Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - "Who's the Pigeon Now?"
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"Who's the Pigeon Now?" 08/04/2008 - 7:58 PM

AnWhat can we take away from our time in Toronto and Cincinnati? From my perspective, the last two weeks subtly but perceptibly deepened, entrenched, normalized, the changing of the ATP guard that began with Rafael Nadal’s win over Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final. The sport has always taken its cues from what happens in its capital, the All England Club, and it was true again in the far-flung outposts of Canada and Cincy. There, Nadal consolidated his stirring victory on Centre Court by finally overtaking Federer at No. 1 after three years of toiling in the second spot. Just down the totem pole, two fellow members of the “young gun” generation, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, made significant statements—Djokovic by ending Nadal’s 32-match win streak and putting himself back in the mix for the Olympics and the U.S. Open, and Murray by winning his first Masters title.

Just as significant were the Top 10 players who didn’t appear in the later rounds at either event: Federer, who will be 27 next week; Andy Roddick, 26 at the end of August; Nikolay Davydenko, 27; and James Blake, 28. Tennis “generations” are pretty brief, lasting only about three or four years—in Toronto we were already talking about an even newer face in 19-year-old Marin Cilic of Croatia, who recorded the biggest win of his young career by defeating Roddick. But if this was not a full-blown coup by the young guns, it was the beginnings of a quiet revolt. Most significant to me was how natural it suddenly seemed that Murray and Djokovic would be the last ones standing at a Masters tournament.

We knew Djokovic belonged there, but while it was Murray’s first Masters final, it was also hardly a surprise after the improvement—in his play and, more important, his demeanor—he showed at Wimbledon and last week in Toronto. There he notched his first career win over Djokovic after three humiliating defeats. By the time the two 21-year-olds began their match in Cincy, the turnaround was complete. You might say that they switched their normal roles on Sunday: Djokovic was negative and volatile, while Murray was poised and able to channel his eclectic game into a simple, winning formula.

Djokovic had been scintillating the night before in beating Nadal. But there had been something a little too flashy about the way he went about it. The down-the-line forehand winners he kept firing past the Spaniard from outside of the court were not shots that anyone, including Djokovic, can keep hitting on a regular basis—as someone once said of the way Jimmy Connors hit backhand winners, the Serb seemed to think his shots were worth two points each. By the middle of the second set the next day, Djokovic had traveled 180 degrees in the other direction. As in Toronto, he couldn’t keep two consecutive forehands in the court against Murray. He spent the rest of the set fighting himself, his racquet, and even his normally trusty backhand, which he began to spray almost in imitation of his forehand. Only his serve allowed him to remain anywhere near Murray.

Part of this was physical. Djokovic was breathing hard early in the match and looked exhausted by the end. But I don’t think that was the decisive factor. I’ve said in the past that he carries a dangerous amount of frustration with him during his matches—think of it as a debt load that, on occasion, he can’t pay off. On Sunday ESPN’s Darren Cahill took this observation one step further. He noted during the second set that Djokovic had let his frustration overwhelm him to the point where he had checked out competitively and conceded that it wasn’t his day. I’d never thought of it quite that way, but it’s a trend with the Serb when things aren’t going well. The dissatisfaction gets to be too much, and he pulls a mental trigger. Sometimes he calls it a day completely (see his match against Federer in Monte Carlo), sometimes he chucks in his now obligatory drop shot when he’s down match point. Djokovic did that again on Sunday, except that the ball skimmed the tape and ended up winning him the point and eventually the game. That’s how the entire second set went for Djokovic; as Cahill noted, the more the Serb conceded, the more relaxed his shots became, and the better he played. Djokovic saved four match points at 3-5 and extended the final tiebreaker all the way to 7-5. Looking desperate to lose the set most of the time, he very nearly ended up winning it.

This is a different version of the Djokovic that I was writing about as recently as May. Regarding his recently-erratic forehand, maybe it’s Murray’s defensive speed that forces him to try for too much, or maybe that little flourish at the top of his backswing really does hurt its consistency. Djokovic can hit flashy winners from that side, but now we know that it can go off and bring down his entire game. More important was his mental approach to Sunday’s final. This wasn’t the same guy who was so uncannily confident, organized, and psychologically uncluttered at the U.S. and Australian Opens. What’s changed? I’d chalk it up to the expectations game. At those events, Djokovic was still the hunter; he had encountered almost no resistance on his shockingly smooth ride up to No. 3 in the world and a Grand Slam title. But that ended when he couldn’t pass Nadal this spring; since then he’s had to deal with defending his own position rather than hunting anyone down. He hasn't been quite the same player, first at Wimbledon and now against Murray. Maybe this is the downside of having such innate and uncanny confidence. When Djokovic’s game doesn’t match his own very high expectations for it, he reacts with an unsustainable and unproductive frustration.

Does this sound like someone we know? Until Wimbledon this year, “unsustainable and unproductive frustration” seemed to be the basis for Andy Murray’s game. But his victories at the All England Club proved once and for all to him that putting childish things away—including his distinctly adolescent rage—really did help. He had more evidence for that on Sunday, as he kept his temper in check all afternoon. But beyond that, Murray also showed a new maturity from a tactical point of view. His downfall in the past had been his entertaining but ultimately misguided passion for variety and degree of difficulty. Murray never hit two serves in a row the same way or at the same speed; when he put himself in a winning position in a rally, he tended to use his drop shot as a putaway (tellingly, it was Djokovic, rather than Murray, who was doing this in Cincy); and he seemed to go out of his way to get himself into scrambling defensive positions, just so he could try for a spectacular forehand on the run. As his ex-coach Brad Gilbert said yesterday, Murray was constantly changing his “playing philosophy” in the middle of matches.

Instead, he beat Djokovic by going against all his tendencies and sticking to one simple, disciplined philosophy: Keep the ball up the middle until an opportunity presented itself, and then work the ball outward from there. It’s baseline tennis 101, and it was the best way to beat Djokovic, who looked like he would have had trouble hitting the broad side of a barn at times.

Still, there were echoes of Murray's past. Despite outplaying his opponent for the entire first set, he couldn’t capitalize on any break chances. Up 6-1 in the breaker, he squandered a few points before Djokovic finally handed it back to him. Then, serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set, Murray double-faulted twice and retreated into his old defensive stance when he had match points. Up 4-2 in the second-set breaker, three points from the title, he made two bad errors and let out some vintage teeth-baring vitriol.

