Saturday, 25 June 2011

Halfway there but no closer to knowing...

It's been something of a bitty and disrupted first week with rain delays, injuries and matches spanning two days but it's been as fascinating as ever and the excitement and anticipation of a thrilling climax is building. 

Roddick was the first major name to fall (I hope you took my advice and didn't have a wager on him, even at 33/1), probably marking the end of any attempts to really compete here. Another Masters 1000 or 2 is about all A-Rod can hope for I fear as his career winds down somewhat.

So the top 4 are all still with us, Murray safely into R4, for a replay of 2008's epic encounter. As seems customary with our fiery Scot at Slams, some early troubles which should lead to real confidence and form in the latter stages. At Roland Garros he had such a tussle with Troicki and coming through it gave him good momentum and belief to put away Chela and take on Nadal. Dropping sets against Gimeno-Traver and Ljubicic may have a similar effect and he'll need it as it looks like Gasquet - Monfils - Nadal could be his next 3 matches.

Nadal has looked untroubled generally, although has given up a few breaks and looked shaky at points. He didn't exactly start the French in blistering form but we all know what happened there. For some reason William Hill have dropped him to 9/4 compared to 2/1 before the tournament started but his progress has been pretty smooth so far. Playing Simon/JMDP then most likely Berdych before Murray and Federer/Djokovic certainly isn't an easy route but this is Nadal we're talking about

Federer has looked seriously good so far, smashing more than 80 winners in his two straight set victories so far. William Hill now have him as favourite, at 2/1, despite the fact that his section of the draw is the only one where all 4 seeds are still in (Almagro, Youzhny, Nalbandian). There's also the fact that Kukushkin and Mannarino are pretty awful. A renewal of the old rivalry between him and Nalbo could be interesting

Djokovic has looked devastating so far and I can't see Baghdatis causing him too much trouble. Everything's right about his game at the moment and he seems to have dealt with the end of his winning run with a maturity that is becoming increasingly characteristic of the current World Number 2. His William Hill odds have remarkably lengthened to 3/1 (11/4 before tournament) and now might be a good time to have a stab on him.* 

So, as the title suggests, we're no nearer knowing who is going to be top dog at the end of it all. That's goes for who will win Wimbledon as well as who will be World Number 1. This table shows how the rankings will look of the top 3 depending on results: 


Djokovic just needs to make the final to be No. 1, but Federer could also overtake Nadal is the Spaniard falls before the final. Interesting times ahead...

A quick review of my predictions from the last blog entry... (with my own marking)

  • Nadal lost 8 games, not 4-6. 5/10
  • I suggested Murray would be taken to a tie-break but he went one "better" and lost a set 4/10
  • Federer hit a ridiculous 53 winners (38 in second round) 9/10
  • Djokovic cruised through straight sets 0/10
  • Nishikori gave Hewitt a decent run at times but the 5 setter was one round out, as Hewitt Soderling went the distance. 6/10
  • 5 seeds went out in the first round, although Dolgo and Tipsy were in there. 4/10

Not the best performance then.

To make amends, here are some more...

  • There will be at least 6 breaks of serve in Gasquet - Murray
  • There will be at least 80 UFE in Tsonga-Gonzo
  • Djokovic will beat Marcos and then Lu/Llodra in straight sets
  • Fish-Berdych (assuming they both make it through) will be very close - couple of tie breaks, at least 4 sets, that sort of thing
  • Nadal will lose a set to DelPo/Simon

Now it's actually started for the day, I think I'll watch some rather than just talking about it...

*In fact, if you bet equally on Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, say £100 on each, you won't lose money if any of the three win (Fed win and you'd be even, Nadal you'd be up £25, Djokovic win you'd be up £100)

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Guns prepared, draw complete, ready to fire...

The Wild (South) West London showdown commences on Monday.
Murray's guns are ready for a show...

A deathly silence descends as the crowds' attention fixes on the contest to come. Saloons empty and tumbleweed hurries its way along the soon-to-be crammed streets. Competitors' guns are loaded (see pic). The preparations are complete and we've even had the draw. All that is left is for our shooters to fire. 

First, the preparations... Nadal had a truncated week at Queens where he may have started to adjust to grass but fatigue meant he didn't get a full run out. Djokovic had one exhibition match in leafy Bucks where he crushed Gilles Simon in 47 minutes. Federer has kept a low profile, recovering from a minor groin strain (a friend saw him getting some treatment in the Wimbledon physio room) and hitting the practice courts. Interestingly enough, in '07, '09 and '11 Federer withdrew from Halle due to fatigue - he won Wimbledon in '07 and '09. The only year he's failed to win Halle, since '02, was last year, when he had his worst Wimbledon performance since his first round loss to Mario Ancic, also in '02. Murray has put in the hours, with his Queens success as well as a match, albeit cut short by rain, against Troicki at the Boodles.
All the supporting players have been running through their lines as well, at Halle, Queens and The Boodles. We're ready to go

Next, the draw. Some interesting possible clashes lie ahead, before we even think of the latter stages, here are some of the picks:

