Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Nole's Frames of Mind
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Nole's Frames of Mind 03/02/2009 - 7:15 PM

NdNovak Djokovic kept pressing his hands down in front of him—“calm down” was the message he wanted to send himself. In the future, he might consider doing it between every point, because on Saturday he received that message just long enough to beat David Ferrer in Dubai for his first title of 2009.

Never mind, for the moment, that he didn’t face Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, or Andy Murray along the way, or that he was pushed deep into a third set in the second round by the highly mortal Jan Hernych. For one, Djokovic proved to himself that he could win with his new racquet. This may sound silly, but it’s something that could have gotten into his easily frustrated head and become a convenient thing to blame when things weren’t going his way. (I suppose it still could.) More important, the Serb showed that he remains a cut above everyone outside of the very top tier when it comes to the essentials of today’s game.

In the quarterfinals, Djokovic held off a potent but sloppy Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-4 in a match that was, as they say, closer than the scores indicated (sometimes the cliché is the only way to put it). Cilic is a certifiable young gun, a 20-year-old who many think could be the next Djokovic, only with a 6-foot-6 serve. The two had met at the U.S. Open last year and Cilic had matched him shot for shot from the ground. This time the differences were clearer. Djokovic was smoother, crisper, quicker, and hit the ball within a few feet of the baseline much more consistently than Cilic. All of this became especially clear when the Serb needed a point. Cilic kept pushing him to the brink with big shots that set up break points, but it was Djokovic who owned a wider variety of reliable weapons that he could use when the nerves set in. It was clear: Cilic still has a ways to go.

Djokovic's superiority was even more obvious against Ferrer in the final, to the point where the outcome of the match rested solely on his strings. Ferrer muscled the ball back into the middle of the court and chased everything down, but it was Djokovic who had the opportunity and the burden to do all the creating. A couple things stuck out immediately about how he handled that fact.

Like Andy Roddick in Memphis, Djokovic—either consciously or unconsciously, I don’t know—had added an upward flick to his forehand and was pulling off the ball on important points. I’d never seen him follow through on the same side of his head with that shot, but in tight moments that’s what he was doing. It looked more anxious than pretty, but the extra safety worked well enough to earn him a couple breaks of serve. The problem was, Djokovic grew even more tentative when he tried to consolidate those breaks. Serving at 4-2, 30-30 in the first set, he netted two routine backhands. Serving at 4-2, 15-0 in the second set, he rushed through three backhands, made three errors, and was broken. Each time he threw his hands up and looked despairingly toward his box.

But just when he seems ready to snap, Djokovic comes back with something special, something no one else can do. At 2-0, 30-30 in the second set, he set up a winning point with a wicked slice second serve out wide—from anyone else, this would be a risky shot, but it’s part of his arsenal. Early in the match, he tracked down good drop shots from Ferrer with ease. I’d never noticed how well Djokovic moves forward and anticipates. He’s at the net with ease. What’s unfortunate is that, playing with a Western forehand and two-handed backhand has hurt Djokovic’s volleys, as it has countless other modern players—the Continental grips needed at the net just don't feel natural (take it from a two-handed backhander who only learned to use the proper backhand volley grip after playing squash for five years). Djokovic is worse at volleying than he should be, and his excellent transition skills and acceleration largely go to waste. Of course, the trade-off is that he can hit balls past his opponents from behind the baseline. Few do it with such ease, and over the highest parts of the net, as he does.

At 5-5 in the first set, after blowing a 5-3 lead, Djokovic righted himself with a strong, quietly determined hold. Then at 6-5, 0-15, he played his best point of the match, a masterpiece of patient aggression from the baseline. Rather than pulling the trigger early, which he often does when everything is on the line—it’s another, less obvious form of choking—he started by keeping the ball down the middle, then slowly opened the point up and sent a series of heavy forehand bombs deeper and deeper before ending it with a winner. He pounded his chest and ran out the set, but not before showing that edge of frustration and impatience that always lurks below his surface. During set point, Ferrer hit a ball that landed on the baseline. Someone in Djokovic’s crew called “out!” The point continued until the Serb won it. Instead of celebrating a first-set win, he angrily shushed his fans and slammed his racquet down when he got to the sideline.

This isn’t something you see Federer or Nadal do. Federer might mope, Nadal might get nervous, but neither has to keep a self-sabotaging angry side in check the way Djokovic does. Maybe this has something to do with their styles of play. While Federer can blow open a point with one shot and then cruise, and Nadal can sit back and grind without taking too many chances if he needs to, Djokovic must ride a precarious balance of control and aggression. He’s got more game than almost all of his opponents, but to show it off he needs time to develop a point. If he goes for a lot too early or stays back and rallies for too long, he gives up his shot-making advantage and becomes just another player—his game is not as unique to begin with as any of the other members of the Top 4.

Controlled aggression is the Holy Grail of the sport because it’s such a tough thing to keep up for long periods. I can understand why Djokovic gets frustrated when he doesn’t do it. On Saturday, watching him bounce the ball many, many times before he served, I started to think that he was trying in vain to find just the right mental balance, to get his head in just the right spot for the next point, before he tossed the ball in the air and took a swing. No wonder the number of bounces goes way up late in a set. It might be annoying, it might illegal, it might not even be very smart—time to think is usually not a tennis player's friend—but I can understand Djokovic's effort. Whether he's pressing his hands down in front of him to calm himself or bouncing the ball until no one can take it anymore, a good frame—of mind, that is—is the key to his game. He's right to try so hard to find it.


 
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Comments
 
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Posted by Sofija 03/02/2009 at 07:38 PM

first!

Posted by SwissMaestro 03/02/2009 at 07:43 PM

Like you have mentioned in the past, I also happen to think that all these tactics are part of one of the most important weapons Djokovic has developed: to be the game's greatest momemtum stopper.

Posted by Sofija 03/02/2009 at 07:48 PM

Thanks, Steve!

Nole - good frame - of mind
and a good heart

Posted by iloveagaradwanska 03/02/2009 at 07:55 PM

Not long ago I read in a couple places that Nole seemed "computer-generated," because he just burst onto the scene with fully-developed, overpowered groundstrokes and serves. This article illustrates why that's far from the truth, that he's probably less Ivan Drago, maybe more Clubber Lang or something.