That’s when the new Murray reasserted himself, just the way Djokovic has on many other days. The two produced the best point of the match, a back-and-forth, corner-to-corner slugfest that Murray finally won with an aggressive, but not too aggressive, backhand crosscourt winner. It was the shot of a born tennis player, smooth, instinctive, and easily powerful. But it couldn’t have happened it Murray hadn’t channeled his frustration in a positive direction. All that was left was for him to stagger forward and hit a final backhand winner before collapsing into his seat on the sidelines, a Masters winner. As the ever-argumentative Chris Fowler of ESPN said of the budding rivalry between these two, "Who's the pigeon now?"

Together, Djokovic and Murray represent the latest form of the modern baseline game. Rather than building their games on killer serves or forehands the way Federer, Roddick, Blake, and Fernando Gonzalez did, they win with all-around efficiency and rely on their two-handed backhands as consistent weapons—their tennis is stylishly compact and made for all surfaces. But they’re also flip sides of that same modern coin, and they have the makings of an intriguing rivalry. Djokovic seems to be almost a computer-generated tennis player, with the perfect frame and an ideal blend of contemporary and classic technique. He arrived on the pro scene with his game fully formed, and is only now having to struggle with a little with the expectations he has created. Murray seems at first glance to be the consummate non-athlete—how many pro tennis players have wild red hair and look like they're hobbling around the court between points? Emotionally, he has also been a more typical kid than Djokovic. Murray has gone through a public growing-up process to get to where he is now, trying on a variety of coaches, attitudes, and facial-hair styles. But as of right now, these two young guns who were born seven days apart have arrived at pretty much the same place. Djokovic is No. 3; Murray is now No. 6, his highest ranking yet. It will be fun to watch them exploit their individual talents, and learn to deal with their individual frustrations, in the future. It will also be fun to watch them deal with facing each other. But that's the future. For today, with Murray's arrival and Nadal's ascent to No. 1, the ATP's new guard feels just a little more entrenched, a little more normal.


 
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Comments
 
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Posted by etobicoke 08/04/2008 at 08:21 PM

um, furst??

Posted by Rosangel 08/04/2008 at 08:24 PM

Nice take on Sunday's final, Steve.

That word "eclectic" is perfect for describing Murray's game. I have seen him play other matches this year where he was able to hold his frustration in check, but not necessarily on the biggest occasions.

I believe he's in a good position to take the number five or four spot later this year, with fewer points to defend than either Davydenko or Ferrer. A good run at the US Open would surely do his confidence a whole heap of good. He also said that although he didn't do brilliantly during the clay season (his worst surface) that he'd done satisfactorily (while working with Alex Corretja) which gave him something to build on.

I like the idea of Djokovic as a "computer generated tennis player".

Posted by abbey 08/04/2008 at 08:31 PM

steve, i laughed when i saw djokovic hit that dropshot on matchpoint again. yup, we've seen it so many times. how many times did he do that against nadal in hamburg that instead of ending the match (which i'm sure he was hoping to do), he extended it even further. same thing here. great analysis about djokovic checking out of matches.

i'm glad murray has finally broken through. i was getting quite impatient there. now, when do you think gasquet would breakthrough?

Posted by Master Ace 08/04/2008 at 08:40 PM

When Nikolay defeated Rafael to win Key Biscayne, Nikolay results have been average at best in the Slams and Masters since then.

Hope Murray does not flame out when the USO starts in 3 weeks as he said in the past, that he would rather win USO than Wimbledon. If Murray does have a good run at USO, he may be number 4 going into the fall season.

Also, instead of wandering where Novak is going to land in the draw, that question is better asked about Murray as he could be playing any of the Big 3 in the quarterfinals. IMO, the one player that do not need to see Murray in his quarter is Federer. Not only is Murray is 2-1 against Roger but he has the game to frustrate Roger consistently. In their last meeting, Roger had no break chances in Dubai.

Posted by ming 08/04/2008 at 08:54 PM

you forgot david nalbandian in the past generation!

Posted by Rasmus 08/04/2008 at 09:00 PM

I would think Djokovic should be in Federer's half. Federer will be seeded no. 2 going into the Open regardless of what happens in the Olympics. Doesn't the USO adhere to the 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 format?

Wouldn't it be something if we get a Nadal v Murray, Djokovic v Federer semi in the USO? Woot! Woot!

Posted by crazyone 08/04/2008 at 09:07 PM

Rasmus: No, the USO, like every other slam, assigns the #3 and #4 randomly to each half.

Posted by Rasmus 08/04/2008 at 09:10 PM

Crazyone: Dang. Well, here's an initial offering to the draw gods then...

Posted by Syd 08/04/2008 at 09:12 PM

Rasmus: number 3 placing is apparently random; so there's a 50/50 chance that either Djokovic or Murray will be in Fed's half.

Posted by Syd 08/04/2008 at 09:13 PM

sorry, didn't mean to echo Crazyone.

Posted by Syd 08/04/2008 at 09:14 PM

but either way, if they meet, either of these players will likely present a challenge to Roger.

Posted by crazyone 08/04/2008 at 09:15 PM

Syd: I don't believe Murray can make #4 for the USO, so BOTH Murray and Djokovic could be in Federer's half. Murray could be in Fed's quarter.

Posted by crazyone 08/04/2008 at 09:16 PM

Based on the rankings right now (without factoring in the Olympics), Federer could meet Roddick in R16, Murray in QFs, Djokovic in SFs, and Nadal in finals.

Posted by moxie 08/04/2008 at 09:30 PM

Murray was lucky that Djokovic wasn't playing anywhere near his best. I think the result would have been different had the final been played in cooler weather in the evening.

Posted by Rasmus 08/04/2008 at 09:40 PM

Now that Murray has made his move, when will Gasquet do the same? The first time I saw this player play in person was USO 2005 where he beat Ljubicic. It is mind boggling how much talent this player possess but for the life of me, he finds ways to lose.

I'd hate to see him become just a Top 20er or 50er player, which he is slowly becoming.

Posted by Syd 08/04/2008 at 09:53 PM

Crazyone: that is a horrifying scenario. Please. please.

Posted by hpnyc 08/04/2008 at 09:59 PM

Second that on Gasquet... probably a Top 3 talent... one of the best matches I have seen him play was Canada Masters final in 2006 against Roger. Won first set easily and was rolling... but then lost the plot and soon after the match (on the flip side, those were the days when Roger managed to win matches he should have lost!). Imagine a world where the Top 4 (Murray now deserves to be in there), Gasquet, Tsonga, Monfils, Gulbis, Cilic, maybe a Del Potro all hit their stride in the next 12 months... what mouth-watering match-ups all over the place!!!

