Rafa was only 21 and Roger was in his prime. When they've both been at the top of their games, Wimbledon '08 and Australia '09 it's been the Spaniard to prevail, not to mention the seemingly infinite number of RG finals he's beaten Federer in. Of course you cannot take away from Federer winning the French (09), then Wimbledon (09) and then the Aus but he didn't have to play Nadal at any of them (thanks to Soderling/injury, injury and Murray/injury respectively).

Federer's defending 2000 ranking points (from a total of 9245) whereas Nadal is only defending 360 (from a total of 12,390) so even if Fed does win, Rafa's likely to extend his lead in the rankings. Murray suffers a similar predicament in trying to win 4th back from Soderling, defending 1200 points to Soderling's 10. This won't be helped by the fact that Murray has hardly had any competitive tennis and Soderling's just won in Australia.

So any predictions? First of all, some dangerous players in the draw, undervalued in ranking for various reasons. Watch out for (in rough order of dangerousness):

Gilles Simon - Not sure Federer will be too happy to see Gilles as a potential R2 opponent, the Frenchman leads the head-to-head 2-0 and has been as high as 6 in the world, not to mention winning in Sydney this week. Prediction: he'll give Roger a good game, maybe take a set but not enough for the win - out in R2
Nikolay Davydenko - may seem silly to call the 23rd seed a threat but he's a lot better than 23 and can take anyone on his day (e.g. Nadal in Qatar last week) - could be a very interesting R4 vs Berdych. Prediction: out to Djokovic in QF
Juan Martin Del Potro - could take on Murray in 4th round, Grand Slam winner. Bit of a whack it hard as I can merchant but when he's in form, it works big time (US Open '09). Dangerous but lack of game time means he shouldn't pose Murray too much of a threat, if he gets that far. Prediction: out to Baghdatis in R2
Bernard Tomic - an 18 year old ranked at 209 currently (with a career high 208) may not strike fear in Nadal's heart but if Tomic can get past Chardy and Lopez, I think he could worry Rafa a touch. He gave Cilic a real scare last year and put out Starace (who was ranked 73) at only 16 years old. The crowd will be behind him and he may well make things uncomfortable for Rafa. If he gets to him. Prediction: (Disappointingly) Out to Lopez in R2

Who's actually going to win the thing? Ladbrokes have it dead even between Nadal and Federer, and I can't fault them - I'll go for Roger cos he's got a slightly easier route through. We'll see