Posted by ladyjulia 03/02/2009 at 08:01 PM

Nole may need the ball bouncing to stabilize, but he should keep it within the time limit. Otherwise, every player would take their own time to calm down and the match will never move forward.

Posted by lollipop 03/02/2009 at 08:40 PM

nice post, Steve! I thought that Nole's win at the AO highlighted the amount of self confidence needed to win a match. i didnt see the nerves at all in AO'08. At the time, that was his biggest weapon. I think if he can learn to calm himself down, he can start winning some slams; despite what most of the critics say about his "textbook" strokes.

Posted by Nick 03/02/2009 at 09:13 PM

I think Martina Navratilova described Djokovic's new twist on his forehand as "busy" - there was a lot of movement to it, which means there's more that can go wrong with it. Maybe that's what happened in a lot of his Dubai matches. Seems extremely risky to try adding new dimensions to a stroke at this point, but I guess he feels he has to try something. If he doesn't make changes somewhere (and they really need to be more mental than physical in his case), he could well drop to #4 in the not-too-distant future.

Posted by Sher 03/02/2009 at 09:18 PM

Steve, as usual when you try to write about the possible goings on inside the players minds you somehow manage to capture it so much more perfectly than other tennis writer I read. Every time. Loved the article, thanks!

Posted by Sher 03/02/2009 at 09:18 PM

I guess I should have said: your observation skills are excellent.

Posted by smiley 03/02/2009 at 09:33 PM

it's really interesting to me how nole's got these two different people inside him. One is the focused, professional nole, the other is the angry, frustrated little boy in him. for some reason it reminds me a lot of marat. but i think novak tries harder to fight it it, and that he wants it more than marat ever did.

Posted by Azhdaja 03/02/2009 at 10:23 PM

Well, that (article)was a try to go deep into Nole's mind. Nice try but how shallow. Certainly there is a much adrenalin in his blood, that was not tough to fugure. BUT, somebody said before that Djoker has proven his mind control well before. (AO, IW, Miami, Montreal, USO, Shanghai..). So, now he seems to be back trying to get to the point where he was long time ago. (A year ago)!!

Why don't you analyse that, Steve? What's going on with Djoko for the last nine months?? ever since he lost that final All England club match against Nadal, he cannot get his game back??

Apparently that Djoko is in a time frame that keeps his concentration down. And that's why he needs to calm himself down before any important points, sets,... Is that a normal time frame/stage that every player goes through once they realise what they won (their first GS)? Agassi took few years before he came back to where he was just after he won his first GS. Is this the same sindrom with Nole?? Or is it something totally different?

You explain/answer this one Steve. That's what we expect of you to hear. b/c it is obvious that Djoko is going through tough stage of his mental situation. But, why, whats the cause, for how long do we have to wait to see him back, is he down or uphill with his coming back?? These are all questions that I hope you to answer, Steve. Nole didn't forgot how to hit the ball, yet he loses some matches with ease (anderson, Tsonga, Gulbis, Niemenen...) too much for a proven champion. Or he has to be proved yet?

So, what do you say, Steve?

Yeah, one more: his racket swicth is not the cause of his problem but the consequence. He changed the racquet b/c he needed a change of something. The racket is not the right thing to change for him.

I'd say, the right thing to change for Djoker would be to learn net play. He is awful there! And that's the only thing he has to work to perfect his technical play. That would help him diversify the arsenal and weaponry, plus to finish some points without entering loooooong rallies.

Posted by Master Ace 03/02/2009 at 11:00 PM

This title in Dubai came just in time for Novak as the Indian Wells/Key Biscayne swing is about to start as he has good results in the last 2 years except for his first match as KB last year against Kevin Anderson, who along with Kei Nishikori was the 2008 February flavor of the month.

Posted by bella 03/02/2009 at 11:30 PM

>> Djokovic comes back with something special, something no one else
>> can do. At 2-0, 30-30 in the second set, he set up a winning point
>> with a wicked slice second serve out wide—from anyone else, this
>> would be a risky shot, but it’s part of his arsenal.

Andy Roddick hits these all the time and on break points.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 03/03/2009 at 02:07 AM

thanks, Steve, nice post - I particularly liked the last paragraph, about the ball bouncing and the reasons for it. Djokovic and Nadal both feel like bundles of nerves of me, in different ways, and I love to watch their routines and ways of managing themselves.

also agree about the balance of control and aggression and the difficulties Nole has playing with his 'support'.

Posted by Joe 03/03/2009 at 08:16 AM

Nole was a lucky guy, he didn't have to play against Nadal, Federer, Murray, Roddick and Verdasco
But now on clay if he is going to play against Ferru, we'll see how "his frames of mind" is working

Posted by Mark 03/03/2009 at 08:38 AM

Beautiful post Steve. Nice the see a realistic point of view considering all the trash that was writen about him on various message boards and forums. He is the most talked about player on tour. People have this love-hate relationship towards him and cannot stop talking about him not only when he is doing well but of course when he is not performing as expected he is being criticized to the maximum. I honestly did not know how popular he is? His talent and game is superior. He has a well-rounded personality, unique and people don't understand him. Nole is going through his "growing pains". He is learning how to deal with the preasure. A lot of people underestimate him due to his recent below par perfomance and might even say how "little he improved" or not even improved since winning his AO last year, but apparently he did improve and added the "calm-aggressive" element to his play. He still has long ways to go but I have a feeling he will suprise everybody and will have the last laugh.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/03/2009 at 10:24 AM

Funny, Steve, I would have thought that with your big, lefty kick serve you'd be a natural volleyer. But as they say, grip is destiny.

I was just explaining to a student the other night during an adult clinic that his extreme western forehand, while terrific from the baseline, will likely make it difficult for him to adapt to a continental grip for volleying, but that it can and should be learned. Then again, unless my eyes deceive me, Nadal has not fully emraced this wisdom, using what looks like something between an eastern and semi-western backhand grip for his backhand volleys, which may be the reason he tends to catch them a bit further "behind" him with a bit of a scooping motion. His forehand volley, also executed with what appears to be an eastern or semi-western grip, is much more of a "block" or "push" volley.

At any rate, I agree with you that to play with controlled aggression, which must be the goal of any baseliner who wants to dictate play, is a highwire act that demands total focus and a high level of adrenaline pumping beneath a calm surface.