Posted by hpnyc 08/04/2008 at 10:00 PM

Syd/crazyone - that is a horrifying scenario alright... but as a S.S.Federer lifer, I take solace in the fact that it could just as easily be Rafa's draw!!!

Posted by Syd 08/04/2008 at 10:04 PM

right, fellow s.s. Federer; if the draw below no.s One and Two is truly random. But i don't think it is, is ?don't they do some fiddling around in each quarter to ensure that seeds are even distributed in the 4 quarters?

Posted by crazyone 08/04/2008 at 10:22 PM

Wouldn't it prove that Federer was back and the best if he did make it through that draw though?

Not that I want that draw. It'd be horribly imbalanced.

Posted by hpnyc 08/04/2008 at 10:26 PM

True crazyone... that would be heroic! But given current form, he may stumble at an early hurdle... best to not wish upon him a heroic journey! (praying hard to give him a smooth ride!)

Posted by geikou 08/04/2008 at 10:28 PM

Syd, 3 and 4 will be on opposite sides in quarters different from 1 and 2. 5-8 should all be split up into different quarters. And so on. Djokovic is currently 3, Murray is 6, and Roddick is 9, so yes, it could happen if the rankings stay put after the Olympics. O_o

And yes, if Federer had that draw and still won...well, that would just be beyond words. ^^ As things stand for him right now, though, I hope that's not what he gets. *crosses fingers* (If I knew for a certainty in advance that he would do it, though, of course I'd like that. ^^)

Posted by Dee 08/04/2008 at 10:33 PM

Steve, you leave us for quite some time but always manage to come back with something heavy.

But let's see -

"Natural" is just about the PERFECT word to use for justifying how or why Andy and Novak remained the last men standing on Sunday.

About Djokovic being too flashy in engineering his win over Nadal, can't say much about that as I had to leave home when the game was halfway through the 1st set.

"Up 4-2 in the second-set breaker, three points from the title, he made two bad errors and let out some vintage teeth-baring vitriol."

LOL. Yeah, still can picture this in my mind. Andy was so very mad at himself for losing the point. But he has quite improved on his facial contortions that he has kept himself from baring his teeth too much. He used to do this when he gets tired - mouth hanging wide open while waiting for the opponent to serve, etc.

With this win and seeing how much better Andy is playing this year, I close my eyes and see him as the "natural" No. 4, jumping past David Ferrer and Nikolai Davydenko in the rankings.

Djokovic is a huge talent but when he gets sloppy, he gets really sloppy. He was visibly tired in the 2nd set after each long rally. Shoulders heaving, mouth wide open while breathing hard. Before the start of one game, he even held his hand up to Murray to wait or not serve yet as Novak was still catching his breath. He did it with a pleading smile though. Well, what are friends for?

"Djokovic seems to be almost a computer-generated tennis player, with the perfect frame and an ideal blend of contemporary and classic technique. He arrived on the pro scene with his game fully formed, and is only now having to struggle with a little with the expectations he has created."

"Murray seems at first glance to be the consummate non-athlete—how many pro tennis players have wild red hair and look like they're hobbling around the court between points?"

Two classic sentences, only from Steve. In short, Djokovic grew up way too fast and is only now begining to appreciate that his batteries can die on him. As for Andy, take a closer look at his legs and you will see that one is longer than the other, hence the hobble, but I prefer to call it shuffle. He shuffles his feet, small steps, while one shoulder drops lower than the other. He looked better with shorter hair during Wimbledon and should get a haircut NOW. And while we are with the hair thing, Jamie looked really nice in the stands with his short hair.

Wherever these two men are headed, any rivalry between the Murray and Djokovic would be intriguing as each have much respect for the other. Beautiful embrace at the net, don't you think?

If Andy plays well through to 2009, what a great four-way rivalry at the top! A Swiss, a Spaniard, a Serb and a Brit. Who can ask for more?

Posted by Syd 08/04/2008 at 10:36 PM

geikou:

Thanks. Yes, it would be magnificent if he could overcome Djokovic and Murray. Roger has the ability to do so. also crossing fingers(I am not as worried about Roddick.) That would shut everyone up pretty quickly wouldn't it.

Posted by Iain 08/04/2008 at 10:36 PM

NIce piece Steve. I'm not sure Djoko was at his best but Murray's becoming more consistent. I think he is going to keep improving, I'm sure the others will too. Murray said after WImby that he realised how good the top 3 were and how much he would have to improve, his mother reiterates that in the interview on this site i think.

Posted by Pam 08/04/2008 at 10:42 PM

Great article Steve, I wish you'd write more often. I think there's a new rivalry in town, and it's my favorite.

Posted by FedFan 08/04/2008 at 10:43 PM

Murray may have started winning but his game is not attractive to watch. He is just a glorified grinder.

Whatever this piece suggests, I cannot bear the thought of Murray and Djokovic leading the ATP guard. This is just painful..

Fed, please regain your confidence and show them their place!

Posted by Jeff in Rochester 08/04/2008 at 10:58 PM

Agree, the more I hear Cahill the more I like his insight that even a McEnroe seems to miss. He really had the mind of Joko picked on his go for broke shots when he was mentally ready for a loss but willing to take whatever those shots could bring. Never heard it stated like that but many of us have been there so many times in competition.

Posted by Ndesque 08/04/2008 at 11:18 PM

That was an interesting read, Steve. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the final.

I'm glad Andy was able to fight his way out of that negative H2H against Novak, and though he still has two wins over four for Nole's, you can't undermine him in their next match-up. I, as a Djokovic-fan, would certainly feel rattled, the next time I see Murray written in the same bracket of the draw, almost to the point that I now feel, I would be less nerved out if Novak was facing Roger/Rafa. This sure says something about the "hunted, not the hunter" theory, huh? Here's hoping Nole finds some solutions, the seeds work hard (Ferrer, Davydenko, Roddick, Nalbandian) and other's from the new generation find that it's time to step it up.

Whatever it is, the more that get in that "mix" at the top, the more interesting things are starting to get.

Posted by Rasmus 08/04/2008 at 11:33 PM

Djokovic played high risk tennis against Nadal. It was scintillating in the 1st set but it almost cost him the 2nd. He tried to play the same way against Murray and it finally caught up with him.

When Sampras won his 2002 USO, he had to go through Agassi and Safin. If Federer wins this USO going through Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray (and the bath tub) then that should shut the boo birds up.

Posted by ptenisnet 08/04/2008 at 11:49 PM

Rather than building their games on killer serves or forehands the way Federer, Roddick, Blake, and Fernando Gonzalez did,


One of these is not quite like the rest.