3rd round: Cilic - Murray
3rd round: Wawrinka - Gasquet
3rd round: Federer - Nalbandian
2nd round: Soderling - Hewitt
1st round: Stepanek - Verdasco
1st round: Dolgopolov - Gonzalez
1st round: Baghdatis - Blake

But who does the draw favour? Difficult to say until things unfold but a bit of statistical speculation is always entertaining...
Taking the draw in 8 sections, each containing 4 seeds, we can look at the potential difficulty of reaching the quarters for our main quartet by looking at the credentials of the other 3 seeds in the section (average seeding, how many Masters series, Slams and total titles they've won)
  • Nadal (1st section): 31 Raonic, 24 Del Potro, 15 Simon = 23.33 ave seeding, 0 Masters series titles, 1 Grand Slam (JMDP), 18 total titles
  • Murray (3rd section): 27 Cilic, 17 Gasquet, 14 Wawrinka = 19.33 ave seeding, 0 Masters series titles, 0 Grand Slam, 14 total titles
  • Federer (6th section): 16 Almagro, 18 Youzhny, 28 Nalbandian = 20.66 ave seeding, 2 Masters series titles (both Nalbo), 0 Grand Slam, 28 total titles
  • Djokovic (8th section): 13 Troicki, 19 Llodra, 32 Baghdatis = 21.33 ave seeding, 0 Masters series titles, 0 Grand Slam, 10 total titles
If the success of the draw is all about reactions, so is the returning of serve. Which would suggest that Djokovic is the man. He breaks 41% of the games he receives (AM 39%, RN 39%, RF 27%), converts 48% of break points (RN 47%, AM 46%, RF 38%) and wins 59% of points on his opponent's second serve (RN also 59%, AM 57%, RF 51%). Murray leads % points won on opponent's first serve with 38% - ND and RN have 36%, RF back on 34%. 
But the best defence is unlikely to win you a shootout and so it is at Wimbledon. On the grass, just staying in the rally only gets you so far. You need to attack and put away the winners. Or so you would think.... 
Numerous people have suggested that court speed at SW19 is no faster than at 75016 (Roland Garros 'code postal') and a quick look at the stats from the top 3's matches against Berdych last year tell quite a story...

Quarter Finals: Federer - 44 winners, 18 unforced errors. 4 set loss
Semi Finals: Djokovic - 25 winners, 22 unforced errors. 3 set loss
Final: Nadal - 29 winners, 21 unforced errors. 3 set victory

Maybe it's not all about the winners after all. Whereas looking at the winners they each conceded (RN only 27, ND 34, RF 51) indicates that the defensive skills could be the ones that make a difference. 

Prediction time:
Nadal in 3, losing 4-6 games
Murray in 3, but taken to a tie-break in one set
Federer in 3, with at least 30 winners
Djokovic in 4, outrageous enough prediction to not have to give further detail
Nishikori - Hewitt will go to 5 sets
2 or 3 seeds will fall (from Baghdatis, Llodra (come on Ward!), Almagro, Dolgopolov and Tipsarevic)

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Who will be the Wimble Don?

I've just found out some rather shocking news. This may come as quite a surprise to much of the British public but apparently there are other tennis tournaments during the year. I had wondered how players' rankings were determined simply by virtue of their performance at Queens and Wimbledon. Now it turns out that they play all over the world, on surfaces other than grass, in every single month of the year. 

I can only presume that from mid-July one year until mid-June the next, these players are training and preparing themselves for the real thing. It seems odd that they should travel such distances, play on clay, carpet and hard... courts (no-one seems to know what hard courts are, just that they're hard), but I suppose with 11 1/2 months to fill they feel the need to have some variety. Quite why they can't just live off the excitement and anticipation about a trip to a London postcode, I have not yet discovered. My journalistic skills are admittedly limited but then who has time to do such work when you can watch 30 second snippets about decades of Wimbledon greatness?

So, as our favourite tennis fortnight of the year approaches again, how are the main contenders looking? 

Rafael Nadal - Title favourite? I know he's only good on clay but he's not actually lost a match at Wimbledon since 2007 and even that was a 5 setter against Federer. He did look extremely weary against Tsonga in the Queens quarters but he always raises his game for the Slams and has just returned to winning ways at the French Open. William Hill have him at 2/1 and that's probably about right - no question he'll be in the hunt come the second week

Novak Djokovic - 2011 has all been about Djokovic. Not since Federer of about 5 years ago have we seen one man dominate so completely. He has remarkably already qualified for the ATP World Tour Finals (as has Rafa now), is almost certain to overtake Rafa for World No. 1 within the next month or two and has only lost once all year. But, he's never been to the final here and for someone who has been frail mentally in the past, we've yet to see the effects of the end of his unbeaten run. William Hill odds: 11/4 - could be vulnerable if he gets a tough opponent in the early rounds but if he gets used to winning again he could go all the way.