Posted by imjimmy 03/03/2009 at 10:32 AM

What an amazing article Steve. Thank you so much! This is a very perceptive dissection of Novak's game.

Personally, I really like Nole's game. He's such a clean and smooth hitter of the ball. Watching him in full flow is a treat to the eyes. It's a huge pity when he cannot focus mentally. I always think of his tennis as 'attractive tennis'.

I firmly believe that Djokovic has the potential to be at the top close to Rafa/Roger and above Murray, if he can - like you said - work on "controlled aggression". I hope for the sake of the game that Djokovic can regroup and become stronger this year.

Posted by Bolofan 03/03/2009 at 10:47 AM

Is the new Serbian Open taking place in his mind
taking away part of his player mind? If so,this is bad.
He has to stay a player, not a producer of tournaments.
He has to only think in his game. Only think in the
Serbian Open as another tournament where he is going to
play.
Let Nole know,if you can, that he has to stay only focus
in his game. I have seen him mentally away in games he has of course lost.How diferent he looks when he wins, 100% confident in himself. Just play Nole, just play, you are unique.

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 11:01 AM

Mark, very well analysys. You actaully answered to my questins posted above. It is a mental stage that Nole is going through. If true, then we will enjoy more of his game for the years to come. The more of Big players we have the better fan of watching the game. No doubt.

Posted by Vie 03/03/2009 at 11:04 AM

"He’s got more game than almost all of his opponents, but to show it off he needs time to develop a point. If he goes for a lot too early or stays back and rallies for too long, he gives up his shot-making advantage and becomes just another player—his game is not as unique to begin with as any of the other members of the Top 4." -- Steve

Steve, my thoughts are same as yours in this quote. Novak's game and technique is clean and amazing; he has perfect and powerful strokes, and probably, consequently a generic game.

Regarding the racquet: Sorry to express this, I had the impression that Novak was uncomfortable in his body with that racquet.

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 11:14 AM

"He is learning how to deal with the pressure.'
exactly, Mark!

Chasing or being the hunter is one thing, but being chased or fighting the hunters is tottaly different one. While trying to go through and prove himself asa tennis foce, Nole played beautifully. b/c he only focused how to beat higher ranked opponents and become top 3 player.

Now, that stage is behind and he entered quite opposite one: to defend his position plus to keep upgrading to ascend to the very top. That produces totally different pressure. And that's what Nole got stuck with. I agree that it is only matter of tie when he is gonna conquer that one and become everyday's everyyear's force.

No doubt, this stage (of mind) is way more diffcult to conquer and maintain.

Good, I got to my answers. Great post Steve.

Posted by thomas 03/03/2009 at 11:50 AM

Actually, I'm not sure if he's playing with a new racquet. During the Australian Open, a TV camera did a closeup of his racquet during a changeover. While you could see the Head painted strings and exterior, on the inside of the frame there were still the Wilson signs. He's probably still playing with his old frames.

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 12:06 PM

ok, i hope I am not writing too much in here, but this is apparently topic about advanced level of the game. And this level includes many other things than the intemediate level.

There are three types of players who:

1. Solely rely on their own game/skills to win matches/tournaments (Nole, Roger, Safin, Roddick, Nalbandian, Tsonga, Gasquet)

2. Do not rely much on their own skills, but primary on opponent's mistakes and weak sides. (Davydenko, Simon, Fish, Niemenen, Stepanek, Blake...)

3. Primary rely on their own skills but as a secondary also exploit all of opponents' mistakes and weak sides. (Nadal, Murray).

The only TRUE CHAMPIONS fall in the group #3. Simply because if you wanna win and keep winning at the matches when your racket is not clicking your way - and there are too many days like this one for eveybody- (beside your own skills) you MUST be able to exploit all of your opponents weaknesses. Simply b/c there are too many talented players out there, and there will be always one who is gonna eat you all at a given day if you let him apply his talent.

And this is what Nole has to learn yet. My understanding is that he need a good coach to teach him this.

So, to conclude, Nole's frustrations are coming from below-standard ability to exploit the opponents weaknesses. Period. This explains why Federer, beside his huge talent, has difficulty to beat the opponents who appear to have thier day. While Murray beats them with no big trouble. Murray's winning record for last 12 months against top three players is amazing: 9:2 (someone correct me on this one).

This explains why many talented players out there remain talents only: win few big one, then and there, but never emerged as true constant force.

Myself, I have no doubt that Nole has ability to learn this lesson. Again, in order to do that he might need a coach who has this approach on their mind, or was a true champion in his prime. Till then he has to be ready to face more frustrations. But this type of investments will start to harvest tremendouos success and pay Big time.

Posted by Pica_pica (Rafa, Nole, JJ) 03/03/2009 at 12:21 PM

Excellent article.
Really, Nole is ALWAYS the talking point.

Posted by Pica_pica (Ajde Srbija & Vamos España) 03/03/2009 at 12:32 PM

Azhdaja: I don't quite agree with the way you categorized the players...certainly Federer is true champion and he's in group I.....so you can't say only those in group III are true champs

Posted by Pica_pica (Ajde Srbija & Vamos España) 03/03/2009 at 12:34 PM

I should add: ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME.
You don't have to be a certain type to be a true champion, right?
Results will tell everything.

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 12:49 PM

pica_pica...thanks for your comment. Very interesting remark. Here's why:

Federer appears to be a true champ because of his achievments (13 GS titles). BUT, yet the same Federer simply cannot win whenever faces other tough players out there! Look at his record against Rafa. Against Murray! Ridiculous for a true champ. That's why he did choking many matshes out there. He won those GSs only and only because there were no true champs at his prime. (Samprass and Agassi were true champs but on their end of careers).

True champions never weep when they lose big ones. They find the way to win it. Or, they stay calm b/c they're saying to temselves: well, you won this time b/c I failed to exploit your weaknesses, but next time you're all mine!! Roger didn't say that to himself b/c he knew he doesn't possess that ability. The tears are sign of helplessness, only.

And one more thing: you confused True Champion for Huge Talent. Rog is Huge talent, but little of true champ. That's why he falls within group ONE.
Does this make sense to you?

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 01:22 PM

Pico..pico,.

the only way to fight a hunter and avoid being killed is to kill the hunter. Do you agree on this one?