Posted by kofi ofori 08/05/2008 at 12:08 AM

Dee 08/04/2008 @ 10:33 PM

"If Andy plays well through to 2009, what a great four-way rivalry at the top! A Swiss, a Spaniard, a Serb and a Brit. Who can ask for more?"

i think you should have made it - in order, of course - a Spaniard, a Swiss, a Serb, and a Scotsman.

The 4S of present-day tennis!


Posted by Iain 08/05/2008 at 12:08 AM

lol Yes ptenisnet i noticed that. The odd one out begins with F and I don't think he's Chilean.

Posted by crazyone 08/05/2008 at 12:24 AM

One could easily say that Djokovic and Murray are like Federer in that their games are based around their movement and ability to defend.

Blake, Roddick, and Gonzalez are not known for the defensive abilities.

Posted by anon 08/05/2008 at 12:25 AM

"Rather than building their games on killer serves or forehands the way Federer, Roddick, Blake, and Fernando Gonzalez did,"

""" One of these is not quite like the rest. """


how so? all four either have a killer forehand or serve (in Roddick's case he used to have both)

Posted by MZK 08/05/2008 at 12:26 AM

Rasmus, Sampras didn't face Safin on his iconic run to the USO title in 2002; you might be thinking of their semifinal in 2001, when Sampras ousted Safin in straight sets revenge for his loss in the final the year prior (only to face defeat again at the hands of Hewitt). He did however have to take out Roddick, who would win the title himself the next year, and he did so convincingly.

Posted by MZK 08/05/2008 at 12:37 AM

As far as Murray's progress goes, the points align well for him to take a relatively comfortable hold on the No 4 spot by year's end. Ferrer and Davydenko are not only both struggling lately, but each has semifinal points to defend at the USO, which pretty much indicates the only way they can go is down or at best tread water (and Ferrer in particular has Masters Cup final points waiting to come off). Murray just has third-round points at stake, since he was still just a few weeks returned from his wrist injury last year, so has a lot of room for improvement. He does have a final and a title to defend in the indoor season but he should be able to offset these with consistency elsewhere (and might well defend them, as he is pretty solid at the garden-variety tourney level).

In fact, his current points level is artificially low: his Marseille win and Metz final are forced out of his best 18 because of the doubled Canada and Cincinnati tallies (which together last year represented a paltry 40 points for him, again due to that injury layoff). Once these finally come off on the 11th and 18th, he is guaranteed a 280-points' worth jump to at least 2415 (perhaps more if he scores better than 120 points at the Olympics), well within striking distance of Ferrer and Davydenko (who have been playing hot potato with the No 4 spot lately) just a couple hundred removed.

The only dark spot on the horizon for Murray points-wise is his withdrawal from Indy, which gives him a zero in his best-of-18 for months and is thus effectively limiting him to his four best results outside of the big events instead of the usual five. He can make up for this somewhat by winning at least one RR match at Masters Cup (for which he should almost certainly qualify now).

Posted by Dee 08/05/2008 at 01:47 AM

Kofi Ofori -

I thought about that. But it is in order. Rafa is No. 1 but unofficially, si? It is not yet August 18. :-)

Rafael Nadal is my favorite player in the ATP, but in the books, Federer is still No. 1.

Cheers!

Posted by jewell 08/05/2008 at 03:31 AM

It'll be interesting to see just where Nadal fits in this generation. Age wise he's in it, but I always feel as though he's been around for longer. When I look at H2H on ATP I'm sometimes surprised by how much experience he has - turning pro at the same time as several players who are five or six years older. It's hard to say if Nadal belongs with the Federer generation or the Djokovic/Murray generation. The Djokovic/Murrays might surpass him, or he might be the best of them. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

Posted by aussiemarg 08/05/2008 at 04:01 AM

steve, after watching the final murray v novak,i had the sense that murray has come of age,murray's game is really suited to the h/courts,could he be the surprise of the h/court season?winning cinncy title will give murray the confidence he has been seeking,that wrist injury in hamburg in 2007,really dented him,but he seems on track now,with another coach,really gilbert and murray together gosh fireworks forever!,he really has to be added into the mix,federer,nadal,novak,murray,gee we are all in for a ride aren't we,hold on everyone,make sure those seatbelts are firmly clicked into the right position.

Posted by nenad 08/05/2008 at 05:55 AM

well , there is still a huge gap between the two : 4 masters titles and AO title. And still you are talking about 2 young players sharing the same spot in ranings???????
I was happy to see Murray winning the title , but he has a long way to reach the hights of Djokovic

Posted by Nadmur 08/05/2008 at 06:44 AM

All excellent points, my only quibble? Murray does not have red hair!

Posted by embug 08/05/2008 at 07:07 AM

It did not feel "natural" to me, seeing Murray and Djokovic play for the Cincy title Sunday. If anything, I felt lost and bewildered by the effusiveness poring from the commentators. Had they forgotten about Federer? About the sensitive souls - like me - watching and wondering what the heck was going on in Mason, Ohio? Didn't they realize that TMF had been #1 for 235 consecutive weeks. The player closest in consecutive weeks at #1 is Jimmy Connors with 160. Of course, Cahill, Gilbert and Fowler, did their jobs well. However, they glossed over and left out the obvious -- Federer was not in the final. A title he'd won last year.

I appreciate the contrasts and comparison between Nole and Andy, Steve. That they are seven days apart in age interests me, too. And, I totally agree that Andy Murray's check on his demeanor has aided his progress. But, dude, shave the hairy map off your face! OMG! The game deserves some respect. Ever see Federer with a 2-day semi-shadow?

I'm not against change, although I'd prefer that Federer remain at #1. However, I wonder at the speed with which we transfer our allegiance.

I found it ironic that Nadal, soon to be king, lost his first match after clinching the ranking Friday. It's shaky at the top. Federer for 4.5 years stabilized that situation. Maybe I don't like, or want, change after all.


Posted by svelterogue 08/05/2008 at 07:40 AM

amazing piece, steve, you come in with your fierce writing when the landscape is barren and wanting for tennis coup de grace.

my favourite lines:

Most significant to me was how natural it suddenly seemed that Murray and Djokovic would be the last ones standing at a Masters tournament.

Looking desperate to lose the set most of the time, he very nearly ended up winning it.

When Djokovic’s game doesn’t match his own very high expectations for it, he reacts with an unsustainable and unproductive frustration.

But his victories at the All England Club proved once and for all to him that putting childish things away—including his distinctly adolescent rage—really did help.