Roger Federer - At Roland Garros Federer demonstrated that he's still one of the greatest and more than capable of winning a GS. He has only lost twice at Wimbledon in the last 8 years and will be more confident taking on Nadal than on clay. Half of the times he's participated, he's won. There's no doubt he's a contender and potentially some's marginal favourite. His persistently attacking style means more UFE but also a lot more winners. Expect to see him right there at the end. William Hill odds 5/2

Andy Murray - this year? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it's his best chance yet. At least in terms of his own form: coming off the back of his best ever French Open, a devastating performance against Roddick at Queens and another year of maturing and growing. He's had another GS final to learn from and has the impressive record of always matching or improving on his previous performances at Wimbledon: '05 - 3rd round, '06 - 4th round, (didn't play in '07), '08 - Quarters, '09 and '10 - Semi's. Consistent improvement is a good sign. There will of course be a massive pressure, building to a fever pitch should he make the second week (type 'Wimbledon hype' into Google images and see who all the pics are of), which he's not dealt with well in the past but he's got the ability and with the crowd behind him, it could push him one step closer. The problem he has is that he's likely to face 2 of the top 3, and he's yet to show in a GS that he can perform at his absolute best twice in a row. At 6/1 with William Hill, he's definitely worth a stab but I won't be holding my breath...

Of course there are more than 4 gents playing and there are a few others to watch out for:

Juan Martin Del Potro - it's hard to totally rule someone out when he's won a Slam, beating Nadal and Federer on the way, but grass just isn't his glass of Pimms. He's never got beyond R2 at Wimbledon and just lost to the decidedly unimpressive Mannarino at Queens. Dangerous on any given day but very unlikely to sustain a challenge if has to play more than a couple of top tenners. William Hill odds 16/1

Andy Roddick - always has the potential to be dangerous on grass but has no form at all, put up virtually no fight against Murray and seems to be sliding sadly down the rankings. He's only made one GS quarter final since the '09 final loss to Federer and is in real danger of failing to qualify for the Tour Finals for the first time since 2002. Don't waste your money, even at 33/1

James Ward - a fantastic run at Queens and will be full of confidence, especially if he can get a win or two down in Eastbourne. If he can avoid a high seed for a couple of rounds then he could get past some top 100 players but anything more than that I don't see happening. William Hill have him at 250/1 but I'd say 1000/1 might be more accurate!

A few others to keep your eye on, last year's finalist Berdych (25/1), Queens finalist and all-round entertainer Tsonga (33/1), Gael Monfils (125/1), forgotten man Nikolay Davydenko (150/1), the battling Gilles Simon (200/1) and one of Ward's Queens victims at a remarkably generous 300/1, Stan Wawrinka. They could all cause a major seed some trouble on a given day but none really have the capacity to go all the way. 

William Hill also have Milos Raonic installed at 33/1 despite having never played a game at Wimbledon or won any ATP Tournament above 250 Series level. If he wins it or even gets close I'll fly to Canada and apologise to him personally

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Fantastic Final French Four

As I write, Nadal is cruising through against Soderling, Murray is coming through after an early wobble against Chela (and apparently some later wobbles) and Djokovic/Federer are preparing themselves for another massive Grand Slam clash on Friday

Everything points to a 5th final of the year between Nadal and Djokovic

Murray has had a patchy couple of rounds, ankle injury or not (and judging by his movement in latter sets against VT and now against JIC, I'd say there's not too much wrong), and although seems able to battle through against the likes of Troicki and Chela, coming up against a good player for the first time in the tournament may come as a bit of a shock. 
Someone like Nadal doesn't let you back in from a double break down, especially not twice in a match! The players he's played to get to the semi have an average ranking of 79. Federer's opponents average 55, Djokovic's 42, Nadal's 71. But haven't we seen this before? At the Aussie Djokovic had a significantly harder run to the final but crushed Murray. Then again, we didn't know at the time that Novak would go on such an absurd sequence of victories.

Murray and Nadal have played 3 times on clay and unsurprisingly it's 3-0 Nadal. Given Murray's record for not exactly excelling on the biggest stage, and Rafa's utter dominance at RG, I just don't see how Andy can get past him.

The potentially more competitive and interesting semi match up from these big 4 could be Djokovic Federer. Roger leads the clay head-to-head 2-1 but one victory was by retirement and the other was when Novak was only 18. Federer hasn't lost a set yet this year, but nor has he been entirely convincing at stages, especially against Wawrinka and Monfils. Djokovic's only set lost was to Del Potro who was back to his best for a while during that match. 

Federer has been so attacking during this year's FO, going for his forehand very early in the rally and targetting the corners. Players like Monfils can stay with that for a while but not long enough to increase the chances of a shank. Djokovic and Nadal though have such a level of defence that Federer has to hit a fiercely accurate winner 3 or 4 times before he actually gets the point. As a result, he misses them, then tries to make the winners even better and closer to the lines, misses more and ends up not really making a fist of the match. That's how it's happened in the last two Slams. This is the unforced error count for each: 

Aussie Open Semi '11: Federer 44 Djokovic 35
US Open Semi '10: Federer 66 Djokovic 38

Can't help but feel this may well be the pattern of it on Friday too. I looked in detail at their GS Semi match ups during the Aussie Open and we all know what happened then. I'd love to see Roger perform as he can, if he does it could achieve the potential it has to be a classic.

*if something dramatic happens and either Murray or Nadal lose their quarters, I can't be held responsible!