So, in order to kill a hunter, you have to be able to exploit his weaknesses. If not, then you can expect to be killed way many more times than bringing trophys home. Why? b/c there are hundreds of hunters out there, and you're one.

So, odds are heavily against you, and probablity theory said that you gotta lose more than you win. And that's not a definition of a true champ. Some champions rely solely on thier talents and that's how they manage to beat the odds. (Federer) But then they have to weep and cry when they face thier own weakness.

Posted by Juan José 03/03/2009 at 01:28 PM


That was great, Steve. I don't think anyone out there really understands Djokovic's game better than you do. Loads of kudos.

I'll just add that it was very important for him to win with the new racket. It'll still be his built-in excuse, but the more he wins with it, the less plausible the excuse becomes.

When Djokovic's game is flowing, it's really a sight to see. It's like the guy can hit any shot, in any direction in the cleanest post-Agassi way. And the footwork is there, the intelligence is there.

Posted by Vie 03/03/2009 at 01:29 PM

Azhdaja, interesting comments.

Murray, I think is above Nole in dimensions to game. Rafa showed he is a mental giant early, and Murray has started to cut a swathe, we'll see.

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 01:31 PM

It might be annoying, it might illegal, it might not even be very smart—time to think is usually not a tennis player's friend—but I can understand Djokovic's effort.
-------------------------------------

bouncing balls illegal? What are you talking about? Go on and read the tennis rules, Steve. A p;layer has 25 seconds to pot the ball into the play. What is he going to do with his 25 seconds is entirely up to him. Rafa is pulling his underware from his behind while holding two balls in the same hand!! Is that legal? Of course it is. Annoying yes, but legal. It might be childlish and immature, but the rules said nothing against it.

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 01:46 PM

another way to exploit opponent's weaknesses is net play. You hit hard once, deep and precise, put your oppononet off the balance and come to the net. The next and last is to wait for slow and weak return and finish the point off. As simple as that.

As you all can see, the whole secret lies in "hit the ball hard enough, deep and precise". That's not a problem for Djoker. He does that at least three times at every points! Now, here's the question I am looking the answer for a long time:

Why doesnt Djokovic get to the net after putting his opponent off the balance??

1. Has no guts to do that? (affraid of mistakes)
2. Or has no self confidence? (Not sure how to play net)
3. One of the two, or both??

I was watching his matches and always asked myself this question, and never got the answer. Whatever is the answer, one thing is in common to all of them: COACH who can teach Nole to play the net. He looked ridiculous at the net 80% of the time!!

Posted by pat 03/03/2009 at 01:55 PM

I am surprised no mention was made of Nole's great semi match with Gilles. That really was the final after all, and as Nole said after it was a highly important match for him to win, being in the iffy position he has been in. This was a good win because the heat was terrible, both guys were suffering, both played great shots followed by some real clunkers, and Nole had to dig himself out of that and find a way to win. It gave him such confidence going into the final that I don't think Ferrer ever stood a chance. I for one am looking forward to more Djoko-Simon battles, they are quite well matched.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/03/2009 at 01:59 PM

I hate to say this, Ashdaja, but that was the most exquisitely wrapped BS I've read on this blog.

Roger is therefore not a true champion, in your estimation?!

And Blake relies on his opponent's weaknesses to win?!

OMG, now I've heard everything.

Posted by Vie 03/03/2009 at 02:02 PM

Going to the net as an approach is not quite an automatic and easy thing on the mind to do, it seems. That approach is not second nature these days. Probably baecause, you can have speed both from the back of the court as at the net.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/03/2009 at 02:05 PM

The short answer to your very good question, Azhdaja, regarding Djokovic's unwiliingness to follow his deep drives to the net, is that it entails a higher level of risk than he (and not only he, nearly every other player on the ATP with solid ground games) deems worthwhile.

I will go into this in much more detail on my own blog this weekend (I promise), but for now that explanation will suffice.

Posted by sky 03/03/2009 at 02:14 PM

Really enjoyed your article steve. also found Azhdaja assessment/analysis interesting. Thank you both.

Posted by sky 03/03/2009 at 02:53 PM

Enjoyed the article steve, also found Azhdaja's assessment/point of view interesting! LOL Thank you both.

Posted by sky 03/03/2009 at 02:58 PM

sorry about the repeat folks! turns out my original post was on the second page. LOL

Posted by etheralx23crisis 03/03/2009 at 03:08 PM

@ Azhdaja
how is blake a defensive player? LOL he crushes EVERYTHING

Good Analysis on Djokovic, he is my fave player and i hope he gets either of the master series in this swing. Im sure he will, he is a competent hardcourt player.

GO DJOKOVIC fOR USO. THough id like Nadal to get that Calender Slam.

Posted by TB 03/03/2009 at 03:13 PM

"""by Azhdaja""""

The post above by Azhdaja makes little sense. The "only true" champs come from catagory 3"?? I like how you just arbitrarily just make up criteria.

Posted by arbiter 03/03/2009 at 03:20 PM

Azhdaja, you should have a column :)
I would just say that Novak should replace his drop shots with volleys - risky, but still higher percentage than drop shots. It will take him a couple of years to learn the net game, as he is not a "natural", but he has to do that, to shorten the points. His game is based on his speed. If he gets injured and slowed down, his game may fall apart. So, he has to take care of his body, and play some shorter points.
And, Novak should not listen to commentators who are trying to put "frame of mind" into his game...trying to put doubt about the racquet into his brain. He should just tell them that he can play with any racquet, and beat anyone.

Posted by Tommy Balls 03/03/2009 at 03:27 PM

I love that Arbiter thinks that Azhdaja should have his own column. I actually think that you guys should have your own nightly talk show about tennis and tennis strategy.

Posted by ladyjulia 03/03/2009 at 04:44 PM

Azhdaja,

"He won those GSs only and only because there were no true champs at his prime. (Samprass and Agassi were true champs but on their end of careers)."

1. Well, then Rafa is winning slams right now because probably Federer is also at the other end of his career. Why was Rafa no.2 for 3 years if he is a true champ?
2. On clay, Rafa is considered the greatest...probably because its a weak era for clay? After all, the only person who he faces in the finals of RG is a player whose game is suited for grass courts.