Murray seems at first glance to be the consummate non-athlete—how many pro tennis players have wild red hair and look like they're hobbling around the court between points?

For today, with Murray's arrival and Nadal's ascent to No. 1, the ATP's new guard feels just a little more entrenched, a little more normal.

-----------

beautiful, organised, thoughtful, insightful from the first to the last. i'm still smiling mentally.

to echo your last sentiment (quoted above), it is wonderfully normal to finally see rafa joined by his peers, and they could not be any more exciting than nole and muray. together, these three are among the most charismatic, talented, and wonderful-off-court persons to be playing great tennis at the same time. it's only going to get better.

thank you again, steve. you rock. :)

Posted by svelterogue 08/05/2008 at 07:54 AM

dee, i love your 4 S's. add another: sarap!

rasmus, you're funny, a total dear. (raaaaay, a drop of golden sunnnn)

embug, come on, man, there is a final going on and you want people to continue to sing roger's praises, considering the dude had been number 1 for what seems like forever? commentators aren't switching allegiance immediately, they're actually doing their job, which is to commentate on the present, and this present, for now, (sounds redundant) did not have swiss cheese or brutish mallorcan in the final. i'm a fan of one and a distant admirer of the other, but boy was i enjoying a final that featured neither! but there lies the difference between us, because i enjoy the winds of change, even if it means my boy will have to take it like the cool person i know he is. peace, embug.

Posted by GVGirl (USO Tailgate 8/30, Spain in September! ) 08/05/2008 at 07:58 AM

Nice one Steve. Thanks!

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 08/05/2008 at 08:24 AM

Fabulous piece, Steve. Crystalized much of what was swirling around in my head after the past few weeks but which I hadn't managed to organize let alone put words to. Thanks!

Posted by ryan 08/05/2008 at 08:38 AM

The new generation is upon us. Nadal is leading the way 4 nole, andy, richard, tomas, j.w., and the likes of gulbis, del potro, and cilic. Federer will fall out of the top ten within the next two to three years. And roddick. Blake. Gonzo. Davydenko. Ferrer. R done.

Posted by ryan 08/05/2008 at 08:38 AM

The new generation is upon us. Nadal is leading the way 4 nole, andy, richard, tomas, j.w., and the likes of gulbis, del potro, and cilic. Federer will fall out of the top ten within the next two to three years. And roddick. Blake. Gonzo. Davydenko. Ferrer. R done.

Posted by Ryan 08/05/2008 at 08:58 AM

"Ever-argumentative" is the way to put it! Chris Fowler makes my skin crawl!!! When will he learn to SHUT UP

Posted by Maedel 08/05/2008 at 09:08 AM

svelterogue writes: *it is wonderfully normal to finally see rafa joined by his peers, and they could not be any more exciting than nole and muray. together, these three are among the most charismatic, talented, and wonderful-off-court persons to be playing great tennis at the same time. it's only going to get better.*

I couldn't agree more.

At the same time, jewell says, *It'll be interesting to see just where Nadal fits in this generation. Age wise he's in it, but I always feel as though he's been around for longer. When I look at H2H on ATP I'm sometimes surprised by how much experience he has - turning pro at the same time as several players who are five or six years older. It's hard to say if Nadal belongs with the Federer generation or the Djokovic/Murray generation. The Djokovic/Murrays might surpass him, or he might be the best of them. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!*

I share this feeling as well.

I envision Rafa in a swimming pool, waving them in: *Come on in--the water's fine!* and relishing the competition. Hope others can join them as well. Exciting times ahead.

Posted by ptenisnet 08/05/2008 at 09:16 AM

I don't know anon,
It is sort of an over statement to say that Federer's game is built around his forehand. Granted, he has a tendency to finish points of with it, but by that logic, you may as well say that Murray has a game built around a killer drop shot.

Plus, why is it more remarkable to rely on the two handed backhand as a weapon rather than a killer serve or a forehand?


Posted by step 08/05/2008 at 09:28 AM

Sorry to rain on the parade, but with far fewer points to defend, and a switch to a 100 sq.cm racquet, Roger goes back to #1 next year. He's far from over....

Posted by scineram 08/05/2008 at 09:42 AM

Prove it!

Roger is done.

Posted by Cheshire Cat 08/05/2008 at 10:20 AM

Fantastic piece, Steve. One of your very best. Though you do seem to be suffering a mild infection of the strange Djokovic-and-Murray-have-similar-games meme...

Posted by Samantha Elin 08/05/2008 at 10:20 AM

Ryan, your post about Roger doesn't make sense because he has a winning record against most of the so called new generation. Also, not smart to count him out at 27, this is when a lot of players produce their best tennis. And Roger falling out of the top ten is highly unlikely when Roddick and Blake are still there.

Posted by Daniel 08/05/2008 at 10:32 AM

Step: sure Federer will have to defend fewer points that Nadal, but the question is: Is Federer able to win another GS? I doubt it...

Posted by 08/05/2008 at 10:38 AM

step states: "Sorry to rain on the parade, but with far fewer points to defend, and a switch to a 100 sq.cm racquet, Roger goes back to #1 next year. He's far from over...."
While I agree that Federer is far from over, and he may well return to #1, even this year, I don't understand when people state that Roger will change his racquet or anything else for that matter. If we have seen one thing from Roger it is a complete unwillingness to change anything about his game. I think this is reflected in his lack of a coach, or when he has a coach, the temporary nature of these relationships.

Posted by Backhand blaster 08/05/2008 at 10:40 AM

The headless comment at 10:38 am was me. Sorry.

Posted by Suny 08/05/2008 at 10:44 AM

When you talked of "unsustainable and unproductive frustration", I thought of Safin. In many ways I think Djokovic is like Safin without the mental meltdown. Extremely utilitarian yet devastating game. Murray is a different animal. Many people have compared him to Mecir. He moves so smoothly on the court. It almost seems like he is always there to take the balls(even in these fast courts), so winners have to be really spectacular. He also has a good backhand. After watching these two guys play, I believe that the best chance Nadal had on hard courts went with Federer who is mentally fragile against him and has a relatively weak backhand. I worry about Fed too. The last two slams(if they come at all) will have to be earned.

Posted by SwissMaestro 08/05/2008 at 11:07 AM

Steve-

I think you are right when you suggest that no one can keep on riffling those inside-out forehands and forehands down the line winners the way Djokovic did to beat Nadal (though his forehand side is the Spaniard's most vulnerable side) and I don't think people realize how hard it is to keep up that level on consistency on such a difficult shot to execute for long periods of time. I like their rivalry in more ways than one but Gasquet still remains my favorite of the pack. So gifted and talented it is a shame he still is such a head case. The day he find his range (if he ever does) the Nadals and Djokovics of this world will be doomed.

