Monday Topspin: Thriller

Djokovic undefeated: Novak Djokovic has yet to lose a match this season, and now holds two consecutive masters crowns.  In the process, he opened up some distance between himself and Roger Federer in the ATP rankings, and planted the seed in some people’s minds that he might be deserving of the #1 spot.  By just about any standard, he’s already the best player in the world on hard courts.

It wasn’t easy.  As in Indian Wells two weeks ago, Rafael Nadal came out in fine form, taking the first set after racing to a 5-1, double-break lead.  Djokovic narrowed the gap but was unable to make up the difference.  The Serbian won a hard-fought second set, then the two players settled in to trade service holds up to a tiebreak.  Djokovic got a couple of mini-breaks, including one on a Nadal double fault, and won the match 4-6 6-3 7-6(4).

What amazes me is how anybody beats either of these guys, particularly Nadal.  I know from the stats that he made his share of unforced errors (including several double faults), but I can’t remember very many of them.  What sticks in the mind is Rafa running down everything, turning defensive positions into offensive shots, over and over again.  Both players were near the top of their game yesterday, and Djokovic was able to rack up a just a few more winners.

The one baffling thing is Nadal’s reluctance to come to net.  (I know, I’m starting to sound like a TV announcer–I promise it’s just a coincidence that I’m making this sort of comment two days in a row.)  He was often standing right on the baseline, even hitting groundstrokes from a step inside the baseline.  Yet he almost never came forward unless forced.  Even with an imperfect net game, even against the passing-shot machine that is Djokovic, I think he would’ve been more successful taking advantage of some of those offensive positions.

Now, we have two streaks to watch going into the clay-court season.  Both players will be at the Monte Carlo Masters, where Djokovic will try to build on his 26-match winning streak.  Nadal has a 24-match winning streak on clay, including every match he played last year plus two Davis Cup rubbers in 2009.  One of them will have to fall by this time two weeks from now, and I suspect it will be Djokovic’s turn to play runner-up.

Rankings: The major storyline this week is the arrival of a new American #1.  Mardy Fish jumped four spots to #11 with his semifinal showing in Miami, while Andy Roddick fell to #14 by failing to defend his title.  That’s Roddick’s lowest ranking since Wimbledon, 2002, and it’s Fish’s career high.

Robin Soderling also failed to defend his 2010 points, and handed the #4 spot back to Andy Murray.

Other gainers this week are Gilles Simon (up 4 to #23), Kevin Anderson (up 7 to #33), Janko Tipsarevic (up 6 to #38), Juan Martin del Potro (up 6 to #45), and Olivier Rochus (up 13 to #73).

Four players hit important milestones with Challenger-level wins.  Andreas Haider-Maurer broke into the top 100 for the first time with a win at Caltanissetta and a semifinal showing at Barletta.  Facundo Bagnis and Maxime Teixeira won tournaments in Barranquilla and St. Brieuc, respectively, each reaching the top 200 for the first time in their young careers.  The most remarkable result belongs to Aljaz Bedene, a Slovenian who won in Barletta on a wild card.  Bedene ascends 206 ranking spots to #282, only 16 off his career high.

Houston qualifying: By the end of the day, the last four players will be entered into the draw at the U.S. Clay Court Championships.  The final four qualifying matches each have one American, with Alex Bogomolov, Donald Young, Tim Smyczek, and Rajeev Ram still in the running.  It won’t be easy for these guys to make the main draw, however, as Young must defeat Ivo Karlovic, and Ram needs to beat Paul Capdeville.

With less tennis to watch this week, I’m hoping to break out some clay-court rankings by next Monday, as well as a couple of other mini-studies I’m working on.  Stay tuned!

3 thoughts on “Monday Topspin: Thriller”

  1. The commentators often do agonize over various players’ reluctance to approach the net – Murray is one who comes to mind – and every time they raise the subject I shake my head in astonishment. During the Nadal-Djokovic match yesterday I noticed several occasions when each of those brilliant players came in to the net and was left looking like a hopeless beginner – either by a passing shot, or a sizzling ground stroke to the short ribs, or by a perfect lob landing just a couple of feet inside the baseline. I’m not tennis player, but it seems to me that no one can afford to come in these days unless the opponent is stretched to breaking point. Even then, it’s taking a big risk.

    1. You’ve stated the case against net-rushing very well. It’s probably impossible to settle, because we’ll never know the outcome of any of these players coming to net much. I feel the same way you do about the commentators beating the horse to death.

      Maybe tomorrow, I’ll try to outline my views on it in detail — I think we tend to recall the sensational shots and forget the missed passing shots, etc. It’s certainly a risk, but even in an offensive position from the baseline, you might only have a ~60% chance of winning the point. If you’re Nadal, I understand why you want to stay back — you feel like you can win any point from the baseline. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right play every time.

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