If it comes down the weak era discussion, it is completely pointless because its difficult to compare generations.

Posted by Griff 03/03/2009 at 06:12 PM

Yes,concerning Djokovic's game he alone said many times that he should attack the net more.It's not easy though.Sometimes when i see his matches he's almost perfect at the net,but sometimes he doesn't feel comfortable.My only consolation will be that in time and experience that inconsistency will diminish.
Concerning Azhdaja's insight on Novak and Roger.Please.Roger and Novak have no weaknesses in their shots.The main weakness is in their heads and inability to deal with the pressure on the important points with Nadal,Murray and all those players who can insanely grind.Cause you have to pull off 3 winners in a row to win a single point in those important points.Its obvious.
So in my opinion,thats where the perfect netplay jumps in.Djokivic's godly groundstrokes are perfect for setting up a point at the net.He knows it and i hope,in time,he'll master it when he peaks at 24-25 years of age.I can only hope.
Also to measure a true champion you look their H2H in Grand Slams.I bet Murray would give all his victories over Federer + his soul,for that USO final.

Posted by noleisthebest 03/03/2009 at 06:47 PM

Interesting posts and comments, interesting article.
Key points:
yes, he does need to exploit opponents' weaknesses more , just that: more, since he already does quite a bit.
The racquet change, unless he gells with it asap, is BIG mistake.
Novak is very passionate, intelligent and sensitive. All that combined HURTS whichever job you do.
Finally, I simply can't get enough of his game, I think it's awesome, particullarly brought out well by Nadal.
I used to like Federer's elegance, now that Novak's on the scene, his electric agression is just unsurpassable.

Posted by Ben 03/03/2009 at 07:08 PM

I hope I can avoid becoming a "true champion" at anything. If I can avoid this, I have a chance to win 13 GS titles. But if I become a "true champion" I will not win a single GS, and will get slaughtered in the only final I reach by the guy who isn't, and who won 13 GS titles and made 14 out of the last 15 finals, the lousy crybaby impostor.

Posted by Amit 03/03/2009 at 08:09 PM

Azhdaja,

May I make two distinct suggestions -

1) Watch a few tennis matches
2) Take a few courses in deductive reasoning

Welcome to tennis.com

Posted by Fernando 03/03/2009 at 08:21 PM

I enjoy watching him, but he needs to chill out at times and enjoy things more, or one day, the crowd is going to dislike him.

Posted by patolog 03/03/2009 at 08:46 PM

I believe most of Nole's issues lately and the anger are related to the new equipment - he needs time to adjust to it, and it is frustrating when things don't go the way he's used to.

Second part to it is the background - passionate people of Balcans, that he belongs to...

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 08:55 PM

hahaha...Ben, I can see where you're driving at. Well, there is something that you confused and something that I didn't mention, and those two resulted in your post addressing Murray being classified by me in "true Champ group" and Fed's not.

Ok, here:

+++my culprit first: true champ also understands that somebody possess technical skills. There are plenty of players out there who has both: rely on their own shots but also try to fully exploit opponents weaknesses. BUT, they're not even close to champ group, b/c their technical skills are marginal. Murray is still behind Big Three when it comes to skills (that's why he is officially behind), but possess pretty much of it to be able to upgrade to get there. Whether he is gonna upgrade it or not, it is not the subject of this analysys. But, the reason why I put him in that group is that he the next below Big Three.

---Ok, now you(r confusion): you (like pica_pica and many others) confused true champ for True Talent. There's difference between the two. Roger is true Talent, no doubt. And that's to what he has to be thankful for his 13 GSs. Ok? BUT, how many GS titles ROg got playing it against Rafa (a True Champion)?? How many has he lost? Please bear one thing on your mind that Rafa was not true champ two years ago. So, all those titles Rog got against Rafa 2 years ago do not count for this analysys. So, Rog won only ONE GS title playing against true champ (W 2007)!! Every other GS he won (12 titles) were acquired against players who were not true champions. Or in another words: Rog won 12 GS titles against other players who are less talented than him. Period.

Clear enough?

P.S. I like your witty and keen way in your comment above. :-)

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 08:56 PM

For all those who said (and meant) that I should write a column: thank you. Please make sure the guys from TENNIS.COM hear ya.
:-))

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 09:02 PM

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/03/2009 @ 2:05 PM

The short answer to your very good question, Azhdaja, regarding Djokovic's unwiliingness to follow his deep drives to the net, is that it entails a higher level of risk than he (and not only he, nearly every other player on the ATP with solid ground games) deems worthwhile.

I will go into this in much more detail on my own blog this weekend (I promise), but for now that explanation will suffice.

===================================

Thanks Slice a lot. That means that "he has no guts" for it! Provided you're right. (in term of my upper analysys:

""Why doesnt Djokovic get to the net after putting his opponent off the balance??

1. Has no guts to do that? (affraid of mistakes)
2. Or has no self confidence? (Not sure how to play net)
3. One of the two, or both??""

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 09:11 PM

Posted by ladyjulia 03/03/2009 @ 4:44 PM
---------------------------------------------

very good questions, lady.
Here's why:

@#1: Rafa is true champion from 2 years ago (and not from 3). b/c his game from 3 years ago was not upgraded technically enough to fall in group 3 (true champs). why he still was #2 for the last year, was b/c of Federer having ridiculous ATP points at the end of 2006 season (8000+)!!! iT TAKES A TIME to take him down.

@#2: You missed this one. Not true that it is a weak era for clay. It's just that there are no true champs to compete Nadal there. Period. But, now, if Djoker and Murray upgrade their game a little bit, Rafa might lose his RG crown this summer!! I wouldn't bet on him at all. Still he is the best there, but, if...

Posted by Azhdaja 03/03/2009 at 09:16 PM

Posted by Amit 03/03/2009 @ 8:09 PM

Azhdaja,

May I make two distinct suggestions -

1) Watch a few tennis matches
2) Take a few courses in deductive reasoning

Welcome to tennis.com

-------------------------------

thanks to your suggestions. Can you back them up by something, or you believe everyone must take your distinctive suggestions??

deductive reasoning? LOL...do YOU have an idea what is it? I mean: You.