It is alright to say the new generation has started to take over and to stablish themselves in tennis today but I'm pretty sure the old dogs have more than one trick under their sleeves reserved for them. I said it a few days ago and I'll say it again: Federer knows what it is like to deal with the pressure of being the No.1 ranked player in the world and Nadal still doesn't (though he's too mentally tough to not embrace the challenge) and now that he will not be considerer "the favorite" anymore and because all the pressure loosing his ranking has taken off of him, he will be more dangerous than ever. Mark my words...

Posted by svelterogue 08/05/2008 at 11:41 AM

so much gloom and doom and all these ominous "watch out........... he will be baaaacckkk" about federer. quite unnecessary. it's not like people don't know just how good he is. (not was, take note, though you could make a good argument for this on the basis of the simon match)

it's great that this article focuses on the two finalists of two days ago, and rightly so, MURRAY and DJOKOVIC.

Posted by remain anonymous 08/05/2008 at 11:57 AM

**And, I totally agree that Andy Murray's check on his demeanor has aided his progress. But, dude, shave the hairy map off your face! OMG! The game deserves some respect. Ever see Federer with a 2-day semi-shadow?**

WHAT IN THE WORLD DOES HOW YOU LOOK HAVE TO DO WITH RESPECT FOR THE GAME?????? That is so ridiculous. So are you implying that Stephanek is disgracing the game because as far as looks go he is...less than handsome??? Classic Federer fan.

**I found it ironic that Nadal, soon to be king, lost his first match after clinching the ranking Friday. It's shaky at the top. Federer for 4.5 years stabilized that situation. Maybe I don't like, or want, change after all.**

1) Nadal is not #1 yet. It's funny how after Wimbledon when he was considered #1 in most people's minds, Fed fans said: "Numbers are numbers...he's #1 yet".
So now I'll say, numbers are numbers, he's not #1 yet.
2) Federer lost his first match after #1 as well. (I'll have to go dig up who and when it was)
3) Losing to Djokovic was not shocking. Forget whatever Nadal had clinched the day before. Nadal vs Djokovic in a hardcourt match is always going to give Djokovic an ever so slight edge.

Posted by randomlurker 08/05/2008 at 12:06 PM

Really good post, Steve. As big a Rafa fan that I am, it's nice to read about something fresh for a change.

Got to agree it felt "normal" because I wasn't shocked at all when the two walked on court for the final. It felt different, but not surprising. Besides, I'm thinking it won't feel different for long.

I also do love this crop of youngsters. This is a heck of a great generation with such complete games- and they can play on all surfaces to boot (including Nadal). Just wish Gasquet , Monfils, and Tsonga would join the party as well. Not sure what's going on with Berdych and Baggy.

Posted by Andrew Miller 08/05/2008 at 12:10 PM

Even though it is easy to embrace the "even more new balls please" or "bring on the new guard, everyone else stage exit is to the right" movement, I really cant justify it.

Sampras' game dipped in his last 2 years but he never "went away" as evidenced by his performances at nearly every US Open - he was dismantled by Safin in '00 (with Sampras at age 29) and Hewitt (with Sampras at age 30) and then won at 31 - that's 3 US finals in a row, suggesting that at the Open, the most fair of all surfaces, experience AND youth are rewarded. The road to the title almost always went through Sampras or Agassi when they were playing well. Before them, it was almost all Lendl, almost all the time. I'm thinking that this new new familiar but still new guard might be facing off against the "youthful yet tennis old" guard at the Open for a longer time than Master Tignor's post suggests.

The Open will merely keep pitting the grizzly vets against the threatening young fellas, with experience in my opinion eeking out 50-55% of the wins in Vegas-like fashion.

Posted by Andrew Miller 08/05/2008 at 12:21 PM

As for Federer - my opinion is that he'll benefit from the #2 spot. I agree with the mark my words notes from other commenters.

If Federer is healthy, I think he has some good things to look forward to and outstanding tennis performances from within.

The pressure will be "less" (at least somewhat less - and that is enough in a the tennis world of micro-shifts). Add to that, that the world-shattering "demotion" to #2 for Federer will allow him to focus on the present. He won't have to go looking for Sampras to spar with in exos or find characters from other sports, like Tiger Woods, to pal around with because "they understand what a #1 faces". As Pete Bodo mentioned before, Federer has "larger fish to fry."

I hope the bad turn of events for Federer (whose results this year would indeed be excellent results for any other top 10 player) brings Federer back into the moment. With some improved recon from coaches or his scouting team, and when he's prime and focused and grooved - with those eyes on the point of contact even well after the ball's left his racquet's strings - Federer should remain more than formidable.

Personally I am hoping for a big and worthy comeback from a bloodied but not out champ. I think he has just enough drama to fuel and rekindle the competitive spirit and get him out there dueling. When Federer's up for it, I don't think much can stop him. Picking on his backhand all day is going to be a tactic that will go out the window once Federer commits to living in the present.

Posted by Maplesugar 08/05/2008 at 12:37 PM

Viva, Roger! Long live the King.

Posted by Tennis Tigress(christin) 08/05/2008 at 12:39 PM

Because of the "random" draw, Djokovic could be on Nadal's side of the USO draw and Murray could be in his Quarter. That would almost surely be the end of Rafa in the USO before he even meets Federer in the Finals. He is inherently inferior to Fed and Nole on hardcourt and can only win if he is lucky enough to avoid them, as at Toronto. If Murray continues to improve, he will be a major problem for Nadal on hardcourt. The next few weeks are going to show how over-inflated the Rafa Bubble is at present, but unfortunately he has very few points to defend due to his poor results last year. So he will very likely hold on to #1 for a few months unless he bombs out in the first few rounds.

Hopefully for tennis, Murray will land in the Joke (Davydenko) Quarter which has plagued tennis for the last year. If Murray continues to improve, reaches #4 and gets his own Quarter, it will be a boon for the ATP and tennis fans. Then it won't be such an all-consuming matter which side of the draw Djokovic lands in, because there will be a truly worthy competitive threat at the head of all four Quarters.

Posted by Dee 08/05/2008 at 12:49 PM

Hey, Svelt, too long - what I posted, but you got Steve to thank for for somehow eliciting from a reader a response like that. I managed that post at work yesterday morning(clock check 12:36 midnight now as I write). Wanted to say something short like, "Awww, come on Steve, Djokovic lost because Murray was the better player!" But that wouldn't do justice to the article. There were just too many beautiful lines, some of which you picked out yourself.