Posted by ladyjulia 03/03/2009 at 09:59 PM


Azhdaja,

I agree that Rafa has upped his game tremendously over the past 2 years..but i don't think it is fair to say that Roger had "lesser" players in his grand slam finals. He dominated his generation and it wasn't easy for him to do that (he had a losing record against Hewitt once upon a time and choked against Roddick once).

I guess his fault is that he made it look easy.

My point is that Rafa is from the younger generation and so are Nole and Murray. Whether Roger can dominate the younger generation is to be seen, but nature goes against it. It is always the younger generation who goes forward.

It would have been interesting to see if all these four were the same age.

That said, I think what you mean by "true champ" is someone who is mentally unbeatable and who never gives up and so you put Nadal and Murray in that category.

Posted by Joe 03/03/2009 at 10:17 PM

I would like to say something. Yes, Murray has beaten Nadal twice, once in the US OPEN, when Rafa was exhausted after to play all season so good , and Rotterdam, when Rafa had a knee injured

Posted by Ben 03/03/2009 at 10:32 PM

Azhdaja,

Most of the ammunition of those who disparage Federer comes from Nadal’s preponderance over him, because if it were not for this, Federer’s dominance in tennis over the last five years would have surpassed the dominance of any other athlete in any major sport in modern times (including Woods, Jordan, Phelps, etc.)

My view is that these people simply don't adequately appreciate Nadal. The fact is that Nadal has a superhuman degree of energy and mental toughness. Many times I have seen Federer “solve” opponents; i.e. figure out how to attack their weaknesses, so in this sense he fits the criteria you give for a true champion, besides his amazing results. But Nadal cannot be solved because he has no weaknesses. No one can solve him. Federer or Murray can beat him on a good day by playing a riskier style and going for winners, but in a five-set match, the money should be on Nadal on all but the fastest surfaces.

Federer’s ability to run off 40 or 60 consecutive wins on a given surface proves his mental toughness and champion’s heart. In making it to 18 consecutive GS semifinals, he has repeatedly faced talented opponents with huge but erratic games playing a wide-open style with nothing to lose. He has won almost every one of these matches, despite injury, fatigue, and illness.

We all know Nadal has both a stylistic and mental advantage over Federer. But saying that Federer is not a true champion because of this is like saying that K2 is easy to climb because it is shorter than Mount Everest.

Posted by Joe 03/03/2009 at 10:40 PM

I don't think Ferrer played so good, so that is because Nole "looked" so good. We'll se now the DC and the next tournaments

Posted by Dan Scarlett 03/04/2009 at 12:37 AM

Bravo, Azhdaja !
Your comments are the most astute, succinct and enlightening that I have ever read converning the current top players. Many thanks!

Posted by Amit 03/04/2009 at 01:31 AM

Azhdaja,

Nope. You may very well choose not to take anyone's suggestion and continue to have multiple conversations with yourself, if you so wish.

Good day, now.

Posted by Amit 03/04/2009 at 01:40 AM

Ben,

"But Nadal cannot be solved because he has no weaknesses."

Really? Isn't that a bit much?

Posted by pedja 03/04/2009 at 02:08 AM

Everyone has a weakness. Nadal's weakness is in his knees. If I were Federer, I would aim for Nadal's knees. Sure, he may lose a point, game or even a set before he manages to hit it properly but in the end it will pay off. ;)

ps
I'm just kidding.

Posted by 03/04/2009 at 02:49 AM

Azhdaja, not only do you want your own column you now want to create a new dictionary of meaning for fairly ordinary words, such as "true champion". To suggest that someone who has won 13 GS and broken all records for finals is not a "true champion" is just your own idiosyncratic playing with word meanings. Like him or hate him, these are amazing achievements by Federer and your views of "weak eras" are equally subjective. Why do we not all go on about Sampras' or Agassi's "weak" opponents in GS finals, such as Pioline, Moya, Clement, Enquist, Schuttler? This argument leads nowhere - match ups can only be looked at in their own time and context.

I think Ben is the one who made the perceptive comments. I'm also sure that GS winner of 0, Murray, would trade all his minor wins against GS winner of 13, (especially since at least 3, maybe 4, of those wins came when Fed. was getting over illness, backing up after the previous week's Master's win or injured with bad back) for just avoiding being thrashed in that US Open final.

Posted by Corrie 03/04/2009 at 02:50 AM

Sorry, forgot to put name to above.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 03/04/2009 at 03:35 AM

Steve Thanks for your thoughts on Novak.

I think he has a great game overall.The One and Most important thing to me is his concentration level on Big Points.Thats a part of his game that needs to be addressed.

When you compare his mental game to say Rafa it falls incrediably short full stop.

You can be the best technical player in the world without the full mental ability you fall short.

Novak has the game to take him further theres no doubt there.

If he wants to be the no 1 player his concentration levels have to improve.End of Story!

Posted by svelterogue 03/04/2009 at 03:35 AM

you keep bouncing that ball all you want, nole honey, and find that elusive equilibrium. ajde nole!

Posted by noleisthebest 03/04/2009 at 05:05 AM

"You can be the best technical player in the world without the full mental ability you fall short.

Novak has the game to take him further theres no doubt there.

If he wants to be the no 1 player his concentration levels have to improve.End of Story!"

very well pointed out.
I'm sure the lapses were nothing but a matter of inexperience.If I could pick any qualitly that makes Novak stand out from the rest head above shoulders, it's his brains, I expet his maturing to show fruit of last year painful losses as soon as Novak gets properly used to his racquet, I hope it happens in IW.

Posted by 03/04/2009 at 05:07 AM

"Give Azdaja a column" petition (please add your name below if you agre):
1) Noleisthebest

Posted by naughty T, unknown meat product. 03/04/2009 at 05:13 AM

Azhdaja, you're funny. Well done.

Posted by naughty T, unknown meat product. 03/04/2009 at 05:14 AM

"Give Azdaja a column" petition (please add your name below if you agre):
1) Noleisthebest
2) MyHeadHurts

Posted by iksius 03/04/2009 at 06:45 AM

I like it!

To be named as "true champion" you don't need to win something of significance (e.g. GS). You just need to beat Federer few times. That's why Federer can never be the "true champion". Or maybe he can beat himself? somehow???

Posted by Joe 03/04/2009 at 07:20 AM

Sincerely, I don't see Nadal losing his RG crown this summer. It'funny but I don't know why every time than any player wins a tournement, it doesn't matter who was playing, some are thinking he could be the number 1. Let's go to see what is going on next. To be number 1 is not so easy, they must to be really good mentally, physically and "winners", not just one tournament at year

Posted by Azhdaja 03/04/2009 at 09:22 AM

ok, people I see what's confusing ya:

I agree with the guy who said that we need to define "true champion" expression. Federer is "Champion" beyond any doubt. I never questioned that. But "true champion"...welll think about it. If you solelly rely on your own skills and talent, and not pay much attention to your opponents weaknesss, then you'll have to cry too often!!
(Rog at AO).

eXAMPLE OF TRUE CHAMP IS aGASSI. He exploited his opponentys weaknesses to the max, plus adding his own abilities...and there you go: he kept winning till his 35!!

People are upset coz I dared to put Federer into group 1. OR mention that rtue champs are in group 3. Well, you disagree? Great, tell me your classification, pls?
cheers!

Posted by Griff 03/04/2009 at 09:59 AM

It's quite simple really.The more GS's you have the bigger champ you are.Nadal's time is coming,Federer is arguably declining and all that is going very slowly.Nadal still needs an insane running 5 setter to beat Federer in any surface GS but clay.Something that,in the end only he can do.But i believe when Novak gets to his prime that he will top Federer's best game.I just have to believe that.That Hamburg match with Nadal gave me hope that Novak with his skills and experience improving,can match Nadal on RG one day.Maybe in 2-3 years.One thing encouraging concerning Novak is that he plays fantastic on all surfaces so if one day he pulls off what im hoping,he'll reduce the GS amount difference between him and Nadal pretty damn fast.But for now it's just fan fiction.

Posted by naughty T, unknown meat product. 03/04/2009 at 10:30 AM

ok, people I see what's confusing ya:

sorry Azhdaja but I don't think you do see at all as you continue to use errant nonsense as if it were indisputable logic. You are clearly another that doesn't really see what Federer does on court because he makes it look easy. If it does not look hard and involve much grunting and run hither and thither it must not really be very good eh? The idiotic notion that Federer does not exploit peoples weaknesses to win is patently untrue, ask Elf how he feels stooping for those low balls or Roddick as he mysteriously finds himself at the net and being passed yet again. Aside from that Feds ability to take his opponents A game and play him at it better is pretty much why he was the world number one for nearly 5 years... cue dead pony "weakEra".

Posted by arbiter 03/04/2009 at 10:33 AM

Posted by naughty T, unknown meat product. 03/04/2009 @ 5:14 AM

"Give Azdaja a column" petition (please add your name below if you agre):
1) Noleisthebest
2) MyHeadHurts

...naughty, if you have a headache, try tennis at higher elevations :))

Posted by Lynne Danley 03/04/2009 at 10:44 AM

Djoker is an excellent player but, in my opinion, not great, and the emotional instability and lack of physical endurance are not the only reasons. Much of what he does is very calculated -- not something designed to get his head in the right place but rather to throw off his opponents, break their rhythm, frustrate and exasperate them. At other times he needs time to catch his berath when he's running out of gas. He should be called on the excessive time EVERY TIME IT HAPPENS, even if it means his being tossed from the match. He should be required to play within the rules, just like everyone else (and so should Nadal). I recall once when Djoker was cautioned for excessive time and he glared at the chair as if he had murder on his mind, stuck his nose up in the air, walked over to serve and exceeded the time again. He should have been charged a point immediately. Why is he allowed to get away with it? His opponents stand back on their side of the court dancing back and forth and getting out of synch, which is what he intends. When he is interviewed he sounds insincere, and his true colors often come out like they did after the Roddick match at the USO. I look forward to other nice and talented players like Tsonga, Del Potro, Murray and Simon passing him in the ratings!

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/04/2009 at 11:14 AM

No one's "upset" with you, Azhdaja. A few of us just happen to think thst you are living in a world completely of your own creation. I have read your comments, and despite your politenesses, you are not willing to listen to others' ideas or arguments. I will not waste another keystroke or pixel on you. But if you care to read my blog next week (after I write a couple of posts this weekend), you'll see my rationale for why Djokovic (and many others) find going to the net too risky a proposition to warrant doing it often.

Posted by Aleksa 03/04/2009 at 11:19 AM

It is utterly funny how every post on Roger ends up inevitably with commenting (and - may I say - trashing) Novak, and how every post on Novak ends up inevitably with commenting (and - may I say - trashing) Roger and doubting his indisputable great game. And, yes, Rafa is omnipresent just to spice things up.

Posted by naughty T, unknown meat product. 03/04/2009 at 11:19 AM

SnD. Will be interested to read your thoughts. My notion is that Serve Volley can still work off a good 1st serve but coming to the net mid rally on anything but a great approach is pretty much a recipe for disaster. It seems to function well as a surprise tactic more than a regular go to plan of attack.

Posted by Aleksa 03/04/2009 at 11:29 AM

Naughty,
we're in sync.

Posted by ladyjulia 03/04/2009 at 11:41 AM

"To be named as "true champion" you don't need to win something of significance (e.g. GS). You just need to beat Federer few times. That's why Federer can never be the "true champion". Or maybe he can beat himself? somehow???"

Interesting observation Iksius..:-)

Posted by naughty T, unknown meat product. 03/04/2009 at 11:43 AM

hooray Aleksa. :))

Posted by Sher (I am easily amused) 03/04/2009 at 12:19 PM

omg lol this thread got even better since yesterday.

iksius, nice ;-)

steve, i hope you see the humour in this discussion going completely off the rails.

Posted by Barry 03/04/2009 at 12:53 PM

To Azhdaja: By your standards then, since Roger does not fall into category #3, but #1, he is not a "True Champion". OK - 13 grand slam titles; 237 straight weeks at #1, but he isn't a "True Champion". Let me ponder that one for a while and get back to you on that one!

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/04/2009 at 01:07 PM

Barry,

See my and Iksius' comments regarding he who shall remain unnamed.

Posted by jjaime 03/04/2009 at 01:33 PM

What is the PROBLEM with tennis and TV?

Davis Cup weekend and just TTC showing just US vs Swiss.

Appreciate any comments and links to see live matches over the web.