Somebody up there commented about Andy's hair not being red. Perhaps those who have seen him up close and personal can verify the "wild red hair".

In answer to Steve's questions on how many pro tennis players have wild red hair and look like they hobble around the court between points: Jamie for one? :-) It looked really red to me when it was long and wild in Wimby last year. He got plenty of TV coverage when he went on winning those doubles matches with Jelena all the way to the championship match. But this Murray is symmetric (for want of a better word) apparently. He does not hobble, or shuffle. He just stretches! Lol.


Posted by omar 08/05/2008 at 01:14 PM

Swiss,

What your saying about Fed feeling less pressure would be right, for 09. It's not going to be accurate for 08. Fed's in a mental tailspin right now. He'll suck it up and do well at the Open, cause that's what champions do. But once the Open is over and he starts traveling to God-forsaken cities to play in meaningless tournies (meaningless to his legacy), his lack of motivation is going to kick in again.

What Fed needs is a fresh start, and that won't be available for him until 09.

Posted by James Fawcette 08/05/2008 at 01:34 PM

The criticism of Djokovich's attitude has nothing to do with his tennis. It's cultural.

Eastern Europeans are almost always criticized by the US/Australian jock-fratboy types on television. They don't act the way the US jocks, say they should, so therefore that supposedly causes them to lose matches -- they said that about Ivan Lendl, until he became number one in the world, they said that about Yevgeny Kafenikov, until he became number one, they said that about Marat Safin until he became number one, then after he was hurt they started saying it again.

They're wrong again.

Djokovich is incredibly focused and made a great comeback attempt. He didn't tank.

Sometimes you win or lose because of the way you actually hit the ball .

Posted by JimF 08/05/2008 at 01:45 PM

Watching both Nadal and Djokovich in Cincinatti reminded me of the aphorism: "Be careful what you wish you, you just might get it."

You can begin to appreciate what Federer accomplished in the last five years-- holding off challenger after challenger, month after month, every opponent laying it all on the line for the change to beat the number one-- by watching those two founder.

Nadal gets enough ATP points to be number one and loses before it even becomes effective. Then Djokovich after beating Nadal loses to Murray.

If either truly wants to displace Federer they can't take every other month off. He didn't.

Otherwise, the men's results will bounce around like the WTA's until or unless Federer gets his A+ game back.


Posted by federerfan 08/05/2008 at 01:59 PM

"Rather than building their games on killer serves or forehands the way Federer, Roddick, Blake, and Fernando Gonzalez did they win with all-around efficiency and rely on their two-handed backhands as consistent weapons"

Wow...the abandoning of the federer ship is finally complete...when the "all round style" is used as an example against the fed not for him.

Thanks for the last 4 and half years of all round great tennis, Rog.

Posted by tennisnyc 08/05/2008 at 02:07 PM

When I watch these young guys, and I see how downright awful Fed has been of late, I very much doubt RF will be top 5 next year, and may not even be top 10. It will be interesting to see how he handles his fall from the top, because he doesn't need to have a great ranking to eke out a couple more wimbly's and us open's, just a solid two weeks where he stops trying to play nadal style tennis and starts using his ridiculously good serve placement and volleying to his advantage

Posted by Jay 08/05/2008 at 02:08 PM

Geez people have short memories. Rafa had just played two straight weeks of tennis after 32 matches in less than 2 months. Give him a break, will ya? One loss to Djoker is hardly a disaster. Doesn't the five straight titles hold any weight? He has had an amazing year and completely deserves his new ranking.

Posted by mike 08/05/2008 at 02:48 PM

Not trying to downplay Murray's win over Djokovic, but keep in mind that Djokovic had less than 24 h of rest after the match with Nadal. Also high temperature seemed to affect Djokovic more than Murray. Djokovic is much more agressive player than Murray who plays mainly defensively waiting for opponent's mistakes (remember Fed's comments during Dubai tournament).

Nadal's achievements are mainly due to his intimidating stamina, while technicaly he is behind Federer and Djokovic.

Fed and Djoko need to clear their minds, get mentally stronger and start playing their game which is above of the rest of the tennis crew.

Posted by J-Block 08/05/2008 at 02:56 PM

Year-end top 5: Rafa, Nole, Federer, Murray, Ferru.
p.s.: I believe I predicted before the austalian open that Murray would make the USO final and be top 5 by january. I'm going to stick with that assertion on the condition that he is not in Nadal's half of the draw.
to tennisnyc: I completely agree. I think Roger's fall from the top will be blindingly fast. If he gets 15, that will almost certainly be the last tournament he plays.

Posted by SwissMaestro 08/05/2008 at 03:06 PM

omar-

You are just about right. Winning slams is more important than holding on to the No. 1 ranking IMHO. Federer 'only' needs to put together 47 more weeks at the no.1 ranking for the rest of his career to break Sampras' 286 all-time week record. 25 weeks here, 15 there another 11 or 12 somehwere else and that's it. He has time to do it.

I agree with you when you say he needs a break from the game and a fresh start. Than can do nothing but good to him. If I was him I'd still play all of what he has left to play for this year, he just might end up winning something important, like the Olympics, US Open a masters series title or the YEC in Shanghai.

Posted by Syd 08/05/2008 at 03:22 PM

Andrew Miller:

I think you are spot on. The fall from the No. One spot is going to do him a world of good—instead of playing for something abstract, he can play to lift his rankings. He already holds the world record for the most consecutive weeks as No. One. It's likely he can possible match or surpass Pete for the most number of weeks @ 286 if that's what is important to him. He's in a slump, he'll pull out of it. Great champions find a way.


Posted by court1234 08/05/2008 at 03:24 PM

The "mental fatigue" factor can be overused and liberally appplied, but winning 5 straight tournaments including 2 slams ..can anyone doubt it would take some sort of toll?

RE: RAFA

Posted by jewell 08/05/2008 at 03:27 PM

Regarding Nadal losing before the no 1 becomes effective, while I don't think he tanked the match, I do think there was a point - the real work having been done - where he decided not to win. Not to take anything away from Djokovic, he played brilliantly and then ran out of gas the next day, but I truly believe that the semi-final would have gone at least to 3 sets if Nadal had not guaranteed himself the no. 1 spot in the previous match. He did, remember, play his best Cincy ever - let's not forget that.

I still think it's too early to put Murray (not in terms of talent but in terms of ability to win consistently) up with Djoko and Nadal, but maybe that's the Brit in me. History tells me our players always flatter to deceive and that we will be disappointed, but I will be the first to worship at Murray's shrine if he changes that.