Posted by Antoinette 03/04/2009 at 01:57 PM

I have a theory that there has been a media orchestrated campaign against Federer for some time starting around 2006 when the who is the real #1 type of articles/blogs/commentaries started to show up. The aim of this campaign has been to denigrate Federer's achievemts with mostly the weak era argument and questioning his claim to greatness if he cant dominate Nadal, hyping up the lopsised h2h whcih until 2008 was heavily skewed becuase of Nadals dominance on clay.

Things really intensified in 2007 when after Wimbledon a lot of articles were about how Nadal deserved to win that match and Federer was"lucky" becuase his serve bailed him out. The same theme after the US Open Final, much was made out of Djoker's many set points, the inference being that Federer was "lucky" again to get away with that win. In 2008 all gloves were off and Federer was put to the knives by the media and the same has continued in 2009. In fact it has gotten to the point where journos are blatantly accusing Federer of being a liar and faking injury...on the basis of his withdrawl from Dubai and Davis Cup.

The campaign has worked so well that people feel free to engage in revisionist history and suddenly Federer is not a "true champion" and presumably only achieved his results becuase he was playing against no talent bums until Nadal came along. I have been fascinated by how the media can shape people's opinions to the extent that they spout these opinions under the mistaken impression that these are their own thoughts.

Fascinating!!!

Posted by sic (Roland Garros, Wimbledon and AO) 03/04/2009 at 02:35 PM

Antoinette,

thank you for being brave enough to call out the "media's" conspiracy to denigrate the great Roger Federer's achievements. Finally, the truth!


ps)aren't you afraid that by speaking openly about this the "media" will now seek to denigrate your achievements as a way to discredit your brave voice of reason?

Posted by BruceLee 03/04/2009 at 02:36 PM

You can label players and put them in named groups only based on their PERFORMANCE.
Murray might have weapons=talent, but unless he performs few GS he will remembered as talented player and not true champion.
So at the moment I disagree that Muray is in a True champion group. He only have more dimensions in his play than most of the others.

Posted by nole4president 03/04/2009 at 03:33 PM

hi azhdaja
u should gat out of your parents basement and get life.
while you are out of said basemnet PLAY some tennis there is more to it then just sit and BS about it.

Posted by noleisthebest 03/04/2009 at 04:00 PM

Antoniette,

no one's orchestrated anything, no one actually cares...Federer can't beat Nadal and that's a fact!
Why - you tell me!
Federer is mega arrogant and a very sore loser , so he showed himself up big time with his statements in the past.
Also,all this TALK of breaknig the record, he should've just kept quiet about it, it's making us all (including him and his fans probably) sick of it!
I don't even want to know what he's gonna do with himself when he loses at Wimbledon again...maybe even in the semifinals if he loses his 2nd seed position during clay season.
I do not feel sorry for him, because he has not endeared himself to anyone.

Posted by pmgm 03/04/2009 at 05:17 PM

"I do not feel sorry for him, because he has not endeared himself to anyone."

He has endeared himself to me

Posted by ladyjulia 03/04/2009 at 05:28 PM

noleisthebest,

Federer only answers questions that are asked to him...and for a straightforward question, he gives a straightforward answer.

He did not come out and proclaim and that he wants to break the record. When he is asked about it, he answers that yes he can (which he is in a position to do). Why is that arrogant?

Ofcourse, Nadal plays it the safest and always has the same answer everytime. But they both have different personalities and it would be very boring if everybody was like Nadal, or like Federer for that matter.

Besides, Federer also acknowledges that Nadal is much better than him now. At Wimby 2007 he said that he is happy to win whatever he can before Nadal takes everything away...how is that arrogant?

Posted by arbiter 03/04/2009 at 06:42 PM

Posted by Lynne Danley 03/04/2009 @ 10:44 AM

Djoker is an excellent player but, in my opinion, not great, and the emotional instability and lack of physical endurance are not the only reasons. Much of what he does is very calculated -- not something designed to get his head in the right place but rather to throw off his opponents, break their rhythm, frustrate and exasperate them. At other times he needs time to catch his berath when he's running out of gas. He should be called on the excessive time EVERY TIME IT HAPPENS, even if it means his being tossed from the match. He should be required to play within the rules, just like everyone else (and so should Nadal).
-------------------------------------------------------------

If you had some patience, you will see that Novak gets to the service line much faster than other players. That leaves him with more time to prepare for the serve, so he can bounce the ball a few more times (he reduced that to just a few times lately). If he really violatied the allowed time, umpires would punish him, he is not their favourite, trust me.
Just take a good watch and measure. Then check Nadal's preparation time. You will be surprised what you find out.



Posted by Valevapor 03/04/2009 at 08:00 PM

Djokovic may win a couple few more slams, but he will never garner the same respect as Nadal or Federer. Not only did his retirement against Roddick point out that his fitness is underdeveloped (I believe this to be a chronic issue), but it also demonstrated psychological weakness. Rafa, for example, could have easily and more justifiably retired from his recent match against Murray, but he knew that doing so would diminish the whole experience for all involved - tournament, fans, opponent. So he stays out there one more set, doesn't tax himself, and tries to end the points early. No harm done, everyone's happier. Djokovic clearly is only capable of thinking about himself. He is a great player when everything's going his way, but I for onw will be very pleased when Murray overtakes him within the next two months.

Posted by Aleksa 03/04/2009 at 08:06 PM

Valevapor,
within next two months when Murray overtakes Novak I for one will think of you first. And your pleasure. With the fact that Novak was overtaken.

Posted by Azhdaja 03/04/2009 at 09:15 PM

Posted by Barry 03/04/2009 @ 12:53 PM

To Azhdaja: By your standards then, since Roger does not fall into category #3, but #1, he is not a "True Champion". OK - 13 grand slam titles; 237 straight weeks at #1, but he isn't a "True Champion".
-----------------------------------------------------
Barry,
I have to points in relation of your comment:

1. You are calling out some numbers to prove that someone (Rog) is a true champion. Now, could you, please tell us all where is the break between true champion, and just a champion (or anybody else) in the light of those numbers? Is that 5GS, 100 weaks as #1, or 8 GS with 181 weeks??

2. Can you come up with "true champion" definition??? Can you stick your neck out and give it a try?

Till then, cheers.

1 2      >>

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