I also think we might get some surprise winners at the Olympics and particularly the USO, with the top players likely to be tired, mentally more than physically.

Posted by Syd 08/05/2008 at 03:29 PM

as for Murray and Djokovic, they've yet to prove that they are consistent week in and week out winners — well, Djokovic has posted far better results. It remains to be seen how consistent Murray can be.

Posted by tourneur 08/05/2008 at 03:36 PM

There is a serious lack of historical perspective in this article and accompanying thread. Someone named Lendl made a career out of the forehand-up-the-line-winner. In Novak's hands that shot will become more frequent and dangerous as he matures.

Posted by Syd 08/05/2008 at 03:38 PM

well, it's the backhand down the line that is one of Novak's most brilliant shots.

Posted by Christopher 08/05/2008 at 04:02 PM

"Ever see Federer with a 2-day semi-shadow?"

No. But I did see Bjorn Borg go without shaving for two weeks for 6 straight Wimbledons.

Posted by jewell 08/05/2008 at 04:02 PM

SwissMaestro: But why does TMF need to break that particular Sampras record? You say winning Slams is more important, then imply that Federer has to beat Sampras's weeks at number one.

I find that contradictory and I think it's that kind of pressure might have hurt Fed this year after the mono.

Posted by Chiconinja 08/05/2008 at 04:02 PM

Year end rankings:

1. Rafa
2. Roger
3. Nole
4. Andy
5. Kolya

Ferrer won't defend his US Open points.

Posted by SwissMaestro 08/05/2008 at 04:04 PM

To me, Novak's most brilliant shot is the flat and deep inside-out forehand he hits so often. Yes, even more so than his down the line backhand shot.

Posted by SwissMaestro 08/05/2008 at 04:08 PM

jewell-

Because eventually I think Federer will take the no.1 position back again but never with the same authority he did the last 4 and half years. He will more focused on winnig the tournament that matters as he is in that part of his career where he is making the transition from the guy that wins everything to the guy that wins the slams. A few good runs here and there should take care of the ranking, it won;t bel ong before he re-invents himself.

Posted by Arun 08/05/2008 at 04:43 PM

SwissMaestro: All your comments were fantastic! I hope that Fed will continue to do well on the real Big ones whatever his ranking is.. And, I loved this part about Gasquet:

"The day he find his range (if he ever does) the Nadals and Djokovics of this world will be doomed."

Though, it seems over-optimistic at the outset, I'm not sure if the opponents can attack either his FH or BH at will (if/when he shrugs off his headcase-nature!)

Posted by federerfan 08/05/2008 at 04:50 PM

reading the article above (well written too!) and watching murray's play last week, makes me think, murray might actually be a combination of fed's attacking style/variety and nadal's impenetrable defense and if the balance is right, can really be something that goes a long way.
Whether that combination is a healthy one or not, I guess we will see it unravel soon this year.

Posted by embug 08/05/2008 at 04:55 PM

Svelterogue -- I did say the commentators did their job well, which meant keeping it in the present. You're absolutely right... they should do what they did. I was trying to say how out of place the match felt for me. I'm a diehard Fed fan. When the commentators spoke about the current champs, I couldn't quite get a hold of the whole change. I still have a Wimbledon hangover.

Posted by Vie 08/05/2008 at 04:56 PM

Congratulations to Murray! He finally found his game.

Novak played an extreme game in the SF because he was desperate to avoid another defeat by Nadal. That game is a one-off thing, though.

Posted by crazyone 08/05/2008 at 05:07 PM

federerfan: Murray is no way as offensive a player as Federer is. That's not his strength.

Posted by Myan 08/05/2008 at 05:22 PM

brilliant article, I enjoyed that very much :)

Posted by SwissMaestro 08/05/2008 at 05:45 PM

Arun-

Thanks! It is just that what i see happening to Gasquet right now is the vbery same thing that has happened to the most talented players in each generation: they are volatile and flaky at the beginning but once they get their head right, they become utterly dominant: Sampras and Federer have been like this and possibly Gasquet could be too. In my view, when 'Baby Federer' goes through those spells of greatness and gets in to his "everything-i-hit-becomes-a-jaw-dropping-winner" mode his game can only be matched by Federer himself.

The downside to him now (i have said the same before) is that his heart and consistency fluctuates so drastically and so much that he is as likely to pound Nadal on clay as he is to loose to Potito Starace on grass. The kid has the natural born ability to play by instinct though and you know what? very few have it...

Posted by Arun 08/05/2008 at 09:24 PM

SwissMaestro: Yes! When Gasquet's game is ON, he brings pure joy to all.. If you were here during his TO'08 QF match against Rafa, you would've experienced it; the whole TWibe was *going oohs and aahs* during THAT first set (moreso, during the tiebreak)..

Posted by ace 08/05/2008 at 09:46 PM

The 'hunted vs hunter' dynamic is very large right now. I think it will effect Nadal too. Roger can forget about rankings and just focus on game...would be interesting if he won Olympic gold on same week he lost #1 - take alot of the sting off and render rankings less relevant for time being.

Posted by Panda 08/05/2008 at 10:15 PM

I would slow down with Murray as number 4. He just beaten Djoko two times in two weeks and won his first ATP Masters. Is that enough credit to put him among first four?

I don't think so. Murray was hovering around 20 till recent months. His credit of beating Djoker is more to give it to Djoko's poor play than Murray's excellent one. Besides, Nalbandian beat three top guys in three days, won couple of Master ATPs and lost in the fog somewhere shortly after. Tsonga beat everyone on his way to final AO(including heavy dismantling of Nadal), and now we even wonder what rank he is.

It is clear that Murray has something to say with his arcket, but the question is: What is it? I have sense that he didn't realised what he won. Once he does, hes mind will start working different way. And winning any big will take its tall. Especially when he faces the sharks like Fed, Rafa and Djoko, who knows exactly what he is going through. They might exploit it easily leaving Murray frustrations only to deal with.

Look what's Djokovic battling now! Even he is experienced enough to sustain any pressure of being favourite in the finals, yet he has problems dealing with it. Getting to one rank is one thing, yet dealing with it is different one.

Posted by wimby moon 08/05/2008 at 10:26 PM

I don't think it's a given that being #2 will relieve pressure on Federer. He's been #1 so he will feel the pressure to regain the ranking - similar to the pressure to break back when you've been broken in a match. Can't see why there's be anything relaxing for him about being #2. That said, he's been dealing with pressure for a long time and he should be able to continue handling it. It's not like it was the pressure getting to him that caused him to lose the ranking.

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